California Won’t Require COVID Vaccine to Attend Schools

Children in California won’t have to get the coronavirus vaccine to attend schools, state public health officials confirmed Friday, ending one of the last major restrictions of the pandemic in the nation’s most populous state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom first announced the policy in 2021, saying it would eventually apply to all of California’s 6.7 million public and private schoolchildren.

But since then, the crisis first caused by a mysterious virus in late 2019 has mostly receded from public consciousness. COVID-19 is still widespread, but the availability of multiple vaccines has lessened the viruses’ effects for many — offering relief to what had been an overwhelmed public health system.

Nearly all of the pandemic restrictions put in place by Newsom have been lifted, and he won’t be able to issue any new ones after Feb. 28 when the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration officially ends.

One of the last remaining questions was what would happen to the state’s vaccine mandate for schoolchildren, a policy that came from the California Department of Public Health and was not impacted by the lifting of the emergency declaration.

Friday, the Department of Public Health confirmed it was backing off its original plan.

“CDPH is not currently exploring emergency rulemaking to add COVID-19 to the list of required school vaccinations, but we continue to strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom,” the department said in a statement. “Any changes to required K-12 immunizations are properly addressed through the legislative process.”

The announcement was welcome news for Jonathan Zachreson, a father of three who lives in Roseville. Zachreson founded the group Reopen California Schools to oppose many of the state’s coronavirus policies. His activism led to him being elected to the Roseville City School District board in November.

“This is long overdue. … A lot of families have been stressed from this decision and worried about it for quite some time,” he said. “I wish CDPH would make a bigger statement publicly or Newsom would make a public statement … to let families know and school districts know that this is no longer going to be an issue for them.”

Representatives for Newsom did not respond to an email requesting comment.

California has had lots of influence over the country’s pandemic policies. It was the first state to issue a statewide stay-at-home order — and other states were swift to follow.

But most states did not follow California’s lead when it came to the vaccine mandate for public schools. Officials in Louisiana announced a similar mandate, but later backed off. Schools in the District of Columbia plan to require the COVID-19 vaccine starting in the fall.

Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Kiley, a former member of the state Assembly who challenged Newsom in a failed recall attempt in 2021 over his pandemic policies, published a blog post declaring: “We won. To Gavin Newsom: You lost.”

Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist representing most of the state’s school districts, said he did not think the policy change was the result of political pressure by Republicans, but instead a reflection of the virus’s slowing transmission rates.

Click here to read the full article in the AP News

S.F. Hoped to Mandate Treatment for Up to 100 More Mentally Ill Homeless People. Years Later, No One Is In The Program

New data shows that a program in San Francisco to mandate more homeless people struggling with addiction and mental illness into treatment has largely failed, pointing to the city’s ongoing struggle to help thousands of people suffering on its streets.

Three and a half years ago, San Francisco started a pilot program to compel more people into treatment who met certain strict criteria. Officials estimated the program could help 50 to 100 people get housing and treatment for six months, but only three individuals entered the program and none remain in it today.

The problem is daunting. In 2019, San Francisco identified about 4,000 unhoused people who also struggled with addiction and mental illness. While many of those people could be helped with more voluntary treatment, some may be too sick to accept care. Despite progress in improving some aspects of the city’s mental health system, an unknown number of the 4,000 remain on the streets.

While the program was meant to help more of these people, in particular those impaired by drug addiction who aren’t covered under other forms of conservatorship, the reality is that the requirements were so onerous, few people met the criteria, according to the health department.

Since June 2019, the city has filed only four petitions for what’s called “housing conservatorship,” one of which was not approved. While other kinds of conservatorship exist, they too have strict requirements that limit who is eligible.

Of the three people who entered the new program, two were moved to another kind of conservatorship for people with mental illness, the city’s health department said Friday when it released its annual report on the subject. It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the third person.

The program — which sunsets at the end of the year —requires that someone has a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance use disorder and has been placed on at least eight temporary involuntary mental health holds, called 5150s, which send them to a hospital, within a year. The target population was also homeless. People must repeatedly refuse voluntary treatment first.

A law authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, allowed the city to launch the pilot program.

But Wiener said Friday his original law was hamstrung by a slew of factors. It got watered down by another piece of state legislation the next year, making it more restrictive. Next, the Board of Supervisors added more requirements during a contentious political debate. Logistics and paperwork delayed the implementation, and as soon as it got off the ground, the pandemic slowed progress.

“So not shockingly, not a lot of people have been conserved,” he said.

“It is so frustrating to me and so many San Franciscans when you walk down the street and see someone who’s clearly falling apart and dying, and you see that person every day falling apart a little more, and you wonder why is no one doing anything about this, why is no one saving their life?” he continued.

The report said 27 total notices have been delivered to 14 people informing them they’re on a potential path to housing conservatorship. There are no petitions waiting court approval.

The city’s health department said in a statement Friday that multiple barriers have hindered the program. They said those include limited referrals from partners, extensive documentation requirements and challenges receiving confidential patient records from private hospitals.

The health department said “stronger laws and more resources would make the San Francisco Housing Conservatorship programs a more effective tool” in the city’s system.

Wiener said he had planned to come back to the legislature this year to fix problems with his law, but instead is setting his sights on supporting a package of laws to reform a broader form of conservatorship, called LPS, that state Sen. Susan Eggman is planning to put forward. Wiener said he believes that with new leadership in the legislature, reforms will pass this year and help more people into treatment.

Mayor London Breed, who has lobbied for stronger conservatorship laws for years, supported a similar package of reforms last year.

Breed’s health department runs San Francisco General, which sees many of the patients who might be a fit for the program in its psychiatric emergency room and its inpatient psychiatric unit. People frequently cycle through the units because of a lack of long-term care.

The city also runs numerous street outreach teams – some to respond to people with mental illness and others who have just overdosed – where experts have the power to write mental health holds that would set someone on this path to conservatorship.

Recent data shows that in a majority of interactions with the team responding to mental crises, people in 57% of engagements remained in the community. In only 5% of cases were people placed on holds – a rate that two social workers told the Chronicle they felt didn’t reflect the higher need for hospitalization among their clients.

Critics say mental health holds and conservatorship should be extremely limited because it takes away people’s civil rights.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

California Governor Takes Aim at Concealed Carry, Fresno DA

In response to recent deadly shootings in the state, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new legislation this week that would make obtaining concealed carry permits more difficult. Likewise, he engaged in a war of words with the Fresno County District Attorney over the case of a Central Valley police officer whom a gunman shot and killed on Tuesday.

Newsom announced the introduction of Senate Bill 2, authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino and also backed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. SB 2 would make California’s licensing system for concealed carry permits more stringent; set a minimum age of 21 for obtaining a concealed carry permit; create stiffer training requirements related to handling, loading, unloading and storage of firearms; and establish “safe community places” where concealed firearms would be restricted.

“The mass shooting incidents we have seen over recent weeks bring to light the need for stronger protections for our communities,” Attorney General Bonta said in a statement. “The fact is, individuals who are not law-abiding, responsible citizens simply shouldn’t possess firearms — and they especially shouldn’t be allowed to carry a concealed weapon in public.”

Newsom’s office claims efforts to loosen concealed carry restrictions across the country have resulted in an increased in violent crime. Gun homicides increased by 22% in states that passed permitless carry laws, while violent crimes with a firearm rose by 29%, according to the governor’s office.

Following the killing of Selma Police Officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr. by a gunman with a criminal background, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp criticized Newsom for policies allowing the early release of inmates from prison.

Newsom responded to Smittcamp during a press conference on gun law reform saying, “She should blame herself. I’ve been listening to this for years. She has the prosecutorial discretion. Ask her what she did in terms of prosecuting that case. I’m sick and tired of being lectured by her about public safety.”

Click here to read the full article at CalCoastMatters

In Endorsing Schiff for Senate, Pelosi Rewarded Her Most Valued Trait: Loyalty

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi typically throws out endorsements in high-profile Democrat-on-Democrat races like manhole covers. She sat out Hillary vs. Barack in 2008, didn’t weigh in on Hillary vs. Bernie in 2016 until it didn’t really matter, and held her nod for Joe Biden in 2020 until he was the presumptive nominee.

But one of the main factors that inspired Pelosi to endorse Rep. Adam Schiff in California’s 2024 Senate race over two female House members came down to a quality she holds sacrosanct: loyalty.

“Loyalty is a real big factor with Nancy Pelosi, and friendship is inviolable,” John Lawrence, Pelosi’s former chief of staff, told me. “It’s almost like family.”

In Schiff, Pelosi has long had a loyal lieutenant, someone she has supported since he was elected in 2000. She counted on him to lead the House Intelligence Committee in the early, tumultuous years of the Trump administration when a Trump loyalist, former Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, was his counterpart on the panel and was “providing political cover” to the administration, as Schiff told The Chronicle at the time.

Pelosi chose Schiff as the lead manager for the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump and as a member of the commission investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

SF Supervisor Says City’s $1.45B Budget Plan to End Homelessness Won’t Work

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman did not mince words during a sit-down interview with ABC7 News on Wednesday, talking about the city’s housing plan for the homeless.

Earlier in the week, Mandelman called on the Board of Supervisors to have a special meeting to discuss the report issued at the end of last year by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

“We spend a huge amount of money in this city, not solving this problem,” Mandelman said.

The report was meant to be a direct plan of execution after the Board of Supervisors voted in June of 2022 to have the city offer all homeless people in the city a safe place to sleep.

RELATED: SF supervisors vote to create plan offering housing to every homeless person in city

It suggests spending nearly $1.5 billion over the next three years in addition to the money already expected to be spent.

That comes out to about $70,000 per shelter bed per year, according to Mandelman.

“That just seems like way too much to me. It’s more than other communities spend on shelter,” said Mandelman.

Mandelman thinks some of what’s proposed is wasteful and says the city can get rid of encampments for less.

MORE: Homelessness count rises in California despite staying steady nationwide, report finds

And Mandelman certainly isn’t alone. He tells me that quality of life issues such as homelessness are a top concern for both city residents and businesses.

Randy Shaw is the director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

He says he agrees with many of Mandelman’s thoughts and believes the city should cut down on the red tape surrounding the issue.

MORE: SF closes Tenderloin Center. What’s next for 400+ people who received services everyday?

“We have an emergency situation. We don’t have the luxury to say, ‘Well this luxury over 10 years will be a better investment’. We got to get people housed now,” said Shaw.

Mandelman maintains that the city can end unsheltered homelessness on our streets with the right plan and funding.

Click here to read the full article at ABC News

What If There Is No Next Big Thing for California?


From its founding, California has been a special place, especially its ability to grow and foster new companies and industries that lead the world in their respective fields. Much of this has been driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that found a unique home here.

Of course, the first “Big Thing” for California was the Gold Rush of 1849, attracting risk takers willing to cross two thousand miles of hostile territory with no guarantee of survival, let along success. Following closely behind the prospectors were the blacksmiths, shop keepers, farmers and cattlemen to serve the exploding population.

Once fully industrialized, California maintained its reputation as the place where innovation could fully flourish. But companies and industries have a predictable life cycle and are never static. They start small, and then grow exponentially, after which they mature and stabilize. The growth period, of course, is the most dynamic. That’s when the innovators themselves and ultimately their stockholders make substantial profits and employees grow in number and income.

For the last 60 years, California has always had an industry or two in that growth cycle. First it was the oil companies and the Hollywood studios. Aerospace came next, then the first round of technology companies like Hewlett Packard, Intel and Cisco. As they matured around 20 years ago, along came the current wave of tech companies like Google and Apple to surge past them.

In serial order, one new industry after another grew up in California just as the prior wave had crested and was settling into maturity. This trend has not just benefitted the economy and employment. These industries have powered the revenue to the state for decades. The rapidly growing companies have provided a lot of people with very high incomes from stock, stock options and incentive-based employment. Because California’s revenue is so dependent on high-income earners, the recent budget surpluses have largely been driven by these enormous tech incomes.

But now, the current wave of tech companies is maturing. Layoffs at Facebook and Twitter and Salesforce are ongoing. The median income at Facebook is reportedly $394,000, which has meant lots of tax revenue for the state. Some political leaders suggest that we shouldn’t worry about the California economy and assume that there will be another big industry to grow up here to fill that hole in the budget.

But what if that doesn’t happen this time?

What if there is no next wave to replace the maturing Google and Apple? The promising industries of ride sharing and food delivery are struggling, as is autonomous driving. Maybe something like ChatGPT is coming, but there are no assurances there, either.

While there will almost certainly be some “next big thing”, we can no longer be certain that that “thing” will be California-based. Despite high taxes, high cost of everything and onerous regulations, the educated and tech savvy workforce has kept many companies here. However, now those people can be hired remotely by a business in Arizona. Or, whereas once a Californian didn’t want to move out of state, now moving the family to Florida may not look so bad. That spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that was such a part of California’s culture is eroding at the same time other places are finding their footing with creative growth.

The good news is that this future is avoidable. That culture of entrepreneurship still exists. Innovation and enterprise can still be found and grow here. It may be trite to say, but it only needs a government that will get out of its way rather than suppress its dreams. Yes, it means less regulation and lower taxes. But it also means a government focused on empowering those who produce in order to ensure that there is revenue for public services as well as providing a reasonable safety net for those in need. It may also mean more emphasis on the present local economic climate than the global climate changes estimated in the future. Remember when we had the best schools and police forces in the country? We do. It wasn’t that long ago.

Click here to read the full article in the Los Angeles Daily News

San Diego to Use $2.4 Million State Grant to Help 50 Homeless People Near Old Library

Part of the money will go toward securing the streets so the encampments do not return

In a new, focused approach to helping homeless people get off the street and into housing, outreach workers will begin engaging with about 50 people who are living in tents along six city blocks near San Diego’s former Central Library.

A unanimous San Diego City Council, with Councilmember Jennifer Campbell absent, approved spending about $2.4 million in state funds on the plan Monday.

In presenting the plan to council members, Hafsa Kaka, the city’s Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department director, said the effort will begin in about two months and will differ from traditional outreach work by providing a more intense and personal focus on each person’s individual needs.

“What happens with normal outreach, to be honest, is sometimes people will fall through the cracks,” she said. “These individuals (outreach workers) are intensively going to be following the people who have been identified.”

The grant will fund services ranging from outreach to housing for the approximately 50 people in the six-block area over the next two years, and some of the grant will be used to keep the area clear of future encampments once people are housed.

The focus will be on placing people into long-term permanent housing and also can be used to subsidize shorter-term bridge housing such as independent living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, placements with family members and supportive housing through California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (CalAIM). Clients who have been referred to permanent supportive housing may be placed in hotel rooms as temporary housing.

The approximately 50 people living in encampments within the six-block area represent a fraction of the city’s homeless population. A monthly count conducted in December by the Downtown San Diego Partnership found 850 people living in East Village, which includes the E Street area that will be the focus of the new grant. In all, the count found 1,839 people living downtown on sidewalks, in tents and in vehicles in December, the fifth straight month of a record high.

San Diego was one of eight California communities awarded a portion of the $48 million Encampment Resolution Funding Program in October, with 19 other communities receiving the grant funds earlier last year. The grants are administered by the California Interagency Council on Homelessness with a goal of finding housing for people living in specific encampments.

Kaka said the majority of people in the encampments are black women, and many are seniors. The outreach will address existing disparities in access to services in those populations, she said.

The San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness has created ad hoc committees to address the growing population of senior homeless people and the disproportionately high percent of homeless people who are black, she noted.

Outreach teams will focus on F Street, E Street and Broadway between Seventh and Tenth avenues. The area includes the old Central LIbrary, the U.S. Postal Service and the Andaz San Diego hotel.

While not large geographically, some stretches have dense encampments. In recent days, the sidewalk on the north side of E Street has been filled with tents between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

District 8 City Councilmember Vivian Moreno supported the motion to allocate the funding, but said she was concerned about its focus on one neighborhood in District 3, represented by Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, while a part of downtown she represents has a growing homeless population,

“If you were to go there today with me, you would see encampments just lining up the streets,” she said about Commercial Street and other areas near the Father Joe’s Villages campus on Imperial Avenue. “They are not safe or sanitary for people camping there and it’s also not safe for people walking through the area.”

Moreno said the council had allocated $1 million to increase outreach in the area six months ago, and she questioned Kaka on how the money had been used.

Kaka said the city had submitted to the state an earlier funding application that did include Commercial Street, but it was not awarded. She said someone at the state advised her to submit an application that focused on a specific area in the next funding cycle, which led to the grant for the E Street outreach.

She also told Moreno that the $1 million allocated to outreach in her district has been put to use through People Assisting the Homeless.

Kaka said money for more outreach in other areas could come in the future, and the city and the county have discussed submitting a joint application to the state for the next round of funding.

Under the program adopted Monday, $1.2 million will be used for housing and flexible subsidies, and $950,000 will go toward outreach services for people in encampments.

The grant will provide $150,000 for support services to help people stabilize when they receive housing, and $116,500 will pay for administrative costs. Once encampments are cleared from the city, the grant will provide $30,000 to keep the area secure and prevent encampments from returning.

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune

Red Herring Alert: Comparing California and Japan High Speed Rail Falls on its Face

Japan’s high speed rail system, first begun in 1964, actually makes a lot of money

Well, it’s big in Japan.

That is what proponents of California’s high speed rail project say when asked about the whys and wherefores of the system. In other words, if it works somewhere else it will work here.

That argument, though, falls in the face of a rather basic fact: California and Japan are different.

It is true that Japan’s high speed rail system, first begun in 1964, actually makes money – a lot, in fact. The iconic first line, Shinkansen Tokaido, alone carries 90 million people a year and has an operating profit of about $4.4 billion dollars.  That does not include capital costs, but teasing that number out after 60 years of operation and the privatization of the route in the late 1980s is extremely difficult – suffice to say the deal has “worked” for the owners.

There are multiple other Shinkansen lines in Japan, most of which also realize an operating profit (the latest expansion to Hokkaido – the very large island north of the Japanese mainland – has proven to be problematic, tough.)

Focusing on the Tokaido line – the line typically referred to for comparison – shows a few similarities but many glaring differences. It’s distance is 320 miles, not terribly different from the 390 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Also, it takes two and half hours – again not too dissimilar – and, in a downtown to downtown comparison, is faster and more convenient than flying (though not cheaper – it’s about $100 to fly and about $160 to take the Shinkansen) just like California’s project is supposed to be.

But that’s about it.

First, there is the issue of population. The Tokaido line (with its “Nozomi” train only stopping in the largest cities and hence the fastest) runs from Tokyo to Osaka, which alone have combined populations of 17 million, compared to 11 million for LA (including the county) and San Francisco.  

In the cities along the Tokaido route there are 9 million more people; in the space between LA and SF, there are less than 3 million. For comparison, the smallest city on the Tokaido is Shinagawa at 400,000 people; the smallest city on the California system is Gilroy, at 58,000. 

All told, the average “stop population” between Los Angeles and San Francisco is about 250,000 – on the Tokaido/Nozomi it is 2,250,000.

It is these concentrations and the economies of scale they allow that drive the success of the Tokaido line – California’s system is simply not in the same league.

The Nozomi train operates 32 1,300-seat trains each way every day; pretty much on the half-hour with fewer overnight, while the two other slower (but still high speed) trains on the same system operate much more frequently and make many more stops. 

Note on the following information– when dealing with California High Speed Rail (CHSR) Authority numbers – time or money – it is a good idea to remind oneself that they have never been right before, so really really big grain – meet salt.

The CHSR system will – in its “horizon year” of 2040, operate 105 southbound and 103 northbound trains per day over the system.  Southbound, 64 trains will start in San Francisco, 20 in San Jose, and 21 in Merced.  Northbound, 42 trains will start in Anaheim, 44 in Los Angeles, and 17 will start in Merced (note – that means 86 trains will pass through LA northbound every day.)

The system will operate 18 hours per day, with six hours designated “peak;” about half of the trains will operate during those six hours, the other half during the 12 “off peak” hours.

That means LA’s Union Station will – during the morning commute – see a train going north about every eight minutes, every day.

At 1,200 (could be a bit lower, could be a bit higher as the final design is not yet set) seats per train, about 10,000 people could leave LA between 7 and 8 a.m.  For the system to hit its ridership (and therefore revenue) goals, about 5,000 have to.

Six trains will run non-stop from LA to SF and 10 will run with only stops at San Jose and Burbank – the non-stops are expected to meet the 2 hour and 40 minute time limit set by original bond; the other trains will not.

Like the Tokaido, California’s system will charge different fares for different distances traveled … sort of.

The 2020 ridership estimate report shows a ticket price (one way) of $100 from San Francisco to Bakersfield. The cost to travel to LA or even Anaheim? Also $100. It appears planners simply worked – in accordance with the original bond measure – backwards from a typical Southwest fare to set the cap.

For those traveling to/from smaller cities, the fares are obviously less. For example, San Francisco to San Jose is $26, San Francisco to Merced is $66, Los Angeles to Anaheim is $34, etc..  

While the high-speed rail has been touted as a way to make lower cost Central Valley housing more accessible, the fare rates could significantly impact that desire as it would cost about $30,000 a year to commute from Merced into the city (admittedly, it can most likely be assumed there will be some sort of farepass/frequent user program will cut that price.)

But at numbers in the thousands per month, the incentive to move out of more expensive cities becomes far less – why spend the money on train fare rather than on a more expensive, more central home if it’s going to be a wash, unless you were going to move anyway to raise a family and mow the lawn?

As to overall finances, the most the CHSR says the LA to SF system will cost is $113 billion and it will be done in 2033, four years after the Central Valley “starter kit” is done.

Exactly where the money will come from remains a bit of a puzzle, but the CHSR is hoping the Cap and Trade money it gets will be extended to 2050 (an extra $10-20 billion,) that they will find more federal funds including non-transportation grants for things such as renewable energy and “social equity.”

As to a private investor, the CHSR admits they are not quite ready for that but that once the system is running and turning an operational profit businesses will come knocking to invest.

Speaking of operational profit, the CHSR projects there is a “99.4%” likelihood it make an operational profit by 2040. It should be noted “operational profit” is just that – how much more money you bring in than you have to spend every day and is not related to the capital cost.

If – IF – the system makes the $1.4 billion it expects to in 2040, that would give it a return on capital investment of 1.4% percent.  That’s not terribly good and may make private companies think again and again and again about investing.  

In other words, if (not accounting for inflation) the CHSR simply saved its money to build the rest of the system – the San Diego, Sacramento extensions – it would take about 40 years of “profit” to cover the cost.

And those revenues figures are based on having about 1 million riders a week, about 140,000 a day, about 6,000 an hour, 100 a minute. 

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Emails Reveal Tensions in Colorado River Talks

Competing priorities, outsized demands and the federal government’s retreat from a threatened deadline stymied a deal last summer on how to drastically reduce water use from the parched Colorado River, emails obtained by The Associated Press show.

The documents span the June-to-August window the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave states to reach consensus on water cuts for a system that supplies 40 million people annually — or have the federal government force them. They largely include communication among water officials in Arizona and California, the major users in the river’s Lower Basin.

Reclamation wanted the seven U.S. states that rely on the river to decide how to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water — or up to roughly one-third — on top of already anticipated reductions. The emails, obtained through a public records request, depict a desire to reach a consensus but persistent disagreement over how much each state could or should give.

As the deadline approached without meaningful progress, one water manager warned: “We’re all headed to a very dark place.”

“The challenges we had this summer were significant challenges, they truly were,” Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, said in an interview about the early negotiations. “I don’t know that anybody was to blame, I genuinely don’t. There were an awful lot of different interpretations of what was being asked and what we were trying to do.”

Scientists say the megadrought gripping the southwestern U.S. is the worst in 1,200 years, putting a deep strain on the Colorado River as key reservoirs dip to historically low levels. If states don’t begin taking less out of the river, the major reservoirs threaten to fall so low they can’t produce hydropower or supply any water at all to farms that grow crops for the rest of the nation and cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The future of the river seemed so precarious last summer that some water managers felt attempting to reach a voluntary deal was futile — only mandated cuts would stave off crisis.

“We are out of time and out of any cushion to allow for a voluntary plan,” Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, told a Bureau of Reclamation official in a July 18 email.

As 2023 begins, fresh incentives make the states more likely to give up water. The federal government has put up $4 billion for drought relief, and Colorado River users have submitted proposals to get some of that money through actions like leaving fields unplanted. Some cities are ripping up thirsty decorative grass, and tribes and major water agencies have left some water in key reservoirs — either voluntarily or by mandate.

Reclamation also has agreed to spend $250 million mitigating hazards at a drying California lake bed, a condition of the state’s water users agreeing to cut their use by 400,000 acre feet in a proposal released in October.

The Interior Department is still evaluating proposals for a slice of the $4 billion and can’t say how much savings it will generate, Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said in an interview.

The states are again trying to reach a grand bargain — with a deadline of Tuesday — so that Reclamation can factor it into a larger plan to modify operations at Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam, behemoth power producers on the Colorado River. Failure to do so would set up the possibility of the federal government imposing cuts — a move that could invite litigation.

Figuring out who absorbs additional water cuts has been contentious, with allegations of drought profiteering, reneging on commitments, too many negotiators in the room and an unsteady hand from the federal government, the emails and follow-up interviews showed.

California says it’s a partner willing to sacrifice, but other states see it as a reluctant participant clinging to a water priority system where it ranks near the top. Arizona and Nevada have long felt they’re unfairly forced to bear the brunt of cuts because of a water rights system developed long ago, a simmering frustration that reared its head during talks.

Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton’s call for a massive water cut in testimony to Congress on June 14 was a public bombshell of sorts. A week earlier, with a heads-up from the federal government, the Lower Basin states talked about collectively, with Mexico, cutting up to 2 million acre-feet during a meeting in Salt Lake City, the emails and interviews showed.

But as the weeks passed and proposals were exchanged, the Lower Basin states barely reached half that amount, and the commitment was nowhere near firm, the emails showed. Adding to the difficulty was not knowing what Mexico, which also has a share of the river, might contribute.

In a series of exchanges through July, Arizona and California each proposed multiple ways to achieve cuts, building on existing agreements tied to the levels of Lake Mead, factoring in the water lost to evaporation or inefficient infrastructure, and fiercely protecting a priority system, though it was clear negotiators were becoming weary.

The states shared disdain for a proposal from farmers near Yuma and southern California to be paid $1,500 an acre foot for water they conserved. Former Central Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke responded by suggesting the farmers make it work at one-third of the price, which still was higher but closer to going rates.

In late July, Harris, of California, emailed a proposal to the Bureau of Reclamation outlining scenarios in the range of 1 million acre feet in cuts, saying it was imperative negotiators be able to “declare some level of victory.”

“Otherwise,” he wrote, “I genuinely believe that we are at an impasse, and we’re all headed to a very dark place.”

But ultimately, Arizona and Nevada never felt that California was willing to give enough.

“It was futile, it wasn’t enough. We did not trust that California was going to come through on their piece of it,” Cooke said in an interview.

By then, Reclamation privately told the states — but didn’t acknowledge publicly — that it backed away from the supposed mid-August deadline, officials involved in the talks said. Beaudreau, the deputy Interior secretary, said in an interview the deadline was never meant to create an ultimatum between reaching a deal and forced cuts.

But state officials said when it became clear the federal government wouldn’t act unilaterally, it created a “chilling effect” that removed the urgency from the talks because water users with higher-priority water rights were no longer at risk of harsh cuts, Arizona’s Buschatzke said in an interview.

“Without that hammer, there was a different tone of negotiations,” he said.

Today, the Interior Department’s priority remains ensuring Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam have enough water in them to maintain hydropower, and the department will do whatever is necessary to ensure that, Beaudreau said.

The Upper Basin states of New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado — which historically haven’t used their full supplies — are looking toward the Lower Basin states to do much of the work.

Reclamation is now focused on weighing the latest round of comments from states on how to save the river. Nevada wants to count water lost to evaporation and transportation in water allocations — a move that could mean the biggest volume of cuts for California — and some Arizona water managers agree, comment letters obtained by the AP show.

But disputes remain over how to determine what level of cuts are fair and legal. California’s goal remains protecting its status while other states and tribes want more than old water rights taken into account — such as whether users have access to other water sources, and the effects of cuts on disadvantaged communities and food security.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

California’s Litigation Dystopia

The civil-rights division’s case against Activision spotlights the vicious feeding cycle that sometimes only a federal judge can stop.

For years, the zombie-like California Civil Rights Department (CRD) has roamed the Golden State in search of brains, or, rather, of businesses it can feast on for revenue in the name of social justice. Wherever it finds a victim, the CRD draws a crowd of opportunistic plaintiffs’ lawyers, each seeking to leverage the agency’s claims on behalf of the companies’ other alleged victims.

Consider its case against Santa Monica–based video-game maker Activision. Citing the agency’s claim that the company tolerated a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture,” attorneys piled on.

On January 17, a federal judge in California drove off some of those opportunistic plaintiffs with a torch — putting an end to the sad case of two different shareholder groups trying to exploit California’s still-unproven CRD allegations, dismissing their claims for the third time, now “with prejudice and without leave to amend.”

As in all good monster movies, there’s humor and irony too.

In the summer of 2021, when CRD sued the video-game maker for its “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture,” Activision was already headed toward a resolution of those claims with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), ultimately agreeing to establish an $18 million fund for the alleged victims. In spite of this — in fact, deliberately to spite this — the CRD went to federal court to try to derail the EEOC settlement six times. Each time, a federal judge told them to butt out, declaring the federal settlement “fair, adequate and reasonable” and in “the public interest.” The CRD is now trying to persuade an appeals court to allow it to prevent victims from getting the settlement funds.

Here’s where the conventional horror movie becomes comedy.

Just days before the January 17 judge’s order, the Office of the New York City Comptroller, also smelling brains, tried to join one of the doomed plaintiffs’ suits. The comptroller claimed that Activision’s workplace-harassment suits imperiled the city’s pension-fund investments in the company. In a filing that cited the CRD’s most salacious claims, the comptroller’s attorneys added the funny bit: The city’s intervention on behalf of NYC Funds was part of the comptroller’s historic interest in pursuing social justice.

Their papers specifically highlighted the heroic actions of then-comptroller Scott Stringer. “In October 2019,” the city’s attorneys asserted:

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the NYC Funds . . . call[ed] on major companies to adopt hiring policies requiring women and racially/ethnically diverse candidates to be considered for selection to corporate boards of directors. . . . Despite this striking success, the NYC Funds soon learned just how much work there remained to do at Activision.

It’s true that Stringer persuaded Activision and twelve other companies to sign on to a voluntary agreement to abide by aggressive diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in board recruitment. But it’s also true that the comptroller threatened legal action if the company did not sign on. And it’s equally true that the NYC comptroller’s office failed to note that former comptroller Stringer had gender-equity problems of his own.

It was a strange omission in a city that knows Scott Stringer well.

*   *   *

There was a moment in 2021 when the New York City mayor’s race belonged to Scott Stringer: a progressive Democrat, the cousin of former U.S. representative Bella Abzug, and son of Ronald Stringer (the man who served as legal counsel to Mayor Abe Beame when, in 1975, New York City ran out of cash and came this close to bankruptcy).

Stringer was born to politics, in other words. Like twelve-year-old Jesus of Nazareth teaching the rabbis, he was appointed to Manhattan’s Community Planning Board at the remarkable age of 16 and was practically breastfed in the New York State Assembly where he served as a legislative assistant to then-assemblyman Jerry Nadler. Stringer slipped into Nadler’s seat when the boss departed for Congress. In 2006, Stringer was elected Manhattan Borough president.

As borough president, Stringer proved himself adept in the dark arts of signaling his virtue — a gift that would serve him well until it didn’t. In one memorable moment, in 2010, he and fiancée Elyse Buxbaum theatrically picked up their marriage license in Connecticut, the better to stand in solidarity with New York’s gays and lesbians who were, at the time, barred from marrying in the Empire State.

His political fortunes rose higher. In 2014, Stringer was elected to the city’s powerful comptroller’s office. There, instead of demanding financial rigor in a city built on profligate spending and corruption, he pushed the office into identity politics. His highest achievement was “Boardroom 3.0,” the effort to use his city’s pension-fund investments to persuade publicly traded companies “to adopt a policy requiring the consideration of both women and people of color for director and CEO searches.”

By the time Stringer announced he would run for New York City mayor, his office had helpfully cock-a-doodled his work to protect the vulnerable. “NYC Comptroller Stringer and Retirement Systems Announce Precedent-Setting Board/CEO Diversity Search Policies as part of Boardroom 3.0 Initiative,” the office declared in an April 14 press release.

So, how does a guy with those bona fides — the family connections, the job history, the performative possibilities inherent in political office — blow a race for mayor of New York that nearly everyone figured was his?

He gets accused of sexual misconduct.

*   *   *

This is how the end came. In September 2020, Stringer launched his campaign for mayor. In April 2021, a former intern accused Stringer of sexual misconduct during a campaign 20 years before.

“I am coming forward now because being forced to see him on my living room TV every day, pretending to be a champion for women’s rights, just sickens me,” she told the New York Times.

Stringer fell to third in the polls, behind Andrew Yang and Eric Adams. Two months later, following a second allegation, Stringer, well and truly toasted, abandoned his run for mayor.

Some might have been humbled. Not Scott Stringer. In the waning days of 2022, he sued one of his accusers, in a move the progressive Nation magazine called “a case study in what not to do.”

By now Stringer knows that the facts of these cases — whether they involve a major corporation like Activision or a political figure like Stringer — don’t matter nearly so much as the accusation. Often enough, the accusation itself is lethal.

Click here to read the full article in the National Review