In summary

California joins Boise in Supreme Court homeless case. Kamala Harris’ home state numbers sink. College professors bring courses to prisons.

Good morning, California.

“He is not president of the United States. He is president of his base and that base is getting stronger, but it is small and, I argue, with this impeachment inquiry, it will be in decline and thaw.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, referring to the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Why Boise matters to California

Esteban Gonzalez keeps watch over shopping carts belonging to homeless people in L.A.

On one night in 2014, 46 people slept on the streets of Boise, Idaho. On any given night in L.A., 27,000 people are without shelter. 

Last September, in a case out of Boise that began in 2014, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal sided with homeless advocates, ruling that municipalities cannot prosecute people for sleeping on public property when there is no shelter for them

That decision, based on the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, is shaping homeless policy across the West.

This week: L.A., 24 other cities including Sacramento, nine counties including Los Angeles, Fresno and San Diego, plus the California State Association of Counties, joined Boise in urging that the U.S. Supreme Court take up the case.

They agree: Everyone should have shelter, but the ruling hampers government’s ability to deal with California’s homeless problem.

For the broader coalition, San Francisco attorney Teresa L Stricker writes the ruling exposes municipalities to endless litigation, and fails to answer basic questions:

  • Many homeless people won’t accept shelter if they can’t bring their dogs. Must cities shelter pets?
  • Must shelters provide space for individuals’ belongings?
  • What if people refuse shelter in dorms that have no partitions?

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer writes:

  • “Humans need to eat. Must the City allow open-flame cooking in public? All humans must relieve themselves. Must the City suspend enforcement of its ban on public defecation … ?”

The Supreme Court won’t decide whether to take the case until 2020.

Absence noted: San Francisco and California filed nothing.

Harris’ home state numbers sink

Kamala Harris at the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco in June

Sen. Kamala Harris, whose presidential campaign depends on doing well in California’s early primary, has fallen into a third tier of Democratic contenders in her home state, a new poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies shows.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts emerged as the front-runner in California, with 29% of the vote. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are bunched at 20% and 19%, respectively.

Harris’ support fell to 8% from 13% in June. To qualify for any of California’s 400 delegates, she would need to hit a 15% threshold.

Poll director Mark DiCamillo noted Harris announced she’s “moving” to Iowa to compete in that state’s caucus:

  • “There is real jeopardy that she could get shut out in California, and there are many more delegates in California than there are in Iowa.”

The poll’s findings:

  • Warren is trouncing Harris in Harris’ home base of the Bay Area, 35% to 13%. 
  • Biden leads Harris among California African-American voters, 32%-18%. Harris’ father is black.
  • Biden leads Harris among California Latinos, 26%-8%.
  • Harris’ favorability numbers fell to 59% from 74% in the June poll.

Knowing Harris might run, her allies pushed through legislation in 2017 that moved California’s primary up to March 3, believing a victory here and in the early primary states of South Carolina and Nevada would help propel her to the nomination. California voters will be able to start casting votes on the night of the Iowa caucus.

Bringing college to prisoners

Inmate Allen Burnett is working toward his bachelor’s degree.

Cal State LA is dispatching professors to a maximum security prison in Lancaster, helping inmates obtain a bachelor’s degree while behind bars.

That rehabilitative approach fell out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s when prisons stopped focusing on rehabilitation. 

  • The program provides courses for 10-15 inmates at Lancaster, although 4,500 inmates throughout the prison system take some college courses. 

Advocates cite the Lancaster program’s success as an argument for bringing public dollars back to prison education, KQED’s Vanessa Rancano reports. The story is part of CalMatters’ California Dream collaboration. 

On Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk: SB 575 to allow the inmates to qualify for the state’s Cal Grant program. The cost to the state for the 10-15 students at the prison in Lancaster would be $60,000-$120,000 a year, a sum that would grow as more inmates go for four-year degrees.

An incentive: About half of people released from California prisons wind up convicted of another crime.  A RAND Corp. study found that taking classes in prison cuts the odds of recidivism by 43%.

Protecting endangered species

Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a new suit against the Trump administration.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed his 61st suit against the Trump administration Wednesday, challenging an attempt to weaken wildlife protected under the  Endangered Species Act.

  • California has 300 species considered endangered or threatened. 
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service last month finalized rules easing enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.
  • California and 18 other states plus New York city contend the new rules violate the National Environmental Policy Act.

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher keeps track of Becerra’s suits against Trump here. He counts 61. Others get to 62 by including a case in which Becerra is defending the Affordable Care Act against a suit brought by Texas and other Republican-controlled states.

Becerra announced the suit at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area west of Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee’s Hannah Wiley reports.

Migratory birds, bats, snakes and other critters coexist with rice farmers in the bypass. The bypass is inundated when the Sacramento River rises as a natural way to avert flooding in Sacramento, which faces the biggest threat of flooding of any big city in the nation other than New Orleans.

Take a number: 150,000

Sen. Richard Pan, 2019

Sen. Richard Pan transferred $150,000 from a regular Senate campaign account into a special account specifically set up to fend off a recall against him, though it’s not clear it will reach the ballot.

Pan, a pediatrician, incurred anti-vaccine advocates’ wrath by carrying legislation signed into law this month cracking down on bogus medical exemptions granted by doctors to parents who don’t want their kids to be vaccinated.

  • Anti-vaxxers must gather 61,224 valid signatures of registered voters who reside in his Sacramento-area district by Feb. 3
  • Vaccine foes filed a recall petition against Pan in 2015 over prior vaccine-related legislation. They failed to deliver any signatures.

Commentary at CalMatters

Rob Lapsley and Allan Zaremberg, Business Roundtable and California Chamber of Commerce: A split-roll initiative would remove Proposition 13’s protections for commercial and industrial property and raise their property taxes by billions of dollars a year. Businesses would have no choice but to pass those increased costs onto you, raising the prices on everything Californians buy, from gasoline to groceries, and raising our utility and health care bills.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: California is enjoying multibillion-dollar surpluses, but voters could still face a dizzying array of tax increases on the ballot next year.

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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.