In summary

Trump promises ‘crackdown’ on California homelessness. Aging guest workers still waiting for their pay. Former felons get right to sit on juries.

Good morning, California.

“While some governors and mayors have helped create this situation only to ignore it, President Trump is not going to sit idly by.”—Trump spokesman Judd Deere, referring to a potential federal intervention in California’s homelessness crisis.

Homeless ‘crackdown’ coming?

A homeless man slept across from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in downtown Sacramento on Friday.

White House officials soon will present President Trump with a plan as early as this week to crack down on homelessness in California, The Washington Post reports.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom’s spokesman, Jess Melgar: “The state has not been contacted by federal officials.”

The Post reports: “One person involved in deliberations said the administration’s plans are likely to target homelessness in Los Angeles and could include repurposing existing federal property, but the exact set of policy options to be presented to the president could not be learned.”

Career officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and national housing experts worry a Trump administration crackdown would be politically motivated and could make the problem worse, The Post reports.

  • Newsom’s spokesman Melgar: “If joining and funding real solutions to homelessness – instead of political theater and points scoring – are the Trump administration’s objective, California continues to be ready to engage. In fact, there are a number of federal actions they could reverse that are making homelessness in California worse.” 

California, cities and civil libertarians probably would meet any federal intervention with lawsuits.

However: Polls show California voters are growing more frustrated with homelessness, and with government’s seeming inability to deal with the issue.

The L.A. Times reported last week that 66% of Los Angeles County voters question officials’ use of two measures intended to combat homelessness: a $1.2 billion bond approved in 2016, and a sales tax increase approved in 2017 that generates $359 million a year.

Braceros still waiting for their pay

Braceros, or Mexican farm workers, are shown in this undated photo in California.

About 36,000 aging immigrant farm workers have not received money they were promised when they were young men toiling in the fields as part of the Bracero guest workers program.

Journalist Jorge Macías tells their story as part of The California Divide, a CalMatters collaboration examining income inequality in California.

Remind me: About 4.5 million Mexicans participated in the Bracero Program, working on farms and for the railroads from 1942 to 1964. 

Uncle Sam deducted $32 million from the workers’ wages and put it into Mexican savings accounts, promising the workers that they would receive their money once they returned to Mexico. 

In 2001, braceros seeking their back pay filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the United States and Mexico, along with Wells Fargo Bank. In 2008, the Mexican government agreed to pay $14.6 million to braceros who live in the United States, equating to $2,000 each.

They’re waiting, and time is running out.

Leobardo Villa is 87, living in the Lincoln Heights district of Los Angeles: 

  • “I came to work in the fields of California and Yuma, Arizona, at the age of 18 to sow watermelon, cantaloupe, all kinds of vegetables. Like all my coworkers, we left our skin in the furrows and railroad tracks.
  • “We are not asking the government for a gift but for what belongs to us.”

Restoring former felons’ rights

Professor James Binnall can’t serve on a jury because of a past conviction. That will change on Jan. 1.

Starting in January, former felons who aren’t on probation or parole will be able to do their civic duty by serving on juries, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo reports

Former felons long have had the right to vote in California. But this year, Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, authored the legislation that will permit them to serve on juries.

  • Skinner: “By excluding certain people, then we almost ensure that there are large groups of residents in California that will not be able to have a jury of their peers.”

While advocates say the law will help diversify jury pools, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association argued in its opposition that former felons are biased against the criminal justice system.

  • Ryan Sherman, who lobbies for the Riverside Sheriffs Association: “Here they are to be sworn in as jurors to uphold the law, but their track record hasn’t demonstrated that they’re willing or able to do that.” 

By the numbers: In 2010, one in five African-American men had a felony conviction in California, according to 2017 research by professors from the universities of Georgia, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

What won’t change: In jury selection, lawyers and judges can excuse potential jurors from serving on a case.

To read Castillo’s full report, please click here.

Trump’s latest 9th Circuit nominees

Lawrence VanDyke, soon to be on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

While the U.S. House of Representatives focused on its impeachment inquiry of President Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved two Trump administration nominees to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The nominees: Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Bumatay, 41, of San Diego, and Lawrence VanDyke, 46, of Nevada.

Once the full Senate confirms Bumatay and VanDyke to the lifetime posts, Trump will have appointed 10 of 29 judges on the San Francisco-based appellate court, which has jurisdiction over nine Western states, including California.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, spoke out against the nominees. 

Feinstein explained her opposition to VanDyke in part by citing an op-ed VanDyke wrote in 2004 in which he questioned same-sex marriage and gay parenting. 

  • Feinstein: “In written questions, I gave Mr. VanDyke an opportunity to disavow his unsupported statements about gay parents. He did not do so.”

Bumatay is gay and married. He and his husband recently adopted twin girls, he testified earlier this month.

Sen. Kamala Harris, also a Judiciary Committee member, did not attend the hearing. She was preparing for the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta that day.

A tale of two outbreaks

Vaping has been tied to hospitalizations for lung damage.

Forty people in 16 states have become sick and 28 of them have been hospitalized, prompting federal health officials to advise consumers to throw away romaine lettuce and salad mixes amid a nationwide outbreak of E. coli infections linked to the Salinas Valley.

Nearly 2,300 people have been hospitalized because of lung damage associated with vaping across 49 states, including 169 in California. Forty-seven people have died of vaping-related lung damage, including four in California. 

Vape pens containing THC, nicotine and other chemicals remain on the market.

Commentary at CalMatters

Eric Jaye, Democratic political consultant: Google famously embraced the slogan,  “Don’t be evil.” It is true the company has not always matched that aspiration. But with a bold upgrade of its political advertising standards, Google is delivering a powerful public good.

James Gallagher, Republican Assemblyman: PG&E’s mismanagement is the primary culprit in multiple wildfires that have claimed lives and destroyed homes and businesses in Northern California. But there has been little focus on the government’s mismanagement. That, too, has been a significant contributor to our current woes. That needs to change.


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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.