Good morning, California. It’s Friday, April 30.

Meet Asm. Alex Lee

It isn’t even halfway through the legislative year, and three lofty progressive proposals have already been squashed — showcasing the sharp divide within California’s Democrat-dominated Legislature.

A bill to create single-payer health care? Tabled last week. A bill to ban corporations and “business entities” from contributing money to political candidates? Shot down Thursday in a rare Dem-on-Dem public takedown. And a proposal to create a wealth tax? It didn’t even get a hearing ahead of today’s deadline to progress out of its first committee.

The common denominator behind these proposals is their author Assemblymember Alex Lee, a 25-year-old Democratic socialist from San Jose who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and lives with his mom. He became the state’s youngest lawmaker in more than 80 years when he was sworn into office in January. Lee, who connects with constituents via Minecraft livestreams and Instagram Live, told me he thought he would be “completely ostracized and alone” in the state Capitol for being “super young, super progressive.” Though he said his Democratic colleagues have been “very receptive” to his ideas, the evidence so far suggests otherwise.

Lee was dealt a rare public rebuke from a fellow Democrat Thursday on his bill to ban corporate donations to political candidates. Assemblymember Marc Berman, chair of the elections committee, castigated Lee’s bill as one that “deceives the public,” is “very misleading” and “creates loopholes so big you could drive an armored truck through them.” He also suggested Lee hadn’t read past committee analyses that would have helped him avoid “flaws.”

  • Lee: “Saying I didn’t do my homework, ‘deceiving,’ is not fair to say. … Everything everyone else said was very valid, but I feel like those kind of personal things were a quite unfair characterization.”

Lee’s wealth tax bill didn’t even receive a hearing, the result of a controversial Assembly rule that allows committee chairs to essentially kill legislation by not bringing it forward for debate. Lee told me he would support abolishing the rule, a point echoed by Assemblymember James Gallagher, a Yuba City Republican infuriated that his wildfire prevention bill didn’t get a hearing. Lee said the rule “hurts the democratic process”; Gallagher called it “undemocratic.”

  • Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon: “I’ve empowered chairs to make decisions regarding bills in their committees, as they are policy leaders for their respective issue areas.”

With three setbacks in a row, Lee admitted the legislative process is “very exhausting and oftentimes demoralizing,” but said he won’t stop “trying again and again and again.”

  • Lee: The Legislature’s Democratic supermajority is “going to come to a reckoning point where it’s like, all right, how much do we value political power for political power’s sake versus actually using it to do good for people?”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,636,235 confirmed cases (+0% from previous day) and 60,362 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 29,262,215 vaccine doses, and 38.1% of Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

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1. More drought declarations

Image via iStock

Today, officials from Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties plan to declare regional drought emergencies, with other Central Valley counties expected to follow suit next week. The move — supported by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers — will likely increase pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to proclaim a statewide drought emergency that would allow more water to be diverted to Central Valley farmers. Though the governor has insisted that such a move isn’t yet necessary, some water agencies throughout the state have already taken it upon themselves to declare mandatory water restrictions, and an increasing number are calling on residents to conserve water. California’s rivers are so dry that millions of young salmon raised in Central Valley hatcheries will have to be trucked to San Francisco Bay and other coastal sites for release, state and federal officials said Wednesday. And stunning new drone photos show just how low the water level is in Lake Oroville — which supplies the two counties in which Newsom has declared a regional emergency.

2. $20 billion for homelessness?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti takes questions following a press conference by Big City Mayors, a coalition of mayors from California’s 13 largest cities focused on finding solutions for homelessness, at the California Capitol on March 9, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti takes questions following a Big City Mayors press conference at the California Capitol on March 9, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

The mayors of California’s 13 biggest cities gathered Thursday to ask Newsom and lawmakers to devote $20 billion over the next five years to permanently house nearly every Californian who entered a homeless shelter in 2020. The proposal’s annual price tag is significantly larger than the $2 billion in ongoing funding some mayors pushed for last year, and comes about a week after a federal judge ordered the city and county of Los Angeles to offer shelter and support services to the entire homeless population of Skid Row by Oct. 18. Although cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento have massively increased their homeless budgets in recent years, the state’s homeless population has continued to grow. Nevertheless, the mayors insisted Thursday that the main challenge was funding, not policy.

  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “We know how to fix this problem. … We just need the resources.”
  • San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo: “Spending half of a surplus on the biggest problem we face in California and making that commitment last for a half decade? That’s well spent.”

But there are a lot of competing demands for the state’s one-time budget surplus Liccardo is referring to: Also Thursday, a Senate committee passed a $3 billion drought relief plan that partially relies on surplus funds. And the surplus is also paying for the state’s $9.6 billion stimulus package, including a small business tax break Newsom signed into law Thursday.

3. What CA lost in the Census

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters; iStock

California’s identity, dating back to the Gold Rush, has been based on an idea: This is a place where people — prospectors, Dust Bowl refugees, immigrants — want to be. The Golden State has always lured people seeking work, play and sunshine. But now we’re losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in state history, throwing that narrative into question. To learn more about the political and cultural ripple effects that could stem from the loss, check out this video from CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons and Ben Christopher.

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CalMatters commentary

Reverse Trump-era water rules: So far, Newsom has been reluctant to challenge rules that shifted millions of dollars in environmental restoration costs from water contractors to taxpayers, write Caty Wagner and Brandon Dawson of Sierra Club California.

Road to recovery: California needs to continue building on its investments in small businesses in order for the economy to recover post-pandemic, argues Carolina Martinez of CAMEO, a micro-business network.

Other things worth your time

87% of additional California deaths in 2020 were workers, report says. // Fresno Bee

California Progressives: Wait until 2024 for U.S. Senate? // The Sacto Politico

Newsom recall supporters spar over fundraising, outreach. // Sacramento Bee

This mom protested vaccines, then started a ‘militia.’ How California extremism is changing. // Sacramento Bee

San Jose casino ballot measure violates California law, state agency says. // Mercury News

FBI investigating Sacramento prison plagued by inmate slayings, hazing. // Sacramento Bee

State Supreme Court needed to resolve conflict in police disciplinary procedure. // San Francisco Chronicle

Owner-operators of freight trucks in California may be classified as employees, federal court rules. // San Francisco Chronicle

California just hit 95% renewable energy, but challenges remain. // Los Angeles Times

This massive network of wildfire cameras helps California save lives. // San Francisco Chronicle

Corporate secrecy over climate change targeted by Washington and California. // Los Angeles Times

See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...