Gov. Gavin Newsom, at left, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, on Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by the Office of the California Governor via AP Photo
Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, on Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by the Office of the California Governor via AP Photo

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s trip overseas this week has had its share of twists: First a surprise visit to Israel, followed by a surprise meeting a few days later with Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday in Beijing to discuss trade relations, climate change and even fentanyl.

Newsom isn’t the first California governor to visit China — former Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled to the country during their tenures to also talk shop about climate change. But amid tense relationships between the U.S. and China in recent years, Newsom is the first U.S. governor to visit the country in more than four years, according to NBC News.

In his opening remarks before the meeting with Xi, the governor said he was there “in expectation… of turning the page, of renewing our friendship,” reports AP News. And in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Newsom credited the president for his “willingness to reconcile differences.”

  • Newsom, to CNN: “The last few years have been very stressful… and we got to turn down the heat. We got to manage our strategic differences, we got to reconcile our strategic red lines…. The fact that (Xi) is meeting with a governor of California, at the sub-national level, is indicative of a thawing.”

Before embarking on the tour, a Newsom spokesperson told reporters that the governor didn’t plan on bringing up human rights issues during the trip, prompting outcry from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who pressed him to speak up about issues including China’s human rights violations; its ongoing imprisonment of an Orange County pastor; its subjugation of Uighurs and its role in shipping fentanyl-related substances

But Newsom said he did ultimately breach those topics in Beijing, discussing fentanyl with Xi: “We talked about the importance of this issue…. It’s taking the life of one-plus person every single day in San Francisco,” he said according to the Los Angeles Times

In a statement, his office also reported that the governor spoke about “anti-democratic efforts in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan” with China’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The biggest agenda item on the table, however, was climate change. California and China share a $166 billion trade relationship and as CalMatters’ climate reporter Alejandro Lazo explains, China plays a major role in California’s goal to reach all new zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

But to achieve that, car makers will need car batteries and lots of them. They’ll need to be cheaper, longer lasting and require less time to charge. That’s where China steps in: It holds the majority stake of the world’s cobalt processing, natural and synthetic graphite processing and capacity for lithium compounds. In short, it has a near-complete monopoly of the key minerals and materials that go into creating EV batteries.

As China’s relationship with the U.S. remains fraught (in fact, the Biden Administration is requiring that at least half of electric car battery components be sourced in the U.S. by next year in order for buyers to qualify for rebates) reinforcing its trade relationship with California is a crucial step to solidify its position as a leader for electric car manufacturing. For more on the state’s relationship with China and climate change, read Alejandro’s story.

CalMatters events: We’re working with the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo journalism department on the Festival of Journalism, which starts this evening and ends Friday. Register here.

CalMatters for Learning: From our engagement team: lesson-plan-ready versions of our explainers on housing and homelessness, electric vehicles, wage theft, water and state government — all especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative. 

Bonta and other attorneys general sue Meta

A man stands in front of a sign of Meta at its headquarters in Menlo Park on October 28, 2021. Photo by Carlos Barria, REUTERS
A man stands in front of a sign of Meta at its headquarters in Menlo Park on October 28, 2021. Photo by Carlos Barria, Reuters

From CalMatters economy reporter Levi Sumagaysay:

Attorney General Rob Bonta’s lawsuit against Meta, filed with 32 other state attorneys general this week, is another chance for California to address what shelved legislation would have: Hold a social media company accountable for designing its products with the purpose of getting young people hooked.

The lawsuit accuses Meta of having a business model that’s based on maximizing young users’ time on its platforms, Facebook and Instagram, as well as designing features that are “harmful and psychologically manipulative,” Bonta’s office said in a news release Tuesday.

The state attorneys general also accuse the company of misleading the public about the safety of those features; publishing misleading reports about user harms; and refusing to address the harms. It’s the result of an investigation announced by Bonta in 2021, after Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents that included details about the company’s knowledge of the harms associated with its products.

Meta spokesperson Tracy Clayton said the company is “disappointed” that the state attorneys general “chose this path.” Clayton also referred to Meta’s position that the factors contributing to teens’ mental health struggles are complex and varied.

The state attorneys general join many other officials trying to address this issue. Earlier this year, a state senate bill — cosponsored by Bonta and children’s advocacy groups and opposed by the tech industry — that would have prohibited social media companies from using features or algorithms that they know could cause harm to children failed to make it out of the assembly. And the San Mateo County Board of Education sued Google, TikTok, Snap and other companies in March, and is just one of a few dozen other school districts around the country doing the same thing.

Water cuts avert Colorado River ‘crisis’

The All American Canal flows past the Imperial Sand Dunes near Felicity on Dec. 5, 2022.
The All American Canal flows past the Imperial Sand Dunes near Felicity on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Caitlin Ochs, Reuters

In an uncommon bit of good news regarding the Colorado River’s water reserves, a federal analysis released Wednesday reported that the river’s water supply won’t hit dangerously low levels — as long as California, Nevada and Arizona stick to their pact to cut river water usage, the Rocky Mountain snowpack remains ample and wet weather stays in the forecast.

The river has been overdrafted for decades, writes CalMatters’ Rachel Becker, but the updated assessment from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation means the three states can continue plans to give up about 13% of water they receive from the river through the end of 2026. About 40 million people in the West, including a large portion of Southern California, rely on Colorado River water for much of their supplies.

  • Camille Calimlim Touton, bureau commissioner, in a statement: “The Colorado River Basin’s reservoirs… remain at historically low levels. Today’s advancement protects the system in the near-term while we continue to develop long-term, sustainable plans to combat the climate-driven realities facing the Basin.” 

The bureau’s “blessing” is a big step forward considering negotiations about divvying up water usage were particularly difficult between the river states. The bureau still needs to hold public comments about its analysis, but what exactly this updated report and expected deal mean for California remains unclear. For more on this, read Rachel’s story.

State to SF: Get your act together

Residential buildings in San Francisco on March 4, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo
Residential buildings in San Francisco on March 4, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo

From CalMatters housing reporter Ben Christopher: 

On Wednesday, California’s state housing department published the results of a 13-month-long deep dive into San Francisco’s notoriously tortuous, delay-filled and unpredictable housing approval process. 

The state’s assessment: The housing policy equivalent of “see me after class.”

According to the Housing and Community Development department’s first-ever “housing policy and practice review”:

  • “San Francisco has the longest timelines in the state for advancing a housing project from submittal to construction” — 1,128 day average, or nearly a year longer than the second slowest city.
  • The state has set an annual construction goal of 10,259 new units for San Francisco through 2030 — and city leaders passed a plan to meet it. But in the first six months of 2023, the city permitted only 179.

The report also included 18 “required” actions that the city will need to enact to get off the state’s naughty list. They include nixing approval hearings for many otherwise legally compliant housing projects, removing nebulous terms like “neighborhood character” from approval guidelines and cutting the number of opportunities for project opponents to appeal an approval.

Earlier this year, the department approved San Francisco’s development blueprint for the next seven years, known as its housing element. But the Wednesday report stressed that that approval was contingent on the city actually following through on its plans — a notable warning sign to other cities and counties.

  • HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez: “Should the city fail to comply with this there will be, potentially, a revocation of its certified housing element and then can lead to further enforcement action.”

As cities across California have discovered, going without a certified housing element comes with big consequences — notably the loss of zoning control.

This isn’t the first time San Francisco has been singled out as the problem child of the California housing crisis. In September, the state Legislature passed a law subjecting the city to a progress review every year, instead of once every four years.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Seventeen months ago, Gov. Newsom bragged of having a $97.5 billion surplus. But a year after his surplus boasting, Newsom presented a 2023-24 budget that dealt with a projected $31.5 billion deficit. What happened?

If colleges and companies don’t pay more attention to the burnout of young professionals in California’s workforce, there could be economic consequences, writes Julie Lynem, a journalism lecturer at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and cofounder of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County and RaiseUp SLO.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Orphaned by McCarthy, CA Republicans stand alone // Politico

One CA prison guard, 96 abuse charges: Women say ‘serial rapist’ targeted them // The Guardian

‘Unimaginable nightmare’: Californians whose relatives were kidnapped in Israel // Los Angeles Times

‘We want to build a city of yesterday’: Latest details on new Solano County city // San Francisco Chronicle

Amid a growing number of threats, can the San Joaquin Valley adapt to climate change? // Los Angeles Times

SF supervisors urge mayor to make payments to businesses hurt by APEC // San Francisco Chronicle

San Diego County advances its own camping ban, but final passage isn’t assured // The San Diego Union-Tribune

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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...