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Builders may fight 'impact fees' that fund municipal projects in California, Supreme Court rules



Builders may fight 'impact fees' that fund municipal projects in California, Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that developers and home builders in California may challenge the fees commonly imposed by cities and counties to pay for new roads, schools, sewers and other public improvements.

The justices said these “impact fees” may be unconstitutional if builders and developers are forced to pay an unfair share of the cost of public projects.

Developers have contended that limiting California’s high fees would lead to the construction of more affordable new housing.

California state courts had blocked claims arising from “a development impact fee imposed pursuant to a legislatively authorized fee program” for new development in a city or county.


But the 9-0 Supreme Court decision opened the door for such challenges. The justices revived a constitutional claim brought by an El Dorado County man who put a manufactured home on a small lot and was told he would have to pay a “traffic mitigation fee” of $23,420.

The decision could have wide impact in California, since local governments have increasingly relied on impact fees rather than property taxes to pay for new projects.

But the justices did not spell out when such fees become unfair and unconstitutional.

Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson said they joined the majority opinion in Sheetz vs. El Dorado County because it merely allows such challenges.

In a separate opinion, conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said he saw merit to the “common government practice of imposing permit conditions, such as impact fees, on new development through reasonable formulas or schedules that assess the impact of classes of development rather than the impact of specific parcels of property.”


State and county attorneys had made just that argument. They said it was fairer to impose a development fee on all the lots in an area.

But the justices nonetheless ruled that homeowners and developers may sue to challenge these fees as an unconstitutional taking of their private property. The case will now go back to the California courts.

The Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento hailed the ruling as a significant victory for property rights.

“Holding building permits hostage in exchange for excessive development fees is obviously extortion,” said attorney Paul Beard, who represented the El Dorado County homeowner. “We are thrilled that the court agreed and put a stop to a blatant attempt to skirt the 5th Amendment’s prohibition against taking private property without just compensation.”

Beard said El Dorado County “failed to show — and cannot show — that the fee is sufficiently related and proportionate to the traffic impacts” of his client’s “modest home.”


The debate over development fees is especially relevant in California, where local governments have increasingly relied on the charges to finance parks, streets, schools and other infrastructure and services since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13 limited property tax revenues.

The fees have come under scrutiny in other cases as developers and others have blamed them for driving up the cost of housing and for a wide disparity in cities’ fees.

A 2018 study by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that, depending on the city, fees for new single-family homes could range from $21,000 to $157,000, and could account for 6% to 18% of the median home price.

For decades, the Supreme Court has cast a skeptical eye at California’s regulation of private property. In a pair of decisions, it limited the power of government officials to demand concessions from a property owner in exchange for a building permit.

In 1987, justices ruled for the owner of a beach bungalow in Ventura who was told he could not obtain a permit to expand his home unless he agreed to allow the public access to the beachfront. The conservative majority at the time described this demand as akin to “extortion” and said it violated the 5th Amendment’s clause that forbids the taking of “private property … for public use without just compensation.”


In a follow-up decision involving a store owner who was forced to allow a bike path on her property, the court said the government may not impose such special conditions on property owners unless it can show an owner’s new development would cause direct harm to the community.

But since then, it has been unclear whether this property right applies to development fees or in situations where fees are set by legislation rather than imposed on a single owner seeking a permit.

Writing for the court in Friday’s ruling, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that “there is no basis for affording property rights less protection in the hands of legislators than administrators. The Takings Clause applies equally to both — which means that it prohibits legislatures and agencies alike from imposing unconstitutional conditions on land-use permits.”

The case arose when property owner George Sheetz sought a permit to put a manufactured home on a lot he owned in Placerville, outside Sacramento. El Dorado County required him to pay a “traffic impact mitigation” fee to obtain the permit. Some of the money was to go toward upgrades to Highway 50, which runs through the area, but most was to go toward new or expanded roads in the county.

Sheetz paid the fee and obtained his permit, then sued to challenge the fee as unconstitutional. He argued that the taxpayers of the county, not the new owner of a small home, should be required to pay for road building.


The justices agreed to hear his appeal after he lost in the California courts.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who has supported legislation to rein in developer fees, said he didn’t expect Friday’s decision by itself to have a significant effect on the debate in Sacramento because it only called out one extreme situation.

“Ultimately, the solution is the same today as it was yesterday,” Wiener said. “The California Legislature needs to put in place an actual structure for impact fees. Right now, it’s all over the map.”

Wiener said he sympathizes with local governments that turn to the fees because it’s easier than raising revenue through broad-based taxes — but he said some cities use sky-high fees to block housing development.

“There is something a little odd about effectively taxing new housing to pay for societal needs that should be paid generally by taxpayers — by the entire community,” he said.


Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Assn. of Counties, said in a statement Friday that the organization was still reviewing the ruling to understand its implications.

But he said that “limiting the ability to legislatively enact fees will negatively impact the ability of our 58 counties to protect the health and welfare of their communities and drastically limit the building of vital local infrastructure.”

“In many cases,” Knaus said, “these fees are the only tool available to pay for new infrastructure around certain development projects.”

Times staff writer Liam Dillon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Biden honors late son Beau in somber Memorial Day message: ‘The hurt is still real’



Biden honors late son Beau in somber Memorial Day message: ‘The hurt is still real’

President Biden on Monday invoked the memory of his late son, Beau Biden, while addressing an audience at Arlington National Cemetery for a Memorial Day ceremony. 

Sharing the pain of those whose family members have died in service, Biden noted this week marks nine years since he lost his son Beau, who served in Iraq and later died from brain cancer that the president attributes to his time stationed near toxic burn pits. 

Still, the president was careful to draw a distinction between the loss of his son and those who lost loved ones on the battlefield. 

President Joe Biden delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 156th National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“Our losses are not the same. He didn’t perish on the battlefield. He was a cancer victim from a consequence of being in the army in Iraq for a year next to a burn pit. A major of the U.S. National Army, National Guard, living and working, like too many, besides that toxic burn pit,” Biden said. 


The president told the audience: “As it is for so many of you, the pain of his loss is with me every day as it is with you. Still sharp. Still clear. But so is the pride I feel in this service, as if I can still hear him saying, ‘It’s my duty, dad. It’s my duty. That was the code of my son. Live by the creed. All of you live by the creed.” 


A major in the Delaware Army National Guard, Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015 at the Walter Reed military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.  

Reactions to Biden’s speech on X were mixed. One user described his speech as a “heart-wrenching display of empathy and understanding.” Others accused the president of making this “all about himself again.” 

Biden has on numerous occasions claimed that his son died on the battlefield in Iraq, including while speaking to Marines stationed in Japan, and during a 2022 speech in Colorado. 


President Joe Biden, left, joined by, from left, Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Major Gen. Trevor Bradenkamp, pause during an Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Biden began the day hosting a breakfast at the White House for administration officials, military leaders, veterans, and Gold Star family members. Joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Biden placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before the ceremony began. 

Biden touted the VA’s achievements last year for having delivered “more benefits and processed more claims than ever in our history.” 

He credited the PACT Act, which grants automatic coverage for certain health conditions suffered by veterans exposed to toxic substances such as burn pits or Agent Orange.


“For too long after fighting for our nation, these veterans had to fight to get the right health care, to get the benefits they had earned, not anymore,” he said. 


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Is Zionism patriotism or racism? Big disagreements over a word in use for 125 years



Is Zionism patriotism or racism? Big disagreements over a word in use for 125 years

In the many debates over language surrounding the war in Gaza, few words are as controversial as “Zionism.”

Its original, most basic definition is Jewish nationalism.

For many, that equates to the right of the Jewish people to have their own state and self-determination in an ancestral homeland after centuries of oppression and ostracism in much of the world. They view anti-Zionism as a fig leaf for bigotry and antisemitism.


For others, Zionism is a form of modern-day colonialism or racist manifest destiny — the attempt to justify the seizure of contested land in the name of God.

Here’s a review of the history of the word and how competing definitions are inflaming the debate over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Where did the term come from?

The term “Zionism” first came into use in the late 1800s. It built upon “Zion,” a biblical term for Israel and Jerusalem, and the name of a site in Jerusalem where the temple most historically revered in Judaism was constructed millennia ago.

Its use was championed by a Jewish Austro-Hungarian journalist, Theodor Herzl, at the turn of the 19th century. He made it the label of a movement to send European Jews to an area eventually known as British Mandate Palestine so they could begin forming a Jewish homeland.

Outraged by what he considered the dangerous and prejudicial treatment of fellow Jews in Vienna in the late 19th century, Herzl, trained as a lawyer and a prolific writer, established the Zionist Organization, which explored the mission of creating a Jewish state. The organization eventually had branches in several European cities and attempted to lobby the mostly royal rulers of the day to make the dream of statehood come true.


“Perhaps our ambitious young men, to whom every road of advancement is now closed, and for whom the Jewish state throws open a bright prospect of freedom, happiness, and honor, perhaps they will see to it that this idea is spread,” Herzl wrote in a pamphlet called “Der Judenstaat” (the Jewish State), which outlined his vision and led to his Zionist movement. It was published in 1896.

Considered the father of political Zionism, Herzl did not live to see a Jewish state. He died of heart disease in 1904.

Did Zionism always envision statehood for Jews in what is now Israel?

In the hearts of most early-day Zionists like Herzl, the ideal was to create their Jewish state in the land between what is now Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Yet there were other ideas.

In 1903, British colonial rulers in Africa floated the so-called Uganda plan, which would have offered a section of the East Africa Protectorate as a homeland for Jews. (The land would eventually become part of modern-day Kenya.) Some of Herzl’s followers were willing to consider this, but a visit to survey the land found it to be inhospitable.

The Soviet Union proposed a Soviet Jewish Republic in Crimea, Ukraine; Italian fascists proposed a settlement in Italian East Africa. The Nazis at one point proposed shipping Jews to Madagascar. All of those plans were rooted more in ridding the continent of Jews than in giving them a homeland.


In 1947, after World War II, the United Nations General Assembly officially partitioned British Mandate Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one; the latter was never established. Arab powers in the region rejected the decision and not long after were at war with the new state of Israel.

How did the concept of anti-Zionism evolve in Soviet Russia?

In the years after Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, many Russian Jews supported and participated in the country that became known as the Soviet Union. Initially, the Soviet Union was favorable to Zionism and the creation of an Israeli state.

But strains of anti-Jewish hatred that had long raged in Imperial Russia and led to waves of pogroms in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as discriminatory residency and employment laws from Moscow to St. Petersburg, continued to permeate sectors of Soviet society.

As the years went on, and it became clear after World War II that the emerging Israel was going to hitch its wagon to the United States and the West, anti-Zionism became a more formal policy in the Soviet Union.

(The U.S. under President Truman was the first major power to recognize Israel, in 1948; Russia did the same, but Stalin reversed the decision within a year.)


Russia was home to tens of thousands of Jews, and for decades Soviet authorities refused to permit them to emigrate to Israel.

What was ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’?

One of the most notorious pieces of writing aimed at spreading hate and fear of Jews, “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” was published in Russia in the early 1900s.

It was a fake document that purported to prove that Jews were a cabal sneakily trying to control the world through financial institutions, media and other centers of power. Though the text has been soundly and repeatedly discredited, copies still exist, and some of its portrayals of Jews remain frequent antisemitic tropes today.

What did Zionism come to mean for Jewish people — then and now?

Zionism to many Jewish people means, essentially, patriotism: a political ideology rooted in the establishment — and, later, promotion — of a refuge for Jews who throughout history had to escape pogroms, then a Holocaust aimed at wiping them out.

The Anti-Defamation League defines the concept this way: “Zionism is the movement for the self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel. The vast majority of Jews around the world feel a connection or kinship with Israel, whether or not they explicitly identify as Zionists, and regardless of their opinions on the policies of the Israeli government.”


There is not consensus, however, among Jews today over the precise definition of Zionism.

For many, it underpins Israel’s right to exist. For the more extreme, such as settlers occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem land claimed by Palestinians, it is used to justify Jewish control of all the land, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

How do others view Zionism?

Over time, the definition and use of the word evolved and took on negative tones among critics of Israel. The U.N. formally declared Zionism a form of racism in a 1975 resolution, which it revoked 16 years later.

To Palestinians displaced by an emerging Israel, Zionism came to symbolize racism and exclusion from what they viewed as their homeland.

Is being anti-Zionist antisemitic?

On this question, there is abundant disagreement.


Many critics of Israel or Israeli government policy say opposing the expansion of the country’s control over land claimed by Palestinians is not an anti-Jewish or antisemitic position but one of fairness.

Yet many Jews would say denying their right to an unfettered homeland is indeed antisemitic. They say it is clear that the term “anti-Zionist” is being embraced by some anti-Israel demonstrators at U.S. college campuses as a politically correct cover for antisemitic intent.

How has the term been used at campus protests?

At hundreds of pro-Palestinian protests on university campuses in recent weeks, the terms “Zionism” or “Zionist” have been hurled disparagingly against Jewish students and pro-Israel demonstrators.

At UCLA this month, demonstrators stopped Jewish students at checkpoints and demanded menacingly: “Are you a Zionist?” Some said protesters of any faith were welcome but not “Zionists”; one told The Times the word refers to those who adhere to “a very violent, genocidal political ideology that is actively endangering people in Gaza.”

A group of Jewish students at Columbia University — where demonstrations were intense and led to police being called onto the Manhattan campus to break up pro-Palestinian encampments — wrote an open letter this month expressing dismay at the way the term was being bandied about.


“We proudly believe in the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our historic homeland as a fundamental tenet of our Jewish identity,” the letter, signed by several hundred students, stated. “Contrary to what many have tried to sell you — no, Judaism cannot be separated from Israel. Zionism is, simply put, the manifestation of that belief.

“We are proud to be Jews, and we are proud to be Zionists,” the students wrote.

In many cases, it seems that the competing definitions have made use of such a misunderstood word problematic.

Ned Lazarus, an international affairs professor at George Washington University in the nation’s capital, said “Zionism” is now used as a litmus test by both sides with an array of sometimes contradictory criteria and components, erupting into a war of narratives and becoming weaponized.

“It should be a question to open a conversation,” Lazarus said, “not shut it down.”

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Trump makes endorsement in race to unseat top Democratic senator



Trump makes endorsement in race to unseat top Democratic senator

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Former President Donald Trump weighed in with his important endorsement in the crowded Virginia Republican Senate race, giving the nod to retired Navy Capt. Hung Cao.

“A Combat Veteran and Highly Decorated Special Operations Officer, Hung Cao will be a tireless fighter to stop inflation, grow our Economy, secure our Border, strong support our incredible Military/Vets, and defend our always under siege Second Amendment,” Trump said on own social media platform, Truth Social, on Sunday. “Hung Cao has my Complete and Total Endorsement.”


Cao is one of five Republicans vying to take out incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., in Virginia, a solidly Democratic state that elected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin in 2021.


Former President Donald Trump holds a rally in the historical Democratic district of the South Bronx on May 23, 2024 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Navy veteran’s most formidable opposition in the race is likely Club for Growth Vice President of Government Affairs Scott Parkinson, according to a report from the Washington Post, which noted the former adviser to Florida Gov. and former Trump primary rival Ron DeSantis has raised the second most money among GOP contenders so far.

Rounding out the field of Republicans is attorney and author Jonathan Emord, lawyer Chuck Smith and business owner Eddie Garcia.


Cao, who in 2022 ran an unsuccessful campaign in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, has far outpaced his rivals in fundraising so far, bringing over $2 million, more than double the $841,000 raised by Parkinson.

Hung Cao on. campaign trail

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., and Hung Cao, greet voters and supporters on midterm Election Day at the Round Hill Elementary School Precinct on Tuesday, Nov. 08, 2022 in Round Hill, VA. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post via Getty Images)


Despite Cao’s impressive fundraising haul, the Republican challenger stands far behind the incumbent Kaine, who has raised $13 million since 2019. Kaine is also running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Complicating matters for Cao are significant political headwinds, with the Cook Political Report rating the seat a “Solid D,” signaling strength for the former Hillary Clinton running mate. Virginia was also won handily by President Biden, who beat Trump by 10 points in the 2020 presidential race in Virginia.

Cao, who came to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee at the age of four, said he is “honored” to receive the support of the former president as he looks to fend off his GOP rivals.

Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a Buckeye Values PAC Rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16, 2024.

Former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a Buckeye Values PAC Rally in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16, 2024.  (KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’m honored to receive an endorsement from the 45th and 47th President of the United States Donald Trump!” Cao said in a statement on X.

Virginia is set to hold its Republican Senate primary on June 18.

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