Good morning, California.

“Our states and communities are working hard on the problem, even as they struggle against the headwinds of rising rents.”—U.S.Housing Secretary Ben Carson, releasing the latest census on homelessness


A glimmer of progress on CA homelessness

Nearly a quarter of the nation's homeless population is in California.

California’s homeless population dipped by 1.2 percent in 2018, according to federal data, a tentative sign that the billions the state has spent on the problem may be paying off.

The decline may seem a baby step, but homelessness had increased 14 percent in 2017, and nearly a fourth of the nation’s homeless people live in the Golden State, according to the latest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development census.

HUD takes a “Point-In-Time” count on one night in January. Its bleak-yet-hopeful numbers from 2018:

  • California had 129,972 homeless people, either in shelters or on the streets. New York was second, with 91,897.
  • Thirty-three of every 10,000 Californians are homeless.
  • California accounted for almost half of the nation’s “unsheltered” chronically homeless—people living on the street, in other words. That number declined by 8 percent from the prior year.
  • California reported the largest numbers of homeless unaccompanied youth, 12,396. New York was No. 2, at 2,941.
  • California had 20,964 homeless people in families, down 25 percent from the previous count.
  • California accounted for 30 percent of all veterans experiencing homelessness, and half of all veterans living on the streets in the point-in-time count; that number fell by 5 .2 percent.

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom has pledged to appoint a first-ever cabinet-level position exclusively dedicated to solving homelessness. In November, California voters approved two bonds intended to provide affordable housing and housing for people who are chronically mentally ill.

Will Jerry Brown commute 739 sentences?

Six ex-governors have reached out to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Six former governors have called on Gov. Jerry Brown to demonstrate “political will and moral clarity” by commuting the sentences of 739 men and women on California’s Death Row.

  • The entreaty, in a  New York Times’ op-ed that ran over the weekend and was signed by former governors of Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, New Mexico and Oregon, drew a no comment from Brown spokesman Evan Westrup. The governors behind the letter all moved to end or delay the death penalty in their states.

Brown has the authority to reduce death sentences. Although the California Supreme Court would have a say in most commutations, the justices signed an order in March saying they’d intervene only if governors abuse their power.

  • A death penalty opponent, California’s governor has not had to directly confront the reality of an execution. Judges have blocked California from carrying out capital punishment since 2006, questioning the state’s lethal injection protocol.

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who also opposes the death penalty, told CALmatters earlier this year he would give “voters a chance to reconsider” capital punishment, presumably through a new initiative.

Death sentences by the numbers

Reflecting a national trend, five California counties that have led the state in sending convicted murderers to Death Row rarely impose death sentences, a Death Penalty Information Center report shows.

  • Riverside, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Kern and Orange counties had sent 44 people to Death Row since 2014, but only three in 2018.

The L.A. Times: “Analysts attributed the decline to more selective charging by prosecutors and more skeptical juries. Some pointed to frustration in California about the lack of executions as well as the bloating of Death Row and the costs of capital trials.”

Voters approved Proposition 66 two years ago to speed up executions. In April, Proposition 66 co-author Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation told me executions could “be a reality by the end of this year or early next year.”

Clearly, that’s not happening: Since Proposition 66’s passage, 15 inmates at San Quentin’s Death Row have died from overdoses, suicide, natural causes and homicide. That’s two more than have been put to death at San Quentin since 1992, when California resumed executions.

Scheidegger: “We are exploring our options.”

Transition watch: Angie Wei

Angie Wei, chief deputy cabinet secretary for policy development.

California labor lobbyist Angie Wei will be Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s chief deputy cabinet secretary focused on policy development, ensuring that unions will have a seat at the table in the new administration.

Much of the discussion at that table will involve the future of work: how to provide gig economy workers with job protections, expand a middle class and manage mechanization to name a few priorities.

  • Such policy has been Wei’s focus as chief of staff of the California Labor Federation, the state’s umbrella for organized labor where she has worked for the past 18 years. I’ve seen her lobby on payday lending, homeowners’ rights, paid sick days and family leave, sexual harassment, minimum wage and, in recent years, the treatment of gig economy workers.

Also, there’s her seafood experience: In the hallway outside the Assembly one day, Wei told me the story of doing her homework while cleaning shrimp at King Hua, her parents’ restaurant in Houston—an experience that laid the foundation for her knowledge of management, labor and small business.

  • Her father would inspect her handiwork. If she didn’t remove the tails correctly, he’d charge her a nickel, no matter that she wasn’t getting paid.

Commentary at CALmatters

Mark Baldassare, Public Policy Institute of California: Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature took the drama out of the annual budget process, passed popular laws on education funding and climate change, responded to crises such as drought and wildfire, and maintained a united front against Trump’s unpopular policies. His tenure offers a successful model for governing the state in the future. Will Brown be a hard act to follow for Gavin Newsom? Maintaining fiscal stability and an effective partnership with the Legislature will be the key ingredients.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: A many-sided battle over control of Tres Hermanos, a 2,500-acre Southern California cattle ranch, is business as usual in southeastern Los Angeles County.

Do you know Jerry Brown?

Sixteen questions about the governor, one per year.

Gov. Jerry Brown has run for office over a dozen times. He’s palled around with Hollywood directors, lefty academics and folk rockers.

  • He has inspired punk songs and countless jokes about his moniker “Moonbeam.” And as governor, mayor, perennial candidate and radio shock jock, he has in some way touched virtually every major policy initiative in modern California.

Now that he’s finally preparing to retire (or at least, so he says) let us count the ways he has shaped our state’s politics and popular culture.

  • We’ve put together a quiz—with one question for each of the 16 years that Brown served as the state’s governor. You can test your Brown knowledge by clicking here.

Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]org, 916.201.6281. Shawn Hubler, [email protected]edits WhatMatters. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you tomorrow.