Rights In Conflict: Individual Liberties vs. The Public Good In A Time Of A Pandemic

The conflict between the civil liberties of individuals and the collective public good could not be more clearly defined than it is now on the issues of vaccinations and masks as we battle a deadly pandemic. While I consider myself a defender of civil liberties, in the current dichotomy I come down strongly on the side of the collective good.

To arrive at this position I had to reach an accommodation with two points raised by civil libertarians.

1. The vaccines are not fully approved, thus under rules established after WW II to preclude future atrocities such as those perpetrated by the Nazis, people cannot be required to take experimental drugs.

2. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) protects individual privacy in medical matters so people cannot be asked if they are vaccinated or required to show proof of vaccination.

To the first I say this is not Nazi Germany and the circumstance are far different than the Nazi medical experimentations of the early 1940s. While the vaccines have not yet been fully approved, evidence is clear that they are effective in quelling the spread of the pandemic and promoting the general welfare.

To the second I say HIPPA is intended to provide protection for personal health information and gives individuals an array of rights with respect to that information. It was not intended to shield disease-carrying individuals from their responsibility to the greater community or to prohibit society from protecting itself.

The notion of setting aside certain civil liberties when rights are in conflict is widely recognized and accepted both legally and morally.

A. Your right to free speech does not give you the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.

B. Your right to throw a punch ends just short of the tip of my nose.

There are people among us who assert their right to remain unvaccinated and roam about unmasked. They have demonstrated their commitment to resist appeals to reason and a better nature. They do so even in the face of a COVID surge that is raging almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. …

The full version of this article can be found at www.thepoliticaldish.com.

The Prosperity Economy – Fixing California Part Nine

The policy topics considered in this series — energywatertransportationhousinglaw enforcement and the homelessforestry, and education — have all been hijacked by ideologues.

Because of this, and regardless of the relevance, climate change and racism are the two broad and urgent themes that dominate policy discussions and decisions on these issues. And in all cases, these alleged crises are used to distort policies and derail projects. They become the primary focus, limiting options, enabling impractical and expensive schemes, and always with a pessimistic outlook. This series has offered a different set of perspectives through which to view these topics: abundance, pragmatism, and optimism.

There are other big challenges that dominate the political dialogue in California and throughout America. It is a broad and diverse list. But the seven topics chosen, if properly addressed, fulfill a practical goal. They give back to Californians — all Californians — something that’s been missing for decades: a prosperity economy where anyone willing to work hard can afford to live a secure life.

The governing ideology in California today is corporate socialism hiding behind the moral imperatives of fighting climate change and combating racism. California today is run by an alliance of special interests — tech monopolies, public-sector unions, leftist billionaires, extreme environmentalists, and social justice warriors — who are crushing the middle class. Their motivations differ, and their intentions may not be so explicit, but their actions share the same goal. Environmentalists believe the middle-class lifestyle is ecologically unsustainable. Social justice warriors believe the middle class is racist and exclusionary. To the extent small businesses are wiped out and consumers are forced to buy green gadgets and pay more for everything, tech monopolies and billionaires accrue even more wealth and power. Public-sector unions share the ideology of the environmentalists and social justice warriors, and use collective bargaining to largely exempt themselves from the worst consequences afflicting the private sector middle class. But it’s all wrong.

Wanting to save the planet and end systemic racism may be legitimate moral concerns. But the policies being implemented in their name are not working. Rationing, redistribution, and retribution are the themes behind current policies. But rationing breeds corruption and squeezes resiliency out of the system. Socialist redistribution destroys incentives, and, not incidentally, socialism managed by mega-corporations is still socialism. It is an authoritarian, centralized system of governing that replaces the competitive, decentralized, and pluralistic economy that is essential to maintaining freedom and prosperity. Moreover, continuously accentuating the negative aspects of environmental health and race relations is one-sided, punitive, pessimistic, inaccurate, and psychologically unhealthy. We have come so far. We have done so much. Where is that recognition? Where is the optimism?

Practical solutions that lead to abundance need to be the ideology, if you want to call it that, to inform policy on issues affecting prosperity in California—and the United States, for that matter. With abundant desalinated water from the ocean, perpetually recycled wastewater, and storm runoff that’s saved for timely release from high dams, environmentalists have more ways to maintain downstream ecosystems and ordinary people can take showers again without worrying about getting fined.

Abundant water and energy provide resilience to climate change. Building more suburbs opens up opportunities for everyone to achieve homeownership. Enforcing vagrancy laws and laws against hard drugs and petty theft creates a deterrent, pushing individuals towards making healthy choices in their lives. Next-generation roads give everyone mobility. Practical education with immutable standards creates uniform incentives, so everyone knows that if they can meet the standards they will not be passed over.

The policy recommendations that appeared throughout this series are not written with any attempt to adhere to any conventional ideology. Libertarians and anti-tax activists may object to certain public works projects, particularly with respect to water and transportation. While the recommendations concerning California’s energy sector focus primarily on deregulation, and rely mostly on private investment, environmentalists may not accept the argument that California can set a better example to the world by pioneering the cleanest methods possible to use natural gas and nuclear power. Environmentalists will certainly struggle with the solution to forestry management—logging, grazing, and controlled burns—but properly done and privately funded, these enterprises would restore health to the forests and create thousands of jobs.

Public investment is an essential part of any solution to California’s punitive cost of living and hostile business environment. By investing in water and transportation infrastructure and deregulating energy production, enabling infrastructure costs less to the end-user. Homebuilders don’t have to build into home prices the fees to build the roads and utility conduits. Businesses don’t have to pay prices for gas and electricity that are more than double the rates in most other states, and many times the rates in other nations.

There’s an important irony to recognize in the calls from both environmentalists and libertarians for the state to not make these investments. Why spend $50 billion on civil engineering projects to increase California’s annual supply of water to farms and cities by 5 million acre-feet or more? Why not just conserve, and save all that money? Notwithstanding the resiliency argument, which ought to be reason enough, the irony is that the money will still be spent. Instead of wealthier households paying slightly more in taxes, low-income households will have to cover the costs of new “water sipping” appliances that don’t work very well, higher water bills, higher electric bills, and more expensive homes to buy or rent. Subsidizing the capital costs for enabling infrastructure yields long-term reductions to the cost-of-living, and distributes those savings to everyone.

There’s also an important factor that is too often lost in the panic over climate and race relations, and the rush towards authoritarian solutions to these sudden emergencies: corporate special interests benefit when there is scarcity. Does anyone think the financial firms trading water futures want cheap water? Or that corporate agribusiness doesn’t plan to buy every family farm that can’t financially withstand consecutive years of drought? Does anyone think public utilities want to go back to delivering cheap energy, when their profits are pegged by law to a fixed percentage of revenue? Does anyone think the homeless-industrial complex doesn’t love the subsidies attendant to building “permanent supportive housing” on some of the most expensive real estate on the planet? “Inclusive zoning” requires that they locate their projects on land that in some actual cases would sell for over $10 million an acre. This is an outrageous scandal, but if you object, you’re a racist. If you’re wondering what “corporate socialism” means, this is it.

California’s public education curricula, along with California’s policies that prevent effective law enforcement, also reflect the corporate socialist mentality. “Restorative justice” is meant to atone for systemic racism and capitalist oppression. Students and criminals alike are victims of society. Better to tell them this lie than admit the reason California is unaffordable is that mega-corporations are rolling up the entire state and turning it into a company town. Don’t teach them practical skills, make them angry. Don’t punish crimes to create a deterrent to more crime, let them sow chaos. Exploit the unrest to nurture a generation of activists demanding racial justice and environmental justice by any means necessary. Then oblige them. Because no group is easier prey for grifters and demagogues than angry people.

The policies to reverse California’s regressive, authoritarian drift require a cultural shift. An awakening. And this awakening requires a movement not of indignation but of joy. The only way to convince millions of thoroughly indoctrinated, deliberately embittered and panicked Californians is through controlled passion. An unforgettable excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster provides a cautionary example:

“It was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost.”

How do you wipe out anger and horror? How do you erase the negativity that is the currency of the social justice warriors and the climate catastrophists? Facts matter. But to cast light into darkness and change hearts, facts are useless without also presenting a beautiful vision.

The other side can afford hysteria and hate, they can afford to divide their own ranks and eat their own, because it is all smoothed over with rivers of money. Our side can only win if we exude not just tough resolve, but love, compassion, humility, tolerance, and empathy.

This is the power of optimism, the belief that abundance is possible, the suggestion that ideology matters, but sometimes practical solutions matter more. Critics of California’s dysfunction accurately describe the problems and the culprits, often with justifiable rage. But there is an irresistible, contagious joy in imagining a future where homes are affordable again, where good jobs are plentiful, where the schools are succeeding and the streets are clean. There is joy in imagining what Californians can do if they have a reliable supply of cheap water and electricity and uncongested roads and freeways. There is joy in imagining the next great leaps in innovation that can come from California—innovation in politics as well as in technology.

Think big. Embrace solutions, but also imagine them realized. Visualize California in just a few decades, heading toward the 22nd century. Imagine a state where abundant energy and water and new, smart roads have enabled megastructures in the urban core and spacious suburbs spreading like penumbra along the interstate corridors. Picture passenger drones and subterranean tunnels crossing the great cities. Spaceplanes carrying passengers from San Francisco to Singapore in 30 minutes.

Consider California, a nation within a state, with mountains and deserts separating it from the rest of America, vast and golden, nestled on the Pacific Rim. Consider California in 2050, with the people fulfilling every bit of their potential and realizing their aspirations, because back in the 2020s and 2030s, Californians had the foresight to invest in massive but practical projects and transformative but sensible policies. This is the prosperity economy. This is the opportunity to advocate today. This is the choice. Anything is possible.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Poll: More Than Half of California Voters Say Gov. Newsom is Responding Poorly to Homelessness

An estimated 161,000 people are experiencing homelessness in California, more than in any other, and the crisis continues to grow. Advocates say they can’t house people quickly enough with a shortage of housing units and high rents.

An exclusive Inside California Politics / Emerson College poll asked respondents to rate Newsom’s response to homelessness in the state.

The poll of more than 1,000 registered voters, which has a margin of error of +/-2.9%, revealed more than half of respondents rated Newsom’s response to homelessness as poor. A total of 25% voted fair, 16% for good, and 7% of respondents said his response was excellent. …

Click here to read the full article from KTLA5

Illegal Marijuana Farms Are Stealing California’s Scarce Water

One day last spring, water pressure in pipelines suddenly crashed In the Antelope Valley, setting off alarms. Demand had inexplicably spiked, swelling to three and half times normal. Water mains broke open, and storage tanks were drawn down to dangerous levels. 

The emergency was so dire in the water-stressed desert area of Hi Vista, between Los Angeles and Mojave, that county health officials considered ordering residents to boil their tap water before drinking it.

“We said, ‘Holy cow, what’s happening?’” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. 

It took a while for officials to figure out where all that water was going: Water thieves — likely working for illicit marijuana operations — had pulled water from remote filling stations and tapped into fire hydrants, improperly shutting off valves and triggering a chain reaction that threatened the water supply of nearly 300homes.

As drought grips most of California, water thievery across the state has increased to record levels. Bandits in water trucks are backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water they sell on a burgeoning black market. Others, under cover of darkness, plug into city hydrants and top up. Thieves also steal water from homes, farms and private wells, and some even created an elaborate system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines during the last drought. Others are MacGyvering break-ins directly into pressurized water mains, a dangerous and destructive approach known as hot-tapping. 

InMendocino County, the thefts from rivers and streams are compromising already depleted Russian River waterways. In one water district there, thefts from hydrants could compromise a limited water supply for fighting fires, which is why they have put locks on hydrants.

“Any way that you can imagine that somebody is going to grab water, they’re doing it,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall. “For goodness sakes, everybody knows what is going on.”

It’s as predictable as a dreary economics lesson: When a commodity becomes scarce and demand soars, it’s worth stealing. 

Officials say water thefts are increasing at about the same rate as the decline in California’s water supplies. Complaints have risen sharply this year, mirroring the drought’s inexorable advance.

Halfway through this year, 125 Californians have reported thefts to state authorities, more than twice as many as a decade ago. Those numbers don’t capture calls to local officials or small water districts that shoulder the bulk of enforcement responsibility. 

The water thefts not only strain police agencies but also damage valuable equipment. In the Antelope Valley, water main breaks, which can cost $10,000 each to repair, had been averaging about two a year. In the past year, there have been a dozen, Saraiya said.

Water users are now proactively protecting their supplies. Many fire hydrants are being locked or removed altogether. Water tank owners have installed security cameras. In rural areas, residents who have no access to municipal water systems and rely on key-activated water stations are finding their critical lifelines are shut down because of incessant tampering. A robust black market for the keys has popped up, and now most stations operate only during daylight hours.

In the Antelope Valley city of Lancaster, impound yards are hosting growing collections of confiscated water trucks. In one area, fire authorities removed 100 of the area’s 176 hydrants deemed not essential to public safety. Remaining hydrants were fitted with locks.

No cache of water is safe. During the last major drought, businesses, schools and even a fire station were victims of water theft. In 2014, thieves pumped water from storage tanks belonging to the North San Juan Fire Protection District in Nevada County, in the mountains northeast of Sacramento.

“I came to the station one morning and there was a big wet spot,” said Boyd Johnson, the district’s former battalion chief. He said the water was taken for several weeks until they locked the system. “We share that water with CalFire, and, obviously, water was critical to firefighting.”

California’s water and weed 

The most-common culprit of water theft: illegal pot farms. While farmers, ranchers and licensed marijuana growers scramble to obtain water through legal channels, clandestine operations are stealing it or purchasing it from illicit trucks.

In the Sierra Nevada, as many as 4,000 illegal grow sites are operating in Nevada County, according to county estimates. In the Antelope Valley, illegal grows have doubled from 200 last year to 400 today, according to county data, while other estimates put the number in the thousands. 

While the vast desert affords a degree of privacy to pot operations, it lacks a critical component to growing things: water. One cannabis farmer near Lancaster bought a house simply to run a garden hose across the desert to his illegal grow site. Officials shut off the line, but the ever-resourceful thieves tapped into another underground line and kept watering their plants.

Marijuana is not a particularly thirsty crop — using about the same amount of water as a tomato plant — but the drought’s severity means that even a modest water diversion can have impacts.

“Most Californians would be shocked and disappointed at the amount of water these unlicensed, illegal grows are using, especially as California suffers from a drought,” Curt Fallin, a federal Drug Enforcement Agency agent, said during a recent news conference. “By our calculation, the illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day.”

That’s enough water for 72,000 people, almost half the population of Lancaster, which is so water-short that the city imposed temporary restrictions on lawn sprinklers last month.

In far northern, mountainous Siskiyou County — which is facing extreme drought conditions this year —  sheriffs estimated that during the last drought, illegal pot sites consumed two million gallons of water a day. That would supply three-quarters of the county’s residents today. 

With climate change driving longer and more severe droughts around the globe, researchers last year estimated that as much as half the world’s water supply is being stolen every year, citing statistics gathered by the United Nations and Interpol in Europe. 

Whack-a-mole in the Mojave

On a recent hot July day, Charles Bostwick, an assistant field deputy for county Supervisor Barger, piloted his Jeep down mile after mile of dusty roads in the Antelope Valley, past dozens of cannabis grow sites.

Stark white “hoop houses” rise from the flat desert floor. When lit at night, the compounds cast an eerie glow. Operators make little effort to hide the sites, which are littered with trash baking in the Mojave Desert sun and guarded by armed men. Scattered along the road to one site was a porcelain toilet, plastic chairs and a coiled garden hose. Bulldozed Joshua trees lay in haphazard piles. The fender of a rusting truck was spray painted “out” and next to it was another one with “keep” scrawled on the side.

Bostwick drove up to a grow that was recently raided and razed in a multi-agency bust. The thieves were nothing if not industrious: Not only had another marijuana compound sprouted across the rutted road, complete with a water tank and a large RV, but the just-destroyed site was in the midst of rapid rebuilding.

“We bust them and they move somewhere else and begin again,” Bostwick said. “It’s a non-stop game of whack-a-mole.”

He said drought is accelerating water theft in the already water-stressed region. 

“We have no water to spare and our farmers are making do with less,” Bostwick said. “We never had water thefts here (in the Antelope Valley) two years ago. A homeless guy climbing over the fence of a trailer park and filling his five-gallon jug in the laundry room — that was our water theft.”

Law enforcement officials around the state are employing satellite imagery and drones in high-tech stakeouts to track water diversions. But the thieves are brazen, no longer confining themselves to nighttime water raids. Los Angeles County supervisors have allocated more than $250,000 for enhanced sheriff’s patrols, hunting for water trucks. 

But, again, the thieves are a step ahead. When it became clear that law enforcement was on the lookout for suspicious water tankers, thieves shifted to putting 275-gallon water cubes in the back of their pickups or on trailers. More recently, they have taken to renting U-Haul vans to hide their cargo. Any conveyance with space to carry is put to work: Bostwick said someone in the area is driving around an old fire truck, and another guy is using what appears to be a converted airline fuel tanker.

The jerry-rigged water haulers are dangerous and road accidents are common, Bostwick said. A cube containing 275 gallons of water weighs a ton. Lashing such a heavy and easy-to-shift cargo on trucks can cause it to tip over. In May, the driver of a pickup truck hauling a water cube died after he lost control on a two-lane road near Lancaster and ran head-on into a semi tractor-trailer.

Everyone seems to be in the water business. Jose Huerta set up shop from his pickup at a remote desert crossroads, selling empty 55-gallon water drums for $55 and water cubes — stout plastic containers surrounded by a metal cage — for $100. Business is brisk, he said, adding that he doesn’t ask what his customers do with the containers. “Everyone needs water,” he said.

Some take a more direct approach. Locals in the Antelope Valley report high-pressure tactics to sell land for the wells or water rights. 

Gailen Kyle grows alfalfa in the arid desert on a farm he works with his wife, Julie. Their home is surrounded by illicit pot operations, which he finds both frightening and frustrating. He’s had intimidating characters come to his door pressuring him to sell out, he said, and other farmers are already reporting that illegal over-pumping is lowering production in their wells.

“I have zero water, all we have is wells,” said Kyle, whose water allocation has been reduced by 50% this year. “They cut my water and these marijuana grows are operating on stolen water. They are getting water from all over and watering hundreds of acres. This is anarchy.”

For those without wells, the problem is more acute. In Lancaster, at a water district parking lot, a water station that supplies residents was in disarray. Scraped and gouged, an armored door appeared to have been opened with a screwdriver rather than a key. A fire hose lay uncoiled on the asphalt, damp and limp.

The water station had been targeted by thieves so often that authorities shut it down. Its digital readout blinked: “Port has been disabled by host.”

Lax penalties and intimidation

The increase in water theft has exposed not only the vulnerabilities in the state systems to secure water, but also the complications of enforcing laws with penalties that no longer reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Authorities in California say they are working with limited tools to understand and combat the problem. In 2018 California law legalized recreational marijuana use by adults, and reduced penalties for cultivation of large quantities of pot from a felony to a misdemeanor. So law enforcement officials say it’s difficult to prosecute water theft for illegal grows because judges are circumspect about issuing search warrants for a low-level crime. 

“I don’t mean to be rude, but the state is taking the word ‘criminal’ out of the dictionary,” said Marina West, general manager of the Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency, which serves about 2,000 customers north of Palm Springs.

“We’re here to provide water to this community, we’re not here to provide cheap water to an illegal business that’s making millions of dollars.”

Another impediment to more robust reporting and enforcement: intimidation. According to Kyle, the Antelope Valley farmer, one of his neighbors was shown a photograph of a bullet-riddled truck and warned by an alleged cartel member that it could be her fate if she made official complaints about the illegal cannabis sites. Growers monitor and routinely photograph anyone coming near their operations. 

Two managers of Southern California water agencies backed out of interviews with CalMatters, saying they were afraid that going public with information about water theft would put their employees at risk.

The state Water Resources Board, which has a modest cadre of 80 investigators who track water diversion and theft from California’s rivers and streams, cannot begin to keep up with the epidemic of stolen water. Nor is the agency’s $1,000 a day fine for water theft proving to be an effective deterrent to offset the rewards for a multi-billion dollar criminal industry.

After the last drought, in 2018, state officers found nearly 1,000 water rights violations and imposed more than $1 million in fines. Last year, inspection work was severely curtailed because of the pandemic.

“What we are recognizing is that water scarcity is the new norm. It’s offensive to see water go to support this illegal industry when legal industries are struggling for water,” said Yvonne West, the water board’s director of enforcement. 

West’s department keeps an eye on 5,000 legal marijuana cultivators, but an estimated 25,000 are operating illegally “outside the program.” The imbalance keeps state enforcement efforts on a constant back foot.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” she said.

Local authorities are seeking more control. Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, fed up with water theft and their lack of authority to address it, passed a resolution to petition state legislators to give them power to prosecute water theft, especially during severe droughts. Other counties are either considering similar actions or, like Siskiyou, have already called on Sacramento for help.

“As the state enters another potential drought emergency, we need to ensure that this new activity does not further exacerbate water scarcity,” said Barger, who co-authored the Los Angeles County resolution.

A model from Down Under

As California officials lament the lack of legal teeth to prosecute water thieves, they can find an enforcement model in Australia, the planet’s driest inhabited continent.

Illegally siphoning of the Murray and Darling rivers, which irrigate crops and livestock in Australia’s agricultural heartland, was until a few years ago common — and commonly overlooked. Fruit, grain and cotton growers operated massive pumps at will, often pulling out many times more water than legally permitted and drawing down the river during droughts.

The powerful growers stole water “with no fear of sanction,” said Grant Barnes, chief regulatory officer for the New South Wales’ natural resources department. “There were more parking wardens in a town in New South Wales than regulators in the entire state.”

Barnes estimated that tens of billions of dollars worth of water was being stolen. But Australian authorities had little understanding of the volumes pumped illegally because farmers often removed or tampered with meters. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Barnes said.

That changed in 2018 when the new agency led by Barnes clamped down with a large enforcement team backed by fines and the threat of revocation of water licenses. In their three years on the beat,  the new water cops — about 100 inspectors and other staffers — have prosecuted 31 cases, compared to 8 in the previous 17 years.

Farmers were told “no meter, no pump.” An accurate meter connected to the state system was mandatory before water could be pumped out of rivers.

The New South Wales team employs satellite images, drones, remote-controlled watercraft and software that compares what’s growing on farms with their legal water allocation.

“To steal water, to make it economically viable, you have to take vast volumes and you have to store it. By virtue of that storage you make yourself open to satellite technology,” Barnes said. “Now you can’t hide it.”

CalMatters’ Rachel Becker contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.

Six More California Counties Urge Masks Indoors

Six more California counties are urging residents to wear masks in indoor public settings amid concerning upticks in coronavirus cases and continued circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant.

The latest recommendations from Santa Barbara, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Ventura raise to 17 the number of counties now asking even fully vaccinated individuals to wear face coverings as a precaution while inside places like grocery stores, movie theaters and retail outlets.

So far, only one — Los Angeles County — has gone a step further and mandated that masks be worn in such settings. The city of Pasadena, which has its own independent health department, said it would do likewise later this week. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Restoring Quality Education – Fixing California Part Eight

Pragmatism. Abundance. Optimism. If these are the principles that should guide public policy in California — and they are — what the public schools offer is the exact opposite.

Instead of pragmatism, they offer partisan ideology.

Instead of emphasizing the ability, indeed, the obligation, for a modern and prosperous society to deliver abundance, the message is that we must ration everything we use, and treat employment as a zero-sum game, where jobs and opportunities are allocated by race and gender instead of in recognition of merit and passion.

And instead of an optimistic view of the future, the mandated curricula are steeped in pessimism: the climate emergency, the crisis of systemic racism, the catastrophe of capitalist enslavement, a sordid national history., and an oppressive, exploitative society.

It isn’t necessary to engage in yet another in-depth recitation of how California’s public schools have devolved into indoctrination chambers, failing low-income students most in need of a decent education. Rebellion is in the air.

Suffice to say, classroom discipline is replaced with “restorative justice.” Teacher accountability, now more than ever, gives way to “tenure” and a job for life. Measuring academic achievement with standardized tests has become racist, and as redress, the University of California will no longer consider applicants’ SAT scores. Learning multiplication tables and other practical quantitative skills gave way to “Common Core.” Timeless classics may alienate or even threaten young readers, so reading material is selected based on the race and gender of the authors. Lessons in basic concepts of science are contextualized with the horror of climate change, designed to instill panic. Rather than teaching a generally positive sense of history, students have the “1619 project.” And then, starting in the primary grades, there’s agenda-driven “gender” curricula.

Two generations of K-12 students have emerged from California’s public schools with relatively undeveloped skills in math and English, but steeped in the secular religion of class envy, pointless and bizarre race and gender theory, and a host of related maladies that can be accurately summarized as the politics of resentment, and the rejection of personal responsibility for collective victimhood.

This deception works so well because it creates a monstrous mental distraction, a mind-bending narrative that goes something like this: we are all victims of oppression by the white patriarchy, so naturally we’ll assume that our unaffordable homes, lack of good job opportunities, and burning forests are their fault. It won’t even occur to us that the people teaching us to hate the white patriarchy are the same people whose policies are truly to blame for the problems we face.

Putting ideology over practical instruction has consequences. In 2019, only half of California’s K-12 students met state standards in reading, only 40 percent were proficient in math. The solution, according to California’s education experts? Stop testing.

This can change. This must change. Discipline does not oppress misbehaving students, it rescues them. Incompetent teachers need to be fired. Tests matter. A command of basic math is an essential life skill and teaching math cannot rely on short cuts or gimmicks. Classics convey universal ideas and passions. The earth is not dying. America is a great nation and we are all lucky to live here. And little children will do just fine if we spare them transgender theory.

Ways to Fundamentally Improve Education in California

Supporters of education reform in California have never had a greater opportunity than right now. More parents than ever have witnessed the selfish overreach of the teachers’ unions during the pandemic. They’ve lost jobs and businesses while the teachers’ unions kept schools closed. They’ve seen, most of them for the first time, what sorts of material teachers were exposing their children to, as remote learning reached into almost every household. And they’ve experienced, by the millions, creative educational solutions that bypass the traditional public school system.

Change is in the air. Here are some battles that need to be fought.

Implement universal education savings accounts. The reform that would change everything is universal education savings accounts (ESAs), where the money follows individual students to whatever K-12 school their parents choose for them: traditional public school, charter school, parochial school, private school, or even charter/homeschool and private/homeschool hybrids.

Unchaining the torrent of money that currently pours into traditional public schools without competition and with minimal accountability would be an unprecedented breakthrough. Many of the details of how this could be done have been worked out in SB 1344, introduced by then State Senator John Moorlach in 2018. It would allocate education funds mandated under Proposition 98—the 1988 ballot measure that mandates at least 40 percent of the state’s general fund go to K-14 education—into ESAs, assigning an equal amount for every K-12 student in the state. Currently, that is about $14,000 per student per year. Any parent who opted into the program would be able to direct that money to a participating school, whether it’s a public, charter, or accredited private or parochial school. Unspent money would accumulate to be used for college, vocational, or any other accredited educational expense.

Empower charter schools. One of the biggest alternative means of fixing education in California is to empower charter schools. This could be accomplished by broadening the list of entities that can authorize charter schools, permitting charters denied initial opening or renewal applications to appeal to any authorizing entity, removing the cap on how many charter schools can be opened, and prohibiting denial of charter applications or renewals for reasons such as the alleged negative financial impact they may have on traditional public school budgets.

These are big ideas, but there’s much more.

Limit union negotiations to pay and benefits and outlaw strikes. Equally big and disruptive, and beneficial to public education in California, would be to roll back the prerogatives of the teachers’ unions. Currently, to quote a well-informed, indignant reformer who prefers anonymity at this time, “these unions can control what color chalk you are allowed to use on the blackboard.” More to the point, the teachers’ unions include in their bargaining negotiations things that ought to be up to the district superintendents and the elected school board, such as what textbooks to use. A reform that could go a long way towards fixing public education would be to simply rewrite the education code so unions negotiate over wages and benefits, and nothing more. At the same time, take away their right to strike. Defang the unions.

Change rules governing tenure, layoffs, and dismissal. Another reform, certain to attract bitter opposition from the teachers’ unions, would be simply to change some of the work rules. The Vergara case of 2016, which unfortunately failed in the California Supreme Court on a technicality, provides a roadmap. Lengthen a teacher’s probationary period before acquiring tenure to at least five years. Replace seniority with merit as the criteria governing which teachers to retain and which to let go in layoffs and downsizings. And greatly streamline the ability to fire incompetent or negligent teachers, so principals can hold them accountable, rewarding good teachers and terminating bad teachers.

Empower parents to opt out of politicized instruction. A major reform would be to empower parents to remove students from classes that the parents feel violate their beliefs and principles. The new sex education classes, which many parents feel are both inappropriately graphic and tinged with an agenda, are an obvious example, but there are others. Politicized curricula such as the controversial “1619 Project,” or critical race theory, are other examples that many parents already oppose. If it were properly formulated, a parent empowerment initiative could be successful. It would allow parents to prevent the indoctrination of their children.

Many national experts in education reform tend to bristle at the idea of wholesale, sweeping changes. But in almost every case, these are activists and lobbyists who worked with legislatures to enact reform. In those situations, the legislature may not have had a sufficient majority of staunch reform advocates to support dramatic changes. Incrementalism was the only possible way forward.

California is a different case. California’s legislature will never enact reforms. Pro-charter and pro-school choice advocates in California’s legislature are so outgunned that their mission is merely to reduce the speed at which the teachers’ unions accomplish their ever-expanding agenda.

For this reason, the only thing that should matter to education reformers in California is what voters think. California’s ballot initiative process is the one final safety valve preventing a complete takeover of the state government by special interests.

A Model School

The reason California needs education reformschool choice, education savings accounts, charter school empowerment, management reforms, work rule reforms, parental rightsis so more schools like the Orange County Classical Academy (OCCA) can open as competitive alternatives.

Despite being one of the most encouraging developments in California’s public education in, say, the last 50 years, it is a sad testament to the times we live in that what OCCA does is considered revolutionary. Here is a brief summary of how OCCA differs from every traditional public elementary school in California.

First, they have scrapped the Common Core approach to teaching English and math, and they are making the sex education curriculum “non-pornographic, age-appropriate, and medically accurate.” Since Common Core and the recently revised state sex education guidelines have been unpopular with parents and are of dubious value if not actually harmful to students, these are big changes. Moreover, the OCCA’s sex education lessons are transparent for parents and the school offers a simple process for parents to opt-out.

Second, OCCA is a licensed operator to use the K-12 curriculum developed by Hillsdale College. Currently, 20 charter schools in 10 U.S. states use the Hillsdale model, which is patterned on the college’s own approach to the liberal arts, with a special emphasis on the traditions of Western Civilization. Specifically, the lessons acknowledge America’s important role in the world, embracing Judeo-Christian principles as expressed by the American founders. These lessons do not apologize for Western traditions, and will allow all of the students early exposure to the greatest thinkers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Augustine, and so on.

The students are even taught Latin as their foreign language, with all the benefits and insights early instruction in Latin facilitates: ease in learning any Romance language, and familiarity with the roots of most medical, scientific, and professional terms still in common use.

Third, the way OCCA has coped with the COVID-19 pandemic is based on expert medical advice and unaffected by the opportunistic demands of the teachers’ unions. OCCA has been open with no requirement for face coverings for either students or teachers, although all are free to wear them if they wish. The school carried on normal classroom instruction without social distancing or distance learning. The policy is based on virtually all medical data so far showing that COVID-19 is not dangerous to children, and is almost never spread by asymptomatic children, combined with the fact that wearing face masks and enforcing social distancing is harmful to the psyche and the social and intellectual development of children.

None of these revolutionary intentions of OCCA would have happened were it not for a long, bitter fight the organizers had to wage with the teachers’ unions and the politicians they control. Charter schools, along with homeschooling, religious schools, and private schools all constitute a mortal threat to the teachers’ union monopoly.

What OCCA teaches, promoting Western virtues instead of claiming the West is the scourge of human history and the scapegoat upon which to blame all travails of “disadvantaged” communities, is equally anathema to the teachers’ unions. OCCA’s focus on classical education is an audacious, uncompromising challenge to the leftist indoctrination that sadly informs nearly everything taught these days in California’s traditional public schools. In an overt slap to the unions, OCCA even intends to include in their instructional materials videos from Prager University, an institution that is loathed by the Left.

Saving Public Education Saves California and Saves America

It’s tough to overstate how much fixing K-12 education in California would change everything, and it is also tough to overstate just how powerful the teachers’ unions will fight against reforms. California’s public-sector unions collect and spend nearly $1 billion, mostly in membership dues, per year. More than half that money flows into the unions representing teachers and other school employees.

But voter sentiments are changing. California’s powerful teachers’ unions spent over $20 million last year promoting Proposition 15, which would have increased taxes on commercial properties. Other unions, mostly in the public sector, spent another $17 million to promote Prop. 15. But voters weren’t buying it. Prop. 15 failed.

Overall, in November 2020, California’s government unions spent nearly $70 million to promote or oppose state ballot measures, and almost all of that spending was unsuccessful. While a couple of union-supported ballot propositions were approved by voters, they weren’t high priorities, attracting only around $200,000 in union spending.

This result presents a paradox. Why is it that public-sector unions, which easily wield financial supremacy over any of their political competitors, and use that money to make or break the political campaigns of nearly every member of the California State Legislature, and which in similar manner control nearly every city council, county board of supervisors, school board, and governing board of transit districts and fire districts and transportation districts. Why couldn’t they impose their will on California’s electorate when it came to ballot propositions in 2020?

Consider these results on key initiatives, all contrary to the will of California’s government unions: 52 percent of voters rejected increasing property taxes, 56 percent rejected “no bail” laws, 57 percent rejected the reinstatement of racial preferences, 58 percent supported the rights of independent contractors, and 60 percent rejected rent control.

In this paradox there is opportunity. California’s voters are no longer the predictable bloc that government unions have relied upon for the past 20 or 30 years. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the rebellion against union power exemplified by voter rejection of union-supported ballot measures may not be the beginning of the end, but it is definitely the end of the beginning. Voters are finally waking up, fitfully shedding decades of indoctrination.

And why shouldn’t they? California has it alla diverse economy, rich natural resources, deep water ports on the Pacific Rim, the best universities, the epicenter of high tech, and the finest weather on the planetand yet its governance is a mess. The public schools are failing, the mismanaged forests are burning up, income inequality and poverty are among the worst in America, housing is unaffordable, and the urban downtowns are overrun with drug addicts and predators.

All of this can be quickly fixed by good governance. The answers for correcting these failures are not elusive, nor are they partisan. Repeal extreme environmentalist regulations that have made it impossible to construct affordable housing without subsidies. Restore laws against intoxication, petty theft, and vagrancy, and watch half the homeless population suddenly find shelter with friends and relatives. Help the rest in inexpensive supervised encampments where sobriety is a condition of entrance. Bring back the timber industry to thin the forests and create jobs. But why aren’t these fixes implemented?

The reason is equally simple: Government unions, government contractors, powerful “nonprofits,” monopolistic corporations, and Big Tech companies acquire power and profit by never solving these problems. And along with the insane sums of money they deploy to manipulate public opinion and fund political campaigns, they rely on a thoroughly indoctrinated electorate to support their dysfunctionan electorate that is the product of unionized public schools.

This has been a brilliant scam. But if you change the schools, you change the future. Maybe, just maybe, Californians are ready to demand change.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Democratic Mayors Defunded Their Police, While Spending Millions On Their Own Police Protection

In 25 major U.S. cities across the country, officials have already cut – or have proposed cutting — funds from police budgets.

However, in as many as 20 of those same cities, mayors and other city officials enjoy the personal protection of a dedicated police security detail. In many cities, this security costs taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

We found that the defunding of police – coupled with taxpayer dollars spent on police security details protecting public officials– only occurred in cities run by Democratic mayors.

In mid-May, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com filed Freedom of Information Act requests with these 25 cities, asking which city officials have police details, how many officers are assigned, and how much money it costs. …

Click here to read the full article from Forbes.com

Don’t Backslide On Pension Reform

In the category of “good news, bad news,” America’s recovering economy has had a significant positive impact on the Public Employees’ Retirement Fund (PERF), the primary investment fund administered by CalPERS. CalPERS is the largest institutional investor in the United States and it operates the pension program for over 2 million current and retired California public employees.

Last week, CalPERS reported a 21.3% rate of return for PERF over last fiscal year. That’s much higher than in previous years and is especially robust after more than a year of pandemic induced recession. (In February of 2020, the fund declined in value by $15 billion in a single week).

The total value of the PERF now, according to figures released by CalPERS, is $475 billion, an increase of about $80 billion over the last year. Investment performance is just one contributing factor to PERF’s bottom line, along with withdrawals for retirement benefits and contributions by current employees and public-sector employers.

This is good news for California taxpayers. Most of the public pension plans in this state are “defined benefit” plans, meaning that retirees are guaranteed a sum certain; as opposed to “defined contribution” plans, which operate more like 401(k) accounts that may be vulnerable to wide variations in the market.

The problem with defined benefit plans, from the perspective of taxpayers, is that they are responsible to ensure payment of those promised benefits later, even if there isn’t enough money in the retirement fund to cover them. Because of the risk to taxpayers, many states have converted to defined contribution plans which, from the taxpayer and employer perspective, are much less risky.

The positive investment performance might help rehabilitate CalPERS’ reputation given that CalPERS has a sordid history of scandal and mismanagement. Just last year, CalPERS’ chief investment officer Yu Ben Meng resigned amid allegations that he had approved a $1 billion deal with a firm in which he was a shareholder.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Treasurer Fiona Ma Sued For Sexual Harassment By Former Employee

A former senior employee in the California State Treasurer’s Office has sued Treasurer Fiona Ma for sexual harassment and wrongful termination, alleging that she was fired earlier this year after resisting unwanted sexual advances from Ma.

Judith Blackwell, who worked under Ma for about 16 months as executive director of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, filed the lawsuit last week in Sacramento County Superior Court.

“Plaintiff felt the work environment to be hostile as she felt her employment was contingent on her accepting Defendant Ma’s sexual advances,” Blackwell’s attorney, Waukeen McCoy, wrote in the complaint. “As a result of Plaintiff denying Defendant Ma’s advances, she was terminated from her employment.” …

Click here to read the full article from the SF Chronicle.

Forest Management – Fixing California Part Seven

Nobody knew how the fire started. It took hold in the dry chaparral and grasslands and quickly spread up the sides of the canyon. Propelled by winds gusting over 40 miles per hour and extremely dry air (humidity below 25 percent), the fire spread over the ridge and into the town below. Overwhelmed firefighters could not contain the blaze as it swept through the streets, immolating homes by the hundreds. Even brick homes with slate roofs were not spared. Before it finally was brought under control, 640 structures including 584 homes had been reduced to ashes. Over 4,000 people were left homeless.

Does this sound like the “new normal?” Maybe so, but this description is of the Berkeley fire of 1923. In its time, with barely 4 million people living in California, the Berkeley fire was a catastrophe on par with the fires we see today.

When evaluating what has happened nearly a century since the Berkeley fire, two stories emerge. The story coming from California’s politicians emphasizes climate change. The other story, which comes from professional foresters, stresses how different forest management practices might have made many of the recent fires far less severe—and perhaps avoided entirely.

Specifically, California’s misguided forest management practices included several decades of successful fire suppression, combined with a failure to remove all the undergrowth that results when natural fires aren’t allowed to burn.

Back in 1923, tactics to suppress forest fires were in their infancy. But techniques and technologies improved apace with firefighting budgets. By the second half of the 20th century, an army of firefighters could cope very effectively with California’s wildfires. The result is excessive undergrowth, which not only creates fuel for catastrophic and unmanageable superfires, but competes with mature trees for the sunlight, water, and soil nutrients needed for healthy growth.

This is the real reason why California’s forests are not only tinderboxes but are also filled with dying trees. Now Californians confront nearly 20 million acres of overgrown forests.

By the time you read this, Californians may be coping with yet another round of superfires. During the 2020 fire season, an estimated 4.2 million acres burned, the most since recordkeeping began. To put this into perspective, this is more than 6,500 square miles, an area nearly the size of the State of New Jersey.

To gauge the extent of the devastation, relying on the square miles of the containment areas may be somewhat misleading. Drive up Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon today and note that while all of it was designated as burned, the destruction was uneven, with some hillsides left intact while others were scorched.

But there is no question that some of the most devastating fires in modern history have hit California in recent years, killing hundreds, displacing thousands, and costing billions.

Clearly, when the state faces multi-year droughts, the summer fire risk gets progressively worse. In such conditions, a few lightning strikes can spark a conflagration. But during the 2020 fire season, why is it that the Creek Fire consumed nearly 400,000 acres and displaced over 12,000 people, but spared the forests surrounding Shaver Lake? What happened?

It wasn’t luck. The forests around Shaver Lake had been carefully managed for decades. The undergrowth was regularly thinned, either mechanically or through controlled burns, and mature trees were selectively logged. These practices nurtured an ecosystem that was, and remains, healthier and more diverse than those found even in forests that remain untouched by fires. Why aren’t all of California’s forests managed the way Shaver Lake is managed?

Negligence, not Climate Change, Causes Superfires

In 2019, President Trump tweeted, “The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management.” Newsom tweeted back, “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”

Meanwhile, former California Governor Jerry Brown addressed Congress in October 2019, saying, “California’s burning while the deniers make a joke out of the standards that protect us all. The blood is on your soul here and I hope you wake up, because this is not politics, this is life, this is morality. You’ve got to get with it—or get out of the way.”

Despite California’s current and former governors both being ardent members of the catastrophe chorus, climate change is not the primary cause of California’s recent superfires. Newsom, Brown, other extreme environmentalists, and the policies they demanded, are the reason California’s wildlands are going up in flames. They are the ones who need to be excused from the conversation. They are the ones who need to get out of the way. They are the ones who are in denial.

For about 20 million years, California’s forests endured countless droughts, some lasting over a century. Natural fires, started by lightning and very frequent in the Sierras, were essential to keep forest ecosystems healthy. In Yosemite, for example, meadows used to cover most of the valley floor, because while forests constantly encroached, fires would periodically wipe them out, allowing the meadows to return. Across millennia, fire-driven successions of this sort played out in cycles throughout California’s ecosystems.

Also for the last 20 million years or so, climate change has been the norm. To put this century’s warming into some sort of context, Giant Sequoias once grew on the shores of Mono Lake. For at least the past few centuries, forest ecosystems have been marching into higher latitudes because of gradual warming. In the Sierra Foothills, oaks have invaded pine habitat, and pine, in-turn, have invaded the higher elevation stands of fir. Today, it is mismanagement, not climate change, that is the primary threat to California’s forests.

This can be corrected.

In a speech before Congress in September, Representative Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) summarized the series of policy mistakes that are destroying California’s forests. McClintock’s sprawling 4th congressional district covers 12,800 square miles, and encompasses most of the Northern Sierra Nevada mountain range. His constituency bears the brunt of the misguided green tyranny emanating from Washington, D.C. and Sacramento.

“Excess timber comes out of the forest in only two ways,” McClintock said. “It is either carried out or it burns out. For most of the 20th Century, we carried it out. It’s called ‘logging.’ Every year, U.S. Forest Service foresters would mark off excess timber and then we auctioned it off to lumber companies who paid us to remove it, funding both local communities and the forest service. We auctioned grazing contracts on our grasslands. The result: healthy forests, fewer fires and a thriving economy. But beginning in the 1970s, we began imposing environmental laws that have made the management of our lands all but impossible. Draconian restrictions on logging, grazing, prescribed burns and herbicide use on public lands have made modern land management endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost-prohibitive. A single tree thinning plan typically takes four years and more than 800 pages of analysis. The costs of this process exceed the value of timber—turning land maintenance from a revenue-generating activity to a revenue-consuming one.”

When it comes to carrying out timber, California used to do a pretty good job. In the 1950s the average timber harvest in California was around 6.0 billion board feet per year. The precipitous drop in harvest volume came in the 1990s. The industry started that decade taking out not quite 5 billion board feet, and by 2000 the annual harvest had dropped to just over 2 billion board feet. Today, only about 1.5 billion board feet per year come out of California’s forests as harvested timber.

Expand the Timber Industry

What McClintock describes as a working balance up until the 1990s needs to be restored. In order to achieve a sustainable balance between natural growth and timber removals, California’s timber industry needs to triple in size. If federal legislation were to guarantee a long-term right for timber companies to harvest trees on federal land, investment would follow.

Today only 29 sawmills remain in California, along with eight sawmills that are still standing but inactive. In addition, there are 112 sites in California where sawmills once operated. In most cases, these vacant sites of former mills are located in ideal areas for rebuilding mills and resuming operations.

The economics of reviving California’s timber industry are compelling. A modern sawmill with a capacity of 100 million board feet per year requires an investment of $100 million. Operating at a profit, it would create 640 full-time jobs. Constructing 30 of these sawmills would create roughly 20,000 jobs in direct employment of loggers, haulers, and mill workers, along with thousands of additional jobs in the communities where they are located.

The ecological impact of logging again in California’s state and federal forests will not become the catastrophe that environmentalists and regulators once used as the pretext to all but destroy that industry. Especially now, with decades of accumulated experience, logging does more good than harm to forest ecosystems. There is ample evidence to prove it.

In forests managed by Sierra Pacific, for example, owl counts are higher than in California’s federally managed forests. Even clear-cutting, because it is done on a 60- to 100-year cycle, does more good than harm to the forests. By converting one or two percent of the forest back into meadow each year, areas are opened up where it is easier for owls to hunt prey. Also, during a clear cut, the needles and branches are stripped off the trees and left to rejuvenate the soil. The runoff is managed as well, via contour tilling which follows the topography of the hillsides. Rain percolates into the furrows, which is also where the replacement trees are planted.

How the Forests Surrounding Shaver Lake Were Saved

While clear-cutting will not destroy most ecosystems, since it is only performed on one to two percent of the land in any given year, there are other types of logging that can be used in areas deemed more ecologically sensitive. Southern California Edison owns 20,000 acres of forest around Shaver Lake in Southern California where they practice what is known as total ecosystem management.

Earlier this year, when the Creek Fire burned an almost unthinkable 550 square miles in Southern California, the 30 square mile island of SCE managed forest around Shaver Lake was unscathed. This is because for decades, SCE has been engaged in timber operations they define as “uneven age management, single-tree selection,” whereby the trees to be harvested are individually designated in advance, in what remains a profitable logging enterprise. Controlled burns are also an essential part of SCE’s total ecosystem management, but these burns are only safe when the areas to be burned are well-managed with logging and thinning.

The practice of uneven age management could be used in riparian canyons, or in areas where valuable stands of old-growth trees merit preservation. The alternative, a policy of hands-off preservation, has been disastrous. Tree density in the Sierra Nevada is currently around 300 per acre, whereas historically, a healthy forest would only have had around 60 trees per acre. Clearly, this number varies depending on forest type, altitude, and other factors, but overall, California’s forests, especially on federal lands, contain about five times the normal tree density. The result is trees that cannot compete for adequate moisture and nutrients, far less rain percolating into springs and aquifers, disease and infestation of the weakened trees, and fire.

This alternative—manage the forest or suffer fires that destroy the forest entirely—cannot be emphasized enough. In the Feather River Canyon, along with many other canyons along the Sierra Nevada, the east-west topography turned them into wind tunnels that drove fires rapidly up and down the watershed. Yet these riparian areas have been among the most fiercely defended against any logging, which made those fires all the worse. The choice going forward should not be difficult. Logging and forest thinning cannot possibly harm a watershed as much as parched forests burning down to the soil, wiping out everything.

Expand the Biomass Power Industry

If removing trees with timber operations is essential to return California’s forests to a sustainable, lower density of trees per acre, mechanical removal of shrub and undergrowth is an essential corollary, especially in areas that are not clear cut. Fortunately, California has already developed the infrastructure to do this. In fact, California’s biomass industry used to be bigger than it is today, and can be quickly expanded.

Today there are 22 active biomass power plants in California, generating just over a half-gigawatt of continuous electric power. That’s one percent of California’s electricity draw at peak demand; not a lot, but enough to matter. Mostly built in the 1980s and ’90s, at peak, there were 60 biomass power plants in California, but with the advent of cheaper natural gas and cheaper solar power, most of them were shut down. These clean-burning plants should be reopened to use forest trimmings, as well as agricultural waste and urban waste as fuel.

At a fully amortized wholesale cost estimated somewhere between 12 cents and 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, biomass power plants cannot compete with most other forms of energy. But this price is not so far out of reach that it could not be subsidized using funds currently allocated to other forms of renewables, infrastructure, or climate change mitigation. Moreover, this kilowatt-hour price necessarily includes the labor-intensive task of going into the forests and extracting the biomass, creating thousands of good-paying jobs. The numbers could work.

If, for example, biomass power capacity in California were roughly doubled to one gigawatt of continuous output, a six cents per kilowatt-hour subsidy would cost about $500 million per year. This must be compared to the annual cost of wildfires in California, which easily exceeds a billion per year. It also must be compared to the amount of money being thrown around on projects far less urgent than rescuing California’s forest ecosystems, such as the California High Speed Rail project, which has already consumed billions. And if this entire subsidy of $500 million per year were spread into the utility bills of all Californians, it would only amount to about a 1.5 percent increase.

Further in support of this economic analysis is the fact that much of the kilowatt-hour price for biomass electricity is amortization of the initial construction cost of the generating plant. If, as appears likely, Americans endure another multi-year bout with broad-based inflation, that fixed amortization cost will become less significant as all electricity rates rise with inflation. That, in turn, would make biomass electricity more competitive, reducing the required subsidy.

Pressure the Feds

About half of California’s forests lie on federal land. Does that mean nothing can be done? Far from it. With Democrats from California presiding over the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, and a sitting president who owes his position to California-based tech billionaires and tech corporations, whatever California really wants from the federal government, California is going to get.

Here’s what they should be asking for:

Revise the EPA’s “no action” restrictions, usually based on the “single-species management” practice, have led to more than half of California’s national forests being off-limits to tree thinning, brush removal, or any other sort of active management.

Change the U.S. Forest Service guidelines which only permit active forest management, even in the areas that are not off-limits, for as little as six weeks per year. While restrictions on when and where forests can be thinned may have sound ecological justifications in some ways, they are making it impossible to thin the forests. The ecological cost/benefits need to be reassessed. To be effective, thinning operations need to be allowed to run for several months each year, instead of several weeks each year.

The EPA needs to streamline the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) application process so it is less expensive and time-consuming for qualified companies to get permits to extract timber from federal lands. They can also grant waivers to allow thinning projects to bypass NEPA, or at the least, broaden the allowable exemptions.

The federal government can accelerate granting of long-term stewardship contracts whereby qualified companies acquire a minimum 20-year right to extract wood products from federal lands. This would guarantee a steady supply of wood products which, in turn, would make new investment viable in logging equipment, mills, and biomass energy facilities.

Rules and conditions governing timber exports need revision. The export of raw logs from federal lands in the Western United States is currently prohibited. Lifting this prohibition would help because sawmill capacity is not capable of handling the increase in volume. Just with the new thinning programs already in place, logs and undergrowth are being burned or put in landfills.

As it is, California imports around 80 percent of the cut lumber used in its construction industry or sold through retailers to consumers. If there was an assurance of wood supply—which the national forests can certainly offer—investment would be made in expanding mill capacity. Suddenly the money that is being sent to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia to purchase their cut timber would stay here in California, employing thousands of workers in the mills.

The state or federal government can set up revolving loan funds for investors to build sawmills, as well as biomass energy facilities, as well as chippers and other equipment, that would allow the industry to quickly ramp up operations and capacity.

Will Politicians Do the Right Thing?

The logic of these steps seems impeccable. Thin the forests. Restore them to ecological health. Adopt time-tested modern logging practices and revive the timber industry. Build biomass power plants on the perimeter of the forests. Reissue grazing permits for additional cost-effective brush thinning. Prevent ridiculous, costly, horrific, tragic wildfires. Help the economy.

But these steps have been known for decades, and nothing has been done. Every time policymakers were close to a consensus on forest thinning, government bureaucrats obstructed the process and the environmentalists sued to stop the process. And they won. Time and time again. And now we have this: millions of acres of scorched earth, air so foul that people couldn’t leave their homes for weeks, and wildlife habitat that in some cases may never recover.

California’s forest management policies have decimated the state’s timber industry, neglected its biomass industry, rejected the cattle industry, turned millions of acres of forest into scorched earth, and are systematically turning mountain communities into ghost towns.

If the goal was to have a healthy forest ecosystem, that was violated, as these forests burned to the ground and what remains is dying. If the goal was to do anything in the name of fighting climate change and its impact on the forests and do it with urgency, that too was violated, because everything they did was wrong. Even now, instead of urgent and far-reaching changes to forest management policies, we get more electric car mandates. That was the urgent response to the superfires of 2020.

California’s ruling elites, starting with Gavin Newsom among the politicians, and Ramon Cruz, the Sierra Club’s new president, may prove they care about the environment by sitting down with representatives from California’s timber, biomass energy, and cattle industries, along with federal regulators, and come up with a plan. They might apply to this plan the same scope and urgency with which they so cavalierly transform our entire energy and transportation industries, but perhaps with more immediate practical benefits both to people and ecosystems.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.