Judge Halts California Capitol Annex Remodel Over CA Environmental Law Violations

Why does the Legislature always violate CEQA?

In September 2020, while the state was still suffering under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s oppressive COVID restrictions of lockdowns, and business and school closures, the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Committee on Rules held a hearing on the plans for the $1.2 billion renovation of the State Capitol while ignoring actual state business urgencies.

Then-Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) told the Globe, “The issues we should be holding hearings on aren’t happening. But the Legislature can spruce up its own digs.”

The State Capitol Annex Project entails a great deal, and it should for $1.2 billion.

Today we learn that the 3rd District Court of Appeals has blocked California’s $1.s billion plan to demo the five decade old Capitol building offices housing the governor and legislators. The appeals court said planners failed to consider options that would be less disruptive to the site’s appearance and public access – meaning that they violated California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

This wouldn’t be the first time lawmakers blew off their own draconian and byzantine environmental laws. The Golden One Arena sandwiched into downtown Sacramento, was shepherded by none other than then-Senate Pro tem Darrell Steinberg, now the Mayor of Sacramento.

In 2013, I first predicted Steinberg would author some kind of CEQA exemption for the proposed new arena.

CEQA is often called “the tort lawyer full employment act.” So his SB 731 billed as a “CEQA reform bill” could actually be called the “Sacramento Kings full employment act.”

Steinberg claimed he was pursuing CEQA reform before the Sacramento city council approved the arena deal in March. But city officials spent 13 prior years trying to build a publicly funded sports arena. And Steinberg, a former Sacramento city councilman before becoming the state senator for the city, has been involved every step of the way.

Steinberg’s bill, actually allowed the city to bypass addressing real traffic impacts in its Environmental Impact Report on the arena project, among other environmental impacts. And he and his staff lied about it when I directly asked if they were seeking CEQA exemptions.

This wasn’t the first such environmental exemption. A proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles for a pro football team in 2012, and the new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara each received CEQA exemptions.

In an April 2022 Globe interview, according to Paula Peper, a now-retired Urban Ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, and appointed member of the Historic State Capitol Commission, there are 860 trees with 210 different types of species in the the California State Capitol Nationally Registered Historic Park. First plantings began in 1874 and continue through to today.

The new underground Capitol renovation parking is sacrificing 150 to 180 trees surrounding the Capitol, including two huge Southern Magnolia trees with circumferences of 61″ and 31″ each. Peper says trees of that size and maturity cannot be transplanted. And the cost to even try is at $100,000 each.

Peper said they found out that in May 2021 that the Legislature signed a Memorandum of Understanding to go directly to demolition and then to build the new building, without telling the members of the Historic State Capitol Commission.

“This is affecting trees on all four sides of the Capitol,” Peper said.

She explained that of the 860 trees in Capitol Park, many are very old and were given to California as gifts from foreign countries or other states. “The City of Sacramento has only a 50% success rate with moving Palm Trees in the city,” Peper said. “The trees were planted between 1898 and 1903. I have never seen Palms this size moved successfully.”

According to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA):

“The project would demolish and reconstruct the existing 325,000 square foot existing Capitol Annex building with a new approximately 525,000 square foot building. The project would address numerous deficiencies in the existing building, including: life safety/building code deficiencies, non-compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, overcrowding, aging and failing infrastructure, and insufficient public and working space. A new underground visitors/welcome center would be located between 10th Street and the west steps of the Capitol. Existing basement parking under the Annex would be abandoned and replaced with new underground parking (approx. 200 spaces) on the south side of the Capitol.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

State officials did not offer “a reasonable range of alternatives that fostered informed public participation and decision-making,” Justice Harry Hull wrote in a mostly unanimous ruling for a three-judge panel. “Decision-makers and the public were never given an alternative to the project as DGS (the Department of General Services) had defined it.”

For one thing, Hull said, planners failed to discuss an option offered by objectors to move the visitors’ center to the south side of the Capitol, a change that would “substantially lessen significant impacts to the Capitol’s historic west façade and the West Lawn.” He said the state also failed to mention the proposed glass exterior, a late addition to the plan, in its description of the new building when it invited public comments.

Former Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Sacramento), who just lost his reelection bid to new Assemblyman Josh Hoover (R-Sacramento), led the Capitol Annex renovation project on the Joint Legislative Rules Committee. Peper said the committee and Cooley were ignoring the Environmental Impact Report, and bypassing California’s Environmental Quality Act in the process. She was concerned that within one decade, Capitol Park will have lost 27% of its trees.

The Capitol Park and Capitol Building are on the National Register of Historic Places, Peper said. “Yet the Joint Rules Committee never submitted renovation plans to the State Preservation Officer at the State Historical Commission,” Peper said. “She had already questioned them: ‘Are we going to have 4 or 5 EIRs coming to us?’”

“Cooley did not answer. We told him, ‘we assume you are going to follow all parts of CEQA, and look at the renovation, rehabilitation,’” Peper said. “And he did not answer. He already knew.”

“It’s all been so sneaky and so secretive,” Peper said. And she said Cooley and the committee refused their California Public Records Act request for information.

There have been four lawsuits filed seeking to halt the Capitol renovation. Two of the cases are Environmental Impact Report cases, and one charges that the Legislature failed to take advantage of the opportunity to reuse the historic building.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Assembly Republicans Introduce ‘California Promise’ Priorities, Solutions

‘We can have a California that is affordable to live in, safe for our families and where our kids get the best education’

In October, Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher first introduced Republicans’ “California Promise.” He enumerated the many serious issues Californians are feeling, including the high cost of living in California, rising crime, criminals released early, rapidly expanding homeless encampments, highest-in-the-nation gas prices, high food costs, water shortages, wildfires, the failing education system… issues the Democrat supermajority in the California Legislature doesn’t want to address, so they kill Republicans’ bills.

Under Democrats’ failed one-party rule, the California Dream is slipping away for most Californians, Gallagher said in October. He said by highlighting the most important issues impacting the California people and the state, and showing the Republican solutions, California Promise aims to get the state back on track.

On the first day of the new 2023-2024 legislative session Monday, Assembly Republicans held a press conference to announce their priorities, along with several specific legislative proposals. Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said the “California Promise” package of solutions is desperately needed to address a number of the state’s biggest issues, from affordability to crime, homelessness, education, water and wildfires.

“Republicans are here in Sacramento to make something abundantly clear: We can have a California that is affordable to live in, safe for our families and where our kids get the best education,” Gallagher said. “The Democrat super-majority has two options… They can either stand in the way of progress, or they can join us to help better the lives of millions of Californians. Republicans are the party of innovative solutions and we are ready to act on Day 1.”

Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher and Assemblyman Jim Patterson are returning Assembly members, along with newly elected Assemblyman Juan Alanis, Assemblywoman Diane Dixon, Assemblyman Bill Essayli, Assemblyman Josh Hoover, Assemblyman Joe Patterson, Assemblywoman Kate Sanchez, and Assemblyman Tri Ta. They said the issues plaguing California continue, from the highest in the nation taxes, the cost of living, crime and public safety, highest in the nation transportation costs, public education and holding schools accountable, early release from prison of convicted criminals, water storage and conveyance, wildfires, human trafficking, and homelessness.

Here is Assembly Republicans’ California Promise:

Affordability

Repeal Gas Tax:

  1. Gas Tax Holiday – Suspends the state’s gas tax for one year to reduce gas prices by ~50cents/gallon. Enacts a “gas tax holiday” to provide immediate relief at the pump, and backfills lost transportation revenues from the state’s General Fund. Joint Authors: Asm. Vince Fong, Asm. Juan Alanis, Asm. Josh Hoover
  2. Gas Tax Annual Increase Suspension – Allows the Governor to suspend the annual gas tax increase due to hardship on low-income and middle class families. Provides an escape hatch to prevent gas taxes from automatically increasing as Californians struggle with record high gas prices and 40-year high inflation. Author: Asm. Diane Dixon

Housing/Homelessness:

  1. Encourage Housing – Provide a property tax bonus to cities and counties that approvemore housing by redirecting funds from the document-recording fee (SB 2, Atkins, 2017). Incentivize locals to provide more housing production rather than imposing state mandates will speed the permit and review process, thereby increasing affordability for Californians. Author: Asm. Josh Hoover
  2. Regional Shelters for Homeless – Budget request to redirect funding that has been recently drawn back from counties and cities to fund existing and newly-created regional Joint Powers Authority (JPA) trusts that provide shelter and services. Author: Asm. James Gallagher
  3. Homeless Encampments. Legislation that would ban homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools. (*there are some penalty concerns that it would be a ticket that the homeless could not or would not pay. If we make it a misdemeanor it would come with a short jail sentence.) Author: Asm. Josh Hoover

Energy:
1. Repeal Nuclear Moratorium – Under this proposal, development of new nuclear energy

facilities in California will be permitted once again. Nuclear power is reliable, safe, and clean, and California desperately needs such a resource to overcome its electricity challenges Author: Asm. Devon Mathis

Tax Cuts:

  1. Working Families Tax Credit – Provide an additional income tax credit to helpworking taxpayers afford the expense of child care. Reduces state income tax an additional $500.00 for taxpayers that have child care costs. Joint Authors: Asm. Laurie Davies and Asm. Jim Patterson
  2. Renters Tax Credit Expansion – Change the income eligibility for the Renters’ Tax Credit to allow more taxpayers to qualify for the benefit. Allow more taxpayers to receive this benefit by increasing the income level to reflect the median income in California. Author: Asm. James Gallagher
  3. Lower Income Tax Rates for the Middle Class – Reduce the tax burden on the middle class by reducing income tax rates for those middle- and low-income taxpayers. Allow taxpayers to keep more of their wages. Author: Asm. Juan Alanis

Public Safety

  1. Early Release Transparency – Requires the record of a prison inmate’s early release calculation to be made available to the public upon request – Provides that the calculation for a particular inmate’s date of release from prison is a public record which must be disclosed upon request: This would provide that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may not withhold these types of records from public disclosure. Author: Asm. Diane Dixon
  2. Increase Penalty for the Sale, Possession for Sale, and Transportation of Fentanyl – Increase penalties for possession for sale, sale, transportation, and importation, or offering or attempting to commit those acts with regard to fentanyl, a powerful opiate drug.: This proposal would increase the penalties associated with illegal drug trafficking of this dangerous drug. Joint Authors: Asm. Jim Patterson, Asm. Juan Alanis, Asm. Josh Hoover
  1. Restore Pre-Prop 47 Felonies – Increase penalties for serial theft crimes: Reenact thepenalties which existed for the crime of committing petty theft with multiple prior theft- related convictions which existed prior to their repeal by Proposition 47 of 2014. This change requires approval by the voters. Joint Authors: Asm. Josh Hoover, Asm. Laurie Davies
  2. Human Trafficking – Requires the Office of Emergency Services to create grants for prosecutors to use “vertical prosecution” in human trafficking cases: This would, conditional on an appropriation by the Legislature, provide funding to up to 11 counties to use a system in which the same prosecutor handles all stages of the human trafficking case, saving the victim from being traumatized by having to deal with multiple prosecutors and allowing that prosecutor to develop expertise in these cases. Author: Asm. Kate Sanchez
  3. Victim Restitution – Expand direct restitution paid by convicted criminals to their victims to include “non-economic damages” in additional violent felony offense cases: This would add criminal offenders who commit rape, stalking, kidnapping, mayhem, human trafficking, and one kind of child sexual abuse omitted from existing law to the existing child sexual abuse exception to the general rule that direct restitution orders do not apply to the victim’s “non-economic damages.” Author: Asm. Tom Lackey
  4. Gun Violence – Restore the mandatory nature of the 10-20-Life law firearms enhancements: This will ensure that anyone who brandishes, discharges, or inflicts great bodily injury with a firearm during the commission of a specified violent felony will be held accountable. Author: Asm. Bill Essayli
  5. Sentencing Enhancements: Exempts firearms use-related sentencing enhancements from a current law requirement judges must dismiss a sentencing enhancement if it is “in the furtherance of justice.” Instead provides that a judge would not be required to dismiss the enhancements for criminal defendants who commit felonies while armed with, or while using, firearms during the commission of a felony, ensuring these criminals will serve longer sentences. Author: Asm. Tri Ta

Education

  1. Curriculum Transparency Revised – Promotes transparency of school curriculum: Requires local education agencies to notify parents about their right to review curriculum. Ensures that parents know they may review school curriculum. Author: Asm. Joe Patterson
  2. Education Act – This proposal will allow students to transfer to another school within a district or to another school outside of the district if the school the student attends is in the red or orange performance band in two or more of the state measures for three consecutive years on the school dashboard. Establishing this accountability will allow the students affected by a struggling school to choose another school within the district or in another school district; this will increase education equity for our students who will suffer if they are forced to remain in struggling schools. Author: Asm. Josh Hoover
  3. Freedom to Choose Excellence in Education Act – This proposal will allow students in the lowest performing subgroup at a school to transfer to another school within a district or to another school outside of the district if the school the student attends is in the red or orange performance band in two or more of the state measures for three consecutive years on the school dashboard. Establishing this accountability will allow the students most affected by a struggling school to choose another school within the district or in another school district; this will increase education equity for our most vulnerable students who suffer under the achievement gap and are most likely to suffer if they are forced to remain in struggling schools. Author: Asm. Bill Essayli
  4. Money Follows Student – Require supplemental and concentration grants to follow pupils to their school site would ensure those funds generated by those pupils are spent on personnel and programs to serve those pupils. This would enact the “backpack” method of distributing supplemental funds, rather than allow the “dump truck” policy to continue. Author: Asm. Kate Sanchez
  5. Protecting Students from Drug Overdose – Require schools to have an opioid antagonist (Narcan) onsite to rescue students from an accidental overdose: Requires each school to have no less than two doses Narcan onsite to be available to aid persons suffering from an opioid overdose. Ensures that our schools are prepared for the potential of an opioid overdose, which is becoming more common as Fentanyl is flooding into California and doses have been made to look like prescription drugs and even candy. Author: Asm. Joe Patterson

6. CTE Expansion – Expand and stabilize career technical education (CTE): Increases funding for the
Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program (CTEIG) and provides funding for regional career technical education coordinators. Expresses the state’s commitment to effective programs for our working class families through high quality CTE. Author: Asm. Josh Hoover

Water & Fire

Water:

  1. Water Project Shot Clock – Require Timely Department Permitting Decisions for WaterSupply Projects Require state agencies within the Natural Resources Agency to make determinations on permit applications needed for the construction or operation of a large water supply project. Author: Asm. Devon Mathis
  2. Codify Water Storage Goals – Codify the goal of achieving 3.7MAF (million acre feet) of new water storage by 2030 and 4MAF by 2040 set in Governor Newsom’s administrations “Water Supply Strategy.” Author: Asm. Devon Mathis
  3. Water Projects – Expedited Judicial Review – Add water storage and conveyance projects that increases water supply to the types of projects that can benefit from an existing streamlined judicial review process for lawsuits under the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). Reduces costs and delays by expediting lawsuits under CEQA for projects that provide water to Californians. Joint Authors: Asm. Bill Essayli, Asm. Vince Fong
  4. Guaranteed Funding For Healthy Forests & Water – Constitutional Amendment for Base Level of Funding for Water, Forests: Require 3% of General Fund revenues for the State’s water infrastructure needs (1.5%) and for Healthy Forest and Wildfire prevention activities (1.5%). Places guaranteed funding for critical investments needed to ensure available water for the environment and people. Places guaranteed funding for environmental health of our forested lands, which will combat wildfire risk and spur workforce development in rural areas of the state. Author: Asm. Juan Alanis

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Restaurant Groups Submit Over 1 Million Signatures For Fast Food Labor Referendum

623,000 Valid Signatures Needed To Become Proposition in 2024

A group of restaurants and restaurant trade groups submitted over 1 million signatures to the California Secretary of State’s office on Monday, likely enough to place a measure on the ballot over the fate of AB 257, a bill to create new labor union style of council to set minimum health, safety and employment standards across the California fast food industry.

The fight over Assembly Bill 257,  authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) , began in February when Holden initially introduced the bill. Over the next several months, proponents and opponents of the bill fought in the Assembly and Senate over it. The bill, also known as the FAST Act, was subsequently pared down, eventually settling on creating a Fast Food Council of 10 members comprised of worker’s delegates, employer’s representatives and state officials that would set minimum wages, working conditions, and set hours for fast food employees in the state.

Many proponents, such as labor unions, zeroed in on the notion that wages could rise to as high as $22 an hour under the law, while many restaurant and franchise groups greatly opposed AB 257, noting that restaurants would be hit unfairly hard by the bill, with many being more likely to close due to the industry still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent economic troubles. Increased prices due to supply chain delays and an industry-wide worker shortage were also held up as big issues that were left unresolved by the bill being passed.

Despite this, AB 257 passed the legislature in late August, with Governor Gavin Newsom signing he bill into law in early September. However, the victory was short lived, as a coalition of restaurants, formed Save Local Restaurants, and immediately filed for a referendum over the bill. While bill proponents initially dismissed the referendum effort as nothing more than restaurants angry over the bill being passed, job losses and higher costs in fast food restaurants became an effect of the bill and quickly changed voters minds in the last several months.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, the group needed to get around 623,000 signatures by December 5th in order to make the November 2024 ballot and put a temporary halt on the bill while the matter is settled at the ballot box. On Monday, Save Local Restaurants announced that over 1 million signatures had been gathered. Some signatures are expected to be uncountable due to the voter not being registered, or being a double signature, or other reasons. Even with this, Save Local Restaurants noted in a press release that they are confident that it will be on the November 2024 ballot.

“The FAST Act would have an enormous impact on Californians, and clearly voters want a say in whether it should stand,” said Save Local Restaurants. “The measure would establish an unelected council to control labor policy in the counter-service restaurant industry, cause food prices to increase by as much as 20% during a period of decades-high inflation, and harm thousands of small family-, minority-, and women-owned businesses across the state. Given less than one-third of Californians support AB 257, it is no surprise that over one million Californians have voiced their concerns with the legislation. The Save Local Restaurants coalition is committed to helping ensure this bad law will not go into effect and voters have their voices heard.”

A possible end for AB 257

Opponents quickly challenged the signatures on Monday, with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) alleging that some signatures were obtained fraudulently by having petitioners pay voters to sign the petition. While the Secretary of State could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation  into that  was currently ongoing, they also noted that counting signatures would begin soon.

“Both sides were really passionate about this,” explained James Kramer, a Baltimore-based proposition tracker, to the Globe on Monday. “Fast food workers and unions, they really want this to go through because they want more of a say and they want to set some of the standards themselves. Fast food companies and local managers, they are very worried that this will lead to higher costs and having to fire people. But the voters? California is interesting because as liberal as many think the state is, there is a fair track record of voters just shutting down anything like this when they get a chance. They stopped sportsbook betting this year, they’ve stopped affirmative action several times in the past, and those people for this law know this. No voter, especially those being hurt economically right now, wants to hear of higher prices in anything, and that’s what this law does essentially.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

GLOBE EXCLUSIVE – EDD Has Paid Billions to Feds in Interest Alone

In the past 10 years the state has managed to not borrow to cover unemployment claims only twice

Since 1990, California’s unemployment agency – the EDD – has paid the feds $1,793,665,930 in interest alone to help keep its doors open and claimants paid.

That approximately $1.8 billion dollar figure does not include what the state currently owes in interest – another $48.8 million for this year so far as the agency has begun borrowing again, as the Globe reported here – nor is that figure adjusted for inflation to reflect value in current dollars.  

The inflation-adjusted number is significantly larger, approaching an estimated $3 billion.  

Not only does the loss of this literally wasted money contribute to the inability of the state unemployment trust fund to build a solid footing and has made reform of the agency more difficult, but it has also had to be paid for by state employers and workers, driving up business costs and being a general drag on the state’s economy. 

In the past 10 years – well before the pandemic – the state has managed to not borrow to cover unemployment claims only twice – in 2019 and 2020.  In that same time period, the EDD has paid $1.2 billion in interest, about $817 million from 2013 to 2018 and another $330 million this year.

Just since 2007, the state has borrowed $100 billion and since 2013 up to and including this year the EDD has paid about $1.2 billion in interest (the other $600 million interest paid occurred on borrowing between 1990 and 2007.)

It should be noted that much of the specifically-pandemic-related billions lent to the EDD were loaned interest free (as they were to every state.)

On top of this, the state – as of midnight Thursday night –  now owes another  $18,223,379,798.78 in principal and another $48,846,063.38 (as noted above) in interest.

EDD’s debt-reliant funding is somewhat analogous to a person who has a credit card, runs it up to the, say, $5,000 limit, pays the minimum due, say $200, and then the next day spends $200 using the same card. Or it’s like borrowing $100 from a loan shark on the condition of paying $125 back next week but only paying the $25 “vig” week in and week out in order to keep the use of your knees (luckily for all involved, it is doubtful that the Social Security Administration – which administers the loan program – would send its goons to the EDD’s Sacramento offices to “collect.”) 

It should be noted that the feds do not refuse to lend the money and tend to consider state (borrower)-initiated payment plans in order to make sure unemployment benefits claimants actually get the money they are entitled to. In other words, no matter the debt the money will flow through the EDD to the laid-off worker, as it does today.

It is true that the EDD has managed to occasionally pay the principal down to zero, but that state of being “off the schnide” is far from the typical condition of the financial affairs of the agency.

Like all states, California is allowed to borrow from a program called Title XII, a part of the Social Security system set up decades ago to “backstop” unemployment agencies experiencing what are supposed to be temporary difficulties. For example, a textile-heavy state that sees its mill jobs disappear and shipped overseas can access the funds to meet the concomitant spike in demand for benefits.

Unlike many other states, California must pay interest. Notably, which states pay interest varies from year to year, though California has not managed to qualify for interest-free money since 1990. The number of states that do qualify is usually between 20 and 28, or about half on the money it borrows, at a rate that has ranged over the years from about 1.7% to 2.5%.

The amount paid in interest – interest that brings no other gain along with it, like a mortgage leads to homeownership – could have funded a number of Governor Newsom’s pet green projects. For example, at $100 million a year (averaged and adjusted for inflation), the interest paid could have switched the funding of the state’s “methane satellites” program from just a one-off expense of $100 million this year to a dedicated annually funded project – not that that would be a good idea and, yes, methane satellites are exactly what they sound like – the state budgeted $100 million to help launch satellites dedicated to detecting methane emissions – basically, cows with the vapors; for more on this see here.

The state has one of the highest unemployment tax rates in the country, but, problematically, the lowest “base” rate possible.  Taxes are paid on only the first $7,000 of income per employee, meaning the part-time intern costs the same to insure as the CEO even though the amount in benefits they would receive if laid off are wildly different.  The state has not changed this base rate in about 50 years, while the benefits offered have risen dramatically since.

Additionally, the rates employers pay vary depending upon whether or not they have had significant layoffs and other similar issues that strain the unemployment system; “stable” employers can expect to pay only about one-third the rate of “problematic” ones, but the interest obligation to the feds is essentially paid equally by everyone.

“I think what policymakers may not realize is that the (interest) from Title XII loans also increases taxes on employers,” said Audrey Guo, Assistant Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University. “And these surcharges are less equitable because they penalize all California employers, even those that may not have previously laid off employees.”

Rationalizing the current tax and base rate numbers, said Guo, could “increase the tax cost for employers at the minimum and maximum, but other employers would actually experience tax rate decreases.”

As to why this problem has continued for more than 30 years, it is not clear, though it is possible that EDD employees know they can’t get fired for incompetence nor be rewarded for innovating changes.

“I’m not sure why California has lagged behind other states,” said Andrew Johnston, assistant professor of economics at UC-Merced.  “But California’s largesse in some areas has meant that it doesn’t do basic service on the core of its social safety net, including its dilapidated education system and its bankrupt unemployment insurance program,” 

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

‘Everyone Knew This Was *%$@#%’ Elon Musk Releases Twitter’s Internal Convos on Hunter Biden Laptop Censorship

Elon Musk’s Twitter released internal discussions about censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story Friday night via journalist Matt Taibbi.

The documents reveal widespread internal and external concern at the suppression of the story, a decision made without CEO Jack Dorsey’s knowledge and spearheaded by Vijaya Gadde, then the head of Trust & Safety — Twitter’s top censor. The thread is ongoing at the time of this writing and can be found here:

The documents, mostly internal communications from Twitter and emails with external parties, showed widespread unease with the decision and concerns about how it could be explained to lawmakers and the public.

Several key points from the thread so far:

  • The decision to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story was made without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey
  • Trust & Safety chief Vijaya Gadde, long believed to be the driving force of censorship at the company, spearheaded the decision.
  • Numerous top Twitter employees, especially from the communications and policy teams — whose job is to maintain relations with lawmakers and the press — expressed concern at the decision.
  • Immediate warnings from Twitter’s Washington D.C. contacts followed, including an email from Democrat representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) who warned the decision had generated “huge backlash” on capitol hill, and expressed concerns about Twitter undermining the freedom to publish.

Aside from Rep. Khanna’s communications, which imagined a future in which newspapers would be unable to publish hacked evidence of war crimes, other Democrats reportedly complained that Twitter had not gone far enough in its censorship of the press.

An email from Carl Szabo, one of the tech industry’s top lobbyists in D.C., told Twitter that Democrat lawmakers he spoke to in the aftermath of the decision all believed “social media needs to moderate more,” and complained that the Hunter Biden story had been allowed to travel as far as it did.

Szabo summarized the concerns of Democrats: “They let conservatives muddy the water and claim the Biden campaign look corrupt even though Biden is innocent.”

When pushed on how government might legally press social media companies to censor, Democrat lawmakers reportedly said “the First Amendment isn’t absolute.”

Click here to read the full article in BreitbartCA

LA County Inches Closer To Mandatory Indoor Mask Mandate

‘No one wants masks again’

Los Angeles County inched closer to returning to an indoor mask mandate on Thursday, with the rising number of COVID-19 cases moving the County back into the “medium” COVID activity level.

Since the repeal of state and local indoor mask mandates in the late winter and early spring of this year, fluctuating COVID-19 transmission rates, as well as recent new case rises and new variants, have had counties considering a return of some form of mask mandate. During the summer, Alameda County brought their mandate back briefly, with LA County nearly doing so but dropping plans to do so at the last minute due to both a turnaround of new cases and enormous public outcry.

A dip in cases during the fall quelled fears of a mandate for a time, but with the number of cases climbing again, LA County Public Health Department began to strongly recommend wearing masks indoors last month. The number of cases has continued to increase since. On November 21st, 1,123 new cases of COVID-19 were announced by LA Public Health. On Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer  said that the number of new cases a day were over 2,700, with an average of 192 COVID-related hospital admissions, with Thursday’s total going well above that average with 4,493 new cases. Since November 1st, the average number of COVID infections a day has gone up 180%, with COVID hospital admissions up 200%.

“There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us,” Ferrer said on Thursday. “Given both the increases in hospitalizations and the lack of certainty in the winter trajectory for COVID-19, continuing some common-sense mitigation strategies that we know work to limit transmission and illness, including masking and being up to date on vaccines and boosters, remains a very sensible approach.”

While the number of cases has pushed the county into the “medium” community level and a “high” level expected sometime in the next few weeks, Ferrer said that a mandate would not be put into effect until CDC thresholds were met. Specifically, a mandate would not happen until there was an average COVID admission rate of more than 10 out of 100,000 residents in the County and that 10% or more inpatient hospital beds had COVID patients.

“However, it does signal that case rates and hospitalizations are elevated, and we could be in the ‘high’ community level as soon as next week,” added Ferrer.

Many healthcare workers noted that reaching the CDC thresholds would take some time to meet, and would likely not be reached until after Christmas.

“If they are met, and that is still a big if, there would still be other County thresholds to meet, as well as a two week period to make sure those rates stayed that high,” Luisa Renteria, a nurse in Los Angeles who has assisted COVID patients since March 2020, told the Globe on Thursday. “That’s what stopped the mandate from returning this summer, and in all likelihood, would stop it again in, say, January or February.”

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

ICE Accidentally Released the Identities of 6,252 Immigrants Who Sought Protection in the U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement accidentally posted the names, birthdates, nationalities and detention locations of more than 6,000 immigrants who claimed to be fleeing torture and persecution to its website on Monday.

The unprecedented data dump could expose the immigrants — all of whom are currently in ICE custody — to retaliation from the very individuals, gangs and governments they fled, attorneys for people who have sought protection in the U.S. said. The personal information of people seeking asylum and other protections is supposed to be kept confidential; a federal regulation generally forbids its disclosurewithout sign-off by top officials in the Department of Homeland Security.

The agency is investigating the incident and will notify the affected immigrants about the disclosure of their information. The agency has said it will not deport immigrants whose information it mistakenly posted until it is determined whether the disclosure affects their cases.

The government will notify people who downloaded the information that they should delete it.

ICE officials are concerned about the posting of the data — which included information about migrants who sought to avoid deportation to countries such as Iran, Russia, and China — and are focused on quickly fixing the issue, an agency official said.

The agency mistakenly posted the data, which included immigrants’ names, case status, detention locations, and other information, during a routine update of its website.

The immigrant advocacy group Human Rights First notified ICE officials about the data breach on Monday and shortly after, the agency took steps to delete the data from its website. The file was contained on a page where ICE regularly publishes detention statistics.

The information was up for five hours and officials quickly worked to take it down after being notified it had been posted.

“Though unintentional, this release of information is a breach of policy and the agency is investigating the incident and taking all corrective actions necessary,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement.

The disclosure is “embarrassing” and potentially dangerous for those affected, another DHS official told The Times.

Many immigrants fear that gangs, governments, or individuals back home will find out that they sought protection in the U.S. Asylum seekers regularly ask their immigration lawyers whether their home countries will find out about their applications. In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, a Cameroonian man the U.S. deported to his home country was summoned to court upon his return for “having, in the United States, spread false news … by declaring to be a victim of abuses by the Cameroonian Government.”

Anwen Hughes, a lawyer at Human Rights First, said that she has a recurring nightmare about leaving a bag full of client information on the subway.

She has never done so. But the fact that the possibility haunts her dreams offers some indication of the seriousness of posting immigrants’ personal information on the internet, she said. She hoped the error would serve as a reminder to the government to be especially careful with such data.

“Refugees’ willingness to trust the U.S. government with their information depends on reliable competence as well as a general intention to honor the law,” she said.

Diana Rashid, managing attorney of the National Immigrant Justice Center, found the name of one of her organization’s clients — a Mexican woman — on the list.

“We are deeply concerned about our client’s safety after ICE publicly shared this very sensitive information about her and thousands of others like her,” she said. “She is seeking protection from removal because she fears persecution if returned to her country of origin. Revealing this information makes her more vulnerable to the persecution and abuses she fears if deported.”

The disclosure of the information put lives at risk, said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, an immigrant advocacy organization.

“The U.S. government has a crucial obligation to hold asylum seekers’ names and information in confidence so they don’t face retaliation or further harm by the governments or individuals whose persecution they fled,” Altman said. “ICE’s publication of confidential data is illegal and ethically unconscionable, a mistake that must never be repeated.”

Blaine Bookey, the legal director at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, said she was aware of cases in which detained immigrants have been threatened when information about their status has become public.

“Any breach of asylum seeker information in such a public way could quite literally have life-or-death consequences and the government must take every precaution to protect their safety,” she said.

The agency has made other high-profile mistakes over the years, including accidentally arresting U.S. citizens.

“This episode adds to ICE’s well-documented history of dysfunction and internal accountability lapses,” said Nate Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in privacy issues.

The agency has fallen under heavy criticism over the years — at one point it was the least-liked federal agency — but has attempted to shift its practices during the Biden administration. Under Biden, ICE has limited the arrests of pregnant women and expanded “sensitive” areas such as playgrounds where arrests are generally off-limits.

The agency said the data were posted at 6:45 a.m. Pacific Monday and included the names and information of 6,252 immigrants seeking protection. Just before 11 a.m., Human Rights First notified the agency of the breach. ICE will tell the attorneys of the affected immigrants or the immigrants themselves about the disclosure.

“This will allow noncitizens or their attorneys-of-record to determine whether the disclosure may impact the merits of their protection claim,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

CA GOP Candidate Josh Hoover Defeats Assemblyman Ken Cooley in Assembly 7th District Election

Cooley concedes after slow 3 week vote counting

Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) conceded the Assembly District 7 election to Republican candidate Josh Hoover on Tuesday, ending one of the closest Assembly elections three weeks after election day.

Cooley, who previously was the Mayor and a City Councilman of Rancho Cordova  in the 2000’s and early 2010’s, was first elected to the East Sacramento County seat in 2012, replacing outgoing Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada. The Assemblyman won his next elections by at least 54% of the vote. However, redistricting in the last few years, as well as GOP efforts at signing up people to vote, made 2022 his first real Assembly election challenge.

Meanwhile, the GOP backed Hoover, the Chief of Staff to outgoing Assemblyman/incoming Congressman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) and a school board member of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, bringing both Assembly and elected experience. The election proved to be tight, with neither candidate managing to pull far out ahead in any pulls throughout the summer and fall. Early results on election day showed Cooley out ahead by only about 300 votes with 25% of the vote in. As more votes were counted, Hoover slowly took the lead, with mail-in votes, which usually favors Democratic candidates, going more towards Hoovers favor.

By November 18th, a large Democratic vote influx swung the race toward Cooley by over 900 votes. But the rollercoaster of the count continued, and by last week Hoover was up again. On Tuesday, the results stood at 50.5%, or 82,226 votes, for Hoover and 49.5%, or 80,749, for Cooley. With 92% of the votes now counted, the lead was seen as insurmountable for the Cooley campaign, who conceded late on Tuesday, officially flipping what was a Democratic seat.

“I received a call from Assemblyman Ken Cooley today,” said Hoover in a press release. “He was gracious in defeat and congratulated me on my victory. Thank you to the voters for entrusting me to serve the people of the 7th Assembly District and represent our community in the Legislature. I am truly honored.”

Many political experts noted that the win, while not being part of an overall red wave, showed that California is still competitive for Republicans, and may indicate a growing conservative voting base within the state in the coming years.

“Hoover’s win showed that there is still a strong GOP force in California, or at least one strong enough to keep flipping seats,” explained Michelle Wallace, a Washington political analyst of state and federal elections in Western states, to the Globe on Friday. “In terms of the House, California looks like it is going to gain GOP held seats for the first time in forever, Governor Newsom became the first Democratic candidate for Governor to get under 60% since 2006, LA almost elected a non-liberal Democrat as Mayor, and, while more of a mixed-bag, we are still seeing surprises like this pop up in Assembly and state Senate races. The Democrats just lost their Rules Committee Chairman in the Assembly.

“I think we need 2024 to make sure, as the Presidential election and the evening out of the chaos of redistricting can smooth it all out, but it looks like California might be in a gentle turnaround on conservative candidates and policies. There’s been a lot of efforts to turn it around, and with crime worries and growing wildfire, housing and homeless crises affecting everyone, the problems are much more visible and Democrats are being asked now why they didn’t prevent this. Hoover’s win was definitely part of this first tremor, taking an area long held by a Democratic candidate. Democrats now have to go on the offense in a lot more places than usual, and in California, they just aren’t used to that.”

Before Cooley’s concession on Tuesday, the Assembly 7th District race had been the closest in the state.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

LA City Councilman Says ‘Kids are Afraid to Walk to School’ Due to Needles, Human Waste, Psychotic Behavior

Los Angeles city council member told Dr. Phil on Friday that kids have to “step over needles, human waste,” and deal with people exhibiting “psychotic behavior” on their way to school due to the homeless crisis in California.

Dr. Phil explained how a recent piece of local legislation to address the dangerous homeless tent cities has caused outrage among activists.

“At a recent Los Angeles city council meeting, members voted to prohibit homeless people from setting up tents within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers,” Dr. Phil summarized. “Protesters at one point shut down the meeting, angered by new restrictions that will expand the number of locations where sleeping and camping are prohibited.”

L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a Democrat, defended the vote.

“No child in America should be afraid to walk to school, and what we have found in Los Angeles [is] kids are afraid to walk to school,” he warned. “They tell their parents they have to step over needles, human waste, and deal with individuals unfortunately suffering from psychotic behavior – right next to their playground area.”

Buscaino went out of his way to say this is not about bigotry against homeless people, but recognizing the need to protect certain vulnerable public spaces in society.

“So, I’m saying again, it’s not a crime to be homeless, but these are sensitive spaces we have to protect, the most sensitive spaces among us. Playgrounds, beaches, libraries, parks – and have some accountability for those who are in these spaces,” he said.

Dr. Phil also spoke to TikTok star Franky Bernstein, who has made multiple videos chronicling his encounters with homeless crime in Venice, California. 

Bernstein’s TikTok videos ranged from him describing an encounter with a “homeless guy with a shotgun,” noting that “it took the cops 30 minutes to show up, which is insane,” to his confrontation with a “homeless man with a club” trying to break into his neighbor’s house, after which the homeless man allegedly attempted to break into another home “three doors down.”

Dr. Phil praised Bernstein for not just recording the problem, but for using his own time to take part in actually solving it.

Bernstein said, “I’ve dealt with my own fair share of addiction and mental health problems, just like I’m sure everybody in this room has, or a family member, so I totally get it.”

He said that the homeless crisis is more a matter of will for the American public than a matter of money, claiming, “One of the main problems as a civilian is that most people don’t do anything.”

He added, “We could have all the money in the world to solve this problem, but if we don’t have enough people showing up to volunteer, it’s not really going to work.”

Elsewhere in the episode, Dr. Phil dropped some alarming stats about homelessness in California, such as the claim that the state has “more than half of all unsheltered homeless people in the United States, and the highest number of homeless encampments.” 

Click here to read the full article at FoxNews

Why Is The State Giving Your Health Data to Political Consultants?

In May 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a “Vax for the Win” sweepstakes that would give away $116.5 million, with big cash prizes awarded in random drawings to dozens of lucky winners. Everyone who received a COVID vaccine was automatically entered.

“We have your information in our system,” Newsom said. The Mercury News reported that he was “referring to the millions of vaccination records in the California Public Department of Health’s confidential, digital Immunization Information System.”

The state “maintains a confidential registry of all vaccine recipients,” CalMatters reported, noting the governor’s assurance that the names of the winners would be kept confidential unless the individuals volunteered to have their information released.

But the confidentiality of the information in the state’s vaccine registry has a big loophole in it through which the confidential data is flowing to a political consulting firm called Street Level Strategy, LLC.

“I’m being stalked by the state of California,” one Los Angeles resident told me recently. “I just got a call from a guy who told me he has my file and he sees I got the Pfizer vaccine, but not a booster.” The caller identified himself as being with “Street Level Campaigns” and said they had a contract with “public health” to help people make appointments to get boosters.

Here’s how Street Level Campaigns describes itself on its website: “Street Level Campaigns, LLC (SLC) is a grassroots consulting firm specializing in community organizing, voter contact, and coalition building. Our clients include candidates, ballot measures, issue campaigns, non-profit organizations, and trade associations. SLC is an affiliate of our sister organization Street Level Strategy, LLC a national public affairs consulting firm.”

That description appears on a page listing a job opening for “Directors to lead teams of Community Organizers for political and public affairs campaigns.”

Responding to questions about the contract, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said this in an email: “MyTurn, the state’s vaccine appointment program launched by CDPH, shares a list of booster eligible California residents with Street Level Strategy, LLC that includes names, age, gender, ethnicity, contact information and vaccination history in order to prioritize equity, with a focus on reaching communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

However, the person who contacted me about the phone call from Street Level Campaigns did not make an appointment through MyTurn, choosing instead to go to a walk-up vaccination site. The next day, the person received a text from the California Department of Public Health. “Hi, congratulations on getting your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” it began, and then listed the type of vaccine, the lot number and the date and time it was received.

MyTurn, in other words, collected data from people who did not visit the MyTurn site and voluntarily provide it. Instead, the staff operating the walk-up vaccination site reported the data to the state. And now the state “shares” that data with Street Level Strategy, LLC.

In its emailed responses to questions, CDPH said the contract “includes terms and conditions that outline information privacy and security requirements,” and “provisions which limit the use and retention of individual’s confidential information,” and “specific information security controls Street Level Strategy must have in place to maintain and protect the security of the data.”

Let’s hope that’s enough, because the state of California has given this political consulting shop $12.7 million in contracts and access to a confidential digital registry of every California resident who has received a COVID vaccine. The contract was awarded without competitive bidding under the authority of the governor’s emergency declaration of March 4, 2020, even though work under this contract did not begin until July 16, 2021.

Who is Street Level Strategy, LLC?

The president and founder of Street Level Strategy is Pat Dennis. His profile on the company website says that before he founded the firm, he “directed grassroots operations for labor and independent expenditure committees in over 50 congressional races throughout the country and worked as an organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).”

Others on the team have resumés that include organizing and advocacy work for progressive groups and labor unions. The company markets the service of “building authentic, engaged, and active grassroots coalitions of everyday people” to “shape policy outcomes at the local, state and national levels.”

CDPH said the contract’s “Exhibit F,” titled the “HIPAA Business Associate Addendum,” contains “multiple provisions that limit and restrict retention or use of data provided to Street Level Strategy.” But shouldn’t this contract have gone to a company in the health care industry, one with experience handling confidential medical data?

In a June 2021 story headlined, “California Vaccination Records Raise Data Privacy Concerns,” the Mercury News reported that some experts had “fresh privacy concerns about Californians’ health data” as the state surpassed 50 million vaccine doses delivered.

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Freedom Foundation, noted that the California Information Practices Act and HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, impose confidentiality obligations on health care providers and on state agencies, such as the California Department of Public Health, but he worried about the data security of local health agencies, where he said those laws don’t apply.

ecca Cramer-Mowder agreed with Dixon that the federal waivers might make it easier for patient information to seep into the hands of data brokers.

“Other legal experts, however, are less concerned,” the Mercury News reported, citing Stanford Law School professor Michelle Mello, who said California “will have no direct involvement in furnishing companies with medical data.”

Click here to read the full article at OC Register