Good morning, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who is off this week.
Q: “I have to ask: Any thoughts on Melania Trump?”
A: [Long pause as First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom smiles wordlessly.]
—KCRA’s Edie Lambert interviewing Siebel Newsom at the Sacramento Press Club on Tuesday. The First Partner’s awkward silence lasted nine seconds before Lambert briskly replied, “OK!”
Tech dystopia by the bay
A San Francisco vote on surveillance draws a line.
The nation’s first big-city ban on the use of facial-recognition technology by municipal agencies and local law enforcement passed Tuesday in San Francisco, signaling the next front in the debate over data privacy.
- Voting 8-1, supervisors in the tech hub made an exception for federally regulated facilities, like the airport. Oakland is considering a similar measure, and San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting has authored a more limited statewide version.
SF police actually don’t use facial recognition. But privacy advocates say other law enforcement agencies do (San Jose, San Diego, California Department of Justice), that the technology can violate privacy, and that it can be inaccurate, especially with subjects who are not white men. Also, San Francisco has been burned in the past by surveillance-technology errors.
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin to The San Francisco Chronicle: “This is a genie we as a society should want to put back in the bottle, because this is the kind of technology that will inadvertently be used to make every city and state and every country a police state.”
Crime-prevention groups acknowledge potential misuses but say a ban is shortsighted. One potentially beneficial use? Finding missing children.
Say cheese: Most American adults are already in a police facial-recognition database, reports the tech news site Gizmodo, which adds that the Department of Homeland Security hopes to scan over 97 percent of all outbound international travelers by 2023.
- Statewide next step: Several California cities, including Santa Clara and Palo Alto, already have broad curbs on advanced surveillance technology. Ting’s AB 1215 would ban police departments from incorporating “biometric surveillance” technology, including facial-recognition software, to officer-worn body cameras. The bill passed the Assembly last week and is now being considered by the Senate.
PG&E's new CEO testifies in the Assembly today.
- Will Bill Johnson grovel? That’s what inquiring Capitol minds want to know as the new head of the state’s largest utility appears before the Assembly’s Utilities and Energy Committee.
- Johnson and PG&E’s board already have agreed as part of a court order to visit what’s left of the town of Paradise so they can see firsthand the destruction caused by the Camp Fire, which last year killed at least 85 people.
- A federal court judge issued the unusual order after PG&E was found to have violated its probation for felonies related to the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.
Expect things to get lively as committee Chairman Chris Holden of Pasadena presses Johnson about whether he’ll prioritize shareholders above ratepayers and wildfire victims.
- Holden, in a statement to CALmatters’ Judy Lin: “Mr. Johnson is new to California, and it is important for the committee to establish a working relationship with him. At the same time, we need to know how his leadership and vision aligns with the environmental and safety standards we expect in California.”
The utility has asked state regulators to let them raise rates to keep investors from fleeing, earning a stiff rebuke from the governor.
Water wars and the Resistance
CA sues in a partisan fight over Shasta Dam.
Another week, another Trump-California proxy battle. Citing the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and environmental organizations have filed suit to block a federally backed effort to raise the Shasta Dam.
Brief me: California Republicans in Congress want to make the state’s largest reservoir larger to increase storage capacity in wet years and provide more water for chronically parched San Joaquin Valley farmland. Farmers and the Westlands Water District have been pushing to increase Shasta Dam’s height for more than a decade.
- But state law bans California agencies from supporting projects that harm protected waterways such as the McCloud River, which feeds into the Shasta Reservoir. The McCloud valley, along with sacred lands of the Winnemem Wintu Indian tribe, would be inundated if the dam’s height is raised.
Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leading Republican in the House and one of President Donald Trump’s closest allies, gave Westlands a hand last year, slipping $20 million into a federal budget bill to fund design and planning for the project.
- That left Becerra, a Democrat who has already sued Trump 48 times on behalf of the state (but who’s counting?) with no choice but to take Westlands to court, too, for working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the project.
Water politics: As What Matters explained last year, the Shasta fight aligns Becerra not just with environmentalists but with the late GOP Gov. George (the “Iron Duke”) Deukmejian, who signed the law protecting the McCloud River and its fisheries.
LA casts yet another vote on charter schools.
California teachers unions, whose candidates for governor and state schools chief triumphed in the November elections, maintained their winning streak Tuesday as Los Angeles voters elected a labor stalwart to a pivotal seat on the state’s largest school board.
- The election of Jackie Goldberg, a former board member and state assemblywoman, reverses the narrow majority charter school backers had held at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Goldberg campaigned for a freeze on charters, which have become one of the most contentious issues in California school politics.
- It also tips the balance on a number of other hot-button issues in the massive district, including teacher retirement costs.
Goldberg beat Heather Repenning, who had taken a more neutral stance on the charter school issue, which has been a flashpoint in urban teacher strikes across the state, including at LAUSD earlier this year.
- A former aide to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Repenning had some union backing but also was supported by Eli Broad, the Los Angeles billionaire and charter-booster.
The low-turnout special election fills a seat in which 85% of students come from low-income households. Its prior occupant pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations. Goldberg, a well-known local political figure, got nearly 72% of the vote.
Speaking of schools
CA is lagging on laws protecting LGBTQ students.
California has adopted more than a half-dozen laws intended to prevent bullying, strengthen suicide prevention and cultivate inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ students in the state’s public schools, but not all school districts are implementing the new laws consistently.
- Those findings come from a 90-question survey and analysis from the Equality California Institute, reports CALmatters’ Ricardo Cano.
Of the 130 K-130 districts that were assessed, 28 received the lowest rating. Another 213 didn’t respond to the survey at all.
Cano: “Many of the local school systems identified as ‘priority’ districts are located in rural or conservative-leaning areas that have pushed back against the new requirements, specifically 2015’s California Healthy Youth Act that requires middle and high schools to teach ‘medically accurate’ comprehensive sexual health education.”
Equality California Director Rick Zbur called the response rate “deeply disappointing,” adding that laws aren’t effective if they aren’t implemented.
Zbur: “Our work cannot—and does not—stop in the Capitol.”
Red tape defenders
Aerial view of the Napa Valley.
The California Environmental Quality Act is routinely disparaged in the state’s political circles. But Alastair Bland reports for CALmatters that CEQA defenders are fighting back.
- Remind me: The half-century-old state law subjects major developments to inspections, ecological impact mitigation plans and public comment. It’s a “self-executing” law, meaning that its green rules are often enforced through lawsuits—real or threatened—that can stymie big, dirty projects but also affordable housing and bike lanes.
Maureen Sedonaen of Habitat for Humanity: “The initial intent of CEQA to protect the environment of our world is critical. But it’s become a loophole … for anti-development interests to preserve a world they remember from the 1960s.”
Lately, though, a powerful coalition of environmental and labor interests is arguing that the law is not only working but ought to be strengthened. For more on the battle over CEQA, read Bland’s report here.
Enough to field a soccer team
Who'll win the Capitol Cup this year?
State legislators swap business suits for shin guards this evening to play in the third annual Capitol Cup, a charity soccer match fielded by elected representatives. In the past, Democrats have squared off against Republicans to benefit the needy, but it’s SoCal vs. NoCal this year.
- Organizers deny speculation that that’s because the Republicans lost so many legislative seats in the November election that there are too few left of soccer-playing age to field a team.
Lobbyist Gary Hayes, who helped conceive the event: “People have certainly implied that, but the intent was really to underscore the bipartisan, good-natured spirit of the game.”
This year’s game benefits Mercy Pedalers, a charity founded by the bicycle-riding Sacramento nun, Sister Libby Fernandez, who delivers food and resources to those living on the streets.
Hayes: “I think of all the resources that are spent on various issues in the Capitol. So this is about trying to redirect some of those resources to impact the lives of those who need them most.”
Pro tip: As is so often the case in Sacramento, the Northern California contingent is probably favored. That’s thanks in part to East Bay Democrat Rob Bonta, who, before becoming a legislator, played for the San Francisco Bay Seals.
For those in Sacramento, the game starts at 5 p.m. at Papa Murphy’s Park.
Commentary at CALmatters
Maurice Hall and Steve Rothert, Environmental Defense Fund and American Rivers: Difficult negotiations over how to share water among farmers, cities including San Francisco, and fish and wildlife have been underway since 2012 with little resolution in sight—until last month. With the leadership of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, productive negotiations are underway.
Dan Walters, CALmatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised action on a wide range of societal ills but now must deliver.
See you tomorrow.