Why California is the state conservatives love to hate

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, residents of the rest of the country often saw California as the place their wacky or adventurous or beautiful cousin went to seek gold, celebrity, sunny beaches, sexual freedom, and maybe a new identity, away from the family and the baggage in St. Paul, Philadelphia or Levittown.

Its current status as a punching bag for the right in a national culture war has taken decades to achieve.

For conservatives, the state’s glamorous image became tarnished in the 1960s and 1970s. They blasted Berkeley for its protesters and San Francisco for its hippies and gay life. Eastern elites mocked Los Angeles — at least the parts they saw in the movies — for its shallowness.

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Former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown earned a nickname in his first stint that surprised those who knew him but embodied a sense that the place was sort of kooky: Gov. Moonbeam.

The jabs were sometimes playful, sometimes acid, often overstated. But even if conservatives thought the Bay Area was too far-out, they still had Orange County’s megachurches, John Wayne’s westerns and Ronald Reagan.

That mix shifted dramatically in 1992.

The state’s voters chose a Democrat in a presidential election, Bill Clinton, for the first time since 1964, starting a blue streak that has yet to be reversed. Voters sent Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to the Senate, a pair of San Francisco Democrats headlining “the year of the woman” in politics.

California’s rapid growth yielded an unprecedented 52 members in the House, giving the state huge power in Congress. Much of that growth was powered by Latinos, who then made up about a quarter of the population and would soon become the state’s largest ethnicity.

That same year, Pat Buchanan delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention that launched a cultural and religious war for “the soul of America,” citing California as a final, dystopian example of what could go wrong. Buchanan described a state where a judge condemned the town of Hayfork to “a sentence of death” to protect the spotted owl while a “mob” burned, ransacked and looted Los Angeles during that spring’s riots, terrifying old men and women, whose only hope was the National Guard.

More than 30 years later, even Buchanan’s broadside looks tame. The former insurgent presidential candidate was harsh but portrayed at least some Californians as victims and heroes. All were still Americans.

Today, by contrast, nearly half of Republicans nationwide, 48%, said California is “not really American” in a Leger poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times and released in February.

“Now, I think it’s part of the politicization of this country,” former Gov. Gray Davis said in an interview. “So if you’re a conservative, you’re not permitted to like California.”

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The seeds of that division were planted in the mid-20th century when the state became a focal point for young people who challenged the rest of the country’s values.

“Some of it, from a conservative standpoint, was sort of positive: surf’s up, the Beach Boys and Reagan,” Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker, said in an interview.

“And then of course, there was Berkeley,” he said, as if spitting a curse word.

Unrest over Vietnam and civil rights, free love and gay liberation erupted around the Bay Area, fueled in part by Easterners who came seeking a break from society. San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury became a destination that accepted all of it, including open drug use. Hollywood made antiwar movies and Marlon Brando turned his 1973 Oscar into a protest over Native American rights.

It seemed like another universe to Midwesterners such as Mike Royko, the late Chicago Tribune columnist who gave the nickname “Gov. Moonbeam” to Brown, then dating the singer Linda Ronstadt during his first stint as governor from 1975 through 1983.

“It was really a judgment about California as a place that was like counterculture, hot tub, granola, weed,” said Jim Newton, a former L.A. Times reporter and editor who wrote a biography of Brown and is now working on one about Jerry Garcia.

The reasons behind the evolution from “Moonbeam” to “not really American” are debatable, but the decline of the state’s image on the right can be traced to several factors:

California’s oceans, sunshine, awe-inspiring national parks and world-ranked economy that includes Silicon Valley and Hollywood make it easy to resent in a time of grievance politics.

The state’s large disparity in incomes coupled with the country’s biggest homeless crisis give critics ample images of desperate people camping on the streets.

Its embrace of immigrants and changing ideas about gender and sexuality played on core fears on the right of a changing country.

Union power and progressive policies on the environment are at odds with the Trump-era policy agenda.

Statewide elections are increasingly out of reach for Republicans, reducing the downside of amped-up rhetoric.

In 1984, the Democratic Party’s decision to hold its national convention in San Francisco became contentious as the AIDS epidemic ramped up fear and prejudice against the city’s large gay population. Gingrich recalled being interviewed, while standing in Union Square, about the contrast with the Republican convention in Dallas, a Bible Belt city, when “a 6’2” transvestite hands me an invitation to an exorcism of Jerry Falwell,” an influential conservative evangelical leader.

To Gingrich, it was a self-evident troll of a city that he believed had become too accepting of alternative lifestyles and a party that would alienate the rest of the country.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who chaired the host committee, heard anxiety from fellow Democrats too, but held firm, assuring critics that no one could contract HIV/AIDS simply by visiting the city, and making the broader argument that the Bay Area’s inclusiveness was a point of pride.

“And yes, we will have our exuberance … the people speaking on the street, but we are a Democratic city,” she recalled. “We just have to make sure that we don’t get hijacked by Republicans, upsetting our events, as well as anarchists.”

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The state was not wholly dismissed by conservatives, even if some of its cities were taking hits. Reagan, the Republican former governor, won California easily in both of his presidential elections and wrote in the final passage of his presidential diary how eager he was to return for “the start of our new life” in Bel-Air as he left the White House in 1989.

Reagan “loved, loved, loved California,” said Craig Shirley, author of four Reagan biographies. He “loved the ranch … loved Hollywood and all that.”

Two conservative Republicans, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, won governors’ races in the 1980s and 1990s. Wilson campaigned against the state’s taxes and regulations and didn’t mind if word spread beyond California’s borders.

“Tragically, it wasn’t Reagan’s California” by then, Wilson said in an interview. “It was not safe … and from a purely business standpoint, it was the last place because it cost so damn much.”

Wilson recalled a 1994 road trip he made with Democratic leaders to attract executives from Dallas, Minneapolis and Chicago.

One industrialist in Chicago thanked Wilson for breakfast and then laid into the business climate, Wilson said. “I wouldn’t come to California if you begged me,” Wilson recounted the man telling him.

Wilson was delighted by the negative reviews, which he used to validate his political case against Democrats.

“It’s what I expected and hoped to hear,” he said.

Wilson’s support in 1994 for Proposition 187, a ballot measure that denied many public services to immigrants living in the country illegally, foreshadowed the national debates over immigration that still rage. It also created a backlash that gave Democrats a near impenetrable advantage in statewide elections and still rankles Wilson, 90.

“Every effort was made to make it play that role by the Democratic Party. And I will tell you that racism is a very ugly charge,” Wilson said. “If it’s warranted, that’s one thing. If it isn’t, that is just inexcusable.”

That same ballot measure prompted Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, to give up his career as an engineer, fresh out of MIT, to enter politics. In an interview, he called Proposition 187 “a wake-up” call for thousands of immigrants, including his parents, legal residents who became citizens and gained the right to vote.

Padilla began registering voters in 1996. “They’re asking the question, ‘Should I register as a Democrat or Republican?’ ” he recalled. “And you can talk about the platform, but the way it was really easy to describe was, ‘Well, Pete Wilson’s a Republican; Bill Clinton is a Democrat.”

The resulting influx of Latino Democrats moved the electorate and the people they elected in a leftward direction.

The growing population and influence of Latino voters also influenced outside opinions, in Padilla’s opinion.

“Above the surface it’s pointing to California’s policy leadership,” he said of the anti-California critiques from the right. “But I do think subliminally it is pointing to diversity.”

Views of the state continued to diverge, but its population and economic clout grew, posing a bipartisan problem in Washington.

“Everybody thought we were the golden place,” said Boxer, who served in the House and Senate from 1983 to 2017. “They didn’t want to step up when we had problems.”

The motto of the other 49 states became known as ABC: Anywhere But California. That dismissal of the state may have hit its nadir in 1986 when a $50-million federal center for earthquake research was given to Buffalo, N.Y., which hadn’t had an earthquake since 1929, instead of Berkeley, along the Hayward fault.

“We used to say to all our colleagues, ‘You come here to raise money, whether you’re Republicans or Democrats,’ ” Boxer recalled. “ ‘You come here, you raise money and you bash us.’ ”

In more recent decades, however, the fight has shifted from disputes over state taxes and federal spending to the culture war.

The change began in the 2000s, as the GOP increasingly reflected the values of its large conservative, evangelical Christian faction, then accelerated during the Trump years as California repeatedly challenged conservative federal policies in court. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who led the state from 2003 through 2011, offered only a mild reprieve.

Newsom, after becoming governor in 2019, embraced the fight, placing provocative ads in red states as he promoted laws granting sanctuary for women obtaining abortions and transgender youths seeking gender-affirming care. California granted Medicaid access to people who came to the country illegally while setting an even more aggressive environmental agenda.

“We’re the opposite of MAGA,” Boxer said.

The state also became increasingly hard to afford, creating a wider gap between the new class of Silicon Valley tech barons and the huge, largely Black and Latino working class.

Newton, the Brown biographer, argued that the difference between the early caricatures of the state and the new harder-edged critiques can be traced to Brown’s second stint as governor — from 2011 through 2019 — when he answered critics who said California could not be governed. His ability to tame the budget while creating left-leaning policies on immigration and the environment posed a serious threat to the ideology of the Trump era, he said: If California was successful, that meant the Make America Great Again rhetoric was wrong.

For the MAGA movement, today’s California is a diorama of a failed state, an obvious foil that can be deployed on campaign fliers in Minnesota and Georgia featuring Pelosi’s scowling face, Vice President Kamala Harris’ laugh or Newsom’s grin. One Fox host declared voters’ choices so reprehensible that he “stopped caring about Californians.”

“Consider the source,” Pelosi said. “They don’t believe in science. They don’t believe in governance. They don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose. They don’t believe in LGBTQ rights.”

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a last-ditch attempt to wrestle the 2024 presidential nomination from former President Trump, tried to recharge his campaign with descriptions of drug-addled homeless people defecating on San Francisco’s streets, before agreeing to a televised showdown with Newsom in which he declared the state “failed because of his leftist ideology.”

“Even though California was always considered a high-tax and high cost-of-living state, it was still the place to be,” said Frank Luntz, a pollster who helped Republicans craft language for several decades with polls and focus groups, and then used some of his earnings for a home in Los Angeles. “With the explosion of homelessness and crime and the deterioration of the quality of life, it has now become a symbol of what’s wrong with the left.”

The reputation has become so toxic on the right that even candidates in the state are running against California. Rep. Mike Garcia, a Santa Clarita Republican, recently blasted a campaign email with an article he wrote for Fox News titled, “How to prevent the Californication of America,” in which he argued that the rest of the country could “learn from California’s mistakes” in going soft on crime.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

The Financial State of California Cities 2024

California, New York and Texas each have more state debt than the 75 cities combined

75 of the largest American cities owned a total of $307.4 billion of assets to pay $595.3 billion in liabilities at the end of fiscal year 2022.

The 75 largest cities in America were collectively $288 billion in debt, Adam Andrzejewski at RealClearInvestigations reported. You may recognize Andrzejewski’s name as he created OpenTheBooks and exposes spending at every level of government, which the Globe frequently uses.

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The cities’ debt includes $175.9 billion for upcoming employee pensions and $135.2 billion for other retiree benefits, according to think tank Truth in Accounting.

The stunner is that California, New York and Texas each have more state debt than the 75 cities combined, Andrzejewski reported.

Notably, nearly all of the cities used outdated pension data.

How did California’s cities do?

San Francisco – D grade

“San Francisco’s financial condition deteriorated, switching it from having a Taxpayer SurplusTM to a Taxpayer BurdenTM. Despite increased tax collections
and federal COVID relief funds, the city’s pension investment values decreased. This created a per Taxpayer Burden of $8,800, earning it a “D” grade from Truth in Accounting.”

San Francisco had set aside only 92 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and 17 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.

San Francisco would need $8,800 from each of its taxpayers to pay all of its outstanding bills.

San Diego – C grade

“San Diego’s financial condition worsened by $457.5 million, resulting in a Taxpayer BurdenTM of $4,100, earning it a “C” grade from Truth in Accounting.

“According to the city’s 2022 financial report, the city continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened, the city took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by increases in the city’s pension liability. Over the past few years, investment market values have swung dramatically.

San Diego had set aside only 78 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and only 25 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.”

Sacramento – B grade

“Sacramento’s financial condition appeared to improve, switching it from having a Taxpayer BurdenTM to a Taxpayer SurplusTM of $300, earning it a “B” grade from Truth in Accounting. Sacramento was sneaky – the improvement is deceiving because the city used outdated pension data.

While this report indicates the city’s financial condition improved due in part to COVID relief funds and increased taxes, this might be overly optimistic because the city used outdated pension data.

According to the city’s 2022 financial report, Sacramento continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened, the city took in additional tax revenue. The city’s pension liability is calculated by subtracting earned and promised benefits from the market value of pension investments. Unfortunately, the city used 2021 data when determining its pension debt. Because 2021 was an exceptionally good market year, pension investment values were high. The result was a dramatic decrease in the city’s pension liability and a corresponding decrease in the money needed to pay bills.”

Los Angeles – C grade

  • Los Angeles had $19.8 billion available to pay $21.8 billion worth of bills.
  • The outcome was a $2 billion shortfall and a burden of $1,500 per taxpayer. Last year the city had a surplus of $6.3 billion.
  • Despite receiving almost $2 billion in grant funds and $5.6 billion in tax revenue, its unfunded pension promises increased significantly due to declines in the value of pension investments.

“Los Angeles’ financial condition deteriorated, switching it from having a Taxpayer SurplusTM to a Taxpayer BurdenTM. Despite increased tax collections and federal COVID relief funds, the city’s pension investment values decreased. This created a Taxpayer Burden of $1,500, earning it a “C” grade from Truth in Accounting.

“According to the city’s 2022 financial report, Los Angeles continued to spend large amounts of federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened
the city took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by significant decreases in the value of the city’s pension investments. Over the past few years investment market values have swung dramatically. In 2022 this volatility negatively impacted the city’s pension liability and financial condition, which demonstrates the risk to taxpayers when their city offers defined pension benefits to its employees.

Los Angeles had set aside only 88 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and 90 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.”

Fresno – B grade

“Fresno’s financial condition deteriorated, yet the city retained a Taxpayer SurplusTM of $2,300, earning it a “B” grade from Truth in Accounting.

According to the city’s 2022 financial report, Fresno continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds and as the U.S. economy reopened, the city took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by decreases in the value of the city’s pension investments. Over the past few years investment market values have swung dramatically. In 2022 this volatility negatively impacted the city’s pension investments and financial condition, demonstrating the risk to taxpayers when their city offers defined pension benefits to its employees.

Fresno had set aside 108 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and no money set aside for promised retiree health care benefits.”

Oakland – D grade

“Oakland’s financial condition appeared to improve due in part to increased tax collections and federal COVID relief funds. Despite the good news, they still had a Taxpayer BurdenTM of $7,300, earning it a “D” grade from Truth in Accounting. But the improvement is deceiving, because the city used outdated pension data.

According to the city’s 2022 financial report, the city continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened the city took in additional tax revenue. The pension debt included in this report and the city’s financial report is based using 2021 data when pension investments were performing well. If the city’s pension investments experienced the same major decrease that most other cities experienced in 2022, Oakland’s pension debt would be higher. Over the past few years investment market values have swung dramatically. This volatility demonstrates the risk to taxpayers when their city offers defined pension benefits to its employees.

Oakland had set aside only 78 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and 20 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.”

San Jose – D grade

San Jose’s financial condition worsened by $720.3 million, resulting in a Taxpayer BurdenTM of $8,700, and earning it a “D” grade from Truth in Accounting.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Bay Area congressman proposes renaming Florida prison after Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, and two other House Democrats want to name the Miami federal prison after former President Donald Trump.

The legislation, which has little chance of passing, would change the Federal Correctional Institution Miami’s name to the Donald J. Trump Federal Correctional Institution. The prison, located about 90 miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, is a low-security facility that holds about 1,000 men convicted of federal crimes. 

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Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro is serving a four-month sentence at FCI Miami for contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena. Right-wing internet personality Anthime Gionet, known as Baked Alaska, was incarcerated in the same facility for two months in 2023 after pleading guilty to unlawfully protesting inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

The legislation proposal came days after seven House Republicans introduced a bill to rename the Washington Dulles International Airport after Trump. (No California Republicans have signed onto the bill.)

“MAGA Republicans have proven themselves unwilling to solve real problems that face our country. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to our former president, Donald J. Trump, than renaming the closest federal prison to Mar-a-Lago in his honor,” Garamendi said in a statement. “As always, my Democratic colleagues and I remain willing to work with anyone on common sense solutions to real world problems.”

Click here to read that the full article in the SF Chronicle

Newsom, lawmakers agree to first $17 billion in cuts

Gov. Gavin Newsom and leaders of the Senate and Assembly announced an agreement Thursday to cut $17 billion from the state budget in April, providing the first details of their plan to begin to tackle California’s massive deficit.

The plan calls for delaying $1 billion in grant funding for transit and intercity rail projects, saving $762.5 million by pausing hiring for open state jobs and pulling back $500 million from a program to help districts pay for K-12 building projects, among other proposals to trim the shortfall now before additional cuts are made this summer.

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“We are able to meet this challenge thanks to our responsible fiscal stewardship over the past years, including record budget reserves of close to $38 billion,” Newsom said in a statement. “There is still work to do as we finalize the budget and I look forward to the work ahead together to continue building the California of the future.”

The agreement marks a redo of a fumbled budget announcement made last month when Newsom and legislative leaders heralded a premature deal without disclosing an exact amount of funding they intended to cut or detailing a single program that would be affected.

Lawmakers and the governor are scrambling to reduce California’s budget deficit, which Newsom estimated at $37.9 billion in January, before the fiscal forecast is updated in the coming weeks to likely show California in an even deeper budget hole. Estimates from the Legislative Analyst’s Office have suggested the deficit next year could be nearly twice as high as Newsom’s forecast.

Lower than expected revenues, delayed tax deadlines and overspending based on inaccurate budget projections created California’s grim financial picture. The state budget relies heavily on capital gains taxes paid by California’s highest earners, making state revenues subject to volatility in the stock market.

Republicans have criticized the lack of transparency in state budget negotiations and contend Democrats created the fiscal crisis by continuing to fund expensive programs, such as the expansion of Medi-Cal to all low-income immigrants, even as state revenues drop.

Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) called the budget deal “a swing and a miss from Democrats.”

The first round of cuts could be voted on as early as next Thursday.

Democrats also agreed to pull $12.2 billion from state reserve accounts to cover the shortfall when the final budget is approved later on. The early cuts combined with the planned dip into the reserves will trim $29.5 billion off the deficit.

“We are all committed to delivering an on-time balanced budget, and this early action agreement is a critical first step to shrink the state’s shortfall,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg).

Because the shortfall this year is so large, Newsom has urged the Legislature to take “early action” to begin to whittle away at the deficit now, long before the June 15 deadline to pass a budget.

The cuts Democrats agreed to make this month are largely considered the easier choices, allowing them to focus on tougher deliberations that will come later on this spring. Reducing the deficit before Newsom unveils his revised budget proposal in May could also lessen the public perception of the state’s fiscal woes by trimming the deficit figure before it is expected to grow.

The struggle to reach a consensus up until this point foreshadows the difficult work ahead in May and June for a Legislature and governor with little experience leading through a fiscal crisis as they weigh challenging choices that affect millions of Californians.

The agreement announced Thursday largely mirrors a plan the Senate put forward weeks ago to “shrink the shortfall” by $17 billion, which aligned with many of Newsom’s proposals to begin to offset the deficit.

The Assembly, where Democrats hold 62 of 80 seats under a new speaker, took a little longer to reach a consensus. This week, the lower house said it pushed back on some of the governor’s proposed cuts to housing and homelessness programs, which were ultimately left out of the early action deal. At the Assembly’s urging, the agreement also authorizes the administration to pause one-time spending from previous budget years that has not yet been dispersed.

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) said his chamber’s approach was the “right way to come at closing such a massive shortfall” and that he expects Newsom “to deliver challenging budget proposals next month to reduce the deficit in the long-term.”

The agreement, according to Newsom and legislative leaders, includes:

Saving $762.5 million by declining to fill vacant state positions.

Cutting $500 million from the School Facility Aid Program, which funds K-12 building projects.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

How Asian American Voters in 5 States Can Seal Trump’s 2024 Victory

After $14.4 billion spent, more than 159 million votes cast, and two years of 24-7 news coverage, the 2020 presidential election was decided by just 21,460 Biden voters in three states. 

Let that sink in. 

If 10,342 Biden voters in Wisconsin, 5,890 Biden voters in Georgia, and 5,229 Biden voters in Arizona changed their votes, President Trump would have secured an Electoral College tie and won reelection with a tie-breaking vote in the House of Representatives.

It’s no wonder why so many Republicans feel aggrieved by the 2020 election. The race came down to a few hundredths of a percent of the total votes cast. 

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The 2024 Biden-Trump rematch is expected to be just as close – with 71 electoral votes in five key states expected to decide the outcome: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona. Biden won each of these five states in 2020 by less than 3 percent of the vote. President Trump can return to the White House by adding any three of these five states to his electoral coalition.

Asian American voters in these five swing states are the greatest untapped demographic for the Trump campaign. Collectively, there are more than 1.2 million eligible Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI voters, in these five battleground states, including 655,321 foreign born citizens. Historically, the Republican Party has largely conceded Asian American voters to Democrats. Two-thirds of AAPI voters say that they received no contact or couldn’t remember being contacted by Republicans, according to the 2022 Asian American Voter Survey.

“For years, I’ve urged Republicans to engage with Asian American communities in Georgia,” says Sunny Park, a member of the Georgia Republican Party’s Asian Pacific American Advisory Board. “Asian American communities, in particular the Korean American community, are an untapped and receptive audience to President Trump’s message. In 2020, Georgia’s airwaves were flooded with political ads, but non-English language media were completely ignored by GOP campaigns.”

With little contact from the Republican Party, AAPI voters backed Biden by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in 2020, according to national exit polls.

“On Election Night, Pennsylvania Republicans brace as vote tallies come in from Philadelphia,” explains David Oh, a former Republican member of the Philadelphia City Council, President and CEO of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia. “Yet Republican candidates spend little to no time talking with like-minded voters in Philadelphia. For example, most Asian American voters are outraged by the overwhelming violence and lawlessness caused in large part by the disregard of common-sense law enforcement and the failing economic policies of those in power. But given a choice between a candidate they know and a candidate they don’t, they either vote for the candidate they know or don’t vote at all.”

Asian Americans communities represent a small but meaningful share of the electorate in each of these five swing states. Republicans can reach these communities through non-English language advertising in Asian American media. There are active Chinese radio stations, Korean TV programs, and Vietnamese newspapers that reach a nationwide audience. And the cost of advertising on these channels is substantially lower and more efficient than mainstream media.

Filipino-Americans, the largest Asian American community in Arizona, are large enough to swing a state that Biden carried by 0.31 percent of the vote. Georgia’s active Korean American Christian community could turn the tide for President Trump.  In Wisconsin, Hmong voters let down by the Biden administration can flex their political muscle. 

Click here to read the full article in Downhill

California schools forced to compete with fast food industry for workers after minimum wage hike

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Lost in the hubbub surrounding California’s new $20-per-hour minimum wage for fast food workers is how that raise could impact public schools, forcing districts to compete with the likes of McDonald’s and Wendy’s for cafeteria workers amid a state budget crunch.

The minimum wage law that took effect Monday guarantees at least $20-per-hour for workers at fast food restaurant chains with at least 60 locations nationwide. That doesn’t include school food service workers, historically some of the lowest-paid workers in public education.

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Yet demand for school meals is higher than ever in California, the first state to guarantee free meals for all students regardless of their family’s income. And demand is projected to fuel an increase of more than 70 million extra meals in California schools this year compared to 2018, according to the state Department of Education.

But these jobs typically have lots of turnover and are harder to fill. The minimum wage boost for fast food workers could make that even more difficult.

“They are all very worried about it. Most are saying they anticipate it will be harder and harder to hire employees,” said Carrie Bogdanovich, president of the California School Nutrition Association.

Statewide, some districts have already taken steps to compete in the new reality. Last year, the Sacramento Unified School District — anticipating the law’s passage — agreed to a 10% increase for its food service workers and other low-paying jobs, followed by another 6% increase July 1 of this year to bump their wages up to $20 per hour.

Cancy McArn, the district’s chief human resources officer, said it was the largest single raise in the district in nearly three decades.

“We are looking not only at competing with districts and comparing with districts, we’re also looking at fast food places,” McArn said.

In Southern California, San Luis Coastal Unified doubled its food service staff to 40 people after seeing a 52% increase in the number of students eating school meals. The district prepares 8,500 meals daily for 7,600 students across 15 school sites — breakfast, lunch and even supper options for youth in after-school sports and activities.

The district has since limited the number of its entry-level positions, which are the hardest to fill, while seeking to hire more for complex roles like “culinary lead” and “central kitchen supervisor” that require more skills and hours — making them more attractive to job seekers.

“That’s allowed us to be more competitive,” said Erin Primer, director of food and nutrition services for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District.

Tia Orr, executive director of the Services Employees International Union California — which represents both school food service workers and fast food employees — said school districts and other service industries must consider raising wages because of this new law.

“This is a good thing, and it is long overdue,” she said.

But some districts are limited in what they can do. In the Lynwood Unified School District in Los Angeles County, the starting salary for food service workers is $17.70 per hour and maxes out at $21.51 per hour, according to Gretchen Janson, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services. She said these workers only work three hours per day, meaning they aren’t eligible for health benefits.

Janson says the district is waiting to see how employees react, adding: “We just don’t have the increase in revenue to be able to provide additional funding for staff.”

Nuria Alvarenga has worked food service in the Lynwood School District for 20 years. She makes $21 per hour now, but said she could likely earn more in fast food.

While she said several co-workers were considering finding other jobs, she hasn’t decided yet what she will do. She normally works at an elementary school, but has been filling in recently at a high school where she enjoys seeing former students recognize her as they stand in line for lunch.

“I’m so glad they still remember me,” she said.

School food service workers have gotten more support in recent years under a state push to expand school meals and make them more nutritious. That included $720 million in recent years for upgrades to school kitchens to better prepare fresh meals, plus $45 million to create an apprenticeship program to professionalize the industry.

It would be difficult for lawmakers to mandate a raise for school food workers given the complexities of the state’s school funding formula. That’s why some advocacy groups, including the Chef Ann Foundation, proposed a state-funded incentive program that would have given school food workers who completed an apprenticeship program a $25,000 bonus payable over five years.

That idea didn’t make it into Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal released in January. The state is facing a multibillion dollar budget deficit, limiting new spending.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

S.F. homeless housing nonprofit blasted for misusing taxpayer funds

One of San Francisco’s largest providers of housing for formerly homeless people “misused” taxpayer funds, lacked key financial controls and engaged in other problematic practices that “heightened the risk of fraud,” according to a city report released Tuesday.

“(T)he breadth and magnitude of financial and compliance problems we found at HomeRise is concerning,” wrote Sjoberg Evashenk Consulting Inc., an independent firm the city hired to audit the nonprofit.

Janéa Jackson, CEO of HomeRise, said Tuesday afternoon that the nonprofit’s leadership is “100% committed” to resolving the issues noted in the audit. Jackson, who took over as head of the nonprofit in June 2023, said she has already addressed several of the concerns. 

San Francisco nonprofits receive hundreds of millions of dollars to provide services to the city’s most vulnerable residents — whether unhoused or struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. But nonprofits have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as local organizations have been accused of financial mismanagement, or worse. 

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HomeRise was the subject of controversy last week after one of the nonprofit’s complexes in Mission Bay was criticized during a hearing at City Hall where residents complained it was contributing to violent and disturbing incidents in the neighborhood, a characterization the city rejected.

The revelations in the report on HomeRise follow a slew of scandals at nonprofits that contract with San Francisco over the past three years. The executive director of a Bayview food bank was accused of using city funds to enrich herself. Other nonprofits were accused of labor violations and overspending their budget. And a public-safety-focused nonprofit fired its executive director after finding it spent nearly $80,000 in grant money on ineligible expenses, including a Lake Tahoe trip, luxury gift boxes and limo service.  

HomeRise operates more than 1,500 units at 19 properties across the city, with an annual budget of about $34 million and some 250 employees. The city’s current agreements with HomeRise total more than $240 million in loans, grants and subsidies. That includes $110 million in loans to develop or rehabilitate properties, $90 million for operations and maintenance, and more than $40 million in grants for support services.

Auditors found “unallowable, imprudent, or questionable spending” by HomeRise that was inconsistent with the terms of its agreement, such as using city dollars for fundraising, paying staff bonuses, and providing lunches and gifts to its staff.  

As of January 2023, the nonprofit had 118 active credit cards in use — equivalent to roughly half of its workforce — of which more than a third had credit limits of $10,000 or higher, according to the audit. HomeRise did not have sufficient controls on the credit cards to prevent risk of fraudulent expenses, waste or other abuse going undetected, the report found. 

Jackson said Tuesday that the organization has recently reduced its number of corporate credit cards to about 30 and that most now have a limit of $2,500.

The audit also uncovered that the nonprofit gave out “signing” bonuses to employees who had been working for HomeRise for two to 13 years. Through job promotions, one HomeRise official’s salary allegedly increased more than $87,000, or 74%, in the span of just nine months. More than $200,000 in bonuses were “unplanned and unbudgeted,” worsening cash flow problems, the report stated.

The large raises and bonuses were handed out despite the nonprofit reportedly losing millions of dollars a year due to high vacancy rates in its buildings. In July 2023, more than 14% of units across the nonprofit’s properties were empty, the report found. Two of the nonprofit’s oldest buildings, the San Cristina at 1000 Market St. and the Senator Hotel at 519 Ellis St., had vacancy rates of 34.5% and 29.2% respectively.

The audit stated that the vacancies not only reduce the nonprofit’s potential rental revenue, but, “More importantly, vacant units represent missed opportunities to provide unhoused people with permanent, supportive housing.”

At the same time, the nonprofit had questionable costs including more than $100,000 in temporary rental charges, $96,000 for salaries paid to tenant program services staff and $12,500 for a social event.

The report criticized the lack of leadership and accountability at the organization, which was partly due to an “alarming rate of turnover” in key corporate positions, the document noted. 

The controller’s office could not determine the total magnitude of HomeRise’s inappropriate spending or unallowable charges because, in most cases, there was no supporting documentation.

After trying and failing to work with HomeRise to address growing concerns, the homelessness department and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, or MOHCD, requested the audit in 2022. 

Formerly known as Community Housing Partnership, HomeRise was founded in 1990 as a partnership between the Coalition on Homelessness and a group of nonprofit housing developers called the Council of Community Housing Organizations. To this day, the coalition and council each get to appoint four members to the organization’s board of directors. 

Six months after a city department issued a notice of default at one of HomeRise’s properties, the city controller placed HomeRise on “elevated concern status” due to its financial instability. 

HomeRise remains on that elevated concern status. 

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Walters: California’s income-based utility charge saga began with misuse of the state budget process

A year ago, California’s three big investor-owned electric power utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – proposed new fixed charges on their residential customers that would vary by income.

Households making less than $69,000 a year would pay $20 to $34 a month, while those earning $69,000 to $180,000 would be charged $51 to $73. The charge would be $85 to $128 on customers with incomes over $180,000.

Fixed utility charges separate from usage volume are nothing new. They offset costs for utility companies to maintain the power grid. However, basing utility charges on customer incomes would be a new step that touched off a spirited ideological debate that spread beyond the state’s borders.

It drew fire from those on the right because of its class-based underpinnings but also from those on the left who said even small charges would put more stress on low-income families struggling to pay rent and utility bills.

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Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission offered a less contentious proposal: a flat $24.15 per month fixed charge for most customers, lower $6 or $12 charges for low-income households, and lower overall rates tied to usage.

By downplaying the income redistribution aspects and promising lower overall bills for most ratepayers, the PUC has quieted some, but not all, criticism.

Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks is leading a group of Democratic legislators who think the proposal is still too onerous and back a different proposal, Assembly Bill 1999, that would cap the fixed charge at $10 a month for most customers and $5 for low-income families. Irwin complained in a social media post that the PUC is “completely out of touch.”

The merits of the PUC’s plan notwithstanding, the issue is also a classic example of how the annual budget process is misused to enact major policy changes without fully airing their impacts.

A year ago, California’s three big investor-owned electric power utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – proposed new fixed charges on their residential customers that would vary by income.

Households making less than $69,000 a year would pay $20 to $34 a month, while those earning $69,000 to $180,000 would be charged $51 to $73. The charge would be $85 to $128 on customers with incomes over $180,000.

Fixed utility charges separate from usage volume are nothing new. They offset costs for utility companies to maintain the power grid. However, basing utility charges on customer incomes would be a new step that touched off a spirited ideological debate that spread beyond the state’s borders.

It drew fire from those on the right because of its class-based underpinnings but also from those on the left who said even small charges would put more stress on low-income families struggling to pay rent and utility bills.

Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission offered a less contentious proposal: a flat $24.15 per month fixed charge for most customers, lower $6 or $12 charges for low-income households, and lower overall rates tied to usage.

By downplaying the income redistribution aspects and promising lower overall bills for most ratepayers, the PUC has quieted some, but not all, criticism.

Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks is leading a group of Democratic legislators who think the proposal is still too onerous and back a different proposal, Assembly Bill 1999, that would cap the fixed charge at $10 a month for most customers and $5 for low-income families. Irwin complained in a social media post that the PUC is “completely out of touch.”

The merits of the PUC’s plan notwithstanding, the issue is also a classic example of how the annual budget process is misused to enact major policy changes without fully airing their impacts.

A year ago, California’s three big investor-owned electric power utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – proposed new fixed charges on their residential customers that would vary by income.

Households making less than $69,000 a year would pay $20 to $34 a month, while those earning $69,000 to $180,000 would be charged $51 to $73. The charge would be $85 to $128 on customers with incomes over $180,000.

Fixed utility charges separate from usage volume are nothing new. They offset costs for utility companies to maintain the power grid. However, basing utility charges on customer incomes would be a new step that touched off a spirited ideological debate that spread beyond the state’s borders.

It drew fire from those on the right because of its class-based underpinnings but also from those on the left who said even small charges would put more stress on low-income families struggling to pay rent and utility bills.

Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission offered a less contentious proposal: a flat $24.15 per month fixed charge for most customers, lower $6 or $12 charges for low-income households, and lower overall rates tied to usage.

By downplaying the income redistribution aspects and promising lower overall bills for most ratepayers, the PUC has quieted some, but not all, criticism.

Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks is leading a group of Democratic legislators who think the proposal is still too onerous and back a different proposal, Assembly Bill 1999, that would cap the fixed charge at $10 a month for most customers and $5 for low-income families. Irwin complained in a social media post that the PUC is “completely out of touch.”

The merits of the PUC’s plan notwithstanding, the issue is also a classic example of how the annual budget process is misused to enact major policy changes without fully airing their impacts.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Sick of rain? But wait, there’s more

Back-to-back water years are wettest for L.A. since late 1800s, and a new system looms off the coast.

After a comparatively dry fall in Southern California, there was a point last December when it seemed like the fears of a strong, wet El Niño winter may have been overblown.

So much for that.

In a matter of weeks, a succession of powerful storms flipped the script, dumping a stream of record-setting, intense rainfall across California, much of it on the state’s southwestern region.

That wet pattern has continued as winter has given way to spring, with this past weekend’s storm dumping up to 4 inches of rain in some areas — pushing Los Angeles to a new two-year rain total not seen since the late 1800s and forestalling any hope for a quick end to the rainy season.

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As of Monday morning, downtown Los Angeles had received 52.46 inches of rain in the latest two water years, the second-highest amount in recorded history. The only other two-year October-through-September period — the period for the so-called water year — that saw more rain was from 1888 through 1890, according to the National Weather Service.

“When you consider the records since 1877 in downtown L.A. … the second [largest total] is hugely significant,” said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “We’re obviously way, way, way above normal for two years in a row now. For a dry climate like the Los Angeles area, it’s huge.”

And there’s probably more on the way. A low-pressure system is brewing off the California coast, expected to move inland later this week, weather officials said, driving above-average precipitation forecasts for much of the state through April 10.

Nor do forecasters expect that storm to close out the wet season, with the long-range forecast for April favoring slightly-above-average precipitation in Southern California, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

“We don’t think it’s the end of the rainy season yet,” said Anthony Artusa, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. He said a wetter pattern should linger through April and maybe into early May, fueled by the last vestiges of an El Niño-Southern Oscillation — the climate pattern in the tropical Pacific that tends to drive wetter weather in California.

The current El Niño is transitioning to a more neutral pattern, and a La Niña is expected to take over by the summer, bringing typically cooler and drier weather. But because the atmosphere tends to lag behind the changes to the Pacific’s surface temperatures, Artusa said, “we’re seeing an extension of these [El Niño] effects even later on into April.”

Indeed, this year’s soggy winter was in many ways a “canonical” El Niño event — particularly because most of the storms arrived in late winter and are continuing through spring, according to Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“El Niño and La Niña signals typically kick in — when they do kick in, because it’s not always the case — in January, February, March, and that’s exactly the part of the year that was anomalously wet this year,” he said.

However, not all of the wet weather can be attributed to El Niño. Last year’s soaking storms occurred during a La Niña event, and Gershunov noted that some of the state’s wettest years this century have occurred during La Niña years, which also included 2011 and 2017.

“In all of these cases, atmospheric river activity was extremely strong,” he said. “What we are finding out is that atmospheric rivers don’t always dance to the tune of [El Niño], and they can make or break” the textbook El Niño pattern.

This latest Easter weekend storm caused some freeway flooding, brought brief hail and dropped 2 to 4 inches of rain across the region, with some mountain areas hitting totals closer to 5 inches, according to the weather service. It was far from the strongest storm this rainy season, but it still brought impressive rain totals: 2.1 inches in downtown L.A., 4.67 inches in Lytle Creek, 4.09 near Lynwood, 3.92 in Compton and 3.54 in Stunt Ranch.

The heaviest and most widespread rain fell from late Friday into early Saturday, setting several daily rainfall records for March 30, including in downtown L.A. with 1.73 inches, Long Beach with 1.86 inches and Palmdale with 1.12 inches. Snowfall totals hit 22 inches in Green Valley Lake, 14 inches in Snow Valley and 10 inches in Big Bear City, according to the National Weather Service.

Last month, though, daily rainfall totals more than doubled the March 30 records when a deadly atmospheric river stormwalloped the Southland and much of the Golden State, triggering hundreds of mudslides, significant flooding and destruction. That system dumped 4.1 inches of rain on downtown L.A. in one day, making Feb. 4 the wettest day in February history.

That system followed a string of strong storms that brought significant rains and severe flash flooding in some areas. Most notably, in late December, a month’s worth of rain fell in less than an hour and inundated Oxnard. Then in January in San Diego, historic rainfall filled one-story homes, turned roads into rivers and forced rooftop rescues.

“We’ve had a number of very heavy, high-intensity rainfall events,” Sirard said.

With more rain on the horizon for Southern California, Sirard said he wouldn’t be surprised if this two-year period ends up the wettest in City of Angels history, as the current count is less than 2 inches short of the all-time record, 54.1 inches, which fell from 1888 to 1890.

“We actually have a very decent chance of setting the all-time record,” Sirard said.

Last year became the seventh-wettest water year in L.A.’s history with 31.07 inches falling from Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023. National Weather Service meteorologists consider 14.25 inches the area’s normal annual rainfall, making last year’s total more than 200% of average. With six months left to go, this water year has recorded 21.39 inches, currently the 22nd wettest in recorded history.

This year’s wet winter may also have broader climate impacts, Gershunov said, including potential effects on the coming wildfire season. Mountain and forest ecosystems will probably see less fire activity because late winter and spring snowpack tends to melt gradually, promoting wetter soils and less combustible vegetation in the summertime.

On the other hand, anomalous precipitation in coastal ecosystems — such as the strong storms that fell this winter and spring in Los Angeles and San Diego — are promoting the growth of new grasses and other light plants that could potentially feed flames.

“All of that is going to be dry when the coastal fall wildfire season rolls around with the onset of Santa Ana winds next October,” Gershunov said.

And while this year seemed to follow the El Niño playbook, he noted that the climate pattern doesn’t always live up to the hype, such as the El Niño of 2015-16, which was billed as a monster event that ultimately produced average precipitation in California. In fact, when measured on a statewide basis, precipitation is hovering just around average this year, with 20.9 inches since the start of the water year on Oct. 1, or about 107% of average for the date, state data show.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Coupal: The League of California Cities’ war on taxpayers

The League of California Cities has always been biased against the interests of taxpayers. This became especially clear during the historic Proposition 13 campaign in 1978 when the League, along with the rest of the spending lobby, predicted the end of Western Civilization if Prop. 13 passed.

Just how out of touch was the League with the voting public?  Based on election results, the voters approved Prop. 13 in 90% of the cities in California.

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The League of Cities’ conduct during the Prop. 13 campaign was so bad that then Governor Jerry Brown scolded the League for demanding more money and being oblivious to the tax revolt. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times on May 5, 1978, just one month before the vote, “Gov. Brown [was] peppered with demands for more state money from a group of city officials [at a League meeting in San Diego] suggest[ing] they resembled passengers on the Titanic demanding more deck chairs. ‘You, of all people, should realize that a tax revolt is under way’ . . .  Said Brown to a chorus of boos, ‘you’d better wake up to the tax revolt.’”

The League’s intransigent position on tax relief even earned it criticism from Democratic legislative leadership. “Modest cuts in taxes and government spending were proposed and ignored.” Dan Boatwright, chairman of the state Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said, “The League of California Cities and the County Supervisors Assn. lobbied [legislators] to death.”‘

To add insult to injury, all this anti-taxpayer lobbying was paid for with taxpayer dollars.

In addition to advocating against taxpayers, a more recent phenomenon is that many of the League positions are contrary to the interests of cities and the principle of local control. Several municipal officials who are actually concerned about the fiscal health of their cities are growing disenchanted with the League and are moving to distance themselves from League positions and even to leave the League entirely.

This past Tuesday, the Orange City Council voted to leave the League over its support for Proposition 1 – a measure many local officials say could worsen the problems currently associated with group homes. “It should be noted that housing projects funded by this bond would be considered ‘use by right,’ potentially preempting local zoning law for properties with multifamily residential, office, retail, or parking uses,” reads the City of Orange staff report.

The move by Orange comes after Newport Beach and Huntington Beach left the League of California Cities over its support for Prop. 1.  Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill stated, “While the League of California Cities has regularly taken positions opposite the interests of taxpayers, the tipping point to leave the League completely came when they advocated for Proposition 1 despite acknowledging the serious and disastrous effects buried in the fine print. Specifically, Prop. 1 will take away local control by requiring cities to approve rehab housing funded with billions of dollars in new bond money. The League is supposed to advocate for cities, but they have actively harmed cities with this overtly political decision. Cities should not fund an organization putting Sacramento’s interests above our residents.”

The most recent target of the League’s hysterical outrage is the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act (TPA), a proposed constitutional amendment which has already qualified for the November 2024 ballot. It is sponsored by taxpayer and business organizations to restore key provisions of Proposition 13 and other pro-taxpayer laws that give voters more control over when and how new tax revenue is raised.

Although TPA, unlike previous tax reform measures, doesn’t reduce or eliminate any state or local tax, it does impose both enhanced voter approval requirements for fee and tax increases as well as robust accountability and transparency provisions. And yet, even though TPA is relatively modest, the League, once again, is predicting End Times disasters.

For example, the League’s chief complaint about TPA isn’t about TPA at all, but rather a long-standing provision of Proposition 13 requiring a two-thirds vote for local special taxes (taxes for a specific purpose). This 44-year-old requirement was weakened in 2017 by ambiguity in the California Supreme Court’s infamous Upland decision. Lower courts have interpreted the decision to allow special taxes to pass with only 50% plus one vote if the tax was put on the ballot by a “citizens’ initiative.” This has enabled special interests to draft their own tax increases, direct the money to themselves, and get these self-serving measures passed with only a simple majority vote. TPA simply restores the two-thirds vote requirement and closes this costly loophole.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register