Nordstrom at Westfield Topanga Mall Hit In Latest Rash of Flash Mob Robberies

A Canoga Park mall was the scene of a flash mob-style robbery Wednesday night, similar to one pulled off at the Grove earlier this week.

Around 7 p.m., three to five suspects entered a Nordstrom in the Westfield Topanga mall and stole nearly $25,000 worth of designer bags, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The suspects entered the store, which was open at the time, and sprayed a security guard with a chemical substance before fleeing the scene in a green Ford mustang.

The security guard was treated and released at the scene by the Los Angeles Fire Department, Deputy Police Chief Alan Hamilton said in an interview with RMG News.

It was unclear at the time if the suspects were armed with more than the chemical spray, Hamilton said.

Click here to read that the rest of the article at the Los Angeles Daily News

Undermining Pension Reform

The Biden administration tries to deny California transit aid because the state reduced public-worker retirement benefits eight years ago.

The Biden administration is trying to prohibit California from receiving billions of dollars in new federal aid because, the administration claims, the state’s 2013 Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) denied workers the right to bargain for changes to their retirement benefits. The move could undermine state-worker pension reforms passed over the last decade.

In a letter to the state, the Department of Labor says that the 2013 pension-reform act “significantly interferes” with the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including transit workers. As a result, California risks losing some $12 billion in transportation money, most of it from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. The administration is strong-arming the state and its municipalities to choose between tens of billions of dollars in savings for a deeply indebted pension system and grants from Washington. And its move raises serious questions about similar reforms enacted by other states that allow collective bargaining by public employees, including New York and New Jersey.

The financial and stock market crisis of 2008 undermined the fiscal stability of many government pension systems. As unfunded liabilities ballooned, government contributions of taxpayer money into worker retirements rose sharply, burdening government budgets. California’s pension system, fully funded at the beginning of 2000, saw its unfunded debt bloat to $170 billion by 2012. The state’s retirement system had, by that time, only about 70 percent of the money needed to fulfill its future obligations to retirees. California taxpayers, meanwhile, were absorbing huge increases in payments into the system, and faced years more. Between 1998 and 2012, California’s contributions to the pensions system increased from $1.2 billion to $3.7 billion. Municipalities and school districts, their workers part of the system, absorbed even bigger increases.

The state had limited options to fix the problem. A California supreme court ruling held that local governments could reduce pension benefits only for new workers but had to leave untouched the rate at which current workers earned benefits, even for work they had yet to do. In response, the state passed PEPRA, which reduced pension accrual rates for new workers. In California’s mammoth pension system, which at the time had some $610 billion in liabilities, the savings were small at first—amounting to just $680 million the first year. The state projected that as it hired new workers and older employees retired, the reforms would save about $75 billion over 30 years on the retirement systems for teachers and other public employees.

Public-sector unions in the state had defeated broader reforms that California tried to institute, and they fought vigorously to roll back the 2013 legislation. Transit-worker unions, among others, filed suit against the law, only to be denied by the courts. The Obama administration then tried to intervene, arguing that the reforms violated the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Assistance Act, which gives the Department of Labor veto power over federal aid if it deems a state to have compromised the collective bargaining rights of transit workers or otherwise to have worsened their working conditions. The Trump administration subsequently dropped federal objections to the reform law. But the Biden DOL, under Secretary (and former union official) Marty Walsh, has reinstated them in the wake of the new federal infrastructure bill.

The Labor Department’s ruling, California governor Gavin Newsom said in a letter to Walsh, “deprives financially beleaguered California public transit agencies that serve essential workers and our most vulnerable residents of critical support, including American Rescue Plan Act funds that those agencies need to survive through the pandemic.” Newsom called the decision a “complete reversal” from a 2019 ruling by the Labor Department, which held that the state’s pension reforms did not represent a violation of federal law.

The battle has implications for many other state reforms. California was not alone in reducing pension benefits after the 2008 financial crisis. More than 40 states altered their pensions to save money and bolster the financial stability of their retirement systems. Even so, state and local pension debt has skyrocketed, from about $900 billion in 2013 to about $1.6 trillion today. Despite its reforms, California’s pension system holds only about $7 in assets for every $10 in debt it owes, and its unfunded liabilities have increased to $185 billion.

Numerous other states might face similar challenges from Biden’s Labor Department. New York, enduring rising costs from pensions but constrained by the state constitution from making changes that apply to current workers, passed reforms in 2012 that reduced retirement benefits for new workers. Like California, New York permits collective bargaining among public workers for salaries and benefits; the state estimated that it will save $80 billion from those reforms. New Jersey passed even more sweeping reforms in 2011, which applied equally to new workers and those already employed by the state. Passed over the objections of public-worker unions, who claimed the reform law violated their bargaining rights, the bipartisan pension legislation was projected to save the deeply indebted state system some $180 billion over 30 years.

The Biden administration lobbied for its massive infrastructure bill as a way to unleash new federal resources at the state level. Now the administration seems intent on using that money to undermine state pension reform in California—and, if successful there, who knows where else.

This article was original published by the City Journal

No Chicken Patties For Lunch? Southern California Schools Grapple With Supply-Chain Shortages

Supply chain issues are forcing Southern California school districts to reimagine their menus to compensate for current and expected shortages of popular food items.

Hamburgers. Chicken patties. These and other lunchtime staples have been increasingly difficult to come by lately.

With labor shortages worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, the food production and distribution industries are hurting, and bottlenecks at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are delaying the offloading of all sorts of cargo.

As one San Bernardino County district puts it, with longtime vendors burdened with requests from multiple school systems, demand for certain items is currently higher than supply.

But there are mouths to feed today, tomorrow and every day — for the rest of this school year.

Since the start of the 2021-22 academic calendar, nutrition services staffers across Southern California have worked to ensure hundreds of thousands of students get the nourishment they need, even if what has been planned and what ultimately ends up being delivered changes from one minute to the next.

“We’re working magic to make it happen,” Riverside Unified School District spokesperson Diana Meza said. “But all schools are doing that. There’s a lot more preparation involved.”

Schools get creative with menus

The Riverside district serves about 32,000 meals a day, Meza said, and while certain shortages have made securing student favorites like hamburgers and chicken patties more difficult than ever, officials have been buying more local fruits and vegetables.

Click here to read the full article at OC Register

Can Taxpayers Be Grateful This Thanksgiving?

As inflation takes a bigger bite out of your turkey than you do, it may be hard to find reasons to be grateful. But the truth is we still have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Here’s a few reasons why.

In the Legislature, success is often measured not in how many pro-taxpayer bills are passed but by how many anti-taxpayer bills are stopped. And, in that regard, this past year was better than expected.

A bill that would create a California Universal Basic Income and proposed to pay for it either through a value-added tax, raising corporate taxes or implementing a tax on services died in committee. Another bill that would have created a wealth tax failed to receive a hearing before deadline. An attempt to raise the already highest in the nation income tax rate for Californians making over $1 million to as high as 16.8%, was held in its first committee. A bill to create a single-payer healthcare system, and double the state budget in the process, was tabled.

In all, eleven bills HJTA opposed failed to make it out of the legislature. Five bills we supported were signed by the governor. One bill we opposed was vetoed by the governor. Five bills we supported failed to get out of the legislature. Eleven bills we opposed were signed by the governor and one bill we supported was vetoed by the governor.

HJTA went 17 for 34 this legislative session. We batted .500. Not bad for a taxpayer group in California. For that, we should be grateful.

Click here to read the entire article at the Press Telegram

‘It’s Extremely Alarming’: Sacramento-Area Police Prepare Against Theft as Black Friday Nears

A string of recent smash-and-grab thefts at luxury stores in the Bay Area and Southern California has Sacramento-area law enforcement preparing for Black Friday and forming strategies to thwart similar brazen crimes on one of the busiest weekends of the holiday shopping season.

Officers, some of them undercover, will flood retail areas like the Roseville Galleria from Friday through the year’s end amid the recent trend of organized retail crime. The Roseville Police Department and other agencies in the capital region are well aware of the brazen thefts that have played out over the past week.

“It’s extremely alarming,” said Roseville police spokesman Rob Baquera. “The frequency of these crimes shows an alarming trend.”

From Thanksgiving night through New Year’s Day, Roseville police will increase patrols and special operations to protect shoppers and businesses; not only at the mall but also locally-owned retail businesses throughout the city, Baquera said.

Shoppers should expect to see more marked patrol vehicles as well as officers walking through parking lots looking for thieves trying to break into vehicles. They also will be maintaining a highly visible presence around stores, like the Galleria, looking for anyone trying to launch a smash-and-grab attack.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

George Gascón’s Policies Endanger Public Safety

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has enthusiastically embraced radical, pro-criminal, anti-law enforcement policies to fulfill his misguided and dangerous ideology. His policies have ratcheted down punishment to its bare minimum and significantly reduced the prosecution of crime. Murders, gang shootings, organized theft and crime rates have skyrocketed.

Gascón’s destructive policies are not only unnecessarily costing innocent human lives, but they have resulted in increased economic devastation for families and businesses, ranging from mom-and-pop shops to large retailers. Gascón’s devotion to his ill-informed criminal justice agenda has created a public safety crisis, as well as an economic sinkhole. People have been impacted and traumatized by violent crime, and some businesses have been forced to close stores altogether due to organized shoplifting.

The claim there is no link between the recent crime wave and the enactment of the most radical and far-reaching criminal justice “reform” measures ever implemented is shameless gaslighting, or at best, extreme ignorance. Gascón’s policies increase the recidivism rate, and his adoption of a no cash bail system — which has failed miserably in other states — is causing additional harm to needless victims.

Gascón’s blanket policies in the courtroom abandon victims by prohibiting any sentence enhancements or special allegations. At one point, he attempted to eliminate the charging of enhancements for hate crimes. This “one size fits all” approach eliminates the opportunity for judges to impose appropriate and lawful sentences. Gascón’s orders to his deputies not to seek appropriate bail, when the public has voted overwhelmingly to retain a bail system, is another example of a policy that endangers public safety.

Gascón has also abandoned victims’ next of kin at parole hearings. Imagine the trauma of the mother whose son was brutally beaten, stabbed, shot, stripped naked and left in the middle of the street, being forced to have to confront her son’s killer. Under Gascón’s twisted agenda, the mother is left to present the crime scene photos at a parole hearing all by herself. She must go alone against her son’s murderer and his attorney paid for by tax dollars. This is a real case. This is unacceptable.

The California Constitution mandates prosecutors to attend such hearings. The mother of the murdered victim, as well as the people of Los Angeles, have been abandoned by Gascón. Retired and former deputy district attorneys now assist victims in asserting and protecting their rights because Gascón’s policies are inherently averse to victims’ rights and concerns.

The justice system has plenty of advocates for criminals, including the public defender, the alternate public defender, the ACLU, the Innocence Project, Youth Offender Parole Clinic, Habeas Corpus Resource Center and various political front groups established by special-interest donors seeking to spread this same dangerous version of criminal justice. While always protecting defendants’ rights and upholding the Constitution, the elected district attorney should be an advocate for the people and committed to public safety. Gascón is neither.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Armed Suspects Rob Diners in Seasons 52 Restaurant Patio at South Coast Plaza

Costa Mesa police are searching for robbers – at least one with a handgun – who ran onto the patio of the Seasons 52 restaurant at South Coast Plaza at dinnertime, ordered everyone to get down, and then stole a purse before fleeing Monday night, Nov. 22, authorities and witnesses said.

Police received calls about an armed robbery at the mall, in the 3300 block of Bristol Street, just before 7:15 p.m., spokeswoman Roxi Fyad said.

Witnesses told police three to five people wearing masks and dressed in black clothes entered the patio and told everyone to get on the floor, Fyad said.

A couple of diners dove into a nearby rose bush. Others dropped to the ground and some had scrapes and bruises to show for it, a man later tweeted. The diner, who did not want to be named in a news story, said one victim lost a family heirloom.

The patio was more than half full at the time, a diner who was there said in an interview.

The diner, who also did not want to be named, saying he fears for his safety, said he and three friends were enjoying dinner at the restaurant after playing in a charity golf tournament when one of the friends saw two people who looked suspicious.

They were wearing hooded sweatshirts and masks and entered the restaurant patio through a side gate. One of them had a handgun, he said, and he heard, “Get down.” As the suspects continued forward, he and a friend jumped over a wall and into a rose bush.

The person with the gun pointed it at another table, the diner said. He was not sure if the second suspect also had a gun.

“It was really quick, I would say three minutes and then we heard tires screeching (from the lower parking lot),” he said. “Luckily they didn’t fire the gun.”

After stealing the purse, the robbers fled in a white four-door Buick and headed south on Bristol Street, Fyad said.

Police and security arrived shortly thereafter, the diner said.

“It was awful we had to be there for it, but I’m thankful no one was hurt,” he said. “It’s still very traumatizing, a lot of staff there were very emotional.”

A spokeswoman for Seasons 52 said the restaurant was working with police, but declined to comment further.

No arrests have been made.

The incident follows similar high-profile armed robberies in Beverly Hills and on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles earlier this year, where suspects approached outdoor dining areas and robbed customers at gunpoint.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Bubble Watch: Investors are 51% of Southern California’s Homebuying Surge

Median price paid by local investors? $898,000

Bubble Watch” digs into trends that may indicate economic and/or housing market troubles ahead.

Buzz: Half of Southern California’s homebuying surge this summer can be tied to a big jump in the purchasing pace by investors.

Source: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed Redfin estimates of investor activity locally and in 40 major metropolitan areas in the third quarter, defined as purchases made by entities with corporate-sounding names or descriptions. 

The Trend

Surging home prices with gains of 30% in two years have clearly been a draw for investors to the four counties covered by the Southern California News Group.

nvestors bought 8,900 residences in the summer or 17.7% of all purchases. These weren’t fixer-uppers, by the way, as the typical sales price for these deals was $898,000.

Compare that with one year earlier, when homebuying was swiftly rebounding from a locked-down spring. Investors bought 6,758 homes in the summer of 2020, or 14.6% of the market. That’s a 32% jump in investor purchases.

Or look at ballooning bets this way: Local investors bought 2,142 more homes this summer vs. 2020’s third quarter — or 51% of the region’s 4,228 overall sales increase.

The Dissection

Let’s start by saying that if this Southern California speculator surge looks bold, it’s tame when viewed using a national yardstick.

Click here to read the full article at the Orange County Register

‘Flash Mob’ Loots California Nordstrom, At Least Two people Arrested

At least two people were arrested at gunpoint after a flash mob of shoplifters robbed a California department store late Saturday night, a report said.

The incident happened at the Walnut Creek Nordstrom store, according to NBC Bay Area reporter Jodi Hernandez.

Some two dozen cars blocked the street as throngs of robbers rushed the store, made off with merchandise and sped away, the reporter tweeted.

Cops with guns drawn arrested two suspects, she said.

Click here to read the full article at NY Post

California Receives Initial $58 Million from DOT for High Speed Rail Transit, Cycling ‘Infrastructure’ Projects

Funding ‘was really supposed to repair and maintain current infrastructure’

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) announced on Friday that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has given its first grants from the recently passed $1 Trillion infrastructure bill to California, with $58 million going to transportation projects in Northern California and to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was the biggest recipient of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant Program, receiving $24 million to expand state route 46 in the Kern County city of Wasco to be a staging and storing area. Another $18 will go to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) for an earthquake retrofit of the Yerba Buena Island west side bridge, as well as greater access to the bridge for cyclists.

Oakland will receive $14.5 million to enhance their civic hub by improving walking, cycling, and public transportation projects, with a special focus on connecting Oakland with San Francisco via rail lines such as BART and Amtrak. Finally, the Yolo County Transportation District (YCTD) will get $1.2 million to fill in gaps of their current transportation system, as well as to improve bike and walking networks.

Both Senators noted on Friday the importance of these early infrastructure funding blocks.

“My thanks to Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg and the Transportation Department for these grants that will help California continue to modernize our transportation infrastructure,” said Senator Feinstein. “These projects include providing safer, more connected bikeways and walkways in San Francisco; assisting the City of Wasco with creating safer railway infrastructure; and connecting biking and walking paths in Oakland and Yolo County. Promoting cleaner, safer modes of transportation is a key part of improving California’s infrastructure.”

An initial $58 million in infrastructure funds

Senator Alex Padilla (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Senator Padilla, who has served less than a year as Senator, also noted that “From day one, I have worked to ensure that we use our infrastructure investments to help reconnect our communities, and I am proud to see federal efforts to do just that. From San Francisco to Wasco, this critical funding will help make our roads and bridges safer, help decongest our highways, and allow for more Californians to access our outdoor trails. As we continue to make significant investments in our state and nation’s aging infrastructure, I will continue to advocate for funding that serves our most in-need communities.”

However, many critics and experts criticized the funding on Friday for favoring bike projects over safety and repair projects.

“Whether you wanted the bill to pass or not, the point is we have it now,” San Diego-based urban planner and transportation planner Michael McGuiness Jr. told the Globe Friday. “But that was really supposed to repair and maintain current infrastructure, or build new pieces as needed. Instead, California gave a hint at where its money would be going today by putting most of it into mass transit and cycling. There was a needed bridge project in San Francisco, but that’s really about it. The largest chunk even went into the high-speed rail project, which is billions over budget and years behind schedule. So a lot is going into a future white elephant.”

“Plus, they largely ignored huge swats of the state, including all of California south of Bakersfield and north of the Bay. At first glance, these grants don’t look like they’re fairly going out.”

More grants and funding coming into California for infrastructure projects are expected to be announced soon.

This article originally published in the California Globe