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Rep. Katie Porter’s university housing deal draws scrutiny

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Rep. Katie Porter’s university housing deal draws scrutiny

WASHINGTON (AP) — In Orange County, California, where the typical house sells for $1 million, Rep. Katie Porter’s four-bedroom, three-bath residence in a leafy subdivision on the University of California Irvine campus is a bargain.

The progressive Democrat and law professor, who has lamented the cost of housing in her district, purchased it in 2011 for $523,000, a below-market price secured through a program the university uses to lure academics who couldn’t otherwise afford to live in the affluent area. The only eligibility requirement was that she continue working for the school.

For Porter, this version of subsidized housing has outlasted her time in the classroom, extending nearly four years after she took unpaid leave from her $258,000-a-year teaching job to serve in the U.S. House.

But the ties go deeper, with at least one law school administrator, who was also a donor to her campaign, helping secure extensions of her tenure while she remained in Congress, according to university emails obtained by The Associated Press.

That has allowed Porter, a rising Democratic star and fundraising powerhouse whose own net worth is valued at as much as $2 million, to retain her home even as her return to the school remains in doubt.

Porter’s housing situation does not violate U.S. House ethics rules. But it cuts against the profile she has sought to cultivate in Washington as an ardent critic of a political system that allows “the wealthy and well-connected” to “live in one reality while the rest of us live in another,” as she wrote in an online fundraising solicitation in 2020.

It also coincides with a growth in interest in the school’s housing program, which has resulted in a yearslong waitlist of more than 250 school academics and administrators, as a nationwide housing shortage sends prices for homes outside the on-campus development skyrocketing, university figures from 2021 show.

Whether voters care will be tested in November when Porter, who has amassed a $19.8 million campaign fund, seeks a third term to the once reliably Republican district that has become more competitive in recent years.

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“It sounds like the sort of insider deal that really makes people mad at Congress,” said Bradley A. Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, and a Republican former member of the Federal Election Commission was appointed by Bill Clinton.

In an interview, Porter declined to say whether her housing arrangement was appropriate. But she said she “followed the applicable (University of California) policies, as well as all applicable state and federal law.”

“I am always happy to be transparent with voters,” Porter said. “I take a lot of pride in my record on transparency and good governance and have been asked about this before by voters and have always been happy to give them full and complete information.”

Smith said the arrangement could run afoul of an FEC prohibition on third parties paying the living expenses of federal candidates. He cautioned, however, that the situation was nuanced and unique.

“Let’s suppose they were paying her mortgage? I think that would pretty clearly be a problem,” Smith said. “Here, it is a little different than that. They are just letting her keep a deal that she had previously. But it does seem to subsidize her income. If I were still serving on the commission and that complaint came in, I’d be very interested in seeing her response.”

Porter said Smith’s analysis “is interesting to think about” and his question about whether the prohibition could apply to her situation “is exactly right.” But she added,“ I don’t think he necessarily has all of the facts about how the housing is structured to be able to definitively answer that question,” citing her payment of property taxes, as well as homeownership fees and other expenses.

Smith responded that he is “not sure how the fact that she paid those fees changes anything.”

For decades, the cost of housing in Orange County has soared above the national average. The University of California Irvine’s solution was to build University Hills, their own exclusive academic community, where home values are capped to make them more affordable and favorable mortgage rates are offered to those approved to live there.

The pent-up demand to live in University Hills is understandable in light of Irvine’s $1.3 million median home price. Houses in the school’s subdivision have sold in recent years for about half of their regular market value, according to University of California figures from 2021. The community is a short drive from the Pacific Ocean and Laguna Beach. And the list of amenities includes a network of parks, walking paths, scenic vistas and community pools. It also feeds into some of the most sought-after schools in the area.

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But for academics and administrators, the trade-off is that they are required to work full-time for the university, with an exception built in for retirees. For those no longer employed by the school, however, an enforcement provision kicks in, which in Porter’s case would require her to pay off her mortgage within months.

When Porter was recruited, school officials outlined their expectations in a letter informing her that they would sponsor her application to the housing program.

“Your primary duties, of course, will be to serve as a professor of law,” school officials wrote in the letter, which Porter signed in December 2010. “It is expected that you will teach two classes … you will be expected to hold office hours and be available to mentor students.”

Eight years later, after her 2018 election, Porter ceased to fulfill those obligations.

Initially, administrators signed off on two separate one-year periods of leave that enabled her to keep her house, documents show. But school officials voiced more concern about the arrangement in the run-up to Porter’s 2020 reelection, emails show.

“Is there any fixed limit on the number of years of leave without pay … One of our administrators mentioned that they seemed to recall a two-year limit,” law school Vice Dean Chris Whytock wrote in a April 2020 email. He added: “Some government service may, of course, last for a number of years.”

Whytock, who donated $500 to Porter’s campaign in 2018, wrote a memo outlining the case for extending Porter’s leave, while suggesting that there are no limits on how long such an arrangement could continue. The plan required the approval of the school’s vice provost, which was granted in 2020, according the the emails.

Whytock did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In a statement, UC Irvine spokesperson Tom Vasich said faculty “on approved leaves without pay remain UCI employees, and they can maintain their home in University Hills.”

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Porter said she intends to win her election, but would resume teaching if she lost. She declined to say whether she would look for housing elsewhere if she won.

After the AP interviewed Porter, spokesperson Jordan Wong provided an additional comment, stating the congresswoman “had no knowledge of Vice Dean Chris Whytock’s role in researching her request for leave” and “at no point” was in contact with him about it.

Still, longtime government ethics watchdogs in Washington, including those with favorable opinions of the congresswoman, say it’s difficult squaring Porter’s housing situation with her crusading rhetoric.

“She has a reputation for being highly ethical and requiring others to live up to that standard,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the Washington-based government watchdog group Public Citizen. “Let’s hope she is not running short of her own ethics with the university.”

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Associated Press writer Collin Binkley contributed to this report.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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