One of the awkward and expensive components of Sacramento’s successfully pursuing controversial legislation is that the state may get sued. If so, it may lose. Then it appeals until it gets the results that it wants. And, then not.
In 2015 I voted against a troubling bill, AB 775, that would require crisis pregnancy centers to post a sign notifying visitors that the state provided abortion service (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Closed Doors — October 13, 2015). It’s not quite like telling Chevrolet dealers to post signs that inform customers there is a Ford dealer down the street, but extremely awkward all the same.
Of course, someone sued the state of California over free speech and doctor-patient discourse concerns (National Institute of Family and Life Advocates vs. Becerra, No. 16-1140). The state eventually lost in the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 2018 (see https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Supreme-Court-rules-CA-can-t-force-13026955.php).
The reason I bring it up is that one wonders, how much did the taxpayers have to pay for this predictable outcome? And, having lost what appears to be a religious liberty debate before, why go down the same path? Even if the cause is righteous.
The Sacramento Bee, in the first piece below, provides a portion of the discussion from Tuesday’s Senate Public Safety Committee, where I serve as Vice Chair, concerning SB 360 (Hill).
I am sick and angry about the number of pedophile Roman Catholic priests that have ruined the lives of so many innocent children. But, SB 360 only addresses this tragic crime if a perpetrator confesses these deplorable activities to another fellow priest. It may help reduce this egregious activity, but it’s an indirect strategy for doing so.
I can see another lawsuit on the horizon if the Governor signs this bill. So I raised this as a concern. But, it seems that, since the members of the Legislature do not have to personally pay for the costs of litigation, it becomes a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” opportunity.
The second piece is from the Daily Pilot, which recognizes the Easterseals award I received last month (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Goodbye to my Dad — March 23, 2019).
The third and fourth pieces from Curbed San Francisco and Daily Post provide some color from Tuesday afternoon’s Senate Housing Committee, on which I sit, of the discussion on SB 50 and SB 4. Both bills have local cities very concerned. But, the list of supporters is growing by the week.
I am a co-author on SB 50 and I sat through the hearings that assisted SB 4 joint authors Sen. Beall and Sen. McGuire in shaping their similar bill (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Really Addressing Housing Goals — January 29, 2019) So, of course, a clarification of the dueling bills was needed. My big ask was for a map. With the amendments to SB 50, I doubt that very many areas of Orange County would be impacted by either bill.
Why am I a co-author of SB 50? You may want to listen to the podcast provided with MOORLACH UPDATE — Mediating Huntington Beach — February 8, 2019. This discussion will come to the Senate Governance & Finance Committee, where I serve as Vice Chair, and the debate should once again be robust.
‘It’s time. It’s beyond time.’ Sex abuse victims back California priest accountability bill
By Andrew Sheeler
A procession of sexual assault victims on Tuesday urged the Senate to pass a law requiring priests and other religious leaders to report child abuse, ending a legal exemption that allows them to keep information confidential if they learn it during confessions.
One speaker, Kameron Torres, told lawmakers that he was sexually abused twice while growing up in a Jehovah’s Witness community. When his mother learned of the abuse and tried to report it to the church elders, “They told her, ‘It’s in God’s hands now,” Torres said.
Torres has since left that community, but said his abusers are still there and still in positions of power over potential victims.
“The universe is telling us to protect the children,” Torres said.
While members of the clergy are considered mandated reporters of abuse — meaning state law compels them to inform the police if they suspect a child being abused — there is an exemption to that requirement if the priest learns of the abuse through “penitential communication,” such as the Catholic rite of confession.
Senate Bill 360 erases that exemption, and puts “religious folks on a level playing field with other mandated reporters,” such as doctors, lawyers and mental heath professionals, said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.
As chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Skinner and other lawmakers took testimony from both supporters and opponents of the bill.
Opposing the bill were representatives from the California Catholic Conference and the Pacific Justice Institute Center for Public Policy.
Andrew Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told lawmakers that the bill, if passed, would make religious adherents less likely to consult with their spiritual leaders.
“I don’t think anyone would use the penitential communication any longer. It would be gone,” he said.
Kevin Snider, who serves as legal counsel for the institute, cautioned lawmakers against overturning the Catholic seal of confession, which he called a “millennia-old religious practice.”
Snider said SB 360 would conflict not just with Catholic beliefs, but practices in certain Protestant denominations, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Church of Scientology as well.
He said the bill “requires the clergy to sail between the Scylla and Charybdis,” referring to a tale in the Odyssey in which sailors had to pass between two deadly dangers. Failing to disclose abuse would be a misdemeanor offense while breaking the seal of confession would result in immediate excommunication from the church, he said.
Snider also warned that SB 360 would infringe on the clergy’s First Amendment-protected religious beliefs.
“The church should not be used as a tool of the state,” he said.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson told Snider that “the First Amendment is not unlimited.”
“We do have laws prohibiting bigamy (also a practice for some religions),” Jackson said.
Jackson said SB 360 is necessary because “we have had a plague, an epidemic, of excuses and claims of religion which have allowed pedophiles and abusers to exist in this country and this world unfettered for far too long.”
Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, said that while the cause of SB 360 was “righteous,” he worried that it could be “an expensive disappointment after a few years” if the law were to be struck down in a legal challenge.
“There are times when the courts are the avenues we need to pursue,” Jackson said, adding that it might be appropriate for the United States Supreme Court to settle the matter.
As the bill hearing came to a close, Skinner, herself an abuse survivor, thanked those survivors who spoke Tuesday and offered them some advice.
“It does get easier to speak about it, but the experience you experienced, they never go away. You don’t forget,” she said.
After the hearing Tuesday, Torres said he was confident in SB 360’s prospects.
“I think we have a strong argument. I think it’s pretty obvious they (those who opposed the bill) didn’t. It’s time. It’s beyond time,” he said.
Political Landscape: Assemblywoman to moderate gun-violence discussion in Costa Mesa
By DAILY PILOT STAFF
Moorlach honored for disability services
State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) won the Senate Leadership Award at the 2019 Easterseals Legislative Awards on March 19.
Moorlach received the honor for his work on Senate Bill 1004, which aims to develop a statewide strategy for monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of prevention and early intervention programs under the Mental Health Services Act. He was one of four California legislative representatives recognized at the ceremony.
California’s transit-housing bill pushing for taller, denser growth clears first hurdle
“When it comes to housing, California’s system of almost pure local control hasn’t worked,” says State Sen. Scott Wiener
By Camille von Kaenel
State Sen. Scott Wiener’s effort to boost housing density near public transit in California has officially progressed farther than last year when his similar bill was killed in a different State Senate Committee.
Wiener and his allies will be able to keep negotiating details of the bill with detractors after the State Senate Committee on housing voted to advance the bill, Senate Bill 50, in a 9-to-1 vote Tuesday.
The bill’s main goal is to change zoning codes to allow residential buildings of greater height and density near rail, bus, and other public transit, though it also includes new tenant protections and affordable housing requirements. It’s one of the more ambitious initiatives to address California’s housing crisis—and one of the most controversial.
SB 50 will face a tougher vote on April 24 in the State Senate Governance and Finance Committee, which is chaired by State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg).
McGuire, who represents the North Coast region, has been pushing an alternative bill, SB 4, which also advanced out of the committee Tuesday. McGuire’s bill would seek to increase housing density near transit but much less aggressively than SB 50.
McGuire will work behind the scenes to reach a compromise with Wiener before April 24, he announced at the hearing. He withheld voting yes or no on the current SB 50 version, but recommended the committee advance both bills so that negotiations could continue.
“This bill is a continuing work in progress,” cautioned Wiener. “Over the past year and half, we have worked with a broad spectrum of for profit and not for profit developers, environmental, labor, religious, disability and senior advocates, to craft a bill to move the dial on housing, so that we move away from housing anxiety and towards housing action.”
The Housing committee’s Tuesday hearing, its first, was important because it showed that SB 50 has a better shot at making it, in some form, than last year’s version, which died in its first hearing.
It also showed the current battle lines: Dozens of advocates from across California voiced support or opposition to the bill in rapid-fire succession at the microphone.
The coalition supporting the bill continues to grow as Wiener and allies add in provisions to the bill. The nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, the California Building Industry Association, and the State Building and Construction Trades Council testified in favor of the bill. They were followed by representatives of labor, developer, social justice, affordable housing, and environmental groups, from local YIMBY groups to the Natural Resources Defense Council to Bay Area Rapid Transit.
A few local elected officials, homeowners, and low-income advocacy groups voiced continued opposition. Among those testifying was a representative Housing is a Human Right, a non-profit focused on tenant organizing and concerned about gentrification.
Another objector was a realtor wanting to protect her single-family neighborhood.
More than fifty organizations signed on to a letter to the committee this week outlining their concerns the bill “would further exacerbate the housing challenges experienced by low-income people, people of color, and other vulnerable people, the very populations being hit hardest by California’s affordability crisis.”
Some top bite-sized exchanges from Tuesday’s hearing:
State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-East Bay), an original co-author of both SB8 27 and SB 50, thanked Wiener for working with a variety of groups.
“We’re never going to resolve issues of housing and good jobs if we’re not working together. I’m relying on you” to reach a solution, she said.
“Other than that, no pressure,” interjected State Sen. John Moorlach, a Republican from Orange County who voted to advance the bill.
Michael Gunning, a representative for the California Building Industry Association, noted that he rarely finds himself sitting next to Cesar Diaz, from the State Building and Construction Trades Council, a union group, in joint support of a bill. The State Building and Construction Trades Council switched from opposing the bill last year.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about local control,” said Wiener in his opening remarks, addressing a rallying cry for advocates from mostly rich cities. “It does make adjustments to the state and local decision making balance. Just like we have a balance over public education. Local control isn’t biblical, it’s a good thing when it delivers results, and it usually does deliver good results, and I say this as a former elected local official. When it comes to housing, California’s system of almost pure local control hasn’t worked.”
2 bills pushing tall, dense housing advance in Legislature
BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
City officials and neighborhood activists on the mid-Peninsula have been worried about Senate Bill 50, which would pre-empt local zoning to force cities to allow taller, denser housing near jobs and public transit. But at a state Senate Housing Committee hearing in Sacramento yesterday (April 2), it became clear that there’s another bill making headway, SB 4, which would do many of the same things as SB 50.
SB 50, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would allow taller, denser buildings with fewer parking spaces in jobs-rich areas like Palo Alto and anywhere in the state within a half-mile of a major transit stop.
SB 4, authored by senators Jim Beall, D-San Jose and Mark McGuire, D-Healdsburg, would apply some of the same principles.
The bill would increase residential height limits to allow for one more story of housing than is currently allowed in a given area of a city of more than 50,000.
A new streamlined permit process would make it easier for developers to get permits to build residential quadplexes in cities with more than 50,000 residents, or to build duplexes in smaller cities. And similar to SB 50, housing developers could get a density bonus in areas around train and ferry stations.
In cities with more than 100,000 people within a half-mile of a transit stop, developers would only have to build one parking space for every two housing units.
“The strategy of saying no to housing no longer works,” McGuire told the Senate Housing Committee yesterday. “This isn’t an easy bill. And candidly, we have had our share of folks who have said this is too aggressive. But at the end of the day, every community must see change.”
SB 50, meet SB 4
More than a month ago, the authors of the two bills agreed to collaborate on their separate efforts until April 24, when both bills will hit the Senate Governance and Finance Committee after the Housing Committee’s vote yesterday to send both bills forward.
Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, asked Wiener whether he would have to choose between SB 4 and SB 50.
“Our goal is for that not to be the case,” Wiener responded. “I am optimistic that we’re going to be able to not have competitive bills.”
Wiener touted the coalition that had built around SB 50, which spans business and labor, developers and environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans.
Opponents of SB 50 include the League of California Cities, a number of city governments including Redondo Beach and Beverly Hills and community groups who fear the bill would accelerate gentrification.
Norma Garcia, the director of policy and advocacy for the Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco, said her nonprofit was “very concerned” that SB 50 doesn’t designate most of the Mission District as a “sensitive community.”
Fear of displacement
Sensitive communities are those that Wiener is seeking to protect from displacement.
Garcia said she fears SB 50 would reduce the Latino communities in San Francisco and east Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood to “a plaque on the ground that says we were here.”
Wiener pointed out yesterday that the bill doesn’t allow developers to build on property that has operated as a rental in the last seven years. If a tenant has been evicted under the Ellis Act in the last 15 years, a developer wouldn’t be allowed to build there.
“You can’t use this bill to start demolishing tenant-occupied buildings,” Wiener said. “We have to be very careful that we are adding the housing we need that will reduce displacement by stopping this runaway housing market.”
A representative for the League of California Cities said the group agrees that there are not enough homes being built, but that SB 50 undermines local zoning. Nothing prohibits a developer from requesting a zoning change from City Hall, the reasoning goes.
Karen Klinger, a Sacramento real estate agent, also spoke out against SB 50, stating that it would “destroy” her suburban neighborhood of single-family homes.
“This is discrimination against suburban neighborhoods,” Klinger said. “The local officials would be eliminated under this process.”
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