Gas prices at a gas station in San Diego on Oct. 20, 2023. Photo by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

The California Energy Commission isn’t necessarily an agency that the public, or even reporters, follow for its every twist and turn.

But it does have a wide-ranging purview and its decisions can affect people’s daily lives, not to mention the industries being regulated.

For example, last week, it voted to begin proceedings for two key initiatives that Gov. Gavin Newsom says could lower prices at the pump. The actions were outlined in the gas price gouging and transparency law that Newsom signed in March. 

Before holding its vote, commission members and staff described the first of two initiatives — which enables the commission to begin looking into oil company profit caps and to potentially penalize those who exceed that cap — as “complicated” and a “monumental task.” 

Drew Bohan, the commission’s executive director, said agreeing to move forward allows the commission to further evaluate gas prices. It will also permit stakeholders, including environmentalists and oil companies, to weigh in and authorize staff to develop recommendations. 

But Sarah Taylor, an associate counsel for the trade group Western States Petroleum Association, unsuccessfully urged the commissioners during the meeting to “do its due diligence” before rushing to a “decision that will likely impact every Californian.”

Given the wider scope of data that their newly formed watchdog group can collect, the commissioners also voted to start a rulemaking process to investigate refinery maintenance. This may lead to the commission imposing time limits to lessen the impact of production losses. 

The trade group also objected to the motion in vain.

  • Taylor: “Data has the potential to move markets, place our in-state refineries at a competitive disadvantage and could have a monumental impact on our economy at a time of increasing global volatility. Expediting this process does not help any of us… Data would likely provide a distorted view of how the industry operates, potentially worsening a situation the CEC is tasked with avoiding.”

The commission’s actions on Oct. 18 won’t do much to immediately lower prices at the pump (as of Sunday, AAA reports the average price per gallon in California was $5.45, higher than the national average by $1.90), but they’re key to ensuring that Newsom’s law remains effective. As for next steps, the commission is expected to host a series of workshops, public hearings and stakeholder meetings in November.

Republicans in the Legislature say there’s a much quicker fix: Cutting the state gas tax, and they’re still imploring Newsom to call a special session to do just that. 

Outdoor pools: The Energy Commission also announced that it’s setting new standards for swimming pools, which use and “waste a lot of energy,” said commissioner Andrew McAllister in a video

Starting in September 2025, new pool equipment, namely pool pumps, must have internet-connected controls that can adjust their operations during non-peak energy hours. According to Politico, the pumps “cost about $70 more than regular ones, but users are expected to save $100 a month by buying power during the day, when it’s cheaper.”

If every pool owner in California switches to a controller that offers flexible energy use, the commission estimates that the load shift would be the “the equivalent to removing 85,000 gasoline-powered cars off the road,” and consumer savings would add up to about $1,131 over the lifetime of the pool controller.

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Gov. Newsom on the global stage

Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses the media during a press conference announcing new gun legislation targeting the state's public carry laws on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Gov. Newsom addresses the media during a press conference on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

California’s globe-trotting governor waded into the middle of the Israel-Hamas war for a day before starting this week’s tour of China to highlight climate action.  

While his office portrayed the surprise Israel visit as representing both California’s large Jewish and Arab communities, and while it said that the state is working to provide medical supplies to Palestinians in Gaza, his itinerary was exclusively in Israel.

Newsom met with top government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen and President Isaac Herzog, who in a social media post thanked the governor for his “visit of solidarity with Israel. “We will never forget our friends who stood by Israel in our most difficult times,” Herzog said. 

Newsom also visited Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and met the parents of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a Californian being held hostage, according to the governor’s office. His rather lengthy statement, which included photos of his visit to the hospital, only briefly referenced the plight of Palestinians.   

  • Newsom, in the statement: “I listened to the grief and terror in a mother’s voice as she spoke about her son — a Californian right now being held hostage in Gaza — whose arm was blown off by a terrorist’s grenade. I hugged a girl — another Californian, born in Los Angeles — who was shot in the leg by Hamas and left for dead, in truly horrific conditions.”

More Newsom: “Despite the horror, what I saw and heard from the people of Israel was a profound sense of resilience. A commitment to community and common purpose, especially in these most difficult of times. That’s the Israeli spirit. And it’s also the California spirit. We are bound by more than those who live one place or another, or who have family here or there. My heart is heavy for all innocent people under the crushing pressure of loss and grief, no matter which side of the fence they quite literally find themselves on.”

At the state Capitol in Sacramento on Friday and in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, hundreds rallied in support of Palestinians and some were critical of Newsom’s visit. With rising tensions, Attorney General Rob Bonta on Friday issued a bulletin to local law enforcement agencies “regarding the potential for violence against Muslim places of worship, Islamic schools, and Arab community centers, museums, monuments, businesses, and other gathering places.”  

The governor’s China trip is not without controversy, either.  

While it’s centered on climate policy, the family of David Lin, a 67-year-old pastor from Orange County who has been in Chinese prisons since 2006, wants Newsom to press for his release, Politico reports. So does Rep. Katie Porter, the Democrat running for U.S. Senate who represents the family’s district.

And on Friday, 11 Republican members of Congress from California fired off a letter to Newsom calling on him to cancel the trip entirely because he’s unwilling to bring up human rights abuses or to demand that the Chinese Communist Party stop fentanyl chemicals from entering the U.S. 

  • The letter: “Given your refusal to discuss human rights or the fentanyl crisis with the CCP, we do not see how this trip will benefit Californians.”

Newsom’s team told reporters last week that the governor doesn’t plan to discuss human rights while in China, leaving that to the Biden administration. In case you were wondering, his office says all the travel is being paid through donations to a foundation, not by taxpayers. 

Tide turning in school battles?

Parents, students, and staff of Chino Valley Unified School District hold up signs in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ policies at Don Antonio Lugo High School on June 15, 2023. Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG
Parents, students, and staff of Chino Valley Unified School District hold up signs in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ policies at Don Antonio Lugo High School on June 15, 2023. Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG

As conservative, religious and parental rights groups continue to advocate for school policies that require school staff to out transgender or gender-nonconforming students to parents, a recent string of decisions are pushing back against these measures.

In July, the Chino Valley Unified School District became the first district in California to adopt rules that notify parents when their children request to identify as a different gender than what is indicated on their official records. A handful of other California districts followed suit and according to the Los Angeles Times, at least seven passed parental notification policies.

But that summer momentum appears to hit a snag. On Thursday, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge issued a preliminary halt of Chino Valley’s policy, handing Attorney General Rob Bonta, who filed a lawsuit against the district in August, a temporary victory.

  • Bonta, in a statement: “Let this decision serve as a stern warning to other school districts that have passed or are contemplating similar policies: enforcing discriminatory practices will not be tolerated in our educational institutions.” 

About 40 miles south of Chino is the Capistrano Unified School District, where its school board voted Wednesday to reject a similar outing policy, reports The Orange County Register. During the meeting, the board carved out only about an hour for public comment, allowing students to comment first. Assemblymember Bill Essayli, a Riverside Republican who was at the meeting and is a proponent of parental disclosure policies, said the board’s decision to prioritize comments from students over parents was “disrespectful.” 

And in another Southern California school district, an effort to recall two conservative Orange Unified School Board members cleared a key step last week, likely gathering enough signatures to qualify for a recall election, according to the Voice of OC. Though organizers cite the board’s “abrupt firing” of its superintendent as the catalyst for the recall, one of the members that may face recall originally proposed the parental notification policy, which the board adopted in September.

But supporters for parental rights aren’t taking these losses lying down. On Saturday, protestors rallied outside Gov. Newsom’s house in Fair Oaks to denounce LGBTQ-friendly measures the governor recently signed into law, reports The Sacramento Bee. Demonstrators holding signs supporting former President Donald Trump were also at the scene, as well as counter-protestors defending the LGBTQ+ community.

As mentioned above, the governor is currently on a trip overseas and was not at his residence.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Attorney General Rob Bonta praised a fentanyl murder case, but was AWOL when the Legislature was considering bills to address the fentanyl crisis.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

CA home insurer of last resort gets 1,000 applications a day // The San Francisco Standard

Gov. Newsom brings environmental justice to groundwater court // The Sacramento Bee

CA lets companies keep dangerous oil wells unplugged forever // Capital & Main

New rules approved to reduce air pollution from ships at CA ports // The Mercury News

Death Valley gleams with water, wildflowers and color // Los Angeles Times

Billionaire developer offers up San Jose property for homeless shelters // The Mercury News

Crypto billionaire, Gap scion start $4M rehab of SF brand // San Francisco Chronicle

San Jose BART extension to get oversight after major cost increase // The Mercury News

Coronado agrees on more affordable housing after state pressure // Los Angeles Times

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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...