January 3, 2020 – News & Notes

For Clients & Friends of The Gualco Group, Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE – 2020 New Laws: “First of Their Kind…Sea Change”


Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests.  Please feel free to forward.

Stay current daily!  For our focused updates via Twitter: @jrgualco / @robertjgore / @gualcogroup



California’s New Laws for 2020 – “First of Their Kind…Sea Change”

Wall Street Journal, 1/1/20, no link

On Jan. 1, California will usher in a host of largely progressive laws that will mean major changes for consumers, workers and businesses, big and small.

The laws, passed by a solidly Democratic legislature and governor, include first-of-their-kind consumer-privacy protections, a sea change in the way employers classify independent contractors and a cap on rent increases in a state grappling with sky-high housing prices.

For many businesses, the new laws will require significant changes to how they collect data on consumers and whether they pay workers overtime or provide paid sick leave, changes that aren’t required by any or most of the other 49 states.

But rebuffing the new laws could mean taking a seat outside the Golden State’s booming market, which boasts 39 million people and a gross domestic product of more than $3 trillion.

“Whether you’re doing business that’s headquartered or started in California or not, it’s still major business,” said Kevin McKinley, director of state government affairs for the Internet Association, an industry group that lobbies on behalf of technology companies.

Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc., both based in California, spent millions of dollars collectively to lobby legislators in 2019, most prominently trying to fight what is known as the state’s gig-economy law. The measure, called Assembly Bill 5, or AB5, takes effect Jan. 1 and will require employers in many industries to classify their workers as employees except in very limited circumstances, making them eligible for workers’ compensation, overtime and other labor protections.

The homegrown ride-hailing giants—who rely on fleets of workers operating as independent contractors and have more drivers in California than anywhere else—have pegged the law as an existential threat. They are employing a three-pronged strategy to escape the law’s provisions, threatening a 2020 ballot measure to exempt themselves, and hoping for a fix in the Legislature. On Monday, Uber and food-delivery company Postmates Inc. filed a lawsuit against the state in hopes the courts will provide relief.

The law would also affect a variety of other industries. Trade groups representing truckers and freelance writers have filed suits against the law and are pushing for new exemptions as legislators open the 2020 session.


Newsom’s Year One Was Baptism by Fire…No, Really

Associated Press

During his inaugural address last January, Gov. Gavin Newsom made only a passing reference to wildfires and never mentioned the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric. Both soon became inescapable topics.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy barely three weeks after the Democratic governor was sworn in, triggering a series of events that defined the former San Francisco mayor’s first year as leader of the country’s most populous state.

Newsom worked with state lawmakers to create financial stability for PG&E and the state’s two other investor-owned utilities; developed a plan that required them to strengthen their safety measures; and forcefully reacted when the utilities shut off the lights to millions of Californians.

“He certainly had baptism by fire, and I’m not even kidding,” said state Senate leader Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat.

PG&E’s bankruptcy was prompted by an estimated $30 billion in liability from wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018, including the state’s deadliest and most destructive blaze, which killed 85 and nearly leveled the city of Paradise.

Fearing further financial consequences, PG&E instituted wide-scale blackouts when weather created high fire danger. In previous years, utility lines and other equipment sparked fires when winds were extreme.

Newsom declared he “owned” the blackouts and would fight to keep them from happening again, putting himself squarely in the center of an issue that had prompted a public outcry. He also blasted the utilities for years of poor maintenance and a lax focus on safety.

“Newsom has shown a willingness to really engage on a topic that wasn’t of his choosing, and that’s an important hallmark of a strong governor,” said Michael Wara, a researcher on climate and energy policy at Stanford University who has worked with the state on energy and wildfire issues.

State Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican whose district includes Paradise, said Newsom has done a good job of changing wildfire policy, fighting to compensate victims and holding PG&E accountable.

“The governor and I don’t agree on a whole lot … but I think that we have found actually a lot of agreement and mutual cooperation when it comes to wildfire policy,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher even praised Newsom for working well with the Trump administration to procure federal disaster resources.

“I think a lot of this stuff is show,” he said of Newsom’s ongoing battles on Twitter and elsewhere with President Donald Trump.

Regardless, Newsom’s feuds with the Republican president attracted much attention. Perhaps the most consequential was the Trump administration’s efforts to stop California from continuing to set its own auto emissions regulations. In response, Newsom teamed with four major automakers to go against Washington.

When he wasn’t battling with the president, Newsom was advancing policy at a frenetic pace. He began the year by placing a moratorium on executions for the more than 730 people on California’s death row, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The move won praise from criminal justice reform advocates and scorn from families of people killed by convicted criminals who had been sentenced to death.

Elsewhere, he checked off a litany of items in his progressive wish list. Among them: health care to more young immigrants living in the country illegally, expanded subsidies for middle-income people to buy health insurance, an increased tax credit for working families, a ban on for-profit prisons, and stricter rules for when police use deadly force.

All of the moves drew sharp criticism from the state’s Republican minority, and some California residents have started a long-shot campaign to recall Newsom from office.

Newsom stumbled at times on message, sowing confusion early on about the future of California’s troubled high-speed rail project and injecting last-minute uncertainty into an impassioned debate over exemptions for childhood vaccinations.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a fellow Democrat, said it’s been a year of learning between Newsom and lawmakers after eight years of dealing with Gov. Jerry Brown.

“We’ve had an incredibly productive year, and I consider him a partner, and I know he is willing to work through things,” Rendon said.

Atkins, however, found herself at odds with Newsom when he vetoed her bill aimed at blunting environmental rollbacks from the Trump administration. Environmental groups, normally allies, were upset.

“I think he had some growing pains that were frustrating in the first year,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of the Sierra Club California.

Homelessness has become a top issue in California, and Trump took delight in highlighting the problem, saying the state’s major cities were “going to hell.”

Newsom has touted a $1 billion investment the state made in 2019 to address homelessness and the law he signed enacting a statewide cap on annual rent increases to help address the lack of affordable housing. But those moves have yet to produce visible results.

Still, Newsom said in an October interview with The Associated Press that his administration has done more than any other on the two issues.

“I can’t solve that overnight,” he said. But “we’re not being neglectful in that space, and I think the consequences of that will reverberate in cities large and small, but also will leave clues for other states that are struggling with the same.”

Gallagher said he thinks Newsom and Democrats have spent too much time focused on failed solutions to homelessness and housing. The assemblyman said the state needs to reduce government red tape and barriers to building.

“He needs to push a little bit harder maybe against his base on the issue to really see results,” Gallagher said.

Newsom’s overall approval rating has stayed between 44% and 48% during his first year in office, according to surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California. About 46% of people approve of his handling of the wildfire issues.

In a recent interview with the AP, Brown said a governor shouldn’t be measured until after a full four-year term.

“I think it’s a mistake to look to the first year and draw a lot of big conclusions,” he said.



Tech IPO Failures – Reality Check for Golden State; The Unicorns Come Home to Roost

NY Times

San Francisco has been left as a slightly more normal town of tech workers who got rich-ish, maybe making a few hundred thousand dollars. But that doesn’t go far in a city where the median cost of a single family home is about $1.6 million.

“Everyone that came back post-I.P.O. seemed to be the same person. I didn’t see any Louis Vuitton MacBook case covers or champagne in their Yeti thermos,” said J.T. Forbus, a tax manager at Bogdan & Frasco in San Francisco.

Private wealth managers are now meeting with a chastened clientele. Developers are having to cut home prices — unheard-of a year ago. Party planners are signing nondisclosure agreements to stage secret parties where hosts can privately enjoy their wealth. Union organizers are finding an opportunity.

Everyone had gotten too excited, and who could blame them? The money was once so close: A start-up that coordinated dog walkers raised $300 million. The valuations of the already giant ride-hailing behemoths had nearly doubled again. WeWork, a commercial real estate management start-up that owned very little of its own real estate, was valued at $47 billion.

Instead of yachts, tech workers are funding more mundane ventures like college savings plans.

“This year brought a lot of people back to reality,” said Ryan S. Cole, a private wealth adviser at Citrine Capital, a wealth management firm in San Francisco. “We’ve had a lot of people fund 529 plans for their kids. Pretty boring stuff.”

Some private wealth managers said they were actually somewhat relieved.

“At the end of the day, it’s funny money until it’s realized,” said Jonathan DeYoe, another private wealth adviser. “I’ve got Uber and Lyft clients that are disappointed. It’s a different house now. It’s a different school situation for the kids. But they’re still by and large in good places. No one’s impoverished.”

And so workers who thought they would upgrade from Allbirds to Berluti shoes are remaining, after all, in the Allbirds.

As some rank-and-file tech workers realize they might not get rich from company stock, the allure of working long hours without comparable real money pay is also wearing thin, said labor organizers. They have found traction this year in an industry long resistant to unions.

“The incentives to take the licks that you do are in the hope of some sort of big payoff down the road,” said Paul Thurston, who focuses on unionizing San Francisco tech workers and is the organizing director at the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Now, “the engineers and the app designer and the developers are going to be treated a lot more like the employees that they are rather than like partners, which is what they’re told pre-I. P. O.,” he said.

Jonathan Wright, the organizing director of Engineers and Scientists of California, said he was in talks to unionize the workers of several big tech companies.

“There’s a promise: you work 100 hours a week, you sleep under your desk, and then you’ll be rewarded with the wealth of Bezos,” Mr. Wright said. “That mythology has been fading for years. The day of the unicorn is over.”

“The world has changed in a year,” said Herman Chan, a real estate broker with Sotheby’s International. “We expected an upward trajectory at least, and it really kind of deflated. These companies aren’t dying but the cultural zeitgeist, that momentum of I.P.O.s, is gone. You don’t even hear anyone talking about it anymore.”

The developers who had fought the odds of regulation and zoning to build their glass residences in the sky had timed their units to the I.P.O.s. But on a recent visit with the Four Seasons sales team, they acknowledged that techie wealth was not what they were seeing. Interest was mostly coming from overseas buyers, young heirs to foreign fortunes and older executives looking for city pieds-à-terre, they said.

Towers rose across San Francisco to house the money. The marble was polished. The bathroom floors were warm. The private pools were being filled.

“The definition of luxury is scarcity, and there’s so many now,” Mr. Chan said. “Nowadays, my buyers are getting a contingency period and inspectors. Things you would never ask for before. There’s not 10 offers on a house anymore.”

Case in point: A full-floor apartment in San Francisco’s poshest neighborhood of Pacific Heights was listed at $21.6 million and advertised that “a sommelier-worthy wine cellar awaits 1,500 of your most prized bottles.” But more than a year later and after a $5 million price cut, it is still on the market.

Prices for the top 5 percent of San Francisco area real estate listings — the cream of the crop — rose 7 percent between 2017 and 2018. This year, they have fallen more than 1 percent, according to data prepared for The New York Times by the real estate listing service Zillow.

The malaise has spread south into Silicon Valley. A $10.8 million home listing in the town of Portola Valley, Calif., was slashed to $5.7 million. The median sale price for a nearby home in San Jose, Calif., has dropped 10 percent in a year to just under $1 million, according to data from Zillow.

Before the tech I.P.O.s, Deniz Kahramaner, then a real estate data analyst with the property brokerage Compass, had rallied packed rooms of real estate agents and investors about the bonanza that lay ahead. He had charts and estimates of thousands of new millionaires raising the average price of single family homes in San Francisco above $5 million.

Now, he is more muted. “The I.P.O. cash-out hasn’t played out as I mentioned in my original presentation,” he said.

Mr. Kahramaner added, hopefully, that it was still early. “People need more time,” he said.

Where there is new wealth, it’s coming from the older tech companies like Apple and Alphabet, whose stocks this year have soared. And some fortunes are still being made from the I.P.O.s. While Uber’s shares have fallen, the company’s co-founder, Travis Kalanick, has sold off more than $2 billion in stock, according to securities filings.

“Especially with things like Uber, almost all the I.P.O. wealth was going to a couple of people,” said Kalena Masching, a Redfin agent in San Jose. “They are not looking to buy a standard house here.”

Another bright spot: female-led companies, with more becoming unicorns in 2019 than any other year, according to Aileen Lee, the venture capitalist who coined the phrase “unicorn” to refer to a private company valued at $1 billion or more.

And post-I.P.O. parties are happening. They are just secret — and phone-free.

“We’re signing a lot more nondisclosures,” said Jay Siegan, who curates party entertainment for corporate tech clients. “A year ago, people would set up social media stations at the party, signs with the hashtag for Instagram. Now we have clients asking guests to check their phones at the door or using those Yondr bags.

These are pouches used to lock phones en masse at concerts and events where someone might be tempted to record.

However, in public, the tech world is all about reflection and self-critiquing after the year that was.

The I.P.O. disappointment has gotten so extreme that two Silicon Valley techies are setting out to do what few have done before: Make fun of themselves.

David Cowan, a venture capitalist with Bessemer Venture Partners, and Michael Fertik, the founder of Reputation.com, are launching an online talk show called “The Bubble Report.” It will feature interviews with other tech executives. The point, they hope, is to poke fun at Silicon Valley from within Silicon Valley.

Mr. Cowan, either in character or just being very honest, decried the falling stock prices of newly public tech companies as victims of cruel Wall Street analysts.

“It should be against the law for unscrupulous analysts to assess stocks based on cash flow and profit, to impugn a company based on eight lines of a financial report,” he joked. “Imagine how much more value we’d have in the stock market if we got rid of that arcane thinking.”

Mr. Fertik said his inspiration to mock his industry came in part from realizing how far from reality it had all gotten.

“I want people to understand that Silicon Valley is a deeply religious place that thinks of itself as agnostic,” he said. “It has some of the strengths and many of the frailties of organized religion.”

For now, most people are waking up to find they are still on Earth. This is good news for those in San Francisco who mostly viewed the tech exuberance as bad news: housing rights activists, first-time home buyers, and renters.

“We are excited by any resetting of Bay Area rents that bring them down from their artificially inflated high,” said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, the executive director of Housing Rights Committee, which fights against evictions. “Eventually all bubbles burst.”



Is Forced Mental Health Treatment A Cure for Homelessness?


The sightings of James Mark Rippee are all over his sisters’ Facebook.

Someone spotted him sleeping by a furniture store in Vallejo. Someone walked him to a gas station for coffee. Someone prayed for him at Nations Giant Hamburgers.

Rippee, 56, developed schizophrenia after a horrific motorcycle accident more than three decades ago caused a traumatic brain injury and the loss of his eyesight. His delusions range from being an alien, to getting chased by the KKK, to being prevented from collecting his lottery winnings, his sisters say.

In September, he stepped into traffic and was hit by a car, his sisters say, then developed a brain abscess. After weeks in the hospital and a board-and-care, he walked out and his 62-year-old twin sisters – Catherine Hanson and Linda Privatte – weren’t alerted.

Now they couldn’t find him.

Complicating things further: Hanson is bedridden with blood cancer; Privatte is legally blind and cannot drive. They’ve come to depend on a Facebook community, “Mark of Vacaville,” to be their “eyes and ears” on their brother’s situation.

The existence of the 2,000-plus member group is at once a moving testament to a community’s compassion and an indictment of a system that often leaves the most vulnerable to fend for themselves.

Why do people as sick as James Mark Rippee sleep on our streets? Some blame laws that prioritize civil rights over forced treatment; others point to an under-resourced and uneven mental health system that has failed to provide people like Rippee with long-promised care.

Everyone struggles with the same underlying question: What should be done?

“When we allow people to deteriorate on the streets, or interface with law enforcement that leads to incarceration, what are we doing?” asks Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health. “We’ve lost our compass.”

State lawmakers are watching a controversial new pilot program to expand forced treatment in San Francisco.

In the meantime, families watch in desperation as loved ones cycle between homelessness, emergency rooms and jail cells. Short courses of medication may lead to the quieting of voices, which, in turn, leads to a release to the streets. Often, as in James Mark Rippee’s case, the family is simultaneously shut out of the conversation and blamed for abandonment.

Some of these families are aware of the downsides of involuntary treatment, the miserable side effects of psychiatric medications, the critical shortage of inpatient facilities. They recognize that conservatorship – in which a court-appointed conservator manages another person’s living situation, medical decisions and mental health treatment — is no panacea, and should be a last resort.

James Mark Rippee himself puts it this way: “I don’t need to be in a locked-up facility. It was like I was a hostage.”

In recent years, Rippee’s twin sisters — Hanson, the red-headed warrior, Privatte, the blonde diplomat — have redoubled their decades-long effort to get him help. They worry their own health problems might someday leave no one to fight for him.

“He is the worst-case scenario of anybody being so vulnerable on the streets,” Hanson said. “Every winter we wonder: Is this going to be the year that he dies?”

In 1967, a law passed that transformed the treatment of people with mental illness in California.

Until then, it had been fairly easy for a family member to call police to force someone into mental health treatment. Conditions in the state hospitals were frequently abhorrent:  Patients wore gunny sacks, sometimes bathed just once a week, and were subjected to lobotomies and electric shock treatments. Too often, people were locked away for life.

Republican Assemblyman Frank Lanterman and Democratic Sens. Nicholas Petris and Alan Short proposed a radical overhaul, which Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into law.

When the Lanterman-Petris-Short law took effect a few years later, it established strict criteria for involuntary treatment. It imposed specific timeframes for involuntary confinement and limited involuntary holds to those deemed a danger to themselves or others, or gravely disabled. This included the 72-hour hold that police term a 5150.

But within a few decades, Sen. Petris noticed growing numbers of people with serious mental illnesses appearing on the streets and in jails.

In a 1989 oral history, Petris lamented that while the law had promised funding to treat people with mental illness in the community, Gov. Reagan diverted tens of millions allocated back to the state general fund.

“That took the guts right out of this state money for local treatment,” Petris said. “It emptied out the hospitals, but there was no follow-up treatment….In this overemphasis to get away from this tyrannical and oppressive system… of incarcerating people so easily, we went overboard the other way.”

Even when funding was available, “Not In My Back Yard” resistance also made it challenging to locate residential and community treatment facilities. In the half-century since, much of the debate about helping people like Rippee has centered on the Lanterman-Petris-Short law. The state auditor is currently examining it; a report is anticipated this spring.

In recent years, several bills in the Legislature have sought to modify the law, focusing on redefining the term “gravely disabled.” Rippee’s sisters petitioned and testified last year on behalf of a bill that sought to define “gravely disabled” to include not just those who can’t provide for their own food, clothing and shelter, but also those who don’t seek needed medical treatment. It failed, in part because opponents considered it ineffective and dangerously expansive.

More than 5,000 people in the state were on permanent conservatorships, and close to 2,000 were on temporary conservatorships, as of 2016-17, according to data collected by the Department of Health Care Services. The data is incomplete; Scarlett Hughes, executive director of the California State Association of Public Administrators, Public Guardians and Public Conservators calls it “extremely inaccurate.”

Last year lawmakers agreed to create a narrow 5-year pilot program that makes it easier for three counties (San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego) to conserve homeless individuals with serious mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders. The program allows courts to conserve individuals who have been placed under a 72-hour psychiatric hold at least eight times in a year. A second law, passed this year, expanded the rules to allow 50 to 100 more people in San Francisco to be placed under conservatorship.

Civil rights advocates have raised serious concerns: In 2018, Susan Mizner, the disability rights program director for the ACLU, described conservatorship as “the biggest deprivation of civil rights aside from the death penalty” and said the law would incentivize police to repeatedly detain homeless individuals.

So far, only San Francisco has adopted it. That reflects another reality: Different counties have different rules. Even without the pilot program, depending on where you live, public defenders, judges, public guardians and others have different interpretations of the law.

“It varies from county to county, it varies within counties,” said Randall Hagar, government relations director for the California Psychiatric Association. “What is ‘gravely disabled’ here may not be considered ‘gravely disabled’ there.”

Because counties must use local funds to pay high placement costs — and because not all counties have the same types of services available — variations are a significant concern.

Disability rights advocates insist that maintaining the standards outlined by Lanterman-Petris-Short is essential to protect people’s civil rights. Most people with serious mental illnesses aren’t refusing help, they say — appropriate help just isn’t available.

Lynn Rivas, associate director of Oakland-based Peers Envisioning & Engaging in Recovery Services, understands that families feel desperate. She knew a woman with paranoid schizophrenia who lived on the streets of Richmond. Mental health workers tried repeatedly, but couldn’t get her to come inside.

Even though “it breaks my heart,” Rivas said, she’s willing to live with that consequence.

“I think involuntary imprisonment is worse,” she said.

Heather, a program coordinator at the organization, has herself experienced involuntary treatment. In the hospital, she said, everything was taken from her and her entire schedule revolved around medication.

“I think it’s just really cold the way they treat you,” she said. “It’s like you have a disease…they treat you like you’re not a human being.”

Once she stabilized, she said, the hospital discharged her back to the streets, without addressing her underlying issues. The experience not only didn’t help her, she said, it made her afraid to seek help.

Some worry that public dismay about the current homelessness crisis will encourage lawmakers to strip people of their rights.

“It’s still political failures that are trying to be masked with solutions that may decrease the visibility of individuals on the street,” said Curtis Child, director of legislation at Disability Rights California. He also compares the situation of people with mental illness to that of people with developmental disabilities. For the latter group, deinstitutionalization was accompanied by the creation of regional centers, he said, “in which everyone gets a plan, everyone gets a worker.”

“With mental illness, we did nothing.”

For Child, and many other advocates, the solution is not more conservatorship — it’s creating affordable housing and more robust mental health services.

“The volume of individuals who are entering homelessness on a given day is overwhelming all of our systems,”  said Michelle Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California,. “We’ve got a serious problem on our hands.”

Dr. Amy Barnhorst, vice chair of community and hospital services for the  UC Davis Department of Psychiatry agrees that the focus should be on building out the mental health system, not changing the law.

“It’s like cutting more doors into an empty building,” she said. “There’s not the services there. We don’t have the workforce. We don’t have the treatments. We don’t have the infrastructure. ”

Even if a change in law permitted more people to be conserved, a shortage of placements and “a gross lack of funding” for county programs means there would be nowhere to send many of them, said Hughes, of the California State Association of Public Administrators, Public Guardians and Public Conservators.. Earlier this year, a state budget proposal to increase the amount of funding for public guardians by 35% — or $68 million — failed.

County conservators receive no direct state funding, and in the past five years have received a huge influx in clients diverted from the criminal justice system, Hughes said. Some counties went from five referrals a month to 30 or 40, she said.

“They are drowning,” she said.

Simultaneously, the number of facilities that can take them is shrinking, said Chris Koper, a legislative analyst for the organization. At one point, she said, she and some friends started listing the facilities in that county that had shut down. They stopped when they got to 35, she said: “It was too depressing.”

That leaves many conservatees in a “placement pending” status, stuck in jails or hospitals. In some cases, conservators have resorted to having staff members care for people with mental illness in hotel rooms rather than leave an individual on the streets, she said.

Most state hospital beds are now reserved for people in the criminal justice system. Inmates with mental illness can wait in limbo for months or even years in county jails before a bed opens up.  Five years ago, an average of 343 inmates with mental illness were awaiting placement. Last year, the average was 819.

“The easiest legislative fix is to expand conservatorship,” Koper said. “It then will appear that the Legislature is trying to do something. But as is often the case with social problems, the wound is so much deeper than that. And the wound will require a lot of money.”

As San Francisco has assumed new authority to place people under conservatorships, The San Francisco Chronicle found a backlog. In a locked ward at San Francisco General Hospital, individuals who were conserved were waiting four months for placement in Napa State Hospital, and even longer for a residential facility.

A woman who answered the phone at the public guardian’s office in Solano County, where Rippee lives, said she didn’t have time or permission to talk, repeating several times “we’re extremely short-staffed.”

Gerald Huber, the county’s director of Health and Social Services, noted that even if Rippee were to be conserved, there are very few facilities in the state that accept people with traumatic brain injuries — and they are always full with waitlists.

Rippee’s sisters are aware.

“If they tell him, ‘Mark, you’re conserved’—” Privatte began.

“—where are they going to put him?” Hanson concluded. “There’s no place.”

The events of June 21st, 1987 are seared in the minds of Rippee’s twin sisters:

Rippee had purchased a Harley Davidson just ten days earlier, but he was already talking about selling it. With his slight frame, the big bike felt unwieldy.

The family had gathered for a Father’s Day barbecue in Vacaville. Rippee, 24, was optimistic about a budding career in construction. He was popular with girls and never went anywhere without his guitar.

Read Mark Rippee’s tragic continuing story on the streets:



Homeless Advocates Sue to Occupy Vacant Homes

San Jose Mercury

A judge expressed skepticism about the Moms 4 Housing activists’ right to occupy an empty West Oakland house, but didn’t immediately reject their claims — a move that left supporters feeling optimistic.

Lawyers for the group argued that Dominque Walker, a homeless mother of two small children, is entitled to stay in the house, even though she and other women moved in last month without the owner’s permission. They asked the judge to make new case law using a novel argument — housing is a human right. The dire nature of Oakland’s homelessness crisis gives the court authority to go beyond conventional precedent and rule in Walker’s favor, attorneys Micah Clatterbaugh and Leah Simon-Weisberg argued.

But the judge speculated it might be up to the executive or legislative branches, not the courts, to address this dilemma.

“There’s no doubt that these are extremely important issues, but I think it’s finding the right venue and the right case for that,” Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney II said to a courtroom packed to capacity with Moms 4 Housing supporters and media. “I’m not convinced this is the right case, but I’ll certainly consider all of the arguments presented.”

Meanwhile, Francisco Gutierrez, attorney for Wedgewood — the property owner — argued “trespassers” don’t have a right to the property they trespass upon.

McKinney took the matter under submission and is expected to rule in the coming days.

McKinney’s willingness to entertain Moms 4 Housing’s arguments gave supporters cause to celebrate.

“For us, that creates a lot of hopefulness in terms of his future decision,” said Simon-Weisberg.



How Communities Grow…Viewed from Space, Over Time

NY Times

Zoom out — way out — and it’s clear that the last decade has brought remarkable transformation to many communities. It’s visible from 400 miles above: Vast new exurbs have been carved from farmland, and once-neglected downtowns have come to life again. The tech industry has helped remake entire city neighborhoods, and it has dotted the landscape with strange new beasts, in data centers and fulfillment hubs.

To grasp the scale of this decade of change, The Upshot worked with Tim Wallace and Krishna Karra from Descartes Labs, a geospatial analytics company, using a tool that has itself evolved significantly over this time: satellite imagery. With its growing power and precision, we can see both intimate details — a single home, bulldozed; a tennis court, reinvented — and big patterns that recur across the country. Here, we show some of the most consequential changes over the last 10 years, as seen from above.

At the beginning of this decade, for a short period after the housing bust, it looked as if the exurbs were over. Housing construction and population growth there ground to a halt. Briefly, central cities and denser suburbs were growing faster than exurbia. But the exurbs eventually boomed again, a pattern we can see in rings of new development around most major metro areas

To produce this map, Descartes Labs trained a computer model to automatically identify newly impervious surfaces — land that appears paved or topped with buildings — in satellite imagery. Comparing Landsat imagery from 2018 and 2019 with urban areas from the 2008 National Landcover Database, the model highlighted the places shown in red on the accompanying U.S. map.



US Census Posts Socioeconomic Characteristics 5-Year Trends

State Dept. of Finance

The U.S. Census Bureau has released the 2014-2018 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates. This file contains updated estimates of social and economic characteristics for California, counties, incorporated cities and Census Designated Places. Extracts of selected data are available on our website at this link:



Plastics, A Growth Industry

Yale e-360

As public concern about plastic pollution rises, consumers are reaching for canvas bags, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. But while individuals fret over images of oceanic garbage gyres, the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tons of plastic than they now pump out.

Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.

“In the context of a world trying to shift off of fossil fuels as an energy source, this is where [oil and gas companies] see the growth,” said Steven Feit, a staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, an advocacy group.

And because the American fracking boom is unearthing, along with natural gas, large amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane, the United States is a big growth area for plastic production. With natural gas prices low, many fracking operations are losing money, so producers have been eager to find a use for the ethane they get as a byproduct of drilling.

“They’re looking for a way to monetize it,“ Feit said. “You can think of plastic as a kind of subsidy for fracking.”

America’s petrochemical hub has historically been the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, with a stretch along the lower Mississippi River dubbed “Cancer Alley” because of the impact of toxic emissions . Producers are expanding their footprint there with a slew of new projects, and proposals for more. They are also seeking to create a new plastics corridor in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where fracking wells are rich in ethane.

Shell is building a $6 billion ethane cracking plant — a facility that turns ethane into ethylene, a building block for many kinds of plastic — in Monaca, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is expected to produce up 1.6 million tons of plastic annually after it opens in the early 2020s. It’s just the highest profile piece of what the industry hails as a “renaissance in U.S. plastics manufacturing,” whose output goes not only into packaging and single-use items such as cutlery, bottles, and bags, but also longer-lasting uses like construction materials and parts for cars and airplanes.

Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the U.S., including expansions of existing facilities, new plants, and associated infrastructure such as pipelines, says the American Chemistry Council, an industry body. While some are already running or under construction, other projects await regulators’ approval.

“That’s why 2020 is so crucial. There are a lot of these facilities that are in the permitting process. We’re pretty close to it all being too late,” said Judith Enck, founder of Beyond Plastics and a former regional director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “If even a quarter of these ethane cracking facilities are built, it’s locking us into a plastic future that is going to be hard to recover from.”


By | 2020-01-03T16:04:01-08:00 January 3rd, 2020|Air Quality|