Newsom challenges PG&E bankruptcy plan + Bakersfield children need help + Star treatment for plastics bill

Good morning, California.

“It was an incredible moment in our nation. … I remember, too, that there were wings of hospitals that were literally devoted to women who’d had botched abortions, and were suffering and dying from sepsis. … The times were dire.”—Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Santa Barbara Democrat, at a Capitol press conference commemorating the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

  • “I like Jerry Brown, but it’s another straight white male telling women what to do with our bodies. Not OK.”—Sen. Connie Leyva, Chino Democrat, at that same presser, referring to Gov. Brown’s decision to veto 2018 legislation requiring abortion pills at university campus health clinics.
  • Leyva praised Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed the bill last year.

Newsom challenges PG&E

Gov. Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom urged a bankruptcy court judge to reject PG&E’s financing plan for exiting bankruptcy, even as the troubled utility took a big step toward settling its largest outstanding debt. 

Newsom contends the company’s plan leaves it with too much debt, which would impede it as it tries to improve the system’s safety. In a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco, Newsom’s lawyers wrote:

  • “Given the Debtors continue to refuse to implement the changes to the Debtors’ Plan necessary to effect the required transformation and satisfy AB 1054, the Governor is pursuing strategies to protect California’s interests through further intervention, including a state takeover of the Utility.”

PG&E countered that it remains engaged with the administration:

  • “While PG&E has made substantial progress in resolving victim claims and restructuring our finances, additional changes to the plan are forthcoming.”

Remind me: The governor last month rejected PG&E’s proposed reorganization plan and demanded the company oust its board and replace it with a majority of Californians, including experts on utility safety. Newsom also wanted a provision that its operating license be transferred “to the state or a third-party when circumstances warrant.”

Meanwhile: PG&E reached a settlement with hedge funds that hold billions in the utility’s corporate bonds. The funds had been trying to seize control of PG&E. 

The Sacramento Bee: “Details of the settlement were unclear Wednesday, but PG&E said in a press release that ratepayers will save about $1 billion through the compromise.”

Bakersfield children need help

Photo illustration

In the latest example of the two Californias, a new report by Brandeis University researchers assessing what they call the child opportunity index ranks Bakersfield as the lowest in the nation. 

The ranking accounted for poverty, access to preschool, high school graduation rates, pollution and similar markers.

Fresno ranked second worst, followed by McAllen, Texas, with Stockton and Riverside ranking as Nos. 4 and 5.

  • The report: “We define child opportunity as the neighborhood resources and conditions (e.g., good schools, healthy food outlets, clean air) that matter for children’s healthy development.”

By the researchers’ measure, San Jose’s child opportunity index ranked second best, after Madison, Wisconsin, although many kids in San Jose had all the enumerated advantages while many others had few.

San Francisco ranked ninth best, between Albany, New York, and Ogden, Utah. 

In Bakersfield, the report noted, the following was found in neighborhoods of the typical child:

  • 21% of families live in poverty.
  • 12% of workers commute more than an hour each way to get to work.
  • 24% of teachers have fewer than three years teaching experience.

Gov. Gavin Newsom often talks about the need to spread coastal California’s wealth to the Central Valley, specifically citing Bakersfield, a city of 380,000 people, when he announced he was reconfiguring the first leg of high-speed rail to run from Bakersfield to Merced.

What’s a homelessness czar to do?

A homeless person sleeps outside the Department of Rehabilitation in Sacramento on Jan. 21, 2020.

Starting to lose track of what’s working, or not, as California combats homelessness?

CalMatters’ Matt Levin created a scorecard that lets you compare the policy solutions under discussion, and how they compare in cost, time and the politics of the situation. 

What would you do if you were a homeless czar? To check out the options, please click here.

Weighing tuition alternatives

Berkeley, California, USA - October 15, 2016: University of California entrance sign on the corner of Oxford Street and Center Street at Berkeley, California. Over 150 years old, and with many Nobel Prizes winners (they even have reserved parking spots for them), the campus serves almost 40,000 students within an open green space.
University of California, Berkeley

John A. Pérez, chair of the University of California’s board of regents, said he’s open to a plan that would raise tuition on incoming classes, but not a tuition increase for current students.

Pérez, at the regents’ meeting in San Francisco: 

  • “I have never and will never vote for a broad-based tuition increase that impacts current students.”

Regents had postponed a vote on tuition, as Gov. Gavin Newsom and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis announced their opposition. 

Perez’s comment could foreshadow the regents’ direction. But some are clearly reluctant to impose any increase.

  • Regent Sherry Lansing: “I really worry about the middle class.”

The burden of either plan would fall hardest on families making $120,000 per year or more, staff analyses show, hardly wealthy in many areas of California.

Newsom proposes giving UC an additional $217.7 million in next year’s budget for a total state contribution of $3.9 billion. UC requested $447.1 million. It’s all part of the annual budget negotiation.

Mugging for the ocean

Actor Jeff Goldblum demonstrates a re-usable metal straw at a press conference
Actor Jeff Goldblum demonstrates a re-usable metal straw at the Capitol.

Jeff Goldblum, star of Jurassic Park, ventured to Sacramento for the first time Wednesday to urge legislators to make plastic pollution go the way of the dinosaurs, CalMatters’ Carlyn Kranking reports. 

Hollywood celebrities regularly brave the Capitol on behalf of their causes, and mug and sign autographs. 

Goldblum made the trip on behalf of the ocean-advocacy group Oceana, and touted Assembly Bill 1080 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and Senate Bill 54 by Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica.

The identical bills aim to cut 75% of the waste from single-use packaging and products like forks and stirrers by Jan. 1, 2030. 

The bills stalled in the Legislature last September. Goldblum delivered a letter that he and six others signed urging lawmakers to approve the measures this year, though that is far from certain. The measures are complicated, and the lobby against them is intense.

Goldblum hammed it up, demonstrating two metal alternatives to plastic straws, which are already restricted at sitdown restaurants. One had a wide opening for thicker drinks, and one was a standard, thin straw, each for different beverages, he explained.  

  • “Thick, thick slurpy smoothie. Thinner, more liquidy water, or lemonade. Pulpy orange juice. You can go on from there.”
  • “This is the last straw you’ll need to have for the rest of your days. Well that’s good. Can you imagine all those straws?”

Goldblum said he had always been passionate about nature:

  • “I can hold my head up. I named our first baby Charlie Ocean. The second one is named River Joe.”

Top Newsom aide to step down

Daniel Zingale, a top adviser to three governors, is stepping down as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s senior adviser for strategy.

Zingale will turn 60 soon. He committed to work with Newsom for a year, and intends to retire. Chuck Supple, his partner of 39 years, stepped down last year as director of the California Division of Juvenile Justice.

Zingale got his start as an intern for Gov. Jerry Brown in 1979, became Gov. Gray Davis’ cabinet secretary, and served as senior adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and chief of staff to First Lady Maria Shriver.

  • Zingale: “I can honestly say it has been a great honor to be able to serve four governors. It has been a privilege. I am enormously grateful for the opportunity.”

The Sacramento Bee’s Sophia Bollag offers a more detailed look at Zingale’s career and impact. 

Zingale was senior vice president of the massive California Endowment when he wrote a part whimsical-part serious open letter to Gov.-elect Newsom suggesting steps he should take as governor. 

Soon after, Newsom hired him, and since, Newsom has adopted some of Zingale’s suggestions including appointing a surgeon general, and not allowing an execution.

  • Newsom: “I will continue to rely on Daniel’s creativity as an adviser in the years ahead.” 

Waiting: Newsom has yet to implement one of Zingale’s most inspired recommendations—deploying a taco truck at the Capitol steps.

Commentary at CalMatters

Jeanne Radsick, California Association of Realtors: California’s housing supply and affordability crisis is not a partisan issue. It does not discriminate geographically, ethnically or otherwise. The reality is that inaction hurts everyone. Conversely, if we each do our part to increase the supply of well-planned housing, then our entire state will be better for it.

Susan Kirsch, former president of Livable California: Legislators should declare a moratorium on housing legislation until the impact of the 40-plus housing bills passed in the last four years take effect, they address underlying causes of income inequity, and collaborate with cities and citizens, not corporations seeking to expand their real estate empires.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Voters will decide more than 200 local government tax and bond measures on the March 3 ballot, and hundreds more are likely for the November ballot.

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