E. Dodson Wilson, in the Capitol on Aug. 29, 2019, the day he was honored for serving 27 years as chief clerk, longer than anyone else had served in that position.

In summary

Gig companies threaten to take worker fight to voters. Democratic lawmakers eye 2020 ballot measures. Newsom rethinks air district board appointment.

Good morning, California.

“Maybe you want to see my tax returns. Maybe you don’t. But since I’m running for president, I think you should have access to them—so I put them online. Maybe someday Putin will let you release yours, @realdonaldtrump.”—Tom Steyer, San Francisco billionaire running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A different kind of surge pricing

Uber and Lyft drivers protest.

In a display of brinkmanship and deep pockets, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash pledged at least $90 million on Thursday to pass a California ballot measure unless lawmakers accommodate gig economy workers under a new category of employment, CalMatters’ Judy Lin reports.

Silicon Valley companies have sought to negotiate with legislators a way for on-demand workers to remain independent contractors, while offering some concessions including paid time off and sick leave. 

Unable to strike a deal, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash each committed $30 million to promote an initiative that would protect their business models. 

Remind me: In 2018, the California Supreme Court, in the Dynamex decision, made it harder to classify workers as independent contractors. Assembly Bill 5, backed by labor, would embed the Dynamex decision in state law. 

  • DoorDash: “Achieving a legislative solution is our top priority, but should the legislature fail to act, we will be left with no choice but to pursue a ballot initiative. We’re confident that California voters support a solution that pairs worker flexibility with economic security.”
  • The California Labor Federation: “We will meet the gig companies’ absurd political spending with a vigorous worker-led campaign to defeat this measure to ensure working people have the basic job protections and the right to organize a union they deserve under the law.”

Politics: The initiative would appear on the November 2020 ballot. That might not be friendly to the corporations. The electorate will skew heavily Democratic, as voters register their displeasure with the highly unpopular Republican President Donald Trump.

Passing up a golden opportunity

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed California Democrats in June.

California’s early primary could be a golden opportunity for progressive candidates and causes, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

  • In March, Democrats will pick the winner in one of the most crowded, competitive presidential primary contests in a generation.
  • With President Trump a lock for his party’s nomination, there’s less to lure California Republicans.

Rather than load up the March ballot with Democratic wish-list items—repealing the death penalty, lowering the voting age—legislative Democrats seem to be waiting until November.

  • Consultant Paul Mitchell, of Political Data, Inc.: “Even though the primary could be the sweetest election cycle for progressive causes … the primaries can be so volatile that no one wants to push anything onto the primary ballot—especially when the November is certain to be so Democratic.”

Newsom’s second thoughts

An oil pump in the San Ardo Field

Gov. Gavin Newsom has withdrawn the appointment of a former ExxonMobil Oil executive to the South Coast Air Quality Management District board, which regulates oil refineries in one of the nation’s worst air basins, the Desert Sun of Palm Springs reported.

The South Coast air district has been considering stiffer restrictions on hydrofluoric acid, a toxic chemical used in oil refining. Oil company representatives say more restrictions could spell the end of their Southern California operations.

Fallout? The decision to pull the nomination of Negar “Nikki” Noushkam coincided with the Newsom administration’s decision to revoke the offer to Robbie Hunter, head of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, to serve on the Future of Work Commission.

Hunter and Newsom’s chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, had clashed over the classification of workers in the gig economy.

Hunter doesn’t know Noushkam. However, the building trades council represents unionized oil refinery workers, has an alliance with oil companies, and supported Noushkam’s appointment.

Newsom press secretary Nathan Click: “Given the air quality challenges faced by families in Southern California, the governor believes his appointee should have both a strong understanding of public health and the trust of local communities.”

Fires to come

Photo of dead trees from the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California. March 2019. Photo by Byrhonda Lyons/CALmatters.
Camp Fire, Paradise.

The wildfire season is off to a slow start, but September and October, with their hot, fierce winds, are the state’s worst times for fire.

CalMatters’ Julie Cart gives an update:

  • Clearing and cutting has helped eliminate some of the brush and trees that fuel the flames. But California’s forests are clogged with 147 million dead trees. And the late-winter rain encouraged the growth of highly combustible plants.
  • The data firm CoreLogic, in a report due out in September, estimates that 640,000 homes in California are in high or extreme fire risk zones. The cost to replace those homes: nearly $280 billion.
  • A RAND Corp. report, prepared for the state last year, estimated that the insurance industry’s underwriting profits of $12 billion from 2001 through 2016, “were almost completely wiped out” by 2017 wildfires. Residential insurance claims from the 2017-2018 fires totaled $26 billion.

Bottom line: Of the 20 most destructive fires in state history, 14 have occurred since 2007. The fire started slow, but it’s early.

One answer to rental crisis

Sen. Nancy Skinner on the Senate floor

Santa Monica, one of California’s most desirable cities and one of its most expensive, is planning to expand a program that helps seniors remain in their homes, KPBS’ Amita Sharma reports as part of CalMatters’ California Dream collaboration

The city had given a handful of seniors $200 and $660 a month to subsidize rent. Now, Santa Monica plans to spend $2 million a year to provide rental assistance to as many as 400 seniors.

  • One recipient, Kaye, age 70: “If it weren’t for the city of Santa Monica helping me, I would probably, by now, have been evicted and on the street.”

The L.A. Times reports that the average price for a vacant apartment in Los Angeles County is nearly 40% higher than it was in 2012, at $2,329 a month.

  • The Times: “That swift rise has been blamed for driving people of all ages into homelessness, but living on the streets can be particularly traumatic for seniors.”

Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, said the approach inspired her to push for setting aside $2 billion in the 2019-20 budget to prevent homelessness: 

  • “Emergency rental assistance is the best solution — far better than trying to deal with the problem once they lost their home.”

Take a number: 100

Andre Moye Jr.

Felon Aaron Luther fired at least 100 rounds at officers, killing California Highway Patrol Officer Andre Moye, Jr., earlier this month. Luther, who was killed in the shootout, used an untraceable ghost gun. His magazines held up to 120 rounds, The Riverside Press Enterprise reported.

So long, Mr. Wilson

E. Dodson Wilson in the Capitol rotunda

E. Dotson Wilson, the Assembly’s chief clerk dating to Willie Brown’s speakership, is retiring after 40 years, and several past speakers and retired lawmakers gave him an extraordinary send-off on Thursday.

Wilson, who will turn 65 later this year, is a UC Hastings-educated lawyer who began working for Brown as an Assembly fellow in 1979. As speaker, Brown elevated Wilson to chief clerk in 1992, a position Wilson held for every speaker since and longer than anyone before him. 

Though Brown was his mentor, Wilson showed his adherence to parliamentary rules in 1995 when Republicans took control of the Assembly.

As Brown fought to retain the speakership, Wilson ruled against Brown in several instances. I know. I was there, and, with the late L.A. Times reporter Jerry Gillam, saw it all unfold and reported it.

Commentary at CalMatters

Sen. Jim Beall, San Jose Democrat: California should step in as a partner with the hundreds of local communities struggling to provide affordable housing. That’s why the state needs Senate Bill 5.

Harvey Rosenfield, author of Proposition 103 of 1988: Ricardo Lara’s troubles aside, going back to the system in which the California insurance commissioner is appointed would only please the powerful insurance lobby. It also would disenfranchise Californians of one of their most successful powers: the ability to elect the person who protects their checkbooks.

Bruce Maiman, commentator: Since 2013, Nimbies have made the same myopic arguments in using local control tactics to foil mixed-used proposals in San Bruno, Davis, Del Mar, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Napa, Palo Alto and Cupertino, costing developers millions and quashing restorative economic gain for communities, all while California’s housing crisis worsens.

Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, dmorain@calmatters.org, 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

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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.