California business and labor at odds

Your guide to California policy and politics
Sameea Kamal BY Sameea Kamal February 7, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

California business and labor at odds

If you want to see two diametrically opposed views of what California lawmakers have done and should be doing or not doing, look no further than a new poll and a new legislative scorecard.

On one hand, a survey out Monday from the National Federation of Independent Business found that overwhelming majorities of California small business owners want the state to exempt them from expanded employee leave requirements, to delay the plan to ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and to repeal the provisions of Proposition 47 that raise the felony level for theft from $450 to $950.

  • John Kabateck, the federation’s California state director: “California has the Lamborghini of legislatures when it comes to setting land-speed records for more and more rules, regulations, and taxes. If I could sum up the ballot results from our small-business-owning membership in one sentence, it would be: ‘Please take your foot off the gas pedal.’”

On other hand, the new California Labor Federation scorecard gives 100% scores to 15 lawmakers and an 88% score to Gov. Gavin Newsom on its 2022 legislative priorities, including laws to expand farmworker union rights and to give fast food workers more bargaining power (since blocked by the industry and sent to the November 2024 ballot).  

  • Labor Federation scorecard: “We are in the midst of the most exciting era for worker organizing in a generation and we invite you all to stand with us in this fight. Together we can challenge income inequality, increase union density, and rebuild the middle class in California.”

California Democrats pride themselves on expanding rights and freedoms — well, except for gun owners and some others. Monday, they held events at the state Capitol to highlight two more efforts — one to let people cruise on city streets, and another to let incarcerated people wear religious clothing.

A ban on a ban: Assemblymember David Alvarez of Chula Vista promoted a bill to ban local authorities from adopting rules and regulations on cruising — which the state defines as “the custom of leisurely driving” vehicles that may be vintage, or customized in height and style. Alvarez noted that the Legislature approved a resolution last year that encouraged local officials to voluntarily rescind bans and recognize that cruising holds cultural significance for many communities.

Religious freedom: Sen. Dave Cortese of Campbell introduced a bill, sponsored by California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, to guarantee that Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other inmates in state or county correctional and detention facilities have the right to religious clothing, grooming and headwear. A statement from Cortese’s office says the state lacks a consistent approach, while some counties have adopted the policy as a result of lawsuits. 

  • Cortese: “Studies show that this form of religious exercise reduces violence and other negative behaviors in correctional facilities, and lowers recidivism.”

Also Monday, Assemblymembers Dawn Addis, a San Luis Obispo Democrat, and Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley, introduced legislation to end California’s civil statute of limitations for minors who have experienced sexual abuse.  

  • Skinner: “It’s unacceptable and cruel that many California victims of childhood sex abuse are unable to hold their abusers accountable because our law now says their time has run out.”

Electric vehicles: CalMatters is writing a series of stories on California’s road to more electric cars and trucks. Starting in 2035, no gas-powered vehicles will be sold in the state. Do you have questions about this transformation? Submit them here.  


1 Rain won’t refill CA’s ‘liquid gold’

Tulare Irrigation District General Manager Aaron Fukuda stands near the Cordeniz basin outside of Tulare on Jan. 26, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
Tulare Irrigation District General Manager Aaron Fukuda stands near the Cordeniz basin on Jan. 26, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

About 40% of the water Californians consume in a year comes from groundwater, a relatively inexpensive, local source in a state where many cities rely on imported water and rural towns have no other sources.

But in areas such as the San Joaquin Valley, the groundwater reserves have been relentlessly pumped by farmers for decades — and the recent round of rain has done little to refill its bounty, CalMatters’ Alastair Bland reports. Water from heavy rains can reach shallow basins in a matter of days, but it can take months in places where wells must pump from deep underground.  

  • Jeanine Jones, drought manager with the state Department of Water Resources: “Just one wet year is nowhere near large enough to refill the amount of groundwater storage that we’ve lost, say, over the last 10 years or more.”

According to state officials and other groundwater experts, most wells in the San Joaquin Valley have virtually no chance of recovering without big changes. That could include purchasing land where water can sink into the ground, and having farmers and communities reduce the water they pump.

But it’s not all hopeless. Some farmers and other land managers have dug large recharge basins to capture stormwater. Cities design similar projects, and in recent months alone, they’ve put tens of thousands of acre-feet of water into underground storage.

And Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said the snowpack built up in January offers a prime, though time-sensitive, opportunity.

  • Nemeth: “That snow is going to melt, and we want the local water districts to be positioned to capture some of that excess snowmelt and get it underground.” 

California’s water crisis, explained: Despite last month’s deluge, the state is gripped by a deep drought. CalMatters has a detailed look at how California might increase its water supply. And now, you can read it in Spanish.   

2 More mortgage relief on the way

A real estate sign in front of a home in the Tower District in central Fresno on June 28, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
A real estate sign in front of a home in the Tower District in central Fresno on June 28, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

California is expanding a pandemic era mortgage assistance program for middle- and low income homeowners, citing the continued economic uncertainty,  and high home prices and interest rates, CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo reports.

Funded through the federal American Rescue Act, the state has disbursed about $300 million to 10,000 homeowners since December 2021. As much as $700 million worth of aid remains available for borrowers who qualify. 

  • Rebecca Franklin, president of the California Housing Finance Agency’s Homeowner Relief Corp.: “People shouldn’t be penalized, and lose something that they’ve worked so hard to obtain, and lose that opportunity for generational wealth, due to circumstances outside of their control.”  

The expansion being announced today could help boost California’s homeownership rate — at 56%, the second lowest rate of any state.

  • Angela Morrow, one recipient of mortgage assistance: “Receiving that grant has been a monumental blessing for me. It created a solid foundation for my kids, and their future, after I’m gone.”

On the topic of financial relief for Californians, Gov. Newsom called Monday for federal energy regulators to investigate a spike in natural gas prices that is shocking customers when they open their bills.

Echoing his criticism of oil companies. he said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should look at “whether market manipulation, anticompetitive behavior, or other anomalous activities” are to blame.  

Legislative Republicans, however, called the letter another political stunt by the governor.

His letter came on the eve of a hearing by the California Public Utilities Commission, which last week accelerated climate credits for natural gas and electricity to save households $90 to $120 each

Newsom: “We know this provides only temporary relief from soaring bills. That’s why I’m asking the federal government to use its full authority to investigate the spike in natural gas prices and take any necessary enforcement actions. We’re going to get to the bottom of this because Californians deserve to know what’s behind these exorbitant bills.”

Late Monday, the governor announced he’s headed to Washington, D.C., today until Friday to attend the National Governors Association meeting and talk to White House officials about issues including homelessness.

3 State of the Union’s nods to California

A man stands in front of a sign of Meta at its headquarters in Menlo Park on October 28, 2021. Photo by Carlos Barria, REUTERS
A man stands in front of a sign of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, at its headquarters in Menlo Park on October 28, 2021. Photo by Carlos Barria, Reuters

You might not imagine a spotlight on California to be the answer to a heavily polarized Congress — but it seems President Joe Biden does.

In a pitch for bipartisanship as part of tonight’s State of the Union address, he is expected to target Silicon Valley and antitrust enforcement, as well the need for more internet privacy protections, the Washington Post reports. 

Cracking down on social media companies is something lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to agree on, even in California. Case in point: both Democratic and Republican state lawmakers have proposed banning TikTok on state government phones

But not every effort to regulate tech companies has bipartisan support. Last session, a bill to allow the state to sue social media companies for addictive features failed. And in 2021, so did one requiring disclosure when an image has been edited, one to prohibit features like auto-play for children unless parents opt in, and another that would require social media companies to report obscene or violent posts on their platforms.

It’ll be a tough sell for Biden, too: Last year’s bipartisan efforts to pass new competition and privacy laws failed in a Democratic-controlled Congress. Now, the House is under Republican control. 

The proposed social media crackdowns would come amid widespread layoffs in Silicon Valley. More than 10,000 workers have been laid off by leading companies since July 2022, according to the San Francisco Standard. 

That’s even though U.S. employers added 517,000 jobs last month and a record 12.1 million jobs since Biden took office — something he’s likely to tout in his speech.

But it’s worth noting that job growth isn’t always without consequence: In the Inland Empire, the warehouse boom has led to more positions, but also to low wages and heavy pollution, the Los Angeles Times reports.

More California connections at the State of the Union: U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla announced that Henry Lo, the former Mayor of Monterey Park, where a mass shooting killed 11 people on Jan. 21, will be his guest at the address. Also in the gallery: Brandon Tsay, called a hero for disarming the Monterey Park shooter at a second dance studio, and Paul Pelosi, spouse of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and whose assault became part of the national conversation on political violence.

Biden recognized Tsay during the address. “He saved lives,” the president said. “It’s time we do the same. Ban assault weapons now! Ban them now. Once and for all.” 


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: While Gov. Gavin Newsom touts California as a model state, he increasingly tries to shift blame for the state’s unseemly features.

A recent lawsuit by California’s Civil Rights Department to crack down on housing voucher discrimination could inspire other states to do the same, writes Jacqueline Waggoner, president of the solutions division at Enterprise Community Partners, a housing nonprofit.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

An earthquake like Turkey’s would devastate Southern California // Los Angeles Times 

Kamala Harris is trying to define her vice presidency, but even her allies are tired of waiting // New York Times

Rich Leib bombed the SAT, now leads the UC Board of Regents // Los Angeles Times 

Will California leaders take a hard look at tax breaks? Capital & Main

Can bighorns, a bullet train and a huge solar farm coexist in the Mojave Desert? // Los Angeles Times

L.A. shifts course on vaccine mandates for city workers, will OK exemptions // Los Angeles Times 

Judge to allow evictions at Oakland homeless encampment // KQED

Will San Francisco’s call for reparations light the fuse for the nation? // San Francisco Standard

Thieves are targeting power tools in latest Bay Area crime wave // San Francisco Chronicle

In 2022, major oil companies spent $34M lobbying Sacramento // Sacramento Bee 

Opinion: Newsom promised to punish “Big Oil” for profiteering, but so far it’s just talk // Los Angeles Times

Opinion: How fake environmental reviews kill housing in California // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email

Follow me on Twitter: @sameeakamal

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.

Sign In

We've recently sent you an authentication link. Please, check your inbox!

Sign in with a password below, or sign in using your email.

Get a code sent to your email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Enter the code you received via email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Subscribe to our newsletters: