Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Ben Christopher September 19, 2022
Presented by Sutter Health

Meet California’s “red flag” law evangelist

This is CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher, filling in for Emily and hoping she isn’t reading this and is instead enjoying her hard-earned vacation.

It happens almost every time there’s a new mass shooting. 

After Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas and Parkland, Florida and Highland Park, Illinois the question comes up again and again: How can we stop these people from having guns in the first place?

“Red flag” laws, which make it easier for authorities to remove firearms from those deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others, have become an increasingly common answer to that question.

But even when states put these laws on the books, they’re often ignored by local law enforcement

California’s biggest exception: San Diego.

CalMatters politics reporter Alexei Koseff spent some time with Deputy City Attorney Jeff Booker, who oversees San Diego’s gun violence restraining order unit, to learn how the city became a model for implementing a law that many California gun violence researchers point to as one of the state’s most vital.

Since 2017, San Diego’s City Attorney’s office has successfully overseen the seizure of more than 1,600 firearms from 865 people. That’s turned Booker’s small unit into a go-to resource for agencies outside the city looking to do the same. More than 100 have called his office for advice since January alone.

California has a long way to go. 

Even before the state introduced its current “red flag” law in 2016, the state created a database of “armed and prohibited persons” — people who legally purchased a firearm but were later legally disqualified from having one, often after committing a violent crime. 

As CalMatters has extensively reported, the state, which has among the toughest gun laws in the country, has a lousy track record of actually going out and getting those guns. The consequences of that failure can be fatal.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom launched an $11 million campaign to promote the use of gun violence restraining orders to law enforcement, domestic violence survivor support organizations and other community groups.

On Friday, the administration dropped the latest from the campaign: In a message to the parents of school-aged children released on Friday, the Office of Emergency Services touted these red flag orders as “a tool that could prevent school shootings and gun suicides among youth, teens and families.”

As part of a collaboration with CalMatters investigating wage theft across the state, CBS California is scheduled to run a story tonight featuring a Santa Clara County pilot program aimed at tracking down employers who have skimped on paying their workers. On Tuesday, it’ll take a closer look at the issue from the business perspective.

The stories are aimed to air both nights at 5 p.m. on KPIX 5 in San Francisco, at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on CBS 2 in Los Angeles, and at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on CBS 13 in Sacramento.

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Programming note: In yet another indication that California is through with COVID-19 (even if COVID-19 isn’t entirely through with us), California’s public health officials are now updating their new case, death and vaccination counts just once per week. We’ll post the new numbers here on Friday morning.

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1 Newsom wants a debate or two

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and President Joe Biden board Air Force One in Sacramento on Sept. 13, 2021. Photo by Clifford Oto, The Stockton Record via Reuters

Regular newsletter readers will recall last week that some of the top Democratic candidates running for statewide office — including Gov. Gavin Newsom — didn’t appear all that interested in debating their electoral opponents before Election Day. 

Maybe I spoke too soon.

Not only is the governor now willing to debate his opponent in the race, Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle from Bieber, Newsom is also apparently also keen to debate the governor of Florida about immigration policy — and perhaps the superiority of different hair-styling products.

Let me explain.

  • A substantive California debate…: On Friday, KQED confirmed that Newsom agreed to participate in an Oct. 23 live debate with Dahle, which will be broadcast on the radio with a video stream. It’s a return to form for the San Francisco-based NPR affiliate; KQED hosted the only live debate of the last gubernatorial election too.

Newsom responded on Thursday by calling upon the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate DeSantis for “kidnapping.” DeSantis retorted that Newsom’s hair gel must be “interfering with his brain function.” At that, Newsom — who has repeatedly insisted that he is definitely not planning a presidential run — challenged DeSantis, widely seen as a future White House contender, to a debate.

  • Newsom: “Since you have only one overriding need — attention — let’s take this up & debate. I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray.”

Other California political news you might have missed over the weekend:

  • Dust to dust: It will soon be legal in California to compost human remains, providing the dearly departed a new state-sanctioned way to shuffle off this mortal coil. Newsom signed the bill that legalizes the practice — and sets a statutory fee of $8.50 per “reduction” — Sunday evening. You can read about that one, along with other notable legislation the governor did, didn’t or has yet to sign, at CalMatters’ 2022 bill tracker.
  • Gómez out: The special election between San Diego Assemblymember David Alvarez and former City Council President Georgette Gómez was one of the most expensive in the state earlier this year. We won’t be getting a sequel in November. Gómez, who lost to Alvarez in the special but was working to unseat him in the regularly scheduled general election, said she’s ending her campaign
  • Another referendum in the making: On Friday, Attorney General Rob Bonta published a title and summary for a fast food industry-backed petition to block a new state law regulating wages and working conditions at franchise restaurants. To qualify for the 2024 ballot, supporters have until early December to gather 623,212 signatures.

2 Pay hike coming to CSU?

A student sits and works on his laptop in front of the University Student Union at Fresno State on Feb. 9, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

A bill sitting on Gov. Newsom’s desk would require California State University to give its non-faculty employees — workers whom university administrators acknowledge are underpaid — a series of raises over the next 15 years. 

But there’s a catch: The bill wouldn’t actually give the university system any money to fund the higher pay.

That puts Newsom in a political bind, writes CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn

His options are: 

  • Sign the bill and weather the political fallout. If the state doesn’t provide new funding, administrators warn they will need to increase tuition, cut services or both. One projection: The university system would have to cut 6,300 classes to pay for the first year of pay hikes alone.
  • Veto the bill and incur the wrath of the 30,000 unionized workers denied a raise.

Sen. Connie Leyva, a Chino Democrat who declined to seek reelection this year, isn’t particularly sympathetic to the university’s grim financial prognostications.

  • Leyva: “Yes, we don’t want to see students suffer, but what message are we sending to students that you get to come and get this education on the backs of these workers.”

Newsom has promised to follow through with enough new state cash to pay for the raises and then some, but promises can be broken. Critics say future funding is particularly precarious given mounting fears of a recession, a concern that Newsom has telegraphed in a series of veto messages this month.

  • Cal State Assistant Vice Chancellor Ryan Storm: “While there’s a commitment by the governor to propose additional funding that’s in excess of a billion dollars, there’s no guarantee of it either, but there would be a guarantee of costs if this bill would pass.”

3 Have you ever seen the rain?

A pedestrian carries an umbrella while walking on a path in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Oct. 20, 2021. Showers drifted across the drought-stricken and fire-scarred landscape of Northern California in October. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Startled residents across the northern half of the state were treated to an unusual meteorological phenomenon this weekend: Drops of water fell from the sky. 

A fall rain storm, barreling south out of Alaska, comes as a welcome reprieve for a drought-parched state still recovering from a thermometer-busting heat wave earlier this month. 

The storm is also welcome news for firefighters who are still battling to contain the Mosquito Fire in the Georgetown Divide region in the Sierra foothills. As of Sunday afternoon, the blaze was only 34% contained, though the colder temperatures, humidity and precipitation will make it easier to hem in the flames further, CalFire said in a status update

But rain on a fresh burn scar raises its own perils. 

Two years ago the El Dorado Fire, sparked by an ill-advised “gender reveal” party, torched the hills around the San Bernardino National Forest. When Tropical Storm Kay dumped rain over the region last week, there was little vegetation in place to keep the fire-baked soil from sliding off those hillsides

This weekend, a search-and-rescue team found the body of a 62-year-old woman who was buried in mud and debris in her Forest Falls home.

CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The closure of California’s public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic had a hugely negative impact on children’s educations that will reverberate for decades.

Rewrite the Second Amendment: To finally address America’s firearm injury epidemic we must amend the U.S. Constitution, and that nationwide movement should start in California, writes John Maa, a surgeon at MarinHealth Medical Center.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

California close to blocking foreign buyers from its farmland // VOA

Majority of Latino voters out of GOP’s reach, new poll shows // New York Times

Play ‘Sim Nimby’: A game inspired by the housing crisis // San Francisco Standard

San Diego’s D.A. won’t charge Dem party chair // Times of San Diego

Judge halts sheriff’s computer search in supervisor investigation // LAist

California still letting oil companies use scarce high-quality water // Inside Climate News

Lawmakers call for probe into “retaliatory behavior” at immigrant detainees // KQED

The California county where MAGA took control // New York Times

Why don’t homeless advocates support Proposition 27? // San Francisco Chronicle

Millions of student loan borrowers could receive automatic refunds soon // CNBC

After California misfire on concealed guns, sheriff under scrutiny // Mercury News

Rare yellow-legged frogs returned to San Gabriel Mountains // Los Angeles Times

As California braces for severe flu season, doctors urge shots // San Francisco Chronicle

Honoring the East L.A. chef who rejected the Mexican combo plate // Los Angeles Times

Opinion: California ready to try almost any tactic on homelessness — except the one that works // Sacramento Bee

See you tomorrow

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