Los Angeles, California cities ‘overrun by rodents’

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

An ever-growing number of rodents in California — particularly in Los Angeles — is being fueled by a spiking homeless population and restrictions on rodenticides that are risking a public health crisis, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report by political action committee Reform California cites recent rodent-related events over the past six months, including an employee at the Los Angeles Police Department contracting Typhus and a rat falling from the ceiling of a Buffalo Wild Wingsonto the menu of a patron, as proof of an “undeniable problem” in the Golden State.

“California is being overrun by rodents,” said Carl DeMaio, chairman of Reform California. “Without immediate emergency action by state and local government, we face significant economic costs and risk a public health crisis.” …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

Lack of Political Will Allows California’s Homeless Epidemic to Continue

Los Angeles could be at risk of a deadly typhus epidemic this summer according to Dr. Drew Pinsky, an outspoken celebrity doctor and specialist in addiction medicine. Pinsky, a Los Angeles native, recently quoted on Fox News, said: “We have tens and tens of thousands of people living in tents. Horrible conditions. Rats have taken over the city. We’re the only city in the country, Los Angeles, without a rodent control program. We have multiple rodent-borne, flea-borne illnesses, plague, typhus. We’re going to have louse-borne illness. Measles could break into that population. We have tuberculosis exploding.”

All of this is easily confirmed. Los Angeles already has outbreaks of typhushepatitis and tuberculosis,  as do other cities in California. Shigella, a communicable form of diarrhea, is now common among the homeless. There have even been outbreaks of trench fever, spread by lice. As reported by the Atlantic earlier this year “Medieval Diseases Are Infecting California’s Homeless.”

There are estimated to be over 55,000 homeless in Los Angeles County, and at least 130,000 statewide, living on sidewalks, parks and parking lots, vacant lots and on the beach. There is no sanitation and no trash collection. The populations of disease carrying animals and insects that thrive in these conditions are exploding: rats, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, mites, lice.

The problem of the homeless could be completely solved in a few months if there were the political and judicial will to get it done. The national guard could be deployed, working with city and county law enforcement. The homeless could be sorted into groups; criminals, substance abusers, mentally ill, undocumented aliens, and all the rest. For each of these groups, separate facilities could be built on vacant or underutilized government land in or near urban centers but away from downtowns and residential areas. They could consist of tents, porta-potties, and mobile modules providing food and medical services.

There’s plenty of money available to do this. Just in Los Angeles, in 2016 voters approved Measure HHH, allocating $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 units to house the homeless. Since then, Los Angeles voters approved a quarter cent sales tax increase, also to help the homeless. Additional hundreds of millions are coming from the state to help the homeless.

Every major city in California is spending tens of millions or more on programs for the homeless. But most of the money is being wasted. Why? Because there is a Homeless Industrial Complex that is getting filthy rich, wasting the money, while the homeless population swells.

WHAT IS THE HOMELESS INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX?

Here’s how the process works: Developers accept public money to build these projects to house the homeless – either “bridge housing,” or “permanent supportive housing.” Cities and counties collect building fees and hire bureaucrats for oversight. The projects are then handed off to nonprofits with long term contracts to run them.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? The problem is the price tag. Developers don’t just build housing projects, they build ridiculously overpriced, overbuilt housing projects. Cities and counties don’t just collect building fees, they collect outrageously expensive building fees, at the same time as they create a massive bureaucracy. The nonprofits don’t just run these projects – the actual people staffing these shelters aren’t overpaid – they operate huge bureaucratic empires with overhead and executive salaries that do nothing for the homeless.

An example of wasteful spending can be found in the homeless shelter being built in Venice Beach, where a permanent population of over 1,000 homeless have taken over virtually every public venue, including the beach. Because their tents are now protected by law as private space, they not only serve as housing, but as pop-up drug retailers and brothels. To get these folks off the streets and off the beach, a 154 bed shelter has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council. It will be a “wet” shelter, meaning druggies and drunkards will be able to come and go as they please. The estimated cost for this shelter so far is $8 million, which equates to over $50,000 per bed. Why doesn’t anyone ask why?

These costs aren’t that bad if you consider the cost of new construction in exorbitant California. But this isn’t new construction, it’s “temporary” construction of very large tents on three acres of land. Eight million dollars, to put up some large tents and plumb for bathrooms and a kitchen. As a “wet” shelter, it will become a hotel for freeloading partiers as much as a refuge for the truly needy. Not only is it only capable of housing a small fraction of the 1,000+ homeless already in Venice, it will attract more homeless people to relocate to Venice.

Finally, this property, owned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit District and located on some of the most precious real estate on earth, could have been sold to private investors to generate tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Why wasn’t that choice made? Why, for that matter, aren’t homeless shelters being built in Pacific Palisades, or Brentwood, or Beverly Hills, or the other tony enclaves of LA’s super rich? Because as with all boondoggles that destroy neighborhoods in the name of compassion, the Homeless Industrial Complex knows better than to defecate where they masticate.

The Homeless Industrial Complex’s expensive maltreatment of Venice Beach in particular, and taxpayers in general, is an example of how “bridge housing” projects are co-opted and corrupted. But even more horrendous waste is exemplified by the efforts to construct “permanent supportive housing.”

According to an NPR report from June 2018, “when voters passed Measure HHH, they were told that new ‘permanent supportive housing’ would cost about $140,000 a unit. But average per unit costs are now more than triple that. The PATH Ventures project in East Hollywood has an estimated per-unit cost of $440,000.”

A privately funded development company, Flyaway Homes, has debuted in Los Angeles with the mission of rapidly providing housing for the homeless. Using retrofitted shipping containers, the company’s modular approach to apartment building construction is purported to streamline the approval process and cut costs. But the two projects they’ve got underway are too expensive to ever offer a solution to more than fraction of the homeless.

Their 82nd Street Development will cost $4.5 million to house 32 “clients” in 16 two-bedroom, 480 square foot apartments. That’s $281,250 per two-bedroom apartment. The firm’s 820 W. Colden Ave. property will cost $3.6 million to house 32 clients in eight four-bedroom apartments. That’s $450,000 per apartment.

These costs are utterly unsustainable. But the Homeless Industrial Complex has grown into a juggernaut, crushing the opposition. At community hearings across California, “homeless advocates,” who are often bused in from other areas expressly to shout down local opposition, demand action, because “no one deserves to live on a sidewalk.”

Money is squandered, and the population of homeless people multiplies. This is not compassion in action, rather, it’s corruption in action.

WAYS TO REIN IN THE HOMELESS INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

(1) Acknowledge there’s a problem. Agree that it’s no longer acceptable to throw money at the homeless epidemic without questioning all the current proposals and the underlying premises. Billions of dollars are being wasted. Admit it.

(2) Recognize that a special interest, the Homeless Industrial Complex – comprised of developers, government bureaucrats, and activist nonprofits – has taken over the homeless agenda and turned it into a profit center. They are not going to solve the problem, they are going to milk it. Their PR firms will sell compliant media a feel-good story about someone who turned their life around, living in a fine new apartment. What they won’t tell you is that because of the $400,000 they charged to build that single apartment unit, dozens if not hundreds of people are still on the street with nothing.

(3) Act at the municipal and state level to set a limit on the cost per shelter “bed.” This cost must represent a compromise between ideal facilities for homeless people, and what is affordable at a scale sufficient to solve the problem. There is no reason the capital costs for a shelter bed should be $50,000 each, but that’s exactly what’s proposed in Venice – $8 million for a semi-permanent “tent” with 154 beds. Similarly, there is no reason a basic apartment unit for the homeless should cost over $400,000, but in Los Angeles, by most accounts, that’s what they cost. This is outrageous. Durable tents and supportive facilities should be set up for a small fraction of that amount. Pick a number. Stick to it. Demand creative solutions.

(4) Stop differentiating between “bridge housing” (basic shelter) and “permanent supportive housing.” Permanent supportive housing IS “bridge housing.” Amenities better than a durable, dry, sole occupancy tent and a porta-potty can belong exclusively in the realm of privately funded nonprofits and charities. Until there isn’t a single homeless person left on the street, not one penny of taxpayer money should be paying for anything beyond basic bridge housing.

(5) Accept that homeless shelters will be more cost-effectively constructed and operated if they are in industrial, commercial (where appropriate), or rural areas, and not in downtown areas or residential neighborhoods.

(6) Abandon decentralized solutions that involve seeding safe neighborhoods with mini-homeless shelters in converted residential homes. Estimates vary, but between 35 and 77 percent of homeless people suffer from substance abuse, and between 26 and 58 percent have mental illness, and by some accounts over half of them have a criminal record. It is not just too expensive, it is dangerous to mix a homeless population into family neighborhoods.

(7) Go to court. Challenge the decision in Jones vs the City of Los Angeles, that ruled that law enforcement and city officials can no longer enforce the ban on sleeping on sidewalks anywhere within the Los Angeles city limits until a sufficient amount of permanent supportive housing could be built.

(8) File a state ballot referendum to overturn Prop. 47, which downgraded drug and property crimes. Prop. 47 has led to what police derisively refer to as “catch and release,” because suspects are only issued citations with a court date, and let go.

(9) Recognize that the rights of the homeless must be balanced with the rights of local residents, and that homeless accommodations should be safe but should never be better than the cheapest unit of commercial housing.

10) Confront the fact that a lot of homeless people are homeless by choice, not because they’ve ran out of options, and they DON’T WANT HELP. Act accordingly: Do we give these people control over our public spaces, our neighborhoods, our parks and beaches? And what of the others? The mentally ill, the substance abusers, the criminals? Do we give them control of over our public spaces?

It is terribly difficult for proponents of rational policies to be heard in public hearings on the homeless. Professional activists, often hired by developers or well-heeled nonprofits, abetted by sincere homeless advocates who simply haven’t ran the numbers, will usually outnumber and shout down neighborhood “NIMBYs” who have come to raise objections. But the NIMBYs are right.

We have a moral obligation to help the homeless. But we are not obligated to cede our downtowns, our tourist attractions, and our residential neighborhoods to homeless encampments. And as a society, we also have a moral obligation to protect the general population from rampant infectious diseases. What if Dr. Pinsky is right? What if there is a major infectious disease epidemic in Los Angeles this summer? Is that what it’s going to take before we clean up our streets and get the homeless into cost-effective, safe, supervised, sanitary encampments?

The moral question of how to help the homeless cannot rest apart from financial reality. It is impossible to solve the homeless crisis under current law and according to current policies. Therefore a new approach must be taken.

Before criticizing the suggestion that we spend a $5,000 per bed (or less) instead of $50,000 per bed (or more) to build bridge housing facilities, imagine what could be done with all the money we save. We might be able to help a lot of people get their lives back on track. Instead of feeding the insatiable excesses of the Homeless Industrial Complex, which helps a few but neglects so many.This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

L.A. Politicians Want to Spend Bullet Train Funds

In a sign of frustration over the state’s transportation priorities, several board members with the high-profile Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority have made the argument that it makes far more sense to use money that Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend on a bullet train route in the Central Valley on Los Angeles-area projects instead.

Newsom made international headlines in February when he pulled backfrom predecessors Jerry Brown’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commitment to have the California High-Speed Rail Agency build a statewide high-speed rail network. Instead of continuing to try to secure all the funds needed for the $77 billion project, Newsom said the state should focus on completing a 110-mile segment from Merced to Bakersfield that is expected to cost $12.2 billion.

Five L.A. Metro board members – Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger, both Los Angeles County supervisors, Inglewood Mayor James Butts, Los Angeles Councilman Paul Krekorian and Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian – think that’s a bad idea.

At a recent Metro board committee meeting, Solis said that “many, many projects” in the Los Angeles region would be more helpful in meeting state transportation goals.

In a motion they crafted for the Metro board’s consideration, they wrote that the Central Valley segment “has little value for public transportation and limited greenhouse gas reductions. Regional rail transit improvements in the Los Angeles region would be more cost effective with more substantial mobility benefits.”

The Curbed Los Angeles website reported that the five decided not to ask the full Metro board to endorse the motion, evidently after being reassured that the state would help fund some of the local projects that Solis had praised. But the sharp criticism from five board members of Metro – one of the nation’s largest transportation agencies, serving 10 million people in a 1,400-square-mile region – is a powerful reminder that even with Newsom’s scaled-back version, the state’s bullet-train project faces considerable skepticism.

Cost, viability of Central Valley segment questioned

The Central Valley route faces two of the same key criticisms that the statewide project did under Brown.

Its initial cost estimate of $6 billion has more than doubled, just as the statewide plan’s cost soared from $34 billion to $77 billion.

Under Proposition 1A, the 2008 ballot measure providing $9.95 billion in bond funding for the project, every segment is supposed to generate enough revenue to be self-supporting, with taxpayer subsidies banned. But assumptions that linking Merced, population 83,000, with Bakersfield, population 380,000, will lead to ridership that is heavy enough to cover the cost of bullet-train operations is tough to square with the fact that presently, there are only six conventional train trips daily between the cities with an average ticket price of $27.

Questionable assumptions about ridership have been common from the state rail authority. For example, in 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that the authority projected annual ridership of up to 31 million passengers after the Los Angeles-San Francisco route was complete. That’s about the same number of annual riders as Amtrak, which operates in 46 states.

On Wednesday, the rail authority is expected to release more detailed plans from the Newsom administration for the Merced-Bakersfield segment.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Has the California business community had enough?

There is a particularly nasty YouTube video that made the rounds several years ago where a school punk was bullying another student who was overweight. The punk kept punching the other kid who was forced to retreat until his back was against a wall. After several punches, the overweight kid picked up the bully and slammed him to the ground so violently that the punk literally bounces off the pavement.

For decades, taxpayers in California have been the punching bag for tax-and-spend politicians and the special interests that consume tax dollars. Periodically, however, those receiving the blows stand up and punch back.  The recall of former Governor Gray Davis in reaction to his car tax increase is a good example.

For the most part, individual taxpayers and grassroots organizations are more vocal – at least publicly – against tax hikes than the business community. Certain business interests, especially large corporations, are more likely to have a “go along to get along” attitude which means that as long as a tax increase doesn’t hit their business directly (or can be passed along to consumers), they won’t put up much of a fight.  The rationale for this is that many of these business interests are vulnerable to arbitrary government action that threatens their interests and it would be unwise to anger the politicians who could, with a stroke of a pen, put them out of business.

But the frequency and intensity of recent tax proposals out of Sacramento and from various city halls is causing pushback from even the business community. In the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District jammed through a tax increase proposal that is an affront to taxpayers of all stripes. Measure EE, appearing on the ballot in a June 4th special election, would add hundreds of dollars to property tax bills and rents by imposing a tax of 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district. That’s $160 for every 1,000 square feet. This would hit homeowners, renters and businesses with a huge new property tax increase.

To read the entire column, please click here.

LAUSD’s Punishing Parcel Tax Proposal


LAUSD school busAmerica’s most dysfunctional school district has stepped in it again. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), apparently coming to the shocking realization that there was no way they could pay for the horrible deal they just cut with the unions, has hurriedly placed on the ballot for June a new property tax that leaves no Los Angeles taxpayer unscathed.

That grassroots taxpayer interests would be opposed to the new levy is no surprise. But several business organizations, usually more tolerant of higher government spending — particularly for education — have had enough. Groups as diverse as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) and the L.A. County Business Federation (BizFed) have all announced their opposition. None of these organizations is anti-education. In fact, all are pro-education as long as there is demonstrable improvement in the education product we are all paying for. On this score, LAUSD falls way short.

At the core of the broad-based opposition is the abject lack of long overdue reforms at LAUSD.

The list of reasons to oppose the tax is long.

First, taxpayers would be wasting millions of dollars on a special election.

The LAUSD Board voted unanimously to put the tax increase before the voters in a special election to be held on June 4, 2019. The cost of the special election is $12.5 million.

The tax would add hundreds of dollars to tax bills and rents and would do so in a convoluted manner. Rather than a flat tax on every parcel — which would be bad enough — the proposed tax increase would be 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district.

That’s $160 for every 1,000 square feet. Property owners (and tenants) should be sitting down when they do the math on this one.

Seniors are ostensibly exempt from the tax, but not from rent increases.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Lessons from the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes


Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

After two teachers’ strikes in as many months in California, it is too soon to tell whether the labor disputes in Oakland and Los Angeles presage a new era of school-based activism.

But regardless of what comes next, this year’s strikes had much in common, and yielded valuable lessons and insights for other districts where labor troubles may also be brewing.

  • Both strikes were relatively short, lasting about a week. The timeline was shaped by the troubled finances of both districts that couldn’t afford to lose excessive amounts of state funds they receive based on student attendance.  Teachers also couldn’t afford to lose excessive wages by being out on strike for a lengthy period, or to take money off the bargaining table that could have been used to meet some of their demands. So there was pressure on both sides to resolve the strike within a reasonable amount of time.
  • In both cases, teachers appeared to come out ahead, achieving gains they might not have won without a strike. In Oakland’s case, teachers earned a gradual salary increase of 11 percent  — more than double the 5 percent the district offered before the strike began — although most of the gains will only come in the 3rd year of the agreement. In the case of Los Angeles, on the salary front teachers got less than what they demanded initially, and settled for the 6 percent the district had already offered. But they did get commitments from the district to reduce class sizes and significantly increase support staff like counselors.
  • In both strikes, demands went beyond those more typical of labor strikes which tend to focus on wages and benefits. Those were on the table, but equally important were a range of other issues , including lowering class sizes, providing more counselors, psychologists, nurses and other support staff, limiting school closures in Oakland and creating community schools in Los Angeles.  Both contracts also included provisions tied to regulating charter schools.re
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how the districts will pay for what they agreed to. In Los Angeles, Debra Duardo, the county superintendent of schools, said that the district has yet to address a projected $500 million operating deficit in 2021-22, and that the bargaining agreement “continues to move the district to insolvency.” In Oakland, Najeeb Khoury, in his official fact-finding report issued before the strike, doubted that the district could afford anywhere near a 12 percent salary increase.  Chris Learned, the state trustee appointed to approve budget expenditures, also suggested before the strike that such an increase ran the risk of putting “the district in financial distress.”
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles, the strikes demonstrated deep public support for the teachers. It suggests that the days when teachers were held solely responsible for seemingly every shortcoming in the state’s public schools, along with the success or failure of their students, are over, at least for now.
  • In both conflicts, the teachers unions and their allies are looking to Sacramento, as well as voters, to approve more funds as a key element in making the agreements enforceable. But it is not clear where those funds would come from. Neither Gov. Gavin Newsom nor the Legislature has made any commitments beyond the funding increases that Newsom requested in his proposed budget in January.  In Los Angeles the strike did push the school board to place a long-delay tax on real estate parcels on a June 4 special election ballot.  If approved, it would help erase the district’s projected $500 million shortfall. Whether it will pass is another matter:  it will require voters to approve it by a two-thirds margin, which the last parcel tax measure nearly a decade ago failed to get.

Unaddressed in both Oakland and Los Angeles are deeper structural issues, such as the impact of declining enrollments, the crushing costs of meeting pension obligations, and stratospheric housing costs.

Whether these underlying forces will trigger further strikes — still a relatively rare event in California — is hard to predict. In only one other California district — San Ramon Valley Unified centered in Danville, a wealthy suburban community to Oakland’s east — have teachers actually authorized their union to call a strike if contract negotiations break down, although labor conflicts are brewing in other districts like Sacramento City Unified and Fremont Unified just south of Oakland.

The fact is that even with gains at  the bargaining table like those made in Oakland and Los Angeles, most teachers — and certainly beginning teachers who rely on a single income — will not be able to afford to buy a house in many urban and suburban districts, or even cover rents there.  (In the current salary schedule,teachers in Oakland with a B.A. degree make $46,570, which in three years would rise to just over $50,000 under the new contract.)

Those realities will make recruiting teachers an ongoing challenge, even as districts struggle to find teachers in key areas like math and science and special education. And it will continue to create churn in the labor force, with some teachers being tempted to leave so they can live in districts where living costs are lower — or to leave the profession altogether.

That may help explain the surprisingly large proportion of teachers in Oakland — 42 percent — who voted against ratifying the agreement.  This is one area where the Oakland strike outcome differed from Los Angeles, where only 18 percent of teachers voted against the contract. While making some significant gains at the bargaining table, many Oakland teachers sent a message that they were hoping for more.

Louis Freedberg writes about education reforms in California and nationally, and is the executive director of EdSource.

Global Warming: Los Angeles Has Coldest February in 60 Years


Los Angeles is officially experiencing the coldest February in nearly 60 years, according to the National Weather Service, as the city has endured a series of storms and is bracing for more later this week.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday evening:

This month is the coldest February in downtown Los Angeles in nearly 60 years, with the average high temperature at 60.6 degrees as of Sunday. That’s a full 8 degrees below the normal average temperature, the National Weather Service said in a news release announcing the record lows.

It hasn’t been this cold since 1962, when the average high temperature for the month in downtown L.A. was 59.8 degrees, the weather service said.

Los Angeles SnowThe state is experiencing even more storms and cold weather, as a new “atmospheric river” — a front of moisture from the Pacific — is expected to dump rain on Northern California through mid-week. According to CBS San Francisco, rainfall totals were expected to reach 6 to 12 inches in the mountains, threatening mudslides in areas affected by last year’s wildfires.

Los Angeles is also expecting more rain, albeit with warmer temperatures than it is currently experiencing, before the end of the month.

Last week saw a rare snowfall within the urban parts of the city, including West Hollywood.

Currently, the state’s snowpack is already at 119% above its April 1 average.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Modest Strike Settlement Nonetheless Puts LAUSD in Even Worse Financial Shape


Charter schoolOne of the grievances expressed by the union during their recent strike against Los Angeles Unified School District was that, according to them, charter schools are draining funds from public schools. This assertion, repeated uncritically by major news reports on the strike, does not stand up to reason.

Public schools in California receive government funding based on student attendance. Since one of the other primary grievances of the union was overcrowded classrooms, it would be reasonable to conclude that LAUSD schools are not underfunded, but overfunded. There should be plenty of money, but there’s not. LAUSD is teetering on insolvency, and the strike settlement agreement is going to make their financial challenges even worse.

Charter Schools Outperform LAUSD’s Unionized Schools

The reason LAUSD is running out of money has little or nothing to do with charter schools. It has to do with inefficient use of funds. A study conducted by the California Policy Center in 2015 calculated the per student cost in LAUSD’s traditional public high schools to be $15,372 per year. The same study evaluated 26 charter high schools and middle schools located within LAUSD’s geographic boundaries, and found their cost per student to be $10,649 per year.

At the same time as LAUSD spends far more than charters per student, they do a poorer job educating their students. The same 2015 study, “Analyzing the Cost and Performance of LAUSD Traditional High Schools and LAUSD Alliance Charter High Schools,” compared the educational outcomes at nine charter high schools to nine traditional public high schools in LAUSD. These 18 schools were selected based on their having nearly identical student demographics to LAUSD’s traditional public high schools – i.e., the same percentage of English learners, learning disabled students, and low income students. The charter schools clearly outperformed LAUSD in every important metric – SAT scores, graduation rates and college admissions.

There are two critical issues here, neither of which appear to have been discussed in the strike negotiations. One, why do charter schools manage to educate students for so much less than traditional public schools, and two, why do they manage to do it for so much less money?

The answer to the first may be hard for the union leadership and their supporters to accept: These charter schools are able to better educate students because they are not subject to union work rules. Incompetent teachers can be dismissed. If layoffs are necessary, the best teachers can be retained, instead of the most senior. What is more teachers do not acquire “tenure,” a job-for-life right negotiated by the teachers union despite its origins in the university with the purpose of protecting scientific inquiry, not protecting bad teachers in K-12 schools.

There are a host of reasons charter schools don’t cost as much as traditional public schools. Much of it has to do with teacher compensation. The average base pay in charter schools is less than in public schools, as is the average cost of benefits. But the “other pay,” typically taking the form of performance incentives, is higher in the charter schools. An interesting compilation, using data taken from Transparent California, estimated the bonus pay in the charter networks within LAUSD (Green Dot and Alliance) to average two to three times the average in LAUSD’s traditional public schools. This disparity, wherein compensation in charter schools is linked to the effectiveness of individual teachers, undoubtedly also helps explain why they achieve better educational outcomes.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking LAUSD

LAUSD’s cost of employee benefits increased from $1.54 billion in 2015-16 to $1.92 billion in 2016-17, an increase of 25 percent, when the total employee headcount only increased by six-tenths of one percent. The reason for the increase is simple, and immutable: LAUSD, like many public agencies throughout California, has fallen woefully behind in its funding of retirement benefits, and they have reached a point where they must dramatically increase payments in order to catch up.

Staggering Pension Debt: LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion. Just paying down that debt over twenty years should be costing LAUSD over $600 million per year, not including the normal contribution they have to pay each year as their active employees earn additional pension benefits. As it is, including the normal contribution, in 2018 LAUSD “only” paid $584 million to CalSTRS and CalPERS.

The financial sickness relating to pensions is a statewide problem. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD teachers, as of June 30, 2017, was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent. CalPERS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD support personnel, is only slightly better off financially than CalSTRS. It has already announced it will roughly double the required employer contributions between now and 2025. CalSTRS, if it wants to survive, will likely follow suit.

Retiree Healthcare Costs: If anything, the financial challenges surrounding LAUSD’s other primary retirement obligation, retiree health benefits, are even more daunting. LAUSD’s OPEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. Like many public agencies, LAUSD does not pre-fund their retiree health benefits. In 2018, retiree healthcare cost the district nearly $400 million. A 2016 study prepared for LAUSD estimated that cost to double in the next ten years, and to nearly quadruple within the next twenty years.

LAUSD does face declining enrollment, something they claim is exacerbated by diversion of students into charter schools. Total enrollment in 2013-14 was 621,796, and by 2017-18 it had declined somewhat to 591,411. As a percentage of total enrollment during that period, unaffiliated charter enrollment rose from 15 percent to 19 percent of all students. But LAUSD nonetheless contends with bursting classrooms. LAUSD’s traditional, unionized public schools are still collecting revenue based on attendance that stretches the capacity of their facilities. If they are still attempting to teach more students than their facilities can handle, they can’t blame charters for their financial problems.

There is, however, an indirect financial threat that charters represent to traditional unionized public schools that is very serious indeed. The problem is not that charter enrollment steals money from LAUSD’s classrooms, because the classrooms are full. More students might bring in more money, but they would also require more classrooms. The problem is the growth of charters shrinks the revenue base LAUSD needs to pay the costs for retirees.

Charter Schools Dilute LAUSD’s Revenue Base Necessary to Pay Retiree Benefits

As LAUSD’s traditional unionized public schools contend with burgeoning per-retiree costs, every student that they lose to charters represents less available revenue to feed the pension funds. Every student lost to charter schools decreases LAUSD’s ratio of active workers to retirees.

These compounding effects are similar to what faced the auto industry back in the 1980s – retirees collecting expensive benefits, supported by companies with fewer workers and lower revenues. The difference, of course, is that public schools, and public sector unions, do not contend with the irresistible reality of global markets. Instead their ultimate solution will be to call for higher taxes.

This prediction is borne out by the strike settlement, which called for more hiring of teachers and support personnel, retroactive raises, and nothing in the form of benefit reductions or higher employee contributions to their benefits through payroll withholding.

The other key victory for the union, an aggressive stance by the LAUSD Board against any new charter schools, is a rear guard action to preserve the revenue base necessary to pay retiree benefits. Stop the charters, or reform pensions and retiree healthcare formulas. It was one or the other. But all this war on charters does is buy time.

LAUSD Will Eventually Have to Adapt to Financial Reality

Sooner or later, financial reality will strike. LAUSD’s total expenses in 2016-17 were $7.6 billion. Benefits constituted $1.9 billion. Twenty-five percent of all spending. Ten years from now, those benefit costs are likely to double, as the pension fund payments rise to around $1.2 billion, annual OPEB contributions near the $1.0 billion level, and current benefits – which constituted around $900 million in spending in 2016-17 – rise with inflation. Can LAUSD afford to pay current and retiree benefits equal to 40 percent of all spending? Will higher taxes, to enable much higher per student reimbursements – make up the difference?

Financial reform to put LAUSD on a stable financial footing requires benefit reform. Teachers will have to pay, through payroll withholding, a higher percentage of the costs for their current health benefits, their retirement health benefits and their pensions. The alternative is for them to get more state funding for these benefits, or accept lower benefits. Increased state funding is on the way, but it is unlikely it will be sustainable.

There is another solution that bears discussion, which concerns the ratio of teachers to other employees. Based on their own data, LAUSD in 2016-17 had 26,556 classroom teachers, and 33,635 administrators and support personnel. Why is it necessary to have so many non-teachers? Why is it that between 2016-17, and the year before, the number of classroom teachers declined by 271, while the number of non-teaching employees grew by 639? In this regard, charter schools also offer a lesson. Just as they don’t spend precious funds on employee benefits that dwarf what private sector professionals typically expect, charters also don’t spend as much money on support personnel.

Not all charter schools succeed academically, but the ones that do offer examples that LAUSD and other traditional public school districts could emulate, and would emulate, if it weren’t for the intransigence of the teachers union. In all critical areas, from benefits reform to tenure, dismissal policies, and layoff criteria, the teachers union fights change. They have declared war on charters, and just won a major battle in LAUSD. But like the auto industry in Detroit back in the 1980s, unionized public schools need to adapt to changing times.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Policy Center.

Will Anything Good Come Out of the LAUSD Strike? Probably Not


LAUSD school busAs the teachers strike in Los Angeles entered its second week, it appeared the strike would soon be over. On January 22, online reports declared an agreement has been “hammered out,” with union members ratifying the deal late last night.

Union representatives have consistently stated that more pay is not the only reason they’re striking. That’s believable. The unions also want to unionize charter schools, they want smaller class sizes, and they want more hiring – for example, a full-time nurse at every elementary school. All of this, however, costs money.

Noriko Nakada, a LAUSD public school teacher, wrote a column in the December 18th edition of the UTLA “United Teacher” newspaper, entitled “People don’t strike for 6%; we strike for justice.” Considering each of those two phrases, one at a time, yields insights into what’s really going on in LAUSD, and by extension, throughout the unionized public schools of California. Briefly stated, according to the teachers union, “justice,” inside and outside the classroom, is to implement a Leftist political agenda with no regard to the sentiments of teachers or parents.

To start with, however, Nakada’s assertion that “people don’t strike for 6 percent” is false, because getting a 6 percent raise was one of the goals of the strike, and it looks like they’re going to get that raise. So how much will that cost? If there are 30,000 teachers on strike, and their average salary is $75,000 per year, then a 6 percent raise is going to cost at least $135 million per year. At least, because whenever salaries are increased, the cost for other benefits such as pensions increase proportionately.

So this concession of $135 million (or more) per year would have paid for the district to hire roughly 1,500 more teachers and support personnel, which when the details of the settlement are known, is likely to be roughly equivalent to how many new hires will be made. Where the money will come from? Who knows.

The more revealing phrase in Nakada’s article title is “we strike for justice.” What are examples of this “justice”? Would it include “restorative justice,” that well intentioned, benevolent sounding practice which in reality forbids schools from expelling students of any given ethnicity at a greater rate than expulsions occur within the entire student population?

Maybe “justice” is referring to “social justice,” which would include “protecting Dreamers,” “affordable healthcare,” “fair tax structures,” increasing the minimum wage, opposing the “privatization of public education,” immigrant rights, “green” space, bilingual education, reducing “inequality,” creating “racial justice” (such as through preferential scholarships for Asian, Latino, African, and LGBTQ students), and much, much more.

It’s unlikely that UTLA leadership would disavow these elements of their “justice” agenda. But is it nonpartisan? Is it focused on the skills that will truly enable a graduate to be successful – English literacy, math competency, and an awareness of history and civics that instills the American values of individual responsibility and hard work? Or is it a hard Left political agenda?

To answer that question, maybe the national political spending of the two largest teachers unions in America, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) might be instructive. The table below, lifted from the book “Standing Up to Goliath,” written by the courageous Rebecca Friedrichs, reveals the political bias of these unions.

As can be seen, using 2016 data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics, over 99 percent of direct political contributions by the NEA and AFT in that year were directed either to Left-leaning political action committees or to Democratic candidates and the Democratic party. Ninety-nine percent.

Can this degree of partisanship possibly be in synch with the sentiments of teachers who belong to these unions? Not according to the NEA’s own survey data on their members. As also reported by Friedrichs in “Standing Up to Goliath,” the most recent study available on this was a 2006 survey of American public school teachers, where they were classified as either “liberal,” “lean liberal,” “conservative,” or “lean conservative.” As shown, at the time, 55 percent of public school teachers in the U.S. were either “conservative” or “lean conservative.” Has this changed over the intervening decade? Would the findings be different in California compared to the rest of the nation? Of course the answer to both questions is yes, but how much different?

Two things can be reasonably inferred from these charts. (1) The political ideology of public school teachers in America is split roughly evenly between liberals and conservatives, and (2) the national political spending of the major teachers unions is almost 100 percent allocated to liberal causes and Democratic candidates. From their literature and their rhetoric, it is almost certainly accurate to state that the political agenda and political spending of the United Teachers of Los Angeles is in lockstep with that of these national teachers unions. And it is extremely unlikely that literally 100 percent of the UTLA teachers – and, more importantly, the parents of LAUSD students – adhere to an ideology that is 100 percent supportive of liberal causes and Democratic candidates.

The question of whether or not unions should even exist in the public sector is one worth asking. Already, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Janus vs. AFSCME case has recognized that all public sector union activity is inherently political. If so, shall the California affiliate of the NEA, the California Teachers Association, continue to collect and spend an estimated $325 million per year? Shall the California affiliate of the AFT, the California Federation of Teachers, continue to collect and spend an estimated $100 million per year?

Shall the UTLA continue to use their formidable power to deny school choice in spite of forcing students to attend mediocre and failing schools, to unionize charter schools despite many of them achieving spectacular results, to reject the common sense, bipartisan reforms proposed in the Vergaracase, and to inculcate students with Leftist political ideology, at the same time as their financial demands leave the district teetering on the brink of insolvency?

By all recent indications, yes.

L.A. wants to charge drivers by the mile

traffic-los-angelesFor years, Southern California lawmakers have tried to steer clear of decisions that make driving more expensive or miserable, afraid of angering one of their largest groups of constituents.

But now, transportation officials say, congestion has grown so bad in Los Angeles County that politicians have no choice but to contemplate charging motorists more to drive — a strategy that has stirred controversy but helped cities in other parts of the world tame their own traffic.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is pushing to study how what’s commonly referred to as congestion pricing could work in L.A., including converting carpool lanes to toll lanes, taxing drivers based on the number of miles they travel, or charging a fee to enter certain neighborhoods and business districts.

Imposing more tolls would offer a smoother drive for those who choose to pay. Getting more drivers off the road could free up space to speed up bus service, while the billions of dollars in revenue could fund a vast expansion of the transit network, Metro said. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times