Days before Easter, Newsom announces dozens of pardons and commutations

SACRAMENTO —  Days before Easter, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday moved to commute sentences for 18 people, issue pardons for 37 others and submit a pardon application for an award-winning San Quentin podcaster, Earlonne Woods.

(Courtesy of Ear Hustle)

The application is the first step in a lengthier process toward a pardon that requires final approval from the state Supreme Court, which is needed in cases involving those with more than one felony conviction.

Woods was sentenced to 31 years to life for his role in a 1997 armed robbery under the state’s tough-on-crime “three strikes” law, following two prior convictions when he was a teenager. Woods launched the “Ear Hustle” podcast from San Quentin State Prison in 2017. Morgan Freeman’s Revelations Entertainment is reportedly partnering with “Ear Hustle” for an upcoming docuseries, according to Deadline.

State law does not allow Newsom to pardon or commute the sentences of someone with more than one felony conviction without the high court’s approval. Instead, Newsom submitted Woods’ application to the Board of Parole Hearings, which would first have to recommend the pardon to the court.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

Former Gov. Jerry Brown commuted Woods’ sentence in 2018, making him eligible for parole. Brown noted that correctional staff and volunteers had praised Woods’ behavior and leadership among the other inmates. After his release, Woods interviewed Brown for the podcast at the governor’s mansion in Sacramento.

“I believe Earlonne will continue to educate, enlighten and enrich the lives of his peers at San Quentin and the many, many people who listen faithfully to ‘Ear Hustle,’” Brown wrote in 2018.

Newsom also commuted the sentence of Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, a former San Quentin inmate and “Ear Hustle” co-host, in January 2022. The parole board granted his parole in August and Thomas was released the following February.

His departure from San Quentin followed an investigation by The Times into dozens of people who remained in prison despite receiving mercy from the governor.

Newsom also granted a posthumous pardon to William Burwell, who helped organize protests as a student at San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge, during the Civil Rights Movement. Burwell was arrested in 1969 and convicted of misdemeanor trespass and failure to disperse during a racial justice protest on campus in 1969, according to the governor’s office.

The students eventually negotiated for the creation of what would later become the Department of Africana Studies, which Burwell co-founded and later chaired. Burwell died in August 2022.

“Dr. Burwell’s decades of work and contributions advancing equity and justice benefited innumerable students, faculty, the CSUN community, and many others in California and beyond,” Newsom wrote in his pardon. “His visionary leadership will continue to serve as a legacy for future generations.”

Anyone convicted of a crime in California can apply for a pardon or commutation from the governor.

A pardon restores some rights to former felons, such as the ability to serve on a jury or to seek a professional license. In limited cases, pardons can restore gun rights to those convicted of crimes that did not involve a dangerous weapon or relieve a sex offender from being required to register.

Click here to read the full article in LA Times

L.A. homeless deaths largely tied to fentanyl and other drugs

Nearly 900 unhoused people died in 2023, according to a preliminary report.

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Data released Thursday by City Controller Kenneth Mejia show at least 898 homeless people died last year on streets, in shelters, on freeways and elsewhere.

Mejia’s report, which analyzed Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner preliminary data, did not break down the number of deaths linked to drugs because toxicology reports may be pending in some cases.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

A Times analysis of the data found that about 65%, or 545, of last year’s deaths reported so far were linked to drugs, including fentanyl and methamphetamine — an indication of the deadly toll of the drug crisis on the streets of L.A. The number could increase as more toxicology reports come in.

Los Angeles is home to about 46,260 unhoused people — an 80% increase since 2015, according to figures released last year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

In recent years, the city has spent billions of dollars to address homelessness and build more housing. The fentanyl and meth crisis has prompted city officials to fund treatment beds for homeless people suffering from addiction — a service that has typically been paid for by county government, not City Hall.

According to Mejia’s report, 75% of the homeless deaths reported so far last year were accidental — a category that includes drug-related deaths.

About 18% were due to natural causes, 4% were homicides and 2% suicides, the report said. In 1% of the deaths, the cause was undetermined.

At least 73% of the deaths occurred in streets or places such as tents, RVs and parking lots.

According to the report, 31% of the homeless people who died in 2023 were Black. Black people are 8% of the city’s population but 33% of the unhoused population.

The report found that the parts of the city with the highest numbers of homeless deaths were Council District 14, which includes Skid Row and Council District 1, which includes MacArthur Park near downtown.

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents District 1, said the majority of homeless deaths in her district last year were due to opioids. She said she wants to bring more services to MacArthur Park, where many of those deaths occurred.

“We cannot look away from this crisis — the consequences of simply shuffling people from one neighborhood to the next and prioritizing criminalization over the delivery of services are at best ineffective, and at worst, deadly,” said Hernandez.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

An advocacy group for California cities supported Prop. 1. Now some members are leaving

Three Orange County cities voted this month to withdraw from the California League of Cities, with some leaders saying the advocacy organization isn’t representing their interests and has handed too much power over to the state.

The California League of Cities is a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Sacramento that communicates with cities about laws being discussed in the state legislature, conducts training for city officials and gives local governments an opportunity to influence statewide policies. Out of 482 cities in California, the league counts more than 470 as members.

But elected officials in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Orange have opted to withdraw their cities’ membership over various issues, including the organization’s support of Proposition 1.

California voters this month narrowly passed the $6.4-billion bond measure that aims to reform California’s mental health system. The bond will support 10,000 treatment and housing beds and overhaul a 20-year-old tax for mental health services to also fund treatment for drug addiction.

A majority of Orange County voters — roughly 58% — cast a ballot against it with many voicing concerns that it could mean more sober living homes in neighborhoods, an issue that cities have attempted to regulate for decades.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

“I want to send a message that they shouldn’t have been on board with Prop. 1 in the first place,” Huntington Beach Councilman Tony Strickland said during a council meeting this month. “Their job is to represent us at the local government, not to represent Gavin Newsom.”

Orange County for years has been somewhat of a thorn in the side of Gov. Gavin Newsom and other progressive politicians in Sacramento. In the last few years, O.C. cities, including Huntington Beachpushed back on housing mandates handed down by the state. At the height of COVID-19, some cities fought Newsom’s decision to temporarily close beaches, and opposed other regulations adopted elsewhere in the state.

Cities outside of Orange County have also stepped away from Cal Cities in recent years, including Torrance and Redondo Beach.

League of California Cities Executive Director and chief executive Carolyn Coleman said in a statement that she respects the city’s decisions to leave and the organization will continue to advocate for the interests of all cities regardless of membership.

“While not everyone will agree on every position Cal Cities takes, Cal Cities’ advocacy positions are the result of a member-driven process that reflect a fundamental belief that cities in California are stronger when we stand united and advocate for the common interests of all cities,” she said.

Coleman added that the organization has taken seriously concerns they’ve heard about the impacts of an over-concentration of sober living homes and licensed recovery facilities in Orange County and elsewhere in California. Cal Cities has sponsored legislation that would create more oversight and regulation of the facilities.

On Tuesday, the city of Orange became the third municipality in the county this month to leave Cal Cities. Councilmember Kathy Tavoularis blamed the city’s financial outlook as one reason for recouping membership costs and a lack of power over policy decisions.

Membership fees are based on population, with a city the size of Orange paying slightly more than $34,000 a year.

“I don’t think we’ve had any influence,” she said. “We certainly didn’t with Prop. 1.”

“I want to send a message that they shouldn’t have been on board with Prop. 1 in the first place,” Huntington Beach Councilman Tony Strickland said during a council meeting this month. “Their job is to represent us at the local government, not to represent Gavin Newsom.”

Orange County for years has been somewhat of a thorn in the side of Gov. Gavin Newsom and other progressive politicians in Sacramento. In the last few years, O.C. cities, including Huntington Beachpushed back on housing mandates handed down by the state. At the height of COVID-19, some cities fought Newsom’s decision to temporarily close beaches, and opposed other regulations adopted elsewhere in the state.

Cities outside of Orange County have also stepped away from Cal Cities in recent years, including Torrance and Redondo Beach.

League of California Cities Executive Director and chief executive Carolyn Coleman said in a statement that she respects the city’s decisions to leave and the organization will continue to advocate for the interests of all cities regardless of membership.

“While not everyone will agree on every position Cal Cities takes, Cal Cities’ advocacy positions are the result of a member-driven process that reflect a fundamental belief that cities in California are stronger when we stand united and advocate for the common interests of all cities,” she said.

Coleman added that the organization has taken seriously concerns they’ve heard about the impacts of an over-concentration of sober living homes and licensed recovery facilities in Orange County and elsewhere in California. Cal Cities has sponsored legislation that would create more oversight and regulation of the facilities.

On Tuesday, the city of Orange became the third municipality in the county this month to leave Cal Cities. Councilmember Kathy Tavoularis blamed the city’s financial outlook as one reason for recouping membership costs and a lack of power over policy decisions.

Membership fees are based on population, with a city the size of Orange paying slightly more than $34,000 a year.

“I don’t think we’ve had any influence,” she said. “We certainly didn’t with Prop. 1.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Murrieta school board could rescind — or rework — transgender notification policy

Rule, opposed by LGBTQ advocates, requires parents to be told if a child identifies as transgender

Murrieta’s school board could revise — if not scuttle — a policy requiring parents to be told if their child identifies as transgender seven months after passing it.

File photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG

An item on the Thursday, March 28, Murrieta Valley Unified School District board agenda would rescind the policy, one of at least several passed by California school boards that have divided parents, spurred lawsuits and brought the culture wars to public education.

In an emailed statement, the district said Superintendent Ward Andrus placed the item on the agenda “for consideration recognizing the well-publicized actions and challenges related to this specific board policy in districts throughout California.”

As Andrus’ explanation in the agenda states, “‘the district regularly reviews and updates its policies to comply with current law or district circumstances.’ As such he has brought the item forward,” the district’s statement added.

But in a telephone interview, Murrieta school board President Paul Diffley said the item is meant to give the board time to revise the policy’s language to make it clearer and able to withstand a legal challenge. Diffley said he’ll propose tabling the item Thursday and taking it up again at the next board meeting.

“I think we need to go back and revisit it for one meeting,” he said. “I want to make sure we do the best that we can do.”

Between now and then, Diffley, who along with board member Nick Pardue proposed the policy, said board members will address the opening part of the policy, which outlines reasons why the district wants to notify parents about their child’s gender identity.

Diffley added that the district shares lawyers with Chino Valley Unified School District, which enacted a similar policy, and the changes the Murrieta board is considering come at the advice of attorneys, which warned that “going ahead (with the policy) in such an environment” could cost the district $500,000 in legal expenses.

“I can’t justify doing that at this point because that’s pencil and paper and crayon money,” he said.

Former Murrieta school board member Kris Thomasian, co-chair of One Temecula Valley PAC’s Murrieta Schools Team, supports rescinding the policy.

“We are hopeful that the MVUSD board will kill the destructive forced outing policy, a politically motivated sideshow, which is proving to be harmful to school districts up and down the state,” Thomasian said in a statement from the PAC, which opposes what it describes as political extremism in local government.

She added: “In the face of statewide budget cuts, (the school district) can’t afford to suffer heavy fines or financial penalties for a few irresponsible school board members to solve a problem that doesn’t exist for culture war and partisan political clout.”

The Murrieta school board voted 3-2 in August to approve the policy, which requires staff to notify parents or guardians within three days of learning that a student is “requesting to be identified or treated” as a gender other than the “biological sex or gender” listed on their birth certificate or other official records.

Students requesting to use names, pronouns, bathrooms or changing facilities that don’t align with their birth gender would trigger the policy, as would a student taking part in a sports team or sex-segregated program that doesn’t correspond to their birth gender.

The board’s August vote came after more than 60 public speakers supported or assailed the policy. Supporters, including Christian conservatives, said schools have no right to withhold information from parents about their children.

Critics, including LGBTQ advocates, countered that the policy infringes on student privacy and could endanger children whose parents aren’t accepting of their gender identity.

Murrieta schools’ policy mirrors one passed in July by Chino Valley’s board. Schools boards in TemeculaOrange and other California public school districts have passed virtually identical policies.

Click here to read the full article in the Press Enterprise

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

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

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

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

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overthrowing democracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong reaction

The state Bar was pleased with the outcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

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

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

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

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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

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

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

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

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

Legal maneuvering

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

https://d79ed6eac3251fd74a64577cf4c1da98.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html

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

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

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

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

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

Homekey program

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

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

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

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

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

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

State action

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

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

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

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

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

Career trajectory

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

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

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

Alleged fraud

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 lawsuits over unpaid debts

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

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

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

Click here to raed the full article in the OC Register

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

New law causing more layoffs, reduced hours across state

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

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

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

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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

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

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

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

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

$20 an hour hurting businesses

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

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

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

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

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

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

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

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

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

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

L.A.’s political left eyes more power

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

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

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

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times