Do Progressives Support Gentrification?

Support is growing for the idea that parents can help their families climb the economic ladder by building generational wealth through property ownership. Surprisingly, this support has even been spotted in the opinion pages of the Los Angeles Times.

It’s surprising because the Times has previously taken a highly negative view of families being able to pass along intergenerational wealth in the form of real property. In a lengthy 2018 article about the effect of a voter-approved measure that allowed parents to transfer property to their kids without reassessment and a tax increase, Times reporter Liam Dillon focused almost exclusively on how the measure had benefited some very wealthy families. In particular, he objected to actors Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges renting the Malibu home they inherited from their father, actor Lloyd Bridges.

The article complained that “The inheritance tax break . . . has allowed hundreds of thousands – including celebrities, politicians and out-of-state professionals and some of California’s most prominent families – to avoid paying higher taxes.” The article paid scant attention to the vast majority of property owners, ordinary people who inherited the homes their parents worked for 30 years to pay off.

The L.A. Times editorial board called for the elimination of the parent-child transfer protection, asserting that “there is no compelling public purpose or societal good in passing tax breaks through generations.”

Given its hostility to the constitutional protections that helped to preserve intergenerational wealth, we were surprised that the L.A. Times recently ran an op-ed piece with a very different view from their own columnist, Erika D. Smith. She wrote, “Now, all of a sudden, Black people who grew up poor or working class and managed to buy a modest home in the ’60s and ’70s — and, in some cases, pay it off — are finding that they own property that’s extremely valuable. In many cases, it’s a first for their families, this prospect of passing along real wealth to the next generation. After all, it’s one thing to inherit a house worth $350,000 that needs $100,000 worth of work. It’s quite another to inherit the same house, but it’s now valued at $1 million. There are only a few cities in the country where that’s even possible for Black people.”

Unfortunately, the children inheriting those million-dollar homes will receive a new tax bill along with the sympathy cards. The Times got its wish last November when Proposition 19 was narrowly approved, following an ad campaign that sold it as helping wildfire victims, disabled people and seniors. Many voters didn’t realize that Prop. 19 also repealed the parent-child transfer exclusion from reassessment that had been in the state constitution since 1986. Now, with only a few exceptions, property is reassessed to current market value when inherited.

That’s why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has put forward a ballot initiative, the Repeal the Death Tax Act, that would once again allow parents to transfer a home, and a limited amount of other property, to their children without triggering property tax reassessments.

Click here to read the entire article at the presstelegram.com

New SCOTUS Petitions Claim Public Employees’ First Amendment Rights Violated by Unions

California Teachers Assoc., United Teachers LA, SEIU, Oregon Educational Assoc. named in petitions

Last week, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys, in partnership with attorneys from the Freedom Foundation, filed petitions asking the United States Supreme Court to hear several cases from public employees in California, Oregon, and Alaska government employment.

The cases challenge union-created schemes that violate public employees’ First Amendment rights by stopping them from cutting off financial support to unions of which they disapprove.

The Petition says:

Petitioners are public employees in the States of California and Oregon who exercised their FirstAmendment rights to resign their union memberships, revoke their authorizations for their public employers to withhold further union payments from their wages after they became nonmembers, and object to subsidizing union speech. The respondent government employers and unions ignored petitioners’ revocations and continued seizing payments for union speech from these objecting nonmembers until an escape period (contained in their dues deduction authorizations) for stopping union deductions occurred.

In 2018, the Court in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31 held that nonunion public employees have a First Amendment right not to subsidize union speech. 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2486 (2018). The Court also held that governments and unions violate that right by seizing union payments from nonmembers unless there is clear and compelling evidence the employees waived their constitutional right.

Two petitions appeal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions which allow union officials to continue limiting employees’ rights under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, the NRTW explained. In Janus, the Court recognized that forcing public employees to financially support a union violates their First Amendment rights.

Each of the cases brought before the court now challenges a union boss-created “escape period” scheme, the NRTW said. “Escape periods” are designed to limit the time in which public employees can exercise their Janus right to end union dues deductions, to just a few days every year. Often, public employees whom union officials never informed about Janus rights in the first place try to cut off support to an unwanted union, only to be told by state officials that, per the “escape period,” they must endure another year or more of union dues being siphoned from their paychecks, according to the NRTW.

The majority of these cases are class action lawsuits, seeking to reclaim money that union bosses seized from petitioners and their coworkers’ paychecks after they resigned union membership and tried to exercise Janus rights.

The Petition explains:

After Janus, petitioners resigned membership in their unions, revoked their authorizations for further deductions of union dues or moneys from their paychecks, and objected to the continued subsidization of union speech. Respondent unions accepted petitioners’ membership resignations, but continued to instruct the respondent governments to deduct union dues from their wages until the end of the annual deduction period, forcing petitioners to continue paying union payments for months after they resigned their union membership and withdrew their consent to fund union speech.

The legal questions presented to the Supreme Court are:

1. Under the First Amendment, to seize payments for union speech from employees who resigned union membership, became nonmembers, and objected to subsidizing union speech, do government employers and unions need clear and compelling evidence that those nonmember employees knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived their First Amendment rights to refrain from subsidizing union speech in order to constitutionally seize union payments from these employees?

2. When a union acts jointly with government to deduct and collect union payments from nonmember employees’ wages, is that union a state actor participating in a state action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983?

“Petitioners file this joint petition for certiorari to present to the Court the important question of whether governments and unions need clear and compelling evidence that employees waived their First Amendment rights, or just proof of a contract, to seize payments for union speech when those payments are seized after union members resign their membership and are objecting nonmembers,” the Petition says.

“The Ninth Circuit created a massive loophole to the Court’s Janus holding that public employees have a First Amendment right not to subsidize union speech and must waive that right before governments and unions may seize union payments from nonmembers, the Petition says. “It did so by finding that both Janus’s holding and the First Amendment do not apply to public employees, governments, and public-sector unions, when those employees sign union membership and dues deduction authorizations that limit employees’ exercise of their right to stop subsidizing union speech except during short escape periods.”

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Finding Common Ground in California

In California, environmental regulations have brought infrastructure investment to a standstill. Without expanding energy, water, and transportation infrastructure, it is nearly impossible to build housing, the cost-of-living is punitive, water is rationed and food is overpriced, the overall quality of life is reduced, and money that ought to be paying skilled workers to operate heavy construction equipment instead goes into the pockets of environmentalist lobbyists, bureaucrats, litigators, and activist nonprofits.

Californians nonetheless agree that infrastructure, as it is traditionally defined, needs new investment. Freeways, bridges, railroads, dams, aqueducts, seaports, airports, transmission lines, pipelines; all of this needs to be maintained and upgraded.

But despite agreement on the goal, more than ever, solutions are filtered through the lens of polarizing ideologies. What is today’s definition of infrastructure? Is it physical assets, or something more ephemeral? Do infrastructure priorities have to be established based on restoring race and gender equity, or by concerns about climate change? Should some infrastructure be deliberately allowed to deteriorate, to avoid “induced demand” and the unsustainable consumption that would result?

Debate over these questions has paralyzed California’s politicians. Navigating a pathway out of this paralyzing morass takes more than just compromise, it takes the courage to adhere to controversial premises. Chief among these is to reject the idea that legislated scarcity is the only option to combat climate change. In every critical area of infrastructure there are solutions that can enable a future of sustainable abundance.

For example, Californians can rebuild their energy infrastructure in a manner that doesn’t violate environmentalist principles, but instead balances environmentalist concerns with the interests of its residents. Why aren’t Californians, who in so many ways are the most innovative people in the world, approving and building safe, state-of-the-art nuclear power plants? Why aren’t they developing geothermal power, since California has vast untapped potential in geothermal energy? Why haven’t California’s legislators revived the logging industry they have all but destroyed, and brought back clean power plants fueled by the biomass of commercial forest trimmings?

Californians can also rebuild their water infrastructure by adopting an all-of-the-above approach. They can build massive new off-stream reservoirs to capture storm runoff. Even in dry winters the few storms that do hit California yield surplus water that can be captured instead of allowed to runoff into the Pacific. These off-stream reservoirs could also feature forebays from which, using surplus solar electricity, water could be pumped up into the main reservoir, to then be released back down into the forebay through hydroelectric turbines to generate electricity when solar electric output falters. Why aren’t Californians recycling 100 percent of their urban wastewater? Why aren’t they building desalination plants?

These are solutions that may not be perfectly acceptable to environmentalists, but they’re also not hideous violations of environmentalist values. They should be defended by their proponents without reservations, but also with a willingness to spend extra to mitigate what can be mitigated. Civilization has a footprint, and we can only pick our poison. The solutions favored by environmentalists, such as wind turbines, battery farms, EVs, biofuel plantations, and solar farms, have environmental impacts that are arguably even worse than conventional solutions.

Another potentially polarizing issue – achieving “equity” with infrastructure – doesn’t have to be dismissed by proponents of practical infrastructure investment. If the pipes in Los Angeles public schools are still leaching toxins into the water students would otherwise be drinking, then invest the money and fix the pipes. If inadequate funding for water treatment plants in low income communities in California’s Central Valley mean they are not operating, or cannot expand their operations, then increase the funding. But at the same time don’t lose sight of the fact that if there is more energy, and more water, that will benefit everyone, especially low income households, no matter where they are and no matter what other challenges they may confront.

Finally, it shouldn’t be controversial to restrict discussions of infrastructure to infrastructure, but it is. Here is an area where, once again, establishing the terms of the discussion require adhering to a controversial premise, which is that discussions of “infrastructure” need to be restricted to the traditional definition. Basic infrastructure, offering surplus capacity instead of scarcity in the critical areas of energy, water and transportation, creates the solid foundation upon which all the other amenities of a prosperous and equitable society may flourish.

This article was originally published in the California Policy Center

Defying Tyranny Chowing Down on a Double-Double

As soon as I heard In-N-Out Burger joints were being shut down by California governments for not checking for COVID vaccine status at the door, I snapped into action. I drove my creaking 2010 Camry to the nearest In-N-Out, on Bristol and MacArthur in Santa Ana, marched inside and ordered a Double-Double, protein style, extra mustard, no tomato. This is Orange County, where we still enjoy a few more freedoms than the rest of the state. 

I looked around to see if Gov. Gavin Newsom was standing in line, maskless, as at his infamous French Pantry escapade a year ago. He wasn’t. I guess my $5 burger wasn’t elitist enough for someone with $350-a-plate tastes.

Nobody checked my vaccination status. Maybe only 20 percent of patrons were wearing masks. I wasn’t. Sometimes you have to just brave the elements.

Once again, we’re being told the Science (capital “S”) mandates the vaccine-checking. It’s the same Science that told us for decades eating Double-Doubles was bad because they were “high fat,” and we were supposed to instead eat “low fat” candy bars loaded with sugar. See Gary Taubes’ books for the history of that Science deception.

An obvious objection to this new mandate is: minimum-wage fast-food workers are not certified health specialists. How are they to know who has a valid vaxx-ID and who doesn’t? And if a 99-pound woman worker confronts a 250-pound unvaxx’d weightlifter, and he insists he’s coming into the restaurant anyway, what’s she supposed to do?

Then there’s the problem of authenticating the IDs. How are these fast-food workers supposed to know if one is valid and another invalid? What about expiration dates? How about counterfeit IDs? Will plainclothes police (real police) also be patrolling these places, arresting not just scofflaws, but workers who make an incorrect guess about a valid/invalid vaxx-ID?

The California DMV, which issues driver’s licenses and IDs for non-drivers, is a perpetual laughingstock for its incompetence.

Then there’s the Unemployment Development Department, which blew as much as $31 billion on fake claims to criminals. It also was another government agency checking IDs. To correct that, it instituted an absurdly complex and hardly working system that stifled true claims by actual people who really were unemployed.

If the California DMV and the EDD can’t get their acts together on driver’s licenses and IDs, how are minimum-wage clerks at a restaurant supposed to do so? 

If government insists on In-N-Out and other restaurants checking for IDs, it ought to provide the proper experts to do so, at taxpayer expense. This also would require months of training for new people. Or current health workers could be reassigned from their current jobs, such as saving people in the ER hauled in with heart attacks, broken bones and gunshot wounds.

Or maybe the government could just take over all restaurants, and all food production and distribution for that matter. Make sure our food is safe! Everyone in the food industry then could be paid high union wages with great perks and pensions. 

Agriculture could be bundled together into something called Collective Farms. Costs could be cut because, instead of wasteful, duplicative competition, the Collective scientifically would apportion supply and demand, eliminating all waste.

Food grown on the Collective Farms efficiently would be transported to the Collective Restaurants, which would be run along the latest hygienic lines, as established by the CDC. 

Only when government efficiently runs everything will we be free of all worries and cares about disease. Only then can we join hands and promote global freedom, democracy, liberty and niceness.

Longtime Orange County Register editorialist John Seiler now also writes for the Epoch Times and blogs at: johnseiler.substack.com

State Health Officials Announce Rollout Vaccination Plan For Children Aged 5-11

California state Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan announced on Wednesday that vaccinations will open up to 3.5 million children ages 5-11 in the state by the end of the week once final national approval for pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations are given.

Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a vaccine mandate for all school aged children in grades K-12 to attend class. While the vaccine had been given a minimum age of 12 to administer, Newsom’s order  noted that  younger children would be included once the approval was given for them.

On Tuesday, FDA vaccine advisors began to recommend approval for kids aged 5-11. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that the vaccine for that age group had an efficacy rate of around 91% in preventing COVID-19 in children, with no side effects shown in clinical trials. Mixed with a growing number of pediatric cases and herd immunity not yet being achieved, including 66 child deaths because of CVID-19 since the beginning of the year, full FDA approval is likely soon.

With Pfizer now shipping out child vaccines in preparation, Dr. Pan said on Wednesday that California is preparing for approval and will have 1.2 million doses ready to distribute in the first week. 4,000 sites and over 1,000 providers will also be assisting in the next wave of vaccinations.

“We have around 4,000 sites that are ready to administer and over 1,000 providers across the state enrolled to vaccinate,” Pan said. “And more than 860,000 doses of vaccine have already been ordered. This is our opportunity to protect another 9% of our population. This is another important turning point in our fight against COVID-19 and gets us closer to achieving full family protection against the virus.

“The more vaccinations we get into the arms of eligible Californians, the more we stop the spread and shrink the pool of people vulnerable to COVID-19. This will get us closer to ending the pandemic. Our youngest children have remained vulnerable to the highly contagious virus as older Californians have received their vaccine. Now the time is coming to protect them. There have been more than 35 pediatric deaths from COVID-19 in California alone, and this is more deaths than we see with flu in a very bad flu season. There simply is not an acceptable number of child deaths when such an effective and safe prevention are available.”

Vaccines expected to become available for ages 5-11 next week

However, despite the prepared network, as well as efforts to add more school locations to administer the vaccine, vaccinations will not be available overnight. In addition to federal finalization, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will need to complete a review of the vaccine for approval in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. While no date has been given as a “start” date, it will likely come some time next week, with a full two dose inoculation goal by Christmas, due to the three week second dose period.

CHHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly (Photo: Zoom)

“We enter into these next many weeks confident in the state of play with vaccines and their ultimate protection of so many, but cautious and vigilant with our guard up,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at the Wednesday briefing. “COVID does cause severe disease in young kids. Any avoidable preventable impact — whether it’s death or severe disease and long-term chronic conditions for young people — if we have a safe effective measure to avoid it, it’s one that we want to emphasize and make available.”

However, the addition of a younger age group is widely expected to spur even more student pullouts and homeschooling efforts by parents who don’t want their child to receive the vaccine, with the highest numbers expected to come from districts that don’t offer many exemptions.

“Younger kids not getting the vaccine have been a ‘saving grace’ to parents who have been really uneasy about pulling their students out of school,” explained Alyssa Hutchinson, an Orange County homeschool transfer advisor who helps parents move to homeschooling options online, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s about to become a reality and I’m expecting a large wave of parents asking for help very soon. It usually takes a day for most parents to react for news, so it will be a very busy day for me tomorrow. I’m already seeing an uptick in e-mails right now and I’m afraid to look at my work phone’s unread text amount.

“You also need to realize that these are some of their youngest children the mandate will now be covering. Parents will not respond well.”

Vaccines are expected to begin being administered next week for children aged 5-11.

This article was originally published by the California Globe

Underground Regulations and California’s Administrative Procedure Act

The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) is charged with ensuring that agency and department regulations are “clear, necessary, legally valid, and available to the public.” OAL is responsible for reviewing proposed regulations by California’s more than 200 state agencies and departments that have rulemaking authority.

The formal rulemaking process is established by the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the APA sets forth the criteria by which OAL reviews all of those regulations. OAL reviews regular and emergency rulemaking projects, as well as challenged “underground” regulations.

On the OAL website (www.oal.ca.gov), readers can track on a table the list of rulemaking actions submitted to OAL for review. This list is updated daily per OAL. The website also contains a listing of underground regulation petitions that are under review by OAL. (https://oal.ca.gov/underground_regulations/underground-regulations-under-review/).

Concerning the review of alleged underground regulations, the role of OAL is specified in the California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 1, Division 1, Chapter 2, which is titled “Underground Regulations.”

In Section 250(a), it provides the following definition: “’underground regulation’ means any guideline, criterion, bulletin, manual, instruction, order, standard of general application, or other rule, including a rule governing a state agency procedure, that is a regulation as defined in Section 11342.600 of the Government Code, but has not been adopted as a regulation and filed with the Secretary of State pursuant to the AP A and is not subject to an express statutory exemption from adoption pursuant to the APA.”

In CCR Section 260, the submission of underground regulation petitions is discussed. Section 270 deals with the OAL review of these petitions. And, Section 280 describes the suspension of underground regulation actions. In terms of “underground regulations,” OAL is charged with reviewing any such challenged regulatory agency actions by way of a petition filed with OAL.

According to the OAL, “if a state agency issues, utilizes, enforces, or attempts to enforce a rule without following the APA when it is required to, the rule is called an ‘underground regulation.’ State agencies are prohibited from enforcing underground regulations.” If an individual or entity believes a state agency or department has issued an alleged underground regulation, that issuance can be challenged by filing a written petition with OAL.

If OAL accepts the petition for review, then OAL may issue a determination. According to OAL, this program is informally known as the “Chapter Two Unit,” or “CTU,” because OAL’s regulations regarding underground regulations are found in California Code of Regulations, Title 1, Chapter 2. The OAL website provides information on underground regulations and how to submit a written petition to OAL alleging an underground regulation.

OAL’s review of an alleged underground regulation is limited to a 3-step analysis to determine whether the alleged underground regulation must be adopted as a regulation pursuant to the APA. First, is the policy or procedure either a rule or standard of general application, or a modification or supplement to such a rule? Second, has the policy or procedure been adopted by the agency to either implement, interpret, or make specific the law enforced or administered by the agency, or govern the agency’s procedure?

If the answer to these two questions is “yes,” then the challenged rule is a regulation. However, before a determination is complete, OAL must review the final step of the analysis. Has the policy or procedure been expressly exempted by statute from the requirement that it be adopted as a “regulation” pursuant to the APA?

If the answer to this final question is yes, then the underground regulation did not have to go through the APA process. However, if the answer to this last question is no, then the rule is an underground regulation and cannot be enforced by the agency or department. Instead, it must go through the formal rulemaking process pursuant to the APA.

Finally, readers should be aware of Government Code Section 11340.5(e) which provides that, if an interested person has already begun litigation challenging an underground regulation, a determination issued by OAL may not be considered by the court in that pending litigation. Those challenging an alleged underground regulation should determine whether they want to pursue OAL review of the agency action, or whether to go directly to court to challenge it.

How have California’s courts viewed underground regulations by the state’s rulemaking bodies?

Click to read full article on California Globe

How California Laws Are Stealing Christmas

We’ve all heard about it by now – the supply chain crisis and the bottlenecks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Last month, the “dwell time” – the time a container stays on a terminal between unloading from a ship and removal by a truck was six days – an all-time record.  As of last week, there were 100 ships idled off the coast of California waiting to unload goods. Fifty-seven more ships were in berth at the ports.

Pres. Biden’s plan to run 24/7 operations at these ports, however, has brought on a new problem. Many of the shipping containers that spent weeks waiting to be unloaded are now being left at nearby neighborhoods. CBS Los Angeles reported that one company, which had a capacity of 65 containers on its lot, lined up additional containers in front of some people’s homes in Wilmington. The owner is asking for residents’ understanding until the containers eventually get hauled off.

Clearly, running operations 24/7 hasn’t solved the problem.  One critical link in the chain is truck drivers.  In California, there are more than 70,000 mostly minority owned independent truckers operating in the state, 17,000 of which are registered to bring goods in and out of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. These independent contractors or owner-operators (OEs) often work with multiple trucking companies – a business model that has been the standard at California ports for many decades.

AB 5, however, changed the rules for doing business. Now, trucking companies must hire drivers as employees and not as contractors.  To avoid running afoul of the law, trucking companies have shied away from hiring OEs.

The California Trucking Association, the California Retailers Association, the Western Growers along with several business groups have joined forces to lobby Gov. Newsom to declare a state of emergency in order to suspend AB 5 along with AB 701, a recently signed law that regulates quotas at warehouse distribution centers such as those of Amazon’s, which I had written about in detail here.

In the letter to Newsom, the coalition wrote, “Let’s be clear, we are not asking for your leadership in order to ensure there are toys on the shelves for Christmas; we are asking for your leadership in order to ensure working families have access to affordable medical supplies, diapers, and other basic necessities.”

As an old communications hand, I respectfully differ with the coalition members — it should absolutely be about Christmas.  While there’s no question of the widespread negative economic consequences from a prolonged supply chain mess, the best way to change politicians’ minds is this nightmare scenario: no presents under the tree, that is, if there is even a tree.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton’s former press secretary and now director of California’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday that there would be no declaration of a state of emergency.  The fact is, even in the darkest days of the pandemic when the state’s small businesses appealed to Newsom to suspend AB 5, the Governor shook it off as “noise, noise, noise.” The same went for suspending the minimum wage increase.

Sure, the holidays mean big business for California and the U.S. economy, but after almost two years of the pandemic, people want to feel joy and hope.  And there’ll be a little less of both if the necessities are more expensive, and the things that make for holiday celebrations – bubbly water, Christmas lights, and turkeys, are not to be found.

There are heroes and villains in every story, and what politician doesn’t want to be the one who saved Christmas?  It’s not too late for the Newsom to change his mind.  In three years’ time when the supply chain crisis will return for election year scrutiny, the Guv could claim that thanks to him, Americans feasted on roast beasts.

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

Newsom A Barrier To Tech Progress

In 2013, then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.” The book advances the idea of how government could use technology to “house the needs, concerns, information and collaboration of an enlightened digital citizenry.” The book was both well-written and compelling.

Given the innovative ideas advanced in his book, it was disappointing to see the governor veto two bills that would have used technology to improve citizens’ accessibility to their government.

First, Senate Bill 675 would have authorized a county board of supervisors, if they so choose, to allow property owners either over the age of 62, or those individuals on SSID regardless of age, to pay their property tax in monthly installments. But the ability to bill in monthly installments, ubiquitous in the private sector, and already possible in states including Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, was apparently too much for the Golden State. Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill, stating that Californians struggling to pay their property taxes already had options and that the bill contained “significant administrative and fiscal burdens.”

Despite Proposition 13, many retirees and seniors on fixed incomes still struggle to pay their property taxes in two big lump sums.

SB 675 simply would have given homeowners an additional option to pay their taxes in a timely manner and, at the same time, allowed them to incorporate property taxes into their monthly budgets. But the governor’s newfound fiscal restraint when it comes to investing in things that would benefit the taxpayer and the inability for government to implement widely accessible technology apparently got in the way.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Infrastructure: Finding Common Ground in California

In California, environmental regulations have brought infrastructure investment to a standstill. Without expanding energy, water, and transportation infrastructure, it is nearly impossible to build housing, the cost-of-living is punitive, water is rationed and food is overpriced, the overall quality of life is reduced, and money that ought to be paying skilled workers to operate heavy construction equipment instead goes into the pockets of environmentalist lobbyists, bureaucrats, litigators, and activist nonprofits.

Californians nonetheless agree that infrastructure, as it is traditionally defined, needs new investment. Freeways, bridges, railroads, dams, aqueducts, seaports, airports, transmission lines, pipelines; all of this needs to be maintained and upgraded.

But despite agreement on the goal, more than ever, solutions are filtered through the lens of polarizing ideologies. What is today’s definition of infrastructure? Is it physical assets, or something more ephemeral? Do infrastructure priorities have to be established based on restoring race and gender equity, or by concerns about climate change? Should some infrastructure be deliberately allowed to deteriorate, to avoid “induced demand” and the unsustainable consumption that would result?

Debate over these questions has paralyzed California’s politicians. Navigating a pathway out of this paralyzing morass takes more than just compromise, it takes the courage to adhere to controversial premises. Chief among these is to reject the idea that legislated scarcity is the only option to combat climate change. In every critical area of infrastructure there are solutions that can enable a future of sustainable abundance.

For example, Californians can rebuild their energy infrastructure in a manner that doesn’t violate environmentalist principles, but instead balances environmentalist concerns with the interests of its residents. Why aren’t Californians, who in so many ways are the most innovative people in the world, approving and building safe, state-of-the-art nuclear power plants? Why aren’t they developing geothermal power, since California has vast untapped potential in geothermal energy? Why haven’t California’s legislators revived the logging industry they have all but destroyed, and brought back clean power plants fueled by the biomass of commercial forest trimmings?

Californians can also rebuild their water infrastructure by adopting an all-of-the-above approach. They can build massive new off-stream reservoirs to capture storm runoff. Even in dry winters the few storms that do hit California yield surplus water that can be captured instead of allowed to runoff into the Pacific. These off-stream reservoirs could also feature forebays from which, using surplus solar electricity, water could be pumped up into the main reservoir, to then be released back down into the forebay through hydroelectric turbines to generate electricity when solar electric output falters. Why aren’t Californians recycling 100 percent of their urban wastewater? Why aren’t they building desalination plants?

These are solutions that may not be perfectly acceptable to environmentalists, but they’re also not hideous violations of environmentalist values. They should be defended by their proponents without reservations, but also with a willingness to spend extra to mitigate what can be mitigated. Civilization has a footprint, and we can only pick our poison. The solutions favored by environmentalists, such as wind turbines, battery farms, EVs, biofuel plantations, and solar farms, have environmental impacts that are arguably even worse than conventional solutions.

Another potentially polarizing issue – achieving “equity” with infrastructure – doesn’t have to be dismissed by proponents of practical infrastructure investment. If the pipes in Los Angeles public schools are still leaching toxins into the water students would otherwise be drinking, then invest the money and fix the pipes. If inadequate funding for water treatment plants in low income communities in California’s Central Valley mean they are not operating, or cannot expand their operations, then increase the funding. But at the same time don’t lose sight of the fact that if there is more energy, and more water, that will benefit everyone, especially low income households, no matter where they are and no matter what other challenges they may confront.

Finally, it shouldn’t be controversial to restrict discussions of infrastructure to infrastructure, but it is. Here is an area where, once again, establishing the terms of the discussion require adhering to a controversial premise, which is that discussions of “infrastructure” need to be restricted to the traditional definition. Basic infrastructure, offering surplus capacity instead of scarcity in the critical areas of energy, water and transportation, creates the solid foundation upon which all the other amenities of a prosperous and equitable society may flourish.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

Restoring Local Control Over Land-Use Decisions

Single-family zoning has been abolished in the state of California. The moment the recall election was behind him, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bills 9 and 10, and now low-density neighborhoods everywhere in the state could become construction sites as developers turn single-family homes into two homes plus two accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny flats.”

Senate Bill 9 requires city governments to approve these developments in any area that the state law allows them, which is virtually everywhere with a few exceptions, such as wetlands or protected habitat. Local officials can’t hold a public hearing to consider the projects. They can’t require studies of the projects’ impact on the environment or the community. They can’t require new multi-family developments to have off-street parking. They can’t impose fees on developers to help pay for water, sewer or power infrastructure, schools, street repair, sanitation or public safety services.

According to the new state laws, the only thing city officials can do is sign off.

However, according to the state constitution, the people of California have the power to change this with a citizens’ initiative. And a coalition of local officials is currently working on doing exactly that.

Initiative No. 21-0016 was submitted to the state attorney general on August 26 and is awaiting an official title and summary for the circulating petitions so signature gathering can begin.

“The purpose of this measure is to ensure that all decisions regarding local land use controls, including zoning and regulations, are made by the affected communities,” the initiative states. “Community development should not be controlled by state planners, but by local governments that know and can address the needs of, and the impacts upon, local communities.”

Senate Bill 10 looks like it is giving local communities control over development, but in fact it allows a government body, such as a city council, to override voter-approved initiatives on land use issues. So even if voters put certain areas off-limits for development, SB 10 allows local government bodies to toss out those restrictions and encourage developers to turn a single-family home into a ten-unit apartment building plus four “granny flats,” without a public hearing or any reports on the impact of the project on the environment, parking or traffic.

If this was a game of rock-paper-scissors, SB 9 and SB 10 are the rock that smashes the scissors of local zoning. But the local control initiative is the paper the covers the rock.

The initiative would amend the state constitution and establish once and for all that when a state law conflicts with a county or city provision, plan or regulation regarding zoning, development or use of land, the local measure prevails over the conflicting state law. And the initiative specifically protects voter-approved local measures that regulate zoning, development or land use, stating that these shall not be “overturned or otherwise nullified by any legislative body.”

There’s an exception in the measure that would continue to allow state control over areas governed by the California Coastal Act of 1976, as well as for the siting of a large power plant or a water, communications or transportation infrastructure project. Local governments would not be able to stop these projects that address “a matter of statewide concern” and are in “the best interests of the state.” But the authors were careful to specify that a transit-oriented development project, whether residential, commercial or mixed use, is not to be considered a “transportation infrastructure project.”

The initiative’s proponents are a diverse group. John Heath is the executive director of a non-profit affordable housing and property management firm in South Los Angeles. He’s also the co-founder of United Homeowners’ Association, a non-profit volunteer organization representing residents of View Park, Windsor Hills and View Heights, communities located midway between USC and LAX and likely to be targeted by developers for densification. Bill Brand is the mayor of the already dense community of Redondo Beach. Peggy Huang is mayor of Yorba Linda, a city that had to evacuate residents during major wildfires in 2008 and 2020. Jovita Mendoza is a council member in the northern California city of Brentwood. Dennis Richards is a former planning commissioner for the city of San Francisco.

They’re calling their measure the Brand-Huang-Mendoza Tripartisan Land Use Initiative and say it will “Stop the Sacramento Land Grab.” It will reverse existing state laws, including SB 9 and SB 10, that take zoning authority away from local communities, and it will block any future efforts by Sacramento to force cities to approve increased density where it isn’t wanted. …

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