Remembering Mayor Ed Lee

Alice B. Toklas Pride Breakfast 28th June 2015. From right Alice B Toklas LGBT Democratic Club Co-Chair Brian Leubitz, Mayor Ed Lee, Alice Co-Chair Zoe Dunning, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. Photo: Gareth Gooch

by Brian Leubitz

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee passed away early this morning. I wanted to process my thoughts before I actually wrote anything about his passing. Of course, my sincere thoughts go out to his wife Anita, his two daughters, and all of his family and friends. It is a sad day for all San Franciscans.

In 2011, I worked for Mayor Edwin Lee’s campaign for Mayor. I’ve heard friends on the campaign talk about the role it had in their political education, but I’ll simply say that it was a campaign in the very real local campaign sense. It was about organizing and getting out the vote.

I can’t say that I have a lot of stories about the Mayor from the campaign, but what I can say is that he was truly a nice man. Not in the way of the politician that is good at glad handling, which he really wasn’t, but in the way of a friendly neighbor or a random guy you sometimes see on the street. He wasn’t a particularly skilled orator or a tactical politician, and you could tell that he would rather be talking to friends than on a stage in front of hundreds. But, he did his duties as Mayor.

Being Mayor of San Francisco right now, and in 2011, is a herculean task. The City faces monumental challenges, particularly around housing and homelessness. Any Mayor could stumble when facing these issues, and maybe this Mayor could have done more, or could have done pursued different policies. But beyond all that, it was clear to see that he deeply cared about the issues. It would be very hard to argue that Mayor Lee didn’t care about San Francisco or San Franciscans, even if you differed on the prescription for what ails the city.

His passing leaves a long legacy of public service, and a tall task for incoming Acting Mayor London Breed to help the City grieve and face its very real challenges.

More Fires

NASA image of the smoke from the fires in Southern California on Dec. 5, 2017. (Image: NASA twitter feed)

Ventura County is battling fast moving fires

by Brian Leubitz

While Sonoma and Napa Counties are just beginning to recover from the fires there, a new rash of powerful fires are burning in Southern California. Thousands have been forced to evacuate already, and strong winds are pushing the fires forward at up to 80 miles per hour.

As of earlier this afternoon, the Ventura County Thomas Fire has burned 50,000 acres, destroyed at least 150 structures and forced 27,000 people to evacuate,  click here for an LA Times list of the road closures and evacuation orders.

Meanwhile, a fire in Sylmar has burned over 10,000 acres. An evacuation order for the eastern part of the city is in place, but with the winds, all nearby residents should be ready to leave quickly.

This fire season has already been a hard one, with 43 dying in the North Bay fires. Yet there are some who still argue that climate change isn’t real. Yes, there are cyclical climate patterns, and the heavy rain last year added fuel to burn all across the state. And it is hard to point at any individual fire and say that this is the doing of climate change.

But in aggregate, the worsening of wildfires is due to climate change. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists points out some of these changes:

Wildfire seasons (seasons with higher wildfire potential) in the United States are projected to lengthen, with the southwest’s season of fire potential lengthening from seven months to all year long. Additionally, wildfires themselves are likely to be more severe.

Researchers and modelers project that moist, forested areas are the most likely to face greater threats from wildfires as conditions grow drier and hotter.

Surprisingly, some dry grassland areas may be less at risk, but not because they would be flourishing—the intense aridity is likely to prevent these grasses from growing at all, leaving these areas so barren that they are likely to lack even the fodder for wildfire.  

The governor has already declared a disaster in Ventura County. Be safe out there.

3 Republicans voted with their constituents. 11 looked elsewhere

Issa, McClintock and Rohrabacher join Dems in voting NO on House tax proposal

The President is going to want his Heart charm back.

by Brian Leubitz

The House voted on their tax debacle, and 3 of California’s Republicans joined all of the Democrats in voting no. But in the end, the GOP tax bill passed through the House of Representatives with a vote of 227-205.

But, as with the health care “repeal and replace”, this is going to be decided in the Senate. Sen Johnson of WI has already said no. That means they need to get this done while Luther Strange is still in the Senate and the GOP Caucus will have either lost a seat or are dealing with a pedophile in their caucus.

Our own Senators are strongly against the bill, and so we will be left hoping that a couple of the wavering Republicans will opt for a NO. With the health care mandate now thrown into the mix, this bill could be a grenade to our health care system as well as the pocketbooks of the middle class.

Representative Party District Vote
Doug LaMalfa Republican 1 Yes
Jared Huffman Democrat 2 No
John Garamendi Democrat 3 No
Tom McClintock Republican 4 No
Mike Thompson Democrat 5 No
Doris Matsui Democrat 6 No
Ami Bera Democrat 7 No
Paul Cook Republican 8 Yes
Jerry McNerney Democrat 9 No
Jeffrey Denham Republican 10 Yes
Mark DeSaulnier Democrat 11 No
Nancy Pelosi Democrat 12 No
Barbara Lee Democrat 13 No
Jackie Speier Democrat 14 No
Eric Swalwell Democrat 15 No
Jim Costa Democrat 16 No
Ro Khanna Democrat 17 No
Anna Eshoo Democrat 18 No
Zoe Lofgren Democrat 19 No
Jimmy Panetta Democrat 20 No
David Valadao Republican 21 Yes
Devin Nunes Republican 22 Yes
Kevin McCarthy Republican 23 Yes
Salud Carbajal Democrat 24 No
Steve Knight Republican 25 Yes
Julia Brownley Democrat 26 No
Judy Chu Democrat 27 No
Adam Schiff Democrat 28 No
Tony Cardenas Democrat 29 No
Brad Sherman Democrat 30 No
Pete Aguilar Democrat 31 No
Grace Napolitano Democrat 32 No
Ted Lieu Democrat 33 No
Jimmy Gomez Democrat 34 No
Norma Torres Democrat 35 No
Raul Ruiz Democrat 36 No
Karen Bass Democrat 37 No
Linda Sanchez Democrat 38 No
Edward Royce Republican 39 Yes
Lucille Roybal-Allard Democrat 40 No
Mark Takano Democrat 41 No
Ken Calvert Republican 42 Yes
Maxine Waters Democrat 43 No
Nanette Barragan Democrat 44 No
Mimi Walters Republican 45 Yes
Lou Correa Democrat 46 No
Alan Lowenthal Democrat 47 No
Dana Rohrabacher Republican 48 No
Darrell Issa Republican 49 No
Duncan Hunter Republican 50 Yes
Juan Vargas Democrat 51 No
Scott Peters Democrat 52 No
Susan Davis Democrat 53 No

California’s Leaders on Trump/GOP Tax Joke

Some California Leaders had some thoughts.

Sen. Harris:

Senator Feinstein:

“It’s unbelievable the lengths that Republicans will go to give the richest Americans a huge tax cut. The Republican tax bill will likely increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion and slash key deductions and credits for working families in order to give the richest Americans and large companies a tax cut.

“I’m particularly concerned about limitations on essential tax provisions that benefit working families and the middle class. This bill would harm families and is a non-starter for me, and I’ll fight to defeat it in the Senate.”

Mortgage Interest Deduction

The Republican bill caps the mortgage interest deduction for new home purchases at $500,000. All told, 18 counties in California have median home prices above $500,000 including Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Marin, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Orange, San Benito, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Ventura.

“Owning a home is an essential part of the American dream. Capping the mortgage interest deduction could create a huge barrier to homeownership and depress existing home values across the country.”

Sales and Income Tax Deductions

The Republican bill eliminates the deduction for state and local income taxes. In California, 5 million households claimed the income tax deduction in 2015.

“Ending this important deduction for the middle-class would mean income could be taxed twice and could lead to the reduction in critical state and local services. Republicans should scrap this one-sided effort and work with Democrats to pass true tax reform that ensures working families aren’t hurt and everyone pays their fair share.”

Minority Leader Pelosi did a Facebook live event. In a previous event, she had this to say of her 14 Republican California colleauges:

“We would hope that our colleagues would use their numbers – 14 – to influence the Republican leadership to take this out of the bill – and a bill that’s a disaster in so many other respects as well,” Pelosi said. “But short of that, we indict them for causing great harm to their constituents, financially, community-wise and to our great state.”

“Are they so weak that 14 of them could not weigh in and say, ‘This is not right for the future of our country’?” she said. “Have they no power? Have they no influence with the Republicans?”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who apparently forgot to add the caveat, “except for Californians.” He has a twitter video here.

“Every single American is going to keep more of what they earned.”

Speaker Rendon:

“The dangerous Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax plan throws California taxpayers under the limousine. Under the rushed-together Republican tax plan, hardworking Californians could pay up to 22% more to subsidize tax breaks for billionaires and big corporations. Cutting the mortgage deduction in half hurts homebuyers and the housing industry. Proposition 13 lowered California property taxes, but the Republican tax plan effectively raises the property tax for many California homeowners. Adding insult to injury, the Republican tax plan makes Californians pay taxes on taxes we already pay. Whether it is students with loan debt or builders trying to create affordable housing, millions of Californians will be harmed by the Republican tax plan. No member of Congress from California can support this plan and look their constituents in the eye.”

Rep. Mark Takano on Speaker Ryan’s plan – (D-Riverside)

“The House Republican tax plan is a massive transfer of wealth from Californians and middle-class families to wealthy individuals and large corporations. Limiting deductions for state and local taxes, capping the mortgage interest deduction, and eliminating the student-loan-interest and medical-expense deductions are all policies that are specifically designed to hit Californians, who already contribute more to the federal government than they receive.

“The winners in this plan are the small percentage of people who already possess the largest share of our country’s wealth. Repealing the estate tax benefits only those with greater than $5.6 million in assets. Repealing the alternative minimum tax would allow wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share, including President Trump, who would save millions of dollars if this provision is passed into law. And permanently cutting the corporate tax rate to 20% from the current 35% would only benefit the corporations that are already enjoying record profits.

“Shifting money from middle-class Californians to the wealthiest individuals and corporations in America is bad policy in any environment. But given the severe inequality in our country and the struggle many working families face every day, this plan is simply indefensible.

“I strongly oppose this legislation and don’t see how any California Republican could support it.”

DNC Spokesperson Vedant Patel ahead of a Mnuchin visit to Corona to shill for this joke:

“Despite widespread agreement that the Trump-Republican tax plan would actually raise taxes on many middle class families, Donald Trump’s loyal puppet Secretary Mnuchin is jetting off to California to pitch his boss’s damaging proposal. As one of the many multimillionaires in Trump’s Cabinet, Secretary Mnuchin stands to profit immensely and can’t – or won’t – comprehend the catastrophic consequences for California’s working families if this tax plan becomes law. While Secretary Mnuchin tries to sell this sham tax bill, we hope that he avoids using any chartered flights that could cost the American taxpayers more in addition to what this disastrous tax plan will.”

Drowning California in Norquist’s Bath

California Republicans risk tax increases for their constituents

by Brian Leubitz

Grover Norquist at Burning Man – NYMag
The feud over the tax deduction for state and local taxes continues after the recent House vote on the federal budget. Gov. Brown and Rep. Pelosi are mincing no words after all 14 California Republicans supported the budget. Brown went so far as to call the Republican members “like a herd of sheep” for voting for a measure that would increase taxes on Californians by ending the state and local tax(SALT) deduction.

But don’t worry, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) has a plan for that:

“You know how you get to deduct where California continues to raise their rates? I don’t think it’s fair that somebody else subsidize poor management of California or New York policies,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) told the California Republican Party convention last weekend.

“No longer can Sacramento say, I’m gonna raise the rates, just cause I’ll have the federal government subsidize it,“ McCarthy added as the crowd of conservative activists cheered him on. “They will have to be held accountable for when they want to raise taxes higher.“ (Capital Public Radio)

In other words, look over there, there’s a bathtub, let’s go hop into it because Grover Norquist told us to!

The California Republicans are hoping that the blame when the tax increases occur in California will be assigned to Democrats in the Legislature. But that seems somewhat of a gamble considering that those increases will be showing up on federal Form 1040 while Republicans control the federal government.

Look, SALT deductions are clearly not perfect, especially with respect to progressivity, but neither are any other of a number of tax expenditures. You know what else isn’t very progressive? Flattening the income tax structure to reduce taxes on the richest of Americans that, as Warren Buffet pointed out, don’t need a tax cut. Zeroing out this one deduction, while reducing taxes on the wealthy isn’t really what the Trump voters were dreaming of in their MAGA hats. And are the people really clamoring for reductions in the corporate tax rates that the Republicans are really focused on?

Pelosi, for her part, is calling on California Democrats to rally against the budget and the end of the SALT on November 3. For what it is worth, Capital Public Radio asked all of the California Republicans where they stand on the SALT deduction, with most not responding, but McCarthy and Rohrabacher said yes. We may get a full answer on how interested they feel in representing California as “tax reform” moves forward.

DiFi And KdL

Is this the fight we want or the fight we need?

by Brian Leubitz

By this point, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard about Kevin de León’s entry into the Senate race next year. There have been rumblings for a while, and it seemed that he was going to enter the race whether DiFi was retiring or not. He has his shiny new website all ready to go, while she has, um, a spam site at what would be the most logical website, and a site from 2012 that is apparently selling space for google ads. She may want to have somebody look into that.

Kevin de León and Dianne Feinstein
There are any number of ways to think about this race, and much of it comes from where you stand. Sen Feinstein was never the progressive California Senator, that was Sen. Boxer and now Sen. Harris. She has always been a champion for gun safety legislation, and a leader as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee. But she has never been a progressive firebrand. According to 538’s “Trump Score”, she is in the middle of the Democratic pack. But, that’s also 12 points more favorable to Trump than would be expected from a California senator.

On the flip side, there will be no end of Democrats announcing that running against an incumbent will bring ruin and the wasting of resources that could be spent in other states defeating actual Republicans. We will have to see where KdL’s money comes from once we see a report, but given the drama surrounding his candidacy, one would suspect that you won’t see many of the usual suspects on the contribution lists.

Now, Kevin de León has a lot of work in front of him convincing Californians that he will be a more representative (probably not so hard) and more effective (probably much harder) Senator that Sen. Feinstein. But the remaining question is whether the election will be decided in the first election or the second. As of yet, there are no serious Republicans in the race. But, if there are only two Democrats, and only one Republican, might we see another Dem-on-Dem general? Add in a third Democrat (Steyer?) that becomes a lot less likely. Add in a second Republican, and it becomes a lot more likely. Of course, this is one of the problems of the top-2 system. It leaves a lot up to gamesmanship and the sheer number of candidates. (For example, had Top-2 applied in the 2010 AG race, we would have missed a Rep on Rep race by a few thousand votes.)

At any rate, this race will certainly be interesting. How defining it is for the California (and national) Democratic Party is still up in the air.

Brown Vetoes Income Tax Disclosure Requirement for Presidential Candidates

Law would have required release of income taxes in order to be eligible to appear on the California ballot.

by Brian Leubitz

Sometimes you never know with Governor Brown. And so is the case with SB149:

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have required presidential candidates to release five years of income tax returns before their names could appear on the California ballot. The bill, SB149 by Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Ukiah, and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, was approved in the Legislature largely along party lines. Though it does not mention President Trump, it clearly targeted the commander in chief, the first in 40 years to withhold his tax documents from the public. (SF Gate)

With Gavin Newsom, you know how this would have turned out. He’d be all aboard this train, but Jerry gets uncomfortable. He comes up with a slippery slope argument; he questions the constitutionality. In his veto message (PDF), Brown does just that:

Add in the fact that he didn’t release his tax returns for either of his governor’s races, and you have one uneasy guy. I never thought he was *likely* to sign the bill, but I’m not sure I would have been surprised either way.

In other news, the governor made decisions on a number of other notable measures, including signing SB179 which allows the selection of a non-binary gender designation, and vetoing SB649, a telecom-backed measure that would have expedited the approval of cell phone towers.


by Brian Leubitz

The fires are still raging in the North Bay. There are at least 23 confirmed deaths due to the fires, but the number of missing is still in the hundreds. Mandatory and recommended evacuations are still in place for many neighborhoods in Napa and Sonoma Counties, and the fire grew to nearly 35,000 acres overnight. Smoke is covering large portions of the Bay Area, closing all schools in Napa County and most in Sonoma. Communities throughout the Bay Area have “unhealthy” air, including Oakland as the Number 2 worst air in the country right now. (After Napa.) And the devastation is stark. The drone video of this USPS driver delivering mail to a burned out subdivision is haunting.

Yet with all the devastation, and the continued fight to contain the fires, questions linger about whether we could have done more to prevent the fires and save lives once they started. The cause of the fires has not yet been fully determined, but with the warm winds on Sunday night, it wouldn’t take much of a spark to start an inferno. And it seems that several downed PG&E lines may have provided that spark:

On Wednesday, Cal Fire said that investigators have started looking into whether toppled power wires and exploding transformers Sunday night may have ignited the simultaneous string of blazes. The acknowledgment followed publication of a review by the Bay Area News Group of Sonoma County firefighters’ radio transmissions in the fires’ infancy that found that there were numerous downed and arcing wires. In the first 90 minutes Sunday night, firefighters were sent to 10 different spots where problems had been reported with the area’s electrical infrastructure. The crews reported seeing sparking lines and transformers.(SJ Merc)

We will eventually get a more complete determination, but this doesn’t look good for PG&E. It also doesn’t look good for the Governor, after he vetoed Orange County Sen. Moorlach’s bipartisan legislation (SB 1263) to require the California Public Utilities Commission to prioritize fire vulnerable areas for electrical line mitigation measures, and work with CalFire and local fire departments to develop maps and a system of “enhance mitigation measures.”

Brown vetoed the measure, saying that the CPUC was already doing the work. Brown doesn’t love stepping in with legislation when action is already in motion. That’s just Jerry. And it is far from clear that it would have changed anything for this fire even if it was signed.

Questions also remain as to whether authorities could have done more to alert residents in the early hours of Monday morning as the fire tore through neighborhoods. County officials used their subscription based services, but did not put out a general wireless alert:

As fires that would prove devastating burned across the North Bay late Sunday, Sonoma County considered sending a mass alert to cell phones in the region to warn of the rapidly spreading flames. But county officials decided against it, worried that doing so might create widespread panic and hinder the ability of first responders to combat the blazes.
It’s unclear how much that decision might have affected area residents’ responses to the deadly wildfires, particularly since many cell phone towers were destroyed in the blaze, making such messages undeliverable. But it adds to concerns that some in the fires’ paths were not alerted about the danger, leaving them little time to flee.(SF Gate)

Besides the downed cell phone service, the limited geographic filters meant that more people than necessary would have started evacuations and brought traffic to roads needed by firefighters. Ultimately, it was a judgement call, and it is difficult to really go back and determine if a larger blast would have been a net positive. Surely there will be time for much further review of all of these questions once the fire is put out and the communities can get to the long process of recovery.

Trump’s Tax Reform Targets California

GOP plan proposes double taxation, big savings for Trump himself

by Brian Leubitz

While there are still a lot of specifics to emerge, it is clear that the GOP tax plan would hit California hard. Of course, the biggest item that hits mostly blue states with higher taxes is the elimination of the state tax deduction. Think about how upset this would make Californians: under this plan, you would be paying taxes on the money that is going to taxes. And it is a lot of money, especially for a state like California that is a big net donor to the federal government. Details below, and Senator de Leon’s comments to the right.

The biggest deduction on the chopping block is the state and local tax deduction, which enables Californians to subtract those tax payments from their income before calculating how much they owe the IRS. In 2015, federal data shows that more than 6 million people in the Golden State claimed the deduction, worth $112.5 billion. That’s more than any other state, according to the Tax Foundation, a right-of-center tax policy research organization. California is one of just six states, along with New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania, that together claimed more than half of all state and local tax deduction dollars in 2014, the foundation says. (SacBee 9/27)

Putting aside the fact that Trump carried Pennsylvania, and would likely need it in 2020, that $112.5 billion represents a huge hit for the state. Now, you can imagine that the ads against such a measure wouldn’t be too hard to craft, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

And of course, the GOP can’t really just sell the plan on its merits. Apparently big tax cuts to the rich aren’t very popular, so instead, they are just lying.

California in Graham-Cassidy’s Crosshairs

Republican plan to destroy health care just won’t die

by Brian Leubitz

Just in case you weren’t sure about how stupid the Graham-Cassidy bill was, there’s the big BS factoid the Republicans are spreading:

“Right now, 37 percent of the revenue from the Affordable Care Act goes to Americans in four states”—California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, Mr. Cassidy said. “That is frankly not fair.”(NYT)

Arm band at Mayor Garcetti’s Town Hall supporting the Affordable Care Act
First, being a nerd, I would point out that those four states have roughly 20-25% of the nation’s population, but whatevs. The really important part is that these are four large states that chose to expand Medicaid. That’s why the Republican governors of several states that expanded Medicaid are now actively opposing this bill.

What does it mean for California?

By 2026, California would lose $78 billion in federal money for the Medi-Cal insurance program for the poor and in federal subsidies for low-income residents who buy health insurance through Covered California, the state exchange created under the ACA. That figure represents a 13 percent drop in federal funding levels, according to the analysis, which was funded by the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress.(SF Chronicle)

Anybody think California’s Republican Representatives will actually do the right thing for their constituents?