Local Voices Unwelcome As State Promotes Affordable Housing

affordable housingFrom 2011 through the first quarter of 2014, more building permits for single-family homes were issued in the city of Houston than in the entire state of California.

That might be one reason that in April, the median selling price of a single-family home in Houston was $217,000 while in California it was $509,100.

There is widespread agreement that housing affordability in California is a problem, but there’s less agreement on what to do about it. Still, we should be able to agree that whatever is done ought to be transparent, publicly debated by the elected officials who represent us.

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are working on a backroom deal to “streamline” the approval of residential housing projects by cutting local voices out of the process.

Under this deal, any “attached housing” development that meets local zoning requirements could be built without local review of the project’s impact on traffic, parking, local businesses, the environment or the neighborhood, as long as 20 percent of its units were designated as affordable housing.

For developments located within one-half mile of a “major transit stop,” even fewer affordable units would trigger the “streamlined” approval. Just 10 percent would be enough to get pre-clearance to build a project like the 3,990-unit “urban village” planned for the former Rocketdyne site in Canoga Park.

No local review would be allowed.

This enormous change of policy is about to be slipped through the legislative process with a trick that prevents committee hearings, debate, amendments, and public notice. It will be written on one of the “spot bills” that was passed earlier in the legislative session.

Spot bills are blank pieces of legislation. They are empty, blank, with nothing written on them except a bill number and the words, “A bill related to the budget.”

Later, when a backroom deal is made, staffers pull out one of the spot bills and write the new law on it. Then the “amended” bill is brought back to the floor of each house for an up-or-down vote.

No hearings, no debate, no amendments, no public notice.

These formerly blank spot bills are called “budget trailer bills,” because they’re passed after lawmakers vote on the budget.

Trailer bills have become such an established part of business as usual in Sacramento that “trailer bill language” is posted on the website of the California Department of Finance. The “Streamlined Affordable Housing Approvals” draft is proposed trailer bill 707, if you’d like to read it. Of course, it may be changed in private negotiations. We won’t actually know what’s in the law until it passes.

Why is this even legal?

Who knows, but if the “Streamlined Affordable Housing Approvals” law is passed, whatever is in our zoning codes is the last word on what can or cannot be built in our neighborhoods.

That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s effort to update the zoning of every neighborhood in Los Angeles. We are in the midst of a “comprehensive revision” of the entire city’s zoning. The project is called “re:code LA.”

Haven’t heard of it?

Did you miss the “Listening Session: San Fernando Valley” meeting at the Van Nuys City Hall Council Chambers on July 9, 2013?

How about the “Regional Forum” at the Granada Hills Community Center on March 15, 2014? Surely you were at the “Public Forum: South Valley” at the Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center in Van Nuys on Saturday, April 2, from 9:00 a.m. to noon.

No?

The only way re:code LA could have a lower profile is if it was in the federal witness protection program.

But this “comprehensive revision” of L.A.’s zoning is the public’s last chance to have input on housing projects, because what the governor is writing on a piece of already-passed blank legislation will allow construction of huge residential developments, thickly clustered along a future transit corridor, without any local review at all. The projects need only be compliant with local zoning and include a bit of affordable housing.

It’s all too clever by half. The public deserves better than this.

olumnist for the Los Angeles Daily News and Southern California News Group

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Sacramento ethics law getting long-due overhaul

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After 42 years of regulating the state’s political ethics, with countless updates and tweaks, the Political Reform Act is due for an overhaul — and stakeholders are set to begin the process next week.

On Thursday, July 14, Fair Political Practices Commission Chair Jodi Remke and John Mayer, president and CEO of California Forward (a government and political reform advocacy group), will host a webinar to kick off the first of two rounds of public participation to create a comprehensive overhaul of the act.

Incumbents and candidates complain of an overly complicated system. The FPPC receives between 15,000-to-20,000 requests every year for advice from candidates and public officials.

Numerous legislative and voter-approved updates have left an “overly complex, cumbersome and sometimes contradictory” law, Remke said.

“This process is designed to simplify and streamline the act without weakening it or losing any accountability,” Remke said.

Law students at UC Berkeley and UC Davis have also contributed to the process by reviewing the law and making recommendations to the FPPC. And California Forward will help raise public awareness of the coalition’s efforts.

The Political Reform Act was passed in 1974, just two months before President Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, with the protracted scandal highlighting the need for political ethics legislation.

The law created the FPPC and regulated campaign finance, among other things. The original ballot summary is here:

“Requires reports of receipts and expenditures in campaigns for state and local offices and ballot measures. Limits expenditures for statewide candidates and measures. Prohibits public officials from participating in governmental decisions affecting their ‘financial interests.’ Requires disclosure of certain assets and income by certain public officials. Requires ‘Lobbyists’ to register and file reports showing receipts and expenditures in lobbying activities. Creates fair political practices commission. Revises ballot pamphlet requirements. Provides criminal and civil sanctions for violations. Enacts and repeals statutes on other miscellaneous and above matters.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Lawmakers send sweeping gun package to Jerry Brown

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

California’s Democrat-controlled Legislature on Thursday approved far-reaching bills to bolster the state’s strong gun restrictions, sending Gov. Jerry Brown a package of measures revived after the deadly attack last year in San Bernardino.

Lawmakers, led by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, moved a dozen bills, including those expanding California’s historic 1989 ban on assault weapons, barring possession of high-capacity magazines that accommodate more than 10 rounds of ammunition, instituting tighter deadlines for owners to report lost or stolen firearms and regulating ammunition sales.

While California’s gun-control laws are among the toughest in the nation, the latest effort comes amid a series of unabated massacres dominating the headlines – from the December shooting in San Bernardino where two terrorists killed 14 people to the recent attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where an aggrieved shooter gunned down 49 people and injured more than 50 others, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

De León authored the ammunition regulation bill after a past attempt requiring in-person ammo sales was tossed out in court for being too vague. He called it “ridiculous” that terrorist sympathizers and some gang members are using America’s broken gun laws system to harm communities. …

California bill to ban gender-based pricing dies

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

SACRAMENTO — A California legislative panel has killed a bill targeting manufacturers that charge more for products marketed to women.

SB899 failed in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The measure by Democratic Sen. Ben Hueso of San Diego was a response to reports that razors, toys and other products marketed to girls are sometimes sold at higher prices than similar products marketed to men and boys.

SB899 would have allowed consumers to file discrimination lawsuits against companies that violate the ban on gender-based pricing.

Supporters say pricing items differently based on their color or stylistic flourishes discriminates against women. …

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Concealed Transparency: Legislature Tries to Fool the Public Again

TransparencyYou might have heard some news lately about legislative transparency, referring to efforts to subject what goes on in the California Legislature to meaningful public scrutiny. One headline actually read “California Senate Approves Measure Requiring More Transparency.” While an average citizen might rejoice at this news, they should be cognizant of what Paul Harvey used to characterize as “the rest of the story.”

Fact is, the California Legislature has absolutely no interest in exposing to public scrutiny how it does business. Indeed, the only reason lawmakers have introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 14 is to try to force the proponents of a much stronger ballot measure to the bargaining table in an effort to dilute the impact of this genuine reform. It is our hope that the proponents of the real transparency measure, the California Legislature Transparency Act, decline the invitation.

On the surface, lawmakers’ SCA 14 doesn’t look too bad. It would require that bills be publicly available for 72 hours before they can be taken up for a vote and that visual recordings of all legislative proceedings be posted online. These are reforms that Californians have wanted for a long time.

So what has spurred the Legislature to pursue this needed reform? Have they suddenly turned a new leaf and actually desire to disclose to Californians what has, up to now, been transacted in secrecy and obfuscation? Hardly. They are looking down the gun barrel of a proposed initiative which gathered more than a million signatures and is on the verge of qualifying for the November ballot. Sponsored and financed by wealthy reformer Charles Munger, Jr., its requirement that bills be in print for 72 hours is airtight while the Legislature’s proposal has so many holes it resembles Swiss cheese.

We’ve seen the drill before. Citizens will clamor for reform but be rebuffed repeatedly by the Legislature. Then, someone puts a proposition on the ballot to achieve the desired results. Only then, does the Legislature find religion and admit there’s a problem.

Recall 1978. With homeowners angry, frustrated and scared of being taxed out of their homes, Howard Jarvis proposes real property tax reform in the form of Proposition 13. At first, the Legislature derides the effort and can’t fathom the notion that voters actually would support it. That is, until they start hearing from their constituents and seeing the polls. Only then did the California Legislature hurriedly place a very weak alternative (designated as Proposition 8) on the ballot. But voters would have none of it. By a 66 percent margin they effectively told the Legislature thanks, but no thanks.

We strongly suspect that a similar message will be sent to the Legislature in the event that two competing transparency measures appear on the ballot this November.

This piece was originally published by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

California budget vote dominates agenda

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Working under a midnight deadline to pass a budget, lawmakers face a busy day – though still likely a smoother endeavor than the protracted, head-banging budget battles of yore.

Central pieces of the budget deal announced last week include a hefty deposit into the state’s rainy day fund, $1.3 billion for new state office work (potentially including Capitol renovations) and the repeal of a rule denying welfare payments for new kids that lawmakers have attacked for years as cruel and counterproductive. Some other pieces of note:

▪  Affordable housing has vaulted up the agenda this year. But Gov. Jerry Brown isn’t offering money for nothing: if lawmakers want hundreds of millions for lower-cost accommodations, Brown wants them to agree to controversial language easing barriers to local building.

▪ The politically perilous vehicle registration fee would increase by $10, though a long-sought transportation funding deal still hasn’t coalesced. …

After Stanford case, California lawmakers push to redefine rape

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Building on their response to a Stanford swimmer’s sexual assault conviction, California lawmakers on Monday announced legislation to broaden the state’s definition of rape.

Much of the uproar around the case of Brock Turner, found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, has focused on his sentencing after the student received a six-month jail term that was significantly lighter than what prosecutors sought. California legislators have pushed to remove the judge who issued that sentence.

Now those same legislators want to expand California’s definition of rape from the current standard, which requires sexual intercourse, to encompass penetration that occurs without consent. Turner was specifically convicted of sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, not of rape. …

CA Legislators Get 4 Percent Pay Bump

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

A state panel approved a 4 percent increase in pay for legislators and statewide elected officers on Wednesday.

The average legislator’s salary will rise to $104,118 annually, although several have refused any increases. Gov. Jerry Brown’s salary will increase to $190,103 annually.

The other officers receiving increases are: lieutenant governor, attorney general, controller, treasurer, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner and the members of the Board of Equalization.

The increase will go into effect Dec. 7.

About the CCCC

Pay is determined by a seven-member panel of citizens representing different sections of the community. In fact, one of the positions, which is required to be filled by a representative of the “general population,” is actually filled by a wealthy, well-connected developer from Stockton.

Brown — who is tasked with appointing members of the California Citizens Compensation Commission — has not filled three vacancies in at least a year, which exceeds the 15-day window mandated by the state’s Constitution.

The CCCC had to cancel it’s May meeting due to lack of quorum.

Pay Scale History

California has the highest paid state legislators in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. They are also paid well above the state’s median income of around $61,084.

On the whole, base salary for legislators has increased since 2005. To be more precise, legislators have received six increases, three freezes and two reductions since 2005. To be even more precise, base salary went from $99,000 in 2005 to the $100,113 base salary it is today — after salaries had been frozen between 1999 to 2005.

The two reductions were largely orchestrated by the former chairman Charles Murray, a holdover appointee from the Schwarzenegger administration. Murray stepped down almost a year ago to the day.

The six increases: 2005 – 12 percent increase; 2006 – 2 percent increase; 2007 – 2.75 percent increase; 2013 – 5 percent increase; 2014 – 2 percent increase; 2015 – 3 percent increase.

The two decreases: 2009 – 18 percent reduction; 2012 – 5 percent reduction.

And the three freezes were in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

As readers can probably imagine, the decreases were unpopular in Sacramento. In fact, one former legislator fought a cut — the 18 percent reduction in 2009 that slashed salaries from $116,208 to $95,291 — by appealing to both Brown and the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board.

Neither appeal was successful.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Excessive State Budget Pushed Forward by Dems

BudgetThursday, Sacramento Democrats all voted in support of a budget that has an unknown cost, but is estimated to easily exceed the governor’s record-level budget spending that he proposed just two weeks ago. The Assembly’s current budget proposal is essentially a blank check committed to using record levels of taxes collected for a laundry list of bloated bureaucracies and wasteful projects.

This new budget proposal hides unilateral government plans to increase fees on every car owner and taxes on every cellphone user in California. Wasteful projects like the high speed rail are rewarded with $145 million of additional largesse. Furthermore, mismanaged bureaucracies such as Caltrans receive increased funding with zero oversight while California drivers experience worst in the nation traffic conditions.

On top of the $10 yearly vehicle registration fee hike and nearly 400 percent cellphone tax increase, some of the other highlights from the Democrats’ “Blank Check” Budget include a $145.2 million appropriation for high-speed rail, $2.1 billion for an “optional” Obamacare expansion, and an additional $3.2 billion for the recently raised minimum wage.
Undoubtedly, the constant flow of high profile businesses leaving California will only accelerate with the Legislative Democrat’s budget proposals. Costly new mandates like the $15/hr minimum wage and highest in the nation taxes have prompted CEO magazine to once again name California as the worst state in which to do business, a distinction it has held every year the survey has been conducted.

Simply put, California voters need to clearly understand that the Democrat agenda of higher taxes, unending regulations, and “blank check” government spending has led California off the cliff and resulted in massive debt, job scarcity, and the nation’s highest poverty rate. June and November elections are coming, and it’s time for Californians to stand up and just say no to Democrats and their free spending ways.

This piece was originally published by the Flash Report

CA Senate Approves Sweeping Gun-Control Measures

As reported by ABC News:

Democrats in the California Senate approved a wide-ranging series of gun control bills Thursday, reviving an effort to significantly tighten California’s already strict gun laws in the wake of last year’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Lawmakers voted to outlaw the sale of assault weapons with easily detachable magazines and to require that people turn in magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. They also backed a variety of other measures aimed at restricting access to guns and ammunition or limiting the carnage they can inflict.

The effort drew a sharp rebuke from gun rights supporters who say squeezing lawful gun owners even further won’t make people safer.

It also laid bare tense differences in personality and strategy between senior California Democrats. Legislative leaders are rushing to head off a ballot measure advocated by Lt. Gov. Gavin Neapolwsom, a fellow Democrat, asking voters to enact many of the same policies. They worry the initiative will fail at the ballot box or …

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