The California Redevelopment Dispute

The fate of California’s redevelopment agencies (RDA’s) is frequently discussed in the news these days. However, resolution is close—on November 10th, oral arguments will be heard by the State’s Supreme Court in the case California Redevelopment Agencies v. Matosantos.

The issue at hand in this important case is the constitutionality of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed elimination of all 400 of the state’s redevelopment agencies. A critical facet of his budget proposal, Brown claims the move will save the state $1.7 billion this year. Characterizing the state’s redevelopment agencies as a “piggy bank” from which the state must now draw, he plans to redistribute the money back to counties, schools, cities and other special districts.

However, he’s also proposed that RDA’s can avoid elimination if certain steps are taken by their local jurisdictions, including an agreement that the RDA’s will pay $1.7 billion this fiscal year and $400 million in subsequent budget years in statutorily mandated revenues to school entities and other special districts.

Panicked redevelopment agencies are contending that the proposed cuts violate Proposition 22, passed by voters in November 2010, which prohibits the state from borrowing or taking funds used for transportation, redevelopment or local government projects.

Opponents to Governor Brown’s proposal feel that RDA’s are needed more now than ever as the state struggles to recover from the recession. The wholesale elimination of RDA’s, they maintain, eliminates important tools to spur job creation, increase tax revenues, and induce economic growth.

However, proponents of Governor Brown’s proposal, including State Controller John Chiang, claim that RDA’s are mismanaged and waste funds that would be better used to pay for schools and other critical services. Chiang, who recently reviewed 18 RDA’s statewide, cited numerous reporting flaws, questionable payment practices and inappropriate uses of affordable housing money.

This issue –like so many the justice system and voters encounter– begs the question: which decision will positively impact the most people? If political radical and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, an early advocate of utilitarianism, were to ponder the situation, would he lend support to Jerry Brown, attempting to balance a budget and mindfully funnel funds into what he believes are our most critical areas of need; or would he cast his vote with the RDA’s, who enable and encourage local government autonomy and revitalization?

There’s no denying that the ruling by California’s top court – whether in favor, or a rejection of Governor Brown’s controversial move – will impact taxpayers and jurisdictions across the state.

The court has promised a decision by January 15, 2012, which is when the first RDA payments would be due.

(John Hancock is the President of the California Channel.  This article was first posted in Fox & Hounds.)

Redistricting Role Reversal: CA’s Black Leaders and the Voting Rights Act

On an abnormally chilly morning this past summer, a group of black leaders gathered in front of the California African-American Museum in Los Angeles to oppose what they called an “effort to turn back the clock” and “declare the premature death of black political power.” The purported death sentence was issued one day before, with the release of prospective statewide redistricting maps, which consolidated African-American voters in Los Angeles County into one congressional district. Racial gerrymandering has been a common method of disenfranchising black Americans since the days of Reconstruction. But this time, the law that protesters were opposing was one identified with racial progress: the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The Voting Rights Act is being used to disadvantage black people in Los Angeles,” explained Jackie Dupont-Walker, the influential leader of the Ward Economic Development Corp., in the Los Angeles Sentinel, one of L.A.’s leading African-American community newspapers. Dupont-Walker wasn’t alone in making the explosive claim. The City of Angels’ most prominent black leaders have taken a united stand against the landmark civil rights legislation. Representative Karen Bass, the first black woman in the United States to serve as speaker of a state legislature, added, “We should not accept the Voting Rights Act.” An African-American member of the state’s redistricting commission lamented at a July hearing: “The Voting Rights Act is now . . . an instrument to be used against the African-American population.”

It’s a dramatic role reversal. Long considered one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history, the Voting Rights Act now finds itself under attack from the same minority groups that once championed its adoption. California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission, which spent the early part of the year redrawing the state’s political maps, ultimately bowed to African-Americans’ demands that it maintain three safe congressional seats in South L.A. The commission’s compromise sets the stage for a showdown in court and at the ballot box. California’s supreme court last week unanimously rejected two challenges to the commission’s new congressional and state senate maps, which the Republican plaintiffs vow to appeal. Opponents of the commission’s work, who also include several Democratic incumbents whose seats are no longer so safe, have until November 15 to collect 504,000 signatures for a referendum that would ensure the new district maps aren’t in effect for the 2012 election cycle.

Over the last few years, California passed two redistricting-reform initiatives—Proposition 11 in 2008 and Proposition 20 in 2010. The effect of both was to strip the legislature of its redistricting authority and vest it in the independent citizens’ commission. The initiatives outlined strict line-drawing criteria, including compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. Douglas Johnson, a redistricting expert with the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, says that the Voting Rights Act is one of the most difficult laws to understand. The initiatives’ authors, in an effort to avoid any confusion, added a provision that required the commission to hire special legal counsel, a responsibility eventually bestowed on George Brown and Dan Kolkey of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Throughout the mapmaking process, Brown and Kolkey advised the commission that in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the commission must draw every possible “majority-minority” district in any area with a history of racially polarized voting. Brown made it easy for the citizen commissioners; he gave them a simple numerical bright line of 50 percent. In essence, if census figures show half a district’s worth of historically underrepresented minorities, the commission must draw a corresponding district. Brown based his standard on a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Bartlett v. Strickland, which set a 50 percent standard for legal standing in redistricting challenges. But with demographic changes in Los Angeles County, that benchmark spelled trouble for the region’s three black members of Congress: Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, and Laura Richardson. Since the 2001 reapportionment, L.A.’s black population declined from 9.5 percent to 8.3 percent—enough for one, maybe two, but certainly notthree majority-black districts.

Black political leaders weren’t about to surrender that third congressional seat without a fight. “We ain’t going nowhere,” vowed L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in July. “Our descendants fought, bled, and died to have a right to participate in the political process and we are not going to start sitting down now.” Redistricting commissioner Andre Parvenu proposed an alternative plan to split black voters across three districts. Just one problem: the “30-30-30” plan was a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act. “I don’t think that on its face there is a legal basis for saying just draw three districts with 30 percent African-American voting strength in the same areas that they’re in now,” Brown told the commission in May. “I don’t understand the legal argument for doing that.” Other redistricting experts echoed Brown’s view. Chandra Sharma, a redistricting consultant with Meridian Pacific, testified that a 30 percent split would “apply a different [VRA] standard to Latino populations versus African-American populations.” He added in a recent interview: “The redistricting commission, in drawing congressional districts in South Central Los Angeles, chose to violate both their own mandate and the Federal Voting Rights Act in order to protect a set of incumbent legislators.”

This inconsistent application of the Voting Rights Act motivated some redistricting commissioners to rethink their interpretation of the law altogether. Commissioner Connie Galambos-Malloy said at a tear-filled July 24 hearing, “The Voting Rights Act is not just about Section 2, and it is not just about Section 5. It’s about the big picture. It’s about not just these districts, but when we zoom out and we look at the region, and when we look at the state, and ultimately when we look at the country; what impact is the redistricting process having on minorities?” Two commissioners weren’t ready to adopt such an expansive reinterpretation of the Act and opposed the congressional maps on VRA grounds. Ultimately, the commission carved out a brand-new district in which Waters may safely run.

Redistricting commissioner Michael Ward, a Republican from Anaheim and the most vocal critic of the commission’s work, came out swinging. “I believe that the Citizens Redistricting Commission broke the law. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the commission’s failure to follow the Voting Rights Act,” he said at a press conference following the commission’s final vote on August 15.

To be fair, not everyone is convinced that the commission’s Los Angeles County congressional lines violate the Voting Rights Act. Johnson, the lead technician for Arizona’s 2001 redistricting process, has handled multiple Voting Rights Act challenges. He points out that the law never establishes a numerical standard. “There’s no magic number in the Voting Rights Act about what’s an effective district,” he said. “It’s ironic that the commission knowingly violated their own rules and in the process happened to follow the Voting Rights Act.” Despite his contrarian view, Johnson believes the commission might be susceptible to a legal challenge based on other racial gerrymandering violations.

In Shaw v. Reno (1993), the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn’t draw lines based predominantly on race. “A reapportionment plan that includes in one district individuals who belong to the same race, but who are otherwise widely separated by geographical and political boundaries, and who may have little in common with one another but the color of their skin, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the Court. Johnson argues that “time and time again,” California’s commission did just that—draw lines around ethnic communities, most obviously with the Latino communities of South El Monte.

Perhaps most significantly, the African-American community in Los Angeles could be setting a new precedent for how the Voting Rights Act is applied nationwide. “The Voting Rights Act is a monumental piece of legislation that has helped elect minorities all throughout the country,” said Sharma. “If you set a new L.A. County precedent and apply it to other states, the consequences could be disastrous.” Alas, Californians likely won’t know just what the consequences will be unless the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in. Get ready for an ugly fight.

(John Hrabe is a writer and contributes regularly to the Orange County Register and This article was first published in City Journal.)

Steven Greenhut: Brown pension plan going nowhere


Despite some encouraging details in Gov. Jerry Brown’s recently announced pension-reform proposal, there’s virtually no chance the state will seriously reform — or even seriously attempt to reform — a system creaking under the weight of up to an estimated $500 billion in unfunded liabilities.

The proposal isn’t bad. It doesn’t go far enough to fix the problem even if implemented in its entirety, but it goes further than most pension reform advocates had expected from a Democratic governor who, to date, has governed as an extension of the public-employee unions that elected him to office.

But the plan probably is dead on arrival in the union-dominated Legislature. One might even argue that Brown is being cynical here — offering reasonably tough reform proposals that he knows will go nowhere. Then he can claim that he has tried to fix the problem but could not surmount the insurmountable.

(Read Full Article)

All rise for Supreme Court hearing on redevelopment

From the Sac Bee:

The California Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments this morning in one of the state’s budget nail-biters, California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos.

Cities and redevelopment agencies have sued to stop the state from axing 400 or so agencies while letting them reopen if they contribute funds to schools. Here’s the case summary, courtesy of the court:

Original proceeding. The court issued an order to show cause directing the parties to show cause why the relief prayed for in the petition for writ of mandate should not be granted. This case involves the validity of recent legislation … dissolving and reenacting with changes the statutory framework for redevelopment agencies.

The state Supreme Court put the case on a fast track, placing most of the new provisions on hold and promising to issue a ruling by mid-January. The California Channel will air the hearing on its local cable channels as well as its website, It runs from 9 to 10 a.m.

(Read Full Article)

Californians Should Get Another Vote on High Speed Rail

Imagine you found the house of your dreams. The price is $450,000. You sign papers only to later learn the sellers made a mistake. The price for the house is actually $1 million. Fortunately, under California real estate law, you can back out of the deal. But if you were a California voter buying a train instead of a house, you might be out of luck.

In November 2008 California voters narrowly approved—by a vote of 52.7% to 47.3%— Proposition 1A. The measure authorizes nearly $20 billion in state spending to establish high-speed train service linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.

At the time, the entire project was expected to cost about $45 billion. Proponents claimed funds from other public and private sources would cover the project’s remaining costs.

Tom McClintock, Jon Coupal and I co-authored the opposition ballot argument. We called the measure a “boondoggle” that “could cost $90 billion—the most expensive railroad in history.” We warned that no one really knew how much the project would ultimately cost.

After years of waste and mismanagement, California’s High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has finally admitted what critics like us warned all along: “Building the entire system will take longer and cost more than previously estimated.”

In fact, the price tag for this risky transit gamble is now nearly $100 billion—more than twice the original estimate. The new number is greater than California’s entire annual state budget. To fund the entire project today, every Californian, including men, women and children, would need to write a check for more than $2500.

Without those checks, existing funding will only be enough to cover the first phase of the project connecting Fresno and Bakersfield. Should additional funding materialize, Merced and San Jose will be the next stops.

Despite the uncertainty, the folks at CHSRA claim California voters still want to buy this train. At a recent press conference, CHSRA chair and former Democrat Assemblyman Tom Umberg said, “There are some things that do change—development changes, cost changes. But the will of the California voter, I believe, remains the same today…”

Mr. Umberg might believe California voters are still on board, but I’m not so sure. Much has changed since 2008. California’s unemployment rate has risen from single to double digits, the state’s budget has become much, much tighter, and our credit rating has been downgraded to the worst of any state in the nation.

Further, the deadly collision of two high speed trains in China earlier this year has prompted new worries about the safety of high speed rail and led to the recall of 54 trains, reduced speed limits and a moratorium on new projects in that country.

Finally, renewed concerns about our nation’s debt and overall government spending make the outlook for federal funding far less certain. Congressman Kevin McCarthy has introduced a measure that would freeze federal funding and require a thorough audit of the project. The measure, introduced last month, is being co-sponsored by nine other California congressmen.

Perhaps California voters support high speed rail regardless of the cost. If so, high speed rail proponents shouldn’t fear a new vote on their new plan. If not, it would be a breach of contract—or as liberal columnist Tom Elias puts it—“a bait and switch”—to move forward with a costly plan that is little like the one Californians voted for three years ago.

As even Mr. Umberg admits, there are other options for improving California’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. One hundred billion dollars—or even a smaller portion of that number—could do much to improve the roads, freeways, ports and airports Californians use every day. The taxpayers who will foot the bill should make this call.

To that end, Senator Doug LaMalfa plans to introduce legislation putting the project back on the ballot. California taxpayers should support his effort and urge Governor Jerry Brown, the Legislature and the CHSRA board to do the same.

(George Runner represents more than nine million Californians as a member of the State Board of Equalization. For more information, visit This article was first published in Fox & Hounds.)

Three strikes ballot measure faces public safety politics

From California Watch:

A pair of Stanford University law professors spent months this year writing ballot language to narrow, ever so slightly, California’s three strikes sentencing law.

The result is the “Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012” [PDF], which is now under legal review by the state attorney general’s office. It aims to remove courts’ authority to sentence convicts to 25 years to life in prison when their crimes have been neither violent nor serious.

At the same time, the initiative’s backers argue this measure will ensure dangerous criminals remain incarcerated.

By protecting one piece of the three strikes law (life sentences for violent offenders), the proponents hope California voters will agree to discard another piece (life sentences for minor crimes).

(Read Full Article)

Cal State faculty in salary dispute set to strike at 2 campuses

From LA Times:

A California State University faculty union embroiled in a salary dispute said Monday its members will strike at two campuses next week.

The governing board of the California Faculty Assn. authorized a one-day strike Nov. 17 at Cal State East Bay and Cal State Dominguez Hills after 93% of members voted to approve the walkouts, officials said.

It would be the first strike since the union won the right to collective bargaining in 1983. The association represents 23,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches at 23 Cal State campuses.

(Read Full Article)

Legal Reform = Job Creation

We all agree that the number one priority in this state and nation should be job creation. However, it seems like some people are more focused on spending money than saving money, at the expense of job creation.

A new study published by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform called Creating Conditions for Economic Growth: The Role of the Legal Environment sheds some light on how the high cost of tort systems in the United States is raising the cost of doing business and hurting job creation. This study is based on a data set of state liability costs never before made available to public policy researchers, which provides an excellent basis for a reliable state-by-state comparison of costs.

I have often cited the Pacific Research Institute’s U.S. Tort Liability Study, which stated that just one tort reform in California would create 141,000 jobs. This study, looking at updated data, concludes the same thing: improvements in states with the costliest legal environments could increase employment between 1% and 2.8%. In California, that could mean more than a quarter million jobs.

Will this latest study simply be placed on a bookshelf with all the other studies and rankings or will someone (in the Legislature or Governor’s office) clue in and get it? We need to make legal reform part of California’s jobs package and thoroughly examine our regulations so we can get California back on track.

It is pretty clear that if we want people to invest or expand businesses in our state, we need to make the business climate more inviting. Right now, it is fair to say (and many CEOs agree) California’s business climate is among the worst in the nation. Legal and regulatory reform will create a positive business climate where investors will come and build.

Are you listening California? Legal reform = Jobs. Don’t just take my word for it – there are plenty of materials you can read to back it up.

(Tom Scott is the Executive Director for California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.  This article was first featured in Fox & Hounds.)

AT&T, T-Mobile USA Merger Means Jobs

From CA Majority Report:

California’s dismal economic outlook has squelched many job opportunities, including those that would allow employees to organize and demand better conditions. With the jobless rate hovering somewhere around 12% since 2009, one of the highest in the country, nearly two million Californians are looking for work, but are unable to find jobs. On the street, most visibly in the Occupy Wall Street movement, you can sense the frustration.

Californians are impatient with the state of the economy – and afraid that the future may not bring better circumstances.

During the worst economic downturn in a generation, it’s our job to make sure no opportunity to create new jobs and protect existing jobs is left on the table.

(Read Full Article)

SF Mayoral Race: Ed Lee Takes Commanding Lead

From BeyondChron:

Ed Lee took a commanding lead in his race to become San Francisco’s first elected Chinese-American Mayor, with victory coming as soon as tomorrow when the ranked-choice voting process begins. With 100% of votes counted (and prior to the counting of Election Day absentees and the implementation of ranked choice), Lee leads John Avalos by a 31.38% to 18.67% margin, with Dennis Herrera third at 11.27%. David Chiu and Leland Yee rounded out the top five at 8.93% and 7.48% respectively. While Lee was careful not to announce victory before he hit the 51% threshold, the combination of spoiled ballots and Lee’s second place votes from low finishing candidates makes his election virtually certain. One year ago, Ed Lee was the City Administrator who had never sought public office; today, he is on the verge of being handily elected to a four-year term as San Francisco’s Mayor.

(Read Full Article)

From SF Chronicle:

Appointed San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, a political rookie, holds a commanding lead in his effort to turn his temporary post into a four-year job.

With 16 candidates on the ballot, it will probably take a day or two for clear results to emerge in the city’s first competitive mayor’s race using ranked-choice voting, in which voters can select their top three choices. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday night, Lee was the top vote-getter in the first round with more than 31 percent.

At an election night party with supporters, Lee stopped just short of declaring victory after he emerged from the first round of voting with an almost 13-point lead over his closest rival, Supervisor John Avalos.

(Read Full Article)