In summary

Newsom focuses State of State Speech on homelessness, takes on open drug use. L.A. County reduces cost of jail. Bill would track school ‘disaster days.’

Good morning, California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom poked President Trump in his first State of the State Speech in 2019. Trump responded by withholding almost $1 billion in high-speed rail funding

  • Lesson learned.

Newsom didn’t name Trump in this year’s State of the State Speech. Nor did he jab him. Much. There was, however, this Democratic applause line:

  • “California is the rocket fuel powering America’s resurgence, that — let me be clear — began under the leadership of President Barack Obama.”

TBD: Trump’s response.

State of the State, annotated

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers the 2020 State of the State address. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers the 2020 State of the State address.

Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted almost his entire State of the State Speech to prescriptions for ending homelessness, an ambitious step that makes clear he is staking his governorship on solving the problem.

  • “Every day, the California dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed. The hard truth is we ignored the problem.”

No more:

  • “I don’t think homelessness can be solved. I know homelessness can be solved. This is our cause. This is our calling.”

CalMatters’ staff listened closely to his remarks, and offered their assessments in an annotated version.

To read their analysis, please click here.

Newsom takes a risk

A man sleeps on Valencia street in the mission district of San Francisco. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A man sleeps on Valencia Street in San Francisco.

Governors use State of the State Speeches to announce proposals across a range of issues. Not this time.

Gov. Gavin Newsom tossed aside convention and focused almost entirely on the state’s most visible shame, homelessness.

It was an acknowledgement of the severity of the problem and of the politics, CalMatters’ Matt Levin and Laurel Rosenhall report


  • “Let’s call it what it is, a disgrace, that the richest state in the richest nation—succeeding across so many sectors—is failing to properly house, heal and humanely treat so many of its own people.”

Newsom hopes this break with tradition will help make clear to voters that their top priority is also his top priority.

Newsom can only do so much to fix homelessness. He needs buy-in from legislators, local officials, developers, health care providers, and the White House.   

Newsom told reporters after the speech: 

  • “The biggest risk is not taking a risk on homelessness. The biggest risk is denying the reality that we see on the streets and sidewalks across the state.”

But is it a risk politically?

  • Newsom: “Yeah.”

If he solves it, of course, he’ll be a hero.

To read Levin and Rosehall’s report, please click here.

Big mental health care overhaul

In his State of the State Speech, Gavin Newsom called for major changes to how California cares for severely mentally ill people.

The governor said, for example, that doctors should be able to prescribe housing, just as they prescribe medication.

To read CalMatters reporter Jocelyn Wiener’s summary of his proposals, please click here.

Open drug use

Photo illustration

Republicans weren’t among the legislators who joined in sustained ovations for Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State Speech.

But one Newsom line caught Assembly Republican James Gallagher’s ear: “[W]e need to stop tolerating open drug use on our streets.”

  • Gallagher, who represents Chico in Butte County, tweeted: “Perhaps most of all, I was pleased to hear the Governor say that open drug use on our streets must no longer be tolerated (see the City of Chico).”

Open drug use is hardly confined to L.A.’s Skid Row, San Francisco’s Tenderloin, or Sacramento’s K Street Mall.

In Chico, frustrated residents complain of finding used syringes in parks, and blame a decision by the California Department of Public Health in October authorizing a nonprofit North Valley Harm Reduction Coalition to distribute clean needles and other paraphernalia to addicts.

The Chico Enterprise Record’s Natalie Hanson detailed this week’s City Council meeting at which hundreds of people protested and numerous people testified about homelessness and the needle-distribution program.

On Tuesday, Gallagher wrote to Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the Department of Public Health, citing needle “distribution to minors, deterioration of public spaces, and improper needle disposal,” and urged that she “consider” revoking the coalition’s permit.

  • On Wednesday, a department spokeswoman said the letter is being reviewed.

Separately: Congressman Doug LaMalfa, who represents Chico, cited the problems in a letter urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to end funding for all needle-exchange programs.

Easing the high cost of jail

Sen. Holly Mitchell reacts to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for a response to the housing crisis and displacement of communities through gentrification during the 2020 State of the State address. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Sen. Holly Mitchell, right

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to stop billing adults who run afoul of the law hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to cover the costs of their incarceration, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports

Fees to be eliminated include:

  • $155 a month charge for probation supervision
  • $769 for a pre-sentence report
  • $50 for alcohol testing

L.A. County assesses $121 million in fines and fees each year but collects 9%.

With L.A. County’s decision, four counties have eliminated the fees. 

Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who is running for a seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, is carrying legislation that would eliminate the fees statewide: 

  • “If L.A. can afford it, California can, too.”

The California State Association of Counties and some law enforcement groups oppose the legislation, unless state legislators agree to compensate local government for the lost revenue.

  • Darby Kernan, representing the association of counties: “That’s what holds the system together, and minus those dollars, the system will collapse.”

To read Botts’ story, please click here.

Related: Botts detailed the impact of fees imposed on parents of juveniles who get arrested.

Tracking ‘Disaster Days’

Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell walks across the floor on September 10, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Long Beach Democrat

Thousands of schools have shut down temporarily because of fires, disasters and power shutoffs since late 2015, more than any point in the past two decades, Calmatters’ Ricardo Cano has reported.

Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach is responding with legislation that would require the state to track emergency school closures in real time, Cano reports.

As it is, the state isn’t required to collect information on temporary school closures, and school districts are not required to report them.

  • O’Donnell: “The bill’s a reflection of the times that we’re living in, and we need to respond to them to ensure the safety of California students.”

If O’Donnell’s bill becomes law, emergency responders would have up-to-date school-closure information, and experts could use the school-closure data to study the impact of disasters on students, educators and schools.

To read Cano’s story, please click here.

Take a number: 6,170

California collects $6,170 in per-capita taxes, placing it ninth highest of the 50 states, the Tax Foundation calculates based on U.S. Census data.

  • New York ranks No. 1, $9,073.
  • Alabama ranks No. 50, at $3,370.

California’s three neighbors:

  • Oregon, No. 23, $4,731
  • Nevada, No. 27, $4,495
  • Arizona, No. 48, $3,472

Commentary at CalMatters

Michael Wyatt, K Hovnanian Homes: The California Energy Commission rightfully saw fit to allow alternatives to rooftop solar. For some consumers, solar panels on their newly constructed home is the right choice. For others, on-site or off-site solar energy is best to fit their needs. That’s why the Feb. 20 vote by the energy commission is so important.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: An informal alliance of opposites is forming to oppose Senate Bill 10, the 2018 legislation that eliminates cash bail for criminal defendants and creates a new risk-assessment program.


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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.