California needs a new approach on homelessness

November marks National Homeless Awareness Month. The issue is certainly top-of-mind in California, where homelessness ranks among the top problems facing the state in opinion polls and the topic featured prominently in the recent gubernatorial recall election.

Californians make up 12 percent of the nation’s population but account for 27 percent of the country’s homeless, 41 percent of those experiencing chronic homelessness, and 53 percent of the unsheltered homeless. In fact, 72 percent of those experiencing homelessness in California are unsheltered—the highest rate in the nation.

Given these sobering statistics, Californians may be surprised to learn that while homelessness has increased by more than 30 percent in the Golden State over the past decade, it has actually decreased by nearly 9 percent nationwide.

Something is amiss with California’s approach, but it certainly isn’t a lack of money. Billions of dollars are being spent on homelessness. More is being spent than ever before, but the number of those experiencing homelessness continues to climb.

The predominant approach favored by the federal government, California, and many other state and local governments is called Housing First. This emphasizes immediately placing those experiencing homelessness in “permanent” housing, with the idea that access to supportive services will follow. It also includes a harm reduction philosophy, which allows people to continue to abuse substances. In practice, however, oftentimes services are either not provided to or utilized by residents. As a result, the underlying traumas and issues that led to residents’ homelessness remain unaddressed and many return to the streets.

This is in stark contrast to the transitional housing approach, under which temporary housing is provided and residents are expected to stay sober or employed and participate in certain support services until they are ready to obtain permanent housing.

People become homeless for many reasons and respond to different approaches to resolve their situations. While Housing First may work for some, it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution. Yet, that is the approach California has taken. In 2016 the state made it official policy to only fund Housing First programs. Now, for example, a program that requires residents to remain drug-free is ineligible for state grants and put at a competitive disadvantage.

This permanent supportive housing is correlated with only a very small immediate reduction in the homeless population, however, and even this effect disappears after one year.

Using this approach, the state would have to add at least 12.6 beds to reduce the homeless population by one person in the long run. And because “affordable” housing in California is difficult to develop and can cost $500,000, $700,000, or even close to $1 million per unit, Housing First is unable to scale to the level needed to house all of those experiencing homelessness.

Even at the average going rate of $500,000 per unit for government-subsidized, low-income housing, providing new housing for the estimated 161,000 Californians currently experiencing homelessness would carry a price tag of more than $80 billion.

From a policy perspective, the relatively easy fixes should be correcting housing policies that reduce supply and drive up prices, making homes unaffordable for so many people and driving many into homelessness. These include relaxing zoning restrictions, eliminating urban growth boundaries, and getting rid of inclusionary zoning (affordable housing) requirements and rent controls.

Such policies might sound good at first blush, but by making homebuilding more expensive and less profitable—and oftentimes unprofitable—they only discourage added housing and make homes more scarce and unaffordable.

In addition, development impact fees, which average about three and a half times the national average, should be minimized; the California Environmental Quality Act and other unnecessarily burdensome environmental regulations (like the solar roof mandate, which adds $10,000 to $20,000 to the cost of a new home) should be streamlined or eliminated; and prevailing wage (union pay scale) laws, which increase average construction costs for affordable housing by 10-25 percent, should be abolished.

Addressing homelessness for those with substance abuse or mental health issues is much more difficult, particularly for those who refuse help. Eliminating the Housing-First-for-all mandate would be a good start, though. California should be more open to alternative approaches to help the greatest number of people get off the streets and achieve their full potential.

Adam B. Summers is a research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is editor and co-author of the new report “Beyond Homeless: Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes, Transformative Solutions.”

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How should California spend its big budget surplus?

California’s broader economy is a bit sluggish, but certain sectors have been booming, thanks to record low interest rates and many billions of stimulus dollars from Uncle Sam.

Retail sales, housing and the stock market, three sectors that are very sensitive to federal fiscal and monetary policies, are soaring, even as the state grapples with the nation’s highest unemployment and poverty rates.

The state treasury has seen a bumper crop of tax revenues from the high-flying sectors, giving Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators tens of billions of extra dollars to spend.

The state budget enacted in June spent the bounty on a wide variety of new and expanded programs, including cash payments to low-income Californians, but revenues are continuing to outpace the budget’s estimates by billions of dollars.

It means, the Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabe Petek, said last week, that the 2022-23 budget could have a $31 billion surplus — so much that it will collide with the state’s rarely invoked Gann spending limit.

Newsom also says the state will have an “historic budget surplus,” although he won’t put his number on it until January, when he releases his first draft of the next budget.

It could be a much different number because Newsom’s Department of Finance is often at odds with Petek’s staff, but whatever it is, Newsom and lawmakers will have a lot of extra dollars, and those who want some of them are beginning to line up.

The Gann Limit, originally enacted by voters in 1979 and modified a decade later, will, Petek warns, be a complicating factor, although there will be disagreement over what it is. Once revenues exceed the limit, the surplus must be used for a few designated purposes, including, potentially, tax rebates.

In 1987, then-Gov. George Deukmejian and legislators rebated $1.1 billion to taxpayers — a significant sum in those days — after revenues exceeded the Gann Limit. The rebate led to a loosening of the limit to make rebates less likely in the future.

The 2021-22 budget’s cash payments to help those financially impacted by the pandemic were framed as tax rebates to satisfy the Gann Limit’s restrictions. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon says he wants more “one-time investments allowed under the Gann Limit,” seemingly a hint about extending the payments.

Newsom has said he wants to commit some extra money to paying down pension debts and/or infrastructure. The overwhelmingly Democratic and left-leaning Legislature would prefer to expand even more social, educational and medical benefits.

Since it’s the season for proposing ways to spend the state’s embarrassment of riches, let’s add one more — doing something about the state’s $20-plus billion debt to the federal government for unemployment insurance payments during the recession.

California’s unemployment insurance system, financed by taxes on employers, provided basic support for more than two million suddenly unemployed workers and quickly exhausted what were already scant reserves. The state then began borrowing from the federal government to keep checks rolling out.

The debt is expected to top $20 billion by the end of the year and if not repaid, the federal government will raise payroll taxes on California employers until it is paid, with interest. That’s what happened after California borrowed about $10 billion during the 2007-12 recession.

In this case, however, the recession resulted from Newsom’s order to shut down businesses to battle COVID-19. Therefore, the debt should be fairly shouldered by the state as a cost of fighting the pandemic, rather than by employers still struggling to recover from recession.

It may lack political sex appeal, but it’s the right thing to do.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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Are recall system changes reforms or power grab?

Win or lose, could Gavin Newsom be the last California governor to face a recall election?

As final ballots are cast and election officials begin counting the votes for and against Newsom, critics of California’s recall system contend that it’s too easy to put a recall on the ballot and too easy for an unqualified candidate to become governor with only a relative handful of votes.

Former Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled in 2003 and succeeded by action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, is one advocate of change, telling Politico, “This is a game of Russian roulette, and at some point, for sure, a governor who got more votes than his successor will have to leave office because he failed to reach the 50% threshold.”

Recent polling does indicate that there is fairly strong support among California voters for overhauling the recall system that has been a fixture — although only rarely invoked — of the state constitution for 110 years.

The latest indication of that sentiment is a new poll from UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, which found that a strong majority of Californians want to keep the recall in some form, but “also favor reforms that would impose somewhat higher hurdles in bringing future recall elections to the ballot.”

Its results mirror those of a July poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, which also found that the reform with the strongest support is “holding a runoff election between the top two replacement candidates if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.”

Other options for change floating around include changing the threshold of signatures to force an election from 12% of the total vote in the previous gubernatorial election to 25%, allowing recalls only for cause, such as illegal or unethical conduct, and making it more difficult for replacement candidates to qualify for the ballot.

State Sen. Ben Allen, a Redondo Beach Democrat, proposes in Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 to change the current system of having two questions on the recall ballot — whether the incumbent should be ousted and secondly, which of the replacement candidates should win. It takes a majority of voters to oust an officeholder but the successor needs only a plurality.

SCA 3 would, instead, have one question. The incumbent would appear on the ballot along with the challengers and the top vote-getter, whether incumbent or challenger, would serve for the remainder of the term.

SCA 3 remains on hold but it’s obvious that its effect, if approved by the Legislature and voters, would be to make recalls almost impossible.

In fact, virtually every proposed “reform” would lessen the chances of a recall succeeding, including legislation now awaiting Newsom’s signature or veto that would ban paying signature gatherers for each name they collect in recalls, referenda and initiatives. Sen. Josh Newman, a Fullerton Democrat who was recalled and then later recaptured his Senate seat, is the author of Senate Bill 660.

Were California contemplating the creation of a recall system from scratch, rather than dealing with one that’s 110 years old, some of the proposed changes would make sense. However, one cannot divorce the proposed “reforms” from the state’s current political orientation.

It’s evident from the polling results and the criticism that Democrats, who already dominate California politics, are the ones who want changes that would, in effect, solidify their control even more by making it more difficult, or even impossible, to oust an incumbent from the governorship or any other office.

One person’s reform is another person’s power trip.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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California finally cracks down on bad cops

Whatever else the California Legislature did or didn’t do this year, it finally — and very belatedly — took a long-needed step toward ridding the state of bad cops who victimize people they are supposed to be serving and taint their honorable profession.

Last week, after years of unsuccessful efforts to punish errant officers, the Legislature approved a bill creating a process for lifting the certifications — in essence, their licenses — that allowed them to continue wearing badges.

It made no sense that officers fired from one department for bad conduct could keep their certifications and find jobs elsewhere. But while the state has for many years de-licensed doctors, lawyers and other professionals proven of misconduct, it lacked authority to move against cops — one of only four states with that obvious regulatory gap.

The lack of a decertification process testified to the immense political clout that law enforcement unions have wielded in the Capitol.

For decades, the unions and politicians of both parties have maintained a mutually beneficial charade. Governors and legislators would provide what the cops wanted, such as high pension benefits and special protections from oversight and discipline, and in return the unions would trumpet politicians as supporters of law and order.

Recently, however, a surge of very questionable police killings, particularly those of Black men, fueled demands for reform, including punishment of cops who are needlessly violent.

In 2018, only a couple of miles from California’s Capitol, Stephon Clark, who was suspected of vandalizing cars, died in a fusillade of bullets fired by two Sacramento officers who erroneously thought they saw a gun in his hand.

Clark’s death touched off massive protests in Sacramento and demands for reform after the local district attorney declared that the shooting was justified under state law.

The Clark incident generated enough backlash that San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (now California’s secretary of state) persuaded her fellow legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom to change the law governing police use of deadly force, limiting it to protecting officers or others from death or serious injury.

The political heat was turned up even more after last year’s infamous death of George Floyd with Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck. It triggered a nationwide reaction and eventually resulted in Chauvin’s murder conviction and imprisonment.

The furor over the Floyd case gave state Sen. Steven Bradford some additional momentum for his drive to decertify bad cops. Bradford, a San Pedro Democrat, couldn’t get legislation passed in 2020, thanks to opposition from police unions and other law enforcement groups, but he succeeded this year after softening some provisions of his measure, Senate Bill 586, just before final votes.

Under the revised bill, California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) would be empowered to strip an officer’s certification, but only on a two-thirds vote and after an advisory board recommended the action.

Bradford hailed SB 586 as “the first of its kind in California.” However, the law enforcement groups remain opposed and advocates of reform are concerned that it requires too many hoops to be as effective as they want.

The state’s other licensing agencies are often criticized for being too cozy with those they regulate and too lenient. Given the concessions that Bradford had to make to get SB 586 passed, that could happen with POST as well. But at least it’s a start on something that should have happened decades ago.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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California’s economy needs stability to grow, vote no on the recall: Maria Salinas

If business has an enemy, it is the instability and uncertainty in markets, in supply chains, and now let’s add in the recall election. The state of California, the 5th largest economy in the world, is distracted with a gubernatorial recall.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce opposes the recall election. We understand that in today’s complex times, business must be able to rely on consistency in political leadership, just as we seek stability in the markets and systems which keep our economy moving. Recalling the governor will only lead to a tumultuous and unnecessary interregnum where political wrangling and uncertainty will detract from the state’s economic and health relief efforts, and we will not support it.

While disruption in business can lead to innovation and major advances, the governmental disruption caused by recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom will hinder the progress being made to ensure our communities stay safe and recover from the pandemic. Stability in government is good for the economy and should only be interrupted under extreme circumstances. This recall comes nowhere close to meeting that standard.

Recalls were devised to be used with evidence of malfeasance and risk to the public. This point is particularly important given that Californians currently face a wide range of threats to post-pandemic economic recovery, including the expanding resurgence of coronavirus variants, struggles with the state’s power grid, devastating wildfires, and a historic drought. Even with differences in policy, it is irresponsible to distract our elected officials from these critical issues facing everyday Californians. It’s just not good governance.

Proponents of the recall claim frustrations over shutdowns, business restrictions, and a worsening housing and homelessness crisis are what justify the interruption. It is impossible to deny these are issues which require solutions, but without evidence of malfeasance or risk to the public, exercising our voice in deciding who is governor should occur during regularly scheduled elections, the next of which is happening in 2022 regardless of the recall outcome. It’s painful to see the expensive campaigning on every side of this election – a waste of money, time, and effort that should instead be spent on fighting the pandemic.

As the governor campaigns to fight off the recall attempt, he hopes his relief plans can ease the pain for business owners who are struggling to stay on their feet after a year of closures and restrictions. While the pandemic restrictions have been credited with minimizing COVID mortality rates, many small businesses were still left on shaky footing. The governor responded by allocating crucial relief to small businesses in the form of billions in grants and tax credits that kept many afloat who otherwise may have had to shut their doors.

We know there is more that can be done to keep California globally competitive and a leader in the nation, but this recall election is clearly not the answer. We invite the governor to engage with business leaders who are innovating and creating the jobs for a new economy.

He can boast 4.1 million small businesses across California – with an honorable mention to Los Angeles, where we have the highest concentration of business owners of color in the nation – all of whom represent the vast majority of the state’s business community, employ nearly half of its total workforce, and create two-thirds of all new jobs, making them the critical drivers of economic growth and mobility throughout California.

There is no doubt these have been challenging times for businesses, communities, and government alike. Yet, none of these challenges rise to the level of creating more unpredictability by changing gubernatorial leadership in a recall election.

The people of California will have the opportunity to choose whether or not Newsom deserves a second term in less than a year.

In the meantime, let’s focus on the work at hand to ensure our businesses, employees, and communities can thrive and prosper in California.

Maria S. Salinas is president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

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California’s ‘corridor of corruption’ yields new case

Six years ago, the HBO network aired an episode of “True Detective,” an anthology of complicated crime stories.

It was set in the fictional Southern California city of Vinci, a cesspool of corruption and crime obviously based on Vernon, once described as “the most corrupt five square miles in California.”

In addition to fictionalizing Vernon’s sordid history, the episode folded in California’s bullet train project, but it was deservedly flailed by critics as incoherent.

Vernon, unfortunately, is not an isolated example. The southeastern quadrant of Los Angeles County is rife with municipal malfeasance, and was once dubbed a “corridor of corruption” by state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. Numerous local officials have been charged with bribery, self-dealing and other transgressions.

Last week, the Los Angeles County district attorney charged four men, including former state Sen. Frank Hill, with stealing $20 million that the City of Industry advanced to a company called San Gabriel Valley Water and Power LLC for a solar power project that never materialized.

The case stems from a battle among several cities for control of a 2,500-acre cattle ranch called Tres Hermanos in the Chino Hills, which was to have been the project’s site.

Hill, a Republican who was snared in a federal investigation of Capitol corruption three decades ago and spent four years in prison, was a consultant on the project. Others facing charges are William Barkett, owner of San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, attorney Anthony Bouza, and former Industry City Manager Paul Philips, now city manager of Bell, the scene of another corruption scandal a decade ago.

Philips and Bouza allegedly handled the funds, which between 2016 and 2018 were routed to an account controlled by Barkett, according to the district attorney’s office.

“While some of the money was paid to other vendors, Barkett is accused of spending about $8.3 million on personal items. He also allegedly falsified or altered invoices to inflate the amount,” the DA’s office said.

Barkett is no stranger to questionable financial dealings. As I wrote about the Tres Hermanos squabble nine months ago, “In 1993, federal authorities unsealed an indictment of him and eight other persons involved in what was described as a penny stock scheme aimed at defrauding elderly retirees.

“Two years later, the charges were dismissed by a judge, who cited unreasonable pre-trial delays by prosecutors. A decade later, Credit Suisse, an international banking company, accused Barkett of misappropriating millions of dollars he had borrowed to launch a large farming operation in the San Joaquin Valley. The suit was later dropped after a confidential settlement.”

Barkett is the scion of a politically powerful Stockton family and in the interest of full disclosure, the head of the family sued me and the Sacramento Union for libel four decades ago after I wrote a column about his influence. We were exonerated by a San Joaquin County jury.

The City of Industry is also no stranger to corruption allegations. In 2009 the Los Angeles Times probed the city’s insular structure, revealing, as it noted last week, that “for years, the city government was headed by former Mayor Dave Perez, who owned trash-hauling and maintenance companies that racked up millions of dollars a year in contracts with the city…”

“An audit years later by KPMG found that Perez’s companies had made a fortune off the city, with contracts valued at more than $326 million,” the Times reported.

Once again, the corridor of corruption yields a case of insider dealing, but it’s not the first and won’t be the last. The corridor’s surface has barely been scratched.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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California housing plans need an overhaul

For more than a half-century, California has been trying to nudge county and city governments into generating enough new housing to handle an ever-increasing demand.

The state’s chief tool has been a legal requirement that local government “general plans” include an adequate “housing element.” Every eight years, the state Department of Housing and Community Development issues regional quotas of housing needs which then are divvied up into specific city-by-city goals for zoning enough land to meet projected needs.

The allocations are very controversial, especially in suburban communities, because they run counter to the not-in-my-backyard sentiments of local residents. As housing production falls chronically short of the state’s goals, the cyclic quotas steadily increase and in recent years the state has added penalties for failure.

Obviously, the quota system hasn’t been working very well and researchers at UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies have concluded that it has a “fundamental flaw” because vacant land being zoned for housing to meet the quotas is only rarely used for housing. Rather, the housing being built — which is still too little — tends to go on other property, including some previously being used for other purposes.

The study focused on what has happened in the San Francisco Bay Area vis-à-vis the housing quotas issued in the last decade for the eight-year period that will end next year.

“The median Bay Area city is on track to approve housing projects on less than 10% of the sites listed in its housing plan,” the study found. “On average, however, cities are achieving a substantial portion of their (too low) housing targets — nearly 60% for the median city — just not on the sites they had selected and presented to the state as likely or apt for development. Across the Bay Area as whole, nearly 70% of housing built during this period was on sites not listed in housing plans.”

While cities zone specific sites to meet quotas, “housing development occurs in a way that is hard to anticipate. In spite of planners’ efforts to select imminently viable sites, they do not.”

The solution, they say, is to create a more realistic set of requirements that identifies all potential sites for housing, a “change (that) may require cities to include many more sites in their housing plan.”

While a more realistic inventory might require more work — and possibly increase local angst — the UCLA team also proposes that “cities receive preemptive credit for housing they expect to be built on sites not listed in their plan.

“The credit would be tied to production on non-inventory sites during the previous period, giving cities an incentive to accommodate much-needed development when it is proposed, even if they can’t anticipate exactly where or what developers will want to build.”

“The Legislature should stop proliferating ever more detailed requirements for a site to be included in the inventory, and instead require cities to consider every parcel on which residential use is allowed,” the UCLA team suggests. “Since cities aren’t very good at picking the sites where developers want to build, the focus should shift to estimating how much housing is likely to be built during the planning period on the entire stock of residentially zoned land in a city.

This is wonky stuff, but important because of the state’s worsening housing shortage. The proposals would shift the housing quotas from an exercise in paper-shuffling into something more likely to produce real results. But implementing it would require an official admission that the current system isn’t working and a willingness to correct its “fundamental flaw.”

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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‘Grand bargain’ of workers’ compensation under siege

The COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been told, changes everything and that may include one of California’s oldest social support systems, workers’ compensation.

Legislative tinkering and a potentially disruptive lawsuit threaten to undo what was termed a “grand bargain” of workers’ compensation struck more than a century ago.

Employers agreed to compensate, with medical care and cash payments, employees who suffer work-related illnesses and injuries as an “exclusive remedy,” thereby protecting employers from individual lawsuits for disabilities.

Employers either obtain insurance to cover their potential liabilities or self-insure, as most larger businesses and government agencies do.

From time to time, the Legislature has altered the system for certain occupational groups, particularly police officers and firefighters, creating a presumption that if they were afflicted by specific disabling conditions, including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, they would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits without having to prove they were job-related.

However, the grand bargain remained in place for the vast majority of workers and their employers, at least until the pandemic struck.

Last year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that created a “rebuttable presumption” that health workers and public safety personnel who contracted COVID-19 were entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and extended that presumption to any employee whose workplace had experienced an “outbreak” of the disease.

The law is a major departure from the long-standing procedural rule that an employee claiming benefits must prove that the disability is work-related. It was backed by a coalition of labor unions and opposed by employer groups, which saw it as a potentially expensive loophole.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed against See’s Candies, a century-old California institution, could make an even more fundamental change in the workers’ compensation system and its “exclusive remedy” provision.

Matilde Ek, a worker at a See’s distribution center in Southern California, contracted COVID-19 and apparently infected her 72-year-old husband, Arturo, who died. Ek said she worked on the See’s packing line without proper social distancing or other protections even though some workers were coughing, sneezing and showing other signs of COVID-19 infections.

She and her daughters sued See’s, alleging that since her workplace lacked sufficient safeguards against infection, the company is liable for his death.

See’s, now owned by billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Corp., acknowledged that Ek’s illness was job-related but argued that since it was, the company was protected from liability for her husband’s death under the “exclusive remedy” doctrine.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Crowley refused, however, to throw out Ek’s lawsuit, agreeing with Ek’s attorney that her husband’s death was a separate event from her workplace infection.

Crowley’s ruling sent the issue into the appellate courts and it’s drawing attention from major California and national business groups, which see it as potentially undermining a bedrock principle of the workers’ compensation system.

“The trial court’s ruling, if it is sustained, could subject employers across the state to potentially unlimited tort liability for alleged workplace injuries that the Legislature intended to be addressed in the workers’ compensation system,” a coalition of business groups declares in its appellate court brief. “Given that prospect, the potential impact…can hardly be overstated.”

The money involved in workers’ compensation, about $20 billion a year, spawns constant political jousting among affected interests, such as employers, unions, insurers, medical care providers and attorneys.

Their squabbles over dividing the pie have never extended to fundamental change in the 108-year-old system. However, the Legislature and the courts may be headed in that direction, for good or ill.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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People should get vaccinated, but government shouldn’t force it

Politicians love force.

The idea of leaving us alone to make our own decisions goes against their nature.

To be sure, civilized society sometimes needs government force: police to punish killers, soldiers to protect us from foreign invaders, environmental police to stop my smoke from flowing to your lungs.

But the political class always goes too far.

Now some want medical police to force everyone to get vaccinated. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already.

“It has!” you say. “I have to get vaccinated to keep my job, for my kids to attend school, to go to the movies, a restaurant, etc.”

That’s force, absolutely. But it’s not mandatory. There’s an out — we don’t have to work for the government, eat indoors or go to a movie theater. We can home-school our kids. We still have choice.

So far, politicians haven’t sent police into homes to force everyone to get vaccinated.

They did do that once.

In Philadelphia 30 years ago, a measles outbreak sickened 1,400 people, mostly children, and killed nine. The outbreak spread because leaders of two fundamentalist churches told congregants to refuse the vaccine; God would do the healing.

Philadelphia’s health department got a court order that compelled parents to allow their kids to be vaccinated.

Remarkably, “They complied with the law,” says vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit. “They were law-abiding.” The Philadelphia parents didn’t fight the order. That ended the epidemic.

But I doubt that vaccine-resistant Americans would be similarly compliant today. Now there’s an anti-vaccine movement. I’m surprised by the outpouring of hatred for Offit on my YouTube and Facebook channels that follows my video.

Some of it is nonsense from ignorant anti-vaxxers. But I respect commenters expressing versions of the chant, “My body, my choice!”

That slogan makes a good point.

We are not really free if we don’t own our own bodies. (It’s another reason to oppose the Drug War.) Individuals should get to decide what’s put in our own bodies.

But a deadly pandemic is a special case.

COVID-19 continues to kill, partly because some people refuse the vaccine. “This virus has a great many friends,” complains Offit. “Science denialists, conspiracy theorists, political pundits. It’s hard to watch.”

“People have reason to be suspicious!” I say. “The government has experimented on people and lied to people.”

(Officials once promised Black syphilis patients treatment but gave them empty pills. The CIA sneaked LSD into people’s drinks. More recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Americans don’t need to wear masks, and then he said we wear masks.)

“I’m not saying that the government hasn’t done things that make one trust them less,” Offit responds. “Or that the CDC hasn’t made statements that were incorrect, (but) such is the nature of science. You do learn as you go.”

What we have learned now is that the vaccine does dramatically reduce hospitalization and death, and we’d all be better off if more people took it.

Vaccine skeptics point to media reports of “breakthrough” cases, vaccinated people who get COVID-19 anyway. Offit’s reply? “I’m on CNN and MSNBC a lot … I think they want to scare people.”

They do. It raises ratings, and it makes reporters feel important.

But Offit points out that even after delta, “99.5% of people killed by this virus are unvaccinated! Ninety-seven percent of those hospitalized are unvaccinated! No vaccine works 100%.”

Today’s COVID-19 vaccines have now been tested on millions of people. It’s clear that they are very safe and that they save lives.

It’s why Offit would mandate vaccinations.

That’s where we disagree.

I consider vaccine refusers foolish and selfish. I got vaccinated, and I wish you would.

But government should never force a treatment on people. That’s tyranny.

That said, I shouldn’t say “never.”

If you are proven a direct threat to others — if your behavior kills — then the safety police do have a right to step in to stop you from hurting others.

Short of that, politicians should never force us to put anything into our own bodies.

John Stossel is author of “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

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No more diversions for overdue veterans cemetery

Veterans in Irvine and all of OC have been aiming for a State Veterans Cemetery at the former Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro for decades.

This past June, the city of Irvine was about to receive an updated report from CalVet on the 125-acre Amended and Restated Development Agreement Site (ARDA) so that construction could proceed on the first SoCal State Veterans Cemetery. Just two weeks prior to the report a diversion was hoisted up as an alternate site: Gypsum Canyon.

As Irvine residents following this closely, we have seen this before—not once, but twice.

The first diversion was four years ago, in May 2017, when $30 million was allocated by the State for the ARDA site. Within two weeks, then-Mayor Wagner called a special council meeting that voted 3-2 to reject the millions. Instead, the narrow council majority entered a land exchange with developer FivePoint, putting the Veterans Cemetery next to the 405/5 freeway interchange, and allowing FivePoint massive commercial development at ARDA. A citizen-led Referendum Petition gathered 19,125 signatures in 2017, putting the land exchange on the ballot. By 63% to 37%, voters overwhelmingly chose to keep the original location.

The second diversion was in June 2019, when the State Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously passed AB 368, designating to “equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery… on 125 acres known as the [ARDA site].” Within weeks, then-Mayor Shea tells a group of homeowners that a new “golf-course” site that she will be proposing is a “diversion.” That July, the City Council voted to study a different site on a planned golf course, initiating a new $700,000 CalVet study.

Given a second diversion, fed-up Irvine citizens launched an initiative petition that states “the People of Irvine enact this measure to instruct the City Council that the city’s residents prefer to locate the Southern California Veterans Cemetery on the ARDA Transfer Site and not at any other location in the city of Irvine.” Nearly 20,000 signatures were gathered by volunteers, qualifying it for the ballot, including nearly 4,000 from one of us: Ed. Residents and veterans thought that this was over when City Council adopted the initiative by a 4-1 vote as an ordinance in May 2020.

City Council waited until June 2021 for the updated CalVet report of both the ARDA and “golf-course” sites. After receiving it, Irvine’s City Council did not even discuss the second diversion, maybe because it was an obvious red herring.

And now a third diversion faces us: Gypsum Canyon, promoted just before the city of Irvine’s considerations on June 22.

One Political Action Committee, VALOR, has wound its threads through this whole process. It was founded by a long-time political operative in OC, Nick Berardino and received considerable funding from the developer FivePoint, in order to garner the approval of the land swap back in 2018, with nearly a million dollars funneled to the PAC by FivePoint and affiliated developers. Even today, Berardino remains a registered AB 368 lobbyist for VALOR, which is explicitly “Sponsored by Heritage Fields El Toro, LLC,” also known as FivePoint.

Meanwhile, many of the veteran groups VALOR claims to represent raise questions. Other groups seem to be those that should not have particular interest in OC. One listed VFW post is in Nevada (No. 3630), and another is in Pennsylvania (No. 6553). On the other hand, the group supporting the original MCAS El Toro site has hundreds of local veteran supporters.

Lastly, Gypsum Canyon is problematic. We have been provided a review of the reports and studies that reveal that Gypsum Canyon is ill-suited for development.  Geotechnical issues include landslides, mudslides, and seismicity, as it sits on an earthquake fault line. It is also designated by CalFire with the highest fire danger rating. The land is surrounded by protective easements that list special status species of native plants and animals. In short, Gypsum Canyon looks unviable for any development.

We hope that this unviable third diversion is the last, and the studied, approved ARDA site at the heart of MCAS El Toro will soon proceed to become SoCal’s first State Veterans Cemetery without further deviations.

Kev Abazajian is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine. Luette Forrest is a retired veterinarian specialist at the University of California, Irvine. Ed McNew is a 48-year resident of Irvine and an army veteran. They are volunteers with the Build the Great Park Veterans Cemetery Committee. 

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