In summary

Newsom’s rift with building trades unions widens. Legislation puts damper on dental firm’s stock price. Governor delivers for schoolchildren.

Good morning, California.

“A whole lot of people have been here looking around that tower. I’m not saying the tower started the fire. I’m saying that’s where the fire started.”—Sylmar resident Roberto Delgado to the L.A. Daily News, referring to where the Saddleridge fire started.

  • Southern California Edison has written to the California Public Utilities Commission saying its system was “impacted” at about the time the fire began, The L.A. Times reported.

A hardhat vs Newsom rift

State building trades leader Robbie Hunter worked as an ironworker in Los Angeles.

California’s building trades unions are running digital ads all but accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom of ignoring the deaths of blue collar workers, indicating a widening rift between the influential labor organization and the Democratic governor.

The spots say 10 months into his administration, Newsom has not filled a position on the board that oversees the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of California, Cal-OSHA.

  • The ads on social media read: “Construction workers die while you can’t be bothered to fill OSHA vacancy,” and link to accounts of deaths of a refinery worker, a construction worker and an ironworker.

Newsom’s spokesman Nathan Click did not say when the position would be filled. Regarding any rift with the blue collar worjers’ union, Click cited a recent news release about Newsom signing “landmark legislation drafted in response to the #MeToo movement.”

Democrats rely on the building trades for campaign money and volunteers. The organization also splits with Democrats, particularly those who view themselves as environmentalists.

Robbie Hunter, the head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, said he has been asking that the vacancy be filled for months. 

Hunter said he got no response from the administration when he sent a note in September about an ironworker, Brien Daunt, who died on the job, leaving behind a daughter.

  • “A construction worker is of no lesser human value than anyone else, when he or she doesn’t come home to their children. The loss is just as big as if they were someone with a title and an Ivy League diploma.”

Not lost on the building trades: The Newsom administration responded quickly when race horses died at Santa Anita racetrack.

Leading up to the rift

Gov. Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision on Sunday to veto three significant bills sought by building trades unions widened the split between him and a labor organization, which, like other unions, backed his election. 

The bills sought to provide.

The vetoes came after the Newsom administration invited and then disinvited Robbie Hunter, head of State Building and Construction Trades Council, to serve on Newsom’s Future of Work Commission

  • The building trades council represents 450,000 blue collar workers, including 63,000 apprentices.

Hunter responded to the vetoes by referring to the victory of President Trump over Hillary Clinton, and perhaps Newsom’s future:

  • “National politics provides us a cautionary tale of what happens when the working class is forgotten by candidates who are steeped in the ambitions of unrequited presidential aspirations.”

Legislation impacts stock price

New legislation places restrictions on low-cost teeth aligners.

In the closing days of the legislative session, a fierce lobbying fight broke out over seemingly routine legislation to extend for another five years the life of the California Dental Board, which oversees dentistry.

In July, SmileDirectClub, a Tennessee company planning to launch an initial public offering, hired a top-tier lobby firm, KP Public Affairs.

Why: The legislation by Assemblyman Evan Low, of Campbell, included restrictions on the heavily advertised business of providing low-cost aligners to people who want straighter teeth. 

The requirement says patients must see a dentist and provide x-rays to companies such as SmileDirect before they can receive aligners. That will make it harder and more costly to use SmileDirect.

  • On Sept. 12, SmileDirect went public, aiming for a share price above $20. The stock has not closed above $19.48 on any day since the IPO.
  • On Sept. 13, the Legislature approved Low’s bill. 
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Low’s legislation Sunday.

SmileDirect tried to put a smiley face on its Capitol experience, claiming a message Newsom added when he signed the bill shows he “expects all stakeholders to come together to find a better way to create policy around teledentistry.” 

Newsom’s rather technical message didn’t say that.

Under a headline,SmileDirectClub is now the worst unicorn IPO,” CNBC cited Low’s seemingly routine legislation as reason for SmileDirect’s stock performance.

At last check, SmileDirect’s stock sat at $9.70.

Newsom’s report card on schools

Gov. Gavin Newsom visits Nicole Etchison's second grade class at Paradise Ridge Elementary School, Aug. 21, 2019. Photo by Ricardo Cano/CalMatters.
Gov. Newsom visited a second grade class at Paradise Ridge Elementary School in August.

Gov. Gavin Newsom promised he’d put kids front and center in his first-year agenda.

Long story short: Newsom delivered for them, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano writes.

Though a high-profile battle over charter school rules drew most of the attention, hundreds of proposals were introduced this year with potential impact on public education. A fraction made it to Newsom’s desk. 

Among the bills he signed:

Newsom vetoed a few, too, including legislation that sought to:

  • Require all-day kindergarten, because of the cost.
  • Let high-school juniors take the SAT and ACT in place of Smarter Balanced standardized testing.

To read Cano full report, please click here.

Ethnic studies reboot

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber.

A rebooted effort to piece together an ethnic studies curriculum got underway, after the California Department of Education’s first effort failed amid charges that it was anti-Semitic and overly politically correct.

Starting almost at the beginning, a small panel met in Sacramento on Tuesday to better understand what an ethnic studies curriculum should contain, CalMatters Elizabeth Castillo reports. 

Representatives from the department intend to go on a listening tour to hear from the roughly 300 school districts that already teach some form of ethnic studies. The deadline for having the ethnic studies model curriculum is  March 31 2021.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat who helped launch an ethnic studies department at San Diego State University, is now part of the panel of experts working on the project:

  • “Ethnic studies becomes an empowerment…We see this persistent underachievement of groups, yet when you give them information, it changes their lives.”

A PG&E executive no more


A PG&E executive overseeing its gas system is no longer employed after The San Francisco Chronicle reported he attended a “retreat” last week with 60 major gas customers at a Sonoma County winery, The Chronicle reports

The retreat was held just before PG&E shut off power to 2 million people, and fell on the two-year anniversary of the wine country fire that destroyed whole neighborhoods, The Chronicle reports.

  • PG&E’s chief executive William Johnson: “The timing and location of the event held in Sonoma, given the two-year mark of the 2017 North Bay wildfires and the imminent Public Safety Power Shut-off, was insensitive, inappropriate, and tone deaf. As such, it did not reflect the values of our company.”

Commentary at CalMatters

Mike Guerra, California Life Sciences Association: California is a biomedical juggernaut, and the precision medicine research being funded today will impact patients around the world. This leadership should be a great source of pride for every Californian.

Dan Walters, CalMatters’ columnist, is taking a few days off, but here’s a Dan Walters classic: The state’s hydrologists believe that climate change will have a massive effect on our water supply in future decades, perhaps making the peaks and valleys of precipitation steeper and deeper and likely making more of it rain and less of it snow.


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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.