Oil Transition Puts California Democrats in a Bind

The clash that can emerge between two key Democratic constituencies — organized labor and environmental groups — was on clear display Tuesday.

That’s when a legislative committee investigating October’s oil spill near Huntington Beach held a hearing about decommissioning offshore oil production in California. One key issue: As the state transitions away from fossil fuels, what happens to oil and gas workers?

  • Erin Lehane, legislative director for the State Building and Construction Trades Council: “This talk about job retraining, it’s almost a classist sense that these … men and women will take whatever job is handed to them. Well, that’s just not true. They want to do the job they were trained to do, and they want to do the job that they’re proud to do. … This is their chosen profession. This is who they are and this is how they identify themselves. … That’s why we’re not interested collectively in the sense, of, you know, the quote-unquote ‘just transition.’”

That could pose challenges for Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic lawmakers, who are not only confronting a disappearing workforce but also pouring billions of dollars into programs to “create sustainable jobs in emerging and green and just transition kinds of sectors,” in the words of Dee Dee Myers, Newsom’s senior advisor and director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

  • Assemblymember Mike Gipson, a Carson Democrat: “Do we save the tree or the person under the tree? … It’s just something I have to come to grips with based on where I represent. I represent people, and those people need to have jobs.”
  • Assemblymember Richard Bloom of Santa Monica: “We have to save the tree and the person under the tree. … You’re not saving a human if you don’t save the trees.”

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

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RICHARD BLOOM

State Assembly, District 50 (Santa Monica)Expand for more about this legislator

It’s not that organized labor is opposed to green jobs: Lehane implored lawmakers to cut “red tape” and streamline projects relating to carbon capture, hydrogen fuels and offshore wind, noting that California is far from meeting its ambitious climate goals.

  • Lehane: “We need to get going yesterday. … We need to get these new facilities online and we need to get our members working on these new facilities.”

A similar issue to watch: The powerful Building and Trades Council last week expressed strong opposition to a Democratic-led bill that would codify Newsom’s goal of banning in-state sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035.

In other environmental news: CalMatters has launched a water and drought tracker with daily updates on key data points, including reservoir and snowpack levels and the number of households reporting water shortages. Come back often to see how conditions change over time.

Newsom’s Vacillation On Vaccinations, Phase 2

Is California — and its politicians — ready for VAX War II?

More pointedly, is Gov. Gavin Newsom ready?

Three years ago, the Capitol was wracked by one of the most heated conflicts in its history — legislation to make it more difficult for parents to exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations if they attended public schools. A bill sought to close a loophole that allowed doctors to approve exemptions without specifying reasons, leading to doctor-shopping by anti-vaccination parents.

Hundreds of opponents besieged the Capitol, claiming that the legislation would violate parental rights and require vaccines that could trigger autism or other adverse reactions. The measure’s author, Sacramento Sen. Richard Pan, and other backers were accosted and threatened and on the final night of the legislative session, someone in the Senate gallery threw a cup of what authorities said “appeared to be blood” onto the Senate floor.

Eventually, the bill passed and was signed by Newsom in his first year as governor, but he engaged in some bizarre political theater before finally acceding.

As the bill was moving through the Legislature, Newsom suddenly demanded a number of changes that weakened its provisions. “I’m a parent,” Newsom said at one point. “I don’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family.”

After two weeks of private negotiations, he finally accepted a revised version, telling a reporter, “All those amendments, if they’re made, stamp of approval.”

Two-plus months later, however, Newsom did another 180-degree pivot, demanding more changes. Eventually, a final compromise was reached, but Newsom had violated one of the Capitol’s unwritten rules of conduct: once you make a deal, you don’t renege. It drove a wedge between the new governor and lawmakers that affected other issues.

The possibility of renewing superheated vaccination warfare arose this week when Pan, a physician, introduced legislation to close what he regards as a huge loophole in Newsom’s promise to have all school children vaccinated against COVID-19 when vaccines are available for youngsters.

“We have to be willing to take a stand,” Pan said. “We need to be able to respond to this pandemic and future pandemics, but there is this asymmetrical warfare going on right now, and we’re seeing the anti-vaccine movement trafficking in misinformation, threats, and violence.”

Once again, Newsom’s position is uncertain.

When he announced the school vaccination mandate in October, Newsom boasted that California was the first state to impose such a requirement

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella (so) there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19,” Newsom said. “Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom.”

That would seem to be a strong endorsement of mandatory vaccinations. However, Newsom subsequently watered it down, at least verbally, by repeatedly reminding parents that they could opt out under state law’s “personal belief” exemption. Pan’s new bill would eliminate that exemption, leaving only precise medical conditions as a way to avoid vaccination.

Newsom’s new fence-straddling is not going unnoticed.

“He’s trying to be comforting and non-confrontational, but it sends a message that if you don’t want to get the vaccine, don’t get it,” Catherine Flores Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition, told CaliforniaHealthline. “Gov. Newsom struggles with this — he’s trying to have it both ways.”

Yes he is.

This article was originally published on CalMatters

For One Pasadena Neighborhood, Gun Violence Is Unrelenting

The streets were slick with rain in northwest Pasadena when Jamal Patterson went to watch “Monday Night Football” at his mother’s house last October.

The 24-year-old was sitting in a car with two other men across the street from his mother’s home after the game when someone shot into the car. Patterson usually sat on his mother’s front porch with his friends, but the recent rain made everything wet.

Patterson, a father of two, died three days later at Huntington Memorial Hospital.

One month later and one block over on Raymond Avenue, 13-year-old Iran Moreno was playing video games in his home when he was shot by someone who fired from the street. He was rushed to the same hospital as Patterson and died later that night.

“There’s always shooting, always gang violence around. They’re always hurting the most innocent people,” Iran’s cousin, Maria Balvaneda, said during a vigil at Villa Parke.

In Pasadena, shootings rose 22% between 2020 and 2021, from 60 to 73, according to the police department. Seven were killed in 2020 and six more last year.

The increase — part of a spike in homicides across Los Angeles County — has sparked grief, pain and outrage in a city marked by many upscale neighborhoods, as well as lower-income neighborhoods where crime has long been a problem, and some residents say city leaders are not doing enough to make conditions safer.

The shootings in Pasadena have been concentrated in the northwest part of the city, home to mostly Black and Latino residents. In response, city leaders and police have increased patrols in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the gun violence and have pledged to bolster after-school programs and invest in ShotSpotter technology.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

The Fight To Limit Taxation Continues

Regular readers of this column undoubtedly know what Proposition 13 is, but they may not know it does more than set property taxes at 1% of the home’s market value with a 2% cap on annual increases. It also imposed certain vote requirements for other kinds of taxes, including a requirement that local special taxes receive a two-thirds vote of the electorate and a state tax increase proposed by the California Legislature receive a two-thirds vote of each house.

Photo courtesy of Wendy McCormac, Flickr

Government hates these constraints on taking other people’s money, so they constantly try to find ways around them — and they have. In the early 80’s, they hit upon “benefit assessment districts,” which historically had been used legitimately to fund capital improvements that directly benefited property. But over time, bureaucrats began imposing assessments for general municipal services rendering them indistinguishable from property taxes. The sole reason for this transformation was to avoid Prop. 13’s voter approval requirements.

That’s why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association put Proposition 218 on the ballot in 1996. It gave the people the right to vote on all local taxes and required taxpayer (or ratepayer) approval of assessments and property related fees. But just like when you squeeze a water balloon too hard, it tends to pop out somewhere else, so it is with government avoiding clear voter intent. That’s why state business associations and HJTA are supporting the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act initiative to close some new loopholes recent court rulings have opened in Props. 13 and 218.

While the initiative is still waiting for a circulating title and summary from the attorney general, the fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office was released last week and it’s instructive in explaining the tangled web of taxes our government weaves.

Click here to read the full article at the San Gabriel Tribune

Judge Allows Earlier Potential Releases for Repeat Offenders at California Prisons

SACRAMENTO — A judge is allowing California to proceed with plans to allow earlier potential prison release dates for repeat offenders with serious and violent criminal histories under the state’s “three strikes” law.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shama Mesiwala has lifted the temporary restraining order she imposed last month.

That order temporarily blocked California corrections officials from acting on emergency regulations allowing them to increase good conduct credits for second-strike inmates serving time for nonviolent offenses who are housed at minimum-security prisons and camps.

Their daily credits can now increase from half off their sentences to two-thirds off their sentences.

The ruling “clears the way for the Department to implement regulations that incentivize incarcerated people to participate in positive rehabilitative activities and avoid negative behavior,” corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in an email.

Twenty-eight of California’s 58 district attorneys moved to block the rule, but Mesiwala agreed with corrections officials that the prosecutors lacked standing to challenge the regulations.

The prosecutors argued that it would apply to those convicted of, among other things, domestic violence, human trafficking, animal cruelty and possession of weapons by inmates who have previous convictions for serious and violent felonies. California has a narrow definition of what constitutes a violent crime.

They argued that they had legal standing to challenge the rules because they “represent over 20 million Californians who have been impacted by these so-called emergency regulations.”

But the judge ruled Thursday that the prosecutors do not have legal standing, which is “fatal to their contention that they have shown a likelihood they will prevail upon their claims.”

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Newsom Unveils Effort To Fight Theft Of LA Railroad Cargo

The governor described a multi-agency effort to clean up the rail lines and recent multi-agency efforts launched to prevent the thievery and hold perpetrators accountable.

Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled into Los Angeles’ Union Pacific railroad Thursday, Jan. 20, to show off rows of unobstructed tracks, having been been swept clean of ravaged shipping boxes and other debris that had littered rail lines in the wake of thieves recently plundering cargo cars.

After spending some time collecting trash off the tracks with CalTrans workers, the governor described a multi-agency effort to continue the rail-line clean-up, and announced expansions to a task force meant to combat retail theft and hold perpetrators accountable.

“Mark my words, this is not a one-off — this organized theft,” Newsom said at a press conference. “These folks are arrested as if they’re not connected to the whole, and we need to change that.”

Expanding the previously established Organized Retail Theft Task Force, Newsom said, is key to properly investigating and prosecuting thieves who target trains.

Bolstering that effort, Newsom said, will be an additional $255 million in grants to local law enforcement over the next three years to increase the police presence in areas where retail theft is high.

Additionally, Newsom said, his plan includes $18 million dollars over the next three years to establish a dedicated unit in the California Attorney General’s office to investigate and prosecute cross-jurisdictional, statewide organized retail theft.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has arrested 280 people for train-robbery related crimes, Newsom said, though he did not provide information on whether any of those arrests have led to convictions; he also did not provide a timeframe for those arrests.

“We must do the investigation work; it’s not just an arrest and walk away,” he said. “And then, present the case and see folks prosecuted. We’re not condoning this behavior.”

To better address the rampant robbery issue, the California Highway Patrol will work with Union Pacific Police, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department to patrol the railroad’s tracks and investigate the organized nature of the crimes.

“We’re working more collaboratively,” Newsom said. “We recognize that we need each other in terms of organizing a framework to support our efforts to hold folks to account and to secure these sites, and to hold folks accountable for the long haul.

Charlie Sampson, assistant chief of the CHP, said that while the LAPD and LASD are assisting in the longer-term investigations, those agencies are not currently patrolling any railroads.

Click here to read the full article at the Press Enterprise

As LA Schools Backtrack On COVID Vaccine, Dozens More Districts Push To Mandate It

At least 40 California schools have tried to implement their own vaccine mandate ahead of the state mandate that will take effect next fall.

As omicron rages throughout California, some schools have already added another layer of defense: At least 40 California districts are or soon will require vaccinations for staff or students, or both. 

Some of these policies are stricter than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to require vaccination for all K-12 staff and students before the next school year, according to a CalMatters investigation. While large districts like San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified have garnered national attention for their independent mandates, several dozen have gone largely unnoticed by state and national media.

Neither the California Department of Education nor any other agency is keeping track of all individual district policies. CalMatters contacted all 940 public school districts to create the first living database recording the state patchwork of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for schools. 

County education offices must follow local health guidelines, which the state Department of Public Health ultimately oversees, state education department information officer Scott Roark wrote in an email to CalMatters.

But public health officials aren’t tracking this information either. The California Department of Public Health “does not maintain official records about the actions of local school districts for which there is no formal requirement to report to the state,” the office of communications said in an email to CalMatters.

“I am surprised that there is no central body that regulates school districts,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics and of epidemiology at Stanford University. “This clearly isn’t good public health policy.” 

Information collected from over 630 school districts reveals that over 1 million students are already affected by some kind of mandate, independent of the upcoming statewide rule. Just about 300 districts’ administrators didn’t respond to several attempts to contact them; 10 refused to comment. 

Uneven vaccine mandates

The scope of the mandates varies: Some apply only to new employees, athletes or children attending overnight school trips. Others affect the entire school population.

The uneven requirements across districts are a product of legal concerns, minimal state guidance and local politics. 

“There is no way you can come up with an argument where a patchwork approach to anything is going to be helpful for public health,” Maldonado said. “Viruses don’t look at borders…You can have a massive outbreak triggered in a small district that can cross borders.”

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

DeSantis Will NOT Bend The Knee to Trump and Says Backing Ex-President For 2024 ‘Is Too Much To Ask’

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a once-loyal member of Donald Trump‘s court, is refusing to bend a knee to the former president and says backing him in the 2024 election ‘is too much to ask’ after Trump publicly attacked his character, according to a report.

Trump reportedly said the popular governor has ‘no personal charisma’ and a ‘dull personality’ as rumors swirl the ex-president is angry DeSantis hasn’t declined to challenge him for the GOP presidential nomination. 

DeSantis, however, has told his inner circle that Trump’s ‘expectation that he bend the knee is asking too much,’ the New York Times reported.  

The governor also reportedly said his biggest regret in office is not having ‘been much louder’ in speaking out against Trump’s coronavirus pandemic response. 

The commentary comes after Trump appeared to take direct aim at DeSantis in an interview just last week when he called politicians who refuse to disclose their booster vaccination status as ‘gutless’. 

Sources close to the former president – who have recently talked to him about the governor – said Trump has grown increasingly irked by DeSantis in recent months, with Trump beginning to voice his frustrations to those in his inner circle. 

The Florida governor is extremely popular in Republican circles, and is widely seen as a leader who can push policies popularized by Trump, but without the same level of drama or baggage. 

‘In the context of the 2024 election, he usually gives DeSantis a pop in the nose in the middle of that type of conversation,’ a source who recently spoke to Trump about DeSantis told Axios.

The president also claims ‘there’s no way’ DeSantis would have ever been elected Florida governor without his support.

Click here to read the full article at Dailymail

California Throws More Money at COVID-19 Contact Tracing, But Is It Too Late?

One expert says that because omicron spreads so quickly, the millions spent on contact tracing could be better spent on more effective masks and more testing

Intensive contact tracing has helped contain COVID-19 outbreaks in some Asian countries. People test positive, they quarantine, and the folks they’ve had contact with are tracked down and asked to — or, in some nations, forced to — quarantine as well.

The U.S. has spent billions on contact tracing, and California alone will have spent $300 million on it through the next fiscal year. But researchers have found that 2 of 3 people with confirmed COVID-19 in the U.S. were either not reached or wouldn’t name contacts when interviewed, and public health authorities haven’t been able to monitor enough cases to stem the tide.

Now, as the pandemic enters its third year, the highly contagious omicron variant spreads like fire through dry grass. The incubation period can be as short as two days. The Centers for Disease Control recommends isolation for as little as five days. More people are testing at home — cases authorities don’t even count in their tallies — and some officials are throwing their hands up and suspending contact tracing.

“(T)he sheer speed of omicron’s transmission means people are exposed, infected and then contagious before the local health department can even identify an outbreak, much less get word to those who are exposed,” said officials in Oregon’s Multnomah County. “Because of that dynamic, contact tracing has become much less effective at lowering COVID-19’s risk, especially when cases are surging so high and when spending time in any indoor public space is essentially considered an exposure for anyone who isn’t up-to-date on their vaccines.”

Financial commitment waning

The financial commitment to contact tracing in California appears to be waning, but remains. The governor’s proposed budget shows that $258.3 million was spent on contact tracing over the first two years of the pandemic, with another $38.9 million going forward through the end of the next fiscal year.

The current and future spending breaks down to a projected $20.6 million this fiscal year, and $18.3 million next fiscal year, said Sonja Petek, principal fiscal and policy analyst for the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“Contact tracing remains one of our many key tools in responding to the spread of COVID-19,” said a statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s press office. “It’s also an important measure utilized in high-risk and congregate settings. Contact tracing assists with notifying exposed people for possible post-exposure treatment, testing, and quarantine in a timely manner.”

Overall, Newsom’s budget proposes $110 million to increase public health and humanitarian efforts at the California-Mexico border — including vaccinations, testing, isolation and quarantine services — “and expanded statewide contact tracing activities to help keep Californians safe and slow the spread.”

Currently, 268 state employees have been redirected to contact tracing efforts, the governor’s press office said. But experts aren’t sure the investment will bring great returns — at least not right now.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Newsom Budget: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The governor’s budget is a tale of the good, the bad and the ugly. We won’t see a real state budget until it emerges from the smoke-filled backroom following the May revise, but that didn’t stop Gov. Gavin Newsom from gleefully announcing to reporters how he would like to spend the windfall of other people’s money in a 400-page “summary” presented last week.

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of his proposal.

The Good.

The governor’s budget puts more money into the reserve accounts, accelerates the paydown of state retirement liabilities, eliminates some budgetary debt, and allocates 86 percent of the discretionary surplus to one-time spending rather than ongoing liabilities that has so often happened in past years.

That’s good because the good times won’t go on forever. While the budget projects healthy returns for the next couple of years, it notes that “[s]tructural (non-pandemic) downside risks to the forecast remain, including the challenges of an aging population, declining migration flows, lower fertility rates, higher housing and living costs, increasing inequality, and stock market volatility.”

That’s important because the top 1% of California taxpayers pay more than 50% of the state’s income tax revenues. The state is currently riding high on the wealthy’s stock market gains, but as the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, the party could be coming to an end, and soon.

The Bad.

The bad is that an already bloated bureaucracy is getting even more bloated. Under the requirements of Proposition 98, increases in spending for public schools and community colleges will be dramatic and, as has been much talked about in these pages recently, California’s public schools aren’t hurting for cash as it is.

According to the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, in inflation-adjusted constant dollars, per-pupil spending in California for public elementary and secondary schools in 2017-18, the most recent year for which statistics are available, was $13,129, the highest ever.

Under the governor’s budget, schools would see more than $20,000 per student, putting California in the top five of states in education spending – with little to show for it.

Even worse is the fact that there is little in the budget to address waste, fraud and abuse generally, not just in education. There is nothing to prevent another fiasco like we saw with the $20 billion in fraudulent claims paid by the Employment Development Department; still no accountability with the bullet train project and, in fact, the boondoggle is getting billions more.

Click here to read the full article at OC Register