Tax Enthusiasts Target Netflix as Next Frontier

netflix2Tempting fate — and mobilized outrage from consumers and their Silicon Valley allies — municipalities around California have zeroed in on a new source of revenue: Online film and television streaming services, and the people who use them.

“If the cities are successful in adjusting their existing utility users taxes — and there are questions surrounding the legality of such a move — viewers could be forced to pay as much as 10 percent more to stream Netflix’s ‘Orange is the New Black’ or Amazon Prime’s ‘The Man In the High Castle,’” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“Cities from Richmond to Redwood City to Watsonville are looking at adopting a streaming video tax. Alameda, Albany, Emeryville, Gilroy, Hayward, Hercules, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Newark and San Leandro have ordinances that could be tweaked to allow them to tax video streaming without a fresh round of voter approvals.”

The temptation has quickly spread from the city of Pasadena, where local officials have already succeeded in slapping the levy on residents. “Pasadena was among the first to say publicly this fall that it wanted to tax video streaming services like Netflix, a step that could make up for lost tax revenue from growing numbers of cord-cutters,” the New York Times recalled. “The move in Pasadena, with a population of about 140,000, has drawn consternation from technology companies and consumers who worry that it could be copied across the state.”

In fact, some tax defenders have construed its legality around a rule passed years ago under different auspices. “Pasadena voters modernized a law in 2008 to tax cell phones like landlines, never anticipating it could be applied to video streaming,” according to CBS. “Forty California cities now have similar laws.”

National nerves

And though the federal government doesn’t permit internet taxation, big cities outside California have muscled in onto the potentially lucrative source of cash too. Results, however, have been mixed. “Pennsylvania’s charging a 6 percent sales tax on everything, from apps to downloads, to help close a $1.3 billion budget gap,” the network added. Chicago, meanwhile, “is currently being sued for charging a 9 percent tax on video streaming.”

Critics have warned bites like that add up. The taxes “may show no signs of stopping, considering streaming music, podcasts, video games and other technology is constantly being developed,” The Drum observed. “Paul Verna, an eMarketer analyst, said that a larger debate could erupt when people start seeing their bills if those smaller channels are continuously added.”

For its part, Netflix threw up a red flag. Spokesperson Anne Marie Squeo told the Los Angeles Times it was “a dangerous precedent to start taxing Internet apps and websites using laws intended for utilities like water and electricity. It is especially concerning when these taxes are applied to consumers without consent and in a manner that likely violates federal and state law.”

Shifting business

And now, in the midst of the controversy, Netflix has moved aggressively to court customers with a significant new feature adopted by its rivals: offline streaming. “Netflix signaled in recent months it would add an offline viewing option to better compete as the streaming video market becomes more and more crowded,” Reuters reported. “Amazon.com Inc’s rival streaming video service, Prime Video, has had this option for about a year.”

The company’s domestic customer base has stalled, but foreign audiences have swelled, a trend that could be exacerbated if American cities flock toward taxation. “Growth among U.S. subscribers has slowed in 2016,” the wire continued. “Netflix added just 370,000 subscribers during the third quarter and only 4.3 million since the third quarter of last year, suggesting they are reaching a saturation point.”

“In that same time frame, Netflix has added 13.2 million international subscribers, including 3.2 million in the third quarter. Much of that has to do with Netflix’s expansion by more than 130 countries earlier this year to over 190 nations currently.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Jim Lacy Defends Taiwan Call to Trump – France 24 Debate VIDEO

In this lively hour long debate in two parts, California Political Review publisher Jim Lacy participates in “The Debate” on France 24 cable television and defends the Taiwan President’s call to President-elect Trump.  First aired December 7, 2016.

Click here to see Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXcuwFTCscs&feature=youtu.be

Click here to see Part 2:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dduwz9F2qic&feature=youtu.be

untitled

Californians Approve $5 Billion per Year in New Taxes

For the last few years, using data provided by the watchdog organization CalTax, we have summarized the results of local bond and tax proposals appearing on the California ballot. Nearly all of them are approved by voters, and this past November was no exception.

With only a couple of measures still too close to call, as can be seen, 94 percent of the 193 proposed local bonds passed, and 71 percent of the proposed local taxes passed. Two years ago, 81 percent of the local bond proposals passed, and 68 percent of the local tax proposals passed. No encouraging trend there.

Outcome of Local Bond and Tax Proposals – November 2016

outcome-of-local-bond-and-tax-proposals-november-2016

A simple extrapolation will provide the following estimate: Californians just increased their local tax burden by roughly $4 billion, in the form of $1.9 billion more in annual interest payments on new bond debt, and $2.1 billion more in annual interest on new local taxes. But that’s not even half the story.

California’s voters also supported state ballot initiatives to issue new bond debt and impose new taxes. Prop. 51 was approved, authorizing the issuance of $9 billion in new bonds for school construction. Prop. 55 extended until 2030 the “temporary” tax increase on personal incomes over $250,000 per year, and Prop. 56 increased the cigarette tax by $2 per pack. The cost to taxpayers to service the annual payments on $9 billion in new bond debt? Another $585 million per year. Even leaving “rich people” and smokers out of the equation, California voters saddled themselves with nearly $5 billion in new annual taxes.

But as they say on the late-night infomercials, there’s more, much more, because California’s state legislators don’t have to ask us anymore if they want to raise taxes. November 2016 will be remembered as the election when a precarious 1/3 minority held by GOP lawmakers was broken. California’s democratic lawmakers, nearly all of them controlled by public sector unions, now hold a two-thirds majority in both the state Assembly and the state Senate. This means they can raise taxes without asking for consent from the voters. If necessary, they can even override a gubernatorial veto.

And they will. Here’s why:

There are three unsustainable policies that are considered sacrosanct by California’s state lawmakers and the government unions who benefit from them. (1) They are proud to have California serve as a magnet for undocumented immigrants and welfare recipients. (2) They are determined to continue to overcompensate state and local government workers, especially with pensions that pay several times what private workers can expect from Social Security. (3) They have adopted an uncritical and extreme approach to resolving environmental challenges that has created artificial scarcity of land, energy and water, an asset bubble, and a neglected infrastructure that lacks the resiliency to withstand large scale natural disasters or civil emergencies.

All three of these policies are extremely expensive. “Urban geographer” Joel Kotkin, writing in the Orange County Register shortly after the Nov. 8 election, had this to say about these financially unsustainable policies:

“This social structure can only work as long as stock and asset prices continue to stay high, allowing the ultra-rich to remain beneficent. Once the inevitable corrections take place, the whole game will be exposed for what it is: a gigantic, phony system that benefits primarily the ruling oligarchs, along with their union and green allies. Only when this becomes clear to the voters, particularly the emerging Latino electorate, can things change. Only a dose of realism can restore competition, both between the parties and within them.”

Despite the increase in consumer confidence since the surprising victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election, the stock and asset bubble that has been engineered through thirty years of expanding credit and lowering rates of interest is going to pop. The following graphic, using data from Bloomberg, explains just how differently our economy is structured today compared to 1980 when this credit expansion began.

1980-vs-2016

As can be easily seen from their price/earnings ratios today, publicly traded stocks are grossly overvalued. Equally obvious is that interest rates have fallen as low as they can go. For more discussion on how this is going to affect the economy, refer to recent California Policy Center studies “How a Major Market Correction Will Affect Pension Systems, and How to Cope,” and “The Coming Public Pension Apocalypse, and What to Do About It.” Despite healthy new national optimism since Nov. 8th, the economic fundamentals have not changed.

California’s democratic supermajority legislators, and the government unions who control them, are going to have a lot of explaining to do when the bubble bursts. For decades they have successfully fed their unsustainable world view to the media and academia and the entertainment industry. For over a generation they have brainwashed California’s K-12 and college students into militantly endorsing their unsustainable world view. This year they conned California’s taxpayers into approving another $5 billion in new annual taxes. But the entire edifice exists on borrowed time.

Ed Ring is the vice president of research policy at the California Policy Center.

“There Ought NOT Be a Law” Project

20111103 CA RegulationsSometimes, in frustration over a perceived injustice, it is easy to think, “there ought to be a law,” but Californians should be careful what they wish for.

The state is awash in laws. Every two-year session, lawmakers introduce thousands of bills, and in the most recent, the governor signed 1,708 into law.

This brings to mind an old German proverb, “The more laws, the less justice.” This is because many of these bills are intended to benefit narrow special interests, like government employee unions, rent seeking businesses and professional groups, and pet projects like high-speed rail.

Then there are the less damaging bills that still amount to a waste of time and taxpayer dollars, although many of these provide a good source of amusement. Although some of the silliest laws are at the local level – in Chico detonating a nuclear device will cost you $500, in Carmel women are prohibited from wearing high heels and in San Francisco it is illegal to store anything but a car in a garage – the state continues to attempt to be competitive. In California, it is illegal for a vehicle to exceed 60 mph if there is no driver.

In Sacramento, for many self-absorbed Legislators, getting a bill passed is an extension of their ego. Perhaps this helps explain why, some years ago, a bill was introduced to make the banana slug the state mollusk. That one did not pass, but still, California was the first state to adopt a state rock, serpentine. Ironically, after spending time on approving this selection in 1965, it came up again in 2010 when one state senator decided serpentine is politically incorrect because it contains asbestos and she promoted legislation to remove its state status.

For some, just introducing legislation, whether it passes or not, has become a source of income. Twenty years ago, one senator introduced 143 bills in one session. This turned out to be a pay for play scheme where bills were introduced for those willing to pay. This lawmaker ended up spending time in prison for accepting bribes, and the public scrutiny forced the politicians to limit the number of bills that can be introduced to 40. Still, with 120 legislators, this means that there is the potential to introduce a mind-boggling 4,800 bills, each with the potential to become law. And introducing bills remains an effective method for raising campaign cash.

Even the most innocuous seeming bills can be a problem for taxpayers. Several years ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger criticized the Legislature for dithering over finding a solution to the state’s then $26 billion deficit, while plenty of time was found to deal with the issue of cow tail docking.

While humane treatment of animals may deserve consideration, taking time to pass a law, like making Spanish moss the official state lichen, has a cost. Even if we consider lawmakers’ time worthless, and many do, there are still thousands of dollars spent on legal analyses by the Office of the Legislative Analyst and on printing costs.

This raises the question, do lawmakers still have too much latitude when determining how may bills they introduce? Some states, like Colorado, survive while limiting legislators to no more than five.

And what about the tens of thousands of laws already on the books? Certainly, there is justification to make an examination and to seek to simplify the legal code under which we all must live, by striking those found to be unnecessary.

Enter Senator John Moorlach who has kicked off the “There Ought Not Be a Law” project and is looking for submissions from the public on repealing laws that would help streamline government, and remove regulations that impose unreasonable burdens on taxpayers. The senator will be taking nominations for laws to be reduced or repealed until the first of the year. To learn more, go here.

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

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

VIDEO: The Aftermath of Election 2016: Experts Explain the Data

psc-socal-jim-lacyThe November election brought some surprises, including the data of details of who voted for what. We hear from campaign experts on both sides of the aisle, including California Political Review Publisher Jim Lacy.  How did Trump win the presidency? How did Clinton win Orange County?

Is California on the cutting edge or national politics? Or is falling behind the pack?

Click here to view the video from PBS SoCal

Can California’s Legislative Supermajority Act Responsibly?

After a thunderstorm of post-election recounts across the Golden State, it appears that Democrats have reclaimed a supermajority in the California Legislature.

Whatever one’s political sway – and this applies to national election results, as well – it’s important for all voters to respect that “the people have spoken,” turn the page and hope for the best.

Having said that, as a proud entrepreneur, supporter of my community, rancher and surfer, I love the great state of California and want nothing more than to see our economy and future thrive for generations to come. To that end, I thought it might be timely to offer our new crop of Democrats in the State Capitol a few words of instructive advice before they settle in all too soon. 

First and foremost, think carefully about the consequences of your agenda. There are more than a few rumblings about the new Legislature and governor poised to tackle many big issues in the new year – issues for which the two-thirds vote, in my opinion, play a critically important role in assuring a level of caution and restraint. Transportation and infrastructure reform, climate change, affordable housing are some of the hot-button items that appear looming on the legislative horizon. To many, these may seem noble and venerable priorities and opportunities for an improved quality of life. But at what cost – literally? Will these trailblazing new policies be funded on the backs of small business owners, working families and future generations through taxes, fees, levies, assessments and other costs? Californians already pay the highest income tax, statewide sales tax, gas taxes, minimum wage and myriad fees to comply with onerous regulations. A bold agenda is one thing, but crippling our small employers and communities with hordes of new, unanticipated costs is another – and one that will further prolong our state’s economic and jobs recovery. Think before you act.

Second, don’t forsake your Republican colleagues in the Legislature – they represent voters, too. It may be easy for some to render the GOP irrelevant – but they’re not. And neither are the many, many voters in their districts who are looking to them for hope, help and a future bursting with promise. The Moderate Democrats are and will continue to be a vital bloc, focused on advancing a pro-business agenda within their party. I am hopeful that they will remain true to their words on the campaign trail and match their actions with their slogans – and inspire others within the Democratic Party to follow their direction. But no one should ever count the Republicans out in California – theirs is a party of ideas, individualism, and economic success. A one-party rule can have dire consequences if the majority fails to heed the thoughts, ideas and concerns of everyone in the electorate. Work across the aisle every day, respect the GOP, and it will result in better policy for everyone in the long haul.

Finally, it’s time to focus on making California government work more efficiently for the people. It’s time to clean up the still-obscene piles of waste, paper, logjams and errors that are ultimately treating taxpayers like a non-stop ATM. I hope our leaders and others will join me in making this a primary focus and priority in 2017 and beyond. I’m committed to this cleanup because I’ve heard from one too many small business owners, seniors, veterans and community leaders that our politicians and bureaucrats are still spending hard-earned tax dollars like drunken sailors (apologies, drunken sailors). Our new supermajority should halt discussions about new spending and first look to eliminate much of the inefficiencies and frivolity that have grossly infected our mammoth government beast. Our leaders should continue a bipartisan crusade for historic pension, workers’ comp and unemployment insurance reform – all costs that threaten to leave our children’s children with irreparable debt. And the new legislature must continue to insist on opening the books of every department, agency and operation, demanding answers to where our money is being spent, and seeking alternatives or reductions that will improve efficiency and keep more resources in the pockets of families, consumers and “mom and pops”?  We should all urge our legislators to push for increased transparency and accountability with every single program and activity so that Golden State government works for us, not for itself. We need to regularly audit our expenses. It’s something every job creator must do each day if they want to keep their doors open; why shouldn’t the “body politic” which we’re all funding be held to that same standard?

November 8th is finally behind us. The ads have stopped running, the polls have closed, and the people have, indeed, spoken. Now is not the time for protests, sour grapes, crossed arms or furrowed brows. Now is the time for our newly-electeds to take a breath, take their oath of office, and take their job seriously. I’m hopeful that the new supermajority will remember to think about the impact of their agenda, work with Republicans who still represent and serve many voters out there, and fight vigorously to make our government more efficient – and affordable – for all of us. That’s the California wave all of us will be proud to ride for many years to come.

Wayne Hughes, Jr. is a California businessman, philanthropist and founder of SkyRose Ranch and Serving California in Central California which treats veterans with PTSD and other disorders. Find out more atwww.bwaynehughesjr.com @BWayneHughesJr

Teachers’ Unions Spent Over $27 Million on State Races

In a recent op-ed, California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt calls out special interests for pouring money into California elections in support of charter schools. He writes:

The charter association spent better than $24 million in relatively few races this year. Oakland, where previously $20,000 was a lot of money for a school board race, was awash in a half-million dollars in contributions, mostly from the charter association and another billionaire-funded committee.

Missing from Pechthalt’s piece is the fact that the CFT and other teacher’s unions are also big-spending special interests. Indeed, they spend considerably more on political donations than charter advocates.

Based on our review on campaign contribution and independent expenditure data reported by the Secretary of State, we find that teacher’s unions spent over $27 million on state-wide races during the current election cycle. The largest contributions are shown in the chart at the end of this article. Actual teacher union political spending is much higher because the Secretary of State’s data do not include contributions to school board candidates and other local campaigns. For example, according to data available from the Oakland City Clerk, the Oakland Education Association PAC made over $80,000 in donations and independent expenditures in the most recent election.

With respect to the state-level spending, most of it was devoted to supporting Propositions 55 and 58. Proposition 55 extends higher marginal tax rates on top income earners for another twelve years, funneling most of the added revenue to education. The union’s argument that this is good for students, but the correlation between spending and student achievement is dubious. According to 2014 Census data, Washington DC public schools received funding of $29,866 per pupil – by far the highest in the nation. Yet DC students performed worse than those in 46 of the 50 states, according to the most recent Education Week achievement scorecard. By contrast, Utah, which which spends only $7,714 per student ranked 14th on the scorecard. California spent $11,223 per student and ranked 30th. So while we know that more public education spending is good for teachers and other employees, the benefits for students are less clear,

Proposition 58 undermined a previous voter-approved restriction on bilingual education. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the initiative would not have a significant fiscal impact, because it does not directly change local funding formulas. However, restarting bilingual education will require new curricula, re-training current teaching staff and hiring new eduators who are fluent in multiple languages.  All of this will have to be funded somehow, and bilingual education could thus be used as a justification for future funding increases.

Aside from propositions, union spending also focused on certain key legislative races. Most notably, teacher’s unions spent over $800,000 to influence the outcome of the 14th District Assembly race between Democrats Mae Torlakson and Tim Grayson in Concord (Contra Costa County). Torlakson is the wife of the State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who has been characterized as being anti-charter and pro union. In this race, the unions were unsuccessful:  Grayson came out on top.

While it is true that Grayson and other school choice oriented candidates received support from pro-charter groups and affluent individuals, the conversation should not stop there. The California Federation of Teachers, the California Teacher’s Association and other unions are also wealthy special interests, and, unlike many of those vilified billionaires, the unions campaign contributions are funded by our taxes.

Click here to see the top 100 candidates and issues that teachers unions spent heavily on this election cycle. Data Compiled by UnionWatch.org

Should CA Tax E-Cigarettes the Same as the Real Thing?

e-cigaretteThe claims that e-cigarettes are just as much of a health hazard as regular cigarettes and must be heavily taxed has touched off a fight in the public health community. A faction of public health officials has sided with e-cigarette companies and their assertion that e-cigarettes are much less dangerous than cigarettes and can in fact help people break the smoking habit.

The issue is coming to the fore in California because of voters’ passage of Proposition 56 last month. It will increase the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 87 cents to $2.87 and mandates an “equivalent” increase in taxes on e-cigarettes, which allow users to heat nicotine fluid and inhale nicotine vapor without the tars they ingest when smoking regular cigarettes.

It’s not clear yet what “equivalent” means. State officials are still formulating the levies. But the Associated Press reports e-cigarette makers and distributors believe they will face a huge increase in state taxes that will raise the cost of vaping devices and liquids by more than 60 percent. If that happens, according to the American Vaping Association, it will be cheaper to smoke regular, more dangerous cigarettes in California than to “vape” — even though state taxes on regular cigarettes are going far higher as well.

In the United States, public health authorities, medical doctors and academics are broadly split on e-cigarettes. Some believe that e-cigarettes are so much less harmful that their use by conventional smokers should be encouraged. Some argue that there isn’t nearly enough hard research with which to draw conclusions about the relative healthiness of vaping. And some argue that e-cigarettes’ popularity threatens to undo the huge progress that has been made in reducing nicotine consumption in America over the last 50 years and should be heavily taxed and regulated for that reason alone.

Britain sees vaping as public health tool

These divided views aren’t the norm elsewhere. In California, state health officials issued a 2015 report blasting the emergence of vaping as a common habit, especially among the young. This report may be a factor in state officials’ consideration of heavy taxes for e-cigarettes.

Conversely, in the United Kingdom, physicians have been recommending that vaping be used by cigarette smokers because a massive government study found it is 95 percent healthier and has been a valuable tool for individuals trying to break their conventional smoking habits. These conclusions were released in a 2015 report by Public Health England.

Given that millions of Americans have died of lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes, this would seem to make the case for vaping’s utility in fighting regular smoking. But many authorities are unpersuaded. Perhaps the most prominent critic of the notion of vaping as a public health tool is Stanton Glantz, a professor of tobacco control at the University of California, San Francisco.

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Glantz dismissed claims about vaping’s promise with a profanity. He acknowledges that e-cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes but sharply questions the British research. “I’ll eat my shoe if that 95 percent figure turns out to be correct five years from now,” he told the magazine.

Glantz says the big picture must not be ignored: “Are there people who have totally made the switch or quit completely because of these? Yes, I believe there are. Terrific. But most are what we call dual users — those who smoke both, often to smoke in places where they can no longer smoke cigarettes. If you’re talking about a smoker using these to inhale more dangerous chemicals, well, that has a net negative effect on public health.”

Proposition 56 takes effect on April 1. It is unclear if state officials will issue a draft proposal on how to tax e-cigarettes and seek public comment or decide rates without such input. The text of the 24-page ballot measure is silent on how the rules should be crafted.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California Fights Greenhouse Gas – Farting Cows – by Driving Dairies Out

cowsThirty percent of California dairies have closed and hundreds of thousands of milk cows have been slaughtered over the last decade. Meanwhile, California liberals are crediting themselves for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farting cows.

When California’s Democrat-controlled legislature passed the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, known as AB 32, few understood that the action was a financial attack on Republican rural agricultural communities that over the next decade would see 600 dairies forced to shut down.

Despite the higher energy costs for farming, processing, and transportation to comply with AB 32, California’s remaining 1,400 dairy families and their 1.74 million milk cows are still ranked first in the U.S. for milk, butter, ice cream, nonfat dry milk, and whey protein concentrate production, plus second in cheese production. With $9.3 billion of sales, about 20 percent of America’s total, the California dairy industry is the state’s largest agricultural activity, accounting for 2 percent of the state’s economy.

But in the “Fake News” parroted by the media in the run-up to the elections, Sacramento Democrats claimed they needed to pass radical legislation in September to combat the “14.5 percent human-induced greenhouse gas emissions” that a United Nations 2013 report claims is produced by livestock, “with modern beef and dairy production accounting for the bulk of it.”

The “Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production” report produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. in November 2013 states that enteric (intestines) produced methane (CH4) emissions from livestock may contribute 7 percent of worldwide greenhouse gasses. The report also praised the modern dairy activities seen in California as environmentally friendly, since “grain-fed beef has a lower environmental footprint than grass-fed beef systems,” and the “largest GHG emissions in a beef production system (about 80 percent of the total) occur in the cow-calf phase, when cows and their calves are consuming predominantly forage-based diets.”

In spite of the fact that in California dairy farmers exclusively feed their dairy cattle grain and only utilize mature females, Democrats and one Republican voted to pass SB 1383, which requires a 40 percent in livestock greenhouse gases below their 2013 levels by 2030. It also allows the Air Resources Board to regulate cow flatulence, if a practical technology exists to reduce it.

Although Gov. Brown said, “This bill curbs these dangerous pollutants and thereby protects public health and slows climate change,” two complex crony amendments were taken in the final hours that effectively barred the National Federation of Independent Business and  small farmers from understanding the impacts of the changes to the bill and having a chance to voice their strong opposition.

The real goal of the legislation was to fund another wildly subsidized sustainable energy boondoggle, with $90 million in grants from the state’s cap-and-trade revenues that will likely fund investments by large corporate farmers in dairy digesters and waste disposal corporations for composters. Both will use methane from manure to generate energy sold to electrical utilities at super-premium prices.

Dairy farmers say the new regulations will drive up costs when they are already struggling with five years of drought, low milk prices, and rising labor costs. They are also concerned about a newly-signed law that will boost overtime pay for farmworkers.

Director of environmental services for Western United Dairymen Paul Sousa was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle: “It just makes it more challenging. We’re continuing to lose dairies. Dairies are moving out of state to places where these costs don’t exist.” He said he expects more “complete dispersal” auctions to close dairies and slaughter their mature herds.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Sacramento and S.F. Push for Police Reform at Local Level

Police tapeSACRAMENTO – The presidential campaign focused some attention on the long-simmering debate over policing and the appropriate uses of force, but as is typical with national campaigns, the nuances got lost amid ideologically charged soundbites such as “law and order” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Some advocates for police reform worry about what a new Trump administration will mean for these discussions given the president-elect’s expectedly different approach toward the matter than President Obama’s Department of Justice. But others argue the election will send reform back to where it really belongs: at the local level.

Two northern California cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, are good examples of the latter. They are currently plowing ahead with major oversight and accountability proposals for their police departments – the result of local policing scandals that have little to do with national political changes. Sacramento takes up the matter at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

The Sacramento reforms were prompted by a video of two police officers in pursuit of a mentally ill homeless man, Joseph Mann, who was armed with a knife and acting erratically. As the Sacramento Bee reported, the video sequence shows “the officers gunned their vehicle toward Mann, backed up, turned and then drove toward him again, based on dash-cam video released by police. They stopped the car, ran toward Mann on foot and shot him 14 times.” One officer is recorded saying “f— this guy” shortly before they shot him.

The killing raised questions not only about the appropriate use of force in such situations, but about the city’s willingness to provide the public information about what transpired. Top city officials – the police chief, city attorney and city manager – didn’t release the video of the event until after the Bee acquired the footage from a private citizen. The shooting led to community protests and has been a source of strife – and council debate – ever since.

In September, the newspaper’s Editorial Board published this pointed editorial: “The city could have been upfront with Mann’s family about how many times he was shot and how long the investigation into the shooting would take. Instead, his brother, backed by enough activists to fill City Hall, had go before the City Council to beg for information. The city could have been clear about what training officers receive to handle people who are mentally ill. Instead, police still haven’t responded to a Public Records Act request for a copy of the department’s policy.”

Reformers argue that the proposed policy doesn’t go far enough, although backers argue that it is about as far as it can go given state law. Specifically, the measure would transfer power of the civilian oversight committee from the city manager’s office to the mayor and City Council – thus providing a more independent level of oversight given that the city manager also oversees the police department. Council members are at least beholden to voters.

The city’s proposal also does the following: “This resolution requires the city manager to ensure that all police officers of the Sacramento Police Department abide by council specified guidelines with regards to use of force. Key components of the resolution include the timely release of video after an officer involved incident occurs and the immediate notification of family members after an officer involved shooting.” That attempts to deal with the public-records issue.

Civilian-oversight commissions are still limited by the state Supreme Court’s Copley decision. In that 2006 case, the San Diego Union-Tribune tried to gain access to a disciplinary hearing regarding a deputy sheriff who was appealing his termination. As the newspaper reported, “The court ruled that police disciplinary hearings are closed — and the public has no right to learn about allegations of police misconduct, even when they are aired in a civil service commission.” Legislative efforts to roll back parts of the decision have repeatedly been stymied by police union lobbying.

In San Francisco, officials have been reacting to controversy following three officer-involved shootings and a scandal involving racist text messages that were allegedly sent by police officers. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in April, “The messages are loaded with slurs and ugly stereotypes, and include one from an officer responding to a photo of a blackened Thanksgiving turkey. ‘Is that a Ferguson turkey?’ the officer asks, referring to the city in Missouri that saw widespread protests after police fatally shot an unarmed African American man in 2014.”

National politics plays a bigger role in the San Francisco case. That’s because the federal Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services department published a study last month looking at San Francisco’s police department. The mayor and former police chief had asked the department to review police practices following these scandals.

As the report’s summary explained, “Although the COPS Office found a department that is committed to making changes and working with the community, it also found a department with outdated use of force policies that fail the officers and the community and inadequate data collection that prevents leadership from understanding officer activities and ensure organizational accountability. The department lacked accountability measures to ensure that the department is being open and transparent while holding officers accountable.”

San Francisco officials have vowed to implement the 479 recommendations made in the Justice Department report. “We will continue to implement the recommendations for reform which will be built on the most current policing policies and practices, fostering an environment of trust and strong relationships with our communities,” said acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin.

In Sacramento, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who is inaugurated on Dec. 13, told the Bee “the public certainly has a right to know whether a particular officer who has been accused of misconduct continues to serve in the role of police officer. … There ought to be a clear presumption of openness and the burden ought to be on the city attorney and police to demonstrate in a compelling way why anything is not public.” There’s concern that a federal lawsuit by Mann’s relatives will allow the city to shut down public access to information about the shooting.

This much is clear: Whatever changes a new administration makes at the Department of Justice, local officials throughout California are on the front lines of the police-reform movement.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com