California’s Regulatory Hostility Prevents More New Homes

The median home price in Los Angeles County is $618,000. In Santa Clara County it’s $1.2 million. In the entire state of California, including the somewhat more “affordable” inland counties, the median home price is $548,000.

The national median home price? $227,000.

There’s a reason for this. For decades, California’s state and local governments have made it harder and more expensive for any builder to construct new housing. In most other states, the governing agencies want more housing and they try to make it easier for builders. In California, the exact opposite is the case.

The consequences of this hostile shake-down of builders by California’s state and local governments are a housing shortage, unaffordable homes, an exacerbated homeless crisis, and increased calls for rent control (which will create even more disincentives for home builders).

The response of California’s policymakers to the housing shortage they created is not to address the punitive fees and permitting delays, but to try to cram high density housing projects down the throats of local communities, accusing them of nimbyism – the “not in my backyard” syndrome. The problem with this accusation is that no sane person wants an apartment building plopped next door to them in a neighborhood that used to be single family dwellings. If “nimbyism” means stop destroying well established and tranquil low density neighborhoods with mandated high density projects, then California needs more nimbyism, not less.

Along with punitive fees and permitting delays is a bias against any new housing construction on undeveloped open land, so-called “greenfield” development. The arguments against urban “sprawl” claim that wildlife habitat is threatened by new developments, ignoring the fact that California is only five percent urbanized, with plenty of room for nature preserves and new housing.

The argument that ends most discussions, however, is based on the theory that the expansion of low density suburbs will result in more “greenhouse gas” emissions. This theory, even if you believe that “greenhouse gas” is a threat, is based on biased studies that fail to take into account countless variables that might call it into question, for example: job migration to exurbs to follow the new residents, less congestion on freeways, ever cleaner automobiles, and the potential to telecommute.

According to Dan Dunmoyer, president of the California Building Industry Association, California has more regulations for getting a piece of land approved than anywhere else in the world. This should come as no surprise. In California, if it only takes 10 years for a large housing development to get approval, that’s considered fast. It isn’t uncommon for it to take 20 years or more. In Nevada or Arizona, these same large projects typically get approved within 18 months.

These permitting delays drive all but a handful of very large developers out of the housing construction business in California. And along with delays from the authorities come the lawsuits, many of them based on California’s unique California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which environmentalists have turned into a weapon to stop housing projects in their tracks for years. And it only takes one determined environmentalist group to stop development.

A particularly egregious example of this is the proposed Tejon Ranch housing project that has been embroiled in permitting delays and lawsuits for over 25 years. This massive project, a planned community of over 19,000 badly needed new homes, would straddle Interstate 5 in the northwest corner of Los Angeles County. The developers have committed to set aside ninety percent of the land as a nature preserve, after which the NRDC, the Sierra Club, and the Nature Conservancy all withdrew their objections. But it only takes one: The “Center for Biological Diversity” has filed yet another lawsuit.

There’s nothing wrong with setting aside significant tracts of land for wildlife habitat. But when 90 percent of a parcel is not enough set-aside, and existing California law permits endless lawsuits to stop new housing developments, the laws must change. As it is, there is always another well funded environmentalist organization that will oppose all land development, anywhere in California.

While costly permitting delays drive most home builders out of California altogether, the ones that remain pay fees that are literally unbelievable. The low end of fees charged by municipalities to homebuilders are $25,000 to $30,000, usually in the inland counties. On the high end, some cities in the San Francisco Bay area charge fees of over $150,000.

As if that isn’t bad enough, these so-called “pure fees” don’t take into account the other expenses, such as hiring a consultant to determine how big to make the park relative to the other towns, or biological studies, or the purchase of nature preserves. The fees are endless – development, park, fire, infrastructure, art (yes, art), recreation. CBIA president Dunmoyer described a project in Livermore where the total cost was over a half-million dollars per lot just to pay the development fees and expenses associated with land development.

In other states, the cities and counties build parks and other infrastructure themselves, less elaborately and for far less cost, because they want housing and the economic development that comes with new residents. In California, the developer will often pay the park fee and then they don’t even build the park.

Along with the lawsuits and astronomical fees, California’s housing prices are boosted by higher materials costs. In some cases this is because of environmentalist building code mandates. The new solar energy mandates that take effect in 2020, for example, will add up to another $12,000 in additional construction cost per home. But all construction materials cost at least ten percent more in California compared to other states. California’s regulators make it extremely difficult to operate timber and quarry operations in this resource rich state, so materials have to be brought in from elsewhere at additional expense.

Contrary to what one might think, these delays and increased costs that have created sky-high housing values have not enriched the builders. Especially because they must bear the costs associated with pursuing uncertain projects which even when approved are only after decades of effort. Home builders actually make a higher rate of profit on lower priced housing in other states than they do on higher priced housing in California.

When California’s policymakers propose rent control, housing subsidies, and mandate high density housing, they are doing literally everything wrong. Rent control and subsidies will discourage private investment in housing and further undermine a competitive market for new construction. High density mandates will destroy existing neighborhoods, embittering residents, while not creating nearly enough new housing to bring supply and demand into equilibrium. Moreover, the high rise residential projects in the urban core, encouraged by policymakers, cost far more per unit because of the far greater per unit quantities of steel and concrete required for structures over a few stories in height.

The solution to California’s housing crisis is to repeal SB 375 that restricts most new housing to within the existing urban footprint, to repeal CEQA which permits endless lawsuits, and to reform pensions and other out-of-control public employee perks so operating funds – instead of insanely high fees – can help pay for infrastructure upgrades.

Crucially, the mentality of the bureaucracy has to change. They need to treat builders with respect and speed up the permitting process. Improving the attitude and performance of the bureaucracy will be the hardest thing to change, but if Californians are to have the regulatory environment for housing that they need to be able to afford to live here, that’s what’s got to happen.

As it is, California’s state and local governments engage in a shameless shakedown of anyone who wants to build anything, anywhere. Everyone is a victim of this, except for unaccountable bureaucrats who collect the fees and property taxes, and investors who speculate on the real-estate bubble. It is a scandal and a tragedy.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

Comparing Texas And California, And Why Texas Wins Out

“Texafornia – A Glimpse into America’s Future” headlines The Economist’s special report last week comparing America’s two mega states, California and Texas.  The British magazine looked at several areas where the two states compete, and for the most part California came out second best.

One fifth of all Americans call California or Texas home.  California, with 40 million people is the fifth largest economy in the world, but Texas, with 29 million people is the world’s tenth.  Their joint GDP is almost $5 trillion. But their trend lines are headed in almost exactly the opposite direction.

“Between 2007 and 2016, a net one million American residents, or 2.5 percent of the state’s population, left California for another state, and Texas was the most popular destination,” notes The Economist.  “Most of those leaving California for Texas earn less than $50,000 a year and have only a high school education.”  But these are the people who once made the California Dream, returning GIs who in the post-War world who found good blue collar jobs in California, and upward mobility for their children.

Not any more.   High housing prices are causing one in three Californians to think about moving out of state.  And companies are leaving too. ”Last year McKesson, a medical supply company, and Core-Mack, a supplier to convenience stores, shifted their headquarters from California to Texas, as did Jamba Juice, a smoothie company,” The Economist noted.  “Many California firms are adding jobs outside the Golden State.  Charles Schwab, a financial brokerage firm based in San Francisco, received more than $6 million in incentives from Texas, and by the end of this year will have more employees there than in California.”

In a section titled “Faded Gold”, The Economist blames the usual suspects for people abandoning California: over regulation and high business taxes.  They conclude that the state simply does not provide enough decent jobs or affordable housing for working families.  “California needs to adopt a pro-business attitude and strategy more like Texas.”

The magazine also grades the states on their success in educating their children, in a segment entitled: “Do Your Homework.”  Here both states fail. “If California and Texas were to be graded for their achievements in the classroom, they would barely pass.  They rank 36thand 41st respectively … for educational outcome.”  Texas has long been criticized for its skimpy spending on education; and in the legislative session just ended the legislature and governor finally provided more money for schools.

But California’s vastly more money spent on education does not result in a better outcome.  California spends 22 percent more per student on education than Texas, and average teacher salaries are 50 percent higher. In budget terms; California spend twice as much on education as Texas, yet their educational outcomes are roughly the same; in both states fourth graders are below the national average in reading. 

The Economist has a ready explanation for California’s poor performance in education.  “Teachers unions are a powerful political force in California, significantly more than in Texas.  Unions represent the interests of their members, not the students they teach…. In California, firing underperforming teachers is more difficult than mastering advanced calculus.”  

The magazine also notes that, “In 2012, California voters approved a 30 percent increase in income tax rates, in part to fund public schools, but all that extra money went to pensioners and their health care.”   This is the reason why there is no political cost for the failure to provide better education, or jobs and housing for that matter. The people who benefit the most from California spending are those beyond their working years, or those too poor to work. In California the student population is heavily non-white, but with the collapse of the state’s Republican Party, there is no alternative to a Democratic Party largely controlled by teacher and public employee unions, whose priorities are more public spending and higher taxes, which in the view of The Economist, are exactly the worst policies for California.    

In Texas, however, there is a growing political backlash to the state’s poor educational performance.  Business and civic leaders have made known their concern about inadequate education spending and the lack of skilled workers for an expanding economy.  Over the past decade, the Texas legislature spent its time on social conservative causes like stopping transgender bathrooms. But in 2018, long dormant state Democrats made something of a comeback defeating 12 Republican legislators.  “Some Republicans believe that, without more investment and improvement in public education, voters could bring in the Democrats. If poor test results do not cause them to change their approach, the mathematics of politics might.”

There is no such political pressure in California. Democrats in this one party state pay no price for lack of affordable housing, lack of job creation, and lousy education.   To some degree this is the result of the self immolation of the state’s once powerful Republican Party since its dalliance with immigration bashing that began a quarter century ago.  Now all Republicans have left is a cohort of elderly white voters who are either leaving the state or dying off, so when they criticize Democratic policies they are hardly even heard.

In its segment on welfare, titled “Social Insecurity,” The Economist zeroes in on the most important legacy of California’s one party Democratic rule: the fact we are the most impoverished state in the nation.  At 19 percent, California’s poverty rate is the highest among the 50 states. “The huge gaps between the wealth of the top five percent and the bottom 20 percent make California the second most unequal state after New York.”

California’s poverty and inequality can be traced mainly to the lack of blue collar manufacturing industries.  “Texas is the country’s number one producer and consumer of energy, and environmentalism is not part of its brand.”  Texas is therefore attractive to manufacturers and heavy users of electricity while California is not. California’s political class and its voters have long been dedicated to fighting climate change, and as the magazine points out: “California’s leadership on the environment has won it kudos, but it has also exacerbated the housing shortage and high cost of living.”

Overall The Economist has little positive to say about California’s future.  That was not always the case. Fifteen years ago, in May 2004, the magazine ran a special survey titled: “Is California Back,” with a picture of newly-elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on its cover.  The magazine opined that perhaps this actor-politician, just elected in a recall campaign, would make the structural changes necessary to put California back on the path to prosperity. It did not happen; and today the poverty rate and inequality are worse than 15 years ago.

Today, both California and Texas face special challenges for the future. The Economist lists three:  first, making the state a desirable place to do business “ensuring the creation of well paid jobs and prosperity for their citizens.”  Here Texas seems to be winning out. Second, both states need to educate their children better. “As the number of poor, English language learners grows in both states, this task takes on even greater significance.”  Neither California nor Texas seem to be doing very well here.

Finally, “they must be mindful of the gap between the haves and have-nots and to deal with the inequality of income and opportunity that exist in both states.”  Here again, Texas seems better positioned because it is the more affordable state to live in.

The Economist’s survey closes by quoting Joel Kotkin of Chapman University, who notes that, “the Golden State used to be a rising tide lifting all sorts of boats.  Now it is a rising tide lifting a few yachts.” For far too many of those left to paddle for themselves, the problems of living in California are best resolved by packing up and moving someplace else.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Together Against a Tax in Los Angeles

Last month, a tremor hit Los Angeles — not an earthquake, but the rumbling of taxpayers voting down a real estate “parcel tax.” Had Measure EE passed, the tax — charged by square footage, instead of value — would have raised $6 billion ($500 million annually, over 12 years) for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Owners of apartment and commercial buildings would have borne the burden, to the tune of 16 cents per square foot. For now, the city’s real estate sector has been spared: the initiative, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, garnered only 46.3 percent of the vote.

The school district and its union, United Teachers of Los Angeles, were confident of passage. In January, Angelinos rallied around the teachers’ six-day strike, and in a recent poll, 82 percent of residents indicated support for more education investment. The measure’s proponents, especially organized labor, outspent naysayers by a wide margin — UTLA alone donated $500,000 to the cause — but their investment and optimism proved futile. The loss embittered Los Angeles school chief Austin Beutner, who suggested that the metro area’s Chamber of Commerce, in its advocacy against the tax, didn’t care about “kids of poverty and kids of color.” UTLA lamented that the schools were “chronically underfunded,” though the union’s president claimed that the ballot initiative had somehow “brought the city of Los Angeles together.”  

Indeed, Los Angeles voters had come together — in agreement that the measure was just another big tax increase. Though campaigners insisted that the tax would affect only landlords and businessowners, voters understood that when property taxes go up, landlords pass some, if not all, of these increased costs on to renters. And when taxes on business go up, so do the prices of the goods and services that these businesses offer.

Many Angelinos voted against the tax simply because LAUSD can’t be trusted. Word has spread that contrary to union rhetoric, Los Angeles schools are not really underfunded. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Los Angeles ranks seventh in per-pupil spending of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, surpassing Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Dallas. The school district’s financial woes stem from generous pensions and health-care perks provided to current and past employees, along with their spouses and children. A 2017 analysis showed that by 2031, LAUSD will have to allocate half its moneyannually just to cover pensions and health care.

Other residents voted “No” because of the inept and deceptive ways that the district handled the measure. After the initial ballot draft prohibited the use of tax dollars for “funding long-term healthcare or pension liabilities,” an updated version quietly eliminated that language and replaced it with “legal settlements and liabilities.” One school board member, Nick Melvoin, even admitted that some EE money will never come close to the classroom as long as runaway spending continues.

The ballot’s language kept evolving, and the changes, affecting homeowners and seniors, prompted confusion and anger. Shortly before the election, the board convened and reaffirmed the original wording, which excluded a proposal to tax “the square footage of all buildings or structures erected on or affixed to the land.” The change would have affected homeowners with garages and owners of large apartment complexes.

The entire campaign was an exercise in alienation, with LAUSD relying on taxpayer dollars to advocate passage of more taxes. Beutner released an “informational” video and sent out emails to all district employees urging them to vote and “make their voices heard.” The advertisement included a postscript, asking employees to go online and sign a data-gathering “pledge to vote.” The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association justifiably called for an investigation into “improper campaign spending.”

It wasn’t only this that bothered voters. The schools aren’t doing their job. According to a report released in April, less than half of the 2019 LAUSD graduating class is eligible to attend one of the state’s public universities. To achieve eligibility, students need to score a C or better in 15 essential courses, including English, math, and science; just 49 percent could hack it. Meantime, Los Angeles County is threatening to take over the LAUSD if the district can’t prove its solvency over the next three years.

Superintendent Beutner is scrambling. “We’re in discussions about where we go next after Measure EE, locally or at the state level. We’re in discussions with a lot of parties.” Los Angeles County’s Superintendent of Schools, Debra Duardo, disappointed by EE’s failure to pass, added, “Put simply, LAUSD needs to stop spending more than it receives from the state and federal government.” County regulators will be keeping a close eye on the district, remaining on site to monitor its fiscal status. But with a never-satisfied teachers’ union and a district that can’t be trusted as good stewards of taxpayer money, it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of LAUSD.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

California’s latest crazy idea: Vacancy taxes

This column has frequently recounted how ideas coming from California’s progressive politicians are not just destructive, but also how most result in outcomes diametrically opposite of what the left actually thinks they will have. Examples of this phenomenon are legion.

Take high speed rail (please). It was sold as a “climate change” project because, in theory,  it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by getting cars off the road. But it turns out that the construction of the project — a massive endeavor requiring thousands of trucks, destruction of farmland and millions of tons of concrete — has been spewing massive amounts of CO2 into the air.

Even the independent Legislative Analyst has concluded that the project will be a net GHG producer for the foreseeable future. If, as predicted, the project is never completed, think of the environmental harm that will have been inflicted — all in the name of saving the planet.

Another example of counterproductive policies is the “recording tax” enacted a couple of years ago. In 2017, the Legislature passed a new $75 tax on real estate documents filed with each county’s clerk recorder. The revenue generated by the tax — over $250 million annually — is supposed to be dedicated to low-income housing programs. But the biggest irony of the tax is that it ignores basic economics. A tax imposed on real estate transactions to pay for programs to make housing more affordable is like prescribing leeches as a treatment for anemia.

The latest example of a progressive policy that will do more harm than good involves the levying of “vacancy taxes.”

To read the entire column, please click here.

California ‘community choice’ energy program takes a hit

The community choice aggregation (CCA) movement has built considerable momentum in California in recent years. In CCA programs, groups of local government agencies team up to take over decision-making on what sources of power to use in the local electric grid – with utilities continuing to hold responsibility for maintaining the grid. 

CCA advocates contend that not only will this lead to use of more environment-friendly types of energy, it will bring down rates for businesses and households by creating competition for utility companies that often have no rivals. Critics say decisions on what types of energy are used are already mostly dictated by state laws requiring a long-term shift to cleaner renewable energy sources. They also question whether local governments have the necessary expertise for the responsibilities they are taking on.

But since the state’s first CCA, Marin Clean Energy, was launched in Marin County in 2010, the programs have proven popular and kept expanding. Nineteen programs serving 10 million of the state’s 40 million residents have been established.

Last week, however, saw the first major bad news for CCAs in years. The Ventura County Star reported some of the local governments in California’s largest CCA – the Clean Power Alliance – were unhappy enough with the cost of power for street, highway and outdoor lighting that they had opted to return to Southern California Edison to provide that power.

The backlash is limited. The alliance includes Los Angeles County, Ventura County and 30 local cities. The cities of Ventura, Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks have taken steps to limit their reliance on the alliance, and at least two other cities are considering the same step. They must give six months notice. 

Edison blamed for defections from Clean Power Alliance

Most member agencies are satisfied, with many choosing to use the 100 percent clean energy option provided by the alliance even if it carries a cost premium of 7 percent to 9 percent. 

Alliance leaders blame the defections on pricing decisions by Edison that they say were attempts to punish their CCA’s members. Edison said all its decisions had been ratified by the state Public Utilities Commission in a transparent process and challenged claims that the utility subsidized some customers at the expense of others.

But as cities are squeezed by the cost of pensions and look to save money wherever they can, the decisions made by Ventura, Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks could be copied by other local governments. And while the cities are retaining use of the Ventura-L.A. CCA for most of their energy accounts, the street, highway and outdoor lighting accounts are among the biggest of all in terms of total bills, and thus most coveted by CCAs. 

Nevertheless, the news continues to be mostly bright for CCAs. In February, the San Diego City Council voted to begin negotiating on establishing a CCA with other local governments. San Diego would be the largest city in the nation with a CCA. The cities of Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Del Mar, Encinitas, La Mesa and Oceanside have expressed interest in joining the regional initiative.

Large utilities split on how to deal with CCAs

The decision was made easier by the surprising decision of the giant investor-owned San Diego Gas & Electric utility to welcome a new era in which it runs the regional grid but others choose energy sources. The utility disclosed in November that it hoped for state legislation “that would allow us to begin planning a glide path out the energy procurement space.” Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric have been far cooler to the CCA movement.

In another sign of CCAs’ acceptance as part of the California energy landscape, in May, Moody’s gave Peninsula Clean Energy aninvestment-grade credit rating. Peninsula serves 300,000 accounts in the Bay Area.

Only one other CCA has such a high rating from Moody’s: the Marin program that launched the movement in 2010. It has about 255,000 customers.

How Does a California Family Survive?

It’s common enough to discuss the high cost-of-living in California. It’s become a serious topic, at last. But for Californians who are used to paying ridiculous prices for everything, it may be helpful to present a comparison in the form of an annual family budget. How much does it cost to take care of a family of four in Los Angeles compared to Houston?

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

The choice of Los Angeles is logical enough. One in four Californians live there. And while Los Angeles County may be more expensive than most of California’s inland counties, it is not cheaper than Orange, San Diego, or any of the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area. Altogether there are over 25 million Californians living in expensive coastal counties. Two out of three Californians endure the types of prices depicted here.

The choice of Houston is also logical, not simply as a representative of cheaper Texas, but as a proxy for nearly all of the United States, with the only exceptions being those high-tax (usually coastal) metropolitan areas located in states ran by progressive Democrats. In terms of the cost-of-living, Houston is an authentic stand in for most of America.

Reviewing the budget depicted below, the first thing to realize is that most people don’t have a household income of $100,000 per year. The median household income in California is $71,805. That means half of those 25 million people who have to live in places like Los Angeles have a household income that is less than $71,805. Let’s see how much it costs to a family of four to live in such a place.

As can be seen, while Texas has no state taxes, the Californian gets a bigger federal deduction because of their much bigger home mortgage payments. Very roughly speaking, these factors cancel out. But where there’s a big deduction, there’s a big payment. The median price of a home in Los Angeles is a larcenous $617,000, whereas the same home in Houston will only set a family back by $189,000. Based on a 4 percent, 30 year fixed mortgage, this translates into a crippling $2,900 monthly payment in Los Angeles, vs. a manageable $915 mortgage payment in Houston.

Making house payments that low used to be normal in California. They still are in those parts of this nation, Houston included, where the progressive Democrats haven’t yet taken control. Or if the progressive Democrats have taken control – Houston, after all, is now a battleground county – they haven’t yet had enough time to ruin everything. Consider the difference: For a household with an income of $100,000 per year, in Los Angeles, the mortgage costs 36 percent of before-tax earnings. In Houston, only 11 percent.

California and Texas do not have significant differences in costs for family health insurance, but everywhere else, California costs more. Even property taxes, where Texas charges a higher rate, are nonetheless a much more significant burden to the average Californian, because the assessed value is so much higher.

Comparing the other necessities exposes additional evidence of just how difficult it is to survive in California. Electricity costs, $.20 per kWh in California vs. $.11 in Texas. Natural gas, $13.60 per thousand cubic feet in California vs. $8.25 in Texas. Gasoline? $3.75/gallon vs. $2.35. Even food is cheaper in Texas than it is in California, the supposed breadbasket of America. The food price index – as compared to the national average – is 100.4 in Los Angeles, 92.9 in Houston.

Altogether, the average family of four in Los Angeles spends nearly $300 per month more on gasoline, utilities and food than they would in Houston. They spend over $2,000 per month more to keep a roof over their heads. They roughly break even on health insurance and taxes.

Imagine two hard working parents who manage to bring in $100K per year. In Los Angeles, they’ll have about $1,000 per month left, after paying for taxes and the bare necessities. They’ll need this money to pay for telephone, internet, and cable services, garbage collection and life insurance, buy and replace clothes, furniture, and appliances, make car payments, purchase car insurance, maintain their vehicles and their home, save for college tuition and their own retirements, cover medical co-pays and deductibles, and maybe dine out from time to time and take an occasional vacation. It’s not enough.

Let that sink in. A family of four can barely survive in California on a household income of $100,000 per year. One unexpected financial shock, and they are underwater.

In Houston, by contrast, this same family will still have over $3,500 per month left over after paying for taxes and the bare necessities. This is enough money to make additional purchases and payments and still have some left over for savings. A family making $100,000 per year cannot afford to live in Los Angeles, yet they can live reasonably well in Houston – or pretty much anywhere except in California and other deep blue enclaves across the land.

And what about those families that don’t make $100,000? What about households earning at the median California income of around $72,000 per year? What about single parent households, with a working mom trying to keep a roof over her family, perhaps renting a home in Los Angeles, where the average rental home costs $2,371 per month vs. $1,092 per month in Houston?

What bravery it must require to be a Californian in 2019, trying to raise a family. Trying to make ends meet. How did it come to this?

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

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Candidates Reveal Dangerous Agenda During Democratic Presidential Primary Debate

On Wednesday and Thursday night, 20 candidates took to the debate stage, hoping to stand out from the crowd and increase their chances of snagging the Democratic presidential primary nomination.

This was the first debate of the presidential primary season, and the candidates, including California Senator Kamala Harris, proudly revealed their radical progressive agendas.

As RNC Spokesperson Samantha Zager observed, “In last night’s debate, Kamala Harris, Eric Swalwell and the rest of the 2020 Democrats proved that every single candidate supports a dangerous open borders agenda with free healthcare for illegal immigrants, paid for by crippling taxes on the middle class. Californians have already seen what decades of progressive, socialist policies look like for the middle class – and it leads to extreme income inequality, a high cost of living, and chronic homelessness. Meanwhile, President Trump continues to put America first and that includes a secure border and a booming economy that works for all Americans.”

San Francisco Becomes First City to Ban E-Cigs

San Francisco voted Tuesday to ban the sale of e-cigarettes that do not have FDA approval, a legislative first for a major U.S. city. The FDA specification is effectively moot, observes The Verge, as no e-cigarettes (which are touted as tobacco cigarette alternatives) currently bear FDA approval.

Though pending executive signature, Mayor London Breed’s public statements voicing concern over the rise of teen vaping suggest she will put the bill into law. (Beverly Hills votedto ban the sale of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes earlier this month, leaving hotels as the only legal sellers of cigarettes in the city.) San Francisco is also the site of the country’s leading e-cigarette producer, Juul Labs.

Juul spoke out against the legislation, arguing that criminalizing e-cigarettes would “create a thriving black market” and encourage a return to “deadly cigarettes,” as reported by the Washington Post. Cigarette sales are still legal in San Francisco.

City leaders, for their part, remain unfazed by Juul’s admonitions and have even been openly hostile toward the company. As board of supervisors member Shamann Walton told the New York Times, “I would not lose any sleep at all if Juul left. I would help them pack up.”

Sales of Juul products jumped more than 600 percent within one year, says a 2018 letter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing an increase of 2.2 million products sold in 2016 to 16.2 million sold in 2017. In December, the privately held company, then valued at $38 billion, sold 35 percent of its stake to Marlboro manufacturer Altria, allegedly seeking overseas investment to boot. In June, Juul bought a 29-floor skyscraper at 123 Mission Street in a record-breaking deal, effectively making Juul the only San Francisco company not in real estate to make such a massive real estate purchase to date. The building is estimated at $400 million. Juul told Business Insider a month earlier that its staff had ballooned from 200 to 2,000 employees within the past year. Most of Juul’s employees work in San Francisco. …

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Air travel a major threat in spread of measles in California

The state Legislature’s push to tighten up vaccine requirements for K-12 students took a step forward last week even as public health officials acknowledged a British medical study that said travelers to the U.S. from nations with measles outbreaks were a major threat – not just unvaccinated children.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 9-2 with four abstentions for a compromise version of Senate Bill 276, by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. It would require state health experts to examine medical vaccine exemptions coming from doctors who had issued five or more exemptions in a school year or from schools which had lower than the 95 percent vaccination rate seen as necessary to promote “herd immunity” in communities.

Pan, a physician, had weakened the bill at the behest of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said that the original version that had already won state Senate approval was overly intrusive and bureaucratic. It would have required all medical exemptions to be examined by state officials. Pan had introduced the measure in response to medical exemptions going up by more than 400 percent for incoming kindergartners after personal belief exemptions were banned in 2016.

But a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal suggests that state actions alone can’t protect residents in an era in which measles and other infectious diseases are surging around the world due to both vaccine skepticism and poor public health programs in First World nations.

3 California counties at high risk

The study used patterns of international travel in and out of the U.S. to determine which were the 25 counties most at risk of a measles outbreak in 2019. Cook County, Illinois – home to O’Hare Airport – was first. Three California counties made the list. Los Angeles County was second; San Mateo County (home to San Francisco International Airport) was 19th; and San Diego County was 25th.

One of the authors of The Lancet study – Johns Hopkins professor Lauren Gardner – told the Los Angeles Times that California’s vulnerability was inevitable in an era of mass air travel. “The places, in particular in California … are really high on the list mainly because of the sheer volume of travelers,” Gardner said. “It’s not just the fact that there are big airports, but those airports have a lot of incoming routes from countries having ongoing measles outbreaks.”

The Philippines has had a severe measles outbreak since February, with the most recent estimates of cases topping 33,000 – including nearly 500 deaths. The U.S. State Department and international health agencies also cite outbreaks in the Ukraine, Italy and Israel.

As of June 13, the U.S. had 1,044 confirmed measles cases this year, the most in a single year since 1992. The worst outbreaks have been in the New York City metro area and in southern Washington state, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.

While a 2014 outbreak traced to Disneyland in Orange County fueled the rise of concern about the renewed measles threat in the United States, California has not seen as severe an outbreak since then.

But researchers for The Lancet believe it is just a matter of time.

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Charter Schools Don’t Drain Resources From Regular Public Schools

In their continuing war against charter schools, teacher unions have persistently argued that charter schools, which are mostly non-union, have a large negative financial impact on the regular public school system.  New research, however, contradicts this claim.

In Sacramento, the California Teachers Association is pushing a package of anti-charter-school bills, including AB 1505, recently passed by the State Assembly, which would allow school districts to deny an application for a charter school if it would supposedly produce a negative financial impact on the district’s regular public schools.

CTA president Eric Heins claims that charter schools, which are publicly-funded schools that are autonomous from school districts and have greater flexibility to innovate, are “a drain on many of our public schools.”

This union narrative is undercut, however, by a recently-released series of studies from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

The CRPE studies specifically examined the financial impact of California’s charter schools on the state’s regular public school system since “critics in California and nationwide have claimed charter schools growth undermines school district finances and forces cuts in the quality of schooling districts can provide.”

The researchers’ findings tell a much different story than the claims of union leaders and other charter-school opponents.

They looked for a connection between enrollment in charter schools and county office of education-issued “negative certifications,” which are determinations that a school district cannot meet its financial obligations over a two-year period.

These negative certifications “represent the main indicator of fiscal distress in California school districts and trigger increased state oversight of district finances.”

The researchers found: “On average, charter schools enroll just 3 percent of students in school districts that receive a negative rating from the County Office of Education,” which is “statistically indistinguishable from charter enrollment in school districts that are not in fiscal distress.”

In other words, charter school enrollment does not differ between school districts that are in fiscal distress and those districts that are not, which leads the authors to conclude that there is “no evidence to support the claim that charter schools are to blame for fiscal distress in California school districts.”

Specifically, one of the studies found that between 1998 and 2015, “an average of just 1.5 percent of school districts where charter schools enroll 10 percent of all students entered fiscal distress,” which means that “districts with larger charter school enrollment shares are no more likely to enter fiscal distress.”

If charter schools are not the cause of the fiscal distress in school districts, then what are the real causes?

The researchers noted that the Vallejo City Unified School District had been in fiscal distress longer than any other district in the state.

They cited audit reports showing that Vallejo City Unified’s problems stemmed from “grossly overestimated enrollment figures, underestimated salary expenses and approved union contracts they couldn’t afford.”

More generally, the researchers pointed out, “While many school districts in the state have posted their largest budgets ever, thanks to historic state investments in K-12 education,” key factors such as rising “pension and health care costs, special education expenses, and teacher salaries are putting pressure on school districts’ bottom lines.”

Importantly, “Stopping the growth of charter schools will not address these issues,” which should be a warning to state lawmakers who think that banning new charter schools will somehow improve the fiscal health of mismanaged school districts.

Thus, rather than scapegoating charter schools, which have been shown to improve the achievement of students, especially African Americans and Latinos, school districts should seek to reform themselves.

“When families choose charter schools they do so for a reason,” say the CRPE researchers, and school districts “should be asking why, and what they can do differently to keep those families.”

In other words, the regular public school system should learn from the competition, not destroy it.

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the 2019 book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.