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

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

More Than a Million Undocumented Immigrants Gained Driver’s Licenses in California

On a recent night, by the Miramar Reservoir in San Diego County, a man named Erwin sat at a picnic table scrolling through dozens of texts from his wife. He read aloud her warnings about police patrolling a road near their home.

“‘There’s a lot of cops out tonight,’” he read. “Cops everywhere.’ ‘Be careful; lots of cops.’ ‘Too many cops.’ 

“Every time I want to get a burger or juice or anything like that and I leave the house, she will text me ‘There’s a lot of cops. Be careful,’” Erwin explained. “It’s a reality that we live in. We adapt our life and our every day to it.” 

Erwin, who asked not to use his last name for fear of deportation, is a 27-year old business manager, husband and father of a 6-month-old baby girl. He’s also a Congolese immigrant whose visa expired. His wife, a U.S. citizen, fears what would happen if police stop him. 

Although California is a sanctuary state — with protections for immigrants who lack documentation authorizing them to be in the United States — there are loopholes and law enforcement sometimes works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Beyond that, Erwin worries a traffic stop might escalate. “Believe me, in my country, I would never have to worry about getting pulled over and being scared that they’re going to shoot me,” he said. 

Erwin wants to swap his foreign driver’s license for a California one.

“Before I didn’t have a family, so I could risk it,” he said, “but now I have my family and I drive my kid everywhere we go. So I decided to get right and get the driver’s license, so it’s less of an issue if I get pulled over.”  

A license to drive

Erwin has made multiple attempts to obtain an AB 60 driver’s license. It’s a special license that lets undocumented California residents legally drive, but with federal limitations.

Proponents say the special license was a boon to immigrants and the state’s economy. But critics, and even some immigrant advocates, say it has drawbacks and risks, since law enforcement and immigration officials can access it. Nevertheless the state is expanding its flexibility, giving IDs  to more undocumented residents.

California lawmakers first passed AB 60, called the Safe and Responsible Drivers Act, in 2013, as part of a broad effort to adopt more inclusive policies toward immigrants, to decriminalize their daily lives and maximize their contributions to the economy, experts said. 

Since the law took effect in 2015, more than a million undocumented immigrants, out of an estimated 2 million, have received licenses, and more than 700,000 have renewed them. 

Besides California, 18 other states have followed suit. 

“With AB 60, what we did was recognize the needs of many hard-working immigrants living here and contributing so much to our great state,” said Luis Alejo, the former Assembly member from  Watsonville who authored the bill. Now he is a county supervisor for Monterey County. 

Undocumented immigrants in California contribute $3.1 billion a year in state and local taxes; nationally they contribute $11.7 billion in taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington D.C. research entity.  

New legislation signed in September will make other California ID’s available in January to undocumented immigrants who don’t drive or who can’t take the driver’s test. Backers of that measure say residents most likely to benefit are the elderly and people with disabilities. 

“IDs are needed for so many aspects of everyday life, from accessing critical health benefits, to renting an apartment,” said Shiu-Ming Cheer, deputy director of programs and campaigns at the California Immigrant Policy Center, a sponsor of the law. 

Experts say more flexible ID laws may do more than help people on an individual level. Eric Figueroa, a senior manager at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said licenses enable undocumented immigrants to look for better jobs and gain better protections from employers trying to steal or withhold wages.

“It helps build the economy broadly — by unlocking people’s potential — and it helps the workers by giving them more options,” he said.

Erwin uses family connections to remotely renew his Congo license — a privilege he noted not everyone has. Being able to drive allowed his family to move to a better neighborhood and him to find better employment in a suburb about 25 miles away, he said. 

No one has studied how many people have garnered better jobs as a result of the special licenses. Alejo said many of his constituents describe “profound economic impacts,” but he agrees more research is needed. 

Some opponents of the licenses say their economic benefits are likely negligible. Instead it is encouraging illegal migration to California, they say, which further strains the state’s budget to provide education and other services. 

More than that, it makes undocumented residents too comfortable, critics argued. 

Before the special licenses, immigrants said they feared routine traffic stops and drunk-driving checkpoints, where their vehicles could be impounded for not having a driver’s license. Many also could face deportation proceedings after being contacted by police. 

“Community members used to share that they always used to have to buy beat-up cars because they always knew it would get impounded,” said Erin Tsurumoto Grassi, policy director at Alliance San Diego, a community organization focused on equity issues. 

“Folks were always losing their vehicles because they didn’t have a license. They didn’t have the ability to have a license,” she said. 

Some opponents of the special license law claimed it would make roadways less safe, because some immigrant drivers wouldn’t be able to read traffic signs in English. 

But a 2017 study by the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University showed those safety concerns were speculative. The rate of total accidents, including fatal accidents, did not rise and the rate of hit-and-run accidents declined, which likely improved traffic safety and reduced overall costs for California drivers, researchers said. 

The study, which documented a 10% decline in hit-and-run accidents, ran in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April 2017. 

“Coming to this as scientists, we were immediately shocked by the absence of facts in this debate,” said Jens Hainmueller, a Stanford political science professor and co-director of the lab. “Nobody was drawing on any evidence; it was more characterized by ideology.” 

Other research by Hans Lueders, a postdoctoral research associate for the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University, found AB 60 did not improve insurance premiums nor increase the share of uninsured drivers.

Are license holders safe?

Questions persist about whether the special licenses make recipients easier targets for immigration enforcement.  

Some immigrant advocates initially opposed the new licenses because they looked different from other driver’s licenses. On the front of the cards’ upper right side is “Federal Limits Apply” instead of the iconic gold bear of California. On the back the cards say: “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes.” 

Alejo said legislators had intended to protect people from immigration enforcement, so they wrote certain protective measures into the original AB 60 bill. They added language prohibiting state and local government agencies from using the special license to discriminate against license holders or for immigration enforcement.

Yet some advocates point to reports of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement accessing the databases of state and local law enforcement agencies and of state departments of motor vehicles. 

In December 2018, the ACLU of Northern California and the National Immigration Law Center published a report detailing multiple ways federal immigration agencies get access to motor vehicle records. After that, the California Attorney General’s Office implemented new protocols to protect immigrants’ DMV information from ICE and other agencies. 

A chilling effect

Dave Maass, director of investigations at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said there is always going to be a risk someone will misuse data on undocumented people.

“I wouldn’t say that people should feel 100% safe,” he said.” I would just say that the risk has been lessened quite a bit … but that does not mean the risk has totally gone away.”  

In recent years there has been a large drop-off in the number of immigrants applying for AB 60 licenses. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 396,859 immigrants applied for the licenses in fiscal 2014-15, but only 68,426 applied in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022. 

Advocates said that may be because most people who wanted a license applied for it already,  or because education and outreach about the law have lessened over the years. 

Cheer said news of ICE accessing California databases could have a chilling effect on  immigrants’ willingness to interact with government. 

“It does create more of a trust deficit with government agencies whenever there is a story about ICE having access to California databases or information in California databases,” she said. 

Being seen

On the other hand, there’s an added benefit to the new licenses, Cheer said: immigrants now have a feeling of being included and acknowledged as residents of California. 

“I feel like that’s a very important psychological piece, in the sense of ‘This is who I am. I have an ID to show you who I am,’” she said. 

Erwin said he carefully weighed the possibility that he would be effectively giving ICE his home address against wanting to have the proper paperwork, so there would be no excuse for a police officer to escalate a traffic stop with him. He decided one risk was worth reducing the risk of the other.

For some immigrants, the passage of the license law didn’t come soon enough.

Dulce Garcia, an attorney and advocate for immigrants, recently described at a San Diego public forum on immigration enforcement what happened when police stopped her brother who was undocumented. 

Police cited Edgar Saul Garcia Cardoso for driving without a license and when he appeared in a courthouse in January 2020 to face the consequences, ICE detained and deported him, within hours, to Tijuana, she said.

There he was kidnapped, held for ransom and tortured for eight months, Garcia said. 

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

California Air Board Official Received Nearly $500K Payout Last Year When He left Agency

The former executive officer of the California Air Resources Board received almost $500,000 in added pay last year — the vast majority for unused leave — when he left the agency. That additional money helped Richard Corey more than triple his total compensation from the previous year, according to data The Sacramento Bee acquired from the State Controller’s Office. Corey worked 37 years for the board, called CARB, and was appointed executive officer in 2013. He “accrued considerable vacation, personal leave and holiday time,” agency communications official David Clergen said in an email. In 2022, he took home $623,238.

Corey did not respond to an email requesting comment. He left the agency in June. Three months later, he joined AJW, a company that advises clients on issues related to energy, the environment, and navigating government regulations. When reached by phone, an AJW representative offered to send Corey an email instead of transferring the call. It is not usual for government employees to leave their jobs with large payouts. In 2018, the state paid out nearly $300 million for banked time off, a Los Angeles Times analysis of payroll data found. The newspaper found more than 450 state workers who pulled in six-figure checks when they left their jobs that year. The value of leave is based on an employee’s salary level at the time it is cashed out, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises the Legislature on fiscal and policy issues. The analyst’s office reported the state’s total leave balance liability was $3.9 billion in 2018-2019.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

Wealth Tax Push Faces Uphill Fight

Sacramento lawmaker joins other blue states in new effort to get rich to pay fair share.

SACRAMENTO — Even in progressive California, passing a new tax on ultra-rich residents is a long shot. But a Democratic lawmaker is trying again, this time flanked by similar efforts in other blue states.

San Jose Assemblymember Alex Lee plans to introduce a bill that would impose new taxes on California’s “extremely wealthy,” at a rate of 1.5% on those worth more than $1 billion starting next year, and at 1% for those worth more than $50 million starting in 2026.

If passed, the tax would affect 0.1% of California households and would generate an additional $21.6 billion in state revenue, according to Lee.

“This is all in the spirit of making those who are not paying their fair share pay what they owe,” Lee said, pointing to a ProPublica report that exposed how the world’s richest people use legal loopholes to avoid paying income taxes, instead amassing wealth through assets like stocks that are not taxed unless sold.

Lee’s proposed tax focuses on a person’s “worldwide wealth” — not just their annual income — including such diverse holdings as stocks and hedge fund interests, farm assets and art and collectibles. It’s similar to proposals progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) championed during the 2020 presidential campaign, and to a plan President Biden floated last year that never passed Congress.

In the absence of a federal wealth tax, the State Innovation Exchange, a progressive nonprofit, and the State Revenue Alliance, which works with labor groups to call for taxing rich people, gathered a handful of states to create policy as part of the “Fund Our Future” campaign. The California bill was announced as a joint effort on Thursday alongside officials promoting similar wealth taxes targeting capital gains and “unrealized gains” in Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Washington.

“States are leaning into their power. They’re reminding us that states are the laboratories of democracy,” said Charles Khan, who serves on the advisory committee for the State Revenue Alliance.

But the initiative faces an uphill battle in California despite the Democratic stronghold in the state Legislature. Similar attempts by Lee have failed before, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has shown no signs of supporting such a measure.

Newsom parted with his own party last year when he came out against Proposition 30 on the November ballot, which would have raised income taxes on the richest Californians and used the money to subsidize electric vehicles and suppress wildfires. The governor said that plan was “fiscally irresponsible” and criticized Lyft for bankrolling it, calling it a “cynical scheme to grab a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy” because ride-hailing companies must add more electric vehicles to their fleets.

Another measure that would have raised taxes on California’s richest to fund pandemic public health programs also lacked Newsom’s support, prompting organizers to keep it off the 2022 ballot.

In the Legislature, past attempts at a wealth tax have not made it far. Last year’s version was basically dead on arrival and did not get taken up for a vote in a single committee.

But Lee believes the legislation is more likely to succeed this time, in part because of California’s projected $22.5-billion budget shortfall. Revenue from the proposed tax would go to the state general fund.

“This is how we can keep addressing our budgetary issues,” he said. “Basically, we could plug the entire hole.”

Lee said the national push also helps thwart concerns that California’s richest will leave to avoid new taxes, as more states could do the same. “It’s a ‘they can run but they can’t hide’ situation,” he said.

A report by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab found that there’s “little evidence that wealthy Californians are leaving en masse,” but the threat of such a loss remains.

That’s because California’s progressive tax structure makes the state budget disproportionately dependent on the wealthiest residents, who are largely to thank for the state’s flush years even during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill is supported by the California Federation of Teachers and opposed by the California Taxpayers Assn.

California Taxpayers Assn. President Robert Gutierrez said the state should not jeopardize losing its top earners at a time of economic uncertainty. He also questioned the fairness and practicality of a first-of-its-kind tax on assets and total wealth.

“When would the state determine the tax on stocks, whose value can change dramatically from minute to minute? Would California’s tax auditors travel around the globe every year to attempt to locate and verify the value of one-of-a-kind artwork, vehicles, iconic Hollywood props and other items whose market value can’t be known with any degree of certainty?” he said. “Would wealthy individuals stay in California and wait for these questions to be answered?”

But Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at UC Berkeley, said the initiatives can work successfully and make a significant difference in “restoring tax justice.”

“Our current tax system, both at the federal and state levels, fail to tax the enormous wealth amassed by billionaires. Billionaires can keep profits inside their businesses, and if they don’t sell their stock, they can avoid the individual income tax. If they retire in Florida and sell their businesses then, they will never pay income taxes in the state where they built their fortune,” he said. “Relative to their true economic income, billionaires end up paying a lower tax rate than the rest of us.”

Click here to read the full article here in the LA Times

$5 Million for Each Longtime Black Resident? S.F. Has a Bold Reparations Plan to Consider

A century after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and lamented how “the Negro still is not free.”

“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” he said during his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

King could have been describing today’s San Francisco, a 47-square-mile city that’s home to more than 60 billionaires and at least 7,000 homeless people, around 40% of whom are Black, despite Black people representing only 5% of the population.

Right up until he was assassinated in 1968, King argued that economic justice was integral to racial justice. The idea is at the core of a draft proposal the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee presented to city leaders last month.

The Board of Supervisors created the committee, also called AARAC, in December 2020, amid a national racial reckoning. The board’s legislation, while innovative, was also narrow, allowing city leaders to reject or outright ignore the committee’s work.

What happens next will show whether San Francisco politicians are serious about confronting the city’s checkered past, or are simply pretending to be.

While California was never officially a slave state, slaveholders were protected here, and the committee’s research reveals that segregation, systemic oppression and racial prejudice born from the institution of slavery had a profound impact on the city’s evolution.

In the 20th century alone, San Francisco was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, barred Black people from settling in certain areas, kept them out of city jobs and demolished the Fillmore, a Black neighborhood and commercial district, leaving it vacant for decades.

“Centuries of harm and destruction of Black lives, Black bodies and Black communities should be met with centuries of repair,” AARAC chair Eric McDonnell told me. “If you look at San Francisco, it’s very much a tale of two cities.”

AARAC’s draft proposal includes a number of financial recommendations. There’s one that will especially get folks talking.

AARAC calls for one-time, lump-sum reparations payments of $5 million to each eligible recipient. The amount could cover the “the economic and opportunity losses that Black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by City policy,” the draft states.

To qualify for the payments, residents must be 18 at the time the committee’s proposal is enacted, and have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least 10 years. They may also have to prove they were born in the city between 1940 and 1996, have resided in San Francisco for at least 13 years, and be someone, or the direct descendant of someone, incarcerated during the war on drugs.

To put that in perspective, the state reparations task force, which will issue its own proposal is June, believes that Black Californians may be due $569 billion for housing discrimination alone between 1933 and 1977.

The wealth disparity is not the result of bad fortune. The period of urban renewal that began in the 1950s remains one of the most damning examples of how local government stole wealth from Black communities by razing them, and then ensured they never recovered. As AARAC’s report highlights, most of San Francisco’s formerly redlined neighborhoods — where residents were deemed ineligible for federal housing loans between 1933 and 1954 — are low-income neighborhoods undergoing gentrification now.

While San Francisco isn’t unique in having systematically distributed its riches along racial lines, the city’s status as a liberal bastion makes it a powerful testing ground for undoing these damages, AARAC vice chair Tinisch Hollins told me.

“This reparations process gives us a chance to look at the many ways, not just economically, that harm can and should be repaired,” Hollins said. “And even though San Francisco has passed policies that touch on the legacy of slavery, we have needed something that goes toward quantifying that harm.”

As for next steps, the committee will submit its final proposal to city leaders in June. Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told me he hopes his colleagues will approve AARAC’s recommendations.

“There are so many efforts that result in incredible reports that just end up gathering dust on a shelf,” Peskin said. “We cannot let this be one of them.”

As King described in his “I Have a Dream” speech, America was founded by white men who wrote a fraudulent “check” that promised that all men would enjoy the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

The California Legislature is Back: Five Key Questions

A soaring homeless population. A bitter battle with the oil industry over gasoline prices. A spending plan for a state with the world’s fifth-largest economy as threats of a recession hover.

There’s a lot for the California Legislature to deal with this year — and it made little headway Wednesday, its first day back at the Capitol since swearing-in a new class of members last month. The brief floor sessions in the state Senate and Assembly focused more on the dearly departed than the challenges ahead.

The slow start to the legislative session is nothing new, but it does leave plenty of time for reflection. Here are some key questions for the year to come:

What will be the Legislature’s priorities? 

By the afternoon, Senate and Assembly staff reported that just two new measures had been introduced in each house. (More than 140 were already submitted last month.) With a bill introduction deadline of Feb. 17, committee hearings and votes for most proposals are still months away.

So until then, floor sessions are mostly an opportunity for lawmakers to check in — and receive their per diem, the supplemental $214 paid daily to legislators for housing and living expenses, as long as they don’t leave Sacramento more than three days at a time.

The first floor sessions on Wednesday, for example, lasted about a half hour each in the Senate and Assembly, largely taken up by speeches memorializing friends and family who had died. Assemblymember Greg Wallis, a Bermuda Dunes Republican who won his seat by 85 votes, made his inaugural appearance on the floor; his race had not yet been called in time for the ceremonial swearing-in on Dec. 5.

In an interview, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said housing issues would remain a central focus for the Legislature this session, including accountability for the billions of the dollars that California has spent on homelessness and development programs in recent years.

“Housing is the 10,000-pound gorilla that won’t go away,” the Lakewood Democrat said.

Rendon said he would also like to build on the momentum of a sweeping package of legislation passed last year to address climate change by tackling how transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, contributes to the problem.

“Climate change is something we’ve been a leader on as a state,” he said. “We have to make sure we don’t fall behind again.”

How much impact will the budget deficit have?

Looming over the Legislature’s plans this year is the possibility of an economic downturn. Its fiscal and policy advisory office estimates a $24 billion budget deficit, and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is set to unveil his preliminary spending plan next week, has also been urging caution for months.

Legislative leaders are projecting optimism about California’s ability to weather any revenue shortfalls, pointing to the tens of billions of dollars that now sit in state reserves. Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat who leads the Senate budget committee, said that while it may not be the time to create any more new programs, California’s finances are sound.

“With the type of surplus we had last year,” nearly $50 billion that was mostly directed to one-time expenditures over the next several years, Skinner said, “we have the space right now to make some adjustments to those if necessary.”

But if the economic picture grows gloomier in the months ahead, lawmakers may be forced to downsize their boldest policy ideas.

Sen. Susan Eggman, a Stockton Democrat, said this session was the right time to step back and examine whether new programs that the state has launched in recent years are working as intended.

“This session should be about a lot of oversight,” she said. “We still have ambitious packages, but we’re all very conscious of the price tags.”

What about the oil special session?

While Newsom continues to go after the oil industry — his office published a press release last week highlighting “Big Oil’s top lies” — there have been no significant developments on his “price gouging penalty” proposal since it was formally introduced a month ago.

The details of the penalty that Newsom wants to impose on oil companies for excessive profits, not to mention the special session in which the measure is being considered, remain elusive. But Rendon said the Legislature still plans to take up the issue, even as gas prices fall, likely earlier in the year when there is more time to focus on it.

“Regardless of what happens with gas prices, it’s a good opportunity to ask the questions that we’ve been wanting to ask for a while of oil companies,” he said. “Their profits are staggering.”

How will diverse Legislature affect policy?  

Having the most diverse Legislature in history doesn’t mean much without that representation translating into policy.

Some new lawmakers are already making attempts to do that. 

Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains, a doctor and Democrat from Bakersfield, has introduced a bill that she says represents the concerns of her district: a task force to address fentanyl addiction in the Central Valley. That involves ensuring access to healthcare, addiction and rehabilitation services — and getting fentanyl off the streets, she said. 

“I think the biggest reality that we see up in here in Sacramento is a failure of the Legislature to actively control our drug problem, our drug crisis,” she said. “In California, I don’t think very many people understand how bad the problem is, with exposure to things like fentanyl on the streets.”

Assemblymember Corey Jackson, the first openly gay Black legislator, said his top priorities include addressing mental health and continuing to learn lessons from the pandemic, such as the importance of childcare. The Democrat from the Riverside area introduced a bill to create an Affordable California Commission, tasked with tackling the state’s high cost of living. 

“I come from a working class community. The 60th Assembly District are people who are just trying to survive every day,” he said. “And I wanted to send the message: ‘It is not okay just to survive. You deserve to thrive.’”   

Jackson also plans to tackle what he expects will be a rise in racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2024 election. 

“I intend to take an active role in rooting out racism, even in the very structures and even in the chambers of the state legislature itself,” he said. “Stay tuned, because there’s going to be a whole legislative package on anti-racism and systemic racism.”

Like Jackson, new state Sen. Caroline Menjivar also plans to address mental health. She has introduced a bill to prioritize more full-time counselors to Cal State campuses who can help the diverse student populations

Public transportation and infrastructure are other key areas for her. She notes that in her San Fernando area district, it floods frequently — and typically in the areas where people of color live. 

“A lot of what I speak to comes from lived experiences,” Menjivar said. “You know, when we talk about the lack of affordable housing, it’s my mom who has been on a waiting list for over five years, right. So these are issues that are personal to me.”

What’s happening with the recount?

While the November elections are largely a wrap, one seat remains contested: Democratic Sen. Melissa Hurtado’s Central Valley seat in District 16.

It was a close vote — the second closest legislative contest (based on percentages) in California history, said Alex Vassar, communications manager for the California State Library. 

Hurtado, the incumbent, was sworn into office on Dec. 10 after eking out a 20-vote victory. Republican David Shepard formally requested a recount on Dec. 13. 

That involves recounting ballots from Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. Initial results from Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties showed Hurtado holding on to her seat: Shepard gained just two votes in Fresno County, two in Kings and three in Tulare.

After Shepard’s campaign requested a recount in about 20% of Kern County, Hurtado has now asked for a recount of some remaining portions. While a recount can be requested for just part of a county, a second recount can’t be requested for the same portions. 

If Shepard were to pull off a win, though, it wouldn’t change anything Hurtado has done since being sworn in, Vassar said.

“She is a fully active seated member. All of her votes are being cast as a member,” he said. “Just like if someone were to resign — everything they’ve done still stands.” 

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

California’s Newsom Launches 2nd Term with Contrast to GOP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom kicked off his second and final term on Friday by contrasting his leadership of the nation’s largest Democratic stronghold with that of Republican leaders he branded as “small men in big offices.”

“California has been freedom’s force multiplier, protecting liberty from a rising tide of oppression taking root in statehouses — weakness, masquerading as strength,” Newsom said as he stood in front of the state Capitol.

Though he didn’t name names, his targets were obvious. Newsom chose Jan. 6 for his inaugural ceremonies to mark the second anniversary of the violent attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol, and he’s spent the past year decrying Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.

“The ugliness that overflowed on January 6th, 2021, we know this, was in fact decades in the making — fomented by people who have a very different vision of America’s future,” Newsom said.

He delivered his remarks after leading a march with his wife and four children through downtown Sacramento. The sun was finally out after days of relentless winds and rain pounding much of the state.

His second term officially began Monday. The outdoor ceremony followed a series of massive storms that brought heavy rain, snow and intense winds across the state. The deluge prompted Newsom to declare a state of emergency and offered a reminder of the bread-and-butter work of governing the nation’s most populous state.

Newsom began his first term in 2019 with Trump as a clear foil in Washington. With Biden now in the White House, Newsom has pivoted his fire toward fellow governors like DeSantis and Abbott.

He continued to draw that contrast Friday, decrying states that “make it harder to vote and easier to buy illegal guns,” and that “silence speech, fire teachers, kidnap migrants, subjugate women … and even demonize Mickey Mouse.”

Both Newsom and DeSantis are widely seen as future presidential contenders, though perhaps not against each other. Newsom has committed to supporting Biden if the president seeks a second term, as he currently plans to do. DeSantis, meanwhile, has not ruled out a 2024 run — even as Trump seeks a return to the White House.

Their competing visions of governance — including how best to promote “freedom” — showcase the political polarization that’s taken hold across the nation. In his own inaugural address Tuesday, DeSantis touched on national issues like immigration and inflation, and decried “wokeness.”

“They have two starkly different philosophies on how to run a state and that choice will be on the ballot at some point, whether its either one of those two or other folks in their parties,” said Bill Burton, a California political consultant who was a spokesman for former President Barack Obama.

The ongoing drama in Washington that has kept GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Californian, from securing the speakership in the U.S. House also boosts Newsom’s argument that Democrats are better at governing, said Kim Nalder, a professor of political science at the California State University, Sacramento.

“His narrative that he’s trying to create is: Look how much better things could be if Democrats ran the political world,” she said.

Following the speech, Republican lawmakers quickly pointed out the state’s rising homelessness, high energy and gas prices, ongoing water supply struggles and other issues they brand as Newsom failures.

“Now that California is facing a massive budget shortfall, these crises will only get worse unless the governor changes course and focuses on the issues facing our state. Texas and Florida are doing just fine on their own, and welcoming more Californians escaping our problems each day,” Assemblyman James Gallagher, the chamber’s Republican leader, said in a statement.

As Newsom sought to craft California as a beacon for freedom, he also reflected on painful parts of the state’s history, when voters backed measures to limit rights for immigrants and deny gay people the right to marry.

In the end, though, California reversed course with the understanding that “expanding rights is always the right thing to do,” he said.

Newsom begins his second term facing headwinds in the form of a budget deficit, an unmitigated homeless crisis and drought that may persist despite the storms. And he’ll go to battle with the oil industry as he pushes lawmakers to impose fines on company profits.

But Californians have twice reinforced their support for Newsom in the past 15 months: first in a 2021 recall attempt that failed and again last November, when he handily won his second term.

Newsom’s first term was dominated by wildfires, a major utility bankruptcy and the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 Californians, and prompted monthslong shut downs of businesses and schools. But he was also handed a massive budget surplus that allowed him to invest tens of billions in the environment, education, child care and health care.

But he enters his second term with a projected $25 billion budget deficit, which limits what Newsom can spend on and may force budget cuts. He’ll offer his first glimpse at spending priorities next week.

He’s also geared up for a major fight with the oil industry, convincing the Legislature to launch a special session to consider a new fine on oil company profits. Gas prices climbed above $6 per gallon in California, which is well above the national average.

The potential budget deficit in particular may force Newsom to turn more of his attention back home if he hopes to maintain the strong support he’s so far enjoyed, said Sarah Hill, a professor of political science at the California State University, Fullerton, who focuses on state politics.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Why Are Some Republicans Revolting Against Kevin McCarthy’s Bid To Be Speaker of the House?

The insurgent Republicans want to balance the budget, impose new barriers to immigration, and increase transparency for future earmark spending.

For the first time in 100 years, no one was elected speaker of the House on the first ballot when the new session of Congress opened on Tuesday—thanks to a breakaway faction of Republicans who denied Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R–Calif.) bid to return to the top post in the House of Representatives.

McCarthy finished second to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D–N.Y.) in the first round of voting, but neither candidate reached the magic number of 218 needed to win a majority. Rep. Andy Biggs (R–Ariz.) received 10 votes on the first ballot, while Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) picked up six votes and three other lawmakers got one vote each. In all, 19 Republicans voted against McCarthy, who can afford to lose just four votes and maintain a majority of the closely divided chamber.

In a second round of balloting, Jeffries got 212 votes while McCarthy received 203, and Jordan consolidated the 19 Republican votes against McCarthy.

But why, you might be wondering, would a group of Republicans trigger this sort of chaos?

On Tuesday morning, Rep. Scott Perry (R–Penn.), one of the renegade Republicans, laid out the answer to that question in a lengthy statement posted to his Twitter account. Perry said that the group of Republicans opposed to McCarthy was seeking “firm commitments” from McCarthy on four “concrete policies” they wished to bring to a vote.

Those policies, according to Perry: A balanced budget, passage of the Fair Tax Act (which would replace the federal income, payroll, and estate taxes with a national sales tax), passage of a proposal crafted by Texas Republicans that aims to crack down on illegal immigration, and the imposition of term limits for members of Congress.

Additionally, Perry said that McCarthy was asked to support two changes to how the House operates. First, to require a two-thirds vote to approve earmarks, which would have to be voted on individually. Second, to allow amendments that would cut spending to be introduced on the House floor to any legislation.

As a set of proposals, it’s a bit of a mixed bag—though the immigration element would be a massively expensive attempt to limit the free movement of people. It’s also a bit crazy that lawmakers have to resort to once-in-a-century tactics just to get congressional leaders to consider balancing the budget.

But it is certainly not a radical or wildly irresponsible list of demands. More transparency and accountability on earmarks—something that hasn’t really materialized despite the promises of those who pushed to end the earmark ban—would certainly be welcome. Floor amendments to legislation would be a step toward restoring the so-called “regular order” of moving legislation through Congress, another welcome and overdue reform.

In that same Tuesday morning statement, Perry said McCarthy effectively forfeited his chance to be speaker by refusing to go along with those requests. Later on Tuesday, Perry and his fellow breakaway Republicans followed through with that threat.

What happens now? It’s unclear. There will be a third vote in the House, and perhaps many more. In 1855, it took 133 ballots before a stalemate for speaker of the House was broken.

“We are going to continue to vote until Kevin’s the next speaker,” Rep. Dave Joyce (R–Ohio), a McCarthy supporter, told CNN after the second round of balloting on Tuesday.

It might look chaotic and weird, but actually, this is just fine. It’s democracy. For the moment, and maybe longer, think of the House of Representatives as functioning more like a multi-party democracy than the two-party duopoly that we’re used to seeing.

In multiparty systems, two or more parties have to come together and form a coalition in order to achieve a governing majority. That requires some horse-trading and usually involves drawing up a semiformal document outlining what policies the coalition will work together to craft (and sometimes, equally importantly, which policies will be off-the-table).

For the purposes of the speaker election, Perry and his fellow renegade Republicans are operating like a minority party in a multiparty system: offering their support in exchange for getting to put a hand on the steering wheel of the future coalition government. If McCarthy doesn’t want to make a deal with them, he might have to seek a coalition government with a centrist faction of Democrats. Failing that, Republicans might try to find someone else within their ranks who can get the requisite 218 votes from the chamber.

Click here to read the full article at Reason.com

Key Issues That Will Shape California in 2023

Welcome to 2023 — a year that will likely prove decisive in California’s attempts to address some of its most pervasive challenges, ranging from housing and homelessness to climate change.

Wednesday, state lawmakers are set to return to Sacramento (though some may be driving instead of flying Southwest as they usually would) to resume the two legislative sessions that ceremonially started in December: a regular session focused on the typical business of debating and passing bills, and a special session focused on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to levy a penalty on oil companies he accuses of price-gouging Californians at the gas pump.

If the session double-header sounds confusing, it’s because the legislative process often is — which is why CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal and Jeremia Kimelman put together a comprehensive, concise explainer that delves into how California’s state government works and how it interacts with local, regional and federal governments. They also explain what influences state lawmakers’ agendas, who represents you and how you can make your voice heard. Check it out.

On Sunday, many of the 997 bills Newsom signed into law last year — out of the nearly 1,200 state lawmakers sent to his desk — went into effect. In this explainer supplemented by audio segments, CalMatters breaks down nine of the most consequential laws. The explainer is also available in Spanish.

Now let’s dive into some of the key issues CalMatters is keeping an eye on in 2023:

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters