Property and Democracy in America

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

To understand how American democracy has worked, and why its future may be limited, it’s critical to look at the issue of property. From early on, the country’s republican institutions have rested on the notion of dispersed ownership of land — a striking departure from the realities of feudal Europe, east Asia or the Middle East.

From Jefferson and Madison’s republic of yeoman farmers to the suburban homeowners of the postwar era, the notion of dispersed property ownership shaped our democracy. The founders understood the role of small property owners in ancient Athens and the Roman Republic, as well as contemporary examples in such places as the Netherlands. Those who own something — a house, a farm, a small business — tend to be far more engaged with their communities than those who rent or work merely for wages.

This era may now be coming to an end. In the United States, the proportion of land owned by the nation’s 100 largest private landowners grew by nearly 50 percent between 2007 and 2017. In 2007, according to the Land Report, this group owned a combined 27 million acres of land — holdings larger than the entirety of New England.

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Conservatives clap back against California in court — twice

Ben Christopher
Contributing Writer, CALmatters

It was a busy day for GOP-affiliated courtroom battles against the state of California.

In the morning, conservatives sued the state claiming it was failing to “ensure that non-citizens are never placed on the voter rolls.” In the afternoon, they scored an early, anticipated victory to block a new state law that would require presidential candidates to publish their tax returns in order to appear on the March primary ballot.

First, the “illegal votes” complaint.

The plaintiffs are three registered Republican: two naturalized citizens and Corrin Rankin, who ran for state party vice-chair last year. According to the filing, each believes that their “legitimate vote is being diluted by the illegal votes of non-citizens.”

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Can We Stop Getting Distracted By Charters?

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)

Is the charter school nonsense over yet? 

It’s probably too much to hope that the new law that puts new restrictions on charter schools will end the scapegoating of charter schools. 

Over the past couple years, teachers’ unions have deflected criticism of the schools by blaming charters. 

This blame is baloney. It blames the problems of California’s schools on charters, which educate barely 10 percent of all students. The blame game also suggests charters are somehow private entities; they aren’t—they are public schools. 

Some charters do well. Others don’t. The virtue of charters is that the bad ones can be relatively easy shut down. Try shutting down a failing neighborhood school or, even worse, a failing school district. 

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Climate Change Advocates Target New Homes

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

If you thought the rancor surrounding climate change was all about the weather, think again.  Housing development has always been in the gun sites of campaign enthusiasts and it continues to be.  

Disguised as climate-change activists, radical environmentalists are spewing the same rhetoric and advocating the same “enlightened” land-use concepts they’ve been spewing for decades.  With new-found vigor they say housing is sprawling into the countryside, eating up precious, irreplaceable farmland and causing greater dependence on automobiles to get residents to and from their jobs.  

Indeed, the new life that’s been breathed into radical environmental activism was inspired by a failed presidential candidate, advanced in California by a muscular, pseudo-actor-turned-nouveau-governor and inflated by a career politician who made “global warming” a life cause.  Since retiring, Al Gore got rich selling a television network, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the wealth and glamour of Hollywood and two-time governor Jerry Brown moved to occupy 2,400 acres of farmland in Colusa County – just a short, 75-minute drive (by SUV) from Sacramento – where he traverses his sprawling ranch there in a gas-powered all-terrain vehicle.  (It should be noted that both Vice President Gore and Governor Schwarzenegger travel – at least for now – by fossil-fueled private jets.)

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Vision Zero: Road Diets Hinder First Responders

Christopher LeGras
Los Angeles Attorney and writer.

After four years of lane reductions, arterial bike lanes, road diets, and other so-called “traffic calming” measures on the streets of New York, the country’s largest firefighters union is saying enough. The New York Post reported yesterday that the Fire Department of New York’s response times have risen dramatically over the last year, and that the city’s firefighters union – the largest in the country – says that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative is a major cause.

Bobby Eustace, the United Firefighters Association’s recording secretary, told The Post, “Vision Zero is fully intended to save lives from traffic accidents, but by [the city] adding in concrete barriers and flower pots and everything else like that, you’re basically eliminating the ability for emergency service vehicles to get around. Intersections are now gridlocked, and our guys just can’t get around.”

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Will CA’s new NCAA law be a game changer? Here are 5 things to know next

Felicia Mello
CALmatters Higher Education Reporter

An HBO talk show hosted by a sports legend is not the typical venue for a California governor to sign a bill into law. So when Gavin Newsom appeared on LeBron James’ The Shop this week to put his seal of approval on a state law allowing student athletes to sign paid endorsement deals, it was a signal of just how much the Fair Pay to Play Act has captured the national imagination.

Sponsored by Senator Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley, the new law — which won’t be implemented for at least three years — has become a relief valve for pent-up concerns about player exploitation by a college athletic-industrial complex that generates billions in revenue each year.

But as other states seek to follow California’s lead, it will be in the Golden State that the law’s consequences immediately play out. What’s in store for California colleges? Here are a few answers.

Remind me: Will colleges pay student athletes salaries under the new law?

Nope. College athletes can be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness — for example, by signing a deal with a clothing company to promote their gear — starting in 2023, when the law takes effect. They can also hire agents, who must be licensed by the state. All this conflicts with current National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. The law bars the NCAA or colleges from retaliating against athletes who exercise these rights, a prohibition that the NCAA has called unconstitutional.

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The Unimportance of Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

It is hard to find a time when California’s two United States Senators have had less influence in Washington than now.  

Despite being the largest state, and having one of the nation’s most senior senators in Dianne Feinstein and a presidential candidate in Kamala Harris, their influence in the nation’s capital seems to be exactly zero.

Sen. Feinstein ranks fifth in Senate seniority, has held public office for 50 years, and serves as the top Democrat on the important Senate Judiciary Committee. Once she was the go-to senator for bipartisan legislation, but not anymore.  The Republican chairman of Senate Judiciary, the irascible Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), holds her in such low regard she is not even consulted on the appointment of federal judges in her own home state.

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Casting a Vote on Newfangled Voting Equipment

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

There was a mock election in Los Angeles County this weekend put on by the county registrar-recorder’s office and I voted for the Hollywood sign as the most iconic L.A. landmark. The question about the best landmark was one of the 14 test questions included in the mock election for county residents to test out the new voting system that will be in place at vote centers around the county for the coming March 3 primary.

As someone who likes the idea of neighborhood voting places, I find vote centers placed around the county a foreign concept but I participated in the election to give the new equipment a try.

L.A. County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan calls the change for the county’s 5.3 million voters “Voting Solutions for All People.”

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3 CA Immigrants and their Health Startup

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)

Immigrants, already essential to California healthcare, will become even more important in the future.

 Today, one in six medical professionals, and nearly one-third of physicians, are foreign-born, and many are bringing not just their labor but their ideas. Immigrants are responsible for one-fifth of all biomedical research and clinical trials.

 We also are dependent on immigrant entrepreneurs (nearly half of California businesses are started by immigrants) to turn research into treatments, devices or drugs. In other words, we need people like Harsh Vathsangam, Ade Adesanya, and Shuo Qiao to succeed.

 These three immigrants—from India, Nigeria, and China—co-founded a start-up, Moving Analytics, to create a tech tool to keep people with heart disease out of hospitals. Harsh, now 34 and the company’s CEO, first met Shuo, a Beijing native, at the elite Indian Institute of Technology Madras. After graduating, Harsh won a scholarship to USC, where he invented new tech tools for health, including a communication device for kids with cerebral palsy. Shuo, now 29, also found his way to USC.

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Do L.A. County leaders have ‘compassion fatigue’ on homelessness?

Chris Reed
San Diego Union Tribune editorial writer and former host of KOGO Radio’s “Top Story” weeknight news talk show

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has drawn a line on homelessness, voting 3-2 to support a challenge to an expansive 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that forbids local governments in nine Western states from enforcing laws against camping or sleeping on sidewalks or in other public places unless overnight shelter is available.

That ruling came in September 2018. In invalidating a Boise, Idaho, law against sleeping on public lands, Judge Marsha Berzon wrote that “just as the state may not criminalize the state of being ‘homeless in public places,’ the state may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless — namely sitting, lying or sleeping on the streets.’” Berzon wrote for a three-judge panel.

Ted Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general who won the Bush v. Gore case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, is among the attorneys working with the city of Boise on an appeal. Los Angeles County will file an amicus brief in support of the appeal.

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