Ignoring the Promises Made for High-Speed Rail

A new business plan has been issued for California’s high-speed rail and the only thing that is moving fast is the bullet train moving away from the promises made to voters when the bond supporting the train was on the ballot. The promises made to California taxpayers and voters  in 2008 about costs and completion date have been broken.

Completed by 2020? Not even the shorter rail from Bakersfield to Merced is finished. The new HSR business plan now says the rail will be completed in 2033, thirteen years late and more than twice the time it would take to build as promised in 2008 when the bond was on the ballot as Proposition 1A. Given the the train’s (ahem) track record, even completion by 2033 should be taken lightly.

Money from private sources? From the ballot argument in favor of Proposition 1A: “Matching private and federal funding to be identified BEFORE state bond funds are spent.” (Emphasis in the original document.)

Didn’t happen. No major private funds in matching dollars have been close to be identified. Some federal funds have come to California for the train, but the Trump Administration wants to send no more since the high-speed rail has not progressed as promised.

Cost of the rail? It was supposed to take $33 billion to complete the project. Then it rose and kept on rising until the latest business plan declared the cost of the rail would be $80.3 billion.

Interestingly, the argument made against the ballot measure in the information booklet sent to all voters said the cost could be $90 billion. Opponents of the bullet train were almost right on. They may be exactly correct before the job is finished.

A trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2.5 hours, taking 70 million passengers at a cost of $50 per passenger? That’s what the pro argument promised. Too soon to see if the rail lives up to those promises, but it’s a safe wager that those promises won’t be met, especially the per passenger ticket cost, since all the other financial estimates have been so wrong.

Yet, the Rail Authority speaks optimistically of accomplishing the task of building the rail. Most likely, they are following a strategy once clearly explained by Willie Brown, the former Mayor of San Francisco and former Assembly Speaker wrote in a commentary about some Bay Area projects: “In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

So now we have a big hole called the high-speed rail and the cost continues to rise.

Where does that leave the voters and the taxpayers? Distrusting government to an even greater degree—and paying for the mistakes and miscalculations.

Joel Fox is editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

California’s Progressive War on Suburbia

Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

For three years in a row, California’s progressive lawmakers have attempted to legislate higher density housing by taking away the ability of cities and counties to enforce local zoning laws. And for the third year in a row, the proposed law, Senate Bill 50, was narrowly defeated. But eventually, inevitably, something like SB 50 is going to passed into law.

In opposition were homeowners who understandably don’t want their single family home neighborhoods subjected to random demolitions in order to replace single family homes with construction subsidized fourplexes to be filled with rent subsidized tenants. These homeowners, and the local elected officials who represent them, were joined by “housing justice advocates” who claimed the law didn’t adequately address the gentrification effect, whereby higher density developments often displace existing residents to construct luxury condominiums that only the wealthy can afford.

There’s a lot going on here, and it seems that very little in the way of analysis can support a dogmatic ideological perspective. For example, from a property rights perspective, you can argue that people who purchase homes have a right to expect the zoning density of the neighborhood to be respected, since that’s what they relied on when they invested their life savings and lifetime earnings. But a property rights perspective might also have one argue that each individual home owner has the right to do whatever they wish with their property, even if that means demolishing the home to construct a multi-story apartment building. These unresolved and conflicting interpretations of property rights prevent consensus and delay action.

And if some ideological dogmas lend themselves to contradictory interpretations, others simply defy reality entirely. Some of the housing justice advocates believe that providing shelter is a human right. For them, mandating taxpayer subsidized “affordable housing” construction, and taxpayer subsidized rent, is the only solution to California’s housing shortage and affordability crisis, and the sooner we get busy, the better. This unrealistic extension of human rights attracts opposition, if not ridicule, and in any case is impossibly expensive.

But perhaps the worst of the ideological dogmas that prevents rapid solutions to the housing challenges facing Californians is environmentalist values taken to extremes. The practical impact of regulations attendant to environmentalist values – from CEQA reporting requirements and CEQA lawsuits to burdensome and expensive building codes – is to make housing construction unprofitable for anything that might be considered affordable to the average Californian.

Environmentalist ideology hasn’t just made construction costs unaffordable, it has made land costs unaffordable as well, by passage of environmentalist inspired laws that strictly limit the amount of raw land that can get approved for new home construction. Around every city in California, with varying degrees of enforcement, “urban containment” boundaries have been established. Sometimes these boundaries serve important goals; to protect prime farmland, or to preserve important ecosystems such as wetlands for migratory birds. But it seems that almost all open land, everywhere within California’s vastness, is off limits to developers because of environmentalists.

California’s Regulations Destroyed Affordability

The problem with SB 50, or any eventual legislation that mandates higher housing density, is that without reforms to the laws that have made construction of affordable housing unprofitable, the only housing that will ever get built will be high-end homes by private investors, or housing that will require government subsidies both to construct and for the renters to be able to afford to live in them. This is not sustainable. It costs too much, and it takes too long. And it sets up a dangerous bifurcated society, where forcibly integrated into residential single family neighborhoods, randomly situated pretty much anywhere, are apartment buildings populated by residents receiving taxpayer funded rent subsidies.

There’s no doubt that some legislation may have to occur to selectively increase housing density. When a bill like SB 50 returns, which could be any day, certain modifications could help. In particular, SB 50 specified where state law could preempt local zoning, and included in “job-rich, good schools areas.” This is “inclusionary zoning” at its ostensibly high-minded, vindictive worst. The bill’s authors made this provision without any reference to whether or not “job-rich, good schools areas” are in parts of town that ought to naturally convert to higher density. Instead, the message seems to be “you’ve managed to maintain a prosperous and stable community with good schools and jobs, so into that community, we’re going to subsidize the entrance of predatory investors, who will purchase and demolish homes that come onto the market, replace them with apartments, and fill those apartments with people who never had to face down the astronomical mortgages that all you residents shouldered in order to have the right to live here.”

This is wrong. It destroys the incentive for anyone to ever want to pay extra to live in a decent neighborhood. Equally important, it destroys the incentive for low income individuals to work hard and aspire to move to a better neighborhood. And to be clear: this provision would never impact truly wealthy neighborhoods. Those people can afford attorneys to tie development proposals up in knots for years, SB 50 or not. This provision attacks California’s middle class. As usual. Delete it.

On the other hand, within the urban core and on properties with frontage along major boulevards, it is an unfortunate reality for anyone still living there in single family homes that their property is doomed to transition. In the past, that would be accomplished because the value of a few of these properties, consolidated and rezoned for a large multi-family building, would make it a lucrative deal for the sellers. Now, however, the business model is broken. Not only has the impact of CEQA and overdone building codes raised costs, but the resultant entrance of public financing into the equation has made project labor agreements elevate the total project cost still further. The relatively recent entrance of powerful “nonprofit” corporations into the subsidized housing market has padded total project budgets and increased costs even more.

For these reasons, mandating densification, however better tuned the rules eventually turn out, is not enough. The entire economic landscape requires revision.

Rewriting SB 50 to Recognize Economic Reality

It is possible to increase the supply of affordable market rate housing without involving the government and taxpayers in the actual construction funding. It is possible as well to increase the supply of housing in a manner that allows the developers and landlords to earn a decent return on investment without involving the government and taxpayers in funding rent subsidies. Therefore, the next version of SB 50 might recognize and account for the following factors:

  • Abandon “inclusive zoning” aimed at integrating subsidized low income residents into middle class neighborhoods via massive taxpayer expenditures.
  • Restrict mandated higher density zoning to the core urban areas in California and along major traffic arteries. One absolute set of governing criteria should apply everywhere.
  • Treat every county and city exactly the same, instead of allowing select counties and cities to take longer to come up with their own plans.
  • Repeal or significantly reform the California Environmental Quality Act.
  • Repeal energy neutral mandates and assorted other unwarranted environmentalist inspired building code regulations that add costs to home construction.
  • Set a maximum period of time within which building permits can be granted, and set a maximum building fee at $10,000 per home/unit (or less).
  • Streamline the building permit process to make it easier, not harder, for developers to acquire permits. Look to Texas for guidance.
  • Ban project labor agreements and require open bidding processes for public works projects.
  • Restore public funding to streets and connector roads instead of charging developer fees which are then reflected in much higher home prices.
  • Repeal laws designed to prevent reasonable expansion of the urban footprint. Allow housing developments again on open land.

These and other changes would make it possible again for private homebuilders to profitably construct affordable housing. Redirecting public money into constructing enabling infrastructure would take additional financial pressure off of home builders as well as home buyers. That worked in the 1960s and 1970s in California, and it still works in other states. The overall cost of increased public investment in infrastructure is less, perhaps far less, than the cost of taxpayers subsidizing the construction, and then subsidizing the rent in perpetuity, for literally millions of units of housing.

There is a war on suburbia being waged in California. This ideological battle, where suburbanites are stigmatized as classist, privileged, and environmentally destructive, is utterly unfounded. Suburbs are where a majority of Americans prefer to raise their families. And not these new suburbs with a dozen “single family dwellings” per acre. Spacious, beautiful suburbs where homes sit on lots of at least 6,000 square feet; suburbs where the homes themselves might actually be smaller and more affordable, once the economic hindrances to building them are removed via legislative reforms.

The arrogance of environmentalists who believe suburbs to be a planetary abomination must be called out for what it is – extremism completely unjustified by reality. Everything, from cars to energy to building materials, are becoming clean and sustainable. And there’s plenty of open land in California to spare a few thousand more square miles for new human settlement. At the least, if environmentalists are serious about saving California’s ecosystems, they might stop making common cause with the open borders lobby, and they might endorse nuclear power. Until then, they are transparently hypocritical.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

The Moral Crisis of Skid Row

They call Los Angeles the City of Angels, but it seems that even here, within the five-by-ten-block area of Skid Row, the city contains an entire cosmology—angels and demons, sinners and saints, plagues and treatments.

Walking down San Pedro Street to the heart of Skid Row, I see men smoking methamphetamine in the open air and women selling bootleg cigarettes on top of cardboard boxes. Around the corner, a man makes a drug transaction from the window of a silver sedan, a woman in an American-flag bandana flashes her vagina to onlookers, and a shirtless man in a bleached-blond woman’s wig defecates behind a parked police car. Slumped across the entryway of an old garment business, a shoeless, middle-aged junkie injects heroin into his cracked, bare feet.

Skid Row is the epicenter of L.A.’s addiction crisis. More than 12,000 homeless meth and heroin addicts pass through here each year, with thousands living in the vast network of tent encampments that line the sidewalks. For decades, L.A. has centralized public services in this tiny city-within-a-city. The result: it’s become an iron cage of the social state, with the highest concentration of homelessness, addiction, and overdose deaths in Los Angeles County. Fire Station 9, which covers Skid Row, is now the busiest firehouse in America, responding to 35,518 calls for service last year, including a record-high number of overdoses and mental-health crises.

The scale of the crisis is astonishing: 40,000 homeless men and women in Los Angeles County suffer from addiction, mental illness, or both. More than 1,000 will die on the streets this year. As I survey the human wreckage along Skid Row, my fear is that the city government is creating a new class of “untouchables,” permanently disconnected from the institutions of society. For the past decade, political leaders have relied on two major policies to address the crisis—“harm reduction” and “housing first”—but despite $619 million in spending in 2018, more people are on the streets than ever. The reality is that Los Angeles has adopted a policy of containment: construct enough “supportive housing” to placate the appetites of the social-services bureaucracy, distribute enough needles to prevent an outbreak of plague, and herd enough men and women into places like Skid Row, where they will not disrupt the political fiction that everything is okay.

The LAPD’s Central Police Station is a windowless fortress, surrounded by a narrow strip of dirt and a sagging chain-link fence. Last year, after rats established a system of tunnels underneath the station, the department made plans to pave over the remaining landscape with concrete, but the project is on hold. I’m here to see Sergeant Pete Kouvelis, an LAPD veteran with a detailed, street-level understanding of life on Skid Row. I wait in line behind a polite and neatly dressed man filing a battery complaint against another resident in his SRO apartment complex, and then give my name to the tired-looking officer behind the glass.

After a moment, Sergeant Kouvelis, a broad-shouldered man with a military haircut, opens the security door and shakes my hand. As we pass through the back hallways and climb into his white patrol vehicle, Kouvelis, who earned a degree in architecture from USC and served as an officer in the Marine Corps, launches into a short discourse on the political economy of Skid Row. He says that the territory here is divided into sections by street gangs from South Los Angeles, who control the markets for meth, heroin, prostitution, cigarettes, and stolen goods. “This is pretty much the epicenter in L.A. for maintaining your addictions,” Kouvelis says. “You’ve got the gang element that markets their drugs, and it’s predatory. The more people addicted, the better.”

Indeed, addiction is a booming business here. Based on data from the Center for Harm Reduction and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, I estimate that the sales of meth, heroin, and cocaine on Skid Row add up to a $200 million annual enterprise, fueling a massive black market in everything from stolen bicycle parts to human organs. The LAPD, including its gang and narcotics task forces, has tried to disrupt the drug trade for decades, without much success. “We’ve tried different things, different data,” says Kouvelis. “But the population is very good at learning our tactics and then adapting their behaviors to counter our tactics. . . . It’s almost like a shell game, where we’re trying to do one thing today and then, three months from now, we’ll [need to] try a different tactic.”

Outside San Julian Park, which the Grape Street Crips use as a central distribution point for meth and heroin, Kouvelis stops the car in the middle of the street. He explains that we don’t want to be too close to the subsidized apartment buildings because residents on the upper floors will sometimes throw trash, urine, and feces at the cops below. While we wait for another officer to arrive, Kouvelis tells war stories from his time in the Central Division. He points to a tree around the corner that used to have 50 or so hypodermic needles stabbed into it; addicts would take one out, use it to shoot up, and then stick it back into the cracked bark. He tells me a particularly nightmarish story about a young bipolar woman, kidnapped and held in a subsidized apartment, and then plied with meth, tortured, and raped for more than two months; officers found her unconscious, with her hair ripped out and a half-dozen broken bones. A few years ago, Kouvelis says, officers even learned of a baby living in one of the tents—they cordoned off the entire street and went tent-to-tent until they rescued the child.

When the other officer, a thin, bald-headed man, arrives, we get out of the vehicle and walk through the park to the Green Apple Market on Fifth and Wall. Suddenly, we hear screaming and fighting around the corner. The officers run over and find a heavyset woman with a pit bull accusing a man in a bloody gray shirt of harassing her while she sleeps in her tent. Kouvelis, the bald-headed cop, and other officers from another patrol car break up the fight and scatter the crowd. As he crosses the street, the man in the gray shirt protests that I’m taking pictures, and another man in a black beanie points at me and threatens: “If [the police] wasn’t here, you woulda probably got jumped or knocked out.” The police recognize the man in the gray shirt from a few days earlier, when he was stabbed in the neck and nearly died in the hospital. “He’s not long for this world,” says one of the officers. “He’s going to get himself killed.”

Roughly a decade ago, Skid Row’s future looked more hopeful. In 2006, Police Chief William Bratton and Central Division Commander Andrew Smith implemented a strategy of Broken Windows policing for Skid Row, called the Safer Cities Initiative, which led to a 42 percent reduction in major felonies, 50 percent reduction in overdose and natural deaths, and 75 percent reduction in homicides. “We’ve broken the back of the problem,” said Chief Bratton then, reporting that the overall homeless population had been reduced from 1,876 people to 700 people—an astonishing success. (See “The Reclamation of Skid Row,” Autumn 2007.)

The progress proved short-lived. Arguing that Broken Windows policing “criminalizes homelessness,” activists slowly dismantled the Safer Cities Initiative through civil rights lawsuits and public pressure campaigns. Today, Skid Row’s homeless population is estimated to be at least 2,500 people, and crime has been rising for years.

At the Central Division, a consensus is emerging that it’s only a matter of time before the neighborhood explodes. “I was a Marine officer [and] served overseas,” says Sergeant Kouvelis. “Skid Row rivals anything that I have seen to date . . . in terms of the conditions that people live in.”

Over the past 30 years, activists and political leaders have successfully shifted public policy regarding addiction and disorder away from a so-called punitive model that relies on prohibition, incarceration, and abstinence toward a “harm-reduction” approach that takes widespread drug use as a given and attempts to reduce rates of infection and other negative effects. Mark Casanova, executive director of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, has been working with addicts on Skid Row since 1985. His Center for Harm Reduction distributes 2.4 million clean needles to more than 12,000 addicts each year. As I walk through the door to the waiting room, I see a gaunt young man waiting to collect needles, swabs, and fentanyl testing strips. A woman with floral tattoos covering her scabbed-over arms slides a tray of used needles into the metal sharps container. On the wall is a large map of the city, with hundreds of blue pushpins marking each spot where an overdose was reversed with a naloxone inhaler provided by the center. …

Click here to read the full article from City Journal Online.

How State Policy Makers Can Avoid It Becoming Siligone Valley

As unlikely as it seems, we could see in our lifetimes the decline of Silicon Valley, maybe the most dynamic economic and innovation machine man has ever known. Can it be avoided?

Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, who’s earned Silicon Valley’s grandest fortune, said at last month’s 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Utah that “I do think on balance if I was starting from scratch now, I would not pick the Bay Area.” 

While he’s “not super negative on” the Bay Area, quite a few are. San Francisco’s most recent annual residential survey found that 35% say they’re likely to leave the city, with 15% saying they’re “very likely’ move out and 20% saying it’s “somewhat likely” they’ll go.

The Facebook chairman and CEO is not the first tech executive to send a chilly wind through the valley. Nor the most blunt. Reddit founder and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian said straight out last year that despite San Francisco being a great city, “no one in their right mind” would build a company there.

Is it because the region has become an echo chamber?

“There’s a lot of advantages to building a company that is not in such a monoculture,” Zuckerberg said, adding that “Silicon Valley being an all-tech town there’s not as much diversity of how people think about things as you’d like, in a lot of ways.”

The valley has a reputation for being monolithically left. Zuckerberg himself admits it’s “a very left-leaning place.” And the great majority of executives, managers, and workers appear comfortable with that. 

But being insulated from outside ideas can hold back rather than promote growth. According to Undercover Recruiter, “employees with different political affiliations may have different approaches to problem-solving, allowing them to offer some invaluable insights … diverse perspectives can help your business thrive.” 

Just as California would have the fifth-largest economy on the planet if it were an independent nation, Silicon Valley would have a larger economy, valued at $275 billion, than Finland, the Czech Republic, Portugal and other European nations, if it were a separate country. The nine Bay Area counties would be the world’s 19th largest economy if they were combined into a nation, with a $535 billion GDP. As a state, they’d be the richest. 

The valley is a remarkable story. But can it, and will it, last? 

A healthy economy is a churning economy. Only 52 of the U.S. companies that were on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 are still there today (and we’re better off because of the “perennial gale of creative destruction”). At some point, the tech world that fuels Silicon Valley will be overtaken by an economy driven by forces not yet imagined.

But before that happens, the valley could begin fading due to self-inflicted wounds — the Blue State public policies that have produced trouble all across California.

Extreme housing costs in the region make it hard for tech companies to recruit capable employees. So do the high personal income taxes they’d be liable for. Steep business taxes make California less desirable for startups and push established companies out, as does the general hostility toward business, from Sacramento down to the city halls. It’s also tough to sell the state when the quality of life is devalued by local elected officials. San Francisco and Oakland, for instance, are 148th and 144th in WalletHub’s ranking of the nation’s 150 worst-run cities

California businesses have to operate in a treacherous legal environment, as well. The state is “a perennial Judicial Hellhole,” says the American Tort Reform Association, overloaded with “business-crushing lawsuits.”

 There are options. Houston and Austin in Texas, Las Vegas, Denver, and Miami are “great alternatives” to Silicon Valley, according to Inc. magazine. All are successfully attracting capital and entrepreneurs, tend to be more open to outsiders than Silicon Valley, and are not as expensive to live in. 

Entrepreneur magazine suggests Roanoke, Virginia; Provo, Utah; Huntsville, Alabama; San Antonio; Nashville; and San Diego as “unsung startup tech” alternatives. The cost of living is lower in each, even in San Diego, than it is in the Bay Area, and the tech talent, groomed by local universities, is ready to work.

California policymakers should never imagine that Silicon Valley is too big to fail. In fact, if they continue to see it as simply a cash spigot to fund their “progressive” agenda, they’ll be complicit in its downfall.

Kerry Jackson is a senior fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

California bill bars insurers from declining fire coverage

Amid mounting cries of California homeowners being denied wildfire insurance in high-risk areas, lawmakers want to require insurance companies to cover all existing homes, as long as they meet new safety standards.

The measure, coming after years of deadly fires causing insurers to turn down more customers, would also require insurance companies to give homeowners financial incentives for fire safety upgrades. Existing homes that meet a new state standard for “fire-hardening” would not be denied coverage under the law.

The industry has resisted previous action to force companies to insure homeowners in high risk areas. Insurers say that devastating and more frequent blazes have jeopardized their profitability and capability to provide coverage. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox40 News.

New Political News Blog – SoCal Political News

A new political news blog – www.socalpoliticalnews.com – has officially launched. With just over a week of posts already up on the website, the site is already growing quickly.

Some of the key factors that SoCal Political News anticipates for their future success is frequent postings and a very strong group of authors linked to the website. Some of the many authors include:

  • Chris Emami
  • Austin Lumbard
  • Dr. Barry Resnick
  • Bob Loewe
  • Craig Alexander
  • Dr. Jeff Barke
  • Mark Bucher
  • Melissa Salinas
  • Jim Palmer
  • Peggy Huang
  • Matt Holder
  • Tim Shaw
  • Will Swaim

The website is currently focused on Orange County. However, work is underway to add experienced authors from Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County. An emphasis is being placed on writing about political news, analysis, public policy and government relations. These posts will be on topics at the national, state and local levels of government.

A major goal is not to add to the massive amount of negativity on the internet. The site instead will write in a manner that is fact-based and focuses on providing great content that can sometimes be thought-provoking.

Unlike some other sites, this blog will not allow any of their authors to post anonymously. Over the coming weeks, they are expected to add to their list of authors.

SF Mayor Breed regrets letting Nuru friendship influence her judgment

As Mayor London Breed braces for the potential fallout from her disclosure last week that she accepted $5,600 in gifts from ex-Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, she admitted to a lapse in judgment that allowed her personal life to bleed into her professional one.

Breed laid out what happened in an online post Friday, but her attempt at transparency still left many questions unanswered.

On Tuesday, Breed remained tight-lipped when pressed for details in an interview about why Nuru, a prominent department head, paid for a mechanic to repair Breed’s broken-down car and for a rental car last year. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

California to allow voters to switch party registration on Election Day

California’s governor signed a bill last week that allows state residents to switch their party affiliation on Election Day, a change expected to increase primary election participation.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill Thursday, allowing voters to fill out a short form at any point in the last two weeks before an election, including the day itself, declaring their party affiliation.

The bill ensures that a resident may vote in their intended party’s primary even if they miss the official registration deadline, presuming that their application is accepted by county officials. …

Click here to read the full article from The Hill.

The Many Flaws of Prop. 13, the 2020 Impostor

A couple of months ago, this column sounded the alarm concerning the big statewide school bond on the March 2020 ballot.

Voters have already started casting their ballots on this measure, ironically identified as Proposition 13 (2020). Unlike the beneficial Prop. 13 from 1978, this Prop. 13 is a huge $15 billion statewide school bond that threatens taxpayers in several ways. And the more we learn about this proposal, the worse it gets.

Although the amount of debt is “only” $15 billion — setting a new record for school bonds — the total cost will be $27 billion when interest costs are added.

We also pointed out that Prop. 13 (2020) is a huge threat to California property owners. While it is true that the bond itsef, plus interest, will be repaid out of the state’s general fund, local school districts are usually required to provide matching funds. Those matching funds are generated by local bond measures, which are repaid exclusively by property owners. The threat to homeowners is that, if Prop. 13 (2020) passes, those debt limits are nearly doubled.

After our original column ran back in November concerning the debt limit increase, several taxpayers inquired as to where that language could be found in the text of Prop. 13 in the ballot pamphlet, the state’s Official Voter Information Guide. And there’s the rub. Proposition 13 (2020) was placed on the ballot by the legislature through the passage of Assembly Bill 48.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California’s Poorly Designed “Gig-Work” Law Already Having Unintended Consequences

Last year California passed a new law, known generally as AB5, designed to classify independent contractors as full employees, a status that brings associated protections under California law. The law was designed to go after Uber and Lyft, whose business model depends on drivers working as independent contractors, but it was too broad in scope, threatening to drag in workers and business far from the tech-enabled “gig work” economy.

AB5 took effect on January 1, and it’s already causing trouble. A limit on the number of articles that freelance writers could produce for one publication resulted in layoffs for some California journalists and a First Amendment lawsuit from others. Workers in more than 135 occupations claim that losing contractor status hurts them, while independent theater and arts groups are facing thousands of dollars in costs they can’t afford because they must now treat staff as employees. Lorena Gonzalez, the assemblywoman who wrote AB5, has introduced another law to remove the article cap for writers and address the status of musicians. A sign of poor legislation is the need to rewrite it immediately after it takes effect.

Uber is making changes to its app to avoid triggers that define “employment” under the law. If this workaround proves successful, then the industry that AB5 targeted will remain untouched, while other businesses will face its burdens—and other workers will lose opportunities. Trucking companies have gotten a restraining order on applying the law to their operations. The process of negotiating exemptions and modifications to the law is making progressive California a bastion of crony capitalism, with favored or powerful classes writing themselves in or out of regulation. Poorer workers and smaller companies and industries, without access to lawyers or lobbyists, will lose out. In this vein, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and others are planning to spend more than $100 million on a ballot measure to overturn AB5—but only for app-based drivers, leaving everyone else, from translators to rehab assistants, out in the cold.

California should stop the madness, repeal AB5, and craft a law narrowly tailored to the gig economy but broadly applied without exemptions. Uber and Lyft drivers, or movers for companies like Lugg, are neither true contractors, like architects, nor true employees, like factory workers. A better approach might include them in payroll-tax benefits such as disability and unemployment and exclude them from minimum-wage and overtime regulations, since they choose how much they will work. There would be questions to resolve—if you quit moving for Lugg after hurting your back but occasionally drive for Lyft, are you unemployed?—but such a compromise could spare Uber and Lyft the expense and risk of a ballot measure, while saving California the ignominy of aiming regulations at multibillion-dollar corporations but hitting community theater instead.

Phillip Sprincin is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.