The Seven Deadly Sins of California’s Political Establishment

To be fair, California’s politicians aren’t alone in their quest to destroy America’s rights, freedoms, prosperity, culture, traditions, and pride. They’re just more advanced in their quest. But since what happens in California often ends up happening later in the rest of America, it’s important to highlight just how bad it’s gotten in the Golden State.

Just as a theologian might argue there are more than seven deadly sins that are fatal to spiritual progress, there are more than seven policy areas where California’s political leadership have fatally undermined the aspirations of ordinary Californians. But in the interests of brevity and clarity, here are what might be the most damning seven deadly sins of California’s political establishment.

Law and Order – Californians have prided themselves on being trendsetters in human rights, but the pendulum has swung too far. Thanks to Prop. 47, the “Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative” approved by California’s voters in 2014, it is nearly impossible to arrest and hold anyone for possession of hard drugs, so long as they claim the drugs are for personal use. Prop. 47 also downgraded the punishment for property crimes if the value of the stolen goods are under $950 per offense.

The consequence of these laws are public drug use and rampant theft to support these drug habits. Other ridiculous laws include AB 953, the “Racial and Identity Profiling Act” (2015), that requires police to fill out an extensive questionnaire after every encounter with a member of the public, even if it doesn’t result in an arrest. The purpose of this is to prevent disproportionate encounters with members of disadvantaged groups, and the consequence of it is fewer stops, fewer arrests, and more crime.

Environment – It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to environmentalist extremism that tyrannizes ordinary Californians. Central to California’s central planning state is AB 32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act” (2006), and follow on legislation. These laws aim to reduce California’s net “greenhouse gas” emissions to zero by 2045.

To accomplish this, it is becoming almost impossible to develop land outside of existing cities in California, which is driving the price of land and housing to unaffordable levels. Next on the “climate change” agenda is to charge Californians for “vehicle miles traveled,” wherein everywhere people go in their cars will be monitored and taxed.

Well before AB 32 came along, though, California’s gone overboard with environmentalism. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), passed by the state legislature in 1971, requires environmental impact reports to accompany any building permit. Since a separate report is required for every permit application, and since major building projects require approval from dozens of agencies, in California, the costs to file applications and pay fees often exceeds the cost of the actual construction itself.

Then there’s forestry management, taken over by environmentalist zealots who prohibited logging, suppressed controlled burns with byzantine application gauntlets and endless litigation, and turned California’s forests into tinderboxes.

Energy & Water – Californians pay among the highest prices for gasoline, electricity and natural gas in the United States, despite the fact that California has abundant reserves of oil and gas.

But instead of approving new refineries, more connecting pipelines, oil and gas drilling, and clean natural gas power plants, California’s policymakers are shutting down conventional energy in favor of “renewables.” Even clean, emissions free nuclear power is forbidden, as California’s last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, is scheduled to be shut down by 2025.

Not only does this leave Californians without affordable energy, as they’re herded to the nearest retailer to purchase “demand response” appliances that don’t work very well, but utilities investing in renewables don’t have money left over to upgrade their power lines to better manage wildfires.

As for water, instead of storing more storm runoff behind dams and within aquifers, and investing in reuse and desalination, California’s turned to rationing. Starting in 2020, Californians will be restricted to 55 gallons of indoor water use per person per day, with that amount being lowered in subsequent years.

Transportation – Freeways in California are among the most congested in the nation, but instead of widening roads and building new freeways, California’s policymakers have declared war on the car. Never mind that cars are the future of transportation, destined to be entirely clean, autonomous, capable safely driving at high speeds while their occupants work, sleep, or entertain themselves.

Instead California’s political leadership remains committed to a high speed train that will never pay for itself, light rail when light rail ridership is in decline, and zoning that will make it impossible for people to park their cars where they live. California’s transportation policy is misanthropic and misguided. Meanwhile, ordinary Californians cope with super commutes on neglected roads.

Housing – Despite the fact that most young married couples, given a choice, would prefer to raise their children in a single family home with a yard, California’s elite have decided that single family homes and suburbs are “unsustainable.” This despite California sprawling over 160,000 square miles, of which only around 5 percent is urbanized.

Californians instead are expected to construct all new housing via high density “infill,” where there is minimal open space, parking is unavailable, and prices are sky high thanks to the artificially created shortage.

As noted, the costs to prepare permit applications and pay fees often exceeds the construction costs, notwithstanding the fact that high rise and mid rise construction always costs far more per square foot than what it costs to construct one or two story wood frame homes.

Homeless – In a state where you can’t build anything without paying fees that cost more than the construction costs, and where utility bills and other hidden taxes make the cost-of-living the highest in the nation, it should be no surprise that California has a homeless crisis.

Add to that the best weather on earth, and laws that permit public consumption of hard drugs and prevent detention of petty thieves, and you have a recipe for a homeless population explosion. Moreover, court rulings make it impossible to remove homeless encampments unless you can offer them “permanent supportive housing,” and rampant (totally legal) public sector and nonprofit corruption have driven the costs for such housing to exceed on average $500,000 per unit.

To top it off, state laws make it, for all practical purposes, impossible to incarcerate the mentally ill. If these laws and court settlements were overturned, overnight, half of California’s homeless would find shelter with relatives and friends, and the rest would get cost-effective help. But it’s a meal ticket for the corrupt public sector.

Education – Save the worst for last. This is perhaps the most unforgivable sin of all in California. Instead of teaching children to read and write, they are being indoctrinated. Instead of being held accountable, incompetent teachers are protected by union labor laws, and disruptive students are kept in classes in order to fulfill quotas designed to prevent “discrimination.”

The University of California, which – under threat of lawsuits – is about to abandon using SAT scores entirely, has already engineered its admissions policies to circumvent federal prohibitions on affirmative action. From higher education down through the K-12 public schools, leftist propaganda and identity politics are the goal of California’s unionized public education system, instead of teaching children the skills they will need to become more productive graduates.

This is the future that awaits America. It is a future abetted by a complicit media, an activist entertainment industry, a unionized public bureaucracy and public education system, and nearly every significant corporate and financial player. The political model it embraces is often labeled as socialist, but might more accurately be described as economic fascism – a merging of public and private, a partnership of corporations, oligarchs, and the public sector.

While people typically cringe at use of the term “fascist,” the fascism we’re seeing in California is not the hardcore fascism of WWII era Germany, but rather a soft fascism as envisioned by Aldous Huxley in his novel Brave New World. California’s citizens are being channeled into high-density apartments, forced to use mass transit, and increasingly made dependent on government subsidies, in exchange for the illusory freedoms of legal drugs and anything-goes gender exploration.

At the same time, Californians are deluged with fearmongering propaganda – a classic fascist tactic – concerning the rise of the oceans thanks to “climate change” and the rise of “white nationalism” thanks to President Trump. Both of these threats are preposterously overstated, but when that’s the only message you ever hear, it feels very real.

This 21st century fascism being pioneered in California touts itself as “anti-fascist” at every opportunity, but the system nonetheless fits the definition of fascism. It is corporate, collectivist, centralized, and autocratic. With an equally unhealthy and excessive fervor, it exalts the planet instead of the nation, and celebrates “diversity” instead of one culture. It punishes dissent, protects the oligarchy, and deludes the overtaxed, over-regulated, overpaying majority.

In a world where truth, justice, and the American Way still exist, an America that believes in God, or at least believes in good, evil, and some sort of ultimate accountability, what California’s elites are doing is literally sinful. Their path to salvation is simple:

Enforce common sense drug laws and punish thieves. Quit using environmentalism as a punitive religious faith and start logging the forests, building roads, drilling for oil and gas, and approving nuclear power plants instead of shutting them down. Stop extorting more money in permitting costs than it costs to construct homes, and start building them again on open land. Get vagrants off the streets, build cost-effective shelter for the truly needy, and put the mentally ill back into institutions. Fire incompetent teachers and hold our students to immutable, objective academic standards instead of filling their heads with divisive nonsense.

Americans would do well to look to California today, and whatever they’re doing, do the opposite. Before it’s too late.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Challenging the California High Speed Rail Leadership and Project Direction

The Assembly Transportation Committee High Speed Rail oversight hearing of Tuesday (11-12-2019) exposed a regional funding war. 

The project’s leadership, Brian Kelly (CEO) and Board Chair Lenny Mendonca, are pushing the present “spend all existing funds in the Central Valley (CV) agenda”.  Governor Newsom, who “flip/flops” with his position on HSR depending on the season of the year, right now does endorse Kelly’s leadership and the present plans.

However, HSR Board Director Danny Curtin and others and are also now supported by some Democrat Legislators, support an effort to divert some funding (around $5 billion) away from the present plans to spend all funding in the Central Valley. They would rather divert these funds to other projects and regions in Northern and Southern California. 

Kelly strongly defends his position by stating:

“The idea to divert money from what we’re doing now and spend it on regional services, to me, is not consistent with the mission of high-speed rail. That’s my opinion.”

But what is the mission of the High Speed Rail Authority?

Actually one clear mission of the  HSR Authority, as stated in the 2008 Prop 1A bond measure, is to connect Northern and Southern California on a high speed train, taking no longer than 2 hours and 40 minutes between San Francisco (Trans Bay Terminal, not 4th and King), and Los Angeles, with a one-seat train trip.

The present plan, directs all existing funds to the CV, and certainly fails to accomplish that goal in the foreseeable future; not being mentioned is the over $50 billion short fall in existing funds as mentioned by the State Auditor, to fulfill that goal. 

The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) certainly no longer believes this will be accomplished and has cancelled $929 million in previously obligated funding for the project. The FRA has also announced its intention to attempt a “claw-back” of $2.5 billions in Federal ARRA funding, which has already been spent on the project. 

Kelly’s agenda, which would start operation on the segment from Merced to Bakersfield, by his own admission, requires an operating subsidy; this is a clear violation of Prop 1A which allows for no operating subsidy for the train, which was a prime selling point back in 2008, inducing the voters to pass the Prop 1A bond measure.

Kelly tries to make the case that future federal funding and private investment will appear as soon as the present plan is completed.

Elaine Chao, Federal Secretary of the Department of Transportation, has called Kelly’s plan, a “bait and switch”.  In addition the Federal Transportation Inspector General is conducting an audit of the Authority, which is due to be reported in this winter quarter.

Rarely has any dissention among HSR Board Members become public. The most notable was probably Director Lynn Schenk in March 2013, failing to endorse the “blended plan” for the project because she didn’t believe it was truly High Speed Rail. 

At the hearing, Director Curtin with back-up from Assembly Woman Laura Friedman (see Fresno Bee Article of 11/13/2019) stated powerful arguments that better and much sooner results would happen by diverting some funding to solving regional problems.

It should really be noted, that Kelly has “slow-rolled” the original dissent, which was initiated when the board approved, a Side-by-Side study which was to examine the possibilities of diverting funds at the May Board meeting. The study was to be completed within 60 days. Kelly pushed off the time line for the study and appointed the Early Train Operator (ETO) to perform the study. The ETO is hardly un-biased, since they are on a fast track to be awarded lucrative contracts for CV work. The study is now months over due, and released thus far is only a qualitative, biased study, with a full report delayed to be delivered sometime next year.

Where all of this will lead is, at this time, not known.  The Legislature will be asked to approve sometime, probably early next year, the appropriation of the remainder of the un-allocated Prop 1A funds (about $4 billion).  Will the Governor and CV advocates succeed in getting all of these funds directed to the CV or will other regional interests prevail and have these funds directed their way?

In either scenario, the voters of California have been defrauded! Kelly’s agenda, which would start operation on the segment from Merced to Bakersfield, would result in having spent over $20 billion and having constructed only an isolated High Speed Rail segment, which certainly does almost nothing to connect North California and Southern California.  

Back in 2008, the whole 800 mile project stretching from Sacramento to San Diego was estimated to cost $45 billion. (There is no current cost estimate for the full build)

Back in 2008 the SF to Los Angeles build was to cost $33 billion and would be completed in 2020. (The current estimate now is $80 to $100 billion)

Back in 2008 the promise was the train would run on grade separated, dedicated HSR tracks and not interfere with local auto traffic.

Back in 2008 the voters were promised that passing the Prop 1A almost $10 billion bond measure, would be all the funding from California voters ever required. Remaining funding was promised to come from private investment (none existent to this date) and Federal matching funds. 

It is no wonder the project has lost its appeal to so many California residents.

Morris Brown is founder of DERAIL, a grassroots effort against the California high-speed rail Project.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Legislative Report Card Promotes Truth to Protect Taxpayers

In football, defensive coaches tell their players that the best way to avoid missing a tackle is to keep their eye on the ball carrier’s belly button.

The runner may duck, weave, or spin but the belly button is always at the center.

This is a fitting metaphor for the annual Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association legislative scorecard.

Politicians will try all the dance moves they know in an effort to get to the tax-and-spend end zone, but report cards like ours hold them accountable to the people who matter most: the taxpayers who elected them.

In 2019, many taxes were stopped short of the goal line.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 would have lowered the two-thirds vote for bonds and parcel taxes to 55 percent and thus fundamentally altered Proposition 13 in the process.

Had it been approved, it would have resulted in billions of dollars of additional property tax increases, above and beyond the one percent cap established by Proposition 13.

Thankfully, it fell ten votes short of passage and was therefore defeated.

Other taxes that were tackled in the 2019 session included taxes on handguns and ammunition, water, soda, a sales tax on services, and a severance tax on oil, taxing it as it comes out of the ground.

However, victories in the Capitol are always short-lived.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Gov. Newsom Pressured to Fix Education Funding for English Learners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

The High Cost of California Environmentalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resentment Toward the Golden State Diaspora Grows in Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published by City Journal Online

AG Becerra’s Facebook Probe Watched Closely by Tech Firms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probe seen as foreshadowing new state online privacy law

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

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

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

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

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

Lawmakers passed on making any changes.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Saving California From Wildfires Requires Cooperation With Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revise environmental regulations that inhibit active forest management:

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

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

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

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

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

Change the rules and conditions governing timber exports

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

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

Facilitate investment in the timber and biomass industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical solutions need to replace verbal jousting and climate fearmongering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Why Raise Property Taxes When Revenues Are Way Up?

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

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

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

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

To read the entire column, please click here.