Anti-vaccination activists denounce Sen. Richard Pan's Senate Bill 276 from the gallery above the Senate floor on May 22, 2019.

In summary

SoCal real estate empire comes under scrutiny for treatment of residents. Toll from Camp Fire continues to grow. Anti-vaxxers seek refuge in Idaho.

Good morning, California.

Combined, roughy 460,000 people cast votes in the Iowa Democratic caucuses and the New Hampshire Democratic primary. That’s less than 2.25% of the 20.4 million registered voters in California. Fresno County has 477,853 registered voters.

A rental empire infested

Mike Nijjar (Illustration by Dan Carino for LAist)

Mike Nijjar lives in a 12,000-square-foot hillside mansion with six bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a waterfall, a tennis court, a reflecting pool, a screening room and a vineyard.

His tenants? Not so much, an investigation by KPCC/LAist shows.

Nijjar and his companies, while virtually unknown to tenants and the public, control an estimated $1.3 billion in real estate, and 16,000 units in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Kern counties, Fresno, Sacramento and Texas. 

Fire in his facilities has resulted in death. 

Rats, mold, bedbugs, maggots and cockroaches are common, as is crime. Typhus, a flea-borne disease, broke out at one of his company’s mobile home parks in 2015. Health officials trapped feral cats and possums, one of which had 1,087 fleas.

KPCC/LAist reporter Aaron Mendelson counted:

  • 4,300 eviction lockouts in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties between 2010 and 2018
  • One in 20 evictions in San Bernardino County over the same period

Nijjar’s PAMA Management: “PAMA Management cares about the communities and the people we serve. Providing affordable housing to those who need it is our mission.”

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, carried legislation in 2019 that sought to require large landlords to report rents, vacancies, ownership and evictions at their properties. That bill failed amid opposition by apartment owners.

To read the KPCC/LAist story, please click here.

Newsom’s homeless plan

Homeless people in downtown Los Angeles navigate a sidewalk encampment, January 2020. (Photo by Shawn Hubler for CalMatters.)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has identified ending homelessness as his highest priority. But a Legislative Analyst report questions his plan, saying it “falls short of articulating a clear strategy for curbing homelessness in California.”

As he is doing this year, Newsom is proposing to spend heavily to combat homelessness in the 2020-21 fiscal year, including:

  • $750 million for shelter.
  • $695 million to direct Medi-Cal health services to homeless people.

The analyst:

  • “While there is no obvious right answer as to how the state should address the homelessness crisis, we find the governor’s budget does not present a clear strategy.
  • “In the absence of a clear strategy, whether the governor’s proposed approach would make a meaningful impact on the state’s homelessness crisis is uncertain.”

One specific: Newsom proposes to study the root cause of homelessness, but his budget doesn’t propose an appropriation to fund the study or establish a deadline.

The nonpartisan analyst urges the Legislature to develop its own a strategic plan to address the crisis.

Newsom spokesman Jesse Melgar, to The Associated Press’ Adam Beam

  • “The governor’s proposal aims to use the new fund as a catalyst for wraparound services to get people off the street and calls on locals to do the same.”

Camp Fire’s ongoing toll

High voltage towers cling to the steep canyons near the start of the Camp Fire blaze.

The Camp Fire has an official death count of 85. That makes it California’s deadliest wildfire. But medical experts and attorneys have identified 50 additional deaths linked to the Camp Fire, The Chico Enterprise Record reports.

One was Donovan James Iverson, 24, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Tammie Strong, his mother, tells how she gathered her son and his medical equipment and fled. He died shortly after a harrowing evacuation:

  • “These are the ones who have been forgotten. I am praying for the families still struggling.”

The Chico Enterprise’s Camille von Kaenel: 15 months after the Camp Fire, people are still dying from complications from the fire, including mental and emotional anguish and respiratory issues from the smoke.

  • Report for America, a national nonprofit organization devoted to local journalism, funds von Kaenel’s work.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican who represents Paradise, the town destroyed by the Camp Fire:

  •  “It pulls at your heartstrings, how vast these disasters are. It just makes all the more important that we have to be focused on prevention.”

Meanwhile: PG&E Corp. has petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission for an extra $1.4 billion to harden the grid and protect against wildfires.

Trying to right Calbright

Ajita Menon

Calbright, the state’s new online community college, has faced setbacks and controversy since its founding in 2018. Now officials are hoping a new interim CEO, Ajita Menon, can help right the ship, CalMatters’ Felicia Mello tells us. 

Menon is a former adviser to the Obama-era U.S. Department of Education and community colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. She will lead the college’s efforts to provide flexible job training to low-income adults.

Menon’s challenges include helping with job placement for Calbright’s 450-plus students who are working toward certificates in medical coding, information technology and cybersecurity.

Calbright board chairman Tom Epstein said Menon’s public sector background was attractive to board members still smarting from the tenure of former Chief Executive Officer Heather Hiles. The college is conducting a national search for a permanent CEO. 

Epstein told Mello that Menon “will help repair some of the relationships with public officials, community college leaders and faculty because she has long worked cooperatively with all of those groups.” 

Calbright is enrolling students. But as of last month, the college hadn’t hired full-time faculty.

  • Democratic Assemblyman Jose Medina of Riverside has requested an audit of the college’s finances. 
  • The Senate education committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the college’s progress.

Hiles, an education technology entrepreneur, raised concerns when she signed a pricey, no-bid contract for executive recruitment and tried to hire instructors without input from the community colleges’ faculty senate. Hiles resigned last month.

Anti-vax expats

Protesters react to the passage of a bill that would limit exceptions for vaccines.

A handful of California expat parents are urging health officials in their new home state of Idaho to keep its loose vaccination laws in place, The Idaho Statesman reports.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last year signed legislation restricting the ability of doctors to grant medical exemptions to parents who fear vaccinations.

That prompted sustained protests, culminating when an anti-vax mother tossed a bloody menstrual cup on the Senate floor. That caused a $70,000 cleanup. The woman is being prosecuted.

The Statesman linked to testimony before the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

  • Diana Scheiding: “My family and I moved to this great state from California. I had to watch as my parental rights were being stripped away from me daily and my ability to protect my children was being taken away.”
  • Renee Brown: “We left California because of the fascist state passing unlawful bills that violate freedom and the right to public education.”

Sen. Richard Pan, Sacramento Democrat, said he was told that perhaps 20 families had relocated to Idaho over the law he authored. California, he noted, has 40 million people.

  • “Frankly, we wouldn’t notice 20 people leaving.”

Take a number: 765

The Trump administration intends to raise the fees charged to the children of undocument immigrants to renew their status as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to $765. That’s a 55% increase from the current $495, Jacqueline García of La Opinión reports.

The fee for naturalization will rise 83% to 1,170 from the current $640.

  • The Department of Homeland Security “determined that current fees do not recover the full costs of providing adjudication and naturalization services.”
  • U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and five other senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, signed a letter denouncing the increases as part of the president’s “unabashed and poorly-disguised anti-immigrant agenda.”

Commentary at CalMatters

Jen Flory, Western Center on Law & Poverty: California doesn’t have the beds or community services that would be required if we start arresting everyone whom police deem mentally unwell. The state can’t arrest its way out of the housing crisis.

Michael Rushford, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation: Building enough housing required to accommodate the 130,000 people living outside in California would be extremely expensive. But there are alternatives. Sacramento County taxpayers, for example, have paid $2.3 million over the past five years to maintain the vacant Boys Ranch. It could easily accommodate homeless people.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Although Gavin Newsom promised to jump-start housing construction in California, his first year as governor saw production decline.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.