Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

DeSaulnier introduces legislative package to support and preserve local journalism

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

But doesn’t consult with four local media publishers whose publications and websites serve his district; bill allows media companies to become non-profits

12/6/21 UPDATE: Congressman to meet with four local publishers in January to discuss his legislation

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), along with his colleagues Congressman Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), and Congressman David Cicilline (RI-01) introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at supporting and protecting local journalism, and honoring its role in bolstering our democracy, holding government accountable, and informing the electorate. The Saving Local News Act (H.R. 6068) would make it easier for newspapers to become non-profits, allowing them the flexibility to focus less on maximizing profits and more on producing quality content. The local news resolution (H.Res. 821) recognizes the importance of local media outlets to society and expresses the urgent need for Congress to help stop the decline of local media outlets.

Both the bill and resolution were introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 23 and referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“Local journalism has been the bedrock of American democracy for centuries. I have seen firsthand how journalists for local newspapers have kept our community informed, educated voters, and held power to account,” said DeSaulnier. “As local newspapers are being bought up and taken over by large corporations, it is incumbent on Congress to act to protect this public good. My legislation would do just that and ensure newspapers in every community can continue to provide high-quality local coverage that millions of Americans rely on and deserve.”

H.R. 6068 is entitled the Saving Local News Act, and its purpose is “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include publication of written news articles as a tax-exempt purpose for organizations, and for other purposes.” However, as of 12/03/2021 the text has not been published on Congress.gov. But DeSaulnier’s staff provided a copy: BILL – Saving Local News Act – 21.11.23

H.Res.821 reads:

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

November 23, 2021

Mr. DeSaulnier (for himself, Mr. Raskin, Mr. Cicilline, and Mr. Perlmutter) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Reform

RESOLUTION

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the importance of local print and digital journalism to the continued welfare, transparency, and prosperity of government at every level and the continuation and freedom of the United States as it is known today.

Whereas local print and digital journalism is disappearing at a record rate;

Whereas trust in journalists is at an all-time low nationally, while many local reporters retain the good will and trust of their communities;

Whereas subscriptions to local news have decreased steadily since the spread of the internet;

Whereas nonjournalistic digital media has been falsely labeled and marketed as news;

Whereas corporations are buying local news outlets and cutting budgets and staff, leading to less local coverage;

Whereas local print and digital journalism are essential to promoting good governance at the local and State level; and

Whereas a lack of local news will allow for greater local and statewide political corruption: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that—

(1) it is in the best interests of Federal, State, and local governments to make all possible efforts to ensure the continuation of robust local digital and print news sources; and

(2) Congress should work with news outlets and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that local digital and print news continues to operate in a robust manner for years to come.”

Question for DeSaulnier’s Staff, Congressman Responds

DeSaulnier’s staff was asked if he had consulted with any local media publishers in his district.

The congressman responded, “I’ve been doing this work since I got here seven years ago. I’ve had dozens and dozens of conversations on this, including with people in the Bay Area and in Contra Costa. If you have ideas, as always, I’d be happy to talk with you.”

Four Local Publishers Not Consulted

However, four local publishers, whose online and/or print publications cover portions or all of DeSaulnier’s district, including Greg Robinson of The Press Newspapers which covers Antioch, Clayton and Concord Pioneer publisher Tamara Steiner, eastcountytoday.net publisher Mike Burkholder and the publisher of the Contra Costa Herald and Antioch Herald, Allen Payton each said they were not contacted by the congressman nor anyone on his staff about the legislation. When asked, Steiner responded, “No. I have a call in to his office.” Burkholder responded, “Nope nothing. Didn’t hear from DeSaulnier. It’s a shame they’re focused on the media conglomerates and not on the little guys.” Robinson responded, “I was not. I don’t understand what he is proposing to do.”

More Questions for DeSaulnier

Additional questions were sent to the congressman via email on Thursday, asking with which local publishers he had communicated about his legislation and if a media company becomes a non-profit what impact it would have on their ability to publish their own editorials as well as endorse or oppose candidates and ballot measures. A copy of the legislation was also requested. But no response was received and attempts to reach him or his staff, on Friday, were unsuccessful prior to publication time.

12/6/21 UPDATE: In an email to all four local publishers on Monday, Dec. 6, the congressman invited them to a Zoom meeting in January to discuss his bills and offer their input.

“As you know, saving local news has been an area of interest of mine for many years. I have been publicly discussing my thoughts and ideas, including at town halls. Through that process, I have been happy to hear and incorporate input from many organizations on the legislation over the years,” DeSaulnier wrote. “In that spirit, I’d like to invite you to meet with me on Wednesday, January 5th at 11:00 am PT for a one hour conversation via Zoom to discuss these bills and your thoughts on them.

Co-Sponsors, Media Organizations Support Bill

The co-sponsors of the legislation expressed their support.

“Local and accurate sources of news are becoming more and more important for our community and our country. I believe Congress has a role to play to ensure legitimate media outlets are able to better adapt to the changing media landscape and continue to inform Americans in every community,” Perlmutter said.

“An informed American public is essential to strong democracy,” said Raskin. “We cannot allow worldwide propaganda and conspiracy theories to replace hard local news based on local reportage. I’m proud to join Rep. DeSaulnier in introducing this important legislation that will give local news the flexibility it needs to thrive in a dangerously toxic media environment.”

“Over the past 15 years, one in five newspapers have closed, and the number of journalists working for newspapers has been slashed in half. We now live in a country in which at least 200 counties have no local newspapers at all,” said Cicilline. “This crisis in American journalism has led to the crises we are seeing today in our democracy and civic life. We cannot let this trend continue because if it does, we risk permanently compromising the news organizations that are essential to our communities, holding the government and powerful corporations accountable, and sustaining our democracy. I’m proud to support this resolution and the Saving Local News Act and thank Congressman DeSaulnier for his leadership and partnership in this work.”

DeSaulnier’s bill and resolution are also supported by a variety of media organizations, including News Media Alliance, National Newspaper Association, News Leaders Association, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, California News Publishers Association, Free Press Action, Faculty of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, Save Journalism Project, PEN America, Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute, and NewsGuild-CWA.

“We commend Congressman DeSaulnier for introducing this important piece of legislation that recognizes the importance of nonprofit journalism to the American society. At a time when news deserts are a growing concern, we must ensure that we support all newsrooms in their efforts to provide high-quality journalism to their local communities,” said David Chavern, President and CEO, News Media Alliance. “This journalism bill that would allow non-profit newsrooms to treat advertising revenue as nontaxable income could be helpful to a number of publishers.”

“Community newspapers are exploring many new models for sustainability. Our newsrooms realize that without us, whole communities will lose their center of gravity. A nonprofit model is one that can work in some communities, but just establishing this status isn’t enough to keep the doors open and journalists at work,” said Brett Wesner, Chair, National Newspaper Association and Publisher, Wesner Publications, Cordell, OK. “The need for revenue from a variety of sources, including local advertisers, remains acute. NNA supports the Saving Local News Act and thanks Congressman DeSaulnier for his work on behalf of local communities.”

“Honest, truthful reporting is essential to informing our democracy at all levels. Without it, we won’t remain a nation of the people, by the people, for the people. Bills that help sustain local reporting that informs people about what their government representatives are up to, will help keep the citizens in charge of our country,” said George Stanley, President of the News Leaders Association.

“News organizations are looking at multiple ways to fund their organizations while continuing to deliver local journalism that is fundamental to a thriving Democracy. If news organizations want to pursue the nonprofit business model; it should be as accessible for established organizations as it is for news startups. Our members are known and trusted in the communities they serve and removing the hurdles to find philanthropic support would allow newsrooms to focus on serving their communities,” said Brandi Rivera, Publisher, Santa Barbara Independent and Board Member, Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

“Community newspapers are woven into the fabric of American society and provide accurate and trusted information that improves the lives of individuals in the communities they serve. It is no secret that newspapers face an increasing number of existential threats from online competitors which have left them with a decreasing number of revenue opportunities,” said Jim Ewert, General Counsel, California News Publishers Association. “This measure would provide news organizations with the means to better rise to these challenges and continue to play a vital role in their communities by holding the feet of the powerful to the fire and giving voice to the powerless.”

“Free Press Action supports this important legislation and applauds Congressman DeSaulnier for recognizing the importance of building, supporting and sustaining local nonprofit news operations,” said Craig Aaron, President and co-CEO of Free Press Action. “In too many places, corporate media have shrunk newsrooms or abandoned communities entirely. Nonprofit news has emerged as the future of local journalism, and it’s our best hope for keeping reporters on the beat focused on the needs of local communities, serving communities of color, and reaching so many people who have never been well served by the media. This bill will remove obstacles to nonprofit journalism, help launch more of these outlets, encourage more existing outlets to go nonprofit, and create more of the kind of high-quality journalism we need to inform our communities and keep our democracy thriving.”

“The hollowing-out and disappearance of local news organizations imperils journalism, communities and our democracy,” said Professor Jonathan Kaufman, Director of the Northeastern University School of Journalism. “These measures provide a financial lifeline and tools for the next generation of journalists to pursue new models and innovation that bring more local news to communities.”

“The health of the news industry is so precarious, all efforts to strengthen an industry so instrumental to democracy are well received. Thanks to Rep. DeSaulnier for stepping up,” said Jody Brannon, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty at the Open Markets Institute.

“The U.S. tax code needs this important update to make it easier for nonprofit news organizations to grow across our country. We’ve lost tens of thousands of local journalists over the last decade. That’s meant fewer journalists covering local government meetings, local business and even high school sports,” said Jon Schleuss, President of NewsGuild-CWA. “Journalists are essential to holding power to account, watching over our democracy and providing a voice to the voiceless. We applaud Rep. DeSaulnier’s support of journalism. Our country was founded under the principle that a free press was the best way to make sure we have a robust democracy by having an informed electorate. We all have to fight now to save local news.”

“The newspaper business model is broken,” said the Save Journalism Project. “At a time when local journalism has never been more essential, journalists are losing their jobs across the country, leaving important stories untold. Compelling, original journalism does continue to drive significant advertising revenue—just not for newspapers. Big Tech giants, like Google and Facebook, have used their monopoly power to capture huge swaths of the digital advertising market, making it nearly impossible for many papers to chart a path forward in the digital age. This has allowed hedge fund vulture capitalists to scoop up scores of newspapers across the country—all of whom have been reduced to shadows of their former glory by a short-sighted cut, cut, cut approach. We welcome and applaud efforts to help news outlets continue to cover of the communities they serve. This legislation will create a path that communities can use to save their local papers. Local news is a key piece of American democracy, and while addressing the underlying problems Big Tech has created for journalists is complex, we have to do everything we can to allow for news to thrive.”

“PEN America applauds the introduction of the Saving Local News Act – and the accompanying resolution on the importance of local news – as a welcome and needed step to support America’s journalism ecosystem,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, Washington director of PEN America. “By making it easier for news organizations to become nonprofits, Congressman DeSaulnier’s legislation will open up a sustainable financial pathway for quality local journalism, recognizing its value as a public good. Enacting this bill will strengthen a fundamental pillar of our democracy, encouraging diverse reporting, civic engagement, and access to essential community information.”

Since 2017, estimated daily newspaper circulation fell 11 percent from the previous year (Pew Research Center). Congressman DeSaulnier established a working group of dedicated Members of Congress from areas affected by a drought of high-quality journalism. Together they have been working to highlight this crisis and bring attention to the need to promote local journalism, including by holding a Special Order on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and introducing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (H.R. 1735), the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021, a bill to create a temporary safe harbor from anti-trust laws to allow news organizations to join together and negotiate with dominant online platforms to get a fair share of advertising profits.

Please check back later for any updates.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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House passes Biden’s $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act spending bill, see what’s in it

Sunday, November 21st, 2021

Source: U.S. House of Representatives.

All five Contra Costa Congressmen vote in favor; DeSaulnier praises passage calling it historic investment in American families; likely to be changed in the Senate, where support of all 50 Democrats is needed; CBO says it will increase deficit by almost $800 billion over next five years

By Allen Payton

The U.S. House of Representatives passed President Biden’s $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376, also known as the budget reconciliation package, on Friday, on a mainly partisan vote of 220-213 with all Republican members and only one Democrat voting no. It now moves on to the Senate.

According to Roll Call, “Two key holdouts —West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — have yet to offer a public endorsement of the package. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, (D-N.Y.), set a Christmas deadline for final passage.”

The 2,702-page bill passed following a record-breaking, 8 1/2-hour filibuster speech by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R-Bakersfield). He said, “it’s the most irresponsible spending bill in the history of America.”

According to the Summary of Cost Estimate by the Congressional Budget Office the legislation will increase the deficit by almost $800 billion through Fiscal Year 2026. However, “The CBO estimates that enacting this legislation would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion over the 2022-2031 period, not counting any additional revenue that may be generated by additional funding for tax enforcement.”

However, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the legislation could result in a net deficit increase of $2.2 to $2.7 trillion if temporary provisions are made permanent without offsets.

DeSaulnier’s Statement on Passage

On Friday, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D, CA-11), who  represents portions of Antioch, issued the following statement upon passage of the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 220-to-213.

“Today’s passage of the Build Back Better Act is a victory for families across the country and in Contra Costa. Through its historic investments in early, primary, and secondary education and childcare, we are finally ensuring that all children have the opportunity to thrive both in and out of the classroom, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn. From free preschool for three- and four-year-olds to lowering the cost of high-quality childcare, this bill would give over 90% of parents with young children the opportunity to reenter the workforce knowing their children are safe, cared for, and learning.

By finally calling on the wealthiest Americans and big corporations to pay their fair share, every provision in this bill is paid for and we are making a statement that our children are our priority. I urge the Senate to pass the Build Back Better Act without delay to deliver this much needed relief to families as quickly as possible. American families are counting on it.”

In addition, Build Back Better would:

  • Provide monthly payments of $300 per child under 6 and $250 per child ages 6 to 17 for more than 35 million families under the Child Tax Credit;
  • Devote the necessary resources to combat the climate crisis through expanded tax credits for clean energy and programs to drive down pollution;
  • Lower the cost of prescription drugs and expanding Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act;
  • Bring down costs of long-term care and supporting care workers;
  • Expand opportunities for workforce development programs; and
  • Create affordable housing.

Unpopular Provisions in Bill

According to polling, only 39% of battleground voters support “Build Back Better” while 46% oppose it.

Some of the most unpopular items in the bill include:

  • A natural gas tax that will increase home heating costs, electricity rates, and raise gas prices.
  • An eighty-thousand-dollar tax break to wealthy homeowners in New York, New Jersey, and California.
  • A $3,600 a year child tax credit to illegal immigrants for every child they bring into America or give birth to after arriving.
  • 87,000 new IRS agents to increase audits of taxpayers that will look through the bank accounts of every American earning or spending more than $600 per year to make sure they are paying enough taxes, disproportionally affecting small business owners.

What’s In the Bill

According to the National Review, the legislation includes:

$555 billion in subsidies to move America from one source of energy to another, including up to $12,500 per new electric car purchase;

$220 billion for clean energy & climate resilience;

$190 billion to establish or expand clean energy & electric tax credits;

$60 billion to establish or expand clean fuel & vehicle tax credits;

$75 billion to establish or expand other climate-related tax benefits; and

$10 billion to enact infrastructure & related tax breaks;

$400 billion for universal pre-school and day care, including $18 billion in the first three years to create universal pre-kindergarten. Then, the program would be funded by a mixture of federal and state funds;

$300 billion for restoration of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction eliminated in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. According to CNBC the bill, “raises the cap on the state and local tax deduction from $10,000 to $80,00 in 2021, which will benefit the richest households in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.”

$200 billion to extend and expand both the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, for four weeks of paid parental, sick or caregiving leave;

$90 billion for what the White House describes as “Equity and Other Investments”;

$38 billion in new energy taxes;

$9 billion to higher-learning institutions for “qualified environmental justice programs”;

$7 billion for service groups for projects related to “climate resilience and mitigation”;

$3.5 billion for ports to purchase “zero-emission” equipment;

$3 billion to fund pandemic preparedness;

$3 billion for better records and hospitals for veterans;

$3 billion in “climate justice block grants” that go into projects in disadvantaged communities. The criterion for grants is based on the race of the projects’ sponsors;

$450 million for nontraditional climate apprenticeship programs;

$350 million to “rebuild” the National Labor Relations Board and $321 million to “rebuild” the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;

$275 million to upgrade the health-care system in Hawaii which also gets $5 million to save endangered plants;

$200 million to preserve Native American languages;

$150–$250 million (estimated) as tax credits to “local” news organizations, excluding government entities, except NPR and PBS. Note: “Local” is broadly defined, and appears to include almost all news organizations, including the New York Times and Washington Post. The bill also contains a rich new deduction for trial lawyers;

$124 million to combat substance abuse;

$85 million for studying the risks of climate change for “pregnant, lactating or post-partum individuals”;

$50 million to train and certify more doulas; and

$5 million to save desert fish.

According to CNBC, “To pay for the bill, House Dems are proposing increasing some taxes on businesses and the wealthiest Americans. It includes a 5% surtax on adjusted gross income (AGI) over $10 million for individuals and an additional 3% on AGI over $25 million.”

See more details on the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget website.

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Federal Infrastructure bill brings major investment to California Rail Network

Friday, November 19th, 2021

Funding package supports several capital projects for ACE Rail and Amtrak San Joaquins which serves Antioch station; provides up to $102 billion in total spending for passenger railroad infrastructure including $28.5 billion for Amtrak

By Harlo Pippenger, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission and San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority are applauding the passage of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 and highlighting the bill’s series of investments in California rail projects.

The transportation reauthorization package passed out of the House on November 5th and President Biden signed the measure this past Monday. It provides up to $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending, including nearly $550 billion in new spending to address the nation’s aging transportation networks. Specifically, the bill provides up to $102 billion in total spending for passenger railroad infrastructure.

“This bill brings meaningful investments to our rail system in the Central Valley and Northern California,” said Stacey Mortenson, Executive Director of both the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC), which runs Altamont Corridor Express (ACE Rail), and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA), which runs Amtrak San Joaquins. “We have capital projects underway throughout our service territories, and this new federal funding package comes at the right time to support route improvements, station buildout, and equipment modernization.”

ACE Rail, a commuter service that runs between the Bay Area and Stockton, and Amtrak San Joaquins, an intercity service that runs through the Central Valley and connects to the Bay Area, will benefit from several funding streams in the legislation:

  • The infrastructure package includes a 43% increase to Federal Transit Administration formula funds, which directly support ACE’s capital program on a yearly basis.
  • The legislation provides up to $28.5 billion for Amtrak’s National Network – these funds will support routes like the San Joaquinsand help the system acquire modern rolling stock, enhance station accessibility and amenities, and address backlogged capital projects.
  • The package provides up to $10 billion for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grants, which is a competitive grant program. The funding will expand eligibilities for the CRISI grants to allow state-supported routes like the San Joaquinsto acquire and develop clean energy locomotives.
  • The IIJA creates a new railroad grade-crossing elimination program – with up to $5.5 billion in funding – to improve railroad safety across the nation and our state. In FY 2020, California experienced the second most highway-rail grade crossing incidents in the nation.

“These investments will not only transform our transportation system, but will also help transform our communities,” said Christina Fugazi, SJRRC Chair. “It is essential that local, state and federal governments make it a priority to enhance and modernize our rail networks. Improving access and increasing rail service are key strategies for reducing congestion, supporting environmental and climate change goals, and strengthening our economy.”

“California is unique in how it manages passenger rail systems,” said Patrick Hume, SJJPA Chair.“So, we appreciate how this funding package will allow our state-supported San Joaquins route service to compete for new grant dollars, while also positioning us to work together with the Federal Railroad Administration and CalSTA to use this funding to modernize equipment and pursue key capital projects.”

On a local and regional level, advocacy efforts are also accelerating on behalf of a series of projects aimed at expanding passenger rail service throughout the “megaregion.”  The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG), and Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) have come together in a Working Group and jointly identified the “MegaRegion Dozen,” which are a variety of multi-modal transportation projects that would benefit the connected Northern California and Central Valley region. The MegaRegion Dozen plan calls for more than $400 million in additional funding priorities for Amtrak San Joaquins and ACE Rail; it will help organize how the different agencies and local governments pursue different grant or funding opportunities.

“We see a lot of momentum right now in support of a strong, reliable, accessible passenger rail network in California,” Fugazi added. “We appreciate the dedication of Senator Padilla, Senator Feinstein, and our congressional representatives from Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley who helped push through the IIJA legislation that brings tangible benefits for our programs, and we are ready to put the new funds to good use immediately.”

President Biden also signed an Executive Order for implementing the bill on Monday, in which he wrote, “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a once-in-a-generation investment in our Nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness. It will help rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails; expand access to clean drinking water; work to ensure access to high-speed Internet throughout the Nation; tackle the climate crisis; advance environmental justice; and invest in communities that have too often been left behind. It will accomplish all of this while driving the creation of good-paying union jobs and growing the economy sustainably and equitably for decades to come.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Four McNerney bills included in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Rep. Jerry McNerney

Signed by Biden on Monday

Washington, DC – In response to President Joe Biden signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) issued the following statement on Monday, Nov. 15:

“Today, I had the privilege of joining President Biden as he signed into law the largest federal infrastructure investment in nearly a century. Americans called on us for action, and we answered ‘yes’ to rebuilding our communities, ‘yes’ to good union wages, ‘yes’ to expanding opportunity, and ‘yes’ to doing it all while tackling the climate crisis.

“Building back better is no longer just a promise, but a reality that Americans will see throughout their communities and across our nation. I am extremely proud that four bills I authored were encompassed in this historic law. As part of the law’s $65 billion broadband investment, the Digital Equity Act will provide $2.75 billion to help close gaps in broadband adoption and increase digital literacy. Connectivity and digital skills are essential for opening gateways to economic opportunity, and this funding is crucial for lifting up communities across the country – including many in my district. Additionally, the Cyber Sense Act and the Enhancing Grid Security Through Public-Private Partnerships Act will help bolster the cybersecurity of our electric utilities to better secure our grid as we confront a growing number of cyber threats. Finally, the Grid Hardening Act will dedicate $3 billion to modernize the electric grid, including upgrades to increase resiliency against wildfires.”

“Through investments such as the $55 billion allotted to update our drinking water infrastructure and $17 billion marked for ports and waterway enhancements, we will create an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the next 10 years. Our roads and bridges will be repaired and rebuilt with an emphasis on climate change mitigation, and our commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions will be honored with the largest investment in public transit in our nation’s history.”

Rep. Jerry McNerney represents California’s 9th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Represents that includes portions of Contra Costa – including parts of Antioch, San Joaquin and Sacramento Counties. For more information on the Congressman’s work, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @RepMcNerney.

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Antioch councilwomen claim tenants are being harassed, face eviction, want new protection ordinances

Monday, October 18th, 2021

Antioch District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker speaks as Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson (far right) and others, including representatives of Contra Costa County’s chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment listen at the press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. Photo from her official Facebook page.

Hold press conference to ask Mayor Thorpe to place tenant anti-harassment and just cause for eviction policies on next meeting agenda; fail to invite local media; council members and mayor refuse to answer questions about the proposals

By Allen Payton

On Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson and District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker held a press conference to highlight claims of Antioch renters getting harassed by their landlords and facing eviction, and call on Mayor Lamar Thorpe to place both an anti-harassment and a just cause for eviction ordinances on the next council meeting agenda. The councilwomen did not invite local media to attend.

A KTVU FOX2 news article from the press conference reports, “they were joined by members of Contra Costa County’s chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which has campaigned for similar tenant anti-harassment ordinances in other cities.” A similar anti-harassment ordinance was adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in June. According to the ordinance, “violation of the ordinance can be either a criminal misdemeanor (up to 6 months in jail or a $1,000 fine for each offense), or a civil violation (damages, rent refunds for reduction in housing services, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, fine of up to $10,000 per violation, or tenant relocation)”.

Tenant protections against eviction, rent increases and late fees ended in Contra Costa County on Sept. 30. The Board of Supervisors on a 2-3 vote chose not to extend the protections. (See related article)

The state’s protections also ended Sept. 30.

KTVU also reported Thorpe said, “I personally have concerns with Antioch tenants being harassed, especially during the pandemic, so conceptually, I agree with these protections.”

On her official Facebook page, on Oct. 12, Torres-Walker posted the following statement about the effort with photos from the press conference, including three people who spoke, besides the two councilwomen.

“Antioch had the highest rate of evictions out of any Bay Area city during the pandemic, and researchers are predicting it is likely to be a hotspot for evictions after the statewide eviction moratorium lifts. Sadly the highest concentration of evictions in Antioch has been in District 1.

In September I requested that an anti-displacement policy be brought to the council for immediate action as Statewide and County-wide moratoriums were coming to an end and renters facing eviction were calling on us as city leaders to do something. I was honored to have the support of mayor pro tem Monica Wilson who back up that request last month stating that she as well wanted to see policies around anti-landlord harassment and just cause evictions to be brought to the council.

In July I met with over 20 residents in the River Town [sic] area who were facing eviction and devastated about their family’s future I met with even more residents in the Sycamore community who had the same concerns that their families would end up on the streets.

The government assistance that was promised to make renters and landlords whole has been slow to reach the ground, slow to meet the need, and moratoriums have only been a band-aid for a larger issue around housing access and affordability in the region.

Proposed policies:

Anti-Harassment Ordinance

An anti-harassment ordinance defines certain bad-faith landlord behaviors as unlawful harassment. Tenants can then enforce their rights against landlords who engage in these behaviors. Harassment can include lack of repairs, a landlord not taking care while doing construction or other repairs, discriminatory behavior like sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or disability discrimination, a landlord threatening to report tenants to immigration authorities, a landlord threatening violence, and other behaviors designed to make tenants’ lives more difficult or cause them to leave their homes. If a tenant wins in court, their landlord will pay damages and their attorneys’ fees.

Harassment of tenants is a way for some landlords to circumvent other legal tenant protections. When some landlords can’t legally evict a tenant to raise the rent, they will instead harass the tenant until they have no choice but to leave their home. This makes existing tenant protections less effective.

An anti-harassment ordinance removes the financial incentive for harassment by adding penalties for bad actor landlords. Landlords who don’t harass tenants don’t need to worry about the anti-harassment ordinance because they won’t need to change their behavior to comply with it. Instead, an anti-harassment ordinance promotes neighborhood stability and safe and healthy housing.

Just Cause Supplements

Tenants also need effective eviction protections to remain in their homes. The statewide just cause for eviction law, AB 1482, contains several eviction loopholes that allow landlords to evict tenants for ‘no-fault’ reasons and then re-rent the unit at a higher rent once the tenants have been forced out. To prevent unscrupulous actors from using these ‘building clearing’ loopholes, a city can pass a “just cause” supplement.

‘No fault’ evictions can happen to tenants who are paying their rent and complying with their lease. ‘Substantial renovation’ and ‘removal from the rental market’ are examples of two ‘no-fault’ types of evictions that, unless regulated, can result in tenant displacement.

Under the substantial renovation loophole, a landlord can evict a tenant under state law to remodel their unit, and the tenant has no right of return. In contrast, under a local just cause supplement, a tenant may only be required to temporarily move out, once the landlord has secured all necessary building permits, and can return at the same rent amount once the repairs are made.

Similarly, under the ‘withdrawal’ loophole, state law allows a landlord to evict a tenant to remove a property from the rental market for an unspecified amount of time. But under a local just cause ordinance designed to prevent unfair evictions, the removal must be long-term (ten years), give the tenant additional notice, and allow the tenant to return at the same rent if the property is re-rented.

These ‘building clearing’ loopholes, when used by unscrupulous actors, can put entire neighborhoods at risk. However, the loopholes can be easily closed under an ordinance to stop pretextual evictions and prevent displacement.”

Questions for Councilwomen, Mayor

Questions were sent to the councilwomen and mayor early Friday morning asking, what landlords are harassing tenants? In apartments or single-family residences? How many and which tenants were or are being harassed? What do they mean by harassment? Requiring they pay their rent or face eviction? Or was their rent raised or late fees assessed illegally up until Sept 30 when the county protections for tenants ended? Did any of you, including Mayor Thorpe, speak with any of the landlords to get their side of the story? Was it anything to do with COVID that the tenants couldn’t pay their rent or some other reason the tenants were facing eviction?

In response to Torres-Walker’s Facebook post more questions were asked, including, what can the City of Antioch actually do to enforce such an ordinance? Can a general law city, like Antioch, adopt and enforce a just cause evictions ordinance (like Los Angeles, which is a charter city)? Do you have a sample of one you can provide? Would the city sue the landlord or help the tenant sue their landlord? Can the city fine the property owner?”

In addition, Saturday night, questions were posted below the photos on Torres-Walker’s Facebook post asking who are the other that spoke during the press conference and appear in the photos and what did they say.

Thorpe responded Friday morning, but only with “Please remove me from this discussion. This press conference was put together by these two Council members not me. They have requested these items come before council so let’s be cognizant of the Brown Act.”

The same questions were then immediately resent to just the two councilwomen, and a separate email was sent to the mayor.

The questions were resent, again early Sunday morning, Oct. 17 to the councilwomen and mayor, in two separate emails. As of Sunday night, none of the three had responded to the questions from the Herald.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.

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Governor signs Senator Glazer’s key local proposals

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Small wineries can open two off-site tasting rooms     

Local governments gain new tools for overseeing short-term rentals

Thousands of acres of East Bay wilderness to be preserved

By Steven Harmon, Policy Analyst/Communications, Office of Sen. Steve Glazer

State Senator Steve Glazer. (D-7-Orinda)

Governor Gavin Newsom has signed three long-standing proposals advanced by Senator Steve Glazer, (D-7-Orinda), that will have a direct impact on residents of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

“It’s very gratifying to see important legislative priorities for my district signed into law,” Senator Glazer said. “These are bills and proposals that I’ve been working on with partners, in some cases, for years. I’m thankful to Governor Newsom for ushering them across the finish line with his signature, a nice reward for all the hard work put in by key allies and friends.”

The three proposals that Gov. Newsom signed were:

Winegrowers: Offsite Tasting Rooms (SB 19)

SB 19 will allow licensed winegrowers or brandy manufacturers to operate two off-site tasting rooms under their winegrower licenses. This bill will particularly help small and family-owned wineries to operate as California continues to recover from the Pandemic.

Approximately 55 wineries are located in Senator Glazer’s district, including in Livermore, Oakley, Brentwood, Byron and Moraga.

“Small and family-owned wineries have struggled the most among wineries, because they rely heavily on visitors and direct sales,” said Senator Glazer. “With tourism taking a terrible hit from the pandemic and consequences of the wildfires, I’m glad that Governor Newsom recognized that these wineries are in need of that additional outlet to provide tastings and sales to their customers.”

Prior to the current tasting room closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many wineries viewed additional off-site tasting rooms as a significant benefit. This was even more pressing for many small wineries looking to expand business opportunities, especially those wineries that produce their wine in an agreement to use the facility and equipment of a second (usually larger) winery.

Steven Kent Mirassou, owner and winemaker of Steven Kent winery, part of the Livermore Valley Wine Country Association, said SB 19 will make a difference to the industry, but also to wine enthusiasts.

“The ability to take care of people – which is the true center of hospitality and wine – is important at all times,” Kent Mirassou said. “It is especially crucial during the pandemic when we are all striving to maintain connections with our larger circle of friends and patrons, that small wineries remain open and thriving. I am so appreciative of the hard work and perseverance that Senator Glazer and his staff have shown in helping us continue to add joy and richness to peoples’ lives.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, tasting rooms have been required to either close or significantly alter their operations for tastings, but can continue to operate sales for curbside pickup or delivery. Tourism has become almost nonexistent and is not expected to recover for several years. As a result, the impact from COVID-19 to the wine industry is estimated to be $5.9 billon, with a $3 billion loss in tasting room sales.

In addition, the 2020 wildfires had a substantial impact on the wine industry. According to the Wine Institute, the estimate of damage from 2020 wildfires amounts to $3.7 billion, including a loss of $41 million in tasting room sales and $57.6 million in lost winery structures.

Allows Increased Fines on Short Term Rental Violations – to Rein in House Parties (SB 60)

Under SB 60, cities and counties can now impose increased penalties on short-term rental hosts who violate local property rental laws – an attempt to rein in house parties, sometimes violent, that have been occurring at short term rentals because of lax oversight of these properties. SB 60, which took effect immediately, authorizes localities to impose fines up to $5,000 for a violation of a short-term ordinance.

“These large gatherings have made some short-term rental properties the sites of underage drinking, brawls, noise complaints, and violence,” Senator Glazer said. “I’m grateful to Governor Newsom for signing this bill so that local governments have the tools to ensure the safety of those who want to continue to use short-term rentals, and of our residents who live nearby these properties.”

The legislation was sparked by a spate of violence at short-term rental properties, most notably a mass shooting in Orinda, where five people were killed. Other abuses at short-term rentals occurred in Los Angeles and other locales in Northern California, including a party at a Sunnyvale rental where a teenager was shot and killed in August after violence erupted at the gathering. (See related articles, here, here, here and here)

Smaller fines were proving to be ineffective in deterring violations. Hosts were able to charge so much rent for big houses that the fines, if they occurred, were just seen as a cost of doing business.

“Violence and destructive behavior at short term rentals has become a true public safety issue in cities throughout California, as residents of Orinda know all too well,” Orinda Mayor Amy Worth said. “I am thankful that mayors like me will now have the ability to impose fines at a level high enough to get the attention of property owners who operate short term rentals to ensure the safety of our residents. Senator Glazer has been a true champion of this issue, and we are thankful for his hard work on making this California law.”

The use of short-term rentals has skyrocketed by 105 percent over just the past three years, according to vacation rental data compiled by AirDNA. Though short-term rentals offer a way to improve tourism and earn owners some extra money, their recent proliferation has allowed bad actors to use the platform to advertise and secure homes for large parties, oftentimes in violation of local ordinances.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to an increase in people using short-term rentals to evade public health restrictions on large public gatherings. Noise complaints as a result of parties have tripled since the start of the pandemic, according to Host Compliance, which tracks legal compliance among short-term rentals for 350 cities and counties in the U.S.

In the last half of 2019, 42 people were shot inside or just outside a short-term rental property nationwide and 17 people died.

East Bay Regional Park District 2013 Master Plan Map designating Tesla site (yellow area) as a potential regional preserve. Source: EBRPD

Tesla Land Preservation (Budget)

Thousands of acres of East Bay wilderness threatened by the expansion of an off-highway vehicle park will instead be preserved. (See related article)

The legislation, approved in the Governor’s recent budget bills and took effect immediately, ends plans to expand the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area into the 3,100-acre Tesla parcel in the southeast corner of Alameda County, which scientists have described as a biologically unique habitat and Native Americans have long considered to be a sensitive historical site.

That land will now become a new state park closed to motorized recreation. The state will reimburse the Off-Highway Vehicle fund for the purchase price of the land, its appreciation in value, and the money spent planning the expansion, which was opposed from the start 20 years ago by nearby residents and public agencies. That money will go toward the purchase and development of an off-road park at another location.

“Our community and region will preserve this natural and cultural treasure, leaving it pristine for future generations to enjoy,” Senator Glazer said. “Meanwhile, off-road enthusiasts will be able to keep their current park and receive funding to develop another park on land that’s more suitable to that kind of recreation. I appreciate the hard work that so many key individuals played in moving this critical environmental and cultural issue to the Governor’s desk, and, of course, for the Governor to work with all the players to sign this important agreement.”

Senator Glazer partnered with Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, the Sierra Club, Friends of Tesla Park and other environmental organizations and individuals in getting the final approval from the governor’s office. Earlier, former Assembly member Catharine Baker worked with Senator Glazer on the same issue.

Nancy Rodrigue, a leading member of the Friends of Tesla Park steering committee and Livermore resident, said she was proud that years of hard work and persistence paid off.

“A very special thank you goes to Senator Glazer and Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan for the many years of work on this special project,” Rodrigue said. “Tesla Park will now be a reserve with no motorized recreation. Instead, the future holds Tesla as a protected native landscape for hikers, history buffs, nature lovers, researchers and educators.

“Saving Tesla Park has been a long, difficult, and now a rewarding journey, and we are grateful for the tremendous work of so many for saving Tesla as a legacy for future generations,” Rodrigue continued. “We are looking forward to planning the next phase of Tesla Park as a nature and cultural preserve, providing passive recreation and education to the community of the Bay area, the San Joaquin Valley, and Northern California.”

 

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‘Absurd’ pro-abortion laws in California highlight need for parent-child communication, policy expert says

Tuesday, October 5th, 2021

State Legislators representing Contra Costa County: Senators Steve Glazer, Nancy Skinner and Bill Dodd (top row), and Assemblymembers Tim Grayson, Jim Frazier, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and Buffy Wicks (bottom row) voted for the two bills.

All seven state legislators representing portions of Contra Costa County voted for both bills

By Jonah McKeown | Catholic News Agency

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a pair of bills Sept. 22 that relate to privacy surrounding abortion, and a policy expert commented to CNA that the laws highlight the importance of parent-child communication regarding difficult topics such as abortion.

All seven state legislators representing portions of Contra Costa County voted for both bills, including Senators Steve Glazer, Nancy Skinner and Bill Dodd, and Assemblymembers Tim Grayson, Jim Frazier, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and Buffy Wicks.

Kathleen Domingo, Executive Director of the California Catholic Conference, told CNA that the new laws, while “absurd” and harmful, are just the latest in a pattern of performative pro-abortion actions taken by California lawmakers over a period of decades.

“The reality is that this isn’t really anything new, and I think this is important for people to know…this has been the agenda of California for decades,” she said.

AB 1184 allows insured individuals, including minors, to keep “sensitive services” confidential from the insurance policyholder, generally their parents.

The law requires insurance companies to “accommodate requests for confidential communication of medical information” regardless of whether “disclosure would endanger the individual.” Set to take effect in July 2022, the law specifically mentions “sexual and reproductive health” and “gender affirming care” as potentially “sensitive services.”

California has a parental consent law for minors seeking abortions on the books, but the law is permanently enjoined by court order, meaning minors in California can seek abortions without their parents’ knowledge or permission. Planned Parenthood provides resources instructing teens how to hide abortions from their parents, Domingo noted.

Also signed Sept. 22 was AB 1356, which makes it illegal to film or photograph patients or employees within 100 feet of an abortion clinic “with the specific intent to intimidate a person from becoming or remaining a reproductive health services patient, provider, or assistant.” Domingo said this law could affect pro-life campaigners and sidewalk counselors, who may merely want to film or photograph themselves and their work outside abortion clinics.

Domingo said laws of this kind reinforce the importance of parents and guardians talking to and building trust with their children, and encouraging them to seek their parents’ advice in difficult situations.

“It really comes down to having conversations in your own families, and making sure that your children understand what your values are, and understand that they can come and talk to you if they have situations that are difficult,” Domingo said.

“If they know of someone who has a situation, if they themselves get into a situation where they need help, I think more than anything it’s just continuing that conversation and making sure are families are equipped to know what to do in those moments, that our parishes are equipped to know what to do, so that if you have a situation where a young woman finds herself in need, she knows who to talk to: our pregnancy resource centers and our pro-life pregnancy clinics up and down the state.”

Domingo said while performative pro-abortion laws will likely continue to be passed in California, supporting pro-life alternatives is the best way to combat them.

“That truly is the work that is needed. We can’t necessarily combat these laws that keep compounding abortion in California, but we can do the grassroots efforts that we have been doing for almost 50 years in California of helping people one at a time and saving families one at a time.”

A group of Republican lawmakers wrote to Newsom before he signed the bills into law, urging him to veto them instead.

“We should be encouraging parents and family to be involved in their children’s lives, not removing them further from it,” the letter reads, which was signed by nine state senators.

They also argued, in a more pragmatic vein, that AB 1184 would put policyholders in the “impossible position” of being financially responsible for bills incurred by their dependent children, but which they have no means of verifying because of the new confidentiality rules.

Newsom’s office heralded the laws as a strengthening of California’s status as a “haven” for women seeking abortions.

“This action comes in the wake of attacks on sexual health care and reproductive rights around the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to block Texas’ ban on abortion after six weeks,” a statement from Newsom’s office reads, referring to a pro-life law in that state that took effect Sept. 1.

“California is a national leader on reproductive and sexual health protections and rights, and Governor Newsom’s actions today make clear that the state will remain a haven for all Californians, and for those coming from out-of-state seeking reproductive health services here.”

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Feinstein introduces bill requiring COVID-19 vaccine, negative test or recovery documentation for domestic air travel

Friday, October 1st, 2021

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Official photo

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), on Wednesday, introduced the U.S. Air Travel Public Safety Act, a bill that would require all passengers on domestic airline flights to either be fully vaccinated, have recently tested negative for COVID-19 or have fully recovered from COVID-19.

The bill would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration, to develop national vaccination standards and procedures related to COVID-19 and domestic air travel in order to prevent future outbreaks of the disease.

The bill would also require the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to make recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine use in health care settings and among health care personnel in other settings.

The legislation builds on a current CDC requirement that all air passengers traveling to the United States from a foreign country must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19. Last week, the Biden administration announced it will work with airlines to implement additional protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on international flights.

“We know that air travel during the 2020 holiday season contributed to last winter’s devastating COVID-19 surge. We simply cannot allow that to happen again,” Feinstein said.

“Ensuring that air travelers protect themselves and their destination communities from this disease is critical to prevent the next surge, particularly if we confront new, more virulent variants of COVID-19. This bill complements similar travel requirements already in place for all air passengers – including Americans – who fly to the United States from foreign countries. This includes flights from foreign countries with lower COVID-19 rates than many U.S. states.

“It only makes sense that we also ensure the millions of airline passengers that crisscross our country aren’t contributing to further transmission, especially as young children remain ineligible to be vaccinated.”

The bill is supported by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Public Health Association.

Dr. Barbara D. Alexander, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and professor of medicine and pathology at Duke University School of Medicine said: “Vaccination is a critical strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccination requirements in multiple settings are an important mechanism to boost vaccination rates, prevent infections and hospitalizations and save lives. The Infectious Diseases Society of America supports Senator Feinstein’s legislation to require vaccination for domestic air travel as part of our nation’s broader COVID-19 vaccination strategy.”

Background

  • According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 vaccines continued to offer strong protection after the Delta variant became predominant over the summer. People who were fully vaccinated were five times less likely to be infected and more than 10 times less likely to be admitted to the hospital or die compared to those who were unvaccinated.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the United States is seeing its highest weekly totals of pediatric COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. The CDC also found that in August, emergency department visits and hospital admissions among children were higher in states with lower vaccine rates and lower in states with higher vaccine rates.
  • According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people traveling to other counties or states last year contributed to higher COVID-19 case numbers in their destination communities. Authors of the study later observed that this was especially true during the 2020 summer and winter holidays.
  • According to a Mayo Clinic Proceedings study, COVID-19 testing requirements for airline passengers could have a meaningful effect on detecting active infections either immediately before or after a flight.
  • According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about three in 10 people surveyed who were waiting to be vaccinated said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if airlines required passengers to be vaccinated. This number increased to about four in 10 among unvaccinated individuals who said they would only get the vaccine if required.

To contact the senator’s office, visit Contact – United States Senator for California (senate.gov).

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