Judge says ex-Trump attorney, Chapman Law dean John Eastman should be disbarred in California

Column: The lawyer who advised the former president in his fight to overturn the 2020 election cannot practice during his appeal

When he spread wild untruths about the 2020 election and tried to stretch the law like Silly Putty to keep Donald Trump in power, John Eastman betrayed the fundamental oaths he swore to uphold as a licensed attorney — and thus must lose that license, a State Bar judge ruled Wednesday, March 27.

“Despite the depth, breadth, and complexity of the case law and historical context cited by the parties, this disciplinary proceeding boils down to an analysis of whether or not Eastman, in his role as the attorney for then-President Donald Trump … and his re-election campaign, acted dishonestly,” State Bar Judge Yvette Roland said.

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He did, she said. “It is recommended that John Charles Eastman, State Bar Number 193726, be disbarred from the practice of law in California and that his name be stricken from the roll of attorneys.”

Eastman, the former dean of Chapman University’s law school who also was hit with $10,000 in sanctions and ordered to cover the Bar prosecution’s costs, called the decision “a travesty of justice.” He vowed to appeal and has characterized those seeking to discipline him as evil.

“Dr. Eastman maintains that his handling of the legal issues he was asked to assess after the November 2020 election was based on reliable legal precedent, prior presidential elections, research of constitutional text, and extensive scholarly material,” his attorney, Randall Miller, said in a statement.

“The process undertaken by Dr. Eastman in 2020 is the same process taken by lawyers every day and everywhere – indeed, that is the essence of what lawyers do. They are ethically bound to be zealous advocates for their clients – a duty Dr. Eastman holds inviolate. To the extent today’s decision curtails that principle, we are confident the Review Court will swiftly provide a remedy.”

The decision could be crippling to his livelihood – and potent fodder for fundraising. Eastman cannot practice law in California during the appeal, which strangles an income stream as he fights criminal charges in Georgia over 2020 election interference and potential disbarment in Washington D.C. It will cost more than $3 million to defend himself, he has said in fundraising pitches, but he has only raised shy of $640,000 in donations on the Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo.

“I feel a little like Julius Caesar,” Eastman said in a recent lecture to the Salt and Light Council, which promotes “Biblical citizenship.” “The folks we’re dealing with are evil. They don’t consider destroying our country as collateral damage for their overall mission. They consider that icing on the cake for their overall mission. I mean, we have to understand that we are dealing with pure evil, and … you got to arm yourselves in truth and light, salt and light.”

Overthrowing democracy?

In what has become known as the “coup memos,” Eastman argued that the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional and the vice president had the authority to reject states’ official electoral votes and even declare Donald Trump, who lost the election, its winner. Trump seized on these ideas and did not let go.

On stage Jan. 6, Eastman alleged that dead people voted, that blank ballots were hidden in a “secret folder” inside voting machines and that the election had been stolen. As rioters stormed the Capitol, Vice President Mike Pence’s rattled attorney told Eastman that “the advice provided has, whether intended to or not, functioned as a serpent in the ear of the President of the United States, the most powerful office in the entire world…. Thanks to your (expletive), we are now under siege.”

Eastman was charged with 11 counts by the California State Bar prosecutor’s office, one of which was dismissed, the most colorful of which are “dishonesty and moral turpitude.” He’s accused of prodding state electors to send fake electoral votes for Trump to the Capitol, of filing false information with courts, of spreading incendiary lies that fed the rage that consumed the Capitol.

Eastman has wrapped himself in the First Amendment, saying his utterings are a matter of protected free speech.

Eastman’s defenders argue he was simply doing his job, zealously advocating for his client with the legal equivalent of “everything but the kitchen sink.” He has decried the charges as Orwellian “lawfare” waged by radical left-wingers seeking to destroy the fabric of America. “(T)he government has spoken, and if you disagree, then you must be lying. Two plus two equals five, after all, and if the government says so, you must not only repeat the lie, but you must come to believe it as well,” his lawyers told the judge in closing arguments.

The judge didn’t buy that. “While attorneys have a duty to advocate zealously for their clients, they must do so within the bounds of ethical and legal constraints,” she wrote. “Eastman’s actions transgressed those ethical limits by advocating, participating in and pursuing a strategy to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election that lacked evidentiary or legal support. Vigorous advocacy does not absolve Eastman of his professional responsibilities around honesty and upholding the rule of law.”

In a recent post on GiveSendGo, Eastman described the Bar proceedings as shot through with “mendacity.” He blasted Bar prosecutors for assigning a court opinion to a circuit court rather than a district court. He quarreled with the accuracy of a legal quotation. “Perhaps they should file notice of disciplinary charges against themselves!” he wrote. “Alas, don’t hold your breath for such a just result…. win or lose, we anticipate more proceedings on appeal, adding to what one commentator has already called the longest and most expensive bar disciplinary proceeding in history.

“Thankfully, people are starting to wake up to the dangers of this ‘lawfare,’ not just to me personally but to our adversarial system of justice more broadly,” he wrote. “If you can, please consider making an additional contribution to my legal defense fund to help me keep fighting these travesties of justice. And as always, keep us, and our great country, in your prayers.”

Strong reaction

The state Bar was pleased with the outcome.

“Every California attorney has the duty to uphold the constitution and the rule of law,” Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona said in a prepared statement. “Mr. Eastman repeatedly violated that duty. Worse, he did so in a way that threatened the fundamental principles of our democracy.

“The substantial evidence presented over 35 days of trial showed, and the court has now held, that Mr. Eastman abandoned his ethical and legal duties as an attorney to conspire with then-President Donald Trump to develop and implement a strategy to obstruct the counting of electoral votes on January 6, 2021, and illegally disrupt the peaceful transfer of power to President-elect Joseph Biden, knowing that there was no good faith theory or argument to lawfully reject the electoral votes of any state or delay the January 6 electoral count. Mr. Eastman’s efforts failed only because our democratic institutions and those committed to upholding them held strong. The harm caused by Mr. Eastman’s abandonment of his duties as a lawyer, and the threat his actions posed to our democracy, more than warrant his disbarment.”

Laguna Niguel attorney James V. Lacy has known Eastman for years and followed the proceedings closely.

“This is a sad and wholly avoidable negative milestone in Eastman’s legal career,” Lacy said. “He could have avoided ‘being the snake in Trump’s ear’ by simply coming to the same, sane, legal conclusion as his own star witness John Yoo did during the trial, that the Vice President just does not have the power to overthrow an election.

“He also could have avoided this outcome and all the effort and expense, and building of a factual record that will now be used against him in his Georgia criminal trial, by simply resigning his bar membership in the very beginning, as this result of the process was predictable over a year ago.

“I do pity John and hope for his sake he fares better in the other upcoming actions against him.”

The States United Democracy Center filed an early ethics complaint against Eastman with the State Bar. “This is a crucial victory in the effort to hold accountable those who tried to overturn the 2020 election,” said Christine P. Sun, a senior vice president, in a prepared statement. “This decision sends an unmistakable message: No one is above the law—not presidents, and not their lawyers.”

Miller, Eastman’s attorney, disagrees. Eastman faces “serious and complex criminal charges in an unprecedented criminal RICO action in Fulton County, Georgia, where one of his co-defendants is the former President of the United States and presumptive Republican nominee for re-election to that office. He has not been convicted of any crime and in the eyes of the law he is presumed innocent.

“Dr. Eastman remains adamant that in his case, that presumption is absolutely correct,” Miller said. “Any reasonable person can see the inherent unfairness of prohibiting a presumed-innocent defendant from being able to earn the funds needed to pay for the enormous expenses required to defend himself, in the profession in which he has long been licensed. That is not justice and serves no legitimate purpose to protect the public.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Embattled LA developer accuses its financial chief of looting millions intended for homeless housing

Embattled Los Angeles developer Shangri-La Industries, which has left a trail of unpaid debts, unfinished projects and foreclosure threats since it took $114 million from the state to convert motels into housing for the homeless, is now accusing its former chief financial officer of embezzling millions of dollars to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Shangri-La, which is being sued by state housing authorities for breaching the terms of its agreement under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature Project Homekey program, alleges in a lawsuit that former CFO Cody Holmes, 29, engaged in bank fraud and check kiting in 2022 and 2023 with Shangri-La’s lenders, banks and brokers.

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The suit, filed last month in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks more than $40 million in damages and other costs.

Holmes, according to the lawsuit, allegedly transferred vast sums of company cash and property to bank accounts and shell companies he set up and controlled and to his suspected ex-girlfriend, Madeline Witt, 28, who is a defendant in the lawsuit.

He used the money to host extravagant parties, cover $46,000 a month in rent at a leased home in Beverly Hills, travel regularly on private jets, lease exotic cars — including a 2021 Bentley Bentayga and a Ferrari Portofino — and even $12,000 to cover a student loan payment, the lawsuit alleges.

Additionally, Holmes purchased high-dollar luxury items for himself and Witt, including two Birken handbags valued at nearly $128,000, Chanel and Louis Vuitton handbags valued at more than $14,000, a $127,000 Riviera diamond necklace, a $35,000 Audemars Piguet diamond watch, and 20 VIP passes for the 2023 Coachella Music and Arts Festival valued at more than $53,000, according to the suit.

Holmes and Witt did not respond to multiple emails, telephone calls and text messages requesting comment.

Legal maneuvering

Attorneys representing Shangri-La, its affiliate businesses and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Meyers Abdul Wahab, who professionally uses the surname “Meyers,” filed the suit seeking a temporary restraining order that would prevent Holmes from withdrawing money from nine bank accounts he controls.

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Shangri-La fired Holmes in January following an internal investigation, according to court records.

“For the past two years, defendant Cody Holmes has looted Shangri-La and its subsidiaries of public funds earmarked for Shangri-La’s affordable housing projects,” attorney Brian A. Sun said in the motion filed March 6. “A (temporary restraining order) will prevent the public funds embezzled by Holmes from being hidden, withdrawn, or used to purchase extravagant expenses.”

Sun, according to his motion, said Holmes continued to make extravagant purchases after he was fired from Shangri-La, including leasing a 2024 Porsche Taycar and renting another luxury home in the Hollywood Hills.

A judge denied Sun’s request on March 7, but the lawyer said he plans to push the issue by refiling another motion.

In a telephone interview, Sun said Holmes is “dissipating assets as we speak. He’s selling off assets.”

Homekey program

Since 2020, the state Department of Housing and Community Development has provided Shangri-La Industries more than $114 million in Homekey funds to convert motels up and down the state into permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

Shangri-La has partnered with the Santa Monica-based nonprofit Step Up on Second, which provides support services to the homeless, in its efforts to purchase and upgrade motel properties and set up housing operations for the homeless.

Problems began surfacing when lenders and general contractors and subcontractors stopped being paid. Dozens of mechanic’s liens totaling millions of dollars have been filed over the past year at county recorder offices where the Homekey projects were located.

At the San Bernardino County Recorder’s Office alone, more than $2 million in liens were filed from March 7 to May 3, 2023, by contractors and suppliers not paid for work completed at the former Good Nite Inn in Redlands, now called Step Up in Redlands, and the former All Star Lodge in San Bernardino, now Step Up in San Bernardino.

Step Up in Redlands, which opened in January 2023, and Step Up in San Bernardino, which opened in March 2023, are the only two of Shangri-La’s seven Homekey-funded projects that were completed and are now operating.

Another of the developer’s Homekey projects, at the former Salinas Inn, has 44 units and is about 95% complete, Sun said.

State action

In January, the state Department of Housing and Community Development sued Shangri-La Industries and its partners in the Homekey projects, including the county of San Bernardino, the city of Redlands and Step Up on Second.

The state alleged Shangri-La and its co-defendants breached their obligations, granting and recording deeds of trust to secure loans from the third-party lenders without first obtaining the state’s written authorization, as required under the Homekey agreements.

Newsom launched Project Homekey in June 2020 to protect unhoused individuals from the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. The state has allocated more than $3 billion to cities and counties to purchase motels, hotels, vacant apartment buildings and other properties to provide permanent housing for the homeless.

The state alleges in its lawsuit that for each of its Homekey-funded projects, Shangri-La used the address of each motel to create undercapitalized shell companies to engage in misconduct. All the hotel properties face possible foreclosure, according to the lawsuit, which is set for a status conference on April 17.

Officials at the Department of Housing and Community Development did not respond to requests for comment. It could not be determined whether the state is conducting a criminal investigation.

Career trajectory

Holmes, according to the lawsuit, began working at Shangri-La as in intern in 2014 while still an undergraduate at USC. He earned his master’s degree in finance while working at the company as its director of finance.

When the company’s chief financial officer left in 2019, Meyers made Holmes its new CFO, according to the lawsuit.

“Meyers promoted Holmes to CFO because Meyers believed Holmes to be an intelligent problem solver and resourceful employee. Most importantly, Meyers trusted Holmes,” according to the lawsuit. “Holmes exploited that trust and intentionally deceived plaintiffs in order to enrich himself and his then girlfriend, defendant Witt.”

Alleged fraud

On March 22, 2023, the lawsuit alleges, Holmes recorded a fraudulent deed of trust on one of Shangri-La’s Homekey properties, the Salinas Inn at 1030 Fairview Ave. He falsely represented that the property owed money to one of Holmes’ alleged shell companies, Millenium Partners Inc., which was doing business as 310 REIT, according to the lawsuit.

In June 2023, Meyers and Shangri-La’s affiliates received notice from a lender that one of its Los Angeles properties, a vacant lot at 1228 Normandie Ave., was in default, even though Shangri-La and its affiliates paid cash for the property in September 2021 and it was completely debt free.

The lawsuit alleges Holmes, “without plaintiff’s knowledge or authorization, encumbered the property with loans and then allowed the loans to default.”

Holmes also used other people’s identifying information, including that of Meyers, to misappropriate funds from Shangri-La and its affiliated businesses, the suit alleges.

In April 2022, according to the lawsuit, Holmes forged Meyers’ signature on a lease for a 2021 Bentley Bentayga and created a fake email account to communicate with the lender. Two months later, Holmes allegedly forged Meyers’ signature again, this time on a lease agreement for the $46,000-a-month rental house in Beverly Hills.

Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Holmes of engaging in check kiting by drafting checks drawn on his alleged shell companies’ bank accounts and depositing them into the bank accounts of Shangri-La and/or those of its affiliates, knowing there were insufficient funds to cover the checks.

14 lawsuits over unpaid debts

Holmes’ conduct, the lawsuit alleges, is responsible for at least 14 lawsuits filed by lenders and general contractors up and down the state involved in Shangri-La-affiliated motel conversion projects who claim they were never paid. Half of the lawsuits were filed in San Bernardino County and involve the San Bernardino and Redlands projects.

The other Homekey projects include three in Salinas, one in Thousands Oaks and another in King City.

“Many of the projects remain incomplete due to the fiscal malfeasance and mismanagement of defendant Holmes,” according to the lawsuit.

Click here to raed the full article in the OC Register

Fast Food Restaurant Owners Brace As $20 Minimum Wage Law set To Go Into Effect Next Week

New law causing more layoffs, reduced hours across state

photo of cheeseburger and french fries
Photo by Isaac Taylor on Pexels.com

With only a week to go before the AB 1228 $20 fast food minimum wage law comes into effect, restaurants across California continue to make last minute firings, employee hours cuts, and other measures to remain profitable and stay in business.

Following the signing of AB 1228 in October by Governor Gavin Newsom, the new $20 minimum wage for fast food employees, a massive jump from the $16 minimum wage, has had multiple companies take extreme measures. Some, like Chipotle and McDonalds, have announced already raised prices before the wage raise date of April 1st. Others are investing in automated kiosks and other automated devices to help reduce the number of employees. Some stores outright closed.

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Most notable, however, has been the massive amount of layoffs. Already, over 1,200 Pizza Hut drivers have had announced lay-offs, with drivers to be replaced by services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats in the coming months. Roundtable Pizza has also done the same with many of their delivery drivers, with many other chains currently also looking into doing the same for deliveries. Seeing signs of massive layoffs ahead, many workers have even transitioned out to other lines of work in anticipation.

In recent weeks it has got even messier. Panera Bread, which was originally exempt over having in-store bakeries and selling bread on stand-alone, voluntarily went to the $20 wage following accusations that Governor Gavin Newsom had allowed the exception to take place to benefit a major donor. AB 1228 bill author, Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), recently also created a new bill that would grant numerous exemptions to the bill in an attempt to lighten the economic blow of AB 1228. However, as the Globe noted, AB 610 does anything but cleanup the mess caused by AB 1228.

While there have been attempts to try and spin this as a major labor win, with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) launching the new and largely toothless California Fast Food Workers Union in February, fast food restaurant owners and managers have been bracing for the worst. Now, with a week left, many stores are scrambling to cut back employee hours, fire employees, set up lines so fewer employees are needed, and figure out what hours to close during the day during slow hours.

“This is what is incredibly stupid of the bill,” said “Annette”, an owner of a sandwich chain restaurant in Upstate California to the Globe. “If I still lived in LA, a $20 minimum wage would have been a major pain. Sure, you get customers coming in, but there are a lot more expenses for a restaurant there. I mean, taxes alone. Then, up here. You can have a restaurant in Siskiyou County or Shasta County where taxes are cheaper, but you still struggle with fewer customers. You can even have a spot on the Interstate on the 5, but there wouldn’t be enough traffic or cars coming in to justify the $20 an hour.

“It was a flat increase. You need to take into account a ton of variables. They were just thinking of the cost of living for employees. But that should just be one factor out of many. You have to go by county or by city. And you hit the nail on the head by pointing out just how much we are investing in automation and technology. It has been killing a lot of industries for years, especially blue collar ones. And now it is going after minimum wage jobs like these all thanks to new laws like these.”

$20 an hour hurting businesses

Another, a KFC franchisee, told the Globe “Major hour cutbacks for sure are happening here. We already kept it below 32 so not many are considered full time. But now we’re looking at the equivalent of giving them another shift off. We’re doing the same with less and consolidating tasks or having people only be at the register when customers are there.

“So people have been doing the math on $20 per hour. You know, $800 a week, or $41k  a year. So, first of all, virtually no fast food worker works that long. This is a part time gig for kids, or if they’re lifers, they do two or three stores to make the equivalent of a full time job. And that’s all before taxes.

“Where it becomes a problem for us is, obviously, the costs. But, for a silver lining, we are now putting the few people above the 32 hours mark well below 30 now, so a lot of benefits just went out the window for them. I’m not using any glee or anything here. It sucks and we really wanted to do right by our employees as much as possible. But this $20 ruins that. If you see more people working 2 or three jobs or are frustrated by not having any customer service, thank AB 1228. We’re doing what we can to make this work, but they aren’t giving us any wiggle room.”

One of his employees, Pedro, who has worked there for almost 15 years, added that “My hours are being cut. This pay raise from the minimum wage is doing nothing because of that. So now I’m looking to take on another job to make ends meet. Which is hard now, as a lot of fast food workers are doing the exact same thing as me since they are in the same position all within the same industry. And I voted for these people who approved this.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Call them super progressives: L.A.’s political left looks to expand its power at City Hall

You might call them political progressives. Or maybe super progressives, given how much they want to reshape politics in Los Angeles.

Whatever the label, candidates on the left end of the political spectrum made crucial advances in the March 5 primary election for City Council, setting the stage for some hard-fought runoff campaigns and, potentially, an expansion of their power by the end of the year.

Progressive activists and advocacy groups helped reelect City Councilmember Nithya Raman, while sending two other left-of-center candidates — tenant rights attorney Ysabel Jurado and small business owner Jillian Burgos — into runoffs against more moderate rivals.

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“I think the results showed consistently across the board that when we show up, we win,” said Bill Przylucki, executive director of Ground Game LA, a nonprofit advocacy group that has spent several years pushing the council to the left.

If Burgos and Jurado prevail in November, the number of council members with deeply progressive backgrounds will grow from three to five, making up a third of the 15-member council. Four of the five have campaigned alongside Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles. Burgos, the fifth, drew support from other big names in leftist political circles, including City Controller Kenneth Mejia and former mayoral candidate Gina Viola.

A five-member super-progressive voting bloc would have significant influence over homelessness, subsidized housing, tenant protections, public transit, the installation of bike lanes and the size of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The bloc would need only three more votes to pass legislation on a council where several members, including Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Katy Yaroslavsky, are left-of-center swing votes. Super progressives also would occupy additional seats on the council’s committees, allowing them to shape policies from their inception, Przylucki said.

Some players in L.A. politics say the effect of the left in the primary is overstated. They point out that Councilmember John Lee, one of the council’s centrist members, easily won his reelection bid in the northwest Valley. Another incumbent, Councilmember Imelda Padilla, coasted to reelection after securing support from public safety unions, construction trade unions, Valley business groups and others.

Raman won 50.7% of the vote, securing the majority she needed to win outright. But that victory simply preserved the existing political makeup of the council, said Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which waged an expensive but unsuccessful campaign against Raman.

“At the end of the day, there’s been no net gain for any ideology on the council,” he said. “There’s still three socialists on the council. That was before the election, that was after the election.”

Saggau said the police union has not yet decided how it will spend its resourcesin the upcoming runoffs.

L.A.’s progressive groups remain hopeful that Jurado and Burgos will win and shift the status quo.

Julio Marcial, senior vice president of the nonprofit Liberty Hill Foundation, said that expanding the council’s super-progressive bloc would ensure that City Hall has a “real, honest conversation” about strategies for community safety. For Marcial, that means shifting money out of the LAPD and into affordable housing, expanded mental health services, job training and other programs.

“We can no longer follow the same playbook around budgeting, where we fully fund law enforcement and not the things that are proven to be effective in creating community safety,” he said.

Burgos, who is running to represent an east San Fernando Valley district, said she’s hoping that if she and Jurado win, other council members will be inclined to embrace more progressive policies.

“Right now, some people are afraid to make those choices,” said Burgos, an optician who lives in North Hollywood and part owner of an interactive murder mystery theater company.

Burgos, 45, and Jurado, 34, have a long list of shared policy goals. Both want to repeal Municipal Code 41.18, which prohibits homeless encampments next to schools, daycare centers and “sensitive” locations such as senior centers and freeway overpasses. Both want to create “social housing,” assigning city agencies to buy, fix and manage low-cost apartment complexes.

The two candidates want to shift traffic enforcement out of the LAPD. And they’re hoping to make bus and train fares free — a more complicated goal, since the decision rests not with the council but Metro’s 13-member board.

“We have a real opportunity to usher in a progressive era” at the City Council, “instead of just chipping away at some the solutions that we care about,” said Jurado, who finished first in an eight-way race for the Eastside seat now held by Councilmember Kevin de León.

Burgos, who describes herself as a leftist, finished second in the race to replace Council President Paul Krekorian, who is stepping down at the end of the year. In first place is former State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, a onetime Krekorian aide who describes himself as a “pragmatic progressive.”

Nazarian secured 37% of the vote in the primary, compared with 22% for Burgos. In an interview, he said that he, too, has pushed for progressive policies, such as expanded public transit, increased funding to help students pay for college and the creation of a single-payer healthcare system. In 2016 and again in 2020, Nazarian endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president in the Democratic primary.

“Judge me by my record. Judge me by my work ethic. There’s a reason why, in a crowded field of seven people, that I was able to garner almost 40% of the vote,” he said.

Nazarian, unlike Burgos, supports the continued use of 41.18. He also spoke in favor of Mayor Karen Bass’ push to hire more police and raise their pay.

Burgos, asked about those two issues, called for more alternatives to police, saying in a statement that “data has shown that there is no correlation between the number of sworn officers or the police budget and crime.”

De León, who came in second behind Jurado, also defended his progressive credentials, pointing to his work on immigrant rights, climate change and laws to prevent the displacement of renters in downtown, Boyle Heights and elsewhere.

“My record of taking on the toughest fights — Sanctuary State, 100% clean renewable energy, tenant protections — and winning for my constituents shows I know how to actually accomplish progressive change,” said De León, a former president of the state Senate who is seeking a second term.

De León faces a tough second round. He is still dealing with the fallout from a scandal over his participation in a secretly recorded conversation that featured racist and derogatory remarks.

Like Nazarian, he supports the LAPD raises, the hiring of more police and the use of 41.18.

L.A.’s leftists made their first serious inroads at City Hall four years ago, helping to elect Raman, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, to the council. Labor unions and advocacy groups replicated that success in 2022, working to elect two more Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidates — activist Eunisses Hernandez and labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martínez — and ousting two incumbents.

Of the three, Raman has proved to be the most moderate. Like Nazarian, she sometimes refers to herself as a “pragmatic progressive.” At one point in the primary campaign, she declined to say whether the city needs more police officers. At another, she relied on former Councilmember Paul Koretz — who has drawn the ire of L.A.’s leftists — to vouch for her with the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Attorney Edgar Khalatian,who represents real estate developers at City Hall, said he considers Raman to be pro-business. Raman, whose district straddles the Hollywood Hills, has shown “a strong backbone” on the city’s efforts to build more housing, while also working to address the homelessness crisis, he said.

“The reason housing prices are as astronomical as they are is decades of elected officials not supporting the development of more housing,” said Khalatian, who chairs the board of the Central City Assn., a downtown-based business group. “She supports housing, and will take the political heat from people in her district when she supports that housing.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

The Newsom-Panera Bread scandal is an admission that minimum wage laws are harmful

Gov. Governor Gavin Newsom made national headlines again this month with his latest scandal. Per Bloomberg reports, Newsom gave Panera Bread an exemption to a new minimum wage law in California. Why? Because he went to highschool with the owner and didn’t want to see his buddy’s business tank.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1228 passed in 2023 and mandates that fast-food franchises with at least 60 national branches must pay a minimum wage of $20 dollars per hour to their employees. The law, however, had a very specific exemption for “chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item.”

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Panera has 24 locations in California owned by Gregg Flynn, Newsom’s friend and billionaire campaign donor. Newsom denies helping his friend out, though the Bloomberg article reports that he and Flynn have a long business relationship with each other, with Flynn apparently bragging to colleagues that he is on a texting basis with the governor.

While most commentary on the scandal has focused on calling out corruption and crony capitalism (which is fair), there’s also a clear economic angle to the story that should not be neglected: Newsom’s actions are a clear admission that minimum wage laws are bad for business.

If minimum wage laws are so great, why is the governor shielding his allies? If you really believe businesses really are exploiting the labor of less fortunate employees, then shouldn’t they all have to abide by minimum wage law, regardless of whether or not they’re a friend of the governor? Evidently, you’re only underpaying your employees if you’re a business Newsom doesn’t care about.

Like any good businessman, Flynn knew that this new law was going to do serious financial harm to the industry, and even, per the Bloomberg report, wrote an op-ed in 2022 about AB257, a California bill that placed labor relations in the fast food industry under the oversight of a regulatory council of government appointees.

In that op-ed he wrote about the importance of the franchise business model for the economy and how AB 257, “would effectively kill the franchise business model in the state – putting at risk the more than 75,000 local businesses and 728,000 jobs in our franchise sector.” Contrary to what most people think, fast food restaurants in California have small profit margins. Legislation like this can make or break a franchise, and Newsom, being aware of this, gave an exemption to both Flynn and the fast food labor unions.

This is not the first time proponents of a minimum wage have been caught in hypocrisy. During his campaign for the 2020 presidential election, Senator Bernie Sanders was reported to have paid his campaign employees less than $15.00 per hour, while he was advocating for a national minimum wage of $15.00 per hour. The employees complained about this inconsistency and when pressed on it, his campaign stated that they offered a competitive wage for their campaign employees — an admission that markets set better wages than the government can.

In the end, the Sanders campaign raised the wages of their employees, but cut their hours in order to cover the costs of the higher wages. We can expect the same to happen to restaurants across California thanks to AB 1228.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

L.A.’s political left eyes more power

Progressive candidates advanced in the primary for City Council, setting the stage for runoffs.

You might call them political progressives. Or maybe super progressives, given how much they want to reshape politics in Los Angeles.

Whatever the label, candidates on the left end of the political spectrum made crucial advances in the March 5 primary election for City Council, setting the stage for some hard-fought runoff campaigns and, potentially, an expansion of their power by the end of the year.

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Progressive activists and advocacy groups helped reelect City Councilmember Nithya Raman, while sending two other left-of-center candidates — tenant rights attorney Ysabel Jurado and small-business owner Jillian Burgos — into runoffs against more moderate rivals.

“I think the results showed consistently across the board that when we show up, we win,” said Bill Przylucki, executive director of Ground Game LA, a nonprofit advocacy group that has spent several years pushing the council to the left.

If Burgos and Jurado prevail in November, the number of council members with deeply progressive backgrounds will grow from three to five, making up a third of the 15-member council.

Four of the five have campaigned alongside Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles. Burgos, the fifth, drew support from other big names in leftist political circles, including City Controller Kenneth Mejia and former mayoral candidate Gina Viola.

A five-member super-progressive voting bloc would have significant influence over homelessness, subsidized housing, tenant protections, public transit, the installation of bike lanes and the size of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The bloc would need only three more votes to pass legislation on a council where several members, including Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Katy Yaroslavsky, are left-of-center swing votes. Super progressives also would occupy additional seats on the council’s committees, allowing them to shape policies from their inception, Przylucki said.

Some players in L.A. politics say the effect of the left in the primary is overstated. They point out that Councilmember John Lee, one of the council’s centrist members, easily won his reelection bid in the northwest Valley. Another incumbent, Councilmember Imelda Padilla, coasted to reelection after securing support from public safety unions, construction trade unions, Valley business groups and others.

Raman won 50.7% of the vote, securing the majority she needed to win outright. But that victory simply preserved the existing political makeup of the council, said Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which waged an expensive but unsuccessful campaign against Raman.

“At the end of the day, there’s been no net gain for any ideology on the council,” he said. “There’s still three socialists on the council. That was before the election, that was after the election.”

Saggau said the police union has not yet decided how it will spend its resourcesin the upcoming runoffs.

L.A.’s progressive groups remain hopeful that Jurado and Burgos will win and shift the status quo.

Julio Marcial, senior vice president of the nonprofit Liberty Hill Foundation, said expanding the council’s super-progressive bloc would ensure City Hall has a “real, honest conversation” on strategies for community safety. For Marcial, that means shifting money from the LAPD into affordable housing, expanded mental health services, job training and other programs.

“We can no longer follow the same playbook around budgeting, where we fully fund law enforcement and not the things that are proven to be effective in creating community safety,” he said.

Burgos, who is running to represent an east San Fernando Valley district, said she’s hoping that if she and Jurado win, other council members will be inclined to embrace more progressive policies.

“Right now, some people are afraid to make those choices,” said Burgos, an optician who lives in North Hollywood and is part owner of an interactive murder mystery theater company.

Burgos, 45, and Jurado, 34, have a long list of shared policy goals. Both want to repeal Municipal Code 41.18, which prohibits homeless encampments next to schools, daycare centers and “sensitive” locations such as senior centers and freeway overpasses. Both want to create “social housing,” assigning city agencies to buy, fix and manage low-cost apartment complexes.

The two candidates want to shift traffic enforcement out of the LAPD. And they’re hoping to make bus and train fares free — a more complicated goal, since the decision rests not with the council but with Metro’s 13-member board.

“We have a real opportunity to usher in a progressive era” at the City Council, “instead of just chipping away at some the solutions that we care about,” said Jurado, who finished first in an eight-way race for the Eastside seat now held by Councilmember Kevin de León.

Burgos, who describes herself as a leftist, finished second in the race to replace Council President Paul Krekorian, who is stepping down at the end of the year. In first place is former State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, a onetime Krekorian aide who describes himself as a “pragmatic progressive.”

Nazarian secured 37% of the vote in the primary, compared with 22% for Burgos. In an interview, he said that he, too, has pushed for progressive policies, such as expanded public transit, increased funding to help students pay for college and the creation of a single-payer healthcare system. In 2016 and again in 2020, Nazarian endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president in the Democratic primary.

“Judge me by my record. Judge me by my work ethic. There’s a reason why, in a crowded field of seven people, that I was able to garner almost 40% of the vote,” he said.

Nazarian, unlike Burgos, supports the continued use of 41.18. He also spoke in favor of Mayor Karen Bass’ push to hire more police and raise their pay.

Burgos, asked about those two issues, called for more alternatives to police, saying in a statement that “data has shown that there is no correlation between the number of sworn officers or the police budget and crime.”

De León, who came in second behind Jurado, also defended his progressive credentials, pointing to his work on immigrant rights, climate change and laws to prevent the displacement of renters in downtown, Boyle Heights and elsewhere.

“My record of taking on the toughest fights — Sanctuary State, 100% clean renewable energy, tenant protections — and winning for my constituents shows I know how to actually accomplish progressive change,” said De León, a former president of the state Senate who is seeking a second term.

De León faces a tough second round. He is still dealing with the fallout from a scandal over his participation in a secretly recorded conversation that featured racist and derogatory remarks.

Like Nazarian, he supports the LAPD raises, the hiring of more police and the use of 41.18.

L.A.’s leftists made their first serious inroads at City Hall four years ago, helping to elect Raman, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, to the council. Labor unions and advocacy groups replicated that success in 2022, working to elect two more Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidates — activist Eunisses Hernandez and labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martínez — and ousting two incumbents.

Of the three, Raman has proved to be the most moderate. Like Nazarian, she sometimes refers to herself as a “pragmatic progressive.”

At one point in the primary campaign, she declined to say whether the city needs more police officers. At another, she relied on former Councilmember Paul Koretz — who has drawn the ire of L.A.’s leftists — to vouch for her with the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Attorney Edgar Khalatian,who represents real estate developers at City Hall, said he considers Raman to be pro-business.

Raman, whose district straddles the Hollywood Hills, has shown “a strong backbone” on the city’s efforts to build more housing, while also working to address the homelessness crisis, he said.

“The reason housing prices are as astronomical as they are is decades of elected officials not supporting the development of more housing,” said Khalatian, who chairs the board of the Central City Assn., a downtown-based business group. “She supports housing, and will take the political heat from people in her district when she supports that housing.”

Raman won despite more than $1.3 million in outside spending by the firefighters union, the police officers union, landlords and others for one of her opponents, Deputy City Atty. Ethan Weaver. Those groups waged a similar effort in the northwest Valley, spending a combined $1.1 million to help Lee turn back a challenge from nonprofit leader Serena Oberstein.

In South L.A.’s 10th Council District, law enforcement groups spent a combined $103,000 on ads portraying Reggie Jones-Sawyer, one of five candidates, as soft on crime. Jones-Sawyer, a state Assembly member, came in fifth.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Proposed ordinance change would restrict abortion protestors in San Diego

In the coming weeks, the San Diego City Council will consider an ordinance that would require demonstrators to ask permission before they interact with people visiting places of worship, schools and health care facilities, including those that provide abortions.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the city’s public safety committee unanimously approved a proposal from City Attorney Mara Elliott that updates a 1997 addition to city code that created 100-foot “buffer zones” around those three types of venues.

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The existing rules, Elliott explained, required anyone who felt harassed by demonstrators to tell them to get lost. Those given a verbal brush-off must withdraw “to a distance of at least 15 feet away from any entrance or exit” of the facility that their target is arriving at or departing from.

The city attorney argued that the status quo puts an “unreasonable burden” on those who are simply going about their business, requiring them to know that they have the right to request that protesters disperse.

“The proposed updates would shift that burden; harassing and intimidating behavior would be prohibited unless consent to that interaction is first obtained,” Elliott said.

If the council approves the proposed changes, behavior that a person feels is harassing or intimidating — including attempts to pass written material, display signs or “engage in oral protest, education or counsel” — would be forbidden within an 8-foot radius of anyone coming or going from a school, place of worship or health care facility. That no-go zone, the draft ordinance is careful to note, extends from a person in all directions whether or not they are inside a vehicle.

Changes would only be applicable for locations in the city of San Diego.

Anyone who felt their right to privacy under the updated ordinance had been violated could seek damages, as is the case under existing law, though the courts would be authorized to impose a fine of $2,500, more than double the $1,000 now allowed. Other damages, including court costs and attorney fees, can also be recovered.

Though the ordinance covers schools and churches, women’s health centers that provide abortions would clearly be the most directly affected as they have historically experienced the most persistent protest activity.

This is reflected in the 168 written comments submitted on the proposed ordinance and in the in-person and dial-in commentary made during the committee meeting.

Neal Ortiguerra, senior director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, which operates eight women’s health centers in San Diego County, cited examples of demonstrators blocking facility driveways, sometimes walking back and forth to keep vehicles from entering and often accompanied by “small children or with strollers.”

Catherine Weeks, a San Diego resident who said she works as a greeter at the Planned Parenthood facility on First Avenue in San Diego’s Bankers Hill neighborhood, said she has regularly been the focus of “hostile comments” from people asking her if she hates women and babies to being told she has blood on her hands.

These comments, she said, included a threat to a young woman who was told not to come out by the same way she entered, an impossibility because the clinic has only one entrance and exit. Disparaging comments were also made, she said, to a man accompanying his wife who had a health condition that “prevented her from continuing a pregnancy.”

“People are coming in for basic health care needs that are strictly between them and their health care provider, and they’re being judged, they’re being threatened and they’re being intimidated,” Weeks said.

But John Hargrove, a coordinator for 40 Days for Life, a program of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, said that his organization’s activities are not about protest but rather protected exercise of religious beliefs.

Those who the program sends to centers holding signs with slogans such as “we will help you,” “ask us about a free ultrasound” and “ask us about post-abortion healing,” he said, come to clinics to pray for change.

“Is that causing serious distress? Are we tormenting the staff? Are we tormenting the clients? Are we guilty under this proposed language?” Hargrove asked.

Several speakers decried the ordinance’s definition of harassment, which would be any conduct “that alarms, seriously distresses, torments or terrorizes.”

Resident Roger Lopez predicted that such a broad definition, one that hinges on a person’s feelings, “will definitely be challenged in court.”

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

State Farm discontinuing 72,000 home policies in California in latest blow to state insurance market

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — State Farm will discontinue coverage for 72,000 houses and apartments in California starting this summer, the insurance giant said this week, nine months after announcing it would not issue new home policies in the state

The Illinois-based company, California’s largest insurer, cited soaring costs, the increasing risk of catastrophes like wildfires and outdated regulations as reasons it won’t renew the policies on 30,000 houses and 42,000 apartments, the Bay Area News Group reported Thursday.

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“This decision was not made lightly and only after careful analysis of State Farm General’s financial health, which continues to be impacted by inflation, catastrophe exposure, reinsurance costs, and the limitations of working within decades-old insurance regulations,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

“State Farm General takes seriously our responsibility to maintain adequate claims-paying capacity for our customers and to comply with applicable financial solvency laws,” it continued. “It is necessary to take these actions now.”

The move comes as California’s elected insurance commissioner undertakes a yearlong overhaul of home insurance regulations aimed at calming the state’s imploding market by giving insurers more latitude to raise premiums while extracting commitments from them to extend coverage in fire-risk areas, the news group said.

Click to read the full article in AP News

Newsom and Democrats announce a plan to reduce the enormous budget deficit. How? TBD

With a budget deficit of at least $38 billion hanging over their heads, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders of the state Senate and Assembly announced an agreement on Wednesday to take action in April to begin to dramatically reduce California’s historic shortfall.

The problem: Democrats at the state Capitol couldn’t actually agree on an amount — offering only a range of $12 billion to $18 billion — or explain what, exactly, they plan to cut.

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Those details, the governor’s office said, will be discussed and shared next month.

The head-scratching announcement of a plan to have a plan comes as pressure mounts on Democrats over the looming fiscal crisis.

Newsom has urged the Legislature to take “early action” to begin to whittle away at the deficit now — well before the June deadline to pass a budget — by clawing back unspent funding, delaying programs and reducing planned spending. The cuts currently under discussion are largely considered the easier choices, with the hope of freeing up Democrats to focus on tougher deliberations that will come later this spring when the full scope of the budget hole becomes clearer.

The Senate unveiled its own plan last week to slice off $17 billion from the deficit with early cuts, which include delaying and pulling back more than $1 billion to expand early education classrooms and support school facilities. But the Assembly, where Democrats hold 62 of 80 seats under a new speaker who has promised to give his members more input on big decisions, has been slower to rally behind a plan.

The struggle to reach a real consensus on the early cuts speaks to the challenge ahead as Democrats embark on a process to correct what could be the largest fiscal deficit the state government has ever experienced. Some estimates suggest the shortfall could be nearly twice as much as Newsom’s estimates, which will force lawmakers to make difficult choices in May and June about programs that affect millions of Californians.

Democrats often pass an initial budget by the June 15 mandate required by state law and revise it again before the fiscal plan takes effect on July 15.

“In some ways, I think this forces an earlier reckoning of the reality of what they’re going to have to actually vote on,” said Rob Stutzman, a longtime GOP strategist who worked for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “And they’re going to wholly own it.”

Whereas Republicans shared the pain during the budget crisis in Schwarzenegger’s era, now Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature by wide margins.

Only a handful of lawmakers have experience in office during the prior budget crisis, and Newsom has never been forced to make cuts of this magnitude.

His call to shave the deficit early has been met with mixed responses from the Legislature, prompting Newsom to come to the Capitol this week for meetings with Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly leader in hopes of reaching an agreement before they leave Sacramento for spring break on Thursday. Lawmakers are expected to pass one of Newsom’s major budget proposals before the recess, a tax increase on managed-care organizations that allows the state to draw more federal funds for healthcare.

In a statement included in the announcement of the agreement, California Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said the Senate is ready to move quickly on tough budget decisions.

“The deficit is serious and it’s grown by billions since January, which is why we must move with speed to shrink the shortfall immediately,” McGuire said.

The Senate’s plan to cut $17 billion, coupled with a desire to tap $12.2 billion from the rainy day fund, could leave lawmakers with $29 billion less to offset in June.

Newsom’s Department of Finance has said the governor’s administration backs the Senate’s package. But the Assembly has yet to detail how it wants to move forward.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Los Angeles City Council Considers Creating Department Of Homelessness

Proposed department would help corral city’s homelessness programs, initiatives

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

At a Los Angeles City Council meeting on Monday, City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez pushed for the creation of a Department of Homelessness to help streamline the city’s current patchwork of homeless programs and groups under the direction of one department.

The L.A. area has seen a continued rise of homeless people since the 2010s, with the only years showing little to no growth in that timespan the skipped-over 2021 count because of COVID-19 and the 2022 recovery year count. However, the 2023 count saw a massive jump of homeless people, going up by 10% within the city, and 9% around the county. The 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count study specifically found that there were an estimated 75,518 homeless people in Los Angeles County, up from 69,144 last year, with a total of 46,260 in the city, up from roughly 42,000 in 2022. The 2024 count, due later this year, is expected to have an even higher count.

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At the same time, Mayor Karen Bass’ signature Inside Safe project, designed to house more of the city’s homeless in motels, hotels, and other places, has been seen largely as a failure. Many hotel and motel owners have also complained about the program, leading to a strong backlash against it.

However, programs like Inside Safe, as well as others, are pieced together from different departments and other areas across the LA government, based on what that specific program wants to do. Seeking to consolidate homeless efforts in the city, Councilwoman Rodriguez proposed anew Department of Homelessness on Monday.

“A Department of Homelessness can help verify what each level of government is doing to solve the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time; I cannot say with certainty that we have an efficient and effective operation free of redundancies,” said Rodriguez. “With a mutual goal of creating a responsive system, we must also be prudent and judicious with resources to assure we can accelerate our impact and aid more individuals, because urgency can and should also be efficient and the Department of Homelessness may be a key part to delivering these goals.

“The City Administrative Officer, the Housing Department and the mayor’s office each dedicate significant staff time and resources to managing “overlapping homelessness interventions. Within this system, determined efforts to evaluate city-funded homelessness programs often run aground, as the providers of services produce irregular and imprecise reporting on contractually obligated metrics and outcomes.”

Department of Homelessness Proposal

While homeless program consolidation is part of the proposed Department, she also noted that the department would help better spend where the city’s $1.3 billion in homeless funds would go. However, many homelessness experts told the Globe that other methods at a city-wide level would be better at serving homeless people.

Click here to read the full the full article in California Globe