Restoring Order on San Francisco’s BART

Three months ago, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system that serves San Francisco and surrounding counties began a “blitz” to deter morning rush-hour fare evasion at four downtown stations. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the first month’s results were startling: proof-of-payment citations rose 13 percent, new ticket sales rose 10 percent, add-value transactions to existing tickets rose 29 percent, and—most significantly—average weekly calls to police dropped a remarkable 45 percent. This rapid turnaround in behavior was achieved simply by staffing the stations with extra police officers, fare inspectors, and BART managers wearing bright yellow vests so that anyone trying to jump a fare gate or use a bypass door saw their way blocked by an official.

These results should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Broken Windows theory of policing developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The theory’s simple premise: responding proactively to minor crime (vandalism, disorderly behavior, and fare evasion) also reduces serious crime, including violent crime. Before he made New York City the safest large city in the country as commissioner of its police department, William Bratton put Broken Windows into effect as the head of the New York Transit Police, directing his officers to focus on fare evasion. The effect of the policy—first in the subway tunnels and then on the streets of New York—is now legendary.

San Francisco’s BART “blitz” demonstrates the effectiveness of Broken Windows. Just by putting people at the gates who looked to be in charge—neither the fare inspectors nor the yellow-vested managers were badged police officers—BART was able to cut crime in those stations almost in half. Exactly as Broken Windows predicts, those willing to commit serious crime often start by committing minor crimes, like fare evasion. Keeping such people out of the transit system means that everyone paying the fare is safer.

The data also put to rest two common arguments against fighting fare evasion—and, by extension, against Broken Windows policing. Advocates claim that enforcing laws against fare evasion criminalizes the poor. People don’t evade fares out of malice, the argument goes, but because they’re struggling and can’t spare the cash. But the more than 600 additional fares bought during a recent month show that fare-jumpers can pay—they just chose not to do so, knowing that they faced no consequence. Furthermore, the large increase in add-value transactions demonstrates that it’s not only poor people who jump the turnstile. People who already have a ticket or transit card are more likely to be regular riders, perhaps commuters, who figured that they may as well skip paying the fare since no one was watching. Jumping the gates instead of buying a valid fare remains a choice, not an involuntary circumstance.

Another argument against Broken Windows policing is that monitoring petty transactions is a waste of resources because the money spent paying public employees to do this exceeds the revenue from fines or additional tickets. Some of the police officers involved in the new BART policy worked overtime, and their additional salary may have exceeded the value of fines and extra fares. But this argument discounts the cost of the approximately 40 police calls that did not occur as a result of stationing guards in the stations. Each response to a crime is expensive in terms of officer time, the potential deployment of medical personnel, and justice-system costs—but the social benefits of establishing public order are incalculable. Letting people get away with jumping turnstiles leads to a deterioration of the transit environment. When some commuters become cheats, some cheats become thieves—and some thieves become muggers, a progression that Broken Windows seeks to interrupt.

BART has seen ridership drop by almost 8 million in two years, a loss of tens of millions of dollars of revenue driven in part by the drug use, litter, and even mass robbery plaguing the system. For every potential cheat who turned around when seeing an official at the turnstile, thousands of paying customers saw a transit agency finally in charge of its own stations and trains. Reinforcing law and order in San Francisco’s transit system can help bring those lost riders—and their money—back, but only if BART stays the course. BART needs to make fare enforcement more like San Francisco’s famous fog—an ever-present reminder in the city.

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

Free health care will attract more illegal immigrants to California

California is expanding its program to provide taxpayer-funded health care for illegal immigrants, though it’s not going as far as many Democratic presidential candidates want the nation to go.

At the second presidential primary debate, all 10 Democrats on stage said they favored government – meaning all of us who pay taxes – picking up the tab for health care for illegal immigrants with low incomes.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law Tuesday that provides free health care to all low-income young people ages 25 and younger in California, regardless of their immigration status. Previously the state funded health care for people 18 and younger with low incomes, including illegal immigrants.

State officials estimate that raising the age of health care coverage from 18 to 25 will benefit about 90,000 people, although the estimate is far from certain.

It’s surprising that California didn’t go further and allow older low-income illegal immigrants to also get coverage under its Medicaid program, which it calls Medi-Cal, right away. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

California Attorney General Resisting Police Transparency Law

Appointed to replace newly elected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris in 2016, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra ran for his own four-year term in 2018 as a supporter of then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s law enforcement and judicial reforms. “California’s Department of Justice has modernized its police force, sponsored state legislation to require an assessment of 2015 and 2016 data related to officer-involved shootings and has explored options for bail reform,” his campaign web page declared. After winning, Becerra made similar claims in a speech at Stanford University.

But to the surprise of many Democrats, the former 12-term congressman has also emerged this year as a persistent, unexpected obstacle to a reform measure that Brown signed before he left office.

Senate Bill 1421, by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, requires law enforcement agencies to release discipline records related to officers’ excessive use of force, sexual misconduct and dishonest actions. It replaced a previous collection of state laws and court rulings that made it close to impossible for the public to learn about sustained allegations against peace officers.

But even before it took effect on Jan. 1, dozens of police agencies attempted to undercut the law by saying it didn’t apply to misconduct before Jan. 1. Skinner and the legislative record showed that it was her clear intent to make all discipline records that departments had to legally retain available through public record requests.

CHP has produced no records on 7,000-plus officers

Becerra never supported this interpretation of SB 1421. But he initially declined to issue discipline records of state Department of Justice employees on the grounds that the question of the law’s effective date was being reviewed by state courts. Other law enforcement agencies began releasing their own records months before Becerra’s agency starting doing so following a May court ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer.

Meanwhile, by far the largest state police agency – the California Highway Patrol, which has more than 7,300 sworn officers – had released no records as of June 30, according to the Los Angeles Times. This prompted a complaint from Skinner. “If the state agencies themselves are acting like they’re above the law, that’s absolutely the wrong model and the wrong example to set for the rest of the local government agencies up and down the state,” she told the Times.

Becerra is also appealing part of Ulmer’s May ruling requiring his agency to hand over discipline records it has involving local officers. He wants to limit the parameters of SB 1421 so it only covers the discipline records of officers possessed by their employers. Becerra’s position is that this could lead to the undermining of agencies investigating their officers and potentially lead to the release of incorrect information. 

His department also says the language in Skinner’s bill “focused on an employer’s records about its employees” – not such records in the possession of another agency. But Ulmer didn’t go along with this interpretation. 

Last Friday, an appellate court sided with the judge’s decision and rejected Becerra’s challenge on a preliminary basis. But it set a hearing on July 18 to hear further testimony in the case.

Utility customers will pay $10.5 billion for California wildfire costs

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign legislation Friday to overhaul how the state pays for utility wildfire damage — a complex bill the governor championed and moved swiftly through the California Legislature this week at Wall Street’s urging.

The bill’s passage was a political victory for the governor, but some questioned whether California leaders were just making a down payment for wildfire costs that will skyrocket if more isn’t done to prevent ever-larger blazes.

The administration says the bill will provide investor-owned utilities with at least $21 billion to pay for damage from blazes linked to their equipment beginning this summer. Utility customers will be required to pay $10.5 billion to the so-called wildfire fund through a 15-year extension of an existing charge on monthly bills, one that was originally expected to expire by 2021. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times

Local Tax Conflict Heats Up

For decades, it’s been an article of political faith – as well as law – that local government taxes designated for particular purposes require two-thirds approval by voters.

The supermajority vote provision was created by Proposition 13, California’s famous – or infamous – property tax limit measure, passed by voters in 1978, and later bolstered by another initiative, Proposition 218.

Two years ago, however, the state Supreme Court seemingly carved out a way for local governments to sidestep that law. It implied, in ruling on a Southern California marijuana case, that if special purpose tax measures are placed on the ballot by initiative petition, rather than by the local governments themselves, the two-thirds vote threshold might not apply.

Ever since, those who want to raise local taxes have yearned to learn whether the Supreme Court really meant to make an exception and, not surprisingly, San Francisco’s very liberal city government, acting on the advice of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, volunteered to become the legal guinea pig.

Members of the city’s governing body, its Board of Supervisors, personally sponsored two tax increase initiatives last year, one for the June election and another in November, both listed on the ballot as “Proposition C.”

The June measure, a tax on commercial rents to finance early childhood education and child care services, received 51 percent voter support. The November proposal, a tax on businesses to finance services and housing for the homeless, garnered 61 percent voter support.

With both votes below two-thirds, opponents of the measures sued, contending that they were invalid. The city began collecting the taxes, but not spending them, while the legal battle raged.

Last week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman agreed with Herrera and validated both taxes. However, he doesn’t have the last word. Business and anti-tax groups, such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, vowed “an immediate appeal” and the issue is clearly headed to the state Supreme Court for a definitive ruling.

A third San Francisco tax measure, also placed by initiative petition and receiving a simple majority approval from voters in 2018, is also being contested. Proposition G imposes a new “parcel tax” on homes and other real estate to increase teacher pay.

Were the state’s highest court to convert its 2017 implication into declarative law, it would almost completely change the dynamics of local tax battles.

Rather than propose special purpose taxes directly, local officials and their political allies, especially public employee unions, could do it via initiative petition and completely bypass the long-standing supermajority vote requirement.

There is, however, another wrinkle to the situation.

Last year, as the San Francisco tax measures were being challenged, the state Supreme Court issued another decision that could affect the eventual outcome.

It declared that when former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders sponsored a 2012 ballot measure to reform city pensions, he was acting in an official capacity, not as a private citizen, and therefore was legally obligated to “meet and confer” with unions on something that affected their members’ compensation.

Logically, if Sanders was under that legal obligation as an official while sponsoring a ballot measure, then members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors also were acting officially, and not as ordinary citizens, when they sponsored their tax measures. If so, their measures probably should have been subject to the supermajority rule.

It will be interesting to see how the court balances one ruling with the other, if it can, with financial stakes astronomically high in the outcome.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

After Decades of Red Tape, Some Developers Seeing Their Projects Through

Building homes in California requires a significant investment of time, money, and other resources, leading many developers to avoid construction projects. But in northwest Los Angeles County, one builder has stayed the course since 1994. On completion in 2021, the 15,000-acre Newhall Ranch — billed as one of the world’s first large-scale planned communities — will feature roughly 22,000 homes that follow the curves of the Santa Clara River in the Santa Clarita Valley. Owned by Orange County’s FivePoint Communities, Newhall Ranch is expected “to be ‘net-zero,’ meaning no greenhouse gas emissions, by implementing several mitigation efforts including solar panels and open space,” according to local radio reports. Some developers and environmentalists regard the development as a “new benchmark in the fight against climate change.” Homes will be outfitted with sun-driven power and charging stations for electric vehicles, and FivePoint plans to offer subsidies to “residents, schools, and bus services” to encourage them to buy zero-emission vehicles.

Though the developer tirelessly met environmentalist demands and generated “green” credibility, the project has endured more than a quarter-century of roadblocks and red tape, courtesy of California’s mammoth bureaucracy — including “lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit,” says Wendy Devine, who oversees a website focused on Newhall Ranch news. The litigation primarily addressed environmental issues, as is typical for California, where the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has delayed housing development, reduced it in scope and size, and even shut it down. The developer produced more than109,000 pages of documents, navigated the review of 25 government agencies, appeared at 21 public hearings, and attended over 700 meetings. Finally, the project broke ground last year.

Newhall Ranch’s saga makes one wonder how anything gets built in California. In San Francisco, Bob Tillman waited six years and spent $1.2 million in legal fees to obtain approval for a 75-unit apartment complex on his own property. As early as 2013, “Tillman thought he was good to go,” writes Hoover Institution scholar Lee Ohanian. “His location was zoned for multifamily residential housing. He was not displacing any existing residents, because he was converting a commercial enterprise into a residential building. And because his proposed development was high-density housing, the project qualified for streamlined approval.” Yet everything went wrong anyway. The city planning agency’s powerful political appointees turned “what should have been a pro forma approval process” into a nightmare. Last fall, Tillman finally saw daylight, after deputy city attorneys met with the San Francisco Planning Commission to discuss the lawsuit that Tillman had brought against the city.

What happened to Newhall Ranch and Tillman is common across California. On occasion, entire projects get abandoned because the cost of delays and other government-imposed expenses leave little or no profit for developers. While several impediments bottle up home construction, none is enforced more severely than CEQA, signed into law by then-governor Ronald Reagan in 1970. Housing, notes the law firm Knight & Holland, is “the single-largest target of CEQA lawsuits.”

It’s not just hard-core environmentalists who use CEQA to block development. CEQA is also a favored tool of businesses that use it to try to handicap competition (the Parking Spot sued LAX a few years ago over plans to connect a rail line to the airport, for instance); developers who attempt to hinder rival projects; NIMBYs who don’t want anything new built near them; and unions that try to force developers to exclude nonunion workers from construction projects. Yet while CEQA deters housing construction, the policymakers manage to carve out exemptions or secure fast-track approvals for projects important to them, such as basketball arenas and football stadiums.

One would think that the Golden State would be an attractive market for homebuilders, due to its critical housing shortage of as many as 4 million units. California housing should be the next gold rush. Instead, today’s California rush is made up of residents fleeing the state because they can’t find affordable housing.

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

California bill could triple rebates for electric car buyers

California could triple the rebate it gives to drivers who purchase zero-emission cars under a San Francisco lawmaker’s bill that seeks to put the state on track to meet its goals to combat climate change.

Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting’s bill, AB1046, would let state regulators increase a typical consumer’s rebate for an electric car to up to $7,500 and provide a stable pot of funding for the payments.

Ting said his bill would promptly boost rebates and reduce them over time, as electric vehicles such as Teslas and Chevrolet Bolts presumably grow in popularity.

California’s existing rebate program gives buyers a flat $2,500 for full-battery electric vehicles. Ting said that gives buyers no incentive to go electric now versus years down the road. …

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

CA Rep. Eric Swalwell ends White House bid

As reported by Carla Marinucci and Jeremy B. White in Politico:

California Rep. Eric Swalwell, dogged by fundraising challenges and a failure to register in the polls, is ending his longshot bid for the presidency.

Two weeks ago, Swalwell, 38, called on Democratic front-runner Joe Biden to “pass the torch” of party leadership to a new generation in the first Democratic presidential debates. But on Monday, Swalwell called a press conference at his Dublin campaign headquarters to announce that instead of continuing in the Democratic primary, he will instead seek a fifth term representing the strongly Democratic East Bay 15th district in Congress.

“Being honest with ourselves, we had to look at how much money we were raising, where we were in the polls,” Swalwell told supporters, arguing that he had “moved the needle on the debate stage with an issue I was very passionate about,” referring to gun control measures. “So we’ve achieved that,’’ he said. “But we have to be honest about our own candidacy’s viability.”

Swalwell’s decision to bow out comes as another Californian, billionaire activist Tom Steyer — who had earlier ruled out a run for the White House — prepared to announce his entry into the race, POLITICO reported Monday. …

Click here to read the full story at Politico.com

After Stalwell dropped from the race, the Republican National Committee released this statement:
 
“As a no-name Congressman with disastrous ideas and no traction, it’s no surprise Eric Swalwell ‘nuked’ his own long shot bid for president. After hearing his radical proposals, American voters have clearly said ‘thank you, next’ to a Swalwell presidency.” – RNC Spokesperson Samantha Zager

Another legislative attack on transparency

Just two weeks ago, this column exposed the abject lack of transparency in the state budget process. But the way the Legislature enacts its spending plan is just one of many ways Sacramento politicians attack transparency.

In recent years, taxpayer advocacy groups have pushed for greater disclosures in local bond and tax measures. These efforts received bipartisan support as they were simply good government bills. Assembly Bill 809 and AB 195 were authored by Assemblyman Jay Obernolte in 2015 and 2016.  Taken together, these bills require that the tax rate, duration and amount of revenue to be raised by a tax or bond measure must be revealed on the 75-word ballot label, as opposed to being buried deep in the pages of the sample ballot booklet. This places the most critical information about a tax proposal in a place where voters will actually see it.

But tax-and-spend interests, mostly public-sector labor organizations, have never liked transparency and now, with their influence in the legislature greater than ever, seek to keep voters in the dark on local fiscal measures on the ballot. Senate Bill 268 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would undermine the previous bipartisan legislation to the detriment of voters. SB268 upends the HJTA-backed, common-sense legislation by stating that for local bond measures, as well as certain taxes, the critical information will be moved off the ballot label and into the sample ballot. For such measures, the ballot label would include a statement reading, “See voter guide for information.” That’s more annoying than helpful to voters.

Adding insult to injury, SB268 is being advanced through the infamous “gut-and-amend” process whereby bills are stripped of all content and new language is inserted in order to bypass public and media oversight.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California, residents wonder: Are we getting close to the Big One?

Right after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked Southern California on July 4, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, a lifelong Angeleno, tweeted that it was the longest quake she’d ever felt.

“It was so long,” she wrote, “I thought for the first time ever is this the Big One?” But it wasn’t even the biggest tremor Californians would see that week, with a more powerful 7.1 quake coming just a day later.

Ultimately, neither was the fabled Big One, a catastrophic earthquake that could occur along the San Andreas Fault and that geologists have warned is likely “overdue.”

This week was just a reminder. Jason Corona, whose family owns a restaurant in Ridgecrest, near the epicenters of the earthquakes, described feeling uneasy as the aftershocks kept him awake late Friday night. …

Click here to read the full article from CNN