Is the CIA still secretly capturing Americans’ communications?

Before 2023 ends, Congress must either reauthorize or let die the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 program. Simply stated, FISA Section 702 is used to target digital communications passing through the infrastructure (i.e., “backbone”) of major telecommunications firms and the networks of internet service providers.

Defenders of the program, such as National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid, claim that the 702 program is vital given that “the terrorist threat landscape is highly dynamic and our country must preserve [counterterrorism] fundamentals to ensure constant vigilance.” A lapse in 702 coverage would “raise profound risks” according to FBI Director Chris Wray.

Abizaid and Wray are being less than candid.

If the FISA Section 702 authority does lapse–either temporarily or permanently–the collection activity could potentially be resumed under Executive Order 12333, the daily operating guidance for executive branch spy components. We know this to be the case because years prior to the 9/11 attacks, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was apparently conducting exactly the kind of internet “backbone” surveillance now carried out under FISA Section 702…with absolutely no judicial oversight.

The executive branch component that should have brought this fact to the public’s attention, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), had to be sued by the Cato Institute under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to discover this critical fact.

The evidence for the program’s existence is contained in a CIA Inspector General (IG) audit dated August 7, 2002. The audit itself covered the period 1995-2000.  Key facts about the program – who authorized it, when it began, whether it was terminated or is still running – may be contained in the many redacted sections of the IG report.

What is clear is that the program both captured U.S. Person data (definitely overseas but possibly domestically) and, in terms of CIA personnel compliance with EO 12333 and CIA regulations, was a total mess. The program captured and retained U.S. Person data seemingly indefinitely, and retention was not necessarily tied to any actual terrorist threat or espionage investigation.

Even worse, despite the fact that literally millions of Americans live, work, and travel overseas, the CIA presumed a target was foreign when starting collection, only allegedly ending collection when it discovered the target was in fact an American. On page five of the report, the CIA IG team admitted that it “was unable to review every regulated activity,” leaving open the possibility that the abuses may have occurred in other CIA intelligence collection activities that may have ensnared the communications of other Americans.

The fact that so many pages in this audit remain wholly redacted or even withheld in full, including specific issues involving program compliance with applicable law, executive orders, and regulations, only raises still more troubling questions about exactly how bad the abuses of this program were, and perhaps still are if it remains operational.

This CIA program is a reminder about how much we don’t know about the scope and duration of U.S. government surveillance efforts that implicate or indeed violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in the post-9/11 era.

We don’t know how many other classified federal surveillance programs have been or are operating and the extent to which they may, or already have, violated the First or Fourth Amendment rights of Americans. But just what we know about programs that have been publicized – including, among others, the Drug Enforcement Agency – should cause all Americans to demand renewed, probing, and broad Congressional oversight of such activities.

There is a way to get such an investigation started, and without the usual “Red Team vs. Blue Team” insanity that pervades Congress today. In that sense, two House members have already shown their colleagues the way.

Last year, Representatives Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) tasked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) use of so-called “Assessments”–de facto investigations that can be opened on any person or organization absent any criminal predicate. As I’ve previously written, the “Assessment” authority has been abused repeatedly, to the detriment of the constitutional rights of Americans. That GAO investigation is underway, and it would be a simple matter for Congress to instruct GAO to expand its surveillance program inquiry along the lines described above.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Jon Coupal: Illegal immigration is a taxpayer issue

Conservatives are not always in agreement on the contentious issue of immigration. Those of a Libertarian inclination are more accepting of robust legal immigration while others believe that the United States has done more than its fair share of accepting those from other nations. The latter would like to see more progress on assimilation before opening the borders even more.

But two things are certain. First, conservatives will always be characterized by the left as being anti-immigrant – even when they are not – and those on the left rarely distinguish between legal and illegal immigration.

Serious taxpayer advocates can be strong advocates of legal immigration while, at the same time, push back against policies that cost Americans billions, if not trillions, of dollars. A recent piece by Steven Malanga in City Journal entitled “Illegal Immigration’s Terrifying Cost,” is a well-researched review of how illegal immigration is having a negative impact on sound fiscal policy at both the national and state level.

Opposing point of view: America is the land of the free, open the border

Legal immigration isn’t as politicized as illegal immigration because the cost and social ills from the undocumented population are huge. At the forefront of the political battles are the governors of border states, most notably Texas. And while Florida isn’t technically a border state, it has a large undocumented population bringing unique problems that frustrates the political leadership, especially its governor.

Malanga reports that Florida hospitals have incurred hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated costs for care to migrants. Governor Ron DeSantis justifiably complains the state’s taxpayers have had to foot the bill so, in response, he has spent public funds to transport thousands of undocumented individuals to so-called “sanctuary” cities on the theory that those states should practice what they preach. “If the policy is to have an open border, I think the sanctuary cities should be the ones that have to bear that,” said DeSantis.

Malanga also reports that “New York, a sanctuary city since 1989, spent $8 million a day throughout much of this year to care for migrants,” and that Boston and Cambridge – both sanctuary cities – had difficulty expanding their shelter system to meet the influx. Costs to taxpayers? $140 million.

For all the billions in additional costs spent nationally responding to the illegal immigration crisis, some far-left states including California, Illinois, and New York, have compounded the problem by extending access for illegal immigrants to social programs like Medicaid – Medi-Cal in California – and other welfare programs. An excerpt from a California Legislative Analyst Report in October noted a line item of “$1.2 billion General Fund for the scheduled expansion of eligibility for comprehensive Medi-Cal services to undocumented residents between the ages of 26 and 49. These amounts are considerably higher than estimated in past budgets.”

Bear in mind that all the costs for social welfare programs are exclusive of the billions in additional costs to the education system, criminal justice system, and emergency services. For example, consider the recent incident involving the fire that shut down the 10 freeway in downtown Los Angeles. Venice Neighborhood Council board member Soledad Ursua wrote in a piece for City Journal that “of the LAFD’s $854 million annual budget, roughly $427 million is spent on homeless-related fires. If Los Angeles simply enforced its existing fire code, it would protect businesses and save taxpayers millions of dollars.” Much of the homeless population in Los Angeles consists of undocumented individuals.

Malanga also refutes the argument that the public costs associated with illegal immigration are offset by the taxes the undocumented pay. First, much of the compensation paid for work performed by undocumented workers is “under the table” and remains untaxed. But the real “flaw in this reasoning is that immigrant households already receive tens of thousands of dollars in government benefits, just by virtue of being in the United States, and that what most get in support far outweighs any taxes they pay.”

Click here to read the full artucle in the OC Register

Residents near Tustin hangar say they’re still waiting for asbestos debris to be removed from homes

Two weeks after the blimp hangar fire ignited overnight at the shuttered Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, residents say they are still waiting for asbestos waste emitted from the historic hangar to be collected from their homes.

Residents standing by for city-hired contractors to remove asbestos say they have been forced to live in hotels, test their homes for asbestos and hire companies to remediate their houses as the city continues to wait for more help on clean up efforts.

Jeff Lawrence, who lives in a neighborhood across the street from the hangar, said debris is all over his yards and roof. Lawrence paid out of pocket to confirm that the chunks of debris outside had asbestos.

“Because all of this is uncoordinated, nobody really knows what they should be doing,” Lawrence said.

Two samples of debris collected from Lawrence’s backyard tested positive for containing asbestos, according to a lab report he shared with the newspaper. Asbestos comprised 20% of one sample and 70% of another.

Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard said he’s been frustrated with the situation, but approvals for cleaning up private property have to go through environmental agencies first. “It’s been a regulatory obstacle to get all the agencies aligned and allow that to happen.”

“We are going on day 16 and frankly that’s unacceptable,” Lumbard said Wednesday. “Seems like a pretty simple task to collect physical debris.”

Lumbard said the city hopes contractors can start cleaning up debris from people’s homes in the coming days. The City Council Tuesday night approved using $7.8 million from the city’s reserves for paying the asbestos contractors that have been working, with the goal to have the cost reimbursed by the state or federal government.

That money will cover the costs for a few weeks, Lumbard said, but won’t be enough to fund the entire cleanup effort. The Navy, which owns the hangar, has given the city $1 million and officials have said more money will be coming.

Another neighbor that had testing done for asbestos at their home near the north hangar that burned down learned that the dust in their entryway and kitchen tested positive for asbestos, along with a chunk of debris found in the front yard, according to a lab report provided to the newspaper.

A 2020 Orange County Grand Jury report looking at the future of the long-vacated hangars identified the south hangar as having asbestos, lead, biological and groundwater contaminants, and assumed those existed, too, in the north hangar.

Oladele Ogunseitan, a professor in UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention who researches toxic environmental pollution, said there’s no known safe level of exposure to asbestos, and if someone tests their home and finds asbestos, they should be worried and try to remediate.

“If somebody is right by the hangar when the fires started, and they stayed there, I would call that Zone 0,” Ogunseitan said. “They are right there breathing it in. They don’t have protection. And as you move further away from the fires, then it depends on where the wind blows.”

Congressional leaders have asked the South Coast Air Quality Management District to provide clarification if surrounding areas of the county were tested and found to be positive for traces of asbestos. There were Santa Ana wind events while the fire burned

Ogunseitan said once asbestos lands on soil or surfaces, it’s not going to degrade.

“It’s just going to stay there,” Ogunseitan said. “Dusting, using a vacuum, all of those things re-release the settled asbestos filaments back into the air for people to breathe.”

Lawrence said he wants more communication between the government agencies handling the situation and the public and lambasted the overall response.

“Everybody, from the (county grand jury) reports, knew that this thing had asbestos in it,” Lawrence said. “It’s just completely logical to think when it burns, and it’s going toward all these communities, that you would probably want to warn these people to close their windows, or stay inside or anything like that, but it didn’t happen.”

Hours after the fire began on Nov. 7, parents were dropping their kids off at school at Heritage Elementary, just a few hundred yards from the hangar.

AQMD issued a smoke advisory on Nov. 8 and warnings about asbestos from the fire on Nov. 9, after testing confirmed its presences in some smoke and debris. The city continues to issue daily incident updates on its website, which mentions air monitoring continues and give the process for residents to request removal of debris.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

California’s War on Fast Food Jobs

Higher prices created by a $20 minimum wage for burger joints will lead to fewer customers, reduced profits, fewer restaurants, and a loss of jobs.

During a recent meal at a family-run restaurant in a small town, I noticed that the owners included in the menu an apology note to customers for the high prices they were charging. We all understand the owners’ predicament, as inflation has driven up the costs of pretty much everything, especially groceries. Nevertheless, customers who try to live within their budgets have little choice but to pare back their unnecessary restaurant trips.

I’m not the only one doing so. “Rising labor and food costs, ballooning interest rates, and corporate brand owners’ demands for upgrades and operational improvements have strained profitability for a number of fast-food chain operators,” according to a recent Bloomberg Law article focusing on increasing numbers of restaurant franchise bankruptcies. Inflation is hitting every industry, but those reliant on discretionary spending will suffer the most.

One would have expected the California Legislature to have recognized this industry’s ongoing, post-COVID problems before adding to their burden. Lawmakers need only wander around the Capitol and notice the large number of long-time eating establishments that have shuttered. And yet one of their signature legislative accomplishments this year will only hasten restaurant closures and job losses.

No matter what happens in broader society, we can always count on the California Legislature to do the bidding of the state’s powerful unions, which are committed to little else beyond boosting their membership rolls—whatever that might mean for the broader economy. And so the state recently agreed to a deal that will dramatically increase fast-food wages and make it more difficult for private companies to set their own operating policies.

In 2021, the Legislature introduced the Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Act, which echoed the European sectoral-bargaining model whereby a government commission sets the wages and working conditions in an industry. This radical idea would have essentially given unions control over the industry—saving them the difficulty of actually organizing workers.

Although that effort failed, the Legislature in 2022 passed two nearly as significant laws, per the pro-union OnLabor website: First, Assembly Bill 102 revived the moribund Industrial Welfare Commission and gave it the powers of a sectoral-bargaining commission. Second, Assembly Bill 1228 would have raised fast-food minimum wages to $22 an hour with an annual upward ratchet.

It also “would have made franchisors jointly liable for labor violations—a long sought-after provision that was taken out of the final version of the FAST Act,” On Labor added. The wage hike was problematic, but making national fast-food companies liable for labor violations at independently owned franchises would have destroyed the franchise model in California.

These laws posed existential threats to the restaurant industry, which then qualified a referendum on AB 1228 for the 2024 general election. In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a “truce.” The industry pulled its ballot measure and agreed to a $20 minimum wage. In return, Newsom and unions limited the power of the Fast Food Council and removed joint-liability provisions.

The restaurants spared themselves a multimillion-dollar ballot fight, gained a lower wage, and preserved franchising, but the net result will be the same. A government agency will grab many management powers. Wages will go up early and often. Labor costs account for one-third of fast-food costs, so prices will rise. McDonald’s and Chipotle already have announced higher prices for next year.

The unions are claiming a victory for workers, but it’s not hard to guess the result. Higher prices will mean fewer customers and reduced profits. That means fewer restaurants and fewer jobs. Although the legislation only applies to fast-food chains with more than 60 outlets, it will drive up costs for mom-and-pop restaurants. They will have to compete for workers with chains that must pay a much-higher wage.

That’s not the only bad news. “Making it illegal to pay less than a given amount does not make a worker’s productivity worth that amount—and, if it is not, that worker is unlikely to be employed,” wrote famed economist Thomas Sowell. In other words, restaurants will not hire people who aren’t productive enough to justify the wage.

It will be tougher for young workers who lack job skills and for disabled people to get these jobs. I’m already noticing a higher percentage of older workers at fast-food establishments. I’m also noticing far more kiosks. Let’s be blunt: Fast-food work isn’t meant to be career work for most people. These are great ways to earn quick cash and learn basic skills, which can then be leveraged into better jobs as people build better lives for themselves. Unions and progressives want to take this approach to other industries.

Click here to read the full article in

California Highway Patrol cracking down on retail theft ahead of holiday shopping season

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) — It is a scene many feel is becoming more common: targeted and elaborate retail theft impacting retailers large and small.

Often caught on camera, several thieves burst in and walk out with thousands of dollars in goods.

“During this holiday season, merchants and consumers can expect to see an increased presence of high-visibility patrols and law enforcement,” California Highway Patrol Commissioner Sean Duryee said.

The commissioner said his agency has expanded its effort to combat retail theft across Central California.

CHP says it has already recovered about a million dollars in goods in the Fresno area and Sacramento.

But as the commissioner says patrols will continue, some worry that law enforcement’s hands are tied due to a state law.

“Proposition 47 created this huge loophole that says if you are caught with $950 or less of stolen goods, you’re going to get a misdemeanor, not a felony,” Republican State Assemblyman Jim Patterson said. “But the act they are doing is still a felony.”

Patterson described what he says are the deliberate lengths criminals go to when they target retailers.

He says the thieves “game the system” by each stealing less than $950 worth of products to avoid felony charges if caught.

Those crimes quickly add up, and Fresno Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Scott Miller says it is taking a toll on local retailers.

“If you’re a ten-person business, you don’t have a loss prevention professional working for you, and you just don’t have the ability to devote those resources to it,” Miller said.

Click here to read the full article at ABC 30

California Assembly: Who’s in and who’s out for the most powerful posts

SACRAMENTO —  California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) announced new legislative leadership on Tuesday, a key decision in his first year as leader of the lower house that could shape what becomes law in the nation’s most populous state.

Among the most significant changes is the announcement of a new majority leader: Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Davis). She replaces Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) who was a top lieutenant to Rivas in his contentious yearlong battle to become speaker that ended when he was sworn in this summer. Bryan now takes over as chair of the Natural Resources committee, a key panel on environmental policy.

Committee chairs have significant power to determine which bills live or die at the Capitol. New influential committee leaders announced Tuesday include Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), who will chair the powerful appropriations committee, and Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), who will oversee the budget committee. Both Wicks and Gabriel hold power over the state’s purse strings in their new roles, and are allies of Rivas, helping him secure the speakership during chaotic jockeying in the Capitol.

The tweaks to leadership could mean changes to come in Sacramento policymaking, with a renewed focus on affordability, safety and “strong public services,” said Rivas, who was sworn into the leadership role this summer after a contentious battle with former Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who reluctantly gave up the position after seven years at the helm.

“The Assembly is unified and ready to deliver,” Rivas said in a statement. “That’s what Californians expect from their Legislature and that’s what this team will achieve.”

Although the new committee chairs reflect a diversity of backgrounds, the speaker’s core leadership team no longer includes any Black Assembly members with the removal of Bryan as majority leader.

“For all of the Black Californians who now see no representation in the entire formal Democratic leadership of the state Assembly, know that does not mean you are without representatives and certainly not absent leaders,” Bryan said.

Not every recipient of a new leadership role supported Rivas, signaling that he and state lawmakers are willing to forgive and forget after this year’s political drama.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Democrat and longtime Rendon ally who is running for mayor of Sacramento, was named chair of the high-profile public safety committee as California grapples with its crime response and leads the nation on issues including gun regulation. Tensions over how to respond to fentanyl and child sex trafficking split Democrats at the Capitol earlier this year.

Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) also supported Rendon over Rivas and was named leader of the housing committee on Tuesday, now overseeing policy decisions on one of the state’s top issues.

“We have transitioned and we are about looking forward,” Ward said in an interview Tuesday, adding that Rivas told him he was chosen for the role because of his background working on housing and homelessness issues as a member of the San Diego City Council.

Ward said in his new role, he will focus on removing barriers to housing production and making options more affordable for prospective homeowners and renters.

“There’s tension between state and local roles on housing. We do need to have stronger partnerships with local governments,” Ward said.

Freshman lawmaker Liz Ortega (D-San Leandro) will helm the labor and employment committee on the heels of a remarkable year for union-backed policy. She was elected last year after working for years as a labor union leader.

Some of Rivas’ picks are newly elected lawmakers with the potential to stay in office for another decade.

“I think it speaks to Speaker Rivas’ leadership to say we respect the people who have come before us, and now it’s time to build on that work and to think long-term about people who can be here in these positions for quite a number of years,” said Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), who was elected last year and was named chair of the transportation committee Tuesday.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California spending billions to expand transitional kindergarten. How effective is the program?

Two years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on an ambitious plan to make a pre-kindergarten program available to California’s 4-year-olds for free.

That effort, already underway, is an attempt to reduce learning disparities and improve outcomes for the state’s children.

Education officials and close observers, however, are still grappling with essential questions: Just how effective is the program, known as transitional kindergarten, or TK, and for which children is it most beneficial?

Researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank, explored an early version of the program in the state in a recent study. Transitional kindergarten has been available for a decade in California, on a more limited basis.

The researchers found the pre-expansion version of transitional kindergarten led to earlier identifications of students with special education needs and those who were growing up learning a language other than English. At the same time, they discovered the program did not appear to improve test results for students in third and fourth grades more than other pre-kindergarten options.

Nonetheless, transitional kindergarten has support among education experts who urged caution against reading too much into the PPIC report.

Major shifts in the program have occurred in the years after the period studied, they noted. It also only involved five large districts in the state and the tests were taken years after the students left transitional kindergarten. Beyond that, childhood development can’t just be measured by test scores alone.

The PPIC authors also said their findings weren’t a sign that the program wasn’t helping students.

Still, the results not only raise some questions about the effectiveness of transitional kindergarten in California but also highlight another concern: Despite pledging to spend several billion dollars to expand the program, the state currently has no plans to formally evaluate its benefits before it becomes available to all 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year.

H. Alix Gallagher, director of strategic partnerships for Policy Analysis for California Education, a non-partisan research center, points to other unknowns.

“What do we mean when we say TK? Gallagher asked. “Because it’s not all the same, at all.”

For example, Gallagher added, districts can offer either half or full day instruction and be called transitional kindergarten. The benefits and experiences of each for students might not be the same. And the data collected by the state does not distinguish between those two options.

“We need more information about what kids are getting in TK,” Gallagher said, “in order to understand what program features are effective.”

Sarah Neville-Morgan, a deputy superintendent of public instruction for the California Department of Education, said the research from the PPIC and others helps the department refine and improve. Next year, the agency plans to release standards for transitional kindergarten that will identify skills children can develop while in it.

As for evaluating the program, Neville-Morgan said that is hard to do while it is still being rolled out.

“You actually have to wait until things are stable, fully implemented,” she said, ”to be able to look at true effectiveness.”

Catching up

Research has shown that early childhood education programs benefit students in the classroom and beyond. One study found California students who attended an early version of transitional kindergarten entered kindergarten with stronger math and literacy skills than those who didn’t. Less is known about the program’s longer-term benefits.

Head Start, which is federally funded, and the California State Preschool Program are among other pre-kindergarten options. Like those, transitional kindergarten is not mandatory. It is, however, the only program that will be available and free for all 4-year-olds.

One benefit of funding the program is that it provides access to a preschool option “in every corner of the state,” said Jessica Holmes, a chief deputy executive director with the State Board of Education, in an emailed statement. Elementary or unified school districts must offer transitional kindergarten. “While not every community has a Head Start or State Preschool program, they all have public schools and options to meet their needs.”

Deborah Stipek, an professor emerita at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, said the program is still developing and may look different once it is fully implemented.

“In a way,” Stipek said, “we created TK and now we’re catching up with all the policies that are needed to make it work effectively.”

The current expansion concerns Bruce Fuller, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Education.

“We don’t have real-time evidence as to whether this spending is really paying off for kids,” Fuller said.

That includes knowing more about how transitional kindergarten compares with other subsidized preschool options.

“Given the scope,” Fuller said, “it’s shocking that the administration is not carefully trying to commission an evaluation to see if there are short-term and immediate-term benefits to 4-year-olds.”

Holmes said the state is reviewing the transitional kindergarten program, and other preschool options, on an ongoing basis.

State education and social services agencies have formed a group of experts to analyze the quality of and access to all of the state’s preschool options, she added, including transitional kindergarten. The group plans to provide recommendations to the Legislature and Governor’s Office by March, Holmes said.

Neville-Morgan, from the education department, said the agency is hoping a long-term study of the program will eventually occur.

“It would have to happen through the budget process,” she said, “and that isn’t something that we have right now.”

In the meantime, E’Leva Gibson, an assistant superintendent for early learning and care at the Sacramento City Unified School District, is looking for more information.

While calling transitional kindergarten a “wonderful thing” Gibson also wants to know how to make it better and how to best measure students’ progress once they leave the program.

Click here to read the full article in the Sacramento Bee Via Yahoo News

Rep. Tony Cárdenas won’t seek reelection in 2024, setting up race for San Fernando Valley seat

WASHINGTON —  Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima) will not seek reelection in 2024, setting up what could become a contested race for his heavily Democratic San Fernando Valley-based seat.

Cárdenas, 60, who was the first Latino to represent the district, told The Times he plans to leave Washington at the end of his term, capping three decades in public office.

“It will be the first time in 28 years that I’m not on the ballot,” Cárdenas said in a Thursday interview. “The truth of the matter is I thought I could do this just for a few years … I’m just at the age where I have enough energy and experience to maybe do something [different] and have another chapter of a career where I don’t have to go to Washington, D.C., 32 weeks out of the year.”

Cárdenas’ announcement is unlikely to threaten Democrats’ quest to reclaim the House majority. His district, which spans much of the San Fernando Valley, is solidly blue. But his departure creates opportunities for ambitious young Democrats from the Los Angeles area to come to Washington. Cárdenas is backing Luz Rivas, a state Assemblymember who told The Times she would run to replace him.

“Luz is a genuine public servant who has dedicated herself to delivering opportunities for the Valley,” Cárdenas said. “She gets things done, and has always put working families first. I am proud to support Luz for Congress.”

Rivas, a native to the Valley, won her Assembly seat in 2018. If elected to Congress, she would be the first Latina to represent the district in Washington.

Cárdenas said the lack of nonwhite representation among people in power was a main reason he first ran for public office. Not having role models of color can stifle nonwhite kids’ ambitions for greatness, he said.

“Our teachers, counselors, police officers, would look at us and say you’re never gonna amount to anything,” he said. “I don’t think anyone with those titles should ever tell a child you’re never going to mount anything. But we all experienced that crap, that garbage, those lies.”

Cárdenas was first elected to the Assembly in 1996 at 33. He went on to serve three terms in Sacramento and won three more on the Los Angeles City Council. In 2013, he became the first Latino to represent the Valley in Congress, handily winning election after redistricting removed Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s home in Burbank from the district.

Cárdenas said he’s proud of the work he’s done in his career, notably his efforts to overhaul the state juvenile justice system and ban solitary confinement of minors in federal prisons. As a congressman, Cárdenas was the top sponsor for more than 180 bills, three of which became law, including one in 2021 that addressed crib safety for babies.

In Washington, he served on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and spearheaded an effort to bring a Smithsonian Latino Museum to the National Mall. He chaired BOLD PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ fundraising arm, and under his tenure, the committee’s coffers grew, as did the number of elected Latinos in Congress.

Cárdenas was unable to ascend into House party leadership in 2020 and last year, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) bypassed him when picking the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a woman sued Cárdenas, saying that he had sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. The woman later dropped her lawsuit, which Cárdenas’ lawyers characterized as a “total vindication.”

Cárdenas’ announcement was a surprise, said Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University. The congressman is “senior and influential enough” that he could have had an impact in the House if Democrats were to retake the majority next year, Guerra said.

But “D.C. is no fun anymore,” Guerra added. “My instinct is that he’s just had it and he feels there’s another way he can influence through another role.”

Guerra lauded Cárdenas for his reputation in Southern California. “He’s an icon in the San Fernando Valley,” he said, noting that Cárdenas opened doors for Latinos. “Without him, you would not see the level of Latino political incorporation that currently exists.”

In a statement, California Sen. Alex Padilla lauded Cárdenas for running “for office at a time when Latinos didn’t see ourselves represented in positions of power.”

“His decision to enter public service and his approach to politics opened the door for many others to follow, including many who couldn’t have imagined running for office, including myself,” California’s senior Democratic senator said.

Padilla and Cárdenas are close friends and roommates in Washington. Padilla was Cárdenas’ campaign manager for his first run for office in 1996.

Weeks before election day in 1996, Cárdenas saw an article in the Los Angeles Times, which was left open on Padilla’s desk in the campaign office. The article, which detailed his campaign’s financial struggles, left him feeling low, he said.

Soon after, his sister told him that their father, Andres, had risked his life to save a man who was trapped in a burning field in Stockton decades earlier. His father never shared that story with him while he was alive.

“I didn’t need that story at that moment,” he said. But “that day, I needed something. And boom, it came.”

“For the first time in my life, I said to myself, this is my community, this is my country,” he said. “And I’m going to finish this. Whether I win or not, doesn’t matter. I’m going to finish this and I’m going to do it right.”

Click here to read the full article in this LA Times

‘Go faster. The political heat is on.’ Inside the race to fix the 10 Freeway in L.A.

In the days after a huge pallet fire shut down one of the busiest traffic corridors in the nation, Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered bittersweet news: The damaged section of the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles would not need to be demolished, but repairs would leave it out of commission for three to five weeks.

Publicly, state officials stood by that timeline for most of this week, saying the freeway was likely to reopen in December. But behind the scenes, according to a Caltrans engineer familiar with the project, crews were scrambling to hit a more ambitious target and have the overpass ready for Thanksgiving travel.

The work paid off, and on Thursday, Newsom confirmed what the Caltrans crews had been working toward: All lanes in both directions will be open to traffic by Tuesday “at the latest,” he announced, though repair work will be ongoing.

“Things continue to move favorably in our direction,” Newsom said. “The bridge structure itself seems to be in better shape than we anticipated.”

The quick reopening does not mean any corners have been cut, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass said Friday.

“Let me just assure you that the reason why the freeway is going to be open quickly is because the deep structural damage that we were worried about did not take place,” she said at a news conference. “There isn’t any reason to doubt that this freeway would not open if there was any concerns about safety.”

While state officials turned on live camera feeds from the construction site on Friday, the agency responsible for the repairs has provided little information about the work. The California Department of Transportation declined a request from The Times for an interview about the repairs and how the timeline for reopening shifted so drastically.

The fire, which started early Saturday at a property leased from Caltrans where wood pallets were being stored under the 10, caused less structural damage than anticipated, Caltrans said in a news release Friday. The mile-long section of the freeway between Alameda Street and the East Los Angeles interchange is now shored up with wooden posts and steel beams, which officials said will allow the overpass to open to traffic while crews work to repair damaged concrete columns and the upper deck.

With a surge of holiday traffic expected through a freeway corridor that averages about 300,000 commuters a day, the message was clear from the beginning, said the Caltrans engineer who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity:

“Go faster. The political heat is on.”

There has been “a dead-heat, crazy push to get this bridge open by Monday or Tuesday,” the engineer said.

Lights are being fixed, the concrete guardrail is being patched, shoring continues to be installed, and jacks are starting to take the weight off damaged columns, according to the engineer.

When asked why the state had estimated the closure would drag into December, the engineer was puzzled.

“I can’t fathom that they would want this major interstate to be closed going into Thanksgiving,” the engineer said.

Within hours of the fire, engineers went to work calculating the combined load of the freeway and the vehicle traffic that would need to be supported if shoring was installed, which Caltrans does regularly when repairing bridges in its statewide system of highways and roads.

The design for the shoring — the number of timber posts, their size and spacing — is “highly redundant and conservative,” and has been reviewed by contractors and Caltrans experts, the engineer said, noting that the overpass will be safe to drive on.

About eight timber posts are being used to support each damaged freeway column. Forty-five columns have been identified as damaged.

After clearing about 264,000 cubic feet of hazardous material and debris, including more than two dozen burned vehicles, crews have begun to maneuver the enormous timber posts in place under the freeway. Measuring 12 inches by 12 inches, they stand 20 feet tall, five feet apart, on a beam that’s supported by hydraulic jacks, which will raise the vertical posts against the underside of the freeway to take the weight off the damaged columns.

Once all of the weight is taken off those columns, the freeway can be reopened by Caltrans’ Structural Maintenance and Investigations division. Designs for specific repairs of the columns will follow, to be reviewed by seismic and construction experts.

There is precedent for such freeway repair and reconstruction projects coming in ahead of schedule.

In 1994, after a section of the 10 Freeway collapsed when the Northridge earthquake knocked out two bridges at La Cienega and Washington boulevards, round-the-clock repairs got vehicles back on the freeway in less than three months.

In 2017, combustible materials stored under Interstate 85 in Atlanta caught fire, causing a portion of the freeway to collapse, snarling traffic for six weeks. That incident led Caltrans to write a policy directive that prohibited the storage of flammable materials under its bridges and required access for bridge inspections.

This year, a tanker truck carrying gasoline crashed beneath Interstate 95 in northeast Philadelphia, starting a fire that collapsed the overhead steel bridge. Experts predicted repairs would take months, but within 12 days, the freeway was open again, missing only one lane of traffic. The reconstruction was live streamed, playing in local bars and even on the scoreboard during a Phillies game.

“There has been an evolution in engineering circles,” said Thomas Gernay, an assistant professor of engineering at Johns Hopkins University who studies the effects of fire on structures, “from focusing on life safety — the primary goal [being] to make sure people are safe — to [including] the concept of resiliency: to make sure infrastructure is able to absorb shocks with minimal disruption and rebound … as fast as possible.”

Building such resilience into structures that were designed years ago requires an assessment of both the structure and its materials as well as the impact — economic, functional — if the structure was lost.

Neither seems to have taken place in the case of the 10 Freeway.

“Why are we allowing for major storage — be it wood crates or isopropyl alcohol — under a freeway or a bridge? It doesn’t make sense to me as an engineer,” said Nate Wittasek, a fire protection engineer with Simpson, Gumpertz and Heger. “Either the assessments aren’t being done, or there is a lack of understanding of the potential for damage from the material or fuel storage near these highways or bridges.”

The fire, which arson investigators believe was intentionally set, was fueled by wood pallets stored on a Caltrans property being leased to a private company and subleased to small blue-collar businesses.

How Caltrans evaluates its policy of leasing space underneath freeways in the aftermath of the fire is unknown.

Risk analyses need to be conducted to evaluate the safety of these leases, Gernay argued, adding that because real estate is expensive, there is a compelling reason to continue the practice of leasing the space — if resilience is built in.

“Resilience is a very important, desirable feature of design,” said Ali Ashrafi, a structural fire engineer with Thornton Tomasetti. “Sometimes it is codified, but more often than not it is not codified.”

Ultimately it comes down to what the stakeholder wants and how important the structure is.

“We’re not designing for zero risk but to minimize risk to a level that is acceptable to society,” Ashrafi said. “The goal of the design is to have an acceptable level of risk, from a building to a bridge to a tunnel. That acceptable level could change depending on the consequences of a failure.”

Before the 10 reopens, bottleneck conditions persist around the detour routs — and several events in and around downtown Los Angeles could strain roadways.

The Clippers played Friday evening at Arena, and the Los Angeles Kings will play there Saturday, while USC and UCLA will meet at the Coliseum for a football game. The Lakers play at home Sunday, while the Los Angeles Convention Center plays host to the L.A. Auto Show.

Officials encourage anyone making their way to downtown to take public transportation or, if possible, steer clear of the area.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California government to blame for gas price ‘gouging’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register