Appeals Court Allows Noncitizens to Again Vote in San Francisco School Board Elections

A California appeals court decision will effectively allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in San Francisco school board elections in November, despite a court ruling earlier this year that struck down the local law as unconstitutional.

California Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer struck down the city’s ordinance allowing noncitizens to vote on July 29. However, the First District Court of Appeal in August granted a request by the city for a stay of the decision.

The appellate court then denied on Sept. 9 a request to expedite Ulmer’s ruling against San Francisco’s noncitizen voting law in time for the General Election.

“The constitutional challenges … are significant ones that are entitled to deliberate consideration,” according to the appeals court decision. However, the court “decline[s] to order an injunction. No extensions of time will be granted absent a showing of exceptional good cause.”

This means noncitizens can cast ballots in the Nov. 8 election, according to James V. Lacy, an attorney who filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco ordinance on behalf of conservative groups in March 2022.

Lacy told The Epoch Times that the procedural delay will harm election integrity and allow the counting of votes that a judge has already ruled are illegal.

“It puts a cloud on the election,” he said on Sept. 13. “At a time of very high skepticism in the general public about the integrity of our elections, what the court has basically done is undermining the credibility and the vote of the San Francisco election.”

San Francisco voters approved the ordinance that appeared as Proposition N on the 2016 ballot, and the law was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2022, until the city extended it indefinitely last year. Since it went into effect, noncitizens have been allowed to vote in at least four local elections, according to court documents.

According to deputy city attorneys, noncitizens may only vote in school board elections and are not given an opportunity to vote for any other office.

The underlying idea was to give noncitizen parents a say in who is elected to school boards but “the problem is that it is illegal,” Lacy told California Insider host Siyamak Khorrami in an Aug. 24 episode. “It’s alarming that this ballot initiative even got on the ballot.”

Lacy contends that voting is a fundamental right of citizens only, and a cornerstone of democracy that should not be “tinkered with.”

The California Constitution clearly states that only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in state and local elections, Lacy told California Insider at the time.

According to the constitution, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” However, attorneys for the city argued the “may vote” language doesn’t prohibit a local government to allow others to vote.

In his July 29 ruling, Judge Ulmer said that based on the same flawed logic, the city could argue that “children under 18 and residents of other states ‘may also’ vote in California elections, which our Constitution does not allow.”

He said the constitution uses the words “may vote” for good reason.

“Had it instead used the mandatory word ‘shall’ … resident citizens of age would be legally required to vote. Election laws in many nations make voting mandatory, but not the United States,” Ulmer said.

Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, a national election integrity watchdog group, denounced the appellate court’s decision to deny the request for expedition.

“Name any other country in the world that would allow noncitizens to vote in their country’s elections. There isn’t one,” Engelbrecht told The Epoch Times on Sept. 13.

Click here to read the full story at the Epoch Times

Pepperdine Caruso Law Mourns the Passing of Former Dean Ken Starr

Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law mourns the passing of Kenneth W. Starr, who served as the Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean and professor of law from 2004 to 2010. He was 76.

“I had the privilege of serving on the faculty and in the administration of the law school during Ken’s tenure as dean,” said Pepperdine University president Jim Gash. “In that period, I witnessed firsthand Ken’s deep love for our students and his commitment to advancing Caruso Law as one of the preeminent Christian legal education programs in the US and around the globe. I am profoundly grateful for Ken’s friendship, mentorship, counseling, guidance and encouragement through the years.”

In the five years under Starr’s leadership, Caruso Law made significant academic and reputational strides as the school began its ascent into the top tier of law schools. While serving as dean at Caruso Law, Starr devoted himself to the academic enterprise and brought his considerable legal knowledge to the classroom. He regularly taught courses in his areas of expertise, including current constitutional issues, religion and the constitution, advanced constitutional law, and appellate advocacy. During his deanship, Starr modeled the servant leadership he hoped to inspire in future lawyers by taking on pro bono cases and volunteering at local humanitarian organizations. As an academic mentor and leader, Starr is warmly remembered by his former students and colleagues for taking a personal interest in their endeavors and encouraging them to pursue academic and scholarly excellence along with generosity of spirit.

Pepperdine University senior vice chancellor and Caruso School of Law Dean Emeritus Ronald Phillips commented, “There are so many of us whose lives have been better because of Ken. He has done so much to make this world a better place.”

In 2007 Starr oversaw the establishment of the annual William French Smith Memorial Lectures on Law and the Judiciary, a lecture series designed to bring judges, attorneys, and law professors to Caruso Law to speak on judicial issues. A gala held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum to introduce the series was attended by former Attorney General Edwin Meese, former governor of California Pete Wilson, and former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Starr continued to raise the visibility of the law school by inviting Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, and Chief Justice John A. Roberts to speak at events such as the William French Smith lecture series and the annual School of Law dinner.

“I am honored to be following in Ken Starr’s giant footsteps,” said Paul L. Caron, the current dean of Caruso Law since 2017. “He accomplished so much to advance Pepperdine’s unique position in legal education, combining academic and research excellence with a deep-rooted commitment to our Christian mission.” 

Prior to his deanship at Caruso Law, Starr served as solicitor general of the United States and argued 36 cases before the Supreme Court. He also served as United States circuit judge for the District of Columbia; counselor to United States Attorney General William French Smith; and law clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Fifth Circuit Judge David W. Dyer. Starr served as independent counsel for five investigations. Following these appointments, Starr worked as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and as a visiting professor at New York University, Chapman University School of Law, George Mason School of Law, and Caruso Law. In recent years, he authored a book on religious liberty and practiced appellate law at the Lanier Law Firm based in Houston.

Starr held a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University, a master’s degree from Brown University, and a juris doctor degree from the Duke University School of Law. He was admitted to practice in California, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and the United States Supreme Court.

Click here to read the full article at Pepperdine Law

California to give $2,500 Training Grant to Workers Who lost jobs during pandemic

Living through a pandemic sucks, but for Diana McLaughlin, early 2020 was especially bad: A divorce in February 2020, societal shut-down in March, and as part of the COVID-19 economic fallout, she lost her job in April of that year, returning to full-time work only 18 months later.

California lawmakers had economically distressed folks like McLaughlin in mind when last year they approved half a billion dollars on education grants worth $2,500 to help workers displaced by the pandemic acquire new job-related skills. 

McLaughlin is among the first 3,000 or so recipients of this grant, adult learners who were issued checks in a pilot program this spring and summer. Now the state is opening the grant to a wide range of adults with low incomes who lost their jobs or saw their hours severely cut during the pandemic. Half of the grant funds are reserved for displaced workers with children under 18. 

Officials expect to reach 190,000 people with this money, called the Golden State Education and Training Grant Program

Among the few stipulations to receive the grant, applicants must fill out a short application that takes about 10 minutes to complete and attest that they lost a job or hours after March 4 2020, when Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency. Applicants also must affirm that they weren’t enrolled in an educational or job-training program when they lost their jobs. There’s an income threshold as well. 

Part of what makes the application quick to complete is how little it asks. Unlike other grant applications for college, this one is self-reported and self-certified, wrote Judith Gutierrez, spokesperson for the state financial aid agency running the grant, in an email. “We are not requesting any documentation,” she added.

McLaughlin wasted no time once she received her grant in June, 2022. After taking courses part-time at American River College, a community college in Sacramento, since October of 2020, she decided to go full-time to pursue her first ever-degree this fall and chose accounting as her major. 

The $2,500 is paying for her textbooks, software required for schoolwork and other supplies — anything remaining she’s putting in a personal education account. Though she receives tuition waivers as part of a state financial aid program and additional dollars through the Cal Grant, the Golden State grant gives her extra confidence that she can afford an education while earning around $38,000 a year.

“I spend my lunch break doing schoolwork,” she said. After returning from the office, she takes her associate degree courses online. McLaughlin’s younger son is a virtual charter school student, so the two complete their homework side by side. 

“I feel that it’s showing him how important an education is and to never give up because here I am, 47, and in college,” she said.

Expanding financial aid in California

At first blush the Golden State Education and Training grant, which will last through 2024 and is funded mostly through one-time federal stimulus funds, is yet another example of the state’s growing effort to lower the cost of college for adults and bring more Californians into college classrooms. 

In the past two years, public funding grew by nearly 50% for the California Student Aid Commission, which oversees most of the higher-education grant aid to students, to nearly $3.6 billion. That growth includes more tuition and cash support for community college students, middle-class students at the University of California and California State University, students formerly in foster care, students raising children and the Golden State training grant, among others.

But the Golden State grant’s eligibility rules start where other state and federal grants drop off, extending cash assistance to would-be students who otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for traditional college financial aid.

The Golden State grant can cover education programs that are shorter than about four months — something the federal Pell and state Cal Grant do not. Students receiving the Golden State grant may also use the money for extension and so-called noncredit programs, such as English-as-a-second-language courses, bicycle repair and various landscaping certificates. There’s no minimum program length for this grant — and because state dollars cover some of the grant costs — undocumented students are also eligible for the $2,500. Anyone getting the grant needs to already know which training program they plan to pursue.

Getting the word out

So that displaced workers with no ties to a college also apply, the Student Aid Commission is working with regional workforce boards, The California Workforce Development Board and other agencies to get the word out about the grant, said Jake Brymner, director of governmental relations for the Student Aid Commission. 

Grant recipients can also use the funds if they enroll in certain workforce training and apprenticeship programs unaffiliated with colleges or universities. The Student Aid Commission is reviewing which workforce training programs are eligible and will soon add those to the approved list on the grant application. Students will only be able to use their grants at California public colleges, universities and these approved workforce training programs.

During the pilot when only public colleges and universities were eligible, 84% of the grant applicants sought educations at community colleges, data from the Student Aid Commission shows. 

“This specific grant has great potential,” said Daisy Gonzales, interim chancellor of the California Community Colleges. “What it does is it provides an entry point to our colleges for students that may not know about us.” Students with no exposure to community colleges can gain access to food pantries and coordinators who are familiar with other state and local social services for which students could qualify. 

She’s also hopeful the grant may help to recover some of the colossal enrollment loss the system suffered in the past two years.  

Grant can combine with other student aid

Even if grant recipients qualify for free tuition, especially at community colleges where nearly half of learners attend for free, they can use the money to cover gas, housing, food and other expenses. It’s an added perk for learners who had no spare dollars to afford an internet connection or other expenses associated with attaining a degree.

Muideen Olawoyin was one class away from earning an associate degree in human services, a stepping stone toward social work. But a series of bad breaks and a long-term injury left him cash-dry. 

“I (couldn’t) even afford internet then, it was so hard,” he said. When he picked up the Golden State check from his school, Cosumnes River College, he was able to get back online, enroll in that final course and earn his degree this summer. 

The average income of the roughly 3,000 grant recipients was about $22,000 when they first applied, according to California Student Aid Commission data provided to CalMatters.

Some degrees don’t boost wages

Not all training and education programs are made equal, however. Some research shows that shorter-term college certificates — like the kind in which students with this grant can enroll — have a mixed record of boosting the earning power of graduates.

Overall, these certificates lead to higher wages, but noncredit programs are less remunerative than traditional for-credit certificates. Still, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees lead to even higher wage gains for graduates, according to a 2020 Urban Institute study. Meanwhile, a fifth of certificate programs at public colleges and universities lead to lower wages than what workers with high school diplomas earn, a Hechinger Report analysis of national data showed

California’s foray into funding short-term credentials could inform the national conversation on whether to permit federal grant aid to pay for educations that are shorter than four months. For a few years now advocates have been trying to introduce “short-term” Pell grants, but the idea hasn’t won over enough lawmakers yet

None of the four Golden State training grant recipients CalMatters spoke with were pursuing short-term credentials — all wanted an associate degree. McLaughlin, who now works as an accountant for a fencing company, is dreaming bigger.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

LA County Offers $236 Million to Settle Homeless Lawsuit, Vows to Partner With City of Los Angeles

County settles major 2020 lawsuit with the LA Alliance for Human Rights, agrees to provide more help for homeless

Los Angeles County has settled a major lawsuit addressing homeless people living in poor conditions on Skid Row, and will now team up with the City of Los Angeles to create a one-two punch in which the city builds shelters and permanent housing and the county provides wraparound services, officials announced Monday.

On Monday Sept. 12, the county signed a settlement agreement with the plaintiff, LA Alliance for Human Rights, three months after the city settled.

The county’s agreement is expected to be accepted by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter within 30 days. Though still unofficial, the two sides are anticipating his approval of the agreement, and are planning how the new county dollars will help some of L.A. County’s 69,000 unhoused people to move into housing.

Matthew Umhofer, attorney for the LA Alliance, a coalition of the homeless, those living in poverty, those on the edge of homeless, property owners and small businesses, said at a press conference downtown, “We fought for our clients, and yes, at times we fought against the city and the county. But we’ve fought for our brothers and sisters on the streets and for the soul of this city and county.”

In March 2020 the Alliance filed an unprecedented lawsuit accusing the city and county of inaction that led to encampments, creating a dangerous environment for both businesses and residents in the 50-block Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.

In an unusual action, U.S. District Court Judge Carter in April 2021 set a timeline for the city and county to shelter people living in Skid Row, and for the city to put aside $1 billion to address the crisis. His order, to begin sheltering people by Oct. 18, 2021, was never implemented, as the county and city fought the Alliance lawsuit.

In an appeal in late September 2021, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Hawaii vacated Judge Carter’s order, finding that the order lacked legal standing and that Carter, who had visited the homeless in person and conducted interviews, had “impermissibly resorted to independent research and extra-record evidence.”

The lawsuit gained considerable public attention, including impromptu public hearings near homeless encampments attended by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other elected officials. At first, the city and county attorneys fought the lawsuit, saying the Alliance’s use of the court’s power was “overbroad and unmanageable” and was an attempt to usurp the role of local government.

That changed in June when the city agreed in a court settlement to spend about $3 billion to develop up to 16,000 beds or housing units for non-mentally ill members of the homeless population.

The county added its own settlement offer Monday, for which the ink was not yet dry, said Fesia Davenport, L.A. County’s chief executive officer.

Under its settlement, L.A. County will spend $236 million through June 2027, said Los Angeles County Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell. Of that, $74 million will go to homeless engagement services and $162 million will go to dedicated permanent housing, she said.

Garcetti said that while the lawsuit was contentious, the city and county have been working to battle homelessness for eight years by bringing shelter to 130,000 unhoused people. “The problem has been we need to ramp up the pace,” Garcetti said on Monday.

Officials from both branches of local government said the lawsuit and resulting settlements acted as a catalyst that brought the two government entities together with a common goal and complementary resources.

City officials who spoke at the press conference Monday welcomed the county’s partnership, saying the city does not have services to help newly housed people thrive, such as mental health programs, substance abuse disorder treatment, job placement counselors or child daycare services. The city will rely on the county to provide those services, helping people make it in new housing, or preventing those on the edge from becoming homeless.

“The city can construct housing. The county can provide services for people in that housing,” said Matt Szabo, L.A.’s city administrative officer.

“This is what this agreement binds us to do,” Szabo said. “It sets a standard I hope we can build upon and use as a template moving forward.”

The five-year settlement will add more homeless outreach team members and mental health beds, said Umhofer. It will be overseen by Judge Carter. “This provides real accountability,” Umhofer said.

Some questioned if the county’s allocation was enough.

For example, the money from the county would increase mental health beds by 300, a number that L.A. City Councilman Kevin de Leon said was not enough — but a start. “Skid Row is an embarrassment for this city, the county and this country,” he said, adding that the deaths of many homeless from drug overdoses is a scar on Los Angeles.

Supervisor Mitchell said the new settlement is a small fraction of what the county has already spent, including $532 million from Measure H, a tax that raised money for housing the homeless. And the county has put $400 million from federal American Rescue Plan grants into helping homeless individuals.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Daily News

Gov. Newsom Pays Unions Back for Recall Rescue

California: ‘Bloated, sleepy and sloppy state bureaucracy that has festered in mediocrity’

California Governor Gavin Newsom was spared the indignity of being recalled by voters in fall of 2021 by California’s powerful and gilded labor unions, which spent more than $25 million in the recall, according to CalMatters. “That’s more money than Hollywood, California’s tech industry, local Indian tribes, and state real estate players spent in the recall race combined,” the Federalist reported.

The Governor apparently did not forget his end of the ostensible deal, rewarding labor with promises of hundreds of thousands of new members (Fast food workers), as well as signing legislation providing tax credits for the union dues of members.

“The new budget passed by lawmakers in mid-June and signed by Governor Newsom two weeks later will take California’s existing tax deduction for union dues payments and turn it into a tax credit capped at 33% of dues paid,” Patrick Gleason, Vice President of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform, said in Forbes. “Changing the deduction to a credit makes the union tax break more generous and benefits those who don’t itemize or have a tax liability.”

Moves like this should show American voters exactly who Gavin Newsom would show his loyalty should he run for President.

Ballotpedia explains the tax credit:

“Once implemented, the tax credit would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Union dues are currently tax-deductible in California and some other states. (A tax deduction lowers a person’s taxable income before calculating taxes, while a tax credit reduces the amount of tax a person is responsible for paying.)

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed SB 154, the Budget Act of 2022, on June 27. On June 30, Newsom signed SB 189, one of several bills “providing for appropriations related to” the budget act. SB 189 says, “Contingent upon future legislation, including future budget appropriations, and subject to a determination in the spring of 2024 that General Fund money over the multiyear forecasts is available to support ongoing augmentations and actions, the following actions will be prioritized: (1) Implement a tax credit under the Personal Income Tax Law to offset a portion of costs associated with union membership.”

The Federalist reported:

Max Nelson, the director of labor policy at the free-market conservative think tank Freedom Foundation, described the legislation as a “bold” mechanism to expand union membership and empower state-sponsored speech. “Taxpayers are being compelled by the force of state law to pay people to pay unions,” Nelson said.

“Big labor groups may also claim the benefits for themselves, where raising dues to cover the difference offered by the tax credit would enrich union leadership who dictate organizations’ political contributions,”

“We’re kind of into some new frontiers here, which will be interesting for both the courts to grapple with and the states,” Nelson told The Federalist, where Democrats have now embraced a measure to directly fund their own allies who, in turn, will “plow money into progressive electoral politics.”

Patrick Gleason continued:

“The first half of 2022 was a mixed bag for California taxpayers who don’t want the state to inflict more costs upon households and the economy. … Many Californians, however, are unlikely to appreciate the fact that Governor Newsom and state legislators created a new tax credit that is unavailable to 84% of Golden State workers. For all the talk about equity & equality coming from the state’s most powerful politicians, California’s new budget takes the state tax code’s already unequal treatment of workers and worsens it.”

But perhaps Lance Christensen, candidate for State Superintendent of Instruction best reminded us in September 2021 right before the Newsom recall election, what really is at stake in the Golden State besides labor union payoffs:

“California still faces substantial, long-term financing troubles. While Gov. Newsom boasts of the biggest state budget in history, the titanic funds undergirding the budget are one-time revenues that will tank once the Federal Reserve stops printing money and Congress avoids propping up spendthrift programs.”

“If a new governor is elected this month, that person will have one year to whip into shape a bloated, sleepy and sloppy state bureaucracy that has festered in mediocrity for years. And if the Legislature or entrenched bureaucracy is going to resist, the governor should plan for a one-hour presser every day to name names and let the people know why things aren’t changing.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Can Superagencies crack California’s housing logjam?

An acute shortage of housing, particularly for low-income families that must devote much of their paltry incomes to rent, is clearly one of California’s most pressing and vexing issues.

The Legislature passes laws and appropriates billions of dollars and state officials rag on local governments to become more accommodating to development, but very little, if any, progress is made on closing the gap between supply and demand.

Everyone involved seems to be looking for the silver bullet solution, but no one has come up with it yet.

Several years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area’s civic and political leadership devised a new approach – a regional agency empowered to raise revenues that would jump-start much needed construction while protecting existing housing stocks and helping poor tenants remain in their homes as rents increased.

The Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, created by legislation, came into being just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and it impeded the agency’s startup plans. A $10 billion regional bond issue for housing was being planned, but due to the economic turmoil of the pandemic, including widespread unemployment, its sponsors delayed action indefinitely.

The agency is just getting going again, using some seed money advanced by the state, and is resurrecting the $10 billion bond proposal in the nine Bay Area counties, possibly for the 2024 ballot. That would be enough, officials say, to produce and/or preserve 45,000 affordable housing units, assuming that it would leverage another $15 billion from other sources. But such a bond would require a two-thirds region-wide vote, which is by no means certain.

Simply put, the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority is still a work in progress. No one knows whether it will, or even could, make a significant dent in the region’s housing shortage.

Nevertheless, Los Angeles County leaders want to emulate the Bay Area experiment. They persuaded the Legislature, in the final hours of its session last month, to create the awkwardly named Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency with very similar powers, and also some limitations that could hamstring its effectiveness.

The agency will have a 21-member board composed of local officials, including all five county supervisors, and their appointees.

Essentially, the new agency could raise money with voter-approved parcel taxes on property, a tax on business gross receipts or a tax on property transfer documents and could also issue bonds. The revenues would mostly be given to the county’s cities to be spent on housing, although the agency could undertake some projects of its own.

However, it could play no role in zoning issues, could not acquire property by eminent domain (seizure) and is forbidden to build housing for the homeless. To gain legislative approval, Senate Bill 679 also was drafted with a requirement that any housing built or financed by the agency be considered public works subject to the state’s prevailing wage law, with larger projects required, in essence, to use only unionized labor.

While the Bay Area’s housing agency covers nine counties, the new one in Los Angeles is limited to just that county, which raises a question: Why is it needed, since the county government already has authority to do what the new entity would do?

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

Anonymous Letter to Assembly Lawmakers Alleges Abuse, Harassment of Sergeants-at-Arms by Chief

Letter says violations have been reported to Assembly leaders but nothing was done

The California Globe is in receipt of a letter stating it is from an Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms, recently sent to all members of the California State Assembly, as well as Assembly staffers, revealing alleged abuse and horrible work conditions in the legislature by the Assembly Chief Sergeant-at-Arms.

The complaint alleges that Assembly Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Alisa Buckley and Deputy Chief Sergeant Randy Arruda are abusive to the point of pushing Sergeants to retire early, leave for another job, or suffer demotion and schedule changes with little or no notice. 

The writer says the policy violations were reported to the Workers Conduct Unit (WCU) and Assembly Human Resources, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Chair of Rules Committee Ken Cooley, and Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert, but nothing changed.

“At the State Capitol, those who create the laws that the governed are required to follow, do not follow such practices themselves,” the letter writer says.

In December 2019, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced Alisa Buckley, a member of the Sacramento Police Department for 22 years, as the Assembly’s new Acting Chief Sergeant-at-Arms. The election for the new Chief Sergeant was held the first week of session in January 2020, and she was approved for the job.

With the complaint now being public, it appears the Assembly Speaker needs to initiate a thorough investigation into the allegations, which includes interviewing all staff Sergeants-at-Arms.

The California Capitol has been plagued with hostile working conditions in recent years. In 2018 the Joint Committee on Rules Subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response announced policy changes in response to widespread accusations of sexual harassment/assault and gross sexual misconduct by elected legislators and senior staff, I reported. Yet female employees still report harassment, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported.

The Globe contacted Assembly Speaker Rendon’s press secretary Saturday for a statement but we have not heard back. We will update the article when we do.

Here is the letter:

August 26, 2022

All Assemblymembers

1315 10th St.

Sacramento, CA 95834

RE: Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms Hostile Work Environment

Dear Assemblymembers,

Over the course of the last year, the Assembly’s Sergeant-at-Arms Department has become a hostile and demoralizing place of employment.  In 2021, the department had around 50 total employees.  Since then, the department has diminished to less than half that number due to the leadership of Chief Sergeant Alisa Buckley and Deputy Chief Sergeant Randy Arruda.  Diminishing staff is due to those who have chosen to retire early, leave for another job opportunity, or were demoted.   Those who left includes five of the eight in management.  Several Assembly policies have been violated and were reported to the Workers Conduct Unit (WCU) and Assembly Human Resources. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Chair of Rules Committee Ken Cooley, and Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert had been informed of such matters and made the decision to protect the institution instead of protecting staff vital to the functioning of the Capitol.

Assembly policy states that training in Workplace Violence Prevention, Ethics, and Sexual Harassment be conducted each legislative term and that staff compliance is mandatory.  The Ethics training course describes retaliation and purposeful misconduct by superiors.  This has been occurring in the Sergeant’s Department for two years.

-Demoting the employees

-Encouraging staff to ostracize individual employees without cause or evidence

-Giving poor reviews or nit-picking

-Sudden changes in work schedules and/or work locations

-Poor references without cause or evidence

-Poor performance feedback without cause or evidence

Assembly staff communicated such occurrences to individual members in the hopes that help would come. Staff has been repeatedly reminded that they are at-will employees and could be let go at any time for any reason.  The constant reminding has considered is a warning to any employees that discuss department matters to members will experience consequences.  This is a violation of the ethic protocols in the Capitol.  What is occurring in the department has reached the level of being discussed in a Democratic Caucus meeting.  

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Tidal Marsh or ‘Fake Habitat’? California Environmental Project Draws Criticism

Southwest of Sacramento, the branching arms of waterways reach into a patchwork of farm fields and pastures. Canals and wetlands fringed with reeds meet a sunbaked expanse of dry meadows.

These lands on the northwestern edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Deltahave now been targeted for restoration following the widespread destruction of estuary marsh habitats that began over a century ago. 

But one habitat restoration project funded by a large agricultural water district is drawing criticism from environmental advocates. They say that while the project is based on claims of ecologically important marsh habitat, a large portion of the land is a high-and-dry former cattle pasture that does little to benefit endangered fish.

The dispute over the roughly 2,100-acre property centers on questions about which lands should be counted as tidal marsh habitat in the delta, one of California’s primary water sources. State and federal agencies that operate the two major water projects pumping from the delta have been supporting a series of habitat restoration projects as they work toward a requirement to restore at least 8,000 acres of tidal marshes to mitigate the ecological harm caused by water diversions.

A large portion of that requirement could be satisfied by the property southwest of Sacramento — called the Lower Yolo Ranch Tidal Habitat Restoration Project — if federal wildlife officials agree with claims by state and federal water agencies that much of the property should receive credit as tidal marsh that benefits endangered delta smelt.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/2MFYt

The Westlands Water District bought the property in 2007 and has done restoration work at the site by grading the land, removing concrete infrastructure and digging new tidal channels and swales. Thomas Birmingham, general manager of Westlands, has said the district bought the property because it was “an ideal location for restoration of tidal marsh habitat.”

The state Department of Water Resources has claimed that more than 1,700 acres, or about 80% of the property, benefits delta smelt. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirms this and grants full credit for the acreage as tidal marsh habitat, Westlands is set to receive nearly $41 million from the state.

But environmental advocates argue that only about one-fourth of the property should receive credit as tidal marsh habitat, while the rest of the land is too high above sea level to get wet during high tides. They have pointed to documents indicating that much of the property lies 6.5 feet or more above sea level.

“They’re paying Westlands for fake habitat,” said Patricia Schifferle, director of Pacific Advocates, an environmental consulting firm. “Much of the area is upland habitat and will not support fish. … They’re selling cow pasture as if it was tidal habitat.”

The property is in the southern portion of the Yolo Bypass, a floodplain on the north side of the delta.

The delta smelt, a finger-length fish, has been spiraling toward extinction despite decades of rescue efforts.

Schifferle pointed out that the Department of Water Resources’ request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to certify credit for 1,713 acres of tidal marsh habitat, includes lands as much as 7.7 feet above sea level. Schifferle said that is too high to benefit fish.

“Delta smelt better grow legs, because there’s no way that’s tidal habitat for delta smelt,” Schifferle said. At $23,815 per acre, she said, “that’s a lot of money for cow pasture.”

A coalition of environmental groups raised concerns about the deal in a letter to state agencies in July. The groups, which included the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, said documents show “that there generally is no tidal influence on lands at elevations above 6.5 feet above sea level in this part of the delta, and therefore these lands are not ‘tidal’ marsh, ‘tidal wetland,’ or ‘intertidal’ habitat” and should not be credited toward meeting environmental mitigation requirements for the State Water Project.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

LAUSD Student Test Scores Show Sharp Drops in English, Math Proficiency

Pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic as the driving factor, the Los Angeles Unified School District released test scores Friday showing sharp drop-offs in proficiency among students in nearly all grade levels in English and math.

According to the preliminary Smarter Balanced Assessments, the percent of LAUSD students meeting or exceeding state standards in English dropped by about two percentage points compared to the pre-pandemic 2018-19 year — falling from 43.9% to 41.7%. In math, the drop was steeper, falling by five percentage points from 33.5% to 28.5%.

“As anticipated, the preliminary state assessment results illustrate that there is no substitute for in-person instruction,” Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said in a statement. “Los Angeles Unified is proactively addressing the decline in achievement performance, particularly in English language arts and mathematics, at all grade levels.

“We are working collaboratively to accelerate and realize the learning potential of every student, bolstering important support systems including instructional, mental health and community supports to meet the needs of our students and realize our goals outlined in our 2022-2026 Strategic Plan.”

According to the figures, the percent of students meeting or exceeding the English standard fell in all grade levels except eighth grade, which saw slight increase. The biggest drop was in the 11th grade, which fell by 7 percentage points. Third-graders fell off by 4.5 percentage points and fourth- grades fell by about four points.

In math, every grade level saw a decrease, led by the 11th grade with a 9.7 point drop-off from 28.6% to 18.9%.

Eighth- and sixth-graders saw a nearly six-point drop.

“Los Angeles Unified has acted with urgency to ensure our students have the necessary supports to recover from the pandemic this year, and these results further underscore the need,” LAUSD Board of Education President Kelly Gonez said in a statement. “We have invested in strategies — from ensuring there’s a teacher in every classroom to summer school, tutoring and mental health supports — that will help us accelerate learning for all students, particularly our highest needs students who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

District officials said a variety of steps are included in the Strategic Plan to address learning loss from the pandemic, including the hiring of more teachers, providing additional training opportunities for teachers at the highest-need schools and using the test scores to guide “instructional planning and personalized learning so all students reach proficiency.”

Click here to read the full article at Fox11

Californians can’t catch a break as gas prices spike again

The ongoing heat wave is raising the risk of blackouts on top of perennial drought and fires. And now, after enduring record pump prices in June that were much higher than the national average, Californians face surging gasoline costs again at the end of the summer travel season when they typically fall.

Pump prices jumped 10 cents a gallon in a week in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire and 13 cents in Orange County, according to auto club AAA. Record wholesale premiums signal they could rise even further. At the state level, retail prices average $5.34 a gallon on Friday, 4 cents more than the previous day.

The confluence of bad news highlights how vulnerable California’s energy systems are to supply disruptions. The state is an energy island, cut off from crude and fuel hubs in the Gulf Coast and Midwest by the Rocky Mountains. Regulators require a boutique grade of cleaner-burning fuel that few refineries are geared to produce outside of the state. As a result, fuel shortages take time to resolve and price spikes are far more common than elsewhere in the country.

Gasoline stockpiles on the US West Coast have fallen by 11% since the beginning of August amid a lack of imports to their lowest level in about seven years, data from the Energy Information Administration show. The California grade of gasoline known as Carbob also saw inventories drop to 8% below the five-year average for this time of year, according to the California Energy Commission.

Refiners in the state are running harder, but hot weather and a stressed power grid may be causing some problems. Excess heat challenges the water cooling system in refineries, and one way to handle it is to cut operation rates, said John Auers, managing director at RBN Energy.

“Heat, along with the way the power grid is being managed, can be contributing to the refinery issues,” Auers said in a phone interview. A string of incidents recently surfaced in Southern California and may have spooked traders in the spot market, which sets the basis for retail prices.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register