Good morning and TGIF, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who is taking time off.
“This fight is far from over.”—Sen. Scott Wiener on Senate Appropriations Chair Anthony Portantino’s decision to hold his SB 50, which would have forced cities to allow more housing around mass transit and in single-family neighborhoods.
Not going big—or going home
Aerial view of La Cañada Flintridge.
So much for that “gentler, still incredibly controversial” legislation to ramp up housing supplies in California.
- Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, a nationally watched bill that would have forced cities and single-family neighborhoods to allow denser development (a la San Francisco, Wiener’s district), was held Thursday by SoCal suburbanite Sen. Anthony Portantino, who, as an appropriations committee chair, can do that. Portantino saw “challenges with the bill.”
- Neither the author nor Gov. Gavin Newsom were happy, CALmatters’ Matt Levin and I report.
Wiener: “We’re either serious about solving this crisis, or we aren’t. At some point, we will need to make the hard political choices necessary for California to have a bright housing future.”
Newsom: “I am disappointed by the committee’s decision. … California must address the housing supply shortage head on, and we need to be able to use every tool in the toolkit to address this systemic crisis.”
SB 50 was controversial, pitting single-family homeowners against renters and local control against statewide urgency. The decision to downgrade it to a “two-year bill” means it can be reconsidered next session—in an election year.
FSB Core Strategies: Public Affairs. Ballot Campaigns. Legislative & Regulatory Fights
Shades of blue
The 'suspense file' ate some high-profile bills.
A procedural culling of bills sidelined some big state proposals on taxes, privacy, oil, housing, mental health and more on Thursday, underscoring the enduring power of business and the varying shades of blue in the Capitol’s dominant party, CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.
- Capitol Democrats may have a mega-majority, but there are gradations within the party, as Rosenhall has noted.
- Some constituencies, including the oil and gas industry, tech, business and real estate, also maintain political leverage via jobs and campaign contributions.
Thursday was the deadline for decisions on the “suspense file,” a do or die moment in the lawmaking process. Officially, it’s a kind of lightning round that allows beancounters in each house to prioritize how the Legislature should spend taxpayer dollars. Unofficially, because there’s little or no debate, it’s the mechanism powerful lawmakers use to quietly kill awkward bills before they get to a floor vote.
The session ain’t over til it’s over, of course. But Thursday was a hurdle, as CALmatters’ beat reporters noted. Among the measures sidelined, held or otherwise stalled were bills to:
- Require denser housing development.
- Expand the right to sue over internet privacy violations.
- Tax guns and drinking water.
- Stop taxing tampons.
- Mandate a 2,500-foot buffer zone between homes, schools, playgrounds, health facilities and oil and gas drilling, among others.
- Strengthen insurance parity for mental health care.
Your tax dollars at work: The Assembly Appropriations Committee considered 721 bills, a bigger load than any time in the last decade, as lawmakers—aware of swelling tax revenues and a new governor who campaigned on an agenda to expand government services like health care and child care—pitched spending ideas. The Senate, which has half as many members as the Assembly, considered 355 bills.
The road to zero
Transportation in California has been slow to electrify.
California isn’t moving the needle sufficiently on emissions from cars, trucks, trains, buses, boats and airplanes. In a status report on the effort to electrify transportation, CALmatters’ Julie Cart writes that, for all of the state’s focus on greenhouse gas reduction, the largest single source of planet-warming pollution has been relatively slow to decarbonize.
- Despite California’s goal of putting 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, only 570,000 are on California roads now.
- And of the 250,000 charging stations the state wants installed for electric vehicles in the next six years—only about 20,000 are up and running.
Cart: “California is addressing this discrepancy from a variety of angles, with more than 120 laws and incentives encouraging clean fuels and cars. The state has disbursed more than $854 million in rebates since 2010, funded by proceeds from cap-and-trade auctions, to help residents buy or lease clean cars.”
Policies are being crafted to get Californians out of their cars and into public or shared transportation, but it’s slow going. For more on Cart’s series, The Road to Zero, click here.
Trump lashes out again at the bullet train.
The Trump administration on Thursday made good on its threat to pull nearly $1 billion from California’s beleaguered bullet train project, a small contribution, but one that could be needed to complete high speed rail’s $20 billion-plus initial leg.
- In a letter charging that “California has no foreseeable plans, nor the capability, to pursue that statewide HSR System as originally proposed,” the Federal Railroad Administration canceled a $929-million grant for construction in the Central Valley and said the administration was thinking of clawing back another $2.5 billion in spent federal stimulus money.
The Los Angeles Times: “While loss of the money poses a potentially devastating hit to the project, state officials said, no immediate construction changes are planned because the federal government’s action could be reversed in future legal action.”
Remind me: California voters passed an initiative in 2008 to jump-start a train project that would one day connect Sacramento to San Diego. Though the idea was launched by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and championed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, it has since become a left-right political Rorschach, beset by hyperbole, lawsuits and cost overruns.
Federal money is only a small fraction of the project’s funding, but the FRA grant was for a statewide project. After Gov. Gavin Newsom (who hastily backtracked) seemed to announce in his state-of-the-state address that he’d only complete the link between Bakersfield and Merced, President Trump triumphantly tweeted that California owes “the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now.”
Not without (yet another) lawsuit.
Newsom: “The Trump Administration’s action is illegal and a direct assault on California, our green infrastructure, and the thousands of Central Valley workers who are building this project…This is California’s money, appropriated by Congress, and we will vigorously defend it in court.”
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula has been found not guilty of striking his 7-year-old daughter in the face—a misdemeanor child cruelty charge. The Democrat from Fresno has been on leave since he was arrested in December by the Fresno police.
- Arambula denied the worst allegations, saying that he spanked his eldest child for misbehaving, but did not hit her elsewhere. As The Fresno Bee reports, his legal defense largely focused on undermining the credibility of the alleged victim.
The Bee: “Arambula’s family also described the 7-year-old girl as an intelligent but challenging child who rejects responsibility for her actions and is prone to telling tall tales.”
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who will ultimately decide whether Arambula is put back on key committees in the Assembly, had little to add when asked for comment.
Rendon, in a statement: “Having undergone this hardship, the Arambula family should be afforded the opportunity to heal and move forward.
A Wieckowski by any other name
Or go phonetic: Why cows ski.
Maybe it’s just spell-checking “Wieckowski” every time we mention the Democratic state senator from Fremont, but this was comforting:
- This week, the senator officially filed a statement of candidacy to run for Congress as…“Robert Wieskowski.” The error was quickly corrected, but not before the keen eye of East Bay Citizen snagged a screenshot.
The Citizen’s Steven Tavares: “Perhaps, it’s not surprising that Wieckowski was unable to spell his name in federal forms. Early in his political career, his campaigns for the Fremont City Council sought to teach voters how to pronounce his name by using symbols, such as a cow and skier.”
Background: Democratic U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell is running for president, potentially leaving a vacancy in the 15th congressional district, if he gets lucky. Wieskowski—er, Wieckowski—is throwing his hat early into the ring.
Commentary at CALmatters
Bruce D. Brown and Simon Kilmurry, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and International Documentary Association: As our border becomes more of a battleground, it is high time for a set of Justice Department-style news media guidelines for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to give journalists the protection they need to keep the public informed.
See you Monday.