Clippers owner Steve Ballmer in Sacramento, June 18, 2018.

In summary

Air Resources Board weighs in on Inglewood arena plan. Cause of vaping-related lung disease remains a mystery. Labor secretary hunts for jobs of future.

Good morning, California.

At 5:04 p.m. 30 years ago today, I happened to have been on the ground floor of the U.S. District Courthouse in San Francisco waiting for an elevator that never came, working on a story that never got done. 

  • Even before the shaking stopped, one of my colleagues, Victor Zonana, called The L.A. Times’ city desk to say a big one had hit. 
  • That night and for months afterward, we set about chronicling the destruction and displacement brought about by what came to be known as the Loma Prieta earthquake
  • This would be a good day to check your earthquake emergency plan.

Elbows fly over Inglewood arena

A billboard on the 405 put up by Steve Ballmer’s rival seeking to block his Inglewood arena

The NBA’s season starts next week, but elbows already are flying, and the California Air Resources Board is the unlikely referee.

The players:

  • Steve Ballmer, the billionaire owner of the L.A. Clippers, wants to build a fancy arena in Inglewood.
  • Jim Dolan, the billionaire owner of the New York Knicks, believes Ballmer’s arena could box out business at the Forum, which is owned by Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co. and is a mile from Ballmer’s proposed arena. (Updated, corrected Jim Dolan’s first name.)

Capitol connection: Legislators approved legislation last year authorizing the Inglewood arena but only if the air board concludes that it will result in no additional greenhouse gas emissions, a high hurdle.

On Oct. 1, Sen. Steven Bradford and Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who represent Inglewood and pushed for the legislation, wrote to Air Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols that the Golden State Warriors’ new arena in San Francisco was approved in two months—in a “predominantly white, affluent community.”

  • “This leads us to believe that Inglewood and the surrounding community, particularly comprised of black and brown residents, are being treated differently than other cities and localities with different demographics and circumstances.”

Nichols answered two weeks later, saying staff is focused:

  • “As your letter notes, this project affords many potential economic and community benefits. These important benefits cannot come at the expense of increased greenhouse gas emissions at a time when our state is doing everything that we can to cut climate-forcing pollution.”

The Knicks and Clippers tip off Jan. 5. But that’ll just be a basketball game.

The many vaping disease unknowns

Acting public health director Charity Dean

Citing “many unknowns,” the causes of the nationwide epidemic of vaping-related lung disease could take years to discover, Dr. Charity Dean, California’s acting public health officer, told an Assembly oversight committee Wednesday.

In a hearing that drew numerous cannabis industry advocates, Dean said doctors had identified vaping-related lung damage in the past, but this epidemic is different:

  • “This is something new we are seeing. We’re looking at multiple theories and asking what changed.”

People are vaping a mix of chemicals from devices that contain metals and batteries:

  • “The combination of these with heat may be creating unknown substances that we don’t even know to test for.” 

At least 133 Californians have been hospitalized, and most have been released:

  • “The long-term health effects are unknown.”

Health authorities have interviewed 78 of the 133 Californians who have been hospitalized:

  • 81% vaped a product containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
  • 38% vaped a product containing CBD.
  • 10% reported using only nicotine.
  • One purchased THC from a licensed dealer. An investigation continues in that case.
  • “It could take years for the medical and scientific community to definitely determine what the causes are.”

Three vaping-related deaths have occurred in California.

The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis reported Wednesday: “Two more Minnesotans have died from vaping-related lung illnesses, raising the state’s toll to three and prompting health officials to issue new warnings about vaping illegal cannabis substances.”

Raising the ‘quality of jobs’

California Labor Secretary Julie Su in Newport Beach

California Labor Secretary Julie Su is hunting for the jobs of the future, as long as they bridge today’s wealth gap, CalMatters’ Judy Lin reports.

Su is a past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, and is helping to guide the Future of Work Commission as the state looks to bolster good-paying jobs amid technological changes, and industry disruptions.

The commission has focused on the role of unions in boosting wages, using technology to make workers safer, and searching for new models that offer work-life balance.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signed far-reaching legislation that is intended to limit the use of independent contractors. Su characterized the legislation as fighting the “day labor-ization” of workers, something that was happening even before the gig economy. 

More than a third of working Californians earn less than $15 an hour, and 20% of the people earning less than $15 have at least some college education.

  • Su: “It’s not enough to address the cost of things. We also have to address how much people actually make. So we have to focus on the quality of jobs.”

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

Farm worker pay could be cut

Domestic farm workers pick and pack cauliflower this week.

A proposed Trump administration regulation related to worker visas could end up saving California farmers labor costs but effectively reduce guest farm workers wages by about $1 an hour, Kate Cimini of The Californian in Salinas reports.

The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to temporarily employ foreign guest workers if there is a shortage of domestic workers willing to take the jobs they offer.

The Trump administration’s proposed changes to the H-2A visa program came shortly after the Adverse Effect Wage Rate increased across the United States.

The changes would alter how that rate is calculated, effectively lowering what growers pay their guest workers, Cimini reports for The California Divide, a CalMatters collaboration focused on inequity in California.

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

On ballot measures and polls

One hand with thumbs up, another with thumbs down. Blue background.

Conventional wisdom holds that ballot propositions get less popular as election day approaches. 

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher wondered whether that wisdom was correct

If history is a guide, he found voters can expect:

  • Support generally sags. Two to three months out from election day, the margin of support for the average ballot measure has polled more than 10 points higher than the final outcome.
  • 71% of the measures analyzed became less popular as election day approached.
  • Bonds almost always get more popular. Why? There isn’t a huge anti-debt lobby.

It’s a nerdy question, but it ought to help inform voters who are trying to make sense of the many polls between now and November 2020.

For more of Christopher’s wisdom, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Tom Dresslar, former deputy commissioner at the California Department of Business Oversight: The people of California, through their legislature and governor, just decided to end a decades-long, unbridled fleecing of millions of the state’s borrowers. But some predatory lenders may launch a scheme that could, for their companies, effectively overturn that sovereign decision.

Dan Walters, CalMatters classic: The economic history of California over the last half-century has been one of boom-and-bust, with recession striking about once each decade. As Jerry Brown pointed out in his budget, the current expansion has been historically long, and a downturn is inevitable. He’s probably hoping that it won’t hit until after he vacates the governorship 17 months hence.


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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.