Commentary: Legislative sleight-of-hand

Once again Californians have been snookered by our governing elites in the Blue, one-party state. The campaign to repeal SB 1, the gas tax, failed due to a combination of deliberate obfuscation by the California Secretary of State and the Attorney General when they changed the repeal measure (Proposition 6) from simply “repeal the gas tax” to saving roads and infrastructure. Voters sent a strong signal to Sacramento when they salvaged the gas tax, indicating that repairing and rebuilding California roads was their top priority. Just three months after the election Governor Newsom and the Democrat-controlled legislature has changed that priority in their 2019-20 budget by attaching conditions for communities to actually receive tax money to repair roads.

According to a League of California Cities analysis, “the Governor’s January budget states: Going forward, the state will strongly encourage jurisdictions to contribute to their fair share of the state’s housing supply by linking housing production to certain transportation funds and other applicable sources...The Administration will convene discussions with stakeholders…to assess the equitable path forward in linking transportation funding and other potential local government economic development tools to make progress toward required production goals.” In other words, the State will establish affordable/low-cost housing construction goals for local governments. If you don’t meet your quota you will have some or all of your gas taxes withheld by the State.

This isn’t the first time Progressive-Democrats have played a shell game with voters. We passed water bonds four years ago to build flood control and water storage infrastructure to prevent major flooding and to capture sufficient run-off to meet the state’s need for irrigation and drinking water during drought years. As usual, all the projects to protect fish habitat got authorized and funded but nary a single yard of concrete has been authorized to enhance our water supplies for agriculture or cities. In fact, not a single flood control project (out of six proposals) was authorized by the State water authorities despite the voters approving billions of dollars for that very specific purpose. The Democrat-controlled legislature has, however, mandated mandatory water rationing to be permanently in place, eventually reducing water limits to 55 gallons per day and less over time.

Regarding the low cost/affordable housing requirement, Atascadero has been in the forefront of SLO County cities for the last decade in the development of inclusionary housing. Those units built in developments are not the urban blight type of projects that become sinkholes of crime and poverty but were seamlessly integrated into developments. One house might have high-end countertops, another has more modest features but from the outside, you really can’t tell one from the other. That’s important as when you integrate a community you get more homogenous values rather than “us versus them” types of ethnic or racially divided communities. The new State policies threaten that innovation and may very well force rural communities like Atascadero to adopt the failed urban “stack and pack” high-rise model for future affordable housing units. Zoning will become irrelevant as when a superior court judge recently threw out residential zoning rules for a southern California city, denying its citizens any local control over the character of their community Atascadero may be further punished despite its housing success if the State adopts a quantitative approach over a per capita initiative. We may build more affordable units per capita for a small city but numerical quotas for housing units may permanently cause Atascadero to fall short, thus jeopardizing our access to proceeds from gas tax and other State transportation funds.

Atascadero has approximately 150 miles of roads, about half of which were designated to be city maintained at the time of incorporation, the remainder being the responsibility of local residents, a condition of development at the time their homes were constructed. Many of these roads, city maintained or not, are in disrepair, some critically. Attaching conditions after-the-fact to receive tax money citizens voluntarily supported in an election is a violation of trust and serves to undermine any goodwill the new governor may have received.

California’s regulatory state continues to grow unabated with many regulations, proposed or enacted taking an ever greater toll on the private citizen and businesses. The State’s war on PG & E, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week, may result in unreliable electrical power generation during our prolonged dry/hot weather in summer and fall. I say this as PG & E is adopting a policy of brown-outs in areas prone to wildfire near transmission lines. Their liability for over 1700 wildfires has reduced the value of their stock to junk status, their CEO resigned last weekend and the State Attorney General may charge the company with murder for fire-related deaths. When high winds blow down a tree which falls into a powerline, bringing a line down and starting a fire, how much of that is an “Act of God” and how much is negligence? What is the public interest in keeping a reliable power supply, especially in a State with 40 million residents whose representatives have mandated the elimination of fossil fuel use in California between the years 2030 and 2045? Where will all the electrical power required for an expanding population and exponential increase in demand for electricity to power the computers, server farms, electrical power charging stations for electric cars and to supply energy for homes come from? Elections have consequences and California voters are about to find out exactly what they voted for last November.


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