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April 2018, Volume 24, Number 2
US Sues California
The California Values Act (SB 54), which went into effect January 1, 2018, restricts cooperation between state and local police and DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency unless the person in question has been convicted of one of more than 800 crimes listed in the California Trust Act, which went into effect in 2014. SB 54 prohibits local jails from cooperating with ICE to identify unauthorized foreigners arrested for or convicted of "minor crimes."
AB 450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act also effective January 1, 2018, requires California employers to ensure that ICE agents have a judicial warrant or subpoena prior to entering non-public areas of workplaces. Employers must provide notice to employees if they receive an ICE request to review the employer's immigration documents, such as Form I-9s and may not re-verify employee work authorization documents after receiving ICE inspection notices. Employer violations of AB 450 can result in fines of up to $10,000 imposed by the state's Labor Commissioner.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned employers that they should give information on their employees to ICE only in response to judicial warrants or risk state fines.
The US Department of Justice in March 2018 sued to have AB 450 and SB 54, as well as AB 103, which allows the state to inspect immigrant detention facilities, declared unconstitutional, an infringement on the federal government's authority to regulate immigration. DOJ said it may sue other states and cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries for unauthorized foreigners, citing the 2002 US Supreme Court decision in Arizona v US, which ruled 5-3 that "Immigration policy shapes the destiny of the nation [and} states may not pursue policies that undermine federal law."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan promised in January 2018 to increase work site enforcement actions around the US by "four or five times." In contrast to ICE under Obama, which focused on auditing I-9 forms, ICE under Trump promises to target both employers who hire unauthorized workers and the workers themselves, suggesting that I-9 audits may be followed by workplace raids.
About 27 percent of the 39 million residents of California were born abroad; there are an estimated 2.4 million unauthorized foreigners in the state.
California sued the federal government 29 times between January 2017, when President Trump took office, and April 2018 over issues ranging from immigration to the environment. The state often wins rulings from federal district judges and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, some of whose decisions are reversed by the US Supreme Court.
Water and Rail. Rainfall in 2017-18 was lower than normal, but storms in March 2018 raised the Sierra snowpack to almost 60 percent of normal. California's reservoirs have more water for the summer months because of heavy rains and snow in 2016-17.
The California WaterFix aims to move water 35 miles from north to south via twin $16 billion tunnels in a bid to limit damage to fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where the two rivers empty into the San Francisco Bay. However, the agricultural water users who would have to help to pay for the tunnels have committed only $10 billion, which prompted the Department of Water Resources to propose only one tunnel under the Delta.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in March 2018 was considering ways to pay for the WaterFix by charging ratepayers, betting that farmers would pay for water once the project is completed. Under the current system, giant pumps that draw fresh water from the southern end of the Delta have killed millions of native fish, prompting restrictions on pumping. Water users say that less pumping "wastes" fresh water that flows into the ocean.
California's north-south bullet train is becoming more expensive and troubled. The California High-Speed Rail Authority in 2018 owned more than 1,272 parcels from Madera to Wasco in a 119-mile corridor that has been described as a "linear ghetto" of vacant buildings that is attracting criminals and squatters. In many cases, construction has been slowed by the need to acquire more land and to dispose of parcels that were acquired but not needed when the route changed.
The Authority asked contractors to make bids when the line was only 15 percent designed; contractors normally expect 30 to 60 percent of a major project to be designed before they make bids. The Authority issued a $1 billion contract to construction firm Tutor Perini in June 2013, but Tutor was unable to build for two years for lack of Authority land.
Fresno and other Central Valley cities that hoped to be transformed by high-speed rail are still hopeful, but many residents think they may not live to see the train operate. The unemployment rate in Fresno county was 8.6 percent in 2017, and same as in 2007; Fresno's unemployment rate peaked at 17 percent in 2010. Average personal income in Fresno county was $40,000 in 2016, less than the $56,400 average for California.
Housing. Housing costs are rising faster than incomes, giving California six of the seven least affordable US cities, as measured by average rents compared to average incomes. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Riverside and Sacramento, rents of $1,500 or more a month mean that a third of the state's six million renters pay more than half of their monthly income on rent.
Zoning and environmental regulations combine to slow construction of more lower-income housing, especially apartments in urban areas. Governor Brown and some Democrats want to limit environmental project reviews and reduce permit requirements for buildings up to 85 feet high within a half mile of train stations such as BART in the Bay Area. Environmentalists and unions object, preferring more state money to build affordable housing rather than allowing the state to override local building regulations. Raising taxes to provide money for affordable housing would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.
Transportation and power plants each account for a third of US greenhouse gas emissions, with transportation's share rising due to more driving and power plants' share falling as natural gas replaces coal. California aims to reduce its carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, which will require fewer and shorter commutes.
Taxes. California's economy is prone to economic booms and busts and fluctuating tax revenues. The highest-earning one percent of California residents, those with incomes above $878,000 a year, paid 48 percent of state income taxes in 2016.
Federal tax reform that limits deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes may encourage some high-income Californians to move to lower-tax states. California is already a high-tax state, and ballooning costs for public pensions may require further increases in taxes.
Los Angeles retained its spot as the second-largest US metro area, with 13.4 million residents compared to 20.3 million in New York. Chicago was third with 9.5 million, Dallas fourth with 7.4 million, and Houston fifth with 6.9 million.
Californians vote in primary elections on June 5, 2018. The leading candidates to replace retiring Governor Jerry Brown are ex-San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and ex-Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Newsom's campaign centers on a government-run, single-payer health care system that could cost $400 billion a year; the state's budget is less than $200 billion. Newsom also calls for the impeachment of President Trump. Villaraigosa says that California must be prepared to work with Trump.