Good morning, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who’s on assignment this week.
“I guess this was a glass half full kind of year.”—Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, noting the above average precipitation that California received this winter.
Let the countdown to the summer solstice begin.
Spring has sprung in California—with a big assist from an uncharacteristically wet winter. On the morning after the vernal equinox (2:58 p.m. yesterday, our time), here’s the state of the state’s water, by the numbers:
- Reservoirs are now at 78 percent capacity and 10 percent more full then usual for this time of year.
- Sierra snowpack is now 56 percent deeper than the mid-March average.
The year’s cumulative drenching of rain, meanwhile, is well above the norm in virtually every region of the state. The good times won’t last forever, warns Pacific Institute scientist Peter Gleick, who specializes in environmental issues.
Gleick: “Even in a good year in California, we never have as much water as everyone would want and we never have enough water to waste. So hold off on your 45-minute shower, keep replacing those lawns with drought-resistant native gardens, replace your showerhead with a water-efficient option.”
And there can be too much of a good thing: In Compton yesterday, sudden downpours inundated streets, pelted the area with dime-sized hail and temporarily shut the 710 Freeway.
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Trump to tie campus funds to free speech
Milo Yiannopoulos in Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, 2017.
President Donald Trump is expected to issue an executive order today directing federal agencies to tie university research grants to aggressive First Amendment enforcement, reports The Wall Street Journal, citing a draft.
The Journal: “The order falls short of what some university officials feared would be more sweeping or specific measures; it doesn’t prescribe any specific penalty that would result in schools losing research or other education grants as a result of specific policies.”
One thing the order will do: Offer the president another dig at a favorite target of the right, UC Berkeley. At least four past or present members of the Berkeley College Republicans have been invited to witness the signing, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Remind me: After violent protests led campus authorities to cancel a speaking event by the alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in 2017, Trump threatened the school on Twitter: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
- In 2018, the Justice Department sided in a brief with the campus College Republicans who sued the school over alleged discrimination. UC Berkeley settled the suit last fall.
- This month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the president introduced a conservative activist who’d been assaulted on Berkeley’s campus and invited him to sue the school.
UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told The Chronicle free speech “is alive and well” in higher ed, including at UC Berkeley, that “only Congress can put strings on federal money” and that Trump is trying to “solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Does e-scooter regulation need a second look?
Two people in the past week have been killed in electric scooter accidents, The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday. Look for the back-to-back incidents to reignite a debate over regulation of a relatively new mode of transport—rentable motorized scooters and e-bikes.
- One man died when he crashed his scooter into a tree in downtown San Diego, marking the city’s first reported electronic scooter death.
- A second man was killed in a hit-and-run in Santa Monica.
A bill exempting scooter-riding adults from the state’s helmet laws was sponsored last year by the Santa Monica-based e-scooter rental company, Bird. The law passed with overwhelming support, as CALmatters reported at the time.
Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, a pediatrician and one of only two lawmakers to vote against the bill: “We’ve got to come up with some alternative that doesn’t involve people breaking their heads.”
Policing the receipts
Assemblymember Phil Ting wants electronic receipts to be the default.
First they came for the plastic bags. Then they came for the plastic straws. Now California lawmakers are considering another first-in-the-nation crackdown on another ubiquitous, litter-creating product of modern existence, reports CALmatters’ Elizabeth Castillo. Lookin’ at you, paper receipts.
Castillo: “When Carol Dahmen discovered the CVS receipt draped across the counter of her Carmichael kitchen, she couldn’t resist pulling out her tape measure to document it. Her husband had purchased one single prescription. The receipt, she discovered, stretched on to contain 11 coupons before topping out at an astonishing 4 feet 8 inches—the height of Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles.”
Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco wants to make emailed receipts the default for businesses grossing more than $1 million beginning in 2022.
- Data privacy advocates, small businesses in internet-poor rural areas and fans of a good proof-of-purchase find Ting’s AB 161 less appealing.
To read more on California’s next national conversation starter, click here.
Too easy to spray?
Counties aren't doing due diligence on pesticides, a new report says.
California farmers who want to douse their fields with toxic pesticides must apply for a permit from their county agricultural commissioner. Under state law, commission staff are supposed to give the go-ahead only if no safer alternative exists. But that due diligence isn’t happening, according to a report Wednesday by UCLA public health researchers.
- The researchers looked at 23 counties to find out if any had specific guidance on how to evaluate non-toxic options or how to access the possible effects of using multiple pesticides in the same area. None did.
- Instead, counties often let farmers themselves determine if pesticides are necessary, said Timothy Malloy, the report’s lead author.
Malloy: “It appears that the counties are relying upon pest control advisors that are consultants to the growers to think about whether there are alternatives to be used, but there is no oversight of that by the counties themselves.”
Also, a federal jury this week ruled in favor of a Sonoma man who argued that the common weedkiller Roundup, produced by the agrichemical giant Monsanto, had substantially caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The verdict is widely viewed as a blow to the pesticide maker and its new owner, Bayer AG, which is facing hundreds of similar claims.
If it’s good enough for San Francisco…
On housing, the Bay Area has outsize sway.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised $500 million to help cities house their homeless, but California’s mayors want “a little bit more.” The Big City Mayors group, led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, met with Newsom to request another $500 million on Wednesday, The Sacramento Bee reports.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed wasn’t there, but as The Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon points out, her city already has ample pull on housing.
- The two chairs of the Legislature’s housing committees come from San Francisco. Nancy Skinner, author of some of this year’s most sweeping housing bills, hails from nearby Berkeley. Then there’s Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor.
Some cities question whether San Francisco’s one size fits all of California’s housing issues.
Los Angeles Assemblyman Miguel Santiago to The Times: “We have got to push really hard on any dollars that are expended in the state of California to match the communities that we represent.”
Then there’s this Bay Area influence: A feature in Wired documents how housing policies nationwide have been skewed by the politicking of San Francisco-based AirBnB, which has leveraged municipal tax deals to lobby, sue and electioneer its way out of regulations in the cities where it operates.
San Diego councilwoman Barbara Bry: “A corporation reportedly valued at $31 billion descended upon our city with its unlimited millions of dollars and used deceptive tactics to force us to where we are today.”
Falcon eggs and baby mountain lions
Conservationists want to put these lion cubs in a moving van.
Mountain lions could disappear from the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains within 50 years, wildlife researchers warned Wednesday in the scientific journal Ecological Applications.
- Top culprits are car traffic, rat poison, wildfire, and ranchers with guns, but also highways and other developments that isolate the big cats from one another, leaving dangerously small gene pools that may lead to inbreeding and, eventually, “rapid local extinction.”
- But wait—Southern California conservationists have a plan, The Los Angeles Times reports: Unite the big cats by capturing them and driving them across the highway. Or, more expensively, build a wildlife bridge over the freeway.
Justin Dellinger, California Department of Fish and Wildlife to The Times: “Wildlife managers never want to be a shuttle service for wild animals. But translocation has potential merit in the short term.”
Lynn Cullens, Mountain Lion Foundation: “One of the biggest challenges in moving lions from one area to another is going to be the public protest…not only are there going to be other lions in that location, but people who are not going to be happy with lions moving into their backyard.”
Meanwhile, in happier wildlife news: Early yesterday morning, in the middle of a rainstorm, the falcon roosting at the top of the Campanile Tower at UC Berkeley laid a second egg. You can keep tabs on Annie (yes, she has a name) and her two red eggs at any time of the day here.
Remember how Republican U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes from the Central Valley sued a Twitter user who was pretending to be his cow? Well, on Wednesday the inevitable occurred.
Commentary at CALmatters
Latinos in California are unleashing their civic power.
Christian Arana, Latino Community Foundation: To a 6-year-old child considering Proposition 187 of 1994, the question was simple: How could a government deny a human being the right to an education or health care just because they didn’t have proper documentation to live in this country?
Dan Walters, CALmatters: If community colleges and charter schools should be accountable for academic outcomes, why not public K-12 schools?
Errata: In our Tuesday newsletter, we noted that existing California law caps interest rates on all consumer loans less than $2,500 at 36 percent. In fact, the regulation only applies to medium-term loans. California law still allows licensed payday lenders to make loans up to $300 with a maximum fee of $45 as long as the payback period is less than 31 days.
See you tomorrow.