Stockholm Syndrome in California

Residents of the Golden State are trapped in a toxic relationship with the dominant Democratic Party — And we keep rewarding and empowering our abusers

To the surprise of absolutely no one with a functional frontal cortex California Governor Gavin Newsom has survived recall. As recently as mid-August tracking polls suggested he was in trouble, with voters expressing wide discontent on issues ranging from ongoing issues like homelessness and crime to specific ones like his $30 billion (at least) bungling of the state’s unemployment agency during the COVID pandemic. He and the rest of the state’s political class have routinely, brazenly flouted public health diktats they impose on 40 million other people. The infamous incident at the French Laundry will rightly go down in political history as a literal let-them-eat-cake moment, the princling giving the v-sign to the hoi polloi from inside the banquet hall. Nevertheless he won the election handily by an almost 2-to1 margin.

The question is, why? Why were so many Californians so eager to retain Mr. Newsom’s services? Even his own campaign couldn’t come up with reasons voters should keep him, relying instead on vicious, often racist attacks on the leading Republican candidate, Larry Elder. Only in California could a self-made black Ivy League graduate, son of a janitor, and lawyer be considered the racist alternative to the whitest and most privileged governor since Pat Brown. Only in the alternative looking glass world of the Left Coast could liberals get away with calling a black man the “blackface of white supremacy.” Only here could a protestor in a gorilla mask (!!!) assault Mr. Elder without eliciting so much as an indignant tweet from the Democrat political establishment.

The answer is: We have Stockholm Syndrome. The political class rub our faces in it and we say thank you may we have another. California Democrats in the 2020s are like New England Catholics in the 1990s: Deep down they know something is terribly wrong with the institution in which they are so deeply invested, that is so central to their identities. They know that something monstrous, quite possibly evil, has been gestating for a long time. But they’re in too deep, the institution is essential to their very sense of self, their place in this chaotic world. Their neighbors and family members belong. Besides, they tell themselves, their parish – excuse us, congressional district – is the exception. Their local clergy – again, excuse us, elected officials – aren’t commodified cogs in an irredeemably broken system. They are the good guys, fighting the good fight.

Actually, considering the number of pedophiles and other sex predators that seem to populate the upper echelons of the Democrat Party and its fundraising apparatus these days, the analogy is perhaps a little too on the nose – but we digress.

Meanwhile, the less said of the state’s hapless Republicans the better. At least Democrats can tell themselves that their people are in charge of the hostage situation, which perhaps offers a glimmer of hope to the traumatized (the church will change its ways, we just have to stick it out and have faith). The GOP hasn’t mattered in state politics since it alienated the fastest growing voter block with Prop 187 in 1991. The party never recovered from that self-inflicted political gunshot wound. In fact Republicans have spent those decades seemingly trying to lose elections. It’s as if they want the Democrats to retain their statewide supermajorities. Over the last five years they’ve accomplished the impressively unlikely feat of rendering themselves even less attractive to liberal state voters by fully embracing Donald Trump – a man most Californians hate slightly more than Charles Manson. Meanwhile you’ll hear Republicans empathize with Newsom, because “his job is really hard.” Well, sure, hostage situations always are. Again, Stockholm is the only explanation.

Let them eat cake — or drink Savignon blanc, as the case may be

During the eighteen months (and counting) of the COVID crisis the hostage takers consistently reminded people in the starkest terms that there are two Californias. There is the California of the political class where maskless (overwhelmingly white) millionaires and billionaires fete themselves at fundraisers whilst masked (overwhelmingly black and brown) servants tend to their every whim and megrim.

Life is good in this California, in some ways better than ever. Establishment politicians and their fellow travelers in places like Silicon Valley and Hollywood send their own offspring to exclusive academae while consigning millions of (overwhelmingly black and brown) children to remote learning at some of the nation’s worst public schools. A California where Mr. Newsom dines mask-free at a restaurant where meals start at $350 a plate sans wine – with healthcare lobbyists no less – while enforcing diktats that keep 40 million people masked and at home. A California where San Francisco Mayor London Breed, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Khuel, and countless others also have brazenly flouted those same orders at exclusive restaurants, spas, and vacation spots. It rankles yet more how many of these neo-Brahmans did not earn their privileged stations but were born into them.

Then there is the California in which 40 million actual people live, a state with some of the nation’s worst schools, roads, infrastructure, and social welfare systems. A state in which more than a million people experience homelessness every year (the official count of 161,840 statewide is the sort of too-precise number that government bureaucracies churn out). A state in which more than a quarter of a million children – children – experience homelessness every single year. A state in which hundreds of thousands more children are crippled every year by subpar public shooling.

In this California people often quite literally feel civilization crumbling beneath their feet. The sorts of catastrophes normally associated with third world countries – failing dams, collapsing roadways, unchecked natural disasters, human beings expiring in public places as if on public display – have become depressingly quotidian. In this California thousands of people die every year due to homelessness, poverty, and preventable disease.

These days in much of California it’s rare to make it through a day without seeing something truly horrific in the streets, on sidewalks, in parks.

….and this is the other.

“The plan produced by the Ten-Year Planning Council is both a blueprint and a bold step toward a new and revolutionary way to break the cycle of chronic homelessness….it’s a national disgrace.” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, June 30, 2004

“When it comes to homelessness, as governor I actually want to get something done. I don’t want to talk about this for a decade.Governor Gavin Newsom, May 21, 2021

Establishment politicians like Gavin Newsom have been failing for decades. And still we continue voting for the same people. The silver lining in this recall was that voters clearly were voting against Mr. Elder, not for Mr. Newsom. Had the GOP mustered a more viable candidate the outcome may have been different. With every crime, with every atrocity in a homeless camp, with every wildfire, with every confusing, contradictory public health order more and more people perhaps break through their trauma. Whether that will ever be enough to change the state’s downward spiral remains to be seen. The fate of 40 million people in the world’s fifth largest economy depends on the answer.

Gavin Newsom has only himself to blame

A man who has been at the forefront of California politics for a quarter century remains unknown to much of the state — Never mastered retail politics — Establishment figure riddled with self-inflicted errors — Polls show that the more people hear from him, the less they approve of him

If there were a political supermarket, California Governor Gavin Newsom would be in the generics section. He has figured prominently in the state’s political class for a quarter century, since San Francisco mayor Willie Brown appointed him to the city’s Parking and Traffic Commission in 1996 and to a vacant Supervisor position a year later. Yet he remains virtually unknown to the vast majority of people in the state – not his name and face, of course, which are ubiquitous, but his convictions and politics, his vision. No one really knows what he stands for or believes in. Ask ten people and you’ll get ten incompatible answers. He’s a “business-friendly moderate” and a “progressive change maker,” which means he is neither and nothing. He is, literally, just a politician.

Politicians fall into one of two general categories, technocrats and evangelists. The former gain voters’ confidence through their (at least apparent) mastery of legislative and policy minutiae, a zest for rolling up their sleeves and spending long hours in the law library. Think Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. Evangelicals lead from the heart with an alloy of personal conviction and near-religious fervor. The Ronald Reagans and Bill Clintons of the world.

Again, Newsom is neither. Despite his infamously tedious PowerPoint based speeches he’s no wonk, and he lacks the natural empathy that makes someone like Barack Obama come off as downright magical in certain settings. There’s a reason a San Francisco Chronicle columnist once referred to the former president as a “lightworker.” No one would tag Newsom with that appellation. He’s just there, for no other reason than that he has been for so long. He isn’t a leader, he’s part of the furniture. And in 2021 a lot of Californians want more than a handsome demilune in Sacramento.

Wasted opportunities

It’s incongruous to refer to the rich, dashingly handsome chief executive of the world’s fifth largest economy as a wasted opportunity, but Newsom is just that. It’s hard to conjure a more charmed political career. His father, William A. Newsom III, was a state appellate court judge. More importantly, for three decades he was consigliere to the Getty family, in particular J. Paul Getty himself and later his son Gordon. When J. Paul Getty III was kidnapped in Italy in 1973 Judge Newsom was the bag man with the ransom money (delivered after the notoriously miserly J. Paul spent months negotiating the price down as his grandson was tortured, relenting only after the kidnappers cut off and mailed one of his ears to the tycoon, and even then only agreeing to pay an amount he could claim as a tax deduction – it’s worth keeping in mind that these are the sorts of people who formed Gavin’s worldview – and J. Paul certainly would have recognized and approved of his philandering over the years).

Starting when Gavin was a child the judge leveraged his position with the Gettys to craft his son’s business and political fortunes. Starting in middle school Newsom fils accompanied various Getty family members on traditional aristocratic grand tours of Europe, introducing him the cultural and political centers with which a future Establishment leader is expected to be at least conversant. A 2003 story from SF Weekly called “Bringing Up Baby Gavin” is well worth reading, if only for the portrait it paints of the world in which the embattled governor was raised:

Savvy Irish-American operator that he is, the judge continues to answer a reporter’s questions suavely and smoothly over lunch. His back goes up only when he discusses the San Francisco Chronicle‘s recent story detailing Getty loans to his 35-year-old son and Getty investments in Gavin’s “PlumpJack” businesses, including five restaurants, a Napa winery, a Squaw Valley hotel, and two retail clothing stores. The newspaper concluded that of the self-described entrepreneur’s 11 enterprises, Gordon Getty was the lead investor in 10. The article helped reinforce the view of some that the younger Newsom is a silver spooner who has grown wealthy not as a result of his own business moxie, but because of his connection to the ultrarich Gettys.

Suffice it to say, not many 35-year-olds have their own wineries, ski resorts, four star restaurants, and high end clothing boutiques. Judge Newsom’s financial and political savvy paid other dividends, and he wasn’t particularly discreet about the centrality of nepotism-by-proxy in his son’s nascent political and business careers. He boasted that Mayor Brown – one of California’s most legendary political operators in his own right – appointed Gavin to his first two political jobs based on their friendship. “Besides,” he told the Weekly, “they needed a straight white male on the board.”

Indeed, it is difficult to conjure a politician in modern times who ambled such a gilded path to power (soon to be former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo comes to mind, not the most flattering comparison). Along with the Gettys he enjoys the patronage of San Francisco establishment families like the Pritzkers, Fishers, and Trainas. The state and national Democratic parties have spent lavishly to secure his positions. In his first run for mayor of San Francisco the party spent more than $2 million and dispatched everyone from Nancy Pelosi, Jesse Jackson, and Bill Clinton to Bruce Springsteen to campaign on his behalf against a third tier Green Party candidate who at one point employed a “minister of propaganda” called h. brown.

Of course, politicians with abbreviated CVs and extensive financial statements have become commonplace not just in this country but around the world. Figures like Canada’s Justin Trudeau come to mind. However, in Newsom’s case that gilded but sparse resume may be coming back to haunt him.

A career marked by inevitability, invisibility, and unforced errors

Perhaps the fact that he entered politics was via nepotism and not by winning actual elections left an impression on Newsom that he was different, special. Despite his razor thin margin in his first real race against a political nobody, despite the fact that it took the biggest lights in his party and millions in outside spending to carry him across the finish line against that nobody, perhaps in the back of his mind he decided he didn’t really need the pesky voters in the first place. He certainly behaved accordingly.

Newsom quickly ensnared himself in multiple scandals and unforced errors, including an affair with his best friend’s and campaign manager’s wife, another affair with 19-year-old cocktail waitress to whom he was photographed handing a glass of wine at a taxpayer funded event (the girl’s name – you can’t make this stuff up – was Brittanie Mountz), a well-publicized and abbreviated stint in rehab he later claimed he “didn’t need,” and a near complete collapse of his relationship with city workers, especially the police and cable car operators. Local news was filled with stories about San Francisco’s crisis of confidence and downward spiral, with the Chronicle wondering “Where is Mayor McDreamy?” His first term was bereft of substance to the point that the paper observed “Searching ‘Gavin and Newsom and hair’ on Google reveals 86,900 articles. ‘Gavin and Newsom and Muni’ yields just 81,700” (then again that probably says as much about the media as the governor, but still).

As George W. Bush might have said, it was a heck of a first term. Meanwhile the city’s increasingly dystopian poverty, homelessness, addiction, and crime crises spiraled out of control throughout his mayorship even as the tech industry pushed living expenses to mind-numbing levels, presaging the statewide crises that metastasized on his watch as lieutenant governor and governor.

As Lieutenant Governor he was nearly invisible, a fact that has as much to do with the thankless nature of the job as with Newsom himself. Still, for eight years he seemed content to collect his taxpayer paychecks and spend his time building the necessary war chest and machinery to run for governor and, presumably, President. He didn’t make a name for himself, championed no causes, took no risks. It’s a safe bet that no one in California, including Newsom himself, can name a single accomplishment in those years, an unforced error of its own. Everyone knew he was going to run for governor, mostly just because he was there, and he was content to bide his time in the wings.

As Governor, well, choose a scandal de jure: His $30 billion EDD fiasco, his billion dollar deal for Chinese-manufactured coronavirus masks with a company that had been in existence for less than two weeks, his lies about increasing the state’s woeful wildfire prevention and fighting budget as conflagrations engulf the northern part of the state, allegations of another affair with a staffer, his Getty-supported winery receiving nearly a million dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds, and of course the infamous French Laundry incident.

The inevitable consequence of a consequence-free life.

Just this week, with millions of Californians still staring down the barrels of unemployment or reduced hours, decreased government assistance, and fast expiring eviction moratoriums, comes news that Newsom and his wife (beg pardon, “First Partner”) quietly sold their Marin County compound last month in an off-market transaction for a cool $6 million, a $4.5 million profit over barely two years. No word yet on the couple’s charitable donations over that period. At a certain point he’s just rubbing people’s faces in it. The truly sad part is, he doesn’t seem to realize it.

Lashing out at the wrong people

As the race tightens Newsom’s camp has run increasingly aggressive attack ads against the recall itself, and anyone who might even be possibly thinking about voting “YES.” It’s become all but impossible to avoid TV, radio, and online ads decrying “Trump Republicans” and the “Republican recall.” Last week a radio ad compared supporters of the recall to “January 6 insurrectionists.” This week the ads reached a hysterical pitch, calling the recall a “matter of life and death.”

It is a desperate politician who literally warns his constituents that they could perish if they commit the mortal sin of voting against him.

It’s also a curious tack when you consider that recall organizers working on a shoestring secured more than 2.1 million signatures in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1 and a substantial proportion of independents swing liberal. It’s theoretically possible that only Republicans signed the petition (which would require a good proportion of the entire GOP population in the state) but it’s highly unlikely. Moreover, given that even a strong majority of Republicans swiftly condemned the riots in the capitol, it’s a safe bet that “January 6 insurrectionists” aren’t exactly a big cohort driving a recall in California. On the other hand, the ad risks alienating people still on the fence, the way Joe Biden’s “you ain’t Black” remark alienated moderate Black voters.

The administration’s closing strategy is also a perfect emblem of Gavin Newsom’s political career: As Establishment as they come, deaf and dumb to what actual human beings think and feel. That most voters, particularly in California, have moved on from Donald Trump is lost on his camp. The Donald was political gold for Democrats for more than four years, none less than Gavin Newsom. That’s a tough habit to break, and he doesn’t seem any more inclined to go to political rehab than he was to kick the sauce 15 years ago. He and his team seem oblivious to the fact that outside the Sacramento-Bay Area bubble people are far more concerned about wildfires, COVID-19, homelessness, crime, drought, and the state’s overall economic health after 18 months of economic upheaval. All of which are huge problems for Newsom: With the exception of the surprisingly – shockingly, when you think about it – robust economy, which has little to do with him, he earns low marks on the key issues. His margin of error is gone: One more major wildfire, one more hideous crime, one more well-intended but poorly executed COVID-19 mandate, one more let-them-eat-cake moment could well be the tipping point.

All of which helps explain why those increasingly strident attacks are decreasingly effective. Despite outspending recall proponents by a nearly 10-to-1 margin he has slipped in the polls, by a lot. According to the moving average of polls from fivethirtyeight.com, in just the last five weeks the recall swung from an 11% advantage for Newsom to a statistical dead heat. That is not the trend line anyone wants to ride into an election.

The above chart ought to cause cold sweats and fitful nights for his staff. It seems that the more Californians hear from and learn about Gavin Newsom, the less they like him. Many are listening to him for the very first time, and many don’t seem to like what they hear.

At the end of the day, of course, this is California. Democrats have indicated they’re willing to spend half a billion dollars to keep Newsom in the governor’s mansion for another 18 months (fun with math: That works out to almost exactly $1 million per day for the rest of his term, just to keep a warm Democrat in the capitol. Imagine what could be done with that kind of money for, say, the homeless crisis). If for no other reason than cold, hard cash it remains more likely than not that he will survive the September 14 recall election and remain governor of the world’s fifth largest economy.

Yet after 25 years of entitlement and privilege, after the French Laundry “let them eat cake” moment, after innumerable personal and political scandals compared to even a few months ago his position is far less secure. If he does ultimately lose, he will have plenty of time to reflect on what happened.

It will be one tough look in the mirror for the erstwhile Mayor McDreamy, who will have only himself to blame.

California is terrifyingly unprepared for the coming conflagrations

Analysis of grand jury investigations from around the state reveals aging equipment, personnel shortages, outdated procedures, and massive gaps in evacuation planning and emergency notification networks

When it comes to natural disasters California is playing Russian roulette with 40 million lives. An analysis of more than 200 civil grand jury investigations from all of the state’s 58 counties reveals badly flawed, and in many places nonexistent, emergency response plans affecting hundreds of cities. The grand jury reports also describe the extent to which many officials are engaging in what can only be described as willful ignorance.

In terms of wildfire preparedness in particular much of the state is moving backward, at top speed. Following a century in which fire suppression relied almost entirely on prevention communities statewide bear fuel loads that are historically unprecedented, at the precise moment in history when historic droughts and climate change add unprecedented variables. Coupled with constrained evacuation routes and overdevelopment in fire zones and wildland urban interface (WUI) areas the threats to life and property increase all the time.

Despite these realities legislation working its way through Sacramento would radically accelerate and expand residential development without any exceptions for fire zones, much less the even larger swaths of the state that are not technically designated “high fired danger areas” (HFDAs) but for all practical purposes are equally at risk. The legislation fails to fund essential infrastructure upgrades, including fire protection, leaving it to already overstretched local budgets. If passed these bills would literally add fuel to the fire.

The state’s spiraling homeless crisis is a literal accelerant: The number of fires and conflagrations attributable to illegal encampments increases by the thousands annually. Nor are those fires limited to urban areas. Last month a homeless man intentionally set a series of brush fires in the upscale Pacific Palisades neighborhood in Los Angeles. Fortunately fire crews prevented the blaze from endangering homes, but it burned more than 1,500 acres directly adjacent the Palisades Highlands community some 5,000 residents call home. It was far from an isolated incident, as L.A. endures dozens of homeless fires every day, many in high fire danger areas.

A private investigation with a retired CalFire inspector revealed a large illegal encampment with a firepit, cookstoves, and dozens of butane bottles less than 100 yards from the official start point of the 2019 Saddleridge Fire in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. The fire was attributed to an arcing SoCal Edison tower. It burned 9,000 acres and resulted in a death. Photograph and captions by Christopher D. LeGras.

The Palisades fire was a harbinger of things to come as we enter what will likely be another record setting fire season. Among the biggest concerns are evacuations. During the catastrophic 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County thousands of people became trapped in their cars as the flames raced toward them. Many fled on foot, literally running through an inferno that at its peak burned the equivalent of a football field every second. The fire obliterated the cities of Paradise, Magalia, and Upper Ridge, destroyed more than 14,000 structures, and killed at least 88 people (few survivors in the area accept the official death toll; everyone I spoke with in the days and weeks immediately after the fire believed it to be significantly higher, particularly considering how many people were living off the grid in the area).

Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide

In 2019 a firm called Streetlight Data compiled a national list of evacuation-constrained small cities. Their analysis reveals scores of smaller communities (fewer than 40,000 people) around California with evacuation constraints similar to and in many cases worse than Paradise. They made the results of the study public.

The 2018 wildfire season was particularly educational, to say the least. Both the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire in northern Los Angeles County ignited on the same day, within hours of each other. The Woolsey Fire after action report noted, “While the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Los Angeles City Fire Department, and the Ventura County Fire Department regularly plan for and practice their response to a large fire in the region, they could not have planned for a complete exhaustion of California’s limited firefighting resources brought on by a regional wildfire weather threat in conjunction with the Camp Fire, a mass casualty shooting in Ventura County, and the Ventura County Hill Fire, which began just before the Woolsey Fire started.”

Phrased differently, prior to November 2018 officials could not have planned for the perfect firestorms that engulfed the state, but they have no excuse for their failure to plan since that awful year. The fact that so many areas in the state remain woefully under prepared in 2021 is unconscionable. Even as California continues to lead the nation and the world in the quality of our firefighting professionals, civil grand jury investigations over the last three years expose deficiencies at the policy level that place those heroes, and the millions of Californians they protect, at risk every minute of every day.

Among the common themes are: Lack of emergency planning, underfunding of emergency resources, poor or nonexistent communications to the public, and lack of political leadership. While those themes recur throughout the reports one of the especially disconcerting aspects is the sheer variety of problems. In some counties the issue is mismanagement or outright malfeasance on the part of officials, elsewhere it’s a matter of bureaucratic ossification, in still other places it’s outdated equipment or inconsistent training protocols.

For example, a 2018-2019 Santa Cruz County grand jury investigation found that that county’s emergency response framework was a hopelessly confusing web of bureaucracy, unclear chains of command, policy inconsistencies, and no accountability. Likewise, in San Francisco, where the next “Big One” is not a matter of if but when, “roughly one-third of the City’s developed area…[is] not adequately protected from fires after a major earthquake.” Worse, the city “still does not have concrete plans or a timeline to provide a more robust emergency firefighting water supply for all parts of the City that need one.” This, despite the fact that “City leaders have known about this issue for decades.”

Again, the reports consistently laud the quality and bravery of emergency responders – which in a sense makes the situations even worse, because it reminds the rest of us that the people most at risk are the very ones we ask to risk their lives to save ours. Here is a chart of the counties in which civil grand jury investigations have identified significant weaknesses in their emergency preparedness over the last three years (you can find links to all the reports at the bottom of this post):

The total population of those counties is more than 10 million people. Of all the grand jury reports reviewed, only one, a 2019-2020 report from Calaveras County, identified positive progress in emergency preparedness.

Not just voices in the wilderness

Of course, civil grand jury investigations aren’t dispositive, and there are variations in the quality and depth of the reports from the California’s 58 counties. Jurors are not experts but citizens selected randomly from a pool of applicants and nominees. Nevertheless, as a general rule the reports reflect diligent effort, and the citizens who serve as jurors clearly took their responsibilities seriously. Moreover the reports themselves are not the end of the matter but the beginning. Any citizen can request an investigation into most any subject of public policy, such that the existence of the investigation itself serves to raise awareness. Formal responses from cities and government agencies provide additional insight and perspective above and beyond the reports themselves, and often spur ameliorative action. Officials also point out that fire preparedness involves a high degree of individual responsibility. The most effective fire prevention resources in the world cannot force an individual to clear the deadwood from their property, for example.

Still, government is the only entity that can muster the resources (and tax dollars) to address the crisis head on. Unfortunately other sources bolster the grand jury investigations’ conclusions that policy level failures are critical. After all, a homeowner can take every precaution to protect themselves but if the city in which they live hasn’t maintained its high pressure water systems those steps are all for naught.

In addition to the important Streetlight Data analysis, in 2019 the California State Auditor’s office investigatted emergency preparedness in three counties: Butte, Sonoma, and Ventura. The analysis concluded, “these three counties have not adequately implemented best practices for protecting vulnerable populations, which may place their residents at greater risk of harm during future natural disasters…. Before some of California’s most recent and significant wildfires, none of the three counties we reviewed had complete, up-to-date plans for alerting and warning their residents about danger from natural disasters, conducting evacuations, or sheltering evacuees.” Likewise, an in-depth 2019 investigation by USA Today concluded that less than a quarter – 22% – of California’s 27 most highly populated fire prone communities have robust evacuation plans. The story was updated in December of that year.

A need for leadership

Californians can only hope that the grand jury investigations prompt badly needed and long overdue changes. In fact it should be a political no-brainer: Policymakers who prioritize and highlight wildfire prevention, adaptation, and response will become relevant statewide overnight. The Dixie Fire raging in the northern reaches of the state is the latest grim reminder of the stakes. Leadership should start with immediate boosts in funding for things like controlled burns, vegetation control, and especially assistance and enforcement of residential clearance. Over the longer term the legislature could convene a task force to review preparedness and evacuation plans statewide, starting with the grand jury investigations.

In any event, unless and until policymakers – starting with Governor Gavin Newsom – take the crisis seriously as we approach high noon of another record setting fire season, it’s going to get worse. With apologies to South Park, buckle up, buckaroos.

Links to grand jury investigations:

Alameda County, 2018-19 & 2019-2020 grand jury reportsContra Costa County, 2019-2020 grand jury reportEl Dorado County, 2019-2020 grand jury reportHumboldt County, 2017-2018 grand jury reportMarin County, 2018-2019 & 2019-2020 grand jury reportsMendocino County, 2019-2020 grand jury reportNevada County, 2018-2019 grand jury reportOrange County, 2018-2019 grand jury reportSan Francisco County, 2018-2019 grand jury reportSan Luis Obispo County, 2018-2019 & 2019-2020 grand jury reportsSan Mateo County, 2017-2018 & 2018-2019 & 2019-2020 grand jury reportsSanta Cruz County, 2019-2020 & 2020-2021 (two) grand jury reportsShasta County, 2019-2020 grand jury reportSonoma County, 2020-2021 grand jury reportSonoma County, 2020-2021 grand jury reportTuolumne County, 2019-2020 grand jury report

[THIS POST WAS UPDATED 8.12.21]

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California’s homeless are fodder for an insatiable bureaucracy

The state’s political class will never solve the homeless crisis. In fact, they depend on it.

History is replete with tragic examples of powerful rulers sending citizens to die in futile wars, often with little more at stake than the rulers’ own egos. The term “cannon fodder” was coined by François-René de Chateaubriand during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1814, as Napoleon Bonaparte grew ever more desperate to preserve his collapsing empire Chateaubriand wrote a pamphlet called “Bonaparte and The Bourbons” in which he excoriated the French dictator: “The contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling conscripts ‘raw material’ and ‘cannon fodder.'” Thousands of young men were killed or wounded on the battlefields of Nivelle, Bayonne, and Toulouse in a vain effort to sustain a dying imperium. The most visceral example of cannon fodder is the World War II Battle of Stalingrad, in which the combined megalomania of Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler led to the deaths of some two million combatants and tens of thousands of Soviet citizens in the bloodiest military confrontation in history. Two million deaths in the name of two men’s imperial ambitions.

In the twenty-first century California’s political class has created a new kind of human silage: Bureaucracy fodder. The state’s homeless population supports a head-spinning array of well-funded government agencies, nonprofits, charities, foundations, think tanks, law firms, consultants, and developers, all funded and enabled by the state’s (allegedly progressive) political class. As people suffer and die on the streets by the thousands these Brahmins rake in the paychecks, plan scores of multimillion dollar “affordable” and “low income” development projects, hold extravagant galas, and attend posh retreats and “team building” events while clothing themselves in the guise of altruism and community.

While developers vie for literally billions in project funds, many executives on both the public and private side of this archipelago make handsome six-figure salaries, such as disgraced former Congresswoman Katie Hill. Before leaving to run for office she was making nearly $200,000 a year as deputy CEO of a nonprofit called People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) – at the age of 27. That organization itself has grown its revenue from $8.3 million in fiscal year 2012 to $45.8 million last year. The organization’s CEO, Joel Roberts, made $241,370.

In Los Angeles County, homeless services are coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). According to Transparent California, in 2014 LAHSA had 118 employees, nine of whom made over $100,000 a year. As the homeless population grew so did LAHSA’s staff: By 2018, the agency had grown to 424 employees, with 31 earning six figures and another 16 earning more than $90,000. The Director pulled down $242,242 (coincidentally nearly identical to Mr. Roberts’s salary at PATH). Assuming an average salary of $50,000 LAHSA spends $21.5 million annually on salaries alone. As LAHSA has grown so has the county’s homeless crisis. Coincidence?

At the state level, the Department of Social Services employs more than 4,200 people whose jobs – theoretically – are to help California’s poorest residents get back on their feet. Nearly 100 employees make more than $200,000 a year, with the Director, William Lightbourne, receiving $313,760. And the state’s homeless crisis grows. Coincidence?

These numbers, which are just a few of myriad examples, raise obvious questions: What would those 424 LAHSA employees do for a living if they were to actually end homelessness in Los Angeles? The answer is equally obvious: If they were to eliminate homelessness and poverty, they’d have to find new jobs. And no one in their right mind intentionally puts themselves out of work.

It’s important to understand that these people are not contractors, nor consultants hired to solve a problem and then move on to the next one. They are full-time, salaried employees. Public employees also receive generous benefits packages and as many as 45 days of paid vacation annually (many take even more time off). Presumably most of them expect to have their jobs for years and decades, and many will retire with their nonprofit or government agency. For that to happen the homeless crisis must continue in perpetuity.

Equally important is the fact that the public employees are dues paying union members. LAHSA’s employees are part of the Service Employees International Union, one of the most powerful in the country (their most recent collective bargaining agreement is quite the read). Those unions are among the most important sources of campaign contributions for California’s Democrat majority, adding yet another layer of self-interest.

The famed economist William Niskanen developed the budget maximizing theory of bureaucracies. He showed how bureaucrats acting in their own rational self-interest seek to increase their budgets in order to increase their power. It’s axiomatic that success in government is a matter of raising your department’s budget and headcount. In the context of homeless services this phenomenon creates the ultimate paradox: The only way for an agency whose mission is to end homelessness can justify increasing its staff and budget is if there are ever increasing numbers of homeless people in the state. Perhaps that’s why Governor Newsom said during a recent tour of a homeless shelter in L.A. that, “Many [homeless people] see California as a place of compassion. If that’s the case, we match our values with action, and as people of faith, we have a responsibility to all of them, regardless of whether they got here last week, last month, or were born here 30 years ago.” That statement amounts to a blank check thrown at the feet of bureaucrats and nonprofit executives.

As barbaric as tyrants’ use of human beings as cannon fodder was, it arguably was more humane than California’s bureaucratic fodder. Soldiers died relatively quickly from combat wounds or – more frequently – illness and exposure. In contrast, California’s bureaucratic fodder suffer excruciating circumstances for months, years, even decades. So long as the solutions are in the hands of self-interested bureaucrats, nothing will change.

More than fifteen years ago officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco pledged to end homelessness in a decade. What happened?

Officials including Governor Gavin Newsom were behind outrageously expensive efforts that only made the crisis worse

“The plan produced by the Ten-Year Planning Council is both a blueprint and a bold step toward a new and revolutionary way to break the cycle of chronic homelessness.” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, June 30, 2004

“This crisis has been more than a half century in the making, and this Administration is just getting started on solutions.” Governor Gavin Newsom, October 19, 2019

“This Bring L.A. Home plan initiates a 10 year plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles County.” Bring L.A. Home final report, co-authored by Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, April 2006

“We can cut this problem in half in five years. And in 10 years we can end life on the street.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, March 2018

Advocates for changes to California’s approach to homelessness were disappointed last year when the Supreme Court denied certiorari in City of Boise v. Martin. The petitioners in that case sought to challenge a 2018 Ninth Circuit ruling preventing cities from citing or fining people for camping in public spaces overnight unless alternative shelter is available. In reality, even though more than a dozen cities in the western U.S. urged the Court to take the case, like all petitions to the high court review was always a long shot.

Nevertheless, it was viewed as another setback as California’s homeless crisis continued to spiral with no end in sight. In Los Angeles public anger erupts routinely and with increasing frequency on social media, at community events, and at town halls hosted by city councilmembers. It spawned an effort to recall Mayor Eric Garcetti and prompted calls for the resignations of Councilmembers including Mike Bonin and Paul Kerkorian. Mr. Bonin has all but stopped appearing in public outside of carefully stage-managed events.

Angry residents confronted Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Mike Bonin in Venice last year. Photograph by Christopher LeGras

In fact, officials in Los Angeles and across California have been failing for far longer than most people realize. In 2018 Mayor Garcetti promised to end chronic homelessness in ten years. The pledge came on the heels of his 2014 pledge to house all of the city’s homeless veterans, first by 2015 and then 2016 (he eventually scrapped the timeline). Back in 2013, during his first mayoral run, Garcetti vowed to end chronic homelessness in ten years. Likewise, upon assuming office as Mayor of San Francisco in 2004, Gavin Newsom pledged to end homelessness in that city within – wait for it – ten years.

California’s political class has not lacked for grand plans, all of which seem to fall under the ten year category. Mayor Newsom’s pledge was accompanied by the formation of a “Ten Year Plan Council” comprised of 33 local leaders. Advocates criticized the body for being too heavy on political insiders and light on subject matter experts. Nevertheless, they released their Ten Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness in July 2004.

Likewise in 2004, the City and County of Los Angeles convened their own “blue ribbon commission” called Bring L.A. Home, to study homelessness and recommend workable solutions. Like San Francisco’s Council the 60 members comprised a who’s who of ensconced city insiders and power brokers, including Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry, Mike Feuer, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, then LAPD Chief William Bratton, and Antonio Villaraigosa.

The result of Bring L.A. Home’s efforts was a report released in April 2006. As in San Francisco the authors promised “a 10-year campaign to end homelessness in Los Angeles County by setting forth a broad range of strategies that address a multitude of issues related to homelessness.” They declared, “Nothing of the magnitude proposed by this Plan has been attempted before in Los Angeles.”

It turned out that nothing proposed by the plan was attempted, either. Today the website https://www.bringlahome.org redirects to what appears to be an Indonesian consulting firm (caution: possibly unsafe website). Email and telephone inquiries to several members of the blue ribbon committee were not returned.

Officials like Messrs. Newsom and Garcetti have been failing for nearly two decades

When Bring L.A. Home released its report and recommendations, Eric Garcetti was president of the City Council. No one other than Mayor Villaraigosa himself was better positioned to turn words into action. Yet nothing happened. No new housing was built, no programs launched. Now, fifteen years later, Mayor Garcetti rarely goes a month without a new, equally grandiose plan.

In the midst of the worst homeless crisis in history Eric Garcetti moved into the mayor’s mansion, Getty House, in Hancock Park.

The road to Hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. Bring L.A. Home and San Francisco’s Ten Year Plan were nothing if not ambitious. The Chair of San Francisco’s Council, the consummate insider Angela Alioto, declared, “For the first time in the twenty years that I have been in public life, I feel the united excitement, the electric energy, the profound intelligence, and the strong will to end chronic homelessness in our great City.”

Likewise, L.A.’s blue ribbon commission said, “In the last twenty years, bold initiatives to end homelessness have come and gone.” Ironically their plan quickly joined that sad retinue, as the city’s approach to the issue devolved into a money grab by officials complete with allegations of impropriety, nepotism, and outright fraud (an excellent 2012 article in CityWatch by then-mayoral candidate and current president of L.A.’s Public Works Commission Kevin James highlighted some of the abuses).

Then again there’s good cause to question whether the reports themselves, and the individuals behind them, were serious. L.A.’s plan was replete with gauzy lingo that belied an underlying lack of focus, much less specific actionable steps. Indeed, much of it consisted of virtually incomprehensible bureaucrat speak: We must build, support and develop funding and legislative strategies for 50,000 new units. As a matter of urgency, we must create at least 11,500 units of housing targeting homeless families and individuals earning less than 30% of the area median income (AMI) and 15% of AMI, including 4,900 units of housing linked to services and 2,845 units made affordable through tenant-based deep subsidies. We cannot be complacent, however, as we need to develop an additional 38,500 units of housing targeting homeless families and individuals earning less than 30% and 15% of AMI, including increasing from 4,900 to 21,000 the number of units of housing linked to services and from 2,845 to 12,452 the number of units made affordable through deep tenant-based subsidies.

If you can translate that, please email us.

Moreover, consider that over a decade later, with none of the units proposed in Bring L.A. Home having been built, voters in the City of Los Angeles approved Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to support 10,000 new units in 10 years. That works out to $120,000 each, compared to the 2008 Plan’s anticipated $165,000. Apparently, officials thought that in ten years construction costs in L.A. had dropped by 30%. Of course, Angelenos know now that the actual costs are averaging more than $500,000 per unit, with some projects potentially exceeding $700,000 per unit.

Worse, in October of last year Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released a damning report that concluded, “Not a single bond-funded unit of homeless housing has opened since voters approved the bond measure three years ago.” His office followed up with an update this summr. And if the units end up costing on the low end of $500,000 each it would require $18 billion to house all of the city’s 36,000 homeless. That’s nearly twice the city’s total annual budget. To house all 59,000 homeless people in the county would cost nearly $30 billion.

Suffice it to say, these are not real numbers. They are no more real than the math found in Bring L.A. Home all those years ago. Meanwhile, according to San Francisco’s 2004 Plan there were an estimated 15,000 homeless people in the city by the bay that year. Last year there were at least 17,500. And the conditions in which homeless people exist statewide continue to deteriorate, in many places reaching downright post-apocalyptic scenes on a regular basis.

While the political classes in L.A. and San Francisco are the worst offenders, they are tragically far from alone:

  • In 2006 the City of Sacramento released a Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. The homeless population in that city has continued to increase, including a 20% spike in 2017 alone.
  • In 2006 Marin County issued a report called “The Next Decade: Marin County’s Ten Year Homeless Plan.” Nearly ten years later the Marin County Grand Jury released a report entitled “Homelessness in Marin —A Call for Leadership.” That report concluded that County-wide efforts were “unfocused and disorganized due to a lack of collaboration between the County, the cities, and the service organizations.” A subsequent 2018 “progress report” concluded, “This Grand Jury sees homelessness as a continuing and urgent problem in the County worthy of reconsideration” (Marin did report a drop in its official homeless population last year).
  • In 2006 Alameda County released a report called Everyone Home, which “outline[d] a reorientation of housing and service systems to end chronic homelessness within ten years and significantly reduce housing crises for these vulnerable populations in Alameda County over fifteen years.” Over the last three years Alameda has led the state in the rate of increase in its homeless population.

Numerous studies have concluded that California’s official homeless numbers, based on federally-mandated annual counts, are highly suspect. The true numbers are significantly higher. To cite one of myriad examples, a 2014 report from the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research estimated that 526,708 children were homeless for any amount of time in California in 2013. One in four Californians live in Los Angeles County, suggesting that as many as 131,677 children experienced homelessness in L.A. that year, or more than three and a half times the total number of reported homeless that year.

As the cliche goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. While not strictly accurate it’s an excellent description of conditions in California. How many more chances will Californians give to the same failed leaders?

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It’s increasingly clear that much of America’s political class is exploiting the coronavirus crisis (part one of a two-part story)

Inconsistent, contradictory orders and actions reveal a deeper and more troubling agenda, particularly in big cities

These men would be well-advised to avoid Las Vegas. Photo used with permission.

In the game of poker, it’s called a tell. In the heat of the moment, when they’re all in and holding a weak hand even the best players often reveal their bluff. A tell can be a quick sideways glance, an almost imperceptible change in their breathing, a change in the cadence of their speech. There are tells in business negotiations and legal proceedings as well: In a turn of phrase or an unconscious gesture even the most seasoned, Sphinx-like professionals can betray a crucial weakness or strength.

The coronavirus crisis is proving that much of America’s political class, particularly the progressives who occupy elected office in our larger metro ares, wouldn’t last very long in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Their tells reveal their that their orders and policies are about politics, not public health. That truth becomes more evident with each passing day, each irrational order, each insufferable press conference.

In California the political class’s tells have been obvious from the earliest days of the pandemic. As officials like Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti effectively locked 40 million law-abiding citizens in their homes they allowed the state’s homeless population – officially 130,000 but in reality many times that – to continue their lives unaffected and unmolested. The same public places closed to everyone else remain gathering places for the unhoused, who continue to congregate in large and small groups in close quarters, sharing meals and bottles, pipes and needles, tents and sleeping bags.

In the scientific parlance Mr. Newsom is fond of invoking, albeit often wrongly, they have become the control group in the largest experiment on humanity in history (as such it’s worth noting that aside from a few isolated outbreaks the cohort exempted from draconian restrictions hasn’t experienced a spike in infections, much less deaths).

While California’s political class claim to be acting in the interest of public health they allow the homeless to continue their most dangerous behaviors. The homeless endanger themselves most of all, but also the communities in which they establish illegal encampments. They are exceptional potential vectors for the virus, roaming the streets at all hours, trespassing on private property, even breaking into houses and apartments. These behaviors are not exceptional, they are commonplace. If the political class truly was concerned about public health the homeless population would have been the first people they addressed. The same patterns are playing out in dozens of cities from Seattle to New York.

The political class’s treatment (or, more accurately, neglect) of the homeless is their biggest tell, but far from the only one. Four days before Easter Sunday Mr. Garcetti issued an order closing all public parks. His justification was that people gather in parks to celebrate and socialize the holiest day of the Christian calendar, and that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic such gatherings could be, in his words, deadly. “We just can’t take any chances,” he intoned. The mayor’s order didn’t just target a specific religious group, there also was a strong whiff of racism to it: The tradition of gathering in parks to eat, drink, and celebrate on Easter Sunday is largely a Latino one. Suffice it to say, rich white people from Bel Air do not descend on Holmby Park to break cascarónes on the holy day. The order was a breathtaking violation of the constitutional protections of people’s freedom of religion, assembly, and speech as well as due process and equal protection. The mayor’s timing – he announced the closures less than 72 hours before Easter weekend – seemed specifically intended to avoid legal challenges. Otherwise why not announce it a week or a month ahead of time to give families time to organize alternatives?

Even as the mayor deprived millions of Angelenos of the opportunity to observe their religion in their chosen manner, he allowed liquor stores and pot shops to remain open all day for business. Apparently Mr. Garcetti believes that liquor store managers and pot shop owners are better qualified to look after their customers’ well-being than priests are to care for their parishioners. And of course homeless people continued to gather in the very parks forbidden to everyone else.

That’s not a policy, it’s a tell.

The most recent tell is a proposal from L.A. city councilman Mike Bonin, who wants the city to use federal coronavirus relief and other funds to purchase homes and businesses that will face foreclosure as a result of the economic shutdown. As first reported here, Mr. Bonin intends to use the crisis to evict untold numbers of people from their homes in order to, perversely, create new homeless and low income housing. Again, swapping one cohort of homeless people for another isn’t a policy, it’s a tell.

There are many other examples. According to attorney Mark Geragos Mayor Garcetti has declared liquor stores to be “essential businesses” while forbidding Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Last week a mentally disturbed homeless woman who had tested positive for covid-19 was allowed to leave a homeless shelter and return to the streets. An LAPD spokesman said that the city cannot “force” homeless people to remain in shelters, even those who are known to have the virus. This is the same police force that has arrested healthy people for paddle boarding, protesting, and even walking in the wrong place.

Not policies, tells.

What, then, are these policies and orders intended to accomplish, if not the protection of public health? All signs point to a power grab by the political class that is unprecedented outside of wartime. Moreover, unlike emergency war powers this move will be permanent unless Americans start fighting back. And make no mistake: The window is closing. Every day people remain in lockdown is another step toward normalizing the extraordinary. Every time a constitutional violation goes unchallenged, another nail is driven into the coffin of Americans’ freedoms.

The political class’s agenda is increasingly clear everyday. What remains to be seen is how much more the people are willing to accept. A moment of reckoning is fast approaching.

America’s political class failing in Coronavirus response

In a world of scarce resources they’re turning a short-term public health crisis into a long-term national catastrophe

As the United States enters the second month of a historic government-ordered lockdown a few realities are emerging into relief. The first and most inexorable is the fact that the nation’s political class were utterly unprepared for this – “this” being an entirely foreseeable, indeed inevitable public health crisis. In an era of mass travel and global commerce it is inexcusable for officials and bureaucrats in urban centers like New York City and Los Angeles to have been caught so flat-footed. The consequence is the grim spectacle of politicians making it up as they go along. Americans in every demographic are suffering the consequences of the political class’s maladministration.

Ignore the glowing headlines about what a great job we’re doing here in California. Everyone should be watching the official response the Golden State with a combination of disgust and horror. As reported earlier this month in The All Aspect Report parts of L.A. are verging on anarchy as officials have effectively shut down civil society while simultaneously hamstringing law enforcement (the reality on the streets makes laughable the official claims by LAPD Chief Michael Moore and others that crime is “plummeting” as a result of stay at home orders).

This is a state that closes churches, synagogues, and other places of worship while allowing marijuana shops and liquor stores to remain open for business. A state that closes parks and beaches to families while allowing vagrants and drunks to occupy those very places by the thousand. These are warped priorities.

California, a place where the next major natural disaster is not a question of if but when, doesn’t have sufficient hospital capacity to handle a moderate pandemic. Officials at the state and local level failed to establish substantive plans in place to surge emergency services in a crisis. For example, the official San Francisco earthquake response plan from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services contains a single sentence about fire response and overall is impossibly vague. Likewise, the City and County of San Francisco’s official Emergency Response Plan is not a plan but an 89-page compendium of org charts and bureaucrat speak that would be useless in an actual emergency.

The results are obvious in the misallocation of scarce resources and manpower. Two weeks ago a dozen law enforcement officers from three different agencies arrested a man for paddle boarding in Malibu, even as city officials ignore countless crimes committed daily by the city’s homeless population. A man boasted to The All Aspect Report that he’d been pulled over by LAPD last week with an open beer in his cup holder, and was let go without so much as a warning. Meanwhile, Mayor Garcetti urges Angelenos to snitch on each other for violating city orders (he actually said, “snitches get rewards”) while vagrants congregate in close quarters on the steps of City Hall a few feet away from his press conference. So much for California’s “leadership.”

The only place where the official response has been worse is New York City. Like their suntanned counterparts on the Left Coast everyone in the Big Apple ought to be appalled. The leadership of a city that experienced 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy failed to plan for this kind of emergency. Maybe they were too busy building bike lanes. The city so far has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the country, with more than 11,000 to date. With less than six percent of the nation’s population the state of New York accounts for a third of all coronavirus deaths. It’s gotten so bad that the media and pundit class are rewarding Governor Andrew Cuomo for giving entertaining press conferences with his brother (who staged his own coronavirus quarantine). Not for handling the crisis, but for looking good on TV. Let that sink in.

The official response doesn’t just amount to political malpractice, it’s an existential failure that calls into question fundamental assumptions about the modern neo-liberal state. The relentless expansion of public bureaucracies since the Great Depression was based on a contract between the people and their governments (plural, because the contract is in effect at the local, county, state, and national levels). The people accept the proposition that the complexities of modern political, economic, and social systems demand the commitment of full-time subject matter experts (technocrats) who receive salaries from the taxpayers. In return the people/taxpayers expect those employees to dedicate their careers to sustaining, protecting, and improving those systems. That contract was fraying long before coronavirus as government at every level failed on issues including education, housing, health care, homelessness, infrastructure, and mobility.

Now, as official responses to the pandemic prove more chaotic and perhaps more destructive than the disease, Americans’ remaining faith in the political class is being shaken to its core. Tens of millions have lost work and income, their futures cast into doubt. All because of bungled responses to a public health crisis that every mayor, governor, legislator, and bureaucrat should have seen coming. In an era when the next terror attack, natural disaster, or public health crisis was a matter of time the political class was bickering about pronouns.

If government were like any other industry it would already be in receivership, its executives terminated, its rank and file radically reshuffled, its budgets slashed. Yet in the perverse logic of the public sector many officials see their coronavirus failures as opportunity. As Mr. Newsom said two weeks ago, it’s a chance for “re-imagining a more progressive future.”

Only in the realm of public policy does failure respawn stronger. Only in politics does one fail upward so spectacularly.

A second realization is emerging in the form of a question, albeit a clichéd one: When does the official cure become worse than the disease? The same political class who bungled the nation’s response to a crisis they should have seen coming is in the process of cratering the U.S. and global economies. As a direct result of their actions millions of Americans have lost their jobs in a matter of days while millions more have seen their incomes plummet or disappear. The stock market has erased more than $5 trillion in gains from the last four years. The unemployment rate is making the Great Depression look like the Roaring 80s, and it’s just getting started. Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen has estimated that unemployment rate reached 13% by early April, and some observers suggest that it could exceed 30% before the crisis is over. Countless thousands of small businesses have been shuttered, many never to reopen. Lives are being shattered, livelihoods destroyed, college and retirement savings gutted.

As they continue to collect their own six figure, taxpayer funded salaries the political class that failed so thoroughly is warning everyone else that the worst is yet to come.

In a sense we are in another “9/11 moment” in which reality is obscured by the fog of the crisis (of course, many people have argued that the political class should have seen 9/11 coming as well). In response to the attacks the political class hurled the country into the catastrophic Iraq War. An attack that cost 2,996 lives triggered a response that killed as many as 600,000. In economic terms the hijackers spent roughly $500,000 to carry out their acts of cowardice. The total U.S. military response cost some $6 trillion.

In the fog the political class also convinced Americans that national security necessitated unprecedented governmental invasions of privacy – an “emergency measure,” of course. Nearly two decades later every email Americans send remains subject to scrutiny, every credit card transaction, stock purchase, telephone call, and doctor visit. County and local governments introduced mass surveillance of their populations in the form of cameras and drones, while even suburban police departments obtained military-grade equipment. All of this, said the political class, was necessary to protect us, just like the current national shutdown. The political class was profoundly, dangerously, fatally wrong then. Why should Americans trust them now?

A pandemic by its nature arrives, spreads, peaks, and declines. In contrast, the effects of mass unemployment grind on a populace for years or decades. Make no mistake: Unemployment and poverty are deadly. How many Americans already are sinking into depression, substance abuse, and lethargy because of lost hours, social distancing, and lockdown orders? New York governor Andrew Cuomo was dismissive this week of domestic violence, but how many are being victimized? How many addicts, no longer able to attend in-person meetings, are relapsing? How many people will resort to alcohol or drugs for the first time? How many will contemplate suicide? These are not rhetorical questions: Calls to suicide hotlines around the country are up substantially. A line covering North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota has seen calls spike by 300%.

Suffice it to say, if the political class’s panicked responses to the coronavirus pandemic triggers a long-term recession or even a depression, it will kill many more people than the disease itself. It will invariably result in higher crime rates, more domestic violence, more suicides.

In a world of uncertain choices and imperfect information, America’s political class so far has taken the most imperfect route imaginable.

*Yes, that sentence is an example of the old adage that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Comparing a viral pandemic to chronic conditions linked to genetics and behavior is apples and oranges. However, the metric officials are using to justify the massive response is the number of deaths. The current worst case scenario for coronavirus is around 200,000 deaths. Annually, nearly 700,000 Americans die of heart disease.

Coronavirus and the casual eradication of constitutional rights

A government that prioritizes prosecuting surfers and beer drinkers over pimps and drug dealers is a government adrift

Since the first states issued self-isolation orders in early March Americans have surrendered a shocking portion of their rights to the political class. In a matter of weeks 250 years of constitutional law has collapsed upon itself like a spectacular legalistic quasar. Like an imploding star the collapse has generated a massive release of energy, only instead of electromagnetic radiation the energy here is frenzied governmental activity.

To be sure, a pandemic like coronavirus requires robust public sector action. But the brute force of the official response is deeply disconcerting, more so in light of history: Governments that seize control rarely relinquish it.

At the same time, two months into the emergency people are discovering that every level of their government was utterly unprepared for a 21st century public health crisis that wasn’t just foreseeable but inevitable. The precursors were SARS, H1N1, and avian flu. To not have seen something like coronavirus coming amounts to willful ignorance bordering on criminal negligence.

Of course the very officials and bureaucrats whittling away at civil liberties (while continuing to collect their taxpayer funded paychecks) are the ones who failed to prepare in the first place. In late January the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – an agency whose $5 billion annual existence is predicated on preparing for and responding to public health issues – was still reassuring Americans that coronavirus was not transmittable between people. In March, with the crisis in full bloom, the agency still was fumbling its response. So much for disease control and prevention.

The political class is proving that while they can’t contain a virus they can extinguish constitutional rights. Much easier for a governor or mayor to sign a one-page order written by staffers than to spend the months and years necessary to actually prepare for something like this in the first place. Much easier to bloviate at daily pressers than to devise a strategic response.

The price of their incompetence has been lost lives, lost jobs, lost wages, and lost futures. These countless individual tragedies have been compounded by a sudden, massive deprivation of civil liberties. In places like New York and California the deprivation has become virtually absolute.

With few exceptions people have accepted the diminution of cherished rights willingly, voluntarily, even enthusiastically. They’ve surrendered rights for which millions sacrificed, fought, and died over the course of two and a half centuries at the behest of a political class that in the best of times can’t keep the streets paved.

Virtually no one blinked last Thursday when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city was closing all public parks for 36 hours, from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, specifically to prevent people from gathering to celebrate Easter mass. The order effectively suspended two of the Constitution’s most precious protections, freedom of religion and assembly. Churches, of course, have been closed for weeks already.

People convening for a few hours to observe the holiest day of the Christian calendar warranted draconian measures and the full force of the state’s police powers to suspend core constitutional rights. Mr. Garcetti said, “I know this is a time of the year when many of our families and friends celebrate Easter by getting together outdoors –– and we just can’t take any chances right now.”

Yet he’s been taking chances with tens of thousands of homeless people since the crisis started, which in turn threatens the well-being of every single Angeleno. Make no mistake: Mr. Garcetti, like California’s entire political class, has concluded that homelessness, prostitution, drug dealing, addiction, crime, and public disturbances are acceptable exceptions to self isolation orders.

As millions of Angelenos shelter in place public parks have remained havens for homeless, vagrants, and criminals. Dealers openly sell meth, opiods, fentanyl, even home-brewed liquor without the slightest fear of consequence. Open-air drug deals go down in plain view of law enforcement. The All Aspect Report observed a resident of L.A.’s “A Bridge Home” shelter in Venice yesterday dancing on a sidewalk screaming, “It’s corona time, baby!” A few minutes later shelter staff allowed him back inside, no questions asked.

Homeless people gather in close quarters and in small and large groups without any law enforcement response. Quite the opposite, in fact: The Los Angeles City Council ordered that illegal encampments and entire tent cities will remain in place 24 hours a day, indefinitely. Council’s tortured logic is that homeless people are safer in filthy, vermin infested, crime ridden camps. In reality they’ve simply given up. San Francisco quickly followed suit. Meanwhile, across California politicians’ bold plans to house tens of thousands of homeless in hotels, motels, and recreation centers has quietly fallen apart. And just today the Los Angeles Times reported that the LAPD has all but ceased enforcement of sex trafficking laws, exposing the most vulnerable girls and women to new levels of danger and exploitation.

In one of the more infamous examples a man paddle boarding near the Malibu Pier was arrested two weeks ago for refusing to comply with orders that he leave the water. While the man behaved foolishly in defying law enforcement’s orders, it beggars belief that a single individual in the middle of the breakers required two lifeguard boats, a half dozen Sheriff’s cruisers, and two dozen personnel. He was literally the only person for hundreds of yards in any direction.

When people (again, foolishly) crowded L.A. County hiking trails last month the official response was to close all trails completely. Instead of such drastic measures perhaps some of those Sheriff’s deputies who spent time arresting an errant wave enthusiast could instead have been dispatched to enforce social distancing on trails. Then again that would require planning, strategy, and creative thinking, all of which are in dangerously short supply among our city’s and state’s electeds. Last weekend the Santa Cruz sheriff’s department handed out $7,000 worth of fines to a group of young people whose offense against the state consisted of purchasing beer.

Meanwhile, the county is dispatching enforcers to small businesses perceived as violating shut-down orders. Most of these visits are unannounced. The owners of a small print shop in north L.A. report that they have received visits on consecutive days, first by the Sheriff’s department and then by an city official who refused to identify himself (he also claimed to be “out of business cards”) but who left orders from the county health department related to the shop’s operations. The owners, who asked not to be identified for fear official retaliation (let that sink in, by the way), have been keeping the shop open to serve residents seeking, among other things, to apply for relief or small business loans under the CARE Act. If that isn’t an essential service it’s hard to imagine one, but it remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to continue.

People need to be demanding answers from the political class. Why are hundreds of thousands of vagrants and criminals allowed to roam free, their lives virtually unchanged, while everyone else is subject to virtually unlimited control? Why are some kids buying beer considered a greater threat than vagrants assaulting women and dealing drugs?

Stripped to the essentials government’s purpose is protect the populace. At every level, government has failed. Instead of protecting the people the political class is stripping them of basic civil liberties. A government that prioritizes prosecuting surfers and beer drinkers over pimps and drug dealers is a government adrift.

The most egregious of the violations is the virtual suspension of due process. Stay at home orders, orders banning business from operating, and orders forbidding people from assembling amount to an unprecedented intrusion by government into every single American’s life and an unprecedented use of the state’s powers – and it’s happened with zero due process. The many constitutional infringements include:

  • First Amendment. Stay-at-home orders by definition violate the First Amendment’s protection of peaceable assembly. In a very real way that right has all but ceased to exist. Meanwhile, city and state governments nationwide banned religious gatherings over Easter weekend. Some places like Los Angeles banned all gatherings, while states like Kansas banned more than 10 people. Regardless these orders are fundamental violations of the constitutional protections of religious freedom.
  • Fourth Amendment. State and local officials across the country are urging people to report violations of stay at home orders to law enforcement. Last Tuesday Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti openly encouraged Angelenos to “snitch” on each other, and this week Riverside County released and promoted a mobile app that allows neighbors to anonymously report one another. As the print shop case proves in stark relief officials have abandoned standards of probable cause or even reasonable suspicion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
  • Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Due process has virtually ceased to exist. Extraordinary government orders have deprived tens of millions of their civil liberties, not to mention their livelihoods, without notice, an opportunity to be heard, nor a chance to rebut the justifications behind the orders. Procedural due process is the guarantee of a fair legal process when the government tries to interfere with a citizen’s protected interests in life, liberty, or property. Substantive due process is the guarantee that the government will not encroach on fundamental rights of citizens. Government at all levels has abandoned these precious guarantees.
  • Fifth Amendment, part 2. Official orders also are depriving millions of Americans of business income without any compensation. The shuttering of millions of businesses amounts to the biggest de facto public taking in American history, which under the Fifth Amendment requires due process and just compensation. A twelve hundred dollar check doesn’t count.
  • Sixth Amendment. Many official orders arguably are tantamount to criminal prosecutions. Shuttering a business, putting dozens or hundreds of people out of work, and destroying people’s life’s savings is a profound exercise of governmental police power. Every affected business owner is effectively presumed guilty. They have been given no opportunity to be heard, no trial by jury, no opportunity to present contrary evidence or witnesses, and no legal representation.
  • Eighth Amendment. The Excessive Fines Clause prohibits fines that are “so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law.” While stay at home and other orders aren’t strictly “fines,” they have the same cumulative effect: Forcing businesses to close amounts to a fine, because the order deprives them of normal income. Moreover, to the extent the orders are enforced by government’s police power they may violate the amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Fourteenth Amendment. Again, many of the orders issued at the federal, state, county, municipal, and local levels have deprived Americans of fundamental rights. No one has been given notice or an opportunity to be heard.

It remains to be seen how many of these new restrictions will become permanent or semi-permanent. Yesterday Governor Gavin Newsom justified more stay-at-home orders by remarking, “Not only is the past not equal to the future, but we also have to recognize that we are not just along for the ride as it relates to experiencing the future. The future happens inside of us.”

Because, you see, we have always been at war with coronavirus.

By organizing a homeless camp clean-up, a Virginia activist accomplished for free in one day what L.A. hasn’t been able to do with billions and years

(VAN NUYS, CA) – September 21, 2019. Dozens of volunteers spent Saturday cleaning trash from a homeless camp. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

The stench of the homeless camp hits you from blocks away. It’s an indescribable combination of decay, decomposition, detritus, and death, the kind of odor you would associate with a third world slum or a World War I battlefield. It invades your nostrils even through a protective mask. After a few minutes you’re wearing it on your clothes, your shoes, your skin. It stays with you long after you leave.

Yet as suffocating as it is the stench doesn’t prepare you for what you see inside the camp itself. Even for Angelenos, who have become tragically accustomed to such scenes, the encampment on Oxford Street in Van Nuys shocks the conscious. For a hundred feet the garbage is piled shoulder high. Every step is hazardous: Rats and mice scurry in all directions, shards of glass litter the ground, and broken meth pipes are common. There are decomposing rodent carcasses amid piles of dog, rat, and human excrement. Walking through the camp one tries not to consider how many infectious diseases may be present. This is the place some 50 people call home.

Despite the hazards, dozens of volunteers from all over Los Angeles converged on the camp on Saturday to clear away thousands of pounds of garbage. Starting at 7a.m. they put themselves in harm’s way to accomplish a task the City and County of Los Angeles seem incapable of doing: They cleaned up a homeless camp. In the process they helped the neighborhood, local businesses, and the camp’s inhabitants themselves, some of whom joined the effort. By early afternoon the place was unrecognizable. The clean-up’s organizer, Scott Presler, said they had hauled away 50 tons of garbage.

(VAN NUYS, CA) September 21, 2019. By the end of the day the camp was unrecognizable. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

Walking through the thrum of activity, one cannot help but ask why the Garcetti administration and City Council cannot accomplish the same feat, given the billions of dollars they’ve spent over the last five years. How is it that untrained citizens, armed with nothing but shovels and moxy, can do more to help our city than the people supposedly in charge of it? Why hasn’t anyone in city or county government hit upon the idea of organizing mass volunteer clean-ups like the one a private citizen put together from three thousand miles away?

The volunteers came from all over the southland and reflected the region’s diverse character. There seemed to be a little bit of everyone. One man said he’d taken the bus to the camp, while a woman rolled up in brand-new Mercedes. Teenagers worked alongside members of a church group in their 70s. One woman said that she and her boyfriend had left their Orange County home at 5a.m. so they could arrive in time to join the first wave. One camp resident walked back and forth between the far end of the camp and the dumpster, hauling two shopping carts’ worth of refuse at a time with dogged determination.

(VAN NUYS, CA) September 21, 2019. Residents of the homeless encampment joined in the clean-up. This man spent hours hauling shopping carts full of refuse to the dumpster. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

In the face of the overwhelming human misery confronting them the volunteers displayed a hearty esprit de corps as they donned hazmat suits and masks and waded into the mire. At one point a woman screamed and jumped as a rat tried to run up the leg of her suit. Her scream turned to laughter as her fellow volunteers good-naturedly mimicked her motions. They briefly seemed to be dancing.

The generosity on display was overwhelming. People brought pizzas and donuts, boxes of bottled water and juices. The hazmat suits, masks, and shoe covers were donated. Javier Perez, owner of Perez Disposal in Granada Hills, provided a large roll-off container along with a hauling truck and a Bobcat mini tractor. By noon he said that his crew already had hauled the container to a nearby landfill twice, both times filled to the top with 30 cubic yards of trash. When asked how much the day was costing his business Mr. Perez shrugged and replied, “About $3,000. But who cares? It’s the right thing to do.”

A camp resident named Robert, who described himself as the camp’s “sentry, city councilman, and mediator,” said the day was the happiest since he arrived five months ago. “Living like this,” he says, pointing to his tent where his girlfriend was cleaning up, “I get so tired. So tired. But today gives me hope. I mean, look at these folks. They don’t have to be here. They don’t have to spend a Saturday away from their families to help us out. But here they are. God bless them.” As he talked a spider crawled across his face and around his right ear. He didn’t even notice.

Clean-up organizer is a controversial figure

It may surprise Angelenos to learn that the clean-up’s organizer isn’t from L.A. He isn’t even from California. Mr. Presler is a Washington D.C. native who lives in northern Virginia. Even more surprising (to Angelenos) is that Mr. Presler, who is gay, is an avid Trump supporter and conservative activist. When he’s not organizing homeless cleanups he’s sponsoring and leading voter registration drives around the country. Yet using only with Twitter and Facebook he was able to accomplish more in a few hours than the Garcetti administration accomplishes in a year. He says that over the last few months he’s organized two clean-ups in Baltimore, as well as in Virginia Beach and Newark. He has one planned in Philadelphia in two weeks. He said that he was drawn to the Van Nuys camp in particular after hearing that there are a number of veterans among the inhabitants. Both his father and grandfather are retired Navy officers.

(VAN NUYS, CA) September 21, 2019. Conservative activist and clean-up organizer Scott Presler. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

Mr. Presler has received negative coverage because of his politics. After his first Baltimore clean-up in early August, the Baltimore Sun ran an op-ed suggesting the event was a political publicity stunt designed to embarrass U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings. The paper dismissed the clean-up as, “not really that remarkable of a concept,” and huffed that, “Mr. Presler’s presence in Baltimore reinforces the tired image of our failing urban cores.” Angelenos (and probably more than a few Baltimoreans) might respond that, well, yes, it does. Because that image is accurate.

Mr. Presler previously worked with a group called ACT for America, which the Anti-Defamation League has called the largest anti-Muslim group in the country. In past interviews Mr. Presler said that as a gay man he was motivated to address Islamic extremism after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida (the killer had sworn allegiance to ISIS and targeted the gay venue). In 2017 NPR reported that Mr. Presler cancelled a planned event in Arkansas when he learned that the organizer was a white nationalist. He has since distanced himself from the group.

To be sure, if Mr. Presler knowingly associated with a hate group he should be accountable. The mere fact that he helped organize events like the “March Against Sharia” will churn some stomachs.

Yet considering what he has accomplished in L.A., Baltimore, and elsewhere on behalf of homeless people of all races and creeds it would seem forgiveness is in order as well. In speaking with Mr. Presler, you don’t get the impression of a man who’s out to marginalize, malign, or divide. He speaks passionately and sincerely about his desire to help people. “This isn’t about politics,” he says. “I consider the clean-ups to be apolitical.” Moreover, it’s hard to square claims of bigotry with the diversity that was on display at Saturday’s clean-up, and the diversity of the camp residents his efforts helped in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the country. If Mr. Presler is a bigot, he’s not very good at it.

It’s tempting to search for a broader significance to the fact that a full-throated Trump supporter and conservative activist did more in a day to help the homeless in Los Angeles than the city’s progressive elected officials manage in a year. And perhaps there is. But that’s a conversation for another time.

For now, the story is the dozens of Angelenos who spent a Saturday in withering heat quite literally shoveling excrement to help their fellow human beings. They weren’t serving meals at a soup kitchen; they were risking their health, even their lives, in one of the worst places in Los Angeles. All to help people who’s names they will never know. That’s worth dwelling upon in these hyper-divided times.

Thanks to Mr. Presler, for a few hours the best of Los Angeles, the best of California, and the best of the United States were on display. If it took a few MAGA hats to accomplish that task, then so be it. Los Angeles is a little bit better off today thanks to Mr. Presler’s efforts. Hopefully he will be back soon.

An open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom: No, California’s homeless crisis isn’t the federal government’s responsibility. It’s yours.

(LOS ANGELES, CA) September 13, 2019 – Life in Gavin Newsom’s California. Photo by Christopher LeGras.

Dear Governor Newsom:

There’s a saying that the definition of chutzpah is the man who kills his parents and then asks the court for sympathy because he’s an orphan. Today you displayed that sort of temerity in your letter on the subject of homelessness to President Trump. In what will go down as one of the most shameless examples of buck-passing in the annals of American political history you asserted, “We all agree that homelessness is a national crisis decades in the making.”

You and the rest of California’s political class have been bludgeoning this expired equine for the last year. You push the notion of homelessness as a national problem with ephemeral causes dating back decades not because it’s accurate but because it absolves your Party – which has run California for 40 years – of accountability.

Let us be crystal on a few critical points, Mr. Governor. First, no one outside the Sacramento echo chamber buys what you’re selling. While homelessness is by no means exclusively a California phenomenon, this state’s crisis is entirely self-inflicted. You should stop claiming otherwise, because you’re embarrassing yourself and the state in front of the entire nation.

Second, the rot of California’s homeless crisis is a direct result of conscious policy decisions by you and your Party. In that way the crisis is decades old, but it’s strictly of your Party’s making, a Party forever finding new ways to make life in the Golden State more expensive and less livable. You impose costs on small businesses with empty gestures like the plastic straw ban, only to turn around and hand out millions of plastic syringes to addicts. I don’t know about you, Mr. Governor, but I’ve never worried about impaling my foot on a plastic straw at the beach, nor have I ever seen piles of straws littering public parks where children are playing. And if you forced Flipper to choose, I’m guessing he’d rather contend with straws than infected needles. Meanwhile, the purported benefits of these so-called “needle exchange” programs – to the extent there are any – have been negated by official incompetence.

Which is one of myriad examples of how your policies and those of your Party created the homeless crisis. For starters, you’ve made it easy for people to destroy themselves with addiction. Thanks to legislation and litigation – not to mention relentless pressure and propaganda from a hydra-headed confederacy of “progressive” nonprofits, foundations, activists, consultants, lawyers, unionistas, and others – today in California a person can get high in public, wander drunk down the street, and relieve themselves on the side of a school building, all without fearing so much as a sideways glance from a cop. No intervention, no action, move along, nothing to see here.

As a consequence, a person can waste away in a tent on public property without anyone noticing. That’s not hyperbole: Two weeks ago on nextdoor.com, a Hollywood resident posted pictures of a place where that exact scenario played out. A man expired inside his tent in the parking lot of a City of Los Angeles senior services center, literally 25 feet from the front door. I spoke with a number of homeless people in the area, and they told me the man was there for less than a week, and that he never came out of his tent. It was 95 degrees the day I talked with those folks, meaning it would be at least 120 inside a tent. Yet according to a woman who identified herself as Aquarius, none of the city workers bothered to check on him until they noticed a smell. It wasn’t professional responsibility or human decency that prompted city employees’ attention. It was the stench of death.

HOLLYWOOD, CA) September 1, 2019 – A bouquet of 7-11 flowers marks the place in the parking lot of an L.A. City senior center where a homeless man died of dehydration in his tent. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

In fact, Aquarius told me that another homeless person had been camping in the parking lot a couple of weeks earlier. One day she brought him a bottle of water and some food. The staff at the senior center rebuked her and told her that if she continued giving handouts they would bar her from the center. “I can’t help wondering if I could have helped the man who died,” she told me, nodding at the bouquet of flowers she and a friend had placed at the site. A flash of pain showed in her blue eyes.

In short, as a direct result of your Party’s policies countless thousands of people are slowly dying. Nearly 1,000 homeless people perished in Los Angeles alone last year, a number that’s sure to increase this year. This is the situation in the richest city in the richest state in the richest country in human history.

Meanwhile, under anodyne-sounding euphemisms like “prison realignment,” your Party has released tens of thousands of felons onto the streets – including violent sex offenders – with no plan for integrating them back into society. Many of them have ended up homeless, contributing to an epidemic of criminal behavior.

Or at least, their behavior used to be criminal, but your Party took care of that, too, didn’t it? Rather than acknowledge the catastrophe of policies like AB 109 you and your Party have effectively decriminalized dozens of felonies. You unilaterally put a moratorium on the death penalty, and now you’re pushing for parole reviews for murderers serving life sentences without the possibility. The chaos on our streets is a mystery to no one but you, Mr. Governor.

Your Party has imposed other outrageous policies like “Complete Streets,” which have contributed to snarled traffic and gridlock that, again, impose the greatest costs on the state’s most vulnerable. I’m a lawyer and a journalist, Mr. Governor. I can make money sitting in my car talking on the phone. The Mexican immigrant in the pickup over in the next lane? Not so much. He’s trying to get from his house in Pacoima (the only place he can afford to live thanks to the state’s outrageously warped housing policies, another Democrat gift) to his landscaping gig in Brentwood. The 90 minutes he’s on the road is nothing but wasted time and extra expenses. At some point those added burdens could break him.

And that’s the central point you and your Party have missed: Every traffic jam costs you support. Every smashed window, every night of disturbed sleep, every assault, every tax increase, every trash pile, every wildfire, and every petty indignity is another Californian walking away from you and your Party. Every new homeless encampment, our very own Newsomvilles, weakens you and your Party. Eventually the people will revolt. If the election of Donald Trump has taught us anything it’s that conventional political wisdom is no longer a reliable indicator of outcomes, much less the public’s attitudes.

(VAN NUYS, CA) July 25, 2019 – A Newsomville encampment in Balboa Creek State Park. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

If I were you, that idea would keep me awake at night. We know you don’t lose sleep over the issues affecting actual Californians – that much has been clear since your feckless turn as San Francisco mayor (Brittanie Mountz, Mr. Governor, really?). When you were a supervisor you saw a mayor in the mirror, when you were mayor you saw a governor, and now that you’re governor you see – God help us – a President. If I were you I’d be staring at the ceiling at 3a.m. terrified that tonight will be, excuse the pun, the last straw. That tonight will be the night reality catches up with you and your Party. That tonight will be the hundred thousandth smash and grab, and that will be the tipping point. Or worse, that tonight will see an atrocity even worse than the ones you and your Party already have unleashed.

Last week I wrote that California is a failed state. I was not being hyperbolic – after a half century of virtual one-party rule nearly every public institution is collapsing from within, from our schools to our streets to our courts and our jails. Atop it all sit you and your Party, surveying the devastation and then begging help from a President you openly loathe.

Which raises the final critical question: Even if the federal government were to open its till and send you the billions you request, why should anyone in California – much less the rest of the country – have a scintilla of confidence that you and your Party will spend the money effectively, much less wisely? Looking at the Democrats’ handiwork in the state – failed school systems, mass poverty, rampant crime, crumbling infrastructure, public corruption, out-of-control living costs, illegal immigration, the destruction of the middle class, crushing taxes and regulations, bloated bureaucracies – how can you expect us to believe that you’ll solve a homeless crisis your Party created? When we look at the nearly $2 trillion in debt and public liabilities for which you and your Party have us on the hook, why should we have any faith in your policy discipline? In short, how can we possibly believe that after nearly half a century California Democrats will finally get it right on this one?

The answer, of course, is that we don’t. Which is why a reckoning is coming to Queen Califia’s land, Mr. Governor. There are already innumerable examples of citizens taking what’s left of the law into their own hands. Trust me when I tell you that vigilante justice is already here, and it’s entirely understandable and rational under the circumstances. It’s only going to accelerate as more and more people lose faith in you and the government you oversee.

You can only push people so far – every tin pot dictator in history eventually learns that lesson. You will, too. Only it will be too late for your political career. You’ve already lost the center, the right was never in play, and now you’re even losing the left. The only question is how it will end: Recall, electoral defeat, legal action. Perhaps a full-on revolution.

Meanwhile, the rest of us can only pray it won’t be too late to rescue what’s left of our once beautiful state. Californians deserve so much better.

Very truly yours,

Christopher D. LeGras