Category Archives: California Blog

California Senate Bill 1424 Needs Bloggers’ Attention

Whose job is to determine what is fake news, entertainment, or new ideas worthy of consideration?

California Senator Richard Pan seems to believe it is government’s job to do so. His recently introduced Senate Bill 1424 has gone through several amendments, resulting in what is now in committee process.  The current version of the bill is simply a proposal to form an advisory group within the California Attorney General’s office to study fake news to purportedly prevent its spread.  Really?  Read more.

California Schools: Dreadful by Choice

The City & County of San Francisco adequately reflects Sacramento’s inept approach to governing: tax and spend as much as possible on ineffectual projects. The City’s Board of Education operates on the same principle. Here are some quotes.

George Washington High School, in San Francisco’s Richmond District, is among the public schools in The City that bears the name of a historical figure with a questionable legacy. Photo caption. S.F. Examiner, May 14, 2018.

This discussion of changing names of public institutions and taking down public statues, particularly ones that serve to honor the Confederacy, has become more prominent across the country, especially with the rise of white supremacists who have been given implicit and explicit permission to come out in the open to display their bigotry by our so-called president. Opinion piece by by Stevon Cook and Mark Sanchez, S.F. Examiner, May 14, 2018.

The San Francisco Board of Education is at present considering a blue-ribbon panel composed of historians and other luminaries to review all San Francisco government schools that bear names declared inappropriate. For example, George Washington High School will be considered for a name change, since an old white slave owner simply does not fit into San Francisco Values.

Right about now, George Orwell is saying I told you so, and reminding us that, “Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past.”

Available information does not specify whether these blue-ribbon panelists will receive taxpayer-funded stipends or expense reimbursements; although the panelists will certainly place taxpayers on the hook for the considerable costs of changing the schools’ name signs, letter heads, forms, documents, websites, email addresses, and whatever else bears old names.

Distract When You Cannot Deliver

We need to place the School Board’s resolution in context. California government schools are at the bottom of the national rankings. The ability to read proficiently is a key element in an individual’s ability to lead a self-directed life. Yet only 32% of 8th grade California students read at or above proficiency level. Given such an abysmal score, why are any resources spent on changing names of schools and not on finding new and more efficient ways of teaching children to read?

The school name change effort, like the statue demolition or the focus on movements, serves the system well. While parents and voters are embroiled in discussions about how horrible George Washington was, they are not paying attention to the fact their kids can’t read proficiently.

Although parental involvement in California government schools is not outstanding, the system has succeeded in distracting parents that do get involved. For example, Brea Olinda parents have become distressed about the name of one of their schools, William E. Fanning Elementary School, saying Mr. Fanning represents a racist past. All this angst in spite of the Brea Historical Society’s curator reporting that “the case for saying Fanning was a Klan member is flimsy at best.”

Scapegoating the Poor and the Immigrants

California government school bureaucrats are quick to excuse themselves from their responsibility of delivering proper education by quoting the high percentage of lower-income and non-English speaking students in the government school system. So, are these bureaucrats saying that lower-income and non-English speakers are less able to learn than other students? If so, that is unfortunate.

The nation’s Founding Fathers encouraged awareness and learning as means of preserving the Republic. That is, a Republic depends on its residents’ ability to remain self-sufficient, so that government remains within the boundaries prescribed by its Constitution. The Founders’ vision of education was further expanded by Horace Mann, who said,

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men — the balance wheel of the social machinery.

Mann visualized the child of more affluent parents and the child of working-class parents coming into a class-blind arena, where he would be motivated to learn the skills necessary to achieve his chosen goal. Whether the child chose to be a scientist or an artisan, educators would support the child’s inclinations.  Mann went as far as to say that such widespread education targeted to each child’s strength would erase poverty.

… the sufficiency, comfort, competence, of every individual, in regard to food, raiment, and shelter. And these necessaries and conveniences of life should be obtained by each individual for himself, or by each family for themselves, rather than accepted from the hand of charity, or extorted by poor-laws.

California government schools not only fail to teach children to read proficiently, but also blame the children for it. What to do?

Ella T. v. State of California

Two well-established law firms, Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster, filed Ella T. v. State of California in Los Angeles Superior Court on December 5, 2017. The case, brought under the California Constitution, claims the right of all students to access literacy and receive schooling equal to that of other students in the State of California. The lawsuit demands that schools adopt the following:

* Evidence-based literacy instruction at the elementary and secondary level.
* A stable, supported, and appropriately trained teaching staff.
* Opportunities for parents and families to engage in students’ literacy education.
* School conditions that promote readiness for learning.

A hearing date is scheduled for later in May, 2018.

Alternative Learning

People come in different shapes, sizes, and types. Therefore, to place a group of children in a confined space and expect them to follow the space’s strict rules borders on insanity. Yet, traditional government schools do just that. However, they offer and allow some choices within the otherwise rigid setting.

* Charter Schools:
Publicly funded, but have more control over academic achievement and school management than traditional government schools.

* Homeschooling:
California allows for ways that parents can teach their children at home: through an existing private school, through a public charter or independent study program, and in many instances by opening their own private home based school.

* Language Immersion:
Designed for children whose primary language is English, these schools teach all or most subjects in another language.

* Magnet Schools:
Specialize in specific subjects, such as art or science, and children need to prove their inclination towards those subjects.

* Public Montessori
Associated with the American Montessori Society, these schools follow the Montessori “child-centric” method, which assumes all children are curious and will learn if their curiosity is property encouraged.

Kids Cannot Fight on Their Own

Little kids learning the basics of reading, writing, and math cannot fight for their rights to be taught by competent and caring educators. Kids need grownups in their lives to fight for them. Not an easy feat when parents must work two jobs to make ends meet, or one parent is the sole breadwinner.  Being involved is a difficult but crucial balancing act.

Education Book Report 2
This book report by a 3rd grader is part of the Exhibits in the Ella T v. California law suit.

 

Divide and Conquer: Now it’s NIMBY vs. YIMBY

Divide and Conquer GoetheNever let a crisis go to waste. And if there is no crisis, start one. When fomenting a crisis, it helps to encourage group identification, then to pit one group against another. This has been the modus operandi of political leaders going all the way back to Philip II, whose maxim “divide and conquer” served him well in transforming self-governing city states into one big Macedonian kingdom.

The latest California crisis (besides the coastal progressives’ obsession with “resisting” something or other in Washington DC they are not supposed to like) is housing, and the latest division is between NIMBYs and YIMBYs.

The Not In My Backyard faction identifies with older residents who like the way things are in their neighborhood. They like their neighborhood’s “character,” they own or hope someday to own a single-family home with a backyard, they prefer not to take public transit, and they fiercely defend their turf from outsiders who feel entitled to change it. Bastions of NIMBYism, such as the Bay Area’s Marin County and San Francisco’s Westside, have traditionally used city and county zoning to preserve their neighborhoods.

The current California YIMBY movement goes back only to 2014, with the founding of BARF, Bay Area Renters’ Federation, by a charming and articulate former math teacher by the name of Sonja Trauss. In a 2015 article, What’s Your Housing Utopia, Sonja states her case unequivocally,

I want the market to provide a unit I can afford… I want to consume housing the way I consume all other products: Buy used, old or out of fashion, buy scratched and dented, buy odd lots, split the cost with friends… How do we get market rate housing for all markets? Step One: End the shortage. If we need 100,000 units, we have a lot of work ahead of us. If you’re involved in opposing a new housing project, stop, just stop. Our need for housing at all price levels far outstrips our supply at any level. Are you preoccupied with whether the new units “match” the rest of the neighborhood? Matching is for your belt and your shoes. Housing supply is a serious problem. If you’re sentimental about the past, swallow your tears.”

Then there is SPUR, San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, renamed from San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association in 1977, after the razing in the 1960s of San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the name of “urban renewal.” Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of SPUR, elevates the NIMBY/YIMBY war to the level of opposing views on private property – homes as property purchased and owned by someone vs. homes as infrastructure provided to all regardless of means.

I think there are more people understanding housing as a social-justice issue. While they might not like their communities changing with higher-density buildings, more people understand that they are necessary to live up to our values as progressives.

A recent article in the neighborhood newspaper, The Westside Observer reports on a community meeting discussion on California Senate Bill 827, which would mandate construction of buildings up to eight stories high along all transportation routes – bus routes as well as fixed rail – regardless of local zoning or neighborhood character.

What had started out as a community meeting slowly became a referendum on the land value of homes and apartments that younger generations would like to take away from older generations — right now!

The war, yet another identity-politics war, is on. Absent politicians never letting a crisis resolve itself peacefully, NIMBYs and YIMBYs, in spite of their vastly different outlook and needs, might have worked things out. However, that is not to be.

If we understand what is going on, we can choose our political leaders and our legislation with an eye to rejecting continuing crises provoked by identity wars. We can choose instead peacemakers who can encourage local solutions and compromises that offer remedies to challenges.

California’s Vanishing Neighborhoods

California is labeled a “progressive” state by mild voices and a “Marxist” state by more aggressive voices. Interestingly, the true progressives/Marxists occupy only a thin strip of land along California’s coast, but are so numerous they are the state’s deciders. Even within the progressive/Marxist coast, there are small pockets of conservatives that, for the most part, have little say.

However, once in a while, the fiscally conservative, free market, private property loving silent minority rises up in fury and hits the tax-and-spenders where they hurt – the ballot box. They rose up in 1978 and passed Proposition 13, which ended the bountiful distribution of property owners’ hard-earned cash. They rose up in 2003, and engineered the successful recall of Governor Grey Davis, who had plunged the state into a squabbling war among special interests. They helped elect Donald Trump in 2016. They are not happy campers today, and seemingly ready for another “Revolt” like the one in 1978.

Outside of progressives/Marxist eyes, observers can cite ample reasons for another cultural uprising: generous largess supported by high taxes, continuous mandates voiding local decision making, mounting state debt, an army of bureaucrats earning six-figure salaries, a legion of unelected officials doing what elected officials should be doing, and the huge elephant in the room that will not budge – uncontrollable unfunded public pension liabilities that have crowded out basic services.

Of this laundry list of grievances, one seems to stand out: state mandates that obliterate the ability of local property owners to decide the character of their neighborhoods. By character, residents mean appearance, density, tranquility, safety, ease of using one’s transportation of choice.

Sacramento has been cranking out legislation that allocates specific numbers of new housing units to each jurisdiction, requires such allocated housing to be built for all income levels in all neighborhoods, and voids decisions by local planners.

The latest example is Senate Bill 827 introduced January 3, 2018, requiring dense housing at all income levels within one-half mile of a bus stop, regardless of neighborhood. The proposal, supported by the now ubiquitous YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard), elicited this furious comment on the Crenshaw Subway website,

Like the Colonizers before them, YIMBYs claim the ‘Hood as Theirs! The bill is backed by group that calls themselves YIMBYs, which stands for “Yes in my backyard.” Like the colonizers whose agenda they seek to replicate, it takes a certain entitlement/ supremacist mindset to call a community they didn’t grow up in, don’t live in or are new to as “theirs.” It’s NOT their backyard – it’s ours. And we’re not about to give it up. WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED!

Ouch! The fury continues with a list of obvious housing injustices ignored by YIMBYs, such as,

…they could care less about the predatory lending that led to the greatest evisceration of Black wealth in decades – it wasn’t their grandma whose mortgage became unaffordable overnight.

The article ends with a battle cry,

It is time that we put our war paint on, soldiers. SB 827 is bill that must be killed.

Another piece of legislation particularly disliked by conservatives and small businesses is Senate Bill 1, signed into law in April 2017, mandating a $0.12 per gallon increase in gasoline taxes. SB1 claims roads and bridges have been long neglected and need funding to upgrade.

However, there is enough talk in the bill of “sustainable communities” and “greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets,” code words for top-down mandates from Sacramento, to have elicited a proposed voter initiative that as of this writing has achieved over 25% of signatures required for ballot status. “Repeal the Gas Tax” would require that all increases in gas taxes be presented to voters from approval, including that included in SB1.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses issued the following statement in opposition to SB 1,

NFIB/CA is opposed to this Main Street Menace, which adds 12 cents per gallon in new taxes to gasoline, which is already the most expensive in the country. It also increases the high price of diesel by a whopping 22 cents per gallon, and adds $70 in new registration fees to each vehicle. These new taxes are supposed to be used to fix California’s ailing highways, a problem that government has failed to address for decades. The politicians have diverted budget money to other pet projects for years and now want consumers and businesses to pony up more hard-earned dollars to bail them out without offering real reforms.

Ford GoBike
Is this legislators’ idea of upgrading California’s infrastructure?

Politicians’ favorite “pet projects” are the “sustainable communities” mandates conservatives do not like either.

If the gas tax repeal initiative gets on the ballot, and passes, progressives/Marxists, as well as YIMBY “colonizers,” will likely experience great distress, since the event could signal the first salvo of the The New Tax Revolt.

Enough of Taxes?

Jerry Brown and Howard Jarvis
1978 photo of Jerry Brown and Howard Jarvis observing the passage of Proposition 13

In June of 1978, California became a different state. Property owners revolted. They refused to continue to be viewed as the state’s ATM. Proposition 13 passed with nearly two-thirds voter approval. But, alas, legislators were not to be thwarted in their tax and spend routines. So, state taxes increased to fill the void, with some unbeneficial consequences such as state control of school districts and other local services.

Today, California is at a crossroads. Income, sales, and fuel taxes are among the highest in the nation, while public debt and unfunded public pension liabilities soar. Voters will need to choose to either repeal or reform Proposition 13 and open the floodgates of property taxation, or tie the hands of tax and spenders in order to force them to put their house in order.

Howard Jarvis once stood at the barricades and said enough is enough. His efforts led to the passage of Proposition 13. Nearly 40 years later, could the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association be at the forefront of another tax revolt, one that would lead to the lower taxes that could bring back the corporations and the productive workers that have fled the state? Can the HJTA lead a tax revolt that will prevent California from going the way of Detroit and now Chicago? Where do you stand? Can the HJTA count on you? Read the article: Don’t Let California Become Chicago.

Obscene Salaries and Fire Deaths

California is a tinderbox, regularly a source of conflagration aided by misguided land management and obscene budgets. Here are quotes from email discussion participants on different subjects, that when presented together paint a sad picture of the state.

* From someone who thankfully evacuated safely from the recent Northern California fires – pictures of the burned out Fire Station and comment:

20171107_171942

20171107_172037“The untold story is about the undone and untimely fire suppression, fueling the firestorm. This was the same fire as the 1964 Hanley fire, when no one died. But, today’s safety budgets put only a fraction of safety personnel on the job for the appropriation. Instead, there are obscene salaries and pensions consuming the budget. The people who perished in Coffee Park were burned by the fire that started two hours earlier and 18 miles away.”

* From someone who follows the state’s budgets, especially salaries and pensions:

“I understand the state has a legal mandate to funnel 40% of state income taxes to the educational/UC system. In reality, they are getting over 55% of taxes now. The educrats are enjoying criminally luxurious compensation because of this, while students also get to go into debt paying tuition for nothing more in return. A colleague sent this article below out, what I believe is representative of California’s government problems. Please put this link up on any blogs, mailing lists you may have.”

From the article in question:

“Officials in the University of California president’s office improperly interfered with a state audit of UC finances, instructed campuses not to ‘air dirty laundry’ in an audit survey, and misled the regents about why they did it, according to an investigative report reviewed Tuesday by The Chronicle….

…The overall audit [preceding the survey audit] found that the president’s office had accumulated $175 million in funds it hadn’t disclosed to the public, had paid its staff far higher than comparable state employees, and had relied on weak budget practices that kept the regents unclear about how money was spent.”

* Let’s connect some dots, and vote responsibly when requests for funds are on the ballot.

How is a Police State Created?

Silicon Valley SurveillanceCalifornia is ground zero for an incipient Police State, so say recent news stories in several publications, including California Political News and Views and Reason.com. View the short video on Reason.com. Understand how a Police State grows in increments.

Today, those increments are most prevalent in technology hubs like Silicon Valley. Technology has afforded us unparalleled conveniences. It also has created unmatched surveillance. DHS, NSA, CIA, FBI, TSA and other three-letter agencies claim to keep us safe through technology. Such technology relies on massive data gathering – your purchases online, your birthday wishes to your grandkids on Facebook, your wedding pictures on Instagram, your rant about lousy government schools on Reddit, and your biometrics captured by cameras pretty much anywhere.

The articles mentioned above focus on Palantir Technologies, a data crunching company that happens to believe that helping government make sense of data gathered from citizens guards civil liberties.

As an aside, Palantir is also the magic seeing stone from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy legendarium. Fantasy is what we get from those who assure us that data gathering from ordinary citizens serves to keep us safe, or that helping government parse data into categories of the snooped protects civil liberties.

Track record is best evidence. What has technology done with cookies – simply ensure you can successfully navigate from page to page on a website? No, cookies cling to your navigation, recording every website you visit, ready to serve as witness when you suddenly become persona non grata.  How about the Berlin Wall, the physical example offered in the Reason video. The Wall did not just pop up, but developed as papers were required of everyone crossing the border, checkpoints became formalized, folks became accustomed to being tracked. Then came the Wall.