California: One Party-Rule and the Tipping Point

Has California reached the tipping point? The dictionary defines “tipping point” as “the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.”

And in California’s case, there have been enough onerous “small changes or incidents” that I believe residents are fast becoming sick and tired of the progressive policies and mindset that dominates Sacramento. Hopefully, they will take this discontent to the ballot box and finally put an end to the one-party rule that has destroyed so much of what we love and respect about our Golden State.

One-party rule — in which one party has a super majority in the state legislature big enough to pass legislation without any support from the opposing party — is never a good thing. It strikes at the heart of the checks and balances integral to our form of government, not a direct democracy, but, rather, a constitutional republic, in which citizens vote for officeholders and representatives responsible to them.

Despite Governor Gavin Newsom’s cheery platitudes about how good we’re doing, the truth is the quality of life in California is sliding downhill — and fast. And the culprit lies squarely at the heart of the Democratic Party, which for nearly a decade has held a supermajority in the statehouse and used its unchallenged control of California government to pass and implement “progressive” laws and policies that ignore basic economic principles and, in many cases, simple common sense.

California has the second-highest poverty rate in the country, at 18.2%, exceeded only by Washington, D.C.’s 18.4%, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure. The state income and sales tax rates also are among the highest in the country, while California comes in at a dismal №49 on U.S. News and World Report’s 2019 Best States ranking in the “opportunity” category.

California also leads the nation in homelessness, with more than 150,000 unsheltered individuals, nearly a quarter of the national total, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Again, blame Sacramento for liberalizing drug laws and opposing mandatory treatment for mental illness and drug addiction.

Not surprisingly, California also has the most expensive housing in the nation, with the median price of home over $600,000, more than twice the national average. This is due not just to ordinary market forces of supply and demand, but also to a harsh regulatory environment and a complicated, and expensive, approval process for new housing.

The answer, Sacramento Democrats, say, is more, not less, government. Determined to fulfill Governor Gavin Newsom’s goal to swiftly build 3.5 million new homes, lawmakers are pushing legislation that threatens to erode local control over zoning and density. One proposed law, SB 50, introduced by San Francisco-based Senator Scott Wiener, would require cities and counties to allow higher-density housing near job and transit centers. Huge apartment towers would be allowed in neighborhoods within a half mile of rail stations and other transit hubs, regardless of existing height and density limits — with no requirements for additional parking. And large tracts of single-family houses would be a thing of the past, with duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes allowed everywhere.

Wiener’s bill was mercifully defeated in a January Senate vote, but the lawmaker vows he will be back.

Sacramento Democrats also have declared war on Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 measure that limits property tax on real estate. The most direct assault is a new “split roll” ballot measure, slated for the November 2020 ballot, which would remove property tax limits on commercial real estate and raise up to $12 billion a year. The euphemistically titled “California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2020” is essentially another tax on business, since the higher property tax payments would be passed on to factories, stores and other lessees in the form of higher rents. Supporters include labor unions, teacher unions, and Democratic mayors.

There’s more. Roads are crumbling, while gasoline taxes continue to climb, as Sacramento declares war on the automobile and directs more and more funding toward public transit — which in a state known for sprawl and a varied topography simply doesn’t work for most people. Energy costs are also sky high, a product of progressive rules, regulations and policies meant to combat climate change. As the Orange County Register notes in an August 2019 editorial, “Lawmakers, through various mechanisms, have significantly driven up the cost of energy. They began and renewed cap-and-trade, which the Legislative Analyst’s Office forecasts will raise gasoline prices in the years ahead — so the state can keep pushing its bullet train, which is heavily dependent on cap-and-trade funding.”

And then there’s Sacramento’s rocky relationship with the business community. “California has many advantages over other states,” says the Orange County Register. “But rather than use those strengths to facilitate even greater economic activity, California’s politicians have instead exhibited a tendency to take California’s advantages as a given and use California’s businesses as piggy banks for their grand visions.”

In CNBC’s annual state-by-state “business climate” study, California is ranked in last place. And in its 2019 State Business Tax Climate Index, the Tax Foundation ranks California as having the second worst overall business tax climate in the country.

“Then consider the costs of doing business in a state consistently ranked by the American Tort Reform Association as the nation’s leading ‘judicial hellhole,’ where businesses are routinely forced to fend off lawsuits,” the Orange County Register editorial says. “Add in costs imposed by the California Environmental Quality Act, which desperately needs revamping, and you have a splendid mix of laws and regulations that would give even the heartiest business owner pause.”

The Democrats in Sacramento also are responsible for the reversal of several decades of declining crime rates. Proposition 47, approved by voters in November 2014 and championed by both the state Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union, reduced certain non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. The flawed initiative was presented to voters as a mechanism to free up resources for police and prosecutors so they could focus on violent offenders. In truth, Prop 47 has effectively given shoplifters and addicts the green light to commit crimes as long as the merchandise they steal or the drugs they take are worth less than $950 — which has led to a flurry of “grab and dash” thefts from retail stores near freeways from crooks who know police won’t risk high-speed chases for misdemeanors. Former San Diego police chief Shelley Zimmerman described Proposition 47 as “a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card,” while in 2018 the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank, credited the law with a 9% spike in property crimes, mostly thefts from motor vehicles.

More damage was done by the November 2016 passage of Proposition 57, a measure to ease prison overcrowding championed by then-Governor Jerry Brown as a big step forward for the criminal justice reform movement. The law provides for the early parole of anyone convicted of a nonviolent felony offense; one of the law’s biggest problems is that what constitutes a nonviolent offense is not clearly defined. As the San Diego Union-Tribune noted in a February 2018 editorial ripping what it called a “deeply flawed measure,” Brown’s aides acknowledged to a newspaper columnist “that under Proposition 57, such brutal crimes as rape of an unconscious person or violent child abuse were classified as ‘nonviolent.’ That’s because they were not included among the crimes specified as violent felonies in section 667.5 of the California Penal Code….”

Then there’s California’s misguided “sanctuary state” law, which flew through the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Brown in October 2017 — despite heavy opposition from law enforcement.

What’s officially known as SB 54 prohibits local and state agencies from cooperating with ICE regarding illegal criminals who have committed misdemeanors. The law restricts most notifications to ICE upon an inmate’s release to the most seriously violent offenders.

Just this month, the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles reported that the number of inmates with immigration detainers being arrested again after being released from jail has jumped, according to a new report from Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.

In a statement, the sheriff said, “SB 54 has made our community less safe. The law has resulted in new crimes because my deputies were unable to communicate with their federal partners about individuals who committed serious offenses and present a threat to our community if released. The two-year social science experiment with sanctuary laws must end.”

According to Barnes, more than 1,500 inmates released in 2019 had ICE detainers, a request from the federal agency for notification that a particular inmate has been released. Of those inmates, 238 were re-arrested in Orange County for new crimes, including assault and battery, rape, and robbery.

Propositions 47 and 57 also have contributed to a spike in street homelessness. Over the last few years, tent cities have sprung up in urban centers as well as along bike and hiking trails in state and county parks. According to the latest estimates, more than 150,000 California residents sleep in shelters, cars, or out on the street. The United Nations compares tent encampments in San Francisco to the slums of New Delhi and Mexico City, while the notorious Skid Row in Los Angeles — created by a failed 1975 “containment” policy — now counts over 5,000 “residents.” Homeless encampments have spilled over into virtually every part of the city, even posh Bel Air, where a homeless cooking fire caused the December 2017 Skirball fire.

In the 2000s, federal courts repeatedly upheld civil rights challenges to the city cracking down on the homeless without providing shelter space. And in 2006, Los Angeles settled litigation with the ill-advised Jones agreement, which allows homeless people to sleep overnight on sidewalks. As the Los Angeles Times observed in February 2018, “The agreement set the stage for today’s encampment explosion.”

Matters weren’t helped last December, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the city of Boise, Idaho’s appeal of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that cities cannot prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if there is nowhere else for them to go.

Los Angeles and other big cities in California are on a mad scramble for shelter beds and even permanent housing, but that approach fails to take into account that study after study has found that the majority of the “unsheltered” homeless are suffering from mental illness or addictions who would rather sleep out on the street or in parks than adhere to shelter or housing rules. As NBC Los Angeles reported in December 2019, “As the city spends more than a billion dollars to build new shelters and housing for the homeless, it’s tough to convince many to accept the idea of living indoors. The station quoted one such homeless man as saying, “I’m not on parole or probation. I’m a free man. I want to be treated like a free man. You living in a shelter — it’s like you living in jail. You gotta be told what to do.”

The solution, critics say: mandatory incarceration and treatment, not an easy task in California, where liberal activists urge “compassion” and “empathy” and progressive reformers have liberalized drug laws and opposed mandatory treatment for mental illness and drug addiction.

Not that there are many mental health facilities left. Beginning in the late 1950s, “California became the national leader in aggressively moving patients from state hospitals to nursing homes and board-and-care homes, known in other states by names such as group homes, boarding homes, adult care homes, family care homes, assisted living facilities, community residential facilities, adult foster homes, transitional living facilities, and residential care facilities,” E. Fuller Torrey writes in his book American Psychosis. “Hospital wards closed as the patients left. By the time Ronald Reagan assumed the governorship in 1967, California had already deinstitutionalized more than half of its state hospital patients. That same year, California passed the landmark Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act, which virtually abolished involuntary hospitalization except in extreme cases. Thus, by the early 1970s California had moved most mentally ill patients out of its state hospitals and, by passing LPS, had made it very difficult to get them back into a hospital if they relapsed and needed additional care.”

In Los Angeles, the Times noted in February 2018, “The problem has only gotten worse since Mayor Eric Garcetti took office in 2013 and a liberal Democratic supermajority emerged in 2016 on the county Board of Supervisors.

Tent cities stretch from the Antelope Valley desert to the Santa Monica coast…. People in Koreatown step outside their fancy condos to find tents, rotting food and human feces at their doorsteps. Buses and trains have become de facto shelters, and thousands of people sleep in fear and degradation.”

The latest crime against the people of the state of California is a misguided bit of legislation called AB5, an assembly bill introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a former union organizer, on behalf of big labor. This horrendous new law, which went into effect January 1, forces businesses that use independent contractors to reclassify those workers as employees. It set up an “ABC” test for determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors, with the “B” question prohibiting companies from using independent contractors unless the performed work is “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.”

The law’s purpose, critics charge, is nothing more than to grow union membership. AB5 has provoked a huge backlash from thousands of independent contractors across the state, many of whom have already lost work. AB5 is being challenged in the courts by ride-sharing company Uber, delivery service Postmates, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), and others. The suit by freelance journalists and photographers came a day after New York-based Vox Media ended contracts with hundreds of freelancers in California who write for the sports blog network SB Nation.

The California Trucking Association, representing some 70,000 independent truck drivers, also filed a lawsuit and two weeks after the law took effect was granted a preliminary injunction by a federal judge.

The fallout from AB5 is so severe that Gonzalez is now promising revisions and exemptions — in what critics say is a desperate move to save her political career (she’s reportedly eyeing a run for Secretary of State). But many critics won’t settle for anything short of a complete repeal — which Republicans are trying to do but without Democratic support have virtually no chance of success.

And Democratic support for a repeal is unlikely to come, observers say, since unions pay a big chunk of their campaign costs.

Welcome to the Golden State.

Homeless encampment along the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail in Sacramento.

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