Newsom Unveils Effort To Fight Theft Of LA Railroad Cargo

The governor described a multi-agency effort to clean up the rail lines and recent multi-agency efforts launched to prevent the thievery and hold perpetrators accountable.

Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled into Los Angeles’ Union Pacific railroad Thursday, Jan. 20, to show off rows of unobstructed tracks, having been been swept clean of ravaged shipping boxes and other debris that had littered rail lines in the wake of thieves recently plundering cargo cars.

After spending some time collecting trash off the tracks with CalTrans workers, the governor described a multi-agency effort to continue the rail-line clean-up, and announced expansions to a task force meant to combat retail theft and hold perpetrators accountable.

“Mark my words, this is not a one-off — this organized theft,” Newsom said at a press conference. “These folks are arrested as if they’re not connected to the whole, and we need to change that.”

Expanding the previously established Organized Retail Theft Task Force, Newsom said, is key to properly investigating and prosecuting thieves who target trains.

Bolstering that effort, Newsom said, will be an additional $255 million in grants to local law enforcement over the next three years to increase the police presence in areas where retail theft is high.

Additionally, Newsom said, his plan includes $18 million dollars over the next three years to establish a dedicated unit in the California Attorney General’s office to investigate and prosecute cross-jurisdictional, statewide organized retail theft.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has arrested 280 people for train-robbery related crimes, Newsom said, though he did not provide information on whether any of those arrests have led to convictions; he also did not provide a timeframe for those arrests.

“We must do the investigation work; it’s not just an arrest and walk away,” he said. “And then, present the case and see folks prosecuted. We’re not condoning this behavior.”

To better address the rampant robbery issue, the California Highway Patrol will work with Union Pacific Police, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department to patrol the railroad’s tracks and investigate the organized nature of the crimes.

“We’re working more collaboratively,” Newsom said. “We recognize that we need each other in terms of organizing a framework to support our efforts to hold folks to account and to secure these sites, and to hold folks accountable for the long haul.

Charlie Sampson, assistant chief of the CHP, said that while the LAPD and LASD are assisting in the longer-term investigations, those agencies are not currently patrolling any railroads.

Click here to read the full article at the Press Enterprise

California Water Districts Will Get More Supply Than Planned

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Last month’s wet winter storms led California officials on Thursday to announce they’ll release more water than initially planned from state storage to local agencies that provide water for 27 million people and vast swaths of farmland.

The Department of Water Resources now plans to give water districts 15% of what they’ve requested for 2022. That’s up from last month, when the state said it would supply 0% of requested water beyond what was needed for necessities such as drinking and bathing. It was the first time ever the state issued an initial water allocation of nothing.

State officials stressed California’s drought is far from over and urged people to keep conserving water. But December storms that dumped heavy snow in the mountains and partially refilled parched reservoirs have provided some relief from what had been an exceptionally dry year.

Still, the state hasn’t seen a major storm yet this month, and most state reservoirs remain below their historic averages. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows much of California remains in severe drought.

“Dry conditions have already returned in January. Californians must continue to conserve as the state plans for a third dry year,” Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement.

California stores and conveys water across the state through a vast network of reservoirs, dams and canals known as the State Water Project. It works alongside the federally run Central Valley Project to move water primarily from the state’s wetter northern region to the drier south.

Click here to read the full article at AP

As LA Schools Backtrack On COVID Vaccine, Dozens More Districts Push To Mandate It

At least 40 California schools have tried to implement their own vaccine mandate ahead of the state mandate that will take effect next fall.

As omicron rages throughout California, some schools have already added another layer of defense: At least 40 California districts are or soon will require vaccinations for staff or students, or both. 

Some of these policies are stricter than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to require vaccination for all K-12 staff and students before the next school year, according to a CalMatters investigation. While large districts like San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified have garnered national attention for their independent mandates, several dozen have gone largely unnoticed by state and national media.

Neither the California Department of Education nor any other agency is keeping track of all individual district policies. CalMatters contacted all 940 public school districts to create the first living database recording the state patchwork of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for schools. 

County education offices must follow local health guidelines, which the state Department of Public Health ultimately oversees, state education department information officer Scott Roark wrote in an email to CalMatters.

But public health officials aren’t tracking this information either. The California Department of Public Health “does not maintain official records about the actions of local school districts for which there is no formal requirement to report to the state,” the office of communications said in an email to CalMatters.

“I am surprised that there is no central body that regulates school districts,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics and of epidemiology at Stanford University. “This clearly isn’t good public health policy.” 

Information collected from over 630 school districts reveals that over 1 million students are already affected by some kind of mandate, independent of the upcoming statewide rule. Just about 300 districts’ administrators didn’t respond to several attempts to contact them; 10 refused to comment. 

Uneven vaccine mandates

The scope of the mandates varies: Some apply only to new employees, athletes or children attending overnight school trips. Others affect the entire school population.

The uneven requirements across districts are a product of legal concerns, minimal state guidance and local politics. 

“There is no way you can come up with an argument where a patchwork approach to anything is going to be helpful for public health,” Maldonado said. “Viruses don’t look at borders…You can have a massive outbreak triggered in a small district that can cross borders.”

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

Murder Count Filed In Attack On Nurse At Bus Stop

Man is charged in the unprovoked killing of 70-year-old woman at L.A.’s Union Station.

A man was charged Tuesday with murder in the death of a 70-year-old nurse who was attacked while waiting for a bus at downtown Los Angeles’ Union Station last week, prosecutors said.

Kerry Bell, 48, was taken into custody shortly after Sandra Shells was punched in an unprovoked attack Thursday morning, causing her to fall and strike her head at East Cesar Chavez Avenue and North Vignes Street, police said. She died of her injuries days after the attack.

At 5:15 a.m., Shells was waiting for a bus to L.A. County-USC Medical Center, where she worked for 38 years. Investigators said Bell, who is homeless, was apprehended 90 minutes later while sleeping near the scene of the attack.

In September 2020, Bell was arrested in L.A. on suspicion of battery upon a transportation official. He was charged with the misdemeanor last year. LAPD detectives said Bell had numerous arrests in other states.

Police Chief Michel Moore called Shells’ death “a tragic and senseless murder.”

“We can and must do better,” Moore said Tuesday. “This victim lived her life for others. We are falling short.”

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

DeSantis Will NOT Bend The Knee to Trump and Says Backing Ex-President For 2024 ‘Is Too Much To Ask’

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a once-loyal member of Donald Trump‘s court, is refusing to bend a knee to the former president and says backing him in the 2024 election ‘is too much to ask’ after Trump publicly attacked his character, according to a report.

Trump reportedly said the popular governor has ‘no personal charisma’ and a ‘dull personality’ as rumors swirl the ex-president is angry DeSantis hasn’t declined to challenge him for the GOP presidential nomination. 

DeSantis, however, has told his inner circle that Trump’s ‘expectation that he bend the knee is asking too much,’ the New York Times reported.  

The governor also reportedly said his biggest regret in office is not having ‘been much louder’ in speaking out against Trump’s coronavirus pandemic response. 

The commentary comes after Trump appeared to take direct aim at DeSantis in an interview just last week when he called politicians who refuse to disclose their booster vaccination status as ‘gutless’. 

Sources close to the former president – who have recently talked to him about the governor – said Trump has grown increasingly irked by DeSantis in recent months, with Trump beginning to voice his frustrations to those in his inner circle. 

The Florida governor is extremely popular in Republican circles, and is widely seen as a leader who can push policies popularized by Trump, but without the same level of drama or baggage. 

‘In the context of the 2024 election, he usually gives DeSantis a pop in the nose in the middle of that type of conversation,’ a source who recently spoke to Trump about DeSantis told Axios.

The president also claims ‘there’s no way’ DeSantis would have ever been elected Florida governor without his support.

Click here to read the full article at Dailymail

Celeb-Heavy Los Angeles Suburb Gets Tough On Water Wasters

In a wealthy enclave nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains that is a haven for celebrities, residents now face more aggressive consequences for wasting water — including the threat of having their water flows slowed to a trickle if they repeatedly flout conservation rules.

The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District northwest of Los Angeles offers a bold example of how local authorities across drought-stricken California are trying to get people to use less water, voluntarily if possible but with the threat of punishment if they don’t comply.

Before restricting water flows, the district hopes to spur savings by giving households a real-time look at their water use and stepping up fines for those homeowners who exceed their allotted “water budgets.”

District officials hope their approach will be a wakeup call for residents of the affluent neighborhoods, where most water is used outdoors use to keep expansive yards looking verdant and pretty and for pools.

Flow restrictors are rarely-used tool primarily reserved for people who repeatedly fail to pay bills. Now, the Las Virgenes district is warning that they could be installed on the water connections to homes that have been fined for overuse for three months. In the past, flow restrictors were a possibility after five months of fines, but the district never used them.

“What we’re trying to do is conserve water now so that we can stretch the limited supplies we have available,” said Dave Pederson, the district’s general manager.

California is experiencing the effects of climate change, with drought conditions present for most of the last decade. After two exceptionally dry years left the state’s reservoirs at or near record lows, a string of recent winter storms improved conditions. But most of the state is still in severe drought.

In July, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom asked residents to voluntarily cut 15% of their water use, but useage had declined only 6% as of November. The state water board last month imposed a series of mild homeowner water use restrictions, such as waiting two days after storms to water lawns. The board could take more significant steps later in the year if the drought intensifies.

California’s local districts provide water service, regulate use and enforce penalties. The Las Virgenes district serves about 75,000 people communities of Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Calabasas and Hidden Hills — an area that in recent years has attracted a growing number of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Will Smith.

Like much of inland Southern California, the region rarely gets any rain outside the winter months. It’s wealthier than most other parts of the state, with a typical Calabasas home selling for more than $1.5 million, according to the online real estate marketplace Zillow.

Despite calls for conservation, water customers in the area increased useage in August and September and then met the state’s 15% reduction goal in October before again missing the target in November.

Collectively, customers greatly exceeded their water budgets last year and one of the biggest issues the district faces is “the ability for affluent customers to significantly exceed their water budgets consistently since money is not a deterrent,” said Michael McNutt, the district’s spokesman. He declined to provide names of the district’s biggest water users.

Click here to read the full article at AP

California Throws More Money at COVID-19 Contact Tracing, But Is It Too Late?

One expert says that because omicron spreads so quickly, the millions spent on contact tracing could be better spent on more effective masks and more testing

Intensive contact tracing has helped contain COVID-19 outbreaks in some Asian countries. People test positive, they quarantine, and the folks they’ve had contact with are tracked down and asked to — or, in some nations, forced to — quarantine as well.

The U.S. has spent billions on contact tracing, and California alone will have spent $300 million on it through the next fiscal year. But researchers have found that 2 of 3 people with confirmed COVID-19 in the U.S. were either not reached or wouldn’t name contacts when interviewed, and public health authorities haven’t been able to monitor enough cases to stem the tide.

Now, as the pandemic enters its third year, the highly contagious omicron variant spreads like fire through dry grass. The incubation period can be as short as two days. The Centers for Disease Control recommends isolation for as little as five days. More people are testing at home — cases authorities don’t even count in their tallies — and some officials are throwing their hands up and suspending contact tracing.

“(T)he sheer speed of omicron’s transmission means people are exposed, infected and then contagious before the local health department can even identify an outbreak, much less get word to those who are exposed,” said officials in Oregon’s Multnomah County. “Because of that dynamic, contact tracing has become much less effective at lowering COVID-19’s risk, especially when cases are surging so high and when spending time in any indoor public space is essentially considered an exposure for anyone who isn’t up-to-date on their vaccines.”

Financial commitment waning

The financial commitment to contact tracing in California appears to be waning, but remains. The governor’s proposed budget shows that $258.3 million was spent on contact tracing over the first two years of the pandemic, with another $38.9 million going forward through the end of the next fiscal year.

The current and future spending breaks down to a projected $20.6 million this fiscal year, and $18.3 million next fiscal year, said Sonja Petek, principal fiscal and policy analyst for the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“Contact tracing remains one of our many key tools in responding to the spread of COVID-19,” said a statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s press office. “It’s also an important measure utilized in high-risk and congregate settings. Contact tracing assists with notifying exposed people for possible post-exposure treatment, testing, and quarantine in a timely manner.”

Overall, Newsom’s budget proposes $110 million to increase public health and humanitarian efforts at the California-Mexico border — including vaccinations, testing, isolation and quarantine services — “and expanded statewide contact tracing activities to help keep Californians safe and slow the spread.”

Currently, 268 state employees have been redirected to contact tracing efforts, the governor’s press office said. But experts aren’t sure the investment will bring great returns — at least not right now.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Chicago Teachers Strike Out

If teachers won’t teach, they should be fired.

In December, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona urged school leaders “not to retreat from in-person learning,” and said schools should not be considering remote options. Just last week, President Biden echoed the sentiment, stating that “schools should remain open despite the ongoing nationwide surge of COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.” Even the ultimate doom and gloom purveyor Anthony Fauci insists that despite the rising cases of the omicron variant, “reopening schools for in-person learning is the right call given widespread vaccinations among teachers and the negative effects on students of not attending in-person.” Additionally, Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner, notes that her public health team “compared data on public school children who were attending school remotely to data on private school children who were attending school in-person and found that the children, as well as staff, going in-person with coronavirus protocols in place were actually at lower risk of contracting the virus.” Arwady’s sentiments are borne out by that fact that while public schools suffered through union-driven closures, Catholic schools in major cities have been continually open for in-person instruction since September 2020 with no harmful effects to teachers or students.

It’s no secret that transmission rates from minors are low, particularly among younger children. The BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical trade journal published by the British Medical Association, is skeptical that school closures reduced COVID-19 cases at all. Looking at the big picture, there’s more risk of death to children riding in a car than there is from catching COVID-19. Evidence also suggests the omicron variant is no worse for kids than catching the common cold. The same holds true for vaccinated teachers. And with schools nationwide having received $190 billion specifically to deal with Covid-related issues, you’d think when schools were set to open after Christmas break, all would be good, right? Well, no.

Ignoring reality, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten explained in a recent tweet, “We need adequate staff & the safety measures in place including testing, masking, ventilation. There is a lot of stress.”

Stress?!

Other “essential” workers are expected to continue to provide service during this trying time. Cops, sanitation workers and firemen don’t get to stay home with no repercussions. Why should teachers? Also, when teachers go to a supermarket, they expect to get service. They wouldn’t like it one bit if the guy who stocks the produce shelves decided he was too “stressed” to come to work.

No matter. The Chicago Teachers Union, one of the most rabid in the country, decided to poll its teachers on reopening, and on January 4th, 73% of them decided to nix in-person instruction, insisting they would only teach online. In addition to 350,000 children who were yet again barred from going to school, the lives of thousands of parents were disrupted with no warning. (Though school was cancelled, the school buildings did remain open for other services, including meals and vaccination clinics.)

The response to the walkout was fast and furious. Mincing no words, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot called the strike illegal and said, “If you care about our students, if you care about our families, as we do, we will not relent. Enough is enough. We are standing firm and we are going to fight to get our kids back to in-person learning. Period. Full stop.” And for good measure, she added, “I will not allow them to take our children hostage…. Why are we here again when we know that the safest place for our children is in school? Why are we here again when we know that our schools are safe?”

Then came the kicker. Lightfoot locked teachers out of online classrooms, and said the no-show educators would not be paid for the time they were not in the classroom.

The aforementioned Randi Weingarten, who never misses an opportunity to comment on, well, anything, beclowned herself yet again, asserting in a tweet, “Let’s be clear here regarding Chicago schools – No one wants schools closed.” She also praised educators, whom she laughably insists “have been herculean.”

Back in the real world, in addition to Lightfoot, Chicago Public School system officials claimed that the strike by the city’s teachers is illegal. (All teacher strikes should be illegal, but I will tackle that issue another day.) Labor lawyer Burt Odelson, who represents several suburban school boards, agrees. He asserts that the union failed to go through the proper channels, which is laid out in the collective bargaining agreement. “It’s an unauthorized wildcat strike. It’s the employees telling the boss, ‘we’re doing what we want! Pay us anyway. And, if you don’t succumb to what our terms of employment are, too bad!’ That’s exactly what it is. It’s a wildcat strike.”

Well, after much wrangling the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates and the school district have reached a tentative agreement, pending acceptance by the rank-and-file. As reported by Fox News, the agreement, which still requires a rank-and-file vote, “will allow schools to return to remote learning if 25% of staff test positive for COVID-19. It also secures access to increased testing and personal protective equipment, and enhances contact-tracing measures at all public schools.”

The union honchos are not happy with the settlement. CTU Vice President Stacey Davis Gates groused during a press conference Monday, “This mayor is unfit to lead this city, and she is on a one-woman kamikaze mission to destroy our public schools.” Gates added that union once again has “had to create infrastructure for safety and accountability in Chicago schools, saying members have been held in hostage negotiations.”

One can only assume that Lightfoot’s strong words and actions were a big factor in ending the work stoppage.

Click here to read the full article at Frontpagemag.com

Newsom Budget: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The governor’s budget is a tale of the good, the bad and the ugly. We won’t see a real state budget until it emerges from the smoke-filled backroom following the May revise, but that didn’t stop Gov. Gavin Newsom from gleefully announcing to reporters how he would like to spend the windfall of other people’s money in a 400-page “summary” presented last week.

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of his proposal.

The Good.

The governor’s budget puts more money into the reserve accounts, accelerates the paydown of state retirement liabilities, eliminates some budgetary debt, and allocates 86 percent of the discretionary surplus to one-time spending rather than ongoing liabilities that has so often happened in past years.

That’s good because the good times won’t go on forever. While the budget projects healthy returns for the next couple of years, it notes that “[s]tructural (non-pandemic) downside risks to the forecast remain, including the challenges of an aging population, declining migration flows, lower fertility rates, higher housing and living costs, increasing inequality, and stock market volatility.”

That’s important because the top 1% of California taxpayers pay more than 50% of the state’s income tax revenues. The state is currently riding high on the wealthy’s stock market gains, but as the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, the party could be coming to an end, and soon.

The Bad.

The bad is that an already bloated bureaucracy is getting even more bloated. Under the requirements of Proposition 98, increases in spending for public schools and community colleges will be dramatic and, as has been much talked about in these pages recently, California’s public schools aren’t hurting for cash as it is.

According to the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, in inflation-adjusted constant dollars, per-pupil spending in California for public elementary and secondary schools in 2017-18, the most recent year for which statistics are available, was $13,129, the highest ever.

Under the governor’s budget, schools would see more than $20,000 per student, putting California in the top five of states in education spending – with little to show for it.

Even worse is the fact that there is little in the budget to address waste, fraud and abuse generally, not just in education. There is nothing to prevent another fiasco like we saw with the $20 billion in fraudulent claims paid by the Employment Development Department; still no accountability with the bullet train project and, in fact, the boondoggle is getting billions more.

Click here to read the full article at OC Register

Double Dealing: Legal, Illicit Blur In California Pot Market

LOS ANGELES (AP) — On an isolated farm, greenhouses stand in regimental order, sheltered by a fringe of trees. Inside are hundreds of head-high cannabis plants in precise rows, each rising from a pot nourished by coils of irrigation tubing. Lights powerful enough to turn night into day blaze overhead.

In the five years since California voters approved a broad legal marketplace for marijuana, thousands of greenhouses have sprouted across the state. But these, under their plastic canopies, conceal a secret.

The cultivator who operates the grow north of Sacramento holds a coveted state-issued license, permitting the business to produce and sell its plants. But it’s been virtually impossible for the grower to turn a profit in a struggling legal industry where wholesale prices for cannabis buds have plunged as much as 70% from a year ago, taxes approach 50% in some areas and customers find far better deals in the thriving underground marketplace.

So the company has two identities — one legal, the other illicit.

“We basically subsidize our white market with our black market,” said the cultivator, who agreed to speak with The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity to avoid possible prosecution.

Industry insiders say the practice of working simultaneously in the legal and illicit markets is all too commonplace, a financial reality brought on by the difficulties and costs of doing business with a product they call the most heavily regulated in America.

For the California grower, the furtive illegal sales happen informally, often with a friend within the tight-knit cannabis community calling to make a buy. The state requires legal businesses to report what they grow and ship, and it’s entered into a vast computerized tracking system — known as “seed to sale” monitoring — that’s far from airtight.

“It’s not too hard” to operate outside the tracking system’s guardrails, the grower said. Plants can vary widely in what each one produces, allowing for wiggle room in what gets reported, while there is little in the way of on-site inspections to verify record-keeping. The system is so loose, some legal farms move as much as 90% of their product into the illicit market, the grower added.

The passage of Proposition 64 in 2016 was seen as a watershed moment in the push to legitimize and tax California’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry. In 2018, when retail outlets could open, California became the world’s largest legal marketplace and another steppingstone in what advocates hoped would be a path to federal legalization, after groundbreaking laws in Colorado and Washington state were enacted in 2012.

Today, most Americans live in states with at least some access to legal legal marijuana — 18 states have broad legal sales for those 21 and older, similar to alcohol laws, while more than two-thirds of states provide access through medicinal programs.

Kristi Knoblich Palmer, co-founder of top edibles brand KIVA Confections, lamented that the migration of business into the illegal market was damaging the effort to establish a stable, consumer-friendly marketplace.

“To have this system that now appears to be failing, having people go back into the old-school way of doing things … it does not help us get to our goal of professionalizing cannabis and normalizing cannabis,” she said.

In California, no one disputes the vast illegal marketplace continues to dwarf the legal one, even though the 2016 law stated boldly that it would “incapacitate the black market.” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was lieutenant governor at the time the law was approved, called it a “game changer.”

But California’s legalization push faced challenges from the start. The state’s illegal market had flourished for decades, anchored in the storied “Emerald Triangle” in the northern end of the state. Not since the end of Prohibition in 1933 had an attempt been made to reshape such a vast illegal economy into a legal one.

In October, California law enforcement officials announced the destruction of over 1 million illegal plants statewide but said they were finding larger illicit growing operations. In the cannabis heartland of Humboldt County, many illegal growers are moving indoors to avoid detection. Investigators are making arrests and serving search warrants every week, but with so many underground grows “we may never eliminate the illegal cultivation,” Sheriff William Honsal said in an email to the AP.

California’s illegal market is estimated at $8 billion, said Tom Adams, chief executive officer of research firm Global Go Analytics. That’s roughly double the amount of legal sales, though some estimates are even larger.

Click here to read the full article at AP