In summary

Voters may get chance to weigh in on homeless crisis. Helmet law debate returns as electric scooter head injuries spike. Intersex surgery bill stalls.

Good morning, California.

“We can no longer make alleviating homelessness an option. We have tried moral persuasion, we have used economic incentives. The people are angry, too many people are suffering. This can no longer be optional.”—Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, calling for a ballot measure that would force cities to address homelessness, or get sued.

Expect to vote on homelessness

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Cities should face legal sanctions if they don’t house their homeless people, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s homelessness task force recommended on Monday.

And California should put a legally enforceable “mandate to end homelessness” on the ballot this year, CalMatters’ Matt Levin and Jackie Botts report. 

What’s this about: 

  • Local governments are desperate for legal leverage against gridlock on homelessness in California.
  •  Existing law stringently limits the government’s ability to break up homeless camps and force chronically mentally ill people to come in from the streets to get treatment. 
  • More housing is increasingly their only option, and NIMBYs fight it.

Enter the right to shelter debate, which stems from a New York law that many credit with effectively addressing homelessness in that state. 

The co-chairmen of Newsom’s task force, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, have been floating a California version of that idea for months.

New “rights” can be costly and controversial, which is why Newsom’s task force on Monday recommended a ballot measure that would create, a legal “obligation” for cities to provide enough beds, fast, to house the vast majority of their homeless people.

Devil in the details, courtesy of the California State Association of Counties: “A legally enforceable mandate can only work with clarity of who’s obligated to do what and what new sustainable resources will fund it.”

To read CalMatters’ report, please click here.  

Who needs a helmet?

Lobbyist Greg Cramer hops on an e-scooter, sans helmet, on Monday in Sacramento.

Responding to lobbyists for Santa Monica electric scooter company Bird, a near unanimous Legislature last year approved legislation exempting adults who rent e-scooters from having to wear helmets.

Now comes a study by UC San Francisco physicians showing that people incurring head injuries in e-scooter crashes increased to 4,658 in 2018 from 1,848 in 2017. That represented a third of riders who reported injuries.

The rate of head injuries among e-scooter rides was “more than double the rate of head injuries experienced by bicyclists,” the study, released last week, said.

  • “Previous research has demonstrated helmet use is associated with lower risk of head injury. E-scooter companies should facilitate and encourage helmet use by increasing helmet access.”

Republican Assemblyman Heath Flora, of Ripon, authored the bill:

  • “It makes sense that we would see more scooter-related injuries over the last five years since there’s been an increase in the number of scooters in the last five years.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Pan, a physician, was one of only two legislators who voted against the bill, telling me at the time, “We’ve got to come up with some alternative that doesn’t involve people breaking their heads.”

  • On Monday, Pan said the study suggests the issue is “one that cries out for reexamination.”

Greg Cramer, a lobbyist for Disability Rights California, prepared to hop on a scooter Monday in downtown Sacramento: 

  • “I probably should be wearing a helmet But as a requirement? It is hard to say.”

Online community college misstep

Online community college leader Heather Hiles didn’t last long.

California’s new online community college has parted ways with its director, Heather Hiles, less than a year after the tech exec was tapped for the job. 

Hiles resigned Monday as head of Calbright, effective March 31, and the board of trustees voted unanimously to accept her resignation, CalMatters’ Felicia Mello reported

Hiles had hoped to draw on her tech industry experience to launch the college. 

But community college faculty complained the courses were redundant, a no-bid contract with a connected Bay Area recruiter drew attention, and no full-time faculty have yet been hired. 

Board President Tom Epstein said an interim will fill in. To read Mello’s report,please click here.

‘Intersex’ surgery bill stalls

Dr. Hillary Copp of UC San Francisco testified against Senate Bill 201. (Screenshot.)

First-of-its-kind legislation that sought to limit physicians’ ability to treat babies born with ambiguous or conflicting genitalia stalled in a Senate committee Monday.

The bill would have banned “medically unnecessary surgery” on “intersex” babies born with ambiguous genitalia until the child turns 6 and could express an opinion.

Conditions it would have applied to include hypospadias, a relatively common malady in which the urethral opening is on the underside of a penis or scrotum.

The ACLU and Equality California, which advocates for LGBTQ people, backed the measure.

Physicians’ organizations opposed it.

Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, the bill’s author: 

  • “These are dangerous medical procedures with, in many cases, largely psychosocial benefits that cannot be considered in the context of an infant, who has yet to develop their sex or gender identity.”

Dr. Hillary Copp, a UC San Francisco urologist, testified:

  • “I have extreme concern that if  we legislate this issue, there is going to be a generation of children who suffer profound consequences that we’re unaware of.”

Wiener vowed to continue pushing for the measure, though his legislation received only two aye votes in the Senate Business and Professions Committee, far short of a majority.

Recycling legislation revived

Plastic bottles at recycling facility in San Jose. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters.)

California lawmakers will consider a bill this week that takes aim at the state’s recycling crisis. 

The new Beverage Container Recycling Act of 2020, introduced by Democratic Sen. Bob Wieckowski from Fremont, would require beverage makers to come up with—and help pay for—a program to boost recycling of drink containers, The Los Angeles TimesJaimes Rainey reports

The existing bottle bill pays people 5 to 10 cents for recycling beverage bottles and cans at certified facilities. Wieckowski’s bill would include alcohol bottles, too. It will be heard in committee on Wednesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed last October San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting’s AB 54, which sets aside $5 million for mobile recycling pilot programs aimed at filling the gaps left by rePlanet’s closures. 

That came in reaction to California recycler rePlanet’s decision to shuttered hundreds of recycling centers last year.

Newsom vetoed Ting’s bill to boost beverage manufacturers’ use of recycled plastic, citing late amendments that Newsom said “undermines the worthy intent of this legislation.” 

Other bills to curb trash from single-use packaging and foodware—SB 54 and its mirror image AB 1098—stalled last year.

Authors of those bills, Democratic Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, told CalMatters they plan to revive them this year.

Legislature blinks in Trump feud

Electric cars at Niello BMV dealership in Sacramento. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff.)

A plan to weaponize clean car rebates in California’s ongoing feud with the Trump administration over tailpipe pollution stalled in the state Legislature Monday, Rachel Becker reports for CalMatters

The bill by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting, would have meant millions  millions of dollars in incentives for Californians to buy clean vehicles from the companies that agreed to follow California’s clean car rules: Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW. 

The bill, AB 40, was up for consideration by the Assembly Transportation Committee Monday. Ting elected to pull it, citing too little support. The bill is dead for the year.

To read Becker’s full report, please click here.

Correcting bipartisan confusion

Photo illustration. (Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo.)

Election day in California is March 3, but already social media has become a bipartisan chorus of misinformation about the what, how and why of the state’s presidential primary.

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher has put together a California User’s Guide to the 2020 Presidential Primary.

A big source of confusion: How do “no party preference” voters participate?

It depends on the party.

  • The Republican, the Green, and Peace and Freedom parties have a “members only policy.”
  • The Democratic, Libertarian and American Independent parties allow no-party preference voters to vote, so long as they request ballots. 

Cards asking NPP voters for their ballot preference should have arrived in the mail. If they haven’t, Christopher offers you instructions for what to do.

To read his report, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Raphael J. Sonenshein, Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A.: Health care in the Democratic presidential debates has largely focused on Medicare for All versus the more incremental public option. Medicare for All has great appeal to many Democrats, but struggles with other voters. Why don’t candidates talk about a program with wide appeal—Medicaid.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to ramp up spending on “entitlements” but the state’s economy is showing signs of slowing.

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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.