Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters politics reporter Yue Stella Yu:

Voters have to wait until early February to pick their candidates in the March 5 primary. 

But for California Democratic Party delegates, decision time is now. 

Welcome to the endorsement convention this weekend in Sacramento for the nation’s biggest statewide party. 

The party will set its agenda for the 2024 election. Candidates will vie for the state party’s endorsements. And there will be after-parties — including a lumpia truck hosted by Attorney General Rob Bonta, an ice cream social event with the Jewish Legislative Caucus, a DEM2024 BINGO, as well as a “boxing match” hosted by the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California, where “a California Grizzly Bear, representing the people of California, will be taking on Big Oil.” 

This weekend, the party plans endorsement votes in the highly contested U.S. Senate primary, as well as a dozen legislative and congressional Dem-on-Dem races. Candidates who get a big enough share of delegates’ votes win official party support.

All leading Democrats in the Senate race — U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, as well as tech executive Lexi Reese — will speak to delegates Saturday afternoon, according to their campaigns. Porter and Lee have planned “hospitality suites” tonight to mingle with other Democrats.

Other things to watch from the convention: 

  • Rusty Hicks, chairperson of the Democratic Party, could jump into a crowded legislative race following the announcement last week by Assemblymember Jim Wood of Healdsburg that he won’t run for re-election. Hicks recently moved into the district and is talking to local officials about running next year, but it’s not clear whether he would have to resign as party leader, Politico reported. If he does step aside, it would be at an important time during election season. Hicks told reporters today that he is solely focused on the convention and that any announcement would come after. “I have full faith and confidence whether I’m here or not here, that the work of this party will continue into the future.”
  • Tension over the Israel-Hamas war could flare up, and although party officials have stepped up security, some attendees have gotten calls from people who are worried about their safety, Politico reported. The Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., was evacuated Wednesday night as protesters called for a cease-fire and clashed with law enforcement.

The Democratic convention comes after the California Republican Party held its own in late September — a lovefest for former President Donald Trump, who appears in prime position to sweep all the GOP presidential delegates in March. Instead of courting voters who strayed from the Democratic Party, Republicans embraced the former president and his unfounded conspiracies about the 2020 election — which some political insiders deemed a sign of further marginalization of the party. 

Speaking of elections: An informational hearing Thursday held by the Assembly Elections Committee brought together elections officials and experts to discuss strategies on expanding voter registration, turnout and transparency. 

Good government advocates also voiced their support to streamline and update the state’s existing automatic voter registration system. Currently, the state’s voting populace does not accurately mirror its general population, and California has at least 4.6 million eligible voters who are unregistered, most of whom are Black, Latino or Asian American.

A few legislators hope to address this issue with Senate Bill 299, which would make it easier for the Department of Motor Vehicles, using proper documentation, to submit information that would be used to pre-register eligible citizens to vote.

  • Neal Ubriani, Institute for Responsive Government policy and research director: “One in six eligible Californians are not registered to vote. A lot of these people are DMV customers — roughly 1.2 million eligible people decline registration each year at the California DMV. Millions more could be registered to vote through the DMV, but due to the ease of opting-out under the current system, they aren’t.”

Focus on inequality: Each Friday, the California Divide team delivers a newsletter that focuses on the politics and policy of inequality. Read the latest installment here and subscribe here.

How to help struggling CA students

Students rallied with undocumented students, urging University of California leaders to remove hiring restrictions for undocumented students in front of Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA in Los Angeles on May 17, 2023. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Students rallied with undocumented students to protest hiring restrictions for undocumented students in front of Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA in Los Angeles on May 17, 2023. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

From CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn:

When you can set your own deadlines, you get to break them.

University of California leaders said they haven’t yet decided on what — and whether — to pursue a bold plan to hire undocumented students, despite saying in May that the system would reach a decision by the end of November.

On Thursday, UC regents and the system president set no new deadline.

“We concluded that it is in everyone’s best interest to continue to study the matter further,” said UC President Michael Drake, who noted UC legal representatives have met with the plan’s backers more than six times this year. “We want to make sure that we’re considering all possible alternatives and all possible ramifications.”

“Most importantly, we want to make sure that our undocumented students are protected in any scenario we decide to pursue,” Drake said.

The decision followed a raucous public comment period as roughly 30 students broke out in chants and crossed the stanchions separating them from the regents, shutting down the meeting. UC police and security squared off with the protesters before forcibly pushing them through a wide door into a separate hallway. Students demanded to speak with the regents on a working committee created to study the hiring plan, known as Opportunity For All. Ultimately, several members of that working group emerged, bringing two undocumented student leaders back into the regents room for a closed-door meeting.   

After that meeting, the two students, Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, 21, and Karely Amaya, 23, told CalMatters that the regents said they’re committed to a full roll-out of the plan by January, but that they do not speak for the whole board. Those regents included Jose Hernandez and John Pérez, according to the students. A regent confirmed that summary.

While a 1986 law states hiring undocumented immigrants is illegal, advocates last November debuted a novel legal theory maintaining that the UC, as a state agency, is exempt.

Supporters of the proposal say it’s needed because the federal government halted accepting new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provided eligible young recipients permission to work in the U.S. and protection from deportation. The policy applies to individuals who arrived in the U.S. by June 15, 2007, leaving most young students today ineligible. 

An estimated 4,000 UC students could be permitted to pursue jobs in the system If the regents approve the proposed policy.

Amaya told regents on Wednesday that she struggles as a UCLA graduate student. She said that a job awaits her at the UCLA Labor Center if the UC approves Opportunity For All. Until then, she’ll continue to rely on babysitting, selling clothes at a swap meet with her mother, plus some scholarships and stipends, she told CalMatters.

Speaking of college students struggling to make ends meet:

From CalMatters community college reporter Adam Echelman:

California college students are struggling to pay for rent and food, and the problem has been getting worse, according to a new survey released by the California Student Aid Commission that looked at students who applied for financial aid. The survey included responses from students across the state’s public universities and community colleges, as well as its nonprofit and for-profit institutions.

In 2019, the Student Aid Commission found that more than a third of students who applied for financial aid were either food or housing insecure. Fast forward to today, where 53% of students who applied for aid reported that they struggled to pay for rent and 66% said they couldn’t consistently pay for food. There is a caveat to the comparison, said Student Aid Commission spokesperson Shelveen Ratnam: In the 2019 survey, the Student Aid Commission looked at students’ experiences in the past 30 days. The recent survey looked at the past year.

The data doesn’t come as a surprise. For years, surveys of college students have shown that rising housing prices and the COVID-19 pandemic have put students on the brink of hunger and homelessness. In response, lawmakers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in special grants to create programs and services, including free food pantries, at the state’s community colleges, UC and California State University campuses. The recent survey found that these challenges with housing and food costs are particularly common among students older than 24, students with children, and students who are African American or Hispanic.

And students are active across the state expressing themselves on the Israel-Hamas war

CalMatters’ College Journalism Network fellows report on what’s happening at several campuses: Cal State Long Beach, Stanford, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Bakersfield and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 

Storing water, helping flood victims

Water rushes out of the Oroville Spillway at Lake Oroville in Butte County, on March 26, 2023. California ended its 2022-23 water year on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. After years of severe drought, the reservoirs in the state water project ended the year at 128% of their historical average. That includes Lake Oroville. Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo
Water rushes out of the Oroville Spillway at Lake Oroville in Butte County on March 26, 2023. Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo

Compared to late 2022, when California was parched and the state’s major reservoirs collectively dipped to about two-thirds below average, reservoirs this year are looking to be in pretty decent shape, reports CalMatters’ Rachel Becker.

That’s good news for California, considering that this week’s first rainfalls of El Niño — which is characterized by the warming of some parts of the Pacific Ocean and is already underway — doesn’t necessarily guarantee a robust wet season for the state.

For example, one expert told Rachel that of the seven El Niño events over the past 23 years, two have been dry, three have been roughly average and two have been wet. 

  • Marty Ralph, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes director at UC San Diego: “It’s like you’re playing poker, and you’ve got a good hand — that’s El Niño for us. But we haven’t finished the round of the game, and we still have to draw a couple cards. But we might not draw the good cards.”  

Thanks to last year’s big snowpack and heavy rainfall at the beginning of the year, many reservoirs have been filled nearly to the brim. That “nearly” is important — reservoirs are purposely kept at less than full capacity for flood control. Sometimes these waters are released into rivers, streams and the ocean, which has benefits for fishing, conservation, farmers and overall water quality. 

For more on the state’s reservoir status, read Rachel’s story. And if you want to keep up with California’s changing water supplies, check out CalMatters’ water and drought tracker.

On the subject of the January floods: After heavy rainstorms flooded the towns of Planada and Pajaro at the beginning of the year, their respective counties, Merced and Monterey counties, received $20 million each from the state in October to help townspeople recover.

Local officials want to spend some of the money on infrastructure, including clearing waterways and creeks. But this idea is getting pushback from residents and state advocacy groups, writes Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team. They want the money to help relieve the debt they incurred from the floods, recouping the loss of a vehicle, for instance, or helping them pay off unpaid bills or to cover the cost of home inspections, repairs or mold.

  • Zaray Ramirez, a policy advocate the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability: “Infrastructure is really the (lowest) priority. That funding should still take place, but should be coming from a separate pool. The canal and creeks are something that Merced County should have done even before flooding occurred.” 

For more on how the residents of Planada and Pajaro are recovering from the floods, read Nicole’s story.

Smaller incentives for solar

Solar electric panels on the roof of the Hanover Olympic building, the first building to offer individual solar-powered net-zero apartments in Los Angeles, on June 6, 2017. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters
Solar electric panels on the roof of the Hanover Olympic building in Los Angeles on June 6, 2017. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

Even with a few regulatory tweaks and compromises, the California Public Utilities Commission largely handed investor-owned utility companies a win Thursday, voting unanimously to reduce payments that apartment building owners, schools and businesses receive from the electricity they generate via rooftop solar panels.

As CalMatters housing reporter Ben Christopher and environment reporter Julie Cart explain,  those who installed solar will receive significantly less money — about 80% less per unit of energy, solar advocates say — from utility companies. The rules will apply immediately to new solar customers or arrays, with older units being phased in over the next 20 years. Existing rates would remain for those enrolled in affordable housing programs.

The commissioners reached their decision after months of debate and criticism, as well as two postponed votes. Some concessions were made to appease the solar industry and its allies during the process. Multifamily housing residents, for instance, can directly consume the power they generate, rather than being forced to sell it in bulk to utilities (commercial, agricultural and school sites do not get this benefit). 

Thursday’s vote marks the second time this year the commission has cut back power companies’ financial support for rooftop solar, and opponents of the overhaul say this is yet another conflict with California’s goal of adopting renewable energy and combating combat climate: “No one is going to go solar under that setup,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar & Storage Association

For more on the CPUC rule change, read Ben and Julie’s story.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters is away.

CalMatters commentary is now California Voices, with its first issue page focusing on homelessness. Give it a look.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Paul Pelosi attacker David DePape found guilty after federal trial // San Francisco Chronicle

AIDS Healthcare Foundation tenants live in squalor, face eviction // Los Angeles Times

Can Democrats keep Katie Porter’s congressional district blue? // Politico

Moorpark professor arrested in death of Paul Kessler at Gaza protest // Los Angeles Times

Pro-Palestinian protestors shut down Bay Bridge // San Francisco Chronicle

MLB owners let A’s leave Oakland, move to Las Vegas // The Mercury News 

California is home to fewer unauthorized immigrants, report says // Los Angeles Times 

Biden and Xi agree to work together to limit fentanyl production // San Francisco Chronicle

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Lynn La is the WhatMatters newsletter writer. Prior to joining CalMatters, she developed thought leadership at an edtech company and was a senior editor at CNET. She also covered public health at The Sacramento...