Good morning, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who is off for a few days.

“It must’ve been one of those things where I got knocked out with one punch.”—Commerce Councilman Leonard Mendoza on an Indian Wells conference of local government officials over the weekend that erupted into a bloody brawl.

Wait—isn't it May flowers?

Yosemite Conservancy footage of Sentinel Dome, May 19, 2019.

Two to five times more rain than normal has fallen this month in California, as atmospheric rivers have inundated the state in recent days.

Showers were expected to return today to Northern California, while the weather was expected to clear up and settle down in the southern part of the state.

  • Meanwhile, Memorial Day weekend travelers heading for the Sierra, Cascade and Shasta-Siskiyou ranges were advised to expect a snow-covered holiday.


FSB Core Strategies: Public Affairs. Ballot Campaigns. Legislative & Regulatory Fights

Publicly shaming the gig economy

Labor advocates are pressuring Lyft and Uber.

As investors eye Uber and Lyftsome gig economy workers want California’s massive public employee pension funds to think twice before buying shares in the newly IPO’d companies.

  • Two groups—Gig Workers Rising and Mobile Workers Alliance—recently wrote CalSTRS, the state teachers’ pension fund, arguing that the sharing economy exploits workers and destabilizes the tax base.

But in a Q&A with CALmatters’ Judy Lin, John Chiang, the former state treasurer, gubernatorial candidate and general pension wiz, says he’s fine with hitching the state’s fiscal wagon to Big Rideshare.

  • Remind me: When Chiang was running for governor, he pushed the state’s giant public employee pensions to divest from gun stocks. 

Chiang: “We’d certainly want to engage with the companies to make sure they have labor practices that are sensitive to employees. … (But) it’s not an automatic exclusion to investment.”

Uber-bad press:  The Los Angeles Times reported Monday on the ridesharing companies’ practice of offering short-term car rental agreements to often-cash-strapped drivers who lack their own wheels.

The Times: “Some struggling drivers who rent through Lyft’s Express Drive program say it has made it difficult to get back on their feet…drivers are paid less per mile than Lyft drivers who use their own vehicles or cars leased through dealerships.”

“Modern day sharecropping” is how Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez from San Diego described the practice on Twitter. Gonzalez’s AB5 would make it much harder for the likes of Lyft to treat their drivers as independent contractors, thus skirting minimum wage and other worker protections.


Beating up on California

Does someone have it in for the Golden State?

President Donald Trump’s bashing of California last week to the National Association of Realtors wasn’t all bark. The administration is threatening to slash millions of dollars in federal firefighting reimbursement to the state and relocate hundreds of federally detained migrants from the Texas border to San Diego.

  •  Couple that with the Trump administration’s decision last week to revoke $929 million from California’s high-speed rail project, and you might think the president has a bone to pick with the Golden State.

Of course, it could just be a coincidence. On Saturday, President Trump did sign a disaster declaration, freeing relief funds for 17 counties in California that were inundated by February and March storms. Also:

  • U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facilities in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley are swamped, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, and undocumented immigrants also are being sent to Detroit and Florida.
  • And the wildfire reimbursement decision came after the state complained of payments coming chronically late from the U.S. Forest Service, which then audited the mutual aid program. The Forest Service’s verdict? The state had overcharged.

On the other hand: That Forest Service audit has not been shared with the state, according to McClatchyDC.  President Trump has threatened before via tweet to cut wildfire relief to California. And the White House reportedly developed plans earlier this year to offload undocumented immigrants in “sanctuary” cities and states.


Housing: What just happened?

Our podcasters explain the sidelining of a key housing bill.

With the most controversial housing bill of the year unexpectedly shelved last week, CALmatters’ Matt Levin and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon have churned out a new podcast on who won and who lost, how the “not-super-transparent” appropriations process killed the bill and what this all means for future solutions to the state’s housing crisis.

  • Senate Bill 50, which would have forced cities to allow mid-rise apartments around public transit and job centers, stalled in a key Senate committee to the shock of its supporters—and even some of its detractors.

One lesson, Levin writes: “Never underestimate the power of homeowners and local elected officials to bend the ear of state lawmakers.”

An “anti-rent gouging” proposal, meanwhile, got a few key tweaks over the weekend, an effort to make the closely watched bill more politically palatable before the entire Assembly is expected to vote on it later this week.

  • The latest version of San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu’s AB 1482, which would allow landlords to raise rents by no more than 5% plus the rate of inflation annually, exempts units built in the past decade. If passed into law, it would also automatically expire after 10 years.

Listen to the podcast here.

Fixing a broken system

An expert panel on mental health care called for an overhaul.

California’s mental health care system is broken, according to a panel of medical and Capitol experts who spoke Monday in Sacramento. And the Rx, summed up by state Sen. Jim Beall, is: “Start from scratch.”

  • CALmatters contributor Jocelyn Wiener, who has been reporting on the dysfunction at the heart of the state’s mental health system, moderated the discussion.

Beall: “We need a top-notch mental health czar. … We need Gov. Newsom to continue to be a leader—and maybe be a profound leader possibly—and not get diverted and not get drawn down by the inertia that exists.”

The event wasn’t just for Capitol insiders. Kelechi Ubozoh, the author of the upcoming book, “We’ve Been Too Patient,” spoke from personal experience as a suicide attempt survivor and someone who has been involuntarily hospitalized.

Ubozoh: “The mental health system keeps doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, which, unfortunately, as we all know, is the definition of a very stigmatizing word called ‘crazy.’”

To read more about the event (and also watch it in its entirety), click here.

Spicy fights

California pantries are not immune to court fights or trade wars.

The trade war with China might be bad news for most California industries that now find themselves cut off from one of the world’s largest markets or facing higher business costs—but Gilroy, the “garlic capital of the world,” is at least one happy exception.

The San Francisco Chronicle, speaking to Ken Christopher of Christopher Ranch, largest commercial garlic grower in the country: “Before the 10% tariff enacted in September, Chinese garlic cost $15 to $20 per box, while California garlic was about $50 to $60 per box, according to Christopher. Now, with the 25% tariff, Chinese garlic will be $40 to $45 per box, he said.”

In other spice-related news: The producers of Sriracha chili sauce, whose green-capped plastic bottles occupy the refrigerator doors of heat-seekers the world over, took their once-exclusive jalapeño supplier to court Monday.

The Los Angeles Times: “Huy Fong Foods Inc. of the San Gabriel Valley says it overpaid the Camarillo farmer, Underwood Ranches, $1.45 million in 2016. They’re suing for repayment—plus interest.”

Underwood Ranches is countersuing for $20 million, blaming the iconic sauce maker for the messy breakup. 

Commentary at CALmatters

Jasmin Tuffaha GutierrezCalifornia Employment Lawyers Association: Being a pregnant woman in California, in America, is fraught. I don’t feel supported, even as our society romanticizes motherhood. That’s why Senate Bill 135 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson is so critical. It would expand our family leave laws to cover nearly all workers in California.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: As California prevails in its tax battle with inventor Gilbert Hyatt, the Supreme Court’s ruling for the state in his case could foretell a battle over abortion rights.

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See you tomorrow.