Good morning, California.

“I want to thank President Trump for calling attention to prescription drug prices in his State of the Union. Yes, you heard that right.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, using his State of the Union address to seek common ground on what “should be a bipartisan issue.” 

Governor Not-Jerry-Brown

In State of the State address, Gov. Gavin Newsom charts his own path.

Gov. Gavin Newsom made clear in his State of the State speech Tuesday that there’s a new sheriff in town and his name isn’t Jerry Brown.

  • From the $20 billion twin Delta tunnels and the $77 billion high-speed rail project to education policy and National Guard troops at the Mexican border, CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports that Newsom used the high-profile speech to differentiate himself from the fellow Democrat—and California icon—who preceded him in office.

Both the tunnels and high speed rail were among Brown’s signature projects. Newsom’s take, upon closer examination, raised at least two questions:

  • Is the bullet train derailed now by Newsom’s vision?
  • Will the scaled back tunnel proposal pencil out for backers and win over doubters?

For an annotated transcript of the speech, with observations and background from CALmatters reporters, please click here.

High-speed confusion

Was the governor on the train or off the train with high speed rail?

So wait—is high speed rail on or off in California? In his State of the State speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted the project for cost overruns, blew off its fast-track, San Francisco-to-L.A. ambitions and seemed to say it would just run from Bakersfield to Merced now.

Newsom: “Let’s be real. The current project, as planned, would cost too much and take too long.”

High speed rail critics heard an obituary. As it is, Gov. Jerry Brown, a champion, most recently scaled the project down to a $77 billion Bakersfield to San Jose line..

  • Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno said “Newsom put the final nail in the coffin of high speed rail.”
  • Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted: “The train to nowhere is finally stopped. This is the right move by @GavinNewsom.”

Then, confusion: Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat and a major proponent, tweeted that the naysayers were wrong and Newsom just wanted to finish the Central Valley segment before pushing onward. Newsom’s chief of staff tweeted that he was “fully committed.”

Wiener: “The governor is being pragmatic and realistic. This project is not going to happen in one fell swoop.”

Newsom tweeted, too: “We’re going to make high-speed rail a reality for CA. We have the capacity to complete the rail between Merced and Bakersfield. We will continue our regional projects north and south. Finish Phase 1 enviro work. Connect the Central Valley to other parts of the state.”

  • In Washington, Axios’ Mike Allen summed up the conventional Beltway wisdom: “If the richest and most progressive state in the U.S. can’t follow through on an ambitious rail plan … it signals nothing but trouble for people concerned about climate change.”

A peace plan in the water wars

Newsom proposed one tunnel to connect California's water supply.

A peace offering in California’s forever water war was tucked into Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State speech. Whether it will succeed is less than clear.

  • Newsom called for one tunnel to pipe water 30 miles from the Sacramento River south to mighty pumps near Tracy that propel it on to San Joaquin Valley farms and users in the Bay Area and Southern California.
  • Gov. Jerry Brown wanted twin tunnels, costing $20 billion, to ensure a reliable water supply while working to improve the environment in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million users, is the project’s strongest backer and main funder.

“Not as good as two,” Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager, said of the one-tunnel idea.

A single tunnel could work if it’s large enough, Kightlinger said. It would cost $12 billion, and backers would need to return to various governmental entities to seek new permits, further delaying the project.

“He doesn’t support the construction of any tunnels,” said a spokesman for Congressman John Garamendi, a Democrat from the Delta town of Walnut Grove.

The project is intended to be a hedge against climate change and against a major earthquake, say backers. As sea level rises, salt water will intrude farther into the Delta, making fresh water unusable. An earthquake would destroy levees surrounding the Delta’s many islands. That, too, would let salt water from San Francisco Bay flow inland.

Sacrificial chairwoman: As part of his peace offering, Newsom announced he was replacing State Water Resources Control chair Felicia Marcus with another board member, Joaquin Esquivel. Both were Jerry Brown appointees.

  • But Marcus inflamed Bay Area and Central Valley water interests by urging greater flows for the environment and less for humans.
  • Newsom said Esquivel will help bring “balance.” Esquivel was an aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer—known as a strong environmentalist particularly on water and Delta issues.

Newsom's social agenda

Newsom offered an ambitous social blueprint for California.

Governors often use their first State of the State speeches to offer a blueprint for the coming four or eight years. Gavin Newsom made the best of it, particularly on social issues by:

  • Calling for a master plan for aging, as baby boomers retire and as their health and mental health care needs increase.
  • Appointing Maria Shriver to head a task force focused on Alzheimer’s in women. The former California First Lady’s father, Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps, had the disease at the end of his life.
  • Focusing attention on mental illness and making clear the connection between homelessness and schizophrenia and other maladies of the brain. California governors have rarely if ever uttered lines about the need to improve mental health care.
  • Urging study of the future of work and, in one of his more intriguing notions, suggesting consumers should receive dividends for use of their personal information.

Would payment be based on income level? Would consumers receive an annual check or would the dividend be paid as they part with their information? Would there be a tax on tech companies that mine data? Details to come.  

Transition watch: Education secretary

Lead education adviser Linda Darling-Hammond.

President Barack Obama had considered Linda Darling-Hammond for U.S. Secretary of Education. Now she’s Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pick as lead education adviser.

  • Darling-Hammond is a renowned education scholar at Stanford. Her recent work includes research on teacher shortages and called for higher compensation to retain teachers longer.

Newsom: “The teachers’ strike in L.A. is over but the need to confront its underlying causes has only just begun.”


Commentary at CALmatters

Lawmakers need to boost the Safer Consumer Products Program.

Gina M. Solomon and Martin Mulvihill, Public Health Institute and SaferMade: California’s green chemistry program can protect families and the environment from hazardous chemicals, and stimulate economic innovation. But after 10 years of progress, California legislators must expand this important effort with a stronger Safer Consumer Products Program.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Gavin Newsom adopted “courage for a change” as his campaign slogan. It could be – and was – interpreted two ways: that he wanted to change the direction of California, or that he was disparaging outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown’s reluctance to confront the state’s pithiest issues. Newsom seemingly embraced both versions Tuesday in his first State of the State address, a very long and detailed laundry list of the state’s ills and how he intends to deal with them that directly and indirectly refuted Brown.

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 tomorrow.