‘Nobody saw this coming’; California dairies scramble to guard herds against bird flu

Earlier this spring, California dairy farmers noted a puzzling drop in milk production in Texas, New Mexico, Idaho, Ohio, Kansas and Michigan. Weeks later, news broke that several herds in these states, as well as North Carolina, had been diagnosed with avian influenza — the same strain that has devastated bird populations across the globe and shown a troubling ability to jump to mammals.

In an effort to prevent local herds from infection, officials in California and elsewhere have imposed restrictions on cattle imports from the affected states, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has urged livestock managers to minimize the movement of cattle as much as possible.Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the current risk for the general public is low, the development has left dairy farmers reeling. Never before have U.S. dairy cows been infected with H5N1 bird flu viruses.

“Nobody saw this coming,” said Michael Payne, a researcher and outreach coordinator at the Western Institute of Food Safety and Security at UC Davis.

Scientists and health agencies across the globe have been tracking the spread of the virus for years.

Since 2021, it has killed hundreds of millions of farmed poultry and infected more than 48 species of mammals — including humans — as well as countless numbers of wild birds. It has also proved especially deadly among some communal mammals, such as elephant seals and sea lions in South America, as well as caged fur-farmed animals in Europe.

Nevertheless, outbreaks among dairy cows have come as a rude shock.

In addition to the cattle infections, a farmworker in Texas who was in close contact with infected dairy cows also became infected, but experienced only mild symptoms. This was the second known human case in the United States.

Despite the mildness of the farmworker’s illness, the prospect of continued infections worries some.

“The concerning trend of multiple states reporting cattle infections raises the likelihood of continued human exposure,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, professor and chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology. “This could amplify the risk of further virus adaptation, potentially facilitating human-to-human transmission.”

Public health advocates, wildlife biologists and epidemiologists say there are a few reasons for why the cattle outbreaks have surprised farmers and officials.

First, while there have been sporadic infections of cattle via other flu strains in the past, no other avian flu has ever evolved the ability to pass between cows and other ruminants, said Kuchipudi.

“That was surprising,” he said. “Totally unprecedented.”

And second: There is no single federal or state agency responsible for following this disease — one that affects wildlife, agriculture and public health. Some experts say it’s a flawed silo-like approach for a virus that concerns multiple government agencies here and in other nations.

“This is a fundamental problem in our monitoring system, especially when it comes to emerging and zoonotic infections, such as the avian flu,” said Kuchipudi. “This is a public health problem, a wildlife problem and also a domestic animal problem,” for which a one-health solution — in which all three elements are included — could really help in terms of managing information collection and communication.

For instance, while it’s still unclear how the cows got the disease, if farmers had been on the look-out for sick birds or wildlife and been communicating with wildlife agencies and their farm bureaus, the infection might have been contained, experts say.

California’s Department of Food and Agriculture is now asking farmers to be on the lookout for sick birds and mammals, and to take steps to humanely remove migrating birds and waterfowl that could come into contact with their herds, and prevent them from nesting nearby.

There is also a concern that the disease was passed via infected poultry litter — a mix of poultry excreta, spilled feed, feathers, and other waste scraped from the floors of industrial chicken and turkey production plants — which, in the United States, is used in cattle feed on some farms. UC Davis’ Payne said that in California, poultry waste is processed at high virus-killing temperatures, so it is unlikely to be a concern.

The practice is banned in the United Kingdom, European Union and Canada, where fears of spreading bovine spongiform encephalitis — mad cow disease — made such practices seem too risky.

Despite concerns voiced by some experts, California officials say existing bird flu monitoring efforts are effective.

State Veterinarian Annette Jones said that she works fluidly with multiple state and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We have veterinarians and experts spread throughout the state that can do those initial investigations. And if there’s any inkling that there could be a human health issue, then we also work very closely with the California Department of Public Health, who has links to County Public Health and CDC,” she said. “To the outside person that seems probably like acronym soup, right? But to an inside person with experience, we know.”

Jones and others in the dairy and agricultural sector say there is no reason for the public to be alarmed or concerned when it comes to avian flu-infected cattle.

They say infected cows seem to have a mild reaction and get better quickly. Also, milk is pasteurized, so if an infected cow’s milk were to get into the system, the virus would be killed.

Yet others say it’s the “what’s next” question that is most worrying.

“We want to address what is happening so that we can prevent something worse from happening,” said J. Scott Weese, professor at the Ontario Veterinary College and director of the University of Guelph’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses. “That something worse is this virus becoming a virus that can be easily transmitted between humans and can cause serious disease.”

The disease has already bucked all expectations — from its ability to infect a variety of species to its international reach and duration, experts say. That should make its appearance on a mammal-based factory farm a cause for doubled-down surveillance and concern, said Crystal Heath, a Bay Area veterinarian and co-founder of Our Honor, an animal welfare organization.

“You have hundreds, if not thousands of genetically similar animals all living in the same space, standing in each others’ waste and breathing on each other,” said Heath. “Its Shangri-La for an opportunistic virus.”

And it is still unclear how widespread the virus is, or for how long it’s been infecting cattle, said Weese.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

The Financial State of California Cities 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did California’s cities do?

San Francisco – D grade

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

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

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

San Diego – C grade

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

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

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

Sacramento – B grade

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

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

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

Los Angeles – C grade

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

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

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

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

Fresno – B grade

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

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

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

Oakland – D grade

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

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

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

San Jose – D grade

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

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Another bid to recall Newsom and rob voters

Sore losers’ 7th effort to oust him is a waste, and points to larger ill: Unending elections due to denial

Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference in the state capitol following the first COVID-19 death in California. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Gavin Newsom is hardly beyond reproach.

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California faces a massive budget deficit, which may be worse than the governor acknowledges. There’s been voluminous amounts of talk about but no end to the state’s housing and homelessness crises.

The time and energy Newsom devotes to boosting his national profile — traipsing around the country, running red-state ads promoting abortion rights — could be better spent at home. Instead of visiting Florida and Alabama, Newsom should take a tour of rural California, stopping in flyover places like Alturas, Sonora and Red Bluff.

It may not boost Newsom’s 2028 presidential prospects or win many converts. But it would acknowledge the disconnect their residents feel from the rest of the state, and show their concerns matter as much as those of Democrats in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

None of that, however, justifies the latest attempt to drive Newsom from office.

A group of Republicans involved in the failed 2021 recall effort announced this week that they’re trying again — marking the seventh attempt to short-circuit Newsom’s governorship.

It’s a waste of time and, potentially, a whole lot more taxpayer money. It should force lawmakers in Sacramento to finally make some badly needed fixes to the state’s broken recall process.

It’s also symptomatic of a larger ill.

For more than a generation, we’ve lived in the age of the permanent campaign. The line between governing and eyeing the next election has become indistinguishable — much to the chagrin of those who wish expedience and partisanship had less influence over lawmakers and their decisions.

But in recent years, the negative effects of the permanent campaign have been exceeded by something even more pernicious: the election without end.

Rather than admitting defeat, Donald Trump and his followers insist on relitigating the 2020 presidential contest. In Arizona, gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake and other Republicanspulled the same stunt after losing their statewide races, refusing to recognize the results.

(For those who insist those elections were stolen, here’s a suggestion: Get together with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and discuss ways to prevent similar “fraud” in 2024. You’re welcome.)

Elections used to have winners and losers, with both sides acknowledging as much. Now those who don’t like the results simply refuse to accept the outcome, ignoring the will of voters.

In Oregon, that meant lawmakers boycotted the Legislature to deny majority Democrats a quorum. In Wisconsin, unhappy Republicans threatened to nullify a state Supreme Court election and impeach a liberal justice simply because their preferred candidate lost. (The legislators were finally shamed out of such a flagrantly undemocratic move.)

That mindset, that elections don’t count unless they turn out the way you wish, is evident in the renewed effort to recall Newsom.

Like him or not, he has twice been elected governor. He decisively beat back the attempted 2021 recall; the 61.9% “no” vote precisely matched Newsom’s winning percentage in 2018 — meaning nearly $250 million was spent on a special election so voters could say, in effect, yep, we meant it when we chose this guy.

They chose Newsom again in 2022, when he cruised to reelection.

The GOP is in pathetic shape in California. That’s nothing new. It’s been nearly two decades since voters elected a Republican governor, the sui generis Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So now the strategy seems to be, if you can’t beat ’em, harass ’em.

And make some money in the process.

The San Francisco Standard reported that Rescue California, the campaign committee behind the 2021 recall election, is more than $1 million in debt. Fundraising for the latest effort could easily wipe away that debt and reap a hefty sum for organizers who profited nicely from the last go-round.

In the weeks and months after that costly, pointless election, lawmakers in Sacramento considered ways to overhaul the recall process, which has aged poorly since its conception more than a century ago.

Click here to read the full story in the LA Times

California braces for flooding again as another wet winter storm hits

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The latest in a series of wet winter storms gained strength in California early Monday, with forecasters warning of possible flooding, hail, strong winds and even brief tornadoes as the system moves south over the next few days.

Gusts topped 30 mph (48 kph) in Oakland and San Jose as a mild cold front late Saturday gave way to a more powerful storm on Sunday, said meteorologist Brayden Murdock with the National Weather Service office in San Francisco.

“The winds are here and getting stronger, and the rains will follow quickly,” he said Sunday afternoon.

California’s central coast is at risk of “significant flooding,” with up to 5 inches (12 cm) of rain predicted for many areas, according to the weather service. Isolated rain totals of 10 inches (25 cm) are possible in the Santa Lucia and Santa Ynez mountain ranges as the storm heads toward greater Los Angeles.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California braces for inundation as atmospheric rivers barrel in from Pacific Ocean

Still reeling from last year’s onslaught of winter wind and rain, communities along the California coast are bracing for a one-two punch of hefty storms that began to move onshore Wednesday and are expected to last through early next week.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Federalcounty and municipal officials are preparing for potential flooding and power outages from strong atmospheric river systems, followingGov. Gavin Newsom’s move Tuesday to activateCalifornia’s Emergency Operations Center. State officials warned that the back-to-back storms may be only the beginning of a strong, wet weather pattern that could linger for up to two weeks.

“This is a longer-duration event,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “It’s not just the localized impacts, but the duration of the impacts and the wide geographic distribution of the challenges. … We want to be early and proactive on our emergency response efforts.”

Fire crews, swift water rescue teams and other first responders have been moving into place throughout the state in preparation of the storms, and supplies such as sandbags and snowplows are being distributed, Ferguson said.

“The state is working around the clock with our local partners to deploy life-saving equipment and resources statewide,” Newsom said. “With more storms on the horizon, we’ll continue to mobilize every available resource to protect Californians.”

The first storm was expected to wallop the northern part of the state beginning Wednesday, with the National Weather Service issuing multiple flood advisories, winter storm and high wind warnings across the state through at least Friday. The second one, forecast to arrive late Sunday, is anticipated to hit harder in the south, potentially wreaking havoc in Southern California.

Along the North Coast from Klamath to Fort Bragg early Wednesday, officials reported widespread urban and small stream flooding, with an additional inch or 2 of rain expectedto fall. In the Bay Area, wind gusts had been recorded above 60 mph, reaching as high as 70 mph at one location in Marin, according to the weather service.

Officials continue to predict possible power outages. Ferguson said state officials are already working with utilities to get crews dispatched quickly when power goes down.

“Much if not the entire portion of the state is expecting measurable rainfall as we head through today and tomorrow,” said Robert Hart, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Northern and Central California can generally expect 2 to 5 inches, with up to 6 inches locally, he said.

As the storm moves south Thursday, Southern California can expect on average 1 to 3 inches of rain, but up to 5 inches locally, Hart said.

The second storm system, aimed with a particular ferocity toward Southern California, is “the one we’re more concerned about,” Ferguson said. It is warmer — allowing it to pack more water — and is expected to move slower, which can leave some regions inundated. Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego could be in for massive amounts of rain. The mountains east of Los Angeles could face heavy snow.

“Storm No. 1 will be significant and is notable, but won’t bring extreme impacts anywhere,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain in a Tuesday briefing. But he said his eyes are on that still-developing second storm, which “has a higher potential to produce some major and significant either wind- and/or flood-related impacts,” with flooding concentrated in Southern California.

Ferguson added that the dangerous flooding that devastated communities such as Pajaro and Planada in last winter’s atmospheric rivers — and killed dozens across the state — was less of a concern this time around. But many of the levees that crisscross the state are aging, privately maintained and something of an unknown to officials.

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“That is always a challenge,” he said. “We don’t know which levees have ground squirrels in them, which farmer put a pipe [in somewhere]. Unknowns are the things that are hardest to solve for.”

He added that officials are also confronting “tons of misinformation and bad information” about the weather on social media. Contrary to one rumor flying around cyberspace, this is not a megaflood or “ARkStorm” scenario, he said, though he still urged residents to take it seriously and prepare.

Jim Shivers, a spokesman for Caltrans District 5 — which covers the Central Coast — said they’re keeping an eye on Paul’s Slide, a two-mile stretch of Highway 1 south of Big Sur that was knocked out by a landslide last year. It’s been closed ever since and remains under repair.

Worker safety is the biggest concern, he said, and the agency will pull all construction workers from the site until the storm has passed. They’ll then wait a couple of days until they have drier conditions, and only then bring them back.

In Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, officials said there are no signs these storms will cause flooding in the Pajaro River — where a levee breached last year, flooding the community of Pajaro — but said those areas will be monitored closely.

Mark Strudley, executive director at Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, said the 400-foot area that breached last year “and caused all the grief … was repaired using modern engineering standards [and] is actually better built than the older levees to either side of it.”

Because of that and “a bunch of other work that the counties did in preparation for this winter, we are going into this winter in a better position than we went in last year,” he said. However, despite those efforts, “it is still an old, decrepit levee system. So you can make your best efforts, but if Mother Nature gets too angry at us, you know … they’re still vulnerable.”

Along the North Coast, though, the Navarro and Hopland rivers will probablay come close to or reach flood stage Wednesday, according to the California Nevada River Forecast Center, and waters at many points along the Sacramento Valley rivershed could also rise dangerously high. On Thursday, the San Diego River at Fashion Valley is forecast to again overflow its banks, as occurred last week during historic rains that caused widespread urban flooding and some devastating flash floods.

“We don’t expect a repeat of Jan. 22 [flash flooding] on Thursday,” Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the weather service in San Diego, said Wednesday, adding, “That said, new and additional flooding is possible.”

Much of San Diego and Orange counties, as well as parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, already have a flood advisory out for Thursday, when the first storm will have moved south and east. But Tardy pointed out that besides San Diego, much of Southern California has received below average rainfall this year.

“In general, this is a beneficial rain,” he said. “We need this rain, we need the snow too.”

In Los Angeles, officials are less concerned about the first storm — though some minor flooding is likely — but concern is growing about the second system. County and city officials opened additional shelter options through at least Tuesday, offering motel vouchers during the coming storms for anyone living on the street.

“The Los Angeles region has been cold recently, but the addition of rain this week could make conditions especially dangerous for anyone living on the streets,” said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Click here to read that the full article in the Los Angeles Times

California Population Loss Slows, State Loses Only 32,000 Between July 2022 and July 2023

‘More people are still moving out than moving in’

The California Department of Finance announced on Tuesday that California’s overall population loss slowed down dramatically during the 2022-2023 fiscal year, with the state population going down by only 37,200 people between July 2022 and July 2023.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, California’s population that year was at roughly 39.5 million. However, due in part to high taxes, a high cost of living, crime issues, the decline of the tech industry, an increase of work from home positions, and the COVID-19 pandemic freeing up many people to go into a position to more easily move, California’s population decreased dramatically in the next several years. Hundreds of thousands of people left the state. At the same time, immigration was largely curbed by the pandemic, with fewer families choosing to start families during the same time. As a result, even with inter-state immigration, California continued to lose people. By July 2022, the state had just over 39.1 million people, with the greatest losses coming from the Bay area of the state. In 2022 alone, over 800,000 people had left to go to other states.

However, in the last fiscal year, population losses in California have begun to shore up once again. A rebounding birth rate, immigration into California reaching pre-pandemic levels, and less people leaving the state compared to other years turned things around. Other smaller factors, such as companies cancelling out-of-California moves, like Disney’s failed Lake Nona venture in Florida, and some residents moving back after finding that they didn’t like the state they moved to led to many staying in California as a result in the past year.

“The decline in California’s population continued to slow during the past fiscal year, reaching 39.11 million as of July 1st, according to official estimates released today,” said the California Department of Finance on Tuesday. “The 0.1-percent decline of 37,200 since July 1, 2022 is a fraction of the 295,000 decline (-0.75 percent) during the first full fiscal year of COVID-19 In 2020-2021. In 2022-23, that decline dropped by more than half to 100,428 (-0.26 percent). Above-average deaths have continued to decline from their 2021 peak, while immigration levels have largely recovered since the end of stringent federal rules imposed early in the COVID-19 response.”

“Leading factors contributing to population trends in the past fiscal year include:
• Natural increase –the difference between the number of births and deaths — added 107,300 people from 2022 to 2023 with 409,200 births, and 301,900 deaths. Births were down from 423,400 in the year ending July 1, 2022, while deaths were down from 318,500.
• After two consecutive years of decline, foreign immigration recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with a net gain of 115,900 in 2022-2023.
• Domestic out-migration continued its decline in 2022-23 at 260,400 people – dropping from 361,270 in 2020-21 and 295,578 in 2021-22.”

California stays above the 39 million population mark

While many of the bigger reasons for moving out of state still exist in California, experts told the Globe that net losses in population would likely end in the next few years.

“A big trend we have been noticing is that few companies are offering remote work,” explained Catherine Constantine, an interstate job placement specialist, to the Globe. “And many that do want people nearby offices so that they can come in, or do that as sort of a hybrid situation. And California has a lot of those types of jobs, so people who moved out are now coming back, especially from Texas.

“Politics is part of it too. A lot of people are going to California because of the policies there, and, of course, the weather. But take a look at those numbers, more people are still moving out than moving in, so overall it is not exactly what you would call a recovery, but the situation is getting better overall in that regard.”

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Why do California, Texas differ so much? Religion, priorities of white minority play huge roles, poll shows

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas —  A Californian suddenly transported to this South Texas town on a Sunday morning, just in time for the service at the Tree of Life evangelical church, might be hard-pressed to know she wasn’t in California anymore.

California has more megachurches than any other state, so the nature of the congregation wouldn’t provide the tip-off. Rows of pickup trucks in the large parking lot might be a tell, but the percentage of Texans who drive trucks is actually around the national average.

Even if the Californian began asking for political opinions, she’d still have trouble proving she was in Texas.

“We’re a diverse congregation,” said Kristen Kallus-Guerra, a congregant who serves as a greeter at the church doors. “Around the election, our pastor always reminds us to go out and vote — but he doesn’t tell us who to vote for.”

The most obvious evidence that the Tree of Life Church was in Texas would be the number of Dak Prescott jerseys. At least five congregants wore the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback’s No. 4 uniform to church on a recent November morning.

The diversity of Texas can surprise people used to viewing the state through the lens of its very conservative public policies.

The people of the two states do not differ nearly as much as their governance, according to a poll of roughly 1,600 California and Texas residents, conducted by YouGov for the Los Angeles Times.

California versus Texas is a rivalry without parallel. The nation’s two most populous states are political mirror images — the liberal bastion on the left coast, and the conservative Southern garrison on the Gulf.

California fervently protects abortion rights; Texas bans nearly all abortions. Texas upholds gun rights; California strictly regulates firearms. California plans to ban new gasoline-powered cars by 2035; Texas has banned companies that divest from fossil fuels from doing business with the state.

But a plurality of respondents in both California and Texas identified as moderates — 32% of Californians, and 31% of Texans — the poll found. Moderate can mean very different things to different people, but on specific policy questions, residents of the two states were often surprisingly close.

Asked if government should do more to solve problems and help the needs of people, majorities in both states said yes — 61% of Californians and 55% of Texans. The opposing view, that government does “too many things better left to businesses and individuals” was only a bit more popular in Texas, 34%, than in California, 26%.

Asked about government benefits, 55% of Californians and 50% of Texans agreed that “poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to provide a decent standard of living.”

Even on the most hot-button issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, climate change — the poll found that the differences between Californians and Texans came down to a difference that’s fewer than 10 percentage points.

The poll shows that one demographic group has an outsized impact in widening the political gulf between the two states — white residents, who also are more likely to vote than other racial groups. Religious belief is a major factor in why white residents of Texas and California hold opposing views, the poll indicates.

Overall, the poll illuminates one of the central aspects of America’s political divide: Rather than huge splits in public opinion, the gap between America’s quintessential red and blue states comes down to tipping points.

Texans, on average, lean a few points to the right, Californians, a few more points to the left. Those leanings tip politics in each state, empowering conservative Republicans in Texas and liberal Democrats in California who have driven policy in opposite directions, magnifying differences between two states that otherwise have much in common.

***

If it weren’t for their political reputations, it might be easier to see California and Texas as twins, not foils.

Both western states, with their dramatic landscapes, used to be part of Mexico; both have brutal colonial pasts, with Spaniards and later Americans waging wars of removal against Native peoples. The early economies of California and Texas were defined by cattle and agriculture and later oil. In the last few decades, California, and increasingly Texas, have benefited from a boom in tech and venture capital.

Latinos make up the largest group in both states, a little over 40% of the population in each, according to the most recent Census. Non-Latino white residents are a minority in both states (34.7% of the population in California and 39.8% in Texas).

Texans are more rural — or more likely to label their communities that way: 30% of Texans, but just 15% of Californians, say they live in a rural area or small town, the poll found. Half of Californians, but just a third of Texans, say they live in an urban area.

It’s easy to forget that as recently as the 1990s, Texas was a mostly Democratic state. Democratic control began to crumble in the 1980s, but only ended in 1994 with the political ascension of a popular governor and heir to a political dynasty: George W. Bush.

Bush’s rise set the tone for Texas politics over the next three decades. Take guns, for instance.

When Bush ousted Democratic governor Ann Richards, it was still illegal to own a handgun in Texas. The year before that election, after the bloody battle in Waco between law enforcement agents and a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians, Richards vetoed a bill that would have made handguns legal. In his campaign, Bush used that veto as a wedge issue.

It proved highly successful. Thirty years later, Texans can legally carry concealed handguns in public — without any license.

***

California moved in the opposite direction over roughly the same period.

Several issues spurred political organizing that helped drive the state to the left: Then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s campaign in 1994 for Proposition 187, a ballot measure aimed at cutting off social services to unauthorized immigrants, increased voter registration and mobilization among Latino residents. A revived labor movement led to growing union power and influence — about 1 in 5 California residents have a union member in their family, roughly twice the level in Texas, the poll found.

Few issues, however, have had more grassroots impact on the state than environmentalism.

When he was 4, Jeremy Terhune’s family moved from Kansas to Stockton.

In the early ‘90s, as Terhune grew up, Stockton blended more seamlessly into the ranch and farmland of California’s Central Valley. But in the last 20 years, Stockton has transformed. With a population of 322,000, it has absorbed thousands of residents priced out of the Bay Area.

Stockton is hard to define. It is, by some measures, the United States’ most racially diverse city. While more liberal than the surrounding counties of the Central Valley, the city still elected a Republican mayor in 2020 (albeit in a nonpartisan election).

Terhune has spent more time thinking about Stockton’s political values than most. For over a decade, he worked as a community organizer with environmental groups in Stockton and the Valley.

He had to learn a key lesson.

“You have to start by asking questions; you have to meet people where they’re at,” Terhune said. “When it comes to people who aren’t what some call traditional environmentalists — like farmers, or hunters, or even the Latino community — I start by asking how they recreate. Where they get outdoors, even if it’s just a park.”

Terhune’s work culminated in founding PUENTES, an organization dedicated to making underserved communities environmentally healthier and more sustainable. The organization’s biggest victory was founding Boggs Tract Community Farm, a large urban garden in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

“We took a garbage dump, got the soil tested, and converted it into an organic farm,” Terhune says. “Now all of a sudden, everybody’s a gardener— suddenly urban gardening is a thing in Stockton.”

Efforts like that have made environmental values a major part of California culture. As the Democratic party nationally embraced environmentalism, and the Republicans moved away from it, that helped cement the state’s Democratic identity.

The impact can be seen in how California residents view climate change — 70% percent say climate change is a “serious” issue, including just over half, 51%, who call it “very serious.”

In Texas, by comparison, 62% call the issue serious, but only a minority, 42% said it was very serious.

Terhune points to a century-long history of community organizing to explain why California is culturally green: the Sierra Club was founded in San Francisco in 1892.

As the environment changes in Texas — the state just had one of its hottest summers in history in the midst of a exceptional drought — attitudes there might change as well, Terhune suggests. He points to the devastating 2021 February winter freeze, which brought the state’s electrical grid to the point of collapse.

“I think Texans are just as environmental and just as engaged in environmental justice as we are,” Terhune says. “But it’s about making that connection — and [after these storms] people are more aware of the environment.”

***

Like Stockton, New Braunfels has gone through a period of explosive change — it’s one of the fastest-growing places in the country, with a population of roughly 100,000. It’s the sort of place that will define Texas’ future.

Once rural ranchland, New Braunfels has been transformed into a bustling suburb between two of the country’s largest cities — San Antonio is about 20 minutes south, and Austin is 40 minutes north.

That makes New Braunfels the sort of place where aspects of Texan culture collide — and that includes politics.

San Antonio and Austin each went heavily for Joe Biden in the last election, and rural Texas went strongly for Donald Trump. New Braunfels was something of a swing district.

Of course, politics aren’t the only thing that makes the culture of New Braunfels diverse.

At the Tree of Life Sunday service, the choruses to the worship songs were sung in English and Spanish. The Latino — Tejano, more specifically — influence of South Texas is clearly present.

After the 75-minute service on the first weekend in November, Kallus-Guerra sat chatting with other members of the congregation.

With the outline of the state tattooed behind her right ear, Kallus-Guerra is proud to be Texan, although she says she has trouble defining what precisely being Texan means.

Texas identity matters in this state — 50% of residents said that being a Texan was a “big part” of their identity, compared to 44% of Californians who felt that way about their state. That’s true even though the share of people who are recent arrivals is significantly higher in Texas than in California.

“As far as like California-Texas, they can be different, sure,” she said. “But everyone has differences.”

Kallus-Guerra has met enough first-time churchgoers coming through the doors that she recognizes that some things about people — their needs, their yearnings — are more universal.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Farmer’s Joins Insurance Exodus from California

Another major insurance company — Farmer’s — will stop providing many insurance policies in California, joining an exodus of insurers from the state.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday:

Farmers Direct Property and Casualty Insurance Company will withdraw from all insurance programs offered in California, including home, auto and renters policies. Most of the policyholders with Farmers Direct will get “soft-landing offers,” which will resemble renewals in another Farmers company, according to Michael Soller, deputy insurance commissioner. He estimates there will be only about 2,800 Farmers Direct policyholders who may not get an offer.

In July, Farmers Insurance capped the number of policies it would write each month due to “record-breaking inflation, severe weather events, and reconstruction costs continuing to climb,” according to the company. It made a similar move in Florida, another coastal state heavily impacted by severe weather.

Click here to read the full article in BreitbartCA

These are the highest-paid University of California employees

Each circle represents a University of California employee who made over $1 million in total compensation in 2022. Select a circle for details.

The University of California, among the most prestigious university systems in the country, is famous for its academic programs, research institutions and medical centers. But data shows that the university’s top-paid employees are not involved in any of these pursuits.

The very highest-paid employees in 2022 were not professors, chancellors or even the president of the university. Instead, the most compensated employees were UCLA football coach Chip Kelly, UC Berkeley football coach Justin Wilcox and UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin. Each head coach earned over $4 million last year.

That’s according to UC payroll data from Transparent California, a database of California public employee salaries. The Chronicle used this data to analyze the salaries of the 186,000 UC employees who made over $30,000 in total compensation last year. Total compensation includes base pay, overtime pay, other payments (like bonuses) plus health and retirement benefits.

Kelly, the Bruins football head coach and the highest-paid UC employee last year, made $5.7 million in total compensation. Though Kelly’s base salary is $300,000, nearly $5.5 million of his earnings came from various talent fees and bonuses, according to his 2022 employment contract. These payments include $4.5 million for media appearances, a $1 million retention bonus and smaller payments contingent on the team’s season record and players’ academic performance.

Wilcox and Cronin made about $4 million each in compensation, with a substantial amount coming from fee and bonus payments as well.

The highest-paid professor and the fourth most-compensated employee was Jason Roostaeian, a UCLA clinical professor in the plastic surgery department, who made $3.5 million last year. The president of the university system, Michael Drake, earned $992,000 in 2022.

The three head coaches who make over $4 million are among the highest-paid public employees across the state — a circumstance common in other states as well. Their compensation far exceeds the earnings of, for instance, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who is the highest-paid California mayor with a total compensation of $444,000 in 2022. The highest-compensated person employed by the California State University system, the state’s other large university system, was San Diego State University president Adela de la Torre, who made about $710,000 last year.

“Due to the competitive market of the conferences in which the three coaches noted participate in, the amount of compensation is in alignment with comparable peers in the industry,” wrote UC spokesperson Ryan King in an email to the Chronicle.

In fact, relative to coaching salaries at other schools in the country, the compensations of these three coaches are modest. Kelly’s nearly $6 million compensation, for instance, is ranked No. 27 among the salaries of other college football head coaches across the country. The highest pay, according to USA Today, is University of Alabama coach Nick Saban’s $11.4 million.

Kelly’s compensation is expected to grow after a contract extension signed earlier this year outlined a $6.2 million salary by 2025, with UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond citing the team’s improved record under Kelly as a reason for increasing his salary.

UCLA’s football and basketball programs are big business. Last year, the school’s football program made nearly $43 million in revenue from ticket sales, media contracts and sponsorships, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. The Bruins men’s basketball program generated close to $13 million.

Still, the UCLA athletic department reported a $28 million deficit at the end of the 2022 fiscal year and an overall four-year shortfall of $131 million, as revenue remain below pre-pandemic numbers. Coach salaries totaled $22 million across all teams last year, equivalent to roughly a fifth of all UCLA team expenses.

Despite head coaches topping the list of UC salaries, the majority of individuals in the top 1% of earners — those with compensations of over $525,000 — are professors or executive-level administrators like chancellors, deans and vice presidents.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

McCarthy’s fall leaves state Republicans in bind

Successor may bring in less money, even as Democrats try to tie incumbents to new speaker’s extremism.

WASHINGTON — Since House Republicans unanimously elected Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson as speaker last week, the GOP has sought to portray itself as an emboldened party willing to battle President Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

But for California Republicans, Johnson’s election presents a host of potential problems that could make trying to survive in a deep-blue state even harder than it already was.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster is the first of those challenges. McCarthy’s fundraising allies have said they will work with Johnson to ensure the money continues to pour into Republicans’ coffers. But Johnson is relatively unproven as a fundraiser, and McCarthy, who pulled in more than $500 million last election cycle, rose to the top of his party in part because of his ability to rake in dough.

The loss of McCarthy from upper leadership could have especially dire consequences for the California Republican Party, which has long relied on him to keep money coming into the Golden State, said Mike Madrid, an anti-Trump Republican consultant who’s become a critic of the party.

“Kevin McCarthy was the last card holding up the house that we call the California Republican Party,” Madrid said. “He was the last reason any money — any serious money — was actually moving through the operation.”

Now that McCarthy is out as speaker, “that money is going to dry up very, very quickly,” Madrid added. “The state party is going to have a very difficult time keeping its head above water while it’s already sinking.”

Even before his first election to Congress in 2006, McCarthy demonstrated his value by raising money and sending funds to fellow candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee. As he rose the ranks in party leadership, donors were more eager to hand over their cash. This was a godsend to the state party, which had struggled to raise enough money to field competitive candidates in safer Democratic districts.

Madrid said it’s very unlikely that candidates in California’s most competitive districts will see their bank accounts dry up. Donors in and outside the state will continue giving to protect the five Republicans who hold districts that President Biden won in 2020 — Young Kim of Anaheim Hills, David Valadao of Hanford, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach and John Duarte of Modesto.

If donors don’t deliver for those members, the GOP could lose its House majority.

But, Madrid said, for Republicans in safe districts, donors are unlikely to want to invest, since they are unlikely to see anything change.

Even if the money keeps flowing, California Republicans have another problem: Democrats are eager to tie them to the deeply archconservative Louisiana Republican they’ve elevated to the post second in line for the presidency.

“Johnson is as extreme as they come. He led the plot to overthrow the 2020 election. He’s a Trump loyalist. Above all, he’s a MAGA extremist,” a new ad from the Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic-aligned nonprofit, warns Californians.

“This is who John Duarte voted for,” the ad continues. “Tell him to stop putting MAGA over the American people.”

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its assessment of Valadao’s race from leaning Republican to “toss-up” on Tuesday.

Dave Wasserman, a senior editor and elections analyst at Cook, wrote that the fight over the speakership had “supercharged House Democrats’ confidence that they can flip the five seats they need to reclaim the chamber by convincing swing voters that ‘dysfunctional’ Republicans can’t be trusted with the keys to power.”

And Dan Gottlieb, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a news release that “Californians are eager to reject the extremism that [Valadao has] been enabling.”

That sort of attack may have some resonance in California. Although McCarthy may have been unpopular with Democrats, he was a Californian. The differences between his home of Bakersfield and the rest of the state are not as vast as the differences between California and the Deep South.

Though McCarthy declined to vote to certify some states’ presidential election results in 2020, Johnson went a step further, rallying more than 100 Republicans behind his brief endorsing a lawsuit to overturn the election. He has repeatedly backed measures to ban abortion nationwide, and previously worked for a nonprofit — labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — that defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people. Such viewpoints are at odds with many swing district voters.

But Jon Fleischman, former executive director of the state GOP, doesn’t think connecting vulnerable California Republicans to Johnson will go far with voters.

“I don’t think the ideological views of the speaker really matter at all,” he said. “It’s not clear to me that the positions on the issues of the new speaker are really any different than the positions of the issues of the old speaker.”

Of Republicans surveyed in an October Economist/YouGov poll, 38% said they wanted House members to back the speaker candidate supported by the majority of the GOP caucus even if they disagreed with the nominee, while 33% of Republicans said they should not.

“I don’t think they’re going to judge their member of Congress based on who their party put forward as speaker,” Fleischman said. “If there’s any potential for impact, it’s not going to be [due to] the views of the congressman from Louisiana on the issues.”

Democratic groups may have an easier time tying the lawmakers to former President Trump, he argued. Trump is the likely GOP presidential nominee, is very popular among the GOP base, but is still deeply unpopular among swing voters.

“These incumbents are going to have to run under the banner of Trump for president,” Fleischman said.

Still, Republicans and their allies will seek to localize races and focus on specific issues to make clear the role their candidates could play in Washington.

“Californians demand relief from the surging cost of living, gas prices and violent crime fueled by extreme left-wing policies in D.C. and Sacramento,” Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ben Petersen said in a statement.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times