Magnolia Tank Farm project is the right reuse for Huntington Beach

Like communities across the nation, Huntington Beach has suffered through the pandemic, impacting not only residents’ health, but wreaking havoc on the local economy and municipal finances. At this challenging time, it is important leaders embrace opportunities to repair and renew economic resilience and community health.

Huntington Beach City Council has such an opportunity on January 19 when it considers a proposal for re-use of the Magnolia Tank Farm. Located at the intersection of Magnolia Street and Banning Avenue, it derives its name from three above-ground oil storage tanks built in the early 1970s and demolished several years ago. What remains is essentially an eyesore on the beautiful Huntington Beach coastline.

The Magnolia Tank Farm project is for 250 for-sale homes, a 215-room boutique eco-friendly lodge and 19,000 square feet of retail and dining space that will create jobs and generate property, sales and hotel bed tax revenues to fund city services. The hotel will feature meeting facilities available for use by the community.

Huntington Beach is a unique and wonderful community, and land reuse proposals should honor the existing community, balance competing interests, protect the environment and respectfully move the city forward. Magnolia Tank Farm project meets these standards.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits, a development agreement contractually obligates the developer to deliver a range of community benefits, including three acres of new public parks, trails and viewpoints.

Land from the site will be set aside as a new public park, Marsh Park, offering public views of the Magnolia Marsh and the ocean, recreation areas and an amphitheater. An elevated public coastal trail providing ocean views will be built along the western edge of the site, next to the marsh. Furthermore, the existing privately owned greenbelt known as “Squirrel Park” will become Magnolia Park; it will be owned by the city, open to the public,  but maintained – at no public expense – by the new community’s homeowner’s association.

Other community benefits include millions of dollars to fund improvements to the Banning Branch Library and Edison Park, as well as traffic improvements and beautification for Banning Avenue and Magnolia Street. While each of these improvements offers immediate benefits to residents, they also make Huntington Beach a more attractive location for those looking to start a business or relocate their economic ventures to a new locale. Especially now as Orange County looks to recovery after the devasting economic impacts of COVID-19, leaders should take every opportunity to position their communities for success.

Equally important is the ongoing contribution Magnolia Tank Farm will make to the fiscal health of the city and the greater Orange County economy. The four-star eco-friendly lodge and retail/dining venues mean more jobs and business opportunities, increased property, sales and bed tax revenues. The project itself will contribute millions of dollars in developer fees to city and school coffers.

This is an opportunity to convert nonproductive land into a valuable community asset.  It also provides badly needed housing to address a severe backlog in supply and meet local requirements under state law.  The lack of options for Huntington Beach residents and workers exacerbates traffic and air quality problems as more are forced to commute; it hampers Orange County’s competitive business advantage as young professionals increasingly move elsewhere in order to buy homes, crippling economic growth. With this project, Huntington Beach remains a leader in economic recovery, while also complementing and preserving its local community character.

Expert analysis and official findings researching the details and fiscal implications were evaluated by the Huntington Beach Planning Commission – an important step before City Council review – and the commissioners voted overwhelmingly for project approval.

Magnolia Tank Farm’s balance and panoply of benefits have garnered broad-based support from business leaders, public safety, civic organizations, community leaders, residents and housing advocates, including Huntington Beach Police Officers Association, Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, Orange County Business Council and many others.

It is not often when the county’s leading business organization and a police union align on issues.  But here we heartily concur and ask Huntington Beach City Council to join with us in support of an effective reuse of a blighted site – and to seize this opportunity to create jobs, economic vitality, new businesses, for-sale housing, expanded environmental access and millions in tax revenues for vital public services.

We urge a “yes” vote for this project.

Lucy Dunn is President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council. Yahsa Nikitin is President of the Huntington Beach Police Officers Association

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Newsom’s budget will make California’s problems worse

With the political maelstroms in Washington D.C., it’s easy to overlook California’s own pressing problems. Recently, Gov. Gavin Newsom submitted his 2021-22 State Budget proposal, which would make California’s troubles go from bad to worse. The $227.2 billion fiscal blueprint increases government unions’ power and wealth, pouring gasoline on California’s myriad public policy fires.

More government spending won’t fix the economic problems facing the state. California has the country’s seventh-highest unemployment rate, with 1.5 million people looking for work. Poverty, economic opportunity, and income inequality are all among the worst in the nation. The state’s strict Covid-19 restrictions have caused immense small business pain for little-to-no apparent gain. Hospitalizations per capita are near the highest in the country, and many ICUs are overrun.

California’s tax and regulatory burden are downright European, making it very difficult for small businesses to stay profitable even at the best of times. Californians earning a mere $59,000 per year face a 9.3 percent tax rate. Yet, Golden State residents get almost nothing in return for their massive tax burdens. Schools are failing (when they’re open), homelessness is out of control, infrastructure resembles the Third World, and first responders are slow to arrive, if they come at all. That’ll get worse to the extent California communities succeed in defunding police.

Electricity rates are among the highest in the nation, and $4 a gallon gas raises everyone’s cost of living. Meanwhile, the green mandates that drive up energy prices haven’t helped the environment, as annual forest fires due to a lack of forest management destroy air quality and decimate entire cities. Recurrent blackouts mean Californians don’t even get reliable energy in return for their high bills.

As a result of this climate, businesses and people are fleeing the state. In recent months, top executives, including Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, and Keith Rabois, have fled, taking tens of billions of economic activity and tax dollars with them. Census figures show that this outmigration isn’t limited to the top 1 percent, with more people moving out than moving in over the last few years.

No wonder there’s a recall effort against Gov. Newsom that’s quickly gaining steam. Even the mainstream media has caught on to the political ramifications of the consequences. “Newsom scrambles to save California — and his career,” reads a recent Politico headline.

Now Gov. Newsom is about to make things worse with a budget that further diverts state resources into government unions’ pockets. California’s government unions already collect nearly one billion dollars annually in dues payments that are partly used to elect politicians who — like Newsom — will do their bidding.

His budget proposal calls for roughly $90 billion in education funding, the highest level in state history. Parents are currently paying for tutoring and supplies that would have otherwise been provided in classrooms. Given that it will be months before teachers return, parents bearing the costs of educating their kids at home might wonder if this is a misdirection of resources.

The budget directs a total of $7 billion in pandemic-related support to schools and students. These funds are in addition to the billions of dollars that California schools have already received in federal aid. Yet classrooms don’t need to resemble hospitals. They can already return with the same added cost-effective precautions seen in the rest of the economy. Newsom’s additional funds are little more than a payoff to teachers unions cajoling them to reopen classrooms.

The budget directs roughly one billion dollars to expand transitional kindergarten, which offers teachers unions an opportunity to further grow their ranks by organizing early childhood educators. The budget press release notes, “The Administration has already begun the collective bargaining process with representatives of child care providers to negotiate a memorandum of understanding that governs the payments made to these providers.”

Californians have more than enough to be concerned about here at home without worrying about what’s going on in Washington, D.C. Gov. Newsom’s budget will only make the problems worse by further empowering government unions responsible for them in the first place.

Will Swaim is the president of the California Policy Center.

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Private property’s harvest

I’m thankful.

Yes, we’ve got the pandemic, lockdowns, a worsening deficit, etc.

But we still live in a relatively free country at the most prosperous time in human history.

The pandemic showed that when people are faced with crises, we adjust. Restaurants switched to takeout and outdoor dining. Grocery stores began curbside pickup. Companies mass-produced masks, hand sanitizer, ventilators and, now, vaccines. I hide from COVID-19 by staying home; yet, thanks to new services such as Zoom, I can research this column and make my weekly videos from my couch.

That’s brought benefits. I no longer have to deal with traffic congestion.

Traffic jams are a good example of what ecologist Garrett Hardin called the “Tragedy of the Commons.”

Because roads are free, more people drive, and roads are often congested. If roads were subject to “peak-load pricing, charging higher prices during times of peak demand and lower prices at other times,” Hardin wrote, then we’d have fewer traffic jams.

I bring this up now, before Thanksgiving, because a similar Tragedy of the Commons nearly killed the Pilgrims. When they landed at Plymouth Rock, they started a society based on sharing.

Sharing sounds great.

But sharing, basically, is collective or communal farming, which is socialism. Food and supplies were distributed based on need. Pilgrims were forbidden to selfishly produce food for themselves.

That collective farming was a disaster. When the first harvest came, there wasn’t much food to go around. The Pilgrims nearly starved.

Since no individual owned crops from the farm, no one had an incentive to work harder to produce extra that they might sell to others. Since even slackers got food from the communal supply, there was no penalty for not working.

William Bradford wrote in his “History of Plymouth Plantation” that the colony was ridden with “corruption” and “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”

People eager to provide for their families were less eager to provide for others. Bradford wrote, “young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.”

Ultimately, said Bradford, shared farming “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”

The Pilgrims “begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope (so) they might not still thus languish in miserie.”

Languishing in misery is what people in Venezuela do now.

The Pilgrims’ solution: private property.

In 1623, the collective farm was split up, and every family was given a plot of land. People could grow their own food and keep it or trade it. “It made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” wrote Bradford. “Women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability.”

The Pilgrims flourished because they turned to private property.

So, this Thanksgiving, be grateful for private property, a foundation of capitalism.

Your grocery may not have the small turkey you wanted this year, but they have much more of what you want than people in the Soviet Union ever got.

When you’re shopping for dinner or stocking up for Lockdown 2.0, be glad that you have so many options available.

If government controlled the production of turkeys and toilet paper, this would be a very, very unhappy Thanksgiving.

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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Two numbers to keep in mind for 2022

Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

With Joe Biden’s election and Democrats narrowly holding the House for now, they’re hoping that 2022 has no connection — in harmony, meter, measure or other literary device — with 1994 and 2010. Why are these numbers important? In 2022, President Joe Biden’s first mid-term election, he would be wise to understand the about face the voters made in each of his Democrat predecessors’ first mid-term election and why this move to the right occurred.

The number of seats that Democratic House members lost in 1994 and 2010 was 54 and 63 seats respectively during Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s first mid-term election. In both cases, voters in key congressional districts believed that the president had moved away from moderate positions and, instead, embraced progressive, big-government policies. The voters took out their anger on incumbent congressional Democrats.

In 1992, after 12 years of Republican rule, Bill Clinton spurned leftist policies and ran as a centrist Democrat, a stance that made sense running against a moderate Republican, George H.W. Bush, and quirky third-party candidate, Ross Perot. Once in office, the temptation to push a backlog of Democrat policies proved too enticing. His ultimate downfall was healthcare reform. Led by Hillary Clinton, the plan promised universal healthcare for all Americans and was supposed to be the crowning achievement of his first term agenda. Instead, by late-summer 1994, then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, declared Hillary-Care dead. That November, after nationalizing the election, Republicans picked up 54 seats, the largest swing in membership since 1948. Speaker Newt Gingrich and his “Republican Revolution” assumed House majority status for the first time since 1952.

In 2010, after skillfully pushing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) through the Senate with a filibuster-proof 60 votes, House Democrats were forced to accept the sweeping legislation “as is” because any amendments would require Senate concurrence — but the vote count in the Senate had changed. Democrats now lacked the 60-vote threshold to end debate. After Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, passed away, Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown — thus leaving the Democrats with a 59-vote majority.

Barack Obama’s first mid-term election was mainly fought on his handling of the recovery following the Great Recession (a largely anemic stimulus package) and on Obamacare. Like 1994, Republicans successfully nationalized the election. The end result was that Republicans picked up 63 House seats, the largest seat gain since 1948. The GOP also won six gubernatorial seats and took control of 20 state legislative chambers.

Fast forward to 2021-22. Here’s where Joe Biden would be wise to study history. The president-elect, largely pushed by a progressive Democratic Party, has advocated for a public option for healthcare, the phasing out of oil and natural gas, a $4 trillion tax hike plus an assortment of other progressive taxes and policies. He will receive no relief from agitators such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and House progressives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

But Joe Biden also has an opportunity. He can choose to govern as a “uniter” and an institutionalist with great knowledge of the U.S. Senate. If so, his first mid-term could easily end up more like 2002, George W. Bush’s first mid-term election, where the GOP picked up eight seats.

It’s too early to tell which path President Biden will take, but the decision will be his to make.

Matt Klink is a partner at California Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs, government relations and political consulting firm.

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What the Trump team is claiming

President Trump’s legal team held a press briefing on Thursday and said they can prove there was election fraud in multiple states involving more than enough ballots to reverse the election results.

“We have more than double the number needed to overturn the election in terms of provable, illegal ballots,” Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani said, citing sworn affidavits from witnesses in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona.

Giuliani and attorney Sidney Powell described a massive scheme to alter vote counts using Smartmatic software, which is run on Dominion Voting Systems used in dozens of states, as well as old-fashioned ballot-box stuffing with fraudulent vote-by-mail ballots.

It is true, and publicly documented, that Dominion Voting Systems technology was denied certification for use in Texas elections after an extensive review. “The examiner reports identified multiple hardware and software issues,” the Secretary of State’s Office wrote in a Jan. 24 statement explaining the rejection of Dominion’s Democracy Suite 5.5-A system, including “concerns” about whether it is “safe from fraudulent or unauthorized manipulation.”

And it is true that right here in California, security vulnerabilities in Smartmatic software were publicly documented as part of the Secretary of State’s conditional certification of the voting technology now in use in Los Angeles County. L.A. built its own proprietary system and uses Smartmatic software to run it.

The reports of tests on L.A.’s “Voting Systems for All People,” or VSAP, technology are available on the secretary of state’s website. The California Certification Software Test Report for VSAP Tally 2.1 — the software that counts the votes — concludes with this: “Potential vulnerabilities were identified.”

And the report includes this response from Smartmatic:

“Developer Response: Smartmatic staff has investigated this list of potential software security vulnerabilities. We find that most of these relate to Internet connected systems. Some could be exploited by trusted insiders, even without the system being inadvertently or maliciously attached to the Internet. We note that many are not easy to exploit or would not give an attacker meaningful access or capabilities that would allow undetectable manipulation or results or denial of service. A malicious trusted insider would likely attempt other avenues by which to subvert the voting system.”

One documented avenue: A “trusted insider” could use an “infected USB flash drive” to load malicious software into back-office servers and workstations.

It is fully documented and beyond dispute that Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic software have security vulnerabilities that would enable tampering with the vote tally in an election.

Powell said she will prove in court that there was a two-step scheme to tamper with the vote tally electronically and then to further affect the count by introducing a flood of unauthorized or manufactured mail ballots into tally centers. She said she will prove in court that Smartmatic software was used to switch votes from Trump to Biden and to “inject” additional votes for Biden. She said she can prove that questionable ballots for Biden were delivered and tallied out of sight of observers in the middle of the night, that stacks of ballots were run through scanners multiple times, and that some precincts had voter turnout of up to 350 percent.

If true, it’s very serious.

In addition to the allegations about tampering with the vote tally, there are constitutional issues pending before the Supreme Court which could affect the certification of the vote in Pennsylvania and other states. The Constitution gives state legislatures the power to determine the “manner” of state elections for federal offices. In Pennsylvania, the legislature’s deadline for the arrival of absentee ballots was Nov. 3, but the executive and judicial branches of the state government extended the deadline by three days.

Following an emergency appeal, Justice Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania to keep separate all the ballots that arrived after Nov. 3 so that a remedy would be available if they were found to be invalid.

Powell said she has sworn affidavits from election workers who say they were instructed to backdate ballots that arrived on Nov. 4, 5 and 6 so they would appear to have arrived on November 3, evading the court’s order to separate them.

Giuliani said he can prove that Trump won Pennsylvania by 30,000 votes if only lawful votes are counted. He said he can also prove that Trump won Wisconsin, where the state’s strict procedures regarding mail-in votes require voters to apply for absentee ballots. Giuliani said 100,000 absentee ballots just in Milwaukee and Madison were counted even though there is no record that anyone applied for them.

The Trump lawyers have a couple of weeks to prove enough to convince some state legislatures to vote to withhold their electors or send a different slate of electors to vote in the Electoral College on Dec. 14. That’s the vote that actually elects the president. If no candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, the election goes to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation has one vote.

The framers of the Constitution built layers of safeguards into the process of electing a president, knowing that with so much power at stake, there might be times when malicious forces attempted to interfere with the vote.

We’ve seen plenty of malice. We’ll see if there’s proof.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

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Whatever happens Tuesday, life will get better: John Stossel

Worried about Tuesday?

Remember: The most important parts of life happen outside politics.

Love, friendship, family, raising children, building businesses, worship, charity work — that is the stuff of life! Politicians get in the way of those things. But despite the efforts of power-hungry Republicans and Democrats, life gets better.

You may not believe that. Surveys show most people think life is getting worse.

But it isn’t, as Marian Tupy and Ron Bailey point out in their new book, “Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know.”

“Child labor was once ubiquitous. Now it’s limited to a few countries in Africa. Women did not have a vote (until New Zealand granted it at the end of the 19th century). Today, women vote everywhere except for the Vatican,” Tupy reminds us.

“Gays and lesbians, persecuted for millennia, are free to marry. Slavery was universal; now it is illegal. The world has never been more peaceful, more educated and kinder.”

But the nastiness of today’s politics may stop progress! Make life worse!

It’s possible, but “worse” compared to what?

I’ve lived through the Vietnam War, a military draft, 90 percent income tax rates, price controls, indecency laws, widespread racism and sexism, Jim Crow, the explosion of crime in the 1970s…

Overall, life got better.

With Donald Trump and Joe Biden claiming the other will destroy what’s good, it’s hard to see improvement. But the world has made progress, largely thanks to libertarian ideas.

“For millennia the world was marked by despotism, slavery, hierarchy, rigid class privilege, and literally no increase in the standard of living,” says Cato Institute Vice President David Boaz in the May/June 2020 Policy Report.

“Then libertarian ideas came into the world. Of course, they weren’t called that at the time. … (T)hey were the ideas of human rights, free markets, property rights, religious toleration, the value of commerce, the dignity of the individual – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

These ideas created a wave of progress unlike anything in history.

“Look at the chart of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, or any measure of economic growth,” adds Boaz. “It looks like a hockey stick: flat for almost all human history, and then it rockets upwards.”

The media shriek hysterically about every problem, and we have problems: pandemic, lockdowns, unemployment, wildfires, bad cops, violent riots, crime…

But no matter who wins on Tuesday, life will probably get better.

Entrepreneurs will invent cool things.

This year, while Democrats and Republicans fought, the private sector found cheaper and better ways to send people into space.

The World Bank complained about governments not providing all people clean drinking water. So private companies are doing it. A billboard in Peru turns humidity into potable drinking water. A drinking straw, LifeStraw, removes bacteria and parasites from water.

Forests are expanding because modern farming uses less land, allowing the forests to regrow.

Thanks to often-despised free markets, poverty continues to decline. In 1981, 42 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty. By 2018, only 8.6 percent did. Do politicians ever highlight those gains? No.

Probably because most of those good things happened in spite of them, not because of them.

Most good things do.

Yes, we still have lots of problems: trillion dollar deficits, mental illness, crushing regulation, endless wars (although fewer of them), criminal injustice, inequality, climate change…

But it’s always been that way. Evolution programmed humans to focus on problems. Our ancestors survived in a very dangerous world. If they weren’t hypervigilant, they wouldn’t have lived long enough to give birth to the people who gave birth to us.

I obsess about problems. But I try not to let that distract me from the big picture:

More people in more places enjoy prosperity, religious freedom, personal freedom, democratic governance, largely equal rights, civility, better health and longer lives.

Neither Trump nor Biden is likely to destroy that.

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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Don’t waste a vote on Trump or Biden, cast a vote for liberty

I can comfortably project that my former law school friend and moot court colleague at Syracuse Law School, Joe Biden, will carry the presidential vote in California.

Given that, I say that if your non-Biden vote is not cast for the Republican this year, it would be far more impactful if you are so tired of the crazy divisions and angst in today’s American politics.

A vote for President Trump, whether you like it or not, believe it or not, happens to be the proverbial wasted vote this time.

So, if you are concerned about wasting your vote (which I as a Libertarian have been hearing about for decades now), or if you are just dissatisfied with the results of your past voting ventures for years now, you might finally consider and make a change in your pattern of voting — or at least you should.

Republican or Democrat, name your poison: Both of those parties raise our taxes, continue to steal our freedoms and are totally out of touch with most of us, especially if we are not insiders or big-time donors.

But you need to know that disgruntled voters really don’t have to settle and vote for the lesser of two evils. Some of you know that you actually do have a choice, much to the chagrin of those currently in power.

Jo Jorgenson is running for president on the ballots in all 50 states and D.C. as we speak, and is the very candidate that so many of you have been yearning and wishing for for years when clamoring for a third party or a new one.

So who the heck is Jo Jorgensen, and why haven’t I heard more about him before?

Well, first of all Jo’s a she, Joanne at birth, but Jo has been her name for years, and as a tenured professor at Clemson University today. Secondly, the powers running the show apparently don’t want anyone to know about Jo Jorgensen, Libertarians, the Libertarian Part and as little as possible about our libertarian roots of this nation as depicted in the words of the first half of the Declaration of Independence.

So, if you might finally just happen to be interested in knowing and understanding what the LP is and represents, you might go to LP.org and actually see a real political party platform, not your typical made-up list of stuff invented solely to catch votes and voters every two to four years.

And know that the Libertarian Party platform has changed very little since its inception in 1971, stressing individual liberty, free markets, defending Americans in America (actually end wars and bring the troops home), ending the tyranny of the Federal Reserve on citizens’ financial security, immediately ending the long-ago failed war on drugs. The LP seeks to prosecute white-collar criminals who are systematically transferring wealth, property and power from honest middle-class people to the so-called titans of industry who possess unparalleled influence over government at all levels. Jo Jorgensen advocates the end of the crony capitalism of the GOP, and the restoration of everyone’s civil rights.

Finally, you might recall that it has been the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who have stuck American citizens with a debt somewhere around $27 trillion now, along with an ever-expanding federal government, perpetual war, madness in public policy and now an imminent police state as a result of their ever-shifting draconian COVID-19 policies.

It’s way past the time to stop wasting your votes on the two dangerously self-serving statist parties, and actually choose freedom over fear or habit in these trying times, for a change.

Elect Libertarian Jo Jorgensen to be the first female president ever, on Nov. 3, 2020. Frankly, I submit that this presidential election is far too important this time to vote for yet another Republican or Democrat for president. Because if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.

Richard Boddie is a member of the Southern California News Group’s editorial board.

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California needs a better election system

On April 28, the Election Integrity Project California notified Secretary of State Alex Padilla that its analysis of the state’s official voter registration file found more than 458,000 registered voters who were going to be mailed a ballot even though they had likely died or moved.

None of these registered voters had voted or updated their registration since November 2008 or earlier, and 178,000 had never voted, yet all remained classified as “active” voters.

EIPCa’s data analysts also found that 24,000 Californians were likely to be mailed two or more ballots, because they have more than one registration each.

So Padilla can’t say he wasn’t warned.

Last week, EIPCa sent findings to Padilla documenting that California mailed out 440,000 “questionable” ballots in this election. Nearly 420,000 were mailed to people who have likely moved or died, and two to four ballots were mailed to each of 20,000 voters. For example, in Alameda County, a woman with three active registrations was mailed three ballots. She registered three times in 2020 using three different registration methods.

Padilla’s VoteCal database system is supposed to prevent that from happening.

“Earlier this year, the Secretary repeatedly rejected similar findings, despite the risks of universal mail voting with a bloated voter list,” said EIPCa president Linda Paine. She encouraged candidates and political parties to obtain EIPCa’s report on questioned ballots and work with local election officials to make sure only lawful votes are counted.

California’s 58 counties mailed out a total of more than 21 million ballots for the Nov. 3 election. It’s the first time every voter has received a vote-by-mail ballot, and this presents many challenges. It’s especially difficult for the U.S. Postal Service, which isn’t set up to meet specific delivery deadlines on bulk mail or postage-paid return mail. That partially explains the near-hysterical public service announcements urging everyone to vote early.

People shouldn’t have to vote early if they prefer to vote on Election Day, and voters shouldn’t be subjected to an official campaign of fear, spreading the message that voting at the polls may be difficult, unsafe or too crowded to accommodate everyone.

More fear-mongering is coming from the fight between the Republican Party and Democratic elected officials over ballot “harvesting.” This is the practice of collecting vote-by-mail ballots from willing voters who have completed, sealed and signed them.

The California Republican Party placed metal mailbox-style boxes at various locations, including churches, gun stores and campaign offices. Except for the fact that some of these containers were incorrectly labeled “Official” ballot drop-boxes, this is completely legal. Assembly Bill 1921, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, ended a bunch of old-fashioned “safeguards” that had been put in place to ensure election integrity. For example, it once was illegal in California for anyone working or volunteering for a group, organization or campaign to deliver someone else’s ballot for them.

Under AB1921, a voter may give his or her ballot to any person who offers to deliver it to election officials. Campaigns can collect ballots. So can political parties, unions and other organizations. The person who is going to deliver the ballot is supposed to sign in a designated place on the ballot return envelope, but state law says counties may not refuse to accept a ballot solely because the person returning it failed to sign the envelope. (The voter must sign.)

In addition to unofficial ballot drop-boxes, there are official ballot drop-boxes where voters can deposit their completed ballots. This was yet another reform that purportedly would make it easier and more convenient to vote.

One problem with these unattended outdoor drop-boxes became evident last weekend when somebody lit a piece of newspaper on fire and stuffed it into a ballot drop-box in Baldwin Park. L.A. County officials estimated that about 200 ballots were inside, damaged to varying degrees by fire and water.

California voters who want to be sure that they’re still registered correctly can check at RegisterToVote.sos.ca.gov. Voters who want to be sure their ballot was delivered and counted can sign up for ballot tracking at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov.

Of course, technology isn’t perfect. When I checked the “Where’s My Ballot” site, this is what came up: “Hi! If you are seeing this page, BallotTrax is undergoing necessary maintenance that required us to bring part of the system down. We are working on bringing the system back as fast as possible.” And then it thanked me for my “patience and understanding.”

Here’s an idea for a revolutionary election reform to solve the problems of bloated voter lists, foreign or domestic hacking, excessive burdens on the USPS and delays due to crowds at the polls.

Under this plan, we will vote at assigned locations in our neighborhoods on Election Day. To make sure there is no electronic tampering, we will sign in on a printed paper roster of registered voters, and we will vote using ink on a paper ballot that can be recounted and reviewed later. As in other states, we will show a photo ID at the polling place so no one can impersonate anyone else and illegally vote their ballot. While anyone may request a vote-by-mail ballot, it will only be mailed after they request it, and it may only be returned by mail, by the voter, or by a family or household member.

This will be the perfect system for California. Paper is the only technology that still works when the power goes out.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

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Gov. Newsom continues to make it harder to ever reopen

You may recall that in March, the American public was bombarded with an image illustrating the concept of “flattening the curve” of COVID-19.

It typically showed a tall, red, angry-looking lump that resembled something out of a Road Runner cartoon after the coyote gets hit on the head by a falling boulder. This illustrated the projected course of the COVID-19 outbreak “without protective measures” to slow the spread of infection.

Overlaying the giant red lump was a soft wave, typically shown in soothing blue, that showed the projected course of the outbreak “with protective measures.”

What these two projections had in common was this: either way, the thing ends. The number of infections goes up, and then it goes down, and then it’s over. The difference between taking protective measures or not is how fast the number of infections rises, and whether the outbreak overwhelms the capacity of the health care system at a point in time.

Either way, doing everything or nothing, the outbreak ends.

That was in March. Now it’s October. In California, the state government – that is, Gov. Gavin Newsom alone, without any constitutional checks on his power – is inventing a way to make sure the COVID-19 emergency never ends.

It’s called “health equity.”

The Newsom administration released what it calls “The Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” No longer measuring hospitalizations or worrying about the potential for the medical system to be overwhelmed, the Blueprint relies on two measures to determine when a county can move to a “less restrictive tier” that allows more businesses to open and more “interaction among residents.” These measures are “case rate” and “test positivity.”

However, something new has been added to the requirements that larger counties must meet before the governor will allow commerce and the free movement of people.

“In order to advance to the next less restrictive tier, depending on its size, a county will need to meet an equity metric and/or demonstrate targeted investments to eliminate disparities in levels of transmission,” the Blueprint says.

What’s an equity metric?

“A county with a population of greater than 106,000” must ensure that the test positivity rates “in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods” do not “significantly lag behind its overall county test positivity rate.”

What’s the definition of a “most disadvantaged neighborhood”?

It’s defined as “being in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index census tracts.”

What’s the “Healthy Places Index”?

“The California Healthy Places Index (HPI) is a composite measure of socioeconomic opportunity applied to census tracts that includes 25 individual indicators across economic, social, education, transportation, housing, environmental and neighborhood sectors.”

It’s starting to sound like businesses can’t open until “targeted investments” are made to solve every problem in California.

The technical term for this policy is “circling the drain.” Unless businesses open and people can work, the stream of incoming tax revenue that makes public investments possible will continue to shrivel. Public revenue has declined during the lockdown, leaving cities, counties and the state in fiscal straits. To fix this, the governor favors the massive tax increase of Proposition 15, along with calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to ask about more federal relief funds.

Poverty is a severe problem in California, the state with the highest poverty rate in the nation when the cost of living is taken into account. About a third of state residents live below the poverty line or close to it.

One thing that reduces poverty is employment. It will never be possible for government benefits to equal the financial gains that are possible when people can find good jobs at decent wages.

California’s blithering idiocy on economic policy has created an Alice-in-Wonderland world where lucrative freelance work is banned by law, where local economic engines such as theme parks, which have safely reopened in other states, are forbidden to operate, and where counties are being held hostage to the whims and agenda of one public official.

In late September, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to push back against yet another revision of the governor’s plan to reopen counties, a data algorithm used to “adjust” a county’s COVID-19 case and positivity rates.

For example, in the week ending September 12, Kern County residents were tested for COVID at a rate lower than the state median. So the algorithm was used to bump up the case rate in the county from the raw number of 6.3 per 100,000 to an adjusted number of 7.2 per 100,000.

That was enough to keep the county from advancing to a less restrictive tier. The cutoff was 7 per 100,000.

Kern County officials argued that the case rate adjustment is arbitrary and has no clinical relevance. County Administrator Ryan Alsop told reporters, “This new criteria unnecessarily burdens our residents, parents and children, further slowing business and school reopening. It unnecessarily and arbitrarily penalizes counties who have little to no control over voluntary and individual decision-making relative to testing for COVID-19.”

Because the number of people who choose to be tested in each county will fluctuate, the state median is constantly changing, and that makes the adjusted case rate a moving target.

All the targets are arbitrary. The equity metric is particularly arbitrary and seems designed to assert state control over how counties spend grant funds allocated to them for the pandemic response. As a condition of moving to a less restrictive tier, counties will be required to “submit a plan” that “defines its disproportionately impacted populations, specifies the percent of its COVID-19 cases in these populations, and shows that it plans to invest” its grant funds on state-approved priorities.

The evidence continues to accumulate that the governor is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to implement policies through emergency action that he could never get through the Legislature or past the voters.

The emergency is over. We’re clearly on the downslope of the red lump. It’s time for regular constitutional government to return in California. It’s past time for everyone to remember that power belongs not to the people who hold it, but to the people who grant it.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

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Education reform should come before tax increases: Gloria Romero

Californians are getting sucker punched by Proposition 15, a statewide ballot initiative on the November ballot. Appropriate for the Halloween season and ongoing pandemic, it comes to us masked as one of those “feel good” initiatives based on claims it’s just about “increasing funding sources for public schools.”

In fact, there are no guarantees that any of the new revenues raised will ever trickle down “for the children” in a classroom.  Most likely, the new taxes will travel through a confusing labyrinth of line items set up to benefit bureaucrats and their pensions and perks before any tax dollars ever end up in classrooms.

As a life-long educator, voters shouldn’t fall for this sugar-coated poison pill — especially at a time when Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to strangle our economy by ordering shutdowns of businesses, schools, and churches with constantly changing arbitrary reopening metrics.

If passed, Prop. 15 will become the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” — chiseling away at Proposition 13 protections. It won’t be long before homeowner protections become the next target.

Prop. 15 will raise property taxes by $11.5 billion per year and force many small businesses —already struggling to survive under Gov. Newsom’s harsh shutdown orders — to permanently shutter, negatively impacting jobs, families and communities throughout the state.

By the way, these are the moms and dads of the kids Prop.15 proponents are so supposedly concerned about.

Small businesses drive innovation in California’s economy. Before COVID-19, immigrants started 42 percent of California businesses, according to Harvard Business School. Minority- and women-owned businesses are vital parts of the economy, with 25 percent of businesses owned by Latinos and 38 percent owned by women.

These businesses will face a significant rent hike because neighborhood restaurants, bakeries, nail salons and other mom and pop businesses frequently cannot afford to own their property, so they rent.

Under the most common lease agreements, they are responsible for paying their portion of property taxes. Prop. 15 will raise property taxes substantially on shopping centers and strip malls, office parks, farms and most other business properties. When that happens, small businesses will end up paying the bill.

During the first few months of the COVID-19 lockdowns, the number of Latino business owners declined by 32 percent during the pandemic’s early months, and women-owned businesses fell by 25 percent, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. With the surviving businesses struggling to pay rent now, how will they afford a rent increase under Prop. 15?

Prop. 15 proponents are trying to bypass discussion of the overall economic impacts by focusing on more funding for schools. To start with, their campaign committee’s name – Schools and Communities First – is deceiving — a creation of focus groups finding that voters are more likely to support tax increases when “it’s for the kids.”

Yet, there’s no guarantee that the monies raised by this tax increase would even go into the classroom. Prop. 15, quite simply, is just another blank check to the same broken system that — when it finally trickles down to the schools — finances pay raises and pensions first.  In a moment of sanity, even the California School Boards Association has refused to endorse it.

Prop. 15 proponents wail that our schools are starving and passage will restore funding that was mercilessly eroded when Proposition 13 — the real target of this tax increase measure — was first passed.

Yet, California already invests almost half our entire state budget into those same schools — each year.  According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts’ Office (LAO) and recent state education budget figures, total education funding has grown dramatically since 1978 even with Proposition 13’s passage — increasing over $93 billion and representing all-time K-12 funding highs. Additionally, LAO data shows total K-12 revenues grew from $10,780 per average daily attendance in 2011-12 to $17,423 in the recently signed budget.

Despite increased funding, student reading and math progress remain stagnant—especially for poor and minority children. That’s no wonder when the funding follows the adults rather than the students in the system.

Quite frankly, if Prop. 15 were really about the kids the new revenue would be tied to reform metrics, including giving parents the right to choose the best schooling option for their kids. A measure concerned about our kids could have been written requiring that state education funding truly follows the child regardless of where they go to school — including parental choices for homeschooling, charter schools, and faith-based options.

Rather, drafted by status quo special interests including the California Teachers Association, it was written to be dropped into the proverbial black hole of the ever expanding state budget with no discernible improvements in the lives of everyday Californians or their school-age children.

Thus far, polling shows the public is getting wise to this trickery.  It’s time to vote No on Prop. 15.  Do it for the kids.

Gloria Romero previously served as Democratic majority leader in the California Senate. You can follow her on Twitter: @GloriaJRomero.

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