Infrastructure: Finding Common Ground in California

In California, environmental regulations have brought infrastructure investment to a standstill. Without expanding energy, water, and transportation infrastructure, it is nearly impossible to build housing, the cost-of-living is punitive, water is rationed and food is overpriced, the overall quality of life is reduced, and money that ought to be paying skilled workers to operate heavy construction equipment instead goes into the pockets of environmentalist lobbyists, bureaucrats, litigators, and activist nonprofits.

Californians nonetheless agree that infrastructure, as it is traditionally defined, needs new investment. Freeways, bridges, railroads, dams, aqueducts, seaports, airports, transmission lines, pipelines; all of this needs to be maintained and upgraded.

But despite agreement on the goal, more than ever, solutions are filtered through the lens of polarizing ideologies. What is today’s definition of infrastructure? Is it physical assets, or something more ephemeral? Do infrastructure priorities have to be established based on restoring race and gender equity, or by concerns about climate change? Should some infrastructure be deliberately allowed to deteriorate, to avoid “induced demand” and the unsustainable consumption that would result?

Debate over these questions has paralyzed California’s politicians. Navigating a pathway out of this paralyzing morass takes more than just compromise, it takes the courage to adhere to controversial premises. Chief among these is to reject the idea that legislated scarcity is the only option to combat climate change. In every critical area of infrastructure there are solutions that can enable a future of sustainable abundance.

For example, Californians can rebuild their energy infrastructure in a manner that doesn’t violate environmentalist principles, but instead balances environmentalist concerns with the interests of its residents. Why aren’t Californians, who in so many ways are the most innovative people in the world, approving and building safe, state-of-the-art nuclear power plants? Why aren’t they developing geothermal power, since California has vast untapped potential in geothermal energy? Why haven’t California’s legislators revived the logging industry they have all but destroyed, and brought back clean power plants fueled by the biomass of commercial forest trimmings?

Californians can also rebuild their water infrastructure by adopting an all-of-the-above approach. They can build massive new off-stream reservoirs to capture storm runoff. Even in dry winters the few storms that do hit California yield surplus water that can be captured instead of allowed to runoff into the Pacific. These off-stream reservoirs could also feature forebays from which, using surplus solar electricity, water could be pumped up into the main reservoir, to then be released back down into the forebay through hydroelectric turbines to generate electricity when solar electric output falters. Why aren’t Californians recycling 100 percent of their urban wastewater? Why aren’t they building desalination plants?

These are solutions that may not be perfectly acceptable to environmentalists, but they’re also not hideous violations of environmentalist values. They should be defended by their proponents without reservations, but also with a willingness to spend extra to mitigate what can be mitigated. Civilization has a footprint, and we can only pick our poison. The solutions favored by environmentalists, such as wind turbines, battery farms, EVs, biofuel plantations, and solar farms, have environmental impacts that are arguably even worse than conventional solutions.

Another potentially polarizing issue – achieving “equity” with infrastructure – doesn’t have to be dismissed by proponents of practical infrastructure investment. If the pipes in Los Angeles public schools are still leaching toxins into the water students would otherwise be drinking, then invest the money and fix the pipes. If inadequate funding for water treatment plants in low income communities in California’s Central Valley mean they are not operating, or cannot expand their operations, then increase the funding. But at the same time don’t lose sight of the fact that if there is more energy, and more water, that will benefit everyone, especially low income households, no matter where they are and no matter what other challenges they may confront.

Finally, it shouldn’t be controversial to restrict discussions of infrastructure to infrastructure, but it is. Here is an area where, once again, establishing the terms of the discussion require adhering to a controversial premise, which is that discussions of “infrastructure” need to be restricted to the traditional definition. Basic infrastructure, offering surplus capacity instead of scarcity in the critical areas of energy, water and transportation, creates the solid foundation upon which all the other amenities of a prosperous and equitable society may flourish.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

California’s Unemployment Fraud Reaches At Least $20 Billion

California has given away at least $20 billion to criminals in the form of fraudulent unemployment benefits, state officials said Monday, confirming a number smaller than originally feared but one that still accounts for more than 11% of all benefits paid since the start of the pandemic.

State officials blamed nearly all of that fraud on a hastily approved expansion of unemployment benefits by Congress that let people who were self-employed get weekly checks from the government with few safeguards to stop people who were not eligible to receive them.

“I don’t think people have captured in their mind the enormity of the amount of money has been issued errantly to undeserving people,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Republican from Palmdale, who brought along an illustration of 29 dump trucks filled to the brim with $100 bills representing just over half of that money lost to fraud. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Restoring Local Control Over Land-Use Decisions

Single-family zoning has been abolished in the state of California. The moment the recall election was behind him, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bills 9 and 10, and now low-density neighborhoods everywhere in the state could become construction sites as developers turn single-family homes into two homes plus two accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny flats.”

Senate Bill 9 requires city governments to approve these developments in any area that the state law allows them, which is virtually everywhere with a few exceptions, such as wetlands or protected habitat. Local officials can’t hold a public hearing to consider the projects. They can’t require studies of the projects’ impact on the environment or the community. They can’t require new multi-family developments to have off-street parking. They can’t impose fees on developers to help pay for water, sewer or power infrastructure, schools, street repair, sanitation or public safety services.

According to the new state laws, the only thing city officials can do is sign off.

However, according to the state constitution, the people of California have the power to change this with a citizens’ initiative. And a coalition of local officials is currently working on doing exactly that.

Initiative No. 21-0016 was submitted to the state attorney general on August 26 and is awaiting an official title and summary for the circulating petitions so signature gathering can begin.

“The purpose of this measure is to ensure that all decisions regarding local land use controls, including zoning and regulations, are made by the affected communities,” the initiative states. “Community development should not be controlled by state planners, but by local governments that know and can address the needs of, and the impacts upon, local communities.”

Senate Bill 10 looks like it is giving local communities control over development, but in fact it allows a government body, such as a city council, to override voter-approved initiatives on land use issues. So even if voters put certain areas off-limits for development, SB 10 allows local government bodies to toss out those restrictions and encourage developers to turn a single-family home into a ten-unit apartment building plus four “granny flats,” without a public hearing or any reports on the impact of the project on the environment, parking or traffic.

If this was a game of rock-paper-scissors, SB 9 and SB 10 are the rock that smashes the scissors of local zoning. But the local control initiative is the paper the covers the rock.

The initiative would amend the state constitution and establish once and for all that when a state law conflicts with a county or city provision, plan or regulation regarding zoning, development or use of land, the local measure prevails over the conflicting state law. And the initiative specifically protects voter-approved local measures that regulate zoning, development or land use, stating that these shall not be “overturned or otherwise nullified by any legislative body.”

There’s an exception in the measure that would continue to allow state control over areas governed by the California Coastal Act of 1976, as well as for the siting of a large power plant or a water, communications or transportation infrastructure project. Local governments would not be able to stop these projects that address “a matter of statewide concern” and are in “the best interests of the state.” But the authors were careful to specify that a transit-oriented development project, whether residential, commercial or mixed use, is not to be considered a “transportation infrastructure project.”

The initiative’s proponents are a diverse group. John Heath is the executive director of a non-profit affordable housing and property management firm in South Los Angeles. He’s also the co-founder of United Homeowners’ Association, a non-profit volunteer organization representing residents of View Park, Windsor Hills and View Heights, communities located midway between USC and LAX and likely to be targeted by developers for densification. Bill Brand is the mayor of the already dense community of Redondo Beach. Peggy Huang is mayor of Yorba Linda, a city that had to evacuate residents during major wildfires in 2008 and 2020. Jovita Mendoza is a council member in the northern California city of Brentwood. Dennis Richards is a former planning commissioner for the city of San Francisco.

They’re calling their measure the Brand-Huang-Mendoza Tripartisan Land Use Initiative and say it will “Stop the Sacramento Land Grab.” It will reverse existing state laws, including SB 9 and SB 10, that take zoning authority away from local communities, and it will block any future efforts by Sacramento to force cities to approve increased density where it isn’t wanted. …

Click here to read the full article from the OC Register

Report: Facebook Suppressed Breitbart News Traffic by Twenty Percent

The Wall Street Journal has published internal material from anonymous sources at Facebook revealing that the company introduced tools that suppressed the traffic of Breitbart News by 20 percent, and other conservative publishers by double-digit margins.

The company introduced two tools after the 2016 election that disproportionately harmed conservative publishers. The Journal highlights internal Facebook research showing that if both tools were removed, it would increase traffic to Breitbart News by 20 percent, the Washington Times by 18 percent, Western Journal by 16 percent, and the Epoch Times by 11 percent. Facebook eventually removed one of the tools while keeping the other — but it is unclear which of them had the most impact on traffic.

According to the Wall Street Journal, one of Facebook’s researchers feared, “We could face significant backlash for having ‘experimented’ with distribution at the expense of conservative publishers.” …

Click here to read the full article from Breitbart News.

Local Government COVID-19 Relief Funds Bonuses for Government Workers

Earlier this year, Congress enacted $350 billion in “state and local government aid” as part of the so-called American Rescue Plan.  This is in addition to receiving $150 billion in relief in the first federal Coronavirus Relief Fund enacted in March 2020, and which according to a recent estimate, state and local governments are racing to spend the final $10 billion before a December 31 deadline.

While state and local governments certainly had big emergency spending needs in the height of the pandemic, many questioned whether the $500 billion in federal cash being rained down on city halls and state capitals was being targeted to actual needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, as Jared Walczak from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation notes, states didn’t really lose that much tax revenue at all in 2020 due to the economy’s quick rebound.

“Preliminary data suggest that states closed out calendar year 2020 with only $1.7 billion less revenue than they generated in 2019 (a decline of less than 0.2 percent), not counting federal assistance, while municipal governments actually experienced substantial revenue growth due to rising property values,” he wrote in March.

We’ve even seen 12 states take advantage of robust tax revenues to offer tax relief to its citizens.  Not in California, of course.

Rather than return excess government money it doesn’t need due to the pandemic to its citizens, one California county is taking it a step further – using unspent COVID dollars to give bonuses to government workers.

According to the San Jose Spotlight, “Santa Clara County employees can likely expect a bonus in their paychecks come December” when earlier this month “the Board of Supervisors approved a request to pay more than $76 million to help each of the county’s 22,000 employees by Dec. 3.”

“Employees will receive $2,500 for their work during the pandemic, regardless of whether they were frontline workers,” the Spotlight reports, and “funding will come from the federal American Rescue Plan.”

During the hearing on the plan, Supervisor Otto Lee questioned the wisdom of spending COVID funds on what has been termed “hero pay.”

“I think for so many reasons that the amount that has been provided here . . . it’s very generous, but in some ways overly generous,” he said.

In an op-ed published in the Mercury News, San Jose City Councilman Matt Mahan called the plan “a misuse of public funds.”  He noted that instead of paying bonuses to government workers, the county could have used the $76 million to “buil(d) low-cost modular apartments for 506 people currently sleeping on the streets” or it could have “ended hunger in (Santa Clara County) for eight months, according to data from Feeding America.”

Santa Clara County’s example is just the tip of the iceberg for COVID relief money being spent inefficiently or fraudulently.

Consider the ongoing saga over fraudulent benefits paid out by the Employment Development Department during the pandemic.  The Department has estimated that at least $10.4 billion of the benefits it paid out between March and December 2020 was lost to fraud.  Just this week, the nonpartisan State Auditor’s office said the California Department of Education “needs to do a better job of monitoring how its $24-billion in federal COVID-19 money is being spent in schools.”

And unfortunately for taxpayers, Santa Clara County’s $76 million payout to government workers likely won’t be the last example we see of the generosity of taxpayers to help those in need being abused.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Pleasant Hill CA In-N-Out Fined Over COVID Vaccine Rules

A second In-N-Out restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area faces a fight with health officials over COVID-19 vaccine rules.

The chain’s Pleasant Hill restaurant has been fined twice, for $250 and $500, for not checking the vaccination status of indoor diners, as required, Contra Costa County health officials told KPIX. The county imposed the second fine Tuesday.

In-N-Out earlier blasted San Francisco officials for ordering the chain’s only restaurant there to briefly close over the same rules, McClatchy News reported.

“We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” Arnie Wensinger, the chain’s chief legal and business officer, said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Newsom Declares Drought Emergency Across California

Gov. Gavin Newsom today declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California, as conservation efforts continue to fall far short of state targets.

Newsom also authorized California’s water regulators to ban wasteful water use, such as spraying down public sidewalks, and directed his Office of Emergency Services to fund drinking water as needed. But he stopped short of issuing any statewide conservation mandates. 

“As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it’s critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible,” Newsom said in a statement. 

Today’s announcement extends drought emergencies, already declared in 50 counties, to the eight remaining counties where conditions had thus far not been deemed severe enough: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, San Francisco and Ventura. 

The emergency declarations are aimed at easing responses to the deepening drought — such as emergency bottled water purchases or construction to bolster water supplies — by reducing environmental and other regulations. Under the proclamation, local water suppliers must begin preparing for the possibility of a dry year ahead.  

“We think we’ll be able to manage through this year,” said David Pettijohn, director of water resources at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Next year is the issue. And we don’t know what the water year is going to look like. Nobody can predict the weather.”

But California’s water watchers say that without a conservation mandate, California is losing time, and water. “We know mandates are more effective than voluntary calls,” said Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. “It takes time to ramp up, and because of the delay in asking Californians to save water this spring, we are further behind than we should be.” 

Conservation improving, but still short of goals 

New data released today by the State Water Resources Control Board reveals that Californians cut their water use at home by 5% in August compared to August 2020, an improvement over the reductions of less than 2% in July but still far short of the voluntary 15% cuts Newsom urged in July. 

The hard-hit North Coast, where the state’s first drought emergencies were declared in April, continued to show the biggest drops in household water use — with an 18.3% decrease compared to August of last year. Conservation numbers tapered off moving south, with the San Francisco Bay Area conserving nearly 10% more water than last August.  …

Click here to read the full article from CalMatters.org.

L.A. City Council Bans Homeless Encampments at 54 Spots

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a ban on camping at certain locations, in the first use of new laws that passed over the summer.

In a 12-2 vote, the council outlawed sitting, sleeping and lying at 54 locations in three of its districts. Amid contentious debate over the summer, the council enacted new rules regulating sitting, sleeping and storing property near fire hydrants, building entrances, driveways, libraries, parks, elementary schools and several other locations.

The council also asked that resources for outreach to homeless people in these locations be expanded and for city departments to draft new procedures to ensure people sleeping on the sidewalk aren’t forced to move without proper notice. Though the new procedures have been drafted, the city has yet to hire the staff to provide more outreach to accompany the new rules.

That worried several council members, who said their colleagues were rushing the process and should wait until there were more resources to help people. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

What Initiatives Might Be on the Nov. 2022 Ballot?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

California voters are getting used to making state policy via the ballot initiative, due to having such a dysfunctional Legislature.

Each election, there are many initiatives on the state and local ballots. What are Californians looking at for the November 2022 ballot so far?

These are the hot, controversial, imperative, and frivolous initiatives currently collecting signatures, listed with the Attorney General’s ballot title (in all caps) and a partial summary:

Another plastic recycling initiative.

REQUIRES STATE REGULATIONS TO REDUCE PLASTIC WASTE, TAX PRODUCERS OF SINGLE-USE PLASTICS, AND FUND RECYCLING AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires CalRecycle to adopt regulations reducing plastic waste, including to: (1) require that single-use plastic packaging, containers, and utensils be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and to reduce such waste by 25%, by 2030; (2) prohibit polystyrene container use by food vendors; and (3) tax producers of single-use plastic packaging, containers, or utensils by January 1, 2022, and allocate revenues for recycling and environmental programs, including local water supply protection.

Expands sports gambling in California on tribal lands.

AUTHORIZES NEW TYPES OF GAMBLING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY AMENDMENT. Allows federally recognized Native American tribes to operate roulette, dice games, and sports wagering on tribal lands, subject to compacts negotiated by the Governor and ratified by the Legislature. Beginning in 2022, allows on-site sports wagering at only privately operated horse-racing tracks in four specified counties (does not list which four counties).

Imposes 10% tax on sports-wagering profits at horse-racing tracks.

An initiative to limit local officials’ authority and response to public health emergencies. This is big.

LIMITS STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS’ AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Prohibits state and local officials from issuing enforceable orders, regulations, or ordinances to address public health emergencies (resulting from epidemics, infectious disease outbreaks, and similar conditions), or otherwise taking any actions in response to health emergencies that directly affect the operation of private businesses or public facilities (including beaches and parks), or that limit the exercise of individual liberties. Continues to permit state and local officials to issue public health advisories or public service announcements during public health emergencies.

Another proposed mandate for K-12 public schools requires “Earth Sustainability training.” Hmmm.

EDUCATION. REQUIRES EARTH SUSTAINABILITY TRAINING IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires public school students and teachers to receive thirty hours of education, training, and hands-on learning relating to sustainability or the care of the Earth, every two years.

A bill passed by the California Legislature creates The California Abolition Act, which “seeks to abolish forced labor and involuntary servitude unconditionally in the state of California.”

PROHIBITS INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE AS A PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Amends California Constitution to prohibit involuntary servitude in all instances, by removing the current exception that allows involuntary servitude to punish crime. For example, requiring inmates to work without pay would not be permitted.

Another attempt to decriminalize a hallucinogen drug. This won’t end well.

DECRIMINALIZES PSILOCYBIN MUSHROOMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. For individuals 21 and over, decriminalizes under state law the cultivation, manufacture, processing, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, and retail sale of psilocybin mushrooms, the hallucinogenic chemical compounds contained in them, and edible products and extracts derived from psilocybin mushrooms.

School choice initiative would provide vouchers to follow students.

REQUIRES STATE FUNDING OF RELIGIOUS AND OTHER PRIVATE SCHOOL EDUCATION. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Requires state to provide yearly voucher payments ($14,000 initially, adjusted annually) into Education Savings Accounts for K-12 students attending religious and other private schools. Funds payments through General Fund and local property tax revenues currently allocated to public (including charter) schools.

Online Petition Option for signature gathering for initiatives, recall elections.

AUTHORIZES ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE GATHERING FOR INITIATIVE, REFERENDUM, AND RECALL PETITIONS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires Secretary of State to develop a system that allows voters to view state and local initiative, referendum, and recall petitions on Secretary of State’s website and to sign them electronically directly on the website, or to download, print, and sign the printed petitions. Requires Secretary of State or local elections official to verify these signatures.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, “Within six months from this measure’s approval by voters, the Secretary of State would be required to develop a system that allows voters to view initiative, referendum, and recall petitions on a statewide internet website and do either of the following: (1) electronically sign the petition (with necessary identifying information) via that website or (2) download, print, and sign a petition document in the “portable document format” (known as PDF).”

Eliminates collective bargaining for public employees. This is big.

ELIMINATES COLLECTIVE BARGAINING FOR TEACHERS, POLICE OFFICERS, NURSES, FIREFIGHTERS, AND OTHER PUBLIC EMPLOYEES. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Eliminates collective bargaining between state/local governments and labor organizations (including unions) representing teachers, police officers, nurses, firefighters, and other public employees about wages, benefits, hours, labor disputes, or other work conditions. Requires the Governor-appointed State Personnel Board to establish wages and benefits for state employees.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office explains: “Prohibits Public Employers in California From Bargaining With Employee Organizations. The measure would prohibit the state or any of its political subdivisions from establishing a contract with or otherwise collectively bargaining with a public employee organization. The measure would apply to all state and local government entities in California. Effectively, the measure prohibits state and local governments from using collective bargaining to establish public employees’ compensation. The measure does not, however, prevent employees from organizing or joining unions or associations that represent employees during disciplinary hearings, engage in political speech, or otherwise advocate for employees.”

Another school choice initiative offering vouchers has requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General.

“Education Savings Act of 2022” would create education savings accounts that follow the students to an accredited school or homeschool of their choice. Students would be able to opt into a K-12 savings account with $13,000 a year in state education funds to be used for tuition or other eligible education expenses.

Private schools in California currently education approximately 471,000 students at 3,050 private schools throughout the state.

The More Water Now initiative is huge. They have requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General:

Specifically calls for two percent of the state’s general fund – about $3.5 billion per year – to be allocated to projects that increase California’s water supply.

“Water Infrastructure Funding Act” also permits up to half of those funds to be used to finance large water supply projects immediately. Tens of billions of dollars will become available. This two percent funding solution will continue until new completed projects add another five million acre feet per year of water supply to California’s farms and cities.”

An initiative “to allow families to keep the properties their parents worked so hard to acquire.”

Repeal the Death Tax Act,” which has requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General, would reinstate Propositions 58 and 193. Parents would once again be able to transfer a home and a limited amount of other property to their children without triggering reassessment and a property tax increase.

An initiative to require voter ID verification in all future elections. This is big.

“California Election Integrity Initiative” has filed for ballot title and summary from the Attorney General to require voter ID verification in all future elections.

Numerous other initiatives are awaiting ballot title and summary. The Globe will update the list as they are finalized.

You can read all of the current initiatives gathering signatures, as well as the full summaries, at the California Attorney General’s website.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Opinion: John Eastman Isn’t Going Away Quietly

Dan Morain, former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee, is the author of “Kamala’s Way: An American Life.”

John Eastman isn’t going away quietly.

Today, Eastman is notorious as the author of a legal memo asserting that Vice President Mike Pence could delay election results from seven states, potentially creating a pathway for President Donald Trump to “win” the 2020 election. But when I first met him, in 2010, he didn’t seem like a budding seditionist. Back then, the former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was running an uphill campaign to become California’s attorney general and came across as just your average eccentric law professor.

It was a mistake to write off Eastman then. And tempting as it is to dismiss him as a threat neutralized with Trump’s removal from office, it would be an even bigger error to write him off now.

Because Eastman, 61, has plans. Ever since Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book, “Peril,” surfaced his election memorandum, his legal reasoning has been widely criticized. But it isn’t stopping him from using the law to advance his agenda. Along with his former Chapman University law-school colleague Anthony Caso, Eastman has founded a new firm in Orange County called the Constitutional Counsel Group. (Eastman and the Chapman University law school, where he was once dean, parted ways after Jan. 6.) …

Click here to read the full article from the Washington Post.