In summary

Women’s rights attorney comes under scrutiny in book on #MeToo movement. New alliance forms in battle over PG&E. Unions celebrate legislative wins.

Good morning, California.

“Voices oh-wowed. Cameras clicked. Faces smiled, and photos and video footage immediately spread on Facebook and Instagram of two energetic fledglings braving their first flights out of the brown bundle of sticks … ” —The L.A. Times’ Louis Sahagun, describing the scene as people watched bald eagles that are nesting near Azusa for the first time in 70 years.

The story behind a #MeToo bill

Gloria Allred at the third annual Women’s March L.A. in January

Pioneering women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred torpedoed possible legislation in 2017 intended to expose serial sexual abusers, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey write in their book, “She Said, Breaking the sexual harassment story that helped ignite a movement.”

The authors detail the use of nondisclosure agreements, which bar victims from discussing what they endured as part of any settlements. Critics say the nondisclosure agreements allow serial abusers to go undetected.

  • Allred’s firm represented dancer Ashley Matthau, who said Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein lured her to a hotel room and masturbated on top of her.
  • Matthau settled with Weinstein for $125,000 and signed a nondisclosure agreement in 2004.

In early 2017, before the Weinstein story broke, Sen. Connie Leyva, Chino Democrat, considered legislation proposed by Consumer Attorneys of California to restrict nondisclosure agreements in such cases.

However: In a phone call with a Leyva aide and lobbyists for the consumer attorneys, Allred defended nondisclosure agreements, and vowed to come to the Capitol to oppose any legislation.

  • Kantor and Twohey: “No bill to protect victims could possibly survive public attack from Gloria Allred, the consumer lawyers knew.”

Leyva opted against introducing the bill.

Allred hasn’t commented.

The upshot:

  • On Oct. 5, 2017, Twohey and Kantor broke the Weinstein story, igniting the #MeToo movement.
  • On Jan. 3, 2018, Leyva, without checking with Allred, introduced legislation barring nondisclosure agreements in sex cases.
  • Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill last September. It went further than what Leyva contemplated in 2017.

The New York Times’ podcast, The Daily, details part of the story here and here.

Fight for control PG&E

Officials are racing to redesign California's outdated electricity system for a renewable-energy future. Image by gjp311/istock
Photo illustration

Plaintiffs attorneys, wildfire victims and a group of hedge funds have formed an alliance in an effort to seize control of Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s largest electric utility.

The Sacramento Bee’s Dale Kasler describes the alliance as “a jolt to PG&E Corp.” The hobbled company is in bankruptcy court in San Francisco, facing billions of dollars in liability from wildfires that include the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people.

Lawyers for hedge funds that hold billions in PG&E bonds made a joint filing with wildfire victims in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Thursday. They’re seeking bankruptcy court approval to take control of PG&E, and are proposing to inject $28 billion into PG&E. 

The Bee: The alliance with fire victims gives the bondholder hedge funds, which have been trying for months to take over PG&E, a potentially powerful new ally that has considerable sympathy in the Capitol.

PG&E’s statement: “PG&E remains focused on doing right by the customers and communities we serve. By contrast, the bondholders’ plan is an attempt to pay themselves more than they are entitled to under the law and costs customers billions of dollars.”

Labor wins big. Now what?

Gavin Newsom signs worker classification bill, AB 5.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signs AB 5.

Organized labor had a banner year in Sacramento, winning passage of many significant pieces of legislation it sought, most notably the bill that seeks to require that companies treat gig workers as employees and not independent contractors.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 into law earlier this week. That bill would affect hundreds of thousands of workers for such firms as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash—and give union leaders a chance to organize them.

But turning legislative victory into a union renaissance for private-sector workers will take more than the governor’s signature on one bill, CalMatters’ Judy Lin and Ben Christopher write.

As with so many California political issues, one catch is the federal government. Federal law categorizes those workers as freelancers, regardless of how California defines them.

Other forces at play:

  • Automation. Think driverless taxis and drones that deliver goods to your doorstep, making human workers superfluous.
  • Politics. Uber and its allies have put $90 million into a campaign account to overturn AB 5.

For Lin’s and Christopher’s full report, please click here.

Race and arrest patterns

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber

African-Americans are arrested at far higher rates in affluent counties than in more ethnically diverse and poorer counties, the Public Policy Institute of California reports.

  • In counties with the highest racial disparities, African-Americans are arrested at 6.26 times the rate of whites on average. The figure was 1.66 in counties with the least racial disparity. 
  • In affluent San Mateo County, the African-American arrest rate is more than eight times the arrest rate of whites.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, speaking at a PPIC event on Thursday, said African-Americans are “much more watched in affluent communities than in poor communities,” and are often arrested, “as if to say your type is not really wanted here.”

Tod Sockman, police chief in the Sacramento suburb of Galt, said the disparity may stem in part from the biases of residents who call cops on African-Americans at higher rates. As for implicit bias among the officers he works with, “I don’t see that.”

Meanwhile: The Legislature approved bills by Democratic Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove of Los Angeles to combat implicit bias by health care and court workers. Those bills await Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

A third bill to combat implicit bias among police officers stalled.

Trump’s tax returns

A judge sided with President Donald Trump in tax-return case.

A federal judge intervened Thursday in the back-and-forth between California Democrats and President Donald Trump, blocking the state from enforcing legislation to require Trump to disclose his tax returns in order to be placed on the 2020 primary ballot. 

The L.A. Times: U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said there would be “irreparable harm without temporary relief” for Trump and other candidates from the law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July.

  • England is an appointee of President George W. Bush. 
  • The bill would apply to all candidates for president and governor, but Trump, who refuses to release his tax returns, was the target.
  • The California Republican Party blasted an email fundraising pitch, saying “this is a victory, but it might be a temporary one.” The state can appeal. 

Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation, questioning its legality and warning it could prompt Republican-controlled states to impose requirements aimed at Democratic candidates.

Questions of whether the bill is legal or wise aside, Trump does not want to release his tax returns. On Thursday, the president’s lawyers sued to block Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns in connection with an investigation into a $130,000 hush money payment by the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to silence porn star Stormy Daniels about their relationship.

A modest vaping proposal

Vape pens by JUUL, Blu, Njoy and others.
Vape pens.

A Democratic assemblyman whose bill to regulate e-cigarettes stalled earlier this month is contemplating legislation that would go further by cracking down on vaping products that contain nicotine or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, Merced Democrat, pushed for the legislation to bar people under 21 from entering vape shops and increase enforcement of laws against under-age vaping. 

As initially written, the bill also sought to ban flavored e-cigarettes containing nicotine. Teens favor e-cigarettes with sweet flavors.

  • The Senate held the bill, though it could reemerge when lawmakers return in January.

In an interview, and in a commentary for CalMatters, Gray called for equal treatment of vape products, no matter their content. 

  • “Whatever that flavor ban is, it needs to be consistent across the board.”

Some legislators have pushed to ban flavored vape products that contain nicotine, but they’ve shied away from focusing on sweet-flavored vape products containing THC or CBD, chemicals derived from cannabis.

The weed lobby has emerged as especially strong since voters approved the commercial sale of cannabis in 2016.

Gray intends to hold hearings in the coming months to develop a proposal that would address all vape products.

Commentary at CalMatters

Assemblyman Adam Gray, Democrat from Merced: Given how little we know about vapes and their link to the lung illnesses being reported across the country, it may be time to impose a moratorium on the technology as a whole, regardless of what drug it is being used to deliver. If we are unwilling to put a moratorium in place, then we must radically alter our current approach to regulating vaping technology. 

Juan Novello and Micah Weinberg, California Latino Economic Institute, and California Forward: Nearly four in 10 Californians are Latino, but not nearly enough are in the middle class. Growing California’s middle class is an economic imperative if more Californians are going to participate fully in the pursuit of the California Dream.

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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.

Jackie covered income inequity and economic survival for the The California Divide collaboration from 2019 through 2021. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting in 2021 for a Reuters...