In summary

Housing bill stalls again in Legislature. Newsom calls PG&E bankruptcy a “godsend,” looks to overhaul behavioral health system.

Good morning, California.

“And, by the way, he’s serious about the raking. He called me personally to double check on the raking. I thought it was a prank call.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, describing a call he received from President Donald Trump about forest management practices, including raking.

Housing bill fails again

Newly built apartment buildings in Oakland

Legislation to compel local government to allow denser housing near transit hubs failed Wednesday, the third year running the measure has stalled, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports.

Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50 fell three votes short of a majority in the 40-seat Senate. Several Southern California Democrats opposed it.

  • Local officials and some affordable housing advocates argue it would strip local control over housing decisions and would not provide sufficient low-cost housing. 
  • Developers, Realtors and urbanist “YIMBY” groups argue it would increase housing supply and curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, while not endorsing Wiener’s legislation, told reporters on Wednesday:

  • “We are going to get something big done on production this year and we’ve been working very hard to make sure that we can get the requisite votes. And if this falls short, we are not giving up. We are going to continue to work aggressively to address production in this state.”

Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, plans to take the bill up again today, although it was not clear what would change the minds of opponents.

PG&E bankruptcy a ‘godsend’

Gov. Newsom greets attorney Steve Merksamer, board chair of Public Policy Institute of California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom does not intend to let the crisis of PG&E’s bankruptcy go to waste.

The governor called it a “tremendous opportunity” and a “godsend.”

Why: The company that emerges from bankruptcy will be far different than what exists now.

Speaking at a Public Policy Institute of California luncheon, the governor on Wednesday reiterated his pledge to take over the utility if it cannot transform itself.

  • “I have no interest in the existing management, existing board.”

Listing the exact numbers of homes burned and lives lost in 2017 and 2018 wildfires, Newsom said he wants executive pay tied to safety. He also at least half the board should be made up of Californians, and the utility must be reliable, and provide green energy.

The details aren’t new. But if anything, the governor seemed more resolved than ever. 

  • “There’s going to be a new company or the state of California will take it over.” 

Meanwhile: In Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali’s courtroom in San Francisco, PG&E attorney Stephen Karotkin said Wednesday the company is “well aware” of the concerns raised by Newsom, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

  • Karotkin: “I believe that we will be able to resolve those concerns.”

Behavioral health care changes

homelessness california los angeles
Shopping carts tower over the homeless people pushing them through downtown Los Angeles, January 2020. (Photo by Shawn Hubler.)

Previewing his State of the State speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will be urging legislators to “radically” change the behavioral health care system.

Newsom’s comment came in response to a question about homelessness at a Public Policy Institute of California lunch on Wednesday.

  • Newsom: “We’re committed to radically reimagining our behavioral health system … It has been decades and decades in the making.”

Stay tuned: He did not provide details, except to say he intends to offer ways to better integrate care for people with mental illness, to deal with homelessness, and help people whose family and friends are struggling.

  • The date of the speech, but it will be in February.

An intriguing appointment

L.A. freeway

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon turned to an environmentalist to fill an opening on the California Transportation Commission, a body that allocates billions in highway construction funds and traditionally has been weighted toward business interests and the construction industry. 

The appointee: Joseph Lyou is president of the Coalition for Clean Air, which is focused on air quality, not on road building.

  • Bill Magavern of the Coalition for Clean Air: “It’s important to have someone on the commission with an in-depth understanding of air quality … There is a growing understanding of the link between air quality and transportation.”

Timing: Rendon made the appointment after the Assembly approved a far-reaching bill by Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, of Torrance that would limit oil drilling in urban areas, particularly in Los Angeles County.

  • The oil industry and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents oil workers, is lobbying against that measure.
  • Separately, an oil industry-backed campaign committee spent an initial $65,000 to help elect Sylvia Rubio, the sister of Sen. Susan Rubio and Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, to a Whittier area Assembly seat. Sylvia is running against Lisa Calderon, the stepmother of Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon.

Our part in Election 2020

Bernie Sanders, left, and Donald Trump
Bernie Sanders, left, and Donald Trump. Photos by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

A mere 32% of likely California voters plan to vote for President Donald Trump in November, and 66% won’t, the latest poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

How Californians will vote in November is no mystery. But the March 3 primary is remains in play. The state’s 416 pledged delegates will help determine the Democratic nominee.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders led in the poll among Democratic voters with 26.3%, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 19.6% and former Vice President Joe Biden’s 15%.

  • In the Institute’s poll a month ago, Sanders led with 24% of the vote to Warren’s 22%.  

Most telling, the pollsters asked voters whether it’s most important to nominate a candidate who agrees with with him or her on major issues, or one who can beat Trump:

  • 34.7% of Sanders backers said it was more important to vote for someone who can beat Trump, and 65.3% said they were supporting Sanders because they agreed with his stands.
  • 48.9% of Warren’s voters believe it’s more important to support a winner, vs. 50.9% who agree with her on major issues.
  • 81.8% of Biden’s voters think it’s more important to nominate someone who can beat Trump, and 18.2% think it’s most important to vote for someone they agree with.

An aside: Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg polled at 6%—and 70% of his supporters believe it’s most important to select a nominee who can beat Trump.

Take a number: 12.2

Top income earners in the Bay Area make 12.2 times more than people at the bottom of the economic ladder, the biggest gulf in the state, the Public Policy Institute of California reports based on 2018 U.S. Census data.

Bay Area residents in the 90th percentile of income earned $384,000 a year, compared to $32,000 for their neighbors in the bottom 10th percentile. 

The Sacramento region had the second widest gap, while the gap was narrowest in the Inland Empire region, Erica Hellerstein of The Mercury News reported.

The institute also found:

  • 20% of California’s net worth is concentrated in the 30 wealthiest zip codes, home to 2% of Californians. 
  • Families with four-year degree holders earn $2.20 for every $1 that families without degree holders earn.
  • African Americans and Latinos make up 12% of families with incomes above the 90th percentile, but comprise 43% of all families in California.

Commentary at CalMatters

Eric Firpo, In Season Market and Nursery, Stockton: Cows belch. They overgraze. Grasslands die. Desertification spreads. Temperatures rise worldwide. Destruction of civilization inevitably follows. What’s much less understood is that exactly the opposite is true.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Which troubled institutions are too big to fail. Pacific Gas & Electric? Los Angeles Unified School District? City College of San Francisco?


Erratum: In Wednesday’s WhatMatters, I mischaracterized the proposed initiative funded by Uber, Lyft, and others. It would declare that drivers for such companies are independent contractors.

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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.