The Health Care Fiasco

Richard Rubin
Chair, California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors

With thousands showing up at California town halls to discuss the unravelling of the Affordable Health Care Act and other issues it’s a sign all is not so well in Trump Land.

Nothing trumps (pun intended) the agenda—not even Russian meddling and intelligence compromises — so much as the future of our healthcare and what will become of the efforts underway to do away with the much maligned Affordable Care Act or Obamacare as opponents prefer to call it.

In meetings throughout California and across the nation lawmakers in both parties are getting an ear-full on what amounts to a strategy that will put one of America’s most significant social reforms in the past century into what some believe could be a death spiral.

This is likely to have political consequences if lawmakers are misreading the voters’ message.

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Common Sense on Immigration

Joel Kotkin
Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

No issue divides the United States more than immigration. Many Americans are resentful of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, worry about their own job security, and fear the arrival of more refugees from Islamic countries could pose the greatest terrorist threat. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe the welcoming words on the Statue of Liberty represent a national value that supersedes traditional norms of citizenship and national culture.

What has been largely missing has been a sharp focus on the purpose of immigration. In the past, immigration was critical in meeting the demographic and economic needs of a rapidly growing nation. Simply put, the country required lots of bodies to develop its vast expanses of land and natural resources and to work in its factories.

The need for foreign workers remains important, but the conditions have changed. No longer a largely rural, empty country, more than 80 percent of Americans cluster in urban and suburban areas. Many routine jobs have been automated; factories, farms and offices function more efficiently with smaller workforces. Since at least 2000, notes demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, the “Great American Escalator” has stopped working.

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The LA County “Most Wanted List” and AB 109

Michele Hanisee
President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys

Controversy swirls around AB 109, with the recent murder of Whittier Officer Keith Boyer by a parolee whose multiple parole violations resulted in nothing more than 10-day “flash incarcerations” being the most recent and tragic example of AB 109’s failures.  No definitive study has been done on the fallout from AB 109, but anecdotal evidence abounds to rebut the defenders of AB 109 who vehemently insist that its provisions have not made our communities more dangerous.

One repository of evidence of how AB 109 has made our streets less safe is found in the description of 120 persons currently on the “L.A.’s Most Wanted” list of the Los Angeles County Probation website, with whereabouts unknown.  For each wanted person there is a recitation of their criminal history, which unquestionably makes them dangerous.  Each listing then helpfully answers the next logical question of why county probation is supervising such a dangerous person: “Under the Governor’s Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, better known as Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109) the responsibility of lower-level offenders was shifted from the State to Los Angeles County,” with the wanted person “qualified to be released to the supervision of probation, under AB 109, because his current commitment offense…was defined as non-serious and nonviolent under the California penal code.”

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I’m Too Young for the AARP

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)

Like any good Gen Xer, I resent the old – the Baby Boomers are always busy ruining the world, after all – and the young – darn those millennials – in part because those two generations vastly outnumber our counterparts. The only news Gen X has been making lately has been for dying young—of suicide and drugs. Yeah!

But our one generational solace was this: no one could call us old. We never really dressed like old people (see Grunge, the 90s, Nirvana, etc.). And we aren’t old yet, not with the Boomers entering retirement.

Now the AARP is taking that way. They keep sending me mail. Even though I’m not 50, and not even close to 50. (OK, a little bit close to 50, but at my next birthday, I’ll still round down to 40).

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They Told Charter Schools to Innovate

Pastor K.W. Tulloss
Senior Pastor of The Historical Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church located in the Downtown, Boyle Heights region of Los Angeles

They told them to innovate. They told them to do things differently. They told them to take chances. They told them to be bold. They told them to increase expectations. They told them to reinvent education.

That’s exactly what charter schools did and now they are being punished for it.

As an early supporter of the charter school movement, I recall walking the neighborhoods of Compton imploring parents to demand more from the educational establishment.  Charter schools became the first light of hope for many of these families.  They offered new opportunities and a lifeline for thousands of underserved students.

Since the passage of the California Charter Schools Act in 1992, educators across California heeded the call to develop schools and give families a better option for their child’s education. In order to innovate, charter schools were given freedom and flexibility.

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Welcome to the Affluent Central Coast, California’s Child Poverty Capital  

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)

Californians used to envy residents of our beautiful, wine-and-wealth-drenched Central Coast. Now we have reason to pity them.

And not just because Nicole Kidman has thrown her star power into producing a TV series based on the premise that Monterey’s women might be murderers.

The past year has brought one calamity after another. Last summer’s Soberanes Fire burned a vast swath around Big Sur for 83 days, fouling the region’s air and becoming the most expensive wildfire to suppress in U.S. history. Central Coast communities suffered some of the most severe water shortages in the state during the drought. And when this winter’s rains came, the Central Coast was hit with flooding, landslides, and the failure of a vital bridge.

Then there’s this: a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shows the Central Coast is California’s capital of child poverty.

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Scientific Study Contradicts Basis for State Water Board’s River Flow Mandates

Aubrey Bettencourt
Executive Director, California Water Alliance

A new environmental study, published in in the prestigious North American Journal of Fisheries Management, reveals that Governor Jerry Brown’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) imposed so-called pulse-flow release requirements on water rights holders affecting several California rivers, operating from unproven beliefs the study now shows were without sufficient scientific basis. (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02755947.2016.1240120)

Pulse flows, as ordered by the SWRCB, are short-term increases in outflow releases from California’s numerous dams. These flows have cut water deliveries to millions of Californians, forced some to drink foul-smelling water and required hundreds of thousands of acres of food-producing farmland to remain empty and unplanted.

While the SWRCB insists these pulse flows ease the passage of migrating fish, numerous parties, ranging from private citizens to the California Department of Water Resources, have labeled such releases as “ineffective,” “misguided” and “excessive.”

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A Post Mortem on Measure S

Leron Gubler
President & CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

In the aftermath of Measure S, it seems everyone is offering their post mortem observations about this giant struggle over land-use and development in Los Angeles. I’d like to add my “two cents”.

First, the voters made the right choice in sinking Measure S. We can breathe a sigh of relief that a blanket moratorium did not go into effect that would have vaporized thousands of construction jobs and wreaked havoc on our economy. Now we can continue to address the serious shortfall in housing in our region.

Second, although the voters rejected Measure S, it was not a vote of support for the status quo. Far from it. Both residents and businesses made it clear that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Third, the Mayor and City Council need to follow through on the reforms that were promised, among which were to update community plans in a timely fashion and to have the Planning Department select the consultants performing environmental impact reports.

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Don’t Tax Teachers?

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

It seems those pushing a bill to eliminate state income taxes for teachers have a large strategic hurdle to clear. Teachers through their unions frequently campaign for more taxes. How would it look if teachers are campaigning for more taxes and they no longer have to pay income taxes? Bad optics, as they say in the PR biz.

A bill to encourage more teachers to remain in the profession by eliminating state income taxes for 10 years is designed to offset the shortage of teachers reported in many school districts across the state. SB 807 author Sen. Henry Stern argues that investing in teachers is the “ultimate economic stimulus.” In fact, supporters have favorably compared the bill to tax credits and tax cuts offered segments of the business community to spur the economy.

The teacher tax avoidance plan is not a direct stimulus to the economy as the typical business proposal. No question enterprise zones or, for example, the film tax credit, were undertaken to boost the economy and there have been some successes along those lines. Supporters of SB 807 argue an economic boost to the state would come through better-educated students. The comparison is a stretch, but the point is taken that the proposal is to create an incentive for teachers in a similar way businesses are incentivized to carry on their business in California cities or the state.

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Contradiction in Water Policy

Johnny Amaral
Deputy General Manager of External Affairs, Westlands Water District

In 2016, annual precipitation was average for the Central Valley and above average for northern California. But the allocation of Central Valley Project water to public water agencies that serve farmers south of the Delta was only 5%. The federal government blamed the low allocation of water on hydrological conditions, rather than environmental regulations that limited pumping of water and prevented water from being moved through the system to communities south of the Delta.

This year, hydrological conditions are vastly different–there is great hope that the allocation will be different as well. Indeed, California is experiencing one of the wettest years on record.  But just two weeks ago,the Federal Bureau of Reclamation was unable to make an allocation to those same public water agencies. It did estimate that it would be able to supply approximately 900,000 acre-feet of water, which amounts to a 25%allocation. But final word on the allocation has been delayed until late March, more than a month after allocations are to be made under the terms of water service contracts. Why? Because the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was unable to approve the allocations.  

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