Will Regulators Break Up Scandal-Plagued PG&E?

VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is destroyed by brush fire as Santa Ana winds help propel the flames to move quickly through the landscape on December 5, 2017 in Ventura, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A California Public Utilities Commission report that Pacific Gas & Electric failed to fulfill its responsibilities to properly maintain natural gas lines from 2012 to 2017 even after a natural gas explosion killed eight people in San Bruno in 2010 may be the last straw for state regulators.

On Dec. 21, the CPUC released a dramatic statement saying it would consider drastic steps to address the “serious safety problems” it says the utility has long condoned. The commission said a break-up of the agency into smaller regional utilities or a state takeover would be among the possible changes it examined.

“This process will be like repairing a jetliner while it’s in flight. Crashing a plane to make it safer isn’t good for the passengers,” said CPUC President Michael Picker. “This is not a punitive exercise. The keystone question is would, compared to PG&E and PG&E Corp. as presently constituted, any of the proposals provide Northern Californians with safer natural gas and electric service at just and reasonable rates.”

CPUC looking at seven possible major changes

The CPUC statement said seven possible changes would be considered.

– Having “some or all of PG&E be reconstituted as a publicly owned utility or utilities.”

– Replacing some members of PG&E’s Board of Directors with members “with a stronger background and focus on safety.”

– The replacement of existing corporate management.

– Adoption of a new corporate management structure with regional leaders overseeing regional subsidiaries.

– Linking PG&E’s “return on equity” – the profits it shares with its investor-owners – to its safety performance.

– Breaking the utility’s natural gas operations and its electric transmission operations into separate companies.

– Ending the arrangement in which PG&E is controlled by a holding company so it becomes “exclusively a regulated utility.”

Picker’s statement was a remarkable turnaround from his comments on Nov. 15, when his upbeat remarks about the ability of PG&E to survive its fourth consecutive year of devastating wildfires in Northern California led the utility’s stock price tospike.

It reflected the anger among CPUC officials over a staff report released Dec. 14 that found the utility had systematicallyneglected natural gas infrastructure despite being fined $1.6 billion and convicted of six felonies in federal court over the 2010 disaster in San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco.

Utility facing 500 lawsuits relating to fires it may have caused

Even if PG&E survives in something like its present form after the CPUC’s review, its future is still very cloudy.

Because of claims that PG&E was responsible for the devastating Camp Fire that killed 85 people in Butte County in November, U.S. District Judge William Alsup announced he was reviewing whether PG&E had violated terms of its federal probation in the San Bruno case.

PG&E also disclosed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it is facing roughly 500 lawsuits with more than 3,100 plaintiffs over claims the utility was responsible for many of the dozens of wildfires in Northern California since 2016.

It is also facing wildfire-related lawsuits from the state Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire, Calaveras County and other government agencies.

But while the CPUC is apparently ready for major changes at the utility, it’s not clear yet how state lawmakers feel.

On Nov. 19 – even as criticism of PG&E swelled as confirmed deaths grew in the Camp Fire – Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, was reported to be considering introducing legislation to help the utility deal with wildfire costs.

Holden helped pass a law earlier this year that allowed PG&E to spread out the costs from the liabilities it faced from 17 wildfires in 2017.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Vaping in Danger in California if These Bills Pass in 2019

vaping 2California lawmakers on both the left and the right are working up plans to restrict vaping in the coming year, citing their worries that flavored tobacco in e-cigarettes entices too many young people to take up a potentially harmful habit.

Two proposals, Senate Bills 38 and 39, would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products in the state and require e-cigarette vendors to deliver their products in “conspicuously marked” containers and only with the signature of a person 21 or older.

The pending bills would not affect the sale of unflavored e-cigarette products. SB 38 defines flavored tobacco as “any tobacco product that contains a constituent that imparts a characterizing flavor.”

In the Assembly, AB 131 would prohibit e-cigarette manufacturers from advertising or promoting products that appeal to children, such as ts using cartoons. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

California Legislators Want to Tax Text Messages

Text messageA California regulator’s plan to tax texts in order to fund cellphones for the poor hit a snag Wednesday after a Federal Communications Commission ruled text messages aren’t subject to the utility agency’s authority.

The decision by the FCC, which categorized text messages as “information services” on par with emails and not “telecommunications services,” came in an effort to combat robo-texts and spam messages. The California Public Utilities Commission now faces an uphill battle ahead of a scheduled vote on the measure next month.

Those opposed to the planned tax hailed the FCC decision a victory.

“We hope that the CPUC recognizes that taxing text messages is bad for consumers,” Jamie Hastings, senior vice president of external and state affairs for CTIA, which represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, told The Mercury News. “Taxing this service would burden those who rely on and use this service each and every day.”

The CPUC has not yet commented on the FCC’s decision. The group is scheduled to meet next on Jan. 10 in San Francisco. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

Reduce Wildfire Damage and Lower Energy Bills by Freeing Up Markets

Power electricShortly before wildfires such as the Camp and Woolsey fires ravaged Northern and Southern California, respectively, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a contentious bill making it easier for the state’s investor-owned utilities — primarily, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric — to recover wildfire costs from ratepayers, but don’t expect the flames to die down anytime soon.

The legislation arose out of the calamitous wildfires the state has experienced the past couple of years and utilities’ fears about their abilities to cover potentially billions of dollars in damages. PG&E faces a possible $15 billion liability for wildfires that wreaked havoc on Northern California’s wine country last year, and contends that it might be forced into bankruptcy if the California Public Utilities Commission does not allow it to cover the costs with rate increases on consumers. Senate Bill 901, authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), largely sidestepped the broader reforms Gov. Brown had sought to reduce liability exposure for the utilities.

California law is unusual in that utilities may be held liable for fire damage caused by their equipment even if they were not negligent in maintaining it and followed all safety rules (such as wind blowing a tree down onto power lines and sparking a blaze). SB 901 did, however, direct the CPUC to consider PG&E’s financial status in deciding its liability for the 2017 fires, and may allow the company to pass along costs it cannot financially bear (however that is determined) in the form of bonds to be paid by ratepayers over time.

The legislation also requires utilities to beef up protections of their equipment, and provides some much-needed relaxing of logging restrictions on private land. A greater focus on wildfire prevention efforts such as removing excess fuel through vegetation clearing and controlled burns is also long overdue, and will be funded to the tune of $200 million a year for five years from the state’s cap-and-trade fund. Environmental policies preventing thinning to keep forests in a “natural” state, as well as drought conditions and a bark beetle infestation that have killed millions of trees, have created tinderbox conditions and significantly exacerbated wildfire damage. The money would go a lot farther, though, if the forest-thinning services were competitively bid instead of just doled out to Cal Fire.

In fact, privatization of wildfire services in general would likely substantially reduce costs. Approximately 40 percent of all wildfire services are already provided by the private sector, according to the National Wildfire Suppression Association, which represents more than 250 companies in 27 states employing about 10,000 private firefighters and support personnel.

The state should also stop interfering in insurance markets. An August study prepared for the California Natural Resources Agency by the RAND Corporation and Greenware Tech noted that insurers complain that the California Department of Insurance prevents them from using probabilistic wildfire models to project future losses and has not allowed them to raise homeowners insurance rates high enough to cover the full risk-based cost of policies in high-risk areas, which would discourage building in the most fire-prone locations.

Despite the significant risk to which it exposes investor-owned utilities in the state, strict liability is probably appropriate under the existing regulatory system. It is the same compensatory standard to which governmental agencies are held, and, as the state courts have noted, the eminent domain powers granted to electric utility companies under the Public Utilities Code and the government-protected monopolies under which they operate make them more akin to public agencies than unfettered private companies. Under such a system, where utilities face no competition and property owners cannot opt out if they are targeted for eminent domain action, it makes sense to spread the costs of wildfires among the utilities and their customers, who all share the benefits of the utilities’ electricity generation and transmission infrastructure.

That said, the existing regulatory system is at fault for creating “too big to fail” regional utility monopolies in the first place. A central planning commission that grants monopoly rights and dictates prices and “acceptable” profit levels sounds more characteristic of a socialist or totalitarian state like North Korea or the Soviet Union, but that is the state of energy markets in California.

A better solution would be to open up competition by eliminating regional government-granted energy monopolies with eminent domain powers and treating the provision of electricity like other goods and services. Fully privatizing the energy and insurance markets and eliminating government monopoly protections would do much more to reduce energy costs, increase innovation and reduce losses from wildfire damage than any measures currently being discussed in Sacramento.

esearch fellow at the Oakland based Independent Institute.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

How to NOT Solve California’s Housing Crisis

house-constructionThere are obvious reasons the median home price in California is $544,900, whereas in the United States it is only $220,100. In California, demand exceeds supply. And supply is constrained because of unwarranted environmental laws such as SB 375 that have made it nearly impossible to build housing outside the “urban service boundary.” These laws have made the value of land inside existing urban areas artificially expensive. Very expensive. Other overreaching environmentalist laws such as CEQA have made it nearly impossible to build housing anywhere.

Then there are the government fees attendant to construction, along with the ubiquitous and lengthy permitting delays caused by myriad, indifferent bureaucracies with overlapping and often conflicting requirements. There is a separate fee and a separate permit seemingly for everything: planning, building, impact, schools, parks, transportation, capital improvement, housing, etc. Government fees per home in California often are well over $100,000; in the City of Fremont in 2017, they totaled nearly $160,000 on the $850,000 median value of a single family home.

This is a shakedown. It has caused a politically engineered housing shortage in California that enriches billionaire property developers that have the financial strength to withstand decades of delays and millions in fees, because they reap the extreme profits when they sell these homes at inflated prices. Also enriched are the public servants whose pay and pensions depend on all taxes – definitely including property taxes – and all fees being as stratospheric as humanly possible. Public employee pension funds also benefit from housing scarcity, as their real estate investment valuations soar into bubbleland.

When litigious environmentalists, insatiable public sector unions, and an elitist handful of left-wing oligarchs control a state, artificial scarcity is the consequence. Welcome to California.

REJECTED POLICY – REAL SOLUTIONS TO THE HOUSING CRISIS

To decisively solve California’s housing shortage, some of California’s more than 25,000 square miles of rangeland, currently occupied by cattle, would have to be approved for suburban development. California is only 5 percent urbanized, although if you listen to environmentalists, you might get the impression it only had 5 percent remaining open space. You could fit ten million people onto half acre lots in four person households and you would only use up 2,000 square miles – that’s only 1.1 percent of California’s land area. Why aren’t massive new housing developments spreading out along California’s 101, I-5 and 99 corridors?

Real solutions to California’s housing crisis would also require increasing the capacity of California’s water infrastructure and transportation infrastructure. In both cases, investment would be cheaper if this expansion was done on raw land. Real solutions to California’s housing crisis would mean rescinding the mandatory rooftop solar requirement on new home construction, and instead recommissioning and expanding the nuclear power complexes at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, and embracing development of additional nuclear power and natural gas power plants. In a less confiscatory regulatory environment, the private sector could fund all of this while lowering costs to consumers.

Reforming environmental restrictions and unleashing private sector development of homes and infrastructure is the fastest, easiest way for home prices in California to return to near the national average. In turn, that would solve nearly every problem associated with a shortage of housing. California’s families would be able to afford to buy homes, or pay affordable rent. California’s employers, most definitely including government agencies, would be able to attract workers at prices that would not break their profits or their budgets, which would benefit the economy. And far fewer people would be rendered homeless.

APPROVED POLICY – COMPLETELY USELESS “SOLUTIONS” TO THE HOUSING CRISIS

As long as environmentalist litigators, public sector unions, and left-wing oligarchs run California, none of these real solutions will ever happen. What are they proposing instead?

To summarize, all politically viable housing solutions in California involve densification, i.e., cramming ten million more people into existing urban areas, and, predictably, more taxes, bonds, fees, subsidies and government programs.

Rent Control, Government Subsidized “Affordable Housing” and Government Funded Homeless Shelters

California is the epicenter of America’s “progressive” power structure. In California, in addition to controlling the public bureaucracy through their unions, progressive ideologues control the press, social media, search media, K-12 public education, academia, most corporations, the entertainment industry, and virtually all serious political campaign spending. As a result, California’s progressives can use ballot initiatives to con a brainwashed populace into approving their latest housing policy agenda. The common thread? Government control; government funding. For example, on the ballot this November are propositions to permit cities and counties to enact rent control, issue state bonds totaling $4 billion to build “affordable housing,” and use state tax revenues to build more government-run homeless shelters. It is possible all three of these measures will pass.

Already in progress is the implementation of California state laws that took effect Jan. 1 – AB 2299 and SB 1069 – which amend existing state laws governing “accessory dwelling units.” These new laws force California’s counties to streamline the process whereby homeowners can construct additional homes in their backyards. Does that sound good? Not so fast.

Doubling Suburban Population Densities ala Government Subsidized “Accessory Dwelling Units”

There’s a reason people work hard for decades to pay off their mortgages so they can own homes in spacious suburbs. It’s because they value the leafy, semi-rural atmosphere of an uncrowded suburban neighborhood. AB 2299 and SB 1069 will effectively double the housing density in these neighborhoods, violating the expectations of everyone living there who relied on the zoning rules that were in effect when they bought their homes.

If zoning laws in existing suburbs were relaxed at the same time as zoning restrictions were lifted on the urban periphery, the impact of these new rules might be mitigated. But every policy California’s elite and enlightened geniuses come up with is designed to maintain “urban containment.” And to add to the disruption these laws will inflict on quiet neighborhoods, California’s cities – starting with Los Angeles – are providing subsidies to homeowners to build these homes, then encouraging them to rent the properties to low income families wherein the government will pay the rent via Section 8 vouchers.

This is an expensive, utopian scheme that oozes with compassion but is fraught with problems. Doubling the density of suburbs is already problematic. But doubling the density of suburbs by subsidizing the settlement of people on government assistance into every backyard, invites social friction. It is forcible integration of people who, for whatever reason, require government assistance to support themselves, into communities of taxpayers, who, by and large, are working extra hard to pay the mortgages on overpriced homes in order to provide their children with safe neighborhoods.

As usual, when it comes to enlightening the public, neither the media, nor the urban planning experts in academia, ever offer much beyond pro-densification propaganda. A glowing New York Times article, entitled “A Novel Solution for the Homeless: House Them in Backyards,” raves about this entire scheme, already being tried in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. The article includes a quote from Vinit Mukhija, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, who says: “The value [of subsidized accessory dwelling units] goes beyond that, though, because it is finally somewhat of a departure of the purity of single-family housing in the region. It’s a good step to change what people here really consider a dogma of private housing.”

The “dogma of private housing.” That epitomizes California’s elitist hostility towards ordinary families owning detached homes with spacious yards.

The incentives created by such a project are perverse. California’s elite has made homes unaffordable. Then, to the people who sacrificed so much to buy these homes despite their punitively high prices, the government offers them subsidies and Section 8 payments, if they are willing subdivide their lots and turn over half their property to people supported by the government. Inevitably, many financially struggling homeowners will be forced to accept this cruel bargain if they want to keep their homes.

Finally, just like in 2008, there will eventually be another economic downturn, when many distressed homeowners will be forced to sell their properties. And when that happens, just like in 2008, investment banking speculators will move in and buy homes by the thousands. This next time, however, these institutional investors will be salivating at the prospect of collecting government subsidies so they can operate two rental units on a single piece of property.

Demolishing Homes to Build High Rises Near Transit Stations

Another way California’s elites – many of whom live in gated communities with homeowner covenants prohibiting nasty things like accessory dwelling units in backyards – propose to solve California’s housing crisis is to force demolition of single family dwellings in the vicinity of mass transit stations. They support this mass destruction of vintage neighborhoods in order to make room for high density apartments and condominiums up to five stories in height. While an attempt in 2018 to enact this draconian solution was beaten back, California’s coercive utopian lawmakers will bring it back in 2019. Some form of this law is likely to pass.

There’s nothing wrong with gradually increasing the population density in the core of large cities. That is a natural and organic process. But it is the job of legislators and local officials to moderate that process, protecting established neighborhoods. Instead, again, the policy consensus in California is to cram ten million new residents into existing urban areas.

Government Subsidized Homeless Shelters on some of the Most Expensive Real Estate on Earth

Perhaps the most misguided housing policies coming out of California concern the homeless. Despite years of bloviating by the compassionate elite, almost no good data is available on homeless populations, much less any good policies. Press coverage of the homeless centers on the family unit; small children, parents forced out of their home by high rents. These are gut wrenching stories. But accompanying the legitimate cases of families or individuals coping with undeserved hardship, there are the willfully indigent, along with criminals, drug dealers, sexual predators and perverts. Again, the City of Los Angeles offers a striking example of bad policy.

In Venice Beach, which is within Los Angeles city limits, along one of the most expensive, touristy stretches of coastline in the world, there are now permanent homeless encampments. To address the challenge, Los Angeles city officials are fast-tracking the permit process to build a homeless shelter on 3.2 acres of vacant city-owned property less than 500 feet from the beach. This property, nestled in the heart of Venice’s upscale residential and retail neighborhoods, if commercially developed, would be worth well over $200 million. Imagine what could be done with that much money if the goal was to truly help the homeless. And by the way, the proposed shelter will be a so-called “wet” shelter, meaning that drugs and alcohol will not be permitted inside the shelter, but intoxicated homeless individuals will be allowed inside. Go in, get a bed, go out, shoot up, come back in.

That a solution so scandalously inefficient could even be considered by the do-gooders running City Hall in Los Angeles offers additional insights into the minds of California’s progressive elite. Solving the homeless crisis isn’t their goal here. Rather the intent is to create additional government-owned properties, hire additional government bureaucrats, while preening in front of television cameras and pretending to solve a problem. Should the Venice Beach property be developed as currently proposed, well connected construction contractors will rake in government funds, so eventually “up to 100” homeless people will find shelter. Meanwhile, thousands will remain outdoors.

California’s housing is unaffordable because of restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375, and countless others at both the state and local level. At the same time, California’s political elites are are inviting in the world’s poor en masse to come and live here. An estimated 2.6 million illegal aliens currently live in California. But the rhetorically unassailable compassion expressed by these sanctuary policies does nothing to alleviate hardship in the nations where these refugees originate, because for every thousand who arrive, millions are left behind.

The result? While California’s visionary rulers engineer a shortage of housing supplies, their welcoming sanctuary policies engineer a burgeoning housing demand. This is the deeply flawed agenda they have implemented in California and are actively exporting to the rest of America.

The biggest lie of all is the compassionate overlay that informs every housing solution California’s elite promote. Because their solutions, however viable they may be politically, will not work. They defy basic economic sense. They create additional drain on public funds while doing nothing to alleviate the high prices that are caused by scarcity. They are sustained by an impossible assumption, that urban densification, and all the destruction that densification will bring, will in itself be sufficient to restore a supply and demand equilibrium for housing. And they reject the obvious solution, suburban expansion to complement higher densities in the urban cores, based on environmentalist objections that are overwrought. In practice, the solutions being implemented to resolve California’s housing crisis are not compassionate. They are cruel.

Eventually, enough Californians are going to realize they’ve been conned. They will recognize that government subsidized densification is financially unsustainable and ruinous to their way of life. They will support politicians who are willing to stand up to environmentalist litigators, government unions, and the left-wing oligarchy that profits from scarcity. Hopefully that will happen before it’s too late.

California Adopts a Mixed Bag of Food Laws

Daniellle BrownFood laws in California, America’s most populous state and a bellwether of change in other states, are changing for the better.

As Steven Greenhut noted in a column last week, a trio of new laws passed in California should make life easier for home food entrepreneurs, street vendors, and craft distillers in the state. That’s great news for food freedom and the entrepreneurs and consumers who drive its spread. But as with so many bursts of law-signing, there was some awful with the good. On September 18, the same day he signed the homemade food law, Gov. Jerry Brown also signed a new law that will crack down on people who want to share food with the homeless and others in need.

I strongly supported the home food entrepreneur law. As I wrote in a Sacramento Bee op-ed last year, when the bill that became law was first floated in the California Assembly, the state’s existing “food-safety regulations have proved so far to be an insurmountable obstacle” for many home cooks. The bill signed into law last month, I wrote, was “a fair and just proposal” to help cooks overcome these state-erected barriers.

Hopefully, that groundbreaking California law, along with the state’s embrace of street food and small distillers, will spread to other states.

But before we start crowing about California’s great food laws, a healthy serving of context is appropriate. Many of the state’s food laws are still awful. As a reminder, California is home to the nation’s only statewide foie gras ban. Let’s not forget, too, about the state’s awful shark fin ban (which conflicts with the federal government’s excellent shark finning ban), the ubiquitous and useless food warnings required under the state’s Proposition 65, and the state’s handful of ongoing soda taxes (which exist even after a state ban on new food-and-beverage taxes).

Those regulations are terrible, but the new law for feeding the homeless takes the cake.

“The bill would prohibit the operation from providing food service unless it has registered with the local enforcement agency… and would require a limited service charitable feeding operation subject to registration, or a food bank, if applicable, to submit certain information to the agency,” the law declares. It will regulate the food service activities of nonprofits that share food with those in need under the state’s retail food code, which is supposed to regulate (as its name suggests) commercial food activities. One of the obstacles to charitable food sharing under the law is that groups will have to prepare food in commercial kitchens.

Dozens of California chapters of Food Not Bombs, a pacifist group that shares vegan food with people across the country, are up in arms over the new law, reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The local chapter, the paper reports, says it will likely ignore the law (and its permitting requirements) once it takes effect in 2019.

Anyone who’s followed my writings on the subject over the years—both in my columns and my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable—knows this is just the latest awful law of this sort. Las Vegas, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, New York City, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and many other large cities have enacted a host of cruel and unconstitutional barriers that restrict or ban sharing food with those in need. California’s could be the first such statewide law to take effect.

That’s dreadful.

Any state deserves a big pat on the back when it rescinds or amends bad food laws. California is no different. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown deserve enormous credit for adopting new laws that should make life easier for home food entrepreneurs, street vendors, and craft distillers in the state.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. California is still home to many of America’s worst food laws. Their number is still growing, meaning that — even with a trio of good new laws — real food freedom in California is still an elusive goal.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

California will require women on corporate boards under bill signed by Brown

Photo Credit: thoroughlyreviewed.com

Photo Credit: thoroughlyreviewed.com

California became the first state in the country to require that women be included on companies’ boards of directors, as Gov. Jerry Brown literally sent a message to Washington on Sunday in signing legislation that corporate associations opposed as unconstitutional.

Brown signed SB826 into law after it passed the Assembly and the Senate last month. The bill mandates that all publicly traded California companies have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019.

The requirement ramps up in 2021: Five-member boards will be expected to have two female members, and boards with six or more members will be expected to have three. ..

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle 

California Restaurants Banned from Providing Plastic Straws or Kid’s Meal Sodas

StrawsGov. Brown signed 41 bills into law on Thursday including banning restaurants from automatically distributing plastic straws or advertising kid’s meals with a soda.

The California Constitution requires that September 30 is the last day for the Governor to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature before September 1. Governor Brown on September 20 signed 41 bills and vetoed 6.

Brown signed 40 of the 45 bills authored by a Democrat and 1 of the 2 bills authored by a Republican. The environment and education were the two biggest focus areas of the legislative 2018 legislative session with Brown signing 9 education bills and vetoed 4; while signing 10 bills and vetoing 0 associated with the environment.

Brown justified signing Assembly Bill 1884, prohibiting dine-in restaurants from automatically providing plastic straws with meals, with a statement that plastic is now a danger that “pervades every aspect of modern life” and its “single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences” for society that must eventually be eliminated.

The governor stated that with the annual global production of plastic having reached 448 million tons by 2015, plastic in the world’s oceans now kills millions of marine mammals each year. He added that microplastics in tap water and plastic straws, bottles, packaging, and bags “are choking our planet.”

The impact of the bill will be limited because it does not apply to fast food, coffee shops and other take-out stores that are the biggest distributors of plastic items. Customers can still get a straw at dine-in eateries but will have to independently request one.

Brown also signed Senate Bill 1192 that amends the California Retail Food Code to requires all dine-in and fast food chains to offer milk; a non-dairy milk alternative; or sparkling, still or flavored water as a default or advertised beverage for a child’s packaged meal. The bill does not prohibit a restaurant from selling, or a customer’s ability to purchase, an alternative beverage if the purchaser requests one.

Both AB-1884 and SB-1192 will be effective on January 1.

The most significant surprise on Thursday was Brown’s pocket veto of Senate Bill 1424 that would have directed the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to establish an advisory group to study the supposed “problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media.

Brown called SB-1424 called the “creation of a statutory advisory committee to examine this issue not necessary,” given the numerous studies by academic and policy groups.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Jerry Brown Signs Law Legalizing Street Food in California

Street FoodCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill to make it easier for sidewalk vendors to operate legally in the state.

It’s one of dozens of bills Brown announced signing Monday, including measures to help voters ensure their mail ballots are counted and standardize balcony inspections.

The new sidewalk vending law will let cities and counties create permit programs for vendors and limits when they can be criminally prosecuted.

“We can start seeing sidewalk vendors for who they are – women and seniors, single parents, and micro-business owners taking that first step to starting their own business,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara, the Bell Gardens Democrat who authored the bill, SB946. “Gov. Brown’s signature validates that thousands of sidewalk vendors are an important part of our economy.”

Sidewalk vendors, who typically sell food or other goods, can be required to hold business licenses and pay taxes under the law. Cities and counties can also establish health and safety policies for vendors. …

Click here to read the full story from ABC7

California Cities are Banning Plastic Straws and It Sucks

Straws1On July 24, San Francisco city officials unanimously passed an ordinance forbidding the city’s restaurants and bars from giving customers plastic items, including straws, cocktail swords, and takeout containers treated with fluorinated chemicals. The ordinance will have to be voted on a second time and if it passes it’ll go to the mayor for approval.

San Francisco will be the second major city to take steps to ban plastic straws, joining Seattle in spearheading the ever-growing anti-straw crusade. Malibu, Santa Cruz, Manhattan Beach and San Luis Obispo — all in California as well — have also passed plastic straw bans. Santa Barbara not only banned plastic straws, but compostable straws too.

Local governments aren’t alone, as a handful of businesses have taken a stand against plastic straws. Starbucks is perhaps the most high profile company who has decided to ditch straws in exchange for strawless plastic lids. On July 9, Starbucks announced that by 2020 it will eliminate over 1 billion plastic straws from all its stores. Marriott International, Hyatt Hotels Corps and Hilton Hotels all have made similar commitments.

While plastic straw bans may make people feel good and think they’re saving the environment, in reality, they hardly make a dent in overall plastic pollution.

For one, the number of plastic straws used by Americans on a daily basis is in dispute. Like several other ban proposals, the San Francisco ordinance cites a statistic that Americans go through 500 million straws a day. Reason writer Christian Britschgi tracked down the source of that number: a nine-year-old boy.

In 2011, Milo Cress conducted a phone survey of straw manufacturers. Now 16, Cress told Britschgi that the National Restaurant Association has endorsed his estimates in private.

But, as Britschgi points out in his article, the number of straws used each day isn’t as important as knowing how many actually end up in our waterways.

“We don’t know that figure either,” Britschgi writes. “The closest we have is the number of straws collected by the California Coastal Commission during its annual Coastal Cleanup Day: a total of 835,425 straws and stirrers since 1988, or about 4.1 percent of debris collected.”

A 2015 study published in Science calculated out of 275 million metric tons of plastic produced from 192 coastal countries in 2010, anywhere between 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons entered the ocean. East Asian and Pacific countries were responsible for the majority of plastic pollution with China, Indonesia and the Philippines topped the list of plastic polluters. China contributed 27.7 percent of all mismanaged plastic waste compared to the United States which was responsible for 0.9 percent.

The researchers point to improving waste management as the solution to the environmental problem. Countries like the Philippines and China need to invest in infrastructure to better deal with waste and recyclables. Without these improvements, plastic pollutions will dramatically increase.

Out of the top 20 countries contributing to this problem, 16 are middle income countries “where fast economic growth is probably occurring but waste management infrastructure is lacking.” Addressing those infrastructure problems could make a major difference in plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

But reforming waste management infrastructure in countries halfway across the globe is a massive project requiring far greater effort than banning plastic straws. City officials, like those in San Francisco, are taking a largely symbolic stance when they ban plastic straws. This wouldn’t be an issue if it didn’t mean restaurant or bar owners faced fines or even jail time for providing plastic straws to customers.

First time offenders of the San Francisco ban face a written warning, but after that they can be hit with fines anywhere between $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for repeated offense. In Santa Barbara, a second violation of the code means a $100 fine and a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor is punishable up to a max $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

The Santa Barbara City Council is reconsidering the ban to include an exemption for those with disabilities who rely on straws to enjoy their drinks.

There’s a reason most businesses give their customers plastic straws: they’re relatively cheap and people want them. Companies like Starbucks are free to eliminate plastic straws from its stores if it wants to, but imposing that same choice on all businesses, big and small, is wrong.

Wanting to protect the environment is a noble goal, but good intentions don’t always translate to good policy. The market could provide the environmentally friendly goods that consumers want if the government wasn’t busy micromanaging every aspect of it.

Reusable or biodegradable straws — although far from perfect — are increasing in popularity and could prove to be the answer to our plastic straw woes. Or perhaps the plastic straw alternative has yet to be invented, but in any case, providing people with better options instead of depriving them of choice is the key to shaping consumer behavior. It could even make the oceans that much cleaner.

Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Advocate and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal. Follow her on Twitter @LynnMarch007.