Gov. Newsom Pressured to Fix Education Funding for English Learners

scathing audit on school funding that found the state did not meet promises made six years ago to help English language learners, foster children and students from poor families sets up a 2020 test of the clout of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – and of the willingness of Gov. Gavin Newsom to take on the unions who were early backers of his successful 2018 candidacy. 

State Auditor Elaine Howle’s review focused on how school districts in San Diego, Oakland and Clovis had implemented the Local Control Funding Formula, which was adopted by the Legislature in 2013 at the behest of then-Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor and then-Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, were among several leaders who said the LCFF would be a game changer by getting additional assets to struggling students.

But Howle found instead that billions in extra funds the formula directed to districts with high percentages of English learners, foster kids and poor families had been used for general needs – including raises for teachers. She concluded there was little or no evidence that the LCFF had boosted these students’ performance.

“In general, we determined that the state’s approach [to Local Control] has not ensured that funding is benefiting students as intended,” Howle wrote.

Howle’s finding confirmed all the major criticisms of the formula that have been raised by education reformers and by civil rights lawyers who have repeatedly sued Los Angeles Unified over its treatment of poor minority students. 

Bill to track school funding couldn’t even get a hearing

But these groups have never gotten far with Local Control changes. Last spring, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the San Diego Democrat who pushed for the audit, couldn’t even get Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, to hold a hearing on her bill to require disclosure of how LCFF dollars are being used.

Howle’s audit gives Weber new evidence to push for tracking such spending, and she has said fixing Local Control is her top priority in 2020. But O’Donnell, a former teacher who is close to the CTA and CFT, is unlikely to drop his opposition to tracking the funding.

A key question is likely to be what the governor does. While Newsom won the early endorsements of the two teacher unions, he spent the 2018 campaign telling editorial boards and the Los Angeles and Silicon Valley billionaires who back education reform that he too wanted to fix Local Control to ensure it helped struggling students and had proper accountability protections.

But any attempt to get school districts to stop spending LCFF dollars on teacher compensation – and on rapidly growing teacher pension costs – will go directly against the CTA and the CFT. They already see available school funding as inadequate and are both pushing for billions of dollars in tax hikes in two measures expected to be on the ballot in November 2020. They also won changes that will make it more difficult for charter schools to be approved or renewed using the argument that charters were diverting funding from regular public schools at a time when those schools are desperately underfunded. They are unlikely to accept the notion that the audit must be acted on.

Meanwhile, Newsom has so far used his political capital to advance an education reform that teachers unions also may question. But the reform – using metrics to track the performance of students throughout their K-12 journey – isn’t nearly as contentious as the state forcing many school districts to reorient their Local Control spending and stop using it for raises and pension bills.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

The High Cost of California Environmentalism

With Thanksgiving in two weeks, I have to start by giving thanks that my family and home have been safe from the fires we have seen recently. I have many friends who were evacuated or lost power. And seeing the homes that burned was sobering for everyone living in California.

The smoke, power outages, and freeway closures impacted life in the San Fernando Valley – forcing at least one local nonprofit to cancel its major fundraiser, losing desperately-needed money which could have been spent on services; closing schools, and endangering people in poor health for whom the smoke and lack of electricity was not an inconvenience but a real danger.

I hope that the stories we’ve heard will illustrate something I’ve been talking about for years now – the importance of energy reliability and affordability. Over the last few years, certain environmentalist groups have coalesced around a single energy policy – remove all trace of fossil fuels from our city and state. And they have the right to campaign on their one issue as much as they want.

But I remain concerned that Los Angeles and California elected officials have embraced this as a purity test for energy policy without fully understanding the nuance or context of the world. They seem to think of energy as a dichotomy – electricity fueled by wind and solar is good; all other forms of energy are bad.

As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, electricity is not free from environmental costs. The smoke from the fires, the blanket of fire retardant over the hills, the infrastructure that will need to be rebuilt – those all have an environmental cost. And they have a human cost: families who can’t afford to miss work but struggle to get around closed roads, small businesses which lose customers when people hunker down at home, parents who need to find child care when schools close.

The planned power outages which have affected millions of Californians have a cost, too, causing people to turn to inefficient back-up generators, losing fresh food and wages, causing traffic accidents and medical emergencies, and bringing entire regions to a grinding halt.

I think that anyone who continues to beat the drum that electricity is a magic, emission-free energy source is deluded. The proposals to bury cables underground or create micro-grids are willfully ignorant of the economics. Someone has to pay, and ratepayers already are struggling with the cost of living in California – which survey after survey shows is the majority of Californians – aren’t going to be able to cope with these costs being passed onto them.

All energy, including wind and solar, has environmental costs, human costs, and opportunity costs. The minerals and metals required for these technologies have huge environmental costs, not to mention raise serious human rights issues. Batteries have a limited life cycle and are expensive to recycle. Wind turbines have been shown to change local weather patterns and kill birds and bats.

And we need to consider the opportunity costs, as well. Last year, Metro chose to replace many of its natural-gas powered buses with electric buses: I continue to wonder whether the resources put into the conversion would have been better spent on increasing services, bringing more people onto transit and reducing the number of cars on the road.

And for California to consider itself an environmental leader on the global stage, the technologies we produce have to be competitive – because the biggest growth in emissions is coming from China, which is still relying on the cheapest fuel, coal. I would say that developing imperfect but affordable energy solutions will benefit the globe many times more than “perfect” technology, which only the richest communities in the world can afford.

So when certain environmentalists tell you that all fossil fuels are bad, and renewable electricity is good, bear these things in mind. The fires we’ve experienced have illustrated the message: we need to consider the nuance and complexity of energy issues in California thoughtfully and without falling into the trap of vilifying any single technology.

Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association.

Resentment Toward the Golden State Diaspora Grows in Idaho

As public-sector problems go, Idaho has a good one: too many people want to live there. According to Census Bureau data, Idaho is now tied with Nevada as the fastest-growing state in the union, in percentage terms. From 2010 to 2018, the state’s population grew by nearly 12 percent. The growth was concentrated in the state’s capital and largest city, Boise, which saw an 18.5 percent population increase over that period.

There’s a catch, however, at least in the eyes of many Idahoans: a disproportionate number of newcomers are coming from California. In the 12 months from July 2017 to July 2018, Californians accounted for nearly 60 percent of Idaho’s net migration. The state is far from alone in this regard. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, six of the seven fastest-growing states in the nation in percentage terms—Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Washington, and Colorado—are in the West. In all six, California is the largest source of new residents.

None of this should be particularly surprising. With a population of approximately 40 million, it would be strange if California wasn’t the biggest supplier of expatriates—especially to nearby states. But far from making these demographic shifts unremarkable, California’s size comes with equally significant consequences for its neighbors. For while the number of departing citizens might seem like a rounding error for a state like California, they’re a significantly larger percentage of the population in the states to which they decamp. Nowhere is that felt more acutely than in Idaho, a mostly rural state without a major metropolitan area. (A “major” metro is generally defined as having a population of over 1 million; the Boise area has around 730,000.) Los Angeles County alone has more than five times as many residents as the entire state.

Predictably enough, this has fueled a backlash. As a recent report by Maria L. La Ganga in the Los Angeles Times notes, many longtime residents aren’t thrilled with the breakneck pace of change brought by California’s hordes. While La Ganga devotes a bit too much time to colorful but unserious signs of the blowback—a fringe Boise mayoral candidate, for example, who flippantly proposes erecting a wall to keep the Californians out—there’s no doubt that the deluge of movers creates genuine concerns. Median home prices in Ada County, where Boise is located, have increased by over 19 percent just since February 2018. Not only does the influx of Californians increase demand, but their inflationary influence is also compounded by housing budgets swollen by the sale of their Golden State properties.

As anyone who’s ever experienced one of these demographic surges up close will know, most local resentment is expressed in cultural rather than economic terms. (I once told a lunch companion in my adopted home state of Tennessee that I was originally from Southern California. His response: “I’m sorry to hear that.”) La Ganga quotes the diagnosis of Reverend Bill Roscoe, a California expat who’s been in Idaho since 2002: “If you come here and love it, everything’s fine. If you come here and fly that California flag in your driveway and have stickers on your car that say, ‘Santa Cruz,’ there’s going to be some hard feelings.”

That’s not an unreasonable position. Nor, it should be noted, is it an enforceable one. There’s no law that one can pass to uphold something as intangible as a community ethos, though that hasn’t kept people from trying—Wayne Richey, the fringe mayoral candidate, proposed higher property taxes for new arrivals in Boise. All the natives can really do is resort to the soft sanction of local norms. And that’s a harder task when the inflow is coming at such speed and volume that longtime residents’ influence is, as a proportional matter, waning.

The California-Idaho nexus presents an extreme version of the questions that all similarly situated places must answer: what do newcomers owe longtime residents? And how should the former treat the latter? On the major questions, the answers suggest themselves. Newcomers would do well to conduct themselves as converts rather than colonizers. It’s hard to welcome someone into a community that they seem intent on scrapping for parts. By the same token, locals have to concede that growth is inevitably accompanied by change. That can be uncomfortable—but much less so than the alternatives of stagnation or even decline.

On the everyday questions—the ones about how the parties actually come to a workable modus vivendi—the answers will surely be messier. But they will not be settled by public policy. Despite the occasional reveries that we’ll all sort into likeminded communities, most Americans don’t move for explicitly political reasons. So, there’s no easy way out: we’ll have to learn to live with one another. To do so, we’ll need to revive a virtue that modern America too often neglects: mutual forbearance. In Idaho, at least, they start with an advantage. The old-timers and the newbies already have at least one thing in common: neither wants to be in California.

Troy Senik was a White House speechwriter for George W. Bush. He is the author of the forthcoming book, A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online

AG Becerra’s Facebook Probe Watched Closely by Tech Firms

After keeping quiet for more than a year about the investigation, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra confirmed last week that California is suing Facebook after a state probe found it had allegedly violated privacy laws.

In documents filed with the Superior Court in San Francisco, Becerra’s office said the probe began in June 2018 in response to the scandal involving the Cambridge Analytica political consulting firm, which had been given access to the online activities of 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge. The most prominent client of the firm, which closed last year, was the Trump presidential campaign in 2015-16.

“What initially began as an inquiry into the Cambridge Analytica scandal expanded over time to become an investigation into whether Facebook has violated California law by, among other things, deceiving users and ignoring its own policies,” the court filing noted.

The possibility that California was pursuing its own probe was detailed in an Oct. 31 story in the New York Times about Becerra’s absence from a meeting of state attorneys general in September in Washington in which they discussed a coordinated probe of Facebook and Google. Becerra continues to decline to answer if his office is investigating Google.

And the attorney general said the Facebook probe would still be unrevealed if it wasn’t for the fact that the Menlo Park-based company had stopped cooperating when given subpoenas. “If Facebook had complied with our legitimate investigative requests, we would not be making this announcement today. But we must move our investigation forward,” he said at a news conference.

The state’s complaints about Facebook not following its own policies and stonewalling investigations echoed those made by officials of the Obama and Trump administrations. These practices were cited in July when the Federal Trade Commission announced it had fined the social media giant $5 billion for privacy violations.

Probe seen as foreshadowing new state online privacy law

Becerra’s announcement was followed closely on tech websites not just because it ended the mystery about what his office was doing about Facebook when so many other states were pursuing the company. It’s also because the Golden State’s lawsuit is seen as a harbinger of how aggressively Becerra will act when the state’s landmark online privacy law – the California Consumer Privacy Act – takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The law was signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in summer 2018.

The state law is similar to a measure adopted by the European Union that took effect earlier in 2018. The EU law says consumers can opt out from having information collected about them. If they don’t opt out, consumers must be told upon request what information has been harvested from their online browsing.

Data companies are deeply worried that California’s standards will become the model for a future federal online privacy law and for measures adopted in other states. But many other firms are worried as well.

This summer, as CalWatchdog reported, the California Chamber of Commerce and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business launched a long-shot bid to get lawmakers to change their minds and either repeal or revise the state online privacy law.

Among the business groups’ complaints: The law is written so broadly that it may prevent businesses from using basic information gathered from repeat customers; and the law is so poorly crafted that it appears to bar businesses from using vast swaths of anonymized data showing online trends from a macro level. Such information is considered a crucial marketing tool.

Lawmakers passed on making any changes.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Newsom Has the Power to Remedy Power Outages – Why Hasn’t He Acted?

Amid an unprecedented – and excruciating – recent number of intentional power outages to mitigate the risk of fires during California’s dry, windy conditions, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a number of policy measures, ranging from demands for $100 rebates to PG&E customers to threatened fines to appointing an energy czar, none of which will squarely address the unacceptable dilemma of widespread and continuing power outages that have already affected millions of my fellow Californians.  PG&E reports that it may take ten years to reinforce its aging infrastructure to avoid such outages.

However, the governor himself holds the power to mitigate the need for such widespread power outages.  The California Emergency Services Act grants the governor the power to declare a state of emergency to implement an accelerated program for reinforcing the state’s power infrastructure by lifting those statutes and regulations that require California utilities to divert their resources to meet expensive goals for renewable energy and instead of investing the funds to strengthen its infrastructure.  The Act would also empower the governor to enlist the mutual aid of the state’s many subdivisions to assist in a massive effort to trim back trees that endanger transmission lines, particularly in forested areas.

California’s goals of deriving 33 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and 50% by 2030, requires a significant diversion of resources that could otherwise go to protecting the public’s health and safety by reinforcing the aging transmission lines, towers, and substations.

Assemblyman James Gallagher, R- Yuba City observed that in 2017, PG&E spent $2.4 billion in purchasing renewable energy, but only $1.5 billion in updating its infrastructure. And while the state’s renewable energy goals are laudable, there must be a balance between the resources allocated to renewable energy for a distant (and fire-ravaged) tomorrow and those allocated to the public safety today.

This is particularly the case when reputable sources note that California accounts for less than 1% of global emissions.  Thus, a temporary reduction of future renewable energy goals to address the present peril of fire, fury, and outages would likely make no difference to climate change.

The Emergency Services Act allows the governor to mitigate the effects of “natural” or “manmade” causes of emergencies, which result in “conditions of disaster or in extreme peril to life, property, and the resources of the state,” which are “likely beyond the control” of any single county or city – which certainly describe the impending risk of fires capable of destroying people’s lives, whole towns (like Paradise), and Presidential Libraries, and power outages that disrupt life-sustaining medical equipment, food storage,  and even cell service based on voice-over-internet service, cutting their users from the outside world.

Significantly, the Act grants the governor the power to “suspend any regulatory statute” or “the orders, rules, or regulations of any state agency . . . where the Governor determines and declares that strict compliance with any statute, order, rule, or regulation would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay the mitigation of the effects of the emergency.”  Thus, the governor could temporarily lift statutory and regulatory renewable energy requirements to provide utilities with the funds for an accelerated effort to strengthen their aging power infrastructure and to trim back trees that threaten transmission lines.  Local governments could be enlisted and trained to help with the effort.

Gov. Pete Wilson invoked the Emergency Services Act when the 1994 Northridge earthquake buckled the Santa Monica Freeway, cutting off a key artery between west Los Angeles and downtown.

Exercising his emergency powers, he lifted the regulatory red tape, including lengthy bidding requirements, and offered a bonus for every day the repairs were completed before the 140-day contractual deadline. The freeway was repaired in record time — 66 days.  That was leadership at a time in need.

And the scope of the governor’s emergency powers was demonstrated when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger invoked it to deal with prison overcrowding in 2006 – a decision upheld by the California appellate courts.

Climate change is occurring, but that does not mean that the public health and safety must suffer based on pure speculation that particular goals for renewable energy cannot be temporarily lifted without impacting climate change.

If President Nixon, with his anti-communist credentials, could go to China, Gov. Newsom, with his anti-carbon credentials, can surely temporarily moderate renewable energy goals in order to free up funds to address the present danger of deadly fires and dangerous power outages.

Daniel Kolkey serves on the board of the Pacific Research Institute. He is an attorney and former judge.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Saving California From Wildfires Requires Cooperation With Trump

President Trump recently tweeted “The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management,” Newsom tweeted back, “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.

October 29th, former Governor Jerry Brown addressed the U.S. Congress, saying “California’s burning while the deniers make a joke out of the standards that protect us all. The blood is on your soul here and I hope you wake up, because this is not politics, this is life, this is morality. You’ve got to get with it – or get out of the way.

Despite that California’s current and former governors are both ardent members of the catastrophe chorus, climate change has almost nothing to do with California’s recent wildfires. These fires are the result of a century of successful fire suppression, combined with a failure to remove all the undergrowth that results when natural fires aren’t allowed to burn. Not only does excessive undergrowth create fuel for catastrophic super fires, but these excessive trees and shrubs compete with mature trees. This is the real reason why our forests are not only tinderboxes, but also filled with dying trees.

Forest professionals who were consulted for this article were in agreement that despite the antagonistic rhetoric, and notwithstanding the misplaced “climate crisis” scapegoating and fearmongering, state officials are working with federal agencies on practical solutions. But it isn’t easy to reverse a century of forest mismanagement overnight.

While a consensus has quietly formed that forest thinning is absolutely necessary going forward, California’s timber industry has atrophied to a fraction of what had been its capacity even up until the early 1990s. While fire suppression was ongoing and, overall, was increasingly effective, environmentalist restrictions put more and more timber out of reach. The capacity of California’s timber industry is now nowhere near the size required to deliver the scale and pace of timber thinning needed to restore health to the forests and safety to communities in proximity to the forests. And in most cases, controlled burns are too risky until some of the timber and underbrush is first thinned.

In order to rapidly address the challenge of thinning California’s forests, there are several steps that have to be taken simultaneously. Environmental regulations need to be rewritten. Rules and conditions governing timber exports need to be revised or scrapped. Enabling financing such as revolving lines of credit, and long-term harvesting contracts need to be offered. The process to acquire timber harvesting permits needs to be greatly streamlined. Investments need to be made in sawmills and chippers, along with electric power plants running on biomass. Finding laborers to assist with forest thinning is a challenge that might be met by employing some of California’s homeless population.

Biomass power plants can be a big part of the solution. Running on wood chips from biomass that has no value as lumber, they can be sited close to their fuel source, the national forests. Because there will be dozens of them in a decentralized network, they can feed continuous, distributed power into the grid in the same wooded areas where power is most likely to be cut on days with high fire risk. And there is no reason why the California legislature might not consider these power plants to run on renewable energy, since they are “carbon neutral.”

California has roughly 20 million acres of forest. About half of that is federally owned. Of the other half, about 40 percent, or four million acres, are owned by private timber companies. The other six million acres are held by private, nonindustrial owners. All of these forested areas need thinning operations. Here are some of the steps that can be taken:

Revise environmental regulations that inhibit active forest management:

The U.S. Forest Service needs to recognize and admit that in California, between one-half and two-thirds of the vegetation has to be removed before these forests will be returned to a historically “resilient” condition that can resist insects, disease, and wildfire. The unnatural high density of trees and undergrowth, because of a century of successful fire suppression, is destroying the health of forests and making them far more combustible.

In particular, the U.S. Forest Service needs to get away from “single species management,” a management concept which often leads to standards and guidelines requiring “no-action” to the vegetation, i.e., no forest thinning. Spotted Owl, Northern Goshawk and Pacific Fisher examples of single species that have the largest impacts on permissible forest management using this system.

“No action” restrictions have led to more than half of California’s national forests unavailable for active management. But “no action” designations, combined with fire suppression, is fatally undermining these forest ecosystems even before super fires strike. These restrictions must be lifted.

In addition to no-action restrictions, in the national forests where thinning and other active management operations are permitted, they are limited in what times of year they can operate. In many cases these limitations last from the beginning of February through the middle of September. But in most of California’s forests, the weather only permits operations between the middle of May and the end of October. This means that in many thinning projects, the operator is only permitted to work for six weeks a year, from Sept. 15th through October 31st.

While restrictions on when and where forests can be thinned may have sound ecological justifications in some ways, they are also making it impossible to thin the forests. The ecological cost/benefits have not been properly weighed. Thinning operations need to be allowed to run for several months each year, instead of several weeks each year, and they need to encompass a far greater percentage of forested areas.

Change the rules and conditions governing timber exports

The export of raw logs from federal lands in the Western United States is currently prohibited. Lifting this prohibition would help, because sawmill capacity is not capable of handling the increase in volume. With the new thinning programs already in place, logs and undergrowth are being burned or put in landfills.

The trade war with China has stopped much of the flow of California’s wood exports. While even Trump’s critics often agree with him on the necessity to confront China’s abusive trade practices, to the extent there is an opportunity to reauthorize timber exports to China, this will help restore demand for a higher volume of wood products.

Facilitate investment in the timber and biomass industry

The federal government can set up a revolving loan fund for investors to build sawmills, as well as biomass energy facilities, as well as chippers and other equipment, that would allow the industry to quickly ramp up operations and capacity.

The federal government can accelerate granting of long term stewardship contracts whereby qualified companies acquire a minimum 20 year right to extract wood products from federal lands. This will guarantee a steady supply of wood products which, in turn, will make investment viable in logging equipment, mills, and biomass energy facilities.

Make it easier to get permits to extract timber and biomass from federal lands

In the ten national forests just within California, the U.S. Forest Service has over 100 vacancies. They need to somehow fill these positions, through transfers from other states, offering better compensation packages to attract more applicants, or by hiring private contractors. This staffing shortage is slowing the process for qualified licensed timber operators to get permits to extract wood products.

The EPA needs to streamline the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) application process so it is less expensive and time consuming for qualified companies to get permits to extract timber from federal lands. They can also grant waivers to allow thinning projects to bypass NEPA, or at the least, broaden the allowable exemptions.

Rehabilitate able-bodied homeless substance abusers – put them to work thinning the forests

The California national guard has set up and occupied encampments from which the troops are literally going into the forests to pick up cut brush. These troops could be redeployed to the US/Mexico border, or they can return to their bases. Instead, able-bodied homeless people, arrested for drug or property crimes, could be brought to these camps to work.

Cal Fire has dozens of camps that are occupied by firefighting crews which are otherwise vacant and could be occupied by homeless people to clear brush from the forests. Cal Fire is also hiring laborers to clear brush, and these laborers could be replaced with homeless people serving sentences for drug and property crimes.

Making California’s forests safer can also be an economic engine

California imports around 80 percent of the cut lumber used in its construction industry or sold through retailers to consumers. If there was an assurance of wood supply, which the national forests can certainly offer, investment would be made in expanding mill capacity. Suddenly the money that is being sent to Oregon, Washington and British Colombia to purchase their cut timber would stay here in California, employing thousands of workers in the mills.

As California’s forests are thinned, and kept that way, and the annual supply of wood is permanently increased, in-state demand would become increasingly unable to absorb in-state supply, and the surplus could be exported, earning additional profits and supporting additional jobs. Biomass plants, burning carbon neutral wood chips, could profitably generate safe, affordable, distributed electricity to rural markets, employing additional thousands and delivering returns to private investors.

Less obvious and perhaps less certain, but possibly of enormous benefit, would be the opportunity to offer redeeming work to tens of thousands of homeless people. With only modest reforms to California’s criminal code, or perhaps via a state or federal state of emergency, homeless people convicted of drug or minor property crimes could serve their time working on labor crews thinning the forests.

Cal Fire, the California Dept. of Corrections, and the California Conservation Corps are all equipped to train and house people to do this work. It might be the best thing that ever happened to thousands of young homeless Californians who, once they are freed from substance abuse, are sane, able bodied people. Thousands might recover their dignity and their future in this manner, at the same time as they help restore health to California’s forests.

Practical solutions need to replace verbal jousting and climate fearmongering

If California’s politicians feel obligated to create a public perception that they are in a permanent state of war with President Trump, that’s just politics. But they’ve been braying on about climate change for decades, and far too many of the things they’re doing in the name of fighting climate change are just plain stupid and wasteful. One may hope that reports of behind the scenes cooperation with the Trump administration on forest management are true. Much needs to be done.

Domestically, California’s insurance commissioner, the woefully unqualified ideologue Ricardo Lara, needs to prove that he’s not simply trying to depopulate California’s rural counties by driving out private fire insurance companies and forcing consumers to instead purchase the far more expensive government mandated coverage. He needs to allow private insurance companies to use forward looking risk models, instead of forcing them to base their rate increase applications on the past twenty years of fire claim data. Or, alternatively, Lara could admit that there is not anything unique about the deadly firestorms of 2017 and 2018, and that they are not the “new normal.”

Lara also needs to stop preventing private insurers to from passing their much higher – since the fire claims of 2017 and 2018 – reinsurance costs from being passed on to the ratepayers. This is particularly egregious since California’s government ran alternative fire insurance coverage – the FAIR Plan – cost far more than the private insurers will ever charge, and the FAIR insurance plans do pass on reinsurance costs to consumers, and then some.

If Governor Newsom, and his predecessor Governor Brown, insist on invoking the climate catastrophe trope at every opportunity, and if they truly believe carbon dioxide emissions constitute a mortal threat to humanity and the planet, then why aren’t they publicly advocating for lumber mills and biomass power plants in California?

Wouldn’t producing in-state timber eliminate the CO2 emissions inherent in importing timber from the Pacific Northwest and Canada? Wouldn’t biomass plants generate carbon neutral, renewable energy? And why aren’t they willing to disclose expert estimates of how much CO2 was emitted in the wild fires of 2017 and 2018? Could it be that the quantity of CO2 belched out from those fires would dwarf how much California’s economy generated over the past decade? Imagine if all that carbon, thanks to forest thinning, had instead been sequestered in lumber, or turned into carbon neutral electricity.

And why, one most never forget to ask, aren’t Newsom and Brown trying to keep Diablo Canyon nuclear power station operating, if “climate change is real.”

Could it be that Governor Newsom, despite his public posturing, doesn’t really believe in climate change? Should Newsom be “excused” from the conversation? And what about former Governor Jerry Brown? California’s forests turned into tinderboxes on his watch, and gigatons of CO2 were expelled in the resultant superfires. Perhaps the “blood” of which he speaks with such moral certitude, is on his soul.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Why Raise Property Taxes When Revenues Are Way Up?

During this past summer there were dozens of media stories about big increases in property tax revenues. Orange County was typical. The taxable value of real estate went up $33 billion to over $600 billion. Assessments increased in all of Orange County’s 34 cities.

Further north, San Mateo County saw a 7.1% increase in its assessment roll for 2019-2020, the ninth consecutive year of increases. County Assessor Mark Church, in a press release, said there was record growth in commercial and mixed-use development which helped to push the total roll value to a new high.

Other counties showed similar gains: Santa Clara County, up 6.79% to $516 billion; Sacramento County, up 6.53% to $179 billion; Alameda County, up 7.13% to $321 billion; Fresno County, up 5.84% to $90.46 billion; and even Sonoma and Napa Counties saw big increases in assessed values notwithstanding losing over 5,600 structures to the horrific fires of 2017.

All told, statewide assessable property is now worth $6.5 trillion with just last year’s increase resulting in $75 billion in revenue, a 15-fold increase since 1978. All these increases belie the argument advanced by progressives that Proposition 13, which limits increases in taxable values and caps the property tax rate at one percent, has somehow “starved” local governments and schools for revenue.

To read the entire column, please click here.

GM, Toyota, Hyundai back Trump opposition to tougher California fuel standards

The Trump administration’s efforts to bend California to its will on a variety of fronts have been mixed at best. Last week, for example, a panel of judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed yet again that federal funding to state law enforcement agencies couldn’t be linked to their assistance in deporting illegal immigrants. Judges have ruled for the state and against the federal government in cases involving other immigration issues and environmental policies.

But the White House can claim a substantial win on vehicle emissions. Last week, many of the largest automakers in the world sided with President Donald Trump in his view that it’s not good for the U.S. economy for the nation’s largest state to have tougher rules on vehicle emissions and miles per gallon than those set by the federal government.

General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia and Fiat Chrysler are backing Trump’s attempt to end the waiver that California has had for more than 50 years allowing it to set tougher standards on emissions for vehicles sold in the state. Twelve other states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have adopted the Golden State’s rules.

The fight was triggered by the Trump administration’s decision to scrap rules set by President Barack Obama that required automakers to have their vehicles average 55 miles per gallon by 2025. This led California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reach out to automakers to seek their voluntary compliance with tougher standards, winning support in July from Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW for a plan under which their fleets would average 50 miles per gallon by 2026 – weaker than what Obama wanted but much tougher than Trump’s rules, which would set 37 miles per gallon as the industry standard.

Newsom said then that he was “very confident” other automakers would accept California’s standards. Instead, the largest automakers in the U.S., Japan and South Korea have sided with Trump in filing arguments with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is considering a lawsuit from California and 22 other states seeking to uphold the Obama administration’s fuel-efficiency rules.

The automakers and the National Automobile Dealers Association said that they needed “the certainty that states cannot interfere with federal fuel economy standards.”

Newsom, Brown decry Trump’s global warming skepticism

Obama, Newsom and most climate scientists see requiring higher gas mileage standards as the easiest way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that build up in the atmosphere and cause global warming. Vehicle emissions in recent years have passed power plant emissions as the single biggest generator of greenhouse gases.

Trump rejects the conventional wisdom about greenhouse gases. As the New York Times reported Saturday, he has “directed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back nearly every federal policy designed to curb the heat-trapping fossil-fuel pollution that is the chief cause of global warming.”

In the report, Newsom told the Times that the state’s recent history of devastating wildfires was directly related to climate change.

“We’re waging war against the most destructive fires in our state’s history, and Trump is conducting a full-on assault against the antidote,” Newsom said.

Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, framed the issue even more dramatically in testimony to Congress last week.

“The seas are rising, diseases are spreading, fires are burning, hundreds of thousands of people are leaving their homes,” he said. “California is burning while the deniers fight the standards that can help us all. This is life-and-death stuff.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

How Trump Can Declare War on the Homeless Industrial Complex

California’s homeless crisis is now visible to everyone living in the state. Along with tens of thousands of homeless who are concentrated in various districts of the major cities, additional thousands are widely dispersed. If you drive into most major urban centers, you will see their tent encampments along freeway junctions, under bridges, along frontages, beside drainage culverts. Even in very small towns, they congregate by the dozens in parks and parking lots, along the streets and in the alleys. In California’s largest cities, by the tens of thousands, they erect makeshift housing along sidewalks, using tarpaulins draped over shopping carts, tents, boxes. It is completely out of control. Billions have been spent to ameliorate the situation, and these billions have only served to make the situation worse than ever.

It’s hard to identify ground zero for California’s homeless crisis. But the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County host, between them, well over 100,000 of California’s estimated 130,000 homeless. And in both of those metros, local government policies have utterly failed. This failure is partly because local elected officials are hampered by state laws which make it nearly impossible to incarcerate petty thieves and drug addicts, or institutionalize the mentally ill, and court rulings that prohibit breaking up homeless encampments unless these homeless can be provided free and permanent “supportive housing.”

The state and federal governments have even mandated that providing “housing first,” and getting every homeless person under a roof prior to any allocations of funds for treatment to overcome drug addiction or manage mental illness, is a condition of  receiving government funds to help the homeless.

As if these laws and court rulings that have made homeless populations unmanageable weren’t enough, California’s state legislators have crippled the ability of developers to cost effectively construct any type of housing. State laws designed to prevent “sprawl” have caused land prices within cities to skyrocket. California’s environmental laws, most notably CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), require a dizzying, time consuming and expensive, seemingly endless array of reports from developers seeking project approvals. There are literally hundreds of various applications and fees that developers have to file with dozens of state and local agencies, and often these agencies will take months if not years to process the applications.

But instead of challenging these laws, local elected officials have used them as an excuse to engage in one of the most corrupt misuses of government funds in American history. Without first changing these laws, the problem cannot be fixed. But a special interest movement has been created to spend the money anyway. This alliance of special interests constitutes what has now become a Homeless Industrial Complex, comprised of government bureaucracies, homeless advocacy groups operating through nonprofit entities, and large government contractors, especially construction companies and land development firms.

They have used money from the state general fund, from state bond funds, from special local taxes and fees, and from local bond measures, to construct housing for the homeless, heedless of the per unit cost. While a few thousand units of actual housing units have been constructed so far, billions have already been spent.

An audit recently released by L.A.’s City Controller Ron Galperin exposed the City’s inability to build enough homes with the $1.2 billion in Prop HHH voter approved bond funds to address the crisis of homelessness. At an average cost of $550,000 per apartment unit of “permanent supportive housing,” small wonder. Similar or even higher average per unit costs are typical of previous efforts in Los Angeles as well as throughout California.

Diverting nearly all funding to “Housing First” at the expense of treatment, and elevating the costs of that housing through legalized corruption, guarantee that billions more will be wasted as homelessness in California only gets worse. California’s local, county, and state governments have demonstrated themselves to be administratively and ethically inept. It is time for the Federal government, under the vision and leadership of President Trump, to intervene and solve this problem with a comprehensive interagency response.

If several federal agencies launched a coordinated effort to get California’s homeless crisis under control, it could be accomplished in months instead of several years. As it is, California’s homeless crisis is out of control and getting worse every day. Federal action would not solve the homeless crisis overnight, but it would prevent something truly catastrophic occurring such as a disease epidemic, and it would set the stage for Californians more swiftly implementing permanent solutions, for which there currently is no end in sight.

For example, the IRS could reform the laws governing nonprofits to curb the legalized waste of billions that pour into what have become special interest behemoths.

The SEC could classify the taxpayer as having investor rights, in a long-overdue move that would make it a lot more difficult for public projects to squander public funds.

The SEC could also require consultants to public agencies to register as financial advisers and be subject to the same restrictions on political donations that govern these consultants in the private sector.

The Justice Dept. could investigate some of the more egregious wasteful projects allegedly launched to help the homeless to possibly uncover cases of collusion or racketeering.

The Justice Dept. could also send in DEA agents to break up the criminal gangs and drug traffickers who exploit California’s lenient drug laws and hide among the homeless encampments.

The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development could reform the Low Income Tax Credit program to put a cap on per unit costs for housing projects to qualify. They could repeal the disastrous “housing first” mandate that prevents homeless programs from prioritizing treatment equally to constructing shelters.

The Dept. of Education could get even more aggressive against the teachers union which resists competition in K-12 education, and is consequently responsible for thousands of students graduating into homelessness instead of productive lives.

The Centers for Disease Control could declare a health emergency and sweep through the homeless encampments, cleaning up the trash and human excrement.

The EPA could participate in that effort by declaring – quite accurately – homeless encampments to be Brownfields, in order to save California’s soil, water, and runoff to the ocean.

The Dept. of Labor could implement an executive order preventing Project Labor Agreements from being used to inflate the cost of housing projects, as if with the shortage of construction laborers in California, there is any need for PLAs.

And the Dept. of Veterans Affairs could house homeless veterans on unused sections of California’s abundant military bases.

These and other suggestions are covered in detail in the remainder of this article.

How Federal Agencies Could Work Together to Tackle the Homeless Crisis

Treasury Department/Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

One of the biggest sources of legalized corruption that victimizes the American taxpayer is the fact that there has been no reform to nonprofit tax law. A nonprofit is the most tax-advantaged way to legally launder profits and act as an advocacy wing of major corporations. The US Tax code has been greatly abused by large national nonprofits who have turned charity work into a bankable industry, the power of which now rivals the private sector. 

Today’s large charitable organizations are part of the Homeless Industrial Complex. These nonprofits outrival many small businesses today by using the tax code to their benefit. Why pay taxes if you can find a loophole in the tax code? According to one report the nonprofit sector – 10% of the American workforce or 11.4 million jobs – is the third largest workforce in the U.S., behind retail and manufacturing. Total charitable giving in the U.S. in 2016 was about $390 billion, a 2.7% increase from 2015.

One of the most tax advantaged ways to legally embezzle public dollars is via a nonprofit entity, which then creates a for-profit subsidiary. All of the revenue goes directly to the nonprofit controlling entity, wherein there are no caps on salaries and everything is effectively a write-off, and it becomes a zero sum game to show zero profits. They can pay consulting and contracting fees to for-profit entities, which often can result in additional pay if the same employee is on the payroll of both entities. Why use a for profit business to own property when you can create a nonprofit entity, therefore excluding yourself from property taxes? The really savvy nonprofits know how to use the tax code to their advantage by hiring the most sophisticated tax attorneys and accountants, and creating multiple entities in order to do this.

Recommendations: The IRS should comprehensively reform the regulations governing nonprofits. For example:

  • Set a threshold for annual (pre-tax) revenue from all sources of income and contributions, and once that maximum is exceeded, the IRS will automatically reclassify the nonprofit as a for profit entity, and tax accordingly.
  • Require all tax-exempt organizations to file public consolidated financials to replace current 990 requirements. Currently, under IRS guidelines, whether or not a tax-exempt organization has a parent, affiliate, subsidiary, and/or related entities, only the tax-exempt organization needs to file a public tax return. This is how they avoid disclosing their true assets and total salaries paid to employees. When an organization has multiple entities, an employee can work for any of these entities, with different titles and roles, while also receiving a salary from each of them. Without consolidated financials, it is impossible to determine how much a nonprofit executive, board member, or consultant makes. Additionally, Private Foundation tax-exempt entities are not required to disclose current 990’s to the IRS, which every other tax-exempt entity is required to do.
  • Make the above requirement effective to-date, with a 2 year retroactive look back provision in order to be in good standing and maintain its tax exempt status. By doing so, you would likely see a sudden drop in organizations seeking a tax exempt status, and find many entities suddenly converting to traditional for-profit organizations. If an entity was not in compliance within a certain time frame, you could freeze its tax exempt status until it was able to do so, ultimately cutting off their fundraising ability.
  • Impose a tax on excess executive compensation among tax-exempt organizations. Even a limit of $500,000 for any individual or executive pay would have a huge impact. While a limit of $500K per year may seem high, some of these nonprofit executive salaries are much higher. At these rates of compensation the entity is no longer a public benefit, as it now benefits a specific employee.
  • Tax all public charity organizations in the same manner, as private foundations. While there are 30 types of 501(c) organizations, there are two different types of 501(c)(3)s, Private Foundations vs. Public Charities. Private Foundations pay taxes on net investment income which generally includes interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and capital gain net income, and is reduced by expenses incurred to earn this income. In reaching the asset threshold, the assets of related organizations are considered. A 501(c)(3) public charity follows different taxation rules from that of a Private Foundation.
  • Disallow Private Foundations from 501(c)(3) exemption. A Private Foundation consists of nonprofits that don’t qualify as public charities. Foundations may be sub-classified as private operating foundations or private non-operating foundations and receive some of the advantages of public charities. Well-known foundations include the Rockefeller Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Getty Foundation. In essence, highly profitable, multinational corporations have figured out how to take advantage of the tax code, and the creation of a private foundation is THE best and most tax advantaged way to do so.
  • Tax tax-exempt organizations for any business activity outside of their chartered IRS exemption.
  • Hold all 501(c)(3) organizations to the same lobbying disclosure rules. Other tax-exempt organizations that lobby, must either notify their members as to how much of their dues are nondeductible because they’re spent on lobbying or pay a proxy tax at the highest corporate rate, yet this rule does not apply to 501(c)(3) organizations.

Nonprofit organizations have become corrupt and politicized, and gone far beyond the charitable missions for which their tax exempt status was originally conceived. Reforming the tax laws governing nonprofits will not only result in leaner, more effective nonprofit advocacy for the homeless, which translates into less expensive homeless shelters and less expensive housing for the homeless. It will remove the incentives for individuals and organizations to abuse the nonprofit exemptions in all segments of American society.

Securities and Exchange Commission 

Affordable housing developers are not disclosing the value of City Land, therefore engaging in what is arguably taxpayer backed fraud by not disclosing the full project costs to the investor, which in this case is the taxpayer. All real estate – whether it is single family, commercial, or investment – is an investment made by an individual, who pays property taxes to local governments. Property taxes are allowable deductions for investment properties, therefore, the property owner is an investor.

Recommendations: Use the SEC Act of 1933 and 1934 to do the following:

  • Recognize the American taxpayer as a protected class of investors by the SEC.
  • Recognize any interest in real estate meets the definition of a “security.”
  • Apply insider trading laws to real estate investing.

If the American taxpayer is afforded the same rights that investors are accorded in private investment transactions, it will become far more difficult for public agencies to get away with waste and fraud. This will not only lower the costs for public homeless shelters and public housing for the homeless, it will lower the costs for all taxpayer funded public projects.

Securities and Exchange Commission / Division of Enforcement 

Local elected officials accept campaign donations from special interest groups, and in return, give them the rights to large redevelopment projects. This is a pay to play scheme. These groups are not registered as investment advisers, yet they provide investment advisory services to municipalities. 

Recommendation: Apply Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 to all industries who partake in municipal contracts, requiring that investment advisers are subject to a two-year timeout from providing compensatory advisory services or political contributions. 

Why should investment advisers have to register and adhere to campaign finance restrictions in the private sector, but not in the public sector? Holding them to the same rules as in the private sector will eliminate obvious conflicts of interest, and make the bidding process for homeless projects and services more competitive.

Justice Department / AntiTrust Division

The special interest movement known as the Homeless Industrial Complex may be engaging in collusive practices to substantially lessen competition, and this may include price-fixing schemes where one person holds property for the benefit of another. We are facing a manufactured crisis today by special interest groups and elected officials, who stand to benefit financially from the crisis, thus potentially making this a racketeering case.

Recommendation: Invoke the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, to prohibit cartels and the abuse of monopoly power.

Taking these steps will make all the stakeholders involved in helping the homeless, where billions have already been spent, far more careful in what sorts of partnerships they form, and what sort of “arms-length” transactions they execute.

Justice Department / Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

In California, voter enacted Propositions 47 (downgraded property and drug crimes) and 57 (early release of nonviolent inmates) have worked together as a perfect storm only to perpetuate a constant cycle of drug use and the need to commit crimes to pay for them. Drug dealers now operate their businesses with minimal deterrents. Organized drug traffickers are able to hide under the guise of homelessness within homeless encampments. 

Recommendation: Drugs are still illegal on a federal level, and the DEA needs to get involved in fighting drug trafficking that is camouflaged within the homeless communities. 

California’s policymakers have abandoned their citizens to an epidemic of drug use. State laws make it nearly impossible to stop public use of hard drugs. Traffickers and users operate with near impunity, and the state has become a magnet for both. With rampant drug use comes organized crime, exacerbated mental illness, property crimes to support drug habits, and public disorder. A federal crackdown will get this all back under control.

Justice Department / Law Enforcement Agencies 

The State of California and City of Los Angeles no longer enforce the core responsibility of any government, which is to guarantee public safety. Private property is no longer respected under this diminished rule of law, thus violating the civil rights of law abiding residents victimized by a state of lawlessness. 

Recommendation: Activate and deploy Federal Law Enforcement Agencies such as the US Marshals and Federal Bureau of Investigations to restore law and order to citizens. 

With federal agencies cooperating with local law enforcement to enforce federal crimes, including robbery and larceny, the deterrent against property crimes that went away with the enactment of Prop. 47 will be reestablished.

Housing and Urban Development / Federal Housing Administration

Federal tax credit programs and taxpayer-backed dollars are being abused by special interest groups, under the guise of social redistribution policies. Specifically, the LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credit) program may be unduly influenced by non-profit housing developers with no incentive to build cost effective solutions, and are now reaching “affordable housing” per apartment costs that can exceed $750,000. These high costs are due to California’s state and local governments requiring hundreds of permits with exorbitant fees and lengthy processing times, excessive environmental regulations, and prevailing wage requirements. Very few developers are capable of complying with this punitive array of obstacles, ensuring that the “subsidy” goes to powerful and favored special interest groups, defeating the underlying policy of the program in general.

Recommendations:

  • Repeal “housing first” which prevents funds from immediately being shared with treatment programs.
  • Federal tax credits must be prioritized towards projects that are cost-effective.
  • Withhold Community Developer Block Grants from the State of California.
  • Require the exemption of state prevailing wage requirements in order to use the Federal LIHTC.
  • Set a maximum costs per bed/unit in order to receive public funding.
  • Reform the LIHTC program so that it only financed “affordable housing” within 60-120% of area median income, but require developers to prove that residents could afford to live there, using household budgeting tools that take into account utilities and surrounding expense factors.
  • Reform LIHTC so that deeper LIHTC subsidy models in the 30-50% of AMI have their own program, similar to HUD programs like Section 8.
  • The HUD Office of Inspector General should identify examples of abuse of federal subsidies and prosecute offenders.

By setting conditions on federal funds for homeless projects, and by removing the “housing first” rule that prevents treatment from getting equal priority to shelter, for more assistance will be possible with the same amount of funding.

Department of Education

Where you live determines where you go to school, so California’s inner city youth are most impacted. For a child education is destiny, and it is the only way out of poverty. We are spending billions of dollars on the homeless crisis and job training for the uneducated, and public schools in California rank 40th in the nation. Unless we provide opportunities to Americans, they will fall victim to substance abuse. We have witnessed a market failure in public education, and the only way to correct market failures is to open up competition.

Recommendations:

  • We need an “Education First” policy that recognizes that the teachers union is the primary barrier to improving educational outcomes in the United States;
  • We must improve our failing public education system by allowing competition via new charter schools and allowing for a robust opportunity scholarships (AKA, voucher) programs. 

California’s public education system has been fatally undermined by the teachers unions, which oppose any sort of competition to traditional public schools. Breaking their monopoly through charter schools or even vouchers will provide opportunities to students who today are graduating to homelessness instead of living productive lives.

Health and Human Services / Centers for Disease Control

Our homeless crisis is in large part a mental illness and drug crisis, masked as an “affordable housing” crisis by special interests. The mentally ill are our most vulnerable population, requiring our most help as they are a danger to themselves and others. A recent study by the Los Angeles Times has found that 78 percent of the unsheltered homeless in the City of Los Angeles suffer from mental illness.

Recommendations:

  • Declare a health emergency to address mental illness and substance abuse among the homeless, and,
  • Create a federal tax credit to build and reopen mental healthcare facilities, for locations based outside of urban areas. We are witnessing a mental health and drug addiction epidemic afflicting tens of thousands of homeless, making Los Angeles’ “Housing First” policy ineffective.
  • Subsidize the costs and regulate addiction treatment programs which can cost $30-60K per visit. Funding on these programs needs to revised criteria that creates an incentive for providers who can do it cost-effectively.
  • Directly pay individuals who directly provide care for and house a family member with a severe mental illness.

Getting people back into mental health treatment, either through more cost-effective publicly funded programs, or by making it easier for family members to care for their mentally ill loved ones, would ameliorate some of the most tragic consequences of the ineffective approach to-date.

The homeless crisis is also creating a risk of a disease epidemic. The trash and human excrement accumulating in homeless encampments has spawned an exploding population of disease carrying animals and insects that thrive in these conditions: rats, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, mites, lice. Los Angeles already has outbreaks of typhus, hepatitis and tuberculosis, as do other cities in California. Shigella, a communicable form of diarrhea, is now common among the homeless. There have even been outbreaks of trench fever, spread by lice.

Recommendation: The Centers for Disease Control should declare a health emergency to swiftly clean up the trash and human excrement. The out-of-control populations of rats, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, mites, and lice should be exterminated.

California’s policymakers have utterly failed to protect the public from the diseases being spawned and spread by the trash and excrement piling up in homeless encampments. Declaring a health emergency and applying federal resources to the problem can fix it before it’s too late.

Environmental Protection Agency

California’s state legislature recently passed AB 1197, and it was quickly signed by Governor Newsom. The new law only pertains to the City of Los Angeles, and exempts any homeless housing project from the California Environmental Quality Act. Yet because of the homeless, our streets are littered with feces, needles, and trash. While many are campaigning about climate change, far more imminent threats to public health and quality of our oceans is linked to the growing homelessness crisis in California with thousands of tons of human excrement and drug paraphernalia runoff flowing directly in our oceans and water systems. California’s environmentalists have somehow forgotten that all drains lead to the ocean. Equally troubling, the trash and human excrement in these homeless encampments has lead to an explosion of disease carrying rodents. Now there are issues with homeless related fires.

Recommendations:

  • Declare areas where the homeless are concentrated as Brownfields, via the EPA Brownfields program;
  • Mandate a community EPA liaison on any state project given an environmental exemption in order to deter environmental crimes.

Using Brownfield status to bring financial resources and regulatory leverage to bear on homeless encampments may be the only way to stop ongoing degradation of California’s soil, water, and ocean runoff.

Homeland Security

Today we are witnessing organized crime hiding within the extensive homeless encampments, taking advantage of permissive laws to conduct many illicit actives in broad daylight. Criminal organizations are growing among the homeless, understanding our laws and using them to their benefit, in order to diminish the role of law enforcement.

Recommendation: The Department of Homeland Security needs to infiltrate these homeless encampments and root out organized criminal networks.

If the DHS and the Justice Dept. work together to bring federal power and federal statutes into what have become lawless areas of California, the laws that tie the hands of local law enforcement can be overridden.

Department of Labor

States with the highest homeless populations, such as California, are run by special interest groups which require union memberships to work. 

Recommendations:

  • Implement a presidential executive order that exempts housing programs from prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements.
  • Require At Risk Targeted Persons (ARTPs) Employee Hiring Mandates;  ex-felons, persons with mental illness, chronically homeless individuals; sober ex-drug addicts;
  • Develop meaningful federal tax incentives and tax abatements to small business to incentivize employment of ARTPs and provide on-site workforce housing.

By exempting housing programs from prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements, the Dept. of Labor can lower the per unit costs of shelter beds and units of housing. California’s labor market is so tight that these exemptions will not harm the workers. Similarly, by creating incentives for employers to hire at risk individuals, more of the homeless will begin to reenter society. Organized labor should compete for projects and should not hinder the ability of organizations and companies to hire at-risk individuals as nonunion workers, and the Dept. of Labor can ensure that through executive order.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans experience homelessness at a higher rate than the civilian population. About 7 percent of people in the U.S. can claim veteran status, but former service members make up around 13 percent of the country’s homeless population, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Recommendations:

  • Use military bases to house homeless veterans.
  • Work with Department of Labor/ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training.

Offering on-base housing to homeless veterans is an idea whose time has come. Giving them this respect after their service to our nation is fitting, and could make use of surplus facilities throughout California’s extensive network of military bases.

Federal Intervention Could Quickly Get America’s Homeless Crisis Under Control

The objective of these recommendations is not to presume they offer the complete set of answers, or even the complete list of federal agencies that can be involved. These solutions that involve the federal executive branch are limited only by how conscientiously and how creatively they can be crafted. But the impact of the recommended changes would be immediate and profound.

If these recommendations were implemented, California’s homeless crisis would quickly improve. Criminal drug traffickers would be looking over their shoulders. The CDC and EPA would declare an emergency and clean up homeless encampments. Homeless veterans would find immediate shelter. And the power of the Homeless Industrial Complex, a special interest movement that has been enriched by going slow and overspending on everything, would be shaken to its foundations.

Nonprofits would no longer be able to legally squander funds intended to help the homeless. Taxpayers would have the same rights as private sector investors, making it less likely public agencies could waste money on projects. Federal funds would be contingent on cost-effective projects. Unions would have to compete to participate in projects, and with the shortage of construction workers in California and the many projects awaiting funds, that would not be a hardship to them. Over time, maybe a sustained effort by the Dept. of Education to introduce competition to the monopolistic union controlled public schools might even change both the aptitude and the attitude of students graduating into California’s workforce.

Eventually, maybe the other root problem connected to homelessness, prohibitively expensive housing, could get addressed. Not only through many of the reforms proposed here, which could apply to low income housing as easily as to permanent supportive housing, but through a loosening of the requirements to run building permit applications through an obscene gaggle of local and state agencies. Projects that take as little as 20 days in Texas to get approved, and at most 20 months in most states, can take up to 20 years in California. Small wonder there’s a housing shortage. These countless applications with their exorbitant fees and endless delays constitute criminal negligence and naked, insatiable public sector greed, masquerading as a public service.

In California, at the state and local level, despite well-funded rhetoric to the contrary, there is a shortage of creativity and a shortage of conscientiousness. The residents of the most hard hit cities facing this problem are trailblazers, pointing out that Emperor Newsom has no clothes, yet their cries for help have been ignored.

California’s policymakers are puppets of special interests. Those special interests include their own bureaucracies, which are controlled by public sector unions that gain membership dues and power whenever a public sector challenge worsens. Similarly, the other special interest members of the Homeless Industrial Complex, developers and nonprofit corporations, gain profits and revenues when the homeless crisis worsens.

It is time for the federal government to take decisive action where our public servants on the state and local level have utterly failed the public. It must never be forgotten that this failure victimizes not only the taxpayers and the members of the public who live in areas overran with homeless people. It also victimizes the homeless themselves, who are not getting shelter, and who are not getting treatment.

The power of the special interests who have turned homelessness into a self-serving, taxpayer funded industry, must be broken.

An executive order from President Trump declaring a state of emergency, followed up by an interagency effort according to a blueprint patterned after this checklist, could get America’s homeless crisis under control. And it could happen in months instead of interminable years.

This article originally appeared in American Greatness.

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Free Markets: Power to The People

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that he was going to name an energy czar “in the wake of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s prolonged power outages,” says the Sacramento Bee, because. According to the governor, “the entire system needs to be reimagined.”

“We cannot afford the kind of public safety power shutoffs we’ve experienced over the last week,” he said.

Ana Matosantos, Newsom’s cabinet secretary, was tapped for the job.  She will keep her day job while still directing “the state’s efforts to fight wildfires, protect vulnerable Californians and ensure that going forward, Californians have safe, affordable, reliable, and clean power.”

Worthy goals, all, but they’re too much to ask even of a czar. Those objectives can be reached in California only through divine intervention, given this state’s political climate, dominated by a party bent on banning fossil fuels.

Nevertheless, Matosantos has her orders. So, let’s help her out.

Fighting wildfires. Only about 10% of California wildfires are started by the electrical utilities. Even if Matosantos ordered them all shuttered, the state would still burn as nature has intended. It would be helpful, though, if she could find a way to bypass the regulatory and activist roadblocks that stand in the way of clearing the dead trees and other fuels that feed wildfires. If Matosantos can advance appropriate forest management practices, her tenure will be off to a solid start.

Protecting vulnerable Californians. This one is a bit vague, though it makes a fine political slogan. She’s on her own, here.

Safe power. Deregulate. Providers operating in a free market have a strong incentive to deliver their products safely. Regulated utilities that have been granted a government-protected monopoly not so much.

Affordable power. Deregulate. Deregulate. Competition always drives prices down.

Reliable power. Deregulate. Deregulate. Deregulate. A government-protected monopoly has less incentive to reliably deliver its products than a provider operating in a competitive free market that knows it will lose customers if it doesn’t perform.

Clean power. Go back to the future on nuclear power. It’s as green as any renewable source and more reliable, since it doesn’t have to depend on sun or wind, or batteries, to generate electricity.

Rethinking California’s archaic system isn’t a difficult task. What works isn’t a secret. Even the most cockeyed observers know markets work, even if their politics don’t allow them to admit it aloud.

Nor would it be radical to correct the course. In Florida, a constitutional amendment that “requires the Legislature to adopt laws providing for competitive wholesale and retail markets for electricity generation and supply” will be on the ballot next fall.

A bit farther north, a “politically diverse coalition” made up “of several Virginia organizations of surprisingly varied political stances” has “come together to try and put an end to the monopoly Dominion Energy has on Virginia’s electrical supply.” The aim is to “create a competitive free market for energy” in the state.

Texas, which has become California’s most bitter rival, has already gone where those states are hoping to go. “Trust in a free market system has served us well,” says a recent Dallas Morning News editorial comparing the two state’s power systems.

“We urge Texans to continue to hold fast to their trust in our free market system, and don’t go monkeying with a good thing, adding socialized or highly regulated functions,” says the Morning News editorial board. “We need only look to California for an example of what not (emphasis added) to do.”

Implementing a reimagined system will of course find strong resistance in Democrat-dominated Sacramento. We wish Matosantos the best in her new job.

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

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.