MOORLACH UPDATE — Oakland Unified School District — February 21, 2019

This morning Oakland Unified School District’s teachers went out on strike. Consequently, I mentioned to my colleagues on the Senate Floor that it’s time to reevaluate public education in the areas of Proposition 98, pension benefits going forward, retiree medical benefit formulas, and school district funding allocations that should make establishing Charter Schools financially seamless and unnoticed. The first piece below is a submission to Fox & Hounds to provide more details on OUSD.

My father put me on snow skis when I was five years old. It started a lifelong passion. There are a few principles you adopt when you progress in skiing abilities. One, have the proper equipment. Two, when it comes to attempting a more difficult slope, remember that the only way to do it, is to do it. If you’re advanced, there are "black diamond" courses for your enjoyment. Three, do not go faster than you can stop. I think all of these are transferable to the idea of having no speed limits on a dedicate stretch of highway.

With that, the second piece is from the electronic version of the OC Register. I was not contacted for background or a quote. The third piece is from Road & Track. I was contacted. I was asked for permission to record, which I granted. What I didn’t anticipate is that it formed the transcript for the piece.

I’ve been getting great questions and we’re doing more research. Obviously, if the building of the lanes is approved, it will take some time to construct them. This will provide plenty of time to establish proper protocols for a highway with no speed limits.

The concern of safety is broached frequently. A study by the National Motorist Association reviewed Montana’s Interstate highways. It found the safest period was when there were no daytime speed limits or enforceable speed laws. In fact, fatal accidents doubled after Montana implemented its new safety program, which included artificially low speed limits and full enforcement.

There have been a number of editorials published, but I’ll provide one with the fourth piece below from I disagree with their conclusion, as the social engineering of trying to move people onto public transit is a failure. The declining ridership statistics bear this out.

The snow capped Sierras are beautiful and can be seen from Sacramento. Enjoy the slopes. Go as fast as you want. Just don’t go faster than you can stop.

Teacher Strike Could Crash Oakland Unified Finances

John Moorlach

By John MoorlachState Senator representing the 37th Senate District

When school finances go bad, it’s the kids who get hurt most. That’s what’s happening in the Oakland Unified School District as its teachers prepare for a potentially “indefinite strike” beginning Thursday, as threatened by Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Teachers Association.

The teachers are seeking a 12 percent pay hike. The district offered 5 percent.

Here are some facts Oakland teachers should consider. First, a district budget deficit of $30 million already means shutting down a dozen schools, reported CBS SF Bay Area.

Next, in my recent analysis of the finances of 944 California public school districts, “Financial Soundness Rankings for California’s Public School Districts, Colleges & Universities,” Oakland Unified ranked 682nd – the bottom third.

The rankings are based on the Unrestricted Net Position, or UNP, from each district’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, available on district websites. If negative, it’s called an Unrestricted Net Deficit.

I have found this to be the best metric of a district’s financial soundness. For 2017, the latest available, Oakland Unified’s unrestricted net deficit was $427 million; or $1,001 per capita, based on the overall population the district serves.

However, when the district’s next CAFR comes out, for the first time it will include the liability for the unfunded retiree medical care, almost certainly worsening the unrestricted net deficit.

For example, both sides in the negotiations during the recent Los Angeles Unified School District teacher strike noted the district was in poor financial shape. Ironically, the strike occurred just after December 14, when the LAUSD released its CAFR for the year ending June 30, 2018. The CAFR showed the district’s unrestricted net deficit was $19.6 billion, almost double the $10.9 billion in 2017, because of the inclusion of retiree medical liabilities.

As I noted in a December 27 op-ed, LAUSD’s per capita unrestricted net deficit was $4,180, meaning about 4.7 million people would have to cough up this amount to bring the district to even.

Getting back to the Bright Side of the Bay, last year the district’s finances already were so dismal the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 840, which among other things required Oakland Unified “to develop short and long-term financial plans and update school district facilities plans aligned with their plans for fiscal solvency.” I voted for the bill.

Last October, a warning came from Michael Fine, CEO of the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, which supervises the finances of faltering districts, even taking over when necessary. “If you choose not to make a decision, a decision will be made for you,” he threatened.

Reported EdSource, “He and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe reminded the board that if the district fails to balance its budget, it could need another state loan or the county and state could impose cuts, which would put the district back under state control.”

The district earlier was taken over by the state from 2003 to 2009 as part of a $100 million bailout.

It’s also scandalous how Oakland can’t properly educate its poor children, especially African Americans and Latinos, even though it now has become a wealthy city overall.

Reported World Population Review, “Oakland has the 5th highest cluster of ‘elite zip codes,’ which are ranked by the number of households with the highest combination of education and income, with close to 38 percent of the population over 25 having a bachelor’s degree or higher. Oakland is also in the top 20 cities in the U.S. for median household income.”

Yet according to Great Schools, just 33 percent of Oakland Unified students are “proficient” in English and 27 percent in math on state tests, compared 50 percent and 39 percent statewide, respectively.

The numbers of English proficient students were 24 percent for Hispanics and 19 percent for blacks; and for math, 17 percent for Hispanics and 12 percent for blacks.

Everybody in the state talks about closing the “proficiency gap” for these students, but clearly it’s not being done in Oakland Unified.

In addition to balanced budgets, what’s needed is a switch to performance pay for teachers. Let the best – those who raise student test scores the most – be paid more than the mediocre. And we need to end “last hired, first fired,” which discourages talented young people from becoming teachers. Because, when a recession hits and budgets are cut, seniority takes precedence over teacher talent.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Democratic leadership in the Legislature keep insisting they want to improve the test scores of poor students. Oakland Unified’s financial crisis is an opportunity to insist that tested reforms rewarding teacher competence and student performance be implemented.

For once, let’s put the kids first.

John M. W. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, represents the 37th District in the California Senate

California Autobahn? Orange County state Senator proposes speed-limit-free lanes to replace high-speed rail project


For Californians who dream of driving at top speeds, a new state bill could provide their fix: four speed-limit-free highway lanes, similar to Germany’s Autobahn, which would allow motorists to zoom up and down the state as fast as they want without penalty.

The plan – introduced last week by Orange County State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) in State Bill 319 – would add no-speed-limit lanes to Interstate 5 and State Route 99, serving as an alternative to California’s high-speed rail project, which been plagued with delays and cost overruns.

Moorlach’s bill would add northbound and southbound lanes to both highways and would prohibit the state from implementing maximum speeds at a later date. State Route 99 runs almost the entire length of the Central Valley, from Wheeler Ridge to Red Bluff, while I-5 spans the length of the entire state, from Mexico to Oregon.

“If Sacramento is serious about allowing Californians to travel between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and high-speed rail will take too long to build, let’s construct four additional lanes with no maximum speed limit to provide for high speed on a safe road,” Moorlach said in a prepared statement.

Moorlach’s bill arrives as President Donald Trump’s administration announced on Tuesday its plan to rescind the $929 million in grant funds it allocated for California $77-billion bullet train project, which is now $44 billion over budget and 13 years behind schedule. The same day, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it was exploring legal options to take back $2.5 billion in federal funds it contributed to the high-speed rail system. The move to pull federal funds from the rail project came a day after California filed a lawsuit challenging Trump’s declaration of a national emergency aimed at securing funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom used his Feb. 12 State of the State address to call for the high-speed rail project to be constrained to focus on opening a 170-mile segment running from Bakersfield to Merced by 2027, with possible extensions to the Bay Area and Southern California much further into the future.

State Bill 319 doesn’t call for the speed-limit-free lanes to fully supplant the bullet train project, but Moorlach’s office said it could at least provide “an expedited transportation option until a substantial High-Speed Rail segment can be built decades in the future.”

But the plan has detractors.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit that works to reduce traffic collisions and deaths, called Moorlach’s proposal “dangerous in the extreme,” noting that high speeds prevent drivers from braking quickly, increasing the likelihood of deadly collisions. Russ Rader, a spokesman for the group, said that while Germany’s Autobahn has lower death rates than U.S. highways, that has only been the case since the late 1980s when speed limits were raised on rural American interstates. Rader said traffic laws also are more strictly enforced in Europe.

“If implemented, (this bill) would threaten the safety of every road user,” Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, wrote in an email. “It’s disheartening to see this kind of proposal when about 10,000 people are killed on our roads in speed-related crashes every year.”

In January, Germany’s government rejected a proposal to impose a speed limit on the Autobahn after a government-appointed committee recommended restricting driving speeds on portions of the famed highway in an effort to cut carbon emissions.

Why a California Lawmaker Is Proposing Highways With No Speed Limit

California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach wants to expand two highways in his districts with no-speed-limit lanes. We spoke with him to learn more about this crazy-sounding proposal.


This week, a California lawmaker made national headlines with his proposal to expand two highways in his district. The expansion itself seems pretty straightforward—adding two northbound and two southbound lanes to Interstate Route 5 and State Route 99, routes that connect Los Angeles to the Bay Area. It’s this part that raised eyebrows: The added lanes would have no posted speed limit.

Senate Bill 319 was introduced by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, the Republican representing California’s 37th senate district covering most of Orange County. The idea of a no-limit highway—and the proposal’s assertion that such a stretch of road could somehow reduce greenhouse gas emissions—certainly piqued our interests. So we reached Sen. Moorlach by phone to find out just what he had in mind with this proposal for an American autobahn. It turns out the Senator is a bit of a gearhead himself: He drives a 1996 Chevy Impala SS, his wife’s daily driver is a 1990 Avanti touring sedan, and he’s got a 1974 Bricklin SV-1 in the garage waiting to become a retirement project.

Below is our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.

Road & Track: How did you come up with this idea?

Sen. Moorlach: A couple things. One, obviously, a need for more lanes. Two, the idea that an autobahn model would certainly be an interesting opportunity for California if we’re talking about high speed. Thirdly, we just have such a wonderful car culture here, we have so many vehicles that really don’t get to be exercised like they might be, say, in Europe.

R&T: One thing you pointed out both in your proposal and in a press release, is that Germany has fewer road traffic deaths per capita than the United States. How do you think removing the speed limit will affect highway safety in California?

Sen. Moorlach: I guess it just goes to the statistics. You’ve been on the autobahn, so thank you very much for understanding. A lot of media representatives just don’t have a clue of what that is. Their first reaction is, this is so unsafe. Yet on a good Sunday morning everybody’s driving 80 mph on the 405 San Diego Freeway in my district. So what’s another 10 mph? I had a radio host yesterday say, my goodness, on Sunday morning, I realized I was doing 94 on a local freeway because it was empty. We have vehicles that can accommodate these speeds, and now you just have to be very aware of what you’re doing. You don’t text. You don’t goof off. You pay attention, and when someone comes up behind you and blinks their lights you just politely move over to the slower lane. It’s not a difficult procedure, but I think for those that appreciate the ability to enjoy a car, they should find that traffic accidents would decline.

R&T: But a huge part of Germany’s road safety comes down to driver training. To get a driver’s license in Germany, you have to go through something like 40 hours of training, with multiple exams. It’s extremely stringent, it takes a lot of time, and it ends up costing the equivalent of a few thousand dollars. Would you want to make California driving laws stricter, or driver training more thorough, along with removing these speed limits?

Sen. Moorlach: That’s an interesting question and I don’t have a hard and fast answer because you’re the first to ask that one. I don’t know if I’m ready to go there, but obviously we need to elevate the discussion [….] Here in California, our department of transportation, CalTrans, has these big signs with messages. And very often the message will be “slower traffic move to the right lanes.” And even that’s a concept that doesn’t seem to make sense to people. So many of us are frustrated when we’re behind someone driving very slow in the fast lane. I don’t know if I would want to get into […] the kind of training that you’re talking about in Germany. But here in California we have different classes of licenses. Class A would allow you to drive a van that would transport kids if you’re a youth group leader, or the boys club. I could see maybe a different class structure as a way to enable this idea.

R&T: Have you ever driven on the German autobahn?
Sen. Moorlach: I have, as a child, but I’ve also driven in northern Europe, the last time was in ’98. It’s quite a fascinating experience.
R&T: On the unlimited parts of the autobahn, you’d think it would be chaos, and it’s not. It’s the most orderly driving I’ve ever experienced.
Sen. Moorlach: They understand driving etiquette. They don’t understand that here in California.
R&T: Would certain types of vehicles be prohibited from the no-speed-limit lanes? Semis, buses, vehicles towing trailers?
Sen. Moorlach: The question that keeps coming up is, would there be a minimum speed. Since the bill is silent, maybe we amend it to say there’s got to be some kind of minimum speed. Obviously it would not be a good idea to be towing a boat or something of that nature. That’s why we’re proposing to add the lanes, so you could go ahead and accommodate vehicles that would move at 80 mph average or higher. The semis would stay in the existing two lanes. We would have to see whether or not we could have some kind of restrictions. We’ll just have to flesh that out.
R&T: In the proposal, you justify removing the speed limit by claiming that doing so would reduce vehicle emissions. Do you have any research or data that backs up that claim?
Sen. Moorlach: Not at my fingertips. We’re making the assumption that if you’re stuck not moving, and you’re idling, then your vehicle’s not really efficiently burning the fuel if you’re using fossil fuels. If you’re moving at a higher speed you’re burning your fossil fuels in a much cleaner manner. That’s intuitive, but do I have hard science? No. I know that Germany is having a tough time reducing their greenhouse gases, but all of their lanes in certain areas are high speed. I don’t have anything solid, but we’re working on it.
R&T: Part of why I ask is because the German government recently proposed putting a speed limit on the entire autobahn, precisely because they’re having trouble meeting their emissions-reduction targets. They found that a nationwide 75 mph highway limit would accomplish 1/5th of their emissions reduction goal. It seems odd to propose the opposite, that removing the speed limit would somehow improve emissions. Am I missing something?

Sen. Moorlach: No, you’re not missing anything. In fact, we wrote the bill and submitted it before that study came out. So when the study came out, I went, doggone it. So, we have to do a little more research, and we’ll see. This state is so focused on greenhouse gases and climate change that when we wrote the bill, that was one of the arguments that we could make to use what we call cap-and-trade funding. We’ll have to keep working on our research.

R&T: Not to be blunt, but does this proposal have any chance of success? I have to imagine there will be opposition from a number of groups.

Sen. Moorlach: We’re finding that, since the media announced that I submitted the bill, the public opinion is about 50-50. Half the people are scared to death to drive fast, the other half are going, yes, give me that opportunity. The issue is not so much that we talk about whether or not there’s a speed limit, but doggone it, why don’t we have at least four more lanes up and down the state as a bridge before you start waiting 15 years for high speed rail. Only two percent of the population in California even gets into a train, and those numbers are declining. We’re saying, let’s do something on these north-south corridors if it is so critical to move people between the Bay Area and LA. So even if we said, let’s have speed limits, we’d still add lanes. Because right now, when you drive the 5 freeway in the Central Valley, one of my pet peeves is, I see a truck in the slow lane, and I’m ready to go around them. There are only two lanes on the 5. And when I’m ready to go around that truck, that truck proceeds to move over into the fast lane to pass another truck. And it takes five, ten minutes for that truck to pass another truck. I know it bothers me, I talk to a lot of others that it bothers. We’re finding that it creates a certain amount of road rage as well, because then people start driving faster to get up to the next group of trucks. We’re finding also that, as we’re dealing with members of the media, the 99, which is the other north-south corridor, is probably rated one of the more dangerous if not the most dangerous road in California. And it could be just due to the fact that it’s got minimum lanes and massive cargo transportation going on it.

R&T: If you had to compromise, would you take more lanes if it meant abandoning the no-speed-limit zones?

Sen. Moorlach: Yep.

R&T: How would the no-speed-limit zones affect the Highway Patrol’s ability to enforce traffic laws?

Sen. Moorlach: If you’re not going to be cited for speed, the CHP still has the other four lanes from which to generate revenue. There’s the 91 freeway in Orange County which has four lanes in the middle of it which are toll lanes. Those are completely monitored by cameras, and we have a control center where people are watching all the screens. You would actually have staff that would monitor how driving is occurring […] I would sense that everyone’s gonna be driving at a safe level because their goal is not to break the sound barrier, their goal is to get to the destination. They’re not gonna jeopardize their lives, or the lives of their passengers, in these proposed lanes. But if they aren’t paying attention or something does happen, we would at least have individuals monitoring, and seeing if maybe a car has, let’s say, spun out. Then we would have tow trucks, like we have in Orange County, that would respond within minutes because you don’t want to have anyone blocking those lanes, you want to get everybody off. So I would think that we could use the technology that’s already in place to make sure that those that utilize lanes of that nature would be smart, would have the right etiquette, and would be paying attention.

R&T: What’s the next step for this proposal?

Sen. Moorlach: In the state legislature of California, after you introduce a bill, you have to wait 30 days before it can be referred to a committee. I would expect a month to go by, and then it might go to transportation committee. It might be referred to more committees, maybe even environmental committee since we’re dealing with greenhouse gases. We’ll probably get it killed in the first committee meeting [laughs]. We’ll see if we can get it through. But at least we’re sparking a debate. I misjudged the reaction to this bill. I didn’t even do a press release until yesterday afternoon. I got kind of caught off guard. We’re just trying to provide some ideas. I did not expect our governor to make a big deal out of high-speed rail, and kind of hint that he thought it was too expensive, it was taking too long and it had no accountability. So I’m thinking, it’s kind of interesting timing, but why don’t we do something in the meantime? If we’re trying to move people, we’re trying to get them from LA to San Francisco and back, give them the lanes and let them go.

R&T: The proposal is definitely making a splash.

Sen. Moorlach: My district in Orange County has the most new-car dealers of any district. It has everything: McLaren, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, everything. The Lamborghini dealership, I can walk to it from my house, literally a block away. We’ve got everything here. But if you really want to enjoy those cars, you have to break the law. That or you go to a track, and we don’t really have a lot of tracks [….] Even my Impala, which is how many years old, at 2000 RPM cruises quietly and comfortably at 80 mph.

R&T: And at that point you’re already breaking the law.

Sen. Moorlach: Exactly. In fact, in California, sometimes if you’re not doing 80, you’re slowing people down. I did get ticketed once for doing a little more than that. I kind of chewed out the officer, saying, I’m not gonna jeopardize my wife and son, but the cars are flying past me here [….] I said, you better tell me how fast I can go to get home without being cited. Sometimes if you’re doing the posted speed limit, you’re actually being the slow driver. We’re getting truck drivers calling, saying, how come you’re still limiting us to 55 mph? We’ve got deadlines, we’ve got time constraints. We had one call yesterday saying, I got cited for doing 69—14 miles over the limit—it cost me 500 bucks, and the CHP officer said, sorry, I feel bad, but I’m just doing my job upholding the state law. There’s a lot of things that we can look at here as to how we’re dealing with speed limits and traffic flow.

California Autobahn With No Speed Limit Proposed By State Senator

Anthony Karr

But is it really going to happen? Highly unlikely.

We are all passionate gearheads here at And that means we love powerful cars and high speed. But there’s one major piece of detail – we like them only when it’s alllegal. For all of us, there’s a place on the Earth where speed limits don’t exist and it’s called the Autobahn – Germany’s federal highway where certain sections are unrestricted.

Apparently, California State Senator John Moorlach knows about this Heaven on Earth and wants to bring this gearhead utopia to Interstate 5 in California. Last week, he introduced a Senate bill (SB 319) to state legislature which calls for two additional traffic lanes to be built by the Department of Transportation on the north and southbound directions of both the I-5 and State Route 99 highways. And, you guessed it, he wants those lanes to have no speed limits.

“Traffic congestion increases the emissions of greenhouse gases as it causes automobiles to idle longer while on roadways,” SB 319 states.

Moorlach is most concerned by the greenhouse gas emissions and claims no speed limits would lead to fewer cars idling, respectively fewer emissions. The proposal says that funding for the new lanes would come from Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Safety is great, but so is having fun:

Why Can’t I Go Fast: Speed Limits Explained

This indeed sounds like something we want to see become a reality but the truth is it’s probably not going to happen. The bill already has critics such as Bill Magavern, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Clean Air, who says Moorlach’s logic just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

"In fact, it would increase emission of greenhouse gas," Magavern comments. "Emission goes up at high speeds; this would encourage people to drive cars really fast on our highway, and that would increase emissions coming from transportation… the only sector where emissions are increasing in California."

So, obviously, chances are not really high that the SB 319 proposal would materialize. "This money would be much better spent on increasing mobility for our communities through improved public transit," Magavern adds. We hate to admit it, but he is probably right.


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