Good morning, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who is off for a couple more days.
“San Francisco, where streets are named after union organizers and Mexican anti-imperialists, and local landmarks include murals from the Depression-era Public Works of Art Project, is becoming a paradoxical urban space: a homogenous corporate campus run through with threads of public pain.”—The New Yorker’s Anna Wiener, on a city “being reshaped in the image of the tech industry.”
'These numbers are bad'
Early numbers tell an unsettling story on homelessness.
Preliminary surveys of homelessness across California are painting a disturbing picture: Homelessness is up 17% since 2017 in San Francisco. In Orange and Alameda counties the numbers are up 43%. In Humboldt County: 120%.
- “Point-in-time” head counts, which counties conduct every two years, are notoriously imprecise. But the consistency and magnitude of the reported increases are red flags.
Jeff Kositsky, head San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to The San Francisco Chronicle: “I can make no excuses. These numbers are bad, and we have to own that.”
Are policymakers rising to the occasion? San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener, still smarting from the abrupt kibosh put last week on his zoning reform bill, SB 50, thinks not.
@Scott_Wiener: “The Chair of the Appropriations Committee [also] killed my bill, SB 48, to streamline emergency shelters & navigation centers. There are entire CA counties w zero shelter beds & others that put shelters in industrial zones. Where are the homeless supposed to go?”
Meanwhile, homeowners are circling the wagons: In Los Angeles, a neighborhood group is using
the California Environmental Quality Act to block a homeless shelter via a lawsuit. Activists in San Francisco are threatening to do the same. Last week, San Diego’s City Council voted to crack down on people living in their cars.
- An exception: college campuses. AB 302, requiring community colleges to keep their parking lots open to students who have nowhere else to sleep, is heading to the Assembly floor. Track its progress here.
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Up in smoke
Statewide teen vaping restrictions are being snuffed out.
Despite skyrocketing teen use of e-cigarettes and local restrictions in at least 26 counties and cities, proposals to make California the nation’s first state to ban flavored tobacco are floundering—and health advocates blame Big Tobacco’s enduring clout, CALmatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.
- In the Senate: A flavored-tobacco ban is advancing, but only after being amended to exempt shisha tobacco and products patented before 2000 (except menthol cigarettes).
- In the Assembly: All tobacco-related bills have been effectively snuffed out as a key committee’s chairman, Merced Democrat Adam Gray, has opted not to hear them. Gray says a “thoughtful” compromise is being negotiated. Health advocates say that’s news to them.
Use of e-cigarettes was up 78% last year among middle and high schoolers to more than one in five students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So why the legislative reticence?
Kati Phillips, California Common Cause: “What you are seeing there is the influence of big money. When you can afford to have direct access to lawmakers they tend to listen to you. They are buying a seat at the table.”
Money matters: Members of the Assembly’s Governmental Organization committee have received $23,500 from Juul Labs, the San Francisco-based maker of e-cigarettes and flavored pods, and about $89,000 from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the first quarter of this year in political contributions.
- Health advocates say flavored tobacco products are designed to lure young people into vaping and nicotine addiction. Opponents of the bills deny this and say the products help smokers quit.
Where the money meets the road
More road projects means more demand for labor and material.
The price of a pothole repair appears to be spiking in California—the result, city planners fear, of a perfect storm of a roaring economy, surging building construction and plentiful gas tax revenue.
- Remind me: Two years ago, state lawmakers raised the state gas tax to provide an additional $5 billion in transportation money. The good news: a burst of new road projects. The bad news: increased prices for labor and material in hot markets as all those new projects increase demand.
In San Jose, “even the lowest construction bids” on some of the city’s summer repaving projects “are coming in more than 30 percent higher than the city estimated,” The Mercury News reported last week.
- The city had hoped to repave the city’s aging streets with gas tax revenue plus money from a round of recent local tax hikes. Now authorities are considering reducing the number of streets set to be repaved.
Margot Yapp of Nichols Consulting Engineers in Richmond says San Jose isn’t the only market facing a challenge: “We are seeing increases in this spring’s bids” across the state.
Road construction is just more expensive in California. We explained why last year. Also markets do have a way of correcting.
Charles Herbertson, public works director for Culver City: “Of course, the hope is that the capacity of contractors will expand over time to grow to meet the increased demand.”
Cough 'em up
Get ready for more reports on law enforcement abuse.
Police misconduct records Attorney General Xavier Becerra had been holding back despite a new state law mandating that they be made public have to be handed over, a San Francisco court has ruled. And that goes not only for Department of Justice officers but for records vacuumed during investigations of local departments by the DOJ.
Remind me: Last year, state lawmakers passed SB 1421 to make police personnel records available to the public in cases where an officer used lethal force, committed sexual assault or was dishonest. That law represented a major policy shift. California has some of the nation’s least transparent police records rules.
- Most agencies most have resisted, arguing officers will be endangered if details of misconduct are made public. Records pried loose so far by more than 30 news organizations (including this one) have included an Emeryville police officer soliciting sex from a 14-year-old, a Richmond school resource officer who engaged in sexual touching with an 18-year-old student and a South Pasadena police corporal who fled the scene of a DUI and then convinced his mother to take the rap.
The First Amendment Coalition sued after Becerra argued that he was not required to produce records from before the law went into effect on January 1, 2019.
David Snyder of the First Amendment Coalition to KQED: “The attorney general’s stonewalling now for five months has now been put to halt.”
Becerra said he will deliver. “With this court’s ruling,” he said in a statement, “my office now has much of the clarity we have sought in our efforts to appropriately follow the letter of the law.”
Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's mercury.
The sale of cosmetics containing formaldehyde, asbestos and mercury shouldn’t be banned, California’s Legislature has decided. Which raises an obvious question: Wait—there might be formaldehyde in my eye shadow?! Yes, CALmatters’ Elizabeth Castillo writes.
Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi of Torrance sought to ban 15 toxic chemicals and minerals sometimes used in cosmetics. But the bill was declared a “job killer” by the state Chamber of Commerce and didn’t even survive its first committee hearing.
- Business groups said a flat ban went too far, arguing that trace amounts of nasty sounding chemicals don’t necessarily spell danger.
- Proponents argued that this was another area crying out for California to step in where the federal regulators have failed.
From the Food and Drug Administration: “To be clear, there are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer marketing products to American consumers to test their products for safety.”
For those still perturbed by the idea of lead in your lipstick, the state launched a searchable database of products containing potentially harmful chemicals.
Hope on the Horizon?
A panel will reimagine mental health in California today.
Fixing the”broken” mental health care system in California was at the top of Gavin Newsom’s to-do list when he was campaigning. Now that he’s governor: Where do we begin? And what would a system that works look like?
CALmatters contributor Jocelyn Wiener will be putting those questions today to a panel of lawmakers, advocates and experts in downtown Sacramento. We’ll be posting it as the latest chapter of her multipart series for CALmatters, Breakdown: California’s mental health system, explained. Tune in for the livestream starting at 12 p.m.
Who will be there:
- State Sen. Jim Beall, a leader in the California Legislature on mental health issues.
- Thomas Insel, MD, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Alex Briscoe, one of the chief architects of the California Children’s Trust campaign to redesign mental health care for children.
- Kerry Morrison, Durfee Foundation Stanton Fellowship grantee, studying innovative systems of care in Trieste, Italy.
- Kelechi Ubozoh, a mental health advocate, suicide survivor and writer who will present recommendations to California’s Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan.
Tweet o' the weekend
“I only realized I was kicked when I saw the video like all of you. I’m just glad the idiot didn’t interrupt my Snapchat.”—Former Gov. Arnold @Schwarzenegger, after a man in a crowd took a flying leap at him Saturday during a public appearance in South Africa. The 71-year-old actor later tweeted that he wouldn’t press charges, and that he hoped his attacker “gets his life on the right track.”
Commentary at CALmatters
Michael Tubbs, Stockton mayor: Stockton did not fall behind by accident. Years of redlining, tax structures that undercut development and missed opportunities led to California’s fragmented economy. It doesn’t have to be this way. One way we can spur a resurgence of economic prosperity is to use a new tax incentive called opportunity zones.
Dan Walters, CALmatters: California has a big shortage of housing, and a controversial proposal shows it’s a tough political nut to crack.
See you tomorrow.