Archives for category: California

Oakland has been a playground for the privatization industry for many years. The state took control of Oakland in 2003 because of a budget deficit and removed its school board. Billionaire Eli Broad selected its new superintendent (and his successors), and reformers took charge, opening charter schools and promising revolutionary improvement. Their goal was to turn the public schools into a “free market.” Five years after the takeover, Oakland had 32 charter schools and 111 regular public schools. Needless to add, there was no dramatic improvement in Oakland. Today, Oakland has the highest proportion of students in charter schools of any city in California.

Tom Ultican wrote here about the saturation of Oakland by billionaire privatizers, who just can’t leave the district alone and are determined to pour in more resources until there are no public schools left.

Four advocates of public schools are running for the school board.

They are: Sam Davis (District 1), VanCedric Williams (District 3), Mike Hutchinson (District 5) and Victor Valerio (District 7).

Tom Ultican posed this question:

Community based schools run under the authority of an elected school board have served as the foundation for American democracy for two centuries. Feckless billionaires operating from hubris or theological commitment or a desire to avoid taxes or a pursuit of more wealth are sundering those foundations.

Will activists of good will be able to throw off the yoke of billionaire financed tyranny and defend their public schools in Oakland?

If you live in Oakland, please support these candidates.

In the Public Interest, a nonpartisan group dedicated to protecting public services and the common good, writes about the school board election in Santa Clara County, California. The intervention of outside money makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to be competitive in local races:

California: Charter school politics is influencing the Santa Clara County Board of Education Area 1 race, with charter school proponents making large contributions to incumbent Grace Mah. “Charter school political action committees and representatives have contributed more than $200,000 to Mah’s campaign in the last three weeks, many of them large donations that came in after the most recent reporting period. The Charter Public Schools Political Action Committee (PAC) has made two large donations: $75,000 on Sept. 28 and $105,000 on Oct. 13, according to campaign finance reports. Other contributions came from Santa Clara Charter Advocates for Great Public Schools ($5,000) and Champions for Education PAC ($20,000) as well as members of the boards of directors of Rocketship Public Schools, ACE Charter School and Bullis Charter School in Los Altos. Mah’s campaign raised about $80,000 through Sept. 19, bringing her current reported total to about $290,000.”

Palo Alto Online reports that “campaign contributions in this race further underscore the charter school divide, with Mah receiving significant support from pro-charter organizations and Baten Caswell receiving large amounts from vocal critics of Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, whose next renewal will come before the board in 2022.”

California has been underfunding its public schools for years. The state has vast wealth but low taxes for commercial real estate, due to Prop 13, which was enacted in 1978 as part of a taxpayer revolt. It froze taxes on commercial real estate at 1975 levels.

Who are the plutocrats funding the fight against Prop 15? Investigative journalism Capital & Main followed the money.

As reporter Bobbi Murray shows, the tax system is badly skewed and vastly profitable properties are under taxes.

Prop. 15, the second of 12 initiatives to appear on California’s ballot, would establish a “split-roll” system to tax corporate and commercial property at presently assessed values instead of at rates based on purchase prices set by Proposition 13 in 1978. Chevron, for example, has saved over $100 million a year on taxes, as its property is assessed at 1975 rates.

At 1.8 million square feet, the sprawling Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, the headquarters of the Walt Disney Company media conglomerate, is also assessed at 1975 rates and gets taxed at roughly $5.60 per square foot.

Comparable rates in the area range from $150 to $200 per square foot—some older properties are still assessed at $10 to $30 a square foot.

Prop. 15 would reset the tax system in a way that could add billions to state coffers. A recent California Legislative Analyst’s Office assessment showed that, should Prop. 15 pass, “Overall, $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion per year in new property taxes would go to local governments. Sixty percent would go to cities, counties, and special districts. The other 40 percent would go to schools and community colleges.”

Homeowners and small business owners would not be affected by Prop 15.

Homeowner property tax rates are not affected by Prop. 15—there is no adjustment to the present homeowner tax structure… Small business owners with fewer than 50 employees wouldn’t see a tax hike, provided their combined commercial holdings in California are worth less than $3 million. The text of the initiative says a new tax structure would be phased in over several years—the earliest that most storefront shops would be reassessed is 2025.

The No campaign has been largely focused on stirring fears among homeowners that somehow passage of Prop. 15 will raise their property bills.

Small businesses would actually get a boost from a provision that eliminates an existing state tax on equipment investment. Under the current system, if you run a coffee shop and need to buy new stoves and refrigerators, you pay taxes based on the value of the expenditure. Prop. 15 would eliminate the tax for any expenditure under $500,000.

The No on 15 campaign, financed by wealthy businesses, has resorted to scare tactics and lies.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative has contributed to the Yes on 15 campaign.

Jacques Leslie, a regular contributor, wrote in the Los Angeles Times about Prop 15:

Proposition 15, the November ballot measure that addresses California’s rickety property tax system, has been in the works for five years. Its creators could have had no advance knowledge of the coronavirus pandemic. But COVID-19’s crippling of the state’s economy has underlined the importance of the initiative.

Proposition 15 would amend the state Constitution and deliver a sharp poke to one of the state’s most famous experiments in legislation via ballot measure: Proposition 13, the 1978 taxpayer-revolt initiative that stabilized state property taxes for many but also hobbled the state’s revenue base.

Proposition 15 is a partial repeal of Proposition 13, but the key word is “partial.” It applies only to commercial and industrial property, and only to holdings worth more than $3 million. If it passes, the assessment on such property would rise annually based on market value instead of being capped at a 2%-increase a year. (The tax rate would stay the same, 1% of the sale price of a property.)

This limited reform could generate proceeds as high as $12.4 billion a year, according to a February study by three USC researchers. Local communities would receive 60% of the revenue; schools would get 40%.

That money could turn out to be indispensable. Because of COVID-19, California is facing a $54-billion budget deficit over 19, California is facing a $54-billion budget deficit over the next year. State revenues are expected to drop by a staggering $41.2 billion compared with a pre-coronavirus projection in January. Los Angeles estimates a budget shortfall up to $400 million, with concomitant cuts in city services.

Proposition 15’s deep-pocketed opponents will portray the measure as an all-out assault on Proposition 13, an attempt to raise homeowners’ property tax. But, in fact, it would have no effect on the tax bills of most Californians. The measure exempts all residential and agricultural property, and because it targets only high-value commercial and industrial property, the owners of your local café and dry cleaners will probably be unscathed as well.

On the other hand, Disneyland, whose property tax is still based on its assessment when Proposition 13 passed, would have to pay more. In fact, the USC study found that most of the increase in state revenues would come from properties worth at least $5 million. A study released by Proposition 15 supporters this week shows that just 10% of the state’s of the state’s corporate properties — that is, the biggest ones — would generate 92% of the revenue raised by the initiative.

Besides improving the state’s bottom line, passage of Proposition 15 would have a huge symbolic effect. Before 1978, California invested generously in its future, and earned big dividends for its residents. Between the 1940s and the 1970s, the state built highways, dams and aqueducts, and its educational system earned a reputation for excellence. But Proposition 13 marked a retreat from public investment. Now California’s infrastructure is outdated, the state is ranked as the fourth-most-unequal state in the union and its school expenditures-per-pupil have dropped from 14th in 1978 to 39th. Propositition 15’s passage would mark the end of an era of magical thinking: You can’t have the benefits of government without revenues to pay for them.

Most important, Proposition 15’s reforms could go a long way toward overriding some of the most pernicious side effects of Proposition 13. For example, the initiative would eliminate the competitive tax advantage that longtime commercial property owners hold over recent buyers, which are often business startups. New businesses, a key to innovation (and in the wake of COVID-19, economic recovery) would face one less major obstacle in California.

The initiative would also stimulate new housing at a time when the state desperately needs it. Under Proposition 13, properties deliver so little revenue to municipalities that cities have encouraged retail business starts instead of housing development, because more retail means more sales taxes. Proposition 15 would prompt development of vacant urban land by increasing taxes on speculators who hold onto empty properties because their tax burdens are so low.(A 2018 UC Santa Cruz study found that vacant properties with near-market- value assessments were five times more likely to be developed than properties with 1970s and early 1980s assessments.)

The initiative would also close what has been a gaping loophole in Proposition 13 that has added to its worst effects. New, market-value property assessments of commercial properties kick in under current law only when majority ownership changes. That has enabled publicly traded corporations to avoid new assessments even though their stock ownership may have rolled over many times, and it allows landowners to buy and sell and yet maintain lower assessments by dividing purchases among enough entities so that none holds majority ownership. Companies such as Chevron, Intel and IBM own land whose assessments are still based on 1975 values, while nearby properties are assessed at values as much as 50 times higher, according to the initiative’s organizers.

That has enabled publicly traded corporations to avoid new assessments even though their stock ownership may have rolled over many times, and it allows landowners to buy and sell and yet maintain lower assessments by dividing purchases among enough entities so that none holds majority ownership. Companies such as Chevron, Intel and IBM own land whose assessments are still based on 1975 values, while nearby properties are assessed at values as much as 50 times higher, according to the initiative’s organizers.

When Proposition 13 passed, rising real estate values were pushing California homeowners’ property taxes so high some lost their homes. It solved that problem but created others, adding to the state’s epic gap between rich and poor. Without the virus, Proposition 15 ought to have won because it is just. Now it is also urgent.

A week ago, the Los Angeles Times endorsed Prop 15 and said it was about restoring fairness to the state’s broken taxing system.

Jack Hassard, a professor of science education, scoffs at Trump’s claim that California could avoid forest fires by raking leaves on the forest floor. The cause of the raging fires, he writes, is climate change. Trump has declared that climate change is a hoax so he can’t admit what scientists agree is a growing environmental crisis.

This interesting post quotes Trump’s exchange with California officials. It’s painful to read because Trump is so clearly stupid.

By the way, Governor Newsom pointed out that the federal government owns 57% of California’s forest. The state owns less than 5%. If Trump wants leaf-raking, he should hire people to do it on federal lands.

From the Sacramento Bee:

Trump ignored the fact that the federal government manages much of the forested land in the West. Of the 33 million acres of forest in California, roughly 57% is owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service or federal Bureau of Land Management, according to a report by the state’s Little Hoover Commission. State and local governments control only 3%, while the rest is private.

Read more here:

Jennifer Hall Lee has won some important endorsements in her campaign to join the Pasadena Board of Education. She is a public school parent and has been active in fundraising for the public schools.

She has been endorsed by major education and Democratic party groups.

Pasadena Board of Education candidate Jennifer Hall Lee on Monday announced her latest endorsement from the California School Employees Association.

A member of the Altadena Town Council, Lee is running in District 2 against Wayne Hammack and Mike Crowley in the Nov. 3 election. The candidates are vying for the seat currently held by Pasadena Unified School District Board member Roy Boulghorjian, who did not file nominating papers for re-election.

The only woman in the three-person race, Lee has also won the backing of United Teachers of Pasadena, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, the National Women’s Political Caucus-Greater Pasadena Area, Foothill Community Democrats, Planned Parenthood Advocates, Democrats of Pasadena Foothills, and Jim Osterling, president and chair of the Pasadena City College District Board of Trustees.

Go, Jennifer!

Thomas Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has been researching the tentacles of the Destroy Public Education movement in various cities.

In this post, he reviews the plutocrats’ lavish spending in California. It’s tapered of since 2018, he writes, but it’s still enough to outspend and overwhelm citizens who want to have a role in choosing their local school board.

The biggest battle in the state this year is the competition to control the board of the Los Angeles Unified School district. Ultican gives a succinct overview of the candidates, then examines the spending of the plutocrats.

The issue in L.A., again, is whether the plutocrats will win control so they can expand the charter sector or whether advocates of public education will overcome the money spent by the plutocrats and limit privatization.

Michael Kohlhaas, a super investigator of public records in California, discovered that 22 charter schools in Los Angeles were rated “low performing” this year. If they get the same rating for a second year in a row, they must close, under the terms of the recently passed charter accountability law, AB 1505.

Among the low-performing schools are a couple of KIPPS, some Ref Rodriguez charters, and other highly touted but low performing schools.

Thomas Sowell at the Stanford’s Hoover Institution pointed to NYC’s high-scoring, high-attrition Success Avademy as his evidence for the miracle of charter schools. Los Angeles is not far from Palo Alto. Why didn’t he look there?

This dramatic story was just reported in the Los Angeles Times. Members of the California National Guard, firefighters, and law enforcement groups risked their lives to save others. Why would they do this? There was no money in it for them. There was service, duty, courage, valor. Call it heroic.

The call came in to the California National Guard at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

A fast-moving brush fire had choked off the only road out of a popular recreation area in the Sierra National Forest. Hundreds of campers were trapped.

The Creek fire, which ignited Friday evening about six miles to the west, had jumped the San Joaquin River and made a run toward the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, where people were enjoying the Labor Day weekend.

“As fire crews and law enforcement were trying to get everybody out, the fire spotted and then basically grew,” said Alex Olow of the U.S. Fire Service. “Exiting out the road wasn’t safe, so people were asked to shelter in place.”

Authorities quickly determined the only way to evacuate them was with a massive airlift done at night as the fire burned unchecked.

That marked the start of a massive multiagency rescue that some officials described as unprecedented in size and scope.

“Our focus was getting the helicopters in and getting as many people out as quickly as possible to save lives,” said Col. Jesse Miller, deputy commander for joint task force domestic support with the California National Guard.

The Guard worked to assemble its teams and line up resources. But by the time it was in a position to send in aircraft, the fire had essentially reached the Mammoth Pool area, said Col. Dave Hall, commander of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, which flew the mission.

“The smoke column’s naturally high, very difficult,” Hall recalled. “And we needed some of that essentially to burn down a little bit in order for us to effect a safe rescue.”

At 6:30 p.m., when conditions improved slightly, the Guard launched a CH-47 Chinook and a UH-60 Blackhawk from about 60 kilometers away in Northern California. The helicopters staged in Fresno to receive guidance about where they could approach to pick people up.

A remotely piloted MQ-9 aircraft operated by the Guard’s 163rd Wing based at March Air Reserve Base worked above the site, helping to scout conditions. Personnel identified a small clearing alongside a boat launch road that could be used as an emergency landing zone.

About 8:20 p.m., the helicopters landed at Mammoth Pool.

The seven crew members were greeted by more than 200 campers, many of them clustered on a dock near the boat launch, Hall said. Some had suffered injuries including scrapes, burns and possible broken bones.

But they were ecstatic.

“I spoke with the crew members afterward and they said it was one of the greatest missions they’ve ever done just because of the feeling of relief the individuals who were rescued had,” Hall said. “They were literally giving the crew chiefs hugs as they were boarding the helicopter.”

Rescuers found that some campers had suffered serious burns from the fire as well as scrapes and broken bones.

Some of those at Mammoth Pool described a terrifying scene of driving through flames and finding shelter wherever they could.

Jeremy Remington told ABC30 that he and his family were boating when they went to fill their chest with ice. In less 30 minutes, he said, the fire was roaring toward them.

“The fire completely engulfed everything, all around us,” he said, adding they poured water on their shirts and used them to cover their faces as protection against the smoke and heat.

Two people had suffered life-threatening injuries. They were put in the helicopters first. Then came the 19 “walking wounded,” who needed hospital care but were not considered critical. Crews also prioritized children and those with underlying health conditions, officials said.

“Their focus was on rescuing them, getting them from the point of danger to point of safety and then getting them into the hands of the emergency medical professionals that were on the ground,” Miller said.

Crews dropped off the passengers at Fresno Yosemite International Airport, where a makeshift triage site was set up. There, paramedics assessed injuries and arranged for people to be taken to hospitals, while other emergency workers made sure those who were displaced were matched with shelters.

The helicopters then returned to Mammoth Pool to pick up another load.

By then, between the darkness and thick smoke, conditions had deteriorated again. Not knowing if they’d be able to make it back a third time, the crews loaded as many people into the helicopters as they could — more than 100 passengers in the Chinook and 21 in the Black Hawk, Hall said.

Luckily, they were able to make one more trip, and everyone who wanted to leave was airlifted. Two people chose to stay behind, Olow said.

When the mission was completed about 3 a.m., 214 people and 11 pets had been rescued, Hall said. At least 21 people were taken to hospitals.

“In my career with the Army National Guard, I have not seen an evacuation of this size nor have I heard of anything similar with regards to a fire incident,” Hall said. “So in my book, this is one of the largest events ever.”

But it might not be the last, he said. The fire was 0% contained late Sunday morning and had charred at least 45,500 acres, as evacuation orders continued to multiply.

“We do believe there will be more rescues,” Hall said. “We are posturing crews day and night to support potential rescues. What is unique about the terrain up there is it is a very, very popular camping site and also backpacking site. And because the fire travels very quickly, it is very possible for backpackers and hikers to potentially be stranded.”

Miller credited the work of scores of agencies, including the Madera and Fresno County sheriff’s offices and fire districts, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the California Office of Emergency Services and the California Highway Patrol, for the success of the daring rescue.

Back in the late 1970s, a conservative California businessman named Howard Jarvis put a proposition on the state ballot to cap property taxes. It was called Proposition 13. It passed. It has caused massive defunding of public services, especially public education. Prop 13 “rolled back both residential and commercial property taxes in California. In so doing, the conservative businessman set in motion a cataclysmic decline in the state’s revenues, triggering devastating budget reductions to public education and a host of public services. No other ballot measure in contemporary California history comes close to rivaling the impact of Prop. 13, whose aftershocks can still be felt more than four decades later.”

This year, there is an effort to reverse Prop 13. It is called Proposition 15. It would allow the state to raise the commercial tax rate.

Larry Buhl of Capital & Main notes that a large number of prominent Democrats, including Governor Gavin Newsom, have not endorsed Prop 15, which would help the state rebuild public services and make up for the dramatic decline in tax revenues caused by the coronavirus.

Why the silence of the Dems?

As of September 1, the Yes on 15 campaign boasted more than 400 endorsers, including county supervisors, mayors, city council members, members of the state assembly and senate, and school board members. Notably absent, however, are statewide elected officials, except for Sen. Kamala Harris and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

42 of California’s 45 Democratic U.S. Representatives
have not endorsed Prop. 15.

Alex Stack, spokesman for Schools and Communities First, the group behind Prop. 15, told Capital & Main that SCF didn’t expect any statewide Republicans to endorse.

Also missing on the endorsement list are the state attorney general, secretary of state, 42 of the 45 Democratic U.S. representatives, and the Democratic mayor of San Jose, California’s third-largest city. True, it was never expected that the secretary of state and attorney general would endorse any ballot measures, to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. That’s because the AG might be called upon to defend any proposition that becomes law, while the secretary of state oversees the balloting and vote counting process. But the silence of others remains unexplained.

Capital & Main checked in with U.S. representatives from six of California’s most Democratic districts — Ted Lieu, Jimmy Gomez, Jared Huffman, Maxine Waters, Jackie Speier and Zoe Lofgren — but none responded to repeated inquiries. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office also did not respond. A spokesperson for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that he was not likely to endorse Prop. 15 but would not provide a reason why.

Efforts to repeal all or parts of Prop. 13 have failed — sometimes stymied by Democrats, sometimes by Republicans.

Stack had a theory about Liccardo. “San Jose has wealthy companies sitting on prime real estate. IBM and Intel are legacy companies paying $150 per square foot when the going rate is many times that.”

Launched by businessman Howard Jarvis in 1978, Proposition 13 put a ceiling on property taxes, basing taxes on their 1976 assessed value and capping annual increases at 2 percent per year. It also prohibits reassessment of a new base year value except in a change of ownership, or completion of new construction. Supporters of repealing Prop. 13, or in this case one part of Prop. 13, say that wealthy corporations, unlike homeowners, shouldn’t be allowed to pay taxes at rates set decades ago, especially when municipalities are hurting for revenue…

An analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Prop. 15 would raise anywhere from $7.5 billion to $12 billion annually. That money would go toward schools and communities strapped by the COVID-related economic downturn.

In an ambitious effort to restart safe schooling, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced the launch of a massive program of testing and tracing for students and staff in Los Angeles.

Laura Newberry and Howard Blume report in the Los Angeles Times:

The Los Angeles Unified School District on Sunday said it was launching an ambitious coronavirus testing and contact tracing program for all students and staff aiming to create a path to safely reopening campuses in the nation’s second-largest school district.

If the plan comes to fruition as described, it would be one of the most extensive to date for an American school district. It remains unclear, however, how quickly it would be implemented and when in-person learning could resume.

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner outlined the plan in an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times published Sunday, saying “the goal is to get students back to school as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety of all in the school community.”

Beutner said the district hopes to be able to test all students and staff as part of a partnership that includes UCLA, Stanford and Johns Hopkins University, Microsoft, Anthem Blue Cross and HealthNet, among others. He said the testing would cost roughly $300 per student over a year.

“We are currently fine tuning systems and operational logistics. Then we will begin providing tests to staff currently working at schools as well as to any of their children participating in childcare provided for Los Angeles Unified staff,” he wrote. “Tests will then be provided for all staff and students over a period of weeks to establish a baseline. On an ongoing basis, sample testing based on epidemiological models will be done for each cohort of staff and students.”

The move comes amid growing concerns from parents about a fall semester of online learning for the district’s 700,000 students. A Times survey published last week showed poor students generally fare much worse than more affluent students.

Last week, the Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously approved a plan that will restore structure to the academic schedule while also allowing for an online school day that is shorter than the traditional one.

The plan leaves some parents and advocates in the nation’s second-largest school system wanting more teaching hours. There also are parents who want fewer mandatory screen-time hours for their young children — a reflection of the complexities of distance learning and the widespread parent angst over the start of the school year next week at home, online.