The Brown Act Is a Gag Rule

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The Ralph M. Brown Act, first approved in 1953, is celebrated for its supposed guarantees that we citizens have a voice in the decisions of all our local governments.

But today, it is little more than a gag rule.

Over the past six decades, the Brown Act—famous for its guarantee of a 72-hour notice for public meetings—has become a civic Frankenstein, threatening the very public participation it was intended to protect.

The act’s requirements of advance notice before local officials hold a meeting has mutated into strict limitations on the ability of local officials to have any kind of frank conversation with one another, even over email. Brown Act requirements that we, the public, be allowed to weigh in at meetings have been turned against us, by way of a standardized three-minute-per-speaker limit at the microphone that encourages rapid rants and discourages real conversation between local officials and the citizens they represent.

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Rent Control’s Dirty Little Secrets

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

The debate over rent control has been predictable.  On one side, lower-income activists (proponents) argue it’s the only counter to soaring, increasing, unaffordable rents.  They insist on arbitrary caps on rents, regardless of the consequences.  On the other side, housing providers (opponents) assert damage to their bottom line and their diminished ability to offer adequate shelter.

But, what about tenants?  How are they helped by a policy as harsh and absolute as rent control?  Not well, according to California’s and the nation’s experience with rent control.  Advocates of rent control assert they need the policy to help people of color and lower-income households.  But, what do the data show?  Let’s take a look.

First, the argument goes, rent control – by limiting what a property owner can charge for rent – delivers a benefit to lower-income residents.  Is that true?  No.  Despite suggestions by advocates that the “equity” of the policy, rent control is not means-tested.  That is, nowhere are rents set as affordable to families based on their incomes.  Rents are simply and arbitrarily held below the market.  And, due to the policy’s chill on new rental housing construction – and a vanishing supply of housing – choices are made fewer for lower-income families. 

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Legislature is Ignoring Lessons of the Housing Bubble – And It’s Going to Hurt Californians

Herman Gallegos is a co-founder of the National Council of La Raza. John Gamboa is a co-founder of The Greenlining Institute. Jennifer Hernandez is a partner at Holland & Knight.

Californians learned something profound about the perils of housing insecurity when the housing bubble burst almost ten years ago. Foreclosures and evictions devastated the finances of millions of families, of course, wiping out the savings of entire generations. But as researchers began to sift through the wreckage of the recession, they found the acute anxiety generated by the loss of a home—along with the more general financial insecurity associated with struggling to pay for housing—had serious health impacts as well, from psychological disorders and substantial declines in physical health (including high blood pressure, depression, and increased obesity risk) to increased crime and child maltreatment.

The 2008 housing crisis literally made us sicker—even for those who just lived close to someone who lost their home or defaulted on their mortgage. Unaffordable housing, in other words, impacts everyone.

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A stronger Zero Emission Vehicle program will help us all breathe easier

Afif El Hasan, MD
Dr. Afif El-Hasan is a pediatrician practicing in Orange County, California. He serves on the governing board of the American Lung Association in California.

As a doctor in Southern California specializing in pediatric asthma, I see the toll pollution from petroleum-based cars, trucks and buses takes on children’s health every day. Air pollution makes kids sick. They miss school, and their parents miss work, so air pollution can threaten a child’s health and educational development and a family’s financial stability. It can even kill.

Across our state, pollution from petroleum-based transportation is largely to blame for our air quality problems. In Southern California, nearly 90 percent of pollution in the region comes from mobile sources, inflicting significant costs. A recent report by the American Lung Association in California, “Clean Air Future,” found that every year, passenger vehicle emissions cost California residents $15 billion in health and climate expenses from smog, soot and climate pollution.

To bring it down to a personal level, consider this: the Lung Association study found that each 16-gallon tank of gas costs society about $18.42 in health and climate-impact costs – from hospitalizations and premature deaths, to crop losses and the increased costs of droughts and severe weather in a warming world. 

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What Kind of Compromise is Key to Fixing Roads?

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

At a press event for the Fix Our Roads coalition on Monday, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti called on legislators to compromise on legislation to fix the state’s roads and highways. But what kind of compromise is needed to secure funding? Is compromise contemplated to include Republican ideas, or is compromise just between the Democratic legislators who see tax and fee increases as the solution and Democrats who demand more spending in their districts?

Frankly, if there is no compromise over transportation infrastructure funding there is little hope that compromise can be found on any issue under the capitol dome. All sides in the political struggle agree something must be done to fix the state’s roads and infrastructure. It’s important for business, it’s important for workers, and it’s important for anyone who deals with the state’s congested highways.

The disagreement is how.

The fact is that much is needed to fix the state’s infrastructure. That includes spending more wisely and spending current transportation related dollars on the roads. Republicans have offered ideas to audit transportation funding and use funds like truck weight fees exclusively on the roads.

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To Grow California’s Economy, Legislature Must Act to Stop Junk Lawsuits

Kerry Jackson
Kerry Jackson is a Fellow at the California Center for Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

California’s business climate is more predictable than its weather. It’s always one storm after the other. Companies relocate to states where they are welcomed rather than vilified and preyed upon. Capital is moved to more jobs-friendly states. Productive workers just get out, or are left behind with few good opportunities to prosper in their field.

There are several causes, but one factor is the state’s overly litigious culture. The American Tort Reform Foundation branded California as the country’s No. 1 state-level “judicial hellhole” in its 2016-2017 report, and the nation’s overall judicial hellhole in its 2015-2016 report. It’s a dishonor the state also held in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. The Foundation reports that every year a million lawsuits are filed in state courts, one lawsuit for every 39 Californians. Tens of thousands more are filed in federal courts across the state.

California is a sanctuary state for the litigious. National Public Radio has reported that more than 40 percent of the nation’s disability access lawsuits are brought in California. The American Tort Reform Foundation says, “the principal reason the claims are so prevalent in California is that they can be brought by plaintiffs with various alleged disabilities under a combination of both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state civil rights law, which allows for damages and attorney’s fees.”

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Adequate Cal State Funding Can Ease Teacher Shortage

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman.

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman.

California has a severe shortage of teachers and one of the reasons we aren’t producing more instructors is the failure to adequately fund the California State University system—the primary pipeline for training members of the teaching profession.

Numbers tell the story.  This state ranks last in the country in teacher to student ratios.  We are 100,000 teachers short of what it would take just to get up to the national average.  And it will take another 106,000 teachers over the next ten years to simply keep up current staffing levels.  A survey of California school districts found that 75% are experiencing teacher shortages.  Obviously, we are going to have to bring more trained teachers into the system and that is where CSU comes in.

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Small Business Will Benefit with Changes to Health Care Law

Congressman Kevin McCarthy
Majority Leader, United States Congress

As I announced last week, the House will vote on the American Health Care Act this week to repeal and replace Obamacare. But as you know, reconciliation does not allow us to put everything we need into the bill.

So we’re actually starting on separate legislation. As we said, this is three phases. We’ll start with phase three beginning now. We’ll first have the Competitive Health Insurance Act. As you know, Obamacare has destroyed the marketplace. One-third of all the counties in this country only have one choice. That also creates a monopoly. Some counties have no insurers, and the government wants to penalize you because you can’t even buy it. Obamacare created 23 co-ops. Gave them more than $2 billion. Eighteen of those have already collapsed. So the goal is to provide federal anti-trust scrutiny to an industry that is becoming increasingly concentrated.

Second, we’ll consider the Small Business Health Fairness Act. We talk so much about letting small businesses pool together, but we also talk about across state lines. This allows small businesses to pool together and go across state lines.

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San Francisco Officials Are Chasing Rabbits

David Crane
Lecturer and Research Scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California

San Francisco’s pension costs are expected to rise three times faster than revenues over the next five years (see “Even San Francisco, Flush With Tech Wealth, Has Pension Problems,” Bloomberg) but another disclosure in the city’s latest Five-Year Financial Plan is equally troublesome:

  • Pension costs, which had already increased 5x in the ten years to FY2015, were projected by the last Five-Year Financial Plan to peak in FY2015;
  • But the new Plan says those projections were wrong:
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SB 54 Makes California a Sanctuary for Dangerous Criminals

Assemblyman Jim Patterson
Assembly Member Jim Patterson represents the 23rd District, which includes portions of Fresno and Tulare counties.

California’s Sanctuary State legislation was noticeably absent from the Senate floor Monday. Last week it passed in the Senate Appropriations Committee after some deceptive changes were made in a cynical move to fool people into thinking it would keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

Sacramento’s dance of deceit is in full view here. They don’t tell you that there’s a long list of felons who will be shielded from deportation under SB 54. Even with the changes, this bill doesn’t protect anyone except illegal criminals charged with doing things like shooting up someone’s home, human trafficking or raping an unconscious person.

In fact, there are a whole host of repeat criminals like these that county sheriffs won’t be able to report to immigration officials. If someone is here illegally and is convicted of manslaughter, or is a repeat drunk driver, SB 54 will stop sheriffs from turning them in to the feds for deportation.

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