Judge Halts California Capitol Annex Remodel Over CA Environmental Law Violations

Why does the Legislature always violate CEQA?

In September 2020, while the state was still suffering under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s oppressive COVID restrictions of lockdowns, and business and school closures, the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Committee on Rules held a hearing on the plans for the $1.2 billion renovation of the State Capitol while ignoring actual state business urgencies.

Then-Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) told the Globe, “The issues we should be holding hearings on aren’t happening. But the Legislature can spruce up its own digs.”

The State Capitol Annex Project entails a great deal, and it should for $1.2 billion.

Today we learn that the 3rd District Court of Appeals has blocked California’s $1.s billion plan to demo the five decade old Capitol building offices housing the governor and legislators. The appeals court said planners failed to consider options that would be less disruptive to the site’s appearance and public access – meaning that they violated California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

This wouldn’t be the first time lawmakers blew off their own draconian and byzantine environmental laws. The Golden One Arena sandwiched into downtown Sacramento, was shepherded by none other than then-Senate Pro tem Darrell Steinberg, now the Mayor of Sacramento.

In 2013, I first predicted Steinberg would author some kind of CEQA exemption for the proposed new arena.

CEQA is often called “the tort lawyer full employment act.” So his SB 731 billed as a “CEQA reform bill” could actually be called the “Sacramento Kings full employment act.”

Steinberg claimed he was pursuing CEQA reform before the Sacramento city council approved the arena deal in March. But city officials spent 13 prior years trying to build a publicly funded sports arena. And Steinberg, a former Sacramento city councilman before becoming the state senator for the city, has been involved every step of the way.

Steinberg’s bill, actually allowed the city to bypass addressing real traffic impacts in its Environmental Impact Report on the arena project, among other environmental impacts. And he and his staff lied about it when I directly asked if they were seeking CEQA exemptions.

This wasn’t the first such environmental exemption. A proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles for a pro football team in 2012, and the new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara each received CEQA exemptions.

In an April 2022 Globe interview, according to Paula Peper, a now-retired Urban Ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, and appointed member of the Historic State Capitol Commission, there are 860 trees with 210 different types of species in the the California State Capitol Nationally Registered Historic Park. First plantings began in 1874 and continue through to today.

The new underground Capitol renovation parking is sacrificing 150 to 180 trees surrounding the Capitol, including two huge Southern Magnolia trees with circumferences of 61″ and 31″ each. Peper says trees of that size and maturity cannot be transplanted. And the cost to even try is at $100,000 each.

Peper said they found out that in May 2021 that the Legislature signed a Memorandum of Understanding to go directly to demolition and then to build the new building, without telling the members of the Historic State Capitol Commission.

“This is affecting trees on all four sides of the Capitol,” Peper said.

She explained that of the 860 trees in Capitol Park, many are very old and were given to California as gifts from foreign countries or other states. “The City of Sacramento has only a 50% success rate with moving Palm Trees in the city,” Peper said. “The trees were planted between 1898 and 1903. I have never seen Palms this size moved successfully.”

According to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA):

“The project would demolish and reconstruct the existing 325,000 square foot existing Capitol Annex building with a new approximately 525,000 square foot building. The project would address numerous deficiencies in the existing building, including: life safety/building code deficiencies, non-compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, overcrowding, aging and failing infrastructure, and insufficient public and working space. A new underground visitors/welcome center would be located between 10th Street and the west steps of the Capitol. Existing basement parking under the Annex would be abandoned and replaced with new underground parking (approx. 200 spaces) on the south side of the Capitol.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

State officials did not offer “a reasonable range of alternatives that fostered informed public participation and decision-making,” Justice Harry Hull wrote in a mostly unanimous ruling for a three-judge panel. “Decision-makers and the public were never given an alternative to the project as DGS (the Department of General Services) had defined it.”

For one thing, Hull said, planners failed to discuss an option offered by objectors to move the visitors’ center to the south side of the Capitol, a change that would “substantially lessen significant impacts to the Capitol’s historic west façade and the West Lawn.” He said the state also failed to mention the proposed glass exterior, a late addition to the plan, in its description of the new building when it invited public comments.

Former Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Sacramento), who just lost his reelection bid to new Assemblyman Josh Hoover (R-Sacramento), led the Capitol Annex renovation project on the Joint Legislative Rules Committee. Peper said the committee and Cooley were ignoring the Environmental Impact Report, and bypassing California’s Environmental Quality Act in the process. She was concerned that within one decade, Capitol Park will have lost 27% of its trees.

The Capitol Park and Capitol Building are on the National Register of Historic Places, Peper said. “Yet the Joint Rules Committee never submitted renovation plans to the State Preservation Officer at the State Historical Commission,” Peper said. “She had already questioned them: ‘Are we going to have 4 or 5 EIRs coming to us?’”

“Cooley did not answer. We told him, ‘we assume you are going to follow all parts of CEQA, and look at the renovation, rehabilitation,’” Peper said. “And he did not answer. He already knew.”

“It’s all been so sneaky and so secretive,” Peper said. And she said Cooley and the committee refused their California Public Records Act request for information.

There have been four lawsuits filed seeking to halt the Capitol renovation. Two of the cases are Environmental Impact Report cases, and one charges that the Legislature failed to take advantage of the opportunity to reuse the historic building.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

California Labor Secretary Abruptly Exits Post in Gavin Newsom’s Cabinet

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s top adviser on California labor issues abruptly left her post this week under uncertain circumstances. Natalie Palugyai, who Newsom appointed as secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency in July 2021, is no longer with the department, the governor’s office and the agency confirmed Wednesday. In the interim, Undersecretary Stewart Knox is serving as Acting Labor Secretary.

The governor’s office and labor agency did not provide a reason for her departure or any other details. Palugyai could not immediately be reached for comment. Confirmation of Palugyai’s departure did not follow the typical process used by the governor’s press office, which routinely releases announcements about new appointments and departures on its website. The state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency still had a page up on its website listing Palugyai as secretary until early Wednesday afternoon, when a reporter from this news organization inquired about her exit and the page was taken down.

“We thank Natalie Palugyai for her work in the administration and wish her well in her next chapter,” Erin Mellon, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, wrote in an email. Palugyai, who was earning a salary of more than $227,000, was the first Latina to serve in the role. Prior to joining the agency, she held positions at the U.S. Department of Labor, FEMA and Johns Hopkins University. The state’s labor secretary is a cabinet position in the governor’s administration. The secretary oversees state departments and boards that enforce labor laws, combat wage theft, provide state disability and unemployment insurance benefits and fund workforce training and apprenticeship programs. They then provide insight and advise the governor on those issues.

Click here to read the full article in the Sacramento Bee

Assembly Republicans Introduce ‘California Promise’ Priorities, Solutions

‘We can have a California that is affordable to live in, safe for our families and where our kids get the best education’

In October, Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher first introduced Republicans’ “California Promise.” He enumerated the many serious issues Californians are feeling, including the high cost of living in California, rising crime, criminals released early, rapidly expanding homeless encampments, highest-in-the-nation gas prices, high food costs, water shortages, wildfires, the failing education system… issues the Democrat supermajority in the California Legislature doesn’t want to address, so they kill Republicans’ bills.

Under Democrats’ failed one-party rule, the California Dream is slipping away for most Californians, Gallagher said in October. He said by highlighting the most important issues impacting the California people and the state, and showing the Republican solutions, California Promise aims to get the state back on track.

On the first day of the new 2023-2024 legislative session Monday, Assembly Republicans held a press conference to announce their priorities, along with several specific legislative proposals. Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said the “California Promise” package of solutions is desperately needed to address a number of the state’s biggest issues, from affordability to crime, homelessness, education, water and wildfires.

“Republicans are here in Sacramento to make something abundantly clear: We can have a California that is affordable to live in, safe for our families and where our kids get the best education,” Gallagher said. “The Democrat super-majority has two options… They can either stand in the way of progress, or they can join us to help better the lives of millions of Californians. Republicans are the party of innovative solutions and we are ready to act on Day 1.”

Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher and Assemblyman Jim Patterson are returning Assembly members, along with newly elected Assemblyman Juan Alanis, Assemblywoman Diane Dixon, Assemblyman Bill Essayli, Assemblyman Josh Hoover, Assemblyman Joe Patterson, Assemblywoman Kate Sanchez, and Assemblyman Tri Ta. They said the issues plaguing California continue, from the highest in the nation taxes, the cost of living, crime and public safety, highest in the nation transportation costs, public education and holding schools accountable, early release from prison of convicted criminals, water storage and conveyance, wildfires, human trafficking, and homelessness.

Here is Assembly Republicans’ California Promise:

Affordability

Repeal Gas Tax:

  1. Gas Tax Holiday – Suspends the state’s gas tax for one year to reduce gas prices by ~50cents/gallon. Enacts a “gas tax holiday” to provide immediate relief at the pump, and backfills lost transportation revenues from the state’s General Fund. Joint Authors: Asm. Vince Fong, Asm. Juan Alanis, Asm. Josh Hoover
  2. Gas Tax Annual Increase Suspension – Allows the Governor to suspend the annual gas tax increase due to hardship on low-income and middle class families. Provides an escape hatch to prevent gas taxes from automatically increasing as Californians struggle with record high gas prices and 40-year high inflation. Author: Asm. Diane Dixon

Housing/Homelessness:

  1. Encourage Housing – Provide a property tax bonus to cities and counties that approvemore housing by redirecting funds from the document-recording fee (SB 2, Atkins, 2017). Incentivize locals to provide more housing production rather than imposing state mandates will speed the permit and review process, thereby increasing affordability for Californians. Author: Asm. Josh Hoover
  2. Regional Shelters for Homeless – Budget request to redirect funding that has been recently drawn back from counties and cities to fund existing and newly-created regional Joint Powers Authority (JPA) trusts that provide shelter and services. Author: Asm. James Gallagher
  3. Homeless Encampments. Legislation that would ban homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools. (*there are some penalty concerns that it would be a ticket that the homeless could not or would not pay. If we make it a misdemeanor it would come with a short jail sentence.) Author: Asm. Josh Hoover

Energy:
1. Repeal Nuclear Moratorium – Under this proposal, development of new nuclear energy

facilities in California will be permitted once again. Nuclear power is reliable, safe, and clean, and California desperately needs such a resource to overcome its electricity challenges Author: Asm. Devon Mathis

Tax Cuts:

  1. Working Families Tax Credit – Provide an additional income tax credit to helpworking taxpayers afford the expense of child care. Reduces state income tax an additional $500.00 for taxpayers that have child care costs. Joint Authors: Asm. Laurie Davies and Asm. Jim Patterson
  2. Renters Tax Credit Expansion – Change the income eligibility for the Renters’ Tax Credit to allow more taxpayers to qualify for the benefit. Allow more taxpayers to receive this benefit by increasing the income level to reflect the median income in California. Author: Asm. James Gallagher
  3. Lower Income Tax Rates for the Middle Class – Reduce the tax burden on the middle class by reducing income tax rates for those middle- and low-income taxpayers. Allow taxpayers to keep more of their wages. Author: Asm. Juan Alanis

Public Safety

  1. Early Release Transparency – Requires the record of a prison inmate’s early release calculation to be made available to the public upon request – Provides that the calculation for a particular inmate’s date of release from prison is a public record which must be disclosed upon request: This would provide that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may not withhold these types of records from public disclosure. Author: Asm. Diane Dixon
  2. Increase Penalty for the Sale, Possession for Sale, and Transportation of Fentanyl – Increase penalties for possession for sale, sale, transportation, and importation, or offering or attempting to commit those acts with regard to fentanyl, a powerful opiate drug.: This proposal would increase the penalties associated with illegal drug trafficking of this dangerous drug. Joint Authors: Asm. Jim Patterson, Asm. Juan Alanis, Asm. Josh Hoover
  1. Restore Pre-Prop 47 Felonies – Increase penalties for serial theft crimes: Reenact thepenalties which existed for the crime of committing petty theft with multiple prior theft- related convictions which existed prior to their repeal by Proposition 47 of 2014. This change requires approval by the voters. Joint Authors: Asm. Josh Hoover, Asm. Laurie Davies
  2. Human Trafficking – Requires the Office of Emergency Services to create grants for prosecutors to use “vertical prosecution” in human trafficking cases: This would, conditional on an appropriation by the Legislature, provide funding to up to 11 counties to use a system in which the same prosecutor handles all stages of the human trafficking case, saving the victim from being traumatized by having to deal with multiple prosecutors and allowing that prosecutor to develop expertise in these cases. Author: Asm. Kate Sanchez
  3. Victim Restitution – Expand direct restitution paid by convicted criminals to their victims to include “non-economic damages” in additional violent felony offense cases: This would add criminal offenders who commit rape, stalking, kidnapping, mayhem, human trafficking, and one kind of child sexual abuse omitted from existing law to the existing child sexual abuse exception to the general rule that direct restitution orders do not apply to the victim’s “non-economic damages.” Author: Asm. Tom Lackey
  4. Gun Violence – Restore the mandatory nature of the 10-20-Life law firearms enhancements: This will ensure that anyone who brandishes, discharges, or inflicts great bodily injury with a firearm during the commission of a specified violent felony will be held accountable. Author: Asm. Bill Essayli
  5. Sentencing Enhancements: Exempts firearms use-related sentencing enhancements from a current law requirement judges must dismiss a sentencing enhancement if it is “in the furtherance of justice.” Instead provides that a judge would not be required to dismiss the enhancements for criminal defendants who commit felonies while armed with, or while using, firearms during the commission of a felony, ensuring these criminals will serve longer sentences. Author: Asm. Tri Ta

Education

  1. Curriculum Transparency Revised – Promotes transparency of school curriculum: Requires local education agencies to notify parents about their right to review curriculum. Ensures that parents know they may review school curriculum. Author: Asm. Joe Patterson
  2. Education Act – This proposal will allow students to transfer to another school within a district or to another school outside of the district if the school the student attends is in the red or orange performance band in two or more of the state measures for three consecutive years on the school dashboard. Establishing this accountability will allow the students affected by a struggling school to choose another school within the district or in another school district; this will increase education equity for our students who will suffer if they are forced to remain in struggling schools. Author: Asm. Josh Hoover
  3. Freedom to Choose Excellence in Education Act – This proposal will allow students in the lowest performing subgroup at a school to transfer to another school within a district or to another school outside of the district if the school the student attends is in the red or orange performance band in two or more of the state measures for three consecutive years on the school dashboard. Establishing this accountability will allow the students most affected by a struggling school to choose another school within the district or in another school district; this will increase education equity for our most vulnerable students who suffer under the achievement gap and are most likely to suffer if they are forced to remain in struggling schools. Author: Asm. Bill Essayli
  4. Money Follows Student – Require supplemental and concentration grants to follow pupils to their school site would ensure those funds generated by those pupils are spent on personnel and programs to serve those pupils. This would enact the “backpack” method of distributing supplemental funds, rather than allow the “dump truck” policy to continue. Author: Asm. Kate Sanchez
  5. Protecting Students from Drug Overdose – Require schools to have an opioid antagonist (Narcan) onsite to rescue students from an accidental overdose: Requires each school to have no less than two doses Narcan onsite to be available to aid persons suffering from an opioid overdose. Ensures that our schools are prepared for the potential of an opioid overdose, which is becoming more common as Fentanyl is flooding into California and doses have been made to look like prescription drugs and even candy. Author: Asm. Joe Patterson

6. CTE Expansion – Expand and stabilize career technical education (CTE): Increases funding for the
Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program (CTEIG) and provides funding for regional career technical education coordinators. Expresses the state’s commitment to effective programs for our working class families through high quality CTE. Author: Asm. Josh Hoover

Water & Fire

Water:

  1. Water Project Shot Clock – Require Timely Department Permitting Decisions for WaterSupply Projects Require state agencies within the Natural Resources Agency to make determinations on permit applications needed for the construction or operation of a large water supply project. Author: Asm. Devon Mathis
  2. Codify Water Storage Goals – Codify the goal of achieving 3.7MAF (million acre feet) of new water storage by 2030 and 4MAF by 2040 set in Governor Newsom’s administrations “Water Supply Strategy.” Author: Asm. Devon Mathis
  3. Water Projects – Expedited Judicial Review – Add water storage and conveyance projects that increases water supply to the types of projects that can benefit from an existing streamlined judicial review process for lawsuits under the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). Reduces costs and delays by expediting lawsuits under CEQA for projects that provide water to Californians. Joint Authors: Asm. Bill Essayli, Asm. Vince Fong
  4. Guaranteed Funding For Healthy Forests & Water – Constitutional Amendment for Base Level of Funding for Water, Forests: Require 3% of General Fund revenues for the State’s water infrastructure needs (1.5%) and for Healthy Forest and Wildfire prevention activities (1.5%). Places guaranteed funding for critical investments needed to ensure available water for the environment and people. Places guaranteed funding for environmental health of our forested lands, which will combat wildfire risk and spur workforce development in rural areas of the state. Author: Asm. Juan Alanis

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

LA City Council Adopts Styrofoam Ban Starting in April of 2023

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday, Dec. 6, to ban the sale and distribution of Styrofoam products by businesses, starting in April 2023 for businesses with more than 26 employees and extending the policy to smaller businesses in April 2024.

Additionally, the council adopted an ordinance to apply the city’s regulation on single-use paper and plastic bags ban to more shops and a third ordinance to implement a “zero waste” policy at city facilities and events.

This week’s vote was just the latest in a series of actions the council has taken over the past decade to reduce Angelenos’ reliance on the use of plastic, including a decision in 2013 to ban grocery stores from providing single-use plastic bags and another decision last year that restricted restaurants from providing plastic straws, utensils and other dining accessories unless a customer requested them.

“This world is drowning in plastic,” Council President Paul Krekorian said during a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s vote. In fact, he said, there is so much micro-plastic in the environment that “in any given week, every one of us ingests enough plastic from food and water to make a credit card.”

He added that less than 10% of all plastic ever manufactured has been recycled.

“This myth that somehow we can recycle our way out of this problem has to be identified for the lie that it is,” said Krekorian.

The ordinance the council adopted Tuesday prohibits the sale and distribution of expanded polystyrene products, commonly referred to as Styrofoam.

Styrofoam products aren’t biodegradable or economically recyclable, and their main component, styrene, has been classified as a possible human carcinogen, according to the ordinance. Chemicals can also leach into food stored in Styrofoam containers, and such products could end up in open spaces, rivers and oceans.

Emily Parker, a coastal and marine scientist with Heal the Bay, said single-use plastics “wreak havoc” on our bodies and ecosystems and that Styrofoam represented the “most egregious of all forms of plastic.”

“Plastic has its place, but using a material that was designed to last forever in something that is used only once — often for just moments — does not make any sense,” she said.

But not everyone in the city supported the ordinance.

Victor Reyes, legislative affairs manager with the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, told the council before its vote that rather than pass the ordinance, the city should defer to a state bill passed earlier this year that aims for a major reduction of plastics use — though Senate Bill 54 does not ban polystyrene outright.

“This new law should be given time to work before local government adopts separate packaging requirements,” Reyes said. “A statewide uniform set of rules can help drive system efficiency and ensure materials are available that are best suited and cost-effective for specific uses and customers.”

Reyes said VICA supports policies that “expand recycling programs, reduce waste and create new markets for recovered materials,” but that it believes these objectives are better achieved under the state law.

The council nevertheless voted 12-0 to adopt the ordinance, which does not apply to health and residential care facilities.

In addition to the Styrofoam ban, the council on Tuesday voted for an ordinance to promote the use of reusable bags.

In 2013, the council passed an ordinance banning single-use paper and plastic bags at grocery stores, pharmacies and specified retailers.

This week, elected officials expanded that policy to include more shops, including retail stores like Macy’s, hardware stores, big-box stores and farmers markets. Under the newly adopted ordinance, shops can’t provide single-use plastic bags but must offer or provide reusable bags or single-use recyclable paper bags. Customers will be charged 10 cents per single-use paper bag with limited exceptions.

Additionally, the council voted to prohibit single-use plastic foodware at city facilities and at events on city property and to require any vendor contracting with the city to donate surplus edible food to a food rescue organization and recycle food scraps to cut down on waste.

“Today, Los Angeles is once again taking the lead in defense of our environment,” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who chairs the council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Daily News

Restaurant Groups Submit Over 1 Million Signatures For Fast Food Labor Referendum

623,000 Valid Signatures Needed To Become Proposition in 2024

A group of restaurants and restaurant trade groups submitted over 1 million signatures to the California Secretary of State’s office on Monday, likely enough to place a measure on the ballot over the fate of AB 257, a bill to create new labor union style of council to set minimum health, safety and employment standards across the California fast food industry.

The fight over Assembly Bill 257,  authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) , began in February when Holden initially introduced the bill. Over the next several months, proponents and opponents of the bill fought in the Assembly and Senate over it. The bill, also known as the FAST Act, was subsequently pared down, eventually settling on creating a Fast Food Council of 10 members comprised of worker’s delegates, employer’s representatives and state officials that would set minimum wages, working conditions, and set hours for fast food employees in the state.

Many proponents, such as labor unions, zeroed in on the notion that wages could rise to as high as $22 an hour under the law, while many restaurant and franchise groups greatly opposed AB 257, noting that restaurants would be hit unfairly hard by the bill, with many being more likely to close due to the industry still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent economic troubles. Increased prices due to supply chain delays and an industry-wide worker shortage were also held up as big issues that were left unresolved by the bill being passed.

Despite this, AB 257 passed the legislature in late August, with Governor Gavin Newsom signing he bill into law in early September. However, the victory was short lived, as a coalition of restaurants, formed Save Local Restaurants, and immediately filed for a referendum over the bill. While bill proponents initially dismissed the referendum effort as nothing more than restaurants angry over the bill being passed, job losses and higher costs in fast food restaurants became an effect of the bill and quickly changed voters minds in the last several months.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, the group needed to get around 623,000 signatures by December 5th in order to make the November 2024 ballot and put a temporary halt on the bill while the matter is settled at the ballot box. On Monday, Save Local Restaurants announced that over 1 million signatures had been gathered. Some signatures are expected to be uncountable due to the voter not being registered, or being a double signature, or other reasons. Even with this, Save Local Restaurants noted in a press release that they are confident that it will be on the November 2024 ballot.

“The FAST Act would have an enormous impact on Californians, and clearly voters want a say in whether it should stand,” said Save Local Restaurants. “The measure would establish an unelected council to control labor policy in the counter-service restaurant industry, cause food prices to increase by as much as 20% during a period of decades-high inflation, and harm thousands of small family-, minority-, and women-owned businesses across the state. Given less than one-third of Californians support AB 257, it is no surprise that over one million Californians have voiced their concerns with the legislation. The Save Local Restaurants coalition is committed to helping ensure this bad law will not go into effect and voters have their voices heard.”

A possible end for AB 257

Opponents quickly challenged the signatures on Monday, with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) alleging that some signatures were obtained fraudulently by having petitioners pay voters to sign the petition. While the Secretary of State could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation  into that  was currently ongoing, they also noted that counting signatures would begin soon.

“Both sides were really passionate about this,” explained James Kramer, a Baltimore-based proposition tracker, to the Globe on Monday. “Fast food workers and unions, they really want this to go through because they want more of a say and they want to set some of the standards themselves. Fast food companies and local managers, they are very worried that this will lead to higher costs and having to fire people. But the voters? California is interesting because as liberal as many think the state is, there is a fair track record of voters just shutting down anything like this when they get a chance. They stopped sportsbook betting this year, they’ve stopped affirmative action several times in the past, and those people for this law know this. No voter, especially those being hurt economically right now, wants to hear of higher prices in anything, and that’s what this law does essentially.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Meet the Beijing-Aligned Group That Branded a Republican’s Tough-on-China Rhetoric ‘Racist’

The Chinese-American nonprofit that branded a Republican congresswoman’s tough-on-China campaign ads “racist” has extensive ties to Chinese Communist Party influence groups and Beijing-backed companies through its members, staff, and former leaders, a Washington Free Beacon investigation found.

In late October, with the 2022 midterms just two weeks away, the Committee of 100—a nonprofit that works to “advance U.S.-China relations”—issued a statement condemning China-related campaign ads from California Republican Michelle Steel. Those ads, which the committee said included “racist attacks” that encouraged “anti-Asian hate and violence,” criticized Democrat challenger Jay Chen’s past support for the Confucius Classroom program, a CCP-run initiative that provides American K-12 schools with Beijing-backed teachers and curriculum materials.

The committee’s decision to wade into the race—a rare one, given that the nonprofit usually avoids electoral politics in favor of commenting on academic research, legislative developments, and federal appointments—sparked attention from mainstream media outlets and liberal groups. Within days of its release, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the statement to declare that the Asian-American community had turned on Steel, with the Times and NPR innocuously describing the Committee of 100 as “a New York-based nonprofit led by prominent Chinese Americans” and a group that “represents Chinese Americans.” Those descriptions, however, ignore the fact that many of the nonprofit’s members, staff, and former leaders have extensive ties to CCP-controlled groups and Chinese state-backed companies—ties that have led some China experts to assert that the committee is a crucial target for the CCP’s foreign influence efforts.

Committee member Ronnie Chan, for example, serves on the governing board of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a CCP-funded Chinese foreign agent whose founder, billionaire Chinese national Tung Chee-hwa, is the vice chairman of a CCP advisory body. Fellow member Yu Meng, meanwhile, for three years worked as a top officer at the Chinese government-controlled State Administration of Foreign Exchange, a job that China’s Thousand Talents Program—which the FBI says engages in “non-traditional espionage against the United States”—reportedly recruited him to take. Meng in 2015 told CCP propaganda rag People’s Daily that he was inspired to take the job due to his commitment to “the motherland.” Former committee chairman Dominic Ng also served on the board of the Asia Society, which worked to spread Confucius Institutes—the CCP-run higher education equivalent of Confucius Classrooms that a former top Chinese official called “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”—across the United States.

Committee of 100 members and staff have also partnered with Chinese state-backed companies and propaganda outlets. Senior communications director Charles Zinkowski, for example, previously managed U.S. media relations for Huawei, a CCP tech company that has helped the Chinese government surveil Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps. The United States on Wednesday banned the approval of new Huawei tech over the company’s “unacceptable risk” to national security. Committee member Guoqing Chen, meanwhile, cofounded majority state-owned Hainan Airlines, while fellow member Chi Wang serves as president of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation, which has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in funding from Huawei, CCP-run newspaper China Daily, and China’s largest state-owned banks.

Those affiliations may explain why Chinese president Xi Jinping praised the Committee of 100 as a “friendly group” in 2015. They may also explain why the CCP’s “United Front” system—which aims to advance Beijing’s interests by influencing foreign individuals—has used the committee to pressure members to “toe the Party line,” according to a 2019 Hoover Institution report. Some of the committee’s former leaders, meanwhile, are reportedly part of that system. Former committee director George Koo is an “overseas director” of the China Overseas Friendship Association, a CCP-led foreign influence group, according to the Hoover report. Former Committee of 100 chair and current member H. Roger Wang is an honorary chairman of the association’s local branch in Nanjing, Newsweek reported in 2020.

The Committee of 100, which did not return a request for comment, has denied allegations that it is linked to the CCP. But the nonprofit’s support for controversial CCP initiatives is well documented. In 2018, then-committee chair Wang toldChina Daily that the committee should “get actively involved” in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a CCP tool used to subjugate foreign nations through direct infrastructure investment. The committee also vocally opposed a Trump-era effort to prosecute Chinese spies but has refrained from condemning Beijing for its Uyghur genocide, Mark Simon, a former senior executive at the pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, wrote in a 2019 column.

“The Committee of 100 is a pro-Beijing group, concerned almost exclusively with the interests aligned with those of the Chinese Communist Party,” Simon wrote. “In all their discussions about the US-China relationship try to find any significant objection to the actions of the CCP. You won’t.”

The committee’s attacks on Steel ultimately did not sink the Republican. Steel in November defeated Chen by 5 points in California’s 45th Congressional District, which is home to nearly 150,000 Asian-American voters and which President Joe Biden carried by 6 points just two years ago. Steel’s success in a district with a large Asian-American presence, a veteran Republican operative told the Free Beacon, shows that the Republican Party’s push to combat China will remain at the center of the party’s electoral message for cycles to come. And if Democrats turn to groups such as the Committee of 100 to brand that message “racist,” it will only bolster Republicans, the operative argued.

Click here to read the entire article at the Washington Free Beacon

California Eyes Penalties for Oil Companies’ Big Profits

California could become the first state to fine big oil companies for making too much money, a reaction to the industry’s supersized profits following a summer of record-high gas prices in the nation’s most populous state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Democratic allies in the state Legislature introduced the proposal Monday as lawmakers returned to the state Capitol in Sacramento for the start of a special legislative session focused solely on the oil industry.

But the proposal was missing key details, including how much profit is too much for oil companies and what fine they would have to pay for exceeding it. Newsom’s office said those details would be sorted out later after negotiations with lawmakers. Any money from the fines would be returned to the public.

Gas prices are always higher in California because of taxes, fees and environmental regulations that other states don’t have. But in October, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in California was more than $2.60 higher than the national average — the biggest gap ever.

Newsom said there was no good way to justify that.

California could become the first state to fine big oil companies for making too much money, a reaction to the industry’s supersized profits following a summer of record-high gas prices in the nation’s most populous state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Democratic allies in the state Legislature introduced the proposal Monday as lawmakers returned to the state Capitol in Sacramento for the start of a special legislative session focused solely on the oil industry.

But the proposal was missing key details, including how much profit is too much for oil companies and what fine they would have to pay for exceeding it. Newsom’s office said those details would be sorted out later after negotiations with lawmakers. Any money from the fines would be returned to the public.

Gas prices are always higher in California because of taxes, fees and environmental regulations that other states don’t have. But in October, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in California was more than $2.60 higher than the national average — the biggest gap ever.

Newsom said there was no good way to justify that.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

New House Democratic Leader Defends Calling Trump ‘Illegitimate’ President

Newly elected House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries defended past remarks calling Donald Trump’s 2016 election “illegitimate” against Republican criticism, noting that he voted to certify his presidency.

“I will never hesitate in criticizing the former president,” Jeffries said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I think I’m in good company there across the world.”

Jeffries said Republicans “are going to have to work out their issues” with Trump after his comment Saturday on his Truth Social social-media site that his loss in 2020 should be overturned and that “rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” should be terminated. Jeffries called it “a strange statement.”

“Suspending the Constitution is an extraordinary step, but we’re used to extraordinary statements being made by the former president,” Jeffries said of Trump, who is running for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.

For their part, Republicans have criticized Jeffries after Democrats selected him to succeed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing tweets in which he said that Russian interference made the 2016 presidential election “illegitimate” and questioned whether Trump was a “fake president.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Jeffries an “election denier,” a term typically used to describe Trump and allies who refuse to accept his loss in 2020.

Jeffries said that he voted to certify Trump’s 2016 win, attended his inauguration and worked with his administration on issues like a treaty with Mexico and criminal justice reform.

“That track record speaks for itself,” he said.

The White House harshly criticized Trump’s latest claim of election fraud, calling the US constitution a “sacrosanct document.”

“Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation, and should be universally condemned,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement. “You cannot only love America when you win.”

Former Trump adviser John Bolton, who has since become one of his harshest critics, said on Twitter that “all real conservatives” should oppose his 2024 campaign, citing that statement.

“No American conservative can agree with Donald Trump’s call to suspend the Constitution because of the results of the 2020 election,” he wrote.

Republican Representative David Joyce, who chairs the moderate Republican Governance Group, said on “This Week” that he wasn’t going to respond to Trump’s latest statement, even if it was a call for suspending the US constitution.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

GLOBE EXCLUSIVE – EDD Has Paid Billions to Feds in Interest Alone

In the past 10 years the state has managed to not borrow to cover unemployment claims only twice

Since 1990, California’s unemployment agency – the EDD – has paid the feds $1,793,665,930 in interest alone to help keep its doors open and claimants paid.

That approximately $1.8 billion dollar figure does not include what the state currently owes in interest – another $48.8 million for this year so far as the agency has begun borrowing again, as the Globe reported here – nor is that figure adjusted for inflation to reflect value in current dollars.  

The inflation-adjusted number is significantly larger, approaching an estimated $3 billion.  

Not only does the loss of this literally wasted money contribute to the inability of the state unemployment trust fund to build a solid footing and has made reform of the agency more difficult, but it has also had to be paid for by state employers and workers, driving up business costs and being a general drag on the state’s economy. 

In the past 10 years – well before the pandemic – the state has managed to not borrow to cover unemployment claims only twice – in 2019 and 2020.  In that same time period, the EDD has paid $1.2 billion in interest, about $817 million from 2013 to 2018 and another $330 million this year.

Just since 2007, the state has borrowed $100 billion and since 2013 up to and including this year the EDD has paid about $1.2 billion in interest (the other $600 million interest paid occurred on borrowing between 1990 and 2007.)

It should be noted that much of the specifically-pandemic-related billions lent to the EDD were loaned interest free (as they were to every state.)

On top of this, the state – as of midnight Thursday night –  now owes another  $18,223,379,798.78 in principal and another $48,846,063.38 (as noted above) in interest.

EDD’s debt-reliant funding is somewhat analogous to a person who has a credit card, runs it up to the, say, $5,000 limit, pays the minimum due, say $200, and then the next day spends $200 using the same card. Or it’s like borrowing $100 from a loan shark on the condition of paying $125 back next week but only paying the $25 “vig” week in and week out in order to keep the use of your knees (luckily for all involved, it is doubtful that the Social Security Administration – which administers the loan program – would send its goons to the EDD’s Sacramento offices to “collect.”) 

It should be noted that the feds do not refuse to lend the money and tend to consider state (borrower)-initiated payment plans in order to make sure unemployment benefits claimants actually get the money they are entitled to. In other words, no matter the debt the money will flow through the EDD to the laid-off worker, as it does today.

It is true that the EDD has managed to occasionally pay the principal down to zero, but that state of being “off the schnide” is far from the typical condition of the financial affairs of the agency.

Like all states, California is allowed to borrow from a program called Title XII, a part of the Social Security system set up decades ago to “backstop” unemployment agencies experiencing what are supposed to be temporary difficulties. For example, a textile-heavy state that sees its mill jobs disappear and shipped overseas can access the funds to meet the concomitant spike in demand for benefits.

Unlike many other states, California must pay interest. Notably, which states pay interest varies from year to year, though California has not managed to qualify for interest-free money since 1990. The number of states that do qualify is usually between 20 and 28, or about half on the money it borrows, at a rate that has ranged over the years from about 1.7% to 2.5%.

The amount paid in interest – interest that brings no other gain along with it, like a mortgage leads to homeownership – could have funded a number of Governor Newsom’s pet green projects. For example, at $100 million a year (averaged and adjusted for inflation), the interest paid could have switched the funding of the state’s “methane satellites” program from just a one-off expense of $100 million this year to a dedicated annually funded project – not that that would be a good idea and, yes, methane satellites are exactly what they sound like – the state budgeted $100 million to help launch satellites dedicated to detecting methane emissions – basically, cows with the vapors; for more on this see here.

The state has one of the highest unemployment tax rates in the country, but, problematically, the lowest “base” rate possible.  Taxes are paid on only the first $7,000 of income per employee, meaning the part-time intern costs the same to insure as the CEO even though the amount in benefits they would receive if laid off are wildly different.  The state has not changed this base rate in about 50 years, while the benefits offered have risen dramatically since.

Additionally, the rates employers pay vary depending upon whether or not they have had significant layoffs and other similar issues that strain the unemployment system; “stable” employers can expect to pay only about one-third the rate of “problematic” ones, but the interest obligation to the feds is essentially paid equally by everyone.

“I think what policymakers may not realize is that the (interest) from Title XII loans also increases taxes on employers,” said Audrey Guo, Assistant Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University. “And these surcharges are less equitable because they penalize all California employers, even those that may not have previously laid off employees.”

Rationalizing the current tax and base rate numbers, said Guo, could “increase the tax cost for employers at the minimum and maximum, but other employers would actually experience tax rate decreases.”

As to why this problem has continued for more than 30 years, it is not clear, though it is possible that EDD employees know they can’t get fired for incompetence nor be rewarded for innovating changes.

“I’m not sure why California has lagged behind other states,” said Andrew Johnston, assistant professor of economics at UC-Merced.  “But California’s largesse in some areas has meant that it doesn’t do basic service on the core of its social safety net, including its dilapidated education system and its bankrupt unemployment insurance program,” 

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Column: At the DWP, The Pay is Good, the Benefits are Better and the Deals Keep Getting Sweeter

More than once over the years, when people have complained about how hard it is to survive in a low-wage economy with such crippling healthcare costs, I’ve recommended they apply for work at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

I was reminded a few days ago, as terms of the new DWP contract were revealed, that this is still solid advice. And there’s more good news: the utility, never far removed from scandal, is hiring.

In a story by Dakota Smith, The Times reported that Mayor Eric Garcetti was backing a handsome pay hike for water and power employees after an 11-0 vote by the Los Angeles City Council.

The highlights:

Roughly 10,000 employees of the all-powerful campaign-donation factory known as Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will get raises ranging from 10% to 24% over four years.

All workers will get 3% stocking stuffers as a cash bonus.

On top of those increases, 800 utility workers will get an additional package of raises over the four years ranging from 20% to 41%. In one scenario, some workers’ salaries could rise as much as 74%.

And once again, despite years of promises from Garcetti and others to demand employee healthcare contributions, going to the doctor or hospital will continue to be virtually free for the vast majority of workers.

A Garcetti spokesman said the mayor believes “this contract will put the city in a strong position to maintain and attract a skilled workforce to deliver our most critical city services.”

But this is the same mayor who said in 2013, after defeating IBEW-backed candidate Wendy Greuel, that DWP employees needed to start contributing to their healthcare costs. The mayor then held up a contract deal and did win significant concessions, but he wimped out on demanding healthcare contributions.

The same thing happened in the 2017 contract, when handsome raises were awarded, but the healthcare freebie remained in place. So during the Garcetti reign as mayor, that’s strike one in 2013, strike two in 2017, and now strike three.

“It’s outrageous,” Jamie Court, of Consumer Watchdog, said of the new contract.

“The worst part of this deal,” said former L.A. city official Rick Cole, who is returning to work for newly elected controller Kenneth Mejia, is that other city unions “will want to use it as their benchmark, and the city’s about to hit recession revenue shrink.”

To be fair, healthcare ought to be free or at least more affordable for everyone. But that’s a story for another time.

And I should say that not everyone thinks this new DWP contract is out of line. One reason is the contention that compensation is higher at other utilities, some of which have enticed and poached DWP employees by dangling better offers. That’s what Garcetti was getting at in saying this contract will “maintain and attract a skilled workforce.”

A DWP spokesperson, quoting his bosses, said that of the 150 electrical line workers trained in the last five years, 70 left because “our salaries were not competitive.” The DWP says hundreds of vacancies exist because of hiring difficulties, and that’s driving up overtime costs to maintain operations.

Meanwhile, ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel told me he supports the new contract, based in part on his research into pay packages offered by competing utilities. Pickel said the DWP is top of the heap when it comes to healthcare coverage, but when you factor in pay, pensions and other benefits, the DWP’s standing falls.

In charts Pickel provided, the DWP “falls around the median” in average total compensation at $169,000, well below the high of $230,000 and above the low of $118,000.

In base salary alone, DWP custodians make $60,000, painters make $90,000, steam plant mechanics make $107,000, water utility superintendents make $166,000 and electrical services managers make $228,000.

But all these numbers, which aren’t bad to begin with, will rise with the new contract. And healthcare will still be virtually free, for those who choose Kaiser, or close to it for those who choose other plans.

Given the rising personnel and retiree costs, which will come as the DWP confronts green energy costs that will be in the tens of billions of dollars, you’d think there would have been a robust public vetting of this new contract, which will cost between $55 million and $111.8 million a year.

Skeptics should have had a chance to grill DWP officials and demand specific examples of poaching. They should have been able to ask whether a utility that had a comically egregious overbilling fiasco not long ago and watched a recent corrupt GM get hauled off to prison could be trusted to have competently negotiated the new contract.

Another fair question: How long might it be before ratepayers — who are saddled with both their own healthcare costs as well as those of DWP employees — pay more to turn on their lights and faucets.

But as Smith reported, the City Council — limping along in the wake of the recent racism scandal — opted not to have a public hearing on the new pay package, just like it opted out in 2017. And outgoing Councilmember Paul Koretz, who heads the personnel committee that could have challenged the deal, declined to comment.

“This isn’t about keeping employees for the city,” Court said. “It’s about payback for one of the most connected unions in the city and it’s a going-away gift from politicians who have nothing to lose.”

The IBEW political wing donated in the recent election cycle to Councilmember Curren Price and incoming Councilmembers Traci Park and Tim McOsker. It also pumped more than $1.4 million into a political action committee to support Mayor-elect Karen Bass.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times