In summary

Housing bill faces key vote. Trump takes on California over abortion. The state of play for PG&E one year after filing for bankruptcy.

Good morning, California.

Say you want to change your party registration, vote in the Democratic presidential primary, or are sleeping in your car and wondering if you can vote. As the March 3 primary approaches, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo answers your voting rights questions in this handy guide.

Big housing bill to face key vote

Apartments across the from MacArthur BART station in Oakland

High-profile legislation that would compel more intense development near transit hubs faces a key Senate vote this week.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins used her power earlier this month to grab the legislation from the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it faced likely death, and send it to the full Senate for a vote.

  • How it turns out remains to be determined.

Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, author of Senate Bill 50: 

  • “We’re working hard to bring the bill up for a vote this week and to secure the votes. We have good support in the Senate, and while nothing is guaranteed, I feel good about where we are.”

For CalMatters reporter Matt Levin’s take on the legislation, please click here.

Money matters: While many local officials oppose the bill, the California Association of Realtors is one of the bill’s major backers. 

  • The Realtors’ California Real Estate Political Action Committee had $8.8 million in its account last year, and no doubt more now as the March primary nears.
  • In 2019, the PAC donated to no fewer than 37 of the 119 sitting legislators, gave $610,000 to the California Democratic Party, and $310,000 to the California Republican Party.
  • Separately, the Realtors have donated $10 million to place an initiative on the November ballot aimed at freeing up housing by allowing older homeowners to retain their relatively low property tax bills when they downsize.

Trump challenges CA on abortion

President Trump campaigns against California. (Illustration by Dan Hubig for CalMatters)

President Donald Trump set in motion a major clash over California’s power to protect women’s right to an abortion, one that dates to Gov. Ronald Reagan’s first year in office.

On Friday, the day after the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Trump addressed anti-abortion marchers in D.C.:

  • “Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.”

Also on Friday: Roger Severino of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services accused California of violating a 2004 federal law by requiring insurance plans to cover abortions. 

The feds gave the state 30 days to change its ways or lose billions in federal health care aid

The claim involves a 2014 California regulation stating health insurance plans must provide access to reproductive services. 

  • Severino: “We are the last hope for people whose rights have been violated.”

Reality check: 

  • In California, companies that self-insure need not offer abortion services. Nor do churches.

Gov. Gavin Newsom

  • “Trump is threatening to take away ALL OF OUR HEALTHCARE FUNDING. … 10 MILLION PEOPLE who are: poor, sick, kids, seniors, families, will LOSE their healthcare. And yet you call yourself ‘pro-life’ @realDonaldTrump?? You sicken me.”

Attorney General Xavier Becerra:

  • “While it’s unfortunate that the President’s moral compass always points to sowing division for cheap political gain, California won’t be deterred. We will fight this by any means necessary.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins offered to repay Trump, who used to support abortion rights, for any abortions he paid for in California.

Take a number: 26 million

California has 80 full-service health plans. They cover 26 million Californians. Under state law, those plans must provide coverage for abortion services and maternity care.

A quick history lesson

Gov. Ronald Reagan statue in the base of the California Capitol.

California’s abortion rights stand dates to 1967, when a Democratic state senator from the Westside of Los Angeles persuaded the new Republican governor, Ronald Reagan, to sign legislation legalizing abortion.

Anthony Beilenson, who later served in Congress, told John Schwada, then of The L.A. Times, in 1995:

  • “We were the first major state to liberalize abortion laws.”

1969: Four years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the California Supreme Court declared:

  • “The fundamental right of the woman to choose whether to bear children follows from the Supreme Court’s and this court’s repeated acknowledgment of a ‘right of privacy’ or ‘liberty’ in matters related to marriage, family and sex.”

1972: California voters approved a constitutional amendment declaring a right to privacy. Though the amendment was portrayed as a defense against data collection, it extended to reproductive rights.

1975: The Legislature regulated health insurance. That law bars health plans from discriminating against women’s choice to have a child or not.

1980: The Legislature sought to restrict public funds for abortions.

1981: The California Supreme Court struck down that restriction, concluding that under “the California Constitution all women in this state—rich and poor alike—possess a fundamental constitutional right to choose whether or not to bear a child.”

2002: Gov. Gray Davis signed the Reproductive Privacy Act declaring every “woman has the fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to choose and to obtain an abortion.” That updated the 1967 law signed by Reagan.

PG&E bankruptcy, one year on

PG&E employees replace a nearly 100-year-old pole in Berkeley.

A year ago this week, PG&E, facing staggering liability from wildfires sparked by its equipment, filed for bankruptcy protection, CalMatters’ Judy Lin notes.

One year later, here’s the state of play:

  • Lights are on, utility workers have jobs, and there’s an agreement to pay wildfire victims, insurers, local governments and bondholders.
  • The company has a new chief executive officer and board, but its structure is pretty much the same, and its infrastructure deteriorates.
  • PG&E is behind on tree trimming, key to averting future fires.
  • Californians can expect blackouts during 2020 wildfire season and probably for years to come.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is urging changing ownership into a customer-owned co-op, and is gathering support. Expect to hear more about that this week.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, is pushing for a public takeover as well:

  • “If we continue with inertia, we’re just going to see the same old PG&E with a few reforms around the edges and more of an emphasis around infrastructure investment, but it will be the same broken model.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom has not ruled out a public takeover. He is objecting in bankruptcy court to the utility’s financing plan, saying the century-old investor-owned utility would come out with too much debt and could not invest sufficiently in safety.

The company faces a deadline of June to emerge from bankruptcy in order to avail itself of a state fund established for future wildfires.

  • The California Public Utilities Commission must sign off on the reorganization plan.

What to do with all that waste

Yolo County’s landfill

Legislation that would change the way California manages its troubled recycling program faces a Senate vote this week, Carlyn Kranking reports.

Remind me: Recycling markets crashed in 2017 when China began refusing California’s detritus, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker wrote in 2019. Much of what Californians hope gets recycled piles up in warehouses or is dumped in landfills.

Sen. Bob Wieckowski, Fremont Democrat, is carrying legislation that would:

  • Require distributors of beverage containers to plan and budget for recycling.
  • Add as many as a billion wine and liquor bottles a year to the recycling program.
  • Redemption value of those bottles is to be determined.

Victoria Horton, of the California Beer and Beverage Distributors, said manufacturers should pay the cost of recycling, not distributors:

  • “There’s no money-making off of this. It’s going to cost our people. It’s a tax.”

Separately, legislation seeks to compel a 75% reduction in waste from single-use packaging by 2030.

Goal: Gov. Gavin Newsom called for “circular economy by reducing waste and recycling resources” while building a skilled workforce to handle such material.

How to do that remains unclear, though Mark Murray, of Californians Against Waste, said establishing a higher redemption value would increase recycling rates. 

  • Expect lawmakers to focus on the issue throughout the year.

Leadership: Scott Smithline resigned as director of the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery at the end of 2019. Newsom has not appointed a permanent replacement.

Paying for what’s left behind

A California oil field (Image by CPG Grey via FLICKR)

California faces a massive bill to clean up 5,540 abandoned oil and gas wells, a number that could rise by 69,425 economically marginal and idle wells, a new state report says.

  • The California Council on Science and Technology places the current price tag at $500 million, rising to $9 billion.
  • The Desert Sun’s Mark Olalde: As California’s oil and gas industry continues to shrink, new questions surrounding cleanup liability are emerging. For example, if an operator goes bankrupt, can the previous owner be forced to pitch in to plug the wells that are left behind?

Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020

Kobe Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash Sunday.

Los Angeles Lakers basketball great Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died Sunday when Bryant’s helicopter crashed in Calabasas.

The L.A. Timesreport is here.

L.A. Times’ Steve Lopez’s column.

Politicians reacted:

  • Donald Trump: “Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. ”
  • Barack Obama: “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents.”
  • Gavin Newsom: “Kobe Bryant’s 20 year career with the @Lakers raised the bar for every player. He willed his team to triumphs. Competed with unparalleled ferocity. Defied the odds. Simply put — he was an icon. Our hearts go out to his family and fans.”
  • Kamala Harris: “My heart is completely broken for Vanessa, the entire Bryant family, and all those on board. A father, husband, philanthropist, and one of California’s most brilliant icons, Kobe transcended sports.”
  • Eric Garcetti: “Kobe loved his daughters fiercely, and this love inspired him to be an extraordinary advocate for women and girls in sports.”

Commentary at CalMatters

Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board: Whatever you may think of his candidacy or his positions on issues across the full range of concerns a president needs to address, the reality is that Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate who has developed, advocated and implemented a successful program to cut greenhouse gases.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Pardons of felons by presidents and governors have a tortured history, and Gavin Newsom has an opportunity to add a chapter.

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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.