MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 754 — March 16, 2019

One of the joys of being a Legislator is that cities in your District wishing to make changes in current law ask me to carry the necessary legislation. A good example is SB 1463 (2016), which I authored for the city of Laguna Beach. It became very prescient relating to the electrical utility sparking wires that caused the wildfire tragedies that were to follow (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 And The Facts — November 19, 2018).

This year, I have several bills that were generated from events occurring within the District. They are SB 241, SB 359, SB 447, SB 584, SB 689, and SB 754.

SB 754 was a request out of the city of Laguna Woods that came just before the deadline for submitting legislation. Consequently, we submitted what is known as a spot bill. A spot bill is a strategy to have a bill in the system that will be changed to reflect the original intent, theoretically, but time did not allow for completing the proper contents before the due date.

So, the piece below in The San Diego Union-Tribune on legislation affecting homeowners associations is accurate, but it is subject to change.

The request out of Laguna Woods came as a result of SB 1128 by Senator Roth last year. This bill satisfactorily cleared both chambers, only to be vetoed by Governor Brown.

The intent was simple. If a large homeowners association (HOA) is having an election and it is a single-slate, there are as many candidates as open positions, then there is no need for a formal election. This is a cost and time-saving modification to the existing C,C&Rs of HOAs. For some reason Senator Roth did not want to try it again since the old friend that prompted him to author it last year has moved out of Laguna Woods.

25th Anniversary Look Back

Twenty-five years ago, I ran for Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector. It was an amazing outside-the-box experience for me, an accountant, that changed the course of my entire life. So, I’m providing anniversary look backs this year with personal insights for those who enjoy history, or were too young, or not even born, to get a sense of this unique and historical effort. For the previous episodes, go to:

* MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — Campaign Redux — January 9, 2019

* MOORLACH UPDATE — Proposed Budget Observations — January 12, 2019

* MOORLACH UPDATE — LAUSD and Future Concerns — January 24, 2019

* MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — Then There Were Two — February 2, 2019

* MOORLACH UPDATE — State of the State Reaction — February 13, 2019

In my opening press release, I was clear on my concerns about the investment practices of the incumbent, but I did not make it the original focus. Why? Because I did not want others to see the vulnerability that was present and encourage more candidates to enter the race. So, I focused on the term limits theme. On March 12th, the day after the close of filing, the OC Register would provide a piece, titled “Ballot for Orange County elections begins to take shape.” The “Treasurer-tax collector” race was addressed as follows:

John M. W. Moorlach of Costa Mesa, a certified public accountant and Orange County Republican Central Committee member, issued a statement last month saying he was targeting incumbent Robert L. Citron in part because Citron has spent 28 years in office. Citron said he welcomes the chance for voters to rate his performance. Both have qualified for the ballot.

The treasurer-tax collector deposits and invests county funds.

Because this race would be printed near the bottom of the ballot, I expected this type of article at the beginning of the campaign period and a short article at the end mentioning that I had lost. However, over the next few months, it would garner national attention and be much more interesting than I had predicted.

HOA Homefront – 2019 bills proposing new HOA laws are a mixed bag

By Kelly G. Richardson

This year Sacramento presents another spring season full of ideas for homeowners associations – some bad, some good, and some well-intentioned but needing revision.

Senate Bill 323 is a recycle of last year’s SB 1265, a bill vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2018. SB 323 would add burdensome new elements to the HOA election process and dictate to HOAs who could or could not serve as directors. The bill is as bad an idea this year as it was last year. As Gov. Brown wrote while vetoing its predecessor, SB 323 “takes a once-size-fits-all approach, but not all homeowner associations are alike. If changes to an election process are needed, they should be resolved by the members of that specific community.” Associations should set their board eligibility standards, not Sacramento.

SB 652 addresses the conflict between architectural conformity and religious observance. Does a Jewish mezuzah or Christian cross violate rules banning alteration of doorways? SB 652 would add a new Civil Code 4706, prohibiting associations from limiting or prohibiting display of religious items on entry doors of a member’s residence. There is no limitation on size, number, or appearance of doorway decorations, as long as they are religious. Perhaps some reasonable limit could be stated. Coauthored by 16 legislators, it awaits committee assignment.

SB 434, authored by Sen. Bob Archuleta of southeastern L.A. County, proposes to add a new Civil Code 5382. The proposed statute would require managing agents to produce the association’s records and property (manuals, transponders and keys, for example) within a certain time after termination and/or association request. Managers could not hold association records hostage, if, for example, they claimed the HOA owed them money. There is no penalty for non-compliance, and managers would not be required to produce email correspondence unless it had previously been given to the association. The bill is a good idea but should include correspondence as part of the HOA’s “records.” The bill has been assigned to the Judiciary and Housing committees for hearing.

SB 754, authored by Sen. John Moorlach of Orange County, would make technical amendments to Civil Code 4230. Section 4230 currently allows association boards after 30 days’ notice to the membership to delete CC&R provisions which relate only to developer marketing or completion of the project. SB 754 would increase the required notice to 60 days and also allow deletion of provisions solely related to the developer’s planning of the project. The bill awaits committee assignment.

SB 222 proposes to add a new protected class, “veteran or military status,” to California’s anti-discrimination laws by amending several Government Code Sections. Authored by Sen. Jerry Hill of the San Francisco area, it awaits hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

Assembly Bill 446 would if adopted add a new protected class, “domestic violence victim status,” to California’s anti-discrimination statutes. However, the bill does not define “domestic violence victim status.” Civil Code 1946.7 allows domestic violence victims to break their leases, and perhaps that statute might somehow lead to a definition, to avoid a vague and therefore less helpful statute. Authored by Assembly member Steven Choi of Irvine, it is pending hearing by the Housing and Community Development Committee.

To review legislation or laws, or contact a bill’s author or your representative about proposed new HOA laws, the official California Legislature web site is

Kelly G. Richardson CCAL is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Senior Partner of Richardson Ober PC, a California law firm known for community association advice. Send questions to Kelly. Past columns at


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MOORLACH UPDATE — Death Penalty Reprieve — March 14, 2019

Orange County’s former District Attorney held a strong position of support for the death penalty. So much so, during the Great Recession he still insisted on spending the additional $1 million per case to obtain the death sentence. I did not disagree with him. But, when asked if he could put this policy on hold for a year or two until the economy recovered, he did not give an eloquent defense of his budget position to stand firm in spite of the cost. Instead, he stormed out of the room and launched a personal attack against the individual who asked this simple and rhetorical question.

Spending an additional $1 million to successfully obtain the death sentence is a cost that all of us have borne. It seems that, by giving a four year reprieve, the Governor of California needs to make 58 counties partially whole.

With the Governor’s announcement yesterday to push the hold button on administering a sentence on those who earned the death penalty, it generated the responses you would expect. Those on the left generally praised the decision and those on the right empathized with the relatives of the victims.

CBS 2 and KCAL 9 and MyNewsLA.Com provide reactions in the first piece below. As does California Globe in the second piece. For my statement, see

Mixed Reaction to California Governor’s Death Penalty Moratorium



Orange County’s top prosecutor and the head of an association representing Los Angeles County prosecutors Wednesday decried Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order declaring a moratorium on the death penalty in California, while the L.A. County public defender’s office called it an “historic step” for criminal justice reform in the state.

“I’m obviously disgusted,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told City News Service. “The governor does not have the moral high ground here. He talks about the morality of his decision-making. Well, tell that to the victims of these most heinous crimes committed by California’s worst murderers.”

The governor should seek another referendum on the issue rather than unilaterally placing a moratorium on capital punishment, Spitzer said. He noted that former Gov. Jerry Brown was also morally opposed to the death penalty, but as attorney general and governor did not try to stop executions in the state.

“He understood his legal obligation and took an oath to uphold the constitution and uphold the laws,” Spitzer said of Brown.

Orange County has more than five dozen inmates on the state’s death row list, but in at least one of those cases, the District Attorney’s Office reversed course on pursuing the ultimate punishment for Kenneth Clair, who is housed in Orange County Jail as he pushes for a new trial.

Spitzer said when he was an assemblyman, he asked the warden for permission to be present at the execution of Clarence Ray Allen, the last inmate to be executed in California in January 2006, because he anticipated running for District Attorney one day and felt it was important to be more informed on the death penalty.

“If you’re going to make policy for or against the death penalty, you have an obligation to be fully educated on the issue,” Spitzer said. He said he “walked away from it with a lot of peace, knowing that I was very carefully looking because of all the controversy to see if there were any inappropriate body movements or anything that showed suffering or any indication of pain and I didn’t see anything like that.”

Spitzer’s office noted in a statement that a ballot measure to speed up the appellate process for death row inmates passed in 2016 “because Californians want to see justice for the victims of the 737 condemned inmates,” adding that 65 of those inmates were sentenced to death for crimes in Orange County.

Steve Herr, father of murder victim Sam Herr, whose killer Daniel Wozniak was sentenced to death in September 2016, said the governor “was going against the will of the people.”

Herr said the news was “very upsetting… We’re obviously disappointed, highly upset.”

Herr acknowledged that it was unlikely he would ever see Wozniak executed anyway, but it was comfort to him and his family knowing the killer was on death row.

“I’d like to hear (Newsom) explain to me and the victims why he thinks the death penalty is not the appropriate consequence” in Wozniak’s case. “He’s going to have to deal with the victims’ families. He has no idea how we feel. None whatsoever.”

Michele Hanisee, president of the union representing nearly 1,000 Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys, said the governor is “usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty.”

More than 200 inmates are on death row for murders committed in Los Angeles County — the largest number by far of any county in California.

But a number of politicians agreed with the governor, who called it “the right thing” to do, as did the office of Los Angeles County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia.

“The governor’s decision brings California closer to ending the death penalty, a deeply flawed and racially biased system that fails to improve public safety,” the public defender’s statement says. “Only last year, Vincente Benavides, a man who had spent 25 years on death row in California, was exonerated. Mr. Benavides had always maintained his innocence, and he had no criminal record or history of violence. An innocent man could have been executed. This is only one reason why the moratorium is so important.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor and state attorney general who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, called it “an important day for justice and for the state of California … As a career law enforcement official, I have opposed the death penalty because it is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, wrote in a post on Medium, “What the governor does today and what California does today is courageous and civilized and more than a grand gesture. It is a momentous achievement … I commend Governor Gavin Newsom for this decision, putting California on the same path as other civilized governments of the world.”

Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, D-South Los Angeles, also welcomed the governor’s decision.

“Time and again we have seen the death penalty fail to promote justice. Whether evaluating communities subject to over-policing, discriminatory sentencing policies, or the use of new evidence to overturn past convictions, there are simply too many systemic concerns to support continued state-sponsored killings,” he said. “Additionally, the death penalty has been a misuse of taxpayer dollars as the state spends billions fighting appeals, far more than is spent on incarceration for life sentences.”

Meanwhile, two Republicans from Orange County issued statements opposing the governor’s decision to declare the moratorium and to immediately close the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

“As a member of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, I already see enough legislation favoring criminals, rather than the victims,” said Assemblyman Tyler Diep, R-Westminster “This action is completely unacceptable and a disregard to the will of the voters. I ask, `When will the governor stand up for the victims and their families? Protecting convicted felons is another horrible message to would-be criminals who are already enjoying lax laws in the state. When is enough, enough?”’

Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said she was “disappointed that today’s action undermines the will of California’s voters who spoke clearly in 2016 to reaffirm the death penalty.”

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, also criticized the move.

“Rather than a broad sweep, he could have dealt with any hint of injustice by examining each case giving reprieves where discrimination existed,” Moorlach said. “I’m just trying to grasp how the relatives of the victims will comprehend a possible slight to perpetrators who so tragically impacted their lives.”

Local attorney Seymour Amster — who defended convicted “Grim Sleeper” Lonnie Franklin Jr. in a Los Angeles Superior Court trial in which the former Los Angeles city garage attendant and sanitation worker was sentenced to death for the serial killings of nine women and a teenage girl — called the moratorium “a good first step.”

“Certainly we should listen to the governor and we should have discussions because the death penalty is truly not reducing crime in our communities and money would be better invested in education and law enforcement so we can truly reduce criminal behavior,” Amster told City News Service, echoing comments he made after jurors recommended in June 2016 that Franklin be sentenced to death.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, the California Innocence Project, Re:store Justice and Death Penalty Focus also lauded the governor’s order.

“It has been my dream for many years that we would end the human rights violation known as the death penalty in California,” said Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project. “It is certain that as long as there is the death penalty there is the risk of executing innocent people.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom Issues a Death Sentence on California’s Death Penalty

‘Governor’s decision of blanket reprieve of executions is abuse of power’

By Katy Grimes

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he is granting reprieves for all death penalty murderers on California’s death row, calling the death penalty “ineffective, irreversible and immoral.” He then signed an executive order putting a moratorium on the executions of the 737 inmates currently incarcerated in California’s death row.

With Newsom’s announcement a political friend said, “Another 737 just went down.”

“We cannot advance the death penalty in an effort to soften the blow of what happens to these victims,” Newsom said. “If someone kills, we do not kill. We’re better than that.”

In 2016, California voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have repealed the death penalty, and instead voted to expedite the executions of the inmates currently sitting on death row. Newsom supported the initiative to repeal. “The Governor clearly does not represent the majority of people in this state who want to see justice served for these heinous crimes,” said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore).

At his press conference, Newsom told a lengthy story of when he was a child, meeting a wrongly convicted man, and the impression it left on him. But victim’s groups are appalled.

“With his announcement that he is granting sentencing reprieves for all death penalty eligible murderers on California’s death row, Governor Gavin Newsom has substituted his own opinion for the repeated decisions of the state’s voters,” Michael Rushford with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation said in an interview.

“The people have voted for the death penalty eleven times since 1972, including three times in the last seven years,” said Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger in a press statement. “The Governor’s decision to grant a blanket reprieve to prevent executions is an abuse of power and a slap in the face of the families of murder victims.”

“The Governor can reprieve a case that raises a question, but this law was never meant to do a blanket moratorium,” Rushford added. “In a recent court filing, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined with murderers” and asked the federal court of appeals to reject a motion by the families of murder victims seeking to stay an illegal injunction that prevents the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from making itself able to carry out executions of the state’s worst murderers, Rushford said. “The AG said ‘victims are just bystanders, and they have no legal standing.’”

“Governor Newsom callously disregards the anguish of these families and rips from them any sense of justice, victimizing them all over again,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said. “The Governor has the authority to delay the implementation of the law but his action is eroding faith of California voters in our democracy and our system of justice.”

“These are the 737 inmates on California’s death row,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The LAT posted a database of all 737 inmates with the ability to click on a photo and read about the heinous crimes committed: serial killers, gang murderers, botched robberies/murders, violent crimes of passion, and some of the most vile, evil crimes imaginable are included.

Newsom, in prepared remarks prior to the press conference, also said the system has wasted “billions of taxpayer dollars.” However, Newsom was Lt. Gov. for eight years, and with Gov. Jerry Brown’s long history of opposing the death penalty, neither ever proposed actual reforms to the death penalty process. Currently, once a criminal is convicted to death row, he is granted three automatic appeals, which take decades. Most death row inmates die of old age rather than being put to death for their crimes.

Many sincere criminal justice reformers have proposed ways to speed up the appeals process, to not only bring swift justice to the victims, but to help root out wrongly convicted persons, rather than letting them rot in prison unjustly.

In 2016 when Prop. 66 was passed, it was intended to be a remedy to the most heinous criminals sitting on death row for 30 years, with endless appeals delaying justice and costing taxpayers hundreds of millions – and to ensure no innocent person was executed. Opponents sued, taking the case to the California Supreme Court, which upheld voters’ decision, but watered down a part of the initiative. The Court stated that provisions requiring the state to speed up the death penalty appeals process were directive, rather than mandatory.

Other reactions:

Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel):

“The announcement benefits people like Randy Kraft who butchered at least 16 young men and Scott Peterson who was convicted of murdering his wife and their unborn child. It sends the terrible message that the taking of innocent life will not be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Handing out unearned reprieves will only add to the pain felt by many of the victims’ relatives.”

Michele Hanisee, president, Association of Deputy District Attorneys said in a press statement:

“The voters of the State of California support the death penalty. That is powerfully demonstrated by their approval of Proposition 66 in 2016 to ensure the death penalty is implemented, and their rejection of measures to end the death penalty in 2016 and 2012. Governor Newsom, who supported the failed initiative to end the death penalty in 2012, is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty.”

Re:store Justice said in a statement:

“This is a historic moment for California’s criminal justice system with Governor Newsom’s leadership to place a moratorium on the inhumane and discriminatory death penalty,” said Re:store Justice executive director and co-founder Alexandria Mallick.

Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), said in a press statement:

“I applaud Governor Newsom for his courageous decision to a stop to all executions in California. The death penalty doesn’t make our communities safer, is immoral, and has huge racial disparities. It is time to end capital punishment in our state.”

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said in a press statement:

Indeed, during last year’s campaign for governor, a Newsom spokesperson said that, while he was personally opposed to the death penalty, “he recognizes that California voters have spoken on the issue and, if elected governor, he’d respect the will of the electorate by following and implementing the law.” Now that he has won that office, he’s knowingly defying the electorate.

Another aspect is the convicted killers come from the state’s counties whose elected District Attorneys spent $1 million or more to obtain each of these death sentences. It costs that much to obtain the death penalty, versus life in prison. Therefore, the counties have spent some $737 million to respect current law and the wishes of the constituents of the elected District Attorneys.

President Donald Trump said in a Tweet:

“Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!”


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MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 Debate — March 12, 2019

The fun part of authoring legislation is that you get the opportunity to debate its merits, in both the Senate and Assembly committees and floors and in the public square.

In an effort to review the current fiscal and viability concerns about California’s high-speed rail, I’ve produced an in-depth analysis with recommendations. This effort is also in support of my High-Speed Road proposal, SB 319 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 — March 3, 2019). The Orange County Breeze provides our press release on yesterday’s publication of the study in the first piece below. The joys of debating a position.

Speaking of debate, there will be those who will argue against your legislative proposals in an effort to have them fail. Debate strategies are many. In the second piece below, from the electronic version of the OC Register, two tactics are used, arrogance and shame. You’ve got to love the "we’re academics and we know we are right and smarter than you and we insist that our approach be adopted everywhere, whether you like it or not" and the "if you don’t agree with this, you must be for drug overdoses and much worse."

Should SB 689 be successful, it will give the proponents of needle exchanges the ability to persuade local elected leaders that their position is the correct approach and meets all of their claims (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 — March 3, 2019). This is preferable to showing up unilaterally, uninvited and leaving what residents of the impacted area may consider a mess.

What is so difficult about convincing a city’s leadership about the efficacy of a particular program, especially if you believe that you’re absolutely right? But, are they right? I didn’t hear any studies cited in their arguments, just conjecture. And if they had any studies to share, it’s likely that their proof of a successful program happened under the purview of – you guessed it – strong local control and oversight.

But I did hear the shrug implying the assumption that they couldn’t possibly persuade an unsophisticated majority of a city council. And, that was the intention of this bill. Well, not even trying to be approved to provide their mobile services got them into a courtroom in the first place. It may be helpful to come out of the ivory towers, get into the real world, and see what is happening with discarded syringes. It is not pretty or safe or healthy. The debate has begun.

In conclusion, the third piece, from California Globe, has a debate with quotes from both sides of the subject. Since the current strategy has resulted in litigation, I’m just trying to provide an appropriate procedure to follow. If the needle exchange provider is persuasive, then the debate has ended.

Sen. John Moorlach releases report on California’s high-speed rail project

Today state Sen. John M. W. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, released a new report reevaluating the controversial California High-Speed Rail project:

Although some parts of the project have been called into question by Gov. Gavin Newsom, it remains very much alive and continues to consume billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money.

Sen. Moorlach’s 43-page report reviews the reasons for and against the project, including: federal funding, local problems, comparisons with high-speed rail projects in Asia and Europe, electric power lines’ impact on the recent spate of wildfires, Democrats opposing the project and alternatives that would better advance environmental goals while more efficiently transporting people across the state.

The report concludes with a discussion of Sen. Moorlach’s proposal for a California Autobahn-style project that would add lanes without speed limits to the 5 and 99 freeways, which he calls the High-Speed Road.

This article was released by the Office of Senator John Moorlach.

In Orange County, “local control” is code for inaction on syringe exchange


We are heartened that Senator Moorlach and supporters of SB 689 recognize the overwhelming evidence on the efficacy of syringe exchange programs: they decrease the spread of infectious disease; do not increase drug use or local crime; and often act as an entry point for people who use injection drugs to access healthcare, drug treatment, and resources for their recovery.

However, when Moorlach proposes increased “local control” over syringe exchanges, he is not stepping forward to be a part of the solution. Indeed, SB 689 is no solution at all. At no time does he address how local officials could or will improve syringe exchange efforts in Orange County.

Instead, Moorlach is using the cloak of local control to mask Orange County officials’ complete unwillingness to carry out their own harm reduction activities or work with the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP) to improve its operations. Local control would serve as a barrier to syringe exchange programs and not a promise to help reform and improve them.

We would know: as long-time members of OCNEP’s leadership, we have often attempted to draw local members of City Councils, law enforcement, and the OC Health Care Agency into the fight against the opioid epidemic. OCNEP was founded because Orange County was (and once against is) the largest county in California without an evidence-based syringe exchange. Unfortunately, at all junctures we have been met with willful blindness to the evidence behind syringe exchange, hostility towards efforts for compromise, and foot-dragging around accepting the need for a syringe exchange in Orange County.

We do not contest the argument that collaborative relationships between syringe exchanges, local city councils, police, and health officials are imperative to helping both people who use injection drugs and also the broader community. In fact, many syringe exchanges across California have not had to seek authorization from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) because local officials were willing to play their part in harm reduction efforts. Instead of litigation, OCNEP would rather be working with officials to save the lives of Orange County citizens.

But through passing ordinances against syringe exchange and providing no other alternatives, local City Councils have shown that they have no interest in combating the opioid epidemic. By suing (rather than collaborating with) OCNEP, the OC Board of Supervisors made it clear that they have no real concern for our clients. The state’s ability to authorize syringe programs through the CDPH in the face of local inaction must be preserved.

Orange County’s version of local control is feigning concern about injection drug users and the opioid epidemic while trying to crush harm reduction efforts in the County that did and would continue to save lives. By not offering a single solution to issues that existed with OCNEP, it is clear that SB 689 supporters are comfortable with continuing to ignore the very real problem of substance use and overdose deaths in Orange County.

Local control only works if local government actually wants to solve problems, and Orange County officials only became interested in that control when they sought to shut OCNEP down. Local control is Orange County’s cover for denying access to needed resources as the nation’s opioid epidemic rages on.

Nathan Birnbaum is a fourth-year medical student at UC Irvine School of Medicine. Dallas Augustine is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at UC Irvine. Mahan Naeim is a graduate of UC Irvine with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering.

Senator Moorlach Pushes Back Against Needle Exchange

SB 689 gives localities veto power over programs meant to curb drug abuse

By Laura Hauther

State Senator John Moorlach wants communities to have a say regarding needle exchange programs. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Opioid drug use is becoming an ever-larger nationwide issue but there is not yet agreement on how best to combat the problem. Some communities are pushing back on some of the more controversial harm reduction efforts like needle exchange programs (NEP). Such programs, opponents argue, bring more addicts into an area and cause increased crime, needle litter, and encourage more drug use.

Last Friday, in line with some of those complaints, Orange County state Senator John Moorlach introduced SB 689, a bill that would give cities local control over needle exchange programs by requiring local authorities to give any state-approved NEP the OK to operate in their communities.

Moorlach said he believes this would encourage good government etiquette and stop costly lawsuits.

“All I’m saying is let’s have a protocol in place,” Moorlach says. “These communities shouldn’t have to sue or waste money on litigation.”

Last year Orange County’s Board of Supervisors sued to stop a state-approved mobile NEP organized by Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP), a non-profit that planned to operate a mobile program in Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Orange, and Santa Ana.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil granted the board’s request for an injunction in November, citing 250,000 needles distributed that were not returned and reports of needle litter in parks and libraries. The injunction temporarily blocked the OCNEP from going forward until a hearing determines its fate sometime in 2019.

The state allows organizations to apply directly to the California Department of Health, Office of AIDS (CDH) to get authorization to run a needle exchange program once they’re met a list of requirements. The CDH may also help with supplies and funding.

Widespread IV drug use and the growing numbers of death by overdose has moved drug addiction to the center of public health programs in cities throughout the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, use of heroin and other opioids has gone up in most age groups and all income levels, even in groups with traditionally low rates of addiction, such as women and people with health insurance.

Overdose is now the most frequent cause of death in America for those under 50, and one prediction projects such deaths could rise from the current 100 a day to up to as much as 250 per day, according to a panel of public health experts in Stat magazine.

Before trying to develop their mobile program, OCNEP operated a weekly needle exchange at the Santa Ana Civic Center for two years before it was shut down in January of 2018 when their permit was revoked. They were the only needle exchange in Orange County, but even so they were only allowed to operate two hours a week, sometimes not even getting to everyone in line. They followed a protocol of giving out 20 needles to each one turned in, a strategy shown by studies to decrease rates of disease spread by dirty needles, like HIV and Hepatitis C. Clean needles also mean fewer incidences of MERSA and sepsis. The idea is to give the user enough clean needles to get them through to the next visit. To mitigate needle litter they also gave out free sharps disposal containers to encourage users to package used needles in ways where they are unlikely to puncture anyone accidentally.

In a statement on their website, OCNEP said studies show needle exchange programs usually do not result in more discarded syringes. They groups points out that “syringe litter” existed before their program and after it was shut down, citing a study that found “In cities without a needle exchange, improper disposal can be 800% higher.

OCNEP also insists they were trying to address specific community concerns about needle litter mentioned in the lawsuit when they were forced to shut their doors; by the time the program was shut down OCNEP was cleaning up more syringes from the surrounding community than they were passing out each week.

Syringe clean-up program would have been more effective, the groups claims, if Orange County’s health department had cooperated with their efforts and helped them keep the needle exchange open more often. Ricky Blumenthal, professor of preventive medicine at USC, said in an interview with Vox that the needle litter problem was exacerbated by the program’s limited two-hour a week schedule.

“In an ideal world you would have a syringe exchange program open for 40 hours a week,” Blumenthal added.

Michael Marquesen, executive director of Los Angeles Community Health Project, said efforts to shut down NEPs are “NIMBYism masquerading as concern. This is an end run around state law. The law was changed years ago so programs could go directly to the state and avoid this kind of thing.”

‘Needle exchanges or needle mills?’

State Senator Moorlach says he responding to the needs of his community. “I’m getting support from city councils and local governments–these programs should be on the local level. They should come from the bottom up, not the top down. Are these needle exchanges or needle mills? Is this really helping addicts to move toward sobriety?”

At the press conference announcing SB 689, Moorlach was joined by a wide range of Orange County officials, including Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, Anaheim City Councilman Trevor O’Neil, Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Sandra Genis, and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.

In an interview with KTLA news, Spitzer was clear he believes the NEP’s create problems for communities: “This is about a society which is starting to sanction this kind of behavior and trying to tell all of us that it’s OK. It’s not OK. We’re losing our neighborhoods.”

Moorlach also insists this is not an attempt to stop IV drug users from getting clean needles to prevent the spread of disease, saying anyone can go to a local pharmacy to exchange needles.

While the law requiring a prescription for syringes changed in 2015, pharmacies are still allowed to deny the request if they suspect IV drugs use. And they’re not free.

Scott Davis, former needle exchange coordinator at HIV Alliance in Oregon, said NEPs are not only a way for IV drug users to access a wide range of health care services, but also provide with each contact an opportunity to for a drug user to opt for treatment, as shown in several studies.

“It might take 20, 30, even 50 contacts to build that level of trust. It helps get them into treatment.” Davis said. “When they come to the exchange they’re treated with kindness and dignity. It makes a difference.”


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MOORLACH UPDATE — The Curators — March 11, 2019

Having teachers prepare curriculum to instruct California’s school children on how to distinguish "fake news" is well-intentioned, but it remains to be seen if it’s appropriate. How about just improving student test scores on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic?

Here is a slide from one of my recent presentations. It ranks states based on the average fourth-grade math scores for needy students (those obtaining a free school lunch).

If not for Alaska, California would be in last place.

When asked by Sharyl Attkisson about the proposed curriculum, I started with the over-reaction that many of my colleagues have had to the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. The bills and "barbs" were numerous and included the "fake news" legislation.

My second point was that the priority of teachers should not be what is and what is not "fake news," it should be improving the test scores. Wouldn’t it be great if California could at least be in the middle of the graph?

Real Clear Politics covers the interview, titled "The Curators," in the piece below. The video can be seen when clicking the link.

Sharyl Attkisson:Who Decides

What News Is Fake News?

Posted By Tim Hains

"Full Measure" host Sharyl Attkisson reports on efforts to improve "media literacy," and asks whether groups whose goal is to expose media bias have their own biases.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: We’ve entered a brave, new world in the information age where it can be tough to know what’s real. Now there are movements to help us sort through it all— to teach our kids media literacy, to "curate" our information, and cull out "fake news." Sounds like a good idea. After all, who doesn’t want their news straight up? But what if some of those efforts are actually attempts to control the narrative? Today’s cover story examines "The Curators."

In January, the website BuzzFeed had a bombshell: anonymous sources claimed President Trump instructed his attorney to lie to Congress. And that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had the goods. It wasn’t long before Mueller took an unusual step— publicly denying it.

President Trump: I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country.

Jeffrey Toobin: The press screwed up and they should apologize and you know the media isn’t as great as it thinks it is. This is a bad day for the news media. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: BuzzFeed stands by its report.

Whatever the case, it underscores how it’s getting harder to separate fact from fiction in the news. Now, there are unprecedented efforts by third parties— to curate information for you.

Some even want to give lessons to first graders on how to sort through fake news— between math and reading.

Person on street: I think children or young adults need to be informed about how to decipher what is real news and not.

Person on street: I think everyone, not just high school students, everyone should get educated about what to believe and not believe with the media.

Person on street: We really have to understand who you’re hearing it from, why they may be telling you what they’re telling you and generate your own viewpoints from there.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: Do you think there is a way for the government or third parties to get involved in curating our information for us so that we can really read factual information? Or is that just a no win proposition?

KATY GRIMES: I think the answer is absolutely no. It’s a no-win proposition.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: Katy Grimes is an investigative journalist in California — one of the states where lawmakers have been pushing for new laws to root out “fake news” and teach media literacy in public schools. The question is — who decides what’s real when it’s a matter in dispute.

KATY GRIMES: I think we, we’ve seen a lot of history in the past when you’ve got governments that try to control media. We’ve got governments around the world still trying to control media and it’s limiting what the populations who live there get.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: Is it sort of a new trend in your experience to see government stepping in and saying that it has a role to play in helping sort through or curate information for us?

KATY GRIMES: Yes. This seems to be a very new role and it’s extremely disturbing. They’re trying to pass a bill that would require schools to teach children some idea of what fake news is. And I think that’s just a giant red flag.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: President Obama first drew national attention to the notion that somebody needed to start curating information. It was less than a month before the 2016 election. Liberal interests had already introduced the phrase “fake news” to criticize campaign-driven conspiracy theories.

President Obama: We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: With the President’s announcement, an organized effort grew. According to the advocacy group "Media Literacy Now," which is pushing for new laws, 10 states considered media literacy legislation last year alone. Sponsors of 3 California bills, Senators Richard Pan, Hannah-Beth Jackson and Bill Dodd, wouldn’t sit down for interviews to discuss their proposals with us. Ultimately, only one of the bills was signed into law: one requiring the state to provide media literacy resources for public school teachers. We did get the chance to talk to California Senator John Moorlach, who told us the legislative efforts are politically-driven.

There are proposals to teach media literacy in public schools. What is your feeling about that?

JOHN MOORLACH: Well, two things. One is: the state legislature has not reacted well to the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States. So, there are a lot of barbs that keep being thrown that way. But two, our educational system isn’t something to brag about necessarily. I’d be happy if we could teach our kids to read, you know, do math and, and understand, you know, basic science concepts, than to worry about fake news.

MICKEY HUFF: I like to give at least some benefit of the doubt that there are some people involved in these efforts that have integrity and are well-intentioned.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: California-based “Project Censored,” a media watchdog group, has been teaching college-focused media literacy since 1976. Director Mickey Huff is wary of some of the newer efforts.

MICKEY HUFF: I can’t, however, help but be suspicious because the way in which that, that these things have been rolled out and “media literacy” is now a buzz phrase, right? The whole fighting of fake news has become a Trojan horse to propel other agendas. And in the name of telling us what is fake news, we’re also seeing more censorship, whether, again, it’s algorithmically through bots, through filter bubbles, whether it’s outsourcing fact checkers, right? Like Snopes or Politifact.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: But do you suspect there are special interest behind some of these efforts that are actually trying to shape opinion and do the opposite of what they say they’re trying to do?

MICKEY HUFF: Absolutely. And the name of fighting fake news is purposely suppressing certain views, certain narratives, certain sources. And so at Project Censored, we believe that that is a very problematic effort. It, unfortunately, does get to masquerade in sort of a “do good” capacity. In other words, who’s going to be against media literacy if we’re trying to fight fake news?

SHARYL ATTKISSON: It sounds good.

MICKEY HUFF: Sounds fantastic. Until you realize how certain groups are doing it.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: On the front lines are college students like Edward Jacobs. He took an independent pilot course in media literacy last year while he was in high school. What did he learn? To be skeptical of the curators.

EDWARD JACOBS: The very idea that there should be some middlemen curating what ideas we’re exposed to is very dangerous. Even if it were someone who agreed with what our personal opinions were, that would in effect restrict us from being exposed to many different viewpoints and that’s really something that our country doesn’t need, especially among the youth demographic today.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: It’s Phil Dunn who taught the high school course that Eddie took. As a student of media manipulation and author of “Media Collusion,” Dunn says the key is critical thinking, not pushing curated views.

PHIL DUNN: When you talk about media literacy that the people that want to teach that are oftentimes invested in certain kind of legacy media outfits, the New York Times, The Washington Post, the big three networks, CNN, Fox, all of them would love to tell you what to listen to and, and how to listen to it. And I think you can throw in Google and Facebook as well because it’s on the right side and it’s chosen and may be censored and maybe curated, you know, we put quotes around curated.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: To be clear, in your class, you don’t teach the kids, “rely on this source, go to the New York Times, trust the Washington Post or Fox News?”


SHARYL ATTKISSON: What do you teach them instead?

PHIL DUNN: How to look, where to look. What to discover about who’s telling you what’s fake and what’s not. I mean, there’s a chapter on Snopes in there and Snopes has its own people that have their own bias.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: Perhaps best put we may need media literacy instruction to determine which media literacy efforts are genuine. And which may be just attempts to shape and manipulate.

What would your advice be to people who hear what sound like well-meaning efforts to curate their information, to sort out fake news, to make kids understand media literacy by teaching them in elementary school or middle school or high school?

MICKEY HUFF: I would say, well, one of the basic things is who benefits from that education? Who’s forming the curriculum, who’s funding it? If it’s coming through government, who’s funding the particular sponsors of the bills? Who has a seat at the table? And I think the only thing that we really have at the end of the day is our own capacity to think critically and independently.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: One new media literacy effort is called MediaWise, which aims to educate teens with social media and a teacher curriculum developed by Stanford. They’ve started a teen fact-checking network and are working with YouTube to produce videos. MediaWise is funded by Google.


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MOORLACH UPDATE — Open Transparency — March 8, 2019

I try not to be repetitious, but the topics below deserve a little bit of my attention. To keep it short, I’m not including any recent pieces on my Autobahn bill.

The first piece below, from California Globe, provides a supportive commentary on my Open Financial Statement Act, Senate Bill 598 ((see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 496 and SB 598 — March 6, 2019).

The second piece, in the Red Bluff Daily News, needs a small explanation. I do try to provide something special and different under appropriate circumstances. The “noogie” was to a non-Senate employee, we were laughing at the time of the photo session, and calling it in to the Senate hotline may have been overkill. I also thought the investigation was brief and disappointing, and should not have been a high cost effort on behalf of the outside legal firm. Those familiar with me know that I have a sense of humor and an incredible wife of nearly 39 years. Getting caught up in this net seems a little unnecessary and those who have discussed it with me have been upset with the silliness of it all.

The third piece, from FOX News, covers the accrued vacation costs addressed in yesterday’s UPDATE (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Accrued Vacation Time — March 7, 2019). I responded to the reporter while waiting for a flight in the Sacramento Airport. I should have been a little more detailed, but I was rushed. During the Great Recession, the cash flow constraints made it very difficult to pay off this liability when County employees retired. Having to lay off employees to pay these large sums was gut-wrenching and reflected priorities that were difficult to explain. But, these were bargained for prior to my coming on the Board of Supervisors. End of story.

California’s Antiquated Legislature

Can Update State Technologies

In the birthplace of high tech, government financial statements exist only in PDF format

By Edward Ring

Last year, California’s state Senate and Assembly passed 1,217 pieces of legislation. Governor Brown signed 1,016 of them into law, and most took effect January 1st. Included were predictable acts of liberal zealotry – sanctuary for the undocumented, gender equity on corporate boards, gun control, “me-too” inspired laws, a mandate to move California to 100% “clean” energy by 2045, laws to protect government unions, reduce mandatory criminal punishment, and, of course, a ban on plastic straws.

To be fair, most of these issues aren’t black and white. But what’s notable is a complete lack of legislation that might reflect some kind of ideological balance. Where were the laws to rebuild our highways, fast-track the construction of the Sites Reservoir, open land for housing development, license new nuclear power plants, or permit drilling for natural gas? As Tony Soprano would say, “fuggedaboutit!”

There’s one law pending in this year’s legislative session, however, that could do a world of good. It’s probably the best new proposed law that nobody’s ever heard of. It’s utterly bipartisan, and wouldn’t cost much at all to implement.

That law is SB 598, the Open Financial Statements Act, sponsored by Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa). It’s fitting that Senator Moorlach is the author of this bill, because he is the only certified public accountant serving in a state legislature, which is quite likely the most financially illiterate group of state legislators in America.

This isn’t idle speculation. A recent analysis by the California Policy Center analyzed the 2019-2020 class of senators and assemblymen in California’s state legislature, examining each legislator’s background. It found that 75 percent of the Democratic legislators had no experience in private business. Since the Democrats control more than 75 percent of the seats in California’s legislature, that means that as a collective body, these legislators do not really understand what it takes to run a business – or read a financial statement.

This economic idiocy is evident in the laws California’s legislature has passed, or is contemplating. Apart from their ideological uniformity, some of them have epic financial repercussions. They approved retroactive pension benefit increases during a stock market bubble, unaware of the slow motion catastrophe they unleashed as markets returned to reality. They approved high-speed rail, blithe to the project’s failure to pass even the most rudimentary cost/benefit analysis. They’ve got their eyes on universal health care and free pre-school, apparently unaware of the stupefying cost. Examples of Democratic innumeracy are endless.

When the legislators don’t have the training to understand the economic and financial impact of the laws they pass, somebody else has to do it for them. In-house, that is legislative staff and the massive state bureaucracy, and on the outside, journalists, watchdogs, activists, credit agencies, bond underwriters, and investors. But unfortunately, the information they get to work with is trapped in obsolete 20th century formats.

This is where SB 598 ascends from accounting geekville and represents a real opportunity for reform-minded, financially responsible Californians to take back their state. Today, while financial statements for California’s state and local agencies are available online, they exist only in PDF format. These reports are printed on paper, and the “electronic copies” that are saved and uploaded are little more than image files. SB 598 will take these online reports into the 21st century, and would require the State Controller to post all public agency audit reports on their website.

Applying 21st Century Technology to Transparency Mandates

When an online financial statement is just an image file, it is opaque. That is, if you want to take the numbers reported on that image and do any sort of analysis, you have to manually enter all the numbers over again onto a spreadsheet. As it is, every year, California’s various government agencies upload annual financial statements in PDF format for review by, for example, credit agencies. Meanwhile, similar data is required by the state controller, but these reports are hand entered into an online system. Local governments have trouble keeping their respective PDF and controller reports in sync, giving rise to data errors. SB 598 solves this problem.

What SB 598 will require is for all of California’s state and local government agencies to use XBRL, or “Extensible Business Reporting Language.” This proven technology is similar to HTML, and like HTML, is used to create web pages. But XBRL web pages are formatted so that entire tables of numbers can be copied and pasted in Excel spreadsheets. They are also “machine readable,” which means that data mining programs can automatically extract all of the numerical information on them, pouring it into a database, or onto a spreadsheet.

In the private sector, the Securities and Exchange Commission already requires publicly traded corporations to use XBRL on their posted quarterly and annual financial statements. Among government entities, XBRL has already been adopted by the State of Florida, and is being adopted in Utah. Insofar as California is the birthplace of high technology, and remains its epicenter, it should be a bipartisan slam-dunk for California’s legislators to adopt XBRL here.

The benefits of having XBRL are many, and deserve explanation, because it’s easy to acknowledge and promptly forget about something that, while transformative, flies way under the radar. The challenge of properly analyzing and exposing many of California’s most serious fiscal challenges, using today’s reports, is nearly insurmountable. Examples abound.

California has 83 independent pension systems, nearly all of them woefully underfunded and nearly all of them planning to roughly double the amount they’re requiring their client employers to pay them. How will this affect California’s cities, counties, special districts and state agencies? What is the collective impact of these payment increases on California’s taxpayers? With XBRL, an analyst can unleash an automated program that will download the financial statements of all 83 pension systems, producing a consolidated report showing the exact financial condition of those systems if they were a single entity. With this information, it would be a simple matter to assess and report, among other things, the total unfunded liability, and the total required payments.

There are very immediate financial challenges facing Californians that would be far easier to understand and cope with if XBRL were implemented. Two timely examples are the Los Angeles Unified School District, and one of its counterparts up north, the Oakland Unified School District. In both cases, these school districts are in deep financial trouble. Despite these difficulties, their unions have successfully negotiated increases in pay and headcount. LAUSD confronts $14 billion in debt for retirement healthcare, and $7 billion in debt for unfunded pensions. Their net position on their balance sheet is a negative $7 billion. If it were easier to collect these financial facts, more people would look them up, and maybe LAUSD would be cutting non-teaching positions and selling off underutilized school properties, instead of handing out raises and hiring new staff.

Finance is the analytical glue that makes it possible to understand the viability of public policies. It is the indispensable language that describes why a public endeavor succeeds or fails. By adopting XBRL, California’s state and local governments will make it possible for more people, including people who need to know, able to speak this language. As Senator Moorlach has said with respect to SB 589, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

California spent $1.8 million on legal costs for sexual harassment investigations

At least nine legislators were named in the investigations in 2018


The California Legislature racked up more than $1.8 million in legal costs from sexual harassment investigations during 2018 and the first month of this year when at least nine current or former lawmakers faced allegations of misconduct, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

The Senate spent $1.26 million and the Assembly $571,000, according to the documents provided under the Legislative Open Records Act.

Neither chamber provided specifics on how many investigations the money paid for nor how exactly it was spent, citing attorney-client privilege and other exemptions in the public records act.

But both chambers previously have disclosed hiring outside attorneys during that time to investigate five current or former Assembly members and four current or former senators.

Their behavior ranged from using vulgar language and giving uncomfortable hugs and a “noogie,” to forcibly kissing a staff member and, in one case, masturbating in front of a lobbyist.

The spending occurred after accusations of widespread harassment at the Capitol surfaced in October 2017 as the #MeToo movement was roiling Hollywood and major corporations.

Four California lawmakers and multiple staffers eventually resigned, and the Legislature has since revamped its policies for reporting and investigating claims of misbehavior.

“It’s not the kind of place you want your taxpayer dollars being used,” said Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, a Democrat representing part of Los Angeles and surrounding communities who led the committee to change harassment policies. “The goal of our new policies is to try to intervene much earlier before we get to a point where you need to have a very large investigation.”

A new “Workplace Conduct Unit” debuted in February to look into all allegations of harassment and discrimination, sexual or otherwise, based on someone’s race, gender or other protected classes. The findings of major investigations will then go to a panel of outside experts who will evaluate them and recommend action to the Legislature.

Lawmakers approved $1.5 million to get the four-person office up and running last year, and its proposed annual budget is $1.7 million. Some investigations could still be sent to outside lawyers, but most complaints will be handled internally, said Julia Johnson, the head of the unit.

“We expect that as this new process moves forward, it will be both effective for employees in stopping harassment and efficient for taxpayers in how it achieves that critical goal,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said in an emailed statement.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said his priority is for staff to feel safe and to create a more respectful, diverse and civil culture.

“For that to happen, we have to investigate workplace misconduct thoroughly and consistently. I will not put a price on the safety of our employees,” he said in an emailed statement.

In 2018, the Legislature went regularly to outside lawyers to look into complaints. Firms hired by the Assembly in 2018 were: Littler Mendelson P.C., Stoel Rives LLP, and Van Dermyden Maddux Investigations. The Senate, meanwhile, hired the Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer initially and later retained Van Dermyden Maddux and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to handle all investigations.

The decision to put two firms on retainer came as the Senate was taking heat over allegations former Sen. Tony Mendoza harassed multiple young women, including offering an underage employee alcohol and inviting another to his home. The firms are no longer handling sexual harassment investigations for the Senate, said Lizelda Lopez, Atkins’ spokeswoman.

Former Senate president Kevin de Leon, who was in charge when the firms were put on retainer, said in a text message that employees’ safety was the top priority and that the outside firms were brought in to ensure complaints were “aggressively investigated, free of any political influence.”

Neither chamber discloses information about allegations that are not substantiated, making it impossible to know the number of investigations actually completed.

The Senate also paid out a $350,000 settlement to an employee who said the chamber failed to accommodate her needs after she alleged an Assembly employee raped her; the Assembly said it paid out no settlements during that time.

The Senate did not respond to questions about whether that $350,000 was part of its legal costs. Republican Assemblyman Steven Choi has introduced a bill that would ban the use of taxpayer money on settlements.

Beyond legal costs, the Assembly and Senate together spent $16,800 hiring an outside consulting firm to conduct a “culture survey” in 2018 to assess whether staff members felt respected and comfortable reporting incidents of harassment to their superiors, among other things.

The money went to a Florida-based firm called TalentKeepers. The company charged $5 for each employee taking the survey, a total of 2,661 people, according to an invoice.

Kim Nalder, a professor of political science at California State University, Sacramento, surmised the public’s reaction to all the spending will vary depending on their feelings about the issues raised by #MeToo. Nearly a year-and-a-half after the movement seized the national spotlight, America still is experiencing a cultural awakening about what behavior now is considered unacceptable, she said.

“Californians who are in the ‘zero tolerance’ camp are going to be horrified that we’re paying to investigate this many examples of gross misbehavior,” Nalder said. “And I suspect some older people will feel like it’s a reflection of a sensitivity that they may find overblown.”

A list of the legislators and allegations:

— Former Assemblyman Matt Dababneh: Investigators substantiated allegations he followed a lobbyist into a bathroom and began masturbating in front of her at an event in Las Vegas in 2016. The Democrat resigned but denies the allegations and sued the lobbyist for defamation.

— Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia: She was cleared of allegations she groped a former legislative staff member in 2014 but investigators found she used vulgar language in violation of the chamber’s sexual harassment policies. The Democrat won re-election in 2018.

— Assemblyman Devon Mathis: He was reprimanded for making sexual comments about other lawmakers, described by investigators as “locker room talk.” The Republican won re-election in 2018.

— Former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra: Investigators say he harassed several women while serving as an Assembly staff member about a decade ago. In one case, he put a subordinate’s bracelet down his pants and asked her to retrieve it. The Democrat resigned in late 2017 but maintained his innocence.

— Former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas: Investigators found he likely forcibly kissed a woman. The Democrat denies the allegations but resigned in late 2017, citing health reasons.

— Former Sen. Tony Mendoza: Investigators say he likely engaged in unwanted “flirtatious or sexually suggestive” behavior with six women, including four subordinates, a lobbyist and a young woman in a fellowship program. The behavior included offering a 19-year-old intern alcohol in a hotel suite at a Democratic Party event. The Democrat resigned in February 2018 but denied wrongdoing.

— Sen. Bob Hertzberg: Investigators found he gave people hugs that made them uncomfortable but concluded it wasn’t meant to be sexual. The Democrat stayed in office.

Sen. John Moorlach: Investigators say he gave a woman a “noogie,” but did not intend it to be sexual. The Republican still is in office.

— Former Sen. Joel Anderson: Investigators say he threatened to slap a lobbyist at a bar near the Capitol, which he denied, and rubbed her shoulders. Anderson, a Republican, was termed out of office in 2018 and lost a bid for a seat on a state tax board.

Banked time-off pay for California workers creates huge taxpayer liability

By Andrew Craft | Fox News

In California, it pays to hold onto your allotted vacation days, at least if you’re a state government worker.

A Los Angeles Times study of payroll data from the state controller’s office has found that the Golden State paid nearly $300 million for banked time off in 2018.

The controller’s office referred Fox News to the California Department of Human Resources, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The data included most agencies and departments, excluding legislative employees and workers at public universities.

One recently retired employee, Bijan Sartipi, who worked as a transportation engineer, received a payout of $405,000 for time off he never used, according to the news organization’s research.

The state does have a cap on vacation accrual but enforcement is lax, leaving state workers to retire with massive compensatory payouts. California mandates vacation balances for most employees be capped at 640 hours.

The state is obligated to make the payment, inevitably leaving lawmakers to cut programs from other departments to balance the budget and offset the costs of that vacation hoarding.

“You wait for the guy to retire and then you send him a $300,000 check. … In a budget surplus mode like right now it’s great, but if you’re in a recession it sucks,” said Republican state Sen. John Moorlach.

“It is just so onerous, and this is not just at the state level, this is at the county and city level, too.”

Moorlach said the issue can be addressed starting with Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat.

“At least Governor [Jerry] Brown tried to give them the opportunity to try and pay it down; it seems to me it has to start at the bargaining table,” he said.

The study found state workers had $3.5 billion in unused leave as of 2017, creating a massive unfunded liability for the state.

The analysis also found that vacation payouts can far surpass annual salaries. For example, if an employee cashes out stored-up leave, California pays them for the hours accrued. In addition, the state projects how much additional time he or she would have earned for actually taking those days off.

Plus, state labor code requires compensation for unused days based on the employee’s final pay rate, so the actual cost of each vacation hour increases over time.

Moorlach is pessimistic that there is a quick and simple remedy. He says it would be tough to negotiate an even harsher cap on unused vacation hours with government employee unions.

“Can we fix this?” he asked. “Probably not.”


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MOORLACH UPDATE — Accrued Vacation Time — March 7, 2019

After a long interview with the reporter, only one observation was included in the LA Times piece below. Let me explain with something I observed on Santa Ana’s Orco Tool sign, along the Costa Mesa Freeway, which stated: “A pessimist is an optimist with experience.” This may explain my quote.

Based on my experience as a County Supervisor, I could not modify the egregious accumulation of unused vacation time by hours. I did try to bank it at the amounts when it was earned, which would have been fairer than paying it out based on the final salary (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Happy Birthday! — September 30, 2013). But, this unique supplemental pension technique is still being abused and it is great to see an article on the subject.

California state workers hoarding vacation days, creating $3.5-billion debt for taxpayers


After 36 years as a California government transportation engineer, Bijan Sartipi retired with much more than a goodbye party: He was paid $405,000 for time off he never used — one of more than 450 state workers who took home six-figure checks when they left their jobs last year.

And Sartipi didn’t top the list — a prison surgeon in Riverside pocketed $456,002.

In a trend that stems from lax enforcement of the state’s cap on vacation accrual, more and more state workers are able to retire with massive payouts for unused vacation and other leave. That could become a budget breaker for California as an aging workforce heads into retirement. During the next recession, California will be obligated to continue the payouts, forcing lawmakers to cut programs to balance the state budget.

Last year, the state paid its employees nearly $300 million for banked time off, according to a Times analysis of payroll data from the state controller’s office. The data include most agencies and departments, but not legislative employees or other taxpayer-funded institutions such as the public university systems. That means the actual cost to taxpayers for unused vacation is much higher.

The total unfunded liability also does not account for employees who used stockpiled days off at the end of their careers to remain employed while not actually working, boosting the value of their pensions.

All told, state workers had $3.5 billion in unused leave as of 2017, the most recent estimate available. The blame, said Stanford public policy professor Joe Nation, rests entirely on government mismanagement.

“It’s like having a speed limit but not enforcing it,” he said. “This is not a good way to run any organization.”

California mandates that vacation balances for most employees be capped at 640 hours. Sporadic enforcement of the rule, coupled with an increasing number of state workers retiring, has led to a 60% rise in the number of six-figure payouts since 2012, when 280 employees each cashed in unused paid leave totaling $100,000 or more, The Times’ analysis found.

Even so, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, “the state has made significant strides in recent years in reducing unused leave balances.”

Some departments have offered workers a chance to cash out up to 80 hours accrued time off each year in hopes of reducing the liability of larger payout when workers retire at a higher salary. According to the Department of Finance, the state wrote checks totaling $111 million over a three-year period ending in 2017 to help reduce vacation balances — an effort started under former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Most private-sector employers cap vacation between 40 hours and 400 hours and do not allow time to be earned beyond those limits.

In California, public-sector union contracts are negotiated at the direction of the governor and must be approved by the Legislature. Any changes to how much vacation employees could store would have to be negotiated and such concessions would not come easily. The state’s powerful and deep-pocketed public-sector unions showered Newsom with contributions, and labor is also among the biggest donors to Democratic lawmakers, who have supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.

State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said revising the vacation policy would help California contain its liabilities, but did not believe that was politically feasible.

“I doubt Gavin Newsom will go to the bargaining table to see if he can fix it,” Moorlach said. “Our governors are very reliant on public employee union contributions, so this is just not going to happen.”

State workers also enjoy another vacation perk most public sector workers have not heard of. When employees cash out their banked leave, the state government pays them not just for the hours they have on the books, but also projects how much additional time they would have earned if they had taken the days off. That means a person with 640 hours of vacation would also be paid for all of the vacation and holidays they would have earned had they taken those 80 days off.

For some, vacation payouts can surpass annual salaries. And since state labor code requires employers to compensate workers for unused days off based on final pay rate — not what they were earning when the time was accrued — the actual cost of each vacation hour increases over time.

The top 20 employees with the largest payouts in 2018 took home a combined $5.9 million, with all but three receiving raises in the year before they left state service. The raises increased the employees’ leave payouts by an average of $7,500 apiece, The Times’ analysis found.

“That’s in line with pension spiking,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. — likening it to boosting retirement pay with last-minute salary increases, a practice banned in many cases under a 2012 reform law. “It’s an abuse and it should be corrected with legislation,” Coupal said.

Sartipi took home an additional $15,000 for unused time off thanks to a 4% raise in his final year of work.

The onetime district director for the California Department of Transportation in Alameda County received $405,119 for banked time off — the equivalent of more than 4,400 hours of vacation, or two years of stored leave, according to The Times’ analysis. His annual salary when he retired was $191,208.

When asked for comment, Sartipi declined.

The state controller’s office would not provide the number of vacation days employees had amassed, saying the information was confidential. But of the 20,400 workers who cashed out their time off last year, nearly 6,200 received at least $10,000. The majority of vacation payouts were less than $5,000, the analysis showed.

Many who received large payouts worked in prisons or public safety positions, where staffing shortages and emergencies can make it difficult to schedule vacations.

“I would have rather had been taking time off than taking a payout,” said Kim Zagaris, the former fire and rescue chief for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Zagaris, whose state career spanned three decades, received $218,000 from unused vacation when he retired last year. He said the tax bite out of that lump-sum payment was around 40%.

The number of vacation hours banked by state workers jumped in the years after 2009, when California furloughed workers during the recession. The forced unpaid time off meant many did not need to use vacation or could not afford to.

In 2016, the Department of Human Resources began tracking the amount of unused leave accumulated and working with managers to have those over the cap create plans to use the time up. A spokesman said the department plans to post the state’s total number of unused vacation hours and the cash value of that liability online later this year.

As of 2017, state workers had accrued 75 million hours of paid leave, according to the controller’s office.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections accounted for a third of those hours, which carried a $1-billion price tag. The California Highway Patrol had $396 million in unused leave on the books, the data show; Caltrans was on the hook for $366 million.

When J.J. Jelincic was ready to retire from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System in January 2018, he opted to take his vacation time instead of a lump-sum payment. Jelincic, who has been on vacation for more than a year, said that was the smarter investment.

Because while on vacation, he has received a 4% raise that went to everyone in his job classification. And since he is still an employee, he is increasing his total state service. The net impact will mean an increase of his pension. Jelincic is also accruing more vacation time while on vacation — and receiving holiday pay.

The state requires employees to get a manager’s approval to burn down their vacation before retiring instead of receiving a lump-sum payment.

Mike Genest, who served as budget director for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said there are times when large payouts to hardworking state employees are warranted.

“But, I would say most of the time it is abused,” Genest said.

He received $37,000 in unused time off when he left the Department of Finance in 2009.

“I have no guilt for the taxpayer that I was milking the system,” Genest said.

“People knew I worked ungodly hours most of the time.… It could be looked at as abuse, but I tell you I deserved it and I have no qualms saying that as a fiscal conservative.”


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MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 496 and SB 598 — March 6, 2019

My new bill, SB 496, was a recommendation from the Financial Planning Association of Orange County. The bill recommends the adoption of policies to prevent elder abuse when curious financial transaction requests are received. The legislation is modeled after that recommended by the North American Securities Administration Association (NASAA).

We have been in contact with numerous parties including representatives of financial institutions, the securities industry, and broker dealers. Financial experts have expressed their excitement for the legislation and are eager to help make changes that are essential to protecting our most vulnerable from financial exploitation (see

The National Law Review introduces SB 496 in the first piece below. The concern? What supersedes, Federal or state law?

Watching Alzheimer’s and dementia concerns growing in our state, providing safeguards to prevent financial abuse for those in the beginning stages of this difficult life journey is critical. And I’m happy to work with financial professionals who appreciate their fiduciary roles to protect their aging clientele.

The second piece is from The Bond Buyer and introduces my bill, SB 598, that would provide more transparency for critical accounting documents. Currently, Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) are provided in a PDF format. This is fine if you have the time to scour the entire document. Why not upload it in a language that allows for faster analysis and comparisons with other CAFRs? Let’s move into the 21st century (see

The concern? Inconvenience. But, once again, the publicly traded industry is years ahead of government. It is time to have the municipalities you fund with your tax dollars to provide a simple data dive opportunity.

California Ponders Mandating That Brokers And Investment Advisers Report Financial Elder Abuse

The California Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act mandates reporting of suspected financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15630.1. Under the act, a “mandated reporter of suspected financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult” means all officers and employees of financial institutions [as defined]”.

Senator John M. W. Moorlach recently introduced a bill, SB 496, that would expand the list of mandated reporters to include broker-dealers (as defined in Corp. Code § 25004) and investment advisers (as defined in Corp. Code § 25009). The bill would also allow a mandated reporter to delay temporarily a requested disbursement from an account of an elder or dependent adult or an account to which an elder or dependent adult is a beneficiary provided specified conditions are satisfied.

By imposing state specific requirements on broker-dealers, the bill may run afoul of Section 15(i)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) which states:

“No law, rule, regulation, or order, or other administrative action of any State or political subdivision thereof shall establish capital, custody, margin, financial responsibility, making and keeping records, bonding, or financial or operational reporting requirements for brokers, dealers, municipal securities dealers, government securities brokers, or government securities dealers that differ from, or are in addition to, the requirements in those areas established under this title [the Exchange Act].”

The issue of federal preemption has become red hot as states move to impose fiduciary obligations on broker-dealers. See Is Nevada’s Broker-Dealer Fiduciary Standard Constitutional?

Bill would require California issuers to use XBRL

Keeley Webster

A California bill would require its governments and agencies to provide financial documents to the State Controller’s Office in a more readily searchable format than the PDF.

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sponsored Senate Bill 598, the Open Financial Statement Act, with the aim of making state and local government financial data more accessible.

The bill would require that the state, counties, cities, school districts, special districts and pension funds submit financial statements in Extensible Business Reporting Language.

The machine-readable computer language, known as XBRL, would standardize issuers’ financial documents making it easier to compare data and add transparency, said Marc Joffe, a senior policy analyst with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.

The concept, contemplated on the federal level, has received mixed reviews from municipal market participants, some of whom say the changeover would be onerous and costly.

“It is disappointing to me that people in the bond markets not only don’t consider it a priority, but that some are actually opposed,” Joffe said.

The only way to compare data in the less interactive PDFs is to manually type information into a speadsheet. XBRL would enable researchers to easily populate a page with information to make comparisons for statistical analysis.

“I would like to see the data become available at a lower price, so that more people can access it, rather than relying on a small number of experts,” Joffe said.

Currently, research firms pay people to manually enter the data from comprehensive annual financial reports to create data sets and then charge people for the information, he said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has required private companies to use XBRL for filings on the EDGAR system for about 10 years, but it doesn’t have the authority to require the municipal market to use the 15-year-old technology.

Since he was elected to the state Senate in 2015, Moorlach has been producing reports on the state’s 944 school districts and 482 cities using financial information culled from comprehensive annual reports to rank them based on fiscal soundness.

“It goes back to the basic management principle: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Moorlach said.

He pointed to three school districts in the state that are struggling financially: Los Angeles Unified School District, Sacramento City Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District. If financial information were easier to analyze and more readily available, problems could be solved before they get to the point that the state’s Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team has to be called in, he said.

Florida approved similar legislation last year, but it doesn’t include the state and public pension funds in the mix, Joffe said.

“In California, you have this really crazy system where the city has to send in the CAFR and enter financial data for the controller’s office,” Joffe said. “The data isn’t necessarily the same, so it makes it hard to compare.”

Controller Betty Yee includes the unaudited data in her “By the Numbers” report.

“The two sets of reports overlap and the need to prepare both creates extra work for local government finance teams,” Joffe said.


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MOORLACH UPDATE — California Rule — March 5, 2019

The California State Supreme Court ruled on the Cal Fire Local 2881 vs. CalPERS case Monday morning. What made this case important is that it addressed two issues.

The first is whether the Legislature could take back something. It can. The County of Orange learned this the hard way when SB 89 in 2011 allowed the state to take the vehicle license fee revenues away (see MOORLACH UPDATE — VLF Torpedo — May 9, 2013 and MOORLACH UPDATE — VLF Grab — August 12, 2013).

The second is whether municipalities can reduce pension benefit formulas on a prospective basis, which they have been prevented from doing as a result of what is known as the “California Rule.” The Supreme Court stated it was not ready to address this critical issue.

The Wall Street Journal and the OC Register cover the decision in the first two pieces below.

The OC Register’s Editorial Board wants to know your thoughts on the high speed rail project and requests your input in the third piece below.

In the fourth piece below, the Daily Pilot covers a very poor decision made by Newport-Mesa high school students. It was photographed. It went viral. And, it was disappointing. Especially to me. My folks, and their families, endured Nazi occupation during World War II.

Monday afternoon I was in conversation with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Executive Director and two members of the NMUSD Board of Trustees to provide an educational opportunity of either visiting the Museum of Tolerance for free and/or attending the opening of the “Courage to Remember” exhibit at Irvine Valley College next Monday evening. We must never forget.

California Court Approves Retiree Cut but Keeps Larger Worker Protections in Place

Justices didn’t alter longtime rule that has treated government pensions as sacrosanct


Heather Gillers

The California Supreme Court affirmed the state’s ability to roll back a specific pension benefit but left in place an influential rule offering public workers protection against cuts.

The case was closely watched due to California’s outsized influence over how public pension benefits are perceived across the country.

The “California rule” has for decades treated government pensions as sacrosanct. Other states across the U.S. operate under the same rule, making it difficult to impose cuts on existing public workers. Many prior efforts to reduce these benefits have been blocked by courts around the country.

The decision from the California Supreme Court on Monday left that core protection intact. But the court also ruled the state acted lawfully in 2013 when it curtailed the ability of public workers to add more years of service to their employment record by paying a fee—an “air time benefit.”

“It isn’t this big game-changing opinion that a lot of people were hoping for,” said University of Minnesota Law School professor Amy B. Monahan.

The case was brought by Cal Fire Local 2881, a union representing state-employed firefighters. The firefighters claimed the new 2013 state law had run afoul of the state Constitution, which prohibits state laws from impairing existing contracts. The California Supreme Court allowed the cuts to stand, saying the “air time” benefit didn’t amount to a constitutionally protected contract with workers.

California and many states across the U.S. are struggling with large retirement funding deficits due to lengthening life spans, over-optimistic return assumptions and deep losses during the 2008 recession. Estimates of that collective gap in the U.S. range from $1.6 trillion to $4 trillion, according to the Boston College Center for Retirement Research and Moody’s Investors Service.

The largest public retirement system in the U.S., which is based in California, had just 68% of what it needed to fulfill future benefits as of January, the fund’s chief investment officer said in a meeting last month.

“This is a critical issue for state and local government’s ability to deliver services and to ensure the retirement security of our hard-working public employees,” said a spokesman for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who took office in January. California state Sen. John Moorlach, a Republican, said in a statement that the court missed an opportunity to address “one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

But there are other cases pending before the state Supreme Court, Mr. Moorlach said, that could still address the question of constitutional protections for pension benefits.

“Everybody who wants to determine the fate of the California rule from this opinion is, I’m afraid, going to have to stay tuned for the sequel,” said Gregg Adam, one of the attorneys representing Cal Fire Local 2881.

Write to Heather Gillers at heather.gillers

Supreme Court upholds piece of former Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform law

Public employees can’t buy time they haven’t actually worked to boost benefits


Government workers do not have the inviolable right to buy credit for years of service they haven’t actually worked and thereby boost retirement benefits, the California Supreme Court concluded Monday in a widely anticipated decision.

But the court dodged the elephant in the room — whether state and local governments have the right to alter pension formulas for current workers going forward.

California has long considered public pension promises as contracts etched in stone, arguing that retirement formulas in place on the first day of employment can be raised, but never lowered, and any attempt to do so violates the California constitution.

This has come to be known as the “California Rule,” because other states allow such changes.

Monday’s decision on the purchase of “air time” had something for everyone to hate, and left both sides reading the tea leaves as cases more directly challenging the California Rule come before the Supreme Court.

“There was always some question about whether air time was a vested benefit,” said Ted Toppin, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition of public employee unions, in a statement.

“The decision was not unexpected. More importantly, the Supreme Court leaves intact the California Rule, holding that vested benefits cannot be impaired. Thankfully, the decision protects the retirement security of California’s nurses, teachers, firefighters, school employees and countless other public servants and retirees dependent on their hard-earned pensions.”

While Chuck Reed, pension reformer and former mayor of San Jose, called it “a good, solid win,” Carl DeMaio, fellow reformer and former San Diego city councilman, was deeply disappointed that the court punted.

“This is like someone on the Titanic saying, ‘I have a handy dandy bucket and I’m going to scoop up some water, but I’m not going to do anything about the hole in the side of the ship,’ ” DeMaio said. “This is a ticking time bomb. We are running out of time.”

Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research pegs California’s unfunded pension burden at $331.7 billion — or $25,623 per California household — as measured by pension plan officials assuming investment returns of about 7 percent.

But when measured on a “market basis” — assuming a lower investment return of 3 percent, which is what CalPERS uses for agencies wanting out of its system — the unfunded burden is a mammoth $1 trillion, or $78,265 per household.

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who has long championed pension reform, was circumspect.

“It’s sort of like half a loaf, telling us what we already know,” he said of the air-time ruling. “But when you give someone a pension benefit, it can’t be an elevator that only has an up button. You have to have a down button sometimes to protect the sustainability of the plan.”

Specifically, the ruling involves the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, which enacted tweaks to the system proposed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and adopted by the Legislature. PEPRA is expected to save money over the long haul, but contribute little in the short haul.

Monday’s decision focuses narrowly on the constitutionality of one PEPRA change — eliminating the opportunity for public workers to buy up to five years of “additional retirement service” credits.

“Participating employees could therefore receive pension benefits calculated on the basis of up to five years’ more public employment than they actually worked,” the court said. “PEPRA effectively repealed the statute granting public employees the opportunity to purchase ARS credit, although it did not alter the rights of employees who had already purchased such credit.”

Is buying air time a vested right protected by the contract clause that cannot be violated without running afoul of the state Constitution? No, it is not a vested right, the court concluded, affirming the decisions of lower courts.

All eyes are now on cases involving Alameda and Marin counties, pending before the Supreme Court and cutting closer to the heart of the California Rule. Lower courts have concluded that governments do, indeed, have wiggle room.

“While a public employee does have a ‘vested right’ to a pension, that right is only to a ‘reasonable’ pension — not an immutable entitlement to the most optimal formula of calculating the pension,” wrote Justice James Richman in the case involving Marin County.

“And the Legislature may, prior to the employee’s retirement, alter the formula, thereby reducing the anticipated pension. So long as the Legislature’s modifications do not deprive the employee of a ‘reasonable’ pension, there is no constitutional violation.”

Toppin, of Californians for Retirement Security, said that amounts to pulling the rug out from under public workers.

“It’s saying that the promises made to you when you were hired aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on,” Toppin said. “Obviously, we disagree with that ruling.”

The Supreme Court is where the scholarship is, Moorlach said. “We have to get it resolved. The longer we wait, the more these liabilities pile up.”


Question of the Week: Is it time to call it quits on the bullet train?


How far is it you thought California’s long-promised high-speed rail system was going to go?

San Diego to Sacramento? Or a southern start instead in Anaheim? Or simply Los Angeles to San Francisco?

Whichever version you believed was promised to the state as a coming transit option, Gov. Gavin Newsom in his first State of the State address threw cold water on the already dwindling bullet-train flames by saying the route would for the foreseeable future be limited to a link between the Central Valley cities of Bakersfield and Merced.

It’s no knock on our fellow Californians living in that rural, agricultural stretch of the state to say that the new proposed train route is, well, entirely undramatic.

Then came the news that the project will probably run out of money even before track can be fully laid on the new, vastly shorter train line.

However diminished, is the more realistic proposal still worth it for taxpayers as an investment in a longer rail route sometime in the future?

Or is the bullet train such a preposterous boondoggle that a stop-work order ought to be implemented tomorrow so that our state can stop throwing good money after bad?

That’s our Question of the Week for readers.

Who and what is to blame for the debacle? How is it that other countries — from communist China to capitalist Japan to in-between France and Spain — can build vast, commercially successful high-speed rail networks and yet California apparently cannot?

If the project is to be entirely abandoned, what would you do with the construction work that has already been performed?

Was the route the problem in the first place? Rather than detouring through Central Valley cities, should the planned train have been aimed straight up the middle of Interstate 5, so that new land did not have to be acquired by the state?

Does the high-tech fiasco make you more inclined to support the California autobahn proposal of state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, to add no-speed-limit lanes to the 5 and 99 instead?

Email your thoughts to opinion. Please include your full name and city or community of residence. Provide a daytime phone number (it will not be published).

Shock and disgust on campuses after Newport-Mesa students are pictured saluting a makeshift swastika, though some aren’t surprised


Amid community outrage after social media images appeared to show area high school students at a weekend party saluting a swastika assembled from red plastic cups, campus reactions Monday ranged from shock to unsurprised, though the actions were roundly condemned.

A community meeting about the incident was held Monday evening at Newport Harbor High School, which many of the students at the party attend.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District said it is investigating the images, posted on various social media, which also show the students smiling, laughing and toasting over the swastika, which appeared to be used in a drinking game.

Students from Costa Mesa High and Estancia High, also in Costa Mesa, said Monday that students from both of those schools also were present.

“While these actions did not occur on any school campus or school function, we condemn all acts of anti-semitism and hate in all their forms,” Newport-Mesa Supt. Fred Navarro said in a statement.

But Jocelyn Navarro, a junior at Newport Harbor in Newport Beach, said Monday that she wasn’t surprised when the photos surfaced Sunday morning onSnapchat and Twitter.

At Newport Harbor, she said, students group themselves along racial lines: Hispanic students with other Hispanics, whites with whites. It is less intentional than unconscious, she said.

“White people stay together, Mexicans stay together. We naturally just do it because we know that’s the way it is,” she said.

One student who posted a photo of the swastika surrounded by students told another student in an online conversation that “you are stupid if you think we actually support what Hitler did. It was a joke. None of us are … Nazi supporters.”

Parents of two students identified as being involved in the party declined to comment Monday.

Bianca Lutz, a 16-year-old Newport Harbor student who was not at the gathering, said she was “extremely disturbed by the ignorance of those at the party” and said some of her Jewish friends felt threatened.

Newport-Mesa spokeswoman Adriana Angulo said the district is working with the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police departments on the investigation but didn’t provide details. She said district officials don’t know what their next course of action might be or what punishments could be meted out.

The party, which apparently took place over the weekend, occurred in Costa Mesa, according to Newport Beach police spokeswoman Heather Rangel.

On Monday, Newport Harbor students poured out of school buildings wearing every shade of blue as an act of solidarity with the Jewish community.

“I’m very glad that we are all making a statement that the vast majority of us believe that this is disgusting,” senior Sam Quattrociocchi said during lunch. “Some people at the party thought they were making an edgy joke, and they were completely wrong.”

Fellow senior Timothy Shannon said “most people are trying to figure out ways to better ourselves out of it.”

In Costa Mesa, the mother of two students who went to the party said she was “very upset” about their presence. The woman, who declined to give her name, said she wasn’t aware there was a planned gathering of teenagers and that alcohol would be served.

“The kids go out with their friends all the time. I’ve never seen my kids drink. I’ve never seen them drunk,” she said Monday.

Her children spent last weekend with her former husband and she did not hear about the party, where it was held or the swastika incident until Sunday, she said.

She said her anger and sadness stem from the fact that she is Jewish, along with her family members.

Antonio Fair, a junior at Costa Mesa High, said: “I feel like they just did something stupid and sure it is offensive to a lot of people. But I feel that it shouldn’t be as big of a deal only because we’re still young. I feel like if they didn’t get drunk or if they didn’t smoke, then they wouldn’t have done something that stupid.

“I think there should still be consequences but that shouldn’t stick with them for the rest of their life. It shouldn’t define who they are, because we’re still in high school.”

Images from the party roiled social media users, who were quick to condemn them.

“As an organization dedicated to representing the students of Newport Harbor High School, we and the school administration denounce and condemn all acts of anti-semitism and hate in any form,” representatives of the school’s Associated Student Body said in a statement on Instagram. “Any negativity due to any type of persecution is utterly wrong, unacceptable and will not be tolerated. … With all of the bad out there, we encourage everyone to turn to goodness, kindness and respect over hatred.”

Newport Harbor Principal Sean Boulton said in a statement that Monday’s community meeting at the school was to include him, Costa Mesa High Principal Jacob Haley, Estancia High Principal Michael Halt and Rabbi Reuven Mintz of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life.

“The goal of the event is to start a significant conversation to take us to a place where this sort of behavior never happens again in our community,” Boulton said. “Over the past few years, all Newport-Mesa schools have worked tirelessly to eliminate prejudice, hate and bullying and continually work toward true tolerance and equality. We are obviously not there yet, but the journey continues.

“Diversity is the backbone of our schools, but in this social and social media climate, we are subject to hate, offensive acts/language and religious intolerance. We must and can do more.”

Rabbi Gersh Zylberman of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach said in a statement that a town hall meeting is tentatively set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Corona del Mar High School to discuss the incident.

“This is a reminder that we must respond to all incidents of anti-semitism and bigotry in all forms with the utmost seriousness and unequivocal condemnation,” Zylberman said.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not they thought it was funny. When we joke about Nazism, its history loses meaning — and we cannot forget that history,” U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) said in a statement. “These students must learn that hate has consequences, and their parents and our school district must redouble their efforts to teach them.”

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, a former Newport-Mesa Unified trustee, said in a statement that “we need to seriously address why teens in our community might think these types of hateful symbols are acceptable or funny and worthy of selfies. We must use this incident as an opportunity to work with our school district leaders to encourage schools to implement better anti-bias and anti-hate content in their curricula and extracurricular activities.”

Josdel Hernandez, a Newport Harbor junior, said students just last month studied the Holocaust in history class.

“They showed us graphic videos of the concentration camps,” she said. “It’s not like our teachers need to show us any more about the Holocaust. They knew what it means.”

She said she’s seen incidents of more casual racism at school: a student doodling a swastika on a desk, for example, or cracking a joke about Nazism.

Quattrociocchi said “the real problem is that a lot of real neo-Nazis and racists are coming away being emboldened by this.”

“I think the most unfortunate thing is that people are suddenly feeling comfortable spewing racist garbage,” he said.

Josdel and Jocelyn said students who condemned the Nazi displays faced a backlash on social media from party-goers who questioned why people not of Jewish heritage were upset.

“They said, ‘You’re not even Jewish — why are you getting all offended?’” Jocelyn said. “We don’t have to be Jewish to be offended. We’re offended because it’s wrong.”

On Monday morning at Costa Mesa High, Haley spoke to the school via the public address system, saying he was “disappointed” that some of his students were at the party.

Freshman Maria Ramirez said she was “kind of shocked that this happened because people need to take responsibility for their actions. Why would you get into that kind of stuff if you knew what these things mean?”

Kevin Sanchez, a sophomore who transferred to Costa Mesa High last month from Newport Harbor, said he worries about how much freedom teenagers are given today: “Parents or adults can’t tell them what to do basically, and they don’t realize how they act reflects on the whole school.”

Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon and Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill said in a joint statement that they were “appalled and saddened” by the incident and that it was “not acceptable and not reflective of our community’s collective character.”

“This behavior is not learned in our schools,” the statement said. “But once learned — wherever and however it is — anti-semitism can and must be unlearned through education and dialogue.”

Navarro said district officials “remain focused on educating students on all aspects of life’s challenges and are committed to holding students accountable, educating them on the consequences of their choices and the impact these actions have on our schools and community at large. We are asking that parents please partner with us in helping students make good decisions, be respectful of others and to always use good judgment.”

State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) announced Monday that she will convene an interfaith town hall from 1 to 3:30 p.m. March 30 at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine “for a conversation about how we can come together to battle hate and foster respect.”

State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) also expressed “condemnation of any and all anti-semitic acts, and again emphasize my solidarity with the Jewish community in Orange County and elsewhere.”

Lilly Nguyen and Julia Sclafani are Daily Pilot staff writers. Matthew Ormseth and Anh Do write for the Los Angeles Times.


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MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 — March 3, 2019

The OC Register’s second Sunday editorial provides a balanced perspective on SB 319, my High Speed Road proposal. It is the first piece below. The distances that I was hoping to cover with new lanes may be a little more limited than what the author provides, but the discussion is refreshing.

As for the attention this bill has received, also see:

* MOORLACH UPDATE — First American Autobahn? — February 27, 2019

* MOORLACH UPDATE — Fast Track for Charter Schools — February 22, 2019

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

* MOORLACH UPDATE — High Speed Road Idea — February 20, 2019

* MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 High Speed Road — February 19, 2019

Dealing with the lane issue, The Mercury News has a regular column for car drivers, Mr. Roadshow, that deals with this crux of the matter from a Bay Area perspective. The fact that there are only two lanes and no serious efforts to slow drivers down on Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, makes the point of my proposal in another balanced approach.

The third piece is from MyNewsLA, courtesy of City News Service, and provides the details of my introduction of SB 689 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 689 – Needle Exchange — March 1, 2019).

Autobahn bill opens new freeway debate

For a measure with little chance of passage in the Legislature, Senate Bill 319 has gotten an amazing amount of excited, statewide attention. Sponsored by Orange County Republican State Sen. John Moorlach, the bill would add a total of four dedicated highway lanes with unlimited speed limits along Interstate 5 from Mexico to Oregon, and along state Route 99, from south of Bakersfield to Red Bluff.

Although the bill doesn’t detail the proposed costs of building autobahn-style lanes, the money would come from the state cap-and-trade fund — and replace the planned $77 billion high-speed-rail system. Amid cost overruns and engineering hurdles, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced plans to scale back the bullet-train boondoggle, which leaves an opening for new transportation concepts.

Californians are hungry for forward-thinking thought experiments. For too long, the focus of the state’s transportation planning has been to prod residents out of their cars and into supposedly “greener” rail and bus alternatives. For example, the Los Angeles transportation authority last week voted to impose new fees, taxes and tolls on private driving and ridesharing. Yet such punishment-based social engineering isn’t working, as transit ridership keeps falling.

The California Dream — and our current economy — is dependent on mobility. Transit has its place, especially in high-density cities such as San Francisco, but it is slow and antiquated. SB 319 reminds us that transportation projects can move us around quickly and still be safe and environmentally friendly. Data from Germany’s autobahn and Montana’s past experiment of no posted speed limits show that higher speeds don’t necessarily increase danger.

Environmentally speaking, bumper-to-bumper traffic and other forms of congestion boost greenhouse-gas emissions. Fast lanes would reduce those slow crawls and move more people than the proposed high-speed rail system promised. Think about what the lanes mean for the future. Autonomous vehicle technology is advancing rapidly. Dedicated lanes would be the most practical way to accommodate growth in that technology. Whatever its fate, Moorlach’s bill is widening debate. Why should those discussions only revolve around getting people out of their cars?

No speed limit on new lanes on I-5 is proposed

By grichards | Bay Area News Group

Q: Do you have any estimate on the cost of widening Interstate 5 between here and Los Angeles to four lanes each way?

Jim Norvell, San Jose

A: Oh, wow. Try several billion dollars. The typical cost is $1 million for a single lane, but numerous overpasses and bridges on the nearly 400-mile route would need upgrading. State Sen. John Moorlach has introduced a bill for construction of two additional traffic lanes in both directions of Interstate 5 and Highway 99 from the Grapevine to Sacramento — with no speed limits on those new lanes. Give Moorlach credit for thinking out of the box but don’t expect his plan to go very far in the legislative process.

Q: After a round trip on Interstate 5 to Los Angeles it became apparent to me there is a new, but unpublicized California savings regimen in place: I-5 is mostly devoid of CHP patrol cars. We only saw one on the entire 800-mile round trip. And as for those “Patrolled by Aircraft” signs on I-5, totally bogus, I have never seen aircraft overhead. Ever.

To sarcastically promote tourism, I propose that I-5 now be billed as the “Golden State Autobahn”. Replace the quaint, but ineffectual 70-mph speed limit signs with “suggested speeds” signs of 80-90 mph to comport to what it is now. During my I-5 excursion, I traveled at just under 80 mph and was relentlessly passed by waves of cars traveling at 90 with gusts of over 100 mph. I-5 patrolled by CHP? I think not.

Tony Favero, Half Moon Bay

A: While speeding is rampant on I-5, crashes are not higher than on similar roads.

Q: Why not just build truck passing lanes on I-5? That would be a big help.

Fred Reyes, Danville

A: The state monitors expansion projects where the benefit to cost ratio is highest. That tends to be in urban areas where traffic volumes are highest and congestion most prevalent. Bottom line: The state thinks passing lanes are a good idea on urban freeways like I-580 and I-80, but it is not studying any project like you suggest on I-5 now or in the near future.

Q: Interstate 5 is the major artery between the largest cities in the state. Only two lanes in each direction with the slow lane being in such bad condition that tractor-trailers, on vast expanses of the road, drive in the fast lane to avoid the potholes and failing road. Try traveling that road at 5 p.m. on a Sunday. It’s an absolute embarrassment to the state and completely the fault of the failed Neanderthals in Sacramento.

B. Lugarmo

A: It may take two to three decades to get a third lane each way. Maybe by then we’ll have flying cars.


Gary Richards has covered traffic and transportation in the Bay Area as Mr. Roadshow since 1992. Prior to that he was an assistant sports editor at the paper from 1984-1987. He started his journalism career as a sports editor in Iowa in 1975.

Moorlach Proposes Needle Exchange Legislation



Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, Friday unveiled legislation that would allow cities to have more say over state-approved needle-exchange programs such as the one proposed in Orange County last year that was defeated in court.

Orange County successfully convinced a Superior Court judge in November to issue an injunction preventing a nonprofit from operating a program in Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange that was authorized by the California Department of Public Health’s Office of AIDS.

“Maybe there’s a better way to do this,” Moorlach said. “If you’re a city and you believe that a needle-exchange program is helpful or whatever, then just pass a resolution or an ordinance and the Department of Public Health can send a nonprofit into that city. So what we’re doing is trying to get a protocol for collaboration here. Why should a city have to go to court, for crying out loud?”

Cities in the state are “just asking for tools,” Moorlach said.

The lawmaker said he does not believe needle-exchange programs are the best ways to handle drug addiction.

“Most people think addicts should go to a 12-step program, then you abstain, admit you have a problem and work on it,” Moorlach said. “Providing needles seems counter-intuitive, and, really, is it an exchange or a mill?”

Moorlach also echoed criticism of some opponents of the programs that the needles are not disposed of properly.

“You find them in the parks, on the beaches, in the libraries,” he said.

Supporters of the proposed Orange County program said past efforts were aimed at providing incentive to addicts to turn in used needles to dispose of them properly. They argued that clean needles cut down on communicable diseases.

Moorlach noted that Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer pointed out at a news conference on the legislation Friday in the city of Orange that most retail chain pharmacies provide needles already.

“So why have a mobile unit come through town when your local drug store can take care of it for you,” Moorlach said. “So it’s not like we’re shutting something down. We’re just trying to provide some ground rules.”


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MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 689 – Needle Exchange — March 1, 2019

This morning we introduced SB 689, addressing needle and syringe exchange programs, at a news conference in front of the Orange City Hall.

Presenters included Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, Anaheim City Councilman Trevor O’Neil, Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Sandra Genis, and Tamara Jimenez of the Anaheim Lighthouse Treatment Center. Orange City Councilman Chip Monaco was also present in support.

The bill is simple. The State Department of Public Health can allow a nonprofit to come into a city that has adopted a resolution or ordinance authorizing needle exchanges.

We’re simply asking for a protocol for collaboration and an appropriate etiquette between Sacramento and California’s 482 cities. Hopefully, this will reduce the need for future litigation, which is costly.

For those requiring needles, they are currently being dispensed by local pharmacies. So, this effort is not stifling a strategy. It just allows for local control in implementing it. KNX AM 1070 covers the details in the first piece below. My editorial submission to the OC Register is provided in the second piece below.

The third piece below mentions another effort of mine, SB 585 (Steinberg), that has recently been judged as a helpful tool in adopting Laura’s Law in 19 other counties (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Joint Author Details — July 7, 2018).

This OC Register in-depth piece provides a contrast to SB 689. One amazing sentence explains it all: “Yet many counties with the highest drug overdose death rates in California do not yet have Laura’s Law on the books.”


CA Lawmaker Wants to Give Cities More Authority Over State-Run Needle Exchange Programs

A state lawmaker is looking to give cities more authority over state-run needle exchange programs.

After the state Department of Public Health authorized the ability to operate the programs, mobile needle exchanges began popping in local communities.

“They were concerned about the unintended consequences of now more needles being in parks and libraries,” said State Senator John Moorlach.

His Bill 689 comes on the heels of a judge’s ruling temporarily blocking a non-profit from operating a needle exchange in Santa Ana after Orange County officials filed suit over it.

“They found needles in library books and janitors were getting poked,” he said.

Under his bill, should it be approved, non-profits would not be allowed to operate needle exchanges in city’s unless there is a city resolution or ordinance authorizing the program.

Local control is key to making needle exchange programs work


A sad development that has exploded across the country in recent years has become known as “the Opioid Epidemic,” especially among young people. That’s why I have introduced Senate Bill 689, which establishes guidelines and increases local control for needle and syringe exchange programs.

Such programs do not condone drug abuse but recognize the reality that some people are going to inject themselves with harmful substances. Almost inevitably, these people are poor. They “only had a dollar to live on till next Monday,” to quote the old Hoyt Axton anti-drug song, “Snowblind Friend.”

Experts will tell you people are tempted to use old needles that may be contaminated with HIV, hepatitis or other diseases, perpetuating the contagion. Which is why needle-exchange programs hand them new, sterile needles. This idea, while well-intentioned, presents a whole new set of challenges.

When addicts receive the needles, they also make contact with the public health system, possibly for the first time. Doing so gives them the opportunity to receive information on health, recovery and other programs that can help them break the addiction, or at least to live another day.

Crucial to such programs is local control. That’s because local city councils, police and health officials are the ones on the ground trying to help the addicts. Also important to consider is increased risk to public safety.

The California Department of Public Health, Office of AIDS, has cautioned that some existing needle-exchange programs have not made matters better, but worse through threatening non-drug-using residents. These concerns are real.

The Register reported last November when Orange County’s only needle-exchange program was shut down, Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil “agreed with concerns raised by Orange County officials and the cities of Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange about the potential for used syringes to litter the community and stick people.”

The judge called the program a “noble goal” and lauded volunteers’ “selfish devotion.” Then he cited “the estimated 250,000 syringes that were unaccounted for during Civic Center operations,” according to the Register.

“The seriousness of the harm outweighs the social utility,” Wohlfeil ruled.

Discarded needles have pricked city employees. Heather Folmar, operations manager at the nearby Santa Ana Public Library, said needles rarely were found in the library before the exchange opened, but 40 to 50 a month afterward. “We found them on shelves, near planters, window sills, in books,” she said. “A cleaning lady was pricked by one.”

Helping some people shouldn’t hurt other people.

SB 689 specifically states its intent is to “reduce the spread of HIV infection and bloodborne hepatitis among the intravenous drug user population within California.” Therefore, “the Legislature hereby authorizes a clean needle and syringe exchange project.”

It allows the California Department of Public Health to authorize needle-exchange programs only if the city or county in which the exchange will be “operating has adopted an ordinance or resolution approving that authorization or reauthorization.”

The bill provides a crucial element to make needle exchanges work: local control.

Please join me March 1 at 10 a.m. as I introduce SB 689 to the public.

Address: City Hall, 300 E Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92866.

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

A piecemeal, but promising

start for Laura’s Law to help

severely mentally ill in


Beating death of schizophrenic Kelly Thomas in Fullerton sparked wider use of law compelling treatment statewide


Lauren Rettagliata’s son was homeless for years, refusing to take medication for schizophrenia, rejecting the very notion that anything was amiss.

Fawn Kennedy Dessy’s daughter was hospitalized more than 100 times on so-called 5150 holds, meaning she was a danger to herself or others due to severe mental illness.

Mark Gale’s son had a temporary conservatorship and 10 hospitalizations before doctors finally found medication that could stabilize his frenetic mind.

It’s a parent’s worst torment, not being able to help a struggling child because he’s legally an adult and can make his own decisions — even if he’s profoundly mentally ill and those decisions can be dangerous.

“That’s a fear as a parent you have,” Rettagliata said. “That they could harm someone else, as well as harming themselves.”

Rettagliata, Kennedy Dessy and Gale are among a fierce army of California parents who have beseeched their counties to adopt Laura’s Law — requiring treatment for the most seriously mentally ill — and who help guide its ever-evolving, uneven rollout.

A county-by-county analysis of Laura’s Law in California found that the Golden State is off to a promising start, with much-improved outcomes for people with severe mental illness. But only 20 of California’s 58 counties have adopted it, and the state’s version differs greatly from what works elsewhere, leaving some powerful tools on the table, according to the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center.

“The current partial implementation of Laura’s Law continues to under-serve — and in some cases fail outright — the population it was created to help,” said the report from the center, which was a strong proponent of the law.

More than 1 million people in California suffer with dire mental illness, and as many as half are untreated on any given day, cycling between homeless shelters and emergency rooms, tent encampments and jails, the report said.

What does Laura’s Law do?

Laura’s Law compels county mental health workers to persuade the severely ill to voluntarily accept treatment. It also empowers courts to order recalcitrant people into outpatient treatment, even if it’s against their wishes.

Civil libertarians vehemently oppose Laura’s Law, saying forced treatment has a long and abusive history and the decision to enter or refuse treatment should always rest with the individual, not the state.

The law is named in honor of Laura Wilcox, who was working at a public mental health clinic in Nevada County during winter break in 2001. A man who had refused psychiatric treatment stormed the clinic, killing Wilcox and two others. She was 19.

The Legislature approved Laura’s Law in 2003, but, rather than requiring it statewide, let each individual county decide to embrace it or not.

Los Angeles County started a small pilot program soon after passage, but for years, Nevada was the only county to fully implement the law. After the beating death of homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas by Fullerton police in 2011, Orange became California’s first large county to fully adopt Laura’s Law three years later.

Riverside and San Bernardino are among the largest that still do not have Laura’s Law on the books.

Reluctance to adopt the law was largely due to its cost — estimated to be some $40,000 a year per client. The Legislature didn’t approve specific funding for Laura’s Law, and counties felt they just couldn’t afford it.

After Kelly’s death, then-Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach — a fiscal conservative who found himself playing against type to get Laura’s Law adopted — worked with Democratic state Sen. Darrell Steinberg to pass a bill explicitly allowing counties to use “millionaires’ tax” dollars to fund Laura’s Law programs.

That tax — enacted through Proposition 63, approved in 2004 — hits personal income in excess of $1 million, specifically to fund mental health programs. It’s expected to generate more than $2.2 billion this fiscal year.

Counties have found that, despite its costs, Laura’s Law saves millions on jail and psychiatric hospitalization costs each year. The state, however, does not track costs or savings.

Law yields progress

In the 10 counties providing outcome data, the Treatment Advocacy Center found that the most seriously ill had fewer psychiatric hospitalizations, crisis contacts, incarcerations and homelessness.

It’s hard to pinpoint how many people have been treated because of uneven data collection and late reporting. But at least 3,400 have received services via Laura’s Law through 2017, counties reported.

Los Angeles and Orange are among the most experienced with the law, and are making good progress, the nonprofit said.

Los Angeles had enrolled 1,242 people through October 2017 — or 1.3 people per 100,000 residents. They logged a 30 percent reduction in the use of emergency services, a 17 percent drop in psychiatric hospitalizations, and a 13 percent reduction in use of law enforcement services, according to the data.

Orange County — praised for the thoroughness of its record-keeping — had 692 people in the program in 2017, or 1.7 people per 100,000 residents. It logged a 34 percent reduction in incarcerations, a 48 percent decrease in hospitalization episodes and a 75 percent reduction in number of days spent homeless.

Counties collecting data on “co-occurring disorders” showed that most patients — up to 80 percent — also had substance use problems. Yet many counties with the highest drug overdose death rates in California do not yet have Laura’s Law on the books.

Court oversight needed?

There’s a significant lack of standardization in how Laura’s Law works from county to county, the nonprofit found.

Some appeared reluctant to use Laura’s Law, with a low of 0.5 enrollments per 100,000 people in El Dorado, and a high of 11 enrollments per 100,000 people in sparsely populated Nevada — Laura Wilcox’s home, with what’s considered the gold standard program.

And while courts play a starring role in other states — with the “black robe effect” credited for prodding recalcitrant people into treatment and nudging the system into providing more comprehensive services — the court’s role is markedly diminished in California.

Four counties, for example, had no one enrolled in Laura’s Law programs with court oversight, the study found.

It’s the combination of court supervision and robust services that most effectively reverses “the tragic downward spiral too often experienced by individuals with severe mental illness,” the nonprofit said.

So to make full use of Laura’s Law, California should make court oversight a fundamental part of the process, not just an avenue of last resort, the nonprofit said.

The law should be implemented in every county, and all counties should increase enrollment and shorten outreach and engagement times to ensure more timely treatment.

Counties also should include psychiatric medication in settlement agreements and court orders when that medication is called for in treatment plans — which some counties are reluctant to do for fear of being perceived as forcing medication.

“I have my fingers into multiple states, and California is by far the worst,” said DJ Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org and author of “Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.”

“Laura’s Law is on the books, it works, but it is rarely used,” Jaffe said. “That is because the county mental health directors shun the most seriously ill. They send the highest functioning to the head of the line, and the seriously ill to jails, shelters, prisons and morgues. Laura’s Law could fix the mental-illness-to-jail-and-homelessness pipeline, but only if it is used.”

‘Saving a lot of lives’

Folks are learning that passing Laura’s Law is not the end of the journey, but the beginning.

After finally convincing Kern to come on board in 2015, Kennedy Dessy requested intervention for her daughter, who has a psychotic disorder and was hospitalized scores of times. She got no help from the new Laura’s Law team, she said.

So Kennedy Dessy and her colleagues at the Mental Health Collaborative of Kern County kept pushing. The program has been revamped, relaunched, and has finally referred one person for court intervention. She’s hopeful more people will now get help.

In Los Angeles, Gale sits on the county’s Laura’s Law oversight committee, and is criminal justice chair for the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He doesn’t see California’s light use of court intervention as a negative.

“I’ve been proud of the fact we haven’t had to do compulsory court orders,” Gale said. “Look at how many people we’re helping without doing that. We’re saving a lot of lives.”

The “secret sauce,” Gale said, is that the program remains voluntary for the ill — but not for mental health workers. Before, workers could walk away from recalcitrant people and move on to those who are more amenable to treatment. But Laura’s Law requires them to engage, repeatedly, over a period of months, with the most severely ill.

“It binds the mental health system to the client. That’s one of the reasons it works,” Gale said.

Rettagliata has served on Contra Costa’s Mental Health Commission. Her son has lived in Orange and Contra Costa counties, and Laura’s Law has brought him into court to face a judge.

She’s a believer in the court’s power here — “Sometimes it takes a third party who can listen and say, ‘Maybe they’re back on street homeless again because you’re not providing adequate housing’ ” — but her son felt intimidated by the process. It should be gentler, perhaps one on one, she said.

She agrees that the law is greatly underutilized. Those in regular contact with the mentally ill — shelter staff, law enforcement and the like — are often unaware that they can recommend people to Laura’s Law teams directly, she said.

For his part, former Orange County Supervisor Moorlach — now a state senator — was heartened to hear that the nonprofit concluded Laura’s Law is off to a promising start, and stands ready to push legislation to make it better.

He and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon co-authored the bill that led to November’s Proposition 2, taps “millionaires’ tax” revenue for supportive housing for the mentally ill homeless. Another, with Sen. Scott Wiener, allows funds to be used for early intervention for young people with mental illness.

“Who would have thought that the death of Kelly Thomas would start this snowball rolling?” he said.


This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.