By Tommy Hough
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's going to be a relatively light year for legislation at the Assembly with fewer bills than usual. With the deadline for bill introduction in Sacramento still several weeks away, we aren't entirely sure what will be introduced just yet, but one of the more intriguing bits of policy is a bill to be backed by a group of legislators led by Sen. Scott Wiener, Sen. Monique Limon, and Assemblymember Robert Rivas to ban fracking. That's a Very Big Deal, and something we should encourage to ensure is done without gratuitous loopholes.
There will likely be a bill to establish a greater protective buffer for health purposes between oil and natural gas drilling sites and homes, workplaces, and schools. A bill on this matter passed the Assembly last year as AB 345, but was stopped in the Senate Natural Resource and Water Committee by intense lobbying by the California Building Trades Council and oil industry.
One of the more notable environmental bills to come out of the last session was AB 2731, which went into effect on New Year's Day. AB 2731 concerns the NAVWAR site near Old Town that's been identified as the nucleus of the new SANDAG "Grand Central Station" transportation hub proposal in conjunction with the city, airport authority, and port. NAVWAR is an acronym for Naval Information Warfare Systems Command.
If you're wondering, yes, NAVWAR is the former SPAWAR, i.e. the Space and Naval Warfare System Center, which changed its name in 2019. The final version of AB 2731, signed into law in October, essentially creates a path for the project to move forward with judicial streamlining that exempts it from adhering to CEQA, i.e. the California Environmental Quality Act., and instead relies on an environmental review to be conducted by the U.S. Navy.
Whatever you may think of SANDAG and the Five Big Moves proposal, we all agree a modern, clean-energy transportation system is critical for our region, but there's no reason why these kinds of capital projects should be excused from the basic environmental oversight and rules we ask of everyone who builds in this state to adhere to. Not only is the landmark passage of CEQA in 1970 what keeps California looking and feeling like California, but the basic components of CEQA are part of what we use to base our expectations and goals on in implementing and measuring the progress of the City of San Diego's Climate Action Plan. We must always resist efforts to weaken CEQA, whether in Sacramento, or on a project-by-project basis.
I was very pleased to see San Onofre State Beach at last receive the full protection the park has long deserved, and needed, as the result of Gov. Newsom signing into law AB 1426 in October, which my friend and fellow environmentalist Stefanie Sekich-Quinn from Surfrider has been leading the fight on throughout her career. There must never be a freeway, or any kind of development, considered again through the Donna O'Neill Conservancy and San Onofre's San Mateo Campground along the length of San Mateo Creek, the very last intact watershed in Southern California south of Los Angeles that empties onto the beaches that make up the Trestles surf break at the mouth of the creek along the San Diego and Orange county line.
There were several other bills in the last session I'd like to see have their "day in court" and move forward. One is Sen. Toni Atkins' SB 1100, which addresses the myriad of problems facing the state as the result of climate change and sea level rise. I've been saying for years, going back to my time at the San Diego Surfrider chapter, that our region must begin to plan for a managed retreat from the sea, in both low-lying areas and steep seaside bluffs.
Also, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia's AB 2839 would establish a California Deserts Conservancy within the Natural Resources Agency to protect, conserve, and manage ecosystems and resources in California's desert regions in both the Mojave (high) and Colorado (low) deserts as a compliment to the 1994 California Desert Protection Act. Such an initiative could lend additional funding and preservation measures, as well as enhanced Indigenous management, to places like the Indio Hills along the San Andreas Fault in the Coachella Valley Preserve.
Regarding state regulatory agencies, the California Energy Commission is expected to adopt a new round of Title 24 building codes designed to cut energy use. Environmental groups are pushing for the code to be updated to set a more rigorous standard that will electrify new buildings, and end the inclusion of natural gas in new buildings built after 2022.
The California Air Resources Board is developing new standards to encourage trucking companies to transition fleets to zero-emission electric vehicles. This will be especially important for trucks in and around our ports, including San Diego and Long Beach. This has also been one of the key issues in the discussions over new comissioner appointees to the Port of San Diego.
Speaking of electric vehicles, the governor proposed his 2021/22 budget last week, which includes a proposal to expand incentives for electric vehicles. That's consistent with the need to quickly transition the transportation sector to curb the effects of climate change and reduce air pollution. In my opinion the city, county, and other communities should incentivize, if not make it easier and more affordable overall, for motorists to purchase hybrids or emission-free cars as a component of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
Newsom's budget also calls for new fees as part of proposed reforms to the Department of Toxic Substances Control. The fee and reforms will require a two-thirds vote of the legislature for passage, but the governor hasn't shown much ability to work with the legislature thus far, so getting the department's fees passed will be a test of his commitment and ability to win legislative support.
Another proposal in the budget is to increase fees on pesticides, one of the most destructive sources of poisons and toxins in our watersheds, bays, and lagoons. The cumulative amount of toxins and heavy metals that enter Mission Bay every year at Rose Creek, for example, is bad enough, but the problem is compounded by "toxic events" when rainfall activates poisonous runoff. While fees are used to support pesticide regulation and enforcement, this too will require a two-thirds vote.
Finally there's the implementation of Gov. Newsom's executive order to conserve 30 percent of state lands and coastal waters by 2030. The reason, as the governor puts it, is to fight species loss and ecosystem destruction. That's great, we're all in favor of it, but we'd like to see more on the implementation as California would join 38 countries in a commitment to conservation in doing so. Apparently there are implementation plans for the "30 by 30" proposal, as well as for a similarly-issued an executive order in September to require all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero-emission vehicles by 2035.
By Tommy Hough
Today was one of the most disgraceful days in the history of our republic.
Can anyone look upon what our nation has become over the last four years and see any connection to the 240 years of American democratic norms, in times of peace and war, that preceded it?
Many of us saw this coming, and tried to warn our neighbors against giving a man like the president, enabled by a disgraceful array of bootlickers and apologists, the reins of power.
With the constant assault of willful, right-wing misinformation that permeates our media environment and has fractured families along political and social faultlines, is it any wonder so many of our neighbors have grown increasingly confused, bewildered, and fearful as they struggle to stay financially afloat and healthy, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Today's terrorism did not occur in a vacuum. It has been enabled over the last 40 years by well-funded campaigns of intentional deception to politically divide and conquer, long-standing attempts to paint government as an enemy rather than a representative reflection of ourselves, and to deny that we have the power to improve our nation in the name of a more perfect union.
The Greatest Generation went overseas to fight fascism and threats to democracy like those we've seen today. Our nation has twisted itself into a pretzel to inoculate it from threats of foreign terrorism in the years since the 9/11 attacks.
But in 245 years our nation has never been subjected to a coup attempt of anything resembling the magnitude of what is occurring now. It is a disgrace. To find anything comparable we would have to go back to the conspiracy to murder President Lincoln and members of his cabinet in the spring of 1865.
That today's violence and sedition were incited, in broad daylight, by the sitting President of the United States, who was actively adding fuel and oxygen to this fire long before his impeachment and electoral loss, is extraordinary.
Those involved with today's sedition may be fighting for Donald Trump. But we are fighting for our nation, for decency, for equality, for equity, and for the institutions and norms that, while under exceptional stress, continue to serve our nation. They need care.
Our Founding Fathers were many things, but they were wise, and they bequeathed to us the ability to continue improving our nation with an apparatus that is only as effective as those we seek to represent us as its caretakers.
These will be trying years ahead. Democracy requires eternal vigilance, and it demands it no more so than at this moment. I hope you'll join me in this pursuit.
May you and your loved ones be safe and well.
By Tommy Hough
Since last year's impeachment proceedings, the Trump administration and its ever-present array of constitutional crises has devolved into a cult so firmly entrenched among the cravenly ambitious, the foolish, the weak, and the deranged, that a full 140 elected GOP officials (perhaps more by Wednesday) are about to become even more complicit in the president's daily stream of lies, high crimes and misdemeanors, cataclysmic failure of leadership, and seditious statements on the results of the 2020 election and the normal, peaceful transition of power that has served our nation well for 245 years, in times of peace and war.
These Republican elected officials are doing so at the behest of right-wing radio, TV, and online hosts desperate to continue feeding upon the cult of Trump for ratings, however appalling a failure for average Americans the Trump administration has been. They are also doing so out of a fear of Trump and the wrath of his Twitter account. But more than anything, these 140 elected GOP officials are doing so at the behest of an electorate they believe no longer considers functioning in a shared reality a requirement for the job. Instead of asking the best of their neighbors, they are cravenly indulging their most paranoid and deranged voters for whom reason means nothing – the cumulative effect of 35 years' worth of daily right-wing media conditioning. Yet despite their numbers, they do not speak for a majority of Americans.
One year ago Republican senators were served up an opportunity on a silver platter, with Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee having done all the necessary work, to convict President Trump on House impeachment charges. With one notable exception, GOP senators opted not to convict the president despite overwhelming evidence Trump solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election to aid his re-election effort, then obstructed the inquiry by telling administration officials to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony while promoting an absurd conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The result? GOP senators abdicated their oaths and responsibility as senators, American citizens, and stewards of the American democratic tradition, and acquitted the president. To further pass the buck, they said voters would need to decide for themselves the ultimate verdict for Trump in November since Republican senators were too cowardly to do so in February. And of course, in November, the voters decided.
Now, with even the twin escape hatches of an impeachment and Electoral College-certified election results giving Republican lawmakers all the cover even the most cowardly political toad would possibly need to just do the right thing, those same Republicans still want to overturn the legitimate results of the election – in many cases the same election that secured their own seats – with zero evidence compelling them to do so.
We have reached the nadir of the Republican party, and over the last four years have seen it become nothing more than a tool of Trumpism and his brand of loot-the-treasury Third World authoritarianism. Beyond the steady stream of blatantly false, criminal misinformation about the validity of what was the most secure election in our nation's history, the GOP's ongoing attempts to stage a coup on the heels of their incumbent president's loss in both the popular and electoral vote is a disgrace without precedent in our nation's history – and that includes Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Teapot Dome scandals. Those were parking tickets compared to this.
I've long said the national GOP gave up on governing in good faith in 1994, but any concern the GOP may have once had about the appearance of naked partisanship has been swept away. It is as blatant a power grab as has ever been seen in our history, fueled by a GOP infuriated at the idea of actually having to relinquish power at some level after driving our nation into the ground for the second time in a dozen years. As we've seen, Trump and other Republicans are not above calling for or enabling mob rule in order to facilitate their continued rule, as undemocratic as even that rule has been. A two-party system of governance cannot function when one party refuses, time and time again for decades, to deal in good faith.
At this hour the Vice President of the United States, as grotesque a Trump lapdog and sycophant as any, is endorsing an effort led by the wretched Texas senator Ted Cruz to deny the reality of the presidential election results. The smooth-talking Cruz and his handful of reality-jettisoning seditionists are well aware their attempt will fail, but are carrying through with the exercise to further bludgeon and delegitimize an already-weakened Joe Biden before his administration takes office, just as the well-funded "citizens movement" of the Tea Party did ahead of President Obama's inauguration 12 years ago.
Of course, this is assuming the current occupant of the White House leaves at all. Despite having taken every opportunity over the last four years to disgrace the office he holds, I'm quite certain Trump will never leave, he'll just keep on behaving as "president" by continuing to use the White House presidential seal after Jan. 20th, along with anything else he and his family can steal.
Make no mistake: You and I and are in the midst of our nation's greatest constitutional crisis since the shooting began in the Civil War 160 years ago. The GOP's blatant support of baseless insurrection in the face of abundant, contrary evidence is nothing less than a slow-moving coup – itself without precedent in our nation's history – and the most shocking, stunning abdication of American democracy and the American social contract.
It is also the only logical end to the steady stream of ugly partisanship unleashed by an embittered GOP when the party first moved to nationalize elections for partisan ends during the 1994 midterm elections, and ceased functioning as a genuine partner in governance.
The Republican Party, and all too many of its spokespersons and standard bearers, have embraced a cult of racist nihilism, aggressively fostered a climate of mistrust and rudderless doubt in institutions they once claimed to have held dear, and have repeatedly fed oxygen into a simmering, low-intensity civil war with one side armed with weapons they insist the other half of the nation is desperate to take away.
That this is occurring – and has been occurring, in broad daylight, for months – in the midst of the nation's worst pandemic in 100 years is an ignominy and infamy that must never be forgotten, if we and our nation are fortunate enough to survive. Generations of Americans, historians, and anyone with a passing interest in this country will be unable to understand how any of this occurred without first acknowledging the successful, cumulative effect of right-wing propaganda, lies, and misinformation on a willing, albeit increasingly desperate populace over the last 35 years.
I only hope the United States doesn't go the path of the Weimar Republic or other faltering democracies, saddled with a weak chief executive unable to rise above the din of a growing, uncontrollable right-wing clamor. I have no doubt Joe Biden, who I genuinely like, seeks to positively serve as a beacon of hope as the nation comes out of the immediate Trump era, but he is essentially a sign to status quo elites that "things are returning to normal" on the immediate stage of the executive branch. That will be a relief in the short term, but if that's all Biden is able to achieve, he will fail.
Mr. Biden is not a come hell or high water, buck stops here, "follow me" leader in the mold of Harry Truman or Cory Booker. He's a political lifer. In an era in which he will be challenged by violent, right-wing domestic terrorism and fringe groups enabled by bottomless amounts of money designed to make it appear the nation is on the verge of chaos – thus setting the stage for an even more disingenuous, dangerous movement to "restore order" – not even a split Senate plus Kamala Harris' vote as Vice President may help push his wish list agenda forward. After all, the most immediate concern is cleaning up the wreckage and repairing the damage of four years of Donald Trump.
Every illegality this nation tolerates, every Republican lawmaker on Wednesday that votes against the tide of reality and history with the Cult of Trump and its failed, reprehensible excuse for an administration, hastens this dark future. Perhaps our biggest flaw is never believing the GOP will go as low as they do. But at every turn, they continue to defy expectations, logic, and reality. Look no further than the root argument our now-former mayor is making against the sitting governor of California.
We continue to be failed by our own imagination as to just how bad it can get, and as a result, we're constantly bringing the wrong weapon to the wrong fight. However ridiculous they may appear, the blatantly racist, authoritarian, violent, modern American inheritors of Hitler's Brownshirts marching on D.C. ahead of Wednesday, in opposition to what should be a normal transition of power, are armed, determined, headstrong, paranoid beyond all reason, and will travel thousands of miles in the belief of absurdities involving pizza parlors and video games.
These will be difficult, trying years ahead. If democracy requires eternal vigilance, it demands it no more than at this moment.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.