In summary

Voters sour on bonds, tax measures. Presidential candidates spent big on California’s primary. Coronavirus impacts spread.

Good morning, California.

Ballots left to count in California: 3.5 million, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

As it stands:

Souring on school bonds?

school bond, california
Alameda Unified officials pose at a 2019 groundbreaking. (Photo Bay Area News Group)

For a generation, school bonds have been a slam dunk in California. But this election was different, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports

Proposition 13, the $15 billion school construction bond, trailed with 44.6% of the vote Thursday.

  • With roughly 3.5 million uncounted votes, the measure may still pass.

If voters reject it, however, Proposition 13 would be the first statewide education bond to fail in more than two decades.

Some possible reasons:

  • The $15 billion was the largest ever. Voters might have been concerned about the economy and taking on more debt.
  • Public displeasure with schools.
  • Its name. Voters might have thought it was an assault on Proposition 13, the iconic 1978 property tax-cutting measure authored by the late Howard Jarvis.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association spent $250,000 on a radio ad denouncing the bond measure. 

David Wolfe, Jarvis’ legislative director: “Anything that people hear when there is not a big opposition campaign might cause them to stop and think this is a bad idea. … There is voter fatigue with all these bond and tax measures.”

TBD: Whether legislators will shy away from placing a bond on the November ballot to fund efforts to combat climate change.

P.S.: Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Democrat Long Beach, co-authored the legislation that placed the school bond on the ballot. He intends to push legislation that would retire Proposition 13 as a designation.

By the numbers

Of the 227 local tax and bond measures on ballots across California, voters:

  • Rejected 122
  • Approved 58

The other 57 are too close to call.

Apples to apples: In the June 2016 presidential primary, voters approved 67 local tax and bond measures and rejected 20.

Source: California Taxpayers Association.

Presidential primary spending

Michael Bloomberg at a Sacramento campaign appearance, with Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs behind him

Democratic presidential candidates spent at least $169 million through January on California’s primary, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $54.4 million, and fellow billionaire Tom Steyer spent almost $27 million.

The really big spending occurred in February. We’ll to wait a few days to get that total.

To read Christopher’s analysis, please click here.

COVID-19 impacts spread

California lacks the test kits and face masks needed to brace for a spread of the coronavirus — shown here in an illustration via the Centers for Disease Control.
Illustration of the coronavirus. Rendering via CDC image library

The coronavirus outbreak drove container volume down 15% to 17% in the first quarter of 2020 at the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest port, CalMatters’ Judy Lin tells us.

Amid some school and museum closures, and 10 deaths in Washington state:

  • The number of Californians testing positive for COVID-19 reached 60 Thursday.
  • Santa Clara County public health officials reported 20 cases and urged cancelation of large-scale public gatherings.
  • Coronavirus testing will be free, if medically necessary, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced. 
  • Federal and state health officials, trying to contain the spread, airlifted test kits to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the San Francisco coast to check passengers and crew for the virus. 
  • Passengers who had taken a cruise to Mexico aboard that ship contracted COVID-19, and at least one died.

A second man, who had been on that cruise, was found unresponsive at his Sunnyvale home Thursday and died.

As the outbreak reverberates, Gene Seroka, the L.A. port’s executive director, told the L.A. City Council 40 vessels scheduled to deliver goods between Feb. 11 and April 1 have been canceled—25% of the port’s traffic.

Some dock workers are being paid to stay home because there’s not enough work. 

  • Seroka: “It is our estimation that the effects of the coronavirus and the downturn in trade will cost us tens of billions of dollars.”

Beginning of a beautiful friendship

Sen. Jim Nielsen

Gun Owners of California, the main pro-gun lobby group remaining in this strongest of all gun control states, gives Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen of Tehama a 100%. It’s a testament to his proud support of all things Second Amendment.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento? Not so much. McCarty, who like most Democrats is a gun control advocate, gets a rating from Gun Owners of zero, and endorsements from gun safety organizations.

But they’ve found common ground:

  • More than 23,000 people tried to buy firearms in California in 2018 even though they were barred by law because of past crimes, mental illness or a history of domestic violence.
  • McCarty and Nielsen decided to co-author legislation to require the California Department of Justice to inform local police of attempts to buy guns by people who cannot legally own one.
  • Similarly, Justice would need to inform county behavioral health departments if individuals were barred because of a history of mental illness.

Nielsen gave the eulogy on the Senate floor last month for Sen. H.L. Richardson, the most conservative state senator of his time and founder of Gun Owners of California.

Nielsen believes Richardson would have smiled on the legislation:

  • “Nobody objects to getting guns out of the hands of bad guys.”

The bill is not yet scheduled for a hearing. Given its authors, the bill should pass with no opposition.

Expanding AmeriCorps

Mary Marcy, president of Dominican University, at a Capitol press conference in February

Gov. Gavin Newsom, seeking to enhance volunteerism, hired a chief service officer last year and tucked $20 million into the budget to expand AmeriCorps, the first time a governor used state money to expand the federally funded program.

The money is being used to add 500 slots to the 6,000-person volunteer operation, Service Officer Josh Fryday says.

Now, eight universities are joining the state by agreeing to match state funds to make volunteering by college students worth their while, ande help them with the cost of college.

Recruitment of volunteers has begun at the eight universities, including:

  • UC Berkeley and UC Merced
  • Cal State L.A., San Jose State and Stanislaus State
  • Cal Lutheran, University of the Pacific and Dominican University of California

Domincan President March B. Marcy, for one, promised to provide up to $25,000 a year toward tuition for four years for volunteers, on top of the state’s stipend.

Newsom’s goal: Increase the number of AmeriCorps volunteers to 10,000.

Commentary at CalMatters

Sen. Ling Ling Chang, Diamond Bar Republican: California audit slammed the Lottery for failing to provide sufficient funds to public schools. Chang’s legislation seeks to fix that.


A note: This is my last WhatMatters. It has been an honor to have been able to deliver you the news of the Capitol for these past two years.

Emily Hoeven will take over on Monday. Please welcome her by sending her tips, suggestions and insights,

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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.