Anti-worker or Pro-Worker? Why Labor Unions are Fighting Over a Housing Hill

More than two dozen men and women clad in hard hats and safety vests filed into a crowded hearing room April 27 to cheer on yet another bill trying to solve California’s housing crisis.

The Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act would allow developers to fast-track local approval to build affordable housing where offices, strip malls and parking lots sit right now. But it has quickly become one of the most hotly contested bills in the California Legislature because the labor requirements on those projects satisfy some but not most unions. The bill, introduced by Assembly Housing Chair Buffy Wicks, mirrors multiple bills that died in recent years as a result of squabbling between developers and labor unions.

The men and women in hard hats, however, were carpenters, and so represented something previous bills didn’t have: Support from both developers and some construction unions.

But despite the neon flashes in a sea of suits, the impasse is far from over.

Following the carpenters, a parade of electricians, pipe-fitters, ironworkers and drywallers — wearing union logos but no hard hats — stepped up to the microphone to voice their disapproval. While the state’s Conference of Carpenters, which represents about 82,000 workers, co-sponsored the bill, the Building and Construction Trades Council — an umbrella labor group known colloquially as “the Trades” and spanning almost half a million workers in nearly every other construction industry — remains vehemently opposed. The California Labor Federation, which represents more than 1 million members including the Trades, said they “stand in strong solidarity” with the Trades. 

After several years of gridlock, the rare split within the construction unions presents both an awkward conundrum and a potential for compromise on a proposal that would free up swaths of land for development of affordable housing. It certainly makes it harder to paint bill supporters as anti-labor — a phrase that amounts to slander for politicians in deep blue California.

Longtime Democratic strategist Garry South said lawmakers may have to calculate which facet of organized labor will cause them the most pain during a major election year. And the Trades, which contribute tens of millions of dollars in campaigns and engage in aggressive lobbying, remain a force to be reckoned with. According to a CalMatters analysis of the 2022 races so far, state and local Trades councils have contributed more than $1 million to political candidates while carpenters groups have given more than $800,000.

But as the housing crisis reaches a fever pitch among voters, South said “elected officials will ignore it at their own peril.”

That’s the motivating factor for the bill’s author.

“I don’t want to be the housing chair presiding over inertia and status quo,” said Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland. “Here’s the reality: I and 79 of my other colleagues in the Assembly every weekend go home to constituents who are homeless, constituents who have to live in people’s garages, constituents who are squeezed out of their house, who are living in motels, who are living in their cars, who are being evicted or experiencing foreclosure, or who are barely hanging on. That is simply not okay. And so what that means is building more low-income and middle-income housing. And that’s what this bill does.”

What does the labor language really say?

The bill, which has the support of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, would allow housing that is 100% affordable to low-income households to be built “by right” on areas now zoned for offices, retail and parking. That means skipping many city council meetings that tack on costly delays as well as the state’s premier environmental law many blame for its housing woes. Livable California, a local control group, has already dubbed it “the worst bill of 2022.”

The bill would also allow mixed-income housing, with a minimum of 15% of units affordable to low-income households for rent or 30% of units affordable to moderate-income households for sale, along commercial corridors such as strip malls.

The Carpenters and the Trades are at loggerheads over how much unionized labor developers would have to use to take advantage of the streamlining. The Trades are pushing for language requiring a certain amount of the workforce be graduates of an apprenticeship program, which effectively means union members. That’s common for public works, but unusual for residential construction. 

A 2019 Trades-commissioned study found less than a fifth of construction workers across California were unionized in 2017, a number likely lower in the residential sector.

Developers argue the standard — that at least 30% or in some cases 60% of the workers in each trade for a given project be graduates of an apprenticeship program, most of which are run by unions — is too hard to meet, particularly in areas of the state lacking in apprenticeship programs. The Carpenters agree.

“If you had a standard that can’t be met when you need to move forward on construction then it’s not a standard, it’s a barrier,” said Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters.

Click here to read the full article at CALMatters

Democrats’ Fate Lies In The Nation’s Political Battlefield: Orange County

Orange County is at the center of the political universe again, the battleground where upward of $35 million — or about 10 times what’s typically spent on Bay Area House campaigns — will shower each of two key races that will help determine whether Democrats keep control of Congress.

But a lot has changed since 2020, when Republican Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim made history by being the first GOP Korean American women to ever serve in Congress. Or 2018, when Democrats flipped four GOP seats here to help take the House. Now, Steel’s race is rated a “toss-up,” while Kim is seen as having a slightly better chance of holding her seat.

For starters, both must introduce themselves to a new crop of voters after California’s redistricting commission redrew the state’s political boundaries. Plus, a number of outside factors could reshape their races, from abortion to Donald Trump to COVID to a battle to win over Asian voters that is among the most intense — and complex — in the country.

In Steel’s race, much of that struggle will be fought in Little Saigon, a hub of more than 200,000 Vietnamese residents that stretches over parts of Orange County, about 10 miles southwest of Anaheim. It’s one of the largest such enclaves in the country.

Instead of running in the more conservative, coastal district where she won in 2020, Steel is now running in the 45th Congressional District, where Democrats have a 5-point registration advantage.

But Steel’s campaign is confident, largely because Little Saigon boosts her district’s Asian American slice of the electorate to 35%. Vietnamese voters were an integral part of the coalition that helped carry Steel to victory in 2020 over incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda, who is white, said Fred Whitaker, chair of the Orange County Republican Party.

“That’s why Michelle Steel moved over (to run in that district), because that was one of her strongest bases,” Whitaker told me. “The party registration may be a little more Democratic, but the way that they vote is Republican.”

The Republican National Committee took notice and last June opened an office in a strip mall in the heart of the community to try to strengthen its ties there. Since then, the GOP has knocked on 75,000 doors and made 200,000 calls in the Steel’s new turf, according to GOP officials.

Steel visited the storefront recently during a training for volunteers to make calls in Vietnamese. Strung across one wall is a 12-foot-long banner featuring a quote attributed to her: “I live in the best country on Earth and I want future generations to achieve their own American Dreams.”

“We’re going to win,” Steel told the dozen volunteers at the training. “No matter what.”

Long Bui, a professor of global and international studies at UC Irvine, said Vietnamese American businesses and voters “will be key to determining who wins this race.”

Their voting patterns, however, aren’t predictable.

Bui, the author of “Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory,” said there’s “a tendency” to think that older Vietnamese — particularly those who fled the Communist takeover of their homeland after the war ended — vote more conservatively than the younger generation.

Instead, Bui said, “the community often considers personalities and who runs the most savvy, impactful campaign. Issues and charisma matter as much or sometimes more than party affiliation.”

Diedre Tu-La Nguyen, the mayor pro-tem of Garden Grove, which is part of Little Saigon, said the Vietnamese community is still small enough that personal relationships often trump party affiliation. The Vietnam-born Democrat, who fled a refugee camp as a child after the war and is now a cancer researcher, is running for Assembly.

“Vietnamese don’t vote for a party, they vote for people,” Nguyen told me over dinner of sea snails, garlic noodles and grilled shrimp at a Little Saigon restaurant. She said that until she ran for office, many didn’t know she was a Democrat. “You just know who people are in the community by their reputation, by what they’ve done.”

In a sign of how unpredictable voters are here, even Nguyen’s household is split. Nguyen’s husband is a Republican.

Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California's 45th Congressional District.
Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California’s 45th Congressional District.Allison Zaucha/Special to The Chronicle

Steel’s main opponent is Jay Chen, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, U.S. Naval Reserve officer, school board member and owner of a real estate firm.

Chen is a better fit for the new district, which “is more working class,” said Ajay Mohan, executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party. Democrats intend to pound Steel for not supporting the federal Paycheck Protection Plan that provided funding to the small businesses that drive the community.

They say Steel — a fervent Trump supporter who received a 77% rating by the Conservative Political Action Committee scorecard (slightly higher than House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield) — is too conservative for the newly drawn district.

Perhaps even more damaging, Chen said, is that she voted against establishing the commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and against the bipartisan $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan last year.

Steel said the plan was too pricey and sprawling.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley Pledges to Refund the Police While Also Embracing Law Enforcement Alternatives and Violence Prevention

Berkeley leaders are jumping back into the debate about crime and policing nearly two years after councilmembers called for defunding law enforcement, but this time the political landscape is different.

City councilmembers want to divert more nonviolent 911 calls from police and fund more violence prevention programs, but they’re also pledging to add more police officers, citing pressure from constituents worried about violent crime. A similar debate is playing out in Oakland and San Francisco.

On Thursday, the City Council approved Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s $5.3 million plan to fund more efforts to reimagine public safety and reform the police. The city will now expand violence prevention programs and kick off a process to create more police alternatives to respond to mental health calls. At the same time, the council also agreed to restore 30 of the police department’s frozen positions — a move pushed by several councilmembers.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín called the vote an “important milestone” and said that Berkeley can be a model for other cities.

“A lot of the conversation nationally has been focused on ‘defunding’ or abolishing or cutting the police department,” said Arreguín, who was a big proponent of cutting the department’s budget two years ago. “We refunded and we also expressed support for other approaches. We found a balance.”

The votes come nearly two years after Berkeley made headlines when leaders pledged to slash the police department’s budget in half.

In fact, the city ended up cutting about 12% of its police budget by freezing 30 positions. At the time, all city departments were required to find cost-saving measures because of pandemic deficits. The department accounts for nearly 40% of the city’s general fund with a nearly $73 million budget that will grow to about $80 million in the next fiscal year. The department currently has about 150 filled positions.

City leaders in Berkeley and Oakland say that police should focus more on violent crime and that most of their time is taken up with low-level calls. One way to free up officers — and potentially cut down on racial disparities in policing — is to move traffic enforcement away from cops. More than a year ago, Berkeley approved a plan for sweeping law enforcement reforms, including changes to traffic stops, but some of the plan has been stymied by limitations in state law.

While councilmembers said they feel pressure from constituents worried about violent crime, there isn’t a clear increase in homicides. Berkeley has recorded two homicides this year compared to none last year and five in 2020. Still, council members said Thursday they received nearly 900 emails from constituents urging them to hire more cops.

Dan Lindheim, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and a member of the city’s reimagine task force, said Thursday’s debate focused too much on police staffing.

“If this is the net result of a reimagining process in which Berkeley seems to be interested in reducing the footprint of policing, to fully fund the police seems like a bizarre result,” he said.

In parts of the East Bay, violent crime has disproportionately impacted Black and brown neighborhoods. Councilmembers in Oakland and Berkeley who represent those areas have called for more police. Council Member Terry Taplin, who represents part of South Berkeley, said a homicide occurred in his district earlier this week and that he’s tired of being lectured by “more privileged communities” that aren’t facing the same safety concerns.

Taplin told The Chronicle gun violence has impacted him personally. He said he’s had friends, cousins and loved ones murdered and so he’s “really eyeing these proposals with a lot of scrutiny.”

“How does keeping our police positions frozen improve my ability to protect my residents?” Taplin said.

Taplin ended up voting for the mayor’s proposal after Arreguín added several amendments that committed to restaffing the police department and allocated more funding to a new department of Office of Race, Equity and Diversity to study disparities in all city departments. The city manager will bring a proposal to the council to restore the positions over the next few weeks.

Berkeley is already working to launch a team of social workers and civilians — run by a nonprofit — to respond to some mental health and homelessness calls, part of a Bay Area trend to launch alternative policing teams of unarmed civilians. But the mayor’s plan approved Thursday would create a new office of community safety to eventually house the city’s different police alternatives.

Arreguín said the city’s efforts to rethink policing has been slow and methodical on purpose.

“Some cities have rushed into making decisions, some have backed away from reimagining,” he said. “We’ve taken our time and really given this serious thought.”

Arreguín said his plan lays out a framework for how “reimagining public safety” priorities can be implemented.

The city will also begin transitioning two aspects of traffic enforcement — collision analysis and crossing guards — from the police department to public works.

Arreguín’s proposal also commits funds to violence prevention and youth services among other programs and directs city staff to explore creating a team of unarmed community mediators.

The City Council will have to vote next month on how to fund Arreguín’s proposal, which will take several years to fully implement.

Still, not all councilmembers were on board. Council Members Lori Droste and Rashi Kesarwani voted against the mayor’s proposal.

Click here to read the full article at SF Chronicle

California Democrats Lean Into Abortion Rights As ‘Defining Issue’

When a draft Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion leaked Monday night, Democratic leaders in California reacted swiftly with shock, grief and fury.

It didn’t take long for the personal devastation to turn political.

By Wednesday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for re-election this year, had already cut a new campaign ad about “reproductive freedom under attack.” In a tweet unveiling the ad, he framed defeating “anti-choice Republicans” as the “defining issue of the 2022 election.”

As the stark reality has sunk in that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is unlikely to make it to its 50th birthday, many Democrats are leaning forcefully into abortion rights as a key election issue. With decades of public polling indicating that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, it could be the party’s most potent counterweight in a campaign cycle in which Republicans seem poised to capitalize on voter frustration over inflation and crime.

“Don’t think for a second this is where they stop,” Newsom said Wednesday outside Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, where he raised the alarm that conservatives would also seek to roll back other rights such as same-sex marriage. “Pay attention, America. They’re coming after you next.”

In his remarks, Newsom called for a stronger Democratic counteroffensive on protecting abortion. He slammed Republicans for claiming to be pro-life while opposing policies to provide more support to women and families after a baby is born, previewing a political attack that could soon be coming to swing districts across the country.

“That’s how extreme the Republican Party is in the United States of America. You want extremism? Rape and incest, they don’t even make an exception,” Newsom said. “Wake up, America. Wake up to who you’re electing.”

Democrats, weighed down by sagging approval ratings for President Joe Biden and in danger of losing control of Congress in the November midterm election, have been struggling to find a message that might motivate liberal voters to show up to the polls and persuade moderates to stick with their governance.

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said the reality of a Supreme Court ruling against abortion rights could provide a significant boost. Though warnings about that potential outcome have not historically driven turnout for Democrats while the Roe decision withstood decades of attacks, Pitney said voters are much more alert to loss.

“The issue has moved from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real,” he said.

And it could remain near the top of the news through the rest of the year, with the official opinion expected this summer and then potentially dozens of states passing new abortion restrictions after that.

“It’s kind of like a wildfire, and the burning embers and debris will spread over the electorate for months to come,” Pitney said.

Still, it is uncertain how much of a difference abortion can make for Democrats, who are facing significant political headwinds nationally from pocketbook issues such as spiraling inflation and high gas prices.

While probably not potent enough to shift the balance of power, Pitney said abortion could move the margins in close races with national implications, such as the contests for U.S. Senate in Georgia and Wisconsin. Some Republicans are already planning to push for a nationwide abortion ban should the GOP win complete control of the federal government in the next few years. The ruling, Pitney added, might also help Democrats regain some ground with young voters, who have particularly soured on Biden.

There is probably less of a potential impact in California, where Democrats have nearly maximized their power at every level of government.

Beth Miller, a Republican political consultant, said Californians who are motivated by abortion rights are already quite engaged politically. She is skeptical that it will bring new or infrequent voters the the polls, especially when abortion access is not under immediate threat here.

“The overriding issue in California is the cost of living,” Miller said.

But California Democrats are quickly elevating abortion to the forefront of their messaging anyway, with some even fundraising off the news that Roe v. Wade may be overturned. More than 70% of Californians oppose repealing the ruling, according to a poll this year by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

If Supreme Court Overturns Roe, Southern California Could Be Haven For Choice And Outrage

More abortions and more people casting votes in November.

Also, more outrage and frustration.

All of those disparate trends and emotions could come to Southern California if the Supreme Court overturns or severely limits Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed a federal constitutional right to an abortion.

On the abortion front, the upturn is already underway.

Since September, when Texas enacted a controversial law that outlaws abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat (typically around six weeks), the number of out-of-state women seeking to terminate their pregnancies at Planned Parenthood clinics in Southern California has roughly quadrupled, according to officials from local chapters of that organization.

But that trend could kick into overdrive if Roe is struck down as a leaked Supreme Court draft decision suggested. At least 26 states are poised to ban or severely restrict abortion if and when the Supreme Court takes action, states that include about 58% of American women of child-bearing age.

In a post-Roe world, many of those women will turn to California, where abortion rules are arguably the most lenient in the country.

“It could be a deluge,” said Nichole Ramirez, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood’s nine-office region in Orange and San Bernardino counties.

“The dismantling (of Roe) would impact about 36 million Americans, most of whom are women of color and women without money,” Ramirez added.

A spark?

On the political front, consultants of all political stripes believe the question isn’t if but how much a move to strike down Roe will animate voters. And many predict the biggest upturn will come from voters who previously weren’t expected to turn out in big numbers – younger women.

“This year’s mid-term was going to be one of the most boring, low-turnout elections we’ve had in a long time,” said Adam Probolsky, an Irvine-based political researcher and pollster.

“But now, with that draft by (Supreme Court Justice Samuel) Alito out there, you have every 18- to 25-year-old woman, every younger voter in general, with a keen interest in the outcome of this election, from federal offices on down,” Probolsky said.

“Nobody can say right now exactly how much this will change things, but every political consultant in this country is recalibrating what they expect for turnout in November.”

And on the outrage front, local pro-life advocates were thrilled that the Supreme Court might be poised to give their cause the win they’ve sought for two generations – but they saw an anti-Roe ruling as a starting point.

“We are cautiously optimistic. … The ruling would help make it clear to everyone who is paying attention that there is no right to abortion in this nation,” said Susan S. Arnall, vice president of legal affairs for the Right to Life League, a Pasadena-based group that pushes for tougher abortion laws.

And while Arnall said an anti-Roe ruling would “absolutely buoy pro-life forces,” she expressed frustration with several proposals in Sacramento to make abortion easier and more affordable in California.

Her group’s fight against California’s abortion stance, Arnall suggested Tuesday, would only intensify if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe.

“I’m flying to Sacramento tomorrow.”

Divide widens

If California has the most lenient abortion laws in the country, it might be because public opinion backs that.

While national polls show roughly two-thirds of Americans don’t want to see Roe overturned by the court, California voters are particularly supportive of a woman’s right to choose.  A June 2021 poll from the California Public Policy Institute found 77% of state voters – including 59% of Republicans – don’t want to see Roe erased.

That context was clear in Sacramento late Monday and into Tuesday.

Minutes after news broke about the Supreme Court draft ruling, Gov. Gavin Newsom took to Twitter to say, “California will not sit back. We are going to fight like hell.” By Tuesday, lawmakers were pushing to codify the right to an abortion into the state Constitution.

But over the past year, in anticipation of an anti-Roe ruling by the Supreme Court, state lawmakers, health providers and others have been pushing for new legislation to widen abortion access statewide.

At least 10 bills are being discussed in Sacramento that would do everything from cover out-of-pocket expenses for women, protect health providers from civil suits filed against them in other states and expand the world of medical experts who can legally provide an abortion procedure or prescribe a medical abortion.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday encourage passage of a State Senate bill that would make L.A. County a safe haven for women seeking abortions and other reproductive care.

One proposal, from Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie Norris, D-Laguna Beach, would train health care workers to provide abortions in underserved parts of the state. Another would create a reproductive health pilot program in Los Angeles County.

Still, news that Roe might go away also sparked an instant response among activists – and from people who say they don’t consider themselves activists but said they’ll speak out against the government having control over a woman’s decision to have a child.

Late Tuesday, groups throughout Southern California were planning to demonstrate in support of women’s rights.

“It is part of a national response,” Riverside resident Chani Beeman, who for many years has been an advocate for women’s rights, said about plans Tuesday by several groups in Southern California to demonstrate in support of women’s rights.

“It will be a wave across the country.”

Connie Ransom, who helped lead the 2017 Riverside Women’s March, planned to attend a rally in Riverside.

“This is just astonishing that this has come to pass,” Ransom said

“It’s just going backwards. It’s like (the current national debate on) voting rights — it’s taking away the individual freedom of women.”

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Killings In L.A. Are On Pace To Top Last Year’s High

People are being killed in Los Angeles so far this year at a slightly faster pace than 2021, when homicides hit a 15-year high, according to the latest data from Los Angeles police.

While the newly released figures indicate the dramatic escalation in violence that the city experienced in 2020 and 2021 may be leveling off, they show violent deaths are still occurring far more frequently than a few years ago, experts said.

“We certainly see instances of street violence that we tie into gangs, with a lot of ready and easy access to handguns and rifles,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in an interview with The Times. “It’s resulting in this loss of life and this high frequency of shootings.”

Through April 30, there had been 122 homicides in L.A., six more than were recorded during the same time period in 2021, according to the data. Last year ended with 397 killings in the city, the largest annual total since 2006.

The bloodshed remains far below that of the early 1990s, when the city had more than 1,000 homicides per year. But it nonetheless marked another uptick, however slight, in the troubling surge of gun violence that erupted in 2020 and has become a top concern among residents as well as a key issue in the race for the city’s next mayor.

While up only marginally compared to 2021, this year’s homicide count represents about a 40% increase in killings over the same period in 2020, which included the final months before COVID-19 emerged in the U.S., protests over the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd erupted and the crime landscape radically changed in cities across the nation.

While the rest of the year could see a significant decrease in the rate of killings, the numbers so far likely scuttle any hope that the city would find a way to return to pre-pandemic levels of gun violence, experts said.

Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime analyst whose firm AH Datalytics maintains an online database of homicide totals in 71 U.S. cities, said homicides nationally were down slightly less than 1% overall through March — which was similar to where L.A. stood at the time. 

While some cities have seen big increases in killings this year and others big drops, Asher said the data so far suggest the rapid increases in killings across the country in the latter half of 2020 and in 2021 have peaked.

“It’s plausible that things sort of leveled out at this new, elevated level of murders,” Asher said. “What we’re looking for: Is this a plateau, or are things going to come down? Or are they going to keep rising?” Asher said.

In L.A., the level of killing has fluctuated. A drop in homicides at the start of the year, which was cause for cautious optimism, was offset by a spike in killings in recent weeks. Homicides were down 25% through January, compared to 2021, but that decline had narrowed to 13% by the end of March. Then, there were 36 homicides in April, a month which saw only 21 killings last year, Moore said.

Moore said the violence was driven in part by a cluster of shootings in the city’s 77th Division, where disputes among gangs appeared to be escalating into gun violence. Of the 36 homicides in the city in April, 11 were in the 77th, Moore said.

Moore said killings were also occurring within the city’s large homeless population, with more than a fifth of all 2022 killings involving a homeless victim. Moore said he didn’t have information on how many suspects in this year’s killings were unhoused since many killings remain unsolved.

Moore said the “overarching effort” among police now is “to try to quell further acts of violence” by working with gang intervention workers and other community leaders to quell disputes and perceived insults that may spur gang shootings, as well as by adding investigative resources to identify and arrest suspects. 

Click here to read the full article at LA Times

World of Witchcraft: California’s Anti-Business Campaign Clear in the War Against Activision

California’s state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) says it’s committed to creating safe, harassment-free workplaces. Now it’s the department itself that’s doing the harassing.

DFEH was built to mediate disagreements between workers and business owners. These days, the agency goes direct to warfare – hiring private law firms to sue California companies and funding its operations from the resulting million-dollar settlements. That strategy often deprives plaintiffs of the money you might suppose they’re entitled to.

All of this is clear in the department’s high-profile, ongoing case against Santa Monica-based Activision, the company behind such global games as “World of Warcraft,” “Call of Duty,” and “Overwatch.”

Following a lengthy investigation, DFEH sued the video game maker in July for a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture” that DFEH says drove female employees to quit. Two months later, Activision settled a separate lawsuit with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by agreeing to establish an $18 million fund for alleged victims.

That’s when things got weird – California weird.

Alleging that Gov. Gavin Newsom was interfering with her lawsuit, Janette Wipper, the Chief Counsel for the DFEH, resigned from the case against Activision. Newsom fired her. Then Wipper’s deputy resigned, claiming interference by the governor.

But a deeper read of the roster changes at DFEH suggests a department that has gone rogue and a governor trying to rein it in.

Under Wipper, DFEH tried to block the EEOC’s settlement with Activision in order to pursue its own case, which could take years to conclude. That move delays victims’ access to the $18-million fund created by the EEOC settlement and prompted the EEOC to admonish DFEH for its questionable tactics.

Why would a state agency do this? For starters, DFEH, unlike EEOC, does not pay out all settlement money to victims of harassment or discrimination. Instead, it relies on massive settlements to help cover the agency’s operations costs, including outsourcing work to private law firms.

That money motivation explains DFEH’s tendency to overreach. In a case against Riot Games, the state stepped in to block a settlement in a case brought by the company’s employees. Outraged, the plaintiffs complained that the California agency was trying to hijack a case they had already settled – delaying by three years the payments they had won.

Activision isn’t alone in fighting the state juggernaut. Consider the case of Tesla. In February, DFEH sued the California automaker alleging systematic racial discrimination and harassment. Focusing on Tesla’s Fremont plant’s workforce, the lawsuit quotes dozens of media stories and administrative complaints. But DFEH never independently investigated the claims. Without investigating, the state’s suit refers to the factory as “racially segregated” and a “slave ship.”

While DFEH staff didn’t visit Tesla to check out the claims, thousands of members of the public and even senior government officials have visited the factory. In a blog post, Tesla points out that there is no real evidence in the filing. “Over the past five years, the DFEH has been asked on almost 50 occasions by individuals who believe they were discriminated against or harassed to investigate Tesla. On every single occasion, when the DFEH closed an investigation, it did not find misconduct by Tesla.”

Before filing its lawsuit, the DFEH declined several requests to provide Tesla with the specific allegations or the factual bases.

Watching a self-declared civil rights agency block or delay payments to victims would strike most people as extraordinary. But it’s a pattern of abuse at DFEH, and one that runs through the Activision case. That abuse is certainly obvious to the federal EEOC. Early in the investigation, the feds and state regulators signed onto a workshare agreement: While the EEOC reviewed allegations of harassment, the DFEH was supposed to review pay equity and related issues. DFEH specifically agreed that it would not investigate sexual harassment claims.

But the DFEH broke its agreement with the EEOC, violated its own procedures, and filed a surprise 11th-hour lawsuit against Activision when it learned the company was on the verge of settling with the EEOC. DFEH did not complete the independent investigation it started in order to determine the accuracy of the allegations in its lawsuit. Nor did that lawsuit focus on pay equity, but instead leveled sexual harassment allegations outside the stated scope of its investigation.

DFEH’s intervention here is unprecedented, but even more extraordinary is the EEOC’s response: It has accused state attorneys of ethical misconduct because they worked on the Activision case at the EEOC and then continued that work at DFEH without disclosing their prior work – a violation of California legal ethics rules.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Pelosi Makes Unannounced Visit to Ukraine, Vows U.S. Support ‘Until the Fight Is Done’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) made an unannounced trip to war-torn Ukraine over the weekend, meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reiterating that America stands in solidarity with the country.

She was accompanied by a group of senior House Democrats, including Foreign Affairs Committee chair Gregory Meeks, Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, and Rules Committee chair Jim McGovern.

video posted to Zelensky’s Twitter showed the members of Congress walking down the road in Kyiv to greet Zelensky outside the presidential palace.

“We are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom,” Pelosi said during the meeting with Ukrainian officials, according to the video and an NBC News translation. “Your fight is a fight for everyone, and so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done.”

“This shows that the United States today is a leader in strong support for Ukraine during the war against the aggression of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said, thanking the U.S. for the backing.

“Our delegation traveled to Kyiv to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine,” the group said in a statement. “When we return to the United States, we will do so further informed, deeply inspired and ready to do what is needed to help the Ukrainian people as they defend democracy for their nation and for the world.”

With military clashes ongoing, the lawmakers’ journey was potentially dangerous and politically significant. Pelosi is now the most senior U.S. official to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. President Biden and Vice President Harris have not visited the nation since Russia launched its incursion. Late last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Ukraine to meet with Zelensky.

“Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” Pelosi told Zelensky, the Twitter video indicates.

Click here to read the full article at the National Review

California Senate Leaders Say Budget Surplus Soars to $68B

 California’s budget surplus has more than doubled since January to a staggering $68 billion, Senate Democrats said Thursday, prompting a flurry of new spending proposals from lawmakers that include giving $8 billion back to taxpayers in a move that highlights a disagreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom.

While the pandemic had prompted warnings of multibillion-dollar budget deficits in most states, those fears did not happen as tax revenues across the country increased despite coronavirus-related shutdowns on businesses that caused millions to lose their jobs.

This revenue whiplash was most pronounced in California, the nation’s most populous state that is home to Silicon Valley and many billionaires. Newsom warned the state would have a $54 billion deficit in 2020 after he issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order. Instead, revenues rose sharply as wealthy people — who pay much higher taxes in California — got richer throughout the pandemic.

Last year, California’s budget included a $47 billion surplus, which was a record at the time. Thursday’s new estimate — based on preliminary numbers from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office — confirms California is on track to blow by that number this year.

The $68 billion surplus in California’s general fund would be more than double the $29 billion figure Newsom announced in January. In addition, California is projected to have a $37 billion surplus that must be spent on education — an increase from the $16.1 billion Newsom announced in January. The Newsom administration will update its budget proposal by May 15.

Thursday, Democrats — who have a majority of seats in the state Legislature — announced how they would spend that money. Their plan confirms most of what Newsom announced in January, with some new proposals.

One of the biggest additions is a plan to send $200 checks to every taxpayer who makes less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 per year for couples who file joint returns. The plan would also guarantee $200 checks for every dependent, meaning a family of five would get $1,000.

That proposal puts Democrats at odds with Newsom, who wants to send checks as large as $800 to people who own cars in California to help offset record-high gas prices. Newsom says his plan will cost about $9 billion.

Both Newsom and Democratic lawmakers have said they want to get this money to taxpayers as soon as possible. But so far, they haven’t been able to agree on how to do it. In general, Democratic lawmakers say they don’t like Newsom’s plan because the money would only go to people who own cars. Newsom’s plan also includes $750 million to give people free rides on public transit for three months.

“We stand ready to act as soon as the Governor joins us in supporting a plan that provides stronger relief for California families,” the Legislature’s top two leaders, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, said in a joint statement earlier this week.

California’s gas tax increases slightly each year because of inflation. The tax is scheduled to increase about 3 cents per gallon on July 1. Newsom had proposed a bill that would halt that increase this year, which must pass before Sunday to have enough time to take effect. But Democratic leaders in the state Legislature never called it for a vote.

Republicans, meanwhile, want to temporarily suspend the state’s gas tax, which at 51.1 cents per gallon is the second-highest in the country. Thursday, a small group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers revealed a plan that would suspend the entire gas tax for a year, while ordering that the savings be passed on to drivers instead of oil companies. But legislative leaders have already said they won’t do that, a sign the proposal likely doesn’t have the support to pass.

Beyond help for individuals, the proposal from Senate Democrats would also give billions of dollars in aid to small businesses. Businesses pay a tax that pays for people’s unemployment benefits when they lose their job. But so many people lost their jobs during the pandemic that the fund ran out of money. California had to borrow money from the federal government, which businesses must pay back.

Senate Democrats want to give rebates to businesses with 250 employees or fewer, which would offset some of those taxes. In addition, Democrats want to give about $500 million in grants to businesses with 150 employees or fewer to help pay for a new law that requires them to give workers up to two weeks of paid sick leave because of the coronavirus.

The plan wouldn’t just spend money. It would also put more money into the state’s savings accounts, bringing the state’s reserves to a total of $43.1 billion — the most ever.

Atkins, the Senate president pro tempore, said the plan is “doubling down on our priorities” by “reinvesting California’s wealth in those who need it most, especially struggling families and small businesses.”

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Just Say ‘No’ To No-Bid State Contracts

During the past two years, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has paid billions of dollars in secretive no-bid contracts with little to no transparency. Now Newsom is deploying his same secretive approach to a growing number of other public contracts. All Californians, irrespective of party affiliation, should be deeply concerned.

Photo courtesy of DB’s travels, Flickr.

Especially troubling is the Newsom administration’s perverse penchant for no-bid contracts, many of which renew automatically. Since 2020, his administration entered into more than 8,000 no-bid contracts, many of which were valued at more than $25 million. By the end of 2020, the total amount was nearly $12 billion.

The latest example? Instead of simply suspending the state’s gas tax, Newsom wants to award a no-bid government contract to a yet-to-be-named third-party vendor to manage a process of providing rebates to Californians, a lot of busywork to distract drivers from the fact that he’s making them pay the state’s highest-in-the-nation gas taxes.

After the horrible mess the EDD made by distributing payment cards in 2020, one has to wonder, what could go wrong?

During the same period that cash and no-bid contracts were being handed out, behested payments on behalf of the governor surged. These are “donations” for charitable or governmental purposes that are specifically requested by elected officials, often from companies with business before the state. In 2020 alone, $227 million was “donated” at the “behest” of the governor, a huge spike compared to just $12.1 million in 2019. This even got the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which wrote that “many of the donors have other business before the governor, received no-bid government contracts over the last year or were seeking favorable appointments on important state boards,” which “creates the appearance of a pay-to-play system.”

Sub-par no-bid contracts risk the squandering of taxpayer dollars and renewing no-bid contracts without reviewing their merits not only wastes taxpayer money but is also a way of skirting California’s contracting process.

For example, in 2020, the Newsom administration awarded a $1.7 billion no-bid contract to the Valencia Branch Laboratory to process COVID-19 tests for the state. Less than a year later, we learned of shocking waste and fraud occurring in the lab. The truth came out thanks to selfless whistleblowers, one of whom is now being sued by the company operating the lab.

For months, Senate Republicans called for a full release of the state investigations on the lab. For months, the state stalled, ultimately complying only after the contract had already auto-renewed.

Because of this fiasco and the larger problem of no-bid contracts, one of the co-authors of this column, Sen. Scott Wilk, introduced three bills – which the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association supports – to bring accountability to the process: SB 947, SB 1271, and SB 1367.

SB 947 would empower employees of state government contracts to blow the whistle on fraud, waste or abuse by granting them whistleblower protections already afforded to state workers. SB 1271 would require no-bid contracts of $25 million or more to be subject to oversight of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee prior to renewal or extension of the contract. SB 1367 would prohibit a state agency from awarding a contract to entities that have provided behested payments on the governor’s behalf in the preceding 12 months.

Click here to read the full article at the Press Enterprise