California’s High-Speed Rail Project Still Under Construction As Delays And Costs Pile Up

California’s bullet train has become a nearly forgotten source of trouble, eclipsed in the public eye by Covid-19, a gubernatorial recall, and out-migration from the Golden State. But it’s still out there, sucking up time and money, and as empty as it ever was.

The California High Speed Rail, its formal name, was a hobby-ego project for former governor Jerry Brown that was supposed to move passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco at 220 mph by 2020. Instead, the project is moving at the speed of the museum piece it sometimes appears destined to be. Not a single train has run, with train testing still six to seven years away, amid seemingly never-ending delays.

The news regarding the project is, as usual, dismal. As the Los Angeles Times reported in January, Ghassan Ariqat, vice president of operations at bullet-train contractor Tutor Perini, sent a “scorching” letter to California officials criticizing persistent construction delays, “contradicting state claims that the line’s construction pace is on target,” and warning that the project could miss “a key 2022 federal deadline.” “It is beyond comprehension that as of this day, more than two thousand and six hundred calendar days after [official approval to start construction], the authority has not obtained all of the right of way,” Ariqat wrote. Because of the sluggish construction pace, he added, his company “will have to lay off a significant number of its field workers in the very near future” after already letting 73 walk.

Ariqat has good reason to be agitated. If there’s been a more poorly run public works project in California history, nobody can remember it. Two years ago, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan think tank, called California’s high-speed rail an outright “failure” that has “suffered from at least seven identifiable ‘worst practices,’” causing it “to be indefinitely delayed.”

Confidence in the original timeline was once high, but setbacks have mounted. One high-speed rail blogger wondered in 2009 if the state itself should make a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, since California was “on track” for “fast, high-capacity public transportation” that would allow events and venues easily to be “spread out over a much wider area.” Twelve years later, as the Los Angeles Times has noted, the project “may run out of money” before the “171-mile starter system between Bakersfield and Merced” can be completed. And this month, rising costs forced the High Speed Rail Authority to reduce the planned pair of tracks between Bakersfield and Merced to a single track, saving $1.1 billion but likely coming at the expense of train speeds.

The project, which has gone through at least a half-dozen business plans, is the definition of a money pit. When voters approved it via 2008’s Proposition 1A, they were told it would cost $33 billion. The Los Angeles Times editorialized that the cost was “not too much to wager on a visionary leap that would cement California’s place as the nation’s most forward-thinking state.” Several other newspapers favored the train, but a few came out against it, with the Orange County Register warning that Prop 1A was “a fast track to bankruptcy” and a “boondoggle.”

The original projection has proved far too optimistic. Cost estimates have bounced around since 2008, landing at various times at $64 billion, $77 billion, $98 billion, and $117 billion before settling, for now, at $100 billion for a scaled-back version that links Los Angeles and San Francisco. That’s $20 billion more than the price tag of a year ago when Governor Gavin Newsom, in one of the political understatements of the year, said that “the current project, as planned, would cost too much and take too long.”

Yet even Newsom’s revised plan has hit snags. At roughly the same time that the governor acknowledged the obvious, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reviewed the 2020 business plan, finding that its near- and long-term schedules “appear ambitious” and identifying “some near- and long-term funding challenges confronting the project.” The train’s ridership is now predicted to be so light that operating subsidies will be needed “to cover its day-to-day financial losses.” As the LAO pointed out, the train’s need for subsidies “does not appear to be consistent with the spirit of” Proposition 1A. Initially, passengers, “rather than the general public,” were expected to “pay for the full cost of its ongoing operations and maintenance.”

Like so much else about the California bullet train, that, too, has changed.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

Controversial Voter Outreach Sweetheart Deal

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

No one who is younger than 40 will remember the late legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey.  Every afternoon, he would begin his daily radio program by promising to tell us “the rest of the story.”

Thanks to a provision slipped into a budget trailer bill last week, Californians now know “the rest of the story” on a questionable voter outreach contract awarded last year during the “fog” of the Covid-19 crisis.

With the 2020 presidential campaign taking place during a global pandemic, there was much discussion over adapting longstanding voting practices to safeguard the public health while also ensuring the people’s voices were heard in an important election.

California and other states shifted much of last year’s voting process from a traditional, in person voting at polling places to absentee ballots.  First by executive order, and later by legislative action when the legality of the Governor’s executive powers was challenged in court, California moved to send an unsolicited absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state in 2020.

It is common for the California Secretary of State’s office to conduct large-scale voter outreach campaigns to encourage as many Californians to vote as possible.  What is not common is that the voter outreach contractor would also be a consultant for the Democratic presidential ticket.

“Under the contract, SKD Knickerbocker, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm, will help run the ‘Vote Safe California’ campaign, which will urge people to vote during the pandemic.,” wrote the Associated Press in August when the contract was awarded.

“Anita Dunn, the firm’s managing director, is a senior strategist for Biden’s presidential campaign. The firm’s work for Biden is highlighted on its website, with a headline saying the company is ‘proud to be a part of Team Biden,’” the AP also noted.

Then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla, now a U.S. Senator, says he personally played no role in awarding SKD Knickerbocker the contract.

Then things got interesting. State Controller Betty Yee refused to pay the $35 million bill. According to CalMatters, the dispute was “over whether Padilla’s office had the budgetary authority to pay for a $35 million contract.”

“The secretary of state’s office maintained that it did have budgetary authority. The controller’s office, which approves payments, maintained that it did not,” Calmatters noted.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association also filed a lawsuit over the contract, noting in a press release that, “the contract is unsupported by any line item in the state budget.”

Since then, the firm’s invoices to the state for its Vote Safe California television, radio, and social media campaigns have gone unpaid.

Between November and February, there’s been a lot of huffing and puffing between the Newsom administration, the Secretary of State’s office, and the Controller’s office over paying the bill.

Now, the Legislature is poised to weigh in on behalf of paying the contract.  According to the Sacramento Bee, “an amendment to a state budget bill introduced by Democrats on Wednesday would allow for the state to pay for the voter outreach by using money earmarked to help counties conduct last year’s election.”  Through a tweak of legislative language and a couple of fund shifts, Yee would seemingly now have the authority to pay the bill once the new legislation is signed into law.

Republican Senators Pat Bates and Jim Nielsen cried foul over the move.

“Changing state law retroactively to pay for a sweetheart deal with a partisan political firm is an abuse of power,” they said in a statement.  “Taxpayers should not have to pay for the shady deal that was executed by the previous Secretary of State.”

The whole affair makes clear one thing – imagine how much time, money, and effort could have been saved had the Secretary of State’s office awarded this contract in an honest, transparent manner and to a non-partisan firm as it should have done in the first place.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and director of PRI’s Sacramento office.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Gov. Newsom’s Cruel, Indefinite Lockdown of Californians 340 Days Later

The statewide confusion and anger over California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus lockdown vs. re-opening orders has only heightened with every day this drags on.

It was March 4, 2020 when we were told to shelter in place for two weeks to flatten the curve… that was more than 340 days ago.

“Compliance is not punitive,” Gov. Newsom said in November, after being exposed for violating his own lockdown restrictions, imposed on the 40 million California residents. It was revealed that Gov. Newsom and his wife attended a large birthday dinner party in Napa Valley with several lobbyists at The French Laundry in Yountville, California Globe reported.

As he praised California’s 40 million residents “for the good work you have done,” he rewarded the state with more restrictions, a curfew and ordered businesses closed again ahead of the holidays.

One of the lobbyists at The French Laundry dinner coincidentally orchestrated exemptions from the governor’s COVID lockdown restrictions for the entertainment industry, while restaurants remained under the most severe restrictions.

This coincided with millions of dollars in behest contributions from big business to Newsom’s personal initiatives. There was an “overlap of at least a half-dozen companies that made substantial contributions to Newsom and received no-bid contracts from the state, influential appointments, or other opportunities related to the state’s pandemic response,” according to a CapRadio report. This prompted Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) to call for a legislative investigation into Governor Gavin Newsom’s no-bid contracts awarded during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.

The year-long lockdown is also shakedown.

CPR found:

an “overlap of at least a half-dozen companies that made substantial contributions to Newsom and received no-bid contracts from the state, influential appointments, or other opportunities related to the state’s pandemic response.”

A list of major Newsom donors who have received no-bid contracts or other opportunities during the pandemic: Blue Shield of California – Contributed over $300,000 since 2018, received a $15 million no-bid contract; UnitedHealth – Contributed over $200,000 since 2018, subsidiary received multiple no-bid contracts totaling over $400 million; Bloom Energy – Contributed nearly $100,000 since 2018, received a $2 million no-bid contract; BYD – Contributed $40,000, received a no-bid contract totaling over $1 billion; FivePoint – Contributed over $50,000, CEO received appointment to task force; Pacific6 – Contributed nearly $50,000, state approved reopening of a hospital they operate.

When COVID hit California, Newsom told the state that within eight weeks, 25 million Californians – more than half of the state’s population – would become ‘infected” with the virus. He was quickly corrected by prominent physicians who said there was no science or data available at the time to make such a hyperbolic statement.

Newsom was also simultaneously conducting daily news conferences outside of the Capitol, away from the press and public, and signing executive orders making new laws under his new found emergency powers.

By April 2020, Newsom’s Department of Public Health suspended nursing home relegations allowing COVID-19 patients to be housed in nursing homes, but few in the media covered this, as the Globe did. In June, COVID patients were still being sent to skilled nursing facilities, the Globe reported. We wanted to know why the California Department of Public Health was directing skilled nursing facilities to take in COVID-19 patients, and at what cost and why with plenty of hospital beds throughout the state available? Our request to the CDPH received a response:  CDPH acknowledges that the elderly patients already in skilled nursing facilities are “California’s most vulnerable,” but they never answered why would they send any COVID-19 patients to facilities with the most frail and vulnerable patients. To this day, the question remains unanswered.

Since the Globe reported this, hospital data no longer includes nursing home statistics.

Schools originally remained open, until the governor caved to the closure demands of the California Teachers Association labor union, sent students home for “distance learning” on computers via Zoom calls, despite the virus showing no scientific evidence of targeting young people.

School sports, shut down. School clubs, shut down. School bands, shut down. School graduations, shut down. School testing, shut down.

Then came the “essential” jobs and business orders: all government employees were deemed “essential,” and continued working remotely.

Home Depot, Walmart, COSTCO, and other big box stores were deemed “essential” by the governor.

Small businesses, small restaurants, hair and nail salons and barber shops, boutiques and clothing shops, all were shut down and deemed “non-essential…” except to the owners and employees of these businesses.

Remember the near hysteria about the lack of ICU beds in the state? Strangely, Newsom is silent now about ICU beds, yet he continues to conflate positive COVID tests as “infections” and “cases.”

All of this is because this isn’t about a health crisis, otherwise every state in the country would be in lockdown (or not); this is about controlling the citizens, and our rights to move about freely as we did prior to the COVID crisis.

Gov. Newsom unconstitutionally restricted the right to worship in churches. He closed public schools while his children attended private school in person. He ordered hospitals, nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities locked down, and restricted family from visiting. He even ordered no travel.

And the media greatly assisted him in this endeavor.

Yet the number of positive tests, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID are dropping daily. But the state has drastically limited access to actual data.

California has conducted 47,043,348 COVID tests. Of those, 3,441,946 tested positive, leaving 43,601, 402 testing negative. The data available shows 36,177 or 74% of the 49,105 COVID deaths are over the age of 65.

However, California schools are still closed, as are most school sports. While some schools and teams are starting up again, many schools are choosing to keep sports closed down.

The governor’s sports guidelines are just bizarre:

Inter-team competitions (i.e., between two teams) resumed in California beginning January 25, 2021.The guidelines outlined in this document shall take effect on February 26, 2021.

The status of return-to-competition is subject to change at any time given the level of COVID-19 transmission in California.

Sports Risk Profiles

In general, the more people from outside their household with whom a person interacts, the closer the physical interaction is, the greater the physical exertion is, and the longer the interaction lasts, the higher the risk that a person with COVID-19 infection may spread it to others.

These are the governor’s General Sports Requirements:

  • Face coverings to be worn when not participating in the activity (e.g., on the sidelines).
  • Face coverings to be worn by coaches, support staff and observers at all times, and in compliance with the CDPH Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings.
  • Observers maintain at least 6 feet from non-household members.
  • No sharing of drink bottles and other personal items and equipment.
  • Mixing with other households prior to and post any practice or competition must strictly adhere to current gathering guidance.
  • Limit indoor sports activities (practice, conditioning) to comply with capacity limits (which shall include all athletes, coaches, and observers) indicated in current CDPH Gym & Fitness Center Guidance Capacity.
  • Associated indoor activities for the team (e.g., dinners, film study) are prohibited if engaged in competition given evidence that transmission is more likely to occur in these indoor higher risk settings.
  • Teams must not participate in out-of-state games and tournaments; several multistate outbreaks have been reported around the nation, including California residents.

Shouldn’t the general requirements be the responsibility of the coaches and parents?

These absurd guidelines demonstrate this is purely about Gov. Newsom controlling the state’s citizens.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Cleaning Up A $35 Million Sacramento Mess

(Gage Skidmore /Flickr)

Only in California. Sign a shady multimillion-dollar state contract with a politically connected consulting firm to do “voter outreach,” get sued over it and not only will your friends in Sacramento paper over it, but they will also appoint you to the United States Senate.

Or at least that is how it worked for Sen. Alex Padilla.

In this column last year, we told you about the attempt of then-Secretary of State Padilla to execute a $35 million contract with a political consulting firm, SKDKnickerbocker, whose website prominently stated that it was on “Team Biden.”

But the contract was fishy from the start. Not only did the secretary of state’s office not comply with the Public Contract Code, only a handful of partisan political consulting firms, rather than nonpartisan advertising agencies, were solicited to bid and, most importantly, the contract was not supported by any line item in the state budget.

Even the state controller’s office cried foul and rejected the contract. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued, media scrutiny followed, and Padilla and Gov. Gavin Newsom got egg on their faces just as Newsom was appointing Padilla to the U.S. Senate.

On a call with reporters in December to discuss Padilla’s promotion, the two were quick to downplay the contract.

“The Controller’s office, the Department of Finance — everyone is sharpening their pencils and working it out,” said Padilla.

“We’re working with legislative leadership and (the Department of) Finance and we’ll get that paid,” said Newsom.

Well, the fix is in and the governor and Democrats in the state Legislature intend to get SKDK paid even if it comes at the expense of the counties.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Mike Levin, please return my phone call! What is your position on HR 51 – D.C. Statehood?! Note: Updated – see postscript.

Dana Point where I live is in the 49th Congressional District.  Formerly a reliable Republican stronghold, Democrat Mike Levin is now my Congressman.  Levin flipped the seat in 2018 and managed to win a pretty strong re-election in 2020.  But the district still has a dominant Republican registration and could be a targeted district again for both parties in 2022.

I actually thought Levin was a decent representative, for a Democrat.  While there is no denying my Republican and conservative bias, and the fact that I have been an elected official in the district (once a member of the Dana Point City Council), I had been impressed with his work with the Surfrider Foundation and in cleaning up the mess at the closed San Onofre nuclear power plant nearby.  I know several Republicans who like me, have liked what Levin has done on San Onofre, and some voted for him because he had taken the problems at San Onofre seriously and worked for solutions, while his Republican opponents really hadn’t seemed to have embraced the environmental concerns presented by the closure of the nuclear plant with the same enthusiasm.

However, I now can’t say Levin is doing a good job as a Democrat in a Republican seat.  I almost could, but now I cannot.  And this is because I called his local office, in Oceanside, on Thursday, February 11 at 3 pm in the afternoon to ask a simple but important question: “What is your position on HR 51?”  I had to leave a voice mail message, as no live person answered the phone, but it is now February 21, and after 10 days of no follow-up, I am pretty sure my important question, one I am entitled as a voter in the district to have answered, is going to be ignored.  I don’t know what my Congressman’s position is on a piece of legislation he is being asked to consider.

HR 51 is the proposal that would make the District of Columbia a full-fledged state.  To be enacted, all it needs is a majority vote in the House of Representatives (218 votes) and a majority in the US Senate (51 votes).  If that happens, residents of Washington, DC will then elect two new members of the US Senate and a voting member of the House.

There are a lot of problems with HR 51.  The first is that if it is enacted, California’s influence in the Senate would be diluted.  The next is that the two new Senators would very likely reflect the very liberal politics of D.C.’s voters for generations to come, ensuring liberal policies and giving the Democrats a rather unfair and perhaps even underhanded advantage in the Senate.  Other problems include intrusion on several constitutional provisions that intend for the District to be a Federal district free of politics and not a state.  A 16-page report detailing why admitting the District of Columbia to the union is a bad idea can be found here: https://usjf.net/2020/07/28/d-c-statehood/.

I lived in the District when I worked in the Reagan and Bush I Administrations and as a self-governing entity it was a total disaster then.  I have so many negative stories I can impart about living in the District.  The rampant riots and disorder of last year are a continuing witness to why the District should not be given statehood.  But brazen politics are at play here…

HR 51 is cosponsored by 210 members of the House, all Democrats.  It only needs 8 more votes to pass the House.  Mike Levin is one of 11 Democrats who have not joined as cosponsors of the D.C. statehood bill.  Thus, his position on HR 51 is really, really important, because Levin could make a difference.

I have done some polling and I am pretty sure that the majority of residents of the 49th Congressional District are skeptical of adding the District of Columbia as a full-fledged state to the union.  Mike Levin would be “voting his district” and doing the right thing in my mind, to oppose HR 51.  He is a critical vote than can make or break this awful legislation.  Congressman Levin – please tell us – what is your position on HR 51?!  We deserve to know.  Your constituents deserve an answer.  And you ought to have the decency to return calls from an actual constituent in your district on the people’s business before you.

P.S. – Update: I received a cordial call from Congressman Levin’s office today (Monday 2/22). The staff member kindly apologized for the delay in getting back to me and confirmed that Congressman Levin was not a cosponsor of HR 51 in this Congress. The staff member also confirmed that Congressman Levin supported DC Statehood in the last Congress and research indicates he voted in favor of a similar bill in 2020. But the staff member said he would be willing to read a 16-page report I offered on reasons why DC Statehood is a bad idea. Now that DC Statehood is more of a possibility in this new Congress, I truly hope that Mike Levin will resist the pressure from his caucus and not support this awful bill.

Pandemic Hazard Pay Laws Are Putting Grocery Stores Out of Business

Gemma/Unsplash

Hazard pay ordinances mandating wage premiums for grocery store workers during the pandemic are spreading across the West Coast. Following them are store closures and complaints from owners that these new laws will soon put them out of business.

On Tuesday, Quality Food Centers (QFC), a Kroger-owned supermarket chain, announced it would be closing two of its Seattle locations. The decision, the company says, was “accelerated” by the city’s new mandate that large grocery stores pay their employees an additional $4 per hour.

“When you factor in increased costs of operating during the COVID-19, coupled with consistent financial losses at these two locations, and this extra new pay mandate, it becomes impossible to operate a financially sustainable business,” said the company in a press release.

That ordinance was passed unanimously by the Seattle City Council in late January and went into effect earlier this month. It is set to last as long as the city’s declared COVID-19 emergency is in effect. It applies to all grocery stores that are larger than 10,000 square feet and are operated by companies with more than 500 employees globally.

Kroger’s store closures in Seattle mirror its actions in Long Beach, California, where the company also closed two poorly-performing stores following the city’s passage of a near-identical $4-an-hour “hero pay” law for grocery store workers.

Those aren’t the only stores that could be on the chopping block. Everywhere pandemic hazard pay policies have passed, store operators are warning they’ll soon be out of business too.

In court filings in a federal lawsuit challenging Seattle’s hazard pay ordinance, two owners of Grocery Outlet stores, a discount grocery chain, said the city’s mandated $4-per-hour wage premium is forcing them to operate at a loss.

Steve Mullen, an owner of a Grocery Outlet in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood, said that the hazard pay law is costing him an additional $20,000 in labor costs each month.

“The store does not make that much on a monthly basis and [the hazard pay ordinance] will push the store into a significant deficit,” said Mullen in court filings tweeted out by independent Seattle journalist Kevin Schofield. “I cannot continue to operate a store that is consistently unprofitable. If losses occur as predicted, I will likely be forced to close the Madrona Grocery Outlet store.”

It’s the same story for Michael Sandberg, the owner of a Grocery Outlet in Seattle’s Lake City area, who said the city’s new law will increase his costs of employing his current 22 employees by about $10,000 a month.

“The store does not make nearly that much” per month, wrote Sandberg in a court filing for the same lawsuit. “Paying the mandatory hazard pay will cause the Lake City Grocery Outlet store to go into the red.”

Mullen and Sandberg’s declarations are part of a lawsuit being brought by the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association, two trade groups representing grocers, against the city of Seattle in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Their complaint alleges that the city’s hazard pay ordinance is preempted by the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which the grocers argue leaves it to companies and unions, not local or state governments, to hash out compensation agreements.

The two groups’ complaint also says the city’s hazard pay ordinance violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment and the Washington Constitution by arbitrarily requiring only grocery stores to pay out these wage premiums.

The California Grocers Association (CGA) is making identical arguments in six separate federal lawsuits it’s brought against cities in that state which have passed their own hazard pay ordinances for grocery store workers.

Those lawsuits have also sparked identical claims of hardship from grocery store owners and operators.

John Franklin, chief financial officer for Northgate Gonzalez Markets, a Southern California grocery chain, declared in court filings in the CGA’s lawsuit against the city of Long Beach that had the pay ordinance been in effect during all of 2020, its three Long Beach locations would have lost between $47,000 and $74,000 each month.

Defenders of hazard pay for grocery store workers, sometimes called “hero pay,” say that grocery chains are using store closures as a scare tactic to discredit these policies and avoid pay increases they can easily cover with their record pandemic profits.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 21—the union representing grocery store workers in Washington—called the latest QFC store closures “a transparent attempt to intimidate other local governments” from passing similar laws. The union notes that Kroger ended its voluntary $2-an-hour hero pay bonus in May 2020, even as the company’s profits “soared.”

Teresa Mosqueda, a Seattle City Council member, said in her own statement attacking the QFC closures that one of the company’s stores was already slated for redevelopment.

The city of Long Beach has a made similar argument when defending its hazard pay ordinance from the CGA’s lawsuit. Included in one of the city’s court filings were links to news articles reporting that Kroger’s net earnings doubled year-over-year during the first three quarters of 2020.

The grocery industry has countered that its increased profitability still leaves it with razor-thin profit margins that would be more than erased by these hazard pay policies.

report from economic consultancy firm Capitol Matrix Consulting, prepared for the CGA as part of their lawsuits, found that a $5-per-hour hazard pay premium—which was passed in Oakland and is being considered in Los Angeles—could increase stores’ average labor costs by 28 percent and overall costs by 4.5 percent. That’s about three times the normal profit margin for grocery stores, and twice the profit margin grocers were making at the height of the pandemic.

Were a $5-per-hour hazard pay law to be applied to the entire state of California, grocery stores would have to cover those costs either with a collective $4.5 billion increase in prices or shed 66,000 jobs, the report says.

Viewed in this light, hazard pay laws look less like a free reward provided to grocery store workers and more like a massive transfer program from consumers to workers, or from some grocery store workers to others.

Of course, companies aren’t limited to just raising prices or cutting staff positions. More likely, they’d do some mix of both, making other cost savings and maybe accepting slimmer profit margins.

Even when it comes to grocery store regulations, there’s no free lunch.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

New CA Bill to Require Gender Neutral Retail Departments

On February 18, Assembly members Evan Low and Cristina Garcia introduced Assembly Bill 1084 to require gender neutral retail departments. The bill would add Part 2.57 (commencing with Section 55.7) to Division 1 of the Civil Code.

Section One of the bill would add Part 2.57, which would be titled “Gender Neutral Retail Departments.” The bill would specify legislative findings and declarations that there are unjustified differences in similar products that are traditionally marketed either for girls or for boys can be more easily identified by the consumer if similar items are displayed closer to one another in one, undivided area of the retail sales floor. In addition, keeping similar items that are traditionally marketed either for girls or for boys separated makes it more difficult for the consumer to compare the products and incorrectly implies that their use by one gender is inappropriate.

The bill would specify that a retail department store that offers childcare items for sale is required to maintain one undivided area of its sales floor where the majority of the childcare items being offered shall be displayed, regardless of whether a particular childcare item has been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys. In addition, a retail department store that offers children’s clothing for sale, as well as toys for sale, would be required to maintain one undivided area of its sales floor where the majority of the children’s clothing being offered shall be displayed, regardless of whether a particular article of children’s clothing has been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys. The bill defines the terms “childcare item,” “clothing,” and “toy.”

AB 1084 would also specify that it is not to be construed to constrain how a retailer promotes, displays, or presents a particular item within each undivided area of its sales floor where either childcare items, children’s clothing, or toys are being offered for sale. However, no signage is allowed to be used within any undivided area where either childcare items, children’s clothing, or toys are offered for sale indicating the items are for either girls or for boys.

In addition, a retail department store located in California that maintains an internet website through which it sells childcare items, children’s clothing, toys, or anything that could be considered a combination thereof, is required to dedicate a section of the internet website to the sale of those items and articles that must be titled, at the discretion of the retailer, “kids”, “unisex”, or “gender neutral”.

This proposed law would only apply to retail department stores with 500 or more employees. Beginning on January 1, 2024, a retail department store that fails to correct a violation of this law within 30 days of receiving written notice of the violation from the Attorney General is liable for a civil penalty of $1,000 which may be assessed and recovered in a civil action brought in the name of the people of the State of California by the Attorney General in any court of competent jurisdiction.

Chris Micheli is a lobbyist with Aprea & Micheli, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Groundhog Day for Minimum Wage

At first, we were relieved to find that Pres. Biden’s proposal to include a $15 minimum wage hike in the COVID-19 relief package was just a bad nightmare. But when Californians woke up the other day, the idea was back on track. Unlike Bill Murray, who thanks to the magic of Hollywood, managed to improve his life each time he woke up on Groundhog Day, if progressives get their way, millions of low-skilled Americans will see a grim future ahead.

There are dozens of scholarly studies that show that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment.  The most recent was released earlier this month by the Congressional Budget Office.  It found that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost 1.4 million U.S. jobs over the next four years.  But 27 million workers would get a raise and 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty.  This trade-off might sound like a tough decision for politicians, but it really isn’t.  In fact, it’s an opportunity to double-dip.  Progressive politicians can take credit for the millions of Americans who get raises.  But they also get to score political points by fighting for even larger benefits for those who become unemployed or stay poor.

Take San Francisco, which currently has a minimum wage of $16.07.  A Harvard Business School research paper found that restaurants with low- and mid-level Yelp ratings would eventually be driven out of business.  Their study found that a $1 increase in the minimum wage would lead to a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant (the median rating on Yelp). The study also found that lower-rated restaurants would increase their prices because of the minimum-wage increase.

As a frequent visitor to San Francisco before the pandemic, I would have to look hard to find a low-priced restaurant to take a lunchbreak with colleagues. Lunchtime eateries downtown are now mostly self-serve.  You reach into a fridge, grab a pre-made sandwich or a couple of wrapped sushi rolls, off you go to the lone cashier, then back to the office.  After the pandemic, it wouldn’t surprise me if low-priced sit-down restaurants, along with their jobs, are extinct. The restaurant workers who didn’t flee the city  would have to survive on government assistance.  City politicians would then vow to “do more.”

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, about one-third of Californians earn less than $15 an hour, but not much less.  The state’s current minimum wage is $14 an hour.  PPIC also calculates that slightly more than 36 percent of the state’s residents are at or near the poverty level.  The obvious conclusion: the statewide minimum wage (higher in many cities), did little, if anything, to reduce poverty.  The state’s unemployment rate remains persistently above the nation’s average. Income inequality, according to PPIC, has risen substantially over the past several decades, with “little progress over the long term for the lowest-income families.”

No one has to do a deep data dive to figure out that Pres. Biden’s plan to make America California again won’t end well for the nation. Even the Los Angeles Times has doubts.  “California is emerging as the de facto policy think tank of the Biden-Harris administration,” writes the Times, but the state “struggles with surging COVID-19 infections, a safety net frayed by the pandemic’s toll, crushing housing costs and wildfires, all fueling an exodus of residents.”

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Gov. Newsom Recall Heading for 2 Million Signatures

With the $250,000 the Republican National Committee contributed to the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and now with $125,000 from the state GOP, the RecallGavin2020 and Rescue California effort has picked up steam and tops the needed 1.5 signature threshold. The recent contributions will help gather the goal of 2 million signatures, for the added cushion.

The recall could be on the ballot as early as this summer 2021.

And still the governor and his top staff behave as if this is a joke. The Associated Press reported over the weekend:

Dan Newman, Newsom’s chief strategist, said the check confirms the financial partnership between the recall effort and state and national Republicans.

“The facade is gone. It’s never been more clear — they’re admitting that the Republican recall scheme is simple partisan politics,” Newman said in a statement. “Republicans have lost every single state election for 15 years, so they’re trying increasingly desperate, distracting and destructive things.”

Randy Economy, Senior Advisor for RecallGavin2020 told Fox News with new Secretary of State Shirley Weber appointed by Gov. Newsom, she is the final say on whether the recall qualifies for the special election, so the campaign wants to have healthy cushion of 400,000-500,000 extra signatures.

“We know Gov. Newsom is getting desperate right now,” Economy said, “his political career is blowing up before him, so we’re going to keep an eye on Sacramento, and the politics of Sacramento, so that no funny business is going on, to kind of keep ahead of them.”

“We want to get to 2 million signatures and not leave a doubt in anybody’s mind the validity and veracity of our people out there that are working so tirelessly… and they’ve been working like this for months,” Economy said.

“We expect to collect another 400,000 signatures,” Rescue California campaign manager Anne Dunsmore said in a statement, AP reported. With the six-figure donation, “we added a substantial line item to our budget.”

The contribution “will guarantee that we bring in enough additional signatures to hold Gavin Newsom accountable,” she added.

Economy said 300,000 Democrats have downloaded the petition and signed the recall. “It’s something that transcends Democrat and Republican issues. This is specifically about Gavin Newsom and his failed policies, and how he’s shut down the 5th largest economy in the world this past year. I think the political discourse has turned out to be a monster movement here in California. We’ve already been contacted by people in New York and Michigan and other states who want us to help them recall their governor as well.”

When asked by Fox News what the next steps in the recall process are, Economy said “Anywhere from 3 to 500 candidates will come forward to put their names on the ballot,” and then explained that there will be two questions on the ballot:

  1. Shall Governor Newsom be recalled? and
  2. Who shall replace him until his term expires in 2023?

“Welcome to Politics 101 here in California today,” he added.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

California’s Multibillionaires Intend to Conquer the World

As the oldest man in American history to ever be elected president begins his administration, his immediate blizzard of executive actions suggest the energy of someone much younger. The reason for this is obvious. Joe Biden is not running the country. He is a president in name only. The edicts coming out of the Oval Office, along with the imminent legislative initiatives, are being ran by the American equivalent of a soviet politburo, and the political and financial power behind this politburo is coming from California.

The political actors occupying key roles include Kamala Harris, whose role the tie-breaker that presides over the U.S. Senate makes her the most powerful vice president in history, and Nancy Pelosi, who presides over the U.S. House of Representatives. These two politicians are only the most visible Californians among a group that includes cabinet secretaries, administrative appointees, and what is by far the largest state Democratic congressional caucus.

More significant is the fact that Californians also provide the financial power behind the Biden politburo, as well as the cultural power that propels the Democratic narrative. This would include the well documented trillions in Silicon Valley wealth, the monopolistic power Silicon Valley wields over online communications, and the considerable influence of Hollywood – still the epicenter of America’s entertainment industry.

All of this Californian power is deployed in support of the ongoing “reset,” a titanic, historic transformation, imposed through manufactured consent, executive edicts, biased court rulings, and overwrought regulations emanating from the partisan bureaucrats that control federal agencies. This entire establishment, merely slowed down during the Trump years, has now gone into overdrive. But what is their vision?

To understand what the establishment, of which Biden is a mere figurehead, has in mind for America, one must understand California. This is where the so-called “reset” has advanced the furthest, in a series of shifts that began well before the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to massively accelerate the process. At the heart of these shifts was an epic cultural transformation. Californians, apart from a sizable and growing minority, now support massive reductions to their quality of life in order to supposedly fight racism and climate change. So thorough is their indoctrination that they do not merely support these “resets,” but militantly oppose anyone who disagrees with them.

While California’s demographics are often cited as the factor most responsible for its transformed culture, this is misleading if not wholly inaccurate. It is true that California’s population is now entirely multiethnic. Only 25 percent of high school age Californians are non-Hispanic white. In the general population, Hispanics are 39 percent of the population, whites are 37 percent, Asians are 15 percent, blacks are 6 percent, and 4 percent are multiracial. But if its ethnic makeup is responsible for California’s politics, why is it that the most powerful political influencers in the state are all white?

The reality in California, as in the rest of America, is that nonwhites are being used by whites to advance a specific set of policies. They are being conned in the same manner, and for the same reasons, that white voters are being conned. California’s political economy is designed to serve an oligarchy that obscures its self-interest and secures its popular support via rhetoric designed to divide the races and foment panic over climate change. It is rhetoric invented by whites and designed to consolidate the political and economic power of an oligarchy that is predominately white.

For these reasons, the cultural transformation in California that embraces radical anti-racist and radical environmentalist ideology cannot be attributed to California’s ethnic composition. That is a myth. Abandoning that myth is the first step towards turning the tide. To believe ethnic transformation equates to inevitable support for these radical policies is to succumb to the manipulative race-centric narrative as thoroughly and as usefully as those it has convinced.

In a normal and free information environment, both of these obfuscating lies – “systemic racism” and the “climate emergency” – would be easily debunked. America is the most nonracist multiethnic nation in the history of the world, and the costs to adapt to whatever climate change occurs is far less than the costs being proposed to supposedly arrest the process. The oligarchs know this. They don’t believe their own lies. So what’s really at work?

To the extent there is a moral justification for what California’s best and brightest have already done to California, and have in store for America and the world, it starts with something like this: America’s per capita consumption of energy is four times greater than China’s, and more than ten times greater than India’s. As nations develop economically, from China and India to those throughout burgeoning Africa, worldwide energy production will have to massively increase. How will this be accomplished?

The charitable answer is to explain that renewable energy and draconian conservation mandates are part of an all-of-the-above strategy to maintain economic growth until breakthrough energy technologies such as fusion power are commercialized. That might be believable if Biden’s executive orders haven’t already declared war on fossil fuel production in America. There is no “all of the above” strategy. By making Americans pay more for conventional energy, renewable energy and energy management technologies become economically competitive. The primary beneficiaries of fossil fuel suppression, at least in America, are companies based in Silicon Valley. Which leads to the next plank in the political agenda of California’s oligarchy, which is their relationship to the rest of the world.

A recent essay by Hudson Institute senior fellow Lee Smith should be required reading for anyone trying to make sense out of American politics today. Entitled “The Thirty Tyrants,” the premise of this 7,000 word essay which goes into extraordinary detail is simple: America’s ruling class has declared war on ordinary Americans, and “they are happy to rule in partnership with a foreign power that will help them destroy their own countrymen.”

Attempting to summarize the many examples and key points in Smith’s superb essay would not do it justice. Read it. Smith’s description of Chinese tyranny, and the power and flexibility it gives to their ruling elites, is something the American oligarchy envies. And again, the Chinese model finds its nearest expression in the one-party state of California. As these Californians, clearly aligned with their counterparts in the rest of America, work to consolidate one-party rule across the nation, again look to California to see what they’re really up to. And there is nothing moral about it.

When multibillionaires impassively evaluate the direction of humanity on planet earth – and that is the sort of mega-picture imagining of which multibillionaires have both the time and the money to indulge – what do they see? The panorama before them is deeply troubling. On one hand, they see privileged Western nations, voraciously consuming a far greater than proportional share of the world’s resources. On the other hand, they see over 7 billion additional humans, living in non-Western nations, on the cusp of achieving the capacity to industrialize and consume resources at comparable rates to the nations in the West. How can this go on, they wonder?

At the same time as they contemplate the challenge of accommodating the aspirations of what within their lifetimes will be over ten billion humans on planet earth, they realize the medical research they fund is on another cusp of another breakthrough, that of achieving the tantalizing holy grail of medicine, life extension. And finally, to top off this trilogy of troubling insights, these multi-billionaires know that cusp number three is nearer than ever – the ability to totally automate an economy and run it with robots.

So what on earth will these multibillionaires do with all these useless people? Here again China comes into the picture. This is a nation that could not care less about the fate of its inhabitants. Mao Tse-tung used to boast about his absolute indifference to losing hundreds of millions of his countrymen in a nuclear exchange with the United States. Since Mao, China has produced spectacular wealth in its transition from communism to fascism, but its indifference to human rights hasn’t changed one bit. So where will California’s multibillionaires, which today are joined at the hip with their Chinese counterparts, ultimately go in their relationship with China?

It is unlikely their one-sided, lucrative love fest with the Chinese can go on forever. For starters, the Chinese know exactly what they’re doing, and have no intention of continuing their dalliance with Western multi-billionaires once it is no longer to their benefit. Once they’ve bought everything they can buy, and stolen everything they can steal, and compromised every human asset they possibly can, they’ll drop the love mask like a stone, and reveal what everybody already knows about the CCP but cannot say – they intend to dominate the world.

As for what might come next on the day China drops the act and abandons their suddenly obsolete proxies, one may only speculate that the American deep state is locked and loaded, with classified weaponry that will make a war with the Chinese short and decisive. On the other hand, why have a short war? Once the multibillionaires have finished furnishing their blast bunkers, stoking them with years worth of food, oxygen, medical supplies, and robots, what better way than a nasty, costly war to reduce the surplus global population?

The most likely truth is that most of these multibillionaires, even those Californians who preen at the vanguard of futurism, haven’t thought that far ahead. But the agenda of the Biden administration, from canceling fossil fuel development, to cramming people into dense cities, to admitting millions of unskilled immigrants, or mandating reeducation seminars on the topic of white guilt – all of this and more – can be understood in terms of what American multibillionaires, whose epicenter and base of operations is in California, envision as an appropriate future for humanity. That vision, if not literally genocidal, is nonetheless dark. Apart from the elite few, humanity will be reduced to livestock in pens, policed by robots, pacified by virtual reality.

These elites do still have a choice. They can allow economic development around the world, hoping that innovation will continue to stay ahead of Malthusian checks and hoping that adaptation and stewardship will protect both the environment and humanity from potential threats such as climate change. That is the moral choice, and it is an eminently possible, hopeful scenario for humanity. There is no indication they are making that choice.

From the censorship of early stage COVID treatments, to the relentless demonization of a president that championed innovation and adaptation while caring about his own constituents, the multibillionaires are making a very different choice. They appear to have no intention of sharing this world with ten billion little people, all of them clamoring for everything from air conditioning and automobiles to life extension therapies. Understanding what’s running through the minds of these Californian multibillionaires and their far-flung accomplices is the first step towards stopping them.

There is a populist movement around the world that ordinary Americans are becoming part of. It transcends race and in many respects transcends ideology. It has two predominant features. The first is the desire for nations to retain their sovereignty and culture, and determine their own fate. The other, equally significant, is a growing faith and respect for the power of the individual, and the power of human creativity, to successfully address the challenges we all face without war, and without succumbing to the tyranny of oligarchs – whether they’re living in California or Beijing.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.