Legislative Analyst Reports: California Facing $58 Billion Budget Deficit Over Next Few Years

‘A steady diet isn’t going to do much – we need liposuction to fix this’

According to a new report released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) on Friday, California will likely face a budget deficit of $58 billion over the next few years, with massive spending cuts likely to come because of less than expected tax revenue coming in.

California’s state budget has fluctuated wildly in the past several years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, California saw the largest surpluses in state history, including an unprecedented $31 billion surplus in 2022-2023. However a weakening economy, a massive loss of the state population and companies moving out of state, delayed tax changes and numerous other factors led to a severe deficit the next year. An initial deficit of $25 billion, which was later changed in May to $31.5 billion, rocked the state. While the state managed to continue on with a reduced budget, experts warned that the situation would likely grow worse with continued tax shortcomings.

In a LAO report on Friday, a new projected budget deficit 0f $58 billion over the next few years was announced. According to the report, the biggest factor to blame were delayed state taxes caused by the massive winter storms from the beginning of the year. While California eventually received those taxes, they fell below a whopping $26 billion than expected. Higher borrowing costs and reduced investment in the state also factored in state losses in the years to come.

“This decline is similar to those seen during the Great Recession and dot-com bust,” the report said. “While the slowdown of investment in California companies and corresponding broader economic weakness likely was a primary driver of this decline, another important factor was financial market distress in 2022. Whether the recent weakness will continue is difficult to say. However, the odds do not appear to be in the state’s favor. Past downturns similar to this recent episode have tended to be followed by additional weakness.”

$58 billion projected deficit

Democrats in the state legislature largely brushed off the report on Friday, noting that the state is prepared to deal with budget issues.

“While this latest update to the revenue forecast is not welcome news, California is more prepared than ever to withstand budget challenges and our economy overall is stronger than projected,” said State Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). “We will have a clearer picture of our situation as we approach the budget deadline next June. But with our record reserves and other budgeting tools, we, along with our partners in the Assembly and the Administration, will work through these challenges while protecting middle class taxpayers and our progress on core programs that help all Californians.”

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) was also optimistic, adding that “California is more prepared than ever to navigate this latest challenge, given the state’s record reserves of $37.8 billion. When the next budget is due in June 2024, there will be a more crystallized understanding of our revenues and overall economic landscape.

“I remain committed to working with my Assembly, Senate and administration colleagues on a 2024 budget that protects classroom funding and prioritizes support for core health care, safety net and public safety programs.”

However, Republican and some Democrats countered that the deficit should not be taken lightly and that less spending is needed rather than tapping into the state’s emergency reserves.

“Hopefully, the majority will see it is time for a more realistic budget strategy, instead of throwing money at a laundry list of projects that sounds nice on the national television debate stage,” said Senator Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks).

While the $58 billion figure is by no means definite, past projects by the LAO have been somewhat conservative, indicating that the figure could grow later next year as the situation becomes more clear.

“In 2020 we had a big $54 billion deficit,” explained accountant Lee Greenman, a California-based accountant who helps city and other regional entities fix budget problems, to the Globe on Friday. “We seemed to have forgotten that as there were two good years of surplus afterwards. But then, last year, right back to the deficit. And now, it looks like another few years like that ahead.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

California struggles to knock Trump off the ballot

A Dec. 28 deadline looms.

The window is narrowing to try to knock former President Donald Trump off California’s March 5 primary ballot.

Democrats across the country have launched several long-shot challenges to Trump’s ballot status over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But the deadline for California Secretary of State Shirley Weber to certify which presidential candidates will appear on the ballot is just a month away.

If Weber or the courts don’t act by Dec. 28, attempting to remove Trump could create major logistical challenges as the state prepares voter guides and other materials. Here are two potential scenarios to watch:

Could Weber act alone?

One big question looming over the push to remove Trump from the ballot is the question of who has the authority. Can the top elections officials in each state act unilaterally?

Democratic secretaries of state in pivotal swing states like Arizona and Michigan, have largely been skeptical about trying to exert that authority though. But some of their counterparts have made efforts to remove Trump around the theory that secretaries of states can unilaterally disqualify him on constitutional grounds.

Weber hasn’t taken a definitive stance.

Her office has repeatedly said she is reviewing the issue. “Right now, we’re monitoring the legal cases here and in other states,” Joe Kocurek, Weber’s press secretary, told POLITICO.

California is one of several states where Democrats have attempted to disqualify Trump on the basis that he incited an insurrection when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol nearly three years ago. If Trump prevails and becomes the Republican nominee, Democrats could try again on the November ballot.

Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung previously told POLITICO that the campaign to remove the former president from the ballot was a “political attack” that was “stretching the law beyond recognition.” Any effort to remove Trump here would surely be challenged in court.

All of the efforts could ultimately be moot because of the conservative control of the U.S. Supreme Court.

What about the court route?

Lawsuits have been filed in about a half-dozen states, California included, aiming to force secretaries of state to remove Trump from primary ballots. The Colorado Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an appeal to a lower court ruling on the issue. The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a similar lawsuit this month.

But that might not be the only route: Eleven Democrats in the California Assembly, led by Assemblymember Evan Low, sent state Attorney General Rob Bonta a letter last month urging him to use his authority to seek an expedited state court ruling.

Low said lawmakers are still urging Bonta to act because Trump “continues to be a clear and present danger to free and fair elections in the United States.”

The approach that Low and his co-signers have pitched is unique because Bonta could expedite the court process. As California’s top lawyer, he has automatic standing to proactively ask a court for declaratory relief, a process where a judge can quickly rule on an unresolved legal question.

Lawsuits seeking to knock Trump off the ballot have also been filed in New Mexico and New Hampshire.

Bonta hasn’t publicly responded to the lawmakers’ request. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

Rick Hasen, director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project at UCLA’s School of Law, said that if the issue isn’t resolved by the courts now it could easily come back after the primary.

Click here to read the full article in Politico

Conservative group is suing to block S.F. grants to Black mothers, trans residents

To support some of its neediest families, San Francisco started a program in 2020 to provide $1,000 a month to 150 pregnant Black and Pacific Islander women, and then to their newborn children. Since then, the city and the state have offered similar subsidies to minority artists and to transgender and nonbinary residents, with a priority for non-white recipients.

But the U.S. Supreme Court altered the legal landscape this June when it ruled that affirmative-action programs that allowed colleges to consider an applicant’s race or ethnicity violated the constitutional rights of white and Asian American students. And now a conservative group is claiming similar constitutional violations by San Francisco and the state of California.

The programs funded by San Francisco and the state “unlawfully choose their beneficiaries based on race, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, and sexual orientation,” an organization called the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation argues in a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. “Each of the programs … is currently engaging in precisely the kind of intentional racial discrimination the Constitution forbids.”

The suit seeks court orders barring state and city funding of the challenged programs. It was first reported by the nonprofit KFF Health News.

The Supreme Court ruling had a limited impact in California, whose voters had outlawed affirmative action in state colleges and universities in 1996 and refused to reinstate it in 2020. The ruling went further by banning consideration of applicants’ race at private schools like Stanford and the University of Southern California.

But the outcome of the new lawsuit could signal whether state and local governments have any remaining authority to enact programs that benefit minority groups.

The suit was initially filed in May, in apparent anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling. The only response so far has been a filing from the city attorney’s office denying that any of the city’s programs are illegal or unconstitutional. 

“The challenged actions were undertaken in good faith, were neither arbitrary or capricious, were a proper exercise of discretion and represented a good faith and reasonable construction of the applicable laws,” Deputy City Attorney Kaitlyn Murphy wrote in July.

When San Francisco announced its subsidies for pregnant women, called the Abundant Birth Project, officials said Black families accounted for 4% of all childbirths in the city but for more than 15% of infant deaths and half of all maternal deaths each year. Pacific Islander babies had the second-highest premature birth rate in the city at 10.4%, according to the same records.

The project has been funded by the city and philanthropic donations. According to the lawsuit, similar programs have begun in other Bay Area communities and Los Angeles, and the state had provided $5 million in funding as of last November.

“San Francisco denies that the Abundant Birth Project is unlawful or unconstitutional in any manner,” Alex Barrett-Shorter, spokesperson for City Attorney David Chiu, said in a statement Monday. “We look forward to discussing these matters further in court.”

The state Department of Public Health declined to comment on the case.

Another project challenged in the suit was the Guaranteed Income Plan for Artists, which provided $1,000 a month to participating artists. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the nonprofit that oversees the program, does not limit participants by race or ethnicity — but the suit contended it accomplishes the same thing by asking applicants whether their practice is, in the center’s words, “rooted in a historically marginalized community.”

Yerba Buena and San Francisco Mayor London Breed “largely achieved their intended discriminatory goals,” attorney Bradley Benbrook wrote in the lawsuit. As a result, he said, the grants have been awarded to Native American, Black and LGBTQ artists at rates far above their shares of the city’s population.

But the city attorney’s office said San Francisco no longer funds or takes part in the program and it is run by an independent organization called Creative Communities Coalition for Guaranteed Income.

The city said it has continued funding another target of the lawsuit, a program called Guaranteed Income for Transgender People, or GIFT. It provides $1,200 per month for 18 months to low-income transgender or non-binary residents. The suit said applicants who are non-white or Indigenous are given priority.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Woke California Legislature Getting Even More Ridiculous

California’s elected Democrats are blinded by their cult-like Marxist ideology over any sense of public service to the people, or desire to govern

The Globe just reported Friday
 on California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas’ (D-Hollister) orchestrated a shakeup of the leadership lineup in the California Assembly, following the departure of former Speaker Anthony Rendon.

Rivas named Majority Leader Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) as the replacement to Assemblyman Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles). Her replacement as the former Speaker Pro Tempore is Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg).

The powerful Assembly Appropriations chair Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) was also removed and replaced by a very curious choice – Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). Wicks is the lawmaker who pushed so hard for infanticide legalization in California. Not sure how much that will forward appropriations bills….

The all-important Assembly Budget Committee chairman Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) was replaced with Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills).

What does all of this mean to the average California voter? And really, who are these people we’ve elected to do the people’s business?

Speaker Robert Rivas’ is a classic California melting pot story: Rivas was raised in Paicines, California, where his grandfather was a farmworker at Almaden Vineyards. Rivas and his brother grew up in farmworker housing, cared for by their single mother and beloved grandparents, who emigrated from Mexico in the 1960s in search of the California Dream, his Assembly biography says.

It’s the other items of import Rivas chose to include in his biography that tell us what is important to him:

  • affordable housing
  • workplace health and safety protections
  • created the Golden State Teacher Grant Program
  • the first-in-the-nation COVID-19 Farmworker Relief Package, which included critical efforts related to access to PPE and testing, temporary housing, and health care
  • A long-time champion of the environment
  • led the effort to accelerate the construction of renewable energy
  • ensure the state explores all options to use public lands and oceans to effectively sequester carbon

No surprises there. Rivas is a progressive Democrat.

Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) comes the closest to business friendly in the Democrat leadership. However, while she may have been effective in Winters California as town Mayor, she recently sponsored ACA 13 with the backing of Speaker Rivas – a devious attack on California’s Proposition 13 – the Constitutional Amendment passed by voters in 1978 to protect property owners from outrageous property taxes.

As Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association explains:

“…radical progressives in the California Legislature launched the most brazen sneak attack on California’s iconic Proposition 13 in its 45-year history. Assemblyman Christopher Ward, backed by the new Speaker of the Assembly, Robert Rivas, introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 13 (ACA 13). It would amend the constitution to make it easier to raise taxes, by making it harder to pass citizens’ initiatives that seek to enforce Proposition 13’s two-thirds vote requirement for local special tax increases.

The specific target of ACA 13 is a citizens’ initiative backed both by taxpayer organizations and the business community. The Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act (TPA) has already qualified for the November 2024 ballot, and polling shows it to be popular with voters. The TPA closes several loopholes created by the courts that have allowed special interests to work with local governments to raise taxes with a simple majority vote instead of the two-thirds vote required by Proposition 13.”

Nuff said. You get it. Her bio makes her sound reasonable, but ACA 13 tells us who she really is… and it’s surprising as the co-owner of an 80-acre walnut orchard with her brothers.

As we mentioned, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland, who has never held a real job outside of “championing the rights of women and working families, protecting consumers, and reducing gun violence in our communities,” and her work as “a lifelong community organizer,” is the new chairwoman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The purpose of the Assembly Appropriations Committee:

The committee reviews all bills with any fiscal impact after passage by a policy committee. The committee hears more bills than any committee in the Legislature. In the 2009-10 and 2011-12 sessions combined, the committee heard about 4,600 bills. For contrast, the Business, Professions and Consumer Protection and Public Safety Committees each referred about 400 bills over the course of these two sessions.

The goal of the committee is sound, responsible, affordable fiscal policy.

How comforting that a lifelong community organizer “championing the rights of women and working families, protecting consumers, and reducing gun violence in our communities” is heading the committee responsible for sound, affordable fiscal policy.

And Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), who at least is “an attorney, civic leader, and lawmaker fighting to advance justice and defend California’s most vulnerable residents,” according to his bio, is “a creative thinker with a proven record of bringing together diverse communities.” Whew. I was concerned that we didn’t have any creative thinkers in the new Assembly leadership. But “Jesse is consistently ranked as one of the Legislature’s most committed environmentalists.” Thank goodness, because we will need an Assembly Budget Committee chairman fighting to advance justice and bring his commitment to environmentalism to the committee.

How is Buffy Wicks, career community organizer, going to “center on fiscal implications” in the Assembly Appropriations Committee?

Buffy Wicks, most notably known for authoring and defending Assembly Bill 2223, California’s “infanticide” legislation, which removed all penalties from anyone violating any abortion health and safety standards when performing an abortion on a woman through all nine months of pregnancy. Her barbaric bill was eventually amended to narrow very slightly the meaning of “perinatal death,” but AB 2223 will still prohibit prosecution of a mother or someone assisting her for causing the death of her born or unborn child if the child died because of injuries sustained while in the womb. That would include injuries caused by a botched abortion, illegal drugs such as meth or heroin. The bill also hampers law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute infanticide. Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks said the bill is about “reproductive justice, pregnancy criminalization, reproductive freedom, and pregnancy loss.”

She’s a ghoul.

Jesse Gabriel is a lawyer who from 2008 to 2010, served as legal counsel to then-U.S. Senator Evan Bayh. He went on to join a large law firm and in 2017, filed two lawsuits against the Trump Administration on behalf of illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” under the DACA program.

Jesse Gabriel is now in charge of the Assembly Budget Committee.

The California Assembly has become a clown show. The Democrats in charge don’t even try anymore to pretend that they are responsible for a $330 billion budget, and the committees designated to administer state police for 39 million residents and millions of businesses.

When Governor Jerry Brown was elected in 2011, the state budget was $98 billion and the state’s population was a little over 38 million people. Brown doubled the budget up to $199.3 billion – with no measurable increase in population. Gov. Newsom inherited Brown’s $199.3 billion budget, and has grown it to $330 billion in 5 years – while losing population.

Where is all of that new spending going?

The new leadership choices in the Assembly feel more like Speaker Rivas is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic rather than focusing on any strategic policy planning.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Skelton: Schwarzenegger shows the value of having an upbeat attitude in politics

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to Sacramento recently and reminded us of a beneficial trait he possesses that is sorely lacking in today’s polarized politics: an upbeat attitude.

There’s currently too much bellowing, blaming and belligerence — and hatred — to make democracy work productively the way the republic’s founders intended.

True, it’s easier to be upbeat when you’re super rich and a global celebrity — one who has soared to the top in three competitive ventures: bodybuilding, movies and politics.

Conversely, being upbeat and an eternal optimist throughout life surely is a major reason why Schwarzenegger, 76, rose to the top of the heap, accumulating stardom, wealth and power.

It made him an extraordinarily interesting moderate Republican governor for seven years — not always successful, but constantly trying and bold.

I was reminded of Schwarzenegger’s value to the political world when he came back to the state capital to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his swearing-in as governor on Nov. 17, 2003, having ousted Democrat Gray Davis in a unique recall election.

Right here I’ll admit to a pro-Schwarzenegger bias regarding one matter: his positive, practical relationship with the news media.

That doesn’t mean he was treated gently in the press. Coverage was often hard-hitting. The Times exposed allegations that

he groped women right before the recall election.

As governor, Schwarzenegger was criticized in print

for his fiscal policies, calling Democratic legislators “girlie men” and reducing the manslaughter sentence of a Democratic ally’s son.

But he chose the Sacramento Press Club to host one of two inaugural anniversary celebrations. He did an hourlongQ&A session during a sold-out luncheon. A later evening reception attended by hundreds was organized by alumni of the Schwarzenegger administration.

Asking the Press Club to host a luncheon for him enabled the organization

to sell tickets and raise several thousand dollars

for its scholarship fund to help college journalism students.

That was Schwarzenegger’s pattern as governor. Each January, he would speak to a sold-out Press Club luncheon, pitching his legislative agenda and raising thousands of dollars for journalism scholarships.

But not his successors: Democrats Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom.

Brown appeared only once in eight years. Newsom never has, although he seemingly jumps at every opportunity to appear on national TV. It wouldn’t matter except that he’s denying journalism students thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

“I would not be sitting here today if it weren’t for the press,” Schwarzenegger replied when veteran political writer Carla Marinucci, the luncheon Q&A moderator, asked him how he viewed his news coverage as governor.

What he meant was that whether it was in bodybuilding, movie acting or being governor, if journalists had not informed the public about him, he would not have become a household name. He’d have been like the proverbial giant tree falling in the isolated forest.

“I had a great relationship with the press after I became governor,” he said. “I’m a happy camper.”

Unlike so many politicians, particularly MAGA Republicans, Schwarzenegger did not habitually accuse reporters of prejudicial coverage or spreading “fake news” — even when they took his hide off.

That’s one example of his upbeat, sunny personality, a trait that applied to his governing generally.

“It was the best seven years of my life without any doubt,” he told the Press Club.

But his “anything’s possible” belief led to both good and bad decisions.

“I loved — I mean loved — challenges,” he told the luncheon crowd. “And I love when people would say, ‘This can’t be done. … It will be impossible. …’

“The more they said those things the more excited I got because I love danger. I hate a boring life, which I call ‘existing.’ I love living fully with the dangers and the failures and the successes.”

Schwarzenegger wouldn’t listen to people he called “naysayers.”

OK, that can be admirable but it’s a dangerous two-edged sword. The naysayers were usually experienced political and government hands trying to give the novice practical advice.

Sage advice such as don’t call a special election to push a package of wide-ranging so-called reforms that had weak support. The governor did anyway in 2005 and was uncharacteristically humiliated when voters rejected his measures in a landslide.

“I got the message,” Schwarzenegger said afterward.

The governor got it so well that the next year he promoted $37 billion in infrastructure bonds that voters readily approved.

Schwarzenegger’s persistence gained voter approval of a vital political reform: ending the Legislature’s gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts.

But the optimist often over-promised and couldn’t deliver, as when he vowed to “tear up the credit cards,” “end the crazy deficit spending” and “live within our means.” It was a pleasant dream.

Schwarzenegger was self-confident enough that he didn’t bow to his party’s base, unlike most politicians. Hollywood’s action hero famously spoke the truth to a Republican state convention in 2007, admonishing that “we are dying at the box office. We are not filling the seats.”

He warned that the GOP could win in California only by “expanding into the center, not falling back upon ourselves into a smaller and smaller corner.”

The GOP regarded Schwarzenegger as a heretic naysayer and retreated into a much smaller corner.

Now “we need new blood” in political leadership, he told the Press Club. “New energy, a new way of looking at [problems].” He cited Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Ronald Reagan as the “fresh blood” of their eras.

But Schwarzenegger insisted he wasn’t criticizing President Biden.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California needs more housing — especially in the suburbs

We know that California has a housing shortage. Back in 2017, a team of UCLA economists estimated that the state would need to build at least three million new homes to close the gap — a gap that has widened over the past half-decade. Notwithstanding Governor Gavin Newsom’s campaign promise to produce 3.5 million new homes by 2025, permitting data suggests that housing construction in the Golden State has flatlined.

We also know that not every part of California is underbuilding at the same rate. In a new report, “Housing Underproduction in California 2023,” California YIMBY teamed up with MapCraft Labs to understand what parts of California are building their fair share — and what parts of the state are blocking housing.

Imagine California didn’t have the current thicket of regulations blocking housing. Toss out arbitrary zoning restrictions and onerous environmental review mandates — where would we expect housing to be built, based on market indicators? To put it another way, how much housing would we expect developers to build in any given city and county if we got the regulations driving the shortage out of the way?

After calculating market-feasible housing capacity for every city and county in the state, we compared it to permitting rates over the past five years to calculate a “conversion rate.” A high conversion rate means that a jurisdiction is letting the market work, while low conversion rate suggests that the jurisdiction is throwing up artificial barriers to new housing construction — potentially through restrictive land-use rules, high impact fees, or unreliable permitting.

What did we find? The data suggests that suburbs across Southern California and the Bay Area — especially in affluent coastal areas — are vastly underbuilding. For all the focus on high profile housing fights in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, suburbs across California deserve more of the blame for the state’s housing shortage.

Up in the Bay Area, it’s the usual suspects: as you might expect, places like Napa County and Marin County build little housing, despite explosive demand. Pricey suburbs like Larkspur, Hillsborough, and Orinda likewise rank among the worst offenders, in terms of not allowing housing that might otherwise have been built.

Here in metropolitan Los Angeles, it isn’t so much the counties that are driving the shortage, but the suburbs.

This is especially true of cities along the Los Angeles County-Orange County border, including Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, and La Palma. While they rarely make national headlines, these cities combine high demand for housing with large residential lots and underbuilt commercial corridors well-suited to infill redevelopment — and yet, these communities, like so many other California suburbs, build virtually no new housing.

Further down the coast, newer suburbs like Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, and Rancho Santa Margarita likewise had some of the worst conversion rates in the state. It isn’t hard to see why: Rancho Santa Margarita, for example, hasn’t permitted a single apartment to be built in over a decade. Many of these jurisdictions also permit few accessory dwelling units (ADUs) relative to peers across the region.

This coastal housing crunch has forced hundreds of thousands of California families to move in search of affordable housing — if not out of the state altogether, at least to places like the Central Valley. If there’s a silver lining to our findings, it’s that these receiving jurisdictions are rising to the occasion: Bakersfield, Modesto, and Stockton are building housing at over 100 times the statewide rate, picking up the slack where coastal cities have failed.

But they can’t do it alone. There is simply no way California is going to create the next generation of homeowners or roll back our mounting homelessness crisis unless every part of the state builds its fair share — especially our high-cost coastal areas. As our research shows, developers are ready and willing to build housing, if only the government would let them.

This isn’t just research for the sake of research: At the local level, elected officials and regulators in cities with the largest housing gaps must make a serious effort to clear barriers to new construction. And at state level, decisions about which cities to designate as “prohousing” jurisdictions, or which cities to subject to stricter scrutiny, should be driven by data, rather than political factors.

Click here to read the full article in the Press Enterprise

He was sentenced to 162 years in prison. Now he’s free and working at the California Capitol

SACRAMENTO —  In his tan suit and gold tie, Jarad Nava blends in easily at the California Capitol, as though he’s always belonged to its mahogany and rose-hued halls.

But underneath the button-down shirt — unseen and unimaginable to those who don’t know his story — tattoos evoke his former life: on his arms, the name of a park his gang claimed as territory, rolling dice and an inked-over “P” that had represented Pomona; on his chest, flames licking up the base of his neck.

Just a few years ago, Nava was serving a 162-year sentence for a crime he committed when he was 17.

Now 28, the young man who once thought he’d never see the outside of a prison works as an assistant for the state Senate Public Safety Committee, an influential panel of lawmakers who review legislation related to the criminal justice system.

The irony is not lost on Nava, who eventually won his freedom by learning to atone and accept, truly accept, responsibility for what he had done. It required disciplined work, a newfound faith and, as Nava put it, serious reflection on what “led to me shooting at a car with four people in it.”

An uneasy childhood

As recounted by Nava and in legal documents, he was born to a struggling 19-year-old mom and absent dad in the summer of 1995 in Battle Creek, Mich. When he was a toddler, his mom uprooted them to Washington state, where she joined the Navy and met his stepfather, who became the boy’s role model.

The family relocated to Pomona and grew to include three younger sisters. But given financial and other pressures, they never stayed anywhere for long, pingponging around Southern California and back to Michigan.

Nava said he liked school, at first, and excelled in math. But the transfers to a dozen or so schools between kindergarten and fifth grade made academics difficult.

“It felt like there was no stability,” Nava said.

The one place he felt indomitable was playing center field and catcherin Little League. Baseball, he said, “was like my identity.” On the field he earned the praise and validation he craved at home, where his family was slowly falling apart.

His world collapsed when, at 11, his parents said they couldn’t sign him up for another season. Nava figured the family would work it out, as they always had, but the season came and went without him.

“Now reflecting back I can see, oh, they just couldn’t afford it,” he said.

His sense of security continued unraveling alongside his parents’ marriage.

He remembers waking up one evening when he was around 13 to yelling coming from the garage, where he found his mom screaming as his stepdad attempted suicide by taking a knife to his stomach.

The family never talked about it, but Nava remembers that night as the moment he lost faith in his hero and stopped being a kid.

His parents divorced before he reached high school, and Nava split his time between them — again hopping from home to home.

With little interest in school, but with a work ethic he’d later come to be known for in the Capitol, Nava took after-school jobs selling newspaper subscriptions and random stuff — gummy bears, jumper cables, candles. He graduated to selling coupon books, making up to $200 a day, and later started his own clothing company.

At one point, Nava moved into a friend’s house and rented a room for $500. He dropped out of high school, then moved back in with his mom at 16 and enrolled in a continuation school to get his diploma. But their relationship was strained, and the living situation was rocky.

“I didn’t know how to be a kid, basically,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t really have family or anything.”

So he reconnected with some old friends.

Joining the gang

It started with petty crimes, breaking into cars, vandalizing buildings and getting into fights.

At a time when “so much in life felt so powerless,” Nava said, the Pomona Don’t Care Krew, or DCK, felt like a real family.

DCK was a “tagging” crew, or a fledgling gang of younger members who typically go on to join a more established and violent group. Nava was “jumped in” to DCK at 16, feeling as though he had recovered that “purpose and identity” he last experienced on the baseball field.

As Nava became more determined to prove himself, his criminal behavior escalated. He started drinking, smoking weed, carrying a gun.

“The more violent you were, the more you felt like you were respected or feared,” Nava recalled. “In order to protect myself, I felt like the more I perpetrated violence on others, the safer I would be.”

The more violent you were, the more you felt like you were respected, or feared.

— Jarad Nava

The evening of Sept. 29, 2012, in Pomona was a violent one.

A monthlong dispute between DCK and its former allies in the Cherrieville gang had intensified, and gunfire broke out at least four times. One shooting happened near Nava’s apartment complex, where he lived with his mom and little sisters.

The last incident, just before 11 p.m., occurred at the intersection of Glen and Orange Grove avenues.

Nava said he doesn’t remember much of what happened when the white truck he was riding in swerved into the opposite lane and pulled alongside a Lexus sedan carrying what he thought were his enemies.

In the car were Yesenia Castro, 16; her sister Marlene Castro, 15; Jessila Suarez, 25; and Marlyn Reyes, who was 17 and nine months pregnant.

The Castro sisters had an older brother in Cherrieville, and Suarez and Reyes were dating two brothers in the gang.

Nava was high and drunk. He doesn’t remember telling the four, according to court records, they were “gonna die today” before he fired multiple rounds into the car.

Suarez threw herself over Reyes to protect the baby. A bullet grazed Marlene’s left leg. Yesenia was shot in the back. As they raced toward the hospital, Yesenia wasn’t breathing.

“Her eyes were rolling back” and she was bleeding, Reyes testified. Marlene had thrown her shirt over her sister to soak up the blood.

The bullet severed her spinal cord, paralyzing her from the waist down. With Yesenia still in intensive care, the Castro sisters picked Nava out of a six-pack of photos detectives showed them.

Nava said that his memory of the days after the shooting is foggy, but that he had nightmares and was paranoid about someone breaking into his apartment, about getting shot.

He was home with friends when, six days after the shooting, police surrounded the apartment, calling his name over loudspeakers. He stepped outside to surrender.

Before hauling him off to the station, Nava said, officers told him to enjoy his final touch of grass.

During an interrogation, Nava confessed and asked what would happen next.

“Probably going to get charged with attempted murder,” a detective said.

“Attempted murder? That’s life?” Nava asked. “How much time do you think I could get?”

Attempted murder? That’s life? How much time do you think I could get?

— Jarad Nava, to a detective.

It was a juvenile case, the detective said. Prison time could vary. “I’ve seen everything from 10, 15, 20 years to life,” he said.

Nava was charged with four counts of attempted murder, one count of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and, after detectives found a gun in his apartment, possession of a short-barreled shotgun.

He declined a plea deal of a 30-year prison term and stood trial as an adult, which California allows for 16- and 17-year-olds as a way to keep those convicted as older teenagers in custody beyond the age cap of 25.

“I didn’t take the plea deal at the time because I was still not taking responsibility for what I had done,” he said recently. Also, for a teenager, three decades behind bars “felt like life.”

“So it was like, how much worse could it get?” he said. “Obviously, it got a lot worse.”

Standing trial

The trial began in January 2014 in Pomona.

The young women recounted the gunshots and frantic rush to the hospital.

Nava was found guilty on Feb. 7 and, three months later, sentenced to 162 years in prison: 40 years to life for each attempted murder charge, plus two years for the shotgun possession.

At the sentencing hearing was Alex Sandoval, who drove the car the night of the shooting. Unlike Nava, Sandoval took a plea deal and received 30 years for similar charges.

After Nava was sentenced and taken into custody, Sandoval had his own chance to apologize to the victims. He also begged for leniency for his younger friend.

“I don’t really think that Nava should — you should have mercy on Nava,” Sandoval told the judge. “He’s young, really intelligent. I don’t believe he should have life.”

The judge noted that Sandoval, with his guilty plea, had taken responsibility for his actions. “I think that is why you are going to have a life after state prison, unlike your friend, Mr. Nava.”

After Nava was convicted, his victims addressed the court. One after the other, each offered forgiveness.

“They changed my whole life. It’s a struggle now. But, yeah, I forgive them,” Yesenia Castro said of her assailants, adding that she had since givenbirth to a daughter. “But all I got to say is I hope everything goes good for them. I don’t have nothing against them.”

Marlene Castro, Reyes and Suarez did not respond to requests for comment. Yesenia Castro, speaking through her screened front door in her wheelchair, declined to be interviewed.

Headed to prison

By late 2014, Nava had been sent to Ironwood State Prison in Blythe.

He was 19 and at a crossroads.

“It was just kind of like a realization, you’re never going home,” he said. “At that point, that’s when I was faced with the question of what I was going to do with the rest of my life.”

Some months earlier Nava had read a self-help book and undertook an exercise to write down the names of everyone he had harmed. It was a long list. He dredged up memories of fistfights, teasing classmates and stealing someone’s scooter. He wrote an apology for every offense.

Then he wrote the names of everyone who had caused him harm, a list almost as long as the first. And he forgave them all.

“After doing that whole process, there was just an immense sense of peace that overwhelmed me,” he said. “Running from it was exhausting. … To face it within myself was just extremely impactful.”

Nava enrolled in college courses and joined every program he thought could propel his life forward: Narcotics Anonymous, Alternatives to Violence, emotional intelligence courses, a writer’s workshop and a class called Criminal and Gang Members Anonymous. He joined the Prison Walk-A-Thon to raise money for cancer, worked as a peer educator and learned Braille to translate college textbooks for the blind. He earned his GED diploma, then an associate’s degree in business and technology.

He also reflected on how his victims had forgiven him at his sentencing. “As I got older and I really understood the gravity of what I had done … I’ll say that it was extremely humbling that somebody who had experienced such a wrongdoing could find it in their hearts to forgive me in that moment.

“The best way to describe it is I feel undeserving of that,” he said.

Nava did not have a religious upbringing, but in prison, he said, he gave his life to Jesus. He found comfort in church services, where he’d worship alongside the mentors and friends he made in prison. Once more, he’d found what started to feel like family.

“It was a lot of love,” he said.

He saw the work to improve himself as restitution, a way to make spiritual amends for a crime that left Yesenia Castro dependent on a wheelchair.

But his efforts gave something he never expected.

A chance for freedom

In 2018, lawyers at the Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing Clinic — encouraged by film producer Scott Budnick — took interest in Nava’s case.

While in juvenile hall, Nava had met Budnick — a producer of the “Hangover” films and founder of the nonprofit Anti-Recidivism Coalition — who was teaching a creative writing class.

Budnick also helped produce “They Call Us Monsters,” a documentary that featured Nava and two other teenagers in a film-writing class who were being tried as adults.

“He was dynamic, personable, challenging, a handful, just like a little bit of a wild kid,” Budnick said.

“But you know when you see that spark, and you know when someone is remorseful, and you know when they have some of those core qualities that can make them very successful? I saw all of that in him,” Budnick said.

Christopher Hawthorne, director of the clinic at Loyola Law School, saw the documentary and believed Nava had been poorly represented at trial. But Hawthorne wasn’t shocked by the long sentence.

“We were still in the middle of the super predator panic,” Hawthorne said. “There was a sense that Pomona in particular was awash in gang activity.”

(The documentary includes Yesenia Castro, who, despite her comments of forgiveness in court, said she wished Nava would serve a long sentence.)

Hawthorne figured that Nava had matured since his time in juvenile hall.

“I was confident that when I met Jarad, he would be different. And he really was,” Hawthorne said. “He was well-spoken, thoughtful. He understood what he had done.”

Hawthorne and others at the clinic put together a clemency application that demonstrated Nava’s rehabilitative work in prison. They gathered support letters and cited legal cases on juvenile brain development.

They also laid out his life story: He was born to a teen mom and had already been exposed to gang culture in the neighborhood and witnessed gun violence by age 6. He witnessed his stepfather’s suicide attempt and was bounced from household to household. As a lonely kid, he joined a gang to “escape the turmoil of his life at home.”

At the end of 2018, the clinic shipped Nava’s application off to then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Nava went through an initial interview, the start of the process toward a Board of Parole Hearings session. And then he waited.

The clinic had asked that his sentence be modified to 15 years to life. In March 2020, the new governor, Gavin Newsom, commuted Nava’s sentence to 10 years to life.

“This act of clemency for Mr. Nava does not minimize or forgive his conduct or the harm it caused,” Newsom wrote. “It does recognize the work he has done since to transform himself.”

Six months later, Nava went before the Board of Parole Hearings — a panel of attorneys, psychologists and former corrections officers and wardens — and recounted how he’d used his time in prison to work on his “character defects.”

Recalling the 17-year-old who opened fire with a gun, he told the board, “I felt at that time that I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have nobody to, uh — I, I didn’t feel like I had any family.”

If released, he said, his plan was to enroll at Sacramento State to study computer coding. But backup options were getting into electrical work, applying to Caltrans or an Amazon warehouse, or if all else failed, making hamburgers at Carl’s Jr. because the restaurant chain hires those with felony records.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California government to blame for gas price ‘gouging’

Back when I visited my late parents in Prescott, Ariz. five times a year, I always filled up in Ehrenberg, just across the Colorado River. Then on the way back I’d fill up there again before heading across the bridge and back to Orange County. I’d also pick up a box of stogies to avoid Rob Reiner’s Proposition 10 tobacco tax from 1998. 

I bring this up because this month the California Energy Commission is holding workshops to implement Senate Bill X1-2, actually called the California Gas Price Gouging and Transparency Law, which funds the Price Gouging Penalty Fund. How’s that for two loaded titles? And inside the CEC, SB X1-2 sets up two new state bureaucracies: the Division of Petroleum Market Oversight; and the Independent Consumer Fuels Advisory Committee to advise the CEC and the DPMO. There will be a test tomorrow on all the new acronyms.

I’ll bet you two new Rolls Royces the functionaries find lots of “gouging” to ensure they keep getting their cushy pay and benefits. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill and is always attacking Big Oil for “gouging” Californians at the pump. No doubt that will be his excuse if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brings up the high prices at their Nov. 30 debate. That’s why I always look to the cross-Colorado River comparison when writing about the Golden State’s high gas prices.

As I write, according to GasBuddy.com, in Blythe a 76 station is charging $4.99 for regular petrol. Gouging. Across the river at the Ehrenberg 76, it’s $3.49. Or $1.50 less. If Phillips 76, can get $1.50 gouging in California, why wouldn’t they gouge the same in Arizona a couple miles to the East? 

Let’s first look at the taxes. According to the Tax Foundation, California’s gas taxes clock at 77.9 cents a gallon, the highest in the nation by far. Next is Illinois at 66.5 cents. Arizona is just 19 cents. So, right there, we account for 58.9 cents of the $1.50 price difference between the Golden State and the Grand Canyon State.

Back when I was former state Sen. John Moorlach’s press secretary, in 2018 he introduced Senate Bill 1074. It would have required every gas pump to display a “sign showing a list of applicable state and federal fuel taxes per gallon.” The Democrats killed it in committee. It would have brought real transparency at the pump, the last thing Newsom and the legislative tax-raisers want. Better to blame Big Oil.

Aside from taxes, what other reasons cause the price gap with Arizona and the other states? A June study by Stillwater Associates blamed California’s “unique gasoline specifications,” which include two different fuel blends for summer and winter; “isolated supply logistics that make it susceptible to unplanned refinery outages,” because the state effectively is a fuel “island” and can’t pump in Texas tea during a shortage; and two climate change programs, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and Cap & Trade. 

A 2021 study by the Washington Policy Center found, “The gap between U.S. gas prices and California’s increased 61.5 cents per gallon since the LCFS was implemented” in 2011. But 50 cents of that was the 2017 California gas tax increase of 50 cents. So the difference would be 11.5 cents from the LFCS.

An October analysis of Cap & Trade by California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst noted the California Air Resources Board “estimates that the cap-and-trade program adds about 27 cents to each gallon of retail gasoline sold in California.”

Let’s add up the culprits: taxes 58.9 cents; LCFS 11.5 cents; Cap & Trade 27 cents. Total: 97.4 cents. That still leaves another 52.6 cents to get to the $1.50 gap with Arizona. That would be for different blends and isolation, for which I couldn’t find any specific analysis. And now throw in the added costs to producers of complying with the new gouging law.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Schwarzenegger’s victory reverberates today

For Californians, the recall signaled not simply louder politics but a new era in governance

It’s 20 years ago this week since Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California, after the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis. For much of the last two decades, the recall has been remembered mostly as a bizarre media circus, with 135 candidates, a hurried 60-day campaign, and a debate featuring Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington trading insults.

This is a shame, because that strange, cataclysmic event shifted California’s political priorities and offers important lessons that might provide some much-needed hope about our power to change the future.

In retrospect, the Davis recall looks like the first of three election earthquakes in the 21st century that shook up American politics. The other two are the elections of Barack Obama in 2008 and Donald Trump in 2016.

For Americans, the recall election, with all its bombast, would preview how politics would grow louder, more populist, more direct. And for Californians, the recall was something more: the beginning of a new era in governance.

In three major policy areas, the recall brought big movements in policies to put California more in line with the preferences of its people.

None of those policies got the same TV coverage that was devoted to populist hot buttons like Davis’ raising the “car tax,” or Schwarzenegger’s “groping” scandal. But the policies were all major proposals during Schwarzenegger’s recall campaign in 2003 and his subsequent reelection in 2006.

And these shifts in priorities are ongoing, having outlasted Schwarzenegger’s administration because they were embraced by his two gubernatorial successors, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, and by voters.

The first of these issues is children’s programs. Schwarzenegger repeatedly promised more spending on schools, children’s health and the after-school programs that had been the subject of his personal philanthropy and a ballot initiative he championed. Facing budget problems, he struggled to deliver on these promises in office. But he made some progress, and Brown and Newsom have done even better.

Today, per-pupil spending in California is more than twice what it was 20 years ago. With the help of Obamacare — which Schwarzenegger strongly supported — all California children, even undocumented immigrants, are eligible for health insurance. And California now spends so much on after-school programs — more than the other 49 states combined — that the Biden administration is trying to convince the rest of the country to adopt our approach.

The second area was the environment. During the recall campaign, Schwarzenegger, assisted by some of his most progressive advisers, offered six major promises on environment and climate change. Through executive orders and legislative compromises, he achieved all six — including solar and alternative energy investment, building efficiency standards, landmark targets for reducing greenhouse gases, and reductions in the carbon intensity of fuel.

State policymakers added more policies to this foundation, and Schwarzenegger in his post-governorship worked with other states and countries to further develop anti-carbon pollution policies.

The third issue area was, appropriately, the power of people in democracy. Near his term’s end, Schwarzenegger convinced voters, after multiple failed attempts, to make two changes.

One was to eliminate partisan primary elections, replacing them with a “top two” system where the top two vote-getters in the first round of an election advance to the second-round election in November, regardless of party affiliation.

The other was to end gerrymandering by the legislature and turn the job of drawing electoral districts over to a 14-member, bipartisan commission of citizens who do not have close ties to state government or political parties. This nonpartisan redistricting concept has spread to other states — from Colorado to Michigan — with Schwarzenegger’s continued advocacy. One-third of legislative districts in the U.S. are now drawn by such commissions.

These significant changes were possible in part because of the recall. Schwarzenegger, however, doesn’t much like reflecting on the recall, or the past in general. When I interviewed him at his L.A. home in September for a new book on the recall’s impact, he kept changing the subject to the future, specifically the need for the U.S. to build new infrastructure to meet our economic and environmental needs.

He suggested that President Biden’s infrastructure package, of $1.3 trillion over 10 years, was not nearly fast enough. “We need action now,” said Schwarzenegger. If he were president, Schwarzenegger told me, “there’d be $1.3 trillion in infrastructure every year.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Bad outcomes are the consequence of bad laws, whether intended or not

With hundreds of new laws going into effect next year, the saying that “there ought to be a law” is taken way too seriously by California politicians. Regrettably, there is one law lacking – a binding requirement that forces legislators to think about the unintended consequences of the bills they enact.

Here are a couple of examples.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Legislature sent billions of dollars in new spending to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk this session. But it was a pleasant surprise that he vetoed some of the worst, stressing it was “important to remain disciplined when considering bills with significant fiscal implications” as the state faces “continuing economic risk and revenue uncertainty.”

That random act of sanity even earned him some praise in the media with reporters suggesting that the governor was exhibiting a more moderate streak in preparation for a possible presidential run. But two bills he did sign show that his supposed fiscal discipline was short-lived.

Assembly Bill 1228 raises the hourly minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 and Senate Bill 525 raises the minimum wage for healthcare workers to $25. Taxpayer advocates and other fiscal conservative warned that these two government mandates would significantly increase costs and that those costs would be passed onto the consumer like an indirect tax.

That’s exactly what is happening. Both McDonald’s and Chipotle recently announced that they will be raising prices in California in response to the state’s minimum wage increase. While McDonald’s didn’t specify how much prices would increase, Chipotle said it would be a “mid-to-high single-digit” percentage. You can bet that other fast-food restaurants will be doing the same soon.

As for the increase for health care workers mandated by SB 525, even the state’s own Department of Finance opposed it out of concern for “significant economic impacts” and the bill analysis stated that its fiscal impact was “unknown.” The Legislature passed it anyway and now we know that SB 525 will cost $4 billion in the 2024-25 fiscal year alone. About $2 billion of that is coming directly out of the General Fund while the rest will be paid out of federal Medicaid funds.

The L.A. Times called it “one of the most expensive laws California has seen in years and comes as the state faces a $14-billion budget deficit that could grow larger if revenue projections continue to fall short.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that “California is poised to fall well short of its budget forecasts as the recent stock market slump erodes the state’s tax revenue.”

Did the governor actually know what he was doing when he signed these two costly bills? Maybe it’s wrong to assume that the higher price tags are simply “unintended consequences.” It is just as likely that he was aware of the impact to taxpayers and consumers but intended to reward political allies in labor organizations that can help further his political ambitions.

Senate Bill 616, also signed by the governor, greatly expanded mandated sick leave for employees of private-sector companies. The bill imposes new costs and leave requirements on employers of all sizes, by nearly doubling existing sick leave mandate, which is in addition to all other enacted leave mandates that already have small employers throughout the state struggling to implement and comply.

The unintended consequences of mandates such as SB 616 on California’s businesses, both large and small, is evident from countless media reports about the Great California Exodus as productive citizens and businesses move to other states. California’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average and our poverty rate, when the cost of living is taken into account, is the worst in the nation.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register