What cities are in fiscal distress, a nonprofit faces allegations of gang infiltration, and black market vapes

Good morning, California.

Power outages this weekend could be the largest yet in California, as Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric respond to expected hot, dry wind, The L.A. Times reports.

  • Pubic schools in the San Fernando Valley will be closed Friday due to smoke and fire concerns, The Times reports.
  • In Northern California, PG&E acknowledged that a 230,000-volt transmission line malfunctioned near the start of the Kincade Fire, which swept across 10,000 acres in Sonoma County.
  • The utility shut off power to 179,000 homes and businesses, but did not de-power the larger transmission line.

“This is what we’ve been afraid of the whole time.”—UC Hastings law professor Jared Ellias, to The San Francisco Chronicle.

Cities at fiscal risk

California State Auditor Elaine Howle

For the first time, California is ranking cities based on their fiscal distress, and names 18 as ones of greatest concern.

State Auditor Elaine Howle released a dashboard of California cities, broken up by region and displaying their fiscal health, or lack of it, CalMatters’ Judy Lin and Elizabeth Castillo report.

Cities also are mapped

The ones at risk comprise a mix of size and geographic areas, but regional pockets were apparent in the East Bay and inland Los Angeles County.  

Worst 5: 

  • Compton, Atwater, Blythe, Lindsay and Calexico.

Followed by:

  • Oakland, Richmond and El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Gabriel, Monrovia, West Covina, Vernon and Maywood in Los Angeles County. 
  • Central Valley towns of Lindsay and Ione also are teetering.

The High Risk Local Government Audit Program based its ranking on cash flow, debt burden and pension and retirement liabilities.

Remind me: The program began in the wake of a financial scandal in the city of Bell, when Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, then an assemblyman, authored legislation authorizing the auditor to determine when local agencies are at risk of fraud, waste or mismanagement.

  • Howle: “Right now, we’re in strong economic times, but everyone is expecting that recession to hit. So hopefully this information will trigger discussions and decision-making that better prepares cities to be able to respond without cutting services.”

To read Lin and Castillo’s full report, please click here.

Report: Gang infiltrated a nonprofit

MILPA Executive Director Juan Gomez.

A Salinas nonprofit dedicated to nurturing young people—and which provided testimony to the Assembly earlier this year—has been infiltrated by the prison gang Nuestra Familia, a consortium of Monterey County news organizations reports.

The Monterey County Weekly, the nonprofit Voices of Monterey Bay and KSBW-Monterey report that the organization, MILPA, has “achieved national recognition for its social justice efforts involving formerly incarcerated people.”

  • “Many sources say they believe MILPA didn’t start out under the influence of gangs when it was created in 2012, and don’t claim MILPA itself is a criminal organization. But there is convincing evidence it has been infiltrated at the highest level by active gang members.”

In April, MILPA executive Israel Villa testified at an Assembly budget subcommittee hearing that lawmakers should rewrite criminal law affecting juveniles and end the use of large youth prisons, a step the Newsom administration intends to take.

As part of their report, the Monterey news organizations obtained a video of Villa flashing gang signs.

Reacting to the report, MILPA Executive Director Juan Gomez held a press conference Thursday to say the allegation of gang infiltration is “unsubstantiated and untrue.” Gomez also said Villa has been placed on leave.

Money matters: The organization has received grants of more than $1.7 million, including $270,000 in a California Board of State and Community Corrections grant.

That grant is intended to provide substance abuse and mental health care to criminals released as a result of Proposition 47, a 2014 initiative that cut penalties for drug and property crime.

Black market vape supplies

The Toy District of downtown Los Angeles has become ground zero for the nation’s counterfeit cannabis trade. (photo by Kaiser Health News, Heidi de Marco)

What used to be the Toy District of downtown Los Angeles has become ground zero for the nation’s counterfeit cannabis trade, Kaiser Health News’ California Healthline reports.

  • Kaiser: “While a few remaining stores sell fidget spinners and stuffed animals, the majority are hawking vape cartridges, e-juice flavors, vaporizers and other wholesale smoking and vaping supplies—including knockoffs that originated in China.”
  • The California Department of Public Health, which urges people to refrain from vaping, counts 138 cases of vaping-related lung disease
  • The department has begun airing ads statewide aimed at discouraging vaping.

A rush before rent cap takes hold

Assemblyman David Chiu . Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Tenants rights advocates say landlords trying to exploit a temporary loophole are seeking to evict renters so they can raise raise rents before a new statewide rent cap takes hold on Jan. 1, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports.

New legislation will cap annual rent increases at 5% plus inflation and force landlords to specify a reason for evicting tenants.

  • Elena Popp, of the Eviction Defense Network in Los Angeles: “My office alone saw more than 40 separate buildings with no-cause [eviction] notices in the last three weeks.”

Popp believes more should have been done to stop what she says was eminently foreseeable: some landlords would try to get ahead of the law any way they could. 

Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco, who wrote the bill, said having the bill take effect immediately was neither politically nor practically realistic and would likely have required a two-thirds supermajority vote.

For Levin’s full report, please click here.

Take a number: 5.6 billion

Correctional officers, San Quentin Prison (photo by Penni Gladstone)

The Sacramento Bee: The cost of new labor contracts signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom for 147,000 state workers in 10 bargaining units is $5.6 billion, though some pacts are for three years, and some are for a single year.

  • Recipients of pay hikes, generally totaling 3%, include correctional officers, highway patrol officers, firefighters, attorneys, engineers, scientists and others.

The state spent $26.6 billion on wages and retirement last year, up from $19 billion a decade ago, the State Controller’s Office reports. The state budget exceeds $200 billion.

Commentary at CalMatters

Mary Creasman, California League of Conservation Voters: We’re missing the bigger picture about the climate crisis. The PG&E power shutoff is a story about the climate crisis and corporate greed. It is a story about how California is unprepared for the massive change we need to make in order to cope with what’s happening.

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See you on Monday.

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