Billionaire hits a hard patch, the economy is on a roll, and help is wanted in health care

Good morning, California.

“Because of what I saw in the video, I do have some public-safety concerns now.”—San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken, The San Francisco Chronicle

  • Austin James Vincent was arrested on suspicion of attacking a woman outside her San Francisco apartment, saying he was protecting her from robots. 
  • A video of the attack went viral.
  • Van Aken released Vincent from jail early in the week.  
  • On Friday, after seeing the video on a restaurant TV, Van Aken amended her decision by insisting Vincent wear an ankle monitor.

California’s economy rolls on

Port of Oakland

California’s jobs grew for the 113th straight month, tying the 1960s expansion as the longest on record, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.1% from 4.2%, the Employment Development Department reported.

The Associated Press: The 3.2 million jobs California has added since 2010 account for more than 15% of the country’s job gains over that time. California’s unemployment rate fell to 4.1% for July, tying a record low first set in 2018.

Reflecting the strong economy, tax revenue paid to Sacramento grew by $533 million beyond forecasts, the California Department of Finance reported.

Glass-half-empty: The Trump administration’s trade war with China could affect California.

  • California Treasurer Fiona Ma: “It is what keeps me up at night. Our president moves the market every day through his Twitters, and that is very unnerving for us.”

Facts gleaned from recent reports:

  • California’s merchandise exports totaled $86.8 billion in the first half of 2019, down 3.2% from the same period last year. 
  • California housing construction fell. The annualized rate of housing units in the first half of 2019 was 107,000 compared with 127,000 in the first half of 2018.
  • The median cost of a home rose to $611,420. That’s a record, but owning a home is out of reach for many Californians.

Unemployment in Santa Clara County was 2.8%. That’s minuscule, but there are two Californias. Unemployment in the Central Valley:

  • Fresno, 7.3%.
  • Kern, 8.4%
  • Tulare, 10%.

Help wanted: Doctor in Bieber

Wilma Chesbroe, a patient and long-time friend of Dr. Dan Dahle, sobs and holds hands with the doctor as they joke and reminisce about the many years they spent working together at the Fall River Mill hospital. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Dr. Dan Dahle with patient Wilma Chesbroe

California faces a growing shortage of primary care physicians, one that is already afflicting  rural areas and low-income inner city areas, and is forecast to affect millions of people within 10 years, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

A third of the doctors in the state are over 55 and looking to retire soon.

By 2030, the state is going to be in dire need of physicians.

The Council on Graduate Medical Education recommends 60 to 80 primary care doctors per 100,000 people. In California, the number is down to just 50 per 100,000, and is lower in some places:

  • 35 in the Inland Empire
  • 39 in the San Joaquin Valley

Numbers aside, Aguilera introduces readers to Doc Daniel Dahle, the longtime physician in Bieber and for a region the size of a small state.

  • Dahle: “I love my job. I have never regretted ever being a doctor.  Everyday I go to work and say that I help somebody.”

That said, he is 71 and is looking for a replacement.

It’s only money

California dream prop 13
Proposition 13

Public employee unions and others including a foundation established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spent $3.68 million in 2018 to qualify an initiative for the 2020 ballot to overhaul Proposition 13, the 1978 landmark initiative that cut property taxes.

They abandoned the initiative last week, essentially burning the millions they spent qualifying it for the ballot.

Backers announced they’ve filed a re-do, believing it would be more popular with the electorate. They have about $1.9 million so far to pay for signature gathering to place the do-over on the 2020 ballot.

Gov. Gavin Newsom sees an opportunity to use the property tax overhaul as leverage for a big tax rewrite, as The L.A. Times’ John Myers reports:

  • “My desire is to use this as an exercise in bringing the parties together to see if we can compromise on a more comprehensive tax package.”

Billionaire’s unwitting gift

Henry T. Nicholas booking photo, Las Vegas police.

Since 2004, Orange County billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III has spent $9.7 million to pass law-and-order initiatives, support the death penalty and elect politicians. 

Now, he will be the unwitting champion of people facing drug charges in Las Vegas.

Remind me: Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corp., is worth an estimated $3.8 billion. In honor of his sister, Marsy, who was murdered in 1983, he funded Marsy’s Law, a 2008 initiative giving crime victims greater rights in court.

Nicholas and Ashley Fargo, the ex-wife of an heir to the Wells Fargo bank fortune, were arrested in Las Vegas last August after police found heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy in their hotel room.

Under a plea deal, Nicholas and Fargo will go on informal probation, perform 250 hours of community service, attend drug counseling, and contribute $500,000 each to drug-counseling programs, the nonprofit The Nevada Independent news organization reports.

The Indy adds: Starting today, public defenders in Nevada’s Clark County plan to seek terms similar to the generous plea deal offered to Nicholas for criminal cases with indigent defendants.

They’ll be arguing that their clients should be released on their own recognizance and contribute of 0.0128% of their net worth—the same percentage of Nicholas’ net worth that he agreed to pay as part of his plea deal. Their motion reads:

  • “Billionaire Defendant Nicholas and Defendant XXX are similarly situated and should be similarly treated by the prosecution and the court. The primary difference between the two men is that Billionaire Defendant Nicholas is wealthy, while Defendant XXX is not.”

P.S. Nicholas and a foundation established in his sister’s name spent $8.4 million on a Marsy’s Law initiative in Nevada last year. It passed overwhelming.

As PG&E turns

Photo by Zach Copley/Flickr
PG&E’s bankruptcy case continues. Photo by Zach Copley/Flickr

Hedge funds that own billions of dollars in Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s corporate bonds lost their bid to compete for control of the company.

A win: U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali’s ruling Friday counts as a win for California’s largest electric utility as it reorganizes. PG&E’s can steer the company for now. But hedge funds led by Elliott Management aren’t giving up.

A loss: Montali ruled that a jury can decide whether PG&E is responsible for killing dozens of people and leveling thousands of homes in wine country during the 2017-18 Tubbs Fire.

  • Attorney Frank Pitre, representing Tubbs fire victims, in the San Francisco Chronicle: “That is what we have always wanted: Give us the chance to present our case to ordinary citizens who can decide this disputed issue.” 

Fire investigators concluded PG&E was not at fault for the Tubbs Fire. PG&E attorneys argued that litigating these claims would interfere with bankruptcy proceedings.

Something is afoot. On a single day last week in Sacramento, Elliott’s rival, the law-lobby firm Jones Day, signed up 27 investment houses that hold a major ownership stake in PG&E, and will be lobbying on the PG&E-related issues.

PG&E is seeking legislation that would allow it to sell bonds to pay off wildfire debt. At best, legislators are unenthusiastic on that notion.

State’s stake in ‘public charge’

Marchers in Sacramento protest Trump administration immigration policies. Photo by Trevor Eischen for CALmatters
Sacramento protest of Trump administration immigration policies.

California is suing the Trump administration over new rules that would make it harder for immigrants to obtain green cards if they utilize public benefits like food stamps or Medicaid, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Jackie Botts report.

The White House says the proposed new rules are intended to deny green cards to immigrants seeking U.S. benefits and to “promote the self-sufficiency of aliens within the United States.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who along with Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the suit against Trump: “He has a particular problem with brown people.”

By the numbers: 

  • Roughly 382,000 people applying for green cards nationally would be reviewed to determine whether they are — or are likely to become — public charges under the new definition.
  • Nearly one in five people who received a green card between 2015 and 2017 lived in California, according to federal data.
  • As many as 765,000 people across the state may lose access to Medi-Cal and food stamps because of fear alone, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research
  • Newsom: “This is a reckless policy that targets the health and well-being of immigrant families and communities of color.”

Commentary at CalMatters

William L. Rukeyser, political commentator: Recognizing the powerful effects of negative feelings, and recognizing that some elections are between two widely unpopular candidates, what can we do to harness those emotions and translate them into more public participation? The answer may be simpler than you think.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: The factors affecting California’s economic future are very volatile, making it difficult to forecast the next recession.

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