Why parents face a debt + What’s driving one of the year’s most costly races + Whither asparagus

Good morning, California.

“This is a big loss for the President and his weaponization of federal agencies—and a victory for anyone who cares about the rule of law and clean air.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, after the U.S. Justice Department dropped its antitrust investigation of Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen.

  • In August, Justice leaked word of the investigation after Ford, Honda, BMW and VW agreed to abide by California’s strict clean air standards, and rejected Trump administration efforts to weaken the state’s standards. 
  • Toyota, GM, Fiat-Chrysler, Subaru and many other carmakers are aligned with Trump.

Parents’ $137 million debt

Foster parent Andrew Simmons goes through paperwork of his six adopted children in his Ramona, CA home
Andrew Simmons’ paperwork for his six adopted children (Photo by Lisa Hornak)

California was the first state to stop charging parents for the cost of their children’s time in the juvenile justice system.

However: That 2018 law doesn’t require counties to forgive fees that parents owed before the law took effect.

The result: Tens of thousands of families still owe juvenile justice fees that California has since abolished, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports.

  • Botts: Most counties voluntarily cleared the parents’ old debt. But 22 counties are pursuing debt that totals $137 million as of Jan. 1, 2018.

San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Tulare and Stanislaus counties have been collecting these old fees, with close to 414,000 accounts outstanding.

They’re not messing around, as Andrew Simmons, a foster parent of six kids in Ramona, can attest: 

  • He owes $14,000 to San Diego County for one of his kid’s jail time.
  • The county placed a lien on his home and seized a tax return of $660.

To read Botts’ report, please click here.

The story is part of CalMatters’ California Divide collaboration with news organizations statewide. 

To read other stories in the series, please click here.

Trump’s play for Nevada

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Photo by D Ramey Logan via Creative Commons)

Not that it was happening anytime soon, but nuclear waste from Diablo Canyon and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station clearly won’t be moved to Nevada.

President Donald Trump, hoping to win Nevada’s six electoral votes in November, announced he was scrapping plans for creating a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, east of Death Valley, and 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

  • Nevada officials and voters call the 1987 congressional act establishing Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump “The Screw Nevada Bill.”

Trump tweeted last week:

  • “Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you. Congress and previous Administrations have long failed to find lasting solutions – my Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches – I’m confident we can get it done!”

A reversal: In his first three budgets, Trump sought a combined $350 million to develop Yucca Mountain. His new budget proposal comes out today.

  • The Nevada Independent: Trump’s tweet comes as he pivots toward re-election and intends to compete in Nevada. Hillary Clinton won Nevada by 2.4 percentage points in 2016.

Uncle Sam: The nation has 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste. Most is stored at 80 sites in 35 states.

California has the sixth most nuclear waste of those states, an amount expected to grow to 4,565 tons by 2027, the Government Accountability Office has reported.

Sources of our waste: Diablo Canyon, and decommissioned nukes at San Onofre, Rancho Seco near Sacramento, and Humboldt Bay near Eureka.

In other waste news

  • The L.A. Times: “Across much of California, fossil fuel companies are leaving thousands of oil and gas wells unplugged and idle, potentially threatening the health of people living nearby.”
  • Bloomberg: “Built to withstand hurricane-force winds, [windmill] blades can’t easily be crushed, recycled or repurposed. … In the U.S., they go to the handful of landfills that accept them.”

Farm worker OT fallout

Gov. Jerry Brown with Cesar Chavez and aides at La Paz, the UFW headquarters, in 1975. Photo by Jon Lewis, Farmworker Documentation Project
Gov. Jerry Brown, Cesar Chavez at the UFW headquarters, 1975 (Photo by Jon Lewis)

One of California’s most costly legislative races illustrates how a single vote can come back to bite a lawmaker, and how one consultant doesn’t forget.

Long story short: Gov. Jerry Brown signed hard-fought legislation in 2016 requiring that farmers pay workers overtime after eight hours of work.

  • Farmers fought the bill. 
  • The United Farm Workers, founded by labor icon Cesar Chavez, fought for it.
  • The UFW’s longtime lobbyist was Richie Ross, a friend of Chavez. Ross’ daughter, Esperanza Ross, represents the organization now.

The Assembly approved the measure, 44-32. Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, of Stockton, was one of four Assembly Democrats who failed to vote one way or the other.

Eggman is wont to tell fellow Democrats:

  • “Our policies and regulations have an impact on the price of food. To truly live our values, we should only buy California grown.”

Now, Eggman is running for the Senate in a district that encompasses Stockton, Modesto, and many farms. 

Democrat Mani Grewal, her main opponent, is a wealthy Modesto city councilman who has put $432,000 of his own money into his campaign.

A Grewalad depicts farm workers driving in a van from a farm to the Capitol to ask Eggman to vote for the bill.

  • The narrator: “Susan Eggman wouldn’t listen to them. And she didn’t vote for overtime.”

Grewal’s campaign has paid the United Farm Workers $125,000 to campaign for him.

Grewal’s campaign consultant: Richie Ross.

Money matters: 

  • Unions have spent $263,000 to elect Eggman.
  • An oil industry group has spent $692,000 to elect Grewal.

Whither Stockton asparagus

Stockton Asparagus Festival is coming.

Stockton used to call itself the Asparagus Capital of the World. Now the crop has all but disappeared, the victim of land costs, trade policy that allows it to be grown at far lower costs in Peru and shipped north, and California legislation.

The Packer, a publication that covers the produce industry: “Acreage already was dropping 10% or 15% per year when the California legislature launched a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour as soon as 2022 and then eliminated the overtime exemption for agriculture workers.”

The numbers:

  •  In 2000, San Joaquin County grew 23,600 acres of asparagus, the county agriculture commissioner reported.
  • In 2010, the acreage shrank to 6,600.
  • In 2018, 1,030 acres were planted in asparagus, valued at $11 million.

Daniel Sumner, a UC Davis agricultural economist, cites reasons including the price of labor to pick the labor-intensive crop, plus the value of land and water. The same is happening to other crops: “Anything that requires a lot of labor and can be grown elsewhere.”

The replacement: nuts.

  • Almond orchard acreage has more than doubled in San Joaquin County since 2000. The crop was worth $536 million in 2018.

What’s next: Though almost all San Joaquin County asparagus growers have planted other crops, Stockton is planning its annual Asparagus Festival, April 17-19—the “BIGGEST Asparagus Festival in the West!”

Transforming Fresno

Fernando Valera, a Duncan Polytechnical High School senior, repairs a heavy duty truck. (Photo by John Walker/The Fresno Bee)

Almost half of Fresno’s public school students take part in career and technical programs, The Fresno Bee’s Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado reports

Manufacturers struggle to maintain highly skilled workers. That’s where training by public schools comes in, Rodriguez-Delgado writes.

Automation’s impact: In 2019, the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution reported that 48% of jobs in the Fresno area are susceptible to automation

Brookings ranked California 38th of 50 states, with 45.2% of its jobs at risk to automation. 

  • No 1: Indiana had the greatest percentage of jobs at risk, 48.7%. 
  • No. 50: New York had the smallest percentage of jobs at risk, 42.4%.

Flip side: Automation creates jobs if workers can learn the necessary skills.

To read Rodriguez-Delgado’s story, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Ellen Hanak and Jeffrey Mount, PPIC: Gov. Gavin Newsom has put forward a framework for managing water and habitat in the Delta and its watershed. This is an opportunity—the kind that comes along rarely—to shift from fighting about the Delta’s future to actually shaping it.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom has unveiled the “framework” of a long-sought compromise on divvying up water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

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See you tomorrow.

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