Homeless encampments like this one in Santa Cruz contribute to rising public concern about homelessness and housing in California. Photo by Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel
Homeless encampments like this one in Santa Cruz contribute to rising public concern about homelessness and housing in California. Photo by Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel

In summary

Dental program for low-income Californians beset with problems. Tracking college-affordability bills. Newsom expands the right to sue.

Good morning, California.

“This is a good investment, a wise and appropriate investment.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, announcing a $46 million warning system for earthquakes, on the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

  • 1,650 ground sensors in California, Oregon and Washington will detect quakes and send alerts.
  • Download the free app, My Shake, created at UC Berkeley by clicking here.

Denti-Cal, bad teeth and poverty

Gina Diaz-Nino’s teeth, ravaged by drug abuse and injury, makes it tough to get a job.

California’s program to provide dentistry for low-income people has so badly failed that some of them have resorted to pulling their own teeth, The Fresno Bee’s Manuela Tobias reports.

The Denti-Cal program is complicated, and there is a shortage of dentists willing to accept Denti-Cal rates paid for their services.

People who are missing teeth face the added indignity of discrimination, Tobias writes in the latest installment of The California Divide, a CalMatters collaboration investigating income inequality in the Golden State.

  • Gina Diaz-Nino of Fresno: “I’ll open my mouth and, ‘Oh — drug addict.’ It’s there. It’s like a past that you’re trying to erase, and you can’t because you dug yourself that deep and you can’t get yourself out by yourself.”

Money matters:

  • Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature, facing a deep budget deficit, cut nearly $250 million from the Denti-Cal budget, eliminating the program for adults during the Great Recession in 2009. 
  • The Legislature reinstated funding in 2014.
  • In 2016, the California Dental Association donated $1 million to help pass Proposition 56, a measure promoted by health care providers and advocates to raise the tobacco tax by $2 per pack to help fund health care for poor people. 
  • The tax will provide about $360 million of the $1.2 billion the state will spend on dental services for low-income people in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

To read Tobias’ full report, please click here.

College affordability

Derek Duarte, 26, sits outside of his small motorhome near downtown Mountain View, California, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Duarte lives here with his girlfriend to save money while he pursues an Automotive Technology degree at De Anza College in Cupertino. Duarte has been a beneficiary of the Food Pantry at the school which has helped him lower his food costs. Photo by Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group
Derek Duarte, 26, lived in a motorhome while attending De Anza College.

As California students struggled to pay for food, housing and textbooks, CalMatters higher education reporter Felicia Mello teamed up with student journalists this year to track 11 bills aimed at helping with college affordability.

Their findings:  Two of the 11 were signed into law.

  • This year’s state budget set aside targeted aid for students with children, and for campuses to combat hunger and homelessness.
  • More help could be on the way as debate continues about whether to expand the state’s Cal Grant program.

For the full report by Mello and the students, please click here.

Plaintiffs, lawyers won big in 2019

New legislation expands Californians’ right to sue.

Plaintiffs and their attorneys found a strong political ally in Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019, The Recorder’s Cheryl Miller reports.

Newsom signed legislation expanding the right to sue that Jerry Brown vetoed or that had stalled in the Legislature.

Newsom signed all eight bills sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California that reached him, plus one pushed by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego that opens the way for more victims who were molested as children to sue private institutions and public schools.

Among the measures cited by Miller and others:

  • Settlement agreements can no longer contain no-rehire provisions
  • Employers won’t be able to force new hires to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of their employment.
  • Defense attorneys in asbestos-related cases will be required to limit the time they spend deposing people who, according to a physician, are likely to die within six months from mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos inhalation.

The big test: Expect a legislative effort to overhaul the 1975 law that caps damages in medical practice lawsuits. Brown signed that legislation in his first stint as governor. Plaintiffs attorneys say the cap, which has never been raised, limits their ability to represent malpractice victims.

Californians’ view of homelessness

A homeless man sleeps in downtown Sacramento.

In a reflection of Californians’ impatience with the homeless crisis, the California Chamber of Commerce’s annual poll shows 74% of voters believe the crisis has worsened, and 62% believe the state is most responsible for solving it.

The poll shows Californians strongly or somewhat support: 

  • Building more mental health and homeless service centers, 91%.
  • Allowing for more involuntary commitment of homeless individuals who are severely mentally ill, 89%.
  • Allowing police to arrest homeless people who use dangerous and illegal drugs, 82%.
  • Permitting law enforcement to remove homeless encampments, 79%.

The Washington firm, PSB, conducted the online survey. I don’t generally pay attention to private polls. But the chamber uses its poll to help inform its political action.

  • Marty Wilson, who oversees the chamber’s campaign operation: “As a practical political matter, some politicians are going to pay a price on this issue. We’re not sure who. But people are looking to state officials to solve the problem.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom told me earlier this month that he expects to make proposals on mental health care in his January budget and in his State of the State speech.

That could include changes to a 1967 law, the Lanterman Petris Short Act, which restricts the ability of authorities to hold people who are severely mentally ill against their will.

  • Newsom: “I think the politics has changed on that. There is more space. We’ve never been in a better position to reform that act.”

Campaign money, visualized

The California big-donor money race among presidential candidates, zip code by zip code. Data visualizations by Ben Christopher for CalMatters
The California big-donor presidential money race

Speaking as one, campaign finance dweebs won’t be able to stop looking at the visualizations put together by CalMatters’ Ben Christopher of how California donors are spending their money on the 2020 presidential candidates.

  • President Donald Trump received donations of $200 or more from 785 California ZIP codes, more than any other candidate. 
  • Trump’s top ZIP is tony Rancho Santa Fe, in north San Diego County. 
  • U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has raised more money in California in increments of $200 or more than any other candidate, but she failed to hit the $1 million level in August or September, not a good sign for a candidate who’s lagging in most polls.
  • Harris’ richest ZIP is in downtown Los Angeles, where she raised more than $1 million in increments of $200 or more, and the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco is a distant second.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders was the top recipient of itemized contributions from more California ZIP codes than any other Democratic candidate, 231, to Harris’ 220.

I could go on, but you could, too, by clicking here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Carmelita Miller and Matthew Tisdale, Greenlining Institute: New residential and commercial construction in the state needs to be all-electric, to avoid expanding the gas system. Importantly, we must develop a comprehensive strategy to empower low-income communities to access electrification options while supporting a just transition for workers.

Reader reaction: Quite simply, the Clippers arena would negatively impact the lives of Inglewood residents and the California environment.


Erratum: New York Knicks owner Jim Dolan’s first name was wrong on the Oct. 17 WhatMatters.

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.

See you Monday.

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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.