World of Witchcraft: California’s Anti-Business Campaign Clear in the War Against Activision

California’s state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) says it’s committed to creating safe, harassment-free workplaces. Now it’s the department itself that’s doing the harassing.

DFEH was built to mediate disagreements between workers and business owners. These days, the agency goes direct to warfare – hiring private law firms to sue California companies and funding its operations from the resulting million-dollar settlements. That strategy often deprives plaintiffs of the money you might suppose they’re entitled to.

All of this is clear in the department’s high-profile, ongoing case against Santa Monica-based Activision, the company behind such global games as “World of Warcraft,” “Call of Duty,” and “Overwatch.”

Following a lengthy investigation, DFEH sued the video game maker in July for a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture” that DFEH says drove female employees to quit. Two months later, Activision settled a separate lawsuit with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by agreeing to establish an $18 million fund for alleged victims.

That’s when things got weird – California weird.

Alleging that Gov. Gavin Newsom was interfering with her lawsuit, Janette Wipper, the Chief Counsel for the DFEH, resigned from the case against Activision. Newsom fired her. Then Wipper’s deputy resigned, claiming interference by the governor.

But a deeper read of the roster changes at DFEH suggests a department that has gone rogue and a governor trying to rein it in.

Under Wipper, DFEH tried to block the EEOC’s settlement with Activision in order to pursue its own case, which could take years to conclude. That move delays victims’ access to the $18-million fund created by the EEOC settlement and prompted the EEOC to admonish DFEH for its questionable tactics.

Why would a state agency do this? For starters, DFEH, unlike EEOC, does not pay out all settlement money to victims of harassment or discrimination. Instead, it relies on massive settlements to help cover the agency’s operations costs, including outsourcing work to private law firms.

That money motivation explains DFEH’s tendency to overreach. In a case against Riot Games, the state stepped in to block a settlement in a case brought by the company’s employees. Outraged, the plaintiffs complained that the California agency was trying to hijack a case they had already settled – delaying by three years the payments they had won.

Activision isn’t alone in fighting the state juggernaut. Consider the case of Tesla. In February, DFEH sued the California automaker alleging systematic racial discrimination and harassment. Focusing on Tesla’s Fremont plant’s workforce, the lawsuit quotes dozens of media stories and administrative complaints. But DFEH never independently investigated the claims. Without investigating, the state’s suit refers to the factory as “racially segregated” and a “slave ship.”

While DFEH staff didn’t visit Tesla to check out the claims, thousands of members of the public and even senior government officials have visited the factory. In a blog post, Tesla points out that there is no real evidence in the filing. “Over the past five years, the DFEH has been asked on almost 50 occasions by individuals who believe they were discriminated against or harassed to investigate Tesla. On every single occasion, when the DFEH closed an investigation, it did not find misconduct by Tesla.”

Before filing its lawsuit, the DFEH declined several requests to provide Tesla with the specific allegations or the factual bases.

Watching a self-declared civil rights agency block or delay payments to victims would strike most people as extraordinary. But it’s a pattern of abuse at DFEH, and one that runs through the Activision case. That abuse is certainly obvious to the federal EEOC. Early in the investigation, the feds and state regulators signed onto a workshare agreement: While the EEOC reviewed allegations of harassment, the DFEH was supposed to review pay equity and related issues. DFEH specifically agreed that it would not investigate sexual harassment claims.

But the DFEH broke its agreement with the EEOC, violated its own procedures, and filed a surprise 11th-hour lawsuit against Activision when it learned the company was on the verge of settling with the EEOC. DFEH did not complete the independent investigation it started in order to determine the accuracy of the allegations in its lawsuit. Nor did that lawsuit focus on pay equity, but instead leveled sexual harassment allegations outside the stated scope of its investigation.

DFEH’s intervention here is unprecedented, but even more extraordinary is the EEOC’s response: It has accused state attorneys of ethical misconduct because they worked on the Activision case at the EEOC and then continued that work at DFEH without disclosing their prior work – a violation of California legal ethics rules.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Gas Tax Fight and Memories of 1978

With the state government of California sitting on a budget surplus that exceeds $50 billion, Sacramento politicians can’t bring themselves to return a few dollars to middle-class taxpayers.

While the cost of consumer goods and services is rising rapidly, due mostly to feckless government policies, it is the cost of gasoline that truly sticks in the craw of average Californians. Conservatives in the Legislature, mostly Republicans, have accused the Democrats of intentionally running out the clock on providing gas tax relief before an automatic increase goes into effect on May 1st.

That accusation is well-founded.

Nearly a year ago, Republicans in the state Senate pushed for a “gas tax holiday,” including a full suspension on state gas tax collection for the current fiscal year.

The suspension could have easily been backfilled by the state’s overflowing general fund, which would protect transportation funding.

Later, they offered amendments formally requesting the suspension of the state gas tax and postponing the pending increase.

In the Assembly, who can forget the Democrats’ ambush of Assembly Bill 1638 by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, another gas tax suspension proposal?

Again, by refusing to even hear the bill the ruling political class is revealed as wholly disconnected to the concerns of average citizens.

That’s too bad because a one year suspension of the gas tax would have reduced the cost of fuel by 51.1 cents per gallon, providing instant tax relief.

It is also an elegantly simple solution that would have been easy for state bureaucrats to administer.

While the majority party in the legislature has slow-walked gas tax relief, Gov. Gavin Newsom at least put the issue on the table by introducing some gas price relief in his original January budget as well as his March State of the State speech.

But legislative leaders in both houses rejected his proposal, falsely claiming that transportation projects wouldn’t be fully funded.

Rather, they said they would prefer some sort of direct payments to taxpayers but weren’t clear on who would get the money.

Which brings us to today, exactly where we were a year ago except that now, both the price of gas as well as the gas tax are higher.

It is no surprise that a recent PPIC poll reveals that record percentages of voters believe they are overtaxed. What is surprising, however, is why a majority of our elected representatives in Sacramento are turning a blind eye to the problem and not taking any meaningful action.

If past is prologue, political foot-dragging on tax relief can be very dangerous.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Pelosi Makes Unannounced Visit to Ukraine, Vows U.S. Support ‘Until the Fight Is Done’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) made an unannounced trip to war-torn Ukraine over the weekend, meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reiterating that America stands in solidarity with the country.

She was accompanied by a group of senior House Democrats, including Foreign Affairs Committee chair Gregory Meeks, Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, and Rules Committee chair Jim McGovern.

video posted to Zelensky’s Twitter showed the members of Congress walking down the road in Kyiv to greet Zelensky outside the presidential palace.

“We are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom,” Pelosi said during the meeting with Ukrainian officials, according to the video and an NBC News translation. “Your fight is a fight for everyone, and so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.”

“This shows that the United States today is a leader in strong support for Ukraine during the war against the aggression of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said, thanking the U.S. for the backing.

“Our delegation traveled to Kyiv to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine,” the group said in a statement. “When we return to the United States, we will do so further informed, deeply inspired and ready to do what is needed to help the Ukrainian people as they defend democracy for their nation and for the world.”

With military clashes ongoing, the lawmakers’ journey was potentially dangerous and politically significant. Pelosi is now the most senior U.S. official to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. President Biden and Vice President Harris have not visited the nation since Russia launched its incursion. Late last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Ukraine to meet with Zelensky.

“Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” Pelosi told Zelensky, the Twitter video indicates.

Click here to read the full article at the National Review

DNC Seeks to Boost California Election Outreach

The Democratic National Committee is giving California and at least five other states grants to organize voter outreach ahead of this year’s elections.

The 2022 elections will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the United States House of Representatives in 2023. Many experts are predicting a “red wave” this fall that will hand the chamber to Republicans.

The party of the president, now a Democrat, historically falters in midterm elections for Congress. Adding to Democrats’ worries are President Joe Biden’s declining approval rating for his handling of inflation and pandemic policy and the fact that a large number of Democrats are retiring.

The state-level Democratic Parties of California, Texas, Florida, Minnesota, Maryland and Wyoming will get DNC grants — some, like California, will get money to hire organizing directors, a spokesperson for the DNC told The Sacramento Bee. The directors are meant to recruit and funnel volunteers working on voter outreach into targeted districts across the state for local and national elections.

“The DNC is proud to make these latest investments in the California Democratic Party to expand organizing and voter outreach efforts on the ground,” DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement sent to The Bee. “The California Democratic Party has built an impressive coordinated effort to keep Democrats in office, and the DNC is committed to continue helping build upon that work to ensure California Democrats win up and down the ballot this November and beyond.”

The DNC announcement comes weeks before California’s primaries on June 7, 2022.

The last time the California Democratic Party received such a grant was in 2018, another midterm election.

Other states will benefit from such a grant in future roll-outs, the spokesperson said.

Prominent election-tracking organizations have re-rated some House races nationwide. For the most part, mostly, they boosted Republicans’ odds in California.

Though experts said redistricting, the once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative boundaries, favored Democrats in California, Republicans could hold onto the same number of districts that they have now. California lost a seat in Congress due to sluggish population growth, dropping its House delegation to 52 representatives. The lost seat is Democratic, surrounding Los Angeles.

California has 10 Republicans in the House. It would be 11, but former Congressman Devin Nunes resigned to lead former President Donald Trump’s social media company.

The House is currently divided by 221 Democrats and 209 Republicans, with five vacancies. Four vacant seats were held by Republicans. With a 222 to 213 split, Republicans need to win just five more seats in 2022 to take the majority.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

California Senate Leaders Say Budget Surplus Soars to $68B

 California’s budget surplus has more than doubled since January to a staggering $68 billion, Senate Democrats said Thursday, prompting a flurry of new spending proposals from lawmakers that include giving $8 billion back to taxpayers in a move that highlights a disagreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom.

While the pandemic had prompted warnings of multibillion-dollar budget deficits in most states, those fears did not happen as tax revenues across the country increased despite coronavirus-related shutdowns on businesses that caused millions to lose their jobs.

This revenue whiplash was most pronounced in California, the nation’s most populous state that is home to Silicon Valley and many billionaires. Newsom warned the state would have a $54 billion deficit in 2020 after he issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order. Instead, revenues rose sharply as wealthy people — who pay much higher taxes in California — got richer throughout the pandemic.

Last year, California’s budget included a $47 billion surplus, which was a record at the time. Thursday’s new estimate — based on preliminary numbers from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office — confirms California is on track to blow by that number this year.

The $68 billion surplus in California’s general fund would be more than double the $29 billion figure Newsom announced in January. In addition, California is projected to have a $37 billion surplus that must be spent on education — an increase from the $16.1 billion Newsom announced in January. The Newsom administration will update its budget proposal by May 15.

Thursday, Democrats — who have a majority of seats in the state Legislature — announced how they would spend that money. Their plan confirms most of what Newsom announced in January, with some new proposals.

One of the biggest additions is a plan to send $200 checks to every taxpayer who makes less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 per year for couples who file joint returns. The plan would also guarantee $200 checks for every dependent, meaning a family of five would get $1,000.

That proposal puts Democrats at odds with Newsom, who wants to send checks as large as $800 to people who own cars in California to help offset record-high gas prices. Newsom says his plan will cost about $9 billion.

Both Newsom and Democratic lawmakers have said they want to get this money to taxpayers as soon as possible. But so far, they haven’t been able to agree on how to do it. In general, Democratic lawmakers say they don’t like Newsom’s plan because the money would only go to people who own cars. Newsom’s plan also includes $750 million to give people free rides on public transit for three months.

“We stand ready to act as soon as the Governor joins us in supporting a plan that provides stronger relief for California families,” the Legislature’s top two leaders, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, said in a joint statement earlier this week.

California’s gas tax increases slightly each year because of inflation. The tax is scheduled to increase about 3 cents per gallon on July 1. Newsom had proposed a bill that would halt that increase this year, which must pass before Sunday to have enough time to take effect. But Democratic leaders in the state Legislature never called it for a vote.

Republicans, meanwhile, want to temporarily suspend the state’s gas tax, which at 51.1 cents per gallon is the second-highest in the country. Thursday, a small group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers revealed a plan that would suspend the entire gas tax for a year, while ordering that the savings be passed on to drivers instead of oil companies. But legislative leaders have already said they won’t do that, a sign the proposal likely doesn’t have the support to pass.

Beyond help for individuals, the proposal from Senate Democrats would also give billions of dollars in aid to small businesses. Businesses pay a tax that pays for people’s unemployment benefits when they lose their job. But so many people lost their jobs during the pandemic that the fund ran out of money. California had to borrow money from the federal government, which businesses must pay back.

Senate Democrats want to give rebates to businesses with 250 employees or fewer, which would offset some of those taxes. In addition, Democrats want to give about $500 million in grants to businesses with 150 employees or fewer to help pay for a new law that requires them to give workers up to two weeks of paid sick leave because of the coronavirus.

The plan wouldn’t just spend money. It would also put more money into the state’s savings accounts, bringing the state’s reserves to a total of $43.1 billion — the most ever.

Atkins, the Senate president pro tempore, said the plan is “doubling down on our priorities” by “reinvesting California’s wealth in those who need it most, especially struggling families and small businesses.”

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Oakland Schools Empty Amid Teacher Strike As District Loses Bid With State Board To Stop Labor Action

Hundreds of teachers, students and parents walked picket lines at Oakland’s public schools Friday in a one-day strike over controversial school closures to save money.

While the district’s nearly 80 schools remained open during the labor action, officials said there weren’t enough substitutes, administrators or other staff to accommodate or keep students safe and so urged families to keep their children home for the day.

While other unionized district workers were not directly participating in the strike, many were expected to be absent Friday as well, with their labor leaders advising them to notify supervisors that they wouldn’t feel safe given the picket lines.

The strike is just the latest challenge for Oakland Unified. It comes months after Oakland teachers planned a “sickout” during January’s Omicron wave, prompting the district to cancel classes and angering some families. It also comes two years after schools shut down due to the pandemic, forcing Oakland families to endure one of the longest school closures in the country.

Oakland Unified said in a statement that a state board had denied the district’s effort to get an injunction to stop the one-day strike. Spokesman John Sasaki said while the district is “disappointed” in the decision, it “will continue to put the needs of kids first and do what it thinks is best for them.”

On Friday morning, about 20 students and teachers were marching in front of Oakland Technical High School just after 8 a.m., carrying signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho ho, school closures have got to go.”

The 2,000-student high school was otherwise quiet.

Junior Satya Zamudio took a break from marching with friends to speak about her opposition to closures.

“We’re so disappointed in what our district is doing,” she said. “It’s very blatant the district doesn’t care about what we say.”

Kaia Palmquist, also in 11th grade, said her statistics professor has been talking to them about the closures in class, about the costs and other ways to save money, like “turning off the lights at night.”

“OUSD isn’t supposed to be a profitable organization,” she said. “They’re treating us like a company.”

Her statistics teacher, Errico Bachicha, was also on the picket line.

“It doesn’t make any sense to effect so many students to save $4 million,” he said. “Among the many things wrong with closing schools is how it will disrupt education. There’s been enough school closures to know it will make things worse.”

Oakland Education Association officials said 75% of the union’s 2,300 educators who participated in the strike vote, supported the one-day walkout, although they declined to say how many teachers submitted a ballot.

District officials said the strike was illegal while union leaders argued they were striking over unfair labor practices related to the school board’s decision to shutter schools without consulting with the community.

The school board voted in February to close or merge 11 schools over the next two years, a decision made in large part to address the district’s declining enrollment and ongoing overspending, which could leave the district in financial ruin in the years to come. The district has lost about 15,000 students over the past 20 years.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

Just Say ‘No’ To No-Bid State Contracts

During the past two years, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has paid billions of dollars in secretive no-bid contracts with little to no transparency. Now Newsom is deploying his same secretive approach to a growing number of other public contracts. All Californians, irrespective of party affiliation, should be deeply concerned.

Photo courtesy of DB’s travels, Flickr.

Especially troubling is the Newsom administration’s perverse penchant for no-bid contracts, many of which renew automatically. Since 2020, his administration entered into more than 8,000 no-bid contracts, many of which were valued at more than $25 million. By the end of 2020, the total amount was nearly $12 billion.

The latest example? Instead of simply suspending the state’s gas tax, Newsom wants to award a no-bid government contract to a yet-to-be-named third-party vendor to manage a process of providing rebates to Californians, a lot of busywork to distract drivers from the fact that he’s making them pay the state’s highest-in-the-nation gas taxes.

After the horrible mess the EDD made by distributing payment cards in 2020, one has to wonder, what could go wrong?

During the same period that cash and no-bid contracts were being handed out, behested payments on behalf of the governor surged. These are “donations” for charitable or governmental purposes that are specifically requested by elected officials, often from companies with business before the state. In 2020 alone, $227 million was “donated” at the “behest” of the governor, a huge spike compared to just $12.1 million in 2019. This even got the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which wrote that “many of the donors have other business before the governor, received no-bid government contracts over the last year or were seeking favorable appointments on important state boards,” which “creates the appearance of a pay-to-play system.”

Sub-par no-bid contracts risk the squandering of taxpayer dollars and renewing no-bid contracts without reviewing their merits not only wastes taxpayer money but is also a way of skirting California’s contracting process.

For example, in 2020, the Newsom administration awarded a $1.7 billion no-bid contract to the Valencia Branch Laboratory to process COVID-19 tests for the state. Less than a year later, we learned of shocking waste and fraud occurring in the lab. The truth came out thanks to selfless whistleblowers, one of whom is now being sued by the company operating the lab.

For months, Senate Republicans called for a full release of the state investigations on the lab. For months, the state stalled, ultimately complying only after the contract had already auto-renewed.

Because of this fiasco and the larger problem of no-bid contracts, one of the co-authors of this column, Sen. Scott Wilk, introduced three bills – which the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association supports – to bring accountability to the process: SB 947, SB 1271, and SB 1367.

SB 947 would empower employees of state government contracts to blow the whistle on fraud, waste or abuse by granting them whistleblower protections already afforded to state workers. SB 1271 would require no-bid contracts of $25 million or more to be subject to oversight of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee prior to renewal or extension of the contract. SB 1367 would prohibit a state agency from awarding a contract to entities that have provided behested payments on the governor’s behalf in the preceding 12 months.

Click here to read the full article at the Press Enterprise

Conservatives Notice Thousands of Twitter Followers Restored After Elon Musk Purchase Announcement

Is a complaint against Facebook next?

The purchase of Twitter for $44 billion by Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk announced Monday caused a huge ripple across media and social media. And almost immediately, Pundits and news hosts on conservative media, politicians and candidates announced their suspended accounts were restored, or if not suspended,  tens of thousands of followers reappeared.

One of the first was Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whose Twitter account was suspended in March after the social media company said he violated its fluid rules by referring to Biden Administration Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, as a man rather than a transgender woman.

Carlson’s “We’re back” Tweet earned him 375,000 “likes,” 41,000 “retweets,” and 20,000 “replies.”

Chanel Rion with One American News Tweeted out the analytics of her Twitter account:

“At one point I was growing 100k/month. Each post would get thousands of responses in minutes. Biden’s inauguration: Lost ~200k followers in a week – impressions cut 70%. Something clearly happened last night – not full stride but we’re #inthegreen

The list of those claiming shadow banning on Twitter is long.

Radio talk hosts Clay Travis and Buck Sexton, who took over the Rush Limbaugh Show following Rush’s death, also reported they each have regained tens of thousands of Twitter followers just since Musk’s Twitter purchase was announced Monday. Clay Travis Tweeted:

“I’ve added 20k Twitter followers in the 48 hours since Elon Musk bought Twitter. Probably a coincidence:

Perhaps one of the biggest Twitter accounts, Donald Trump Jr., reported he gained 87,000 followers since Monday.

“While I’m awesome and totally deserving of 87,000 new followers a day it seems that someone took the shackles off my account. Wonder if they’re burning the evidence before new mgmt comes in?”

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

6 Million Southern Californians Face Unprecedented Order to Conserve Water

Unprecedented water restrictions are in store for about 6 million Southern Californians, a sign of deepening drought in counties that depend on water piped from the state’s parched reservoirs. 

The Metropolitan Water District’s board voted unanimously today to require six major water providers and the dozens of cities and local districts they supply to impose one of two options: limit residents to outdoor watering once a week or reduce total water use below a certain target.

The water providers must have plans to police their customers, and if they fail to impose the restrictions, they could face fines of $2,000 for every extra acre-foot of water that exceeds their monthly allocation limits, starting in June, according to Metropolitan.

The restrictions target parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties that rely heavily on water from drought-stricken Northern California rivers transported south via the State Water Project.

“At this time, a third of our region, 6 million Southern Californians in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino counties, face a very real and immediate water stress challenge,” said Metropolitan Water District General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. “Today these areas rely on extremely limited supplies from Northern California. And there is not enough supply available to meet the normal demands in these areas.”

Cutting back outdoor watering to one day a week would be a big change for the arid, densely populated areas, where many people irrigate their lawns and gardens. 

Southern Californians have heard for decades about the dangers of drought, but per-person residential water use has increased in the past two years, despite the severe drought. Experts say conservation wavers in the region because restrictions are largely voluntary — and their water never seems to run out

“This is insane but not unexpected,” Peter Kraut, a council member from the San Fernando Valley city of Calabasas told the Metropolitan board, which is composed of 38 city and local district officials. “I’m appalled that a change this drastic is happening in such a short period of time.”

“This plan will result not just in brown grass but in killing countless trees. The damage to our environment will take decades to repair,” Kraut added.

Today’s mandate is the first outdoor watering restriction imposed by the giant water-import agency, which supplies 19 million people in California. More stringent restrictions may come later, Metropolitan officials warned: The water providers must also prepare to ban all outdoor watering as early as September, if necessary, as California suffers one of its driest periods on record.

The six affected water suppliers are Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District and Three Valleys Municipal Water District — all in Los Angeles County — and the Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County and the Inland Empire Utilities Agency in San Bernardino County.

About 13 million other Southern Californians are unaffected by the order because they aren’t as dependent on water imported via the State Water Project. They receive imports from the Colorado River, which largely are sent to Orange, San Diego and Imperial counties.

Metropolitan has been working to increase the number of customers who can receive Colorado River water to reduce reliance on the hard-pressed state aqueduct. The Colorado River, however, also is facing extreme drought, and deliveries to California, Nevada and Arizona are being cut back under an agreement signed by the states in December.

How much each agency must curtail customers’ water use under Metropolitan’s order depends on how much each relies on the state aqueduct compared to other sources, such as  groundwater or recycled sewage.

Water agencies are still figuring out the details. Some local water providers urged the board at today’s meeting to let them continue watering sports fields and parks more frequently so the turf doesn’t dry out.

Two of the six depend almost entirely on state aqueduct supplies — the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which serves 75,000 residents west of Los Angeles, and the Calleguas Municipal Water District, which supplies 19 agencies and cities in southeast Ventura County. 

Some communities served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Inland Empire Utilities Agency and the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District have other sources that may buffer the blow of the new mandate. Los Angeles DWP spokesperson Ellen Cheng did not respond to multiple inquiries about which parts of the city will be affected. 

Some of the affected agencies, such as Las Virgenes in Calabasas and nearby western Los Angeles County cities, already have cracked down on residents by imposing new escalating rates and penalties, with mixed success. Others, including Los Angeles DWP, which has limited outdoor watering to three days a week since 2009, have not added any new restrictions during the current drought.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

LA sheriff Investigates How Reporter Obtained Leaked Video

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles County sheriff on Tuesday disputed allegations he orchestrated a cover-up of an incident where a deputy knelt on a handcuffed inmate’s head and said a Los Angeles Times reporter who used leaked documents and video to first report on the case is part of his criminal investigation.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s comments at a news conference Tuesday brought immediate criticism from the newspaper’s leadership and First Amendment advocates. Hours later, the sheriff clarified in a series of tweets that his agency has “no interest in pursuing, nor are we pursuing, criminal charges against any reporters.”

The paper’s general counsel sent a letter to the sheriff protesting the investigation and the top editor condemned Villanueva’s remarks, calling it an illegal “attempt to criminalize news reporting.”

“Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s attack on Alene Tchekmedyian’s First Amendment rights for doing newsworthy reporting on a video that showed a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate’s head is outrageous,” Executive Editor Kevin Merida said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and the Los Angeles Times’ rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities.”

The incident with the inmate occurred in a county courthouse on March 10, 2021 — two days after jury selection began for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of murder for pressing his knee against George Floyd’s neck for up to 9 1/2 minutes.

The video shows Deputy Douglas Johnson directing inmate Enzo Escalante to move up against a wall in the courthouse. Escalante swings at Johnson and punches him repeatedly in the face. Three other deputies help Johnson wrestle Escalante to the ground and handcuff him.

The LA Times reported that Johnson had his knee on Escalante’s head for more than three minutes, even after the inmate had been handcuffed, placed face-down and did not appear to be resisting. Escalante — who was awaiting trial on murder and other charges — was taken to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

Johnson was removed from duty months later and is under criminal investigation, Villanueva said during Tuesday’s news conference. No charges have been filed against the deputy.

Escalante has pleaded not guilty to two counts of resisting an officer. He is being represented by the public defender’s office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Escalante has filed a federal lawsuit against members of the sheriff’s department, including Villanueva, that alleges his civil rights were violated.

On Monday, Commander Allen Castellano filed a legal claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, that accused Villanueva of first blocking and stalling the investigation into Johnson’s use of force, and then working to cover up the incident and retaliating against whistleblowers.

Villanueva, who oversees the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, is up for reelection and Castellano’s claim states the sheriff was seeking to avoid bad publicity during his campaign.

The sheriff on Tuesday said he did not see the video until eight months after the incident, but Castellano wrote in his claim that Villanueva had viewed it within days.

Villanueva called Castellano a “disgruntled employee” who made “false claims.” The sheriff also said the video obtained by the Times was “stolen property that was removed illegally” and “all parties” to the act are subject to his investigation of the leak.

“She received the information and then she put it to her own use,” he said, referring to Tchekmedyian. “What she receives legally and puts to her own use and what she receives illegally and the LA Times uses it, I’m pretty sure that’s a huge complex area of law and freedom of the press and all that. However, when it’s stolen material, at some point you have to become part of the story.”

During his news conference Villanueva displayed photos of Tchekmedyian, LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman and former sheriff’s Commander Eli Vera under the heading: WHAT DID THEY KNOW AND WHEN DID THEY KNOW IT?

Click here to read the full article at AP News