In summary

Salinas farmworkers saddled with poor living conditions. State again battles Trump over water policy. School bond contains break for developers.

Good morning, California.

“Whether R’s are right or wrong, it’s clear they believe @SenSanders is easiest D opponent for Trump to beat. So @TomSteyer after spending millions touting impeachment, now is helping advance the Democratic candidate Trump believes gives him best shot at 2nd term. Quite a twist.”—Ron Brownstein, senior editor at The Atlantic, on Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer’s impact on the Democratic primary.

  • San Francisco billionaire Steyer spent millions advocating for Trump’s impeachment starting in 2017.

Tight quarters, big dreams

A farmworker tends broccoli. (Photo by Sebastian Hidalgo/Catchlight, The Salinas Californian)

In the Salinas Valley, overcrowding and unhealthy living conditions are common, with tens of thousands of farmworkers squeezed into garages and living rooms.

Kate Cimini, of The Salinas Californian, tells the story through Resi Salvador’s eyes. The daughter of farmworkers, she has lived in such cramped conditions that she jokes about knowing the exact moment when her siblings were conceived.

The U.S. Census says 156,000 people live in the Monterey County city of Salinas. The real population could be 180,000.

Farmers in the Salinas Valley, the “Salad Bowl of the World,” exported nearly 400 million pounds of produce in 2018, worth $8.5 billion. 

And yet:

  • 90,000 farmworkers earn an average of $17,500 a year.
  • Monterey County has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state.

Resi Salvador rides a bus to Cal State Monterey Bay, located at what used to be Fort Ord Army base. Scholarships from the League of United Latin American Citizens and Democratic Sen. Anna Caballero of Salinas help her pay her costs.

After she graduates, Salvador wants a job that will allow her to purchase a home for her parents and brothers, and maybe a home for herself and a husband.

To read Cimini’s story, please click here.

Cimini produced the story in collaboration with Catchlight and the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

To read other California Divide reports, please click here.

The coming water fight

An almond, ready to harvest

California’s water wars flared last week when Donald Trump signed an order decreeing that the federal Central Valley Project would deliver a “magnificent amount” from the Delta to San Joaquin Valley farms. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom had said two weeks earlier that he wanted to avoid further water litigation. But given Trump’s action, Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued, contending the Trump administration action ignored science and would kill salmon and nearly extinct Delta smelt.

Meanwhile: The California Department of Water Resources released a report showing the dramatic impact of over-pumping of groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley, SJV Water’s Lois Henry reports

Long story short: The ground has sunk so much that water is pooling in parts of the State Water Project canal. As a result, the canal may not be able to transport the full allocation of water to the Metropolitan Water District, and the millions of Southern Californians who depend on it.

Farmers in Merced, Fresno, Kings and Kern counties vastly increased plantings of almonds orchards in recent decades. Such permanent crops require water every year. Farmers rely heavily on ground water in dry years, and that has led to subsidence, the report notes.

One problematic pool is near Huron in the Westlands Water District, and another choke point is in Kern County, near orchards controlled by Stewart Resnick.

Questions: How much will it cost to rebuild the canal? And who will pay?

A break for developers

A $15 billion school bond measure would give a break to developers.

Proposition 13, the $15 billion bond on the March 3 ballot, contains a little-noticed provision that gives one of the bond measure’s authors pause, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports.

Most California voters think the $15 billion bond is all about building and fixing public schools, community colleges and public universities.

The measure would finance all that. But it also includes a provision that would relieve developers of having to pay school impact fees when they build multi-family developments at subway stops and light rail stations. 

  • Developers say school impact fees unnecessarily drive up the cost of desperately needed new housing. 
  • Public school advocates say the fees, which defray the cost of added enrollment of kids who live in new housing, are a pillar of some school districts’ budgets.

Major education groups support the bond, including teachers’ unions, school boards, charter school proponents, and University of California and California State University boosters.

  • Proposition 13 advocates say the billions of new funding for public schools would far outweigh the loss of developer fees.

But Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Long Beach Democrat and one of the bond’s authors, has qualms over how that provision could impact certain public school districts.

  • “If it’s significantly impactful, we may have to backfill the fees that the districts will lose because of this policy. “

To read Levin’s report, please click here.

Gig worker legislation, Round 2

Assembly GOP leader Marie Waldron at a rally against AB 5

By lobbyist Chris Micheli’s count, 34 bills have been introduced in 2020 to alter California’s new gig worker law.

Republicans, seeing a winning campaign issue, introduced most of the bills to alter Assembly Bill 5, the 2019 legislation that requires companies in many instances to hire employees rather than use independent contractors.

The GOP bills would exempt small business, musicians, timber companies, therapists, newspaper delivery people and freelance journalists, among others.

The Republicans’ bills have almost no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

However: 

  • Sen. Cathleen Gagliani, Stockton Democrat, introduced a bill that would create a third category of worker, offering certain protections for gig workers. 
  • Sen. Henry Stern, Malibu Democrat, introduced a bill, perhaps for the entertainment industry.
  • Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Democrat and AB 5’s author, also introduced legislation, details to come.

Meanwhile: 

  • A federal judge in San Diego blocked the state from enforcing the law against truckers and trucking companies, one of AB 5’s main targets.
  • Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart, each of which relies on independent workers and were targets of the bill, have $107.4 million, a huge sum, in a campaign account for a November initiative. Under the measure, companies could use independent contractors so long as they provide some protections.

Micheli sees irony. The original bill was aimed at truckers and app-based drivers employees. If the initiative were to pass and the injunction remains in place, AB 5 would not cover those workers. Yet scores of other professions would be covered. 

  • “Proverbial collateral damage.”

Lyft becomes a big spender

A mailer funded by Lyft taking aim at Assemblyman Tyler Diep

Lyft, Inc., is emerging as a major campaign spender, placing $2 million in an independent campaign account and using $250,000 so far to unseat Republican Assemblyman Tyler Diep of Westminster.

Diep was the lone Republican who voted for Assembly Bill 5, the 2019 legislation that requires gig economy companies such as Lyft to hire employees rather than rely on independent contractors. He has relatives who work as independent contractors.

Diep faces a challenge in the March 3 primary from fellow Republican Janet Nguyen, a former state senator who was unseated in 2018 by Democratic Sen. Tom Umberg. The Orange County Republican Party withdrew its endorsement of Diep.

Organized labor, which backed the legislation, is spending heavily to protect Diep, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reported.

  • The $2 million is certain to catch legislators’ eyes. That’s enough to sway races of lawmakers who cross the San Francisco-based company.

How to increase transit ridership

High school students catch the light rail in Sacramento.

Legislation would give everyone 18 and under free, unlimited rides on public transportation. The point? To create a generation of transit riders, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, CalMatters’ Jakob Lazzaro reports

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, the bill’s author, can point to successes. The Sacramento Regional Transit Authority’s ridership jumped after it started giving free rides to young people.

  • Gonzalez: “We have to get young people basically to never think about getting in a car. Opening up access to public transit and encouraging access to public transit is one way we can do that.”

Young people who are exposed to public transit are more likely to choose it over a car later in life, a 2018 study found. But the effect is small when compared with the ridership gains when transit authorities provide better service.

What’s next: The Assembly approved it without a no-vote. It’s pending in the Senate.

To read Lazzaro’s report, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Tom Dalzell, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ $100 billion take-over of PG&E will make California’s electricity problem worse. Sen. Sanders and his team did not consult with a single affected worker before announcing this scheme.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Assemblyman Phil Ting: For California, a state that has proudly seized the role of a progressive alternative to the chaos and madness of the Trump White House, President Elizabeth Warren would be a match made in heaven.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: President Donald Trump says he’s making good on promises to deliver more water to California farmers, reigniting the state’s decades-old water wars.

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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.