PG&E May Shut Off Power To Thousands Over Windy Forecast

Pacific Gas & Electric said it may shut off power to about 44,000 customers in California beginning on Monday due to potentially dry, gusty winds that could raise the risk electrical equipment sparking fires.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning of extreme fire danger starting late Sunday, when offshore winds are expected to develop across parts of northern and central California. The warning extends to late Tuesday and the strongest winds are expected on Monday.

The high winds, combined with bone-dry vegetation caused by the drought, could increase the risk of trees falling on power lines and sparking a wildfire, PG&E said.

The utility began intentionally shutting off power in the fall of 2019 to prevent wildfires, after an investigation determined the Camp Fire that wiped out most of the town of Paradise was sparked by its equipment. The company filed for bankruptcy and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the 2018 fire. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press.

How To Slow, Reverse The California Exodus

An unwritten rule of journalism says, “if it bleeds, it leads.” When it comes to the exodus from the Golden State, this rule isn’t being applied.

California had been the dream destination for generations and became the most populous state in 1964. But California’s share of the U.S. population peaked in 2003 and fell below 12 percent as of 2020 for the first time since 1998.

The total population is finally being impacted because the contributions from births and international migration cannot offset California’s loss of domestic residents. As we document in the new Pacific Research Institute study “California Migrating,” the state has been losing more domestic residents to other states than it gained from those moving in since 2010, according to IRS data.

This domestic migration away from California is attributed to quality of life and economic concerns. Rising crime, urban blight, and growing inconveniences, such as worst-in-the-nation traffic, erode the state’s quality of life.

From an economic perspective, residents face steep housing costs, high-priced energy, expensive cost of living, and high taxes. Extortionate taxes and unaffordable housing costs alone turn California’s 14 percent average income premium compared to other states into a nearly 20 percent net income deficit.

Businesses have also given up on California. Since 2008, thousands relocated either fully or partially elsewhere.

Many that have left include “high-profile companies” such as Hewlett- Packard, whose founding is recognized as the birth of Silicon Valley; Tesla; SpaceX; and Charles Schwab, which was started in San Francisco 50 years ago. Mitsubishi, Nissan North America, Toyota Motors North America, Oracle, Palantir Technologies, and Jacobs Engineering are also on the list.

These relocations don’t happen in a vacuum and produce real-world consequences. When successful companies flee, the state loses high-paying jobs, which creates “a huge problem” for the state says Lee Ohanian, UCLA economics professor and Hoover Institution senior fellow.

Four years ago, the Pacific Research Institute commissioned a poll of 200 technology, manufacturing, clean tech, and energy industry executives. They overwhelmingly cited the state’s anti-business climate and high cost of living as reasons for leaving or not expanding their operations in California.

As people and businesses leave, economic opportunities dry up, threatening California’s future and making it harder for policymakers to address long-term structural problems, such as the state’s unfunded public-employee pensions or the needed investments into roads, highways, and bridges.

The good news is that since public policy is driving the exodus, public policy can reverse it.

To make housing affordable, the state should reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). California Senate Bill 9 and 10, recently signed into law, do allow for more housing, those zoning reforms are still limited. Comprehensively reforming CEQA will help make a dent in the state housing supply deficit.

Addressing California’s energy poverty problem requires repealing the state’s energy and global warming policies. California cities should stop banning natural gas and ratepayers shouldn’t be on the hook for infrastructure upgrades from energy monopolies such as PG&E, which woefully endanger residents and mismanage equipment. Gas and electricity should be affordable and reliable in California with more competition for consumers.

Spending changes should address the state’s short-term and long-term budget imbalances. Short-term reforms should tie General Fund spending closer to the average annual economic growth of the state to reduce the boom-and-bust volatility of state budgets. Long-term budget imbalances such as unfunded pensions and outdated infrastructure should be addressed as well, while tax reform should improve the incentive to work and save in California and reduce the volatility of state revenues.

Quality of life problems should be addressed by repealing recent criminal justice reforms, such as Prop. 47, that undermine the safety and security of residents.

State leaders should leverage private charities to help sustainably address the homelessness crisis, with a focus on addressing the root causes of the problem.

Californians do not need to resign themselves to a future of growing economic hardship, declining quality of life, and a rising outmigration of people and businesses. These adverse trends are a direct result of misguided government policies and can be reversed by implementing the right reforms.

Fundamental policy reforms also give reporters an opportunity to, once again, violate the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra. But this time to report on California’s resurgence.

Wayne Winegarden is a senior fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute.  Kerry Jackson is a fellow with PRI’s Center for California Reform.  They are the authors of the new study “California Migrating,” which can be downloaded at www.pacificresearch.org.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Hollywood Stage Employees Union Votes To Authorize Possible Largest Strike Since 2007

A vote by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union, one of the largest entertainment industry unions, voted to go on strike if unable to come to an agreement with studio producers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers (AMPTP), in the coming days.

IATSE employees have been demanding pay and quality of life improvements, pension and health fund improvements, changes to the amount of hours and breaks on set, and setting pay scales for productions associated with streaming services. Many of the concerns have been around for years, leading to the IATSE voting to authorize their first strike in their 128-year-old history.

While the vote included notable union locales in popular filmmaking locations in Georgia, Louisiana, and New Mexico, 13 of the 36 American IATSE locals, including the large majority of the 59,478 members, are located in California, with the largest IATSE local being Los Angeles. On Monday, all 36 voted to authorize a strike, with 52,706 out of 53,411 voting members being in favor of a strike – a total of 98.7%.

IATSE President Matthew Loeb, who has led the union since 2008, has said repeatedly that the the demands are out of fairness and that they were not asking for anything farfetched.

Loeb reiterated his stance on Monday after the vote.

“The members have spoken loud and clear,” said Loeb on Monday. “This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry. Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage. I hope that the studios will see and understand the resolve of our members. The ball is in their court. If they want to avoid a strike, they will return to the bargaining table and make us a reasonable offer.”

“They’ve made it about power, not reason, so my read is that if they see that the strike authorization is passed, then maybe they will return to reason and the bargaining table. But if it’s about power, that’s a problem.”

Other IATSE members added that while breaks and time off were a concern, the more long-term issue was what their relationship with streaming services would be.

“Over the decades, we’ve worked with everyone to hammer out what our fair share, for below-the-line people that is, would be,” Aaron, an IATSE member from Los Angeles for over 10 years, told the Globe on Monday. “When we first started, we worked it out for theater live performances. When movies became big in the early 1900’s, we then worked with them. Same with the advent of TV in the mid 20th century. Same with internet productions starting in the late 90’s. But streaming, which is the new thing, is kind of a hybrid of all of them and is an entirely new thing that we’re still working out things like residuals.”

“It’s great we’re fighting for more breaks and things, but if we’re looking at the long-term future, it’s streaming we need work on and hammer down what’s fair.”

“This isn’t us, you know, screaming about socialism or whatever. This is simply a new format for a product that we haven’t worked out yet, as well as some quality of life issues.”

A looming nationwide strike that would hit California the hardest

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers which recently ramped up TV and Movie productions both in California and the rest of the country, is doing everything to avoid a strike as they don’t want to return to COVID-19 production levels when nothing was being made.

“We just got back on track,” an anonymous AMPTP member told the Globe on Monday. “We’re bringing back productions and we are actually bringing back jobs to California. New hires out here are either local or we’re attracting people out of state. You wouldn’t believe how many have been fleeing Texas for production jobs out here and in New Mexico after the abortion bill there passed. A few places out in Austin actually called one of the companies I’m with and asked them to stop taking people from them. What other industry in California can you say is doing the same?”

“But that is now all on the line with this strike. There are some legitimate grievances there, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be worked out otherwise. But they’ve been asking for more and more. We talked with some IATSE members, asked what they wanted, and then proposed those solutions, like having less hours by working through lunch. But it just hasn’t worked. Now they are putting everything into jeopardy. The recovery of the studios, tens of thousands of jobs, stopping a major industry in California, and so much more.”

In a statement, the AMPTP echoed the concern: “The AMPTP remains committed to reaching an agreement that will keep the industry working. “We deeply value our IATSE crew members and are committed to working with them to avoid shutting down the industry at such a pivotal time, particularly since the industry is still recovering from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. A deal can be made at the bargaining table, but it will require both parties working together in good faith with a willingness to compromise and to explore new solutions to resolve the open issues.”

While talks have been ongoing since May, but stalled, the added threat of a strike has made both sides more hopeful of a solution being reached soon, with both sides set to meet on Tuesday.

Should no agreement be reached, the IATSE would begin the first major Hollywood strike since the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strike, which lasted for a total of 100 days.

Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

California Business Owners Sue Gov. Newsom Over the Lockdowns

“[The police] asked me, are you knowingly going against Gavin Newsom’s orders? And I said, ‘Yes,'” says Annie Rammel, co-owner of the Oak and Elixir restaurant in the San Diego County beach town of Carlsbad, which was the site of mass disobedience of statewide lockdown orders in 2020.

On December 3, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ordered all California restaurants to stop serving customers in person and to convert their businesses to takeout only. It was the third shutdown order of the pandemic. Rammel had decided that enough was enough.

“When the same person that’s telling you and restricting you from being open is going to a restaurant himself and eating inside, not six feet apart, it puts a little fire in you to say… this isn’t right,” Rammel tells Reason, referring to photos capturing Newsom dining indoors unmasked with lobbyists at the pricey French Laundry restaurant less than a month earlier.

“I’m going to stand up for my rights. I’m going to stand up for my business that I worked extremely hard to run and to have, and I’m going to stand up for the community.”

Rammel was skeptical of Newsom’s assurances that the latest order would only last a few weeks and began organizing resistance with other local business owners.

“I told restaurant owners, you’re not smart if you think this is only going to be three weeks. It’s definitely going to be months. And I was right.”

Rammel and other Carlsbad businesses formed a coalition that eventually numbered in the hundreds.

“We opened up, and it was crazy because [Carlsbad was] really the only city that was doing this outspokenly and telling the community, telling the news that we were going to stay open,” says Rammel. “And we were going to continue to be safe. We’re going to continue to wear masks and sanitize and six feet apart and do everything that we had been doing before. But that we were not going to close down.”

Rammel was issued a citation by San Diego’s public health department and by the state alcohol board, which threatened to revoke her liquor license.

But the county sheriff had decided not to enforce the governor’s order. The local police issued her a citation, but she says they apologized as they did so.

“They said, ‘We just want you to know that we don’t want to be doing this. We want you guys to survive this, sorry,’ as they’re handing me the paper,” says Rammel. 

Today, the coalition that defied the governor’s orders is suing Newsom and their state and local health departments to drop the fines and compensate them for losses incurred because of the shutdowns. The defendants in the case declined to comment for this story. Whoever prevails, the case could have implications for what the scope of executive power truly is in a state of emergency.

“Underground regulations facilitate arbitrary enforcement, and they undermine the rule of law,” says attorney Matt Harrison, who represents the San Diego County business owners. (Harrison is a former senior fellow at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason and Reason TV.)

He says Newsom’s emergency orders didn’t follow the proper procedure for issuing new regulations.

“The most canonical, established application of due process is that the law needs to be clear enough so that a reasonable person can understand what’s prohibited,” says Harrison. 

Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, released on August 28, 2020, laid out a color-coded tier system indicating which types of businesses were able to open and in what manner. Harrison says that this plan wasn’t legally binding because the governor didn’t follow the correct legal procedure: Regulations in California are required to be submitted to the secretary of state, who then makes them available for a public review process. Regulations also have to be accompanied by an explanation for why they’re justified.

“It’s the rules for the rule-makers, the regulations for the regulators,” says Harrison.

The state argues that the governor was able to circumvent this procedure because he was issuing emergency orders during a public health crisis.

This case is about whether due process exists in emergencies in the state. 

Rammel says that despite the governor’s mantra, the regulations didn’t follow the science with regard to COVID-19 spread.

“The restrictions didn’t make sense. We were keeping people safe. The numbers from restaurants, there was no proof that the outbreaks were coming from us,” says Rammel.

Rammel and the coalition lost the first round when a San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed the coalition’s lawsuit. The case is now before an appeals court.

Courts have recently demonstrated a willingness to strike down administrative actions that circumvent standard rule-making procedures. Several Trump administration actions were struck down, including one that would have added a census question about citizenship status, one that would have changed deportation procedures, and an executive order that would have allowed employers to opt out of certain birth control insurance coverage.

Rammel says the fines she still faces for refusing to follow the governor’s order amount to a couple of thousand dollars and don’t threaten her livelihood. But this isn’t a fight about money.

“I still feel like our rights are being tested, and that’s scary because we live in America where we’re supposed to be free, and we’re supposed to be able to have our rights and make the choice to be open…And I think that’s being threatened right now,” says Rammel.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

New California Law Makes It Easier To Sue Cops Who Violate Civil Rights

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed a bill (SB 2) that will eliminate several legal immunities that shield law enforcement from civil rights lawsuits, a move that will make it easier for victims of excessive force and police misconduct to sue the officers responsible.

Today, one of the biggest hurdles to hold officers accountable is qualified immunity, which prevents government agents from being held liable for violating someone’s constitutional rights, unless they violated “clearly established” constitutional rights. This doctrine has yielded downright Kafkaesque results. Just in California, Fresno police officers accused of stealing more than $225,000 and Los Angeles County social workers accused of sexual harassment have all been granted qualified immunity on the grounds that it was unclear whether stealing or sexual harassment were constitutional violations. 

As an alternative to federal courts, lawmakers in more than half the states have introduced bills that would let individuals sue law enforcement officers in state court for violating the state constitution, according to the Institute for Justice. In theory, a state cause of action would let victims bypass the complicated hurdles imposed by qualified immunity in federal courts.   …

Click here to read the full article from Forbes.com

Falling Support For The Bullet Train

High-speed rail advocates are on edge as the governor and the state legislature squabble over where to spend the high-speed rail project’s remaining bond money.

Advocates say the delays in funding are feeding into the notion that the project is taking too long and harming public support. They are right to be worried. A recent poll from Goodwin Simon Strategic Research showed that more Californians support ending construction on the project than support continuing it.

But advocates have it backwards. It isn’t the uncertainty in funding that is causing diminishing support, it’s that Californians are aware of the magnitude of the scam.

Let’s recap.

In 2008, voters approved almost $10 billion in general obligation bonds, including $9 billion for the initial planning and construction of an 800-mile high-speed rail system that would travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in a little over two hours.

A 2008 study sponsored by the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation predicted that the promised total cost of $45 billion would quickly turn into $100 billion or more. “There are no genuine financial projections that indicate there will be sufficient funds,” the authors wrote.

However, the campaign for passage focused on the promise of that jaunt between Los Angeles and San Francisco, making the project look like a Ferrari at the cost of a used Ford Pinto.

To read the entire column, please click here.

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Still Dropping In LA County

The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals tumbled again on Monday, Oct. 4, but health officials warned that transmission of the virus remains at a high level.

According to state figures, there were 768 COVID-positive patients hospitalized in the county as of Monday, down from 790 on Sunday. There were 227 of those patients in intensive care, down from 228 a day earlier.

The number of COVID-positive people hospitalized in the county has fallen 31 times in the past 35 days, bringing the number down from a summer peak of nearly 1,800.

Another seven COVID-19 deaths were reported by the county Department of Public Health, raising the overall death toll to 26,160. A total of 853 new infections were reported, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 1,463,889. …

Click here to read the full article from the LA Daily News.

Trump Lawyer John Eastman Subject Of Bar Complaint Over Advice On Pence’s Role In Election

A bipartisan group of former officials and legal heavyweights, including two former federal judges, asked the California bar association Monday to investigate the conduct of John Eastman, the adviser to then-President Donald Trump who mapped out a legal strategy to overturn the 2020 election results.

The complaint, also signed by two former justices of the California Supreme Court, cites Eastman’s work in election challenges rejected by the Supreme Court and his speech at a Jan. 6 rally in Washington before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. But the 24-page memo centers on Eastman’s alleged role in pressing Vice President Mike Pence not to count electoral votes on Jan. 6 and certify President Biden as the winner.

“The available evidence supports a strong case that the State Bar should investigate whether, in the course of representing Mr. Trump, Mr. Eastman violated his ethical obligations as an attorney by filing frivolous claims, making false statements and engaging in deceptive conduct,” the letter said. “There is also a strong basis to investigate whether Mr. Eastman assisted in unlawful actions by his client, Mr. Trump,” to overturn the results of a legitimate election.

The complaint was written on behalf of the States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan organization promoting election integrity co-chaired by former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, and Norman Eisen, who served in the Obama White House and worked with House Democrats during the first Trump impeachment. …

Click here to read the full article from the Washington Post.

California Becomes First U.S. State To Require COVID Vaccination For Students

California will add the Covid-19 vaccination to immunizations required for in-person school attendance, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in San Francisco Friday morning.

It’s the first state to do so.

The requirements will be phased in by grade groups — 7-12 and K-6 — and will start for each group only after the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the vaccine for that cohort, the governor’s office said in a news release.

“We intend to (have the requirement) once the FDA has fully approved the vaccine, which will give us time to work with districts, give us time to work with parents and educators to build more trust and confidence and build out logistics so that we can deliver on what we are promoting here today,” Newsom said. …

Click here to read the full article from CNN.

Gov. Newsom Misled Public about Wildfire Prevention Efforts

The June 2021 report which exposed that Gov. Gavin Newsom misled the public about his wildfire prevention efforts by 690%, should have obligated applicable state agencies to act immediately. There are still many unanswered questions. The Globe has been following up on why Newsom mislead the public, and who is to blame for the worst fire season on record. Is it the governor? Is it CalFire? Is it agencies directly commanded by Gov. Newsom?

The fact remains that California’s forests are still a lethal  tinderbox as wildfire prevention efforts have not been ramped up to mitigate the now annual wildfire threat to homes, businesses and entire communities. Instead, 2021 is one of the worse fire seasons ever in state history, with wildfires still burning. As California Congressman Tom McClintock says, “Excess timber comes out of the forest in only two ways – it is either carried out or it burns out.”

The joint CapRadio and NPR investigation unveiled in June 2021, Governor Newsom was found to have overstated the number of areas treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns by 690%, the Globe reported. Governor Newsom claimed that, due to his executive order, 35 of his priority projects had treated over 90,000 acres with wildfire prevention treatments. However, data from the state only showed 11,399 acres treated.

“The data show Cal Fire treated 64,000 acres in 2019, but only 32,000 acres in 2020 and 24,000 acres through Memorial Day this year,” CapRadio and NPR reported, explaining that the governor even “disinvested in wildfire prevention.”

In the article, the CalFire Chief Thom Porter took the blame for misleading the governor: “The head of Cal Fire, Chief Thom Porter, did grant an interview. He acknowledged the figures cited by Newsom were incorrect and took responsibility for the governor’s misstatements.”

Despite Newsom’s bold public pronouncements, Porter, the chief of Cal Fire, said the state was never going to be able to tackle all 90,000 acres in 2019.

“We didn’t have all of the environmental clearance that we were going to need to do all of that work,” CalFire Chief Porter said. “Nor did we have all of the agreements with landowners completely in place.”

And that is the crux of the issue: what were and are the environmental clearances needed, and who approves these? Why were they not granted knowing California’s recent and very deadly wildfire history? California’s worst fire season on record could have been averted – we knew what would happen and why.

Yet CalFire was and remains immobilized by the environmental clearance needed to do their jobs.

The Globe has asked two state agencies – CalFire and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) –  the following questions in the earnest quest to find out how we get broad forest management mitigation in California:

  • What are the environmental clearances needed to approve wildfire prevention and clean up efforts? Is it the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)?
  • Are there CEQA exemptions to allow the wildfire prevention and clean up take place?
  • What are the hold ups? Legal/lawsuits?
  • Why were projects sidelined?
  • Is there enough manpower to accomplish all of the wildfire forest prevention work?

The Globe emailed and called CalFire and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), the agency tasked as the state clearinghouse for review of all CEQA documents.

As the state explains, “All state and local agencies must give consideration to environmental protection in regulating public and private activities” (including wildfire prevention efforts). “California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provides a formal process for regulating entities to evaluate and mitigate environmental impacts that may occur as a result of a particular development.”

This is the arduous CEQA work flow chart:

CEQA Flow Chart. (Photo: businessportal.ca.gov)

While the governor’s Office of Planning and Research is the clearinghouse for CEQA projects, “OPR, coordinates the State-level review of Environmental Documents prepared pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).”

OPR may be the gatekeeper, and as such, processes the CEQA documents. Are they doing it in a timely manner? What are the priorities for CEQA’s environmental review projects, again, knowing California’s recent and very deadly wildfire history?

As the flow chart indicates, determining if the project is exempt is almost the first task.

If Gov. Newsom made wildfire prevention a priority on day-one in office, and many promises since, exempting the forest clean up and wildfire prevention projects from CEQA should have been the priority pre-requisite in order to prevent deadly wildfires.

“Everybody has had enough,” the governor said, announcing he’d signed a “sweeping executive order” overhauling the state’s approach to wildfire prevention. Climate change was sparking fires more frequent, ferocious, and far-reaching than ever before, Newsom said, and confronting them would have to become a year-round effort.”

“The state’s response, Newsom added, “fundamentally has to change.”

While Gov. Newsom’s executive order “overhauling the state’s approach to wildfire prevention,” blames “climate change – persistent drought, warmer temperatures, and more severe winds”  for creating “conditions that will lead to more frequent and destructive wildfires,” the executive order also admits “historically, fires lit by Native Americans and lightning strikes cleared the forest of surface fuels on a regular cycle to manage vegetation.”

However, the governor’s executive order really only authorized a report from CalFire “with recommendations of the most impactful administrative, regulatory, and policy changes or waivers the Governor can initiate that are necessary to prevent and mitigate wildfires to the greatest extent possible, with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and protection of public health.”  The non-sweeping, superficial Executive Order is below.

As Rep. McClintock explains, since 1980, the increase of environmental laws have produced an 80 percent decline in timber harvested out of the federal forests and a concomitant increase in acreage destroyed by fire. And environmental laws have made the management of forest lands all but impossible.

The Globe has not heard back from CalFire or the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, but will report again when we do. We did not make a public records request for internal communications, rather for procedural information. However, it appears our questions are ones that state agencies do not want to have to answer, principally because so many in government don’t think they have to answer to the people, and others are terrified to.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This article was originally published by the California Globe.