Newsom Displays Penchant for Shiny New Things on California Tour

As a species, politicians love news conferences and other events that celebrate new programs or public works projects.

The syndrome may explain why officials often ignore long-festering problems in existing programs, such as the Employment Development Department and the bullet train project. Simply making things work better doesn’t have the political appeal of something new and shiny.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is particularly prone to the affliction, declaring early on his love for “big, hairy audacious goals” and later adding, “I’d rather be accused of (having) those audacious stretch goals than be accused of timidity.”

That proclivity led him, as a candidate, to pledge that he would try to solve California’s housing crisis by building 3.5 million new houses and apartments by 2025 and make California the first state to embrace single-payer health care.

Later, when both proved to be unattainable, he declared them to be “aspirational” rather than firm promises.

Newsom’s tendency toward the grandiose was very evident this month when he once again shunned a traditional State of the State address to the Legislature and instead toured the state for serial announcements.

One is converting San Quentin prison into a laboratory to test whether a softer approach to preparing felons for release, modeled after a program in Norway, will be more effective in steering them away from crime. Newsom boasted that the renamed San Quentin Rehabilitation Center will be the “most innovative rehabilitation facility” in the nation, displaying another characteristic, his obsession with being the first to do something.

The splashiest of Newsom’s new things is a multi-billion-dollar plan to house thousands of homeless and mentally ill Californians in new facilities that would combine shelter with treatment for their afflictions.

The project would be financed mostly by a bond issue in the $3-5 billion range to be placed before voters next year and would be an adjunct to Newsom’s “Care Court” program that allows the mentally ill to be compelled to accept treatment.

“It’s unacceptable what we’re dealing with at scale now in California,” Newsom said. “We have to address and come to grips with the reality of mental health in our state and in our nation.”

Even if implemented as hoped, the two mental health projects would make only a relatively tiny dent in the state’s homelessness crisis. California still lacks a comprehensive approach and is mired in finger-pointing among state, county and city officials over who’s responsible for dealing with it.

Billions of dollars have been spent by all three levels of California government, plus no small amount of federal funds, but the number of unhoused Californians continues to climb, officially approaching 200,000 but probably much higher.

The exchanges between Newsom and county officials have been especially pointed. He’s accused counties of dragging their feet on effectively spending state grant money while county officials say they need a dedicated and predictable revenue stream for long-term programs.

As Newsom was touring the state, the California State Association of Counties, or CSAC, issued what it said is a comprehensive approach to homelessness embracing housing, social services, education and employment with clear lines of responsibility and accountability for outcomes.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Gov. Gavin Newsom Announces Ending State Water Restrictions

Requestion water allocation rate climbs to 75% – the highest since 2017

Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that the state would be ending numerous water restrictions, while keeping those aimed at preserving groundwater and helping further recharge the Klamath River and Colorado River areas.

For the past several years, the drought in California has brought forward numerous measures aimed at preserving water resources. These ranged from the more local efforts of not allowing hand watering in gardens, to California’s infamous 15% conservation target cut to water usage statewide. While the measures were partially successful in reducing water usage, more cuts were expected this year as the drought was expected to continue.

However, 12 major atmospheric river and bomb cyclones hit California in the first three months of 2023. While the rain brought everything from flooding to mudslides to snow in Los Angeles, it also significantly reversed California’s water woes. Drought conditions went from covering nearly the entire state last year to falling to only covering one-third of the state this month. Many reservoirs are now quickly approaching capacity after nearly emptying out in 2022. Snowpack levels are approaching 300% when only 100% is needed by April 1st to ensure enough water reaches Californians this year. Ski season in Tahoe is now even going until July since there is so much snow there.

Continued rains this month also led many localities to end water restrictions. This including the lifting of restrictions in Southern California, allowing the first regular water usage there since July 2022. As a result, pressure was soon placed on the state to end restrictions of their own, leading to Governor Newsom’s announcement on Friday.

According to Gov. Newsom’s roll back announcement on Tuesday, the 15% conservation target cut is to end, as are many drought contingency plans. This also included boosting up California’s allocation of requested water supplies to 75%, an increase of 40% from February and the largest amount of water being allowed to be doled out by the state since 2017.

However, Newsom also stressed that a drought was still on for many parts of the state, and that areas with groundwater reliance or those areas near the still-threatened Klamath River and Colorado River will still have restrictions in place. This includes:

  • Maintaining the ban on wasteful water uses, such as watering ornamental grass on commercial properties;
  • Preserving all current emergency orders focused on groundwater supply, where the effects of the multi-year drought continue to be devastating;
  • Maintaining orders focused on specific watersheds that have not benefited as much from recent rains, including the Klamath River and Colorado River basins, which both remain in drought;
  • Retaining a state of emergency for all 58 counties to allow for drought response and recovery efforts to continue

Drought restrictions eased statewide

“We’re all in this together, and this state has taken extraordinary actions to get us to this point,” said the Governor in a speech in Yolo County on Friday. “The weather whiplash we’ve experienced in the past few months makes it crystal clear that Californians and our water system have to adapt to increasingly extreme swings between drought and flood. As we welcome this relief from the drought, we must remain focused on continuing our all-of-the-above approach to future-proofing California’s water supply.”

Newsom’s announcement was well received on Friday, but with many water experts noting that even more restrictions could have likely been pushed back even more.

“The Governor was playing it cautiously,” explained  Jack Wesley, a water systems consultant for farms and multi-family homes, to the Globe on Friday. “This is largely because a lot of people have told him that the drought isn’t over just yet. But then again those people also said January, February, and March were going to be dry too, and look how that turned out. So there is a lot we don’t know for the rest of the year, so some stay in place.”

“Of these, the restrictions around the Klamath and Colorado rivers make the most sense. They are both still very much under where they are supposed to be, so they still need help to flow right. It’s hard to argue on restrictions staying in place in those watersheds.”

“But, overall, this is just yet another sign that California is getting back to normal water-wise. It took a wild rainy three months, but even the Governor is starting to reverse his actions. That’s a very good sign.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Harsh Responses and Harsh Outcomes of COVID

We’re still struggling with the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic — and what was done to get through it. To cite just one effect, one of my favorite restaurants, the Katella Grill in Anaheim, had a rough time through the total lockdown: tented dining, then trying to reopen indoors, finally closing a year ago after 30 years serving the county’s best liver and onions. I recently drove by there and in the entrance slept a homeless man.

On the global picture, we’re now getting some good national studies. They compare the states, which not only are federalist “crucibles of democracy,” but the crucibles of COVID response.

Let’s look at two areas, mortality and education.

On March 6 arrived “Associations between mortality from COVID-19 and other causes: A state-level analysis,” by Annaliese N. Luck, et al. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the high death toll from COVID-19 was accompanied by a rise in mortality from other causes of death,” it found. The study compared “spatial variation in these relationships across US states.”

The “other causes” is important because lockdowns increased other pathologies, such as an drug use and overdoses.

In the March 2019 to February 2020 year, immediately pre-COVID, California’s All-Cause mortality was 521.4 per 100,000. In the first COVID year, March 2020-February 2021, that rose to 659.3, an increase of 137.9. Which was a mortality increase of 26%. COVID deaths alone were 110.9, or 80% of the total increase.

As the pandemic dug in, on March 18, 2020, U.S. News ran a story, “10 States With the Most Aggressive Response to COVID-19.” Aggressive meaning heavier lockdowns, mask mandates and school closures. “Washington and northeastern states, which have implemented lockdowns and bans, score best in a new report evaluating states’ efforts to control the virus.” The top 10, in order: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota, Vermont and District of Columbia.

The story also listed “the 10 states with the least aggressive responses to the virus.” In order: Wyoming, Mississippi, Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Missouri, Hawaii, Kansas, Tennessee and Indiana.

I combined the two data sets and found: For the 10 “most aggressive” COVID responses, all cause mortality increased 20%. For the 10 “least aggressive,” it was 19%. Lower, but not by much. Moreover, the “least aggressive” group was heavily influenced by Hawaii’s increase of just 2%.

The “most aggressive” states all were Democratic, while the “least aggressive” were Republican, except for Nevada (21%) and the exemplary Hawaii. “Most aggressive” also was made worse by the District of Columbia, an almost entirely Democratic demographic, with a 26% increase in deaths. This is the nation’s capital that tells the rest of us what to do.

On education, last October’s release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed sharp declines from 2019 to 2020 in all categories. For 4th-grade math, California students dropped 4 points from 2019 to 2020. That led Gov. Gavin Newsom to boast in a press release, “California Outperforms Most States in Minimizing Learning Loss in National Student Assessment, with Record Investments to Improve Education.” How’s that for spin?

The worst state was President Biden’s home of Delaware, dropping 14 points to 226.

Sticking with math for 4th graders, let’s look at how the states we used above have fared. The average of the 10 “most aggressive” states was -7.6 points. For the “least aggressive” states, it was -4.8. Definitely a correlation there. Keeping the kids out of school, especially as they were the least likely to die from the plague, was a big mistake.

There are caveats. The “most aggressive” category again was weighed down by D.C., with -12 points, second worst, and Biden’s current residence. And Hawaii, again exemplary, was one of the states with “no significant score change in 2022.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Newsom Plans to Transform San Quentin, Home to Death Row, Into Rehabilitation Center

The infamous state prison on San Francisco Bay that has been home to the largest death row population in the United States will be transformed into a lockup where less-dangerous prisoners will receive education, training and rehabilitation, California officials announced Thursday.

At a press conference on Friday, Newsome said he hopes to implement these new strategies by 2025.

The inmates serving death sentences at San Quentin State Prison will be moved elsewhere in the California penitentiary system, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced, and it will be renamed the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center. Most of California’s nearly 700 inmates facing such sentences are imprisoned at the facility, though some have already been moved.

“Today, we take the next step in our pursuit of true rehabilitation, justice, and safer communities through this evidenced-backed investment, creating a new model for safety and justice – the California Model – that will lead the nation,” Newsom said in a statement.

Victim’s right advocates were quick to react. “He seems to have completely forgotten the victims, I mean I think this is affront to the victims because we’re saying at least there is still an element of punishment and accountability that should happen in state prison before you get your chance to earn your way out,” Nina Salarno Besselman of Crime Victims United said.

The governor planned a visit Friday to San Quentin, which is also the California location where prisoners were once executed, though none have been put to death since 2006. Newsom announced a moratorium on executions in 2019 and dismantled the prison’s gas chamber, and in 2022 he announced plans to begin transferring inmates sentenced to death to other prisons.

Full details of the plan were not immediately made public, though officials said the facility would concentrate on “education, rehabilitation and breaking cycles of crime.” Newsom was expected to share more during his visit, the second stop on a four-day policy tour that he’s doing in lieu of a traditional State of the State address this year.

“When you’re there, the goal is to ensure you do not come back and right now, what we have is not working,” Jay Jordan of Alliance for Safety and Justice said.

Newsom’s office cited as a model Norway’s approach to incarceration, which focuses on preparing people to return to society, as inspiration for the program. Oregon and North Dakota have also taken inspiration from the Scandinavian country’s policies.

In maximum-security Norwegian prisons, cells often look more like dorm rooms with additional furniture such as chairs, desks, even TVs, and prisoners have kitchen access and activities like basketball. The nation has a low recidivism rate.

“This isn’t shortening sentences, this isn’t a get out of jail free card, this is ‘Hey what do you need to be successful?’ Let’s give you that so you can get out and do what you need to do,” Jordan said.

At the overhauled San Quentin, vocational training programs would set people up to land good-paying jobs as plumbers, electricians or truck drivers after they’re released, Newsom told the Los Angeles Times.

A group made up public safety experts, crime victims and formerly incarcerated people will advise the state on the transformation. Newsom is allocating $20 million to launch the plan.

Republican Assemblymember Tom Lackey expressed criticism of Newsom’s criminal justice priorities, saying the governor and state Democratic lawmakers should spend more time focusing their efforts on supporting the victims of crime.

“Communities win when we have rehabilitative efforts, but yet, how about victims?” Lackey said. “Have we rehabilitated them?”

Meanwhile Taina Vargas, executive director of Initiate Justice Action, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles, said she is pleased the state is moving toward rehabilitating incarcerated people but more drastic changes are needed to transform the criminal justice system that imprisons so many people.

“Over the long term, I think we want to prevent people from going to prison in the first place, which means that we want to offer more opportunities for high paying jobs in the community,” she said.

California voters upheld the death penalty in 2016 and voted to speed up executions. Newsom’s decision to halt them in one of his first major acts as governor drew swift pushback from critics including district attorneys who said he was ignoring the voters.

But Californians have also supported easing certain criminal penalties in an attempt to reduce mass incarceration as part of a more recent movement away from tough-on-crime policies that once dominated the state.

San Quentin is California’s oldest correctional institution, housing one maximum-security cell block, a medium-security dorm and a minimum-security firehouse.

Inmates on death row will not have their sentences changed, but they will be transferred to other facilities, according to Newsom’s office. Today there are 668 inmates serving death sentences in California, almost all of them men, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The prison has housed high-profile criminals such as cult leader Charles Manson, convicted murderers and serial killers, and was the site of violent uprisings in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the prison in upscale Marin County north of San Francisco has also been home to some of the most innovative inmate programs in the country, reflecting the politically liberal beliefs of the Bay Area.

Click here to read the full article at KABC7

Storms end Southern California Water Restrictions for 7M

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California’s 11th atmospheric river left the storm-soaked state with a bang Wednesday, bringing flooded roadways, landslides and toppled trees to the southern part of the state as well as drought-busting rainfall that meant the end of water restrictions for nearly 7 million people.

Even as residents struggled to clean up before the next round of winter arrives in the coming days — with some 27,000 people still under evacuation orders statewide Wednesday — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s decision brought relief amid the state’s historic drought.

The district supplies water for 19 million people in six counties. The board imposed the restrictions, which included limiting outdoor watering to one day a week, in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties last year during a severe shortage of state water supplies.

But weather woes remained Wednesday, as an additional 61,000 people remained under evacuation warnings and emergency shelters housed more than 650 people, according to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Meanwhile in Arizona, the city of Sedona urged people in a dozen areas to immediately evacuate Wednesday evening because of predicted flooding of Oak Creek. The churning waters had submerged a roadway near a mobile home park and forecasters said it could rise to 15 feet (4.6 meters), a foot above flood stage.

In Southern California, flooding also closed several miles of the Pacific Coast Highway through Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles on the Orange County coast, and potholes disabled more than 30 cars on one Southern California freeway. More than 144,000 utility customers statewide remained without power Wednesday afternoon, according to

Some Southern California beaches were closed as heavy rain overwhelmed sewage systems and sent thousands of gallons of raw sewage to the sea.

In Los Angeles, a man who clung to a concrete wall of the rushing, rain-swollen Los Angeles River was saved from being swept away when a Fire Department rescuer, dangling from a helicopter, reached him and he was hauled up to safety.

Gov. Gavin Newsom surveyed flood damage in an agricultural region on the central coast, noting that California could potentially see a 12th atmospheric river next week. Officials have not yet determined the extent of the winter storms’ damage, both structurally and financially.

“Look back — last few years in this state, it’s been fire to ice with no warm bath in between,” the Democrat said, describing “weather whiplash” in a state that has quickly gone from extreme drought and wildfires to overwhelming snow and rain.

“If anyone has any doubt about Mother Nature and her fury, if anyone has any doubt about what this is all about in terms of what’s happening to the climate and the changes that we are experiencing, come to California,” the governor said.

California’s latest atmospheric river was one of two storm systems that bookended the U.S. this week. Parts of New England and New York were digging out of a nor’easter Wednesday that caused tens of thousands of power outages, numerous school cancellations and whiteout conditions on roads.

Remaining showers across Southern California were expected to decrease through Wednesday evening as the storm headed toward parts of the Great Basin. The weather service said California will see minor precipitation this weekend, followed by another substantial storm next week.

Three clifftop apartment buildings were evacuated Wednesday morning when earth slid away from their backyards in coastal San Clemente, the Orange County Fire Authority said. Residents were also cleared out of a nearby building as the severity of the slide was studied.

Orange County had already declared a local emergency when a similar hillside collapsed March 3 in Newport Beach, leaving a house uninhabitable and endangering others.

For downtown Los Angeles, the National Weather Service said just under two feet of rain (61 centimeters) has been recorded so far this water year — making this the 14th wettest in more than 140 years of records.

An overnight mudslide onto a road in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County trapped two cars, KNBC-TV reported. Another hillside in the neighborhood also gave way, threatening the foundation of a hilltop home.

Weather in the northern and central sections of the state had dried out earlier, following Tuesday’s heavy rain and fierce winds that blew out windows on a San Francisco high-rise and gusted to 74 mph (119 kph) at the city’s airport.

Forty-three of the state’s 58 counties have been under states of emergency due to the storms.

Despite California’s rains winding down, flood warnings remain in effect on the central coast for the Salinas and Pajaro rivers in Monterey County and other rivers in the Central Valley as water runs off land that has been saturated by storms since late December.

Runoff from a powerful atmospheric river last week burst a levee on the Pajaro River, triggering evacuations as water flooded farmland and agricultural communities. Nearly half of the people under evacuation orders were in Monterey County. Closed sections of the Pacific Coast Highway in the area were expected to reopen Wednesday night.

The first phase of repairs on the 400-foot (120-meter) levee breach was completed Tuesday afternoon, and crews were working to raise the section to full height, county officials said.

Damage continued to emerge elsewhere in the state. In the Sequoia National Forest, the Alta Sierra Ski Resort said it would be closed for at least two weeks because of extensive flooding and infrastructure damage, citing the U.S. Forest Service. There is also “massive slide potential” on the highway serving the resort, the resort tweeted.

California was deep in drought before an unexpected series of atmospheric rivers barreled into the state from late December through mid-January, causing flooding while building a staggering snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

Storms powered by arctic air followed in February, creating blizzard conditions that buried mountain communities under so much snow that structures began collapsing.

The water content of the Sierra snowpack is now more than 200% of the April 1 average, when it normally peaks, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Michael McNutt, a spokesperson for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, said the end of the Southern California restrictions is good news but cautioned people to continue to conserve water even in non-drought years.

“We all know that the next drought is just around the corner,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve got to treat the water coming out of our taps as the liquid gold that it is.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Bill Would Force California Schools to Tell Parents If Their Child Is Transgender

AB 1314 would protect parents’ rights, its sponsor Bill Essayli says, but LGBTQ groups say it would hurt vulnerable youths

A new bill would require California schools to tell parents that their child is transgender in the name of bolstering parents’ rights and helping children.

But critics argue the legislation would threaten LGBTQ students’ safety.

AB 1314, sponsored by Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli, would give school districts three days to notify parents in writing once a school employee learns a student is identifying as a gender that doesn’t align with their birth certificate or other official records. This could include asking to be identified by a different gender or participating in sports of the opposite gender.

“Public policy should never presume that a parent does not have the best interests for that child,” Essayli, who represents parts of western Riverside County, said at a Monday, March 13, news conference.

“ … Concealing information from parents is not only wrong, it’s dangerous and harmful to the emotional and physical safety of trans minors.”

Parents, Essayli said, “play a critical role in nurturing and supporting children and they cannot be removed from the equation.”

The news conference took place outside Jurupa Valley High School. In recent weeks, conservative media have picked up the story of Jessica Tapia, a teacher who said she was fired from the school for refusing to withhold information about students’ gender identity from parents.

Tapia said she asked school administrators “‘Are you asking me to lie?’ And they said ‘Yes. It’s the law. And it’s for the students’ privacy.’”

In an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Tapia said the school district was forcing her to violate her Christian beliefs. She is represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense organization.

Jurupa Unified School District Superintendent Trenton Hansen said via email: “The district’s actions related to Ms. Tapia were based on its obligations under current state and federal law which protects student privacy and requires the district to provide a discrimination-free learning environment to students.”

The district did not indicate whether Tapia was fired.

State and federal law, Hansen said, protects students’ rights “to use facilities consistent with their gender identity, regardless of the gender listed on their records … all students and staff enjoy the right to privacy under the constitutions of the United States and California.”

Essayli, a first-term assemblymember, told The Sacramento Bee that the California Family Council, which describes itself as “advancing God’s design for life, family and liberty through California’s church, capitol and culture,” approached him about sponsoring the bill.

In that interview, Essayli cited a study from the Society for Research in Child Development that concluded LGBTQ youths with parental support were less likely to show depression symptoms.

The LGBTQ civil rights group Equality California and the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus issued a joint statement condemning AB 1314.

Legislation “that aims to ‘out’ transgender and non-binary students against their will does not protect them — it puts them in potentially life-threatening danger, subjecting them to trauma and violence,” the caucus said.

While LGBTQ students should feel safe talking about their gender and sexuality, “AB 1314 ignores the reality that not all trans youth have that option,” Equality California wrote.

“Trans people are more likely to face family rejection and even abuse at home based on their gender identity … For many trans kids, school is the only place they feel safe to be their true, authentic selves. Forced ‘outing’ bills like AB 1314 seek to strip that sense of safety and dignity away.”

In a February 2022 report on homelessness among LGBTQ young people, The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth outreach group, found that “mistreatment or fear of mistreatment related to their LGBTQ identity” was a factor for 40% of LGBTQ youths who had been kicked out of their homes and 55% who said they had run away or been abandoned.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who is gay, tweeted that AB 1314 would force schools to tell parents if their child is transgender “even if the kid isn’t ready to come out to their parents. Even if ratting the kid out risks violence at home.”

Essayli replied on Twitter: “My bill is aimed at supporting trans minors, not hurting them. The notification requirement is only triggered when a minor is already publicly identifying by a different gender at school.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

In Monterey Park, Biden Will Unveil Executive Order Meant to Curb Gun Violence

When President Joe Biden landed in Southern California Monday as part of a two-day swing through the region, he stepped foot in a state deemed to have the strongest gun safety laws in the nation.

But Biden is visiting Monterey Park today, almost exactly two months after a gunman killed 11 people at a dance studio. There, Biden will express his condolences and support to a community still reeling from the attack and will tout a new executive order his administration says will reduce gun violence.

The executive order, unveiled Tuesday, March 14, instructs the attorney general to ensure gun sellers are conducting background checks as required under law and clarify just who can be “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms. These efforts will ensure fewer guns will be obtained by felons or domestic abusers, senior administration officials told reporters Monday.

Additionally, Biden’s executive order seeks to improve federal support for families, first responders and communities after a mass shooting. Pointing to FEMA responses to natural disasters, senior administration officials said Biden wants to see greater coordination among federal agencies to provide short and long-term aid, such as mental health or financial resources, to communities grappling with mass shootings.

“The reality is that our children are suffering, and I know it may not be in our lifetime, but we must do something to eradicate just how easy and accessible these guns are to our children and to people who shouldn’t have guns,” said state Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park.

California has been “very aggressive in trying to pass legislation that protects Californians,” Rubio said, adding that she hopes the federal government is “on the same page to find the urgency and desire to pass sensible gun reform.”

In Monterey Park, the gunman used a semi-automatic handgun that was purchased in Monterey Park but not registered in California, authorities said. Investigators found hundreds of rounds of ammunition and items authorities believe were being used to make homemade firearm suppressors at the gunman’s home, officials said.

On Monday, just a day ahead of the president’s visit, hundreds of activists with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action gathered at the State Capitol to call for increased gun safety measures.

“The young people, frankly, they’re traumatized,” said Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank. He recently joined Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta last month to push for a ban on guns in public places, like churches, banks, parks and public libraries, to name a few.

“California is leading the nation on gun control, and it’s working,” Portantino said. “But does that mean every tragedy will be averted? Of course not. Does that mean we have more to do? Yes.”

California has a reputation among gun control advocates of having the strongest firearm safety laws in the U.S. And while mass shootings, like the tragedy in Monterey Park, garner more attention than gun-related homicides or suicides, research shows California has a lower firearm mortality rate than other states with more lax gun control laws.

Republicans, too, filed bills this year meant to increase penalties for people who use or possess ghost guns (firearms without a valid serial number) while committing a crime or to allow a judge to issue longer prison sentences for someone convicted of a felony with a firearm. But both bills, already, don’t seem to have a successful path forward in the legislature this year.

“Certainly what we should be doing is focusing on behavior instead of just focusing on instrumentality,” said Palmdale Assemblymember Tom Lackey, a 28-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol and Assembly Republican Caucus chair. “One of the things we need to remind people is behavior does matter.”

“When you have improper behavior that takes lives, wounds lives or threatens other people, there needs to be action taken,” Lackey said.

He implored the federal government to take a “more balanced approach” when it comes to gun control legislation, saying the Second Amendment is clear as to who should own firearms.

“Responsible people need to have the right to bear arms, but irresponsible people need to be reconsidered because they’ve self-excluded themselves from that particular right,” Lackey said. “More of these laws need to be focused on self-exclusion, not on the responsible people, and I don’t think the federal government agrees with that basic premise.”

Last year, after a gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, Biden signed a sweeping, bipartisan gun control bill into law that increased background checks for young gun purchasers and supported red flag laws, meant to keep guns out away from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

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

President Biden Declares California Storm Emergency Following Request From Governor

President Joe Biden approved a California Emergency Declaration on Friday, giving federal assistance to both state and local response and relief efforts following large storms that caused flooding, mudslides, blizzards, and landslides in Counties across the state.

Since the beginning of March, Governor Newsom has already declared two storm-related states of emergency in California. The first was due to the San Bernardino County storm incident last week that caused over 100 inches of snow to fall in some areas of the County and has, as of  Friday, killed 13 people. Another storm system reaching California earlier this week primarily in Northern California then prompted a second state of emergency declaration from the Governor, adding another 21 Counties being put under a state of emergency in addition to the 13 declared the previous week in Southern California.

“The state is working around the clock with local partners to deploy life-saving equipment and first responders to communities across California,” said Governor Newsom on Wednesday. “With more dangerous storms on the horizon, we’ll continue to mobilize every available resource to protect Californians.”

However, with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, CAL FIRE, the California National Guard, and local services being stretched, from digging out roads in the San Bernardino Mountains to setting up flood zones in Northern California, many called for additional federal help. On Thursday, Governor Newsom requested a Presidential Emergency Declaration to authorize federal assistance to support state and local response.

“California is deploying every tool we have to protect communities from the relentless and deadly storms battering our state,” Newsom announced Thursday. “In these dangerous and challenging conditions, it is crucial that Californians remain vigilant and follow all guidance from local emergency responders.”

In less than 24 hours, President Biden agreed to send federal assistance to California. In a press release on Friday, the White House noted that  “The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Amador, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Lake, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Mateo, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sierra, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tulare, Tuolumne, and Yuba.

“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.  Emergency protective measures (Category B), limited to direct Federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding.”

While more assistance is now coming, many in the affected areas, especially in San Bernardino County, have said that they believed that state and federal help came too late.

First responders respond to emergency assistance delays

“We’ve been plowing like crazy and assisting in any way that we can,” explained Matt Hanna, a first responder in San Bernardino County who has been assisting local residents for over a week, to the Globe on Friday. “But relief for us has been slow. A big part of emergency orders is that things we need are rushed to us and that government red tape is cut because lives are at risk. But it has not been happening fast enough.

“Some of the guys here have had to go out in snowshoes for help. Out in Crestline, at a food store that became sort of a focal point for assistance, the roof collapsed. There are roads out there that have taken days to get to. Part of this was that we just weren’t fully prepared for a storm of this magnitude, but again, localities can only do so much during an emergency that goes beyond our limits. We got some immediate help. I mean, the CHP guys here were helping out as fast as anyone. But we needed a lot more from the state, but we just didn’t get it in time. And now over a dozen people are dead because of it.”

State officials have countered that storms have battered the entire state with many happening at once, causing equipment and resources to not move as quickly as hoped.

“The unique and challenging part of this storm was that it hit so many parts of our state simultaneously, so you’re unable to move equipment from other parts of the state that are trying to keep their lifeline roads open,” explained Cal OES spokesman Brian Ferguson in a statement. “The storms that hit San Bernardino’s highest elevations are unprecedented and particularly challenging to respond to. It really is a street fight — street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

However, despite the explanation, many first responders aren’t buying it.

“We have people here who have felt like they have been abandoned in their time of need,” added a first responder who wished to only be known as “Margo” to the Globe. “Localities, like cities, they haven’t been blaming too much because a lot of these places are generally smaller towns. Also, a lot of local residents have helped pick up the slack on plowing and have voluntarily helped clear roads here. Like the other day, this high up road was cleared, letting a family drive out for the first time in a week. The guy plowing it cleared the street and the family gave him a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee as thanks. Some are being rescued after spending a week trapped in their car. There’s these moments of humanity everywhere out there.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Jon Coupal: By All Means, Let’s Talk About ‘Junk Fees’

In last month’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden chose to spend an inordinate amount of time on matters that most Americans don’t care about. Not much was said about the important issues of border security, inflation, crime, or China’s surveillance balloon that traversed over the entire U.S. before – belatedly – our Commander in Chief decided that it should be shot down.

Among the more trivial topics that Biden focused on is so-called “junk fees.” He urged Congress to pass a new “Junk Fee Prevention Act” which would curtail extra fees on the sale of online entertainment tickets; certain airline fees; early termination fees for TV, phone, and internet service; and resort and destination fees.

To be sure, these add-on charges can be annoying, but there is a huge difference between whether such fees should be disclosed in advance (they should) or whether banning such fees is government overreach at its worst. As noted by the Wall Street Journal in a February 13, 2023, editorial (The Junk Economics of “Junk Fee” Politics), prohibitions of additional services at higher costs actually reduces consumer choice. Even worse, it “will result in higher prices or fewer services for lower income Americans.”

Not to be outdone, California’s progressive politicians quickly jumped on the Biden “junk fee” bandwagon, introducing several bills targeting what they claim are either deceptive or excessive charges imposed by private businesses. For example, SB 611 (Senator Caroline Menjivar, D – Panorama City/San Fernando Valley) would require landlords to clearly state to potential renters what their up-front and monthly payments will be, including all required fees, to rent the apartment. But, under current law, this information is already required to be disclosed by the landlord.

Another, AB 1222 (Tina McKinnor, D -Inglewood) purports to provide greater transparency by ensuring that rental car companies quote rental rates that contain the entire amount, including all applicable taxes and additional fees or charges, necessary to rent the vehicle. But, like SB 611, this bill is more posturing than substantive. As anyone who has booked a rental car knows, the amount of the charge is clearly disclosed prior to the rental.

More insidious is SB 680 (Senator Nancy Skinner, D – Berkeley) which would prohibit auto dealers from charging above the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price for electric vehicles. All this bill would accomplish would be to ensure that highly popular vehicles that are in limited supply would be shipped to other states where a market-based sales price could be negotiated. If the goal was to put more EV’s on the road in California, this bill could easily have the opposite effect.

Even a cursory review of the half dozen or so bills targeting “junk fees” exposes that most are simply posing as solutions without any real impact or substance. Those that are substantive are more likely to produce unintended consequences at best or, at worse, outcomes that are the exact opposite of what they claim.

But, if the California legislature is serious about “junk fees,” we have an idea. Let’s go after all the extraneous fees, charges and assessments imposed by government that frequently do no good nor provide any benefit to taxpayers or ratepayers. The list is endless.

Fees imposed by the state include lumber “fees” imposed on all retail sales of most wood products, Electronic Waste Recycling Fee, Energy Resources Surcharges, California Tire Fee, Natural Gas Surcharges (because the price of natural gas apparently isn’t high enough), Marine Invasive Species Fee, Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Fee (imposed on businesses that don’t produce products containing lead), and literally hundreds of additional fees.

Local governments are notorious for imposing a myriad of miscellaneous fees usually disconnected from any benefits conferred on taxpayers. For example, some local governments are imposing “vacant lot” fees based on the theory that vacant properties need to be “inspected” periodically. These fees are imposed whether any inspections ever occur. The same is true of other “inspection fees” such as rental housing fees and fire inspection fees.

California homeowners are all too familiar with “junk fees” every year when they receive their property tax bills. On top of the regular property tax, limited to 1% thanks to Proposition 13, homeowners see a list of “below the line” items that include flood control assessments, lighting and landscaping assessments, Mello-Roos taxes (in many neighborhoods) and a litany of other miscellaneous fees, charges, taxes, and assessments.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

California Housing Laws Prompt Dueling Housing Lawsuits

California’s attempts at forcing its wealthy coastal cities to build more affordable housing spawned two lawsuits on Thursday, showcasing tensions around solving a crisis that has contributed to a surge in the homeless population in the nation’s most populous state.

Attorney General Rob Bonta sued Huntington Beach on Thursday morning, accusing the seaside city known for its surf culture and iconic pier of ignoring state laws requiring it to approve more affordable housing and to build more than 13,000 new homes over the next eight years.

State housing officials say California needs an additional 2.5 million homes by 2030 in order to keep up with demand. But the state currently builds about 125,000 houses each year, which leaves California well short of that goal. California has about 170,000 homeless people on any given night, accounting for nearly one-third of the nation’s unsheltered population, according to federal data.

Bonta’s lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, asks a judge to order the city to comply with the law and to impose a fine.

“This is the colossal challenge that California is confronting,” Bonta said. “The message we’re sending to the city of Huntington Beach is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law and do your part to increase the housing supply. If you don’t, our office will hold you accountable.”

Hours later, defiant city officials announced their own lawsuit, asking a federal judge to block the state from forcing them to build a wave of new homes they said would transform the suburban community into an urban one.

“I am committed to defend the city and its wonderful property owners who enjoy this quiet suburban beach town,” Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland said.

Huntington Beach, dubbed “Surf City USA,” has a largely suburban feel with residential neighborhoods of single-family homes flanked by busy main roads linked with strip malls and office buildings.

Last year, four new councilmembers won election with a politically conservative bent. Since taking office, the four-member council majority has taken on state housing mandates and limited the flying of flags on city property, including removing the LGBT rainbow flag that has flown in the city the past two years.

The dispute with the state centers on the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, a process that requires cities to formulate a plan every eight years on how they will meet housing demands — demand that is set by the state.

California has told Huntington Beach it must built 13,368 new homes over the next eight years. The city is supposed to come up with a plan on how they will do that, and that plan that must be approved by the state.

The state punishes cities that don’t have state-approved housing plans by letting developers come in and build affordable apartment buildings without asking for local permission — a penalty known as the “builder’s remedy.” The Huntington Beach City Council is considering an ordinance at its next meeting that would exempt the city from this penalty, an ordinance state officials say is illegal.

A state law, passed in 2019, says a state judge can impose fines starting at $10,000 per month for cities that refuse to comply. The law also says the court can appoint someone “with all the powers necessary” to force the city into compliance.

This is the second time California officials have sued Huntington Beach for not following state housing laws. The city settled the first lawsuit back in 2020.

California’s housing and homelessness issues have worsened each year despite Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature spending billions of dollars in taxpayer money on the problem. Nearly all of that money has gone to local governments, which have their own housing and homelessness policies.

State leaders have repeatedly tried to shape those local policies through state laws and regulations.

Newsom, who won reelection in November and is seen as a potential presidential candidate one day, has aggressively challenged local governments to comply with state standards. Last year, he delayed $1 billion in homelessness funding for local governments because he said their plans to spend the money weren’t good enough.

Newsom later released the money after a closed-door meeting with local officials.

Click here to read the full article in AP News