In summary

Legislation would expand mental health care. Democrats drop oil tax plan. Alice Waters brings Edible Schoolyard Project to Stockton.

Good morning, California.

“Billions have been spent in recent years, yet people are not getting the help they need and the problem continues to grow.”—Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, requesting that legislators authorize California Auditor Elaine M. Howle to audit spending on homelessness.

  • Kiley is a Republican from Rocklin. Democrats control what gets audited.

Extending mental health care

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy helps promote legislation to expand the California mental health parity law. Behind him are Sens. Steve Glazer, Jim Beall and Scott Wiener.

Private insurance companies would need to provide coverage for substance abuse and a wider array of mental illness under legislation proposed Tuesday.

The announcement is another indication that legislators see mental illness and homelessness as top-tier political issues.

California legislators approved so-called mental health parity legislation in 1999, requiring that health insurance companies cover schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and several other brain disorders just as they cover physical ailments.

Contending the promise of that law has not been fully realized, legislators promised to expand its reach by requiring coverage of substance abuse and many other mental health-related conditions. 

The legislation by Democratic Sens. Jim Beall of San Jose and Scott Wiener of San Francisco would compel health insurance companies to cover “medically necessary treatment” and prohibit them from limiting benefits or coverage for chronic conditions.

Illustrating the national implications of the California proposal, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhodes Island, the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, attended the press conference, saying:

  • “This is a medical civil rights bill.”

His organization, The Kennedy Forum, helped draft the legislation, as did the Steinberg Institute, founded by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Senate Dems drop oil tax. For now

The San Ardo Oil Field lies along Highway 101 north of Paso Robles in Central California. Photo by Vicki Haddock for CalMatters
The San Ardo Oil Field lies along Highway 101 north of Paso Robles.

California senators scrapped a hearing on a new oil tax Tuesday, while Kern County supervisors held a hearing that drew hundreds of people and homed in on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new restrictions on oil extraction.

  • Californians consume 43 million gallons of gasoline a day, 30% of which comes from California.

Berry Petroleum, which drills in Kern County, lost 40% of its market value following Newsom’s announcement.

Megan Silva of Berry testified:

  • “Our policy makers must understand that Kern County and companies like Berry are all that stand between California and almost complete dependence on foreign oil, oil that is shipped across fragile ocean ecosystems, from countries that repress women, murder and imprison people from LGBTQ communities, and have nowhere near the best practices California has for environmental protection.”

Meanwhile: Sen. Bob Wieckowski, Fremont Democrat, had pushed a 10% tax on the value of oil extracted in California, generating $900 million annually. His bill was to have faced an initial vote today.

Sen. Mike McGuire, Healdsburg Democrat and chair of the Senate committee that oversees taxation, acknowledged the vote was canceled, and said he intends to hold an oversight hearing this spring that “will help us determine next steps.”

An oil severance tax vote would have forced Democrats to choose between environmentalists and oil interests including organized labor, which represents oil workers.

One such Democrat, Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, narrowly unseated a Republican in 2018. Hurtado was at the Kern County supervisors’ hearing, as were Newsom administration officials.

Improving school meals in Stockton

Alice Waters embarks on a new Edible Schoolyard Project in Stockton.

Led by pioneering chef Alice Waters, prominent foodies gathered in Stockton to announce plans to serve organic and homegrown meals to the city’s 40,000 public school children, three fourths of whom qualify for free lunches.

The menu: tasty tamales, sauteed greens, wood-fired beans, Meyer lemon ice cream and chocolate cinnamon wafers. Definitely not school cafeteria fare.

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs formed the partnership with Chez Panisse owner Waters, founder of  The Edible Schoolyard Project, which promotes healthy eating by involving school kids in gardening.

  • Tubbs: “My goal is that no child in Stockton is food insecure.”

Waters noted 7,000 schools that participate in the Edible Schoolyard Project but was excited to bring the program to Stockton, where it’s a work in progress.

Dining at BellaVista restaurant in Stockton: First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Kitchen Sister Davia Nelson, organic farmers Craig McNamara of Winters and Mas Masumoto of Fresno (a CalMatters board member), and Mark Schapiro, author of Seeds of Resistance.

  • Siebel Newsom: “It is about our kids at the end of the day.”

Detailing his budget last Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom cited his wife’s involvement in student meals. He proposed $70 million more for school lunches, including $10 million for a farm-to-school initiative.

  • Newsom: “These things become important to you when you have four kids and you adjudicate the ‘why’ they’re still having pizza and burritos … ”

Unanswered: What Newsom has against pizza and burritos.

Confused in San Bernardino County

Gov. Gavin Newsom

San Bernardino County’s third supervisorial district either does or does not have a supervisor. Gov. Gavin Newsom may have to clear things up.

Remind me: 

  • In 2018, then-Supervisor James Ramos, a Democrat, was elected to the Assembly, leaving his seat on the county board vacant.
  • The Republican-controlled board appointed a replacement: Dawn Rowe, a former aide to Republican Congressman Paul Cook.
  • Inland Empire United, a liberal group, sued, alleging the board violated the California open meetings act when it made the appointment.

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Janet Frangie agreed, decreeing the appointment “null and void.” The county appealed and lost.

Frangie will hold a hearing on Jan. 24 to decide if the county is in compliance with her prior order.

For now, Rowe remains on the board but faces election this year. 

Rowe’s opponents want the San Bernardino County registrar to rewrite Rowe’s designation on the March 2020 ballot, which refers to her as an incumbent supervisor.

The San Bernardino County charter holds that if the board fails to fill a vacant seat on the board within 30 days, the governor must appoint the replacement.

  • Newsom spokesman Jesse Melgar: “The governor’s office is aware and continues to monitor the situation in San Bernardino.” 

By the numbers: Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by more than 10 percentage points. But the board remains dominated by Republicans.

Trump’s foil

President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
President Donald Trump

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has taken aim at California over, well, most policy matters.

Immigration, environment and homelessness are chief of among them, when he is not bashing Gov. Gavin Newsom.

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher looks at the role California plays in the 2020 presidential election by reviewing some of the president’s claims about the state.

To read Christopher’s rundown, please click here.

ICYMI: To read CalMatters reporter Laurel Rosenhall’s take on ways Democratic presidential candidates aim to make the United States more like California, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Mike Males, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice: Young people deserve a lot better than yet another recycling of so-called “reforms” pushed by interest groups casting about for more clients to rescue a failed juvenile system that California should be reforming out of existence. 

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget presentation indicates anew that he wants to become president.


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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.