Season’s greetings, California.

“I wanted to bring a whole new spirit to Sacramento . . . a spirit of inquiry and openness to ideas and constituencies that didn’t have much influence or power.”—Gov. Jerry Brown to George Skelton of The Los Angeles Times on why he ran for office, adding that he also just wanted to get elected.

Watch in coming days as editor Dave Lesher and I have our own conversation with Brown and columnist Dan Walters weighs in with a multi-part look at Brown’s legacy.

Colusa County makes way for a prodigal son

Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert welcomes the Browns

Next month, Jerry Brown will move from the Governor’s Mansion to a rural patch of the north state, “a rugged region of ranchers and Republicans whose vision for California couldn’t be more different from his own,” writes CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall.

  • California’s longest-serving governor has long straddled the different worlds that are inland and coastal California. Any day now, those worlds are about to start colliding, in ways that promise to be both poignant and amusing.

Rosenhall: “Brown has lost Colusa County every time he’s been on the ballot. The region covered in almond and walnut orchards, rice fields and cattle ranches is so fed up with Democrats’ grip on state government that it has officially declared a desire to secede from California—an aspiration plastered on the “State of Jefferson” billboards that dot the landscape.”

Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert: “Myself, I never voted for him. I didn’t always agree with a lot of his politics.”

Treat yourself and read more here.

Is crime up because prison population is down?

Violent crime, far from the highs of the 1990s, is still up from 2014

The number of felons in state prison has fallen dramatically under Gov. Jerry Brown, and crime has ticked up, though not by much. Coincidence, or what?

  • The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization, teamed up with The Los Angeles Times, to explore that question.
  • Their conclusion: It’s complex, and maybe too soon to know.

The numbers:

  • California prisons held 151,414 felons, plus another 10,000 in out-of-state prisons on the day Brown took office in 2011.
  • As Brown leaves office, there are 125,764, and another 2,000 in out-of-state facilities.
  • Violent crime increased 12 percent from 2014 to 2017, but remains far below its high in the mid-1990s.
  • California crime rates are slightly above national averages.

Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper of Elk Grove blames laws pushed by Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, most of which were approved by voters, that reduce penalties and allow for release.

Cooper: “People know they can get away with things.”

Michael Romano, director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law who helped write some of those laws: “To look at it from a year-to-year basis is very short-sighted. We really have had a sustained downward trend over the past decade or two.”

The U.S. Supreme Court forced Brown’s hand in 2011 by declaring conditions in California prisons, which once housed more than 175,000, to be cruel and unusual. The governor views changes he brought about in the criminal justice system as one of his signature achievements.

Brown's surest legacy

California Supreme Court nominee Joshua Groban

If past is prologue—and it is—a little known three-member commission will make a momentous decision today: confirming a new justice to the California Supreme Court.

  • Joshua Groban will be Gov. Jerry Brown’s fourth and final selection to the court in his second stint as governor, giving Brown appointees a majority on the seven-justice court.

The commission consists of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Court of Appeal Justice Anthony Kline. Their background report describes Groban as an unbiased, even-tempered and deep thinker who is not an ideologue.

  • Testimonials to his legal prowess include letters from Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
  • Groban is a Harvard Law School graduate who took the lead helping Brown select judges during the past eight years. Although he has never been a judge, the state Commission on Judicial Nominees declared him to be exceptionally well qualified. In other words, he’s a shoo-in.

The big picture: Groban is 45. Each of Brown’s other appointees are in their 40s. They could serve for decades, making the court Brown’s most lasting legacy.

A California milestone for EVs

Electric vehicle sales in the U.S. and California. Source: Veloz

Nearly half the electric vehicles on the road nationally are in California, the electric car advocacy nonprofit Veloz reports.

As of last month,  500,000-plus EVs were registered here, accounting for  7.1 percent of California car sales in the first three quarters of the year.

California’s goals:

  • Five million electric cars on the road by 2030. That would result in a 10 percent reduction in emissions from the transportation sector, saving $640 million annually in air pollution related health costs, Veloz estimates.
  • Two hundred fifty thousand public charging stations by 2025.

The California Air Resources Board earlier this month approved spending $200 million to increase access to charging in the Riverside-San Bernardino, Santa Cruz-Watsonville and in the Santa Rosa regions. The plan includes incentives for low-income drivers in rural areas.

  • Thanks, Volkswagen: The money comes from VW’s settlement of the Dieselgate case in which the automaker falsified data about emissions from its diesel cars.

The California New Car Dealers Association reports electric vehicles increased 4 percent in the first nine months of 2018 in California.

  • Light truck sales increased by 5.2 percent statewide, reflecting consumer tastes and relatively inexpensive gasoline. Nationally, light truck sales rose 6 percent.

We are sinking—literally

Google satellite image of Fresno farmland, via The California Sun

In much of the Central Valley, the ground is sinking beneath our feet, the result of a century of pumping the aquifer to irrigate crops.

  • The California Sun, among our regular morning reads, is the latest publication to detail the phenomenon, offering stunning photos of the earth’s deflation, and noting that “so much water has been sucked up that the ground has dropped in places by as much as 30 feet.”

The Sun’s Mike McPhate: Subsidence in the Central Valley “represents what some hydrologists have called the single largest human alteration of the Earth’s topography.”

Commentary at CALmatters

Glenn Sacks, United Teachers of Los Angeles: Los Angeles teachers’ issues are fundamental. Among them: bloated class sizes, lack of full-time nurses in 80 percent of Los Angeles schools, annual waves of destructive layoffs, and more. The Los Angeles Unified School District has legitimate financial issues. However, the district has repeatedly projected deficits which don’t materialize.

Alma Hernández, Service Employees International Union: Californians voted their values of dignity, respect, and accountability at the polls in 2018. The SEIU’s effort will continue through 2020. We’ll be looking to see whether House members stick to their promises and vote their values on Capitol Hill.

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Gov. Jerry Brown's soon-to-be retirement home

What’s the name of Gov. Jerry Brown’s new Colusa County house? What did London Breed’s brother do? And what was that light in the sky? Take our weekly news quiz by clicking here.

Please email or call 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.

What Matters will be off next week, celebrating what really matters. To you and yours, we wish a warm, safe and stress-free holiday season. See you in 2019.