Judge allows California high-speed rail project to proceed

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A California judge allowed the state’s bullet train project to go forward Wednesday but delayed a final ruling on a legal challenge asserting the state is not keeping its promises to voters.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei denied opponents’ attempt to temporarily block the state from spending about $1.25 billion from the sale of $10 billion in bonds last week for the project intended to link Los Angeles and San Francisco with a bullet train.

He did not immediately rule on their underlying challenge to the $64 billion project after hearing arguments.

However, recent changes to the train plan detailed in the lawsuit fall within what voters approved in 2008, Cadei said, echoing the reasoning in his tentative decision issued Tuesday. …

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Water Infrastructure, Not Divestment, is the Key Environmental Issue that California Faces

Oroville Dam 2Divestment – the notion of an entity selling off investments when driven by a political agenda – has become a common topic discussed among California’s state and municipal elected officials in recent months. Questions should be raised when time, energy and attention are being spent on divestment, and should instead be focused on other higher priorities.

Recently some environmental groups in California have taken to targeting specific projects and companies in an effort to divest cities and other entities from fossil fuels. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has recently become the cause célèbre for such efforts. Several cities have divested or have indicated a desire to divest from the financial backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline, including San Francisco, Davis, Alameda and Santa Monica. In the California Assembly, freshman legislator Ash Kalra introduced Assembly Bill 20, mandating divestment from DAPL, which is working its way through the legislative process.

With such focus being put on divestment, some basic questions must be raised. Is there a consensus around the idea that divestment actually works? More importantly, should divestment proposals like AB20 even be in the mix as a top priority for environmentally conscious officials right now?

It is important to remember that divestment does not necessarily hurt the company whose stocks are being shed … they merely become available to a large pool of investors to buy or sell. Ironically, pension funds and university endowments suffer the most, as they are forced to look for riskier and more volatile options to fill the gaps that divesting leaves. Passage of Assembly Bill 20 will only serve to hurt California’s public pensions.

Several high-profile representatives from both the pension and academic camps in California have cast even more doubt on the effectiveness of divestment. The staff of CalPERS characterized divestment as “an ineffective strategy for achieving social or political goals.” On the university front, Stanford University’s Board of Trustees released a statement which asserted that they did “not believe that a credible case can be made for divesting from the fossil fuel industry until there are competitive and readily available alternatives.” As for the bill specifically, even the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board came out against the bill, calling it “ill-considered” and “attention-getting.”

With public sector pensions facing shortfalls measuring in the billions of dollars and with heightened concerns about “college affordability” being key issues among Californians, perhaps governing the direction of pensions and endowments with anything other than a keen sense of fiduciary responsibility might be ill-advised. That is not to say that there are plenty of other immediately pressing issues that environmentalists and environmentally-minded lawmakers like Ash Kalra could rally behind.

It is abundantly clear that California’s water infrastructure and management is in dire need of reform. Events, such as the prolonged drought conditions from last year, and then the nearly catastrophic dam collapse in an unusually wet winter, clearly signal that our state’s water management infrastructure is in urgent need of an overhaul. As one in-depth Wired commentary on the issue has stated, California’s approach to protecting farms from large influxes of water is largely reliant on “patch-and-pray.” Levees and canals, many of them over a century old, simply cannot manage our state’s water supply. It is clear that a massive overhaul of these systems will be needed, combined with a fundamental re-thinking of how we use water in our daily lives. This overhaul needs to look at how cities use water; how irrigation can be made more efficient; and how we price and track water use.

In any public debate at this magnitude, California will need the input of all stakeholders in the state. That includes businesses, state lawmakers, heavy industry, agriculture, utilities, water management officials, and yes, even environmentalists. As we have seen in the case of Oroville, where a potential dam burst forced evacuation of 180,000 residents and nearly led to one of the largest disasters in California history, fixing California’s water infrastructure is not an issue that can wait much longer.

The efforts of Ash Kalra and the environmental community, misplaced in forcing divestment, should be redirected to create positive changes that our state needs. It is clear that pensions and endowments should not be used as a platform for taking ideological stances, but to perform as investments which best support the institutions and people they are intended to serve.

However, there are several pressing environmental issues that affect the quality of life of all Californians that need to be resolved in a comprehensive manner. Water infrastructure is perhaps the most urgent and important of those issues.

Bruce Whitaker is the Mayor of Fullerton, California, and also serves as a Director of the Orange County Water District.

4 signs California’s job market is cooling

As reported by the Orange County Register:

Have California bosses changed their hearts about hiring?

After six straight years of job gains, 2017 started with the slowest employment upswing since the first year of the recovery from the Great Recession.

Using data from the state Employment Development Department and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, here are four reasons behind the cooling.

No. 1: Fewer layoffs

California bosses have a low-risk way to keep payrolls up: skip the pink slips!

Just look at initial unemployment claims, seen as a snapshot of how many employees have recently lost their jobs. State employment counters report that in the year ended in February, 2.35 million unemployment claims were made.

That may sound like a like of layoffs but it’s actually historically small.

For starters, it’s the slowest annualized pace of Californians filing for jobless claims since December 2007. …

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California further delays lethal injection regulations

As reported by the Associated Press:

California corrections officials are delaying their new lethal injection regulations by four months, officials announced Monday, pushing back this week’s deadline until late August.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation needs more time to update the proposed rules after an initial version was rejected by state regulators in December, spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.

The move drew immediate criticism from a legal foundation that sued to force the state to switch to a single drug to carry out the death penalty.

No inmates have been executed in California since 2006. The state now has nearly 750 condemned inmates, the nation’s largest death row by far.

Office of Administrative Law Director Debra Cornez granted the department’s request for a delay in a letter dated Friday but disclosed on Monday. …

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The hidden costs of gas-tax legislation

gas prices 2For the last three weeks this column has focused on both the policies and politics of the $5.2 billion annual transportation tax increase. In the unlikely event that some have forgotten — or were on another planet — the taxes include a substantial hike in the car tax as well as a 12 cent increase in the gas tax.

However, as one might hear in a low-budget, late-night television ad, “But wait, there’s more!” Specifically, the gas-tax hike which politicians tell us is 12 cents per gallon — which is bad enough — in actuality could be as high as 19 cents gallon. How is that possible?

The explanation is a bit complicated but important to understand. It involves a convoluted process known as the “gas tax swap” passed by the Legislature and implemented by the California Board of Equalization in 2010.

The gas tax swap eliminated the state sales tax on gasoline and replaced it with what was supposed to be a revenue-neutral per-gallon excise tax. This made it more legally defensible for the state to repay Proposition 1B transportation bond debt when California was in the midst of recession. The BOE was tasked with adjusting the numbers every year in a “backward looking” process so that California would collect no more revenue from the excise tax than it would have collected from the sales tax had it not been eliminated.

But here’s the kicker: The tax hike just jammed through the Legislature in less than one week by Senate Bill 1 contains a provision that, beginning in July of 2019, adjusts the base excise tax to what it was in July 2010 when the gas tax swap started. Currently, the excise tax on gas is 27.8 cents a gallon. But in July of 2010 it was 35.3 cents a gallon. So as it stands right now, that’s a seven cents per gallon increase, on top of the new 12 cents per gallon tax.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Can Trump Help California Dodge Jerry Brown’s Bullet Train?

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustThe State of California issued the first tranche of taxable construction bonds last Thursday for the High Speed Rail Project, making it clear that it is determined to go ahead with the unpopular project despite numerous obstacles, including federal funding roadblocks thrown up by President Donald Trump.

According to a Bloomberg News report, California officials have made a show of faith by moving forward with the $1.25 billion offering, despite challenges including a lawsuit filed in Sacramento’s Superior Court. According to a Los Angeles Times story, “The suit was brought by John Tos, a farmer; Kings County; the city of Atherton; and several opposition groups,” and focuses chiefly on AB 1889, a bill that alters the way bond money can be spent. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, who oppose the train, state that “the bond act never gave the legislature the authority to alter it.”

The project is roundly vilified by pundits and talk radio hosts up and down the state — every major California GOP politician has denounced it, with the exception of Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin — and now many residents who originally voted for it, no longer support what they see as Brown’s “boondoggle.”  But none of that has stopped Jerry Brown from making his legacy project the state’s top priority.

“California can well afford it, and it will make our state a much better place,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in February in a recorded news conference to which his press office referred in response to questions from news organizations. “I know we’re going up against a very red tide here of opposition. This thing is a long-term project, and one way or another we’re going to get it.”

Brown is coming off a rough couple of months, as California’s crumbling infrastructure became front page news — highlighting the apparent folly of building a very expensive train with money the state doesn’t have — while raising gas taxes that will hit the working poor the hardest.

Proceeding with the controversial project comes at considerable risk to California’s perennially shaky finances.  If the lawsuit is successful in freezing the original bond funds, that would be a major setback.

At issue in the suit is the diversion of $713 million of Proposition 1A Bond Funds — specifically designated for the High Speed Rail — to act as matching funds for a $2 Billion project to electrify and retrofit a government-owned Silicon Valley commuter rail known as Caltrain.

On top of that, if Trump freezes all federal funds, both rail projects will struggle even more. CalTrain officials were banking on a $647 million matching grant from the Federal Transit Administration — which Trump has “deferred” indefinitely.

If the federal spigot is turned off, California taxpayers might be forced to foot the entire bill, essentially killing the projects by delaying them —which can force the return of matching funds already spent.

The Washington Post reports that President Trump weighed in on the issue in a note to Congress last month, stating that “localities should fund these localized projects.”

Some political observers believe that Trump’s denial of funds is just playing politics.

Christopher Leinberger, chair of George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, told the Post that the cuts suggest Trump is “playing to the base,” because he received much less support in urban areas than in “drivable suburban locations.”

“This is about pure politics,” Leinberger said.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), who chairs a key House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, disagrees.

Denham, who lobbied Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to deny the grant on the basis that the new Caltrain cars did not meet the definition of high-speed rail, urged Brown to find a different source of state funding for Caltrain, then reapply for the matching federal grants, cautioning that overcommitment puts other priorities at risk.

“If you’re going to continue to obligate state dollars that you do not have, then you’re in jeopardy of at some point the federal government calling for those notes to be due, which could then put public safety dollars at risk, other transportation dollars at risk or education dollars at risk,” said Denham according to Bloomberg, who sits on the transportation and infrastructure committee.

Brown, who met with Chao last month to discuss the grant, said of Denham in a phone interview with the Post:

“That’s called blackmail.”

Californians “voted for a bond issue” for high-speed rail “but envisioned other projects” using the cash, the governor said in the interview. “To go against it is the rawest, stupidest form of politics.”

Tim Donnelly is a former California State Assemblyman and author who is doing a book tour for his new book: Patriot Not Politician: Win or Go Homeless. He ran for governor in 2014.

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/tim.donnelly.12/

Twitter:  @PatriotNotPol

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Claremont students’ missive misses the mark

Claremont CollegeBlack students at Pomona College and neighboring schools in Claremont, California, have published an open letter declaring their hostility to free speech — other people’s free speech, that is. The letter shows that the faculty of the Claremont colleges are failing in their most basic educational duties.

The manifesto, written by “We, few of the Black students here at Pomona College and the Claremont Colleges,” was triggered by a statement on academic freedom by outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby. Oxtoby’s statement in turn responded to a student blockade that tried to shut down a talk on policing I was supposed to give at Claremont McKenna College on April 6. Leave aside for a moment the signatories’ unblemished ignorance regarding free speech and the role of unfettered discourse in creating their own liberties. Viewed purely formally, the letter is a major embarrassment to the faculty of Pomona and the Claremont colleges.

It is filled with excruciating solecisms (“Though this institution as well as many others including this entire country, have been founded upon the oppression and degradation of marginalized bodies, it has a liability to protect the students that it serves”); garbled regurgitations of High Theory (“The notion of discourse, when it comes to discussions about experiences and identities, deters the ‘Columbusing’ of established realities and truths [coded as ‘intellectual inquiry’] that the institution promotes”); and sheer head-scratchers of incomprehensibility (“To conclude our statement, we invite you to respond to this email by Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 4:07 PM [since we have more energy to expend on the frivolity of this institution and not Black lives].)”  (Gnawing question: Why not a 4:08 PMdeadline?)

Does this student writing demonstrate the value of a Pomona education? Several of the co-signatories are graduating this year or the next. Are their professors satisfied with their command of the English language? What grade would this incoherent tract receive if turned in as a term paper — a D? Or, more likely, an A? Faculty undoubtedly fear correcting the writing of “marginalized students,” lest they suffer the same scourging as UCLA Education Professor Val Rust did when he tried to induct some of his Critical Race Theory students into the protocols of academic prose.

The content of the letter, such as it is, should alarm the faculty as well (at least those faculty who have not inspired “We, few’s’” tortured efforts at Foucauldian post-modernism). The students appear to argue that the ideal of free speech is based on a mystifying and oppressive concept of unitary truth, and that such a concept solidifies white supremacy: “The idea that there is a single truth—‘the Truth’—is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment . . . This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”

“We, few of the Black students here at Pomona, etc.” have it exactly backward.  Free speech is the best tool for challenging hegemonic power.  Absolute rulers seek to crush non-conforming opinion; the censor is the essential bulwark of tyrants.  Without the Enlightenment and its challenge to unquestioned authority, “We, few of the Black students” would not even be at the Claremont colleges, because those secular, independent colleges might not even exist.  (It would be interesting to know how many Enlightenment philosophers “We, few” can even name; it is of course virtually certain that they have read none.)  Freedom of the press and of speech was essential in the fight against slavery and Jim Crow; how do “We, few of the Black students here at Pomona, etc.” think that those battles could have been waged without the First Amendment rights that the “We, few” now think they despise?

Moreover, “We, few of the Black students” only pretend to be postmodern relativists. They are fully confident that they possess the truth about me and about their oppressed plight at the Claremont schools. An alternative construction of their reality—one, say, that pointed out that as members of fantastically rich, tolerant, and welcoming American colleges, they are among the most privileged human beings in history—would be immediately rejected as contrary to the truth and not worth debating.  “We, few” would also reject the alternative truth that far from devaluing Black students, the administrations of the Claremont colleges have undoubtedly admitted many with levels of academic preparation far below that of their white and Asian peers, simply to fulfill the administrators’ own self-righteous desire for “diversity.”

Typical of all such censors and petty tyrants, “We, few of the Black students” now want to crush dissent. They ask the Claremont University Consortium to take action, both disciplinary and legal, against the editors of the conservative student paper, the Claremont Independent, for the open-ended sins of “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.” These are the demands not of relativists but of absolutists determined to solidify their power.

As for “We, few’s” gross misreading of my work, it shows that reading skills are in as short supply at the Claremont colleges as writing skills. My entire argument about the necessity of lawful, proactive policing is based on the value of black lives. I have decried the loss of black life to drive-by shootings and other forms of street violence. I have argued that the fact that blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined is a civil rights abomination. And I have tried to give voice to the thousands of law-abiding residents of high-crime areas who are desperate for more police protection so that they can enjoy the same freedom from fear that people in more wealthy areas take for granted.

The ungrammatical list of attributes that “We, few of the Black students” say disqualify me from speaking—“Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live”—unsurprisingly displays the ignorance already familiar from the rest of their letter, since I was an early and documented opponent of the Iraq war and all such efforts at regime change. The other epithets are not worth responding to.

Los Angeles Seeks to Stop Oil and Gas Boom

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has introduced a motion to end oil drilling and production near public places in a measure that could kill America’s next oil and gas fracking boom.

Over the objections from the oil industry, Wesson introduced a motion on April 19 to conduct a study regarding how the Department of City Planning, with the assistance of the city attorney and the city’s petroleum administrator, could change the city’s zoning code to require a setback for oil and gas activities within public and residential facilities.

Wesson’s motion stated, “The closer oil and gas wells and storage facilities are to sensitive land uses, the higher the risk that the health and safety of nearby residents could be threatened.” And in a call to action, Wesson added, “Due to the ongoing health impacts experienced by residents from neighborhood drilling activity, it is imperative that we identify and implement a meaningful, long-term solution.”

Despite Wesson’s claims about health risks, the Center for Disease Control found that from 2003–2013 as the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry doubled the size of its workforce and increased drilling rigs by 71 percent, the annual occupational fatality rate in the industry decreased 36.3 percent, to 1,189 deaths over the decade. About 40 percent of fatalities were due to transportation accidents, and 26 percent was due to equipment accidents. The CDC found illnesses and fatalities from all environmental exposure were extremely low.

Wesson and his environmental lobbying allies claim they are only seeking a 2,500-foot setback, or about a half mile. But with California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources website revealing that there are about 3,000 active wells, tens of thousands of inactive wells, and underground pipelines running throughout the city, the proposed setback would essentially ban oil and gas activity in almost 100 percent of Los Angeles.

The new city-level effort follows a failed 2014 national initiative that was led by California environmental groups including Earthjustice, California Communities Against Toxics, California Safe Schools, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Comite Pro Uno, the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, and many more.

The California sponsors attempted to have the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issue a new regulatory order under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act that would allow all oil and gas production wells and associated equipment to be listed as an “area source” of toxic pollution, if the EPA Administrator “determines that emissions of hazardous air pollutants from such wells present more than a negligible risk of adverse effects to public health” in any combined metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 1 million.

Give that the definition of “negligible” according to the dictionary.com website is: “so small, trifling, or unimportant that it may safely be neglected or disregarded,” the EPA would have been able to ban all oil and gas drilling, production and refining in the 54 combined metropolitan statistical areas in America that have a total population of at least 206 million, or about two-thirds of the entire U.S. population.

The 1,750-square-mile Monterrey Shale Formation that covers the entire Los Angeles Basin is potentially the richest shale oil reserve in the United States. Since water is key to the shale hydraulic fracturing drilling process, Breitbart News predicted that a state economic boom would take off as soon as California experienced its next cyclical rainy season.

With all California reservoirs already above historic levels, record snowpack levels in the Sierras, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting a National a very wet El Niño during the 2017-18 water year that begins on November 1, the L.A. City Council motion could kill a potential local economic boom.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Did Sacramento break the law in transportation tax rush?

los-angeles-freewaysDid lawmakers break the law when they passed Senate Bill 1, the transportation tax increase?

There’s a quaint provision in the California Constitution that reads, “A person who seeks to influence the vote or action of a member of the Legislature in the member’s legislative capacity by bribery, promise of reward, intimidation, or other dishonest means, or a member of the Legislature so influenced, is guilty of a felony.”

By the time Gov. Jerry Brown finished twisting arms and greasing palms to pass a massive transportation tax hike, that antique language was on the curb like a broken grandfather clock waiting for a bulky-item pickup.

Brown and legislative leaders promised a billion dollars for specific local projects in the districts of wavering lawmakers, and one termed-out Republican senator made a deal for a law to protect people in his profession — civil engineering, not the profession you’re thinking of — from liability in construction lawsuits.

It’s not easy to prove a quid pro quo, Latin meaning “something for something.” People don’t typically leave a written record that says, “I’ll vote for this if you vote for that.”

But one thing is different this time. In November, California voters passed Proposition 54, a measure aimed at guaranteeing transparency in state lawmaking. Prop. 54 says bills must be in print and online in their final form 72 hours before the Legislature votes on them.

The transportation tax increase, SB1, was posted online on April 3. If the Legislature was going to meet its self-imposed deadline to pass the bill on April 6, not one word of it could be changed before the vote.

So all the wheeling, dealing, greasing, and “promise of reward” had to go into a separate bill.

And it did.

SB132 contains a billion dollars of “that” which was negotiated in exchange for a vote on “this.”

Not only is it in writing, there are many statements on the record from lawmakers that their vote for the transportation tax was explicitly tied to a promise from the governor and legislative leaders that the “thats” would be delivered.

Are the deals spelled out in SB132 a violation of the law under Proposition 54? They are effectively amendments to SB1 that were written into a different bill. If that’s legal, then the 72-hour requirement that voters just added to the state constitution has already been thrown to the curb with the rest of the grandfather clocks.

Before the truck comes to pick up the garbage, we should retrieve that language about bribery and reward and see if it applies to outgoing Sen. Anthony Cannella’s deal to condition his vote for SB1 on the passage of SB496, a bill Cannella authored to protect “design professionals,” including civil engineers, from lawsuits stemming from future work. “Anthony is a civil engineer,” Cannella’s official bio states.

Maybe you’re thinking it won’t pass. He was ahead of you. Language was added to the billion-dollar spending bill, SB132, to make it “operative” only if SB496 is enacted.

In addition to the billion dollars of “reward” written into SB132 on April 6, the bill was amended on April 5 to add $1 billion for “augmented employee compensation.”

Yes, another $1 billion of “compensation increases and increases in benefits” for state workers was slipped in while everyone was wondering where the state spent all our transportation taxes.

Talk about being taken for a ride.

Susan Shelley is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

How the Trump administration can stop the bullet train

From the San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board

The only kind of news the troubled $64 billion California bullet train project seems to generate is bad news. In January, a Federal Railroad Administration analysis was leaked that projected the initial 118-mile, $6.4 billion segment of the project would run 50 percent over budget. Then last week, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that the project’s price tag may continue to be pushed higher and higher by “the complex engineering needed for passenger safety.” It also offered an alarming warning from rail safety consultant Steven Ditmeyer that corners were being cut already on safety issues for budgetary and political reasons.

The jarring questions these reports raise about the project’s finances and management couldn’t come at a worse time for the rail authority and Gov. Jerry Brown, the bullet train’s most vocal backer. That’s because U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is being urged by California House Republicans not only to audit the project but also to reverse Obama administration decisions that exempted it from normal standards relating to the state’s use of about $3 billion in federal funds.

One of those decisions was explicit and aboveboard, if dubious: a 2012 agreement that allowed the state to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding without matching state spending. Rep. Jeff Dunham, R-Turlock, and other bullet train critics have long argued that this waiver is directly in contradiction to decades of precedents under which the federal government requires matching state spending on big projects to lock in states’ commitments to finish what they start. …

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