Three California Towns Transformed by Wildfire: One Rebuilding, One in Ruins, One Threatened

GREENVILLE, Plumas County — Almost nothing recognizable remains of the three-bedroom house where Carey Russell once played with his two young children in this Sierra Nevada town.

The cinder block foundation is heaped with ash and twisted metal, its rectangular frame only a suggestion of the structure it once supported. The backyard, where Russell barbecued ribs and tri-tip, is a sea of rubble.

Russell had cherished living in his neighborhood right along Highway 89, which becomes Crescent Street as it passes through the tiny town of Greenville. His younger son and daughter, 7 and 9, lived down the street with their mother, his ex-wife. Their front doors were 150 steps apart.

Fighting back tears as he returned recently to Crescent Street for the first time since the behemoth Dixie Fire barreled through in August, Russell, 49, kicked over ashen piles in the ruins. He was hoping to find the American flag that flew over the Pentagon when he retired from the Navy in 2012, after more than 20 years of service. But after a few tense minutes, he gave up the search.

Click to read full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

Underground Regulations and California’s Administrative Procedure Act

The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) is charged with ensuring that agency and department regulations are “clear, necessary, legally valid, and available to the public.” OAL is responsible for reviewing proposed regulations by California’s more than 200 state agencies and departments that have rulemaking authority.

The formal rulemaking process is established by the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the APA sets forth the criteria by which OAL reviews all of those regulations. OAL reviews regular and emergency rulemaking projects, as well as challenged “underground” regulations.

On the OAL website (, readers can track on a table the list of rulemaking actions submitted to OAL for review. This list is updated daily per OAL. The website also contains a listing of underground regulation petitions that are under review by OAL. (

Concerning the review of alleged underground regulations, the role of OAL is specified in the California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 1, Division 1, Chapter 2, which is titled “Underground Regulations.”

In Section 250(a), it provides the following definition: “’underground regulation’ means any guideline, criterion, bulletin, manual, instruction, order, standard of general application, or other rule, including a rule governing a state agency procedure, that is a regulation as defined in Section 11342.600 of the Government Code, but has not been adopted as a regulation and filed with the Secretary of State pursuant to the AP A and is not subject to an express statutory exemption from adoption pursuant to the APA.”

In CCR Section 260, the submission of underground regulation petitions is discussed. Section 270 deals with the OAL review of these petitions. And, Section 280 describes the suspension of underground regulation actions. In terms of “underground regulations,” OAL is charged with reviewing any such challenged regulatory agency actions by way of a petition filed with OAL.

According to the OAL, “if a state agency issues, utilizes, enforces, or attempts to enforce a rule without following the APA when it is required to, the rule is called an ‘underground regulation.’ State agencies are prohibited from enforcing underground regulations.” If an individual or entity believes a state agency or department has issued an alleged underground regulation, that issuance can be challenged by filing a written petition with OAL.

If OAL accepts the petition for review, then OAL may issue a determination. According to OAL, this program is informally known as the “Chapter Two Unit,” or “CTU,” because OAL’s regulations regarding underground regulations are found in California Code of Regulations, Title 1, Chapter 2. The OAL website provides information on underground regulations and how to submit a written petition to OAL alleging an underground regulation.

OAL’s review of an alleged underground regulation is limited to a 3-step analysis to determine whether the alleged underground regulation must be adopted as a regulation pursuant to the APA. First, is the policy or procedure either a rule or standard of general application, or a modification or supplement to such a rule? Second, has the policy or procedure been adopted by the agency to either implement, interpret, or make specific the law enforced or administered by the agency, or govern the agency’s procedure?

If the answer to these two questions is “yes,” then the challenged rule is a regulation. However, before a determination is complete, OAL must review the final step of the analysis. Has the policy or procedure been expressly exempted by statute from the requirement that it be adopted as a “regulation” pursuant to the APA?

If the answer to this final question is yes, then the underground regulation did not have to go through the APA process. However, if the answer to this last question is no, then the rule is an underground regulation and cannot be enforced by the agency or department. Instead, it must go through the formal rulemaking process pursuant to the APA.

Finally, readers should be aware of Government Code Section 11340.5(e) which provides that, if an interested person has already begun litigation challenging an underground regulation, a determination issued by OAL may not be considered by the court in that pending litigation. Those challenging an alleged underground regulation should determine whether they want to pursue OAL review of the agency action, or whether to go directly to court to challenge it.

How have California’s courts viewed underground regulations by the state’s rulemaking bodies?

Click to read full article on California Globe

Did Beverly Hills Police Target Black Shoppers on Rodeo Drive? What Records and Emails Show

Last month, two attorneys summoned reporters to the steps of Beverly Hills City Hall to make a disturbing accusation. Police had deliberately targeted Black shoppers along the city’s famous Rodeo Drive.

The proof, they said, was in the numbers: A special team of officers assigned last fall to patrol the opulent shopping corridor arrested dozens of people for minor infractions such as jaywalking or riding scooters on a sidewalk and all but one of them were Black, they alleged. They labeled it brazen, illegal racial profiling.

A closer examination of the Beverly Hills Police Department’s Rodeo Drive Team offers a more complicated picture of the operation, shedding light on how it started and raising new questions about why the overwhelming majority of the people arrested were Black.

Click to read the full story at Los Angeles Times

How California Laws Are Stealing Christmas

We’ve all heard about it by now – the supply chain crisis and the bottlenecks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Last month, the “dwell time” – the time a container stays on a terminal between unloading from a ship and removal by a truck was six days – an all-time record.  As of last week, there were 100 ships idled off the coast of California waiting to unload goods. Fifty-seven more ships were in berth at the ports.

Pres. Biden’s plan to run 24/7 operations at these ports, however, has brought on a new problem. Many of the shipping containers that spent weeks waiting to be unloaded are now being left at nearby neighborhoods. CBS Los Angeles reported that one company, which had a capacity of 65 containers on its lot, lined up additional containers in front of some people’s homes in Wilmington. The owner is asking for residents’ understanding until the containers eventually get hauled off.

Clearly, running operations 24/7 hasn’t solved the problem.  One critical link in the chain is truck drivers.  In California, there are more than 70,000 mostly minority owned independent truckers operating in the state, 17,000 of which are registered to bring goods in and out of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. These independent contractors or owner-operators (OEs) often work with multiple trucking companies – a business model that has been the standard at California ports for many decades.

AB 5, however, changed the rules for doing business. Now, trucking companies must hire drivers as employees and not as contractors.  To avoid running afoul of the law, trucking companies have shied away from hiring OEs.

The California Trucking Association, the California Retailers Association, the Western Growers along with several business groups have joined forces to lobby Gov. Newsom to declare a state of emergency in order to suspend AB 5 along with AB 701, a recently signed law that regulates quotas at warehouse distribution centers such as those of Amazon’s, which I had written about in detail here.

In the letter to Newsom, the coalition wrote, “Let’s be clear, we are not asking for your leadership in order to ensure there are toys on the shelves for Christmas; we are asking for your leadership in order to ensure working families have access to affordable medical supplies, diapers, and other basic necessities.”

As an old communications hand, I respectfully differ with the coalition members — it should absolutely be about Christmas.  While there’s no question of the widespread negative economic consequences from a prolonged supply chain mess, the best way to change politicians’ minds is this nightmare scenario: no presents under the tree, that is, if there is even a tree.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton’s former press secretary and now director of California’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday that there would be no declaration of a state of emergency.  The fact is, even in the darkest days of the pandemic when the state’s small businesses appealed to Newsom to suspend AB 5, the Governor shook it off as “noise, noise, noise.” The same went for suspending the minimum wage increase.

Sure, the holidays mean big business for California and the U.S. economy, but after almost two years of the pandemic, people want to feel joy and hope.  And there’ll be a little less of both if the necessities are more expensive, and the things that make for holiday celebrations – bubbly water, Christmas lights, and turkeys, are not to be found.

There are heroes and villains in every story, and what politician doesn’t want to be the one who saved Christmas?  It’s not too late for the Newsom to change his mind.  In three years’ time when the supply chain crisis will return for election year scrutiny, the Guv could claim that thanks to him, Americans feasted on roast beasts.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

How Local Independent Commissions Are Changing California Redistricting

Long Beach is home to one of the busiest ports in the U.S., a city-owned airport, the birthplace of rapper Snoop Dogg and, of course, the beach. 

It’s also home to many different communities: a Cal State campus, young professionals and senior citizens downtown in need of affordable housing, a 45% Hispanic population and the largest Cambodian community outside of the Southeast Asian nation. 

How these communities are grouped into new election districts could reorder the city’s priorities. For decades, the Long Beach City Council drew its own districts. But this year, redistricting is in the hands of a new independent commission, aimed at preventing council members from drawing maps to their own political advantage. 

The new commission is hearing from residents, including environmental justice advocate Theral Golden, who spoke about Long Beach’s “kill zone” — also known as the “diesel death zone,” or “asthma alley.” 

Golden and others argued that because the corridor north of the port is currently divided into four council districts, residents can’t be as effective in fighting port-caused pollution.

“We are looking for something that will give someone who will represent us in a manner in which we can solve some problems,” Golden told the commission in June.  

California has a dozen new local independent commissions in this round of redistricting, a process that will create districts for elections from 2022 to 2030 based on the 2020 Census, the once-a-decade nationwide population count. 

These new panels are coming up with districts that in some places have never been redrawn, or have not been altered significantly, despite changing populations. Taking redistricting power away from office holders could mean changes in representation and city priorities.

This local movement was preceded by a state-level independent commission created by voters in 2008. That commission is busy holding public hearings and working on new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts that, in some areas, could impact who is elected. It is getting the lion’s share of attention. 

But the city and county commissions demonstrate, again, that all politics is local.   

Reforming redistricting’s ‘wild, wild West’ 

The new local independent redistricting commissions were authorized by the 2019 Fair MAPS Act, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a way to prevent political gerrymandering. 

The push in Long Beach for an independent panel came mostly from the city’s Cambodian community, whose political power was diluted when it was split into four council districts by the city council’s last redrawing in 2011.  

Despite that division, in December 2020, Suely Saro, a community advocate born in a refugee camp in Thailand, became the first Cambodian American on the Long Beach City Council and one of a few in the nation.

In 2018, a community group, Equity for Cambodians, teamed up with California Common Cause, a government reform group that pushed for the Fair MAPS Act, to lobby for the new commission. Later that year, voters changed the city charter to create the panel.

Click here to read the full story at

Newsom A Barrier To Tech Progress

In 2013, then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.” The book advances the idea of how government could use technology to “house the needs, concerns, information and collaboration of an enlightened digital citizenry.” The book was both well-written and compelling.

Given the innovative ideas advanced in his book, it was disappointing to see the governor veto two bills that would have used technology to improve citizens’ accessibility to their government.

First, Senate Bill 675 would have authorized a county board of supervisors, if they so choose, to allow property owners either over the age of 62, or those individuals on SSID regardless of age, to pay their property tax in monthly installments. But the ability to bill in monthly installments, ubiquitous in the private sector, and already possible in states including Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, was apparently too much for the Golden State. Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill, stating that Californians struggling to pay their property taxes already had options and that the bill contained “significant administrative and fiscal burdens.”

Despite Proposition 13, many retirees and seniors on fixed incomes still struggle to pay their property taxes in two big lump sums.

SB 675 simply would have given homeowners an additional option to pay their taxes in a timely manner and, at the same time, allowed them to incorporate property taxes into their monthly budgets. But the governor’s newfound fiscal restraint when it comes to investing in things that would benefit the taxpayer and the inability for government to implement widely accessible technology apparently got in the way.

To read the entire column, please click here.

The Kids Most Definitely Are Not All Right

The latest NAEP scores indicate a very troubled education system, and eliminating standardized tests certainly won’t solve the problem.

On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or “nation’s report card,” test scores in both reading and math declined for 13-year-old students, the first drop registered in 50 years. The test showed that the decline was concentrated among the lowest performing students. Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, who has been working with these data for 28 years, was shocked to see the decline. “I had to ask the question again of my staff. Are you sure?’ I asked them to go back and check,” she said.

It’s important to note that this test was given in early 2020, right before the pandemic-related shutdowns in the spring. At that point, then Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos granted a blanket, one-year “accountability waiver.” But in February 2021, with the Biden administration in place, new Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he’d “require states to administer the federally mandated tests in the spring, with an asterisk: They had the option of giving shorter, remote, or delayed versions.”

Bad idea. Per researcher Dan Goldhaber, “Using different versions of tests makes the results less comparable across different years and school districts.” And shorter tests produce less “actionable” information about individual student achievement in the short term. Nevertheless, the trend to disparage, eviscerate and ultimately do away with standardized tests is all the rage these days.

It’s also happening on the college level. Brandon McCoy, education policy expert at the Manhattan Institute, reports that the standardized test “has slowly lost its pride of place in college admissions over the past decade. By 2019, the number of schools going test-optional had risen to 1,050. The pandemic has catalyzed this trend, with at least 1,400 colleges in 2021 making the move to test-optional. College systems around the country are now permanently eliminating the requirement for the SAT and ACT; the University of California system is doing away with the tests altogether.”

Of course, the education establishmentarians will do anything to discredit low test scores because it makes them look bad. In fact, the teachers unions are actively working to eliminate any kind of standardized assessments because they know that if they don’t, public fury – especially from parents – could lead to reforms that could hurt the unions’ bottom line. The unions invoke terms like “test and punish” and “high-stakes testing” to put a bad spin on the assessments. But this is like a fat person blaming the bathroom scale for his obesity. A good test is diagnostic, explains where things are amiss, and may show ways to make improvements. No matter, the unions don’t care. And these days they have a new weapon – tests are racist, they say. For example, the Massachusetts Teachers Association is speaking out against the state’s standardized test, insisting that it has “allowed white supremacy to flourish in public schools.” The teachers union is endorsing a bill that would eliminate getting a passing score on the test as a graduation requirement in the state.

In Canada, Teri Mooring, president of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, quipped that standardized testing is “hurtful” and blamed a “right-wing think tank” for misusing results to “inappropriately rank B.C. schools,” which contributes to “entrenching both real and perceived inequities.”

The National Education Association also makes the absolutely baseless claim that testing children is racist. “From grade school to college, students of color have suffered from the effects of biased testing.” The union goes on to say, “Since their inception a century ago, standardized tests have been instruments of racism and a biased system,” and that “students of color, particularly those from low-income families, have suffered the most from high-stakes testing in U.S. public schools.”

Instead, NEA wants to promote “authentic assessments that reflect the broad range of students’ learning and skills, including creativity, leadership, critical thinking, and collaboration.” In other words, they want the tests to use highly subjective assessments, which the union will have a heavy hand in controlling.

Click here to read the full article at the California Policy Center

Explore OC: Newport’s Back Bay is a paradise for birds, plants and people

A wake of turkey vultures sit in a dead tree, the prickly pear cactus are blooming on the bluffs above and herons pick through the marsh grass feeding on small fish and critters.

Not too far away, cyclists, hikers and runners circle them all on the 10.5 miles of trail that is part of one of the most beautiful and diverse watersheds in Southern California: the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve.

The views it offers visitors can be stunning, making it a pleasant getaway among Orange County’s urban sprawl.

In the 1960s, there were plans to develop the upper bay with homes and boat docks, dredge the marsh and re-configure the shoreline. After a lawsuit and public campaign drew attention to the ecological importance of the area, it was designated a reserve in 1975.

Additional acreage has been added over the years and today about 1.5 square miles of habitat have been preserved.

Estuaries such as The Back Bay (that’s what the locals call it), where fresh water and salt water come together with little wave action, serve several purposes for Mother Nature, and that also means visitors can enjoy everything from bird watching to paddle sports up close to its marshes.

The area is a migratory path for the Pacific Flyway, a stopping point for more than 190 species of birds.

Click here to read full article at the Orange County Register