Bernie Sanders-South Bronx, New York: Analysis

BERNIE

Vermont Senator and potential Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in South Bronx, NY. Photo Courtesy Flickr/Michael Vadon

At a March 31 campaign rally in South Bronx, NY, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stood in a sea of waving blue signs proclaiming “A FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN” and addressed a crowd of lively supporters.  Branding himself as an anti-establishment Robin Hood figure, Sanders decried the country’s wealth disparity, frequently using the word “unacceptable” to rouse the crowd against Wall Street greed.

Sanders personalized the beginning of his address with a narrative of his early years, proclaiming, “I am very proud that I was born here in New York City, that my wife was born in Brooklyn, New York. My father came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland without a nickel in his pocket.” With the combination of Sanders’ father’s immigration story and his own pride in the self-titled “State of Opportunity,” Sanders appealed to the heritage of New York born-and-breds as well as the 34% of Bronx County that is foreign-born.

Showing that he had clearly researched his audience, Sanders spoke strategically about issues faced by the South Bronx community. Below are four major assertions made by Sanders during the rally:

#1: Sanders cited the nation as having “the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth” and “more people in jail than any other country on earth.”

These national issues are relatable in a county that has 31.5% of its population living in poverty and has spent over two decades lowering crime rates. That being said, the senator’s claims regarding childhood poverty are rhetorically deceptive, as it is unclear how “major country” is defined in any concrete manner.

His statement might lead listeners to believe that the U.S. rate is the highest of all countries in poverty rates, when a 2012 report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranks the United States 27th. Of the 35 countries UNICEF calls “economically advanced,” the U.S. ranks second highest, with a childhood poverty rate of 23.1%, following Romania’s 25.5 percent.

As for Sanders’ claim about Americans jail counts, his statement is factually true but is strategically phrased to skew audience perspective. The World Prison Brief (WPB) lists the United States as number one in total prison population, with over 2.2 million individuals incarcerated. However, because the U.S. is one of the largest nations in the world, pure headcount does not offer as much insight as rate of incarceration. Looking at jail population proportionally, Sanders’ statement can be seen as manipulating the numbers. In terms of prison population per 100,000 people, the U.S. rate of 698 takes second place, behind the Seychelles rate of 799.

#2: Speaking to a 43.5% African-American county, Sanders touched on law enforcement prejudice, referencing rates of arrest. In the specific context of marijuana legality and use, Sanders commented that “where this becomes a racial issue is that it turns out that the black community and the white community smoke marijuana at about the same rates, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested than whites.”

In terms of his claim about arrests, Sanders seems to be approximately accurate, with a Human Rights Watch report pointing to a 2007 drug arrest ratio of 3.6 African-American individuals for every one white individual. Sanders’ assertions regarding rates of marijuana usage also hold up, with an American Civil Liberties Union study listing 14% of African-Americans and 12% of Whites reporting marijuana usage in 2010.

While Sanders’ claims hold up statistically, his presentation of marijuana usage may be overly simplified. Because recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in many places, it is likely that a significant proportion of users may not admit to consuming the drug, creating a gap between actual demography and reporting demography.

#3: Later in his address, Bernie talked about his involvement in a positive process of change through Obamacare, saying, “I am a member of the committee that wrote the Affordable Care Act…we provided insurance to 17 million people who didn’t have it.”

Indeed, a 2015 report by the Department of Health and Human Services claims that the Affordable Care Act granted coverage to 17.6 million individuals who previously had no insurance. But the senator may have exaggerated his role in the legislation. Sanders was not as much of an all-in Obamacare proponent as he painted himself to be for his South Bronx listeners. PolitiFact reports that “despite making contributions to the final legislation, Sanders was, for most of the process, an outsider pushing for a more aggressive single-payer system rather than an insider negotiating and crafting the final design of the bill.”

#4: Wrapping up his speech, Sanders urged the audience to participate in New York’s April 19 primary, declaring, “If there is a large voter turnout, we will win. And if we win here in New York, we are going to make it to the White House.”

Polls, however, indicate that Sanders’ confidence in a primary win is unfounded, with FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of poll aggregations projecting a 2% chance of a New York victory for the Vermont senator. According to a Fox News poll from April 4-7, 53% of New York Democrats plan to vote for Clinton in the upcoming primary.

As for the national stage, a Reuters/Ipsos poll from April 2-6 indicates that Clinton and Sanders are neck-and-neck for the Democratic Nomination, with Clinton polling at 49% and Sander just below at 48 percent. Thus, while Sanders overstates his likelihood to win in New York, his strong poll numbers indicate that he is still in the running for the democratic nomination.

Specifically, the democratic nominee needs to win 2,383 delegates to continue toward the White House. As of April 10, the New York Times indicates that Clinton has won 1,305 while Sanders claims 1,086. The gap between superdelegate counts is more dramatic, with Clinton’s 469 dwarfing Sanders’ 31.

While Sanders may have oversimplified some more complex national issues in his South Bronx rally speech, his overall statistical citations were accurate and grounded in evidence. With 20 primaries still remaining, Sanders could still best Clinton, but the democratic nomination will be anything but a handout.

Advertisements

Yellow Alerts implemented to curb hit-and-run collisions

California’s State Capitol. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jan. 24th, 2015 started like a normal day for 18-year-old Jeremy Creed. He went about his business on a skateboard, his source of temporary transportation and maybe even income one day, if his dreams of becoming a pro skateboarder came to fruition. It was like any other day: he woke up in the morning, went to bed in the evening. Only this time, his final resting place was in a hospital.

No, he didn’t die. But his mother got quite the scare. While skateboarding, Creed maneuvered into the Foothill Ranch street to avoid traffic cones. The next thing he knew, a car hit him and promptly took off, leaving the young man with a marred foot and a dislodged pinky toe that required a skin grafting surgery to fix.

He is one of thousands of people who have been victims of hit-and-run drivers. Just this week, 24-year-old True Cowan was killed in Boyle Heights and 18-year-old Isabel Gonzalez was dragged by a car in Hacienda Heights, both of whom were left to fend for themselves by an unknown driver. Luckily for Jeremy Creed, his experience was not fatal.

“Getting behind the wheel needs to be a commitment to safety. If you hit someone it’s an accident; but when you make a conscious decision and choose to leave the scene it’s a crime,” Creed articulated. “To a victim on the streets, the first few minutes are so critical for them to receive help.”

The increasing amount of hit-and-run incidents that occur each year in California have reached epidemic proportions. In 2013 alone, California Highway Patrol’s Internet Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System recorded 14,401 hit-and-run collisions, 282 of them being fatal.

The national statistics aren’t so hot either. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “One-fifth of the pedestrians killed in 2013 were struck in crashes that involved hit-and-run drivers.”

c34a80e2-5afb-4652-9664-e47482a656a5

Julie Creed speaking about hit-and-run prevention on TV. Courtesy of Julie Creed.

This incident shaped Jeremy Creed and his mother, Julie Creed, into the huge advocates for safe driving they are today. It was the night the two finally made it home from the hospital that Julie Creed felt the overwhelming desire to effect change.

“I got Jeremy settled and took care of the skin graft machines,” said Creed. “I sat on my bed to watch the news and saw Mayor Eric Garcetti announcing a [hit-and-run] alert system for Los Angeles. I was baffled as to why it was only for LA.”

When she reached out to her own mayor, Rancho Santa Margarita’s Brad McGirr, about why the system wasn’t implemented on a wider scale, he informed her of a similar bill, AB 47, had been vetoed by the Governor Jerry Brown the year before, despite passing in legislature with “overwhelming majorities.”

The cogs started to turn. Creed figured if she could work with Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who wrote the original bill, and other hit-and-run awareness initiatives such as Damien Kevitt’s Finish the Ride movement, they could make the governor listen.

“It’s gotten to the point to where not a single weekend goes by without another hit-and-run tragedy,” said Gatto in a recent press release.  “People flee because there’s little chance they will be caught.”

With that in mind, he agreed to draft another bill, AB 8, and urge the governor even more persistently to get it signed. 

“We were going to make it hard for the Governor to veto the bill this time around,” said Creed.

Soon, they had the press on their side, as well as an amalgamation of various companies and safe driving organizations to endorse bill AB 8, including Disney, CoreLogic, Edwards Lifesciences, the National Motorcycle Safety Association and the National Safety Council.

“It’s gotten to the point to where not a single weekend goes by without another hit-and-run tragedy. People flee because there’s little chance they will be caught.”

-Mike Gatto

AB 8 would bring about Yellow Alerts, a system similar to Amber Alerts, that displays hit-and-run drivers’ license plate numbers and vehicle specifications when there is sufficient evidence to place the car at the scene. The alerts will be broadcasted on freeway message boards within the area surrounding the incident. Gatto is hoping that not only will this measure apprehend criminals convicted of hit-and-run driving, but it will also help prevent further hit-and-run collisions from occurring.

“California has the existing alert infrastructure in place and it costs us next to nothing to use it,” said Gatto, proving the fiscal sensibility of the bill.

Assemblyman Gatto’s press release stated that a similar system in Denver, Colorado called the Medina Alert increased hit and run arrest rates from 20 percent to 70 percent since its creation in 2012, prompting state legislators to implement the system statewide.

With the evidence that Colorado’s efforts were successful, both in Denver and in the state as a whole, and the mass plea to make a difference across California, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill on Sept. 28, 2015. Jan. 2016 marks the first month of its implementation.

“I was very emotional [when the bill was signed into law] because I thought of my son and of all the other parents I had met along the way, most whose children did not survive. I immediately called my son to notify him of the news,” said Creed.

One criticism of the law, however, is that is that the addition of the new Yellow Alert Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.15.13 PMwill desensitize drivers to the Amber, Silver and Blue alert systems already in place. The original reason the first law was vetoed is because of the possibility of overwhelming drivers with too much freeway message board information.

Creed disagrees.

 

“The alert system will aid the victims.  These drivers cars are seen after the fact – they are on the streets or in your neighborhood, and by notifying the public we have a greater chance for justice,” she said.

In addition to the newfound Yellow Alert, Creed and Gatto encourage other organizations to keeping fighting for increased measures to promote safe driving. She also proposes a hit-and-run aspect should be added to drivers education curriculums.

“ATT is doing a great job with the ‘It Can Wait’ Texting and driving campaign,” said Creed. “I would like to see the insurance companies and car makers come on board. Education and awareness, this is critical.”

 

Business owners fearfull of being Berned by minimum wage increase

Many young Americans have been endeared to Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid due to his plans to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 across five years.8042367_g

“We must ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty,” his campaign website reads. “The current federal minimum wage is starvation pay and must become a living wage. We must increase it to $15 an hour over the next several years.”

Some cities and states have already approved plans to increase the wage floor to $15, including New York state, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. All have costs of living far higher than the national average.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that established minimum wage did so with the intention of it not raising inflation or reducing employment. However, since 1968, the minimum wage has lost purchasing power. If the wage had kept pace with inflation, the rate would stand at $10.70 rather than $7.25 according to Jeff Musto in his paper Lost Wages, released by Ralph Nader’s Center for Responsive Law.

There is little debate that the federal minimum is far too little to be the living wage that Bernie Sanders wants it to be. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that the average American needed to earn an hourly wage $19.35 to afford a two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30 percent of their income. That is to say, a minimum wage earner can’t afford to support a family on that income.

Even in states that have accounted for a higher cost of living by raising the minimum wage, such as California, the situation is no better for minimum wage workers. The coalition also reports that in no state can an average American afford a one-bedroom apartment working 40 hours a week at minimum wage.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 11.08.09 AM

Sanders isn’t the only presidential candidate concerned for low-wage workers advancing in the workforce. Candidates on both sides of the aisle mention growing jobs and helping workers in some way on their campaign websites. However, there is no consensus on the best way to help the young and impoverished find a way to better work.

While the young people and minimum wage workers might favor the proposed shift towards a higher minimum wage, many business owners are afraid of the potential drawbacks on their business.

Jeff Ender, owner of Milano Brother’s Pizza in Hemet, California, raised the same concerns. The city is about even with the national cost of living according to AreaVibes.com, but Ender still pays the $10 California minimum wage rather than the $7.25 national minimum wage.

“We can either cut jobs—I don’t want to do that—or we can make portions smaller so you get less money for your food,” Ender said. “Or we can buy lower quality ingredients, but I refuse to do that because that is what’s gotten us 25 years of business. Or the third thing we can do is raise our prices.”

Ender said that the raise in California’s minimum wage from $9.00 to $10.00 has cost his business $4,000 extra every two week pay period.

“And now people who were perfectly happy making $10.00 before the increase want more,” Ender said.

While Ender’s employees might be getting the fortune of low cost of living in a state that has one of the nation’s highest, minimum wage workers in Azusa, California are not as lucky.

As of 2013, Azusa had a per capita income of $18,047, far below the national average of $29,527. Despite the depressed earnings, the city’s proximity to Los Angeles raised the cost of living to 26 percent higher than the national average. The biggest factor in this is housing, where Azusans pay 69 percent more than the average American.

“We can barely afford to make rent,” said Scott Wilkerson, who lives in a studio apartment with his girlfriend, Jessica Rocha, in Azusa. The couple pays $950 a month for roughly 425 square feet.

Wilkerson is on disability after injuring his back at work, while Rocha works at a restaurant for minimum wage.

“I want to go to school to become a nursing aide,” Rocha said, “but we would have no other way of making ends meet if I didn’t work, and I can’t get my work to coordinate a schedule with taking classes.”

Steve Castro, CEO of the Azusa Chamber of Commerce, expressed concerns that local business and restaurants would take the hardest hit from the raise.

“They’re either going to have to increase the price of their food or lay people off,” Castro said. “Neither one is good.”

Other small business owners in the community share his concern. Don Hiti, owner of Canyon City Barbeque fears that it will do more harm than good.

“People think it’s going to increase the wage of everybody, but I think it would lead to lost jobs. People still have to be profitable,” Hiti said. “If your labor costs go up 25 to 30 percent, I don’t believe there’s that much profit in any business to absorb that.”

Opponents of the hike tend to draw back to a singular point: minimum wage was never meant to be a long-term career path.

“It used to be that fast food was an entry-level job and people that went there knew that,” Castro said. “People say, ‘You can’t raise a family working at McDonalds.’ Well that was never the intent.”

“It wasn’t meant to raise a family on,” Ender said. “They were meant to give someone their first job, so they could learn work ethic and see what it’s like to put some money away.”

As much as business owners have come to resent the call for a huge increase in minimum wage, the young and impoverished have latched onto it for hope for a better life.

Many young people from low-income backgrounds find themselves disadvantaged in attaining a college degree. Just one in 10 earned a degree by age 25, compared to five-in-10 of those with a high-income background according to a White House report.

Daniel Flaming, president of economicroundtable.org, a nonprofit urban research organization, fleshed out the effect that raising the minimum wage to $15 would have in Los Angeles in a report.

He argued that in order to meet the $7.6 billion needed to bump low-wage earners to $15 in Los Angeles, only four percent of overall revenue would need to be diverted from other areas into wages.

However, restaurants and the service industry would be hit harder, needing to reallocate 14 percent of revenue.

Restaurants operate on razor-thin profit margins that fluctuated between 0.4 percent and 5.1 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to Sageworks, a financial information company.

It’s easy to see why restaurant owners like Ender and Hiti are afraid of the 14 percent required to meet a $15 minimum wage: the amount would eat well through their profit.  The owners would need to find significant cuts in order cover the increase in labor cost that an increased minimum wage would bring.

However, Flaming also noted ways in which the local economy would benefit from the increase in wages

“Businesses will benefit from having more money spent in the local economy. Businesses will benefit from having a higher-paid labor force that is more stably housed, reducing employee turnover and the associated costs for recruiting and training new employees. It costs an estimated 30 percent of a worker’s annual salary to replace that worker, so reducing the frequency of worker turnover results in significant cost savings for employers.”

However, the exact results are hard to nail down.

“The right answer is we don’t know, and it’s not exact science,” Chris Tilly, a labor economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Bloomberg BNA.

Tilly was one of more than 200 economists who signed a letter supporting a $15 minimum wage published my Univeristy of Massachusetts – Amherst.

In any election, the economy and economic policy is a popular debate point. Bernie Sanders and his economic plan have young voters overwhelming supporting the Vermont senator. In the Iowa Caucus, he received 84 percent of the vote to just 14 for Hilary amongst 17-29-year-olds.

What remains unclear is what the actual result of the increase in minimum wage would be. Business owners are afraid that the cost is too high. Ender already caps his work force at 25 to avoid a higher tax bracket. He sees a $15 wage as the government further hindering business.

“My good employees have never had to ask me for a raise,” Ender said.

For Sanders supporters, the hope remains that an increase to a living wage would make life more affordable, freeing them for minimum and low-wage jobs to pursue routes to better work.

“We just want to be able to live,” Wilkerson said.

 

Minimum wage increase polarizes Californians

After the state minimum wage was raised to $10 in January, California employees, business owners and government officials are opposing one another more than ever. While many workers happily accept the pay raise, the increase in labor costs are already affecting businesses.

6174172046_f063a507fd_o

Minimum wage employees cling to their increased wages after Jan. 1. Creative Commons Courtesy.

“I think it’s going to put me out of business to be perfectly honest,” B-Man’s Teriyaki and Burgers owner Byron Takeuchi said. “I’m just looking to survive right now.”

In light of the wage increase, Takeuchi said he had to raise menu prices and cut employees’ hours at all three of his locations. Due to the decrease in employees, he said customer service has been negatively affected. The restaurants in Azusa and Duarte have seen a noticeable decrease in customers, but the original location in Pasadena has maintained steady business.

“Pasadena is my only busy store,” Takeuchi said. “My customer loyalty in Pasadena is insane.”

Takeuchi said he has far less employees working at his Pasadena store than at his other locations, but has maintained the most clients there since it opened in 1999.

Tom Scott, California State Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), said wage increases directly impact consumers of small businesses.

“It is still very early in the implementation of the new $10 minimum wage in California, but we are already seeing costs passed on to consumers.”

-Tom Scott

“It is still very early in the implementation of the new $10 minimum wage in California, but we are already seeing costs passed on to consumers,” Scott said. “Of course, businesses more reliant on minimum wage workers will necessarily pass on greater price increases than businesses with fewer minimum wage workers.”

Scott said the legislature and ballot proposed increases suggest the business community will not see the full extent of its impact from the wage changes until 2017. According to the NFIB, for every $1 per hour increase to the minimum wage, employers face almost $5,000 in added costs per employee.

“It is important to keep in mind that a one dollar increase to the minimum wage, for example, does not equal merely one dollar to employers,” Scott said.

Scott said he believes the wage increases often harms those it seeks to help. When pay is raised, labor becomes too expensive for employers, forcing less experienced and less skilled workers to lose employment.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders‘ campaign is focused on raising wages for minimum wage-earning Americans. Among his plans, he has proposed a national $15 minimum wage and seeks to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10.

“According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, a $10.10 national minimum wage would result in an estimated 500,000 lost jobs,” Scott said.

Riverside County Senator Jeff Stone believes the increase will be detrimental to California businesses.

“I believe in the end, it’s going to cost jobs rather than create jobs,” Stone said.

Stone said he believes the term “minimum wage” is a misnomer and said entry level jobs should be for young workers to learn skills and grasp an idea of what type of job they would like to have in the future. He said the minimum wage should be determined by the private sector, not by the government.

“These companies are going to cut back and force more people to do more work with less money and that’s a challenge,” Stone said. “It’s definitely going to hurt the service industry.”

Stone said he is concerned minimum wage jobs will be “priced out of the marketplace” and the middle class will be pushed out of existence. Due to increased labor costs, he believes companies will begin to shift their focus to in-store technology and online retail options, replacing the need for employees.

“These companies are finding that it’s easier and cheaper and more efficient to use technology today than to put people to work at these entry level jobs,” Stone said.

The senator said as the minimum wage rises in the next five years, Californians should expect many companies to move out of state.

“I think if the minimum wage increase continues, more employers are going to go to online distribution centers outside of California to avoid the minimum wage and to avoid the state income tax in California, which is the highest in the union,” Stone said. “Businesses are going to take the path for the least resistance to make a profit.”

9621218996_d144c1f3b4_o

With increased costs to compensate for increased wages, Californians may seek to save money. Creative Commons Courtesy.

 

Minimum wage employee and Dollar Tree assistant manager Virginia Gonzales believes consumers will turn to low-cost options more often in light of the increased retail prices associated with a higher minimum wage.

“People come to our store before they come to Stater Bros. to look for grocery and party items,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said that while prices will not increase at Dollar Tree, she is concerned about increased gas and food costs in California. She said she believes consumers will begin to default to dollar stores more often than companies like Walmart and Target.

While Gonzales said her hours remained the same, she said the other employees’ hours were all cut in half at the new year. She said the store branch is not hiring many new employees, but when new people are hired they do not receive more than four hours a week.

McDonald’s cashier and minimum wage employee Amelia Miranda said she is grateful for the increase in her pay and believes it is a suitable amount.

“It’s helped a little bit in bringing in more money,” Miranda said. “I think for minimum [wage], that’s enough.”

Miranda said business has been steady since the increase and she has not seen a change in the amount of customers.

In light of the predicted five-year increase to $15, Miranda said she believes it is enough time for businesses to sort out their finances to raise wages.

minimum 15

Minimum wage employees rally to have their pay raised to $15 an hour. Creative Commons Courtesy

 

Kraphty’s Italian Eatery chef Andrew Flores Sr. said the restaurant has maintained business since January and is currently working to promote more. He said he does not think the $10 minimum wage nor the future $15 increase is enough to sustain a living.

“I think [the wage increase is] a lot better. I think it should be more because the cost of living is a lot more, but we work with what we’ve got,” Flores said.

Flores said his biggest concern in regards to the increase is that it will not to support single parent households. He said he has been working at Kraphty’s for over 10 years and has experienced many minimum wage increases, but has never been satisfied with the amount.

A 2010 research study by University of California Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment suggests the increase in wages are not enough to make a significant difference to employees.

“This implies that an increase in the minimum wage has a very small impact on the total income earned by affected workers. In other words, these estimates suggest that the policy is not useful for raising the earnings of low-wage workers, as the disemployment effect annuls the wage effect for those who are still working,” the study reads.

Ben Ebbink, the chief consultant for the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment for Assembly Member Roger Hernandez, said he has received largely positive feedback from employees because of the increase.

“Traditionally, there is a lot of support among workers. When we hear minimum wage bills in our committee, there’s a lot of support from working people and from labor groups and labor advocates supporting the minimum wage. I think it’s pretty consistent that the business community has opposed to the minimum wage.”

-Ben Ebbink

“Traditionally, there is a lot of support among workers. When we hear minimum wage bills in our committee, there’s a lot of support from working people and from labor groups and labor advocates supporting the minimum wage. I think it’s pretty consistent that the business community has opposed to the minimum wage,” Ebbink said.

Ebbink said minimum wage proposals are widely approved among voters and most increases have occurred during elections. However, the last two minimum wage increases were enforced legislatively by governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

The chief consultant said he has witnessed minimum wage increases help small businesses because the more money people make, the more likely they are to spend.

“We’ve always long argued that minimum wage increases actually help local economies because most minimum wage workers spend their earnings. Any increased money they earn in their paycheck they spend right back in the local community,” Ebbink said.

According to Ebbink, more jobs are created when wages are increased because of the subsequent demand for businesses. While he recognizes there is a likelihood jobs will be lost, he said the benefit of new jobs outweigh these concerns.

“It’s kind of a fundamental issue. At the core of it, I think it’s differing opinions of what role the government should play in mandating minimum wages or not,” he said.

While he said large businesses will likely be able to absorb the added costs of wage increases, most small businesses will struggle more because their profit margins are smaller, they are less adaptable and it is harder for them to afford mandated changes.

 

 

Brown is the New Green: New Legislation in 2016 for State of Emergency Drought

As of January 2016, bills to alleviate pressure from city homeowners having to adhere to drought regulations of water restrictions and landscaping regulations have come into effect. Homeowners began feeling the pressure from the Homeowner’s Association and city of Glendora to not only maintain an aesthetically pleasing yard, but also continue to cut back on their overall water usage.  However, lawmakers ruled that cities are prohibited in fining residents in a drought state of emergency.

Assembly Bill 1 (AB-1) has been in the works since December 2014. On the first of December, the bill had it’s first time read and print. A year and a half later, after going through process of legislation and amendments, it was signed by Governor Jerry Brown to be enacted at the start of the new year.

Author of the bill, Assembly member of San Bernardino Cheryl Brown, proposed this legislature addressing drought conditions affecting homeowners. Brown’s bill was presented and enrolled to Governor Jerry Brown in summer of 2015.  As a result of the current drought state of emergency implemented regulations, homeowners have had to make a decision on where water shall be conserved on their property; indoor or outdoor. This resulted in homeowners conserving in outdoor watering, making for lawns to begin looking brown.

AB-1 bill addresses cities, county, or city and country from imposing a fine to homeowners.Section one and two of the bill provides the declaration of what is required of the people of California. “The prohibition on imposing fines for failing to water a lawn or for having a brown lawn during a period for which the Governor has issued a proclamation of a state of emergency based on drought conditions is a matter of statewide concern and not a municipal affair, as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution” according to bill.

Cities across the state began enforcing that residents not only participate in mandated water reduction, as well without neglecting the maintenance of their property landscaping. This resulted in fines for any resident not complying with any aesthetic regulation.

In wake of controversial ordinances, and months before the bill was set in place, a couple in the city of Glendora, CA faced repercussions after cutting down their water usage, according to an article by Fox News. After mandatory outdoor watering restrictions were set in 2014, the couple faced fines up to $500 despite complying with water conservation regulations. According to the couple, a letter was sent to them stating “Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green.” They were then given 60 days to restore their law.

Maintaining landscape and conserving water were not considered mutually exclusive according to local officials in an interview with Fox News. However cities such as Glendora urged their costumers to find a middle ground in maintaining the landscape and water reduction.

“During a drought or non-drought, residents have the right to maintain their landscaping the way they want to, so long as it’s aesthetically pleasing and it’s not blighted,” said Al Baker, president of the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers in an interview

Similarly, Assembly member Mike Gatto of Glendale, CA also proposed a bill in efforts to get rid of city ordinances that restricts residents from installing a drought tolerant landscape as a counter effort to healthy landscape rules.

According to Assembly Bill 1164 (AB-1164), cities are now prohibited to enforcing any kind of regulation that does not allow installation of artificial turd on residential property, synthetic grass, or any other drought tolerant style landscaping.

This bill also attempts to meet Governor Brown’s executive order to participate in a 25-percent statewide water reduction. Section one of the bill, displays finds as to why drought tolerant landscape are necessary in time of state emergency. According to the Department of Water Resources, landscape irrigation represents 43 percent of urban water use. The bill stated in section I letter e that “The installation of synthetic grass or artificial turf, in lieu of conventional lawns and landscapes, can directly reduce outdoor water use to help meet the Governor’s mandated 25-percent statewide water use reduction.”

“In order to address the historic, prolonged, and potentially devastating drought, it is necessary that residents of this state be able to replace water inefficient landscaping with drought tolerant landscaping as quickly as possible,” transcript from bill.”

Not all residents of Glendora are having a hard time maintaining their landscape and conserving water simultaneously. Homeowners of Glendora like Roy Gould, did not have any issue with keeping his grass green and reducing his water usage before the bill was enacted.

“I water enough to keep it green, but I cut down on my water approximately 30-percent,” stated Gould. However, he still received notices that stated he needed to cut back on water usage in his water bill. Gould also received another notice in the mail encouraging him tot cut back on water but was never fined.

Gould believes that Glendora is the pride of the foothills and should be kept up as such. However, He does not believe that residents should be mandated to uphold a particular standard to their property. Gould stated he sees no problem in the neighborhood as a whole having a few lawns that are not as manicured as his own.

“I don’t worry about what my neighbors do and if they have an ugly yard that’s their choice,” said Gould.

Gould’s perspective on more legislation to decrease potential crisis of extreme drought conditions he deems as unnecessary. Instead, Gould hopes that residents will take action among themselves without the pressure of lawmakers increasing the price of water and other drought regulations. Gould believes we should focus more on action then the legislation behind it.

In years of good rainfall we need to try and conserve some of the water to make sure our water tables build up, and that’s that the only thing that I think we can do, said Gould.” “We have to build up our water tables in the good times and do it without a lot of taxpayer money.”

Although under scrutiny for previous implemented landscaping regulations, the Assistant City Manager of Glendora, Valerie Escalante says that the city’s intentions to encourage water reduction was never by fines.

“In general our approach has never been to fine anybody before that bill passed,” said Escalante. “Our approach was always the cooperation of our residents in their water usage.” She also stated that they found residents wanting to comply with ordinances/ regulations.

The implementation of bills AB-1 and AB-1164 have not made a substantial differences in the appearance of homeowners landscapes according to Escalante. Fines were not in place to discipline a multitude of residents that failed to maintain a healthy landscape. Escalante argues that the city is much like others in the ratio of brown to green lawns. The disconnect is the cities previous regulations and the expectations of some members at city hall.

“It’s actually kind of reverse where if you see a very green lawn and it’s kind of frowned upon because they are not doing their part,” stated Escalante.

Glendora is the highest target threshold of reduction for water in the state of California. According to Escalante, Glendora is one of the very few water suppliers up to their 36% target decrease of water reduction. The city continues to monitor water usage in comparison 2013 and have noticed substantial differences. The percent continued to rise until recently in September where reduction numbers began to decrease due to the end of summer outdoor water usage, and increase of indoor water usage in months of fall.

“We have to start targeting indoor water usage,” says Escalante,”We are still above the state average for conserving our water.” She credits the city’s success to residents and businesses stepping up to the plate.

In February the city extended its conservation efforts out until October 2016. These efforts can be found in the city’e extensive response plan to the drought emergency with programs such ‘Success of the Plan’ to promote drought awareness. The city’s initiative according to Escalante is the drive to push residents to continue conserving water. She stated that her job as assistant city manager is to now get the message across to the city’s costumers to continue exceeding the 36-percent reduction target.

“It will be a challenge no doubt,  but we will continue to do our part.”