In summary

Affordable housing plan gets chilly reception. Big cities tackle homelessness in different ways. Push to ban e-cigarettes resurfaces.

Good morning, California. Ben Christopher here, sitting in for Dan Morain, who will be back later this week.

“I fought for warriors like Clint Lorance, Eddie Gallagher and Matt Golsteyn that were treated unjustly by an abusive military justice system. I will always be proud to stand with the men and women who protect our freedoms.” — U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, using his resignation letter from Congress to champion the three members of the armed services who were pardoned by President Trump for war crimes. Hunter, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, will step down on Jan. 13.

Not-so-welcome mat

Misty Cross of Moms 4 Housing, left, and Sen. Scott Wiener tout SB 50.

Sen. Scott Wiener’s updated plan, released Monday, to tackle the state’s housing crisis got a chilly reception Tuesday in and outside the Capitol. 

At a kickoff event in Oakland, Wiener, Mayor Libby Schaff and other pro-housing advocates were shouted down by members of the Bay Area anti-gentrification group, Moms4Housing, The Mercury-New reported.

Meanwhile, Sen. Anthony Portantino, the Southern California Democrat who put the kibosh on Wiener’s bill last year, complained that amendments to reassure cities worried about local control “seem like more theater than an implementable plan to truly engender broad support.”

This will be Wiener’s third attempt to pass some or another version of Senate Bill 50, requiring cities to zone for more housing. At issue:

  • Wiener and most housing experts blame the state’s affordability crisis on a shortage of housing supply.
  • But local government groups and property owners don’t like the idea of the state telling locals how to make land-use decisions
  • And some anti-gentrification activists see anything that encourages the construction of new, market-rate housing as a vehicle of displacement.

For more, read the primer by CalMatters’ Matt Levin that posted earlier this week.

Elsewhere in housing …

A homeless man sits on the curb between parked trucks in downtown San Francisco.

Three cities — and three very different attempts to address the state’s homelessness crisis.

  • More than three years after Los Angeles voters passed a $1.2 billion bond to fund new housing for the homeless, city officials this week celebrated the opening of its first bond-funded project with 62 units.
  • San Francisco, meanwhile, announced it is converting 151 single-room-occupancy hotel rooms into subsidized housing for formerly homeless people — which city officials say is faster and cheaper than building new housing from scratch.
  • Then there’s San Diego, where a strip club has been handing out hundreds of tents to people living on the street, each emblazoned with the club’s name: “Déjà Vu Showgirls.” Public response has been mixed.

Meanwhile, in The Other California: 2019 was a great year for mansion owners.

As The Los Angeles Times noted in its annual round-up of real estate excess, the 18-roomed, 40-car garaged estate featured in “The Beverly Hillbillies” sitcom sold for roughly $150 million, breaking a statewide record.

The lucky owner? Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert, the conservative media tycoon.

E-cigs redux

Man lighting a cigarette
Flavored tobacco will come under legislative scrutiny again.

Also back for reconsideration: A push to ban flavored tobacco, courtesy of Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from Silicon Valley, at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s behest.

A little history: Last year, after efforts to ban tasty vapes and flavor-enhanced cigarettes stalled in the Legislature, Newsom asked lawmakers to send him a bill in 2020.

Newsom, in September: “I would like to sign a bill to eliminate the legal use of flavored e-cigarettes.”

Both Hill and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento, had introduced similar bans — both died. McCarty’s was nixed in a committee chaired by Assemblyman Adam Gray, a moderate Democrat from Merced. Hill pulled his version after it was watered down beyond his liking.

This time, Hill has 29 lawmakers on his side, as well as Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis. His Senate Bill 793 would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, hookah products and flavored vapes.

Compare and contrast: At the beginning of the month, President Trump announced plans to temporarily ban certain flavored vaping products. But that ban does not apply to menthol-flavored products or to “open tank” e-cig systems of any kind.

At risk: 1.4 million toddlers

A state audit says most babies on Medi-Cal aren’t getting mandated tests for lead poisoning.

Millions of California toddlers who should have been tested for lead exposure have not received state and federally mandated blood tests, in part because the health hazard – a particular threat to poor children – has not been a priority for state public health agencies, a state audit reported Tuesday.

In a searing review of a persistent state and national problem, State Auditor Elaine Howle found some 1.4 million toddlers enrolled in Medi-Cal had gone untested for lead exposure over the past decade, and another 740,000 missed one of two required screenings — a failure encompassing nearly three-quarters of the nearly 3 million 1- and 2-year-old children covered by the state’s publicly funded health insurance program. 

Federal and state laws require the state Department of Health Care Services to make sure blood lead-level tests are administered to babies enrolled in Medicaid — known as Medi-Cal in California — when they reach the ages of 12 months and 24 months, reports CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera. The California Department of Public Health is also supposed to track and prevent lead exposure in California, according to the audit.

Both fell down on the job, Howle found — a critical lapse because studies show low-income children are often exposed to old paint, lead smelters, tainted drinking water, industrial areas and other lead sources. Even low levels of lead can affect a child’s cognitive development and IQ.

Howle: “Many of these children live in areas of the state with high occurrences of elevated lead levels, making the missed tests even more troubling.”  Read more here.

Tech quietly flexes

Like a bullhorn, hundreds of millions of campaign dollars are amplifying the message from key industries to California voters.
A new stealth campaign by tech industry donors is benefiting Democrats.

Heard of “Mind the Gap”? If not, that’s probably the point, according to a Recode report Monday on the secretive group of Silicon Valley tech titans and Stanford academics who have been pumping millions of dollars into Democratic congressional campaigns — and planning to spend even more in 2020.

It’s a covert, data-informed model of campaign finance that’s equal parts Bohemian Grove and “the Moneyball of politics,” as Recode describes it:

  • Ignore the easy pickups and target races where Democrats face longer odds — and where every dollar goes further.
  • Keep the spending as quiet as possible to keep Republican operatives from catching on and rushing in with their own cash.

The roster of backers includes Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and San Francisco venture capitalist and power broker Ron Conway — a who’s-who of Silicon Valley wealth and power.

Attention no-party-preferencers

Vote-by-mail ballots. Yes, it’s that season again.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla has a message for registered voters who aren’t part of a political party: If you want to vote in the March 3 presidential primary, “you do have to pay attention to the rules.”

Remember: For most elections, California operates by the “top two” election system where candidates share one ballot and voters can choose regardless of party. But rules in presidential primaries are different for “no party preference” voters:

  • Your default ballot will not list presidential candidates.
  • To vote in the presidential primary of the Republican, Green or Peace and Freedom party, you have to re-register with that party (which you can do here).
  • To vote in the Democratic, American Independent or Libertarian party primaries, you needn’t re-register, but you do have to request that party’s ballot.

How to request a ballot? If you vote by mail, you should have received a postcard from the county giving you the option to do so. Fill it out and send it back ASAP.

Otherwise, call or email your voter registrar to make the request. You can find their contact information here. And if you vote in person, make sure you request the ballot at your polling place or vote center.

Ticked-off and confused? Padilla has another message: Don’t blame us.

Padilla, speaking to Capital Radio’s Beth Ruyak: “When people are running for president of the United States, the political parties determine the rules.”

Thanks to those rules, writes political data guru Paul Mitchell, many members of the fastest-growing portion of the California electorate are in for a nasty surprise:

  • Only 8% of the independent voters eligible for a primary ballot have registered to receive one.
  • According to Mitchell’s survey data, two-thirds of California independents want to vote in the Democratic primary — and many still think that they’ll be able to.

CalMatters is growing!

New CalMatters reporter Nigel Duara

Meet our newest reporter, Nigel Duara. A national multimedia journalist, he’ll be covering poverty and inequality issues as part of the California Divide project, a collaboration between CalMatters and other major state news organizations.

Duara most recently worked as a national and climate correspondent at VICE News Tonight on HBO. He has also worked for The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.

To learn more about the California Divide project, click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

KR Sridhar, Bloom Energy: In California, we pride ourselves on technological innovation. Which is why the outdated grid frustrates so many of us. The dialogue needs to expand to include how we deliver clean energy safely and reliably. And that will require new technologies and new ways of thinking.


Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights,, 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up for WhatMatters here.

Follow @danielmorain (and @FromBenC) on Twitter, like CalMatters on Facebook, and follow us @CalMatters.

See you tomorrow.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...