California’s Homeless Moment

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)

How did homelessness suddenly become such a hot issue across California? There are many reasons, few of which have anything to do with people who are homeless.

Those reasons—economic anxiety, budget surpluses, tax schemes, housing prices, prison reform, health care expansion, urban wealth and political opportunism—have combined to create today’s “homeless moment” in California.

For decades, combating homelessness has been a civic obsession in the San Francisco Bay Area, with its long tradition of progressive politics and generous homeless services. Now, that homeless hubbub has spread statewide. To the surprise of many at the state Capitol, a $2 billion bond to pay for housing for the mentally ill homeless—previously a backburner issue in tax-and-education-obsessed Sacramento—became a central focus of this month’s budget negotiations. And around the state, local law enforcement officials have stirred the pot by claiming that recent measures to reduce the California prison population have exacerbated the homeless problem.

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Primary Vote Signals Trouble for CA GOP Congress Members

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

With Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter running away from the presumptive nominee, there is a panic at the GOP’s congressional committee, the NRCC. It’s very unlikely that Democrats sweep the 30 seats needed to give Nancy Pelosi the gavel again, but there are seats in play that weren’t a few months ago.

Nobody expected this conversation in this decade following the 2001 redistricting, but here we are. I’ve written before that Democrats were unlikely to capture the House until 2022, but that assertion now must be questioned.

However, nobody expected the number of California Republican members to be in the low-to-mid 50s after the primary. Money needs to go now to Calvert, Hunter, Knight, Valadao, and Walters. These are mostly safe GOP districts (aside from Knight), but the signals are debunking the conventional wisdom. And, then there is Issa, who had perhaps the worst showing for what should be a safe Republican seat, but also is the wealthiest member of Congress.

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I Know I Can Keep That November Ballot Straight

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)

I’m a conscientious California voter, and I take seriously my responsibility to vote on all the ballot initiatives and other measures that people far richer and more powerful than me say are really important.

The first step in fulfilling my civic duty is to know what the measures are, to study them. Everyone tells me that. And I really want to do that.

But I’m having trouble keeping them all straight. Can you help me?

There’s something on the ballot about the banning of plastic bags, and something about prescription drugs. Or is it that I can no longer keep my prescription drugs in plastic bags? Or maybe I’m required to keep the drugs in something stronger, like a condom? Or maybe I only have to do that when I’m on certain film sets in the San Fernando Valley. Where I would never be.

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California’s Plastic Bag Ban On Track for Passage in November

Steven Maviglio
Principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm

One of the marquee measures in the November election will be the last measure on the ballot: the referendum on Senate Bill 270, the law signed by Governor Jerry Brown to ban single-use plastic bags. Supporters of the ban will be seeking a “Yes” vote.

To date, plastic bag manufacturers have spent $5.96 million toward repealing the ban. According to the California Secretary of State, 99 percent of the contributions are from out-of-state to the inappropriately named “American Progressive Bag Alliance.”

The largest donor is Hilex Poly (also known as Novolex), a South Carolina-based company, which is owned by Wind Point Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm. It has contributed $2.78 million, in addition to continuing to hire Sacramento lobbyists. Interestingly, the company also announced last week that it has begun the manufacturing of recyclable paper bags and has purchased several paper bag companies in addition to a hiring spree – despite the company wrongly stating the ban will cost jobs.

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Protecting CA Students From Pension Costs

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

“The secret to stellar grades and thriving students is teachers,” writes The Economist in a recent editorial. One study cited by the magazine found that “in a single year’s teaching the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do” and another “estimates that if African-American children were taught by the top 25% of teachers, the gap between blacks and whites would close within eight years.” The magazine argues that a rigorous form of pedagogy can “make ordinary teachers great” and that “the biggest gains will come from preparing new teachers better and upgrading the ones already in classrooms.”

But California is radically boosting pension spending instead. Legislation bailing out California’s teacher pension fund requires a doubling of spending on pensions to more than $10 billion per year, leaving that much less for preparing, hiring, paying and upgrading active teachers. $10 billion is nearly three times more than the state spends on California State University or the University of California.

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Public Nuisance Lawsuits Spiraling Out of Control

Kim Stone
President of the Civil Justice Association of California

This past year, public nuisance lawsuits have spiraled out of control in California. Cities like San Diego, Berkeley and Los Angeles have been convinced to sue U.S. companies for enormous sums. Trial lawyers, looking to win big, scour the state and the nation for potential plaintiffs and then recruit municipalities to partner with them to file suits against businesses.

Pandora was let out of the box in 2002 when Santa Clara County and Orange County, using private plaintiff’s lawyers to bring the charge, sued lead paint manufacturers under a public nuisance theory — even though the paint manufacturers didn’t know about problems with lead paint at the time they sold it. After that, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office used public nuisance theory to sue drug manufacturers for the costs of unemployment, emergency room visits and other social services.

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Judging (and Recalling) Judges

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

The question of recalling Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky over his sentencing decision for Stanford student Brock Turner in the notorious campus rape case has policy and political implications that goes to judicial independence and could even play a minor role in a coming statewide ballot initiative campaign.

Petitions calling for Persky’s removal from the bench have gathered over a million signatures. Recall efforts have been endorsed by some of the state’s top politicians including Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who co-authored a law to prevent campus rape.

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Closing The Prop. 47 Loophole That’s Boosting Organized Crime

Assemblyman Tom Lackey
California State Assembly, 36th District

When California voters passed Proposition 47 in 2014, they did it with good intentions. By changing non-violent crimes like theft, forgery, and drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors, voters hoped to focus corrections resources on hardened criminals, while funding crime prevention programs and rehabilitating low-level offenders.

Unfortunately, the reality of Prop. 47 hasn’t lined up with the lofty expectations. Career criminals have found loopholes in the law that allow them to avoid facing any serious consequences for their behavior. For example, organized crime groups have exploited the reduced punishments for property crimes, causing that type of offense to spike dramatically.

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Linking Student Aspirations to Workforce Needs

Loren Kaye and Rebecca Sterling
Loren Kaye is President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education. Rebecca Sterling is Program Manager of the Linked Learning Alliance.

Simon Tran is on the fast track.

A junior at the Kearny High School of Digital Media and Design in San Diego, Simon makes the most of learning in a school with a digital media arts industry theme. While mastering the use of cutting-edge digital design equipment, he’s building his leadership skills by collaborating with peers, working under the guidance of mentors, gaining experience working with clients, and earning college credits by taking community college classes through Kearny’s “Fast Track” program.

“Our projects are linked to the school’s learning outcomes,” Simon explains, “so we are always working on critical thinking, innovation, and civic engagement. Our clients won’t settle for good enough work; they want great finished products that they can really use.”

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A Turnaround for Voter Turnout?

Eric McGhee
Research Fellow, Public Policy Institute of California

McGhee_CA Flat RegistrationThe recent primary offered signs of improvement for California’s abysmally low voter turnout. Recent elections have seen some of the worst turnout in the state’s history. The 2014 election cycle was particularly dismal, but 2012 also set a new low for a presidential primary election. Moreover, California has beenlagging behind other states in both registration and turnout.

However, there has been a large surge in new registrants over the last few months, and the California Secretary of State currently estimates that almost 9 million Californians participated in the 2016 presidential primary election, compared to only 4.5 million in 2014 and 5.3 million in 2012.

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