Rep. Katie Porter Draws Scrutiny for Calling Irvine Police ‘Disgrace’ in 2021

The OC congresswoman expressed frustration with how Irvine police handled an altercation that broke out at her event after far-right protestors interrupted it.

Rep. Katie Porter’s Irvine event in July 2021 was memorable not because it was her first in-person town hall since the COVID-19 pandemic started but because a physical altercation broke out after far-right opponents disrupted the gathering.

In the aftermath, Porter texted Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, voicing her frustration with what happened at the event and how it was handled by law enforcement.

“I will never trust them again,” Porter said, noting she was set to meet with the chief of police. “Well, your police force is a disgrace.”

The texts, critical of the Irvine Police Department, were first reported on by Fox News and have been shared by conservative media outlets.

“Rep. Porter was upset that a planned family-friendly themed town hall was hijacked by extremists who made constituents feel unsafe, including using hateful slurs in front of children,” Jordan Wong, a spokesperson for the Democratic congresswoman, said in a statement shared with the Register. “She was disappointed that despite our staff alerting police days before the event that the extremists were openly advertising their intention to disrupt the town hall, officers on the day of the incident were hundreds of feet away and did not intervene immediately when fighting broke out.”

A spokesperson for the Irvine Police Department did not respond to emailed questions about its handling of the event.

Julian Willis of La Jolla was cited and released for his actions during the altercation, police said at the time. Willis reportedly has lived at Porter’s Irvine home, although it’s not clear if that is still the case.

A self-proclaimed “American Nationalist” group led by Nick Taurus — who has been involved in other protests that turned physical — interrupted the July 2021 event by shouting personal insults at the congresswoman.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

New California Abortion Laws Set Up Clash With Other States

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed more than a dozen new abortion laws Tuesday, including some that deliberately clash with restrictions in other states — a sign of the coming conflicts that must be sorted out as lawmakers rush to set their own rules now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.

Most abortions are now illegal in 13 states, and others — including Texas, Oklahoma and Idaho — allow people to sue anyone who performs or aids in an abortion. Meanwhile, Democratic-led states like California, New York and Connecticut have been writing and passing laws to make it easier to get an abortion, with California promoting its abortion services on a state-funded website designed in part to reach women who live in other states.

Conflicts seem inevitable as more people travel for abortions in the coming years, especially with California and Oregon prepared to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to help pay for things like travel, lodging and child care. On Tuesday, Newsom signed a number of laws meant to thwart investigations from other states seeking to prosecute or penalize abortion providers and volunteers in California.

The laws block out-of-state subpoenas, empowering the state insurance commissioner to punish health insurance companies that divulge information about abortions to out-of-state entities. They ban police departments and corporations from cooperating with out-of-state investigations regarding abortions that are legally obtained in California. And they shield prison inmates from other states’ anti-abortion laws.

“An alarming number of states continue to outlaw abortion and criminalize women, and it’s more important than ever to fight like hell for those who need these essential services,” Newsom said in a news release announcing the signings.

If another state tries to apply its laws against someone in California, and California officials say they can’t do that, there is “a lot of gray area as to who is right in that situation,” said Mary Ziegler, the Martin Luther King Jr. professor of law at the University of California, Davis.

“If you are talking about a state applying its criminal laws outside its borders, there’s just not a lot of guidance about how that plays out,” Ziegler said.

It’s not just California. Democratic governors in Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Rhode Island and Maine have all signed executive orders aiming to protect abortion providers and volunteers. Connecticut was the first state to pass a law protecting abortion providers and others, signed in May even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Newsom this year signed a law that would block the enforcement of some out-of-state court judgments against doctors and volunteers for legally obtained abortions in California — a law anti-abortion activists argue is illegal because of a clause in the U.S. Constitution that requires each state to give “full faith and credit” to the laws of every other state.

California Democrats say the law is legal because federal courts have recognized some exceptions to that clause, including when laws in one state violate the public policy of another state.

Still, the legal uncertainty could end up hindering people who work in the field of abortion, Ziegler said.

“What that would mean is the person from California would have a hard time traveling to a lot of places, especially if the judgment is out against them,” she said.

Public opinion polls have shown a majority of California voters, including Republicans, support abortion protections, making it difficult for opponents to stop such bills from becoming law. Still, California Family Council President Jonathan Keller said the group is “investigating which of these laws are ripe for a court challenge.”

One early candidate: a law that requires religious employers to tell their workers about publicly available abortion services. Keller noted a previous California law that instructed crisis pregnancy centers to tell patients about abortion services was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Newsom is expected this week to sign a law that would authorize as much as $20 million in public spending to help pay for women in other states to come to California for an abortion, something Keller said he and his group are the most concerned about.

“He’s not inviting (women) to get a state-paid trip for labor and delivery if they live in a county or state with poor maternal mortality, instead (he’s) saying you can come here on the taxpayers’ dime, but only if it is to end your pregnancy,” Keller said.

Democratic Assemblymember Cristina Garcia said California’s new laws would save lives, arguing that abortion bans don’t stop abortions but instead lead to “unsafe and deadly abortions for communities of color, low-income communities, trans and other marginalized communities,” adding: “We promise to be a refuge state for anyone seeking an abortion.”

Most of the laws Newsom signed Tuesday were inspired by the California Future of Abortion Council, a group of 46 public officials and abortion rights groups that began planning last year on what to do if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Newsom approved several of the group’s ideas Tuesday, including new laws to let some nurse practitioners perform abortions without a doctor’s permission, establish scholarships for students studying to provide abortions, stop officials from prosecuting women for pregnancy loss and make vasectomies cheaper for men with private insurance.

“California is showing what is possible when leaders listen to experts, facts, science, and from the people who are directly impacted,” said Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

But Newsom did not sign every abortion bill into law. Last week, Newsom vetoed a bill that would have paid to train staff at abortion clinics to improve care for marginalized patients. Newsom said he vetoed it because it “creates tens of millions of dollars in General Fund cost pressures not accounted for in the budget.”

Click here to read the full article at AP News

California Gas is ‘Out of Whack’ – Nearly $2 More than National Average. Who’s to Blame?

California has long been known as the country’s priciest place to fill up your tank, but these days the Golden State is “completely out of whack.”

As gas prices plummeted around the nation in recent weeks, California’s price at the pump has rebounded with a vengeance to an average of $5.58 a gallon.

That’s $1.89 more than the national average — the highest price gap in at least 22 years, according to a Bay Area News Group analysis of AAA data.

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove prices higher around the world, California’s perplexing price swing is largely due to the local oil industry, experts say, which is putting the state on another planet when it comes to gas.

“The commodity price of gasoline in California has gotten completely out of whack,” said Severin Borenstein an energy economist at UC Berkeley. “If this holds, we’re just starting to see the increase. It’s going to go up even more.”

Although fuel costs are still down from their peak in June, drivers are contending with nearly seven months of average prices topping $5 a gallon.

“It’s unfair,” said Sonya Khvann, a single mother of three, who was pumping gas in Alameda on Friday. She spends about $800 a month on fuel shuttling around her children. “It’s not like you can change your career overnight,” said Khvann, a part-time real estate agent. “Not everyone can be in tech.”

Much of California’s high gasoline costs are explainable. The state’s 54-cent gasoline excise tax is among the highest in the country — only Pennsylvania’s is higher. There are also stricter environmental regulations and special fuel blends that prevent rampant smog from accumulating in cities, altogether these factors tack on roughly $1.20 to California’s gas prices.

But the widening gap between what everyone from San Jose to Los Angeles is paying compared to the rest of the country is due to the concentrated nature of California’s oil refineries, experts say. Due to the state’s special gas blend, California is often termed a “fuel island” because nearly all gas sold in the state is refined locally by a handful of companies, including Chevron, Marathon Petroleum and PBF Energy. That means mechanical hiccups at refineries can cause major price spikes not seen elsewhere in the country.

Tom Kloza, of the Oil Price Information Service, said the reduced flow of gas is likely due to refiners bringing equipment offline for maintenance. He said much of the oil industry deferred regularly scheduled maintenance in spring so they could continue reaping record profits during the energy price spike following the Russian invasion.

But it’s hard to get to the bottom of exactly why California’s oil refiners have reduced output now just as prices drop elsewhere. There has been no major refinery outage or catastrophe reported in recent months. Instead, experts glean information from oil production reports. “Because of antitrust regulations, we don’t know how individual refineries are operating,” said Kevin Slagle, vice president of the Western States Petroleum Association.

In a statement, the California Energy Commission said state refineries are seeing “temporary” production issues that, coupled with maintenance activity and “lower-than-normal gasoline inventories,” is driving the current price spike over the past four weeks.

The mysterious price surge comes as California Gov. Gavin Newsom has turned up the rhetoric against the oil industry as the Golden State moves to phase out most gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and expand restrictions on drilling. In a statement on Friday, Newsom’s office accused fossil fuel companies of “holding families hostage” while touting Sacramento’s plan to send up to $1,050 to California families to alleviate the financial pain.

“We’re phasing out the fear of gas prices and ushering in our oil-free future,” Newsom’s office added.

Borenstein has spent years studying the gap between California’s gas prices and the national average. He said the unaccounted-for difference, which he termed a “mystery surcharge,” took off in 2015 when gas prices spiked in the aftermath of a Torrance oil refinery explosion. Before the blast, the unexplainable price gap was about 2 cents, but afterward it ballooned to over 40 cents and has remained high ever since.

Kloza, Borenstein and David Hackett, an energy expert at Stillwater Associates, said there is no evidence of racketeering among the state’s oil refineries. There is an ongoing probe into gas pricing and oil industry practices in the State Assembly, however. Sacramento has a long history of accusing the industry of price-gouging and announcing investigations that yield few results.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Reparations Task Force: State Could Owe Black Californians Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

California’s task force on reparations has begun putting dollar figures to potential compensation for the various forms of racial discrimination, generational pain and suffering Black Americans experienced in the state. 

The rough estimates by economic consultants may mean that hundreds of thousands of dollars could be due to Black Californians who are descendants of enslaved ancestors. However some politicians on the task force indicated the reparations would be a difficult case to make.

Task force member and state Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat representing South Los Angeles, told an audience at public meetings in Los Angeles over the weekend it would be a “major hurdle” to pass any reparations plan in the Legislature. 

“For a state that didn’t have slavery, don’t think they’re going to be quick to vote on this final product of this task force,” he said. “We need to stay unified, we need to be together. We aren’t always going to agree, but we have to put forth a unified front.” 

Meeting in the California Science Center Friday and Saturday, the nine-member state-appointed group invited a team of economic experts to describe reparation ideas in financial terms. It was the group’s first gathering since June, when the task force released a 500-page report on the state’s history of slavery and racism.

In March the task force voted to recommend to state leaders that if California makes some form of reparations available, they should go to Black Californians who can establish lineage to enslaved ancestors, rather than to those who are more recent immigrants, or descendants of recent immigrants. The reparations could be in the form of cash, grants, tuition assistance, loans or other financial programs, the task force said.

At this meeting, the task force described several scenarios for which Black Californians could receive monetary compensation.

Reparations calculations

For instance, the task force considered redlining, a practice of denying mortgages to Black homeowners and of devaluing residential property in primarily minority neighborhoods.

The four economic consultants calculated that each Black Californian who lived in the state between 1933 and 1977 experienced a “housing wealth gap” of $223,239, or $5,074 for each year in the period. The experts said that number — which is the difference between the average value of all homes in California and the value of Black-owned homes  — could be considered for reparations.

Such calculations are far from final, the consultants said, and there is no total estimate, though it is based on all 2.5 million Black California residents today, they said. The consultants said they haven’t calculated how many people would qualify for each type of reparation. 

The consultants are William Darity, an economics professor, and A. Kirsten Mullen, a researcher, both at Duke University in Durham, N.C.; Kaycea Campbell, an economics professor at Pierce College in Los Angeles; and William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and a Howard University professor. 

For another example of injustice, mass incarceration, the consultants calculated potential income lost by incarcerated Black Californians from 1971, the beginning of then-President Richard Nixon’s announced “War on Drugs,” until today. The economists pointed to many studies showing Black people were incarcerated far beyond their numbers in the general population.

Without discussing guilt or innocence, the economic consultants estimated that incarcerated Black residents were out $124,678, or $2,494 a year, for unpaid prison labor and years of lost income. The consultants mixed into the calculations the average salaries of California state workers and the $15,000 that some Japanese Americans received in reparations after their internment during World War II, from 1942 to 1945.  

A ‘rough’ analysis

One of the most pervasive forms of racial injustices Black Californians faced is disproportionate health outcomes. The economic consultants noted that Black Californians have the shortest life expectancy of any racial group at 71 years, which is 7.6 years shorter than whites. Black Californians also faced higher death rates from cancer than other racial groups, and Black mothers were four times more likely to die in childbirth than any other group. 

Although there is no actual price tag on a year of life, for statistical purposes some economists use a $10 million valuation for a person’s entire life. This group of economic consultants calculated the dollar amount of the gap in life expectancy for Black Californians to be worth $127,226 per year.

The consultants’ dollar estimates are “rough,” Campbell said Friday.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Hundreds of Local Officials Failed to File State Financial Reports, County Records Show

Even though annual financial disclosures are critical to promoting open government and limiting potential conflicts of interest, hundreds of public officials and consultants neglected to file their required State Form 700 reports this year, county records show.

Experts say the disclosures, which thousands of public officials must file annually under the Political Reform Act, are an important way to keep voters informed.

Regulators also take issue with public officials who fail to report their assets, revenue and any gifts they receive, often imposing penalties that reach into the thousands of dollars.

When The Union-Tribune reported last month that Jesus Cardenas, chief of staff to Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, owns a political consulting firm that serves clients with interests before the city of San Diego, the information was largely based on public disclosures.

Two years ago, the newspaper reported on conflicts in financial statements filed by front-running San Diego City Council candidate Kelvin Barrios. The stories derailed his campaign, and Barrios dropped out of the race.

State Form 700 was also cited by the City Attorney’s Office during litigation over the city’s lease of the Ash Street office tower. Lawyers for the city said broker Jason Hughes should have submitted while advising three successive mayors on real estate deals — and collecting $9.4 million in fees.

This year, according to the clerk of the county Board of Supervisors, who is charged with tracking local compliance with the Form 700 filing rules, 224 elected and appointed officials countywide did not submit the annual Form 700s by the April 1 deadline.

“The clerk of the board took numerous steps to ensure filers filed timely,” clerk Andrew Potter informed supervisors in a memo this spring.

Reminder notices were sent to all non-compliant officials in February and twice in March, notifying them of the looming deadline and encouraging them to comply with state law, Potter said.

Subsequently, “these individuals are being referred to the district attorney and the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) for noncompliance,” he wrote.

The hundreds of non-filers in San Diego County range from members of the grand jury and employees of the regional planning agency SANDAG to school districts and a tiny North County water authority.

Some county agencies also appear on the list, including the Local Agency Formation Commission, which regulates boundaries between public agencies, and the Leon L. Williams Human Relations Commission, which promotes mutual respect and integrity.

Michael Workman, the spokesperson for San Diego County, said it is the employers’ responsibility to maintain current and accurate lists of people who are required to submit a statement of economic interest. He said the county will work with agencies that seek guidance.

“All agencies that file with us have access to a management module where the lead coordinator for Form 700s can update the information for their agency’s filers,” Workman said by email. “In the fall of each year, we reach out to all agencies to ask that they update their filers’ information to ensure the notifications are sent to the filers appropriately.”

SANDAG — which led all local agencies in number of non-filers, with more than 80 experts and consultants on the list — said its obligation is to inform members of the filing requirement, but the county is responsible for determining their filing status.

“None of our board of directors or policy advisory committees are on the list,” spokesperson Stacy Garcia said by email. “For working group members, SANDAG follows up with staff liaisons to reach out to any listed members to ensure compliance.”

Garcia said the planning agency would follow up with — and possibly penalize — consultants who have yet to report their financial interest as required.

“SANDAG policy is to restrict non-filer consultants from working on or participation in any project or program under their contract(s),” she wrote. “SANDAG follows up with its consultants to ensure compliance with the filing requirements.”

The Southwestern Community College District, with 10 administrators and consultants who did not submit annual disclosures, said officials had sent the county their list of required filers in March but college officials acknowledged it was not correct.

“The district was able to add requisite employees but was unable to delete employees/ consultants who were no longer employed by the district as of calendar year 2022,” spokesperson Lilian Leopold said in a statement.

“Your list reflects those employees/consultants,” she added. “The county clerk must not have updated their list per our updates.”

Workman contradicted the Southwestern Community College District response.

“The county does not have any record of Southwestern College providing updates to their list of filers,” he wrote. “The individuals that Southwestern College indicated are no longer employed are still required to file leaving-office statements.”

An Oceanside Unified School District official also blamed San Diego County for the 11 names appearing on the clerk’s record.

“The list you provided is filled with errors and needs to be updated,” spokesperson Donald Bendz said in an email. “The only three people who are still with OUSD are Sherry Freeman de Leyva, Perry Alvarez (and) Raquel Alvarez. Their statements of economic interest forms have been turned in.”

The county confirmed that two filings were turned in after the Union-Tribune asked Oceanside schools officials about the non-filers.

“We received electronic filings from Perry Alvarez and Raquel Alvarez, who both filed their forms (Tuesday),” Workman said. “We still do not have a filing for Sherry Freeman de Leyva.”

According to her LinkedIn social media profile, Freeman de Leyva is retired from the Oceanside Unified School District.

Sean McMorris of California Common Cause, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting good government practices, said the Form 700 disclosures are critical in the system of checks and balances that makes up public administration.

The annual reports help prevent conflicts of interest and promote transparency by requiring public officials to declare their salary ranges, property holdings, stocks and other investments and gifts from companies or organizations, he said.

“We want our public officials to conduct business based on the best interests of the public, not themselves,” McMorris said.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces the Political Reform Act rule requiring the annual disclosures, takes violations seriously. Almost every month, the commission imposes penalties on local and state officials who fail to disclose their personal holdings.

Earlier this month, for example, a former planning commissioner in the Central Valley city of Sanger was fined $12,000 for failing to submit a Form 700 disclosure after being contacted about the oversight more than 20 times.

Commission spokesperson Jay Wierenga said regulators had no record of receiving the list of non-filers from San Diego County, but the enforcement team was running some of those names through their database.

He said the disclosures are critical to informing the public about the potential motivations driving elected officials and policymakers.

“The law in California rests on a few basic tenets, one of which is disclosure,” Wierenga said. “Form 700s are there not only to provide transparency to the public but also to hold public officials accountable in their decision-making.”

The District Attorney’s Office confirmed it received the memo from the San Diego County board clerk but has not yet taken any action on the information.

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune

California Governor Rejects Mandatory Kindergarten Law

Beyond what they learn academically in kindergarten, students learn everyday routines: how to take care of class materials and how to be kind to their peers, according to Golden Empire Elementary School kindergarten teacher Carla Randazzo.

While developing those skills became more difficult for students going to school online during the pandemic, occasionally, a student entering first grade at Golden Empire didn’t attend kindergarten at all, Randazzo said. Nearly two-thirds of students at the Sacramento school are English learners.

“Those kids just start out having to climb uphill,” she said. “They need a lot of support to be successful.”

Randazzo always thought it was “peculiar” that kindergarten is not mandatory in California. For now, though, California won’t join 20 other states with mandatory kindergarten. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, vetoed legislation Sunday night that would have required children to attend kindergarten — whether through homeschooling, public or private school — before entering first grade at a public school.

As he has with other recent legislative vetoes, Newsom cited the costs associated with providing mandatory kindergarten, about $268 million annually, which he said was not accounted for in the California budget.

Newsom has supported similar legislation in the past. Last year, he signed a package of education bills, including one transitioning the state to universal pre-K starting in the 2025-26 school year. But the state’s Department of Finance opposed the mandatory kindergarten bill, stating it would strain funds by adding up to 20,000 new public school students.

Proponents of mandatory kindergarten say it could help close the academic opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color, as well as help children develop important social skills before the 1st grade. The bill was introduced after K-12 attendance rates dropped during the pandemic and some students struggled with online learning. 

Kindergarten enrollment in California dropped nearly 12% in the 2020-21 academic year compared to the previous year, according to the state Department of Education. Nationwide, public school enrollment dropped by 3 percent in 2020-21 compared to the previous school year, with preschool and kindergarten enrollment dropping at higher rates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Samantha Fee, of Citrus Heights, said her 7-year-old son could solve practically any math equation during the 2020-21 school year, while he attended kindergarten online. But by the end of the school year, he still couldn’t read and didn’t know all his letters.

She said the family made the difficult decision to have her son, who attends Golden Empire, repeat kindergarten to prepare him for first grade. 

“They learn a lot in that first year — how to sit at their desks, and how to raise their hand and all that they’re expected to know in the first grade,” Fee said. “Without kindergarten, they don’t have that.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Agencies gave back funds for homelessness

Housing officials failed to utilize nearly $150 million of HUD grants to city, county.

Nearly $150 million worth of federal grants to the three main housing agencies working to reduce homelessness in Greater Los Angeles went unspent between 2015 and 2020, as the number of unhoused people soared.

Instead of being used to address L.A.’s acute homelessness crisis, the money was returned to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to data provided to The Times by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. More than 85% of the returned funds were earmarked for sorely needed permanent supportive housing.

LAHSA returned more than $29 million to HUD during the six-year period; the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles returned more than $82 million; and the Los Angeles County Development Authority returned nearly $38 million.

Asked why so much federal money went unspent, LAHSA spokesman Ahmad Chapman said in an email that, while the data are “imperfect,” his agency operates “in a climate where the rental market is so hard to access, it makes it very challenging to use all these resources.”

But the amount given back to HUD by the three agencies over the six years is more than the total amount of grants the federal housing agency awarded them in 2020, $133.1 million.

“Given the need in L.A., we want every single dollar utilized,” said Molly Rysman, LAHSA’s chief programs officer.

That’s not a realistic short-term goal given HUD’s “rigid” and “complex” funding system, which can make it difficult to spend funds quickly or reallocate money that can’t be used for its initial purpose, Rysman said. Instead, some of those federal dollars go unspent.

“We’ve said this to HUD over and over again,” she said. “We need a lot more flexibility.”

In emailed statements, the county and city housing authorities blamed their underspending on a range of issues. The county housing authority cited insufficient workable housing units and client referrals, poor credit and rental histories among the homeless population, and program attrition.

The city housing authority pointed to landlords’ unwillingness to rent to homeless people, the city’s tight rental market, and high unit turnover rates. It also blamed shortfalls by “program partners” in key areas including referrals, housing search assistance and case management.

A HUD spokesperson said in a statement that “[t]here are many reasons that HUD may recapture” funds. “In some cases, new projects take time to start up, and are not fully operational in time to expend their initial grants. Recipients may also have challenges finding housing units.”

The amount of money L.A. County’s continuum of care program returns to HUD annually has fallen from $30.2 million for grants that expired in 2019 to $21.1 million for grants that expired in 2021, according to a July LAHSA memo. The program is ledby LAHSA and coordinates housing funds for homeless people.

The memo described the recent decrease in unused HUD money as a “positive trend resulting from the sustained partnership and collaborative efforts aimed at improving the use of” the funds.

But affordable-housing developers decry the return of any funds, blaming red tape and government inefficiency for their underuse. Many say they could immediately use some of that money to house Angelenosin desperate need of assistance.

Deborah La Franchi is founder and chief executive of SDS Capital Group, which finances permanent supportive housing projects across Greater L.A. She said she was dismayed to learn that millions of federal dollars for permanent supportive housing are being returned each year by LAHSA and the city and county housing authorities.

“When Angelenos see funding reverting back to Washington, D.C., for homelessness when we have a homelessness crisis in our backyard, it creates a lack of confidence that the right solutions are in place,” she said.

::

Washington View Apartments is a stucco-and-tile complex in South L.A.’s University Park neighborhood, tucked between Crypto.com Arena and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum south of downtown. Its 122 units sit on an underused historic site once occupied by the city’s first full-service funeral home.

The complex has four new, multistory apartment buildings. It is a 1¼-acre example of:

The difficulties inherent in paying for and building permanent places to live for the more than 69,000 homeless people in Los Angeles.

The confusing web of government funding supporting that effort.

How HUD money could be used immediately — but often isn’t.

Over the last two months, dozens of previously unhoused people with disabilities, acute medical conditions, addiction or mental disorders have moved into permanent supportive units at Washington View.

“I really wanted it to be low-income because of my dad,” said developer and financier Fariba Atighehchi of L.A.-based Western Pacific Housing, choking up as she walked through the complex’s sunny courtyard. “It was his dream to do low-income housing. He never did it.”

As in other supportive housing complexes, residents have been chronically homeless, and the rent they pay each month is based on their income, which is often little more than a Supplemental Security Income check. A dedicated nonprofit partner provides on-site social services, addiction and mental health treatment, and other assistance for residents.

But not everyone who has moved into the Spanish Colonial Revival-style property in recent weeks is subsidized by a permanent supportive housing voucher.

Thirty of Washington View’s apartmentsare simple low-income housing units with no associated supportive services. That’s because, Atighehchi said and records show, for more than two years, the city and county repeatedly denied the development team’s requests to provide enough vouchers for all of Washington View’s units to include supportive services.

The rules for awarding project-based vouchers such as the ones Washington View sought impose a variety of limits, including on the percentage of units that can typically be subsidized by the vouchers.

But housing agencies across California and the U.S. often grant exemptions to the requirements, and the reasons given for denying Washington View’s requests ranged from a lack of available vouchers to the project’s location near a highway interchange. The development team was left with no choice but to move forward with just 91 supportive units.

If some of the money the city or county housing authorities gave back to HUD had instead been used to fund the complex’s final batch of requested vouchers or otherwise back the project, Atighehchi said, all of its apartments would soon be occupied by formerly chronically homeless people receiving assistance for their most urgent needs.

It would also allow her and her partners on the project to recoup their multimillion-dollar investment and pour the funds into other affordable housing projects they are developing in L.A. and San Bernardino counties.

But it’s not quite that simple, said Rysman of LAHSA. One of the main reasons HUD funds go unspent in L.A. is because “the money isn’t going to the most useful things,” she said.

“If what you want to see is more housing supply for people who are homeless, which is truly what we need,” Rysman said, HUD should fund more project-based vouchers, which pair rental assistance with specific housing units instead of with individual tenants.

“If we had more project-based vouchers,” she said, “we would have way more building.”

At the same time, Rysman acknowledged that her agency “probably need[s] to do a lot more” to pursue the repurposing of funds that go unspent.

The Housing Authority of the City of L.A. and the L.A. County Development Authority did not provide responses to detailed lists of questions about the unspent federal housing dollars.

The total cost of funding the additional 30 vouchers for Washington View would be about $300,000 per year, estimated the project’s development team, led by Atighehchi.

“All I need is 30 vouchers for these people that are coming in and they’re so happy,” she said.

::

Had the agencies that provide housing to those in need disbursed more of the federal money they returned to HUD, more people like Angel Martinez could have a roof over their heads and the services they need to survive.

Ever since he moved into Washington View Apartments last month, Martinez has taken to playing “Prenda del Alma” and other songs of his youth on his cherry red Fender acoustic-electric guitar in a park down the street.

His one-bedroom apartment is the first permanent home the 63-year-old has had since shortly after his last carpentry job ended more than a decade ago.

Martinez keeps pen and paper in his front button-down pocket to jot down lyrics for his own baladas. For decades after he moved to Long Beach from Mexico at age 25, he had always found ways to make ends meet. But that was no longer the case after the bottom fell out of the U.S. housing market.

“Remember 12 years ago there was no work for nobody?” asked Martinez, who was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Mexico. “It was 12 years ago. I know that because I always relate to my granddaughter’s age. When she was born, that was when everything happened. She’s 11 years old now.”

The construction industry took years to rebuild after the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession. During that extended downturn, Martinez lost his livelihood and his home. Sometimes he slept on the grass in parks around town. He lived in a truck for a while. He spent a few months in a shelter.

At the same time, his health was deteriorating. Diagnoses piled up. Today, Martinez suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and shoulder and back problems. He has an ulcer and a hernia.

So after he was released several months ago from the emergency room at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, where he’d been treated for severe stomach issues, a social worker helped get Martinez off the street.

“Nowadays it’s so difficult even to rent a room in a house. Some people ask for $1,000,” he said. “I cannot work. … How can I make that kind of money? It’s impossible.”

But as a disabled, low-income senior, he was eligible for one of Washington View’s permanent supportive housing units via one of the 91 HUD-funded vouchers the complex has been granted to subsidize the rent for such apartments.

Without the placement, Martinez said, he would still be in a medical rehab facility, waiting to find out where he’d be living.

“This is a miracle. And I’m going to keep it this clean all the time,” he said, as he sat on a sleek gray couch that came in the furnished unit, along with amenities such as central air conditioning and a dishwasher.

“When they don’t have a place like this … they send people to the shelters in downtown L.A.”

::

Diane Reed barked instructions at a pair of movers, as they loaded furniture, racks of clothing and other belongings from her 10-by-15-foot storage unit into a first-floor Washington View apartment.

“Just put it right there, and the TV stand’s going to go over there where that black chair is,” she told them one morning in early September, pivoting around her new open-concept living area. The 65-year-old beamed, recounting the perks of her new apartment: high ceilings, untouched oven and refrigerator, no more roommates.

Her apartment is in the same complex as Martinez’s, but supportive services are not included. Reed’s is standard affordable housing, meaning that income — not disability status or medical or mental health issues — was the key criterion necessary to qualify for her unit.

She also had to have been previously unhoused, a stipulation for any project financed in part by L.A.’s Proposition HHH Supportive Housing Loan Program, which voters approved in 2016 to help drive more permanent supportive housing development. Washington View received a $12-million loan from the program in 2018.

Affordable housing subsidized by HUD’s Section 8 program is in short supply. It’s a necessary part of the solution to the housing crisis that for decades has helped provide shelter for thousands of Angelenos. But the need is not as great and the circumstances of people such as Reed who move into standard Section 8 units are not typically as dire as those who move into permanent supportive housing.

For about two decades Reed didn’t earn enough to afford her own place. She “slept in and out,” often crashing at family members’ homes, before she was selected via lottery to move into Washington View.

“I waited a long time. I’m so overwhelmed. It is a big day,” said Reed, who was born and raised in L.A. and has three adult children and five grandchildren. “It feels good to have your own space.”

As with other Section 8 housing, Reed’s rent is subsidized by HUD; she pays only 30% of her income to live in the apartment. But her apartment is not supportive housing; it’s one of the 30 affordable apartments that could instead be occupied by some of the very neediest people.

People like Daniel Castro, who never had his own apartment before he moved into a small one-bedroom permanent supportive housing unit at Washington View last month.

A self-described longtime “transient,” Castro said his kidney was removed when he was 8. Fifty-one years later, he suffers from a host of health problems, from scoliosis and hypertension to an enlarged prostate and chronic kidney disease.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

1 killed, 3 Injured in East Oakland Shootout During Attempted Brink’s Truck Robbery

One person was killed and three were injured Friday afternoon in a shootout during the attempted robbery of a Brink’s security truck in East Oakland, police and witnesses said.

The attempted robbery occurred around 2 p.m. in the parking lot of a NAPA Auto Parts store on the 4400 block of International Boulevard and left one Brink’s employee injured at the scene and an apparent would-be robber dead, police and witnesses said. Two more people transported themselves to a hospital with injuries, including one whom police described as an innocent bystander.

As of Saturday afternoon, the wounded people who sustained gunshot wounds remained in stable condition, said a spokesperson for the Oakland Police Department.

Two people who said they witnessed the violence described the scene to The Chronicle. Robbers made their move on the Brink’s truck after one security guard entered the NAPA Auto Parts store, leaving one guard with the truck, said Rafael Barrazos, who sells used cars on International Boulevard and was walking across the bustling street near a taco truck when the shooting began.

“They waited till one of the guards was by himself,” Barrazos said. “The guns started going off right after. The way the bullets were flying I told everyone getting tacos to get down, and it felt like the bullets were going above our heads.”

When the gunfire ended, two people were lying on the ground — the person police said was killed was down besides the Brink’s truck, and the Brink’s guard went down in the roadway on International, just outside the parking lot where the truck was parked.

Barrazos said he saw an injured, shirtless man run from 44th Avenue toward the person lying next to the Brink’s truck, grab what appeared to be a gun from the victim, then jump into a white Toyota Rav-4 that fled the scene.

Oakland resident Elizabeth, who wished to be identified only by her first name, said the violence erupted as she was taking her daily walk down International between 44th and 45th avenues.

“I saw one man and then another — both with masks,” Elizabeth told The Chronicle, adding that the shooting renewed feelings of anxiety. “You can’t take your kids out when you like, you can’t put any jewelry on — it’s just gotten out of control here in our neighborhood.”

Before first responders arrived on the scene, a crowd of people tried to help the injured Brink’s worker, a scene captured on video posted on social media. A body could be seen lying next to the Brink’s truck.

Arriving officers pronounced the victim next to the truck dead at the scene, police said. The Brink’s worker was rushed to the hospital, police said. Two other men arrived to a local hospital separately, also with gunshot wounds, police added. One of those was an innocent bystander who had been struck by gunfire, police said.

At least 21 markers indicated bullet casings at the scene.

“We know that there was a white vehicle that was involved in this incident occupied by several individuals,” Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said at the scene in a video posted by KTVU. Armstrong said the department is looking for video of the people in an attempt to identify them.

A person who answered the phone at the NAPA Auto Parts store declined to discuss the shooting and hung up.

A spokesperson for Brink’s said the company is aware of the incident and working with law enforcement but couldn’t provide any additional information. The company is a worldwide security powerhouse with more than 16,000 security vehicles. Some employees are armed with weapons to guard money and valuables during transport.

“It’s been a tough week in the city of Oakland,” Armstrong said. “We have seen several homicides this week. We ask the community to continue to help get rid of the guns that plague our community.”

The shooting marked Oakland’s 92nd homicide of the year, he said.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

California Governor Urges Overhaul of Democrats’ Strategy

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an overhaul of Democrats’ political strategy on Saturday, saying the party is “getting crushed” by Republicans in part because they are too timid, often forced to play defense while Republicans “dominate with illusion.”

Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas — the territory of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, one of Newsom’s chief political foils — Newsom was careful to praise current party leaders like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But he said that mantras that may have worked for the party in the past — like Michele Obama’s famous quip “when they go low, we go high,” — simply don’t work today because “that’s not the moment we’re living in right now.”

“These guys are ruthless on the other side,” Newsom said. “Where are we? Where are we organizing, bottom up, a compelling alternative narrative? Where are we going on the offense every single day? They’re winning right now.”

Newsom said that’s why — even though he is running for reelection as governor of California — he has been spending some of the millions of dollars in his campaign account on TV ads in Florida urging people to move to California, newspaper ads in Texas decrying the state’s gun laws, and putting up billboards in seven states urging women to come to California if they need an abortion.

“There’s nothing worse than someone pointing fingers. What are you going to do about it?” Newsom said. “The reason we’re doing those ads is because … the Democratic Party needs to be doing more of it.”

Of course, the main reason Newsom can do those things is because he faces little pressure at home. Newsom is likely to cruise to a second term as governor of California in November, facing a little-known and underfunded Republican challenger one year after defeating a recall attempt.

Newsom’s actions have increased speculation he might be running for president, an idea he has repeatedly denied — doing so again on Saturday in Texas. Asked if he was considering running for president in 2024 or 2028, Newsom said: “No, not happening.”

“I cannot say it enough,” he said. “I never trust politicians, so I get why you keep asking.”

Newsom said that President Joe Biden’s first two years in office have been “a master class … on substance and policy.” But later, he said good governance, by itself, is not enough to win elections — adding that “otherwise Biden would be at 75% approval.” In reality, about 53% of U.S. adults disapprove of Biden, according to the most recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The problem for Democrats, Newsom said, is that they “fall in love so easily” with “the guy or gal on the white horse to come save the day.”

“We missed a more important paradigm that leadership is not defined by that person in formal authority, it’s defined by people with moral authority every single day,” he said.

Newsom’s aggressiveness could end up helping Abbott, who is locked in a more competitive race with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Kenneth Grasso, a political science professor at Texas State University, said there has been concern among some in the Republican Party that Abbott is “not conservative enough.” Newsom’s attacks against Abbott “only helps him with those people,” Grasso said.

“If you stress that they’re right-wingers, you call them extremists, using that kind of language, all you are going to do is enhance their popularity in their own base,” he said.

Despite that risk, Texas Democrats seem to be welcoming Newsom’s attention.

“I like this guy,” Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said of Newsom. “I like the way he’s showing the contrast between what y’all do in California and what the narrow-minded, extremist positions that occur here in the state of Texas.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Former Union Leader Charged with Embezzling Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Union Dues

Felix Luciano, 60, of San Diego, was arraigned Friday in San Diego federal court

A former Department of Homeland Security officer and head of a labor union accused of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the union he represented has been indicted in federal court in San Diego, according to prosecutors.

Felix Luciano, 60, of San Diego, was arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in San Diego on charges, including wire fraud and making false statements, stemming from allegations he used money from the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2805 for his own benefit.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury and pleaded not guilty.

No defense attorney for Luciano could be reached immediately Friday evening.

Prosecutors said Luciano, a former enforcement removal officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was president of the labor union that represents DHS-ICE employees in San Diego and Imperial counties from 2011 through December 2018. Among his duties was to maintain the “fiscal integrity of the organization,” prosecutors said.

He retired in December 2018, when the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards was conducting an audit of Local 2805.

According to the indictment, Luciano used union dues to pay for personal expenses for himself and his wife between December 2013 and January 2019. The expenses included luxury travel, personal credit card payments, website design for his wife’s business, a custom gun safe, dining and groceries, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Prosecutors allege that Luciano used the union’s debit and credit card to pay his personal expenses and wrote checks to himself from the union’s checking account using false descriptions like “per diem” in the memo lines.

He then concealed his actions by reporting false information on the union’s annual financial reports, prosecutors said. On a 2017 report, Luciano allegedly reported that Local 2805 had disbursed $3,068 to him (directly or indirectly) when the correct figure was more than $20,000, prosecutors said.

“When employees pay their hard-earned money into labor unions, they reasonably expect the officers of those organizations to be honest stewards of their dues,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Our office will work diligently to pursue justice against offenders who have allegedly stolen from their own unions at the expense of members.”

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune