Good morning, California.

Congratulations to the and on the Super Bowl victory. The have an exciting young team—they’ll be back stronger next year!!”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, who must now perform community service in a Patriots jersey, per his lost bet with Gov. Charlie Baker.  Boston beat L.A. 13-3. 

CA's default psychiatric institutions

Close to a third of California inmates have a serious mental illness.

California’s mental health crisis is most evident in its criminal justice systems, as jails and prisons have become default mental institutions, crowded in part with mentally ill homeless people in desperate need of effective care.  

  • In the first of a series on mental health care in California, CALmatters contributor Jocelyn Wiener writes that the main path to treatment at a state psychiatric hospital now is through jail. However controversial those state hospitals may be, many families conclude they are the best option for their loved ones. 

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey: “That is a sad state of affairs in our society that only when you get locked up does it become a priority to get you treatment.”

But even mentally ill people deemed incompetent to stand trial are waiting for months or years for a bed in an institution, Wiener reports.

Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown, who runs the Sacramento County’s mental health court: “They’re living a nightmare being behind bars. That setting of being in a cell, with loud noises, is not an opportune manner in which to address serious mental illness.”

The prosecutor-turned-judge is among those trying to reverse the trend, with a goal of diverting at least mentally ill people who commit low-level crimes into treatment and housing.

Wiener: “Standing alongside their public defenders, some participants beamed as he lauded their progress staying on medications and off drugs, getting jobs and doing their dishes. Others squirmed uncomfortably in the spotlight. One woman’s voice cracked as she described her troubled relationship with her mother.”

Judge Brown: “The fact that you’re taking all of these steps to take care of yourself, we’re behind you a thousand percent.”

Uphill battle: More often, mentally ill people end up in prison, the result of repeated arrests and inadequate treatment. Close to a third of California’s inmates have a documented serious mental illness.

Sacramento’s growth industry

Lobbyists gather outside the Assembly in 2018.

Business, unions and advocacy groups spent $360 million in 2018 on lobbying in California to shape legislation and policy, and $703.8 million in the 2017-18 legislative session, the final two years of Jerry Brown’s tenure, year-end reports filed with the Secretary of State last week show. 

  • That $360 million was a single-year record.
  • That $703.8 million was a 12 percent jump from the prior two years, and a 24 increase from the $566.8 million spent at the start of Brown’s second stint as governor in 2011-12.

Organized labor spending dipped, probably the result of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that restricted public employee unions’ ability to collect dues from workers who don’t want to join their bargaining units:

  • The California State Council of Service Employees spent $8 million in 2017-18, down from the $11.8 million in 2015-16 and less than the $8.67 million it spent in 2011-12 when it was the No. 1 spender.
  • California Teachers Association ticked up to $4.3 million, about half the $8.4 million it spent in 2011-12.

The top three spenders:

  • Western States Petroleum Association spent $15.7 million, as lawmakers pushed legislation to combat climate change. The association’s spent $18.7 million in the prior two years when it also was the top spender.
  • Chevron ranked No. 2, at $12.8 million.
  • Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was the third largest spender in the most recent legislative term, at $11.83 million. PG&E spent most of that—$9.9 million—in 2018 as it fought for legislative relief against liability from wildfire destruction. PG&E did not rank among the top 10 spenders in 2015-2016 or 2011-12.

Pro tip: Lobbyist employers spend money on in-house lobbyists and contract with outside firms.

Lobbying firms make bank

Contract lobbyists earned $414 million in 2017-18, up from $378 million the prior two years, and top-earning firms showed remarkable stability, year-end reports show.

  1. Lang, Hansen O’Malley & Miller, $13.98 million, up from $12.5 million in 2015-15 when it was the second biggest biller, and $12.8 million 2011-12, when it was the No. 1. Lang’s clients include tobacco giant Altria, gambling, cannabis and alcohol concerns, Walmart, the California Catholic Conference and many more.
  2. Capitol Advocacy, $13.8 million. It was No. 3 in 2015-16 and No. 5 in 2011-12. Its clients include PG&E, doctors, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Retailers Association, the California State University chancellor’s office, Jack-in-the-Box and the Fraternal Order of Police.
  3. KP Public Affairs, $13.4 million, down slightly from $13.8 million in 2015-16 when it was the top biller. The decline coincided with the loss of its longtime client, Western States Petroleum Association. It retains several other heavyweight clients, including chemical manufacturers, health care providers, Westlands Water District and Google.

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Lobbying: A case study

Bird scooters await riders in San Jose.

Motorized scooter riders got 1,560 tickets in San Diego in an eight-month period in 2018, and 90 percent were for people not wearing helmets, The San Diego Union Tribune reports.

The answer:

  • A Sacramento lobbying team, Strategies 360, was hired by the Santa Monica-based e-scooter rental company Bird in February 2018.
  • Later in February, a bill to exempt adults from helmet laws while riding e-scooters was introduced by Assemblyman Heath Flora, a Central Valley Republican. Bird was its sponsor.
  • The helmet exemption passed the Assembly 77-0, and the Senate 33-2 in August, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law on Sept. 19.
  • Bird’s payments to its lobby firm: $76,250, its year-end lobby report shows.
  • As of Jan. 1, adults riding scooters traveling at no more than 15 miles an hour no longer need to wear helmets.

The U-T: “Dr. Vishal Bansal, chief of trauma surgery at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, said the state’s no-helmet law is insulting to medical professionals who treat e-scooter injuries, as it ignores years of research on transportation risk factors and injury prevention.”

Bansal: “It’s akin to telling an alcoholic to go ahead and drink as much alcohol as they want. It’s the exact opposite of what a human being should be doing to prevent injury.”

Money matters: On Oct. 24, Bird gave its single largest campaign donation, $5,000, to defeat Proposition 6, the initiative on the November  ballot that sought to repeal a gasoline tax used to fund road repair. Brown led the fund-raising effort to defeat the measure.

One housing solution: student-retiree roomies

UC Berkeley has an idea to help fix its student housing crisis.

An experimental solution to the student housing crisis is underway at UC Berkeley: matching graduate students looking for an affordable spot near campus with retired UC employees who have space in their homes.

  • Potential benefits go beyond cheaper rent, CALmatters’ Felicia Mello reports. Hosting students could help retirees stave off the isolation that sometimes comes with aging, making it easier for them to stay in their homes.

Organizers hope to expand to other campuses if the pilot program is successful, taking advantage of the university’s network of retirement centers. Berkeley’s not the only campus trying intergenerational living. Humboldt State University and New York University have similar programs.

  • Hurdles: About 10 percent of UC Berkeley students report having experienced homelessness. But convincing homeowners to help out by taking in students may not be easy.

Michelle King, 1961-2019

Michelle King speaking to the Legislature in 2016.

Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King, the first African-American woman to lead the state’s largest school district, has died, LAUSD announced Saturday. King, 57, had been battling cancer.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: “Dr. Michelle King’s life and career encapsulated what it means to be an Angeleno: excellence, kindness, integrity, service above self.”

The L.A. Times: “King had grown up attending Los Angeles schools and began her professional career as a teacher’s aide, then a teacher, gradually rising through the ranks. Her style was not to make waves. Instead she impressed people with her competence, humanity, dedication and loyalty — over and over again.”

King, interviewed by The Times’ Patt Morrison, on science education: “I think we have to go to the elementary school and we have to reintroduce the idea of inquiry and curiosity and exploration because that’s what’s fun about science.”

Commentary at CALmatters

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, California Supreme Court justice: The California Supreme Court has embarked on a project to improve service to people whose native language is not English. It’s not easy. But when Californians get shut out of our courts because they can’t communicate in English—whether the person is a witness in a criminal trial, a small business owner trying to clear her name, or a potential victim of elder abuse—the public ends up paying the price.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: The gap between the assets of the California Public Employees Retirement System and its liabilities for pension payments has widened again, and a new Federal Reserve calculation indicates that it may much wider.

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.

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