Category Archives: California Blog

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.

How is “Affordable Housing” Working Out For You?

Legislators pass housing bills
Sacramento Bee: Legislators announce passage of bills

In 2016, there were 550,000 homeless people in the United States, mostly concentrated in large cities such as New York and Los Angeles.  California has the largest percentage of unsheltered (not in emergency shelters) homeless in the U.S. at 66%.  California has 22% of U.S. homeless population (in shelters and unsheltered), and 12% of the total U.S. population.

The currently accepted reason for California’s large homeless population is the state’s traditional resistance to population density — the Not In My Back Yard syndrome.  Therefore, the accepted remedy is to force all counties to build “enough” taxpayer subsidized housing.  However, one could observe other contributing factors:

* Destruction of small transient hotels, where low-income or no-income individuals and families called home.  Old timers will remember the last stand, the battle for survival of the International Hotel.  The low-income residents lost and the developers won.

* Explosive growth in drug use that interferes with gainful employment. Is anyone going after the real causes of the growth?

* Advent of central planning that mandated high population densities along transit corridors and designated large swaths of land as conservation or protected areas closed to development. Some call it the Watermelon Plan, green on the outside and red on the inside.

* Acceptance of words such as “displacement,” “housing rights,” “fair housing.”  Rejection of principles such as self reliance, freedom of movement, local control.  Maybe Orwell’s Animal Farm is no longer read in school.

* Utter rejection of the word “suburban sprawl.”  New rule:  everybody stay put.

One would think that as density rises in confined spaces, housing prices would rise.  Thus, all funding options should be viewed as ongoing and forever increasing – never “enough.”

On September 15, 2017, the open-ended nature of California’s “housing crisis” became clear.  Senate Bills SB 35, SB 2, and SB 3 passed the legislature, and are expected to be signed into law by Governor Brown.  SB 35 further moves decisions on housing from cities and counties to state.  SB 2 loads residents with more fees when they need to file a property-related document.  SB 3 funnels $4,000,000,000 in bond money into subsidized housing.  Supporters in the legislature say “It’s just a start.”

Mello-Roos Taxes and the Peanuts Syndrome

LucysFootball 3Lucy yanking the football just as Peanuts kicks – the iconic image created by the great Charles Schulz will forever live in the public consciousness as a badge of trusting souls. No matter how many times Lucy causes Peanuts to tumble as he kicks into empty space, Peanuts trust Lucy to keep the ball in place the next time.

We the People seem to have acquired the Peanuts syndrome.  No matter how many times legislation morphs into other than its intended purpose, We the People remain faithful to the idea that the next law or rule will fix what went wrong.  The immutable rule of legislation is that every law grows to include more stuff.  Eventually the original piece of legislation becomes something else.  Examples abound; but here, let’s talk about the Community Facilities Act, passed by the California legislature in 1982, better known as Mello-Roos to honor the act’s co-authors.

California’s 1978 Proposition 13 chocked off the flow of property tax money.  Predictably, instead of developing fiscal restraint, the legislature established other ways to tax homeowners.  Mello-Roos was enacted as a quasi parcel tax, not subject to Proposition 13, to provide funds for public infrastructure in newly-created development areas.  Not a particularly bad idea.  However, as time passed, Mello-Roos transformed, with significant transformations occurring since 2010.

Senate Bill 555 in 2011 further blurred the distinction, never quite clear, of what was truly a public facility or service and what was private by authorizing the financing of energy-efficient improvements on privately-owned property.  Assembly Bill 2618 in 2016 included seismic safety improvements to what could be financed.

Lawsuits have not been successful in curbing the morphing of Mello-Roos.  The Pacific Legal Foundation filed a suit on behalf of the Building Industry Association against the City of San Ramon, asserting that Mello-Roos applied only to new infrastructure created specifically for residents of a Mello-Roos district.  The court ruled that existing infrastructure was also covered, thereby breaking the link between the services and the residents paying for the services.

A high-profile expansion of Mello-Roos is the construction of San Francisco’s Transbay Center, located within a highly urbanized and dense Mello-Roos district.  Among the community benefits is a magnificent transit terminal that will include inter-city transportation service, leaving little connection between residents of the district and the services provided by the development.

Yet, residents of the Transbay Center Community Facilities District will still pay the Mello-Roos tax in addition to their regular property tax.  Lucy strikes again.