California’s Green ‘Bantustans’ Are Coming to America

If the “smart growth” urban planners that dictate land use policies in Democratic states and cities have their way, the single family dwelling is an endangered species.

In Oregon, proposed legislation would “require cities larger than 10,000 people to allow up to four homes to be built on land currently zoned exclusively for single-family housing.” In Minneapolis, recent actions by the city council mean that “duplexes and triplexes would be allowed in neighborhoods that only previously allowed single-family housing.”

The war on the detached, single family home, and — more to the point — the war on residential neighborhoods comprised exclusively of single family homes, is on. And it’s gone national.

In California, ground zero for this movement, state legislation now requires cities and counties to fast track permitting for “accessory dwelling units.” This scheme will allow developers and ambitious homeowners to construct detached rental homes in their backyards, but since they’re called “accessory dwelling units,” instead of “homes,” they would not run afoul of local zoning ordinances that, at one time, were designed to protect neighborhoods from exactly this sort of thing.

“Smart growth,” however, began long before the home itself came under attack.

First there was the war on the back yard. Large lots became crimes against the planet — and if you doubt the success of this war, just get a window seat the next time you fly into any major American city. In the suburbs you will see a beautiful expanse of green, spacious, shady neighborhoods with lots designed to accommodate children playing, maybe a pool or vegetable garden, big enough for the dog.

But you will also see, plain and obvious, those suburbs that were built after the smart growth crowd came along. Tight, treeless, and grey, with homes packed against each other, these are the Green Bantustans, and there’s nothing green about them.

The image below shows homes packed roughly 15 per acre — including the streets — on private lots that are 40-feet wide by 80-feet deep. As of January, these homes were selling for $350,000. Such a deal! Smart growth!

Why call neighborhoods with mandated ultra-high density “Green Bantustans”? Because the Bantustan was where a racist elite used to herd the African masses during South Africa’s apartheid era. The commonality between the Green Bantustan and the Racist Bantustan becomes clear when you step back and ponder what is happening. In both cases, a privileged elite condemn the vast majority of individuals to live in a concentrated area designed to minimize their impact on the land.

But in America, the “smart growth” advocates aren’t racists, they’re misanthropic environmentalists.

The image below is fascinating, because at the same scale, it shows a neighborhood in the township of Soweto, once touted as a poster child for one of the most chilling warehouses for human beings in history. But notice the size of the lots—40 feet by 80 feet—are identical in size to that Green Bantustan in California. Also, please note, it’s probably much easier to get a building permit in Soweto.

In the name of “smart growth,” urban planners have succeeded in creating policy that has drawn lines around American cities, “urban service boundaries,” which make it nearly impossible to start new home construction outside these lines. While the purpose of these boundaries ostensibly is to protect open space, farmland, and wilderness habitat, not only are those goals only marginally fulfilled, but other negative unintended consequences abound. Consider the following:

Urbanization just takes a different form. Creating these greenbelts of protected open space mean instead of leapfrog development, you have super-leapfrog development. People who want to get out of the city now build and purchase homes on the other side of the greenbelt. Instead of suburbs on the perimeter of cities, you have exurbs, whole new cities, constructed just beyond the protected areas.

Quality of life is ruined in older suburbs. Homes within these cities are concentrated onto tiny lots in order to get as many people into each new development as possible. Often these new developments are imposed in the middle of semi-rural suburbs where the way of life for the people already living there is destroyed.

Traffic congestion gets worse. These dense new neighborhoods are designed to be “pedestrian friendly,” but what they really are is car unfriendly. There is no room to park, inadequate roads, and expensive light rail that most people can’t make practical use of.

Housing becomes unaffordable. The winners in “smart growth” are never people who need affordable homes, because prices always go up when you reduce the supply of developable land. The winners are those landowners lucky enough to have property within the arbitrary boundaries where growth is permitted, and the public sector bureaucrats who keep development within their jurisdictions, in order to collect property taxes and fees on artificially inflated home values.

Basic Facts Contradict the Arguments for “Smart Growth” 
If the proportion of land consumed by people, even in low density suburbs, is compared to the amount of land available for development, the case for high-density “smart growth” weakens. For example, even with nearly 40 million residents, California is a sprawling, relatively unpopulated state where harsh restrictions on land development are unnecessary.

Encompassing 164,000 square miles, California is only 5 percent urbanized. According to the American Farmland Trust, California has 25,000 square miles of grazing land (15 percent), 28,000 square miles of non-irrigated cropland (17 percent), and 14,000 square miles of irrigated cropland (9 percent). The rest, 54 percent, is forest, oak woodland, desert, and other open space.

The above chart depicts three urban growth scenarios, all of them assuming California experiences a net population increase of 10 million, and that all new residents on average live three people to a household (the current average in California is 2.96 occupants per household). For each scenario, the additional square miles of urban land are calculated.

As the chart shows, adding 10 million new residents under the “low” density scenario would only use up 3.2 percent of California’s land. If all the growth were concentrated onto grazing land—much which is being taken out of production anyway, it would only consume 21 percent of it. If all the growth were to fall onto non-irrigated cropland, which is not prime agricultural land, it would only use up 19 percent of that. Much growth, of course, could be in the 58 percent of California not used either for farming or ranching.

Two key points about these data bear emphasis. First, there is plenty of room for low-density development for millions of new residents, not only in California, but elsewhere in the United States. As shown in this example, moving 10 million people into homes on half acre lots, with no infill within existing urban areas, would only consume a small fraction California’s land area.

Second, even the dense scenario depicted on the first column the chart, cramming ten homes onto each developed acre, is not acceptable to the smart growth crowd. The policy goal in California, and elsewhere as noted, is to channel as much new development as possible into the confines of existing cities, and overwhelmingly favor multi-family dwellings over single-family detached homes.

“Smart Growth” is Not Smart, It’s Just Cruel

None of this is necessary. The idea that American policymakers should enforce urban containment is a cruel, entirely unfounded, self-serving lie.

The lie remains intact no matter the context. If there is an energy shortage, then develop California’s shale reserves. If fracking shale is unacceptable, then use safe land-based slant drilling rigs to tap natural gas in the Santa Barbara channel. If all fossil fuel is unacceptable, then build nuclear power stations in the geologically stable areas in California’s interior. If there is a water shortage, then build high dams. If high dams are forbidden, then develop aquifer storage to collect runoff. Or desalinate seawater along the Southern California coast. Or recycle sewage. Or let rice farmers sell their allotments to urban customers. There are answers to every question.

Environmentalists generate an avalanche of studies, however, that in effect demonize all development, everywhere. The values of environmentalism are important, but if it weren’t for the trillions to be made by trial lawyers, academic careerists, government bureaucrats and their government-union overlords, crony green capitalist oligarchs, and government pension-fund managers and their partners in the hedge funds whose portfolio asset appreciation depends on artificially elevated prices, environmentalist values would be balanced against human values.

The Californians who are hurt by urban containment are not the wealthy people who find it comforting to believe and lucrative to propagate the enabling big lie. The victims are the underprivileged, the immigrants, the minority communities, retirees who collect Social Security, low wage earners, and the ever-shrinking middle class.

In America, it used to be that refugees from California who aspired to improve their circumstances could move to somewhere like Houston and buy a home with relative ease. Watch out. That is changing. The masses are being herded into Green Bantustans, as America turns into a petri dish for the privileged upper class, backed up by a fanatical Earth First movement.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Oakland teachers vote to authorize strike

OaklandOAKLAND — An overwhelming number of voting teachers authorized the Oakland teachers union to call a strike if salary negotiations break down with the school district, which already is facing another major disruption in the form of a $30 million budget deficit.

The 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association voted from Jan. 29 through Feb. 1. Of the 84 percent of union members voting, 95 percent approved authorizing union leaders to call a strike if necessary, union president Keith Brown announced Monday.

“This is a clear message that our members are ready to fight for the schools our students deserve,” Brown said. No date was set, but the union expects if a strike were to occur it would happen by the end of the month.

Oakland Unified spokesman John Sasaki said Monday the district hopes that it doesn’t come to that. Though substitutes would be brought in to cover for striking teachers, a strike could be very disruptive to students, especially those preparing for end-of-the-year exams. …

Click here to read the full article from the East Bay Times

Will Gavin Newsom be tougher on guns than Jerry Brown?

Gun Open CarryCalifornia Democrats on Monday outlined a plan to enact new forms of gun control, and they’re hoping Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign firearm restrictions that his predecessor vetoed last year.

Standing alongside former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head at a 2011 Tuscon event, Democrats in the Legislature called for more gun restrictions.

So far, they’re proposing Assembly Bill 165, which would provide training to police officers on the use of gun violence restraining orders, and Senate Bill 61, which would limit firearm purchases to one gun per month.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right, the courage to new ideas,” Giffords said at the news conference. “I’ve seen great courage when lives are on the line. Now is the time to come together, be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone, we must never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight. Be bold. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you.” …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Gov. Gavin Newsom – What To Expect

Gavin Newsom budgetJerry Brown became the youngest governor in California history in 1974 largely thanks to his father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, who governed the state from 1959 to 1967. Now, new California governor Gavin Newsom has ascended to office enjoying something of an “extended-family” relationship with the Browns. In 1943, businessman William Newsom, Gavin’s grandfather, helped Pat Brown win his race for San Francisco district attorney. In 1960, Governor Pat Brown awarded the concession for the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics to Newsom and John Pelosi, father-in-law of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In 1975, new governor Jerry Brown appointed another William Newsom, the son of Pat Brown’s pal, to a judgeship in Placer County, and in 1978, Brown appointed the same Newsom to the state Court of Appeal.

Will Gavin Newsom carry on the Jerry Brown style of governance? Yes and no. He’s on record saying that “there’s no greater political mind in our lifetime than Governor Brown,” and he certainly seems to have Jerry’s progressive side down. But so far, he shows little of the former governor’s more skeptical side. Despite his zeal for big government, high taxes, and bullet trains, Jerry Brown — especially in his second two-term stint (as the oldest governor in California history) — sometimes functioned as an effective goalie against bad legislation. On his way out the door, for example, Brown vetoed SB 320, which would have required state universities to offer abortion drugs. Brown also remained skeptical of single-payer health care. “Where do you get the extra money?” Brown asked reporters in 2017. “This is called ‘the unknown by means of the more unknown,’” Brown explained, “which makes no sense.”

By contrast, on his first day in the governor’s office, Newson announced plans for a government-funded single-payer health system. Newsom also announced that he would seek to reinstate the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, responsible for “widespread consumer misery” in California, according to health reporter Emily Bazar. He signed an executive order making the Department of Health Care Services responsible for negotiating all drug prices for Medi-Cal and ordered the establishment of a California surgeon general to work on “reducing health-related inequality in the state.” Newsom’s plans included no cost estimate—the stumbling block that Brown identified in 2017.

Brown scaled back some of the rules and perks that have contributed to the state’s $400 billion pension debt. By contrast, Newsom’s first budget calls for $7.8 billion in payments, above what is required by law, to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). He’s not likely to do anything at odds with California’s government-employee unions, which proclaim that the state legislature is “our house.” The new governor plans no change to the state’s high income and corporate taxes and even wants to slap a tax on drinking water. He and his allies are already targeting Proposition 13, the state’s 1978 cap on property-tax hikes.

In 1996, voters passed Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, barring racial and ethnic preferences in state education, employment, and contracting. Newsom opposes it, charging that it has “undeniably had a devastating toll on the demographic makeup of our student body.” It hasn’t, and as Thomas Sowell noted in Intellectuals and Race, after Proposition 209’s passage the number of African Americans and Hispanics graduating from the UC system increased, and the number graduating in four years with a GPA of 3.5 or higher rose 55 percent.

During Brown’s final weeks in office, the State Supreme Court denied seven of his clemency requests, calling them an “abuse of power.” Last September, Brown ignored testimony from victims and signed SB 1391, which bars prosecution of 15-year-old juveniles as adults, whatever the gravity of their crime. Newsom plans to keep moving in this direction, taking the Division of Juvenile Justice out of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “Today is the beginning of the end of juvenile imprisonment as we know it,” Newsom said at recent event in Stockton. “Juvenile justice should be about helping kids imagine and pursue new lives — not jumpstarting the revolving door of the criminal justice system.” Brown used similar language in his signing message for SB 1391.

Brown ran for president three times; Newsom is said to have an eye on the White House, too. In the New Yorker, Tad Friend described Newsom as “tall and lithe and still boyish at fifty-one, with teeth that Tom Cruise would envy and hair lacquered with Oribe gel.” During the campaign, Newsom “sported his trademark look: a white Ermenegildo Zegna shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a blue Tom Ford tie.” In San Francisco, according to wife Jennifer, Newsom was known as “Mayor McHottie,” by women and gay men alike. According to Friend, Newsom wants to “embody Bobby Kennedy’s grainy glamour, to provide moral clarity in a bewildering hour,” but whether he’ll become “President McHottie” remains to be seen.

Is California closer to closing private prisons with Newsom at helm?

PrisonCalifornia Democrats think 2019 is their best chance yet to accomplish a long-held liberal goal: shuttering the state’s private prisons.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed in his inaugural address “to end the outrage that is private prisons,” and now state lawmakers are mounting a renewed effort to turn that applause line into reality. They’re painting the move as an act of resistance against one of the Trump administration’s most important corporate partners.

But with California’s corrections system still far over capacity, some state leaders are questioning how far they can go in casting aside the private prison industry.

The state’s use of private prisons jumped after a federal court ordered officials to reduce perilous overcrowding in 2009, when inmates were crammed into gymnasium bunk-beds and the suicide rate was nearly double the national average. The prison population has dropped precipitously since then, but California currently has more than 4,000 inmates in private facilities, about half in-state and half in Arizona, costing the state millions of dollars a year. …

Click here to read the full article from the Mercury News

Misguided Solutions to State Homeless Problem

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Recently, state Senator John Moorlach (R-Orange County) wrote in this space about California’s struggle to solve the problem of homelessness. In his piece “Grappling with California’s Housing Crisis” Moorlach, however, comes dangerously close to accepting the notion that if government throws enough money at a problem like homelessness we can solve it.

Homelessness in California is a grand example of how government largesse may be hurting and not helping. As Moorlach’s Democrat colleague Jim Beall said at last year’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing, “more than $10 billion has been spent on the homeless the last few years, yet, the crisis is not over . . .” Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If true, the state’s policy towards the homeless, as articulated by Committee Chairman Beall, is insane.

While it’s likely Democrat Beall would just as soon press on with more spending, I’m surprised Republican Moorlach, who asked good questions at the hearing, didn’t ask something like “$10 billion spent and what do we have to show for it?” Or, “if we’ve spent that kind of money trying to build our way out of the problem – and it’s not working – why haven’t we tried something different?”

California has indeed spent billions of dollars over the years building housing to deal with its chronic and episodic homeless problems and they’re still with us today. In fact, homelessness has gotten worse. The condition in the City of Los Angeles, according to the LA Times, has risen a breathtakingly 75 percent over the past six years. The City of San Francisco is not far behind as almost all urban areas in California have experienced profound increases. Some estimates have homelessness growing in the state by over 65 percent over the past few years.

Past solutions clearly don’t work. Plus, building has its own set of complications:

First, on average, a unit of affordable housing costs nearly $400,000 to build in California – even more in the state’s high-cost areas. Given that situation, the historic level of funding in Proposition 1 ($4 billion) will barely support 10,000 units. Proposition 2, spending half as much as its sister measure, may only build 5,000 units of housing for the homeless mentally ill – that’s barely enough to match the population of living on the street tonight in Sacramento.

Secondly, getting past the legions of activist neighbors who frown on new housing of any kind, will take some doing. A 150-unit project for seniors was just dismissed from a San Francisco neighborhood after opponents spoke up. NIMBYs have just commenced a lawsuit to stop a “smart” development in San Diego. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was recently confronted by a roomful of angry beach residents over the prospect of erecting a new homeless facility nearby. A bill in the state Legislature to promote greater downtown living was defeated after several housing combatants stormed a hearing room to express their outrage.

Lastly, forcing someone into a rental housing situation may not be a solution. When 63 percent of tent-dwellers in Seattle recently refused to leave their current street abodes for the warmth and security of emergency shelter something is wrong. So, simply “housing the homeless” doesn’t work. Moreover, despite some evidence to the contrary, there is little direct correlation between homelessness and the obvious lack of affordable housing – competing data suggests that nexus only exists for a few. By contrast, according to a survey done in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) nearly half of the homeless population suffers from mental illnesses. In addition, the National Coalition for the Homeless tells us that drug addiction is clearly a factor in remaining homeless.  Is it possible we’ve been flying blind all these years? In other words, have we been enacting billion-dollar policies while ignoring the facts? Even if California had the fiscal and political wherewithal to build more permanent housing for the homeless, it won’t solve the problem.

Senator Moorlach deserves praise for co-sponsoring the state legislation that authorized SB 2 and put it on the 2018 ballot. Its assistance – importantly, including services – is, by definition, aimed at caring for homeless individuals with mental illnesses. Against prevailing attitudes, he seems to be admitting that housing isn’t the only problem. “So many of the homeless are on the streets because of substance dependency and mental issues,” Moorlach states.

But then, inexplicably, he falls back on endorsing the failed strategies of the past, saying “In Orange County, we hope to harness existing public and private funds and contributions from governments and foundations” to build more housing. He further applauds fellow Orange County legislators Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) for authoring AB 448 “which sets up the Orange County Housing Finance Trust to enable local municipalities to plan and construct additional housing for the homeless.”

As compassionate as I know Senator Moorlach is – and his consideration of policies that address the various ills that affect homeless populations is unmatched in Sacramento – he should be consistent in his policy making and associated rhetoric. The homeless problem in California is not one dimensional (housing, only) and Senator Moorlach knows it isn’t. Social scholars Alice Baum and Donald Burnes tell us, instead, homelessness is a disengagement from ordinary society – from family, friends, neighborhood, church and community.

With the right policies coming from Sacramento, we can begin to arrest the social decline and downward spiral of so many fellow Californians. Starting with:

* • Immediately building or rehabilitating temporary, emergency shelters;
* • With teams of volunteers, removing the homeless from street living;
* • Providing regular on-site addiction, mental health and medical services;
* • Facilitating the provision of these services through qualified non-profits;
* • Considering a state policy for “re-institutionalizing” the mentally ill; and
* • Yes, help clear a land-use path for building more housing, of all kinds.

onsultant specializing in housing issues.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Will tax breaks and banks help California’s struggling marijuana industry?

marijuanaUnfriendly banks, high taxes and black-market competitors are some of the obstacles that licensed cannabis companies say hold them back as they try to cultivate a new industry in California.

Some California lawmakers want to give them a hand, and they’re considering a set of bills that would in ways great and small fine tune the law governing recreational marijuana.

“We’re all in this for the long haul,” Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, said at a press conference Monday. “It’s incumbent on us to continue to monitor what’s happening and course correct if necessary.”

Some of the bills aim to give cannabis businesses the same opportunities as others — such as access to state tax deductions or the ability to bank — while others look to provide relief to legitimate businesses locked in a losing battle with the black market. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Progressives Now Complaining About Gas Prices

Gas TaxOnly in California. Progressive policies in California have forced drivers to pay some of the highest gas prices in the nation. Now, a group of liberal legislators want the California attorney general to investigate why this is true.

Let’s recap what the progressives have inflicted on working Californians who are simply trying to get to work and get their kids to school and soccer practice. According to the California Center for Jobs and the Economy, gas prices dropped slightly in December but declined faster in other states. In the United States other than California, the average gas price was $2.26 per gallon. In California, it was $3.40, a premium above the national average of $1.144, a 50.6 percent difference.

California had the second-highest gasoline price among the states behind only Hawaii. Californians paid $1.48 per gallon more than consumers in Missouri, the state with the lowest price. That’s 77 percent more for the same tank of gasoline.

The Center also noted that “California’s fuel regulations and the isolated market created by those regulations continue to push the state’s cost premium up higher — a cost-of-living factor that in particular falls on lower-wage workers as they are forced to commute longer distances in order to find housing they can afford.” Those regulations include California’s unique cap-and-trade law and low-carbon fuel standards, rendering the production of gasoline an expensive and risky enterprise.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Changing Prop. 13 Could Worsen Housing Crisis

property taxFor four decades, Proposition 13, the property tax reform that passed in 1978, has been blamed for many of the ills that have befallen California.

Working with Howard Jarvis, a Proposition 13 co-author, and later running his taxpayers association, I have followed the multiple attacks on the measure, many silly and outrageous. Now the attacks are amped up along with a supposed, but flawed remedy.

In discussions of where new money would come from to solve the Los Angeles Unified School District labor dispute and teacher’s strike, a ballot measure designated for the 2020 statewide ballot to change to Proposition 13 often is mentioned.

The initiative promises to split the property tax roll between commercial and residential properties.

If approved, the split roll initiative would come with long-term problems and exacerbate issues that were raised during the teachers’ strike that would affect all of California.

Implementing a split roll would mean that commercial property would be taxed at market value. That would bring in more revenue to schools and local governments. But supporters of the split roll stop the discussion at that point, and fail to discuss the far-reaching consequences of undoing Proposition 13.

High housing costs were a constant refrain during the teachers strike. The lack of housing makes it more difficult for teachers to live near where they work, a curse for many middle class Californians.

Imagine what would happen if split roll were a reality. What do you think would happen when local governments would choose between green-lighting a commercial venture that would bring in gobs of new revenue for government as opposed to approving a housing project?

Just as taxpayers make adjustments to reduce their taxes, government officials embrace projects that will increase revenue. There are many examples of such behavior on both sides of the tax equation such as the infamous window tax of the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe.

In response, homeowners boarded up windows to avoid the tax. Tax collectors have similar reactions in the opposite direction. They will certainly okay revenue-producing developments ahead of housing projects.

Apparently there was no concession by the teachers’ union in the strike settlement to control pensions and health costs, two items that are driving the district toward insolvency, according to the Los Angeles County Board of Education and Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner.

Pension and heath costs are a big problem for local and state governments, just as they are for schools. The alternative is to turn to taxpayers to fund these generous benefits while taxpayers themselves struggle with their own retirement and health care situations.

But there is an element to the troubled pension situation that could be further damaged by a split roll. Many pensions rely on commercial properties to increase portfolios. With raised property taxes, commercial properties will be devalued and another debilitating weight would be added to government pensions holding business properties.

Under Proposition 13, property tax revenues have increased well beyond inflation and population growth. The property tax under Proposition 13 is the steadiest tax in the state because during economic downturns only recently purchased property is re-evaluated downward.

Under Proposition 13, most property taxpayers continue to pay the expected taxes due while both sales and income taxes reduce sharply in a recession.

If all commercial property tax rates are pegged at market value, and a recession hits, commercial property would be reassessed downward and local and school budgets will take a huge hit.

In addition to these problems, business owners forced to pay higher property taxes would pass those costs onto consumers, and that would diminish the state’s economy.

For residential property taxpayers there is another thing to keep an eye on. Is the move toward a split roll the first step to taking away Proposition 13 protections from homeowners?

At a recent speech to the Palos Verdes Chamber of Commerce, noted Los Angeles area economist Christopher Thornberg raised the issue saying he would flip the split roll, keeping Proposition 13 on commercial property and getting rid of it on residential property to help local governments fund services related to homes.

You can bet the idea of eliminating all of Proposition 13 is on the mind of those advocating more and more government spending and the split roll ballot fight will be the first test.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Charter schools may face new era of opposition to funding

school busAfter a quarter-century of explosive increases in California, charter schools experienced all-time lows in growth the last two school years. And charters may also be facing an era of much harsher treatment from school boards allied with teachers unions who more than ever see charters as taking away resources that should go to conventional schools.

That was many education observers’ takeaway this week from the Los Angeles Unified School Board’s decision to approve a local moratorium on approvals of new charters until their impact on the state’s largest district is freshly assessed. District leaders had agreed to pass the resolution as part of their deal with United Teachers Los Angeles to end a strike that shut LAUSD schools for six days earlier last month.

Charters are privately operated public schools that hope to attract students from regular schools with their freedom to follow different teaching regimens. Some also offer specialized language or academic programs. Most are non-union.

From 1992 to 2016, charter schools went from zero students to more than 600,000 – about 10 percent of total K-12 students in California. The last two years, however, there was less than 2 percent growth in the number of total charters for the first time.

Charters initially faced brisk opposition from the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, which had heavy influence in many districts thanks to the board members that union local chapters helped elect.

But in 2000, California voters approved Proposition 39 related to school financing. One provision requires that “school districts make available to all charter schools operating in their school district … facilities that will sufficiently accommodate all of the charter’s in-district students, and that facilities be ‘reasonably equivalent’ to other classrooms, buildings, or facilities in the district,” according to the state Department of Education page outlining how school districts should comply with the state law.

CalSTRS bailout spurs scrum for limited resources

Proposition 39 gave charters a potent tool to fight attempts to block them, leading to something of a cease-fire from unions. But the passage in 2014 of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System bailout not only isn’t having the effect of stabilizing school finances that some hoped, it’s created a more intense battle for district resources than ever.

Under the bailout, total contributions to CalSTRS will nearly double from 2013-14 to 2020-21 as hikes are phased in. But districts are required to contribute 70 percent of the new money – or close to $4 billion when the phase-in ends. Even with two more contribution hikes awaiting in 2019-20 and 2020-21, many districts across the state are already struggling to make their budgets balance.

That list starts with L.A. Unified, whose board was warned by the Los Angeles County Office of Education that the district couldn’t afford the two retroactive 3 percent raises it gave teachers to end the strike. The county office raised the possibility that the district’s finances could be so broken by 2020-21 that it could be subject to an outside takeover based on a state law requiring districts maintain minimum reserves.

L.A. Unified leaders hope to get the state Legislature to provide more funding for next school year. But the L.A. teachers union also wants the district to stop providing so much funding to the district’s 225 charters, which teach 112,000 of the district’s 486,000 students.

The wild card in a new cold war between teachers unions and charters is Gov. Gavin Newsom. While he has often praised charter schools as an important part of public education, he said while campaigning last year that he would sign legislation “requiring charter schools to be more transparent with their finances and operations and to adhere to stricter conflict of interest rules on their governing boards,” according to the EdSource website.

Charter school critics see this as an obvious response to the messy finances and scandals seen in some charters. Charter advocates see it as an ominous first step toward rolling back the charter movement. They backed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2018 governor’s race.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com