California’s firefighters can’t get fire insurance

“We can’t get fire insurance at a fire station that’s going to be manned by firefighters,” one state lawmaker said in incredulity.

SACRAMENTO, California — How bad is California’s wildfire insurance crisis? So bad that the state can’t get coverage for its own firehouses.

CalFire

The irony emerged at a state Senate budget subcommittee hearing Thursday in Sacramento, where Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration defended the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s request for $11 million to replace a kitchen at Ishi Conservation Camp, which houses and trains inmate firefighters in the remote Sierra Nevada foothills of Tehama County.

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Cal Fire usually pays for building maintenance with bonds based on the value of its property, but it couldn’t for the Ishi project because it couldn’t insure the facility to underwriters’ satisfaction, Finance Department analyst Victor Lopez told lawmakers.

“The insurance industry, they weren’t interested in selling insurance policies in the region due to the perceived fire risk in the area,” Lopez said. And the insurer of last resort, FAIR Plan, doesn’t meet the bond underwriters’ requirements, either, he added.

State senators from both parties were incredulous.

“We can’t get fire insurance at a fire station that’s going to be manned by firefighters,” said state Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican from Lassen County, in the northeast corner of the state. “That’s where we are in California. That to me is crazy.”

Add Cal Fire to the growing list of constituents putting pressure on lawmakers to do something to stop property insurers’ exodus, which makes headlines daily as companies announce policy non-renewals or moratoriums on new coverage.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara agreed last year to let insurers raise rates and base them on future projections of fire damages, after lawmakers punted the decision to his office. Lara has been duly handing out rate increases, but insurers are still leaving: In the past two months alone, American National announced it would leave the state and State Farm said it would drop tens of thousands of homeowners.

State Sen. Josh Becker, a Democrat from Silicon Valley, highlighted his bill to require insurance companies to give property owners more credit for things like installing fire-resistant roofs and building fire breaks. (Insurance companies oppose it, saying it could force them to take on too much risk.)

“It’s ironic and highlights the problem we’re trying to solve,” he said about Cal Fire’s insurance woes. “We’re just trying to get recognition for the direct fire mitigation on the ground.”

Ishi might be the tip of an iceberg.

Mike McGinness, Department of Finance’s deputy director responsible for Cal Fire, said he only knew of one other Cal Fire facility that has had a similar problem so far. But the Department of General Services, which oversees all state facilities, has identified 16 projects statewide — 11 of which are Cal Fire’s — that may have trouble getting fire insurance, spokesperson Monica Hassan said in an email.

Cal Fire and the Department of Finance are now reviewing all the maintenance and upgrade projects seeking funds this year to figure out if others might struggle to get fire insurance, too, McGinness said.

“Typically, this hasn’t been an issue and so we have waited until closer to the point of selling the bonds,” he said. “But given recent trends in the insurance industry, it’s been important to start looking.”

So far, lawmakers have defended Cal Fire’s increasing drain on state coffers, even in a down budget year, as Newsom adds firefighters to cut back flammable vegetation and protect communities from increasingly intense wildfires.

Click here to read the full article in Politico

Bill to Create New Reparations Agency Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

Reparations bills poised to face a difficult year in the Legislature

A bill to create a new state agency, the California American Freedman Affairs Agency, to assist Californians with any approved reparations programs, passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in an 8-1 vote, with 2 abstentions.

Senate Bill 1403, authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would specifically establish the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency in state government, under the control of the secretary, who would be appointed by the Governor. SB 1403 would require the agency to implement the recommendations of the Task Force, as well as require the agency to determine how an individual’s status as a descendant would be confirmed. The bill would also require proof of an individual’s descendant status to be a qualifying criteria for benefits authorized by the state for descendants. To accomplish these goals, the bill would require the agency to be comprised of a Genealogy Office and an Office of Legal Affairs.

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SB 1403 would further require the agency to oversee and monitor existing state agencies and departments tasked with engaging in direct implementation of the policies that fall within the scope of the existing state agencies and departments’ authority, including policies related to reparations.

SB 1403 is one of 14 reparations-related bills introduced this session. They are the first bills to come after the California Reparations Task Force unveiled their final list of recommendations. Originally, the Task Force had tried to recommend a plan that would have cost the state up to $800 billion. This received widespread backlash, with so many Californians from across the political spectrum being opposed to the plan that Task Force members came out and said “STOP focusing on the monetary part of the plan.” Another figure of $1.2 million given to each black resident was also scrutinized.

SB 1403 moves up

Finally, because of the severe lack of support for giving any kind of monetary compensation coming from both California residents and lawmakers alike, all cash reparations proposals were dropped. Instead, lawmakers focused on general improvement bills, many of which would come at no or little cost to the taxpayer. SB 1403, while costing some state money because of it starting a new agency, was introduced to help facilitate all, if any, reparations bills passed by the legislature and signed into law. If passed, it would only create the agency, and not implement any of the bills stemming from the Task Force’s recommendations.

“This is a commonsense measure, something that’s long overdue for California and the nation,” said Senator Bradford on Tuesday.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday as a result. However, the vote was 8 t0 1 with 2 abstentions, showing that even a relatively innocuous bill like SB 1403 still had opposition, possibly foreshadowing even greater opposition to more robust reparations bills this year and in future years.

“The eye is on the money,” explained Legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Tuesday. “The state is $73 billion in the red right now, on top of many lawmakers and especially residents not believing that reparations should be a thing. Anything reparations related will have the question “How much is this going to cost?”. Cash payments are already out. They are extremely unpopular, plus Newsom said he wouldn’t support them. But the cost of these programs, well, that’s more of a grey area. They aren’t direct cash payments, but they’ll cost a lot and only benefit a fraction of the population.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Power is never having to say ‘no.’ How California Democrats kill bills without voting against them

Mike Fong has cast more than 6,000 votes since he joined the state Assembly in 2022 and never once voted “no.” Pilar Schiavo is newer to the Assembly, but she has yet to vote “no” after more than 2,000 opportunities.

Remarkably, their Democratic colleagues in the Legislature are not much different. Using our new Digital Democracy database, CalMatters examined more than 1 million votes cast by current legislators since 2017 and found Democrats vote “no” on average less than 1% of the time.

Why? It’s not something they want to talk about. Democrats have had super-majorities in both legislative chambers since 2019, so most votes involve bills from their political colleagues. But the legislative leaders and lawmakers contacted by CalMatters declined repeated requests to explain a pattern that might appear like a rubber stamp for deals made out of public view. And it seems to be sanctioned by leaders.

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“There’s only two fucking buttons on your desk: There’s a green button, and there’s a red button,” then-Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told the California Labor Federation last year in remarks reported by Politico. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the green button is the labor button. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the green button means you’re doing the right thing, and the red button means that you’re an asshole.” 

Rendon’s office declined to comment or make him available for an interview.

Instead of voting “no,” the data, video and transcripts in CalMatters’ Digital Democracy project reveals that legislators will often decline to cast a vote. Lawmakers widely use the tactic as a courtesy to avoid irking fellow legislators who’d get upset if they vote “no” on their bills, but it’s a controversial practice that critics say allows them to avoid accountability.

“There are a lot of people who abstain and who years later will claim, ‘Oh, I was in the bathroom,’ or ‘I was gone,’ or ‘I was in a meeting,’” said Mike Gatto, a former Democratic Assemblymember from Los Angeles. “It provides them an excuse after the fact to claim that they were not there. I always thought that was cowardly, the opposite of courageous.”

Last year, at least 15 bills died due to lack of votes instead of lawmakers actually voting “no” to kill them.

The most notorious example was when a bill to increase penalties for child sex trafficking died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee because Democrats did not vote. After widespread condemnation, Gov. Gavin Newsom got involved, prompting some committee Democrats to apologize and re-vote on the measure that Newsom later signed

At least three fentanyl-related bills also died last year due to Democrats refusing to vote on them, infuriating Regina Chavez, who advocated for the legislation. Her 15-year-old daughter, Jewels Marie Wolf, died from the drug in 2022.

“I personally am insulted, because I think everything should be on the record when you hold a state title,” she said. “That is what they signed up for to represent us.”

Chavez along with a group of mothers of youth who died from fentanyl learned about the prevalence of non-votes by exploring the Digital Democracy database.

In a glaring example they found, a bill had 22 bipartisan cosponsors and would likely pass if it reached the Senate floor, but it died in the Senate Public Safety Committee when the four Democrats — Nancy Skinner, Steven Bradford, Aisha Wahab and Scott Wiener — declined to vote by staying silent during the roll call. None of them responded to interview requests.

The bill, called “Alexandra’s Law” for a young woman who died from the drug, would have required judges to read a warning to defendants who’d been convicted of dealing fentanyl that if they dealt the drugs again, they could be charged with murder if someone died after taking their fentanyl.

More than 100 people testified in the hearing, almost all in support of the bill and many sharing their own experiences with fentanyl deaths. Some of the Democrats who did not vote had a lengthy discussion with the bill’s author, Sen. Tom Umberg, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor. (This link to Digital Democracy includes information about the bill, SB 44, as well as video and transcripts of the hearing).

“It’s beyond frustrating,” said Laura Didier, who has testified several times in Sacramento about fentanyl legislation and whose 17-year-old son, Zach, died from the drug in 2020 (See video and transcripts of all Laura Didier’s testimony).

Didier said it took an enormous amount of work to assemble the bipartisan group of bill sponsors and the supporters who testified. “To me, it just makes no sense that … people, by withholding their vote, can kill that momentum. You know, it’s very, very frustrating.”

In another example last year, the former chairperson of the Assembly Public Safety Committee cast a “no” vote to kill a bill, AB 367, that would have led to longer prison sentences for fentanyl dealers. Seconds later, he withdrew his vote after all five of his fellow Democrats on the committee killed the bill by not voting.

The then-chairperson, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat who is running for Los Angeles City Council when his term expires this year, didn’t return a message from CalMatters.

He told the committee last spring that he was a mortician during the crack cocaine epidemic, so he empathized with families who lost loved ones to fentanyl, but he sided with activists who testified that people of color have unfairly and disproportionately borne the brunt of harsh sentences for drug crimes.

“Our communities were decimated by the War on Drugs,” he said.

Digital Democracy’s analysis

The CalMatters data analysis included more than 1 million votes currently sitting lawmakers have taken since 2017 in committees and on the Senate or Assembly floors. The analysis only included votes on actual bills. Routine resolutions were not included. The data was collected by Digital Democracy from the Legislature’s official bill-tracking website.

The site records each lawmaker’s “aye,” and “no” votes. If a lawmaker does not vote on a bill, it’s listed as “NVR,” short for “No Vote Recorded.” The online system does not distinguish between a vote to abstain, an absence or when the legislator is present but no vote is cast. 

The CalMatters analysis reveals that 38 of the 94 members of the Democratic caucus have voted “no” 20 or fewer times since 2017. This, despite each senator and Assemblymember having thousands of opportunities to vote. Some of those lawmakers have served since 2017.

While all Democrats rarely vote “no,” some members stand out in the analysis.

They include Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel of Encino. He’s been in office since 2018 and has cast more than 12,000 “aye” votes. He’s voted “no” just nine times. Lisa Calderon of City of Industry has served in the Assembly since 2020 and cast nearly 9,000 “aye” votes. She’s voted “no” once.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia of Coachella has cast more than 15,000 “aye” votes since 2017. He’s only voted “no” eight times. Assemblymembers Schiavo of Santa Clarita Valley and Fong of Los Angeles are the two current members who have never voted “no.” 

None of those lawmakers responded to CalMatters’ interview requests

Meanwhile, the Digital Democracy analysis showed wide discrepancies in not voting. Garcia, the Assemblymember from Coachella, had more than 2,000 NVRs, the most of any of his Democratic colleagues since 2017.

Fong, who serves on the powerful Appropriations Committee, stood out for another reason other than never voting “no.” As of last week, he only had 25 NVRs, the lowest abstention or absence rate of any lawmaker.

Robert Rivas, who became speaker of the Assembly last year, has only voted “no” nine out of 12,308 times since he joined the Assembly in 2018. He abstained or was absent from voting 673 times during that period.

“The Speaker will not be available for your story,” his press secretary, Cynthia Moreno, said in an emailed response to CalMatters’ request to discuss his voting record and the records of his fellow Democratic lawmakers.

Republicans and the red button

It’s no surprise that vastly outnumbered Republicans in the Legislature regularly vote “no” on Democratic bills. They do so on average 21% of the time. But CalMatters’ analysis shows they tend not to vote on bills at higher rates than Democrats.

The average Republican “No Vote Recorded” rate is around 12%. The average rate for Democrats is 4.5%.

James Gallagher, the Assembly’s minority leader, said it’s due to Democrats largely cutting the Republicans out of bill discussions, leading to situations where Republicans might not oppose a bill’s intent, but they don’t feel comfortable voting for language they can’t change.

“That (bill) might be at a place where you sort of agree with where they’re trying to go with it,” said Gallagher, a Republican from Chico. “But you’re just not really sure that the policy is really right and it’s taking into account all the different unintended consequences.”

Gallagher has voted “no” 3,236 times since 2017, and he’s been listed as a “No Vote Recorded” 1,708 times. 

Gallagher said he’d support making the process more transparent by requiring lawmakers to officially declare an abstention instead of the way it’s reported now, where the public has no easy way of knowing whether a member was actually absent or just declined to vote on a bill.

Bill Essayli, a Corona Republican who’s served in the Assembly since 2022, has the highest percentage of NVRs in the Legislature. Twenty-three percent of his votes are NVRs. 

Essayli said he learned it’s better to abstain on some bills instead of voting “no” to avoid retaliation from Democrats. He said Democrats are “very sensitive” and punish legislators of both parties when they vote “no.”

He noted that last year, Democrats briefly stripped Bakersfield Democratic Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains of a committee assignment after she sided with Republicans and cast the lone Democratic “no” vote against Gov. Newsom’s gas-price windfall tax bill.

Essayli said he’s taken to abstaining from votes on bills he doesn’t support when he’s not trying to make a strong political statement. “Not voting is a polite ‘no,’” he said. “And then hitting the red button is like an ‘F no.’”

Essayli said Democrats have targeted him after voting “no.” The California Democratic Party put up a billboard in his district, accusing him of voting against fentanyl victims. He said it was retaliation for him voting “no” on legislation that contained a fentanyl provision that he supported buried in a large budget bill that he did not.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Democrats book $27 million in ads in California congressional races

In a sign of how important several tight California congressional races are to determining control of Congress in the November election, a Democratic super PAC has booked more than $27 million in television and digital ads in the state.

It’s the most the House Majority PAC booked in any state in its initial $186-million advertising buy announced Sunday, the largest amount the organization has ever spent in early campaigning.

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“House Republicans have done nothing but sell out the American people while creating chaos, and we are holding them accountable for their anti-American extremist policies and agenda,” said Mike Smith, the president of the PAC allied with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

“Through these historic television and digital reservations, House Majority PAC has made it clear that we are ready to do whatever it takes to flip the House and elect Hakeem Jeffries the next Speaker of the House,” Smith said in a statement.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, the Republican version of the House Majority PAC, has not yet released its early-spending plans. However, the group’s leader expressed confidence in the GOP’s chances in the fall.

“We have incredibly strong Republican incumbents in the toughest races, far better recruits, and a political environment that seems to favor Republicans,” Congressional Leadership Fund President Dan Conston said in a statement. “If the resources are there, we will hold the Majority this fall.”

The Democratic political action committee announced last year that it would spend $35 million in the state, roughly triple what it did on California congressional races in the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats underperformed in some districts that should have been strongholds.

Political groups on both sides of the aisle don’t always follow through with their advertising reservations, so it remains to be seen how much the PAC will actually spend in California.

However, Democrats need to win four seats to take control of the House, which is why the House Majority PAC’s spending plan — which is aimed at 45 congressional districts nationwide, including Republican-held seats in districts that President Biden won in 2020 — is so focused on California.

The state’s 52-member delegation is the largest in the nation, and California’s independent redistricting process replaced the prior gerrymandering that created safe districts for both parties, resulting in more competitive races.

Of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 69 are running in November races that are rated as toss-ups, competitive or potentially vulnerable by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which has tracked House and Senate races for decades. Ten of those are in California.

Additionally, the state is home to some of the nation’s most expensive media markets.

These factors are reflected in the House Majority PAC’s spending plans.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California criminal justice battle intensifies with reformers’ counteroffensive

Groups that have fought to downgrade drug and property sentences are defending those changes.

Criminal justice reform advocates are mobilizing to thwart a ballot initiative that would reverse California’s recent turn away from tougher criminal penalties.

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The counteroffensive signals that those advocates fear the initiative to crack down drug and property crimes, backed by prosecutors and major retailers, has a strong chance of landing on the November ballot. If it does, it could unravel a series of recent political victories seeking to overhaul sentencing and incarceration.

A six-figure digital advertising campaign, funded by some of the same groups and people that have championed lighter criminal penalties, urges Californians to reject the tough-on-crime ballot measure and instead push for changes in the Legislature. It notes that the campaign has been funded by major corporations like Target, Home Depot, and Walmart, and backed by Republicans like Rep. Kevin Kiley.

“It’s a dangerous scam that will not work,” the group said in a statement. “It will only set California’s progress back decades, making us less safe.”

A newly launched committee supporting the advertising campaign has reported donations from Quinn Delaney and Stacy Schusterman, who have together poured millions into California prosecutor and crime ballot measure campaigns, and an organization whose leader, Tinisch Hollins, has championed efforts to reduce criminal penalties.

The escalating battle marks another chapter in California’s long struggle over criminal justice. After setting the tone for a national era of mass incarceration, the increasingly liberal state has shifted markedly in the other direction over the last decade.

Voters passed ballot initiatives in 2014 and 2016 that downgraded some drug and property crimes to misdemeanors and allowed for earlier releases from prison, and in 2020 they rejected a ballot measure that sought to restore some of those penalties. Gov. Gavin Newsom urged voters to vote no on that measure, and his current chief of staff ran the opposition campaign.

More recently, Newsom and Democratic lawmakers have rebuffed calls to revisit those past ballot initiatives, instead advancing a package of bills targeting repeat or organized retail theft, enhancing penalties for selling fentanyl, and making it easier to prosecute car thieves.

Click here to read the full article in Politico

California-based 99 Cents Only Stores is closing down, citing COVID, inflation and product theft

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California-based 99 Cents Only Stores said Friday it will close all 371 of its outlets, ending the chain’s 42-year run of selling an assortment of bargain-basement merchandise.

The company has stores across California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas that will begin will selling off their merchandise, as well as fixtures, furnishings and equipment.

Interim CEO Mike Simoncic said in a statement that the retailer has struggled for years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in consumer demand, inflation and rising levels of product “shrink” — a measure that encompasses losses from employee theft, shoplifting, damage, administrative errors and more.

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“This was an extremely difficult decision and is not the outcome we expected or hoped to achieve,” said Simoncic, who will be stepping down. “Unfortunately, the last several years have presented significant and lasting challenges in the retail environment.”

The shuttering of 99 Cents Only Stores comes after fellow discount retailer Dollar Tree last month said it was closing 1,000 stores.

99 Cents Only Stores was founded in 1982 by Dave Gold, who opened its first store in Los Angeles at the age of 50, according to his 2013 obituary in the Los Angeles Times. Gold, who had been working at a liquor store owned by his father, found that marking down surplus items to 99 cents caused them to sell out “in no time,” fueling his desire to launch a new spin on the dollar store.

“I realized it was a magic number,” he told the Times. “I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to have a store where everything was good quality and everything was 99 cents?”

Brushing off doubting friends and family members, Gold forged ahead. His idea caught on quickly, even in middle-class and upscale neighborhoods, allowing the company to go public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1996. It was later sold for roughly $1.6 billion in 2011.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

What Texas can teach California about curbing homelessness

L.A. and San Francisco continue to struggle while big cities elsewhere make progress. But there’s hope.

Rent is surging nationwide. Homelessness rates rose an astonishing 15% on average in major cities last year. It seems like the rest of the United States is waking up to what California has been living for decades.

But underneath these headlines emerges a more hopeful story as some metropolitan areas make significant progress to render homelessness rare and brief. Raleigh, N.C., led major U.S. cities in reducing homelessness by 40% between 2022 and 2023. Texas cities also stand out: Last year, the Houston metropolitan area achieved the lowest rate of homelessness of any major U.S. city, with just 52 people per 100,000 residents experiencing homelessness (compared to 734 people per 100,000 in Los Angeles). Even Austin, which has a higher homelessness rate than other cities in the state, reduced homelessness by 25% in one year.

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Meanwhile, five of the top 10 major cities with the highest rates of homelessness nationally are in California: San Francisco, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento, in that order. In 2022, the homelessness rate in San Francisco was nearly 20 times higher than in Houston, and Los Angeles’ was almost 14 times higher. Over the longer term, homelessness in Los Angeles rose 56% between 2015 and 2022, while it declined in Houston by 32%.

So what is making the difference in Texas and elsewhere? Can progress reach big cities in California, the state that is home to 28% of the entire country’s homeless population?

First and foremost, other places are building more housing of all types. The Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin metro areas are all in the top 10 for housing production, while San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose are all in the back half of the pack. These metro areas are also working together on a regional approach to homelessness that differs from California’s largely fragmented response. For example, in Houston, one planning body — called a continuum of care — coordinates federal dollars and homelessness response across the metropolitan area. In California, every county and also some municipalities have separate continua of care.

The Golden State has treated the housing shortage with urgency and adopted reforms to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation planning process to increase housing supply, including affordable housing for qualifying households, dramatically by 2030. Such a plan is necessary. But it will of course take years to complete.

In the meantime, our leaders have a moral, political and economic mandate to reduce the harm that homelessness inflicts on individuals, families and communities. And there are more solutions California cities can adopt today to address homelessness. While some may dismiss temporary interventions such as safe camping, parking and shelter as mere window dressing compared to long-term solutions, the reality is that people experiencing homelessness struggle every day to find somewhere to rest.

First, localities should recognize that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Just 3.6% of Los Angeles County’s 2022-2023 homelessness spending was devoted to prevention such as emergency rental assistance, eviction defense and direct payments. But the recent availability of once-in-a-generation federal aid during the pandemic created a natural experiment that showed the potential of spending more on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Just to the north in Santa Clara County, for instance, homelessness grew by 31% between 2017 and 2019. Then, during the pandemic, the county reached an estimated 16,000 vulnerable households with prevention assistance, and homelessness grew by only 3% between 2019 and 2022.

California’s biggest metro areas can also improve their approach to the overlap between mental health and homelessness. Texas cities including Houston and Dallas have had success with the Housing First model that focuses on getting people into housing before tackling other issues they face, such as addiction. Bad-faith attacks against this strategy, in California and elsewhere, aren’t backed by real evidence.

We also need better ways to respond to people with behavioral health and substance abuse emergencies that do not automatically expose them to police while also respecting everyone’s right to be safe. Models from Denver and other cities provide a roadmap to do so. One study found that Denver’s use of emergency mental health professionals reduced crime and cost less than a traditional police response.

Los Angeles has already begun implementing an alternative crisis response model, but staffing challenges have hampered its effectiveness, indicating a need for workforce development. Those efforts can complement the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry Housing program, which has had success disrupting the cycle of incarceration and homelessness (about a quarter of the county jail population is homeless).

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

In one of L.A.’s largest cash heists, burglars steal as much as $30 million in elaborate operation

In one of the largest cash heists in Los Angeles history, thieves made off with as much as $30 million in an Easter Sunday burglary at a San Fernando Valley money storage facility, an L.A. police official said.

The burglary occurred Sunday night at a facility in Sylmar where cash from businesses across the region is handled and stored, said L.A. Police Department Cmdr. Elaine Morales.

The thieves were able to breach the building as well as the safe where the money was stored, Morales said. Law enforcement sources said the burglary was among the largest in city history when it comes to cash, and the total also surpassed any armored-car heist in the city.

Mystery surrounds the break-in.

Sources familiar with the investigation told The Times that a burglary crew broke through the roof of the Gardaworld building on Roxford Street to gain access to the vault. But it is unclear how they avoided the alarm system.

The Canada-based security company has not responded to requests for comment.

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The operators of the business did not discover the massive theft until they opened the vault Monday. An ABC-7 TV news helicopter video showed a large cut on the side of the building covered by a piece of plywood.

Authorities were alerted, and detectives from the LAPD’s Mission Division station responded to the crime scene to gather evidence.

A law enforcement source confirmed to The Times there was an effort to breach the side of the cash-holding building in addition to the roof. At least one alarm was triggered during the crime, but it was not connected to local law enforcement, according to a source familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Further adding to the intrigue is that very few individuals would have known of the huge sums of cash being kept in that safe, according to law enforcement sources.

The break-in was described as elaborate and suggested an experienced crew who knew how to gain entry to a secure facility and go unnoticed.

Scott Selby, author of “Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History,” said that the theft has “all the markings of a really well-thought-out job” that was done by a “professional crew,” adding that based on other major heists of this nature, it is likely that the thieves had some inside intelligence.

He said investigators will be “looking around the globe for crimes with a similar M.O.”

As to whether the money is traceable, Selby said it depends on whether there are records of serial numbers or the cash that was collected is already in circulation. It is hard to hide ill-gotten gains and launder traceable bills, he said.

“As technology progresses and the world gets small, there are a lot of ways you can mess up and get caught,” Selby said. “With touch DNA, the slightest mistake can expose the identity of a member of the crew, leading authorities to eventually identify their associates.”

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday night that the agency and the LAPD are investigating the theft.

A federal source said investigators were trying to complete a full accounting of the missing cash, but said it could be the largest cash heist in L.A.’s history.

The prior largest cash robbery in Los Angeles was on Sept. 12, 1997, with the theft of $18.9 million from the former site of the Dunbar Armored facility on Mateo Street. Those behind the incident were eventually caught.

Sunday’s theft comes nearly two years after the multimillion-dollar heist of jewelry from a Brink’s big rig at a Grapevine truck stop.

As much as $100 million in jewels and valuables was taken from the truck.

In that case, thieves made off with the goods at 3 a.m. on July 11, 2022, stuffing more than 20 large bags with jewelry, gems and other items that the Brink’s tractor-trailer had been transporting to the L.A. area from the International Gem and Jewelry Show in San Mateo.

The heist occurred during a 27-minute window in which one driver slept in the vehicle’s sleeper berth and another ate a meal at the Flying J, a sprawling truck stop just off Interstate 5’s sinuous Grapevine in Lebec, Calif.

That crime remains unsolved.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Walters: California progressives forced to play defense as state faces huge budget deficits

A couple of years ago, California’s left-leaning interest groups – those seeking a more expansive array of social and medical services to benefit workers and the state’s large population of low-income residents – seemed to be making a breakthrough after decades of frustration.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom bragging about a nearly $100 billion state budget surplus, progressive coalitions gained footholds on some long-sought priorities, such as medical coverage for undocumented immigrants, income supports for the working poor and more expansive care and education for preschool children.

That was then and this is now.

The state now faces a monumental budget deficit, in part because the state committed portions of a supposed surplus that never materialized. While Newsom so far has pegged the deficit at $38 billion, state revenues continue to lag behind forecasts and the Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabe Petek, says it could top $70 billion.

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Moreover, both Newsom’s budget department and Petek are warning that annual deficits in the $30 billion range are likely for several years to come.

The harsh fiscal reality not only may doom expansion of the programmatic gains that those on the left championed, but imperil their very existence just as the additional benefits begin kicking in.

In short, it’s crunch time for California’s progressive activists.

A couple of years ago, California’s left-leaning interest groups – those seeking a more expansive array of social and medical services to benefit workers and the state’s large population of low-income residents – seemed to be making a breakthrough after decades of frustration.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom bragging about a nearly $100 billion state budget surplus, progressive coalitions gained footholds on some long-sought priorities, such as medical coverage for undocumented immigrants, income supports for the working poor and more expansive care and education for preschool children.

That was then and this is now.

The state now faces a monumental budget deficit, in part because the state committed portions of a supposed surplus that never materialized. While Newsom so far has pegged the deficit at $38 billion, state revenues continue to lag behind forecasts and the Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabe Petek, says it could top $70 billion.

Moreover, both Newsom’s budget department and Petek are warning that annual deficits in the $30 billion range are likely for several years to come.

The harsh fiscal reality not only may doom expansion of the programmatic gains that those on the left championed, but imperil their very existence just as the additional benefits begin kicking in.

In short, it’s crunch time for California’s progressive activists.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

After Issuing Death Sentence on CA’s Death Penalty, Gov. Newsom Approves 3 more Prison Closures

Gov. Jerry Brown’s AB 109 was the first move by California Democrats to dismantle California’s criminal justice system

“Newsom has approved three California prison closures but resists pressure to shutter more,” the Los Angeles Times headline reports… as if Gov. Newsom is so altruistic, he is restraining himself from closing more prisons – for the good of the people.

After running for governor on upholding voter’s support of the death penalty, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in March 2019, shortly after taking office, that he would grant reprieves for all death penalty murderers on California’s death row. He called the death penalty “ineffective, irreversible and immoral.” Newsom then signed an executive order putting a moratorium on the executions of the 737 inmates currently incarcerated in California’s death row.

With Newsom’s announcement a political friend said, “Another 737 just went down.”

“We cannot advance the death penalty in an effort to soften the blow of what happens to these victims,” Newsom said. “If someone kills, we do not kill. We’re better than that.”

In 2016, California voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have repealed the death penalty, and instead voted to expedite the executions of the inmates currently sitting on death row. Newsom supported the initiative to repeal.

“With his announcement that he is granting sentencing reprieves for all death penalty eligible murderers on California’s death row, Governor Gavin Newsom has substituted his own opinion for the repeated decisions of the state’s voters,” Michael Rushford with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation said in an interview.

While Gov. Newsom and the state’s Democrat lawmakers continue to dismantle the criminal justice system, top to bottom, poll after poll shows escalating crime is one of the top issues among  Californians, which is why voters passed Proposition 66 in 2016, reaffirming the state’s death penalty, but also to speed up the appeals process.

In 2016 when Prop. 66 was passed, it was intended to be a remedy to the most heinous criminals sitting on death row for 30 years, with endless appeals delaying justice and costing taxpayers hundreds of millions – and to ensure no innocent person was executed. Opponents sued, taking the case to the California Supreme Court, which upheld voters’ decision, but watered down a part of the initiative. The Court stated that provisions requiring the state to speed up the death penalty appeals process were directive, rather than mandatory.

On the latest prison closures, the LA Times addresses the 2011 Supreme Court ruling that deemed overcrowding of prisons unconstitutional and ruled that prisons cannot exceed 137.5% of capacity. That same year, the state passed a law that relocated low-level offenders without prior serious or violent felonies to serve their time in a county jail instead of state prison.

What they don’t say is that Gov. Jerry Brown’s Assembly Bill 109, the “Prison Realignment” bill was the first move by California Democrats to dismantle California’s criminal justice system.

Assembly Bill 109, in 2011, was then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature legislation he sold as “prison realignment.” However, AB 109 only served to overwhelm county jails by moving “nonviolent” state offenders from prison. Gov. Brown could have built more prisons, but instead reduced the population by releasing or pushing inmates to local county jails, which are not designed to house someone past a year, and prevents law enforcement from taking low-level offenders in.

Adding insult to injury, Proposition 47, passed by misinformed voters in 2014, flagrantly titled “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” decriminalized drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, removing law enforcement’s ability to make an arrest in most circumstances, as well as removing judges’ ability to order drug rehabilitation programs rather than incarceration. And perhaps the most obvious aspect of Prop. 47 on display today raised the theft threshold to $950 per location, and bumped theft down to a misdemeanor from a felony.

Proposition 57, shamelessly titled “the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act” passed in 2016, now allows nonviolent felons to qualify for early release, and parole boards can now only consider an inmate’s most recent charge, and not their entire history because of this proposition. Notably, both Prop. 47 and 57 were given their ballot titles by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Crimes now considered “nonviolent” under Proposition 57 in California include:

  • human trafficking of a child
  • rape of an unconscious person or by intoxication
  • drive by shooting at inhabited dwelling or vehicle
  • assault with a firearm or deadly weapon
  • assault on a police officer
  • serial arson
  • exploding a bomb to injure people
  • solicitation to commit murder
  • assault from a caregiver to a child under eight years old that could result in a coma or death
  • felony domestic violence. 

Ten years of increased drug and serial theft crimes, and a violent crime wave across California has taken its toll on the state’s residents and businesses. A proposed ballot initiative to amend Prop. 47 is currently collecting signatures for the November 2024 ballot. More than 500,000 California voters have already signed the petition to place the measure on the ballot.

The campaign reports that a survey of likely California voters found that 70% of voters support the title and summary of the Homeless, Drug Addiction, Retail Theft Reduction Act. The overwhelming support was consistent across every demographic and geography including the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Furthermore, 89% of likely voters support amending Proposition 47 for stronger penalties for those engaged in repeated retail theft and trafficking hard drugs like fentanyl. The measure also includes incentives to complete drug and mental health treatment for people who are addicted to hard drugs.

Gov. Newsom’s push to close more prisons ahead of Californians’ opportunity to vote on Prop. 47 reforms make his agenda clear – he’s not interested in the safety and security of California’s residents – he’s prioritizing campaign funders and anti-criminal justice special interests.

The LA Times reports on more Democrat altruism:

Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), both members of the Legislative Black Caucus whose priorities include prison reform, say they want more prisons to close.

Bradford said that he supports a more “holistic vision” of public safety.

“Investing in rehabilitation will pay dividends by reducing the revolving door of recidivism and will allow formerly incarcerated individuals to successfully re-integrate when they return home to their communities and families,” he told The Times in an email.

While serving in her former role as chair of the Assembly’s budget subcommittee on public safety, Bonta was outspoken about the opportunity California had to close more prisons.

“We have an insurmountable budget deficit,” she said, referring to the state’s $73-billion budget shortfall estimated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Bonta said the deficit is forcing the legislature to look for cuts.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe