California’s Switch To a Primarily Solar and Wind-Powered Grid is a Dead End

The leaders of California and China have at least one thing in common: fear of blackouts. In late September, following widespread and economically debilitating losses of power, China’s vice premier Han Zheng ordered the country’s energy companies to ensure sufficient supplies before winter “at all costs” and added, ominously, that blackouts “won’t be tolerated.” A month earlier, California governor Gavin Newsom issued emergency orders to procure more natural gas-fired electrical capacity to avoid blackouts. And in a possible sign of more such moves to come, earlier in the summer, California’s electric grid operator “stole” electricity that Arizona utilities had purchased and that was in transit from Oregon.

In recent weeks, the European continent has also suffered blackouts, near-blackouts, and skyrocketing electricity prices triggered by a massive lull in nature’s windiness. Grid operators across Europe rushed to buy fuel and fire up old gas- and coal-fired plants. Europe petitioned Russia for more natural gas, and German coal plants ran out of fuel, causing a scramble (including in China) to get more (doubling global prices). Even long-forgotten oil-fired powerplants were pressed into emergency service on grids from Sweden to Asia.

The issue that’s now front and center is whether all these disruptions to electricity supply and price are, to use Silicon Valley language, a “feature” or a temporary “bug” of the new energy infrastructure favored by advocates of renewables: one dominated by power from the wind and sun. Proponents of this so-called energy transition admit that the road to a post-hydrocarbon world might be rough. But the solution, they say, is to accelerate construction of far more wind and solar machines. Thus, the key question now is not whether we need such a transition, or even what it would cost, but whether it’s even possible in the time frames now being bandied about (“carbon free by 2035”).

We can thank California for leading the way in helping us answer that question. In late August, in pursuit of that “transition” vision and while skirting the edge of widespread blackouts, California brought online the world’s biggest-ever grid-scale battery, located at Moss Landing, just 60 miles south of Silicon Valley. Proponents of an all-wind/solar grid seem to be saying that all we need to do to get past the volatility of conventional fuels for electricity is to build enough such batteries—the sooner, the better.

The Moss Landing battery is about ten times the size of the previous world-record-holder: the grid-scale battery that Elon Musk built, to global fanfare, for the South Australia grid in 2017. States and countries everywhere are in hot pursuit of grid-scale storage, including New York City, where the state Public Service Commission recently approved construction of a battery “plant” in Queens roughly the size of Tesla’s Australian project.

Three basic constraints work against building enough batteries to solve the intermittency of wind and solar power, however. First, there’s the time it takes to conquer the inevitable engineering challenges in building anything new at industrial scales. Second, there’s the scale issue itself and the deeply naïve reluctance to consider the utterly staggering quantity of batteries that would be required to keep society powered if most electricity is supplied at nature’s convenience. And finally, directly derived from the scale issues, are the difficulties involved in obtaining sufficient primary minerals to build as many batteries as the green dreamers want.

Let’s start with the engineering realities. Mere days after its ribbon-cutting, the Moss Landing mega-battery went offline. Heat and fire-detection systems automatically shut the battery down, activated sprinklers, and called local fire departments. Fortunately, nothing happened this time, but engineers have to take seriously fires with large lithium batteries because they are self-fueling and can be difficult, if not borderline impossible, to suppress. The technical issues resemble the ones plaguing several electric-car manufacturers, but the scale of grid-scale batteries adds to the challenge. The Moss Landing beast has an array of 100,000 lithium battery modules containing as much lithium as some 20,000 Teslas. The last thing anyone wants is for Moss Landing to light up like a Roman Candle visible from space.

This past summer, the Tesla Megapack in South Australia did catch fire and burn out a number of its tractor-trailer-sized “packs.” Two years earlier, a similar fire at a smaller but still utility-scale battery plant in Arizona caused an explosion and injured several firefighters. The state paused its grid-scale battery rollout while it investigated. As of this writing, some 75 percent of Moss Landing’s total capacity remains offline with, as one headline put it, “no timeline on return.”

Such challenges are part of the proper and normal course of engineering progress. Batteries at such scale have never been built. Engineers will doubtless find the causes of these problems and make appropriate fixes. That process may not happen as fast as enthusiasts would like, but operators everywhere will want to get it right before building hundreds and even thousands more such installations.

This brings us to the scale question: just how many facilities like the $400 million Moss Landing battery will California, the U.S., and ostensibly the world need? Answering the question requires simple arithmetic, yielding a substantial reality check.

Building grids that can supply electricity whenever people and businesses need it for decades on end requires more than meeting episodic peaks in demand; we must also understand and prepare for the frequency and duration of the inevitable power-plant outages. The eight grids in the U.S. today collectively possess hundreds of thousands of megawatts of “excess” generation. That backup or “peaking” capacity can be called upon whenever needed, and it can run indefinitely. Since sunlight and wind are by definition impossible to dispatch at will, the critical question for planners is just how much electricity storage is required for a grid whose primary sources of energy are the sun and wind. Keep in mind that Moss Landing’s four hours of storage at 400 megawatts is worthless just one minute after the fourth hour.

The big issue at grid-scale isn’t the oft-noted diurnal variability of sunlight and wind. Rather, it’s the seasonal variabilities, along with the episodic nature of long, even multiday weather events of, say, continent-wide wind lulls (as Europe recently experienced) or total continental cloud cover. Multi-decade meteorological data shows that while it’s impossible to predict precisely when such episodes will occur, it is entirely predictable that they will occur, and frequently, over decades. The adage that it’s always sunny or windy somewhere in the country is simply not true over a span of such time. And, not incidentally, it is this reality that makes it clear that building more transmission lines can’t solve that problem.

Consider the implications just for California. If the rest of the nation switches to a solar/wind grid, California won’t be able to count on neighboring power plants to make up for losses during regional dips in wind and sunlight availability. (Imports currently supply one-fourth of the Golden State’s annual electricity.) An easy arithmetical approximation shows that a transitioned California would need about 100 Moss Landings, costing about $40 billion, to make it through a power drought of several days.

In these days of profligate government spending, $40 billion might not seem like too much—except, of course, if the sunlight/wind drought lasted just one more day. In that case, California would need to have another $10 billion in batteries on hand. And since none of the batteries being built or planned today will last for the several-decade lifespan of normal grid equipment, those batteries will need replacement, raising the total investment well above $100 billion. The alternative would be to just turn everything off whenever such multiday episodes occur. Another alternative? A California-scale conventional grid can be reliably operated for decades with about $10 billion worth of excess conventional generation.

Such disparities are even more sobering at the national level. One detailed analysis based on national meteorological data concluded that an all solar/wind grid could keep America’s lights on 99.97 percent of the time using just 12 hours of storage. That sounds good until you do the math. On average, that statistical level of reliability means there would be a few hours of zero power every year. But that doesn’t include the unpredictable but inevitable episodes—even as few as every couple of years—of continent-wide blackouts due to extended sunlight/wind droughts. Such a grid sounds “Third World,” not “high tech.” And we’d pay more for it. The same analysis finds that an all solar/wind grid requires at least twice today’s installed generating capacity. That’s because far more than the normal peak generation would be needed, not only to supply peak demand when sunlight and wind are available but also to generate surplus to store electricity in batteries.

Such realities expose the silliness of the oft-repeated claim that solar or wind power have achieved “grid parity,” meaning that they can produce electricity for about the same cost per kilowatt-hour as a conventional machine—when they’re running. To match the energy produced by one conventional machine each year, and for years on end, you need at least two solar/wind machines, plus the batteries. That combination puts the sun/wind/battery option at roughly triple the capital cost of grid-scale conventional power. Even so, the cost for 12 hours of storage at U.S. grid-level alone would be about $1.5 trillion, and that would still leave the nation episodically in the dark. The alternative? A conventional grid with about $100 billion worth of conventional backup/peakers.

Nonetheless, because of existing and expected subsidies and mandates, the Energy Information Administration forecasts a 7,000 percent increase in the quantity of grid-scale batteries on the nation’s grids over the coming decades. That would bring storage to a total of less than a half-hour of national demand.

One alternative is to follow Germany’s lead: keep a roughly equal-size shadow grid of conventional generation on hand as backup. The expense of such a solution would be borne not by the builders of solar/wind machines but by ratepayers. That solution is the main reason that the average German residential customer pays about 300 percent more for electricity than the average American. Worse, as Europe has discovered as its winter of discontent approaches, that dual-grid option is exposed to episodic and radical fuel-price spikes arising from the inevitable supply-chain interruptions. Price spikes happen when there’s a widespread jump in demand for any commodity, but especially when fuel buyers choose (in this case under government mandates) to avoid engaging in long-term, low-cost supplier agreements.

The other option is to claim that batteries will soon see “revolutionary” declines in cost. It’s hard to keep track of all the media reports about new “game-changing” battery technologies. The batteries that will be built today are those that exist now, not some fanciful new product of the future. Of course it’s reasonable to expect researchers to discover superior chemical concoctions, but it takes many years to go from discovery to industrial-scale production. The first Tesla sedan, circa 2012, didn’t show up for more than three decades after the Nobel-winning lithium discovery in the mid-1970s (by an Exxon researcher). And yes, lithium batteries will become cheaper over time, perhaps dropping in cost by half, as enthusiasts claim. But for systemic grid-scale storage to be affordable, as one detailed analysis observed, we need to see nearly 100-fold cost reductions, which are nowhere on the horizon.

This brings us to the physical roadblock impeding a magical transition to a battery-infused grid enabling sunlight and wind as primary energy. Batteries are an extremely expensive way to store energy in the main because they’re so material-intensive. It requires about 50 pounds of batteries to hold the amount of energy contained in one pound of oil. Obtaining the minerals needed to fabricate one 50-pound battery requires mining and processing roughly 25,000 pounds of materials. This kind of physical disparity really adds up at grid scales.

Building enough Moss Landing-class systems for 12 hours of storage for the U.S. alone would entail mining materials equal to what would be needed for two centuries’ worth of production of batteries for all the world’s smartphones. That doesn’t count the additional minerals needed for the transition to electric cars or the “energy minerals” needed to build the wind and solar machines themselves. It’s a little-noted fact that using wind/solar/battery machines to deliver the same amount of energy as conventional hydrocarbon machines requires about 1,000 percent more primary materials for fabrication.

The world isn’t now mining, nor is it planning to mine, a quantity of minerals and metals sufficient to build as many batteries as the transition roadmap requires. About this fact there is no dispute, even if it’s being ignored. In a surreal disconnect, the International Energy Agency’s own analysis of the astonishing, even impossible mineral demands required for the wind/solar/battery path was quickly followed by a different report proposing an even more aggressive pursuit of the energy transition. Meantime, another recent study from the Geological Survey of Finland totaled up the overall demand that the transition will create just for common minerals—for example, copper, nickel, graphite, and lithium—never mind the more exotic ones. They concluded that demand would exceed known global reserves of those minerals.

Just starting down the transition path will soon put unprecedented pressures on global mineral supply chains. In the real world of commodities, that will translate into higher prices. It’s puzzling to see so many analysts believing that batteries will become a lot cheaper given the fact that, as the IEA noted, raw materials alone make up from 50 percent to 70 percent of battery costs.

The mineral-intensive transition path has some troubling geopolitical implications as well. China is the largest source for most of the needed critical materials; by most accounts, Beijing controls nearly half that supply chain. The United States is a minor player. The rush to build battery assembly plants here in America is the equivalent of building cars here but importing all the gasoline.

The retort from transition advocates is invariably that “clean tech” is getting better at a putative “exponential” rate, just as we’ve seen happen in computing and communications. But physical infrastructures like roads, bridges, power plants, and big batteries simply cannot improve at the rate that information systems do. These are realities anchored in physics, not policies or subsidies. It’s true that grid-scale wind, solar, and battery machines are fabulously better than they were three decades ago, and that we should expect many more of them to be built even without subsidies and mandates. But it’s just as naïve today to think that wind/solar/battery machines could entirely replace conventional power systems as it was in the 1950s to think that nuclear energy would power not only all our grids but also our ships and cars. Nuclear energy at scale was a lot harder than many thought.

History may mark the summer of 2021—from Europe’s approaching cold and expensive winter to California’s teetering on systemic blackouts—as the point when the world began to test the limits of supply chains for providing and storing electricity. California is on track to see its cost of electricity blow past Germany’s sky-high levels. Even the California Public Utility Commission has observed that the path now charted will mean that “energy bills will become less affordable over time.”

If one were taking bets on the outcome of the race to zero carbon, odds are that consumer patience with soaring costs—in tandem with decreasing reliability—will be exhausted long before we have the opportunity to deplete the supply of critical energy minerals. Here, too, California is leading the way.

Mark P. Mills, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, is a strategic partner in Montrose Lane, an energy-tech venture fund, and author of The Cloud Revolution: How the Convergence of New Technologies Will Unleash the Next Economic Boom and a Roaring 2020s.

This article was originally published by the Manhattan Institute.

Local Government COVID-19 Relief Funds Bonuses for Government Workers

Earlier this year, Congress enacted $350 billion in “state and local government aid” as part of the so-called American Rescue Plan.  This is in addition to receiving $150 billion in relief in the first federal Coronavirus Relief Fund enacted in March 2020, and which according to a recent estimate, state and local governments are racing to spend the final $10 billion before a December 31 deadline.

While state and local governments certainly had big emergency spending needs in the height of the pandemic, many questioned whether the $500 billion in federal cash being rained down on city halls and state capitals was being targeted to actual needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, as Jared Walczak from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation notes, states didn’t really lose that much tax revenue at all in 2020 due to the economy’s quick rebound.

“Preliminary data suggest that states closed out calendar year 2020 with only $1.7 billion less revenue than they generated in 2019 (a decline of less than 0.2 percent), not counting federal assistance, while municipal governments actually experienced substantial revenue growth due to rising property values,” he wrote in March.

We’ve even seen 12 states take advantage of robust tax revenues to offer tax relief to its citizens.  Not in California, of course.

Rather than return excess government money it doesn’t need due to the pandemic to its citizens, one California county is taking it a step further – using unspent COVID dollars to give bonuses to government workers.

According to the San Jose Spotlight, “Santa Clara County employees can likely expect a bonus in their paychecks come December” when earlier this month “the Board of Supervisors approved a request to pay more than $76 million to help each of the county’s 22,000 employees by Dec. 3.”

“Employees will receive $2,500 for their work during the pandemic, regardless of whether they were frontline workers,” the Spotlight reports, and “funding will come from the federal American Rescue Plan.”

During the hearing on the plan, Supervisor Otto Lee questioned the wisdom of spending COVID funds on what has been termed “hero pay.”

“I think for so many reasons that the amount that has been provided here . . . it’s very generous, but in some ways overly generous,” he said.

In an op-ed published in the Mercury News, San Jose City Councilman Matt Mahan called the plan “a misuse of public funds.”  He noted that instead of paying bonuses to government workers, the county could have used the $76 million to “buil(d) low-cost modular apartments for 506 people currently sleeping on the streets” or it could have “ended hunger in (Santa Clara County) for eight months, according to data from Feeding America.”

Santa Clara County’s example is just the tip of the iceberg for COVID relief money being spent inefficiently or fraudulently.

Consider the ongoing saga over fraudulent benefits paid out by the Employment Development Department during the pandemic.  The Department has estimated that at least $10.4 billion of the benefits it paid out between March and December 2020 was lost to fraud.  Just this week, the nonpartisan State Auditor’s office said the California Department of Education “needs to do a better job of monitoring how its $24-billion in federal COVID-19 money is being spent in schools.”

And unfortunately for taxpayers, Santa Clara County’s $76 million payout to government workers likely won’t be the last example we see of the generosity of taxpayers to help those in need being abused.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Newsom Declares Drought Emergency Across California

Gov. Gavin Newsom today declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California, as conservation efforts continue to fall far short of state targets.

Newsom also authorized California’s water regulators to ban wasteful water use, such as spraying down public sidewalks, and directed his Office of Emergency Services to fund drinking water as needed. But he stopped short of issuing any statewide conservation mandates. 

“As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it’s critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible,” Newsom said in a statement. 

Today’s announcement extends drought emergencies, already declared in 50 counties, to the eight remaining counties where conditions had thus far not been deemed severe enough: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, San Francisco and Ventura. 

The emergency declarations are aimed at easing responses to the deepening drought — such as emergency bottled water purchases or construction to bolster water supplies — by reducing environmental and other regulations. Under the proclamation, local water suppliers must begin preparing for the possibility of a dry year ahead.  

“We think we’ll be able to manage through this year,” said David Pettijohn, director of water resources at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Next year is the issue. And we don’t know what the water year is going to look like. Nobody can predict the weather.”

But California’s water watchers say that without a conservation mandate, California is losing time, and water. “We know mandates are more effective than voluntary calls,” said Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. “It takes time to ramp up, and because of the delay in asking Californians to save water this spring, we are further behind than we should be.” 

Conservation improving, but still short of goals 

New data released today by the State Water Resources Control Board reveals that Californians cut their water use at home by 5% in August compared to August 2020, an improvement over the reductions of less than 2% in July but still far short of the voluntary 15% cuts Newsom urged in July. 

The hard-hit North Coast, where the state’s first drought emergencies were declared in April, continued to show the biggest drops in household water use — with an 18.3% decrease compared to August of last year. Conservation numbers tapered off moving south, with the San Francisco Bay Area conserving nearly 10% more water than last August.  …

Click here to read the full article from CalMatters.org.

What Initiatives Might Be on the Nov. 2022 Ballot?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

California voters are getting used to making state policy via the ballot initiative, due to having such a dysfunctional Legislature.

Each election, there are many initiatives on the state and local ballots. What are Californians looking at for the November 2022 ballot so far?

These are the hot, controversial, imperative, and frivolous initiatives currently collecting signatures, listed with the Attorney General’s ballot title (in all caps) and a partial summary:

Another plastic recycling initiative.

REQUIRES STATE REGULATIONS TO REDUCE PLASTIC WASTE, TAX PRODUCERS OF SINGLE-USE PLASTICS, AND FUND RECYCLING AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires CalRecycle to adopt regulations reducing plastic waste, including to: (1) require that single-use plastic packaging, containers, and utensils be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and to reduce such waste by 25%, by 2030; (2) prohibit polystyrene container use by food vendors; and (3) tax producers of single-use plastic packaging, containers, or utensils by January 1, 2022, and allocate revenues for recycling and environmental programs, including local water supply protection.

Expands sports gambling in California on tribal lands.

AUTHORIZES NEW TYPES OF GAMBLING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY AMENDMENT. Allows federally recognized Native American tribes to operate roulette, dice games, and sports wagering on tribal lands, subject to compacts negotiated by the Governor and ratified by the Legislature. Beginning in 2022, allows on-site sports wagering at only privately operated horse-racing tracks in four specified counties (does not list which four counties).

Imposes 10% tax on sports-wagering profits at horse-racing tracks.

An initiative to limit local officials’ authority and response to public health emergencies. This is big.

LIMITS STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS’ AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Prohibits state and local officials from issuing enforceable orders, regulations, or ordinances to address public health emergencies (resulting from epidemics, infectious disease outbreaks, and similar conditions), or otherwise taking any actions in response to health emergencies that directly affect the operation of private businesses or public facilities (including beaches and parks), or that limit the exercise of individual liberties. Continues to permit state and local officials to issue public health advisories or public service announcements during public health emergencies.

Another proposed mandate for K-12 public schools requires “Earth Sustainability training.” Hmmm.

EDUCATION. REQUIRES EARTH SUSTAINABILITY TRAINING IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires public school students and teachers to receive thirty hours of education, training, and hands-on learning relating to sustainability or the care of the Earth, every two years.

A bill passed by the California Legislature creates The California Abolition Act, which “seeks to abolish forced labor and involuntary servitude unconditionally in the state of California.”

PROHIBITS INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE AS A PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Amends California Constitution to prohibit involuntary servitude in all instances, by removing the current exception that allows involuntary servitude to punish crime. For example, requiring inmates to work without pay would not be permitted.

Another attempt to decriminalize a hallucinogen drug. This won’t end well.

DECRIMINALIZES PSILOCYBIN MUSHROOMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. For individuals 21 and over, decriminalizes under state law the cultivation, manufacture, processing, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, and retail sale of psilocybin mushrooms, the hallucinogenic chemical compounds contained in them, and edible products and extracts derived from psilocybin mushrooms.

School choice initiative would provide vouchers to follow students.

REQUIRES STATE FUNDING OF RELIGIOUS AND OTHER PRIVATE SCHOOL EDUCATION. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Requires state to provide yearly voucher payments ($14,000 initially, adjusted annually) into Education Savings Accounts for K-12 students attending religious and other private schools. Funds payments through General Fund and local property tax revenues currently allocated to public (including charter) schools.

Online Petition Option for signature gathering for initiatives, recall elections.

AUTHORIZES ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE GATHERING FOR INITIATIVE, REFERENDUM, AND RECALL PETITIONS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires Secretary of State to develop a system that allows voters to view state and local initiative, referendum, and recall petitions on Secretary of State’s website and to sign them electronically directly on the website, or to download, print, and sign the printed petitions. Requires Secretary of State or local elections official to verify these signatures.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, “Within six months from this measure’s approval by voters, the Secretary of State would be required to develop a system that allows voters to view initiative, referendum, and recall petitions on a statewide internet website and do either of the following: (1) electronically sign the petition (with necessary identifying information) via that website or (2) download, print, and sign a petition document in the “portable document format” (known as PDF).”

Eliminates collective bargaining for public employees. This is big.

ELIMINATES COLLECTIVE BARGAINING FOR TEACHERS, POLICE OFFICERS, NURSES, FIREFIGHTERS, AND OTHER PUBLIC EMPLOYEES. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Eliminates collective bargaining between state/local governments and labor organizations (including unions) representing teachers, police officers, nurses, firefighters, and other public employees about wages, benefits, hours, labor disputes, or other work conditions. Requires the Governor-appointed State Personnel Board to establish wages and benefits for state employees.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office explains: “Prohibits Public Employers in California From Bargaining With Employee Organizations. The measure would prohibit the state or any of its political subdivisions from establishing a contract with or otherwise collectively bargaining with a public employee organization. The measure would apply to all state and local government entities in California. Effectively, the measure prohibits state and local governments from using collective bargaining to establish public employees’ compensation. The measure does not, however, prevent employees from organizing or joining unions or associations that represent employees during disciplinary hearings, engage in political speech, or otherwise advocate for employees.”

Another school choice initiative offering vouchers has requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General.

“Education Savings Act of 2022” would create education savings accounts that follow the students to an accredited school or homeschool of their choice. Students would be able to opt into a K-12 savings account with $13,000 a year in state education funds to be used for tuition or other eligible education expenses.

Private schools in California currently education approximately 471,000 students at 3,050 private schools throughout the state.

The More Water Now initiative is huge. They have requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General:

Specifically calls for two percent of the state’s general fund – about $3.5 billion per year – to be allocated to projects that increase California’s water supply.

“Water Infrastructure Funding Act” also permits up to half of those funds to be used to finance large water supply projects immediately. Tens of billions of dollars will become available. This two percent funding solution will continue until new completed projects add another five million acre feet per year of water supply to California’s farms and cities.”

An initiative “to allow families to keep the properties their parents worked so hard to acquire.”

Repeal the Death Tax Act,” which has requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General, would reinstate Propositions 58 and 193. Parents would once again be able to transfer a home and a limited amount of other property to their children without triggering reassessment and a property tax increase.

An initiative to require voter ID verification in all future elections. This is big.

“California Election Integrity Initiative” has filed for ballot title and summary from the Attorney General to require voter ID verification in all future elections.

Numerous other initiatives are awaiting ballot title and summary. The Globe will update the list as they are finalized.

You can read all of the current initiatives gathering signatures, as well as the full summaries, at the California Attorney General’s website.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

The Untold Story of the Unspent Covid Dollars

Money

It was recently uncovered that back in July, Sen. Joe Manchin outlined his views on the $3.5 trillion social spending package in a memo to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.  In that document, Manchin specified that no funds should be distributed until after all the money from the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill passed in March was all spent.

While it’s common knowledge that there’s still plenty of Covid money around, it was not clear just how much is still laying in coffers – until now. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, states and localities, who shared a total of $350 billion, have spent an embarrassingly miniscule amount.  State governments had spent just 2.5 percent of their initial allotment while large cities spent 8.5 percent. More than half of states and nearly two-thirds of the approximately 90 largest cities reported no spending at all.  And that’s just states and cities — the AP did not include counties in their study, which were too numerous.

Among the reasons government officials gave for not spending the funds is that the money arrived too late in their budget cycles, others confessed that they were still trying to figure out how to spend the previous millions they received for Covid relief.

In fact, there is still nearly $10 billion of unspent money left for state, local, territorial and tribal governments from the $150 billion CARES Act — the first relief package passed back in March 2020.  Officials are scrambling to spend that money now that the December 31, 2021 deadline is looming.

In California, the state has more than $350 million in unspent funds from that first tranche of aid, while Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles each have approximately $150 million to spend. Orange County has more than $47 million of unspent funds.

But if all this idle cash isn’t enough to think twice about more government spending, let’s not forget that we are still reeling from the outright waste and fraud committed against billions of taxpayer dollars.

California’s Employment Development Department admitted that at least $30 billion of employment funds were paid out to criminals.  Most recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that the California Housing and Community Development bungled federal relief funds meant to help the homeless. After receiving $316 million under the federal CARES Act to reduce the effect of COVID-19 on unhoused people, the department “did not take critical steps to ensure those funds promptly benefited that population,” the State Auditor Elaine Howle’s office wrote in a report.

Howle’s office warned last August of the potential mishandling of federal COVID-19 relief funds. A year later, in an interview with the Washington Examiner, she said it’s still an issue and some aspects have become more severe.

The final (we hope) Covid relief package signed by Biden stipulates that the funds should be designated by the end of 2024 and the money spent by the end of 2026.  If governments are spending Covid relief funds at the same rate they’ve been spending over the last 18 months, and if Schumer actually listens to Manchin, not one penny of the $3.5 trillion would be spent until 2027.

We don’t know what the state of America will be on the nation’s 251st birthday, but as Tennessee Ernie Ford laments in his famous song, the country will be “older and deeper in debt.”

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

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Recent Legislative Session: A Mixed Bag For CA Taxpayers

This past weekend was the deadline for Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign or veto bills. Thankfully, many of the worst bills, like attempts to create a wealth tax and a perennial attempt to repeal one of the most important protections in Proposition 13 by lowering the existing two-thirds vote threshold for both local bonds and special taxes to 55 percent, failed to get out of the Legislature.

By the end of the session, only a handful of bills we opposed made it to the governor’s desk. Let’s review how taxpayers fared.

On the positive side, the governor signed Assembly Bill 398 which prevents the Department of Motor Vehicles from making a profit by selling personal information. By ensuring that the department cannot impose charges that exceed a service’s cost, AB 398 removed a dangerous opportunity for the department to trade valuable data to third party interests.

Senate Bill 219 authorizes the auditor or the tax collector to cancel any penalty, costs, or other charges associated with a missed property tax payment caused by the state shelter-in-place order if certain criteria are met. The Legislature has been particularly active in addressing the harm the COVID-19 lockdown had on renters, but the pandemic has also had a tremendous impact on homeowners as well. SB 219 provides important relief for homeowners.

On a similar note, Senate Bill 303 extended by two years the five-year time period under existing tax law in which to transfer a Prop. 13 base year value to a comparable property following a disaster.

Legislation which enhances government transparency and citizen participation also passed. SB 274 requires local agencies to make agendas and all the documents constituting the agenda packet available by email at the request of a member of the public. Previously, it was only required by mail.

We were also pleased to see the governor veto SB 660. All SB 660 would have done is drive up the cost of getting measures on the ballot. That favors wealthy and entrenched interests.

Now for the bad.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California’s Public Officials Are Usurping The Role Of Parents

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

California has a long history of “firsts.” The Golden State was home to the first computer, the first movie theater, and the first McDonalds. Sadly, the state is now leading the nation in stripping parents of their childrearing authority.

For starters, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a vaccine mandate on October 1, making California the first state to require that public and private school students age 12 or older be fully vaccinated for in-person instruction. (Unvaccinated students will have the option of enrolling in an online school or attending independent-study programs offered by districts.) The mandate will go into effect once the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines for kids over age 12. Depending on when the expected FDA decision comes down, students will need to get the jab by either January 1 or July 1 of next year. Next up are schoolchildren ages 5 to 11, who will be forced to join the vax club as soon as the FDA greenlights it for them. Newsom recently claimed that so far, 63.5 percent of kids between 12 and 17 had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Mandate proponents are quick to claim that the Covid vaccine is just the latest addition to a list that includes mumps, measles, and rubella. But unlike those illnesses, Covid does not pose a significant risk to children, and kids are not “super spreaders.” Teachers are more likely to catch it in the teachers’ lounge than in the classroom.

“It’s unconscionable that a society uses its children as shields for adults,” says the Hoover Institution’s Scott Atlas, an M.D. and former advisor to President Trump. “The children do not have significant risk from this illness.”

What effect Newsom’s mandate will have on school enrollment remains to be seen, but California public schools have already lost more than 160,000 students, a 2.6 percent decline—the largest enrollment drop in two decades—since the start of the pandemic. A mandate isn’t likely to reverse that trend. And since the edict also covers private schools, look for homeschools and micro-schools in California to grow. According to California Globe, immediately following the announcement of the mandate, homeschooling and tutoring inquiries were up dramatically, with some homeschooling sites crashing from the sheer volume of parents searching for information. Many teachers may follow students out the door, since they, too, must be vaccinated.

California parents have more to contend with than just the vaccine mandate, however. Last month, AB 1184, cosponsored by Planned Parenthood, became law. As the California Family Council explains, the law “prohibits insurance companies from revealing to the policyholder the ‘sensitive services’ of anyone on their policy, including minor children, even though the policy owner is financially responsible for the services.” The term “sensitive services” refers to all health care services related to mental or behavioral health, sexual and reproductive health (including abortions), sexually transmitted infections, substance-use disorder, and gender-affirming care. The bill doesn’t define “gender affirming care,” but according to the University of California, San Francisco, the concept includes hormone therapy and a laundry list of surgeries including vaginectomy, scrotoplasty, voice modification, and others. These procedures can begin when a child is just 12—starting with puberty blockers, paid for under the family’s insurance policy. When the statement is sent home, no explanation is offered of any of these procedures. Parents are reduced to bill-paying bystanders.

AB 1184 is similar in tone to AB 2119, which passed in 2018. That law provides that the “rights of minors and nonminors in foster care . . . include the right to be involved in the development of case plan elements related to placement and gender affirming health care, with consideration of their gender identity.” The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) filed testimony against the bill, urging legislators to reject it. “Children with gender dysphoria believe they are not their biological sex,” the group’s March 2018 testimony read. “A delusion is a fixed false belief. This bill proposes that foster children with gender dysphoria be socially affirmed into their delusion, and allowed to obtain experimental puberty blockers, and dangerous cross-sex hormones and surgery without parental consent.” ACPeds cited various statistics in opposing the bill, including the fact that roughly 88 percent of gender-dysphoric girls and 98 percent of gender-dysphoric boys will, if given time, go on to identify with their biological sex by late adolescence.

While ACPeds did not weigh in on AB 1184, it asserts that puberty blockers may cause mental illness and permanent physical harm, and that cross-sex hormones (testosterone for women and estrogen for men) may disrupt mental health.

Legislative totalitarians in California are usurping the role of parents. Unless they leave the state, parents and other concerned citizens will need to find a way to push back.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

California Bullet Train Funds Stalemated

While Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 770 bills passed by the Legislature this year, he couldn’t approve a big one that he wanted badly — a $4.2 billion appropriation to shore up the state’s much-delayed, increasingly expensive and obviously mismanaged bullet train project.

He couldn’t sign it because the Legislature, controlled by his fellow Democrats, won’t send it to him. Legislative leaders, especially Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, are disenchanted with the project and want the money to be spent, instead, on improving local commuter rail service.

The $4.2 billion is the last bit of a $9.95 billion bond issue approved by voters 13 years ago on the promise that it would attract enough other financing for a $33 billion high-speed rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles with future extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.

For political reasons, it was decided that an initial segment would be built in the San Joaquin Valley but the starter line has never really gotten started. There’s been some construction, most notably some sections of viaduct in and around Fresno, but it’s years behind schedule and has only a fraction of the money needed to cover its ever-rising costs.

Los Angeles Times journalist Ralph Vartabedian, who’s been a one-man truth squad on the project’s managerial and financial woes, reported last week that two of the San Joaquin Valley line’s major contractors want an extra $1 billion-plus for unforeseen costs. That would raise it to nearly $23 billion or two thirds of what the entire 800-mile system was originally supposed to cost.

The $4.2 billion that Newsom wants is sorely needed to keep the project shuffling along, but the state is still a long way from having enough money to cover the entire cost of the segment, much less the $80 or so billion more that a full project would need.

Rendon and other like-minded legislators see it as money going down a bottomless sinkhole rather than being spent on projects that could be completed in years, rather than decades, and have a direct impact on traffic congestion in Southern California. A chunk of the bond money has already been spent on upgrading commuter rail on the San Francisco Peninsula and the Rendon faction is seeking parity for its region.

The odd thing about the situation is that Newsom himself seemingly was ready to abandon the project after becoming governor in 2019, virtually disavowing it in a speech to the Legislature. He then reversed course and said he not only wanted to complete the San Joaquin segment as then planned but extend it on both ends on the assumption that it could be linked to major metropolitan areas.

Newsom’s revised position had the effect of increasing the segment’s cost without declaring how the financial gap would be closed.

Newsom and the Rendon faction have been negotiating for months, ever since Newsom proposed to tap the remaining $4.2 billion in bond money, and the governor apparently was offered a roughly 50-50 split but insists on the entire amount. Diverting even a token amount of bond money would be tantamount to surrender and would whet the appetites of other urban areas for pieces of the pie.

It’s really time for those in charge to put up or shut up — either telling Californians when and how the project will be financed and completed or calling it quits before it becomes an even more embarrassing train to nowhere.

Newsom’s position — willing to keep it barely alive until he can will it to a successor governor — is somewhat cowardly for someone who purports to be decisive.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

Activist Judges Are the Latest Threat to California Businesses

An activist judge with a questionable track record has made a head-scratching decision to overturn the votes of millions of Californians.

Alameda County Judge Frank Roesch recently ruled in favor of a union-backed lawsuit aimed at dismantling Proposition 22 — a ballot measure that provided job protections for gig workers while allowing them to retain the flexibility of being freelancers. But last fall, Prop. 22 passed by more than 58 percent of the vote with almost 10 million Californians voting in favor of the ballot measure. Now, thanks to one union-friendly judge, it’s as if those votes don’t count.

It’s no secret that California has become increasingly hostile to the entrepreneurs and business owners that drive our state’s economy. The recent decision to overturn Prop. 22 is just the latest example of many.

Businesses already face a legal minefield in the Golden State; there are more than 1,000 pages in the California Labor Law digest.

My organization, the California Business and Industrial Alliance (CABIA), has been outspoken about harmful laws on the books, especially the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) — a terrible policy that leaves both workers and business owners worse off. In addition to that, now businesses have to worry about activist judges like Roesch who base their decisions on the will of interest groups, rather than on the merits of the actual case in front of them.

The lawsuit against Prop. 22 was backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It’s not hard to see why the union wants to eliminate the policy. The SEIU is one of the main labor unions trying to organize gig economy workers. With Prop. 22 out of the picture, it would be much easier for the union to convert gig workers, newly-classified as employees, into dues-paying members.

Judge Roesch has a long history of making bad decisions that are repeatedly tossed out by higher courts. CABIA’s new report documents Roesch’s poor judgement over the years.

In 2009, Roesch sided with public-sector unions when he ruled to invalidate California’s furlough powers during a fiscal crisis, only to be overruled by both a California appeals court and the State Supreme Court. That same year, Roesch unsuccessfully tried to block the City of Oakland from using public safety funds to hire desperately needed police officers.

In 2012, a State Appeals Court found Roesch incorrectly tried to limit a man’s constitutionally protected speech. The next year, a California appeals court unanimously overruled a prior decision from Roesch, finding he not only erred on matters of fact, but even misapplied a legal concept commonly taught to first year law students. In 2018, two separate decisions from Roesch were overturned due to his egregious biases in the cases.

Roesch has also been repeatedly disciplined for his improper conduct as a judge. In 2011, he was reprimanded by the state Commission on Judicial Performance after repeatedly denigrating and insulting a plaintiff, even proclaiming the plaintiff asked an idiotic question. In October 2020, the same state judicial commission unanimously admonished Roesch due to his egregious biases in two cases he had presided over.

In the first case, Roesch denied a party their fundamental right to due process as part of his efforts to ensure a preferred judicial outcome. In the other case, Roesch sought to deny a man ownership over a property he had legally bought, due to unfounded suspicions about cheating.

Passing Prop. 22 was the first step toward reversing the havoc AB 5 caused in California.

At least if Judge Roesch’s track record holds true, an appeals court will easily see through his bias and validate the millions of voters who passed Prop 22.

Tom Manzo is the founder of the California Business and Industrial Alliance (CABIA).

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

770 New Laws Coming To California

You’d be forgiven for not knowing Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the largest expansion of California’s college financial aid system in a generation — he did so during the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants’ first playoff game Friday night.

Hours later, it was all over: Newsom signed his final bills on Saturday, a day ahead of the Oct. 10 deadline to act on the 836 proposals state lawmakers sent to his desk. Of those, he signed 770 (92%) and vetoed 66 (7.9%), according to Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli.

Here’s a look at the significant new laws coming to the Golden State — as well as ideas Newsom prevented from becoming law.

Signed into law:

Vetoed:


This article was originally published by CalMatters.org