The Enemies of American Infrastructure

Between 2008 and 2019, China opened up 33 high speed rail routes, connecting 39 major cities along four north-south and four east-west main lines. The 18,000 mile network runs trains at an average speed of around 200 miles per hour. By 2030, the Chinese expect to double the mileage of their high speed rail network by expanding to eight north-south and eight east-west main lines. In less than 20 years, the Chinese have completely transformed their rail transportation network.

This is typical for the Chinese. China is also building three new airports – offshoreDalian, along the north coast opposite the Korean peninsula, Xiang’an, on the central coast facing Taiwan, and Sanya, off the coast of Hainan Island in the strategic South China Sea. All three airports are to be built to the highest international levels, with 12,000 foot runways able to accommodate the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner. All three are built on “reclaimed land,” i.e., the Chinese intend to bulldoze a few mountains into the ocean and flatten them into runways. And all three, from start to finish, will be built in under ten years.

China’s ability to construct big infrastructure, fast, is beyond debate. The Three Gorges Project, the largest dam in the world, created a deep water reservoir an astonishing 1,400 miles long. Its hydroelectric capacity of 22.5 gigawatts is the largest in the world. This massive construction project was done, from start to finish, in 12 years.

While China Builds, America Litigates

To argue that Americans don’t need high speed rail, or massive new airports on ocean landfill, or yet another massive hydroelectric dam, is beside the point. Americans can’t do any big projects. A perfect example is the Keystone Pipeline, which if it’s ever completed, will be capable of transporting 830,000 barrels of oil per day south from the tar sands of Alberta to existing pipelines in Nebraska. This pipeline has been tied up in permitting delays and litigation since 2008. Eleven years later, not one mile of pipeline has been built.

Even with aggressive support from the Trump administration, will Keystone ever get built? Not if an army of environmentalist plaintiff attorneys have their way. According to a recent report by PBS, as soon as a judge dismissed the most recent lawsuit against Keystone, another lawsuit was filed. Another construction season has been lost, another year of delay. Quoting from the article: “Representatives of a half-dozen other environmental groups vowed to keep fighting in court and predicted the pipeline will never be built.”

While Americans are divided over whether they support construction of the Keystone Pipeline, everyone supported quickly constructing towers to replace the World Trade Center towers lost in the attacks of 9/11/2001. One may assume that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, designs, bids and permitting were fast-tracked, yet it took over five years before construction began. Freedom Tower, the dazzling replacement to the twin towers, didn’t open until 2014, over 13 years after the 9/11 tragedy.

By contrast, the Empire State Building was built in 14 months. And while Freedom Tower is undoubtedly constructed to higher modern standards, that should be offset by equally more advanced construction practices. A more current example would be the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This mega-structure, more than twice the height of Freedom Tower, was built in just under six years.

America’s inability to build anything big has almost nothing to do with the quality of American engineering, or capabilities of America’s construction industry. Blame lies exclusively with American politicians, judges, government bureaucrats, and plaintiff attorneys. Nobody wants to throw away all environmental protections, but the process now in place of permit delays and litigation has paralyzed the nation. It has become extreme. Americans are wearing out infrastructure that was built decades ago. Thanks to permit delays and litigation, the costs of replacements and upgrades are prohibitive.

President Trump, who made his billions in the construction business, has done as much as he possibly can to cut regulations on builders, but without support from Congress or the courts, change is incremental. In late 2017, when announcing regulations he was eliminating, Trump stood in front of two piles of paper. One set of stacks, barely reaching his knees, represented the federal regulations in place in 1960. The other set of stacks, over seven feet in height, represented the totality of federal regulations in effect today. These regulations, upheld and expanded by courts and bureaucrats, serving as fodder for their delays and extortionate demands, are the reason America can no longer build anything big.

Unaffordable Homes? Thank Permitting Delays and Endless Litigation

Even housing starts are tied up in knots thanks to federal regulations, although differing regulatory environments in various states make a big difference. In California – which will be America if Democrats regain the White House in 2020 – it is nearly impossible to build homes.

A particularly egregious example of what California has in store for the rest of America is the proposed Tejon Ranch housing project that has been embroiled in permitting delays and lawsuits for over 25 years. This massive project, a planned community of over 19,000 badly needed new homes, would straddle Interstate 5 in the northwest corner of Los Angeles County. The developers have committed to set aside ninety percent of the land as a nature preserve, after which the NRDC, the Sierra Club, and the Nature Conservancy all withdrew their objections. But it only takes one: The “Center for Biological Diversity” has filed yet another lawsuit, and another year is lost.

Americans could build so much more, for less money, and in far less time, if balance were restored to the process of approving construction projects. The cost of permitting delays and litigation can literally double or triple the costs of construction, or worse. California’s Carlsbad desalination plant was constructed at a capital cost of $17,000 per acre foot of annual capacity; modern desalination plants in Israel (that require less electricity) are being constructed at a capital cost of just over $4,000 per acre foot of annual capacity, less than one fourth as much.

Everywhere on earth, nations are building big infrastructure and providing affordable housing for a fraction of what it costs in America.

If these environmentalists, bureaucrats, and plaintiff attorneys actually believe in saving a planet and a people desperately threatened by “climate change,” they’re being awfully impractical. How can Americans possibly build seawalls to protect them from the storm surges of a rising sea, or desalinate seawater to take pressure off the drought stricken rivers, if projects take decades instead of years, and cost many times what they might cost in other nations?

How, for that matter, since the environmentalists and the open-borders crowd are birds of a feather, can America add hundreds of millions to its population through a massive wave of immigration that hasn’t abated in over 30 years, yet make it nearly impossible to build homes or enabling infrastructure?

Competitive Abundance vs Rationed Scarcity

The prospects for abundance instead of rationed scarcity are good, if Congress and the courts were to support the president and enact meaningful reforms to a host of environmental regulations that have gone way too far. Nuclear power, clean fossil fuel, desalination plants, upgraded roads with high-speed “smart lanes,” high-rise agriculture, flying cars and spaceports. Entire new cities with millions of beautiful homes on spacious lots – none of this is out of reach. But it requires the kind of freedom that developers enjoyed in the 1960s, tempered to modern sensibilities, but with balance.

The consequences of not reforming America’s stultifying regulatory climate go beyond denying the American people a life of affordable abundance, delivered by competitive development of land, energy, and water resources. They spell the end of American preeminence, because while Americans spend trillions to pay unionized government bureaucrats and environmentalist attorneys, the Chinese are spending equivalent trillions on cost-effective infrastructure, with plenty left over to develop hypersonic missilesbrilliant pebblesparticle beams, etc.

Joel Kotkin, editor of and perhaps California’s smartest Democrat, just published a column entitled “Will the Democrats End Up Saving California’s Republican Party.” He argues that “their [the Democrats] flawed, draconian positions on what to do about climate change have made things worse for ordinary Californians by raising housing and energy prices as well as chasing employers out of the state, but with only mediocre results.” In his conclusion, he explains what’s needed – in California and in the rest of America: “You need a positive program centered on reining in pensions, reform of schools, better attention to roads, promoting new houses in redundant commercial areas as well as the periphery and cuts in the cost of energy. Focus on these issues would expose Democrats as creatures of special interest — teachers unions, public employee groups, the renewable energy lobbies — whose power hurts middle-class homeowners, a group which has been drifting away from them for a generation.”

Kotkin’s analysis is accurate. “Public employee groups” and “the renewable energy lobbies” are special interests. If not one and the same, they are allied with the government bureaucrats and environmentalist attorneys who amass power and money every time they stop or delay another infrastructure project or housing development. They are sapping American wealth, oppressing the American people, and empowering hostile regimes around the world.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Bill Would Expand Medi-Cal to Undocumented Immigrants

Democratic legislators are advancing a bill that aims to provide free health care to low-income undocumented seniors — an idea that they floated earlier this year, but which failed to make it into the state budget because of concerns over its cost.

The bill, authored by Los Angeles Democrat Maria Elena Durazo, would expand Medi-Cal—the state’s version of federal Medicaid  for low-income residents — to undocumented immigrants age 65 and older starting next July. That would inch the state closer to providing health care to all immigrants in the state illegally.

It faces a floor vote in the Assembly and then, if it passes, would return to the Senate for a final vote before landing on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. Legislators are in a mad scramble this week to wrap up all bills by the Friday deadline…

If California were to expand Medi-Cal to cover undocumented seniors, it would make it even harder for those on the program to find a doctor and get care, said Sally Pipes, president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, a free market think tank based in the Bay Area. In addition, she predicted that any expansion would lead the state to raise taxes to cover the cost, all while boosting the incentive for people to migrate illegally.

Pipes sees this as an incremental work-around in response to failed Democratic attempts to get state coverage for all undocumented immigrants. A bill to expand coverage to all undocumented immigrants stalled earlier this year.

“It’s not fair to those who are taxpayers and those who are middle- and lower-income and have a lot of stress in paying for healthcare. Why would they need to pay more to subsidize these people?” Pipes said. “They (legislators) didn’t get the $3.4 billion to cover all of them. So this is a stepping stone in getting there.”

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California Senate Passes Gig Employment Bill That Threaten Uber, Lyft

California lawmakers passed a watershed gig employment bill early Wednesday morning, paving the way to dramatically change the way companies like Uber and Lyft do business.

The legislation, known as Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), would require gig economy workers to be treated as employees rather than contractors.

The bill received a 29 to 11 vote in the California State Senate and now moves to the State Assembly, where it is expected to easily pass.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who also needs to sign off on the bill, has publicly voiced his support for the legislation. “I am proud to be supporting Assembly Bill 5, which extends critical labor protections to more workers by curbing misclassification,” Newsom wrote in a recent Sacramento Bee editorial.

AB5 has the potential to upend numerous Silicon Valley companies that depend primarily on independent contractors.

Companies as diverse as ridesharing services Uber and Lyft, as well as food delivery services like DoorDash, would have to re-classify many of their drivers as employees, potentially adding significant costs such as benefits.

Those costs could be passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices.

The bill is also seen as an important step for labor activists who hope to unionize drivers.

“AB 5 is only the beginning,” Edan Alva, a driver with Gig Workers Rising, told USA Today. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.”

Despite the bill’s passage, shares of Uber and Lyft rose in intraday trading Wednesday.

Gov. Newsom told the Wall Street Journal that he’s still in discussion with Uber, Lyft and other affected companies about potential negotiations on the bill.

Uber and Lyft had pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars to fight the legislation. In August Uber proposed a minimum wage for drivers, a move seen as an attempt to combat the California bill.

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New California Law Bans School Suspensions for Defiance

Earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 419 into law, which extends the current K-3 ban for suspensions for “defiant and disruptive” behavior to grades 4-8. The law suggests that “restorative justice practices, trauma-informed practices, social and emotional learning, and schoolwide positive behavior interventions and support, may be used to help pupils gain critical social and emotional skills” as a way to right the wayward student. At least the Kumbaya statute doesn’t pertain to violence, robbery and other more serious offenses … yet.

Wrongness abounds here. First, the law excuses anti-social behavior with a kiss on the wrist. Defying your teacher with no real consequence will simply lead to more-of-same, with new disruptors encouraged to join the “Let’s give Mr. Chips the finger” club. And good kids will suffer as the disruptive ones eat up valuable class time with their antics.

The impetus behind the bill appears to be race-based. While black students made up 5.6 percent of the total enrollment in California for academic year 2017-18, they accounted for 15.6 percent of total suspensions for willful defiance, according to the state education department. Of course, it goes unmentioned that black kids actually commit a disproportionate amount of the suspense-worthy offenses. Black teachers get this. A recent Fordham Institute teacher survey, showed that they, more than white teachers, feel suspensions aren’t used enough.

But school discipline, you see, like so much in education, is subject to big government meddling, emotion and social justice fads, and all too often the extremists get their way. After the Columbine murders in 1999, “zero-tolerance” policies became the new national trend-du-jour. This overreactive lurch led to outrageous consequences – like a 7-year-old Maryland boy being suspended in 2013 for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang.”

Then, making a U-turn, President Obama and his Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” on school discipline in 2014. The missive asserted that there was a racial component to school suspensions because blacks were far more likely to be suspended than other ethnic groups. The suggestion here, of course, is that white teachers and administrators, most of whom are white, tend to be racist. But the racial bean counters never get around to explaining why, according to one study, the racial disparity exists even in schools where black principals and staff predominate. Another study of suspension rates showed that having all-black rather than all-white teachers reduced the risk of being suspended by a mere two percentage points.

As The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley notes, the Obama administration sent school districts “guidance” letters that threatened federal action if black suspension rates weren’t reduced. “The letter stated that even if a school’s suspension policy ‘is neutral on its face—meaning that the policy itself does not mention race—and is administrated in an evenhanded manner,’ the district could still face a federal civil-rights investigation if the policy ‘has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.’”

Broward County, Florida’s school system led the nation in promoting and implementing this big-government policy shift, serving as the exemplarfor Obama’s guidance. Broward’s efforts to end the “schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline” by reducing in-school arrests for drugs, assault, and weapons charges were celebrated by social-justice and criminal-reform advocates around the country. But as Manhattan Institute fellow Max Eden writes, it was precisely this preference for social justice over safety that allowed Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, to avoid arrest in Broward County, “despite years of criminal behavior on school grounds, and countless red flags regarding his unstable and psychopathic personality.”

So what should we do? First, as one who has seen many students suspended during my stint in middle school, I can tell you that in most cases the action is useless. After a suspension, I always asked the offending students how they spent their time when they were out of school. By far, the most prevalent response was a shrug, accompanied by, “Watched TV.” Hardly cruel and unusual punishment. A better solution would be to ditch suspensions and, instead, if kid breaks the school’s rules, make him come to school early or stay late, or possibly expose him to some lectures on Saturday morning. Perhaps then, flipping off the English teacher may lose some of its joyous luster. And importantly, any criminal student behavior should involve law enforcement.

But more than anything, the way forward must be local. Very local. Let each school – administration, teachers and parents – figure out how to handle behavior problems. A school district could help by setting down some loose guidelines. But the state and most definitely the feds need to stay far out of it. A dust up between a teen and a teacher in Idaho should not have to be subject to the whims of social justice warriors and government bureaucrats three time zones away.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network– a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center.

State Housing Crisis Worsening Despite New Laws

For the third straight year, the state Legislature has approved major legislation meant to accelerate housing construction in California to help stabilize or reduce the cost of shelter. But will the latest – Senate Bill 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 – fare any better than past legislation in improving the housing picture in the Golden State?

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is optimistic, saying in a news release that its enactment would help create the housing California “desperately needs.” Her bill is meant to force local governments to speed up the processing of building permits and limit fees on housing. It also forbids cities and counties from reducing how many homes can be built. SB330 easily won final legislative approval last week.

But there was similar optimism about past measures. Most notably, Gov. Gavin Newsom has used new powers to aggressively target local governments which don’t build enough housing, especially units with rents or mortgages within reach of families with average incomes or less.

Multifamily permits off 42% from 2018

Yet while this has produced headlines with the Newsom administration’s January lawsuit against Huntington Beach over its refusal to add more affordable units and with threats against other cities, it doesn’t appear to be boosting housing construction in any notable way.

State data shows residential building permits dropped by 12 percent in the first five months of 2019 compared with the same span in 2018. And the statistics were far grimmer for less expensive multifamily housing units, which plunged 42 percent.

Builders and housing experts who contributed to a recent Sacramento Bee print symposium on the news of declining residential construction were not optimistic. Two fundamental problems – one much noted, one less appreciated – are not going away, they said.

Tia Boatman Patterson, Newsom’s top housing adviser, said there continue to be bottlenecks at the local level in getting housing through bureaucratic hoops.

Sometimes there’s what appears to be defiance. The New York Times recently reported that California cities “with some of the state’s highest rents, including Atherton, La Canada Flintridge, Los Altos Hills and Rancho Palos Verdes, issued no multifamily construction permits from 2013 to 2017.”

Cash-strapped cities increasing fees

But some participants in the Bee project said the problem isn’t just getting local governments to live up to their obligations and to stop dragging their feet in granting permits and approvals. Many cities and counties are so fiscally stretched because of the rising costs of pensions and other expenses that they’re increasingly adopting new or higher fees on housing projects – even as developers beg for relief.

Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, even said these fees were on their way to being a bigger obstacle that the California Environmental Quality Act.

But there was also some pushback at the notion that NIMBYs were the biggest problem. Instead, some argued that it’s the fact that between the high cost of land and regulations that can add $200,000 to the cost of a single-family home, building housing in California is riskier and less appealing for developers than most other states. This decades-old problem may have been overshadowed by other housing issues of late, but it’s a consensus view of builders that has never gone away.

The executive director of the League of California Cities, Carolyn Coleman, noted in her contribution to the Bee that more than 450,000 homes had received final approval from local authorities but the vast majority weren’t being built.

The takeaway: Even when local bureaucratic obstacles are overcome, adding housing in California is a difficult proposition.

Newsom has not taken a position on SB330, but his signature is considered likely. It passed the Assembly 67-8 and the Senate 30-4.

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Democrats Ignore Voter Decisions

In politics, as in sports, rules of the game often influence, or even dictate, who wins and who loses.

Just as professional sports leagues are wracked by internal conflict over playing rules, California’s politicians and interest groups joust constantly over campaign contribution limits, redrawing of legislative and congressional districts, voter registration, voting procedures and countless other electoral rules.

One of the many clashes occurred 31 years ago, when two competing ballot measures, Propositions 68 and 73, tested voter sentiment on providing public funds to candidates for office, a long-sought goal of Common Cause and other self-described political reform groups.

While both 1988 initiatives purported to limit campaign contributions, Proposition 68 created a mechanism for public financing of campaigns while Proposition 73 amended the state’s Political Reform Act to prohibit candidates from accepting public funds.

Both passed handily, but Proposition 73 had a higher margin of victory, so its prohibition on public financing prevailed.

The issue was joined again in 2006, when proponents of public financing, led by the California Nurses Association, placed Proposition 89 on the ballot. It specifically authorized public campaign financing, along with a corporate tax hike to finance it.

Business and anti-tax groups opposed the measure and both sides spent virtually identical sums, nearly $6 million each, on the campaign, but by an overwhelming 3-to-1 margin, Proposition 89 was rejected.

A decade later, in 2016, proponents of public financing took another shot, but instead of asking voters to overturn Proposition 73’s ban, they sponsored Senate Bill 1107, an end-run around the ban authorizing state and local governments to provide funds to candidates.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who sponsored the original Political Reform Act as a candidate for governor in 1974, signed SB 1107 and public financing opponents, led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, immediately challenged it in court, contending that it violated Proposition 73.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley agreed with the opponents and the state appealed to the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

Late last month, the three-member appellate panel ruled unanimously to uphold Frawley, saying SB 1107 “directly conflicts with a primary purpose and mandate of the (Political Reform) Act, as amended by subsequent voter initiatives…”

The ruling didn’t sit well with public financing proponents, including SB 1107’s author, state Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, who said, “The judge’s ruling is a disappointing setback to communities that rightfully want to reduce the influence of special interest money in campaigns.”

That may be, but regardless of one’s feelings about public financing of campaigns, the state’s voters have had several opportunities to embrace it, but refused, and it’s rather cheeky for legislators to ignore them.

Such arrogance is emerging as a pattern among the Democrats who now wield total political power in California.

Not only are they evidently willing to thumb their noses at their own voters, but have several times seen their “progressive” actions slapped down in the federal courts as violating constitutional rights, including the right to free speech.

If Ben Allen, other Democratic politicians and institutional supporters of public campaign financing want to pursue their cause, the legitimate way is to place a measure on the ballot and persuade voters to support it.

In fact, an earlier version of SB 1107 would have placed the issue before voters to decide, but that provision was removed even though the Legislature’s own lawyer warned that it “would require voter approval in order to become effective.”

Arrogance compounded. 

Dan Walters is a columnist for CALmatters

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A Big Win for California Taxpayers

In a victory for taxpayers, the Fresno Superior Court decided in favor of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on Thursday, ruling that special taxes proposed by a voter initiative are not exempt from the state constitution’s two-thirds vote requirement.

At issue was Fresno’s Measure P, a sales tax initiative on the November 2018 ballot that proposed a 3/8 percent sales tax increase to provide extra funding for city parks, recreation, and after-school programs. The measure received 52% of the vote and was declared failed for lacking the two-thirds voter approval required by two constitutional amendments – Proposition 13 (1978) and Proposition 218 (1996).

The special interests that put the initiative on the ballot filed a lawsuit against the city of Fresno and other government officials claiming that Proposition 13 should be ignored. They argued that the two-thirds vote requirement applies only to special taxes proposed by public agencies such as cities and counties and that it didn’t apply to taxes proposed by a voter initiative. Interestingly, the city of Fresno filed its own lawsuit against the proponents simply seeking clarification of its legal obligations to collect the tax or not. Because of the city’s apparent neutrality, it left no one to defend Proposition 13.

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association intervened on the grounds that the interest of taxpayers was unrepresented in the litigation. HJTA filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that it would open a huge loophole in the two-thirds vote protection if taxes proposed by initiative were exempt.

On Thursday, the Fresno County Superior Court agreed with HJTA in a five page decision explaining that the two-thirds vote requirement was not imposed on public agencies, but on the voters. Regardless of who authors the proposal, it must be submitted to the voters who must approve it by two-thirds, otherwise it is rejected.

To read the entire column, please click here.

The follies and excesses of Proposition 65

It’s been a bad summer for Proposition 65, which is a good thing for California’s small businesses and consumers.

Prop. 65 is the California law responsible for the cancer-warning signs so ubiquitous that most Californians know it’s better just to ignore them.

In bars and restaurants, on playground equipment, shoes, umbrellas, and golf club covers, even around Disneyland, consumers are warned that product — even the place itself — “is known to the state of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm.”

While most Californians treat these with bemusement, they are no laughing matter. They mislead consumers and expose small businesses to ruinous lawsuits. And because California is the world’s fifth-largest economy (that’s the United Kingdom riding our bumper), decisions made in Sacramento can have disastrous national effects.

Fortunately, Prop. 65 has suffered a couple of recent major setbacks. State lawmakers should ride this momentum to make meaningful reforms to rein in this posterchild of over-regulation. The California Policy Center is doing its part by highlighting some of the most ridiculous Prop. 65 warning labels in a contest that starts today. for more information.

In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the unprecedented step of issuing guidance stating it won’t approve of Prop. 65’s “false labeling” on the weedkiller Roundup because the science doesn’t support it. EPA didn’t mince words: “It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy.”

This federal action against Prop. 65 came on the heels of a long-sought Prop. 65 exemption for coffee in June. This Prop. 65 about-face was the result of outrage from coffeemakers, drinkers and even scientists who demonstrated that coffee was not a cancer risk. Another federal agency — the Food and Drug Administration — threatened to “step in” if the state went ahead with Prop. 65 labels for coffee. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explained that these “could mislead consumers to believe that drinking coffee could be dangerous to their health when it actually could provide health benefits.”

Prop. 65 is often out of step with scientific consensus because it draws from a reference list of nearly 1,000 chemicals, which state regulators say could cause “one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifetime.” At such a low bar, everything causes cancer.

Like so many regulations, the biggest victims of Prop. 65 are small businesses. Prop. 65 deputizes private trial lawyers to search for evidence of noncompliance. Small businesses, which generally don’t have the resources to fight costly legal battles, are often compelled to settle. Because the penalties for failure to warn are so steep, businesses paid $35 million in Prop. 65 settlements in 2018, with more than three-quarters of this total going to attorney fees. Some lawyers who specialize in this area take home more than $1 million in fees per year.Are there some consumer products that really are dangerous and should come with a consumer warning? Of course. But Prop. 65 ironically makes consumers less safe because it dulls our reactions to real threats. If everything has a warning then, in effect, nothing does. Thanks to Prop. 65, consumers have no way to measure their real risk.While the logical case against Prop. 65 is airtight, perhaps the most effective way to illustrate its absurdity is simply by showing real images of these warning labels. Just as Malcolm Gladwell explained in his bestselling 2005 book Blink that you can learn more about someone by glancing at their bookshelf than by hours of conversation, Californians can discover more about Prop. 65 by viewing these images than by studying the junk science that underlies them.

That’s why the California Policy Center has been awarding a weekly prize for the craziest Prop. 65 image submitted by the public for the last year. We’ve received some mind-blowing photos, including Prop. 65 warnings on such items as prenatal vitamins, gingerbread houses, and even an entire gym. Now that we have 52 images, we’re asking the public to vote for their favorites to determine a grand prize winner.

If pictures truly speak louder than words, winter is coming for Prop. 65.

Originally published at the Orange County Register

Workers’ Freedom At Risk In California

Photo courtesy mdfriendofhillary, flickr

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with one eye on California presidential primary votes and the other on the state’s rich political donors, recently wrote an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee in which she demanded someone do something about that “shameful” gig economy.

Warren, a Rutgers-trained lawyer, has expended a lot of energy to establish herself as a friend of the common working man and woman. So spinning a tale about worker “exploitation” is not unexpected from the Massachusetts Democrat.

While California Sen. Kamala Harris, the former state attorney general who’s also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has not addressed Sacramento’s intention to regulate the gig economy, it’s clear that her view is similar to Warren’s. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon erased any doubt about where Democrats stand at a family-unfriendly rally at the State Capitol last month. The Lakewood Democrat said the trend toward freelance work is “about corporations trying to oppress workers. When you hear folks talking about the new economy, the gig economy, the innovation economy, it’s (expletive) feudalism all over again.”

Legislation that would statutorily define which workers are independent contractors and which must be hired as employees was recently approved by a Senate Committee. Assembly Bill 5, already passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly by 59-15 margin, is an effort to codify the Dynamex decision. In that 2018 case, the California Supreme Court ruled that when a worker-business arrangement cannot pass its “ABC test,” a three-pronged standard that determines if a worker can legally operate as an independent contractor, the worker must be a hired employee.

The effort is all for the benefit of workers, say supporters. After it passed in the lower chamber in May, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego, the bill’s sponsor, tweeted out a thanks to her colleagues who voted to prevent workers from being deprived “of the labor law protections they are rightfully entitled to.” Steve Smith, the California Labor Federation’s director of communications, has said that “classifying workers as independent contractors” means “cheating” them “out of basic protections in the law.”

That’s not universally agreed upon, though. Working as an independent contractor has several advantages over being a hired staff member. Freelancers make their own hours, work for multiple companies at the same time, walk away from bad bosses, supplement their full-time jobs when emergency funds are needed, juggle work and school, and look for projects they prefer rather than taking those assigned to them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “fewer than one in 10 independent contractors would prefer a traditional work arrangement.” What happens to the nine who prefer freelancing if lawmakers set the bar so high only a few can reach it?

AB5 won’t make contract work illegal. But it would severely restrict worker freedom, as well as handcuff companies whose existence depends on freelancers. If businesses are required to add to their burden of administrating overtime pay, payroll taxes, income tax withholdings, scheduling, insurance plans, and unemployment benefits, their balance sheets will suffer.

“Independent contractors, on average, cost about 66 cents on the dollar for every hour they work compared to a full-time employee,” says the R Street Institute’s Jarret Dieterle, with California businesses expected to be paying an additional $1.3 billion to nearly $7 billion a year if AB 5 becomes law.

Businesses would have no choice but to respond to AB5 the same way they address minimum wage hikes: cutting employees’ hours, and in some cases eliminating jobs. It’s conceivable revenue could fall so far that many will no longer be able to stay in business.

Then what do the freshly-hired workers, flush with new but suddenly useless benefits, do after their employers close shop?

Complicating the legislation are discussions about exemptions for workers in some industries, such as medical, engineering, real estate sales, and insurance sales. Carve outs for artists have also been considered. Critics believe the special treatment would be both harmful and unfair.

“By openly discussing — and practically encouraging — ongoing lobbying efforts by industries to secure exemptions, citizens and voters are likely to conclude that politicians are picking winners and losers based on which industries have the most political clout,” says a recent R Street Institute paper co-authored by Dieterle.

As many as 2 million Californians in a labor force of about 19.3 million will be affected by the outcome of AB5. When it reaches the Senate floor, will lawmakers vote based on what they prefer, or what workers want? Policymakers almost without exception believe the two are the same, but that’s rarely true.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

State Senator Accuses Caltrans Of Being Too Car-Centric

Gov. Gavin Newsom may have to step in to resolve a dispute between a state agency and a high-profile lawmaker over “Complete Streets” – a core concept of modern “smart growth” planners that holds streets should provide safe access and use not just to vehicles but to pedestrians and those using other types of transportation.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, says Caltrans is trying to sandbag his “Complete Streets” measure, Senate Bill 127. While it doesn’t impose any formal requirements on Caltrans, the bill does require the agency to study adding improvements that accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and transit when fixing an existing road or building a new one.

The bill has passed the state Senate, the Assembly Transportation Committee and, last week, the Assembly Appropriations Committee on largely party-line votes. It seems likely to reach Newsom’s desk after the full Assembly approves it within the next two weeks.

Caltrans sees proposed rule as very costly

But Wiener was unhappy enough with a Caltrans communication on the expected cost of his measure that he depicted the agency as underhanded in a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Caltrans said compliance costs would be so high – $4.5 million per mile of blacktop and more than $1 billion a year – that it would be unable to meet its road improvement obligations that are part of the 2017 law increasing the state’s gasoline tax. The agency also said Wiener’s measure would make it impossible to satisfy the conditions of grants from the Federal Highway Administration.

Wiener wrote two weeks ago to David Kim – secretary of California State Transportation Agency, which oversees Caltrans – that this cost estimate was so “severely inflated” that it “undermines the agency’s credibility.” He said evidence from local governments suggested that SB127’s costs would be from $20,000 to $600,000 per mile, depending on the nature of the project.

Wiener also told the Chronicle that Caltrans appears to think it would be obligated to put up bike lanes on all its projects when in fact the main priority is the “little towns all over California where their main street is a state highway. … That’s where businesses are. That’s where people are walking around. That’s where the school is. Some of them don’t have crosswalks.”

Caltrans an early fan of ‘Complete Streets’

But Caltrans’ history undercuts Wiener’s claim that its high estimates are being driven by outdated views that see roads as being for cars and cars only. Caltrans was one of the first state transportation agencies to embrace “Complete Streets” in 2008. In a 2015 interview with Governing magazine, Malcolm Dougherty – then Caltrans director – touted the agency’s commitment to the concept.

And in 2017, Dougherty used a Caltrans news release to tout the exact sort of “Complete Streets” project – on State Route 62 in Joshua Tree – that Wiener called his priority.

The news release quoted Dougherty as saying the project “used funds from a current construction project to restripe the downtown section of Joshua Tree with bike lanes and diagonal parking in order to more safely move vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists through the downtown business district … [providing] meaningful improvements that create streets which move all users safely and efficiently along and across the roadway.”

Dougherty resigned his Caltrans post last year. His replacement, Caltrans engineer Laurie Berman, is a strong proponent of “Complete Streets” as well. She told a Streetsblog writer in November that while she had worked at Caltrans, her agency had “gone from being heavily criticized for not knowing anything about ‘Complete Streets’ to establishing a Center of Excellence, and providing tools that we can all use, statewide, to move forward together and build facilities that are useful to everyone.”

Berman reports to Kim.

This article was originally published by