California regulators permit Uber and Lyft to offer carpooling services

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

State regulators on Thursday granted companies such as Uber and Lyft permission to offer carpooling, sanctioning a service that has allowed fast-growing San Francisco companies to offer lower-cost rides.

After weeks of delays, the California Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 on Thursday to approve commercial carpooling. Commissioner Mike Florio cast the sole vote opposing the motion because he wasn’t convinced that the decision was legal.

“If I were in the Legislature, I’d vote for this, but I’m not,” Florio said during the PUC meeting in San Francisco. “I think what the Legislature has said is clear: An individual fare is an individual fare, and we cannot go with this approach.”

Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill a year ago to change a 50-year-old Californian law that …

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Why The Middle Class Can’t Afford A House

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451The rising cost of housing is one of the greatest burdens on the American middle class. So why hasn’t it become a key issue in the presidential primaries?

There’s little argument that inequality, and the depressed prospects for the middle class, will be a dominant issue this year’s election. Yet the most powerful force shaping this reality—the rising cost of housing—has barely emerged as political issue.

As demonstrated in a recent report (PDF) from Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy, housing now takes the largest share of family costs, while expenditures on food, apparel, and transportation have dropped or stayed about the same. In 2015, the rise in housing costs essentially swallowed savings gains made elsewhere, notably, savings on the cost of energy. The real estate consultancy Zillow predicts housing inflation will only worsen this year.

Driven in part by potential buyers being forced into the apartment market, rents have risen to a point that they now compose the largest share of income in modern U.S. history. Since 1990, renters’ income has been stagnant, while inflation-adjusted rents have soared 14.7 percent. Given the large shortfall in housing production—down not only since the 2007 recession but also by almost a quarter between 2011 and 2015—the trend toward ever higher prices and greater levels of unaffordability seems all but inevitable.

The connection between growing inequality and rising property prices is fairly direct. Thomas Piketty, the French economist, recently described the extent to which inequality in 20 nations has ramped up in recent decades, erasing the hard-earned progress of previous years in the earlier part of the 20th century. After examining Piketty’s groundbreaking research, Matthew Rognlie of MIT concluded (PDF) that much of the observed inequality is from redistribution of housing wealth away from the middle class.

Rognlie concluded that much of this was due to land regulation, and suggested the need to expand the housing supply and reexamine the land-use regulation that he associates with the loss of middle-class wealth. Yet in much of the country, housing has become so expensive as to cap upward mobility, forcing many people to give up on buying a house and driving many—particularly young families—to leave high-priced coastal regions for less expensive, usually less regulated markets in the country’s interior.

The Rise of the Exclusionary Region

The regions with the deepest declines in housing affordability, notes William Fischel, an economist at Dartmouth College, tend to employ stringent land-use regulations, a notion recently seconded by Jason Furman, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. In 1970, for example, housing costs adjusted for income were similar in coastal California and the rest of the country. Today house prices in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles are three or more times higher, when adjusted for income, than most other metropolitan areas. For most new buyers, such areas are becoming what Fischel calls “exclusionary regions” for all but the most well-heeled new buyers.

The biggest impact from regulation has been to diminish the supply of housing, particularly single-family homes. In a recent examination of permits across the nation from 2011 to 2014 for Forbes, we found that California regions lag well behind the national average in terms of new housing production, both multi-family and single family. Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, areas with less draconian regulations, have issued three times as many permits per capita last year. Overall California’s rate of new permits is 2.2 per 1000 while across the Lone Star state the rate was nearly three times higher.

In the “exclusionary regions” along both coasts, high land prices have made it all but impossible to build much of anything except luxury units. In Manhattan this has taken the form of high-rise towers that have been gobbled by the rich, including many foreigners, but this new construction has done little to make New York affordable for most residents. Between 2010 and 2015, Gotham rents increased 50 percent, while incomes for renters between ages 25 and 44 grew by just 8 percent.

Making of Two Americas

Real estate inflation is redefining American politics and could eventually transform the nature of our society. In the dense, increasingly “kiddie-free zones” around our Central Business Districts (CBDs), according to 2011 Census figures, children between ages 5 and 14 constituted about 7 percent of the population, less than half the level seen in newer suburbs and exurbs. The common habitués of these high-cost, high-density urban areas—singles and childless couples—have emerged, according to Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, as key elements of the progressive coalition.

The bluer the city, generally, the fewer the children. For example, the highest percentage of U.S. women over age 40 without children—a remarkable 70 percent—can be found in Washington, D.C. In Manhattan, singles make up half of all households. In some central neighborhoods of major metropolitan areas such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, less than 10 percent of the population is made up of children under 18.Perhaps the ultimate primary example of the new child-free city is San Francisco, home now to 80,000 more dogs than children, and where the percentage of children has dropped 40 percent since 1970.

In contrast, familial America clusters largely in newer suburbs and exurbs, and increasingly in the lower-cost cities in the South, the Intermountain West, and especially in Texas. Overall—and contrary to the bold predictions of many urbanists—suburban areas are once again, after a brief slowdown, growing faster than the urban cores.

America remains a suburban nation. Overall, 44 million Americans live in the core cities of America’s 51 major metropolitan areas, while nearly 122 million Americans live in the suburbs. And this does not include the more than half of the core city population that live in districts, particularly in the Sunbelt, that are functionally suburban or exurban, with low density and high automobile use.

The Geography of Inequality

Inequality may be a big issue among urban pundits, but, ironically, inequality is consistently more pronounced in larger, denser cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Manhattan, the densest and most influential urban environment in North America, exhibits the most profound level of inequality and the most bifurcated class structure in the U.S. If it were a country, New York City overall would have the 15th-highest inequality level of 134 countries, according to James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute, landing between Chile and Honduras.

In our core cities in particular, we are seeing something reminiscent of the Victorian era, when a huge proportion of workers labored in the servile class. Social historian Pamela Cox has explained that in 1901 one in four people, mostly women, were domestic servants. But is this—the world portrayed in shows such as Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs—the social norm we wish most to promote?

In contrast, research by the University of Washington’s Richard Morrill shows that suburban areas tend to have “generally less inequality” than the denser areas. For example, in California, Riverside-San Bernardino is far less unequal than Los Angeles, and Sacramento less so than San Francisco. Within the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million in population, notes demographer Wendell Cox, suburban areas were less unequal (measured by the Gini coefficient) than the core cities in 46 cases. And overall the poverty rate for cities is close to 20 percent, almost twice that of suburban areas.

The differential of housing cost accounts for much of this disparity. High housing prices tend to stunt upward mobility, particularly for minorities. One reason: The house remains the last great asset of the middle class. Homes represent only 9.4 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent, but 30 percent for those in the upper 20 percent and, for the 60 percent of the population in the middle, roughly 60 percent. The decline in property ownership threatens to turn much of the middle class into a class of rental serfs, effectively wiping out the social gains of the past half-century.

The Geographic Shift

High housing prices are also rapidly remaking America’s regional geography. Even areas with strong economies but ultra-high prices are not attracting new domestic migrants. One reason is soaring rents: According to Zillow, for workers between 22 and 34, rent costs claim upwards of 45 percent of income in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami compared to less than 30 percent of income in cities like Dallas and Houston. The costs of purchasing a house are even more lopsided: In Los Angeles and the Bay Area, a monthly mortgage takes, on average, close to 40 percent of income, compared to 15 percent nationally.

This is leading to a renewed shift even among educated millennials to such lower-cost regions as Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and even Cleveland. As millennials enter their 30s and seek to buy houses, these changes are likely to accelerate.

Millennials may be staying in the city longer than previous generations, but their long-term aspirations remain fixed on buying a single-family house. This trend will accelerate in the next few years, suggests economist Jed Kolko, as the peak of the millennial population turns 30. Faced with a huge student debt load, a weaker job market, and often high housing prices, millennials face tougher challenges than some previous generations, but retain remarkably similar aspirations.

Bringing Back Levittown

Clearly America needs a new approach to housing. Democrats may enjoy their strongest base in the cities, but many of their young constituents likely will end up in the suburbs, or will continue to move to smaller, less reflexively progressive cities. Finding ways to make suburbs more sustainable, both environmentally and for families, will have more long-term appeal than trying to eliminate their preferred way of life.

Some attempts to force developers to build low-income units have, if anything, worsened the situation by discouraging new production while actually boosting prices for the vast majority. In some cases, as in New York City, the forced construction of low-income units in otherwise market-rate buildings has resulted in such absurdities as the so-called “poor door,” through which low-income residents, who are denied most of the amenities offered to wealthier residents, must enter.

Republicans too may need to change their tune. As suburbs become more multi-cultural, and dominated by millennials, the GOP will have to embrace some of the environmental and social priorities of the new residents. They also have to realize that middle-class homeowners do not always share the same interests as Wall Street investors. Under the current regulatory regime, slavish adherence to the ambitions of big investors could undermine the dispersed ownership culture, replacing it with one primarily rental-based, even in single-family homes. Essentially this could transform large areas, including suburbs, into far less socially stable areas, particularly for families.

One potential solution would be to draw on the successful policies enacted after World War II. At that time, the nation suffered a severe housing crisis as servicemen returned from the war. The solution combined governmental activism—through such things as the GI Bill and mortgage interest deductions—with less regulatory control over development. The result was a massive expansion of the country’s housing stock, and a dramatic increase in the level of homeownership.

Bringing back the Levittown approach would require jettisoning ideological baggage that now accompanies the contemporary discussion about housing. Libertarians tend to favor loosened regulations—something welcome indeed—but seem to have less than passionate interest in addressing the housing interests of working- and middle-class Americans. As we saw in the late ’40s, at least some government support for affordable housing is critical to expanding ownership.

But increasingly the worst influence on housing stems from the proclivities of contemporary progressivism. Whereas earlier Democratic presidents, from Roosevelt and Truman to Johnson and Clinton, strongly supported suburban single-family growth, contemporary progressives display an almost cultish bias toward the very dense, urban environment. The fact that perhaps at most 10 to 20 percent of Americans prefer this option almost guarantees that this approach would be unacceptable to the vast majority.

How we deal with the housing crisis will shape our future, and will largely determine what kind of nation we will become. Although some developers outside the coastal areas are trying to revive smaller “starter homes,” at least in more reasonably priced markets, this may prove all but impossible to accomplish in “exclusionary regions” unless there is serious change.

Following our current path, we can expect our society—particularly in deep blue states—to move ever more toward a kind of feudalism where only a few own property while everyone else devolves into rent serfs. The middle class will have little chance to acquire any assets for their retirement and increasingly few will choose to have children. Imagine, then, a high-tech Middle Ages with vast chasms between the upper classes and the poor, with growing dependence—even among what once would have been middle-class households—on handouts to pay rent. Imagine too, over time, Japanese-style depopulation and an ever more rapidly aging society.

Yet none of this is necessary. This is not a small country with limited land and meager prospects. A bold new approach to housing, including the reform of out of control regulations, could restore the fading American dream for tens of millions of families. It would provide the basis for a greater spread of assets and perhaps a less divided — and less angry — country. Rather than waste their time on symbolic issues or serving their financial overlords, candidates in both parties need to address policies that are now undermining the very basis of middle-class democracy.

This piece originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

Cross-posted at New Geography.

DWP Demands Could Uproot Two Plant Nurseries

PlantWhy is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power forcing two San Fernando Valley nurseries out of business?

Green House Nurseries in Arleta and Live Art Plantscapes in Northridge are small, owner-operated businesses. They have employees. They pay taxes. They comply with all applicable regulations. And like many nurseries in Southern California, they’re located on utility-owned land that is directly underneath power transmission lines.

These wholesale nurseries supply indoor plants to hotels, retail stores, office buildings and commercial designers. Some of the lush, tropical plants that decorate the Wynn and Encore hotels in Las Vegas were grown in Arleta. Some of the spectacular red bromeliads that will be in the Bellagio’s Chinese New Year display are growing right now in Northridge.

Green House Nurseries was a new business venture when owners Mark Whitten and Paul Needleman began renting land from LADWP in 1998. Whitten, a geologist, and Needleman, a horticulturist, built two climate-controlled greenhouse structures with the full approval of LADWP. In 2003, they received approval to build a third greenhouse on the property. Small-business loans helped to cover the cost of construction, which ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“These are engineered structures that will withstand 100-mph winds and earthquakes,” Whitten said, pointing to a thick steel support post sunk deep into the ground. “They were built to LADWP’s specifications.”

But about a year ago, LADWP’s real estate department sent Needleman and Whitten a letter stating that the 15-foot-high greenhouses would have to be dismantled and replaced with smaller structures no taller than 10 feet.

That would put Green House Nurseries out of business. The heating and cooling equipment in their greenhouses can’t be cut up and segmented into smaller modules.

Live Art Plantscapes received a similar letter and faces the same grim situation. Owner Larry Tabeling has built a business that depends on the climate-controlled greenhouses approved by LADWP 11 years ago.

Too bad, says LADWP.

But why?

They won’t say.

There’s no question that the city-owned utility has the legal right to control the use of the land under its transmission lines and to withdraw permission for any structures or activities. But neighbors are concerned about the kind of structures and activities that could return to the sites if the nurseries are kicked out.

The Arleta Neighborhood Council pleaded with City Councilwoman Nury Martinez in September to help keep Green House Nurseries under the power lines. “We do not want to see them go,” wrote council president John Hernandez. “We fear that if they do go, the property will revert to an empty lot attracting illegal dumping, drug traffic, homeless, etc.”

Like Live Art Plantscapes, Green House Nurseries is located in a residential neighborhood, surrounded by quiet streets of single-family homes. “They are the perfect neighbor,” Hernandez wrote, “This is the kind of business that any city would be happy to have, and we do not want to lose them.”

Loyce Lacson, who heads an Arleta neighborhood watch group, wrote to Martinez asking for her help to get Green House Nurseries “grandfathered” for another five-year extension of their license. “Previous to Green House locating to Arleta, DWP was not maintaining the property,” Lacson wrote. And crime was a problem. A cluster of candles and flowers still marks the site of a shooting before the nursery moved in.

The Arleta Neighborhood Council made inquiries to see if other utilities were implementing new height limits for greenhouses. They were not. “We found that nurseries under power lines in other parts of Los Angeles and Orange Counties with similar structures have not been asked to make any modifications to their structures,” John Hernandez wrote in his letter to Martinez.

Given the cost of land, these businesses are unlikely to reopen in Los Angeles if forced out of their current locations. The city will lose the tax revenue, the employees will lose their jobs, and the communities will lose a good neighbor.

But why? If the greenhouses met all applicable LADWP and building code requirements at the time they were approved, what has changed?

Before two small businesses in the San Fernando Valley are destroyed, someone at LADWP should answer that question.

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New Water-Saving Technique: Public Shaming

Shower head water droughtAfter a wave of new rules, regulations and crackdowns, many water-conserving Californians have evaded formal and informal punishment. With no end in sight, however, others have begun to face both forms of penalties.

The mood of the public and officials alike has tilted hard against outsized consumers. Although “water providers such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have refused to divulge the names of California’s top residential water users,” the Los Angeles Times reported, “the DWP is now considering changes to its water conservation ordinance that would impose ‘substantial’ fines for excessive use and make the names public.”

Pressed by “public outrage, and questioning by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz,” the Times noted, DWP would follow in the East Bay’s footsteps, where agency overusers recently confronted “an excessive-use penalty ordinance that allows it to fine and name water customers who consume more than four times the average household.”

From nagging to snitching

In the Bay Area, a culture of water shaming has developed from the ground up. In a report on “the domestic water police,” the New York Times recently identified “moms and dads, spouses and partners, children, even co-workers and neighbors” as among the residents “quick to wag a finger when they spot people squandering moisture, such as a faucet left running while they’re brushing their teeth, or using too much water to clean dinner plates in the sink. And showers? No lingering allowed.”

More nagging has gone hand in hand with more snitching. The Times reported that “state water agencies issued more than 70,000 warnings for overuse and more than 20,000 penalties” this June and July, with many issued when “someone’s neighbor ratted on them,” according to State Water Resources Control Board climate and conservation manager Max Gomberg.

Although those penalties landed on a relatively small group of die-hard squanderers, the state has now leveled substantial fines on whole cities that failed to meet conservation targets. “While most communities continue to hit mandated conservation targets, a few have consistently missed,” the Sacramento Bee noted. “All four were in Southern California: Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and Coachella Valley Water District. Each was fined $61,000.”

These sums could be only the beginning. “The penalties are based on the board’s authority to issue fines of $500 per day for violations of its emergency regulation,” according to the Press-Enterprise. “The board could also issue the providers a cease and desist order, which carries a fine up to $10,000 per day for non-compliance.”

A vicious circle

water meter 2The crackdown has come as agencies have hiked rates for users who do conserve. “Water providers in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of the state have recently told customers that rates will go up at least temporarily, as utilities struggle to pay for building and repairing pipes, buying water and other costs, even as customers cut back,” according to Reuters. Agencies have sometimes wound up a victim of their own success. “In Los Angeles, conservation led to a $111 million drop in revenues during the fiscal year that ended July 1, a period mostly before the mandatory cutbacks kicked into high gear, Department of Water and Power budget director Neil Guglielmo said Friday.”

But for now, regulators have tried to emphasize the positive. “Californians slashed their water use 26 percent in September, meeting Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of 25 percent for the fourth straight month,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported, citing recently released state data. Though encouraged by the numbers, water agencies have strained to strike a messaging balance between threats and warnings on the one hand and encouragement and pride on the other, hoping to give savers a sense of reward without subtly encouraging a return to laxity. Utilities, noted the Chronicle, remained dedicated to “trying to keep the conservation message front and center after four dry years, especially as residents may be tempted to become less diligent with forecasts calling for a wetter-than-average winter.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

SB406: Job Killer Threatens Us With More Litigation and Costs for Small Business

JobsA workplace is most successful when an employer will want to do what it takes to keep a worker happy and productive. This includes accommodating his or her “work-life balance,” within the constraints of operating the business.

But as usual, California has gone a different direction.

Workers here enjoy the most generous mandatory leave policies of anywhere in the nation.  The leave programs currently available include:

  • Family Medical and Parental Leave, applicable to employers of more than 50 workers, provides up to 12-weeks protected leave for employee’s or immediate family member’s medical condition or to bond with a newborn.
  • Pregnancy Disability Leave, applicable to employers of more than five workers, provides up to 16 weeks protected leave (in addition to the 12 weeks, above).
  • School Activities Leave, applicable to employers of more than 25 workers, provides up to 40 hours annually to attend school-related activities of a child.
  • Kin Care, applicable to all employers, allows employees to use up to half of paid time off for family members’ illnesses.
  • Paid Sick Leave, applicable to all employers, provides at least three sick days a year for even part-time employees and includes illnesses to their family members.

Only seven states, including California, have their own separate family leave laws. Only three states, including California, have a paid sick leave mandate. Only nine states, including California, have protected school/parental leave.

California is the only state with all of these protected or mandatory leave laws.

Indeed, California has mandated their notion of what constitutes appropriate employer behavior at every turn.

Or … almost every turn.

For wherever there’s a blank spot on the missing-mandate map, the California Legislature is there to fill it.

Last year, the Legislature mandated paid sick leave on every business in the state. This year the Legislature is considering a bill to apply the protected family and medical leave mandate to small businesses with just 25 workers, and expand the definition of family to include grandkids and grandparents, siblings and in-laws.

The upshot would be to require employers, including pretty small businesses, to provide up to 12 weeks of leave and, in some cases for larger businesses, up to 24 weeks (because the extended application of the leave is inconsistent with federal law). An employer must agree to the leave no matter the circumstances of the business. Even if other employees are also on extended leave, a worker’s request cannot be turned down.

These leave programs, like other employee benefits, can have salutary effects on the worker and the workplace. Permitting an employee to stabilize his or her family’s health can be vital for peace of mind and workplace productivity. However providing a mandatory entitlement to such extensive leave places too much burden on employers, a likely reason most other states have drawn the line at 12 weeks for larger employers.

And if a costly mandate on employers isn’t enough, the proposal provides another opportunity for trial lawyers to hold up complying businesses for damages and attorneys fees.

resident of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

FDA Regulations Could Wipe Out 99 Percent Of E-Cigarette Industry

e-cigaretteThe e-cigarette industry could be all but wiped out thanks to regulations coming down the pipeline from the Food and Drug Administration.

Most damaging of all, e-cigarette makers will have to retroactively submit marketing applications for all their products, with the costs running into the millions.

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes could also be banned from advertising the reduced risk from substituting smoking for vaping unless they can convince the FDA otherwise.

In 2009, e-cigarettes came under the purview of the FDA and may face many of the restrictions placed on the tobacco industry, such as issuing health warnings and stopping sales to minors.

The e-cig industry is still relatively young, with the first e-cigarette invented in China in 2007. Despite there being close to 20 million Americans regularly using e-cigarettes, the FDA’s regulations could bankrupt the vast majority of producers.

Speaking to The Hill, Jan Verleur, co-founder and CEO of VMR Products, said as much as 99 percent of the industry could be wiped out. “This makes it so any product released after the grandfather date would require premarket approval,” said Verleur.

He added that ”the process could cost us half a million to million dollars,” per individual product. With more than 500 e-cigarette products, VMR Products would have to pay five times the company’s revenue.

His comments echo those of the president of the American Vaping Association Greg Conley who told the L.A. Times Monday that 99 percent of the small businesses in the industry could close their doors.

There is as of yet no fixed date for when the rules come into force. The FDA has said it will give companies two years to submit their applications and they will be able to sell the products under review during that time.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

CA Congressmen Urge Federal Reform of Marijuana Laws

marijuanaThe federal government’s understanding of its own marijuana regulations are willfully “tortuous” and “an obvious stretch,” warned a bipartisan duo of California Congressmen in a sternly-worded letter to the Department of Justice.

An abuse of power

In the letter, obtained by the Huffington Post, Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., requested that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz open an internal investigation into the department’s continued prosecutions of marijuana dispensaries, against what they said was the clear letter and intent of the law.

In its Appropriations Act for 2015, Congress had passed a provision introduced by Rohrabacher and Farr designed and intended to ward off federal interference with marijuana-related businesses operating legally under state law.

“We, the authors of the language, and our many colleagues — including those who opposed the amendment — laid on the record repeatedly that the intent and the language of the provision was to stop DOJ from interacting with anyone legitimately doing business in medical marijuana in accordance with state law,” wrote the Congressmen.

Signed into law by president Obama, the amendment received a second vote of approval from Representatives this summer. “As the marijuana provision is part of an annual funding bill that will expire,” noted the Huffington Post, “the lawmakers introduced an identical version again in June, which was reauthorized by the House of Representatives.”

In April, Farr and Rohrabacher had also demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder “stop prosecution of state-authorized medical marijuana dispensaries” in observance of the same provision, as the Orange County Register reported.

Federal legalese

But the Department of Justice chose to interpret the law in the most hostile manner possible, the lawmakers suggested, citing an April statement by DOJ spokesman Patrick Rodenbush. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Rodenbush said Rohrabacher-Farr, as the appropriations amendment was known, didn’t apply to prosecutions directed at persons or groups:

Rather, he said, it stops the department from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws,” contrary to some claims from people being prosecuted that the amendment blocks such prosecutions.

As the Times then observed, this “narrow interpretation of the law” had particularly strong implications in the San Francisco Bay Area, “where the Justice Department has initiated forfeiture proceedings against three medical marijuana dispensaries it considers to be in violation of federal law.”

Outgoing U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag had become notorious among pro-pot advocates and businesspeople, joining “the three other regional U.S. attorneys in California in cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries perceived to be large-scale commercial enterprises,” as Pleasanton Weekly recounted. One dispensary facing the brunt of Haag’s crusade, Harborside Health Center, met the news of her departure with what executive director Steve DeAngelo called “great relief and great satisfaction.”

“In Ms. Haag’s parting statement she said she felt her office had ‘accomplished most of our goals’ during her tenure,” DeAngelo said in a statement. “The one goal she most assuredly has not accomplished is closing down Harborside Health Center. We hope her successor will have a more finely tuned understanding of compassion and justice than Ms. Haag has displayed, and allow Harborside to focus on serving our patients instead of battling a court case that should never have been started.”

Conflicting actions

Although the Department of Justice could opt to ignore the mismatch between its conduct and the law, the law itself would hold them to account for doing so. At stake is the applicability of the Anti-Deficiency Act, as Farr and Rohrabacher argued; as Reason indicated, that law “makes it a crime to use federal money for purposes that are not approved by Congress.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

VIDEO: James Lacy — Why CA Gas Prices Remain Sky-High

James Lacy, author of Taxifornia, explains to Fox Business’ Stuart Varney how CA’s over-the-top environmental regulations cause the state’s gas prices to soar above the rest of the nation.

 

Proposed bobcat trapping ban feeds debate over government’s role

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

The California Fish and Game Commission will consider a statewide ban on bobcat trapping this week, a proposal that has reignited debate over wildlife protections and the power of regulatory agencies.

In 2013, the state Legislature tasked the commission with developing buffer zones around national parks, state parks and other wildlife areas in California where bobcat trapping would be prohibited. That plan is up for consideration at a meeting on Wednesday.

But language in Assembly Bill 1213 allowing the commission to “impose additional requirements, restrictions, or prohibitions related to the taking of bobcats” has resulted in a second option that would expand the ban across California, with an exception for “depredation trapping” to protect against animals destroying property. Hunting would be unaffected.

California’s Uber Hunt

uberThe way things are going, Uber may soon face a court challenge in California over its failure to use an umlaut. The popular ridesharing startup has already been hit by an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the company pay $7.3 million in damages and suspend operation in the state. At issue: Uber’s alleged failure to provide the California Public Utilities Commission with internal data about how many customers with service animals or wheelchairs Uber drivers serve, along with time, location and fare data.

This decision came just a month after the California Labor Commission redefined the app-based ride-hailing service’s business model. In that case, San Francisco Uber driver Barbara Ann Berwick demanded that the company reimburse $4,000 worth of expenses. The commission ruled that Berwick, a transsexual who previously operated a phone sex business — Linda’s Lip Service — was a full-time-equivalent employee during four months of sporadic driving for Uber. (Berwick, now a financial consultant, expressed disappointment with the money an Uber driver makes.) The decision directly threatens Uber’s business model, in which drivers sign up as independent contractors with a minimum of the fuss and paperwork associated with modern hiring, choose their own hours, and are clearly remunerated on a piecework basis.

Last week, a U.S. district judge in San Francisco allowed a group of cab companies to proceed with a false-advertising lawsuit against Uber. The same judge also greenlit a suit against Uber claiming that it spammed potential drivers with recruitment text messages. That suit was dismissed when electronic records showed that one of the plaintiffs had begun pursuing the company herself.

Notably, complaints about Uber typically aren’t coming from customers, and even among the firm’s drivers, crusades like Berwick’s are rare. In fact, what’s striking about the various campaigns against ride-sharing is their reliance on paperwork and credentialing instead of outcomes. The CPUC, for example, doesn’t assert that Uber is harming actual handicapped people, only that the company has failed to produce paperwork that proves the absence of harm. Similarly, the cab companies’ speech-related lawsuit — which focuses on safety claims made in Uber ads — does not claim that traditional taxis are safer than Uber rides. The plaintiffs assert instead that cab drivers are subjected to more paperwork than Uber drivers.

The anti-Uber campaign’s reluctance to assess outcomes is understandable, given the public’s strong revealed preference for the company. Interest groups can complain, but drivers and customers continue to vote for Uber with their time and money. In a free country or a sane state, a clear market decision in favor of a business would be the end of the discussion. But Uber is increasingly under pressure to furnish evidence that its model works in theory as well as in practice.

The company recently commissioned Los Angeles-based BOTEC Analysis to measure service in low-income neighborhoods — a market in which anecdotal evidence already suggests that Uber’s influence has been positive. BOTEC compared UberX with taxi services in Van Nuys as well as Central and East Los Angeles. The median wait time for an UberX ride in L.A. neighborhoods was five minutes and 52 seconds; for a taxi ride, it was 14 minutes and 33 seconds. The maximum recorded wait time for UberX was 20 minutes; for a cab, 57 minutes. Despite Uber’s widely maligned practice of “surge pricing” — a concession to the law of supply and demand that is for some reason considered outrageous — UberX also soundly beat traditional cabs on price, with a median cost per ride of $6.28, versus $15 for taxis. Surge pricing didn’t even produce a higher maximum price. UberX’s max cost per ride was $11.68, against $22 for cabs.

BOTEC is led by UCLA public policy professor Mark Kleiman, a thoroughly un-libertarian, good-government figure. Nevertheless, Uber opponents have dinged the study as free-market propaganda from the Uber central command. SHOULD YOU TRUST UBER’S BIG NEW UBER VS. CABS STUDY? New York asks. (Answer: a definite maybe.) Meantime, L.A. Weekly wonders, “Is Uber really being straight-up about its commitment to serve folks other than young, white professionals and party people?” But defenders of the taxi status quo face an even bigger hurdle: Uber’s very existence is an advertisement for the free market. It’s an obviously less-regulated initiative that has produced measurable, positive outcomes across a wide spectrum. No wonder people hate it so much.