California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs a number of climate-related bills surrounded by state legislators at a press conference at the USDA Forest Service Regional Office on Mare Island in Vallejo on Sept. 16, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom signs climate-related bills at a press conference at the USDA Forest Service Regional Office in Vallejo on Sept. 16, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

From CalMatters Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff: 

With his desk clear of bills for the year, Gov. Gavin Newsom is turning his attention from California policymaking to international relations.

The governor is on his way to China for a week-long excursion to promote cooperation on climate change, economic development and cultural exchange — after a brief pit stop in Israel today that his office suddenly announced Thursday. (More on that unexpected visit below.)

Newsom announced his China trip to much fanfare last month, following in the footsteps of previous Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who led similar business- and climate-focused delegations to the country. It marks only the second major international trip of Newsom’s governorship, coming four-and-a-half years after he visited El Salvador, though plans to attend a climate conference in Scotland in 2021 were scrapped at the last minute.

Climate action has become increasingly central to Newsom’s agenda, where he has pushed legislation to commit California to carbon neutrality and sued oil companies for damages. The trip to China provides an opportunity for the governor to tout his climate credentials on the biggest stage yet — he addressed a United Nations summit last month — while also beefing up his foreign policy experience ahead of a potential future presidential campaign.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “California and China hold the keys to solving the climate crisis. As two of the world’s largest economies, our partnership is essential to delivering climate action for our communities and beyond.”

The trip includes six stops, according to an itinerary shared by the governor’s office this week. Newsom plans to sign five memorandums of understanding with local and regional Chinese governments to “advance climate collaboration,” a source of growing tension between the United States and China. His office said the governor also hopes to promote more tourism to California, which has not fully recovered since the coronavirus pandemic.

Newsom kicks off his tour Monday in Hong Kong, where he will participate in a fireside chat with university leaders about fostering economic growth while combating climate change. Then he will travel to Guangdong province to learn about their transition to electric vehicles and electric public transit fleets.

In Beijing, Newsom will tour the Great Wall, meet with U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns and visit a local school with a farm-to-school food program. After visiting an offshore wind facility and a wetlands preserve in Jiangsu province, Newsom will take high-speed rail to Shanghai, where he will wrap up the trip with a tour of a Tesla factory.

Many of the activities highlight initiatives already underway in California: Newsom has committed to phasing out sales of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and pledged to protect 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030. The state is fast-tracking offshore wind projects as it attempts to convert its electric grid to 100% clean energy. And First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom has been working to expand farm-to-school food programs in California.

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Life during wartime

Supporters of Israel rally on Oct. 9, 2023 in Beverly Hills. Photo by Ryan Sun, AP Photo
Israeli-Americans, Jews and supporters of Israel rally in Beverly Hills on Oct. 9, 2023. Photo by Ryan Sun, AP Photo

Before heading for China, Gov. Newsom is first going to a war zone. 

In a surprise announcement Thursday, he said that he will stop in Israel today, “meeting with those impacted by the horrific terrorist attacks and offering California’s support,” and also bringing medical supplies. 

(By the way, by going to Israel, he’s skipping a scheduled speech on California wine at a New York City event hosted by Wine Spectator magazine.)  

Newsom earlier responded to the rising tensions in the Israel-Hamas war by doubling money to protect California’s houses of worship. He announced late Wednesday that he has approved $10 million to immediately increase police presence and an additional $20 million in state grants to enhance security at nonprofits — including mosques and synagogues — that are at high risk for violent attacks and hate crimes.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “No matter how and where one prays, every Californian deserves to be safe.”

California is home to the largest Arab-American population in the U.S. and the second largest Jewish population. Reaction to the war is rippling through academia, business and communities. Some tech executives canceled plans to attend the Web Summit’s global conference in Portugal after its founder condemned Western support of Israel and accused Israel of war crimes, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, though he later apologized for comments that “caused profound hurt.”  

Meanwhile, two professors at UC Berkeley are trying to prevent that hurt from happening in the first place. Ron Hassner, director of the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, and Hatem Bazian, a lecturer on Palestine, Islamophobia and post-colonial studies, have clashed previously. But the Chronicle reports that they issued a joint message through the chancellor’s office that acknowledged that “disagreement and different points of view are an essential part of life,” but urged students to show one another “respect and dignity.” 

  • The statement: “We love this campus with its diverse communities and all of our students and are heartbroken to hear of incidents of near violence between students in recent days. We will not tolerate our students harming one another.” 

Butler says no to Senate run

U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler, a Democrat from California, smiles during the weekly Senate Democrat leadership press conference at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, 2023. Photo by Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA, Reuters
U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler during the weekly Senate Democrat leadership press conference at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, 2023. Photo by Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA, Reuters

Those who had money on Laphonza Butler not running for Senate collected their winnings Thursday: On her 16th day as a U.S. senator, she announced she will skip the 2024 U.S. Senate race, writes CalMatters’ politics reporter Yue Stella Yu.

The former EMILYs List president was appointed by Newsom to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein. With Butler not entering the race, voters will choose a new senator next year to serve out the final two months of Feinstein’s term (from November to January), as well as one to serve the full six-year term.

  • Butler, in a statement: “It may not be the decision people expected but it’s the right one for me. California voters want leaders who think about them and the issues they care most about. I now have 383 days to serve the people of California with every ounce of energy and effort that I have.”

Butler also avoids joining a crowded field that includes three Democrats — U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff — all of whom have a head start in fundraising and winning endorsements from powerful labor groups. If she had decided to run, her bid could have further split the Democratic vote, increasing the slim-but-not-impossible chance of a Republican landing in California’s top-two primary.

  • John Burton, former chairperson of the California Democratic Party: “Nobody was looking for a fourth candidate. It wasn’t like they were looking for another person to run in a weak field. It’s a very strong field.”

For more insight on Butler’s decision, read Stella’s story.

Left behind on the internet

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

If you’re reading this sentence right now, chances are you have high-speed internet access. But for the 2 million California residents who cannot afford it — most of them from lower-income, Black, Latino, tribal and rural communities — ordinary tasks such as completing schoolwork, applying for a job or checking email are rife with challenges. 

With the backing of digital equity advocates and state leaders, Gov. Newsom signed a bill in 2021 approving broadband funding (mostly federal money) to build a public broadband network and give underserved communities access to high-speed internet.

But as Alejandra Reyes-Velarde of CalMatters’ California Divide team explains, community leaders and advocates noticed that portions of the proposed broadband network — areas including South Los Angeles and Oakland — were suddenly defunded or deprioritized. Portions in wealthier areas, however, such as Beverly Hills, have already been leased.

A spokesperson from the California Department of Technology, the agency responsible for mapping the broadband infrastructure, told Alejandra that “no one area is being prioritized over another” and that the “work will be authorized immediately in every area… simultaneously.”

But with a $30 billion budget shortfall and what they argue as a lack of transparency, advocates are skeptical of the governor’s commitment.

  • Patrick Messac, director of Oakland Undivided, a digital equity organization: “It’s really hard for the people of Oakland to trust more promises when so many have been broken in the past, and the state describes this broadband for all as a once-in-a-generation investment.”

The department is expected to hold its next meeting about the broadband plan today. For more on California’s digital divide, read Alejandra’s story.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters events: The next event is noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday about whether debt-free college is more than a dream in California. Register here. We’re also working with the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo journalism department on the Festival of Journalism on Oct. 26-27. Register here.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Federal judge overturns CA assault weapon ban again // The Sacramento Bee

Mental health caucus starts, Sen. Padilla shares family struggles // San Francisco Chronicle

Parents rights groups to protest in Gavin Newsom’s neighborhood // The Sacramento Bee 

Judge bars Chino Valley Unified from outing transgender students to parents // Orange County Register

Spy chiefs warn of Chinese espionage targeting tech firms // The New York Times

Waymo lays off more workers amid driverless taxi expansion // San Francisco Chronicle

CA justice department joins fentanyl task force in San Diego // The San Diego Union-Tribune 

Psychiatric patients restrained at sky-high rates at this LA hospital // Los Angeles Times

Shasta County public health officer fought COVID vaccine mandates // Los Angeles Times

A 19th century massacre clouds plans for a CA tribal casino // 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...