Source: CALmatters
Aug. 2, 2017

California’s politicians and civic leaders have portrayed Tesla as the crown jewel of the state’s efforts to build a new economy for the 21st century while dramatically reducing carbon emissions. Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal of having 1.5 million battery- or hydrogen-powered “zero emission vehicles” or ZEVs on California roads by 2025, roughly five times their current numbers, with ZEVs being 15 percent of all new car sales by then. Toward that end, the state has been an indirect investor in Tesla through corporate tax breaks and direct subsidies to purchasers of its cars. Tesla has also benefited handsomely by selling credits to other automakers in lieu of their meeting state quotas for making and selling ZEVs. If Tesla doesn’t deliver on its ambitious production and sales goals for Model 3 and finally become profitable, it will not only be a huge setback for Musk and other stockholders, but for the politicians who are also betting on its success.

July 26, 2017

Slowly – but surely – we are learning that the near-catastrophic failure of Oroville Dam’s main spillway wasn’t truly caused by weather, even though the state claims that in seeking federal aid for repairs. Rather, it resulted from poor engineering and construction when the nation’s highest dam was rising more than a half-century ago as the centerpiece of the State Water Project, and poor maintenance since its completion. The latest evidence is a huge report by a team of engineering experts, headed by Robert Bea and Tony Johnson of the University of California’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. It concluded that the dam’s fundamental flaws were compounded by decades of neglect by the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD). . . .But there’s an even more pertinent question raised by the Bea-Johnson study – whether the state is even capable of competently building and maintaining huge public works projects. One recalls the more recent example of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, one third of which was replaced after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake revealed the section’s flaws. It not only took a quarter-century to design and build the futuristic replacement, but costs wound up four times their original estimate and after it was completed, it was revealed that there were major construction flaws that the Department of Transportation didn’t disclose but investigative journalism by The Sacramento Bee exposed. When asked about it, Brown infamously replied, “Shit happens.”

July 24, 2017

Simple arithmetic reveals why permit streamlining is critical. The state says we need 180,000 new units of housing a year, but we’re building only 100,000 now. Closing that 80,000-unit gap would require more than $26 billion a year in additional investment at the average cost of $332,000 per unit for lower-end housing cited in Brown’s budget. Under even the best circumstances, therefore, the state could provide only a tiny fraction of the needed money, so making it easier for private and non-profit money to flow into actual construction is the most vital element of any package. The major pitfall is that faced with the difficult politics, Brown and legislators will settle for a token response – throwing a few billion dollars at the problem that won’t make even a small dent and failing to enact the regulatory reforms. That not only would ignore the most vital issue, but would allow politicians to claim a face-saving, undeserved victory, much as they did for a roadway improvement package that covers only a fraction of the unmet need.

June 29, 2017

Meanwhile, the 1999 nurse staffing law has spawned annual efforts by other California unions to bypass collective bargaining and pursue working condition goals via political decree from a Legislature whose majority Democrats are closely aligned with labor. Two bills moving through the Legislature this year are examples of the syndrome, one affecting dialysis clinics that treat kidney failure patients by periodically filtering wastes from their blood, and the other affecting private ambulance companies. Union advocates contend, as the CNA did in 1999, that they would safeguard patients and, therefore, justify the bypassing of contract negotiations. However, both would also directly raise employers’ costs and indirectly tilt future labor negotiations by taking key financial items off the table. Not surprisingly, therefore, employers oppose them as gratuitous and unrealistically rigid and argue that they will eventually increase medical costs borne by patients and their insurers and/or restrict access to medical services.

June 23, 2017

California’s new system for funding public education has pumped tens of billions of extra dollars into struggling schools, but there’s little evidence yet that the investment is helping the most disadvantaged students.

A CALmatters analysis of the biggest districts with the greatest clusters of needy children found limited success with the policy’s goal: to close the achievement gap between these students and their more privileged peers. Instead, results in most of those places show the gap is growing.

The test scores echo a broader and growing concern about the four-year-old Local Control Funding Formula from civil rights groups, researchers and legislators. They also raise concerns about whether the $31 billion invested so far in foster youth, kids learning English and students from low-income families has been well spent.

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