California Looks to Spend Some Medicaid Money on Housing

At the start of 2022, Thomas Marshall weighed 311 pounds. He had been hospitalized 10 times in five years, including six surgeries. He had an open wound on his left leg that refused to heal — made worse by living in a dirty, moldy house with five other people, two ball pythons, four Chihuahuas and a cage full of rats.

More than a year later, Marshall has lost nearly 100 pounds. His wound has healed. His blood pressure has returned to normal levels. His foot, which had nerve damage, has improved to the point he goes on regular walks to the park.

Lots of factors are at play in Marshall’s dramatic turnaround, but the one he credits the most is finally having stable housing, after the nonprofit Sacramento Covered helped him get a one-bedroom, 500 square-foot (46.4-square-meter) apartment in a downtown high rise. He has hardwood floors, white pine cabinets and a glass jar on the counter filled with Bit-O-Honeys.

“To me it’s the most important 500 square feet I’ve ever had,” he said. “Living here has just improved my well-being in every possible way.”

Marshall’s story is part of a radical rethinking of the relationship between housing and health care in the U.S. For decades, Medicaid, the joint state and federal health insurance program for people with disabilities or low incomes, would only pay for medical expenses. But last year the Biden administration gave Arizona and Oregon permission to use Medicaid money for housing — a nod to reams of research showing people in stable housing are healthier.

Now California wants to join those states, building on the success of programs like the one that got Marshall housing. Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed spending more than $100 million per year in the state’s Medicaid program to pay for up to six months of housing for people who are or risk becoming homeless; are coming out of prison or foster care; or are at risk for hospitalization or emergency room visits.

It would be the biggest test yet of using Medicaid money for housing. California has the nation’s largest Medicaid program, with more than 13 million patients — or about a third of the state’s population. California also has nearly a third of the nation’s homeless population, according to federal data.

“It’s a huge step toward breaking down the silos that have gotten in the way of taking care of the whole person rather than limb by limb and illness by illness,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group.

It would also be an expensive step. California is expected to have a $22.5 billion budget deficit this year, and it could get bigger in years to come. Meanwhile the state’s Medicaid spending is projected to increase by $2.5 billion over the next three years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“What we’re really doing is expanding the welfare state, which is going to become just a huge financial problem,” said Wayne Winegarden, senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a group that advocates for free-market policies.

California experimented with using Medicaid money for some housing-related expenses in 2016 when it launched a pilot project in 26 counties. While Medicaid did not pay for rent, it paid for things like security deposits and furniture.

In Marshall’s case, he pays his own rent, using some of the $1,153 per month he gets from Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. But Medicaid paid for his security deposit, bed, sofa, table, chairs and nearly 3 1/2 gallons of Pine Sol. Marshall said keeping his apartment clean is one thing that helped his leg wound to finally heal.

Over five years the program has reduced expensive hospital stays and emergency room visits for people on Medicaid, saving taxpayers an average of $383 per patient per year, according to an analysis by researchers at UCLA.

Now California wants to go further by using Medicaid money to directly pay some people’s rent. Democratic Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, who chairs the budget subcommittee that will vet Newsom’s proposal, said lawmakers are supportive. Arambula spent a decade as an emergency room doctor.

“I became very good at being able to get cockroaches out of people’s ears,” Arambula said. “The living conditions of many of our communities, especially in our rural communities, really can affect a person’s ability to get adequate sleep, to be prepared for the next day and to stay healthy.”

Advocates for homeless people say they welcome such programs but spending more money on rent isn’t enough, noting the state still has a massive shortage of affordable housing.

Kelly Bennett, founder and CEO of Sacramento Covered, said that during California’s first experiment with using Medicaid money for housing services, it would often take up to eight months for workers to place a patient in an apartment. In some cases, people have waited for years to find a place.

“Even when you have the deposit money and you have some rental subsidy, it’s still very, very challenging to find units — and to find units where the landlords will lease to our clients,” Bennett said.

Marshall said he grew up in Sacramento and got a degree in dietic technology and culinary arts. But a 30-year addiction to meth landed him on the streets from the late 1990s through about 2006. He camped at an old landfill, often eating leftovers from people’s picnics at a nearby park.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Newsom Displays Penchant for Shiny New Things on California Tour

As a species, politicians love news conferences and other events that celebrate new programs or public works projects.

The syndrome may explain why officials often ignore long-festering problems in existing programs, such as the Employment Development Department and the bullet train project. Simply making things work better doesn’t have the political appeal of something new and shiny.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is particularly prone to the affliction, declaring early on his love for “big, hairy audacious goals” and later adding, “I’d rather be accused of (having) those audacious stretch goals than be accused of timidity.”

That proclivity led him, as a candidate, to pledge that he would try to solve California’s housing crisis by building 3.5 million new houses and apartments by 2025 and make California the first state to embrace single-payer health care.

Later, when both proved to be unattainable, he declared them to be “aspirational” rather than firm promises.

Newsom’s tendency toward the grandiose was very evident this month when he once again shunned a traditional State of the State address to the Legislature and instead toured the state for serial announcements.

One is converting San Quentin prison into a laboratory to test whether a softer approach to preparing felons for release, modeled after a program in Norway, will be more effective in steering them away from crime. Newsom boasted that the renamed San Quentin Rehabilitation Center will be the “most innovative rehabilitation facility” in the nation, displaying another characteristic, his obsession with being the first to do something.

The splashiest of Newsom’s new things is a multi-billion-dollar plan to house thousands of homeless and mentally ill Californians in new facilities that would combine shelter with treatment for their afflictions.

The project would be financed mostly by a bond issue in the $3-5 billion range to be placed before voters next year and would be an adjunct to Newsom’s “Care Court” program that allows the mentally ill to be compelled to accept treatment.

“It’s unacceptable what we’re dealing with at scale now in California,” Newsom said. “We have to address and come to grips with the reality of mental health in our state and in our nation.”

Even if implemented as hoped, the two mental health projects would make only a relatively tiny dent in the state’s homelessness crisis. California still lacks a comprehensive approach and is mired in finger-pointing among state, county and city officials over who’s responsible for dealing with it.

Billions of dollars have been spent by all three levels of California government, plus no small amount of federal funds, but the number of unhoused Californians continues to climb, officially approaching 200,000 but probably much higher.

The exchanges between Newsom and county officials have been especially pointed. He’s accused counties of dragging their feet on effectively spending state grant money while county officials say they need a dedicated and predictable revenue stream for long-term programs.

As Newsom was touring the state, the California State Association of Counties, or CSAC, issued what it said is a comprehensive approach to homelessness embracing housing, social services, education and employment with clear lines of responsibility and accountability for outcomes.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Gov. Gavin Newsom Announces Ending State Water Restrictions

Requestion water allocation rate climbs to 75% – the highest since 2017

Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that the state would be ending numerous water restrictions, while keeping those aimed at preserving groundwater and helping further recharge the Klamath River and Colorado River areas.

For the past several years, the drought in California has brought forward numerous measures aimed at preserving water resources. These ranged from the more local efforts of not allowing hand watering in gardens, to California’s infamous 15% conservation target cut to water usage statewide. While the measures were partially successful in reducing water usage, more cuts were expected this year as the drought was expected to continue.

However, 12 major atmospheric river and bomb cyclones hit California in the first three months of 2023. While the rain brought everything from flooding to mudslides to snow in Los Angeles, it also significantly reversed California’s water woes. Drought conditions went from covering nearly the entire state last year to falling to only covering one-third of the state this month. Many reservoirs are now quickly approaching capacity after nearly emptying out in 2022. Snowpack levels are approaching 300% when only 100% is needed by April 1st to ensure enough water reaches Californians this year. Ski season in Tahoe is now even going until July since there is so much snow there.

Continued rains this month also led many localities to end water restrictions. This including the lifting of restrictions in Southern California, allowing the first regular water usage there since July 2022. As a result, pressure was soon placed on the state to end restrictions of their own, leading to Governor Newsom’s announcement on Friday.

According to Gov. Newsom’s roll back announcement on Tuesday, the 15% conservation target cut is to end, as are many drought contingency plans. This also included boosting up California’s allocation of requested water supplies to 75%, an increase of 40% from February and the largest amount of water being allowed to be doled out by the state since 2017.

However, Newsom also stressed that a drought was still on for many parts of the state, and that areas with groundwater reliance or those areas near the still-threatened Klamath River and Colorado River will still have restrictions in place. This includes:

  • Maintaining the ban on wasteful water uses, such as watering ornamental grass on commercial properties;
  • Preserving all current emergency orders focused on groundwater supply, where the effects of the multi-year drought continue to be devastating;
  • Maintaining orders focused on specific watersheds that have not benefited as much from recent rains, including the Klamath River and Colorado River basins, which both remain in drought;
  • Retaining a state of emergency for all 58 counties to allow for drought response and recovery efforts to continue

Drought restrictions eased statewide

“We’re all in this together, and this state has taken extraordinary actions to get us to this point,” said the Governor in a speech in Yolo County on Friday. “The weather whiplash we’ve experienced in the past few months makes it crystal clear that Californians and our water system have to adapt to increasingly extreme swings between drought and flood. As we welcome this relief from the drought, we must remain focused on continuing our all-of-the-above approach to future-proofing California’s water supply.”

Newsom’s announcement was well received on Friday, but with many water experts noting that even more restrictions could have likely been pushed back even more.

“The Governor was playing it cautiously,” explained  Jack Wesley, a water systems consultant for farms and multi-family homes, to the Globe on Friday. “This is largely because a lot of people have told him that the drought isn’t over just yet. But then again those people also said January, February, and March were going to be dry too, and look how that turned out. So there is a lot we don’t know for the rest of the year, so some stay in place.”

“Of these, the restrictions around the Klamath and Colorado rivers make the most sense. They are both still very much under where they are supposed to be, so they still need help to flow right. It’s hard to argue on restrictions staying in place in those watersheds.”

“But, overall, this is just yet another sign that California is getting back to normal water-wise. It took a wild rainy three months, but even the Governor is starting to reverse his actions. That’s a very good sign.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Ridley-Thomas Trial Draws Toward End with Sharply Conflicting Portraits of Politician

In their final words to jurors who will decide the fate of suspended Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, federal prosecutors and the lawmaker’s defense attorney detailed sharply conflicting portraits of the man and the case against him.

To Assistant U.S. Atty. Lindsey Greer Dotson, Ridley-Thomas was a career politician who savvily conspired with a USC dean to obtain a slew of benefits for his troubled son in exchange for help with coveted Los Angeles County business. There was no explicit agreement between Ridley-Thomas and the USC dean, Marilyn Flynn, according to the prosecutor, but “winks and nods.”

“He leveraged his power to extract privileges for his son,” Dotson said. “Public officials do not get to monetize their public service. As a politician, you work for us, you work for the taxpayer.”

To lead defense attorney Daralyn Durie, however, the charges against her client were the fruit of a sloppy investigation, one that saw crimes where none existed and one that jumped to conclusions before turning over every stone.

“Everything that happened at USC was legal,” Durie told jurors.

She noted that the L.A. County votes at issue in the case were long-running projects that Ridley-Thomas publicly backed and assigned multiple staffers to work on. The projects — for a probation training program, a reentry facility and a remote mental health clinic — were central elements of his policy agenda.

“Nobody would think he needed to be bribed to do it,” Durie said.

The 19 counts against Ridley-Thomas include conspiracy, bribery, and honest services mail and wire fraud. If convicted, the 68-year-old could spend decades in prison. Jurors won’t begin deliberations until Friday after the government completes its final arguments.

The allegations of the government center on a period from 2017 to 2018 when Ridley-Thomas allegedly conspired with Flynn, then the dean of USC’s social work program, to obtain benefits for his son — a scholarship, admission to graduate school, a professor’s job and a donation to a nonprofit.

At the time, the program was struggling financially, and Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian, was a state Assembly member facing a still-confidential sexual harassment investigation.

“The defendant was in a unique position: He could come to both their rescue at the same time,” Dotson told jurors.

Dotson directed jurors to a winter 2018 email in which Flynn sent “an extremely important request for a contract amendment.” Ridley-Thomas replied, “Your wish is my command,” and blind-copied his son.

Next, the email was forwarded to Ridley-Thomas’ staff. “He’s advising his staff to do certain things,” Dotson told jurors. “That’s an official act.”

Among the benefits Ridley-Thomas received: routing $100,000 from his campaign account through USC to a nonprofit run by his son.

Dotson said that it would be easy to donate money directly to his son’s nonprofit, but that Ridley-Thomas had to hide his tracks.

“He’s got to funnel the money and clean his connection,” Dotson said, reminding jurors that an earlier donation from Ridley-Thomas to his son’s nonprofit was rejected after a parent nonprofit objected to the nepotistic optics. Dotson invoked a geographic analogy: “If I’m going to drive from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, I’m not going to drive through Bakersfield.”

After the money arrived, Ridley-Thomas messaged his son, “My piece is done,” with a fist bump emoji.

A linchpin of the government’s case is now-L.A. Mayor Karen Bass’ full tuition scholarship and Flynn’s comments on it. In a 2017 email, Flynn had described her plan to offer Sebastian Ridley-Thomas a scholarship and said she did “the same for Karen Bass — full scholarship for our funds.”

“It’s not rocket science what Marilyn Flynn is looking for here,” Dotson said, laying out a simple plan to curry favor with public officials for government contracts.

But Durie highlighted that then-U.S. Rep. Bass was never charged over the email. If Bass was not a criminal, the same should hold true for her client. If the email was true, it means “Karen Bass, the current mayor of Los Angeles, would be a criminal.”

Durie also pointed to the “for our funds” as a typo — that Flynn meant “from” our funds. One slide shown in court compiled all of Flynn’s typos in emails that jurors saw — misspelled words, hastily written messages.

“Dean Flynn was like 80 years old, which is super impressive,” Durie said. “But her typing skills, much like her financial management skills, were not her strong point.”

A long-running effort of the defense has been to chip away at the prosecution’s case by laying into the credibility of the lead investigator, FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins. Throughout the trial, several witnesses who worked at L.A. County testified that theyweren’t questioned by the FBI, and Durie got Adkins to acknowledge that emails at L.A. County weren’t subpoenaed during the investigation.

“This is a criminal case. If you are going to bring charges, you better be sure that you are right — and you better do your homework,” Durie said.

The defense attorney pointed out shifts in Adkins’ testimony: that he initially said he reviewed more than 400,000 documents in the case, then said either he or other agents reviewed them. Durie reminded jurors of an episode during Adkins’ testimony when she cross-examined him, and the lawyer appeared to identifyan error in his timeline over whether Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was interviewed in the sexual harassment investigation.

“This whole case is about timing,” Durie said, adding, “That makes it really important not to get it mixed up.”

Durie pointed to other lapses: Investigators seemed incurious about how the county government worked and even misstated the nature of the items that make up the “quo” in the quid pro quo — two of the three items were “studies” in which further research would be done for supervisors, not contracts per se.

“Who did the government present to you as witnesses? By and large, they brought you people from USC,” Durie told jurors.

A centerpiece of the government’s case is a summer 2017 meeting with Ridley-Thomas, which Flynn later memorialized in a letter. The letter was hand-delivered to Ridley-Thomas’ office, and it outlined Flynn’s requests of the politician regarding county business.

Dotson said the letter was proof positive of Flynn and Ridley-Thomas mixing Sebastian’s extraordinary benefits at USC with county business.

Durie cast doubt on the letter: “Someone found that letter, saw that it had been hand-delivered, and thought, ‘Aha!’”

Instead, Durie said, the multi-page letter was hand-delivered because of particularly sensitive content: a demographic breakdown of the members of a research initiative on homelessness. The letter noted harshly that the committee was largely white and had no members with “lived experience,” which jeopardized the legitimacy of the research.

Prosecutors situated the sexual harassment allegations against Sebastian Ridley-Thomas — and the need to keep the brewing scandal quiet — as a driving force in the conspiracy. But Durie, in a voice that was noticeably calmer and slower than her argument, wondered aloud if jurors had friends or relatives who’ve been accused of misconduct.

“Mark Ridley-Thomas is on trial,” Durie said. “He’s certainly not on trial for anything his son did.”

Click here to read the full article in LA Times

State May Scale Down Its New Home Loan Program Designed to Assist First-Time Homebuyers

In this economy, who has enough money for a down payment on a house? 

Despite a projected $25 billion budget deficit, the state of California does. At least for now.

The California Housing Finance Agency is poised to launch a scaled-down version of its new shared equity home loan program on March 27. With the Dream for All program, the state plans to provide $300 million worth of down payments for an estimated 2,300 first-time homebuyers.

The complicated program involves the state paying some or all of the upfront costs for buying a home — the down payment, for instance — in exchange for a share in the home’s value when it is sold, refinanced or transferred.

If the home appreciates in value, those gains to the state would then be used to fund the next borrowers — a little for the seller; a little for the next aspiring buyer. 

Everybody wins — as long as prices go up.

The trouble is that home prices have been declining in the state for months, even as higher mortgage interest rates have made monthly mortgage payments more expensive.

A potential economic downturn looms as well, as the Federal Reserve  weighs raising borrowing costs even further as soon as today. 

And California’s tech industry is taking a beating and laying off workers, contributing to a decline in personal incomes. Income taxes are the state’s biggest revenue source.

Given the uncertainty, Gov. Gavin Newsom in January proposed a significantly smaller version of the 10-year, $10 billion program originally envisioned by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego. In his January budget, Newsom proposed spending an initial $300 million on the program, a cut from the $500 million compromise signed last year.

Optimism and expectations

The size and scope of the Dream for All program will likely be a subject of negotiations between Newsom and the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature this year. The governor is expected to offer a revised state spending plan and a new financial forecast in May. Lawmakers must pass a balanced budget by June 15 in order to get paid.

The proposed cut “will not impact the Administration’s commitment or timeline for implementing the program,” Newsom’s Department of Finance said in January.

In a Feb. 13 email to CalMatters, Christopher Woods, budget director for Atkins, said her office will seek more funding for the program.

“The Governor ‘proposing’ to pull back some funds has very little to do with what will actually happen,” Woods wrote to CalMatters, in response to earlier coverage of the program. “No one should expect the program to be cut, and we should all fully expect additional funds – perhaps as much as $1 billion – to be allocated in the 2023-24 Budget Act.”

“With interest rates rising, the program is needed more than ever … and there are several innovative ways to fund the program,” Woods wrote.

Woods declined to answer follow-up questions for this story. 

Atkins, who championed the equity sharing program last year, has said the Dream for All program is a priority. She said in a recent statement she isn’t giving up on getting more money for it.

“Our state is about to launch a program that will help change people’s lives for the better, and make the dream of homeownership a reality,” she said. “While existing funding for the California Dream for All is a great first step, we are working to allocate additional funding in the upcoming state budget — with the ultimate goal of providing $1 billion per year — to help even more families set the foundation for building generational wealth.”

Falling equity

The uncertainty in the economy and housing market has been a subject of discussion at CalHFA for months, as officials and political appointees seek to launch a program meant to take advantage of rising home prices at the very moment home equity is falling.

State officials said buyers positioned to hold onto a property for the long-term are those best suited for the program when home prices are falling.

In a presentation to its board of directors in January, CalHFA officials also said the agency is planning for a program with a potentially “very short life cycle.”

“Having lived the dream of buying a house in Los Angeles in 1989, when the market peaked, and then selling it at a loss almost a decade later, I can appreciate that the market doesn’t always go up,” Jim Cervantes, CalHFA’s chair, said during that Jan. 19 meeting

“Disclosures, whatever we can do to mitigate — or rather, have prospective buyers understand what they’re getting into — would be extremely valuable, because no one’s a good market timer.”

California home prices, already rising for years, saw big gains during the pandemic, as mortgage interest rates hit historic lows and families sought more space for their remote work set-ups to practice social distancing.

The median price of a previously-owned, single-family home in California, as tracked by the California Association of Realtors, increased 47% from March 2020 to May 2022, when it peaked at $900,170. 

That same month the Federal Reserve, in order to tackle inflation, began its most aggressive interest rate hikes in years driving up mortgage costs for consumers.

Since May 2022, the state’s median home price has fallen 16.5% to hit $751,330 in January.

Market change

Despite the decline in home prices, monthly mortgage costs continue to make the state’s housing market more unaffordable than at nearly any point in the last 15 years, particularly for lower- and middle-class families. Only 17% of families in California could afford a median-priced single family home at the end of last year, according to the Realtors group.

Given the rapid market changes, Tiena Johnson Hall, CalHFA’s executive director, called the governor’s reductions in Dream for All funding prudent at CalHFA’s January meeting. “There’s still a lot of room for (home) values to continue to decrease, and that is what we expect to see,” she said. 

In February, the state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst projected a revised $25 billion deficit in next year’s state budget. Since then, job growth nationally and in California has remained strong, except for layoffs in the tech sector.

The full details of the Dream for All program — for instance, which lenders will offer the shared equity loans to borrowers — are not yet available from CalHFA. 

And loans will not be immediately available to consumers when the program launches this month. Lenders will need a month to six weeks to roll out the loans and begin marketing them to consumers, said Ellen Martin, a CalHFA official tasked with designing the program.

“We do know that there’s a lot of excitement out there,” Martin told CalMatters in a recent interview.

How it will work

Some details have been revealed in CalHFA board meetings, public hearings and a report to the state Legislature. Here are some of the program’s key components.

  • The loans will not be available for all Californians. Only those who earn 150% or less of  the median income of others in their county qualify. Those income limits vary by county, with $300,000 being the cut-off in pricey Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, but $159,000 for many inland counties such as Fresno and Merced.
  • The loans will cover as much as 20% of a home purchase. Whenever a home is sold, transferred or refinanced, a borrower will owe the state the original amount the state invested, plus a percentage of the home’s increase in value. If the original loan was 20 percent of a home’s value, the seller would owe the state the original loan plus 20 percent of its increased value, though that amount would be capped at 250% of the original loan amount.
  • A social equity feature of the program will be included for those who earn as much as 80% of the area median income. They will get to keep more of their equity when they sell, refinance or transfer their properties than others with higher incomes. Also about 10% of the initial state funds, or $30 million, will be reserved for those lower-income borrowers.
  • The loans can be used to fund down payments and closing costs, including interest rate buydowns. 
  • Given the complexity of the program, borrowers will be required to complete a homebuyer education course.

Advocates’ concerns

The complexity of the program has some consumer advocates worried. 

Lisa Sitkin, a senior staff attorney with the National Housing Law Project, said it would be wise for the agency to ensure borrowers receive periodic notices about the loan’s atypical details.

“As time goes by, people tend to forget and treat it as a normal loan, and I think it is useful for people planning to be reminded,” said Sitkin, a member of a working group advising CalHFA on the program. 

A proposal to sell the loans as mortgage-backed securities also has her worried. California officials are exploring the idea of pooling the shared equity loans into securities and selling them to investors, to help provide additional money for other borrowers.

Many Wall Street financial institutions bundled often poor-quality mortgage loans into securities during real estate’s boom years and sold them to major investors. But during the years of downturn, getting help to homeowners was complicated by the difficulties identifying who exactly owned these loans.

“If they are sold into private, securitized trusts there is a lack of transparency about who owns your debt, and a lack of information about options if there are problems,” Sitkins said. “I really want to be sure that there are guardrails and protections for the borrowers.”

Consumers are cautious

As CalHFA officials were designing the program last year, they held several listening sessions online, taking comments from the public. Jake Lawrence, a 41-year-old cannabis entrepreneur in Willits who also runs a nonprofit, said he liked what he heard.

“I’m very interested. The problem we face is that there’s such a flux in what’s going on,” Lawrence said. “We’re in the middle of a housing market bust, so we’re gonna watch prices tumble for a minute.”

What’s more, one of the county’s biggest industries, the marijuana trade, has been hit hard by declines in cannabis prices. “It’s beyond suffering,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence also wondered how the state will calculate equity if he makes improvements to a home.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Homeless Voucher Scheme: 2 Sex Offenders Accused of Raping Minor Girls at El Cajon Motel

Taxpayer-funded homeless voucher scandal in El Cajon: ‘We’ve got a lot of criminals in this group of people’

Two girls believed to be as young as 13 were allegedly raped by two convicted sex offenders wearing ankle monitors at a Motel 6 in El Cajon participating in a motel voucher program that temporarily houses homeless.

In September, the Globe reported on the homeless voucher program in El Cajon, in San Diego County: “There are 18 motels in San Diego County participating in the homeless hotel voucher program – eight of them, 44%, are located in El Cajon.”

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, El Cajon City Manager Graham Mitchell and Police Chief Mike Moulton objected and said the County “is saturating El Cajon with homeless and hotel vouchers,” with no prior notice or warning to the city. They contacted the County asking them to spread their voucher-using homeless throughout the county, rather than sending the bulk of them to El Cajon. “We have the second highest poverty level in the county,” City Manager Mitchell said. “We also have the most immigrants,” noting the special circumstances these groups face, as well as reliance on the city and county.

In September, the City sent letters to these motels, telling them they could face fines if they allow homeless vouchers to make up more than 15% of their occupancy.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta intervened and told the City to cease and desist with their 15% homeless voucher occupancy policy. The AG claimed in his letter that this was a discrimination and a fair housing issue. Specifically, the AG said: “Discrimination based on source of income is a civil right.”

The Globe asked, “Are the homeless transients now a protected class in California?”

Fast forward to today, as Fox News reported:

Police arrested a pair of California sex offenders over the weekend after they allegedly admitted to raping an underage girl, recording part of the encounter on video and claimed to have attacked other girls in recent days, according to police in El Cajon.

Lawrence “Larry” Cantrell, 34, and Michael Inman, 70, are accused of raping a girl, believed to be between 13 and 16, in Cantrell’s Motel 6 bedroom last week, where he was staying as part of a voucher program for the homeless.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells told Fox News Digital that two of the girls were believed to be as young as 13.

This is exactly what the Mayor, City Manager and Police Chief were so concerned about when we spoke in September. “The City and police department say the AG is overstepping, as this is not about refusing to help the homeless, but an actual serious public safety issue with the dramatically increasing crime from the homeless transients,” the Globe reported.

The Attorney General’s office said in the September letter:

“The City’s actions cannot stand. The City’s conduct constitutes unlawful discrimination in direct contravention of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Our office hereby demands that the City immediately (1) rescind the warning notices, (2) agree to refrain from issuing such notices in the future, (3) publicly state that hotels will not be subjected to adverse action from the City for accepting such vouchers and (4) order its law enforcement officers to immediately cease any unlawful harassment of hotel guests at participating hotels.”

Such an interesting choice of language: the homeless transients are now “hotel guests” at participating homeless hotels paid for by California taxpayers.

El Cajon Police Department received so many calls for service to these motels, this resulted in more than 40 arrests in four days of transients who are felons with long rap sheets, with outstanding warrants, and who are dealing drugs.

Chief Moulton said at the time, the escalation of increased calls was a huge impact to the department. For context, he said in 2013 they received 2,800 calls about homeless crimes and incidents. It peaked in 2018 at 9,000. Since that time (2019-2021) they have been right at 7,500 a year. This is a direct correlation to passage of Propositions 47 and 57, Chief Moulton added.

“While the voucher program has placed as many as 50% of the homeless voucher recipients in El Cajon hotels, the city accounts for only 3% of the county’s population, Wells said,” Fox reported.

“I am 100% sure they’re punishing us for being conservative,” Wells said.

When the City sent letters to these motels, telling them they could face fines if they allow homeless vouchers to make up more than 15% of their occupancy, this elicited immediate reaction by San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, challenging the Mayor, City Manager and Chief of Police. “Our County is making historic investments in supporting the unsheltered in our region, and will not allow the actions of the City of El Cajon to push more people onto the street. We will fight for what is right,” Fletcher tweeted.

Fox reported:

Both men were placed into housing by People Assisting The Homeless, or PATH, a homeless services provider in San Diego, according to authorities.

A PATH employee called police on Friday to report Cantrell’s “suspicious behavior,” police said. Cantrell then allegedly admitted to child molestation and told officers he had a video on his phone.

PATH had placed Cantrell in the El Cajon Motel 6 for about five to six days before the crime, police said. Prior to that, he was kicked out of another hotel voucher program due to an “altercation.”

Police said they arrested Inman at a Days Inn in San Diego – where he allegedly told them he knew the girl was underage and that he and Cantrell had victimized at least two other girls in El Cajon in the past week.

El Cajon Police Department issued the following information about the suspects:

Officers from the El Cajon Police Department responded to the motel and spoke with Cantrell, who admitted to having sexual contact with a girl he believed to be a minor. Cantrell told officers that his friend, 70 y/o Michael Inman, a sex registrant he met through PATH while staying at the Days Inn hotel on Ash St. in San Diego, brought a young girl that Cantrell believed to be a minor, to his room. Cantrell questioned the young girl about her age multiple times because he believed her to be a juvenile. Cantrell told officers the young girl claimed to be an adult, but he believed she was a minor. After a short conversation, Cantrell sexually assaulted and molested the minor. Afterward, Cantrell and Inman engaged in sexual activity with each other. Cantrell learned that
Inman had an explicit video of the minor from inside the motel room on his cell phone, so Cantrell sent the video from Inman’s phone to his own cell phone. Cantrell turned his cell phone over to officers and they confirmed Cantrell had a sexually explicit video of what appeared to be a juvenile female with Inman. Officers seized Cantrell’s phone. Cantrell provided officers with identifying information for Inman.

Proposition 57, passed in 2016, allowed early release of not only nonviolent felons, but also sex offenders and three strikers, which explains Cantrell and Inman being out of prison.

El Cajon attempted enforcing zoning rules limiting hotel homeless housing to 25% of capacity – and received a cease-and-desist letter from California Attorney General Robert Bonta, Wells said.

“We had to kind of back off at that point, and that’s when the voucher program kind of increased,” Wells said. “That’s when I said this is gonna be bad. We’ve got a lot of criminals in this group of people.”

Graham Mitchell, El Cajon’s City Manager commented on the recent crime:

“Months ago, El Cajon officials expressed concern regarding the overuse of El Cajon motels being used for the homeless vouchers. We observed negative impacts on surrounding neighborhoods as El Cajon became the region’s dumping ground.  Our calls for concern were ignored.  Even the State Attorney General’s office was used to stop El Cajon from protecting its community.  In the past four months, a teen shot in the head at a motel and sex offenders engaging in and recording themselves having sex with a teen in another motel.  Both of these tragedies, and others, are connected to housing the homeless in El Cajon motels with little to no supervision.  Hopefully, regional leaders and homeless service agencies can see what the El Cajon community has seen: The overconcentration of individuals experiencing homelessness in motels without supervision is a bad formula.”

And now underage girls as young as 13 appear to have been raped by repeat sex offenders.

What does AG Bonta have to say about this? Are Cantrell and Inman “some of San Diego’s most vulnerable residents?”

Does San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who insisted he would “fight for what is right,” have anything to say about the underage victims? Is this San Diego “making historic investments” by supporting homeless sex offenders?

The Globe sent requests for comment to both Bonta’s and Fletcher’s offices. We received an email statement right before we published from Chuck Westerheide, San Diego County Public Safety Group Communications Department:

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Gig firms fight Biden’s Labor pick

Uber, Lyft and others raise concern over Julie Su’s stance on worker classification.

A group representing Uber, Lyft and other app-based services is raising concern about President Biden’s nominee to lead the Labor Department over her stance on worker classification rules.

In a letter to Biden dated Monday, the Flex Assn. asked that the nominee, Julie Su, explain how she would implement a proposed rule that could make it easier for workers to be considered employees rather than independent contractors “in a manner that protects independent work.”

It also requested that the Labor Department “delay action” on the proposal until the Senate confirms a nominee for secretary.

Gig companies such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart rely heavily on contractors to staff their fleets and have closely scrutinized the rule.

The letter illustrates the battle lines around Su’s nomination to replace Marty Walsh as Labor secretary. Business groups and Republicans have criticized her support for measures affecting the gig economy, while she has earned plaudits from Democrats and labor groups for her stance on workers’ rights.

The White House sent Su’s nomination to the Senate last week, allowing the confirmation process to begin.

Flex Chief Executive Kristin Sharp wrote to Biden that the group is concerned that Su “does not fully appreciate the potential impact” of the measure and “has a record indicating an oppositional approach to policymaking that carries real implications as she seeks to be elevated to serve as the department’s primary policymaker.”

A White House official defended Su, saying that, if confirmed as Labor secretary, she would ensure workers receive all rights and protections available to them under federal law. Proper classification of workers would benefit the economy and guarantee they are eligible for unemployment insurance, overtime and minimum wage, the official said.

Su led California’s labor department before joining the Biden administration. She supported a law making it more difficult for companies to classify workers as contractors, which allows businesses to save millions of dollars but deprives workers of protections such as minimum wage and benefits.

Sharp said the California law, which is being challenged in federal court, “wreaked havoc across multiple industries.” While stopping short of opposing Su’s nomination, Sharp demanded that Su explain her views on the policy during Senate confirmation “so that stakeholders can properly evaluate their position on her nomination.”

The Biden administration issued a proposal on independent-contractor status in October that would undo a Trump-era standard that made it easier for companies to hire people as contractors, which critics said left workers vulnerable to misclassification. The proposed rule isn’t final yet.

The proposal imposes a multifactor test that considers all elements of the working relationship equally in determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. The Trump-era test gave more weight to a person’s degree of control over their work and the opportunity for profit and loss.

Click here to read the full article at LA Times

All LAUSD Schools Closed as Thousands of Employees Begin 3-Day Strike

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Thousands of service employees and teachers braved the rain and began picketing Tuesday at the Van Nuys Bus Yard, with more picket lines and rallies scheduled for Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in Los Angeles, the start of a three-day planned walkout.

With labor talks at a standstill and no new negotiations scheduled, LAUSD campuses will be closed Tuesday and likely through Thursday as service workers begin a planned strike — leaving more than 400,000 students without classes.

Rep. Adam Schiff was in attendance at a Tuesday morning news conference, showing his support for the thousands of workers in their fight for better wages.

“One out of three of the folks we’re talking about today, supporting today, are at risk of homelessness… if we want to attack the problem, the epidemic, the chronic problem of people living without housing… we have to start paying them a decent wage. What SEIU is asking for is reasonable… $36,000 a year – even that is a struggle. It costs about $1,700 to rent a one-bedroom apartment… for the people we are talking about… they have to spend about 85% of their income just to put a roof over their heads… it leaves $3,600 a year to pay for everything else… to pay for food, medicine, every other necessity in life. You can’t live on that… no one should have to live on that.”

The 30,000 workers represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 99 — including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and others — started picketing at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. The roughly 30,000 members of the powerful teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, will honor the picket line.

RELATED: LAUSD closing schools Tuesday amid worker strike

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said at a late-afternoon news conference Monday that he had hoped on Monday to have “a transparent, honest conversation” that might result in an agreement to stave off the planned three-day strike, but it never happened.

“We remain ready to return to negotiations with SEIU 99 so we can provide an equitable contact to our hardworking employees and get our students back in the classrooms,” Carvalho wrote in a statement posted to social media Tuesday.

The statement continued to say, “I understand our employees’ frustration that has been brewing, not just for a couple of years, but probably for decades. And it’s on the basis of recognizing historic inequities that we have put on the table [in] a historic proposal.”

“We were never in the same room, or even in the same building,” he said.

Carvalho also said he was still holding out hope that some talks can take place overnight or Tuesday — potentially reaching a deal that will prevent the work stoppage from continuing for the entire three days.

In the meantime, the district does plan to offer food distribution for families on Tuesday morning, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at designated sites. Information is available on the district’s website.

There was briefly a glimmer of hope Monday afternoon that labor talks might resume and a strike potentially averted. But those hopes were quickly dashed.

“This afternoon, SEIU Local 99 had agreed to enter a confidential mediation process with LAUSD to try and address our differences,” union Executive Director Max Arias said in a statement late Monday afternoon.

“Unfortunately, LAUSD broke that confidentiality by sharing it with the media before our bargaining team, which makes all decisions, had a chance to discuss how to proceed. This is yet another example of the school district’s continued disrespect of school workers. We are ready to strike.

“We want to be clear that we are not in negotiations with LAUSD. We continue to be engaged in the impasse process with the state.”

Plans for the last-ditch negotiating session Monday were first reported by the Los Angeles Times, with LAUSD Board of Education President Jackie Goldberg telling the paper there were plans for 11th-hour discussions with the union.

Shortly after The Times published its story, the union issued its statement saying it was not involved with any negotiations, instead continuing with the “impasse process with the state.”

Union leaders have scheduled a news conference for 7 a.m. Tuesday at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, 701 S. Catalina St., followed by a 1 p.m. rally at LAUSD headquarters, 333 S. Beaudry Ave.

The LAUSD on Friday filed a legal challenge with the state Public Employment Relations Board seeking an injunction that would halt the strike, claiming the union’s proposed walkout was illegal. Over the weekend, however, the PERB denied the district’s request for injunctive relief because it did not find “the extraordinary remedy of seeking injunctive relief to be met at this juncture,” according to the LAUSD.

But, according to the district, the PERB did direct its Office of General Counsel to expedite the processing of the district’s underlying unfair practice charge against SEIU Local 99, which alleged that the union and its members were engaging in an unlawful three-day strike.

The union has repeatedly accused the district of engaging in unfair labor practices, saying union members have been subjected to harassment and intimidation tactics during an earlier strike-authorization vote and as the possible walkout neared. Carvalho acknowledged those accusations, but said there is a process for investigating such claims, and “it takes time.” He said the union was using those allegations as an “expedited way of creating a strike opportunity.”

There was some back-and-forth between the district and union over the weekend, but with no results.

“Even as the school district filed charges, they presented SEIU Local 99 with an updated contract offer,” the union said Saturday, referencing the PERB complaint filed the day prior. “Members of our bargaining team had not even had time to review it or consult with other members before the district shared it publicly with the media. We will not negotiate publicly,” adding, “LAUSD does not seem to be acting in good faith.”

Carvalho said LAUSD officials were prepared to talk and even potentially sweeten their most recent compensation and benefits offer, but union officials said they are waiting for a state mediator to schedule new talks.

Meanwhile, the district had a series of 90-minute Zoom webinars on Sunday and Monday for students and their families to learn more about what is happening.

The strike will be the first major labor disruption for the district since UTLA teachers went on strike for six days in 2019. That dispute ended in part to intervention by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti, who helped spur labor talks at City Hall and broker a deal between the district and union.

Zach Seidl, a spokesman for Mayor Karen Bass, said Friday that Bass is “closely monitoring the situation and is engaged with all parties involved.”

District officials said last week that Carvalho had made the SEIU Local 99 “one of the strongest offers ever proposed by a Los Angeles Unified superintendent.”

According to the district, the offer included a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% increase retroactive to July 2022 and another 5% increase effective July 2023, along with a 4% bonus in 2022-23 and a 5% bonus in 2023-24.

On Monday, Carvalho said the district sweetened the offer to a 23% increase, along with a 3% “cash-in-hand bonus.”

The union, which says many of its workers are earning “poverty wages” of $25,000 per school year, has been pushing for a 30% pay raise, with an additional boost for the lowest-paid workers.

SEIU workers have been working without a contract since June 2020. The union declared an impasse in negotiations in December, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.

In addition to salary demands, union officials have also alleged staffing shortages caused by an “over-reliance on a low-wage, part-time workforce.” The union alleged shortages including:

  • Insufficient teacher assistants, special education assistants and other instructional support to address learning loss and achievement gaps;
  • Substandard cleaning and disinfecting at school campuses because of a lack of custodial staff;
  • Jeopardized campus safety due to campus aides and playground supervisors being overburdened, and,
  • Limited enrichment, after-school and parental engagement programs due to reduced work hours and lack of health care benefits for after-school workers and community representatives.

The unions have repeatedly said the district is sitting on a projected $4.9 billion reserve fund for 2022-23 that should be invested in workers and efforts to improve education through reduced class sizes and full staffing of all campuses. Carvalho has disputed that figure, saying an independent auditor that reviewed the district’s books found no such surplus.

Click here to read the full article in FoxLA11

Republicans Made Gains in Latino-Majority Districts, 2022 Election Data Shows

A new report shows Republicans are gaining footholds in some California electoral districts where Latinos make up the majority population, a development that might concern some Democrats moving forward.

The report from Third Way, a self-described “center-left” national think tank, shows although those areas lagged in voter turnout last year, Republicans saw marginal gains.

One expert says the results are an indicator Republicans are continuing to receive a higher level of support from one of America’s fastest-growing voting blocs.

The data examines heavily concentrated Latino congressional districts in seven states — Arizona, California, New York, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida.

In California’s 14 Latino-majority districts, for example, where a Democrat and a Republican both made the 2022 ballot, 10.8% more voters swung Republican from 2020 to 2022, compared to 7.1% from 2018 to 2022, the data shows. Most of the districts were located in Central and Southern California.

The report highlighted the Central Valley’s 13th and 22nd Congressional Districts, where conservatives Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Rep. John Duarte, R-Turlock, triumphed over Democratic competitors in close November races respectively.

Lucas Holtz, political analyst and author of the report, said the research differentiates midterm and presidential election results as they are “ideologically varied” as midterms are generally known for receiving less turnout.

“California Democrats have a major challenge on their hands,” Holtz said. “They’re not driving turnout … even with an insane amount of investments and those that they are turning out, they’re clearly not persuading.”

Holtz warned against making broad conclusions about the Latino vote, since the report only examines voting at the geographic level. Regardless, Holtz said the report reveals Democrats will need to improve at persuading Latino voters as 2024 approaches.

Matt Barreto, president of BSP Research in Los Angeles, which studies Latino voting trends, also cautioned against making definitive statements about what the data says about how Latinos as a group are voting.

Barreto said historically, in areas with a growing Latino population, white voters will turn out to vote at higher rates. This would mean that white voters in a congressional district could result in a rightward shift.

Case in point: A district heavily composed of Latinos does not necessarily mean they are the majority voting.

“There’s a long history in American politics that shows that when a minority group starts to increase in presence, it can cause whites to vote more conservative,” Barreto said.

More conclusive numbers on the Latino vote will be available in the coming months, with the release of the precinct and individual data.

California Latino vote no longer a certainty for DemS

Latino support for Republicans has fluctuated over the years, but a rightward trend became apparent during the Trump administration. Between 2016 and 2020, Trump garnered 37% support to Joe Biden’s 63%.

California Latinos were regarded as the exception to the trend, reflecting the legacy of the anti-immigrant rhetoric Republicans employed in the 1990s. Most notably, Proposition 187 in 1994 sought to ban immigrants from receiving social services, health care and education. The measure is regarded for setting a decades-long anti-Republican narrative.

But that may soon change, according to a Republican Latino voting trends expert Mike Madrid.

“It is more pronounced outside of California, but it is now finally happening,” Madrid said. “One of the great ironies of California is that it prides itself on being sort of the preview of coming attractions, but in the largest demographic shift in the history of the country, California is behind the rest of the country.”

Madrid believes Latinos in the Golden State are entering a post-Prop. 187 era, where Democrats will need to improve their economic agenda to drive the Latino electorate. He said Latino lawmakers, in particular, have for too long focused on issues that won’t help solve the economic concerns of the community . Madrid added that Democrats also need to invest money to fix the “Latino turnout problem.”

“Democrats just never had to worry about it, because the Republicans have never been a viable alternative,” Madrid said. “But now when you see a rightward shift, some alarm bells go off.”

While Latinos make up almost 40% of the state’s adult population, they only account for 22% of likely voters, according to an August 2022 report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Mindy Romero, director of USC’s Center for Inclusive Democracy, called the 2022 midterm election turnout for California Latinos “deeply disappointing.” She said, unlike other states, California saw a reduction in turnout compared to 2018.

Click here to read the full article in the SacBee

Back-to-back Storms Will Hit San Diego County With Heavy Rain, Moderate Snow and High Winds

The bad weather will begin with a weak system on Monday that will give way to a much larger storm Tuesday that’s drawing extra moisture from the subtropics, which will increase projected rainfall.

The spring equinox arrives Monday. But it will feel like mid-winter across San Diego County. A weak storm will deliver light rain ahead of a bigger system that will push ashore Tuesday with heavy precipitation, moderate snow, biting cold, and fierce winds from the desert to the sea, the National Weather Service said.

Forecasters said the storms could raise the water level in the San Diego River in Mission Valley to near-flood stage and produce winds strong enough to snap trees from Oceanside to San Ysidro, where gusts will be in the 54 to 60 mph range.

The coast and inland valleys are projected to receive up to 3 inches of rain from early Tuesday to early Thursday and 4 to 5 inches at Palomar Mountain, which has recorded 49.77 inches of precipitation since the rainy season began on October 1. That’s 19.36 inches above average.

The heavy rain is worrisome to public works crews. The landscape is saturated from a seemingly endless string of Pacific storms, many of them beefed up by moisture from the subtropics. The rain contributed to a cliff collapse at Black’s Beach in January and created a massive sinkhole on state Route 78 in Oceanside last week.

The larger storm now approaching San Diego has tapped into moisture from northwest of Hawaii, generating an atmospheric river that is forecast to move directly over San Diego County.

The incoming winds also have people on edge. The weather service said in an advisory that the system could “translate to a very strong wind event that we only see once every few years. The strongest winds will be ahead of and with the cold frontal passage on Tuesday.”

The air will become very unstable late Tuesday and early Wednesday and could result in sporadic thunder and lightning across much of the region.

On Wednesday, the conversation will shift to the cold air. The daytime high in San Diego is only expected to reach 59, which is eight degrees below average. Communities across the region will be 5 to 15 degrees cooler than normal.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune