California Democrats Sideline Gavin Newsom’s Plan to Build Big Things Faster

Dealing a blow to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Democratic legislators today shot down his ambitious attempt to reform state environmental law and make it easier to build big infrastructure projects in California. 

In a 3-0 vote, a Senate budget committee found Newsom’s package was too complex for last-minute consideration under legislative deadlines. The cutoff for bills to pass out of their house of origin is June 2, just two weeks after the governor rolled out his proposal to adjust the landmark California Environmental Quality Act.

The 10 bills include measures to streamline water, transportation and clean energy projects with an eye toward helping the state meet its climate goals. The proposals also took aim at an environmental law commonly referred to by the acronym CEQA that critics have long decried as a tool to bog down housing and other projects. 

The committee members – two Democrats and one Republican – said no, for now, even as they expressed support for Newsom’s overarching goal.

“The overwhelming agreement is that we need to build clean faster and cut green tape,” said Committee Chair Sen. Josh Becker, a Democrat from San Mateo. “That’s been a legislative priority for me and will continue to be a legislative priority. Although today we are rejecting the governor’s trailer bill proposals based on process, as seven days is insufficient to vet the hundreds of pages of policy nuance in these proposals, we look forward to working with the administration on all of these critical issues.”

Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat from Santa Rosa, and Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican from Redding, also voted no.

That setback, served to Newsom by two Democratic allies, came just hours after the governor expressed confidence his package would prevail.

“I am proud of the Legislature on what we have achieved. I am confident that they will deliver on this,” he said, speaking during an event in Richmond today intended to highlight the state’s renewable energy achievements. 

That vote doesn’t mean Newsom’s infrastructure proposal is dead. His bills could return to Senate or Assembly committees in budget negotiations over the next few weeks. Or Newsom could instead re-introduce them through the Legislature’s policy committees, where they would go through a lengthier process of public comments, discussion and votes.

“The governor is committed to getting this proposal passed so California can maximize its share of federal infrastructure dollars and fast-track clean energy, transportation and water projects that deliver results for all Californians,” Daniel Villaseñor, deputy press secretary for the governor’s office, said in an emailed statement.

Gavin Newsom’s pitch for building big things

Newsom spoke plenty about his infrastructure legislation earlier in the day in Richmond, during an event that quickly morphed into an exhortation about the urgency of passing his proposal. 

“Enough. We need to build, we need to get things done,” Newsom said. “This is not an ideological exercise. We don’t have time. We gotta go.” 

Newsom said that streamlining legal review of clean energy projects is imperative if the state expects to reach its ambitious climate goals. Newsom cited a solar project that has taken 13 years to work its way through agency bureaucracy, a timeframe he called “absurd.”

His legislation proposed a fixed 270-day permitting process for some projects and 270 days for judicial reviews.

“If we don’t build, democracy is crushed,” Newsom said. “They say we can’t get things done anymore. We need to get moving and get ourselves out of the way.”

His package of bills would shorten the amount of time certain projects – namely water, transportation, clean energy and semiconductor or microelectronic projects – could spend in court. It also would have limited the amount of records parties involved in CEQA litigation would have to produce. Typically, preparing the required records for such lawsuits takes between four and 17 months, according to a document published with the bill.

Environmental groups against fast CEQA changes

But Newsom’s ideas to water down the state’s landmark environmental law immediately drew criticism from some environmental groups, including Sierra Club California and Restore the Delta.

Several groups also called into today’s hearing to express their concerns.

“This is moving in the wrong direction for protections for the environment,” said Deirdre Des Jardins, director of California Water Research. “We urge the Senate to completely reject the governor’s proposed trailer bill language. Frankly, there was no reason to spring it on the legislature or the public so suddenly and at the end of the legislative session.”

In voting down Newsom’s infrastructure package, Becker made it clear that he was not against the governor’s goals. But he and the other committee members determined the bills should face additional review instead of speeding through the budget committee. 

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

CPAC Treasurer Accuses Chief Matt Schlapp of Financial, Personnel Mismanagement

The resignation letter adds pressure on Schlapp, who is fighting a defamation lawsuit from a campaign staffer who alleges he groped him

Matt Schlapp, the prominent Trump ally who leads the influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), was accused this week of mismanaging money and staff in a scathing resignation letter from the parent organization’s treasurer.

Bob Beauprez, the treasurer of the American Conservative Union and a board member for eight years, said he had “lost confidence” in the organization’s financial statements and could not solicit donations “in good faith.” He blamed Schlapp forexcessive staffdepartures and suggested that violations of the organization’s bylaws could expose the storied institution to lawsuits or even criminal prosecution.

“A cancer has been metastasizing within the organization for years. It must be diagnosed, treated, and cured, or it will destroy” the organization and its foundation, Beauprez said in the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I’ve come to think that the expectations for my role as a director and officer is much the same as that of a mushroom — ‘To be kept in the dark and fed a lot of manure.’ I no longer am willing to comply.”

The 13-pageletter, delivered Tuesday ahead of a scheduled June 1board meeting, escalates the internal and public pressure on Schlapp,who as ACU chairman since 2014, has become a fixture in conservative media. But his leadership is facing multiple challenges amid corporate backlash over CPAC’s embrace of the far right in the United States and abroad, as well as reduced turnout at its flagship Washington-area conference in March. Schlapp called the event a “home run.”

Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, a senior fellow at the foundation and a former senior official in the Trump White House, are also fighting a defamation and battery lawsuit from a formerRepublican campaign aide who alleged that Schlapp groped him last fall during a visit to the Atlanta area. Schlapp, 55,has denied the aide’s account and attacked his credibility.

Schlapp on Thursday broadly denied the allegations in the letter, characterizing them in a response posted to Twitter as the “routine internal complaints of disgruntled employees.”

“The claims contained in the original email are out of context or are in error,” Schlapp said. “I’ve experienced a political assassination attempt on every part of my character and integrity for the past five months. I’m disgusted that I need to respond to the Post about internal deliberations of CPAC — an organization that’s grown five-fold under my leadership.”

Beauprez did not respond to a message from The Post.

In his letter, Beauprez said he accepted Schlapp’s denial of any inappropriate conduct involving the aide, but he also argued that the board has a duty to protect the organization from potentially significant damages and has never been“fully briefed” on the lawsuit.He said the board agreed to advance $50,000 for Schlapp’s attorney, Ben Chew, who previously represented actorJohnny Depp, butBeauprez said hewas concerned that the fees had spiraled to more than $270,000. That amount has been raised from private donors, he said.

Chew said in an email that the executive committee was briefed on the lawsuit at Beauprez’s request. “Given the information we have unearthed in discovery, we are confident we will prevail in the litigation,” he added.

Another former CPACemployee has notified the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of plans to sue over claims that she was fired in retaliation for complaining about a co-worker’s sexist and racist comments. Beauprez said the board has not been formally briefed on that case either.

“A few of us have sought answers to some of what seem to be obvious and necessary questions,” Beauprez said.“As a result, we have been accused of ‘not having Matt’s back’ and ‘trying to stage a leadership coup.’”

Concerns about Schlapp’s leadership also fueled the recentresignation of the treasurer of the American Conservative Union Foundation, Randy Neugebauer, according to several people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Neugebauer did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Beauprez, a former Republican congressman from Colorado, detailed other wide-ranging complaints that he said date back to 2020. He said that since the organization’s chief financial officer left in March, the bookkeeping was taken over by a longtime business associate of Schlapp’s who provided financial documents with unexplained discrepancies. Beauprez also said he was concerned about payment obligations that were “a far greater amount than I ever recall,” and he said Schlapp was not able to specify how much money the organization made on the CPAC event in March.

The Post reported in February that more than half of the organization’s staff has left since 2021. Beauprez said Schlapp established a pattern of maligning people who leave, even when he was responsible for hiring and promoting them. Several staff members were driven to therapy and medicationin a stressed-out workplace with “major deficiencies” in management, Beauprez said.

One employee became so distressed thatshe left a group dinner and was found by co-workerswandering aimlessly in the streets, according to the letter. Multiple people who were present for that incident confirmed the account to The Post.

“New hires always come in with the highest regard, but when they leave whether by choice or get fired, they are disparaged and have suddenly become useless human refuse,” Beauprez said. “To ignore and deny the reality is dishonest.”

Beauprez’s letter also detailed several instances in which he alleged that the organization failed to follow its bylaws. Specifically, he said, the board’s executive committee approved Schlapp’s salary but neither the committee nor the board ever saw a formal contract, as required by the bylaws. Schlapp, whose chairman position is traditionally unpaid, started receiving annual compensation of $600,000 in mid-2022as his lobbying income declined, according to public records and people familiar with the organization’s finances.

Beauprez also alleged that the board never approved a resolution authorizing officers to sign checks as required by the bylaws.

Click here to read the full article at the Washington Post

‘Zero Bail’ Goes Into Effect In LA County and City

The people of California voted on it, rejected it, yet lawmakers and judges in this state keep pushing for it against the will of the people

The city and county of Los Angeles resumed ‘zero bail’, or the action of not having those with low level, non-violent crimes pay cash bail in order to be released before an arraignment, on Wednesday, following a preliminary injunction ruling made last week by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

Bail has been a hot button issue in California for the last several years. Zero bail was outright rejected by state voters in 2020, but has continuously been brought back up in the legislature since. The California Supreme Court has also wrestled with the issue. However, a focal point on zero bail has been Los Angeles. Like other cities and counties, including San Francisco, LA has gone back and forth on zero bail over the last few years. There has been total cash bail, no cash bail except for serious offenses, and middle of the ground approaches based on if suspects can pay and what impact it would have on them.

The last option in particular  has been scrutinized due to opponents of cash bail saying that lower-income criminals could miss work and other important duties and events as a result, while proponents say that the policy only brings criminals back out onto the the street. While data has shown that zero bail usually result in more crime, opponents have also brought lawsuits against cash bail policies due to certain instances. A lawsuit filed in LA County earlier this year by six criminals who said they missed work and went without prescription medication for several days due to not being able to afford bail was ruled on last week.

According to the suit, “Being jailed for even short periods of time may cause them to lose their jobs, their housing, or custody of their children. They suffer all the harms of confinement in a jail cell even though a large portion of them will never be formally charged with any crime, let alone convicted.”

Zero bail in LA

The suit, Urquidi v. City of Los Angeles, wound up favoring cash bail opponents. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff found that cash bail was a constitutional violation when it directly went against lower-income people from being able to pay.

“Enforcing the secured money bail schedules against poor people who are detained in jail solely for the reason of their poverty is a clear, pervasive, and serious constitutional violation,” Judge Riff said last week. “Evidence shows the preliminary injunction will reduce the incidence of new criminal activity and failures to appear for future court proceedings.”

“The plaintiffs produced a vast amount of evidence via expert witnesses and over a dozen academic studies, which decisively showed that money bail regimes are associated with increased crime and increased failures to appear as compared with unsecured bail or release on non-financial conditions. Evidence demonstrates that secured money bail, as now utilized in Los Angeles County, is itself ‘criminogenic’ — that is, secured money bail causes more crime than would be the case were the money bail schedules no longer enforced.”

As a result, the new policy went into effect on Wednesday and is expected to stay in place for the next 60 days to allow LA to construct new plans for enforcement around the zero bail system, such as pre-trial supervision and monitoring in lieu of a cash bail being held above them to meet their court date. Both the city and County of LA will also need to file a report of what they will do to follow the new zero bail system by July 5th, with a feasibility hearing on them to be heard on July 10th.

However, opponents have said that they would fight back against the policy, especially if crime rises as a result of the new policy.

“This isn’t over,” explained Manuel Esposito, a bail business consultant who has helped many bail companies stay afloat, to the Globe on Wednesday. “This can be appealed, this can be challenged again, this can be reversed. There are a ton of options right now. Hell, they can fail the feasibility hearing and the whole zero bail experiment can be dropped.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Randi Weingarten Only Taught for 3 Years. She’s Getting 15 Years of Public Pension Anyway.

Despite only spending a few years in the classroom, taxpayers could end up shelling out over $200,000 in a public pension for AFT president Randi Weingarten.

Randi Weingarten has spent only a small portion of her career in the classroom despite leading the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest national teachers union in the United States. Trained as a lawyer, Weingarten taught full-time for just three years and was a substitute teacher for three more.

However, according to a report by Freedom Foundation, a think tank, she will collect over 15 years’ worth of public pension when she retires. That sum could total well over $200,000.

Weingarten worked as a per diem substitute between 1991 and 1994 and then became a full-time teacher for three years. Weingarten was also employed as legal counsel for United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Sandra Feldman until 1998, after which Weingarten became union president.

But according to public records, Weingarten is listed as having collected over 15 years of “service credit” as a teacher—meaning she can expect the pension benefits of someone who worked in the classroom for well over a decade longer than Weingarten has.

How has Weingarten earned 15 years’ worth of pension benefits? Per Freedom Foundation’s Maxford Nelsen, it’s due to the UFT collective bargaining agreement, which allowed her to have over 11 extra years counted toward her “service” even though she wasn’t in the classroom. This likely came from “time spent…on union leave as treasurer and then president of UFT from 1997 until her election as AFT president in 2008,” Nelsen notes.

“Employees who are officers of the Union or who are appointed to its staff shall, upon proper application, be given a leave of absence without pay for each school year during the term of this Agreement for the purpose of performing legitimate duties for the Union,” the collective bargaining agreement said. Public records from November 2022 show that Weingarten was one of several dozen such “teachers” out on union leave.

While Weingarten’s union leave is unpaid, the New York City Department of Education used tax revenue to pay her pension contributions for over a decade.

Weingarten wouldn’t have been eligible for a pension in the first place without the extra service credit from her union years, as teachers need five years of service credit to be eligible for a pension. Including 12 months of credit she received from substitute teaching, Weingarten only had four years of service credit from her time actually spent teaching.

It’s unclear how much taxpayers will shell out for Weingarten’s pension. Assuming her average salary was $60,000 (public records show that her last salary as a New York City teacher was $64,313) and she collects her pension for 15 years, taxpayers could end up paying Weingarten $230,000 total, Nelsen estimates—not including any cost-of-living adjustments.

Weingarten has disputed this, telling the New York Post that his calculation is “completely wrong,” adding that “I would have to check with UFT and TRS [Teachers Retirement System] on the other or find a quarterly statement, none of which I have right now.” UFT did not respond to a request for comment.

Students are hardly Weingarten’s top priority. Despite recent attempts to rehabilitate her image, Weingarten was a vocal supporter of extended COVID-related school closures, advocating for such ridiculous policies as forgiving all teacher student loan debt and suspending teacher evaluations as requirements for “safe” reopening.

Click here to read the full article in Reason

Colorado River Deal: What Does It Mean for California?

After nearly a year of intense negotiations, California, Nevada and Arizona reached a historic agreement today to use less water from the overdrafted Colorado River over the next three years.

The states agreed to give up 3 million acre-feet of river water through 2026 — about 13% of the amount they receive. In exchange, farmers and other water users will receive compensation from the federal government.

The Biden administration has been pushing the states since last spring to reach an agreement to cut back on Colorado River water deliveries. The three-state deal is a historic step — but it is not final: The U.S. Interior Department must review the proposal. And everything will have to be renegotiated before the end of 2026.

In California, the agreement would mostly affect the water supplies of farmers in the Imperial Valley. Coming up with a plan to fairly cut water use has created tensions between farms and cities and between states, especially California and Arizona.

Here’s what you need to know about the new plan, how it will affect California and whether it will bring relief to the West’s vital water supply system:

Why was this agreement needed?

The Colorado River basin has been overdrafted for decades. Its major reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have been steadily declining, threatening 40 million people in the West with a water supply crisis. 

In response, last June, a top Interior official asked the seven basin states to reduce water use by 2 to 4 million acre-feet per year, or a 15% to 30% annual reduction. The states failed to meet their deadlines to come up with a plan. So the Interior Department presented its own proposed actions last month, including a controversial one that would cut into the senior water rights of Imperial Valley farmers.

Unhappy with those federal proposals, California, Arizona and Nevada doubled down on their negotiations and tried to come up with an alternative. Today’s agreement by the three states to cut water use through 2026 is considered a major, albeit temporary, step. At least half of the 3 million acre feet will be conserved by the end of 2024. 

The Interior Department has now retracted its plan so it can add the states’ new agreement to the package of options it is considering.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton called the agreement “an important step forward towards our shared goal of forging a sustainable path for the basin that millions of people call home.”

Who in California does this affect? Will they have to use less water? 

The agreement would affect the water supplies of about 19 million Southern Californians in six counties who receive imported water from the Metropolitan Water District.

But the impact will be minimal. The district will sacrifice 130,000 acre-feet per year that it usually receives through a transfer arrangement from farmers in the Palo Verde Irrigation District in Riverside and Imperial counties. That water, explained Metropolitan’s manager of Colorado River resources, Bill Hasencamp, will be left in Lake Mead instead. The federal government will reimburse the growers at the rate of $400 per acre foot.

Metropolitan will also voluntarily leave 250,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead this year. That water will be available for the district in the future.

These cuts will not affect Southern Californians this year, Hasencamp said. That’s because rains have greatly boosted supplies from the State Water Project. The state aqueduct delivered only about 100,000 acre-feet to Metropolitan last year, but will deliver 2 million this year. (An acre foot is roughly the amount that three households use per year.)

Still, Hasencamp said water conservation, both in communities and on farms, should remain a way of life.

“We need to be cognizant that the West is getting drier,” he said.

Farmers in the Imperial Valley are the biggest users of Colorado River water. The Imperial Irrigation District announced today that it will reduce usage at farms by roughly 250,000 acre-feet per year, about 10% of its average amount.

The district said it expects to receive $250 million from the federal government to reward the growers who cut back water deliveries. The money could be used to compensate growers who fallow crops.

Imperial Irrigation District General Manager Henry Martinez applauded the agreement, saying it is “is based on voluntary, achievable conservation volumes that will help protect critical Colorado River reservoir elevations, and in particular Lake Mead.”

With water from the Colorado River, arid Imperial County has become the ninth largest agricultural producer in the state, reporting $2.3 billion in sales in 2021, led by cattle and lettuce.

By acreage, alfalfa and other water-intensive crops used to feed dairy cows and cattle dominate in the Imperial Valley, covering more than half of its farmland. Imperial also produces two-thirds of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. during winter months.  

The Interior Department said it would use the Inflation Reduction Act to pay farmers and other users for saving 2.3 million acre-feet of water. The remaining 700,000 acre-feet “will be achieved through voluntary, uncompensated reductions by the Lower Basin states.” The Interior Department did not release how much it will spend or who would get the money.

What does the Colorado River need in the longer term? 

In most years, farms, cities and tribes use around 13 million acre-feet of the Colorado River’s water, which is significantly more than the 11 million acre-feet of rain and snow that feeds into the river system in an average year. Unless drastic cuts are made, these supplies — most importantly Mead and Powell, which together contain about 50 million acre-feet — could essentially run out of water within several years. 

While the new agreement amounts to saving about 1 million acre-feet per year, that’s not enough. Experts say at least twice that much must be conserved.

Since the lower basin states use most of the Colorado River’s water, the onus is on them — especially the biggest user, California — to come up with the water savings.

A wet winter has eased the emergency. But the relief will probably be short-lived in the arid West, where population growth and worsening droughts are sapping water supplies.

Sarah Porter, director of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, said the agreement represents progress, even though more action is needed. 

“This is another step toward the long-term downward adjustment in how much Colorado River water we as a region can expect to take out of the system,” she said. 

Porter noted that this plan, because it’s a voluntary one, “gets us toward our 2026 goals without risk of litigation.”

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Anaheim Mayor Invites Queer, Trans Nuns Group to Angels Pride Night

Anaheim’s mayor has invited a group of self-described queer and transgender nuns that was disinvited from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ annual LGBTQ+ Pride Night to be her guest at the Los Angeles Angels’ upcoming pride night.

“I’m inviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to join me for @Angels Pride Night at Anaheim Stadium on June 7,” Mayor Ashleigh Aitken tweeted Saturday. “Pride should be inclusive and like many, I was disappointed in the Dodgers decision.”

Neither the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence nor the Angels immediately responded to a request for comment Sunday. It was not clear whether the group would accept the invitation, or whether they would have any official participation in the team’s June 7 event.

“I think it was a missed opportunity to really err on the side of being inclusive and err on the side of standing up for our marginalized communities, especially on the eve of Harvey Milk Day, especially on the eve of Pride Month,” Aitken told ABC7 of the Dodgers’ decision to revoke their invitation.

The Dodgers’ decision, announced Wednesday, came after complaints raised by several Catholic organizations and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who said the group — billed as an “order of queer and trans nuns” — regularly disparaged Christians.

“This year, as part of a full night of programming, we invited a number of groups to join us,” according to a statement issued by the team. “We are now aware that our inclusion of one group in particular — The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — in this year’s Pride Night has been the source of some controversy.

“Given the strong feelings of people who have been offended by the sisters’ inclusion in our evening, and in an effort not to distract from the great benefits that we have seen over the years of Pride Night, we are deciding to remove them from this year’s group of honorees.”

The group had been scheduled to receive a Community Hero Award at the team’s June 16 Pride Night, honoring its efforts to promote human rights, diversity and “spiritual enlightenment.”

The Sisters issued a statement Thursday expressing “deep offense” at being uninvited to the event, calling the decision a capitulation to “hateful and misleading information from people outside their community.” The group insisted it is a nonprofit organization that “annually raises thousands of dollars to distribute to organizations supporting marginalized communities.”

“Our ministry is real. We promulgate universal joy, expiate stigmatic guilt and our use of religious trappings is a response to those faiths whose members would condemn us and seek to strip away the rights of marginalized communities,” Sister Rosie Partridge, described as the “abbess” of the group, said in a statement.

The Sisters’ website describes the organization as “a leading-edge order of queer and trans nuns.”

Other high-profile Southland supporters of LGBTQ rights also chimed in, expressing disappointment in the Dodgers’ decision.

The Dodgers’ original decision to honor the group drew criticism from various Catholic organizations. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, accused the team of “rewarding anti-Catholicism” by honoring the group.

“The Catholic League has been the leading critic of this bigoted organization for many decades,” Donohue wrote on the organization’s website. “… These homosexual bigots are known for simulating sodomy while dressed as nuns.”

He added, “Just last month, they held an event mocking our Blessed Mother and Jesus on Easter Sunday.”

Donohue said he wrote to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to protest the Dodgers’ decision to honor the group.

Rubio also sent a complaint to Manfred, saying the group “mocks Christians through diabolical parodies of our faith.”

“Do you believe that the Los Angeles Dodgers are being ‘inclusive and welcoming to everyone’ by giving an award to a group of gay and transgender drag performers that intentionally mocks and degrades Christians — and not only Christians, but nuns, who devote their lives to serving others?” Rubio wrote in his letter.

The organization Catholic Vote also condemned the group’s inclusion in the Dodgers’ event. Its president, Brian Burch, issued a statement Wednesday hailing the team’s decision to exclude the group, which he called “an anti-Catholic hate group known for their gross mockery of Catholic nuns.”

“While we continue to wonder how such a group was selected in the first place, this incident should serve as a wake-up call for all religious believers: unchecked woke corporations have no qualms about exploiting people of faith,” Burch said.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

CAGOP Statement on Vice President Harris’ California Visit

Growing Number Of Voters Favor Senator Feinstein’s Resignation

‘She has had quite the legacy, and now she is really tainting it by just staying in at this point’

Reports this week which found Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) health condition was actually much worse than reported led to a resurgence of California voters to signify favor for her resignation on Friday, with polls showing that even voters in Feinstein’s home city of San Francisco are polarized.

The latest push for resignation goes back to February when, shortly after announcing she would not be running again for the Senate in 2024, Feinstein returned to California to recover from shingles. While she was expected back sometime in March, this did not happen. Her absence caused problems in the Senate Judiciary Committee where a logjam of federal judge nominees began to build as she was the deciding vote given the razor thin Democratic majority in the Senate.

Last month, with Sen. Feinstein’s recovery taking longer than expected, she temporarily left the Judiciary Committee, hoping to have an interim replacement cover for her. However, Republicans rejected the plan, forcing the Committee to only approve Judges whom members from both parties could agree on. With many potential judges held back, critical Senate votes coming up that were reliant on passage with a vote from Feinstein, and concerns growing about her health, Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) began to lead the charge to get her to resign. At it’s peak, dozens of Congressional members, Senators, and leftist/liberal groups pressured Feinstein to resign.

Pressure somewhat dissipated last week when Feinstein returned to Washington and resumed her job as Senator. However, this was short lived, as it was soon revealed that, in addition to having shingles, she also had encephalitis, which is brain inflammation brought on by another illness, and Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a complication of shingles that goes after facial nerves.

“While the encephalitis resolved itself shortly after she was released from the hospital in March, she continues to have complications from Ramsay Hunt syndrome,” confirmed her office.

With Feinstein also appearing confused as to what she actually had, including denying that she had encephalitis and instead had the flu, many in California began to once again challenge having Feinstein in office.

Recent polls have shown that the numbers are decidedly not in her favor. A poll last month found that 64% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans want Feinstein to resign. In fact, the majority being in favor of her resigning went across the board, with every demographic including gender, age, race, and ideology want her to resign. Her “lowest” numbers came with voters making under $50,000 a year and African Americans, with only 59% of each group favoring resignation.

And this extends to San Francisco. An impromptu poll of people inside San Francisco City Hall by the New York Times on Thursday found that support is mixed, a far cry from only a few years ago when most inside were rocks of support.

“The majority, in many cases two-thirds of voters, of every demographic want Feinstein gone,” Russell Martin, a political advisor in the Bay Area, told the Globe Friday. “And now even people in San Francisco have had enough. The sad thing is, she has had quite the legacy, and now she is really tainting it by just staying in at this point. I mean, she was a popular Supervisor, Mayor, and Senator. She did so much for the city and country. And now her legacy won’t be that, but of the Senator who just lingered in there for years because she was too selfish to pass the torch. Ideologies are very different, but this is like what happened to [Former Congressman] Strom Thurmond in the 90s and early 2000s.

Click to read the full article at the California Globe

S.F. and Oakland are Eyeing Big Deficits. Why Not San Jose?

The South Bay city is reporting a $35.3 million surplus

Some of the Bay Area’s largest cities are facing truly eye-popping budget deficits.

San Francisco is projecting a $290 million shortfall. Oakland, short by $177 million, isn’t faring much better. But down south, the outlook is a bit sunnier. San Jose is reporting a $35.3 million surplus.

Why such a divergence?

Economists and budget officials attribute the disparity to San Francisco and Oakland’s heavy reliance on tax revenues that are still recovering sluggishly from the pandemic’s economic gut punch. The cities blame the down year on a mixture of poorly performing key revenue streams and the drying up of federal pandemic-related funding.

San Jose, on the other hand, has come away generally unscathed by leaning on a tax base that’s largely weathered negative financial forces. Worth noting: The surplus in the FY2023-24 budget remains small when compared to its $5.2 billion total budget — less than 1%.

“We’re in a positive position,” city budget director Jim Shannon said. “It’s not like we’ve got money to burn, by any means.”

Key to the large discrepancy between the cities is the real estate transfer tax, levied when a property changes hands.

That tax pool for Oakland peaked during FY2021-22 at $138.4 million but is expected to only reach $110.4 million for the coming FY2023-24. In San Francisco, the difference is starker. In 2021, the city brought in over $500 million from the tax, while this upcoming year it’s expecting less than half of that figure.

Both cities have blamed high-interest rates and work-from-home trends as the reason for these gloomy outlooks — part of what some are fearing could result in a “doom loop” for the downtown cores, where a dwindling tax base could spur serious cuts to essential services and spark an existential economic crisis.

But in San Jose, the city only collects a small amount of this tax and is projected to receive $22 million this coming year. That’s an increase of $2 million compared to 2021.

Sales tax is also playing a role. San Francisco is expecting a meager $14 million increase compared to 2021, bringing the city to $202 million this coming year. Oakland is experiencing a similarly small bump over the same time period, a $5 million increase totaling $104 million.

But San Jose — somewhat of an outlier — is projected to receive a whopping $50 million more in sales tax than it did in 2021, a total of $336 million.

Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said the geographic makeup of the three cities’ economies may play a role.

“San Jose’s economy is not nearly as concentrated in the downtown area when compared to San Francisco and Oakland,” Bellisario wrote in an email. “With a slow return to the office and higher commercial vacancy rates in S.F. and Oakland, we’ve seen sales tax revenues decline in those areas along with business-related taxes.”

Oakland officials also say the transient occupancy tax, which hotel guests pay, still hasn’t made a full recovery since before the pandemic. Revenues are expected to increase this coming year by about $6 million from 2021 — totaling $22 million. But that’s still behind a high of $25.9 million in 2018.

All three of the cities have experienced nearly identical population decreases — around 0.5% and 0.6% between 2021 and 2022 — according to California’s Finance Department. And, even with its nearly one million residents, San Jose has dropped out of the top 10 most populous cities in the country.

As for pandemic-related funding infusions — which includes the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — Oakland has already used all of the $188 million it received from the federal government to plug up previous shortfalls it was facing since 2020.

In San Francisco, nearly $250 million in reimbursements for COVID-19 expenses was expected from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But now, the city said it will likely only get $23.4 million because of delays.

In San Jose, the picture is a bit more hazy.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

This Law Should Reveal Who’s Paying for California Legislators’ Travel. It’s Only Been Used Twice

After years of controversy over state legislators taking trips paid by interest groups, California in 2015 adopted a law intended to bring more transparency to sponsored travel.

Senate Bill 21 requires trip organizers to annually disclose any major donors who travel alongside elected officials, taking aim at the secrecy that often surrounds these policy conferences and international study tours.

Yet in the seven years since the law took effect, disclosure forms have been filed for only two events — despite legislators reporting millions of dollars in sponsored travel and dozens of trips during that period. One form was filed last year and the second only after CalMatters made inquiries. 

It’s unclear exactly why the disclosure has been such a failure.

Former state Sen. Jerry Hill, the San Mateo Democrat who pushed for the law, said he was surprised by its infrequent use. He said he crafted qualifications that he believed major travel sponsors would easily meet, requiring them to share more information with the public about who is paying for legislators’ travel — but, in hindsight, the language about when they have to file may not have been specific enough.

Many groups, including two whom Hill cited in arguments for the law, contend that they do not meet the eligibility criteria laid out in the measure, even as they spend tens of thousands of dollars or more to take legislators to far-flung locations.

“It looks like it’s being interpreted in the most favorable light for the nonprofits, and they are looking at that as a way of getting around it,” Hill told CalMatters.

If that is the case, he added, legislators should update the language to ensure the intent is clear.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It is law and it should be followed. And it’s disappointing that some have used whatever reason they can find to not follow the law.”

If any organizations are out of compliance, the state’s political ethics watchdog, which is responsible for enforcement, cannot say. The Fair Political Practices Commission has never clarified potentially ambiguous language in the rules and it depends on filers to follow them, investigating primarily if it receives a complaint. None has ever been lodged.

Jay Wierenga, a spokesperson for the commission, wrote in an email that he did not know the specifics of the situation, but “in my experience most of the folks who deal with this are sophisticated enough and/or smart enough to follow the rules and hire legal counsel to make sure they’re following it.”

Different rules for trip sponsors

California law allows elected officials to accept unlimited free travel from a nonprofit organization, as long as the trip is related to policy issues or they are giving a speech or participating on a panel. Officials must report the travel as a gift on their annual statements of economic interest filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission — and, because of the same 2015 law, disclose the destination.

But the nonprofits — often funded by corporations, unions and industry associations that lobby the Legislature and the state — do not have similar reporting requirements. Though some voluntarily share lists of donors, they are not obligated to reveal how much money they receive and from whom.

For nearly as long as these trips have been happening, they have generated criticism from opponents who believe they amount to unofficial lobbying, allowing interest groups to buy privileged access to lawmakers and regulators away from public scrutiny. 

Hill said he grew more concerned after the 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion in his district that killed eight and destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood, which led to revelations about then-California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey’s close relationship and extensive travel with companies regulated by the commission.

So the law Hill authored was meant to provide greater accountability for which interest groups are paying for travel and how these trips can serve as opportunities for influence-peddling. It requires “a nonprofit organization that regularly organizes and hosts travel for elected officials” to annually report any donors who gave more than $1,000 and also accompanied elected officials on any portion of a trip, if the group meets two criteria:

  • Travel gifts to elected officials in that year totaled more than $10,000, or at least $5,000 to a single official.
  • Spending for travel, study tours and conferences, conventions and meetings related to elected officials account for at least one-third of its total expenses, as reflected in its federal tax filings.

Over the past two years, 16 organizations exceeded the first threshold at least once, according to a CalMatters analysis of legislators’ statements of economic interest. Just two of them filed the travel sponsor disclosure, known as Form 807.

The California Problem Solvers Foundation, which supports a bipartisan legislative caucus, revealed that in 2021, the year it launched, representatives from the California Medical Association, Edison International, the Associated Builders & Contractors of California, PhARMA, Blue Shield of California, DaVita Inc., PG&E and Sempra Energy donated and attended its inaugural policy summit in Dana Point, alongside nine lawmakers.

The foundation, however, did not file the form again for last year, when it spent another $12,000 taking four legislators to a policy summit in Sonoma. A spokesperson, Nick Mirman, declined to comment.

The California Legislative Jewish Caucus Leadership Foundation, which spent more than $213,000 to take 14 legislators to Israel in July, said it wrongly forgot to submit a disclosure for the trip. 

After CalMatters reached out, a representative for the foundation said its compliance attorneys discovered the error while completing its taxes. She provided a Form 807 that the foundation planned to file, showing two donors that also traveled to Israel: the Koret Foundation Donor Advised Fund at Stanford University and the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. The Fair Political Practices Commission confirmed Wednesday that it received the form.

Over the last week, CalMatters surveyed the 14 other groups about why they did not file the disclosure form.

  • Three asserted they did not meet the eligibility requirements of the law, but did not specify how in follow-up inquiries: the Governor’s Cup Foundation, which organizes an annual golf tournament in Pebble Beach; the Shared Energy Future Foundation, the charitable arm of the oil and natural gas industry; and The Climate Registry, which spent more than $37,600 to bring lawmakers to United Nations climate conferences in Scotland and Egypt over the past two years.
  • Two said they are trade associations, which are exempt from the law: the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies and the California Independent Petroleum Association.
  • Five did not respond to questions, despite repeated inquiries: the California Biotechnology Foundation, the California Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation, the Climate Action Reserve, the Council of State Governments-West and the Foundation for California’s Technology and Innovation Economy.
  • The California Environmental Voters Education Fund suggested that five lawmakers had incorrectly reported the organization as the sponsor of their travel to a United Nations biodiversity convention in Montreal, saying it had raised the money from another group called the Resources Legacy Fund.

Ambiguity in the law

A possible issue is how broadly to construe “activities with regard to elected officials,” as the law states, when determining expenses for the one-third of total spending threshold. Hill said his intent was for that calculation to cover the entire cost of trips and conferences attended by legislators, but nonprofits may be counting only their direct payments to lawmakers.

“Hindsight is 20/20, and if the nonprofits are using that as a way around following the law, that needs to be clarified or it needs to be enforced in a way that requires them to follow the law,” Hill said.

Wierenga said the Fair Political Practices Commission has no formal advice about how to complete the form because “nobody files them, so we’ve apparently never really been asked.”

Two prominent organizations mentioned by Hill at the time as inspirations for the 2015 law — the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy and the Independent Voter Project — told CalMatters they had never met the one-third of expenses threshold.

The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, which sends lawmakers to policy conferences across the state and on international study tours, is by far the biggest source of sponsored travel that lawmakers annually report. In 2022, the foundation accounted for about 40% of the nearly $1 million in trips that California legislators took, according to a CalMatters analysis published this month.

A tax filing for last year is not yet publicly available. But in 2019, for example, the foundation reported spending $423,114 on study travel projects and $385,949 on conferences, conventions and meetings — about 43% of its nearly $1.9 million in expenses. Other recent years have comparable figures.

Spokesperson PJ Johnston declined to explain how the foundation calculates its expenses under the criteria laid out by the disclosure law. In an email, he wrote that “your approach may not take into account the full provisions,” but did not elaborate.

“Addressing your ‘calculations’ is not our responsibility, that is not our burden,” he wrote. “Your ‘calculations’ are imbued with no official weight, verification or concurrence from any agency with jurisdiction.”

He added that the foundation has never received any questions or guidance from the Fair Political Practices Commission about the disclosure law.

“It’s frustrating. It is law and it should be followed. And it’s disappointing that some have used whatever reason they can find to not follow the law.”FORMER STATE SEN. JERRY HILL, WHO PUSHED FOR THE TRANSPARENCY LAW

Each November, the Independent Voter Project organizes a conference where dozens of legislators and corporate sponsors gather for a week of policy discussions and schmoozing at a luxury hotel in Maui. The event has long been a lightning rod for concerns about the close relationship between lawmakers and interest groups that have business before the Legislature.

Last year, the nonprofit spent $38,856 to bring 13 legislators to the Maui conference. But Dan Howle, the chairperson and executive chairman, said that event is a small fraction of the Independent Voter Project’s work — which also includes public education on the rights of no party preference voters and court challenges to laws restricting the participation of these voters in primary and general elections.

On its 2021 tax filing, the most recent that is publicly available, the Independent Voter Project reported spending $169,530 on conferences, conventions and meetings and $43,372 on travel and entertainment payments for public officials — just under a quarter of its $882,122 in total expenses for that year. Travel accounts for another $384,614 in spending, though it’s unclear whether those costs relate to “activities with regard to elected officials.”

Howle said the costs for the Maui conference — which include a dinner at the hotel restaurant, opening and closing receptions and the sponsored travel for legislators — are not as much as they may seem. His organization does not count hotel rooms for sponsors, which they pay for as part of their registration, curtailing spending that would qualify for the one-third threshold.

“We haven’t felt required to report it because we don’t reach that threshold,” Howle said. He said that the Independent Voter Project came to that conclusion after discussing the law with the Fair Political Practices Commission the year it took effect. The commission has issued no official advice.

A third organization, the California Issues Forum, also maintains that it hasn’t filed the form because it hasn’t spent enough to cross the disclosure threshold. Chris Tapio, a spokesperson, wrote in an email that the nonprofit’s “activities and expenditures have not met the statutory criteria” for filing a report.

The organization spent $15,634 to take 15 legislators to Napa, Los Angeles, and Marina Del Rey in 2022, according to lawmakers’ statements of economic interest, and $13,454 to take 13 legislators to La Jolla, Monterey and Lafayette in 2021.

Tax returns for those years are not yet publicly available. But in 2019, the organization reported spending $323,032 on conferences, conventions and meetings, and $15,072 on travel, accounting for about 27% of its nearly $1.3 million in expenses.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters