Rep. Hunter to plead guilty in corruption case

After years of denials and claims that he was the target of a political witch hunt, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday morning to plead guilty in a sweeping campaign finance investigation.

The announcement was posted on the U.S. District Court docket Monday morning, then KUSI aired an interview with Hunter in which he said he would plead guilty to one of the 60 criminal charges against him. He suggested that he is likely to spend time in custody.

“The plea I accepted is misuse of my own campaign funds, of which I pled guilty to only one count,” Hunter told the station. “I think it’s important that people know that I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money. I justify my plea with the understanding that I am responsible for my own campaign and my own campaign money.” …

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

Kamala Harris Drops Out of Presidential Race

Sen. Kamala Harris suspended her presidential campaign Tuesday, after falling from the top tier of Democratic candidates and failing to resurrect a doomed fundraising operation.

“I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life,” Harris, D-Calif., said in a statement shortly after her departure was first reported.

“My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue.”

Earlier Tuesday, CNBC reported that Harris canceled a fundraising event in New York amid a flood of recent reports describing her campaign as chaotic. …

Click here to read the full article from NBC News

Will the UC System Drop SAT, ACT requirement?

Leaders of the University of California system appear strongly inclined to drop the requirement that applicants to UC campuses take the SAT or ACT test, heeding the argument that it hurts the chances of Latino and African-American students to be admitted.

faculty task force is expected to deliver a report on whether the mandate should be retained in February. But UC Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who is also the chancellor of the California Community College system, has already called for scrapping the standardized test requirement. So has UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and Michael Brown, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs for the UC system and its 10 campuses. No one who works for UC appears to be standing up, at least publicly, for the testing mandate.

The SAT/ACT test has for decades been criticized for alleged cultural bias against minorities. But that claim is strongly disputed by the College Board, which administers the test and says it has long since fine-tuned the language of questions in the test so that they don’t presume knowledge of white cultural norms. Some academic studies back up this claim of neutrality and find that SATs are a better indicator of college success than grades.

But one of the SAT critiques offered by Ortiz, the regent, is mostly undisputed. It’s that low-income Latino and African-American families are unable to pay for the vast variety of test-preparation classes used by middle-income and wealthy families to help their children. “Perhaps the tests were well-intended, but they are perpetuating a wealth advantage and undervaluing low-income students,” he wrote earlier this year.

The Princeton Review test-prep company, for example, “guarantees” that its 30-hour, $1,599 class will lead to at least a 1400 score on the basic SAT. A 1400 is at the 95th percentile of the approximately 2 million SATs taken each year.

Meanwhile, upper-income families have long been willing to spend whatever it takes to help their children on standardized tests, in particular by hiring specialized English and math tutors who charge up to $450 an hour.

But the College Board pushes back on this front as well, saying it provides free test prep online that helps tens of thousands of students each year.

Nonprofit behind SAT defends UC admission practices

The New Jersey-based nonprofit is so worried that a UC decision to drop the SAT would be copied by many other U.S. universities – as a recent USA Today analysis predicts – that it is offering increasingly thorough defenses of how UC makes its admission decisions.

According to an EdSource report, Jessica Howell, vice president of research at the College Board, appeared at a symposium on the SAT two weeks ago in Berkeley in which she suggested that critics of the test exaggerated its importance to UC admission officers, who consider 14 factors in evaluating prospective students.

“Any effective standardized measure that is one of those factors is going to reveal underlying inequities in our society,” she said. “As researchers, we shouldn’t stop using them, or measuring them because we don’t like what they say. … [Instead,] we should continue to have a discussion about solutions to close the gaps that we see.”

The comment reflects the College Board’s argument that if SAT critics think it’s unfair that students from wealthy families with more resources do better than students from poor families, it’s not the test that’s unfair. It’s American life – the rich can help their kids more than other families.

To address this issue, the College Board proposed also giving SAT test takers an “adversity score” in May so colleges could quickly determine if a student came from difficult circumstances. But the plan was dropped in August after if faced harsh criticism that it was a facile attempt to label students from wildly different backgrounds with a simple number.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California Labor Union Feuding With Gov. Gavin Newsom

A young girl dressed as a newsie walked up to Gov. Gavin Newsom at the California Democratic Party convention in Long Beach last month, handing him a copy of a paper with his image splashed across the front page.

Alongside an unflattering photo of the Democratic governor, a headline on the Building Trades News read: “Gov. Newsom Vetoes Fair Wages for Construction Workers.”

The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents plumbers, electricians, ironworkers and other construction workers, distributed hundreds of copies of the anti-Newsom story at the convention, escalating an increasingly public and personal feud with the governor on the state party’s biggest stage. …

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

Good News and Bad News About California

A son once told his father that he had both good news and bad news and asked his dad which he would like first. The father said, “Give me the good news first.” So the son says, “The good news is that the air bags in your car work perfectly.”

California is a state with both good news and bad news. The good news is that we remain an economic powerhouse with the world’s fifth largest economy, the Bay Area remains the epicenter of venture capital, we have a diverse population, great climate and recreational opportunities that are unparalleled.

Yet despite all this good news, California still feels like a state in decline. High taxes, heavy regulations, business flight, crumbling infrastructure, a housing crisis and seemingly insurmountable problems with our vast homeless population are the issues that confront us every day in the headlines.

Those who point out what is wrong with California are criticized by our political leaders as being “declinists” who are invested in California’s failure. But that’s not true. Most would like nothing more than to see this state succeed and to have our elected representatives pursue policies that would lead to that success.

Much of the discussion about what is good or bad about California is anecdotal. For example, we all know friends or family members who have moved out of California to escape its high cost of living. And every day we hear about another company, either large or small, which has pulled up stakes because it can no longer tolerate California’s anti-business environment.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Kamala Harris aide: ‘I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly’

An aide to Sen. Kamala Harris blasted the treatment of staff on the California Democrat’s presidential campaign in a resignation letter this month. 

“This is my third presidential campaign and I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly,” wrote state operations director Kelly Mehlenbacher in the Nov. 11 letter, which was obtained by The New York Times

“While I still believe that Senator Harris is the strongest candidate to win in the General Election in 2020, I no longer have confidence in our campaign or its leadership,” she added. 

She wrote that “the treatment of our staff over the last two weeks was the final straw in this very difficult decision.” …

Click here to read the full article from The Hill

If You Let Them, They Will Build

California’s housing crisis, particularly in the Bay Area, is notorious and well covered, with news stories chronicling homeless encampments, “pod” housing, and people forced to live in cars. But a surprising and encouraging piece of news emerged from Oakland recently. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland will produce almost 50 percent more housing units this year than San Francisco — 6,800 versus 4,700 — though Oakland has half the population and only 40 percent as many jobs as San Francisco. Just as surprising is the jump in Oakland’s housing production: the number of units brought to market in 2019 will be almost 15 times the number completed in 2018 and more than three times the number of units produced between 2013 and 2018 combined.

What caused this burst of production? Simple: Oakland told developers that they could build homes. In 2014 and 2015, the city passed a series of neighborhood plans in and around downtown that relaxed zoning and removed parking requirements, making it easier and cheaper to build. Now, after the four to five years required for design, permitting, and construction, Oakland is reaping the benefits of private development. By contrast, San Francisco continues to make it hard to build housing, with byzantine planning regulationsexpensive development feesrestrictive zoning, and long delays.

It’s tempting to compare the 24,000 units San Francisco has added in the past seven years with Oakland’s 9,000 and think that San Francisco is ahead. But, adjusting for population and jobs, San Francisco is clearly falling behind. Just one more year at current rates of production will see Oakland surpass San Francisco in per-capita housing production since 2013—and Oakland has almost 15,000 more units under construction, approved, or in review.

The Bay Area housing crisis is ultimately a production crisis. For decades, supply has failed to keep up with demand. Oakland shows that it’s possible for the private market to produce enough housing if laws allow it. San Francisco is taking the opposite path; instead of reforming regulations, it recently passed two measures to fund publicly built housing and to change zoning measures—but only for teacher housing and subsidized affordable units. These measures will produce only a trickle of units. Even in Oakland, the neighborhood plans cover less than 5 percent of the city. If the Bay Area wants to get serious about housing, it will need to apply the lesson of Oakland’s rezoning far more widely.

Phillip Sprincin is a Marine veteran who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

California Regulators Shut Down a Distillery for Serving Alcohol

Blinking Owl, a small craft distillery located in Santa Ana, Calif., outside Los Angeles, temporarily and non-voluntarily closed its doors last week. “We will be CLOSED the following Days: Sunday, November 10, 2019, to Saturday, December 7th, 2019, and Saturday, December 14th,” a message posted atop the Blinking Owl website laments.

Further down the homepage, the distillery— which holds a California craft distiller’s license, known as a Type 74 license in state regulatory parlance—goes into great detail about the saga behind the temporary closure, which appeared to result from little else than confusing regulations and inconsistent instructions from regulators.

“While Type 74 license states that distilleries can only serve up to 1.5 oz. of alcohol per person per day, we are allowed to have private events, in which the drink restriction is waived,” Blinking Owl explains. “It is under this section of code which many small distilleries in the state have found a much-needed revenue source by hosting private events or functions. To that end, we segregated private events with wristbands, something we believed the public was accustomed to and well understood the meaning of, and we subsequently operated in a manner we understood to be in complete compliance.”

That seems eminently reasonable. But what seems eminently reasonable to a business often strikes regulators—who are interpreting the same, oftentimes poorly worded regulations that businesses are, but with an eye to punishing scofflaws—as something entirely different. Just how the temporary closure came about demonstrates this fact.

Before making his first undercover visit, according to his account, ABC trade enforcement officer Eric Gray did not speak with anyone at Blinking Owl about being part of a private party. When he arrived at the distillery, he was served one drink and was told Blinking Owl could not serve him another legally. He paid and left.

Before his next visit, Agent Gray called Blinking Owl. He was told this met the requirements for being considered a private party. After arriving at the distillery, Blinking Owl confirmed Gray had called ahead to be placed on a private party guest list and was served a second drink.

It was this second visit that caused Agent Gray to conclude Blinking Owl had violated ABC rules, allegedly “by exceeding the amount of 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits that is permitted to be served per person per day by selling two separate cocktails to Department Agents that contained 1.5 ounce in each drink.”

For this purported transgression, the state chose last week to punish Blinking Owl by forcing the distillery to close for 25 days.

“The fact [Blinking Owl] received prior warning and discipline and continued to circumvent and shirk its clear responsibilities is disconcerting,” wrote administrative law judge D. Heubel in a disconcerting June 2019 order that was necessitated—if at all—only by the fact those “clear responsibilities” were never clear.

Where did Blinking Owl get the idea that a person could be served more than 1.5 ounces if they were to call ahead to be placed on some sort of private party guest list? It may have been from regulators themselves.

It turns out Blinking Owl had previously been cited a year earlier for serving more than 1.5 oz. to one undercover ABC Agent Plotnik. In his report, as evidence in support of his allegations, Plotnik noted he could not have been part of a private party because he had not “called ahead to be placed on a guest list” at the distillery.

I spoke this week by email with Brian Christenson, who—with his wife and a close friend—opened Blinking Owl in 2016.

A frustrated Christenson tells me he and his fellow owners have invested at least $3 million in the distillery. He says the state’s “strong Prohibition hangover is pretty shocking in this day and age.”

His customers agree.

“These laws largely serve no purpose other than to ensnare small business owners and produce fines for agencies that struggle to justify their own existence,” Reason subscriber and Blinking Owl supporter Robbie Haglund, who alerted me to the distillery’s regulatory woes, told me in an email this week.

Blinking Owl isn’t alone in finding fault with the enforcement of California’s craft distillery rules. At least one other California distiller I spoke with this week—who did not want me to use their name or that of their distillery for fear of reprisals from state alcohol regulators—say they’ve been targeted by state regulators in a similar fashion in recent years.

(I reached out to undercover state ABC trade enforcement officer Eric Gray this week by email to ask him about the seemingly subjective nature of the rules he’s charged with enforcing—namely the criteria the state ABC uses to determine whether a distillery is holding a permissible private event and/or function or an impermissible one. Agent Gray did not reply.)

The fact regulators have targeted more than just Blinking Owl suggests an urgent need for regulatory reform.

“It is our hope that this campaign awakens lawmakers and state officials to realize the absurdity of inflicting a harsh, unjust punishment when it is obvious that we are chasing legal clarification on a vague, undefined section of the law that it is currently based in constant[ly] changing opinion,” Christenson tells me.

In the end, Christenson just wants the state to treat Blinking Owl, its employees, and its customers fairly.

“Ultimately we want parity with the wine and beer industries,” he tells me, since in California brewery and winery rules are friendlier for businesses and consumers alike. “But in the short term we would like the ability to use our tasting room privileges to serve more and sell more products direct to consumers to create more revenue to help us survive and thrive as a small California business.”

I hope he gets his wish. So do others. Christenson tells me Blinking Owl customers and the general public have been incredibly supportive of the distillery. 

“The owners of Blinking Owl are some of the nicest, most generous, and honest people I have ever met,” Robbie Haglund says. “They are the type of entrepreneurs we need in this country. They care about their business, their employees, their customers, and the community.”

Christenson tells me he’s spoken with state lawmakers, who he says have been receptive to his complaints and appear optimistic they can engineer a fix.

The will to reform the rules may just be there. As recently as last year, California lawmakers saw fit to ease some of the regulatory burden the state places on small craft distilleries.

Clearly, though, the state still has a long way to go before Blinking Owl and other craft distillers in California will feel like the state isn’t rooting for them to fail.

BAYLEN LINNEKIN is a food lawyer, scholar, and adjunct law professor, as well as the author of Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable (Island Press 2016).

This article was originally published by Reason.com

ICE Not Conforming to California Law on Detention Centers

Democratic lawmakers are harshly criticizing the Trump administration’s attempt to defy the intent of a new state law banning privately run prisons and detention centers.

On Oct. 11, when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 32, liberal activists rejoiced. Private prisons are considered far more likely to be inhumane and generally use non-union workers. Private detention centers holding unauthorized immigrants are seen as a symbol of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that has become a target for the left since President Donald Trump’s election.

But while the law takes effect Jan. 1, it allows existing contracts to be honored. Five days after Newsom’s signing of AB32, ICE put out a solicitation on the Federal Business Opportunities website for contractors to run detention centers in the general areas of Northern California, Los Angeles and San Diego that had a total of 5,000 beds.

A month later, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and 19 fellow Democrats in the Golden State’s House of Representatives delegation are crying foul. They say ICE is flouting normal procedures in an attempt to ensure three existing facilities keep operating.

“Given the timing and terms of this solicitation – particularly in light of ICE’s history of suspect contract activities and insufficient oversight – we are understandably concerned that the solicitation is intended to favor incumbent contractors,” the 21 Democrats wrote in a letter to several federal agencies. “If so, these efforts would be in direct contradiction with the spirit of full and open competition required by federal procurement law.”

The solicitation asked for interested parties to respond within two weeks instead of the usual 30 days. It also specified that bidders had to have “turnkey ready” facilities with specific ranges of available beds. The contracts are for five years, with the option for two five-year extensions.

Democrats say bidding process is rigged

Democrats said this ensured that the only applicants would be the three companies that are already running federal immigration detention centers in California: GEO Group, which has centers in Adelanto in the Inland Empire and Bakersfield; CoreCivic, which runs a center in San Diego; and the Management and Training Corp., which has one in Calexico in Imperial County, east of San Diego.

ICE signed a $62 million contract with GEO for the Adelanto facility in March in which GEO was the only bidder. Democrats didn’t object to the contract at the time but now say it also was awarded in a way that violated the spirit of federal procurement laws by essentially ensuring only one company had a chance to win.

But an ICE official told the Palm Springs Desert Sun that the agency “remains compliant with federal contract and acquisitions regulations, as we advertise opportunity notices and subsequently implement the decision process.”

AB32’s author – Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland – blasted ICE in comments to the Desert Sun, saying the agency was attempting to “circumvent the will of the people of California.”

ICE’s parent agency – the Department of Homeland Security – has a history of claiming more flexibility under federal rules than its critics say it has. The same goes for the Trump administration, most notably in its use of $6.1 billion in defense funding to build sections of a border wall without congressional authorization.

In their letter to DHS and other agencies, the California Democratic lawmakers asked for information on how ICE crafted its solicitation for detention center bids.

Their chances of getting a quick response are unclear. ICE has long faced criticism over its handling of public record requests, which it is supposed to respond to in 20 days or less. The agency was sued earlier this month by the Project on Government Oversight for allegedly withholding information over how it used facial recognition and other technology in surveillance and data collection programs.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com.

How Gov. Newsom Could Fix the California Housing Problem

In recent times, the Legislature has passed several bills to deal with the state’s vexing housing problem – to no avail.  The California Department of Housing (HCD) is simply a toothless advocate so long as the Department of Finance (DOF) is calling the shots.  The state’s housing finance agencies – the Treasurer’s Tax Credit Allocation Committee (TCAC) and the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) – lacking the capital haven’t done much to help, either.  

And Governor Newsom – who, when he was campaigning, set a housing production goal for California – has done next to nothing to improve the state’s troubling condition.  Indeed, he will fall woefully short of meeting that objective. When it comes to housing, his behavior since he was elected has been shameful.  

So, lawmakers and policy-makers throughout the state – in Sacramento and locally – have been virtually ineffective at working out California’s premier crisis.  All the while things are getting worse. Take newly passed legislation, for example. AB 1482, enacted this year, is a horrible bill. So is SB 330. Yet, both are being heralded as solutions to California’s housing affordability dilemma.  

AB 1482, by San Francisco Democrat David Chiu, establishes statewide rent control – set at five percent plus inflation.  The law also calls for the creation of a much more permissive eviction process than the one currently allowed. If anything, AB 1482 means housing developers will turn their backs on California with its new limits on the returns they can earn, worsening severe supply shortages.  In addition, the new law almost guarantees regular rent hikes as landlords try each year to catch up to lost margins suffered in the past.

SB 330, by another Bay Area Democrat – Nancy Skinner of Berkeley – simply maintains the status quo, which is how California got into this mess in the first place.  The law ceremoniously waves at builder bugaboos like local growth control and permit caps by prohibiting their future enactment but does nothing to roll back any existing bad policies.  

Moreover, the legislation goes out of its way to preserve – now and in the future – constraints like California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Coastal Commission challenges to new housing proposals as well as hostile policies like inclusionary zoning, height limits and urban limit lines.  I guess we should at least give Senator Skinner credit for acknowledging the many constraints that have been dogging builders for decades.

Meanwhile, besides signing these and other bills the only thing Governor Newsom has done “to expand affordability” is to sue the City of Huntington Beach for its recalcitrance in adopting an adequate housing element as part of its general plan.  Curiously, there are dozens of other cities who are also out of compliance with state housing law. Why Huntington Beach? It couldn’t have anything to do with the City’s “sanctuary cities” lawsuit against the state, could it?

None of what’s been done in the past several years has improved the housing landscape in California.  Undeniably, recent actions in Sacramento have only made matters worse. Lawmakers and policy-makers should have seen it coming, too.  Ever since the enactment of CEQA in 1970 they’ve repeatedly been piling more and more costly and often extraneously duties on housing.  And, it was game over in 2011 when legislators did away with redevelopment. 

In fact, it was only in 1995 – when the Legislature enacted the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act – that lawmakers came up for air.  As good as it was though, that law only served rental housing.  All the while, for-sale housing suffered, mercilessly. During the past 25 years, local land-use has been seriously corrupted, development fees have skyrocketed and affordable housing mandates have spread like wildfire.  

To fix California’s housing problem is simple, really.  Although, getting a majority of lawmakers and policy-makers in Sacramento to learn to rely more on private markets – and what happens in them – is a necessary but nearly an impossible task.  Nevertheless, here are some suggestions to get started:

  • Restore redevelopment, to provide a steady and reliable source of cash for affordable housing construction and rehabilitation;
  • Scrap the state’s housing element law and replace it with large financial/infrastructure payments for locally approved housing;
  • Abolish local inclusionary zoning and replace it with a per-project charge which, coupled with redevelopment funds, will more equitably create affordable housing opportunities;
  • Consolidate and cap local fees development-impact fees; and
  • Repeal CEQA and replace it with a process for one and only one locally performed and much trimmer environmental review of a project.

Doing these five things – and nothing more – will go a long way toward solving the state’s current housing mess.

Timothy L. Coyle is a consultant specializing in housing issues.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.