Categoria: Guest Commentary

Senate Bill 44 By Sen. Tom Umberg Will Put More People At Risk Of Overdosing From Fentanyl

My son Ben was 20 years old and studying film when he died of a preventable drug overdose. Ben, who was first exposed to opioids through prescription pain pills following a skateboarding accident when he was a teenager, had struggled with an opioid use disorder for two years and had spent less than two months at an in-patient treatment facility when he walked out of the facility against clinical advice. The next day, he overdosed and was put on life support before dying a week later.

At first, I was filled with anger over Ben’s death. He was with three friends when he overdosed, and none of them called for help. Ben didn’t have to die.

Today, I still believe that Ben didn’t have to die, but I also recognize that it wasn’t heroin that ultimately caused my son’s death, it was fear of incarceration — the very threat that a new bill by Orange County state Sen. Tom Umberg promises to levy against more people.

Initially, our son’s death was investigated as a homicide, due to the circumstances surrounding his overdose. However, on completion of the post-mortem, I was informed by law enforcement that Ben’s death was an accident. I was told that my son had made a choice that night; he was not forced to take heroin against his will. Ben purchased an illicit substance, allowed a third party to inject him with it, and consequently suffered a fatal overdose. It was a tragic accident, but it was not murder.

Related: Harsher penalties for fentanyl won’t save lives

It is true that his friends made a series of poor choices that night, but it was never their intent to kill our son. When he overdosed, Ben was three minutes from a fire station and just a mile from our home in Rancho Santa Margarita. Instead of calling 911, his friends removed our son’s body from the car along with any evidence that could place Ben there.

“How could they do this,” I asked? Now I know that they did it out of fear.

One of the people Ben was with was in a drug diversion program and was afraid of calling 911 and being sent back to jail. If it is passed, Sen. Umberg’s Senate Bill 44 would undoubtedly put more people in this situation and lead to more unnecessary overdose deaths.

According to Sen. Umberg’s office, SB 44 offers an approach “that first warns and then punishes” people for murder who sell fentanyl if it results in someone’s death. But the bill ignores all the science related to substance use. People who are suffering from substance use disorders buy drugs together, sell to one another, and if someone dies, it is not intentional. It is not murder.

To threaten more people with murder convictions will convince people who use drugs and who witness an overdose that they are not safe to call 911, just as happened with my son.

I urge California lawmakers to reject this proposal.

Increasing access to the opioid antidote naloxone is the most practical and proven solution to reduce opioid-related deaths. Doing so will ensure that we can keep people alive until they’re ready to get help and get well.

Had the three people who were with Ben at the time of his overdose not been afraid of calling 911 or had they carried naloxone, Ben might still be here today.

Aimee Dunkle is the executive director of the Solace Foundation of Orange County, a nonprofit that has distributed 46,000 doses of naloxone and recorded over 2,500 overdose reversals in Orange County. Aimee also serves on the board of Broken No More, an organization formed by families and friends who have lost a loved one to overdose. 

Third Time Possibly The Charm For Newsom’s Campaign To Limit Oil Profits

Will the third time be the charm for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s crusade against California gasoline refiners for what he alleges have been unjustified price spikes in recent months?

This week, Newsom announced that he and legislative leaders have reached a deal on giving the California Energy Commission – whose members he appoints – power to monitor how oil companies transform crude oil into fuel, set limits on gross refinery profits and impose civil penalties for exceeding them.

“Together with the Legislature, we’re going to hold Big Oil accountable for ripping off Californians at the pump,” Newsom said in a statement. “Today’s agreement represents a major milestone in our efforts to drive the oil industry out of the shadows and ensure they play by the rules.”

The latest incarnation of Newsom’s drive to penalize refiners for price gouging was amended into a measure, Senate Bill X1-2, in a special legislative session that he had called to deal with the issue. He and legislative leaders plan to fast-track the bill, with the goal of placing it on his desk before the Legislature takes its spring break early next month.

The ambitious enactment is clearly aimed at giving the oil industry as little time as possible to lobby legislators. Its leaders, and business groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce, have labeled the proposed penalties as an indirect tax that will inevitably passed on to consumers.

The industry has been fairly successful in staving off efforts by politicians to regulate its operations. Last year, Newsom and the Legislature placed restrictions on oil wells near schools and homes but they are on hold because the industry has qualified a referendum to overturn the law for the 2024 ballot.

The oil industry, through the Western States Petroleum Association, is the largest single spender on lobbying the Legislature, exhausting $7.3 million in 2022. The association is also a major campaign contributor, and in alliance with unions representing field and refinery workers, has gained a significant toehold among the Legislature’s dominant Democrats.

That clout effectively torpedoed Newsom’s original plan to place hefty taxes on refinery profits deemed to be excessive. New taxes would require two-thirds votes in both legislative houses, leading Newsom to shift to civil penalties, which would be stated in law and require only simple majority legislative votes.

When the issue was explored in a legislative hearing, however, expert witnesses, including those not affiliated with the oil industry, cast doubt on the state’s ability to determine when pump prices had become price gouging. Legislators were obviously uncomfortable with casting votes to penalize something that could not be precisely defined.

Newsom’s third try is the deal he made this week with legislative leaders to dump the whole thing on the Energy Commission. The commission would be empowered to extract detailed financial information from refiners and set limits on gross profits and impose fines for exceeding them. Shifting the onus to an unelected state agency gives legislators some political cover and thus makes it easier to gain enough votes for passage.

Were the revised legislation to quickly gain legislative approval and be signed by Newsom, the special session he called could then be adjourned, and the new law would take effect 90 days later.

The 90-day window, however, would give the oil industry an opportunity to do what it did on last year’s oil well siting measure and take the issue to voters. It could quickly qualify a referendum that would suspend the new law until voters had the last word.

Given the immense financial stakes, there’s every reason to believe that the oil industry would take the opportunity.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to Commentary.

With First Veto, President Biden Fails To Learn From California

President Biden issued his first veto this week, rejecting a bipartisan resolution from Congress that protected pensions from politicized investment strategies like Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). As many Californians have learned over the years, pension funds that utilize similar strategies can be a recipe for disaster.

The president defended the veto, saying the resolution would, “put at risk the retirement savings of individuals across the country.” But his claim falls flat. New research from Mike Edleson and Andy Puzder found that ESG investing yields lower returns than investing without political constraints. Additionally, researchers at Boston College found that ESG has failed to achieve its stated social goals.

Last year, a fossil fuel divestment bill threatened the solvency of public pensions in California. That divestment bill would have continued the over 20-year practice of sacrificing retirees’ returns in pursuit of a political agenda. Fortunately, the bill was halted for the 2022 legislative session.

Now, Senate Bill 252 threatens to divest the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) from fossil fuels and prohibit any new investments in fossil fuel companies.

This bill comes as a growing number of states are pushing back against the Left’s radicalized ESG agenda. Most recently, a coalition of 18 governors led by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is calling out politically motivated investing as a threat to the retirement security of millions of Americans.

Although SB 252 is the Golden State’s most recent divestment bill, CalPERS and CalSTRS have been allowing politics to dictate investments for the past 20 years. In that time, these funds have divested from tobacco and firearms, for example, and restricted plan managers’ ability to invest in fossil fuels.

When lawmakers are allowed to use retirement funds for their own political activism, investment returns suffer, and unfunded liabilities grow at a faster pace. This higher volatility means taxpayers must pay more in pension contributions when investment returns fall short of assumed returns.

Those pension contributions are no small fee. CalPERS is the largest pension system in the country by both total assets and members, with $508.6 billion in assets and over 2 million members. CalSTRS is the nation’s second largest pension system in terms of total assets and the sixth largest membership with $310.3 billion in assets and nearly 800,000 members.

Unfunded pension liabilities are some of the biggest budgetary problems for the state. The annual report, Unaccountable and Unaffordable, from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) revealed that California’s has greater unfunded liabilities across its state pension plans than any other state – more than $1.5 trillion according to the authors’ calculations. The nationwide total for all 50 states is $8.2 trillion.

In order to course correct, lawmakers in Sacramento should examine the latest ALEC model policy, the State Government Employee Retirement Protection Act, to serve as a guide for strengthening fiduciary rules to protect pensioners from politically driven investment strategies.

States where Californians are fleeing to, such as Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Utah, are all considering bills that protect public pensions and state funds from politically motivated investing. It’s time for Sacramento to ask, “What can we learn from them?”

Lee Schalk is vice president of policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Thomas Savidge is research director for the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform.

Wasteful Spending Is All Too Common With COVID

As it did with citizens throughout America, the pandemic caused massive disruption to the lives of virtually every Californian.

Tens of thousands lost their lives, many now have long-term health problems, and countless others lost their jobs or businesses. Moreover, the disastrous handling of the pandemic for school-aged children will likely leave a scar on an entire generation that may never heal.

Related: California’s students suffer learning loss

More unique to California, however, is the extent of government waste associated with the pandemic. Outright fraud, mismanagement, opportunistic consultants, ineffective media campaigns, and simple incompetence put California way ahead of all other states in felony-level stupidity with the spending of taxpayer dollars.

Because this is a column, not a book, we can only review a few of the most egregious examples.

Of course, the big Kahuna is the jaw-dropping amount of fraud in the Employment Development Department (EDD). Originally thought to be “only” $11 billion in “improper” payments, we now know that the fraud exceeded $31 billion. To put that in perspective, that is 10% of the entire budget for the state of California. More insulting is where the money went. Transnational organized criminal groups from China and Africa have made off with billions of dollars, with who knows how much of it used for child trafficking, drugs, and terrorism.

Related: Unemployment insurance rip-offs: stop them!

A close second, the waste and incompetence of California’s public education establishment probably engendered more anger, especially among parents, than even the EDD debacle. Taxpayers were obligated to continue paying their full taxes as though our public schools were fully open with students attending in person. The public employee unions were running the show during the pandemic, and that was bad news for both taxpayers and students.

According to a report last July, California school districts had spent $40 billion in COVID-related funds, but very little went to addressing learning loss. That may be due in part to the failure of the federal government to specify with more particularity how the money should be spent. According to EdSource, “Most districts appear to have listed most of the money they spent in [an] all-but-the-kitchen-sink category, which could include raises and bonuses to retain staff.” Finally, there remain billions more in unspent funds at the same time public school enrollment has plummeted in the state.

Not all of the waste was the result of fraud or negligence but rather a simple miscalculation of the severity of the pandemic.

One example of COVID spending “overkill,” was the conversion of Sacramento’s professional basketball facility, then called Sleep Train Arena, into a COVID hospital in April 2020. According to the L.A. Times, the conversion cost millions of dollars and yet only nine patients were treated there.

Far less justifiable than an arguably good-faith response by sending a massive hospital ship to L.A. “just in case,” was Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to spend almost $1 billion in taxpayer funds to purchase masks from a sketchy Chinese company known for building electric cars. Two years after the fact, there remain many unanswered questions.

Related: So, what did we learn from three years of COVID in California?

Finally, California had a golden opportunity to use some of the billions in federal COVID relief to pay down its debt to the federal Unemployment Insurance Fund. That is precisely what virtually all other states did. But California’s failure means much higher costs to the state’s business community.

Taxpayers would like to hope that government agencies learned much from the pandemic. So far, there’s no indication of it.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

How Can California Help At-Risk Students Close Achievement Gaps?

When Jerry Brown returned to the governorship of California in 2011, after a 28-year absence, he proposed a major overhaul in financing public schools.

For many decades, school finance was quite simple. Local school boards would decide how much money they needed each year and adjust property tax rates to generate the revenue.

The state was at most a peripheral player, allocating money to somewhat equalize per-pupil spending in response to a series of state Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s.

Everything changed in 1978, a year in which Brown was seeking his second term as governor, when voters passed the iconic Proposition 13 property tax limit.

School districts and other units of local government, such as cities and counties, could no longer adjust property tax rates and overall property tax revenue took a nosedive.

The state responded by assuming the basic responsibility for financing schools, largely on a per-pupil basis. In 1988, at the behest of the California Teachers Association and other education groups, voters passed another measure, Proposition 98, to give schools a guaranteed share of state revenues.

That’s the system that Brown inherited when he became governor for a second time and he advocated a long-discussed reform dubbed “weighted funding formula.” Rather than providing funds on a per-pupil basis, the system would allocate extra money for students, mostly poor and non-white, who were struggling to reach academic achievement standards.

Declaring that “equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice,” Brown persuaded the Legislature in 2013 to pass the “Local Control Funding Formula” or LCFF, a complex system for school systems with large numbers of “at-risk” students to qualify for extra funds.

LCFF had – and still has – some basic flaws.

It assumed that local school officials would spend the money effectively on the targeted students with just cursory state oversight. Brown, a one-time seminary student, called it “subsidiarity,” drawing the phrase from a tenet of Catholic social doctrine.

That flaw is compounded by another – providing extra funds to districts, rather than to individual schools with large numbers of at-risk kids, diluted their potential impact.

In practice, subsidiarity has been just a political dodge, allowing Brown and other political figures to wash their hands of any accountability for outcomes that have been mediocre at best. Lawsuits by civil rights groups have been the only real oversight of how schools have spent billions of LCFF dollars.

That’s the system that Gavin Newsom inherited when he succeeded Brown in 2019. In his proposed 2023-24 budget, Newsom wants to tweak it in hopes of making it more effective.

Newsom would allocate an additional $300 million to schools with the highest levels of poverty, dubbed an “equity multiplier,” while sidestepping a demand from Black legislators for extra funds specifically for Black students, who as a group have the lowest educational outcomes.

The Legislature’s Black Caucus is unhappy with Newsom’s approach, which also includes more assistance to school districts that are failing to meet achievement standards. The Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabe Patek, is also highly skeptical, albeit for different reasons.

Patek’s office, in a recent report, points to LCFF’s structural flaws and its lack of tangible improvements for at-risk students and declares that providing another $300 million is less important than “increasing transparency to ensure existing funding actually targets the highest‑need schools and student subgroups.”

There’s an old saying about throwing good money after bad that is applicable to the LCFF quandary. It will never succeed in closing the achievement gap until there is more direct accountability for using its money for the intended purposes and actually improving outcomes.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to Commentary.

Will New California Law Curb Pay-To-Play In Local Governments?

A wave of corruption scandals has washed over California’s local governments in recent years, particularly in Southern California.

Bribery and self-dealing is so common among small cities in Los Angeles County that the speaker of the state Assembly, Anthony Rendon, has described the area he represents as a “corridor of corruption.”

Last month, Jose Huizar, a member of the Los Angeles City Council for 15 years, pleaded guilty to federal charges of racketeering and tax evasion for extorting at least $1.5 million in bribes from developers of real estate projects.

This week, another former Los Angeles councilman, Mark Ridley-Thomas, went on trial in federal court for allegedly, as a county supervisor, routing contracts to the University of Southern California in return for benefits for his son, former assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, including a $100,000 grant to the son’s nonprofit corporation.

Out-and-out bribery violates both state and federal law and quite a few local officials, both elected and appointed, and some state legislators have been prosecuted.

Just below blatant tit-for-tat bribery, legally speaking, is another layer known colloquially as “pay-to-play.” Those seeking beneficial acts from political figures, such as trash hauling contracts or development permits, understand that they need to make campaign contributions to increase their chances of success.

In the 1980s, the Legislature enacted laws to curb campaign contributions to elected officials who sit on state boards. They were inspired by allegations that local government officials sitting on the California Coastal Commission were being showered with campaign money from property developers.

Last year, state Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat who once was the city’s mayor, carried a bill to expand the 1980s laws to local governments. Senate Bill 1439 was backed by political reform groups and sailed through the Legislature without a single negative vote or formal opposition.

The new law went into effect on Jan. 1, essentially prohibiting contributions of more than $250 to any local elected official from anyone seeking contracts, permits or licenses from the board or council on which the official serves. It would be retroactive, requiring the official who received such contributions in the past to give the money back.

Last month, a coalition of business groups and a few elected officials sued to overturn the law, saying it “is overbroad and violates the constitutional rights of thousands of contributors and local elected officials.”

“We have become numb to the legal corruption that has enveloped our democracy,” Glazer said this week in response. “Pay-to-play is antithetical to an honest and ethical government, and it should be rooted out and killed like a cancer that has affected the body politic.”

While the situation Glazer seeks to address is a real one, his new law could ensnare an official who innocently accepted a campaign contribution, and perhaps spent it to get elected, only to learn months later that his vote would affect a contributor.

That said, one obvious flaw is that it applies to a very narrow set of official acts. It would not, for example, affect a local government’s contract with its workers’ union, due to specific exemption in the original 1980s laws. Yet, unions are among the most active favor-seeking interest groups.

Also, the law would not apply to legislators or other state-level politicians, including the governor. They rake in immense amounts of campaign money from interest groups seeking to affect their decisions but, unlike local officials, are not required to avoid votes on issues affecting their contributors, including state employee unions.

If the law is good for the local goose, it should also be good for the state gander.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to Commentary.

Who Will Succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein?

With the news that long-time Sen. Dianne Feinstein is retiring after next year, a number of the Democratic Party’s most well-known Californians are jumping into the 2024 race for her coveted United States Senate seat. Thus far, Democratic representatives Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff have announced their bids, while Rep. Ro Khanna has indicated his openness to running.

Ultimately, Schiff stands out as the clear early favorite to win the seat, despite having only a slight edge in the current polls. His 22-year-long record in the U.S. House has earned him a place in the Democratic establishment, allowing him to garner prominent endorsements and fundraising right out of the gate. These factors, taken together with his politically moderate messaging, distinguish him from his two competitors, and make it likely that his support levels will grow as the campaign progresses.

Currently, Schiff is polling in first place with 22% support, per a recent survey by the Los Angeles Times, though roughly one-half of the electorate is undecided. Porter is trails Schiff in a close second place with 20%, while Lee ranks in a distant third place with 6%.

Schiff has already gained a number of crucial endorsements, including from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 20 members of California’s Congressional delegation and several members of the California Legislature. He is a nationally recognized politician who led the first impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump and then played an integral role in the Select Committee’s investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Related: Why Adam Schiff won’t be California’s next senator

Moreover, Schiff is a prolific fundraiser, and had over $20 million cash on hand before even announcing his Senate candidacy. His district encompasses a number of wealthy Los Angeles County neighborhoods, from west Pasadena into Los Feliz and Hollywood, and with Pelosi’s support, Schiff can win over the San Francisco and Northern California donor base as well, making it likely he maintains a cash advantage for the entirety of the race.

Meanwhile, Porter, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who represents parts of Orange County, has earned the endorsement of her mentor and prominent progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. For her part, Porter is a strong fundraiser, having raised a considerable sum of $25 million during the 2022 election cycle (although she spent most of it to win her highly contested midterm campaign). She also raised over $1 million on the day her Senate candidacy was announced.

However, Porter has no presence in Northern California and also vastly underperformed in the midterm elections this year. Porter won the newl -drawn 47th district by less than 4 percentage points in 2022, yet Biden won the area by 11 points in the 2020 presidential election just two years earlier.

Porter has also times has shown a lack of political deftness — including recently, when she was ripped by fellow Democrats for launching her Senate run while California was in the midst of a bout of deadly storms. The congresswoman is also known for engaging in performative politics, which could turn off voters: at Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing, Porter wore a Halloween “Batgirl” costume on the House floor, and during this year’s vote for House Speaker, she was seen reading a book titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.”

Related: Katie Porter should drop out and endorse Barbara Lee

As for Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists in 2001, she has had a successful career as a House progressive addressing hot-button issues like abortion rights and gun control. That said, she is older at the age of 76, and has a major cash disadvantage, with just $54,940 in her campaign account.

In addition to having an edge over his opponents on fundraising and endorsements, Schiff’s messaging sets him apart. He is positioning himself as a moderate Democrat who will work for the middle class to reduce the cost of living and healthcare prices, while also still prioritizing core Democratic issues like climate change and protecting democratic norms.

In a state where taxes and energy costs are astronomically high, which has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to lower tax states, Schiff’s kitchen-table message is likely to resonate far more than the progressive vision his opponents, particularly Porter, are articulating.

Indeed, there has been a tidal wave over the last two years of California voters — even in the most liberal cities — rejecting progressive positions, especially on the issues of crime and homelessness, as both problems are rampant in major cities across the state.

Last year, the progressive district attorney of San Francisco, Chesa Boudin, who supported eliminating cash bail and released recidivist suspects, was removed from office by voters in a recall election. Los Angeles’ progressive D.A. George Gascón has also repeatedly come under fire for adopting similar positions, and a recent recall petition against him just barely fell short of the required signatures needed for removal.

It’s important to recall that California’s general election candidates are chosen by a nonpartisan “blanket primary” where the top-two vote getters — regardless of political party — advance to the general election. At this point, it does not seem likely that a prominent Republican candidate will jump into the race, which will ultimately allow Schiff to consolidate his support against Lee and Porter, who will likely split the progressive vote in the primary.

Although the race is still in its infancy, the California electorate’s shift back to the middle on key issues, taken together with Adam Schiff’s national prominence, top-tier endorsements and fundraising capabilities make him the prohibitive favorite to be the state’s next U.S. senator.

Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

Huntington Beach’s NIMBY Temper Tantrum

California is in the throes of a crippling housing shortage that has driven up the cost of living, exacerbated the homelessness crisis, and forced many hundreds of thousands of families to either leave the state.

In response, state policymakers have spent the past few years beefing up housing law to make sure that every municipality allows its fair share. The idea is simple: every eight years, municipalities should take stock of regional housing needs, identify unnecessary regulatory barriers standing in the way of new development, and make a plan to allow additional housing to be built. If every city permits at least a little housing, the thinking goes, the Golden State could get itself back on a path to affordability.

Most California municipalities, including many in Orange County, have met their obligations, adopting local plans that will make it easier for developers to build housing at all income levels. Many municipalities, like Santa Monica, have begrudgingly compiled after much squirming. Some have negligently fallen out of compliance. But only one municipality has openly committed to breaking the law: Huntington Beach.

On March 7, the Hunting Beach City Council moved to formally ignore state housing law in a 4-3 vote, following multiple warnings from Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Department of Housing and Community Development that doing so would put the city at significant legal risk. The vote follows on the heels of City Attorney Michael Gates announcing a lawsuit against state housing law—a quixotic endeavor that was rejected by the last city council.

But Huntington Beach’s new NIMBY regime isn’t content to stop there. In late February, the council aimlessly instructed Gates to take “any legal action necessary” fighting a slew of recent bills that have removed barriers to housing production across California. Targets include SB 9, which legalized duplexes statewide, as well as SB 10, which granted local governments relief from the state’s onerous environmental review mandates. A representative of the Attorney General’s office didn’t mince words on the proposed lawsuit: “[it] not only misguided, it is unlawful.”

Also in their sights are accessory dwelling units (ADUs), those humble apartments that often share a lot with a single-family home. Since 2016, state law has protected the right of homeowners to fashion ADUs out of unused basements, attics, and garages, often to house aging parents or young adult children. Last year, ADUs made up over a third of the new homes permitted in Huntington Beach. But in the same resolution declaring war on pro-housing state legislation, the council illegally directed local planners to stop issuing ADU permits protected under state law.

State housing law is clear—it’s not a matter of if the Huntington Beach NIMBY putsch will fail, but when. While out of compliance, Huntington Beach is ineligible for millions of dollars in state funds, and at risk of innumerable lawsuits from housing rights organizations and developers. A lawsuit by the Attorney General’s office now seems inevitable, and when the city loses, it could lose its power to regulate new development and be liable for fines of up to $100,000 per month of non-compliance. Many local planning powers could soon fall into court receivership.

And for what? All Huntington Beach had to do was come up with a plan to allow a two percent annual increase in the housing stock over the next eight years—a typical growth rate in affordable cities. The city could easily have achieved this by allowing an inoffensive mix of ADUs and fourplexes, along with the occasional five-over-one apartment building in place of dying strip malls. Instead, Huntington Beach could soon be legally obliged to allow anything and everything a developer proposes.

The city seems intent on its present course. But with any luck, Huntington Beach’s temper tantrum is the dying whimper of the broken system that has made California so hostile to working- and middle-class families.

M. Nolan Gray is the research director for California YIMBY and the author of Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It.

Is Biden Pick Julie Su Suited To Be U.S. Labor Secretary?

Julie Su, President Biden’s nominee for secretary of labor, is “a tested and experienced leader,” claims a February 28 statement from the White House. It contained no word about Su’s experience leading California’s Employment Development Department (EDD), which handles unemployment claims.

On Su’s watch the EDD sent more than $31 billion in unemployment claims to prison inmates in California, out of state, and even out of the country. Su confirmed that in 2020 alone, fraudsters stole at least $11.4 billion in California unemployment benefits. As it happens, fraud was not a new problem at EDD.

Related: Eric Garcetti and Julie Su are terrible picks by Joe Biden

California’s state auditor reported that “EDD had no comprehensive plan for how it would respond if California experienced a recession and UI [unemployment insurance] claims increased accordingly.” In the early days of the pandemic, Su suspended eligibility requirements for EDD claims.

After more than $11 billion in confirmed fraud, with the possibility of $20 million more, Su told reporters, “There is no sugar coating the reality, California did not have sufficient security measures in place to prevent this level of fraud.” Su did not explain her own responsibility for the failure, which came on a massive scale.

The state approved more than $140 million for at least 20,000 prisoners. Convicts who made fraudulent claims included convicted murderers Scott Peterson and Cary Stayner. Death-row inmates – murderers, rapists, and child molesters among them – accounted for at least 158 claims landing more than $420,000 in benefits.

Related: Julie Su is Joe Biden’s latest problem child

In some cases inmates used their real names while others used fake names and fake Social Security numbers. One inmate filed a claim under the name “poopy britches.” The criminals marveled at how easy it was to get paid. While this massive fraud went on unabated, legitimate claimants waited months to collect the benefits they deserved.

In addition to her mismanagement of EDD, Su served as California labor secretary and supported Assembly Bill 5, a frontal assault on independent workers that cost many Californians their jobs. The Biden administration overlooked these failures and made Julie Su deputy secretary of labor. Her nomination for the top job invites reflection on the administration’s record.

Related: Instead of tinkering with AB 5, just repeal it

Joe Biden’s nominee for comptroller of the currency in the U.S. Treasury Department was Saule Omarova. A native of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, Omarova attended Moscow State University on a Lenin scholarship. Omarova wants the Federal Reserve to control every American’s money, a centralization bid based on the Soviet model.

Omarova also wants to take economic and climate policy away from Congress and create an unaccountable bureaucracy called the National Investment Authority. Based on her record, Sen. Tim Scott could think of nobody “more poorly suited to be the Comptroller of the Currency” than the Moscow State alum.

Californians familiar with Su’s record could be forgiven for believing she is poorly suited to be the federal labor secretary. Joe Biden claims Su is a “tested and experienced leader,” but the nomination seems to have little to do with proven performance for the people and acceptance of responsibility for failure — which is what leadership is all about.

There is no sugarcoating reality. The Senate has plenty to ponder.

Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Oakland, California-based Independent Institute.

U.S. Supreme Court Must Stop Biden’s $400 Billion Transfer Of Wealth

“This bill is simple in its purpose.”

So stated Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who served as a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam, when he introduced the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act on March 25, 2003.

“It extends the specific waiver authority within title IV of the Higher Education Act for the Secretary of Education, and allows him to maintain his commitment to our men and women in uniform by providing assistance and flexibility as they transfer in and out of postsecondary education during a time of national emergency,” said Kline.

“This waiver authority addresses the need to assist students who are being called up to active duty or active service,” Kline said.

“Many times, America’s military are also students,” said Kline. “These heroes deserve the flexibility and accommodations that institutions of higher education can provide as they deploy and return to the classroom.”

When the bill came up for a vote on April 1, 2003, Kline once again emphasized that its purpose was to help men and women who had served their country in the military.

“The HEROES Act provides assurance to our men and women in uniform that they will not face education-related financial or administrative difficulties while they defend our Nation,” he said.

“The HEROES Act,” he said, “achieves this by granting the Secretary of Education the authority to address the specific needs of each student whose education is interrupted when they are called to service.

“This bill is specific in its intent to ensure that as a result of war, military contingency operation, or national emergency our men and women are protected,” Kline said.

“By granting flexibility to the Secretary of Education,” he said, “the HEROES Act will protect recipients of student financial assistance from further financial difficulty generated when they are called to serve, minimize administrative requirements without affecting the integrity of programs, adjust the calculation used to determine financial need to accurately reflect the financial condition of the individual and his or her family, and provide the Secretary with the authority to address issues not yet foreseen.”

This was the “specific” intent of the HEROES Act as described by its primary sponsor, but the actual language of the bill was not specific enough.

It gave the Secretary of Education the power to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs under title IV of the act as the Secretary deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency or to provide the waivers or modifications authorized by paragraph (2).”

Paragraph (2) of the law said the secretary was “authorized to waive or modify any provision described in paragraph (1) as may be necessary to ensure that — (A) recipients of student financial assistance under title IV of the Act who are affected individuals are not placed in a worse position financially in relation to that financial assistance because of their status as affected individuals.”

Flash forward to Aug. 24, 2022. Using the HEROES Act as its justification, President Joe Biden’s Department of Education announced that day that it was cancelling $20,000 in student loan debt for people who had received Pell Grants and $10,000 in student loan debt for non-Pell Grant recipients. This loan forgiveness would apply to individuals earning up to $125,000 per year and households earning up to $250,000.

A month later, the Congressional Budget Office sent a letter to members of Congress offering this analysis of Biden’s action: “CBO estimates that the cost of student loans will increase by about an additional $400 billion in present value as a result of the action canceling up to $10,000 of debt issued on or before June 30, 2022, for borrowers with incomes below specified limits and an additional $10,000 for such borrowers who also received at least one Pell grant.”

The word “cost” here means the amount of money that taxpayers will be charged — or the federal debt will be increased — to cover the loans Biden seeks to forgive.

Several states, including Nebraska, filed suit to stop Biden’s plan. In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued an injunction that halted the loan forgiveness until the Supreme Court could review it. This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Biden’s plan.

In a brief submitted to the court, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar claimed that the “emergency” that justified Biden’s August 2022 student loan forgiveness declaration was the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020.

“(T)he plan,” she said, “reflects the Secretary’s determination that a one-time discharge of a limited measure of debt for a subset of affected borrowers is necessary as the country works to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19.”

What she meant was this: Americans who did not go to college, or who have paid off their student loans, or who paid for their own college educations must now be forced by the government to pay in perpetuity for the student loans voluntarily taken out by others.

They will do this by paying taxes to cover the interest on the debt the government itself incurred when it funded these loans in the first place.

As 17 states, led by Utah, said in a brief to the Supreme Court: “The President is attempting one of the largest wealth transfers in American history.”

The court must stop it.

Terence Jeffrey is editor-in-chief of CNSNews.