In summary

Environmental battle goes down to the wire. Kern County oil refinery may get special treatment. More college students struggling with costs.

Good morning, California.

“As with any complex legislation, it is the norm that future clean-up legislation is necessary to sand down the rough edges and diminish the unseemly gap between the written word of legislation and the hazy hieroglyphics of everyday California. AB 5 is no exception. “—Senate staff analysis of Assembly Bill 5, the landmark legislation that seeks to define who is and isn’t an independent contractor and an employee.

  • Referring to language covering cosmetologists, the analysis says: “Fundamentally, it is unclear what that means … “
  • The bill awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature and, perhaps, interpretation.

Endangered species fight

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins

A fight over legislation intended to toss a wrench into Trump administration efforts to weaken endangered species protections is down to the wire.

The bill by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins is the most significant environmental measure of the year. CalMatters’ Julie Cart explains its provisions in this backgrounder. 

Long story short: The bill would lock in place labor and environmental law that was in place before Trump took office.

Trump proposes to roll back protections for endangered species and increase water deliveries to Central Valley farmers.

Farmers are lobbying hard to block it, as is the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to Southern California. 

  • The L.A. Times: Water agencies fear the state would cement into law endangered species protections and pumping restrictions that would add to uncertainties about pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Democratic state attorneys general have used the issue in fundraising pleas. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has blasted out emails denouncing Trump’s effort.

What’s ahead: Hard to say. The bill sits in the Assembly. It’s unclear that it has sufficient votes to pass. If it does pass, it’s not clear what Gov. Gavin Newsom would do. 

Classic gut and amend

An oil derrick in Bakersfield, Kern County.
A pump jack in Bakersfield

How does a volunteer firefighter reimbursement bill turn into legislation intended to help a Kern County oil refinery? 

A bit of 11th-hour legislative magic called a gut-and-amend, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

State law requires that refinery operators must monitor air emissions to avoid toxins from harming people who live or work nearby.

On Tuesday night, Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield rewrote a bill to exempt from that law any refinery processing fewer than 55,000 barrels of crude oil per day and “located within a community that has a population of less than 3,000 residents within one mile of the refinery.”

How many refineries does that describe? 

One: Kern Oil & Refining, a relatively small facility in Salas’ district.

Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a first-term Democrat from Sanger who unseated a Republican in 2018, co-authored the bill: 

  • “Air quality is extremely important to us in the Central Valley…But jobs (are) also important to us.”

Salas and Hurtado are in swing districts and are among the most moderate Democrats, based on Christopher’s very cool analysis. Party leaders protect them to help keep their seats. But expect a floor fight tonight as the session comes to a close.

  • Katie Valenzuela of the California Environmental Justice Alliance: “I think they’re hoping that nobody has time to fact-check them so that they can rush something through that is going to hurt communities.”

Tracking college costs


The high cost of college doesn’t stop at tuition, according to a new state survey.

More than 30% of California students said they did not have enough money to pay for housing, and another 35% said they can’t afford books and supplies, CalMatters’ Felicia Mello reports.

A California Student Aid Commission survey shows:

  • Students spend $2,000 per month on housing, food, books and other non-tuition costs. 
  • Housing costs ranged from $755 per month in the Central Valley to $1,183 in San Francisco.

Data delayed: This year’s survey is the first in more than a decade, after lawmakers cut funding for the poll during the recession.

Weed bills stall

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office is taking stock of the commercial cannabis market.

Several significant cannabis bills have stalled for the year, as lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office take stock of the burgeoning but troubled commercial market.

Noteworthy casualties include bills to:

  • License limited-charter state banks and credit unions that could accept deposits from cannabis businesses, Senate Bill 51. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, so transactions are done in cash.
  • Permit party buses to allow for marijuana smoking, so long as the driver’s compartment is sealed, Senate Bill 625.
  • Allow cannabis companies to provide samples, Senate Bill 475
  • Allow for cannabidiol, or CBD, derived from hemp to be added to cosmetics, food, dietary supplements or other products, Assembly Bill 228

Hemp is not psychoactive, unlike its cousin marijuana. Yet under California law, CBD from cannabis is legal, although the U.S. Food & Drug Administration does not permit hemp-derived CBD to be added to food or dietary supplements.

Bills that have reached the governor’s desk would authorize:

Another bill would more clearly label legal cannabis vape pens, relevant as reports continue about illness and death tied to bootleg vaping devices.

  • Amy Jenkins, who lobbies on cannabis issues: “The bigger business-related bills were tabled,” so the governor’s office can take stock of the market in the coming months.

Black market for weed thrives

Incumbent Republican Jeff Denham lost to Democrat Josh Harder in California's Congressional District 10.
Then-Congressman Denham spoke out for farmers at the state Capitol in 2018.

California’s black market for cannabis thrives, three years after voters legalized commercial sale of marijuana. Just ask former congressman and state legislator Jeff Denham of Atwater.

The Modesto Bee’s Kevin Valine reported that Turlock police seized 4,000 pot plants from a Turlock warehouse owned by a limited liability corporation owned in part by Denham. He did not return my call.

A company called Kings Happy Farm submitted a request to Turlock for a permit to grow weed in the warehouse but had not been approved.

In addition to the 4,000 plants, Turlock police reported discovering 100 pounds of processed marijuana, butane hash oil, three firearms, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Five people were arrested.

Democratic Congressman Josh Harder defeated Denham last year, when Republicans lost seven California congressional seats to Democrats.

Denham won the seat in 2010 after serving eight years in the state Senate. 

  • As a state senator in 2010, Denham voted against legislation that made possession of small quantities of marijuana an infraction.
  • As a member of Congress in 2014, he voted against a measure barring the feds from spending money to interfere with states that legalized medical marijuana.
  • As a private citizen, Denham remained in Washington, taking a job in the lobby shop of K&L Gates, a global law firm whose lobby clients include the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce. The trade group includes some California-based weed companies


But does it pair with merlot?

On the day police discovered an illegal marijuana farm in former Congressman Jeff Denham’s warehouse in Turlock, Denham spoke on a panel in Buellton where vintners and weed farmers conferred about how to jointly turn their products into a tourist draw.

Denham predicted Congress could legalize weed in the coming years, The Santa Barbara Independent reported. The publication reported Denham is working on cannabis issues in Washington, D.C., though by law he cannot start lobbying until December.

Commentary at CalMatters

John McManus, Golden Gate Salmon Association: Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators have a choice: side with the California environment or with the Trump administration on the question of water diversions. Trump is finalizing plans to rip up restrictions on diverting Northern California water to farmers in the dry western San Joaquin Valley, at the expense of salmon runs that feed families, coastal economies and ports throughout the state.

Jennifer Pierre, State Water Contractors: California needs to reshape how it manages the rivers of the Sierra Nevada and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by providing more water for the environment, more restoration, more funding and more collaborative science. That can happen through voluntary partnerships, not Senate Bill 1, which seeks to tap into public sentiment against President Trump without solving California’s water war.

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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.