1994 Northridge Earthquake aftermath. Image by ©David Butow/Corbis

In summary

California dismantles deadly MS-13 gang operation. Hospitals want more time to complete earthquake retrofitting. Trump, GOP sue over tax return bill.

Good morning, California.

“There’s an easy fix Mr. President—release your tax returns as you promised during the campaign and follow the precedent of every president since 1973.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, tweeting, after attorneys for President Donald Trump and the GOP sued to invalidate legislation seeking his tax returns.

Different kind of massacre

Downtown Mendota in 2018

As the nation focuses on mass shootings, California law enforcement leaders held a modest news conference in Fresno to recognize an investigation that dismantled the violent MS-13 gang’s operation that left 14 people dead in and around in the dusty San Joaquin Valley town of Mendota.

  • The Fresno Bee, after arrests were made last year: “MS-13 carved out a reign of terror resulting in at least 14 brutal murders in and around Mendota from 2015 to 2017. There was little or no media coverage on some of the murders, some of which had been initially labeled as suspicious deaths.”

Weapons of choice: Machetes, not firearms.

Why Mendota: It’s impoverished, with a population of 11,000 that is 97% Latino, with a small police department, noted U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott, whose jurisdiction covers the Central Valley from south of Fresno north to the Oregon border.

  • Scott: “We’ve given Mendota its life back.”

Scott joined California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to recognize the state Department of Justice’s special operations unit for its role in the investigation by feds, the state and local law enforcement. It resulted in more than 40 arrests on state and federal charges. Cases are pending.

  • Becerra: “We know Mendota is not the only place where this is going on.”

President Trump has likened MS-13 members to “animals.” 

  • Becerra, in the Fresno-based online publication GV Wire: “This is not an operation based on color, creed, origin or status. It was based on criminal conduct.”

Gilroy shooter’s arsenal

gilroy shooting
Gilroy shooter had a 75-round drum. Photo by Julia Prodis Sulek/Bay Area News Group.

In less than a minute, Santino William Legan fired 39 rounds from his AK-47 assault rifle, killing three people and wounding 13 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival a week ago Sunday, police reported.

The 19-year-old’s arsenal included a 75-round drum magazine and five 40-round magazines, none of which are legal in California. He also had a shotgun and a scope. Police confronted him within less than a minute.

The FBI announced it has opened a domestic terrorism investigation in the matter, citing a list of targets he left that included religious organizations, political groups and government buildings, the Mercury New reported.

Hospitals & earthquakes

1994 Northridge Earthquake aftermath

California hospitals are trying to push back a 2030 deadline for complying with earthquake standards, saying the cost could force closures.

History lesson

  • The 1971 Sylmar-San Fernando earthquake caused the collapse of the San Fernando Veterans Administration Hospital, killing 47 people. That prompted 1973 legislation establishing seismic standards for hospitals.
  • The 1994 Northridge earthquake forced the evacuation of nine hospitals. That prompted legislation in 1994 establishing staggered deadlines for hospitals to meet Seismic Safety Act requirements or close. 

Hospitals executives have appealed to the Legislature multiple times since. Citing compliance costs, they’ve won delays. The final deadline is Jan. 1, 2030. 

  • The Associated Press: “Most hospitals in earthquake-prone California have met regulations designed to keep buildings from collapsing in an earthquake. But administrators say the standards for keeping the doors open after quakes are pricey and will force some hospitals to raise health care costs, cut services or close.”

A California Hospital Association-commissioned report says the cost of meeting 2030 standards could be upward of $100 billion—or as much as double that with inflation.

  • The Hospital Association: “34% of California’s hospitals are already in some form of financial distress, and that number could swell to more than 50% if the standards are not modified.” 

Money matters: The Hospital Association ranked #7 among all lobbyist employers in spending in the first half of 2019, at $1.54 million, retaining four lobby firms. It has given $253,000 to California politicians and campaigns.

GOP defends Trump, seeks fees

President Donald Trump points at the crowd during a rally.
President Donald Trump

The Trump campaign and Republican Party are hoping to make California pay for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to sign legislation requiring that presidential candidates release their tax returns if they want to appear on the primary ballot.

The twin lawsuits filed by Trump, the GOP and Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore in federal court in Sacramento bring to four the number of suits seeking to have the law Newsom signed last week declared unconstitutional. 

  • Plaintiffs’ attorneys in each case are seeking attorneys’ fees. 

If California loses and judges considering the suits are so inclined, attorneys fees easily mount into “the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, representing the Republican Party.

  • Dhillon noted her hourly rate is $1,000. Some D.C. attorneys involved are former U.S. Supreme Court clerks and no doubt have higher rates.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s deputies are expected to defend California. 

Republicans called the first-in-the-nation law a political stunt intended to suppress Republican primary turnout by removing the president from the ballot, and contend it violates the U.S. Constitution.

  • Trump counsel Jay Sekulow’s statement: “The effort to deny California voters the opportunity to cast a ballot for President Trump in 2020 will clearly fail.”

Take a number: $50,000

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent $116,000 to help Lassen County rancher Brian Dahle win a special election for a state Senate race in June, leaving his Assembly seat vacant. 

Now, Megan Dahle, the senator’s wife, is seeking that Assembly seat, and the prison officers union is there to help. 

CCPOA disclosed Tuesday that it donated $50,000 to an independent campaign to help elect Mrs. Dahle, one of four candidates running in the Aug. 27 primary.

Like almost all other legislators, Brian Dahle voted for legislation ratifying CCPOA’s contracts granting a 5% raise effective July 1, and a 3% raise effective July 1, 2020.

Commentary at CalMatters

Dan Schnur, USC’s Annenberg School of Communications: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to sign a bill that would require Donald Trump to disclose his tax returns to qualify for next year’s California primary ballot was a savvy political maneuver for our governor. But the practical impact of Newsom’s maneuver is negligible, and the potential downside is considerable.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature face tough decisions on legislation to speed up housing construction.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.

Barbara is a master's student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she studies new media. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Sacramento State, where she served as editor...