California Weighs $360,000 in Reparations to Eligible Black Residents. Will Others Follow?

California is moving closer to determining what eligible Black residents are owed for generations of discriminatory practices, a key step toward potentially becoming the largest US jurisdiction to pay out billions of dollars in reparations.

The California Reparations Task Force will meet over the next two days in Sacramento to assess how reparations should be distributed, which could include direct payments and investments in education, health care and homeownership for Black communities. The group is set to deliver its final recommendations to the state legislature by July 1 and it will be up to lawmakers to decide whether to adopt them.

Tackling the issue is a complex task for the group of civil rights leaders, policymakers, economists and scholars appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd. One of the models under consideration suggests the state would owe a total of almost $640 billion to 1.8 million Black Californians with an ancestor enslaved in the US, which works out to roughly $360,000 per person.

California’s task force has yet to say who would pay these sums. After years of budget surpluses, the state’s financial fortunes are turning, with a projected $22.5 billion budget deficit. The technology sector is laying off workers, stock market declines are hurting the incomes of top earners who pay a large share of taxes, and the state already has some of the highest taxes in the nation.

Read More: The Historical Reasons Behind U.S. Racial Wealth Gap

With a federal reparations bill languishing in Congress, how the outcome plays out in the most-populous US state may have implications for other areas that are weighing similar efforts across the country. Evanston, Illinois, in 2021 became the first US city to provide reparations to its Black residents, including giving housing grants, and reparations studies are springing up in places like New York and St. Louis.

“If California can admit its sins and change the narrative, then there is a way forward for states and cities across the nation,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who wrote the bill creating the task force when she served in the state assembly.

One of the most difficult questions the task force faces is how to define the historical period for measuring harms experienced by Black residents in a state where slavery was never legal. And they’ll need to show how the reparations and policy changes will reduce the persistent racial wealth gap, which has left US White families with roughly six times more wealth than Black families. 

Read More: How Reparations Fit Into New Push for Racial Justice

A prevailing method is to use the racial wealth gap as an indicator of the losses that Black descendants of enslaved people suffered, according to an interim report by a working group for the task force. Using that model, a conservative estimate would be the state owed $636.7 billion. 

Another proposed strategy would be to calculate damages related to various injustices, including housing discrimination, mass incarceration, over-policing, health harms, devaluation of businesses, and property seizures.

The chair of California’s panel, Kamilah Moore, earlier this year tweeted a news story recounting proposals to fund reparations that included adding mansion or estate levies or offering tax credits.

Some California cities, including Los Angeles, have started their own reparations task forces outside of the state effort. In San Francisco, one notable proposal involves a $5 million lump-sum payment to each eligible Black resident. In a recent win for repatriation advocates, Los Angeles County returned the deed to a prime Southern California beach front property that had been forcibly taken from a Black couple a century ago. The descendants of the owners have now decided to sell the property back to the county for almost $20 million.

“These local initiatives are extremely important to start a conversation,” said Thomas Craemer, associate professor of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut, who consults with the California task force on economic methodology. “The past is the past. But we can start a conversation about it by making a down payment and then addressing what other injustices happened.” 

The issue of reparations has divided public opinion. About three-quarters of Black Americans say the descendants of enslaved people should be repaid in some way, while only 18% percent of White Americans feel the same way, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Click here to read the full article in Bloomberg

Despite Union Opposition, Many Teachers Support Dyslexia Screening for all Students

For years, the California Teachers Association has opposed universal dyslexia screening for students, helping to defeat legislation that would have mandated it. And yet, many classroom teachers are advocating for all students to be tested. 

As another possible legislative battle looms, the statewide teachers union’s opposition to mandatory screening continues to frustrate many educators. According to classroom teachers across the state, the California Teachers Association’s position will perpetuate a “wait-to-fail” approach to reading instruction that forces educators to sit by while students fall further and further behind.

Dyslexia is a neurological condition that causes difficulties with reading and affects 1 in 5 people in the United States. But early screening and support can mitigate or even prevent illiteracy stemming from the learning disability.

Officials at Decoding Dyslexia CA, a grassroots advocacy group, say hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers working with students who struggle with reading support universal screening. The California Teachers Association doesn’t understand the benefits of screening all students for dyslexia, said Megan Potente, one of the co-directors of Decoding Dyselxia CA. 

“I think there’s some misinformation,” Potente said. “Some of the reasons for their opposition aren’t supported by the research.”

Doug Rich, a veteran teacher and reading specialist at San Francisco Unified, said he’s “gone rogue” and started screening all of his students for signs of dyslexia. He said testing is relatively quick — taking less than 10 minutes — but the results are crucial.

The test results can tell him where his students are struggling, whether it be sounding out letters or recognizing words. If all students were screened in kindergarten, Rich says, fewer would end up working with him.

“We know so much about dyslexia,” he said. “We know the underlying causes. We have these simple tools that are efficient and accurate.”

Reading instructors, education experts and neuroscientists all agree: early screening is one of the best ways to mitigate or even prevent the illiteracy that can be caused by dyslexia. Despite having some of the best experts in the field of dyslexia research, California remains one of 10 states that doesn’t require universal screening.

That’s not for lack of trying. State Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from Glendale who’s dyslexic, tried and failed twice in the past three years to pass legislation that would have mandated universal screening for students in kindergarten through second grade. In February, he said he is trying a third time.

Although it has not taken a position on the latest bill, the California Teachers Association opposed Portantino’s last two bills. Claudia Briggs, a spokesperson for the union, said the association’s leadership team believed that bills would have caused “unintended harmful consequences.” The association’s position is that universal screening will take valuable time away from instruction and may misidentify English learners as dyslexic by mistaking their lack of fluency in English for a learning disability. Briggs said the union would decide its position on the new bill in March.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

How many people will use California’s bullet train? Planners lower ridership estimates

Changing commuter patterns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and sluggish expectations for population growth in California are driving down forecasts for ridership on the state’s future high-speed rail project. In a report due to the state Legislature on Wednesday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority unveiled the latest incarnation of its ridership projections for its Merced-Bakersfield section, anticipated to be the first interim operating segment for electric bullet trains. The new numbers represent a significant drop in the anticipated number of passengers for the first year of service when — or if — operations become reality sometime between 2030 and 2033. Forecasts for future expansions of what is planned to be a statewide high-speed rail system are also lower than previous projections from the rail agency’s 2020 business plan.

The report, which also addressed rising costs and schedule slippage, drew a sharp reaction from state Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. “Think how many students we could educate, how much water we could capture,how many acres of forest we could restore,” Gallagher said in a prepared statement, “if we had pulled the plug on this debacle years ago.” Senate Republican Minority Leader Brian W. Jones, R-San Diego, offered similar thoughts. “The broken promises on this project are breaking the bank for Californians,” Jones said. “It’s time to pump the brakes on the hot mess express and defund the High-Speed Rail.” In a February preview of the report to the rail agency’s board of directors, authority CEO Brian Kelly said that for the Merced-Bakersfield segment — which includes construction now under way in the central San Joaquin Valley — the expectation for overall train ridership in the Valley dipped from almost 8.8 million passengers per year forecast in a 2019-2020 financial plan to about 6.6 million in the 2023 project update.

That translates to a decline of almost 25% in the ridership forecast, which represents collective rail ridership including existing passenger rail service offered by Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) trains in the North Valley and Amtrak’s San Joaquin trains, as plans call for the high-speed rail route to connect with both ACE and Amtrak at Merced.

“Transit ridership in California is generally down and we are not immune from those impacts, … “ Kelly told the board at its meeting in Sacramento. “Even though we are not a current operator, when we estimate what our ridership will be, we are informed by what’s going on in the real world. And we are seeing this pressure everywhere.” Kelly attributed the lower forecast to a trio of factors confronting not only high speed rail but other public transit systems in California: slower population growth than previously predicted in the state, a slowdown in employment and new jobs, and sluggish recovery of overall transit commuter ridership in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic as more people worked from home rather than commuting every day to an office or workspace. POPULATION SLOWDOWN, FEWER COMMUTERS “There was a time when California was going to have about 50 million people by 2040,” Kelly said. “That (forecast) now is 41.5 million.” That means an overall lower potential pool of riders for the high-speed rail system. “Transit operators up and down the state saw a huge impact when COVID struck,” he added. “Those ridership numbers have not come back, and (operators) are seeking operational funding (from the state) to help.”

“Because we are connecting to ACE and Amtrak in the Central Valley, the reduction in commuter ridership in California post-COVID is lingering,” Kelly said. “Part of that is while people are still employed, they’re not necessarily gong t work five days a week as they were before. They’re going fewer days, so transit ridership has been impacted by that.” The report also notes lower ridership projections on a future “Valley to Valley” line that would connect San Jose and the Silicon Valley to the Merced-Bakersfield line compared to the authority’s 2020 business plan. The previous forecast for operations in the year 2040 was for about 18.4 million passengers annually; the 2023 update now anticipates ridership of about 11.5 million per year – a decline of almost 40%. For an entire Phase 1 bullet-train system between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim, projected 2040 ridership in the 2020 business plan was 38.58 million per year; that has been reduced in the 2023 update by about 19%, to 31.28 million.

“These are preliminary numbers,” Kelly added. “We’re going to do a lot of refinement with these with our partners over the course of the next several months and report further in the 2024 business plan.” He said the rail authority’s efforts will include Caltrans, which oversees intercity rail in California, as well as the two joint powers authorities that operate the ACE and Amtrak San Joaquin train services. WHAT THE NEW NUMBERS MEAN While local and commuter transit systems may be feeling more of the effects of fewer people commuting to work daily, “longer distance trips like air travel or longer-distance train trips, that ridership is more stable,” Kelly said. Air travel “has come back further from COVID, and our analysis shows that as well,” he added. “I think anyone who’s been to an airport can see that air travel is pretty robust again.” For the 171-mile trip between Merced and Bakersfield aboard electrified high-speed trains, the average trip time would be reduced by 190 to 100 minutes, and “we have greenhouse gas reduction benefits by electrifying the corridor,” Kelly said. “So while we’re seeing reduced ridership, we’re still seeing important benefits from building the Central Valley system.”

One potential repercussion of diminished ridership projections include the effects on operating revenues for the rail system. Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008, includes a key provision that requires the system to be self-sufficient and be able to cover its own operating costs without any subsidies from taxpayers. “I’ll just say this about the subsidy issue: It’s true that for the full Phase 1 system, the bond bill says the program shouldn’t be subsidized, but even at the lower ridership estimate we now see 31.5 million riders between San Francisco and Los Angeles,” Kelly told rail authority board members. “We think that is still going to be a net operating system surplus.” “We’ll need to do a couple of things,” he added. “If the demand for transit is lower, you have to look at how you might need to shift your service plan, and how you shift your fare structure. In so doing, you can reach sort of a sweet point between number of riders and revenue generated.”

The rail agency, in its 2022 business plan, offered the contention that the authority would not face the same prohibition on subsidies for the interim Merced-Bakersfield service because some other agency — and not the rail authority — will operate the system. “The authority recognizes that its implementation strategy for interim high-speed rail service connecting Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield may expose the authority to potential litigation over Proposition 1A compliance” related to subsidies, said Annie Parker, a spokesperson for the authority. But “the authority believes that there will be no violation of the subsidy language because … the implementation strategy for the Central Valley segment is to lease its track and rail cars to another operation,” Parker added. “The entity leasing the assets from the authority will bear the revenue risk as it pays a fixed lease fee and receives revenue from the operations and a lower-than-current subsidy from the state.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has a memorandum of understanding with the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority – the nine-county public agency that operates the Amtrak San Joaquin train service – to serve as the high-speed rail service provider in the Valley. “This will put the completed infrastructure into service with greater benefits to passengers while the interim service is being run,” Parker said. “The authority is confident that it will prevail in any future litigation touching on these areas.” OTHER COMPLICATIONS The report to the Legislature also deals with other complicating factors facing the rail project, including rising construction costs as a result of inflation and the potential slippage of the schedule for completion of the Merced-Bakersfield line in the San Joaquin Valley. In the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2022 business plan, the estimate cost to complete planned Merced-Bakersfield segment to become operational ranged from $22.5 billion to about $24 billion. The 2023 update now projects the cost in a range between $29.8 billion and $32.9 billion.

Click here to read the full article here at FresnoBee

As City-State Housing War Heats Up, One Rich California Enclave Gets a Pass

The guerrilla war between Gov. Gavin Newsom and some of California’s 482 cities over housing policy is heating up.

The state has imposed quotas on local governments to provide – on paper – enough land for much-needed housing, particularly projects for low- and moderate-income families, and streamline permits for projects.

While most are complying, albeit with some reluctance, others are trying to thwart the mandate. Resistance is strongest in small suburban cities dominated by wealthy residents who live in spacious homes on very large lots and don’t want dense condo or apartment projects to spoil the bucolic atmosphere of their neighborhoods.

That said, the sharpest conflict in California’s housing war pits a not-so-wealthy Orange County city, Huntington Beach, against the state. The city has basically declared it won’t meet the state’s demands, and Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta are suing to force compliance.

“The City of Huntington Beach continues to attempt to evade their responsibility to build housing, but they will simply not win,” Newsom said last week, just before Huntington Beach formally declared its rebellion. “City leaders have a choice – build more housing or face very real consequences – including loss of state funds, substantial fines, and loss of local control.”

“The city has a duty to protect the quality and lifestyle of the neighborhoods that current owners have already bought into and for the future sustainability of Huntington Beach,” City Councilman Pat Burns wrote in a letter to his colleagues prior to their action. “Radical redevelopment in already-established residential neighborhoods is not only a threat to quality and lifestyle, but to the value of the adjacent and neighboring properties.”

Afterwards, Newsom’s office tweeted, “Tonight, Huntington Beach leaders decided that their residents don’t need affordable housing. This is a pathetic pattern by politicians more focused on taking down pride flags than on real solutions. CA needs more housing. Time for Huntington Beach to start acting like it.”

It’s at least noteworthy that the affluent suburbs seeking ways around their quotas, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, are overwhelmingly Democratic in their political orientation while Huntington Beach is a Republican stronghold.

Interestingly, while the battle over land use and housing continues elsewhere, residents of arguably California’s most exclusive community don’t have to worry about multi-family housing projects spoiling their ambiance because of a quirk in the law.

That would be Montecito, home to celebrities galore, including Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe, Ellen DeGeneres and, most recently, expatriate British Prince Harry and his wife, actress Meghan Markle.

Montecito lies next to the Santa Barbara but is not a city. Rather, it is an unincorporated community governed by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

The county’s cities have their own quotas, but all of its unincorporated territory is folded into one quota of 5,664 units. The county’s plan, unveiled last month, identifies potential building sites, mostly near the cities of Santa Barbara and Santa Maria and the communities of Orcutt, Goleta, Isla Vista and Carpinteria.

Some of the sites are vacant while others are occupied, including some shopping centers and churches. None is in Montecito or an adjacent enclave called Summerland, even though the county’s inventory of vacant land includes about a dozen parcels, some of them fairly large, in those two communities.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Costly California Bullet Train Will Be Billions More Due to Inflation, Says Board

Inflation and supply-chain issues are combining to drive up the forecast cost of high-speed rail construction between Merced and Bakersfield by billions of dollars by the time the anticipated stretch becomes operational. The timeline for electric passenger trains to start running on the 170-mile route — most recently expected by 2030 — is also undergoing strain, with California High-Speed Rail Authority officials reporting Thursday that the “schedule envelope” now extends to somewhere between 2030 and 2033. Rail authority CEO Brian Kelly, addressing the agency’s board members Thursday, advised that an upcoming project update report due to the state Legislature on March 1 will include changes to the cost and schedule projections for the Merced-Bakersfield portion of the route. The Valley segment is planned to be the first operational portion for what is ultimately planned as a 520-mile system to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim by way of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley.

“We’re updating all of those cost estimates (and) we’re doing it in a high inflationary period,” Kelly told The Fresno Bee in an interview this week. “That’s not just affecting us but affecting transportation megaprojects all over the country and certainly in California.” Kelly said state legislators, in a budget agreement last year to free up the last $4.2 billion from a 2008 bond measure for high-speed rail construction, directed the rail authority to prioritize completion of the Merced-Bakersfield section. Construction is underway on about 119 miles of the route from northwest of Madera to near Shafter, in Kern County. But extending the construction work north to downtown Merced and south to downtown Bakersfield “comes with a new scope, and we have to recognize that,” Kelly said. “It’s a little bit more than what we had before,” he added, “and it’s very clear that federal help … is going to be key to us getting this project done.” HIGHER COST ESTIMATES In the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2022 business plan sent to the state Legislature last year, cost estimates for the planned Merced-Bakersfield interim operating segment ranged from $22.5 billion and about $24 billion. As the agency attempts to account for inflation from the 2022 business plan, the new cost range is rising to between $29.8 billion and $32.9 billion for completion of the Valley sections, Kelly reported. “Our projections are going up a bit, and we’re going to have to deal with that,” Kelly told The Bee. “We reset our pricing to 2022. When we projected going forward, our escalation rate used to be 2%.“This year it’s 5 1/3%. The next couple of years will be over 3% using Department of Finance projections.”

One issue the authority realized last year is that the agency underestimated the cost of installing track and systems on the Merced-Bakersfield route. “We saw the supply chain impacts in the marketplace and we saw the inflationary impacts,” Kelly said. “So now we’ve upped our estimates for what track and systems will cost going forward.” RISING COSTS SINCE ‘08 Cost and schedule fluctuations are nothing new for the controversial bullet-train project since 2008, when voters approved Proposition 1A, a $9.95 billion high-speed rail bond measure. Since then, California received more than $3 billion in federal railroad and economic stimulus funds in 2010 and 2011. The San Francisco-Los Angeles/Anaheim system was once expected to cost somewhere around $43 billion; that later ballooned to almost $100 billion in late 2011 before the state rail agency sought ways to bring the costs back down. The newest figures reported Thursday by Kelly, and which will be included in the March 1 project update report to legislators, offer a base estimate of $106.1 billion, but with a possible range from as low as about $88.5 billion to a high of almost $128 billion. The variability reflects ongoing uncertainty over the cost of key construction features including tunnels through the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and Gilroy/San Jose and through the San Gabriel Mountains between Palmdale and Burbank. TAKING LONGER TO BUILD Also uncertain is whether the state will be successful in its applications for what will likely be billions of dollars from the Biden administration under the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — and what that will mean to the construction schedule. Slippage in the construction schedule has been a chronic concern for the rail authority because much of the money awarded to California by the federal government in 2010 and 2011 came with a requirement that the money be spent by the end of 2017. That deadline compelled the agency to rush forward with construction contracts in the San Joaquin Valley before it had acquired the vast majority of the property needed to build the route. It’s a mistake that the agency is vowing to avoid repeating on its extensions to Merced, Bakersfield and in other parts of the state. “Because construction is out of sequence, the construction delays are on us, and we’ve paid a price for that,” Kelly told the board. “We have a schedule envelope of between 2030 and 2033 for operations to begin,” he said. “The biggest risk is the availability of funding … as we make the schedule going forward.” “To be clear, all of the work outside of the 119 miles (from Madera to Shafter) will require federal help,” Kelly added. Without additional funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it would not be possible for the state to shoulder the entire cost of building the extensions into Merced and Bakersfield. The 119 miles now under construction could function as a test track for trains once tracks and systems are built, and the state does have the money it needs to accomplish that. But operations will require the route to be able to serve functional stations in Merced, Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield. “We will not have to wait a long time to know if we have a full federal partnership,” Kelly said to the board members. The rail authority has applications to the Federal Railroad Administration for $300 million for grade separations in the Shafter area, and Kelly said applications are due in April for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail — a five-year program that includes a first-year pot of about $4.5 billion. The U.S. Department of Transportation turned down an application last year from the rail authority seeking $1.2 billion from a much broader program from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Federal-State Partnership program is more directly aimed at passenger rail. Over the next few years, the rail authority will apply for federal grants to achieve a slew of goals: Building two sets of tracks on the 119-mile Madera-Shafter stretch instead of just one. Purchasing property for the railroad right of way and completing advanced construction design for the extensions to Merced and Bakersfield. Performing the actual construction into downtown Merced and Bakersfield. Buying trainsets for testing and eventual passenger service on the Merced-Bakersfield line. “From a management perspective I’m still eyeing 2030. But I’ve got to get funding,” Kelly told The Bee. “And that’s a big risk. Because it’s not just funding; it’s also the timing of the funding because there are contracts that we’ve got to let to meet those deadlines. I’ve got to know I’ve got the money.”

Click here to read the full article in the Fresno Bee

New Bill Introduced To Ban All Tobacco Products To Those Born After 2007

AB 935 is modeled on a similar New Zealand law

A bill to ban all tobacco sales to those born after 2007, resulting in the eventual total phase out of tobacco sales in the state in the coming decade, was introduced in the Assembly on Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 935, authored by Assemblyman Damon Connolly (D-San Rafael), would specifically implement a phased tobacco ban by prohibiting a tobacco retailer from selling tobacco products to any person born on or after January 1, 2007. While sales would be legal for anyone born before the cutoff date, the 21-years-old restriction would eventually be replaced by this law. For example, in 2029, only those 22 and older would be able to purchase tobacco, and in 2040, only those 33 years and older.  The bill would also provide penalties for violations, including escalating civil fines and the suspension or revocation of the sellers license to sell tobacco products.

Assemblyman Connolly wrote the bill as a measure to improve public health, as well as the health of the next generations in California. Connolly also noted that the bill was similar to laws passed in New Zealand, which set a tobacco ban for all born after 2009, and Norway, which has a proposed ban for anyone born after 2000.

“Preventing the next generation of Californians from becoming addicted to smoking should be a priority for anyone who cares about the public health of our state and the well-being of our children,” said Assemblyman Connolly to the Globe on Wednesday. “AB 935 is a measured solution to address the widespread issue of youth tobacco addiction. The bill selectively prohibits those born after January 1st, 2007 from purchasing tobacco products, similar to recent laws passed in New Zealand and Norway. To be clear—this bill will not affect anyone who is currently of legal age and able to purchase tobacco products and will not punish individuals for simply using or possessing these items. By slowing phasing out the use of these harmful products, we can ensure that the next generation children in California do not get addicted to smoking.”

A tobacco sales ban bill for those born after 2007

While no lawmakers have come out in opposition to the bill, some tobacco companies and retailers have. In statements made on Wednesday, they noted that the bill would restrict the rights of smokers from using legal products and that AB 935 is not based on any scientific evidence.

“We are deeply concerned about AB 935 and any legislation that seeks to restrict the rights of premium cigar smokers,” said Joshua Habursky, deputy executive director of the Premium Cigar Association, on Wednesday. “These proposals are not based on scientific evidence, but rather on a political agenda that seeks to demonize adult cigar smokers and restrict their freedom to enjoy a legal product. Clearly it is no longer a hidden agenda of the anti-tobacco groups to support full prohibition.”

Others have taken a more nuanced view, saying that while it is well known that using tobacco products are bad for peoples health and that it is still considered one of the largest public health crises out there, it is also still a legal product in the country and that use itself isn’t covered under the bill, meaning that older Californians can still buy for those 21 and older or that they can buy out of state.

“AB 935 is careful to only ban the sales and not usage,” explained Richard Groome, a tobacco use researcher, to the Globe on Wednesday. “Even if this is passed, and it’s a longshot, it will be very hard to control. People can still buy out of state, so it might gain this mystique, plus older people can still buy. It might become way more niche as a result, but it also won’t fully go away. Just the easiest option to buy would.”

“For this to pass, it will also have to get past the fact that smoking in California has been declining rapidly since the 1980s. Between 1988 and 2017, smoking amongst adults fell by 57%. Only about 8.8% of Californian adults still smoke, and that number is expected to go down further in the coming years. It’s already declining quickly, so that may add another point of contention here.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

With a Guaranteed Income, You Can Buy Precious Time With Your Family, Say California Parents

Before the pandemic, Claudia Gutierrez worked day shifts in one fast food drive-thru and night shifts in another, never making more than the minimum wage.

The coronavirus cut those hours in half. 

Gutierrez, 51, lives with her two teenagers, an adult daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend and their 8-year-old child in an apartment in south Los Angeles. Her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend also worked in restaurants.

The pandemic threw the family into financial peril. At one point, the whole family got sick except her. They received some state rental assistance during the pandemic, but as an immigrant, Gutierrez doesn’t qualify for many other forms of aid.

Still, even though the family had to move to a new apartment, they managed to stay afloat last year — with the help of $1,000 a month from the city of Los Angeles, in one of the nation’s largest experiments with a “guaranteed income.” 

Gutierrez was one of 3,204 people randomly selected for a one-year pilot program that gave Los Angeles families living in poverty monthly cash payments, with no restrictions. 

The payments, Gutierrez said, helped her find a new home, lowered her stress and gave her time with her children.

“It impacted me personally in every way,” she said, “mentally, emotionally, in every sense.”

It was one of dozens of similar experiments that municipalities and nonprofits across California have launched in recent years. Like the one in Los Angeles, many of the experiments are publicly funded, often using COVID relief dollars from the federal government. 

The payments in Los Angeles ended in December. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California are studying the effects on the recipients’ physical and mental health and financial stability. 

Of the more than 40 guaranteed income pilot programs that CalMatters identified as operating or preparing to launch across California, roughly a third are like Los Angeles’: targeting low-income families with at least one child in the home. 

Families with children have long been the subject of policy debates about how to best alleviate poverty and improve social mobility for future generations. Studies show cash transfers to low-income families — especially when children are young — are associated with improved child development, better performance in schoolstronger health outcomes and increases in the children’s future earnings.

But most safety net programs restrict spending to specific items, such as food, and the nation’s primary program for cash aid to families with children — welfare — has long had work requirements and other criteria to receive assistance. 

A 1996 federal law aimed at reducing welfare enrollment eliminated what used to be a guarantee of aid for families who qualify based on income, precipitating steep declines in those receiving assistance. The policy’s work requirement was intended to reduce dependence on welfare, but anti-poverty advocates have criticized it as too rigid, given the barriers poor people face finding well-paying, stable employment. 

Now cities like Los Angeles, and several others in California, are testing guaranteed income programs as a new, unrestricted form of assistance, in the hopes that the flexibility will allow families to address the myriad challenges of poverty themselves.

A difficult choice

Unlike other aid programs, LA’s guaranteed income pilot had no mandates. 

Gutierrez didn’t have to prove that she had worked a set number of hours. There were no restrictions on how she could spend the money. She didn’t even need to be a U.S. citizen. 

To be eligible, Gutierrez just had to be a city resident meeting certain poverty measures, and she had to have at least one child or a college-aged dependent living at home. 

The money came every month; it didn’t go up or down depending on how much she earned on her jobs. 

Shortly after payments began last January, the family was notified that their building was being sold. Gutierrez saved the first few guaranteed income checks as she apartment-hunted in one of the tightest housing markets in recent history. 

Between the first month’s rent, the security deposit and moving costs, the payments covered the nearly $6,000 it took to get them into a new apartment, she said, a sum she had never had all at once before. 

The rest of the year, the payments went toward rent and other expenses. Each month, she set aside $100 for her children to spend as they wished. She took her 14-year-old daughter to a beloved Thai restaurant in Hollywood. A video on Gutierrez’s phone shows the girl beaming over a bowl of soup. 

Gutierrez kept working part-time. Last year, sky-high gas prices made commuting to the second job hardly worth her time and money, she said; the cash payments helped supplement the loss of income. Since they’ve ended, she hasn’t gotten the hours back at the second job yet, so her family has cut back on expenses again.

In the past year Gutierrez noticed her anxiety, which had built so high she once saw a doctor for vertigo, had begun to ease. 

The most consequential thing the money bought, Gutierrez said, was freedom from a difficult choice. For years multiple jobs kept her away from watching her children grow up; the thought still brings her guilt.

“Either I gave them food and I could have money, or I could just be there with them,” she said. “But what was I going to do being with them if I didn’t have money?”

Some of her older children didn’t finish high school. This year, her 18-year-old son is on track to graduate, she said, and the 14-year-old is planning her classes with college in mind. 

Gutierrez takes it as a sign she has been “staying on top of them.”

“I would never leave my job, because I am not a person who wants to be at home doing nothing,” she said. “I said to myself, this (program) would be for me an opportunity to offer my children a better lifestyle, to have more time for them.”

Click here to read the full article at

Soft corruption Is The Norm in California State Government

It didn’t take long for newly elected Assemblyman Joe Patterson to learn the facts of life in California’s Democratic Party-dominated Legislature.

Since being sworn in two months ago, the Rocklin Republican has trained his legislative focus on responding to the fentanyl crisis. He’s been forming coalitions and making his case all over the media pitching a simple idea: Saving kids from dying by requiring California’s K-12 schools to keep on hand Narcan, which reverses opioid overdose.

A few days ago, Patterson announced on Twitter that his bill was dead. The idea now belonged to a Democrat.

“It didnt [sic] have to be so early in my #caleg career that one of my bills – where I have appeared all over national news – would be taken. I mean, can we wait for year 2 at least?” Patterson tweeted late last month.

Welcome to the Capitol, assemblyman! Where a Democratic supermajority employs the three P’s: Partisanship, power and pettiness.

The building is guided by a soft corruption that proves the famous Lord Acton quip: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Then-Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (Patterson’s predecessor) got a crash course in hostile amendments — those forced upon you by the tyranny of the majority.

Last year, as inflation was crushing Californians, Kiley ran a bill that would have suspended the state’s 51-cent-per-gallon gas tax for six months, providing immediate relief at the pump for millions of consumers. But San Jose lawmaker Alex Lee, endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, with the help of fellow Democrats on the committee amended Kiley’s bill to be an actual tax increase.

Don’t get me wrong, this kind of corruption is minor compared to the kind that’s documented on FBI wiretaps (of which there are also plenty of examples). But this is corruption in the sense that the Capitol is rotten.

If you’ve ever wondered why things never improve in California, this is why.

If you feel like the politicians don’t actually represent you, the good news is you’re right and now you know why.

Soft corruption lurks throughout state government.

Consider the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA. It’s widely agreed in Sacramento to be one of the main things blocking housing development, but reforming the law is nearly impossible because two interest groups that routinely abuse it to punish developers — environmentalists and unions — control the Democrats in charge.

While union activists routinely serve as Democratic lawmakers and negotiate with themselves, the quid pro quo is no more obvious than over in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s side of the building.

In 2021, Newsom was pushing for mandatory COVID vaccines for state workers, he hypocritically gave an exemption to the state’s prison guard union, which just happened to donate $1.75 million to his recall defense fund. And that was also after Newsom signed a major new contract for the prison guard union worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

When most of the Democratic establishment was supporting a ballot measure that would have dedicated funding for electric vehicles and wildfire suppression, Newsom stood in opposition because the California Teachers Association — also a massive Newsom donor – stood in opposition because none of the funding went to schools.

And then there’s behested payments, which don’t have the same pesky limits as campaign contributions. In 2020, powerful corporate donors gave $226 million to charities at Newsom’s “behest,” which was an increase of about $214 million from the year before, according to the Los Angeles Times. And over the past three years one of those lucky charities was run by Newsom’s wife, which received $1.6 million, according to my colleague, Susan Shelley.

Or then-Assemblyman Rob Bonta behesting thousands of dollars into the Bonta California Progress Foundation (which he created while in office), which then loaned $25,000 to the non-profit where his wife was CEO, according to Calmatters. This was on top of previous behested payments and even direct contributions from his campaign account.

But that’s ok because he promised none of the money would go to his wife’s salary.

I guess that solves it!

And there’s probably nothing wrong with Bonta’s wife, now an Assemblymember, chairing the budget subcommittee with jurisdiction over the budget of the Attorney General, who is Rob Bonta.

But that’s ok because Speaker Anthony Rendon says Assemblywoman Bonta will remain “independent” and “unbiased” in her oversight of her husband’s department.

What a relief!

But back to how the state legislative process is abused.

Bills Democrats (or better yet, their donors) don’t like are often sent to the murky suspense file, where they can be killed with no vote or explanation. Killing bills behind closed doors saves lawmakers from tough votes, or it allows a vindictive Appropriations Committee chair to exact revenge, or it’s just the most efficient way to kill a bunch of Republican bills, or it can be used as leverage in negotiations. What it does not do is honor the constituents of a district with at least a vote on their district priority.

Misbehaving lawmakers are punished by being stuffed into tiny office spaces or by having their staff budgets slashed. Often, the most rebellious Republican would get put in “the doghouse,” which was a tiny little hovel of an office.

Once upon a time, back in 2008, Democratic Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, got shipped beyond the doghouse into a building across the street, which might as well have been Nevada. Her crime was not voting for the state budget because it shortchanged her district. It was a reminder from then Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (now mayor of Los Angeles) about who she was actually accountable to (hint: not her constituents).

They do everything they can to pass legislation with as little transparency as possible, like hearings and votes late at night, limited time for public review and stuffing acts of law into labyrinthian budget trailer bills.

They are not shy about changing election rules in the middle of an election, like when they tried to slow down the recall process to save Democratic Sen. Josh Newman (didn’t work) or to speed up the process to save Newsom (sadly, he remains).

I really could go on. These are just only a few examples of the routine abuses of power in the Legislature.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

On Her Way Out of Office, a School Board Member Created a Consulting Firm So The Board Could Hire Her

At a recent board meeting, some parents and district employees questioned why the expenditure — now under review by the Fair Political Practices Commission — was needed at all.

Tamara Otero had governed over the Cajon Valley School Board in East County for 12 years, working closely with the superintendent and his cabinet.

So when a district parent defeated Otero in her run for re-election last year by capturing 62 percent of the vote, Superintendent David Miyashiro and his staff suggested a way to keep her in the 14,800-student district: Hire her as a consultant.

Otero would continue her work in family and community engagement and with the district’s TEDxKids program, World of Work initiative and more — only now she would get paid significantly more than she would have as a board member.

“What we discussed was, well, once she’s off the board, she can be hired as a consultant, and we don’t have to lose that institutional knowledge but also the hard work in a time when every department is understaffed,” Miyashiro told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

On Dec. 9, Otero — still board president at the time under its policy — filed paperwork with the state to form a new consulting company, Alfabet Soup LLC. The document did not include her name.

At a board meeting four days later, minutes after Otero’s successor was sworn in, the newly seated board awarded the firm a $60,000 no-bid, half-year contract, along with more than a dozen other consultant agreements.

But in a district that is no stranger to accusations of conflicts, that contract has drawn allegations of self-dealing and is now under review by the Fair Political Practices Commission. And parents and district employees are questioning whether such an expenditure is needed at all.

The day after the Dec. 13 board meeting, Otero filed another document with the state for her new business. This one included her name.

Three weeks later, Otero’s successor, Anthony Carnevale, said he was reviewing the agenda materials from Dec. 13 and realized one contract was missing: Alfabet Soup. He asked Miyashiro about it and was told the firm belonged to Otero.

Believing the contract was a conflict of interest, Carnevale filed a complaint with the FPPC last month about Otero, alleging a violation of state law. In that complaint, he said that before Otero left the board, she had presided over setting the agenda for that Dec. 13 meeting, where her own firm’s contract would be voted on.

“I would hold the same view that that was improper and self-dealing, even if it wasn’t somebody I competed with,” Carnevale told the Union-Tribune.

Government Code Section 1090, the part of state law that Carnevale believes had been violated, forbids elected bodies from making contracts in which any of their members have a financial interest.

According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, courts have ruled that the law is violated not only when an elected official actually votes to approve such a contract, but also when they participate in “planning, preliminary discussions, compromises (and) drawing of plans.”

Every member of a board is presumed to be involved in the making of all contracts, whether or not a member was personally involved, and that presumption can’t be avoided by having the elected official in question abstain from the contract vote, the commission says.

Whether or not state law were violated or board members knew about Otero’s involvement in the company before voting on its contract, the board may appear to have acted in Otero’s interest rather than the public’s, said John Pelissero, a senior scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

“The public could perceive that the board has worked some deal to compensate the outgoing president almost immediately as she leaves the board,” he said. “That kind of a perception … can erode the public’s trust in their ability to look out for the public’s interest, rather than in the interest of a former board member.”

Pelissero said it’s also a problem that board members said they didn’t know Alfabet Soup belonged to Otero.

“Board members should be fully informed before they vote on something, and it’s usually the responsibility of the superintendent or the business manager to inform board members,” Pelissero said. “In this case, it doesn’t sound like everyone was being entirely transparent with other board members, and certainly not with the public, in the way this contract was put together and approved.”

This is not the first time the Cajon Valley school board, which governs an East County district of 14,800 students, including many refugees, has been accused of a conflict involving a company connected to Otero.

In 2019, the board awarded a $655,000 building contract to her son’s company, Otero Construction, while she was the board president. Otero abstained from that vote but did not disclose that it was her son’s company, according to a recording of that board meeting and reporting from East County Magazine. She has denied that there was any conflict.

Last month, Carnevale asked Miyashiro for a special meeting for the board to terminate the Alfabet Soup contract and to evaluate Miyashiro’s conduct regarding the matter, since Miyashiro had not notified the board on Dec. 13 of the connection between Alfabet Soup and Otero.

The Alfabet Soup contract was the last on a 16-item list of agreements to be voted on in one motion, and unlike the others, that contract was not provided to the board, Carnevale said in his complaint. “I found this agenda item to be uniquely opaque compared to the other 15 items on the agenda,” he wrote.

“The board was left in the dark on the matter, and the public was left in the dark on the matter, and the superintendent had knowledge,” Carnevale added in an interview.

That special meeting he requested was held late last month. Several community members criticized the contract during public comments.

Some questioned why the board should pay to hire Otero as a consultant to work on programs, such as TEDxKids and World of Work, that the district had already had for years and for which it already has staff.

“Having her be paid this is absolutely ridiculous,” said Angie Asaro, a Cajon Valley employee of 20 years, at the Jan. 31 meeting. “We the people voted her out. That right there should speak volumes in her not being wanted or needed in our district anymore.”

After public comments, Carnevale asked to confirm whether other board members had known that Alfabet Soup was Otero’s company when they approved its contract. All four said no.

Otero, whose job as board president had been to set the meeting agendas while consulting with the superintendent, said in an interview that she didn’t know the Alfabet Soup contract had been placed on the Dec. 13 agenda and said that staff had generated agenda items, not her.

Later during the Jan. 31 meeting, however, Trustee Jo Alegria said she actually had known Alfabet Soup was Otero’s but had forgotten.

“Looking back on that situation, I realized not only did Tamara did mention it to me, I had forgotten that she did,” Alegria said during the meeting. “I also recall that when Tamara was still on the dais that David Miyashiro had made a comment, a public comment, that Tamara will probably just be hired back to Cajon Valley to help complete the work that she started.”

Otero, current board president Jim Miller, the district’s attorney Dan Shinoff and Miyashiro all hold that the Alfabet Soup contract was neither improper nor illegal. Otero did not vote on the contract, which Shinoff said is “extremely important.”

On Jan. 31, Shinoff argued that Otero was no longer a board member when the contract was put on the Dec. 13 agenda and that she had officially left the board Dec. 8, when the election results were certified.

State law and the board’s policy say members continue in their positions until their successor is sworn in. Carnevale took his oath of office during the Dec. 13 meeting.

After Carnevale pointed that out, Shinoff and Miller said they think that the board policy needs clarification.

Miller, who is also a lawyer, later accused Carnevale of misinterpreting the law concerning when Otero officially left the board. “Reading law and knowing law are two different things,” he said during the meeting.

“There is no conflict of interest per legal counsel on the contract itself,” Miller later told The San Diego Union-Tribune in an email. “This was well vetted and explained by legal counsel for the District.”

Shinoff and Miyashiro also argued that if they did not approve Otero’s no-bid contract, they could appear discriminatory on the basis of “individual affiliation,” according to Shinoff, or age, gender or “former political affiliation,” according to Miyashiro. Miyashiro said in an interview that it would show “prejudice” and “making decisions based on personal feelings.”

In his email, Miller suggested instead that Carnevale may be the one giving appearance of a conflict of interest, because Otero had been his opponent in the election he won.

“He’s making an issue out of a non-issue that seems very personal,” Miyashiro said of Carnevale.

At the most recent meeting, district officials lauded Otero’s work in the family and community engagement department, which she helped create in 2014. They credited her with obtaining grant money and helping to bring home students who had gotten stuck in Afghanistan after the U.S. military’s withdrawal.

Meanwhile, the district would otherwise likely have to spend $180,000 to $200,000 to hire a new employee to do the work Otero was doing, said Michelle Hayes, assistant superintendent of personnel. Officials said the district would not be able to immediately find somebody with Otero’s experience.

“I don’t think there can be any question as to the value that Tamara would add,” Miller said at the meeting.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

California EDD Blamed Fed Program for Fraud – New Numbers Show That is Impossible

Nearly $40 Billion Was Lost by the EDD

New federal Department of Labor figures regarding the massive looting of the nation’s unemployment insurance systems during the pandemic show that California’s improper payment figure has climbed again and is now estimated to be nearly $40 billion.

Labor Department Inspector General Larry Turner testified in front of Congress Wednesday that an estimated 21.5% of the $888 billion paid out in unemployment benefits across the country were improper.  That means $191 billion dollars were lost to fraud and other more typical bureaucratic incompetencies.

What that means for California is that nearly $40 billion – or about $1,000 per state resident – was lost in the wind.

The state Employment Development Department was contacted multiple times to elicit comment.  As has been typical in the past, the EDD did not avail themselves of the opportunity. 

In the past, the EDD has claimed that “95%” of the fraud losses were directly related to the federal PUA (pandemic unemployment assistance) program. The new figures show that could not possibly be true.

PUA – which offered assistance to those who would not normally qualify for benefits like independent contractors, freelancers, etc. –  was only one of the federal unemployment programs created at the start of the pandemic and accounted for about 15% of the overall national (state and federal) payment total of $888 billion. Regular state funds, the FPUC (the $600 then $300 weekly supplement that was available for about a year during the pandemic,) and other programs made up the rest.

Turner added the fraud estimate percentage for the PUA itself – unlike all of the other programs – has not yet been determined though he expects it to be higher than the 21.5 % averaged by all other payment types.

The PUA program has been considered the easiest target for fraudsters as some states, like California, required virtually no identity conformation to qualify for the benefits, hence claims made in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s name sailed through the system (as did claims made by thousands of prisoners, out-of-state residents, and foreign nationals.)

Eventually the EDD did bring in an outside identity verification firm – – which reportedly did staunch the fraud flow, though also causing legitimate claimants to have their benefits halted for up to two months.

The EDD still claims only $20 billion total was lost, of which 95% was PUA related.  However, California’s share of PUA spending is most likely to be in the $25 billion range (akin to the national 15% percent of the total state spending) meaning that 76% of all PUA expenditures would have had to be fraudulent and/or improper.

And if the national estimate of 21.5% is correct (it may be slightly lower at 20%, though as the PUA percentage has yet to be determined it may be higher) the EDD lost between $37 and $40 billion.  If the EDD’s 95% claim is to be believed, that would mean that the PUA program would have had to somehow manage to lose about $36 billion of the estimated $25 billion it spent  – a mathematical impossibility.

As noted above, attempts to have the EDD clarify the figures – and to explain the impossible estimate they have been touting for more than a year –  were met with silence.

It should also be noted the EDD has ludicrously claimed that their non-PUA fraud rate actually went down during the pandemic

The new figures also show that, while having only 12% percent of the nation’s residents, California accounted for about 21% of all unemployment expenditures during the pandemic and about 22% of the fraud and other improper payments made nationwide.

This raises the specter of international gangs specifically targeting the state because they quickly became aware of how lax the system was, a system the EDD took more than seven months to put in even the most basic safeguards. Identity experts have said previously that the EDD, even with its antiquated tech systems, could have added a “bolt on” security program for a few million dollars in about a week’s time very early in the pandemic.

Exactly how much California received – and lost – as part of the PUA system should become clearer when the Department of Labor completes its PUA audit in the coming months.

At the end of January, new EDD chief Nancy Farias – formerly a labor union “government relations” human – told the Sacramento Bee that she blamed the problem on the Trump administration for neglecting “state efforts to combat domestic and foreign criminals collecting billions of dollars fraudulently from overwhelmed unemployment systems.”

Exactly how the Trump administration could have been at fault remains unclear – for example, when the EDD finally added some security “friction” to the system, Trump was still president and his administration clearly did not stop them from hiring and, therefore, undoubtedly would not have stopped them from doing so earlier on in the pandemic.

It should also be noted the Trump administration provided the EDD with an additional $788 million just to cover the department’s additional administrative costs caused by the pandemic.  With a typical annual administration/operations budget estimated to be in the one billion dollar range, that amounts to an annual budget bump of about 40% during the pandemic.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe