Let’s hit the slopes, California.

“It’s comforting to finally have an average year.”— John Paasch, chief of hydrology and flood control for the Department of Water Resources, declaring that there’s sufficient snowpack for the year. Whatever else happens in 2019, at least there will be no drought.

Tackle football thrown for a loss in CA

California kids are "voting with their feet."

The L.A. Rams’ berth in Sunday’s Super Bowl notwithstanding, participation in California high school has been deflating faster than a 2015 Tom Brady AFC championship football, including in parts of the state that were once powerhouses in the sport, CALmatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

  • Make no mistake, Cano writes: Football is still big in California. Roughly one player in six on the Rams’ and New England Patriots’ active rosters is a product of California high schools. Football is still the state’s most popular boys’ sport and California is among the leading states in churning out top-tier college and NFL recruits.

Cano: “But the state that produced Tom Brady, Jared Goff and Julian Edelman is also in the thick of national trends that are fueling a decline in football participation, largely because of concerns over head injuries and competition from less aggressive sports.”

Cano analyzed participation data over the past six years, covering nearly 800 of the state’s 877 high school football programs. (He left out the ones with incomplete data).

  • Statewide, participation has dropped about 11 percent. In some areas—for example, the huge CIF Southern Section, which encompasses hundreds of schools and spans most of the counties in Southern California—the decline has been much bigger. And in some formerly championship schools, programs have been cut in half.

Click here for a regional look at the state of California high school football and a searchable database of schools for details.

Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento carried a bill last year that sought to ban tackle football for kids under 12. That failed. But as McCarty told Cano: “Parents see the risks and are voting with their feet.”

  • What’s ahead: Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper of Elk Grove has introduced a bill that would limit youth football programs to two full-contact practices per week. That won’t be the last word. Look for tougher legislation later this year.

Private prisons, then and now

A new bill would phase out private prisons in California.

The justice pendulum swings: In 1997, then Sen. Richard Polanco, among the most influential Democratic legislators of his day, convened a press conference to tout construction of a private, 2,000-bed prison to ease crowding among California inmates.

Fast-forward to 2019:

  • Liberals regularly bash private prisons.
  • Oakland Democrat Assemblyman Rob Bonta and 10 Democratic co-authors are proposing legislation to stop California from renewing contracts with private prisons starting in 2020, phasing out remaining contracts by 2028.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom declared in his inaugural address: “And we will end the outrage that is private prisons in the state of California once and for all.”

Bonta’s policy argument: Private companies are beholden to shareholders and don’t spend adequately on rehabilitation and education. Private prison operators dispute that contention.

Political matters: The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union that represents state prison officers, long has fought state use of private prisons, which are nonunion. Polanco regularly clashed with the union.

  • The union spent $2.825 million to help elect Newsom and hundreds of thousands on other state races.
  • Private prison operator CoreCivic donated $194,000 to California politicians in the 2017-18 election cycle, including $5,000 for Newsom.

The state turned to private prisons to save money and ease overcrowding. Gov. Gray Davis proposed ending contracts with private prisons in 2002 to the delight of the prison officers’ union.

  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who battled the union, relied on private prisons as the inmate population ballooned past 170,000.

Numbers: As inmate population fell, Gov. Jerry Brown began phasing out private prisons. Before leaving office, Brown ordered that California pull 1,800 prisoners from one remaining private prison outside the state, in Arizona, by the end of this year. That will leave 1,900 inmates in small private lock-ups in California.

Can a new law reduce police shootings?

Does California’s law too easily justify officer-involved shootings? California lawmakers are about to revisit the question after a controversial bill to toughen the legal standards was shelved last year.

  • Amid heavy lobbying from law enforcement, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins put a hold on the legislation. Ever since, negotiations have been going on behind the scenes, CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.
  • Lawmakers and aides are meeting with civil rights advocates, law enforcement lobbyists and families whose loved ones have been killed by law enforcement. 
  • Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the San Diego Democrat who carried last year’s stalled bill, is working on a bill that is expected to take shape soon.

The new incoming bill is nearly certain to raise a serious debate over one of America’s most enduring problems—the often toxic relationship between black and brown communities, where the quality of life for law-abiding residents is often undercut by high poverty and crime rates, and police who are sworn to protect and serve, but who sometimes can err—lethally.

Both police unions and civil liberties advocates are influential in the Democrat-dominated Capitol. Both sides acknowledge a need to improve trust and safety. Beyond that, there is not much common ground.

A primer on California gun control

California has more than six times the gun laws of other states.

Gun owners and their advocates got their wish two weeks ago when the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would decide on a major challenge to New York’s tough gun safety laws.

  • A loss by New York would reverberate in California, threatening what are some of the nation’s toughest gun control laws.

How did California get to be so tough on guns? Who are the victims of gun violence across the state? And what is a “Patriot Pin”? Brief yourself with  CALmatters’ Ben Christopher’s explainer on California gun policy.  

A few details you might not know:

  • California has more than six times as many gun laws as the average state.
  • Suicides account for half of the gun deaths in California—and they disproportionately claim old, white men.

New gun-related legislation is expected soon from the Democrat-dominated Legislature. Consider this a handy primer.

Transition watch: A lobby firm ascends

Jason Kinney, center, as the legislative session opens.

As expected, Jason Kinney, a long-time friend and political adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, has joined Axiom Advisors, lending momentum to its rise as a powerhouse lobbying firm in Sacramento.

  • The firm was created after the November election, as CALmatters reporter Laurel Rosenhall wrote at the time and updated on Thursday.

A new filing shows that it has seven lobbyists, including Kinney, and clients in sectors that are sure to be the focus of legislative fights this year: cannabis, a car share company, a healthcare company, the California Building Industry Association, two oil companies, and AT&T.

  • Kinney was involved in the 2016 campaign to legalize commercial marijuana. But he said he does not intend to lobby for cannabis clients.

Commentary at CALmatters

Assemblyman Jim Patterson: In Sacramento, talk is cheap. Politicians say a lot of things to get elected. It’s what they do after they win that shows what their priorities are. But Gov. Gavin Newsom’s swift action on the DMV is a welcome change.

Have you been paying attention? Take our news quiz and see

What did state Sen. Bob Hertzberg say about our preparedness for problems with California electricity grid? Which high school sport experienced a 11 percent drop in participation? Those questions and more await you in this week’s quiz.

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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.

See you Monday.