Burglary gangs are literally planting cameras in Southern California yards to spy on residents, police say

A Temecula electrician was left scratching his head this month when he discovered two devices, including a camera with a lens poking through a leaf taped to it, hidden in the planter in his front yard. The camera was pointed toward a neighbor’s home.

“Why is this here?” said the man, who declined to provide more information about himself out of fear for his safety. “What is the purpose? Is this here for a kidnapping? Is this here for a home invasion?”

In the next county, in Chino Hills, a systems analyst for a Pomona hospital, was puzzled after learning that his home was in the line of sight of a camera buried at the base of a tree across the street and directed toward his neighbor’s home.

“It’s kind of strange,” allowed Steve Hippler, 69, who has lived in his Glen Ridge Drive home for 38 years. “I don’t get the purpose.”

But Glendale police do.

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Detectives there believe that so-called burglary tourists from South America have been sneaking the recording devices into the flora outside homes throughout Southern California to track the movements of the residents at specific homes to determine the best time to break in.

It’s unclear how many cameras have been planted as reports of discoveries to law enforcement have been few, although an Orange County sheriff’s official said several cases are being prosecuted there.

Glendale detectives began hearing about the tactic starting in December, said Sgt. Vahe Abramyan, a Police Department spokesman.

“They’re using these sophisticated devices to gain access into homes,” Abramyan said. “The whole point of the cameras is to put them in bushes and trees just outside the property they are interested in and they will use the footage to see the behaviors of the house — who lives there, who goes in and out, what happens during the day. That way they can focus their attention on the timespan when no one is home.”

Glendale police believe they solved the mystery when on May 20 a sergeant on patrol as part of a burglary task force created in 2023 amid a rise in break-ins pulled over a car whose headlights were out as it left a dead-end street around 10:30 p.m. Officers detained four Colombian men and found a visual recording device and a battery pack charging system camouflaged with leaves, a police news release said.

One of the men had been arrested on April 30 at the end of a pursuit during which the suspects threw a Wi-Fi signal jammer used to disable home security systems, out the car’s window, the release said.

Abramyan said these gangs enter the United States on tourist visas.

“They’re obviously not coming here to be tourists. They’re coming here to burglarize homes,” Abramyan said.

He said the thieves typically case homes in more affluent neighborhoods.

Hippler’s Chino Hills neighborhood has older, solidly middle-class homes, which left him wondering why his was apparently targeted.

“There are dozens of homes a block away that are more affluent,” Hippler said, pointing up the hill. “Anything up that street is like a freaking mansion compared to this place.”

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating that case, has discussed the crimes with Glendale police to learn if they are related, spokeswoman Gloria Huerta said.

“We have not identified a person nor a motive,” said Huerta, who added that her department has not received additional reports of similar circumstances.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department confirmed investigating the Temecula resident’s discovery of the camera, which drew the bomb squad because the other device was wrapped in black tape and had wires sticking out of it. Investigators determined that it was not dangerous.

Sgt. Deirdre Vickers, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, declined to say whether her department was comparing notes with other agencies.

“Unfortunately, releasing any information could jeopardize this investigation,” Vickers said.

Police in the cities of San Bernardino and Riverside and several OC cities said they have not received reports of hidden cameras.

In Santa Ana, someone who had been following a business owner set up a camera in a tree near his home. Burglars went directly to the victim’s bedroom, where they stole an estimated $300,000 worth of jewelry and other valuables, said Officer Natalie Garcia, a Police Department spokeswoman.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Coupal: Yes, California is a high-tax state

“Is California Really a High-Tax State?” 

That is the headline on a recent report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a liberal Washington, D.C. research group that wants us to believe the answer is “no” even as our wallets are screaming, “Yes!” 

The report received a fair amount of publicity, as have ITEP’s past publications with similar themes, so it warrants some discussion.  

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As the leaders of the two largest taxpayer organizations in California, our conclusion is that while the data presented in the study may be technically accurate, the conclusions drawn therefrom are questionable.

The thesis of the report is that for lower-income households, California’s tax burden is similar to that of states against which California competes, chiefly Texas and Florida. Specifically, the report claims that “California has lower taxes for the bottom 40 percent of earners.”

The ITEP analysis focuses on income taxes and acknowledges that California has high rates for wealthy individuals. To be more accurate, it should be noted that California’s 13.3 percent rate on the very rich is, in fact, the highest in the nation. Moreover, the recent removal of the wage cap on unemployment insurance payment subjects all wage income to the payroll tax, which means the state’s top marginal individual income tax rate on wage income (not all income) is now 14.4 percent.

ITEP then downplays California’s tax burden by defining “high-tax” and “low-tax” very differently than you might expect. 

Most people compare taxes in a straightforward manner: The sales tax is 10.75 percent in Alameda, 7 percent in Miami, and 0 percent in Bozeman, so if you buy a $600 widget, the additional tax will add $64.50, $42 or $0, respectively.

If you are thinking about moving, you might compare income taxes. The tax for a single filer with $110,000 in taxable income and no dependents is $6,882 in California, $4,840 in Colorado, $0 in Texas, etc. (In addition to the highest income tax rate for the wealthy, California has a 9.3 percent rate that kicks in at a modest $68,350 for single filers.)

Commuters might compare gas taxes: 57.9 cents per gallon in California (the highest in the nation, set to increase July 1 to 59.6 cents, 25 cents in Connecticut, 12 cents in Vermont, and so on. (This is just the excise tax –additional state and federal taxes and fees increase the government’s take to roughly $1.21 per gallon in California.)

Starting a business? Compare California’s corporate tax rate of 8.84 percent to 9.8 percent in Minnesota, 2.4 percent in North Carolina, and 0 percent in South Dakota, etc.

ITEP does not use such apples-to-apples comparisons. Rather, it attempts to compare taxes as a percentage of income. So, a tax of $50 in California could be deemed “lower” than a tax of $10 in another state if the Californian has a sufficiently higher income.

This requires more estimates and statistical gymnastics – complicated by the fact that ITEP excludes taxpayers aged 65 and older, which leaves out roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population – and turns the report into one about income as well as taxes.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Ucla leader grilled at D.C. hearing

Block and others defend their handling of campus incidents amid concerns of antisemitism.

WASHINGTON — A House committee grilled UCLA Chancellor Gene Block about pro-Palestinian protests as he faced off with lawmakers Thursday over his handling of a violent mob attack last month on a campus encampment and answered accusations that the university has failed under his leadership to address a rising tide of antisemitism.

Block, who testified alongside the presidents of Northwestern and Rutgers universities, was soft-spoken and at times vague in response to questions on UCLA administrators’ role in resolving campus tensions that have grown since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and that country’s retaliatory war in the Gaza Strip.

The chancellor said he could not fully answer questions about issues including the status of students facing disciplinary action for violating UCLA rules and the state of police investigations into agitators who attacked an encampment overnight on April 30 amid an hours-long delay in police response.

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“I don’t know if that’s ongoing,” Block said of a police investigation into allegations of antisemitic threats against a UCLA professor and her husband.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said regarding disciplinary processes that were prompted by complaints that pro-Palestinian protesters had prevented some Jewish students from accessing parts of campus.

Questions over Block’s leadership catapulted to the national stage just two months shy of his departure from the chancellor role.

The hearing by the GOP-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce focused on antisemitism on U.S. campuses. In tense exchanges, Republicans largely targeted Northwestern President Michael Schill and, to a lesser extent, Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway. Both leaders have come to agreements with students to take down pro-Palestinian encampments.

Democrats, who make up 20 of the 44 members of the committee, criticized Republicans as not being serious in their pursuit to combat antisemitism. Members of the House minority have called the hearings an attempt by Republicans to use campus unrest for political gain, pointing out that no similar hearings have been convened on anti-Muslim or anti-Arab hatred, which have also increased.

Four Californians sit on the committee — Republican Reps. Michelle Steel and Kevin Kiley and Democratic Reps. Mark Takano and Mark DeSaulnier.

Republicans on the panel accused Schill and Holloway of “giving in” to protesters, who — like those at UCLA — had urged their universities to divest their endowments from weapons companies and ties to Israel. Each university, including UCLA, has rejected the call.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) questioned Schill on allegations of assault and stalking of Jewish students on campus. Schill said the university “believes in due process” but that he did not have a timeline to offer on the “lots of investigations” that are underway.

Schill and Holloway defended their universities’ pacts with protesters. Schill said the agreement at Northwestern gave students “the ability to feel safe on campus.” Halloway shot back at Republicans who labeled protesters as “pro-Hamas.”

“They were not, as some have characterized them, terrorists. They were our students,” Halloway said.

The hearing did not provoke explosive moments like those that unfolded in December, when the committee’s first hearing contributed to the resignations of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. During that testimony, university leaders had stumbled when asked how their campuses would handle calls for the genocide of Jews.

In his opening remarks, Block said that, “with the benefit of hindsight,” UCLA should have acted to “immediately remove” a campus pro-Palestinian encampment “if and when the safety of our community was put at risk.”

Block, who is Jewish, said that “as a public university, UCLA is subject to a dual legal mandate: We have a legal obligation under the 1st Amendment to protect free speech on campus, as well as a legal obligation under federal law to protect students from discrimination and harassment. This balance is not always easy to achieve.”

The chancellor faced one of his toughest moments when questioned by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) about the night of violence on April 30 at the UCLA encampment. Omar said the images from UCLA were “appalling,” but even worse was “that it was completely preventable.”

The Democratic congresswoman told him multiple times that he should be “ashamed” for the injuries that took place under his watch.

“You, the UCLA leadership and law enforcement stood by for hours as the mob of agitators gathered near the encampment with a clear intention to cause violence,” she said. “I would like to know if you are truly committed to keeping your students safe. How did you fail these students at many critical points where you could’ve intervened?”

“I’m sorry, but I reject the premise,” Block replied after thanking Omar for the question. He said that UCLA is working with the Los Angeles Police Department to identify attackers, and that the university had “tried to to get police there as quickly as possible.”

Block was also asked about the current protests.

“There are no encampments,” he said shortly before 8 a.m. — just as new encampment went up outside Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA.

Amid a show of police in riot gear, the small camp was dismantled by 2 p.m.

The camp was timed to coincide with Block’s testimony, as was an announcement that unionized UCLA academic workers would strike Tuesday, saying the university had violated their rights to free speech when the large encampment was dismantled by police on May 2 and about 200 people were arrested.

Republicans brought up a viral video and news reports about Jewish students who complained that UCLA activists had set up checkpoints restricting access to the encampment area after it went up on April 25.

Some have told The Times that they felt intimidated as activists blocked pathways, while other Jewish students who helped set up the encampment argued that the camp was not antisemitic, but anti-Zionist.

“Why did you fail to immediately clear these checkpoints?” committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) asked Block.

Block said he issued instructions to staff to make sure that all the students could freely pass without obstruction and then sent out a campus-wide memo on April 30, telling students that the university would not tolerate the blocking of access to parts of campus.

“Did it stop as a result of what you said?” Foxx asked.

“I believe it did,” he said.

He was later questioned again on the matter by California’s Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin).

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Traveling for Memorial Day? Expect 3 million on the road and gas over $5 a gallon

At least 2.9 million Southern California travelers are expected to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend despite higher prices at the pump.

Those traveling by car are a big part of the overall 3.5 million in the Southland who are expected to get away between Thursday and Monday — a record, according to a forecast by the Automobile Club of Southern California. The number of people driving to their destination is a 4.5% increase from last year.

Nationally, 43.8 million Americans are expected to travel this year, a 4.1% uptick from 2023.

Typically, travel trends over Memorial Day are an indication of what’s to come for summer, so there could be more records ahead, said Doug Shupe, a regional spokesperson for AAA.

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The increased number of travelers is a sign that people need a break and are wanting to get out and connect, even though the cost of goods and services is higher these days, he said.

“What we typically see in these travel forecasts is people prioritize travel in their budgets,” Shupe said.

And a big part of that budget this year is allocating enough funds for filling their gas tanks.

California’s gas price average is $5.17 — nearly $2 more than the national average of $3.61.

In the Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area, a gallon of regular self-serve gasoline costs just under the state average: $5.13. This time last year, the price was $4.86.

In a bit of good news, prices have been dropping since last week, when the cost was $5.22.

But don’t get too excited, Shupe said, noting that gas costs may creep up further.

“What we don’t know is the wild card of crude oil,” he said. “Unlike last year there are two wars, in the Middle East and Ukraine, and that can cause some turmoil in the oil market.”

Despite the tensions overseas, the potentially volatile effect on crude oil prices has been kept in check by spare production, according to recent U.S. Energy Information Administration projections. If holders choose to use it, the spare crude oil supply can be available to the market in the event of short-term disruptions.

Historically, gas prices tend to rise gradually in the spring and peak in late summer, when people drive more frequently, according to the EIA.

California’s prices also are affected by the shift to a different fuel blend in warmer weather, a transition that already has taken place.

As you prepare for your weekend plans, experts say factor in fuel-efficiency tips and plan for where you’ll fuel up. Both can save you money.

Click here to read the full story in the LA Times

Reparations proposals for Black Californians advance to state Assembly

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Senate advanced a set of ambitious reparations proposals Tuesday, including legislation that would create an agency to help Black families research their family lineage and confirm their eligibility for any future restitution passed by the state.

Lawmakers also passed bills to create a fund for reparations programs and compensate Black families for property that the government unjustly seized from them using eminent domain. The proposals now head to the state Assembly.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, said California “bears great responsibility” to atone for injustices against Black Californians.

“If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt,” Bradford said. “Reparations is a debt that’s owed to descendants of slavery.”

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The proposals, which passed largely along party lines, are part of a slate of bills inspired by recommendations from a first-in-the-nation task force that spent two years studying how the state could atone for its legacy of racism and discrimination against African Americans. Lawmakers did not introduce a proposal this year to provide widespread payments to descendants of enslaved Black people, which has frustrated many reparations advocates.

In the U.S. Congress, a bill to study reparations for African Americans that was first introduced in the 1980s has stalled. Illinois and New York state passed laws recently to study reparations, but no other state has gotten further along than California in its consideration of reparations proposals for Black Americans.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California is on track for another record year spent on lobbyists

Special interest groups spent more than $114 million to lobby California officials and legislators in the first quarter of this year, matching the pace last year when a record $480 million was spent to influence state policy decisions.

So far, nearly $600 million has been spent since the current two-year session of the Legislature started in January 2023. This year’s pace so far is about $1.25 million per day.

The top 10 spenders for the first quarter of 2024, revealed in the latest financial reports filed with the Secretary of State, include nine that have been on the top 10 list since 2005. The only one that wasn’t: Contra Costa County.

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Here are the 10 organizations that invested the most in state level lobbying between January and March of this year and how much they spent.

Chevron: $3 million

The San Ramon-based oil giant continues to top the list of advocacy spenders, reporting more than $3 million spent between January and the end of March. The last time Chevron wasn’t in the top three spenders was in 2011. It has reported lobbying expenses totaling more than $77.6 million since 2005.

The company lobbied the Legislature on several items, including the budget, hydrogen programs, and carbon sequestration. But that isn’t the only institution that Chevron wanted to influence. It also reported advocating before the state Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission, the Air Resources Board, the Natural Resources Agency and the Departments of Tax and Fee Administration and Fish and Wildlife.

The fossil fuel behemoth took a public position on just one bill so far this year: a proposal from Assemblymember Laura Friedman, Democrat from Burbank, that would make oil well operators liable for civil penalties for health impacts on people who live in the area. Chevron opposed the bill, which is still pending after approval from two committees in the Assembly.

Western States Petroleum Association: $2.5 million

The oil industry trade group is Chevron’s perennial partner on the leaderboard. The association is the single-largest spender on state advocacy since 2005, reporting nearly $120 million in total expenses. To put that in some context, the SEIU state council, a labor organization and the next highest-spending group, reported $80 million over the same time period.

The fossil fuel lobby testified against two bills in hearings: SB 559, which died in January and would have directed state regulators to phase out offshore drilling in state waters, and AB 1866, which would require companies to develop plans to eliminate all idle oil wells. The bill is still pending in the Assembly.

The group advocated on more than 25 other bills since January.

California Chamber of Commerce: $1.2 million

The Chamber of Commerce spent a little less than $1.2 million to advocate on more than 100 pieces of legislation in the first quarter of 2024, as well as lobbying Cal/OSHA, the Public Utilities Commission, the relatively new Privacy Protection Agency and the Water Resources Control Board. The business trade group testified against a pending bill that would prevent people under 18 from buying diet or weight loss supplements over the counter, against a failed bill that would have imposed a tax on residents with more than $1 million in assets, and in support of a still-pending bill that makes permanent a family leave mediation program for small employers.

The Chamber is the sixth largest lobbyist employer since 2005 with a total of more than $61 million spent over that time period.

Pacific Gas & Electric: $1.15 million

PG&E spent nearly $1.15 million to advocate on issues such as undergrounding power lines and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. It also lobbied on 85 bills, including AB 2666, which would require utilities to annually report to the Public Utilities Commission the amount spent on infrastructure after each approved rate hike, such as the one approved two weeks ago. Despite PG&E’s opposition to the bill, it passed the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy last month. 

The investor-owned utility, which is regulated by the state, has spent nearly $40 million since 2005 to push its point of view in California.

Howard Jarvis: $1.05 million

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association reported spending about $1 million in the first three months of the year. That represents an increase in advocacy by the anti-tax organization from last quarter, when it spent just less than $157,000 between October and December last year. But the spending is in line with the first quarter of 2023, when the association reported $1.15 million in advocacy receipts. The group lobbied on 12 bills this session, including against one from Democratic Assemblymember Alex Lee of Milpitas to raise taxes on assets worth more than $1 million. The bill died in January.

Since 2005, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association has invested $34.5 million in pushing its point of view to government officials.

Who spent the most on state lobbying so far this year?

California Hospital Association: $1 million

The group representing hospitals and health care systems reported spending a little more than $1 million to advocate on 61 pieces of legislation including a bill by Democratic Assemblymember Ash Kalra from San Jose to create a single-payer health care system in California. The hospital association opposes the bill, which died last week.

Since 2005, the industry group has invested more than $58 million in lobbying the state government.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

What drives California’s budget decisions? A lot of politics, not as much data

Frustration came through loud and clear as legislators hurled question after question at the head of the state’s homelessness interagency council: Why, after years of planning and billions of dollars invested, is there so little to show for the effort

“You come into a budget committee and there’s no numbers,” Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, said at the May 6 Assembly committee hearing. “Why is it taking so long?”

Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Bakersfield Republican, took issue with the council saying it needed more money to compile the data. And Chris Ward, a Democrat from San Diego, said he’d been asking the same questions since 2022: “The fact that we’re still now, three years later here as a state is incredibly frustrating because that guides our decision making here as a budget.” 

But even without a full picture of how well the homelessness spending is working, Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing cuts to cover the state’s budget deficit

That’s just one example of how the state budget gets put together, often without fully knowing if a program is paying off. Revenue dictates decisions, and voter-passed initiatives direct some spending. After that, legislators use any data that’s available, but they also negotiate with other officials and listen to their constituents.

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They’re also lobbied by advocates and interest groups. (More than 650 organizations spent money lobbying on the budget, as well as other issues.) 

For the 2024-25 budget now before the Legislature, Newsom released a revised plan earlier this month that calls for dipping into reserves, canceling some new spending and cutting existing programs to cover a remaining shortfall of $27.6 billion. The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, which assesses the budget picture through different calculations, cites the deficit as $55 billion, though it generally agrees with Newsom’s overall view of the state’s finances. 

Today and through this week, the Assembly and Senate will conduct hearings on Newsom’s proposals. The Legislature faces a June 15 deadline to approve its version.

Jesse Gabriel, who leads the Assembly budget committee, noted that only a handful of legislators have dealt with a deep deficit before. The state had a record budget surplus as recently as two years ago, thanks to federal pandemic aid and a roaring stock market; the last lengthy recession ended in 2009.

“This is a new experience for a lot of people,” the Democrat from Encino told CalMatters. “I think we’re going to have to work really hard together to get on the same page and do the best we can in a really difficult situation.” 

State bases money needs on prior year 

Addressing California’s deficit is a two-part equation, where increasing revenue could help. But Newsom has ruled out increasing taxes and instead emphasized “right-sizing expenditures,” telling legislators they shouldn’t expect bills with high price tags to pass.  

For Gabriel, the May 6 hearing by the revamped accountability and oversight committee hints at an appetite for culture change in the Legislature — though one that could take time. 

“We want to be doing a lot more data-driven decision making about which programs and services are really delivering results for Californians,” he told CalMatters. “For us, that metric is not did the money go out the door? But was it impactful? Did it make a difference in results for the people it was intended to serve?” 

California currently uses “incremental budgeting:” Each department’s or program’s funding request starts with what they spent last year, updated with best estimates of what they need in the coming year. Also known as “baseline budgeting,” it’s the most common approach states take, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

Some public analysis of how programs are working comes from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and state agencies, sometimes at the request of lawmakers.

But a CalMatters analysis published in February found that 70% of the 1,118 state agency reports on how laws were working due in the past year had not been submitted to the Office of Legislative Counsel, which keeps reports. And about half of those that were filed were late.

California’s budgeting approach is in contrast to two other systems: performance-based budgeting and zero-based budgeting. 

Performance-based budgeting ties funding to how well programs meet their goals, and allows departments more flexibility to use any savings. The data-driven approach can create more transparency, according to research commissioned by the Assembly’s Budget Committee in 2012. But it’s difficult to implement and can be inequitable, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — for example by linking school funding to test scores. 

Under zero-based budgeting, agency budgets start each year from $0. But no state uses the system in its true form, the conference notes. 

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Gov. Kristi Noem, denounced for shooting her dog, describes making ‘hard decisions’ at California GOP gathering

BURLINGAME  —  South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, once considered a potential 2024 running mate for former President Trump, received a warm reception at a gathering of California Republicans on Saturday just weeks after facing a harsh public backlash after she admitted killing her “untrainable” hunting dog.

(Loren Elliott / For The Times)

Noem, a champion of gun rights, warned of the perils facing the nation and her conservative leadership in the rural state, including her refusal to impose government shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have an election year coming up here in 2024 where I don’t think it’s about Republicans and Democrats anymore. I don’t think it’s about political parties,” Noem told more than 200 people at a luncheon at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame, just south of San Francisco. “I think it is about people who love America and people who are trying to destroy it.”

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She did not directly mention the incident with her dog that she wrote about in her book, “No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong With Politics and How We Move America Forward,” which came out this month.

But Noem alluded to the controversy over her decision to kill a 14-month-old wire-haired pointer named Cricket in a gravel pit because it was a poor hunting dog and killed some farm chickens.

“Listen, I have a book that has come out. You may have heard a little bit about it,” Noem said to laughter. “I guarantee you if you listen to the media, you have not heard the truth. So I would recommend you read it.”

Lunch attendees received a copy of the book as part of their ticket purchase; Noem signed copies and posed for selfies after her remarks. Tickets ranged from $300 to $575 with the top price including an invitation to a reception with Noem.

The tale of Cricket was the talk of many convention attendees.

“We find out Gov. Kristi Noem’s coming to keynote our convention and everybody’s very excited. She’s dynamic, engaging, probably on the VP shortlist,” said a delegate from Contra Costa County, who requested anonymity because of potential scorn if he publicly discussed the incident. “And four days later, we find out the dog-killing story. And everybody’s like, ‘Uhhh?’ And even Trump’s not a dog guy, but even he was like, ‘She had a rough week.’”

He added that the upheaval was indicative of the hard luck of California Republicans.

Noem focused her remarks on her leadership of South Dakota, particularly during the pandemic, as well as her decision to send the state’s National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to stem the influx of immigrants entering the country without authorization. She repeated warnings about drug cartels using Native American tribal lands in her state to commit crimes, remarks that have led some tribes to ban Noem from their reservations.

“The cartels have moved into the middle of our country. They have set up on my tribal reservations and they were proliferating their drug trafficking, their human trafficking, they’re raping our children and our women right in South Dakota, and they’re doing it protected by the federal government because the federal government refuses to bring law and order to those communities and keep people safe,” Noem said.

She said she has no jurisdiction since the tribal lands are a sovereign government and blamed President Biden for failing to intervene.

Noem, who had reportedly been on Trump’s shortlist of potential running mates but dropped off before the book controversy, also praised the former president as a genuine American, unlike most politicians.

“What did Donald Trump do when he announced that he was going to run for president? The guy comes down a golden escalator,” she said. “I was shocked by it. I was like, ‘This is gonna be the worst campaign plan I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California promised a higher minimum wage for health care workers. Will Newsom delay it?

Gov. Gavin Newsom is cutting it close. He signed a law last fall that phases in a $25 minimum wage for California’s lowest-paid health care workers beginning June 1. Then, he said he wanted to delay it because of its potential to exacerbate the severe state budget shortfall. 

Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo

But two weeks before the deadline for employers to start paying more to their employees, many health workers are still waiting to hear whether they will in fact see a raise.

Some health workers remain hopeful. Others have already been notified by their employers of their upcoming raise or have already started to see increased pay.

When Newsom presented his latest budget proposal last week, the governor said negotiations around potential changes to the health worker minimum wage law, Senate Bill 525, are still taking place. He promised a deal between his administration, the Legislature and proponents of the law would be hashed out in the upcoming weeks. 

“This budget will not be signed without that deal that we committed to being addressed,” Newsom said. He usually signs a budget for the next fiscal year in late June.  

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Meanwhile the union that advocated for the health care pay increase has launched an advertising campaign that aims to hold Newsom to the law he signed. 

One ad by Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West on the social media site X shows a dialysis worker named Alice and it reads, “The dialysis care Alice provides is lifesaving. Yet, with caregivers at her facility starting out at only $18/hr, it’s no wonder there’s a short staffing crisis.

A $25/hr minimum wage for healthcare workers will help ensure patients get the care they need.”

Nathan Selzer, communications director for SEIU-UHW, said his union posted the messages because, “Our workers were concerned and remain concerned. What we saw in conversations earlier this year was folks really focusing only on money and only on dollars and cents, and not on what those dollars and cents are used for.”

SEIU-UHW is an affiliate of SEIU California, which sponsored the law.

“We made a decision that we’ve got to make sure we’re reminding people why this was made into law to begin with,” he said.

Selzer said he is not directly involved in conversations with the governor’s office and legislators, but that confusion among many workers rings true. “We’ve heard June 1, we’ve heard July 1. It remains to be seen what actually happens here,” he said.

Deadline to postpone minimum wage hike

What exactly is holding up the negotiations is unclear. Lawmakers and Newsom would have to pass and sign legislation that would push back the start date within two weeks to delay it effectively. 

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Waste Not, Want Not: The Costs of California’s Environmental Ambitions

All too often it seems that California’s elected officials come up with a new environmental proposal to the detriment of everyday people in the state. 

Efforts to curb the use of controlled burns and other wildfire prevention measures in the name of promoting air quality, for example, has allowed forest underbrush to build up and worsened the severity of wildfires in recent years, causing immense damage to communities. Similarly, California’s extensive environmental review process and ease of filing lawsuits against new development has been blamed for slowing down construction of new homes and for driving up costs in a state already facing a housing crisis, making it even harder for many residents to find affordable places to live.

It now appears that the next target in the name of environmental progress may be one of the most basic and important of municipal services: waste management. 

An ongoing incident at the Chiquita Canyon landfill just outside of Los Angeles has spurred conversations regarding the future of waste management in the Golden State. Despite managing the property according to all state and federal guidelines, a rare chemical reaction in an inactive part of the landfill has caused temperatures underground to exceed 200 degrees. This in turn has generated odors and fumes that have adversely impacted surrounding communities. There is no doubt that a whole of government response will be necessary in responding, but any measures should be targeted and practical.

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Unfortunately, some of the policy proposals floated to date have been anything but. Several community activists and elected officials have called for the closure of the landfill and lawsuits have been filed to cease its operations. This comes despite the fact such actions would do nothing to help resolve the underlying issues happening deep within the long-decommissioned part of Chiquita Canyon and would require a major overhaul to how America’s most populous county handles waste. 

County officials would be presented with a series of alternative options for the disposal of the 6,000 tons of waste that flow into the landfill daily that I can attest, as someone who used to manage municipal services myself, would each come with their own series of drawbacks and strain the region’s system of waste collection. Pushing the waste to other county landfills would likely face pushback from the communities surrounding the five other major landfills in the region. It would also require the waste to travel longer distances, as would a long-sidelined plan to use trains to haul garbage to a desert landfill 100 miles east of San Diego, resulting in more transportation-related pollution and higher collection fees in both scenarios.

The Los Angeles Times has taken the conversation a step further, arguing that Californians should stop using landfills altogether – in effect advocating for the closure of facilities across the state, such as the Recology Auburn Placer landfill in my home county – in response to this incident. They also contend that elected officials should require more aggressive adoption of alternative waste management solutions to accomplish this goal. But such pie in the sky proposals ignore the reality that the state has historically fallen short of its waste reduction goals. 

One need only look at mandates passed by the state legislature in 2016 that required Californians to divert 75% of organic waste from landfills by 2025. Since the law was enacted, there has only been a 10% reductionin such waste and some communities have yet to even deploy the bins that are supposed to be used for its collection. Based on such evidence, it would appear that the state is simply not prepared for any new mandates or rash bans on trash disposal.

While it is understandable to want to act in response to the ongoing issues at Chiquita Canyon, policymakers must consider the broader implications of any such proposals. Rather than hastily imposing prohibitions on landfills and other measure that will raise cost for California families, this incident should be viewed as opportunity to create more effective approaches for the responsible operation of waste disposal sites in the state. Through a thorough analysis of the event’s circumstances, underlying causes, and subsequent responses, we can craft a well-considered and pragmatic solution that strikes the right balance between environmental stewardship and feasibility.

Bruce Kranz is a former Placer County Supervisor and City Manager of Colfax, CA.

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