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.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

“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.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

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

Newsom has approved three California prison closures but resists pressure to shutter more

SACRAMENTO —  Gov. Gavin Newsom went far beyond the promise he made in his first year in office to close at least one California state prison. But now, he is resisting calls from criminal justice advocates and liberal state lawmakers to shutter five more penitentiaries.

Shortly after taking office, Newsom placed a moratorium on the death penalty and has approved the closure of three prisons since 2019, but his administration appears to be pulling back from a 2022 budget proposal that considered “right-sizing California’s prison system” by possibly closing even more facilities. The administration fears that operating the state’s existing 31 prisons remains necessary to accommodate California’s fluctuating inmate population, enhance rehabilitation programs and avoid a repeat of the overcrowding that led to federal court intervention over a decade ago.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

“The governor has a long track record of being on the progressive side of criminal justice. His belief that we can reduce prison populations and improve public safety is achievable. That’s the core of his goal,” said Michael Romano, director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford University. “But the question of closing more prisons is complicated and goes beyond public safety. I don’t think they go as hand-in-hand as people want them to.”

Newsom finds himself in a precarious political spot. Crime was among the top issues that Californians want the Legislature and governor to work on in 2024, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released in February. But no matter what he decides to do, large swaths of California voters will disagree. On the one hand, he could disappoint liberal lawmakers and others advocating for the end of California’s tough-on-crime era of mass incarceration. On the other, he’d provoke moderates and conservatives concerned that prison and criminal justice reforms have gone far enough.

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.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises state lawmakers, suggested that over the next four years the state can save up to $1 billion annually if it closes five more prisons.

Sen. Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks), the vice chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review committee, told The Times that he disagreed with the prospect of more closures. He said there is a debate over whether crime rates are up and, because of that, uncertainty about whether prison populations will rise in the coming years. Niello also said the enactment of tougher new laws, including a ballot measure to reform Proposition 47, could lead to longer prison sentences for property and drug crimes and in turn higher incarceration rates.

Niello said closing five additional state correctional facilities would take capacity down to a “dangerously low level.”

The Newsom administration has no plans to close more prisons, said H.D. Palmer, a representative from the Department of Finance. Palmer told The Times that prison populations “can and do” fluctuate but said the numbers would not go up as dramatically as some worry.

“One thing we don’t want to go back to is where we had triple bunking in cells,” Palmer said. “But I don’t think we’d return to old numbers.”

The administration has to comply with a 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.

There have been other efforts to reduce population swelling in the last decade.

Voters have passed various ballot measures, including Proposition 36 in 2012, which allows eligible defendants convicted of nonviolent drug possession charges to enter treatment instead of going to jail or prison; Proposition 47 in 2014, which reduced some drug and property theft crimes from felonies to a misdemeanors; and Proposition 57 in 2016, which allows parole consideration of people convicted of nonviolent felonies, once they’ve already completed a prison term for their primary offense.

One year after the passage of Proposition 47, the prison and jail populations declined by 6% and 8.7%, respectively, according to a 2018 PPIC report. The report also noted court-ordered population reduction measures contributed to these dips.

The legislative analysts report noted that the administration has said that closing more prisons could create challenges, such as reducing the availability of treatment and reentry programs. The administration also states concerns over whether unexpected population increases in the future could raise the risks of overcrowding or even eliminate the necessity for prisoners to work some part-time and full-time jobs that provide them with a “meaningful way to occupy their time,” according to the LAO report.

But the legislative analyst’s report also found that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — which consumes $14.5 billion of the governor’s proposed 2024-2025 budget — should be able shut down more facilities due to dwindling costs.

The report said the department’s expenses have declined, specifically mentioning fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases, alleviating healthcare costs. The department spends $4.5 billion annually on healthcare, including mental health and dental work.

The report also cites a shrinking prison population, which fell by 34,000 over the last five years, the largest period of decline in the last decade. The population is projected to fall from 94,000 today to 85,000 inmates by 2027. There are currently 15,000 empty beds, and the analyst’s office projects an increase to 19,000 empty beds by 2028.

“The reality is that this generally means the upper bunk may be vacant, but the lower bunk is occupied by an incarcerated individual,” Palmer told The Times in an email. The population in some facilities still far exceeds the design capacity of one incarcerated person per cell or bunk.

The Newsom administration argues that having a lower population in a prison provides opportunities for more effective rehabilitation, since fewer people will be competing for the same programs.

While in theory, fewer inmates mean the state should be spending less, the department has accrued significant costs due to raises to correctional officers’ salaries and pensions and in part due to COVID-19.

The department estimates that it will save the state $778 million starting next year, after the closure of three state prisons: Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy in 2021, California Correctional Center in Susanville in 2023, and Chuckawalla State Prison in Blythe, scheduled to close in March 2025.

California has also closed portions of various facilities across the state, and at the end of March will terminate its lease with the last private prison, California City Correctional Facility.

Californians United For a Responsible Budget, a statewide coalition whose mission is to identify wasteful prison spending, along with other organizations have gone as far as to demand the closure of 10 more prisons. Their requests stretch beyond saving the state money and argue it is a way for the state to repurpose land and invest back into communities, including those where the local economies are impacted by prison closures.

The department remains under pressure to trim its budget. Senate lawmakers recently asked agency officials to consider cutting costs by as much as $2 billion, or 15% of its total budget, in addition to what the department planned to save through its recent prison closures.

Scott Graves, the director of research at California Budget & Policy Center, told The Times that while the state should close more prisons, he is skeptical whether the money saved from closures would resolve budget woes in the immediate short term.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Santa Clara has no money to meet $624 million in infrastructure needs

City officials are recommending a general obligation bond to fix some of the aging infrastructure

Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

In the heart of Silicon Valley, a region renowned for its innovation and wealth, Santa Clara has struggled for decades to keep pace with its aging infrastructure.

Many of its city facilities — parks, community centers, fire stations and swimming pools — reached the end of their expected lifespan years ago. But Santa Clara historically hasn’t had the revenue streams to maintain or replace its physical assets, leading to what is now a whopping $624 million in unfunded infrastructure needs, according to City Manager Jovan Grogan.

The ballooning problem came to a head earlier his year when the George F. Haines International Swim Center — a storied facility widely considered to be Santa Clara’s crown jewel — closed over safety concerns following decades of neglect.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

Santa Clara’s plight is not unique. Cities across the Bay Area are grappling with similarly aging infrastructure and significant funding challenges to address deferred maintenance.

“It’s literally the cost of replacing many of our facilities that were built in the 50’s and 60’s,” Grogan said. “Many of them are aging at the same time.”

In neighboring San Jose, the maintenance backlog for the city’s parks alone is more than $544 million, city spokesperson Carolina Camarena estimated. And across the bay in Berkeley, the city’s unfunded infrastructure is expected to be $2.1 billion by the end of this fiscal year.

It’s a symptom of the suburban sprawl that ignited after World War II when the region began to boom and large swaths of single-family homes shot up. Whole neighborhoods of low density housing that stretched far across cities meant more roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure to maintain.

At the time, many cities relied on property taxes to generate revenues, said Michael Lane, the state policy director for urban think tank SPUR. But when California voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978, effectively limiting property tax increases, things changed.

It’s a symptom of the suburban sprawl that ignited after World War II when the region began to boom and large swaths of single-family homes shot up. Whole neighborhoods of low density housing that stretched far across cities meant more roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure to maintain.

At the time, many cities relied on property taxes to generate revenues, said Michael Lane, the state policy director for urban think tank SPUR. But when California voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978, effectively limiting property tax increases, things changed.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

Walters: Californians pay high gas prices and high gas taxes yet still drive on bad highways

To state the obvious, California motorists are experiencing one of the state’s periodic spikes in gasoline prices.

California’s average price for regular grade gas has again topped $5 a gallon, according to the most recent American Automobile Association report. It’s more than $6 in some areas. The average is up about 20 cents from a year ago and is about $1.50 higher than the national figure.

I can attest to the differential, having spent part of March driving some 3,000 miles through four western states, mostly to visit national parks, and buying about 200 gallons of fuel along the way. All of my fill-ups were under $3.50 a gallon, with the lowest price being $2.99 in Wyoming.

The difference between California prices and those in other states raises, for the umpteenth time, is the question of why it exists.

A couple of years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom spent months vilifying oil companies as price-gouging enemies of the people and demanded that the Legislature punish them with taxes on excess profits. He couldn’t win approval the tax proposal, switched to seeking civil penalties, and ultimately had to settle for relatively toothless legislation directing the state Energy Commission to gather data, establish a reasonable profit level and assess penalties for exceeding it.

“Finally, we’re in a position to look our constituents in the eye and say we now have a better understanding of why you’re being taken advantage of,” Newsom said a year ago as he signed the bill. “There’s a new sheriff in town in California, where we brought Big Oil to their knees. And I’m proud of this state.”

We have heard virtually nothing from officialdom about gas prices since, and Newsom apparently didn’t bring Big Oil to its knees.

The vast majority of the differential in gas prices between California and other states can be attributed to differing policies.

Severin Borenstein, a UC Berkeley economist regarded as the state’s leading expert on the issue, parsed the differential in a 2023 paper, pointing out that California’s direct and indirect taxes on fuel amount to nearly $1 per gallon – 70 cents higher than the national average in such taxes – and the state’s unique fuel blend to battle smog adds another dime.

That left what he calls the “mystery gasoline surcharge,” or MGS, of about 43 cents a gallon that cannot be directly attributed to oil prices or California’s taxes and other official factors. It may be a mystery, but at least some of it can be logically attributed to the relatively high costs of doing any kind of business in California – rents, electricity and other utilities, wages and regulatory overhead, for example.

Even if the MGS could be eliminated from the equation, California’s gas prices would still be at least $1 higher than those in other states.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Gov. Gavin Newsom: How to Destroy California in Less than 10 Years

The one thing Newsom is good at is destroying the Golden State

Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

If I was a “progressive” governor and wanted to destabilize and destroy my state, there are certain policies I would impose, and orders I’d make, while insulating myself from my own policies:

Create a housing shortage.

Cut water off to rural areas in the state; remove dams and hydroelectric plants.

Limit water deliveries to farmers and ranchers.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

Raise the minimum wage so high, restaurant owners are forced to lay off employees.

Pass policies killing manufacturing.

Pass policies bolstering a service economy.

Limit energy production to renewable energy only.

Limit gas and oil production creating a shortage, forcing people out of their cars and on to public transportation.

Order all internal combustion cars banned by 2035.

Mandate an all-electric state, including autos and trucks.

Install thousands of floating offshore wind turbines at a cost of $150 billion.

Legalize drugs.

Legalize sex with minors.

Legalize abortion up to baby’s birth.

Destroy the public education system by watering down actual disciplines of math and English, while sending your own children to private schools.

Promote affirmative action, racial preferences over merit.

Create fake crises – climate change, reparations.

Infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms by passing laws which nibble around the edges of the 2nd Amendment, creating defacto gun control.

Stop prosecuting crime.

Decriminalize certain crimes, resulting in emptying out state prisons.

Raise corporate taxes to discourage businesses from expanding.

Raise taxes and fees on public services and energy.

Raise income taxes on all income brackets.

Make it easier for local governments to raise taxes.

Impose a wealth tax.

Impose a death tax.

Force doctors to comply with state medical directives; punish those who refuse to comply.

Allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants into the state.

Provide free health care and welfare payments to illegal immigrants.

Allow illegal immigrants to vote in local elections.

Expand the size of government by hiring hundreds of thousands of state workers.

Create more labor unions jobs by expanding state government.

Encourage public schools to convince kids they are another gender; provide secret counseling to those kids; shelter kids from parents.

Limit media access in Capitol; reward compliant media.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan found guilty in sprawling City Hall corruption case

A jury delivered a swift and decisive judgment in a federal corruption case targeting former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, finding Wednesday that Chan secured bribes for himself and for former Councilmember Jose Huizar as part of a sprawling pay-to-play scheme.

Within a few hours, the jury found Chan guilty on 12 of 12 counts — racketeering conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and giving false statements to investigators — in a case focused on financial benefits provided by real estate developers with projects in Huizar’s district.

U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said Chan, 67, used his leadership role at City Hall to “favor corrupt individuals and companies willing to play dirty” to win approval of downtown high-rises. Residents of Los Angeles, Estrada said, deserved “much better.”

Click here to SUBSCRIBE to CA Political Review 

“With today’s verdict, we send a strong message that the public will not stand for corruption and that pay-to-play politics has no place in our community,” he said in a statement.

Chan worked for the city for more than three decades, much of it at the Department of Building and Safety, where he ascended to the top job. In 2016, he was hired by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti to serve as deputy mayor over economic development, supervising the Planning Department, Building and Safety, and other city agencies. He held that job for slightly more than a year.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 10.

Chan’s attorney, John Hanusz, said his client will be filing an appeal. Throughout the trial, he argued that Chan was not part of the criminal enterprise led by Huizar, who was recently sentenced to 13 years in prison on racketeering and tax evasion charges.

Huizar admitted last year that he received a wide array of bribes and other benefits from downtown developers, including gambling chips at casinos, flights on private jets, campaign contributions, luxury hotel stays, concert tickets and services from prostitutes.

“This case was, and always has been, about Jose Huizar,” Hanusz said.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors portrayed Chan as a crucial intermediary between Huizar, who wielded huge power over downtown development projects, and Chinese real estate developers.

In one particular scheme, prosecutors said, Chan helped Huizar secretly settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former aide. Billionaire Wei Huang, owner of the Chinese development company Shen Zhen New World I, provided Huizar with $600,000 in collateral that allowed Huizar to secure a bank loan and pay off the aide, they said.

Shen Zhen, owner of the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, later proposed a 77-story skyscraper that drew support from Huizar. The settlement money arrived at a crucial moment for the Eastside council member, who was running for reelection and facing a potentially formidable challenge from veteran former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

That settlement payment, FBI Special Agent Andrew Civetti testified earlier this week, “was at the heart of this investigation.”

At that time, Huizar feared the sexual harassment case would end his career, prosecution witnesses said. The source of the settlement money, kept secret during Huizar’s 2015 victorious reelection campaign, did not become public until five years later, after the first set of charges were filed in the Huizar investigation.

Wednesday’s guilty verdict also encompassed Chan’s dealings with another Chinese developer who sought to redevelop the Luxe Hotel, across from the L.A. Live entertainment complex. Prosecutors said Chan, while working for the city, helped set up a company that took the developer, Shenzhen Hazens, on as a client.

While working as deputy mayor, prosecutors said, Chan worked to line up support for the Luxe project. Former Planning Commission President David Ambroz testified last week that Chan pressured him to support the Luxe project during a one-on-one meeting away from City Hall — and sounded more like a “hired gun” for the project than a deputy mayor.

After leaving city employment, Chan received payment from the developer for his work moving the project through the city approval process, prosecutors said.

“He set himself up for a big payday … once he left the city,” said Asst. U.S. Atty. Cassie Palmer during closing arguments Tuesday.

The jury also found Chan guilty of helping secure a bribe from Shenzhen Hazens — a commitment of a $100,000 campaign contribution to support a bid for City Council by Huizar’s wife, Richelle Huizar. She later dropped out of the race.

Prosecutors said the push to elect Huizar’s wife was designed to help participants in the criminal enterprise, including Chan and Huizar, retain their power over downtown development.

Lawyers for Chan repeatedly sought to undermine the government’s case, saying that key prosecution witnesses had lied to FBI agents during the investigation and should not be deemed credible. Those witnesses later pleaded guilty and are hoping for leniency at their sentencings, the defense team said.

Yet another prosecution witness, businessman Andy Wang, has never been arrested or charged, even though he provided cash in envelopes to former Councilmember Mitchell Englander inside casino bathrooms, the defense team said.

Englander was sentenced in 2021 to 14 months in prison for lying to federal authorities about his dealings with Wang, who provided him $15,000 in secret payments, as well as an expensive night in Las Vegas.

Chan, while working closely with developers, was motivated not by greed but by a desire to make L.A. more business-friendly, Hanusz said. While Huizar and his associates accepted flights to Las Vegas, gambling chips, lavish hotel accommodations and escort services, Chan received none of those things, he said.

“There was no quid pro quo in this case with Ray Chan,” Hanusz told the jury. “With Jose Huizar, there absolutely was.”

Chan is the last defendant charged in the City Hall pay-to-play investigation — dubbed “Casino Loyale” by the federal government due to Huizar’s frequent Las Vegas trips — to go on trial.

George Esparza, Huizar’s onetime aide, pleaded guilty in 2020 to racketeering conspiracy but has not yet been sentenced. He testified against Chan, as did real estate consultant George Chiang, who worked with Chan and also pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

Shen Zhen New World I, the company that proposed the 77-story tower, was convicted in 2022 of providing Huizar a vast array of bribes. A judge later fined the company $4 million. Its owner, Wei Huang, fled the country and is now a fugitive, according to the Department of Justice.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times