California’s lobbying boom, new firefighting tools, and the recycling crisis

Good morning, California.

“As I talked to our unsheltered residents on our parks and on our sidewalks, I meet people that went to the same high school I went to, who actually grew up in the very neighborhood where they are now living in that local park.”—Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, in a San Francisco Chronicle report showing that Oakland surpassed other large California cities in per capita homelessness. 

  • Oakland’s rate of 742 unsheltered homeless people per 100,000 residents is four times that of San Diego.

Influence industry grows

Chart by Matt Levin, CalMatters.

Companies, unions, trade groups, and other entities seeking to influence policy and legislation spent $187 million in the first half of 2019 as Gavin Newsom formed his new administration. That’s a $10 million jump from the year before, public filings show.

The $187 million was spent on in-house lobbyists, outside lobby firms and other expenses to influence legislation and public policy. It compares with:

  • $146 million spent by lobbyist employers in the first two quarters of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration in 2011.
  • $107.7 million in the first two quarters of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration in 2004.

Top five spenders in the first half of 2019:

  • California Teachers Association, $4.3 million. It focused on legislation to weaken charter public schools, most of which are nonunion.
  • Western States Petroleum Association, $4.1 million. It focused on legislation and policy related to oil, emissions and taxation.
  • Chevron, $3.7 million. See Western States Petroleum Association.
  • California State Council of Service Employees, $2.2 million. Labor
  • ACLU, $2.19 million. It focused on criminal justice issues and police use of force.

The biggest spenders change little from year to year. Perhaps most noteworthy is the number of entities that hire lobbyists in Sacramento.

In the first half of 2019, 164 employers spent at least $200,000 on lobbying.

That was up from 126 at the start of Brown’s administration, and 86 at the start of Schwarzenegger’s time in office.

New lobby shop’s rising fortunes

A Weedmaps billboard in Hollywood

The first six months of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration have been lucrative for one of Newsom’s closest advisers, lobbyist Jason Kinney and his new lobbying firm.

Axiom Advisors, formed after Newsom’s election last fall, jumped to the top spot in billing for all Sacramento lobbying firms in the second quarter of 2019. CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall wrote about the firm in this piece.

Axiom’s second-quarter revenue: $2.274 million, $165,000 more than the No. 2 billing firm. 

  • Axiom has billed $2.85 million for the year, ranking fourth out of 331 firms that have received payments for lobbying this year.

Axiom’s clients range from home builders to energy companies, kidney dialysis providers, the state’s largest timber company, a firm that seeks to build a desalination plant, and business involved in growing and selling \marijuana. 

  • Kinney worked to pass Proposition 64, the 2016 initiative promoted by Newsom legalizing commercial sale of cannabis.

Axiom’s top-paying clients since Jan. 1: 

  • Ghost Management, $180,000. It owns the Weedmaps app, which identifies cannabis retailers. It’s battling legislation that would regulate advertising of unlicensed shops.
  • Marathon Oil, $150,000. It’s working on several bills and policies by such agencies as the California Air Resources Board.
  • Cargill, $130,000. Cargill’s disclosure showed it has lobbied no bills or agencies this year. It owns San Francisco Bay salt flats near Redwood City, and has contemplated developing it, a divisive notion.

Combined, corporations, unions and other employers paid 331 contract lobbying firms a total of $111 million in the first half of 2019, up from $103.8 million for the same period last year, and $96.6 million in the first six months of 2017.

California’s firefighting arsenal

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Gavin Newsom in a C-130 at McClellan Airport

As Californians face a new fire season, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger joined Gavin Newsom at McClellan Airport outside Sacramento on Thursday to tour additions to the CalFire aircraft fleet, an upgrade that spans both administrations.

Newsom said Schwarzenegger was “responsible for this day” as he demanded that the state upgrade its equipment. 

  • Schwarzenneger: “The biggest problem was that we had the greatest firefighters in the world … but we didn’t have the assets. We didn’t have the equipment.”

The Great Recession restricted Schwarzenegger’s ability to spend. Not so Newsom’s. 

  • Newsom’s budget includes $127 million to expand the fleet to add C-130 air tankers and Black Hawk helicopters for nighttime firefighting operations. The upgrade is expected to be completed by 2023.

To understand the need, spend time this weekend reading two pieces of literary journalism about the Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise and left 85 people dead.

  • Jon Mooallem in the New York Times Sunday Magazine: “Paradise had prepared for disasters. But it had prepared merely for disasters, and this was something else.”
  • Mark Arax in the California Sunday Magazine: “As scores of people were being burned alive and thousands more were frantically fleeing a ridge overstuffed with traffic, the utility decided to compose a tweet. It was sent out at 3:14 p.m. and informed residents not of the fire and its path but the reasons why PG&E had decided not to turn off the power.”

California’s garbage crisis

Non-recyclable plastic and other material in San Jose

Local officials and recyclers across the state are struggling to cope with the detritus of a disposable society, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports in the first part of her series, Wasted: Can California save recycling?

Californians generated about 77.2 million tons of waste in 2017, according to the most recent calculations from CalRecycle

  • About 44.4 million tons ended up in landfills in 2017. 
  • CalRecycle estimates that the other 32.8 million tons, about 42%, was sent to recycling or composting, or was never tossed in the first place. 

Some of it can end up in the guts of wildlife, as Becker details based on a necropsy she witnessed of a Northern Fulmar. 

The gray seabird had ingested shards of plastic, cardboard, styrofoam and a maroon hunk of mystery meat that looked like beef jerky but turned out to be styrofoam.

California exports about a third of its recycling. Historically, the bulk of that went to China. But China announced in 2017 that it would stop accepting it. Now, there’s a lot of waste—and a much smaller market for it.

To read Becker’s full report, please click here.

Take a number: 4.2

California’s infant mortality rate is among the lowest in the nation.

California’s infant mortality rate was 4.2 deaths per 1,000 births in 2017, the nation’s third lowest behind Massachusetts and Washington, and below the national average of 5.79 deaths per 100,000 births, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Mississippi had the highest at 8.73 deaths per 1,000 births. Texas’ infant mortality rate was 5.85, above the national average.

Commentary at CalMatters

Ruben Honig, United Cannabis Business Association: Cannabis consumers cannot trust that they are using safe products unless they purchase from licensed retailers. Many third-party advertisers in California, as well as apps, encourage cannabis ads whether or not the business is licensed. That is patently unfair to licensed operators, and it is anti-consumer.

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