California’s Progressive War on Suburbia

Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

For three years in a row, California’s progressive lawmakers have attempted to legislate higher density housing by taking away the ability of cities and counties to enforce local zoning laws. And for the third year in a row, the proposed law, Senate Bill 50, was narrowly defeated. But eventually, inevitably, something like SB 50 is going to passed into law.

In opposition were homeowners who understandably don’t want their single family home neighborhoods subjected to random demolitions in order to replace single family homes with construction subsidized fourplexes to be filled with rent subsidized tenants. These homeowners, and the local elected officials who represent them, were joined by “housing justice advocates” who claimed the law didn’t adequately address the gentrification effect, whereby higher density developments often displace existing residents to construct luxury condominiums that only the wealthy can afford.

There’s a lot going on here, and it seems that very little in the way of analysis can support a dogmatic ideological perspective. For example, from a property rights perspective, you can argue that people who purchase homes have a right to expect the zoning density of the neighborhood to be respected, since that’s what they relied on when they invested their life savings and lifetime earnings. But a property rights perspective might also have one argue that each individual home owner has the right to do whatever they wish with their property, even if that means demolishing the home to construct a multi-story apartment building. These unresolved and conflicting interpretations of property rights prevent consensus and delay action.

And if some ideological dogmas lend themselves to contradictory interpretations, others simply defy reality entirely. Some of the housing justice advocates believe that providing shelter is a human right. For them, mandating taxpayer subsidized “affordable housing” construction, and taxpayer subsidized rent, is the only solution to California’s housing shortage and affordability crisis, and the sooner we get busy, the better. This unrealistic extension of human rights attracts opposition, if not ridicule, and in any case is impossibly expensive.

But perhaps the worst of the ideological dogmas that prevents rapid solutions to the housing challenges facing Californians is environmentalist values taken to extremes. The practical impact of regulations attendant to environmentalist values – from CEQA reporting requirements and CEQA lawsuits to burdensome and expensive building codes – is to make housing construction unprofitable for anything that might be considered affordable to the average Californian.

Environmentalist ideology hasn’t just made construction costs unaffordable, it has made land costs unaffordable as well, by passage of environmentalist inspired laws that strictly limit the amount of raw land that can get approved for new home construction. Around every city in California, with varying degrees of enforcement, “urban containment” boundaries have been established. Sometimes these boundaries serve important goals; to protect prime farmland, or to preserve important ecosystems such as wetlands for migratory birds. But it seems that almost all open land, everywhere within California’s vastness, is off limits to developers because of environmentalists.

California’s Regulations Destroyed Affordability

The problem with SB 50, or any eventual legislation that mandates higher housing density, is that without reforms to the laws that have made construction of affordable housing unprofitable, the only housing that will ever get built will be high-end homes by private investors, or housing that will require government subsidies both to construct and for the renters to be able to afford to live in them. This is not sustainable. It costs too much, and it takes too long. And it sets up a dangerous bifurcated society, where forcibly integrated into residential single family neighborhoods, randomly situated pretty much anywhere, are apartment buildings populated by residents receiving taxpayer funded rent subsidies.

There’s no doubt that some legislation may have to occur to selectively increase housing density. When a bill like SB 50 returns, which could be any day, certain modifications could help. In particular, SB 50 specified where state law could preempt local zoning, and included in “job-rich, good schools areas.” This is “inclusionary zoning” at its ostensibly high-minded, vindictive worst. The bill’s authors made this provision without any reference to whether or not “job-rich, good schools areas” are in parts of town that ought to naturally convert to higher density. Instead, the message seems to be “you’ve managed to maintain a prosperous and stable community with good schools and jobs, so into that community, we’re going to subsidize the entrance of predatory investors, who will purchase and demolish homes that come onto the market, replace them with apartments, and fill those apartments with people who never had to face down the astronomical mortgages that all you residents shouldered in order to have the right to live here.”

This is wrong. It destroys the incentive for anyone to ever want to pay extra to live in a decent neighborhood. Equally important, it destroys the incentive for low income individuals to work hard and aspire to move to a better neighborhood. And to be clear: this provision would never impact truly wealthy neighborhoods. Those people can afford attorneys to tie development proposals up in knots for years, SB 50 or not. This provision attacks California’s middle class. As usual. Delete it.

On the other hand, within the urban core and on properties with frontage along major boulevards, it is an unfortunate reality for anyone still living there in single family homes that their property is doomed to transition. In the past, that would be accomplished because the value of a few of these properties, consolidated and rezoned for a large multi-family building, would make it a lucrative deal for the sellers. Now, however, the business model is broken. Not only has the impact of CEQA and overdone building codes raised costs, but the resultant entrance of public financing into the equation has made project labor agreements elevate the total project cost still further. The relatively recent entrance of powerful “nonprofit” corporations into the subsidized housing market has padded total project budgets and increased costs even more.

For these reasons, mandating densification, however better tuned the rules eventually turn out, is not enough. The entire economic landscape requires revision.

Rewriting SB 50 to Recognize Economic Reality

It is possible to increase the supply of affordable market rate housing without involving the government and taxpayers in the actual construction funding. It is possible as well to increase the supply of housing in a manner that allows the developers and landlords to earn a decent return on investment without involving the government and taxpayers in funding rent subsidies. Therefore, the next version of SB 50 might recognize and account for the following factors:

  • Abandon “inclusive zoning” aimed at integrating subsidized low income residents into middle class neighborhoods via massive taxpayer expenditures.
  • Restrict mandated higher density zoning to the core urban areas in California and along major traffic arteries. One absolute set of governing criteria should apply everywhere.
  • Treat every county and city exactly the same, instead of allowing select counties and cities to take longer to come up with their own plans.
  • Repeal or significantly reform the California Environmental Quality Act.
  • Repeal energy neutral mandates and assorted other unwarranted environmentalist inspired building code regulations that add costs to home construction.
  • Set a maximum period of time within which building permits can be granted, and set a maximum building fee at $10,000 per home/unit (or less).
  • Streamline the building permit process to make it easier, not harder, for developers to acquire permits. Look to Texas for guidance.
  • Ban project labor agreements and require open bidding processes for public works projects.
  • Restore public funding to streets and connector roads instead of charging developer fees which are then reflected in much higher home prices.
  • Repeal laws designed to prevent reasonable expansion of the urban footprint. Allow housing developments again on open land.

These and other changes would make it possible again for private homebuilders to profitably construct affordable housing. Redirecting public money into constructing enabling infrastructure would take additional financial pressure off of home builders as well as home buyers. That worked in the 1960s and 1970s in California, and it still works in other states. The overall cost of increased public investment in infrastructure is less, perhaps far less, than the cost of taxpayers subsidizing the construction, and then subsidizing the rent in perpetuity, for literally millions of units of housing.

There is a war on suburbia being waged in California. This ideological battle, where suburbanites are stigmatized as classist, privileged, and environmentally destructive, is utterly unfounded. Suburbs are where a majority of Americans prefer to raise their families. And not these new suburbs with a dozen “single family dwellings” per acre. Spacious, beautiful suburbs where homes sit on lots of at least 6,000 square feet; suburbs where the homes themselves might actually be smaller and more affordable, once the economic hindrances to building them are removed via legislative reforms.

The arrogance of environmentalists who believe suburbs to be a planetary abomination must be called out for what it is – extremism completely unjustified by reality. Everything, from cars to energy to building materials, are becoming clean and sustainable. And there’s plenty of open land in California to spare a few thousand more square miles for new human settlement. At the least, if environmentalists are serious about saving California’s ecosystems, they might stop making common cause with the open borders lobby, and they might endorse nuclear power. Until then, they are transparently hypocritical.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

The Moral Crisis of Skid Row

They call Los Angeles the City of Angels, but it seems that even here, within the five-by-ten-block area of Skid Row, the city contains an entire cosmology—angels and demons, sinners and saints, plagues and treatments.

Walking down San Pedro Street to the heart of Skid Row, I see men smoking methamphetamine in the open air and women selling bootleg cigarettes on top of cardboard boxes. Around the corner, a man makes a drug transaction from the window of a silver sedan, a woman in an American-flag bandana flashes her vagina to onlookers, and a shirtless man in a bleached-blond woman’s wig defecates behind a parked police car. Slumped across the entryway of an old garment business, a shoeless, middle-aged junkie injects heroin into his cracked, bare feet.

Skid Row is the epicenter of L.A.’s addiction crisis. More than 12,000 homeless meth and heroin addicts pass through here each year, with thousands living in the vast network of tent encampments that line the sidewalks. For decades, L.A. has centralized public services in this tiny city-within-a-city. The result: it’s become an iron cage of the social state, with the highest concentration of homelessness, addiction, and overdose deaths in Los Angeles County. Fire Station 9, which covers Skid Row, is now the busiest firehouse in America, responding to 35,518 calls for service last year, including a record-high number of overdoses and mental-health crises.

The scale of the crisis is astonishing: 40,000 homeless men and women in Los Angeles County suffer from addiction, mental illness, or both. More than 1,000 will die on the streets this year. As I survey the human wreckage along Skid Row, my fear is that the city government is creating a new class of “untouchables,” permanently disconnected from the institutions of society. For the past decade, political leaders have relied on two major policies to address the crisis—“harm reduction” and “housing first”—but despite $619 million in spending in 2018, more people are on the streets than ever. The reality is that Los Angeles has adopted a policy of containment: construct enough “supportive housing” to placate the appetites of the social-services bureaucracy, distribute enough needles to prevent an outbreak of plague, and herd enough men and women into places like Skid Row, where they will not disrupt the political fiction that everything is okay.

The LAPD’s Central Police Station is a windowless fortress, surrounded by a narrow strip of dirt and a sagging chain-link fence. Last year, after rats established a system of tunnels underneath the station, the department made plans to pave over the remaining landscape with concrete, but the project is on hold. I’m here to see Sergeant Pete Kouvelis, an LAPD veteran with a detailed, street-level understanding of life on Skid Row. I wait in line behind a polite and neatly dressed man filing a battery complaint against another resident in his SRO apartment complex, and then give my name to the tired-looking officer behind the glass.

After a moment, Sergeant Kouvelis, a broad-shouldered man with a military haircut, opens the security door and shakes my hand. As we pass through the back hallways and climb into his white patrol vehicle, Kouvelis, who earned a degree in architecture from USC and served as an officer in the Marine Corps, launches into a short discourse on the political economy of Skid Row. He says that the territory here is divided into sections by street gangs from South Los Angeles, who control the markets for meth, heroin, prostitution, cigarettes, and stolen goods. “This is pretty much the epicenter in L.A. for maintaining your addictions,” Kouvelis says. “You’ve got the gang element that markets their drugs, and it’s predatory. The more people addicted, the better.”

Indeed, addiction is a booming business here. Based on data from the Center for Harm Reduction and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, I estimate that the sales of meth, heroin, and cocaine on Skid Row add up to a $200 million annual enterprise, fueling a massive black market in everything from stolen bicycle parts to human organs. The LAPD, including its gang and narcotics task forces, has tried to disrupt the drug trade for decades, without much success. “We’ve tried different things, different data,” says Kouvelis. “But the population is very good at learning our tactics and then adapting their behaviors to counter our tactics. . . . It’s almost like a shell game, where we’re trying to do one thing today and then, three months from now, we’ll [need to] try a different tactic.”

Outside San Julian Park, which the Grape Street Crips use as a central distribution point for meth and heroin, Kouvelis stops the car in the middle of the street. He explains that we don’t want to be too close to the subsidized apartment buildings because residents on the upper floors will sometimes throw trash, urine, and feces at the cops below. While we wait for another officer to arrive, Kouvelis tells war stories from his time in the Central Division. He points to a tree around the corner that used to have 50 or so hypodermic needles stabbed into it; addicts would take one out, use it to shoot up, and then stick it back into the cracked bark. He tells me a particularly nightmarish story about a young bipolar woman, kidnapped and held in a subsidized apartment, and then plied with meth, tortured, and raped for more than two months; officers found her unconscious, with her hair ripped out and a half-dozen broken bones. A few years ago, Kouvelis says, officers even learned of a baby living in one of the tents—they cordoned off the entire street and went tent-to-tent until they rescued the child.

When the other officer, a thin, bald-headed man, arrives, we get out of the vehicle and walk through the park to the Green Apple Market on Fifth and Wall. Suddenly, we hear screaming and fighting around the corner. The officers run over and find a heavyset woman with a pit bull accusing a man in a bloody gray shirt of harassing her while she sleeps in her tent. Kouvelis, the bald-headed cop, and other officers from another patrol car break up the fight and scatter the crowd. As he crosses the street, the man in the gray shirt protests that I’m taking pictures, and another man in a black beanie points at me and threatens: “If [the police] wasn’t here, you woulda probably got jumped or knocked out.” The police recognize the man in the gray shirt from a few days earlier, when he was stabbed in the neck and nearly died in the hospital. “He’s not long for this world,” says one of the officers. “He’s going to get himself killed.”

Roughly a decade ago, Skid Row’s future looked more hopeful. In 2006, Police Chief William Bratton and Central Division Commander Andrew Smith implemented a strategy of Broken Windows policing for Skid Row, called the Safer Cities Initiative, which led to a 42 percent reduction in major felonies, 50 percent reduction in overdose and natural deaths, and 75 percent reduction in homicides. “We’ve broken the back of the problem,” said Chief Bratton then, reporting that the overall homeless population had been reduced from 1,876 people to 700 people—an astonishing success. (See “The Reclamation of Skid Row,” Autumn 2007.)

The progress proved short-lived. Arguing that Broken Windows policing “criminalizes homelessness,” activists slowly dismantled the Safer Cities Initiative through civil rights lawsuits and public pressure campaigns. Today, Skid Row’s homeless population is estimated to be at least 2,500 people, and crime has been rising for years.

At the Central Division, a consensus is emerging that it’s only a matter of time before the neighborhood explodes. “I was a Marine officer [and] served overseas,” says Sergeant Kouvelis. “Skid Row rivals anything that I have seen to date . . . in terms of the conditions that people live in.”

Over the past 30 years, activists and political leaders have successfully shifted public policy regarding addiction and disorder away from a so-called punitive model that relies on prohibition, incarceration, and abstinence toward a “harm-reduction” approach that takes widespread drug use as a given and attempts to reduce rates of infection and other negative effects. Mark Casanova, executive director of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, has been working with addicts on Skid Row since 1985. His Center for Harm Reduction distributes 2.4 million clean needles to more than 12,000 addicts each year. As I walk through the door to the waiting room, I see a gaunt young man waiting to collect needles, swabs, and fentanyl testing strips. A woman with floral tattoos covering her scabbed-over arms slides a tray of used needles into the metal sharps container. On the wall is a large map of the city, with hundreds of blue pushpins marking each spot where an overdose was reversed with a naloxone inhaler provided by the center. …

Click here to read the full article from City Journal Online.

How State Policy Makers Can Avoid It Becoming Siligone Valley

As unlikely as it seems, we could see in our lifetimes the decline of Silicon Valley, maybe the most dynamic economic and innovation machine man has ever known. Can it be avoided?

Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, who’s earned Silicon Valley’s grandest fortune, said at last month’s 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Utah that “I do think on balance if I was starting from scratch now, I would not pick the Bay Area.” 

While he’s “not super negative on” the Bay Area, quite a few are. San Francisco’s most recent annual residential survey found that 35% say they’re likely to leave the city, with 15% saying they’re “very likely’ move out and 20% saying it’s “somewhat likely” they’ll go.

The Facebook chairman and CEO is not the first tech executive to send a chilly wind through the valley. Nor the most blunt. Reddit founder and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian said straight out last year that despite San Francisco being a great city, “no one in their right mind” would build a company there.

Is it because the region has become an echo chamber?

“There’s a lot of advantages to building a company that is not in such a monoculture,” Zuckerberg said, adding that “Silicon Valley being an all-tech town there’s not as much diversity of how people think about things as you’d like, in a lot of ways.”

The valley has a reputation for being monolithically left. Zuckerberg himself admits it’s “a very left-leaning place.” And the great majority of executives, managers, and workers appear comfortable with that. 

But being insulated from outside ideas can hold back rather than promote growth. According to Undercover Recruiter, “employees with different political affiliations may have different approaches to problem-solving, allowing them to offer some invaluable insights … diverse perspectives can help your business thrive.” 

Just as California would have the fifth-largest economy on the planet if it were an independent nation, Silicon Valley would have a larger economy, valued at $275 billion, than Finland, the Czech Republic, Portugal and other European nations, if it were a separate country. The nine Bay Area counties would be the world’s 19th largest economy if they were combined into a nation, with a $535 billion GDP. As a state, they’d be the richest. 

The valley is a remarkable story. But can it, and will it, last? 

A healthy economy is a churning economy. Only 52 of the U.S. companies that were on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 are still there today (and we’re better off because of the “perennial gale of creative destruction”). At some point, the tech world that fuels Silicon Valley will be overtaken by an economy driven by forces not yet imagined.

But before that happens, the valley could begin fading due to self-inflicted wounds — the Blue State public policies that have produced trouble all across California.

Extreme housing costs in the region make it hard for tech companies to recruit capable employees. So do the high personal income taxes they’d be liable for. Steep business taxes make California less desirable for startups and push established companies out, as does the general hostility toward business, from Sacramento down to the city halls. It’s also tough to sell the state when the quality of life is devalued by local elected officials. San Francisco and Oakland, for instance, are 148th and 144th in WalletHub’s ranking of the nation’s 150 worst-run cities

California businesses have to operate in a treacherous legal environment, as well. The state is “a perennial Judicial Hellhole,” says the American Tort Reform Association, overloaded with “business-crushing lawsuits.”

 There are options. Houston and Austin in Texas, Las Vegas, Denver, and Miami are “great alternatives” to Silicon Valley, according to Inc. magazine. All are successfully attracting capital and entrepreneurs, tend to be more open to outsiders than Silicon Valley, and are not as expensive to live in. 

Entrepreneur magazine suggests Roanoke, Virginia; Provo, Utah; Huntsville, Alabama; San Antonio; Nashville; and San Diego as “unsung startup tech” alternatives. The cost of living is lower in each, even in San Diego, than it is in the Bay Area, and the tech talent, groomed by local universities, is ready to work.

California policymakers should never imagine that Silicon Valley is too big to fail. In fact, if they continue to see it as simply a cash spigot to fund their “progressive” agenda, they’ll be complicit in its downfall.

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

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Brian Jones faces new campaign law violations in Congressional race

Sen. Brian Jones faces questions about misuse of campaign funds

A Republican candidate running to replace Rep. Duncan Hunter, who resigned from Congress for misusing campaign funds, is facing questions about his own misuse of state campaign funds.

Since September 1, State Senator Brian Jones of Santee has spent $122,481.82 in campaign expenditures from his state campaign committee, an account established with the exclusive purpose of supporting his 2022 reelection to the State Senate.

Despite his reelection being more than two years away, Jones for Senate 2022 has spent big money on direct voter contact, including $39,890.42 worth of direct mail and $30,000 in information technology costs paid to IVC Media, a political consulting firm managed by Chad Peace, the son of former Democratic lawmaker Steve Peace.

The six-figures in campaign expenditures from his 2022 state-level committee exceed the total amount that Jones has spent on his current congressional campaign, which is now less than two weeks away. According to his 2019 year-end federal campaign report, Brian Jones for Congress 2020 has spent just $85,332.16 in campaign expenditures.

Jones 2022 State Account Spends More than 2020 Congressional Committee  

State and federal campaign finance laws preclude candidates from using state campaign contributions to fund a campaign for federal office. In 2019, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris closed her active state-level campaign account and donated the approximate $1 million balance to charitable causes because she was legally barred from transferring the funds for use in her presidential bid. 

“A candidate’s authorized (federal) committee may not accept funds or assets transferred from a committee established by the same candidate for a nonfederal election campaign,” the Federal Election Commission states under its guidelines for “Transfers from a candidate’s nonfederal committee”.

On January 7, Rep. Duncan Hunter announced his resignation from Congress after pleading guilty to a felony count of misuse of campaign funds. Jones is one of ten candidates seeking to succeed Hunter in Congress. 

Coordinated Messages, Identical Logos

Since creating a Facebook page on November 22, 2019, Brian Jones for Senate 2022 has spent $20,103 to run 75 Facebook advertisements, according to Facebook’s advertising disclosure records. The advertising campaign has generated between 854,000 and 1.019 million impressions – with three-quarters of the social media advertisements featured since January 1.

Facebook advertisements on Jones’ Senate page have mirrored the messaging by his congressional campaign committee, focusing on themes of religious liberty, traditional values, and transgender rights.

“Did you know the CA legislature passed a resolution telling people of faith their beliefs are “illegal?” asks one Jones for Senate 2022 advertisement, which generated as many as 80,000 impressions.

In near perfect symmetry, the Brian Jones for Congress Facebook page answers, “Christians right to freely practice their faith in America is under attack. Politicians, human rights commissions, neighborhood HOAs and government bureaucrats are trying to silence Christians or make them compromise their biblical values.”

Even the campaign logos for his Senate and congressional campaign are identical, displaying Jones’ name in identical font on an identical blue and red background.

In addition to potential campaign finance violations, by funding advertisements from his State Senate account to advance his campaign for Congress, Jones is able to conceal his current campaign spending until after the March 3rd primary.

Jones has already been the subject of a California Political Review investigative report which found the State Senator had also used state taxpayer funds to purchase advertising and promote himself during his Congressional election campaign, a controversial practice that may violate taxpayer protection laws.

The Many Flaws of Prop. 13, the 2020 Impostor

A couple of months ago, this column sounded the alarm concerning the big statewide school bond on the March 2020 ballot.

Voters have already started casting their ballots on this measure, ironically identified as Proposition 13 (2020). Unlike the beneficial Prop. 13 from 1978, this Prop. 13 is a huge $15 billion statewide school bond that threatens taxpayers in several ways. And the more we learn about this proposal, the worse it gets.

Although the amount of debt is “only” $15 billion — setting a new record for school bonds — the total cost will be $27 billion when interest costs are added.

We also pointed out that Prop. 13 (2020) is a huge threat to California property owners. While it is true that the bond itsef, plus interest, will be repaid out of the state’s general fund, local school districts are usually required to provide matching funds. Those matching funds are generated by local bond measures, which are repaid exclusively by property owners. The threat to homeowners is that, if Prop. 13 (2020) passes, those debt limits are nearly doubled.

After our original column ran back in November concerning the debt limit increase, several taxpayers inquired as to where that language could be found in the text of Prop. 13 in the ballot pamphlet, the state’s Official Voter Information Guide. And there’s the rub. Proposition 13 (2020) was placed on the ballot by the legislature through the passage of Assembly Bill 48.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California’s Poorly Designed “Gig-Work” Law Already Having Unintended Consequences

Last year California passed a new law, known generally as AB5, designed to classify independent contractors as full employees, a status that brings associated protections under California law. The law was designed to go after Uber and Lyft, whose business model depends on drivers working as independent contractors, but it was too broad in scope, threatening to drag in workers and business far from the tech-enabled “gig work” economy.

AB5 took effect on January 1, and it’s already causing trouble. A limit on the number of articles that freelance writers could produce for one publication resulted in layoffs for some California journalists and a First Amendment lawsuit from others. Workers in more than 135 occupations claim that losing contractor status hurts them, while independent theater and arts groups are facing thousands of dollars in costs they can’t afford because they must now treat staff as employees. Lorena Gonzalez, the assemblywoman who wrote AB5, has introduced another law to remove the article cap for writers and address the status of musicians. A sign of poor legislation is the need to rewrite it immediately after it takes effect.

Uber is making changes to its app to avoid triggers that define “employment” under the law. If this workaround proves successful, then the industry that AB5 targeted will remain untouched, while other businesses will face its burdens—and other workers will lose opportunities. Trucking companies have gotten a restraining order on applying the law to their operations. The process of negotiating exemptions and modifications to the law is making progressive California a bastion of crony capitalism, with favored or powerful classes writing themselves in or out of regulation. Poorer workers and smaller companies and industries, without access to lawyers or lobbyists, will lose out. In this vein, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and others are planning to spend more than $100 million on a ballot measure to overturn AB5—but only for app-based drivers, leaving everyone else, from translators to rehab assistants, out in the cold.

California should stop the madness, repeal AB5, and craft a law narrowly tailored to the gig economy but broadly applied without exemptions. Uber and Lyft drivers, or movers for companies like Lugg, are neither true contractors, like architects, nor true employees, like factory workers. A better approach might include them in payroll-tax benefits such as disability and unemployment and exclude them from minimum-wage and overtime regulations, since they choose how much they will work. There would be questions to resolve—if you quit moving for Lugg after hurting your back but occasionally drive for Lyft, are you unemployed?—but such a compromise could spare Uber and Lyft the expense and risk of a ballot measure, while saving California the ignominy of aiming regulations at multibillion-dollar corporations but hitting community theater instead.

Phillip Sprincin is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

Tax Measures Everywhere — For What Purposes?

The coming March 3 California primary election is not simply about the presidential contest and legislative races, it’s also about taxes—big time. Voters will decide on a record 231 local tax and bond measures (backed by taxes) across the state.

The California Taxpayers Association amassed a listing of the 231 measures, which cover the gambit from general obligation bonds funded by property taxes to parcel taxes to cannabis taxes to document transfer taxes to sales taxes to hotel taxes. According to brief summaries of the multiple tax measures the money will go for schools, parks, law enforcement, road paving, open spaces and all kinds of government services – or will it?

Never mentioned in any of the descriptions is the hidden cost driver for many local governments and schools– pension liabilities.

The story is well told. As University of California Public Policy and Political Science professor Sarah Anzia summed up her article in the Washington Post last summer, “Out of the public eye, public-sector pension expenditures are quietly and persistently eating into local government budgets.”

According to CalTax, the number of measures marks a 165-percent increase over the last presidential primary. In June 2016, voters were presented with 87 local tax and bond measures and approved 67.

The dramatic increase in the number of taxes can be directly tied to the need for government entities to deal with their pension obligations. While the funds raised by the taxes may not go directly into pensions, the new money can replace dollars that can be shifted to fund the pensions. Even the school bonds could have some effect on money needed for pensions. While the bond money is spent on school construction or maintenance, no money for maintenance need be taken from a school’s general funds, making that money available for other purposes like pensions and guaranteed health care.

In a recent report on school funding, the Legislative Analyst noted that despite exceptional growth in school funding in recent years, “Pension costs have been the most significant compensation pressure facing districts. Since 2013‑14, districts’ pension costs have increased by $4.7 billion—more than doubling. For 2020‑21, we expect total school district pension costs to increase by at least another $800 million.”

The problem also exists for local governments. A couple of years ago the League of California Cities issued a report that said over a twenty-year period the percentage of city budgets statewide would  double for pension payouts from around 8% in 2006 to nearly 16% in 2025. In some cities that percentage has already been topped. Los Angeles City puts aside about 20% of its budget for pensions.

So sure, the tax increases will bring more money in for schools, parks, law enforcement, road paving, open spaces and all kinds of government services, but a healthy portion of that revenue or the money it replaces will end up in pensions. For the sake of transparency, supporters of the tax increases should tell the voters. Let them decide if that’s a good reason to raise more taxes.

 Joel Fox is editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Fighting the One-Party State at the Local Level in California

It isn’t a partisan observation to say that California is a one-party state. It’s just stating a fact. The Democratic Party controls all the levers of political power in California. Consider the evidence: GOP registration is down to 23 percent of registered voters. There is a Democratic “mega-majority” (75% or more) in both chambers of the state legislature. The GOP only holds 7 out of 53 congressional seats. Democrats occupy every state office from Governor on down. The GOP hasn’t elected a U.S. Senator to represent California since 1988. Democrats control the city councils and boards of supervisors in almost every city and county. There are roughly 10,000 elected positions in California, from school boards to utility commissions and special districts, and Democrats run candidates and have professional funded campaigns for all of them, all the time.

The reasons that California is a one-party state are also not hard to understand. For this as well, the evidence is overwhelming. Virtually every financial special interest in California supports Democrats. Public sector unions, which are almost exclusively supportive of Democratic candidates and causes, collect and spend $800 million per year. California’s high tech industry, commanding mind-blowing wealth, is solidly Democratic. California’s wealthy and influential entertainment industry is solidly Democratic. The media establishment in California is also solidly Democratic, wielding priceless influence over voters. And as if that weren’t enough, politically active billionaires spend amazing sums of money in California to support Democrats.

It takes BIG money to control California politics, and the Democrats have it: California’s own Tom Steyer spent $45 million on CA ballot measures in 2012 and 2016. Steyer spent $60 million on U.S. congressional races in 2018, including several in California. New Yorker Michael Bloomberg spent an estimated 80 million on 24 battleground congressional races, and won 21 of them – including 3 in California. These and other major donors coordinated efforts with PACs supported by public sector unions to flip seven congressional seats in California in 2018 and increase their majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

It takes hundreds of millions per year to win in California; the Democrats always have that kind of money, and the Republicans never do.

Californians Want New Ideas

A critical mass of Californians are realizing Democrats have failed them, and this, too, is not a partisan observation. There is ample evidence of how one-party rule has failed. There are now over 150,000 homeless living in permanent encampments on the streets of California’s cities. Among these unfortunate individuals are drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill, and criminals. Some of them urgently need help, others need to be incarcerated, but permissive laws and unrealistic regulations prevent action. Instead, voters are conned into paying for “affordable” public housing that costs, on average, over $500,000 per unit. The cost to build houses is prohibitive because of expensive permits (and endless delays in getting them), excessive fees, and a shortage of land where no shortage ought to exist because of “greenbelts.”

The litany of one-party state failure is endless. Taxpayers fund expansion of light rail despite low ridership, instead of upgrading California’s roads and freeways. Californians pay among the highest prices in the nation for gasoline, electricity, and natural gas. Californians endure water rationing because the one-party state won’t make effective investments in infrastructure. Californians are driven from their homes and some of them are killed because of wildfires caused by the one-party state’s negligence and misguided regulations, not “climate change.” Californians are forced to send their children to failing K-12 public schools, and when it’s time to send them to college, they will face an unaffordable tuition burden in order to pay for the population explosion of non-teaching administrators.

The one-party state has made life in California unaffordable and unfair, and the political system is rigged. But there are ways to fight back. Regardless of party affiliation, local elected officials, and citizens through the initiative process, can pass measures that have broad populist appeal. Here are examples of nonpartisan reform that are feasible at the local level.

Examples of Local Government Reforms

(1) Curb Corporate Cronyism: One way to get at this is via a “Fairness in Business” ordinance. The city council in Yorba Linda recently approved this ordinance, which  “shall prohibit any subsidy or business incentive from being provided to one business for their gain without the same subsidy or business incentive being given to all businesses.”

(2) Attack Corporate Welfare: A related measure could attack corporate welfare via a “Taxpayer Protection Resolution.” This measure would use the gift clause in the California constitution as the legal basis to minimize if not eliminate tax incentives and subsidies. The operative language would be “Government shall not expend, loan, or allow the use of public resources, nor use its taxing power, in aid of any individual, association, corporation, or other private party, unless such expenditure, loan, or use is for a public purpose, supported by consideration, and over which the public entity exercises continuing control.”

(3) Form an Independent Fire Department: California’s cities can emulate the experience of Placentia, which withdrew from the Orange County Fire Authority, with OCFA scheduled to be effectively replaced by mid 2020. According to Voice of OC, Placentia expects to save $28 million over the next 10 years by forming its own fire department and privatizing the paramedics services. Restoring local control over firefighting and emergency response services offers a huge opportunity to right-size pay, benefits, and work rules that have been a major factor in crowding out other services in California’s cities.

(4) Require Transparency in Local Government: Adopt a “Civic Openness in Negotiations” ordinance. Several California cities have passed ordinances that are helpful during negotiations with public employee unions to adopt or renew labor agreements. Key elements of COIN ordinances are the following: require an independent contract negotiator and an independent contract auditor, require public disclosure of offers and counteroffers, require elected officials to disclose all relevant communications, and allow for public disclosure and time for comments prior to final contract approval. Why hasn’t this always been the law?

(5) Get Retiree Health Insurance Spending Under Control: Right-size retired employee health insurance subsidies. In 2015 the City of Glendale decided to no longer guarantee that retirees would pay no more than active employees for their health insurance, by no longer subsidizing the higher premiums that typically apply with older participants. As noted in Glendale’s 2017 Annual Financial Report: “In October 2015, the City Council approved unblending medical insurance premium rates between active employees and retired employees effective June 1, 2016. Accordingly, City’s actuarial liability decreased from $214 million as of 6/30/2013 to $16 million as of 6/30/2016.

(6) Keep Taxpayer Funds Out of Political Advocacy: Regulate use of city or county expenditures on “public information campaigns.” California’s public officials have sought to raise local taxes and fees through “information” campaigns designed to appeal to local voters. These are thinly veiled, barely legal forms of political campaigning. Make them explicitly illegal, through a measure that states, among other things: “This city/county will not use public money – either internally, through its own staff and treasury, or externally, through the hiring or use of outside vendors – to engage in public education; public opinion polling or studies; or communications intended or may seem to be intended to determine the outcome of political campaigns.”

(7) Pension Reform: Two major cities enacted pension reform in the past decade, San Jose, and San Diego. Both of these reforms were relentlessly attacked in court by attorneys representing public sector unions, but significant reform elements remained in effect. Some of the key reforms include: Restrict what qualifies as pension eligible compensation. Move new employees onto 401K plans. Set a maximum percent-of-salary limit on city contributions to pensions. Change age of eligibility for pension benefits. Reduce maximum allowable cost of living adjustments to retiree pensions. Cap amount of pension eligible final salary. Assign “disability” retirement awards to independent panel. Discontinue “supplemental” pension payments to retirees.

Using the Initiative Process to Enact Local Reforms

While a city council of county board of supervisors can enact local political reforms, the initiative process offers a method to bypass the local elected officials. Getting a measure onto local ballots in California is still a fairly straightforward process.

Local Initiative Process:

  • Draft ballot measure and submit to City Attorney
  • Verify signature petition meets state and local legal requirements
  • Publish legal ad within 10 days of receiving title & summary
  • Gather signatures – typically 10 percent of registered voters
  • Collect 50 percent more signatures than you need (15 percent)
  • Submit signed petitions within 180 days of getting title & summary
  • City has 30 business days to verify signatures
  • If City doesn’t enact measure, it goes before voters in next election

While all of the already listed reforms can be enacted by a governing body or by a vote of local residents, doing it by initiative actually has some advantages. Most notable, a citizen’s initiative cannot typically be overturned by a city council or board of supervisors, it can only be repealed by holding a referendum asking voters to repeal what they’d previously approved. Since the one-party state can almost always retake control of a city council or county board of supervisors where the political reformers temporarily gained a majority, the initiative route implements a solution that can be more durable and lasting.

The following examples of political reforms via the local initiative process are actually being tried in California. In North Los Angeles County, a group of volunteer activists have placed several ballot measures before voters that if approved would repeal various local tax increases, usually utility taxes. In Oxnard, a group of volunteer activists are attempting to place a slate of linked initiatives on their local ballot, a tactic which makes sweeping changes possible in one election cycle.

(1) Repeal Local Tax Increases: Sample language can be quite simple, as shown by this example from a repeal measure placed on the April 2018 ballot in Sierra Madre: “Shall the City of Sierra Madre adopt a measure repealing the City’s Utility Users Tax in its entirety?” Political reformers who succeed in getting these proposals onto local ballots should prepare for a creative counterattack in the form of an “Advisory Measure” placed adjacent to the repeal on the ballot, asking voters “if the tax repeal passes, should the City Council eliminate paramedic services, reduce and outsource police services and library services, reduce code enforcement, and fire suppression service…”

(2) Place several reforms on the ballot at once, such as was attempted in Oxnard with the following five ballot measures: Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act, which would make the city treasurer, an elected official, the head of the finance department. Keeping the Promise for Streets Act, which would deny the city certain sales tax revenue if it fails to maintain streets to specific levels. Term Limits Act, which would limit the mayor and council members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. Open Meetings Act, which would require city meetings to begin no earlier than 5 p.m. and allow public speakers no less than three minutes to comment. Permit Simplicity Act, which would reform the permitting system with training, new guidelines and an auditing process that would lead an applicant to obtain a permit in one business day.

Other Ways to Fight for Nonpartisan Political Reform in California

To state the obvious, it is impossible to provide a comprehensive list of political reforms that can be enacted at the local level in California. A few additional noteworthy items are: reform the binding arbitration process, resist the ongoing assault on charter schools, defend the right of public employers to speak openly to employees about the costs and benefits of union membership, fight to enforce the Janus decision, and raise public awareness about the harm government unions are doing to our democracy.

The political landscape in California, unfortunately, cannot be significantly changed without state legislation or state ballot initiatives. Absolutely crippling, cruel legislation passed in Sacramento by the uni-party has brought California to the brink of becoming a feudal state, and only statewide rolling back of these laws will result in dramatic change. But citizens initiatives that work at the local level can also work at the state level. It just takes a lot more signatures to get it done.

State Initiative Process:

  • Draft ballot measure and submit to Attorney General
  • Get title & summary, begin signature gathering period
  • File petition with election officials in all 59 counties
  • Statute or referendum 5% (623,212), amendment 8% (997,139), of votes cast for governor in most recent election
  • Collect 30-50 percent more signatures than you need
  • Submit signed petitions within 180 days of getting title & summary – must be submitted by county
  • Petitions must be submitted six months prior to November election

This is a daunting undertaking, which is why most state ballot initiatives require millions in funding to pay for professional signature gatherers, attorneys and consultants. And then, if the initiative is qualified for the state ballot, additional tens of millions must be spent to run a campaign in a state with 20 million registered voters, spanning seven major television media markets.

There are exciting new ways these costs can be driven way down, way down, by using the latest online technologies and by viral networking of disgruntled, disenfranchised activists. Millions of these people still live in California, and all of them want to do something to save their state. But a good first start for reformers is to attack on the local level, where they have a chance to marshal sufficient forces to prevail.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

Texas Sues California Over Law Banning State-Sponsored Travel

Texas filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court over a California law that prohibits official travel to statesthat California deems discriminatory against LGBTQ people, throwing into question whether the ban affecting 11 states can remain.

California lawmakers passed the travel ban in 2016 after North Carolina enacted a law that required people to use gender-specific bathrooms according to their sex at birth. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra added Texas to the list of prohibited travel states in 2017 after it passed a law allowing child welfare providers to refuse to carry out services that violate their religious beliefs. Becerra’s office at the time said the law allows discrimination against LGBTQ children and foster or adoptive parents.

The California ban punishes the state for allowing faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to uphold their religious beliefs, said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the lawsuit. He said the ban amounts to “economic sanctions” against Texas because it deprives the state of tax revenue from hotels and other businesses that would have made money from travel by Californians.

Paxton is asking the Supreme Court to overturn California’s travel ban because it is “infected with animus towards religion,” violates federal laws on interstate commerce and discriminates against Texas business owners.

Paxton, a Republican, pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to provide a cake for a same-sex couple as grounds for the lawsuit. The Texas attorney general has frequently championed religious liberty, refusing to defend a state agency that punished a judge who wouldn’t perform same sex marriages and suing over a federal regulation prohibiting discrimination against transgender patients. …

Click here to read the full article from Politico.

Democrats Show Their Anti-American Face

Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union address. Throughout history the State of the Union has been a rather cordial event. Democrats and Republicans alike suck it up, and throw aside their differences for a few hours to acknowledge the achievements the country has made that year. Most of the time members of the minority party have attended the State of the Union and have acted like adults. Even last year Speaker Nancy Pelosi clapped when Donald Trump addressed the country’s achievements. But this year, everything was different.

On the eve of his acquittal from a bogus impeachment, President Trump gave a phenomenal speech. Unlike predictions, he did not speak about the impeachment witch hunt he was going through and he did not use the speech as a club to beat Democrats with. He stuck to one topic the whole speech: the greatness of the United States of America. He boasted about how strong the economy is. He praised the bipartisan support behind legislation that help the American people – like the recent crime reform bills that were passed.

He highlighted how the economy is booming. He praised the record low unemployment numbers for African-Americans. He noted how the net worth of lower income earners is skyrocketing compared to the net worth of those in the top 1%. And he did not mention any of these facts in any partisan manner. He was simply highlighting the great things we have accomplished as a country; rather than as a party.

President Trump’s praise for our great country did not end with the record setting economy. He boasted that the United States military eliminated vicious terrorists like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Qasem Soleimani. Some of the President’s guests in the gallery were individuals whose immediate family members were killed by these terrorists.

In contrast to the proud Americans who, regardless of their political views, were happy to hear these facts and statistics that proved another record breaking year for America – not the President, the country. But the Democrats in Congress could not stand it. Literally, they did not stand.  Regardless of who or what was being honored most Democrats would not stand – not even once. Congressional Democrats took their masks off last night and showed the American people who they really are and what they really think of our country.

They did not applaud the record breaking economic numbers that the President mentioned. They did not applaud the record low unemployment rates for African-Americans. They did not even bring themselves to applaud when the President mentioned that we eliminated two vicious terrorists who had killed literally hundreds of American soldiers.

Not only did they avoid applauding the economic breakthroughs and national security achievements – the Democrats in Congress have a disdain for America so deep and bitter that they did not even applaud the special guests in the gallery that Trump was praising.

When Trump introduced Janiyah Davis, a fourth grade student from Philadelphia, and mentioned how she will be getting a scholarship to go to a private school – one which she has been waiting years for, the Democrats did not clap. When Trump introduced Juan Guaido, the Interim President of Venezuela who is fighting back against the current tyrannical regime, the Democrats did not clap. When Trump introduced Kelli Hake and her son Gage, and mentioned how Kelli’s husband Christopher Hake was killed by bomb in Iraq supplied by Qasem Soleimani, and let them know that the death of their husband and father has been avenged by the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the Democrats did not clap.

At some point in the speech, President Trump introduced a young gentleman named Iain Lanphier, an eight grader who dreams of joining the new Space Force. Sitting next to Iain was his Great-Grandfather, Retired Brigadier General Charles McGee, one of the few remaining Tuskegee Airman. President Trump praised Charles McGee for his service, and let him know that the American people appreciate the sacrifices he has made. According to John Gage from the Washington Post, Democrats including Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib did not even stand to clap for Charles McGee.

The Democrats in Congress proved to us last night that we have been right all along. They hate our great country and they hate our President. Their Trump Derangement Syndrome is so deep  that they do not even cheer the bipartisan achievements that have  benefited our country. At the end of the speech, Nancy Pelosi ripped up the copies of the speech that were given to her. She ripped up a speech that was full of praise for our country, our economy, and wonderful individuals who are making – and keeping – our country great. That shows exactly how she feels about our country’s achievements. As long as Trump is President, elected Democrats don’t care and cannot admit we have achieved.

Yes, the Democrats present at the State of the Union proved us right, and they confirmed what we have known all along. They hate our President more than they love our country – and while that will in fact help the President get re-elected, it is terribly sad.

When Trump gets re-elected in 2020, they are going to hate our country even more than they do now. Here’s a message for moderate Democrat voters who were on the fence about their party lines; ponder no further. Your choice is clear – and stark. Either join the party that loves and respects these great United States America, or stay with the party that dreams of ripping up the Constitution the same way they ripped up a speech full of praise for our country.

David Ter-Petrosyan is a student at Glendale Community College studying Economic Philosophy. He is a delegate to the California Republican Party and a founding member of the Armenian Republican Association.