In summary

The California redistricting commission hopes to adopt final congressional and legislative maps today, but some districts are drawing fire.


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From CalMatters reporter Sameea Kamal:

It’s crunch time for California’s independent redistricting commission, and it looks like they’re nearing the finish line, though not without continued criticism.

The 14 commissioners are under intense scrutiny — and face a Dec. 27 deadline to submit their final report to the secretary of state, including new district lines for the U.S. House, state Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization.

They’re pledging to vote on adopting the maps today. At the same time, however, they’re hearing from outside critics because they’re drawing some weirdly shaped districts in trying to keep communities of interest together and protect minority voting power.

After a barrage of calls last week about the city of San Jose being split into four congressional districts, the commission redrew the congressional map into what some experts called the “ribbon of shame” – a coastal district starting just south of San Francisco, and moving inland towards Kern County just north of Bakersfield.

Even former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder weighed in, calling it “absurd and unnecessary.”  

  • Holder: “The CA Commission to now has been a model for the country. I hope they find a way to draw lines that respect communities of interest and avoid a district like this that will only be parodied for the decade.”   

But by Sunday night, after several commissioners voiced “buyer’s remorse” on that district, they opted to walk it back for now.   

That prompted a quick response from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who complained that his city would become the only major U.S. city without its residents making up a majority of constituents for at least one member of Congress. 

  • Liccardo: “Please stand up for SJ. The commission can revise problems with other districts without depriving SJ of voice in DC.” 

The tug-of-war in response to public comment – solving one problem while trying not to create another – is part of the process, but also emblematic of the commission’s struggles since adopting preliminary maps on Nov. 10 and toiling on last-minute adjustments in marathon sessions Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 


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1. Newsom antes up on crime

The windows of the Dior store in Union Square in San Francisco were boarded up as of Nov. 25, 2021. Videos on social media showed masked people running with goods from several high-end retailers in the storied shopping area. Photo by Samuel Rigelhaupt / Sipa USA

Heading into the homestretch of the holiday shopping season, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he will include more than $350 million to combat retail theft and other crime in his budget proposal in early January. Some of the money will make permanent a California Highway Patrol “smash and grab” enforcement unit, which claims 300 arrests and $19 million in recovered merchandise already, and expand it from L.A., San Diego and San Francisco to the Central Valley and Sacramento.

As CalMatters’ Ben Christopher explains, the takeaway from Newsom’s Friday press event seemed to be: While crime isn’t really high historically and the smash-and-grabs at high-end boutiques are being overblown, the public is very concerned and the state has a huge budget surplus, so why not spend some more on anti-crime efforts?

  • Newsom: “Stats mean nothing in terms of your feelings.” 

It’s the most recent and clearest example of California Democrats talking tougher on crime heading into the 2022 election. Republicans in the Legislature are not impressed.

  • Senate GOP leader Scott Wilk: “It shouldn’t have taken increasing homicide rates, widespread news reports of smash-and-grabs, and pleas from Californians for Democrats to come to this realization.”   

2. Will stricter EDD rules backfire?

The office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento on Dec. 18, 2020. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

The rampant fraud at California’s unemployment department has been a big story during the pandemic. For good reason: At least $20 billion in bogus claims, some filed from behind bars.

But what if tightening the rules to stop fraud hurts Californians who can least afford it?

Jesse Bedayn of the CalMatters California Divide team explores that conundrum, in the context of a new policy that could require tens of thousands of Californians to return their unemployment benefits because they may not have been working or looking for work. The state Economic Development Department began issuing notifications of the proof-of-work requirement last month to about 900,000 people, one third of the recipients of a federal program that ran from March 2020 and ended in September 2021. 

It was aimed at those who don’t usually qualify for unemployment benefits because they are freelancers or small-business owners. Under the policy, they must prove that they were working, or planning to work, prior to filing their unemployment claim. If they can’t, they would be ineligible and asked to give the benefits back. That would be more than $32,000 if a recipient received full benefits for the entire 18 months of the program. In addition, if a claimant offered false information, the state could impose a 30% penalty. 

But some experts say that could force people to pay back money they don’t have, and are suggesting giving recipients a pass.

  • Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget & Policy Center: “We should be saying, ‘Look, if you got unemployment insurance benefits during that time, you’re fine. If the concern is fraudulent claims, then do the work to fix the administration of the system.”

3. A clarification on nursing homes

An item in the Dec. 16 newsletter about a California Healthline story on nursing homes should have made clear that the industry association opposes tying funding only to staffing, but supports tying funding to other patient quality standards. Also, the item should have said that Assembly Health chairperson Jim Wood is the one appalled by the number of COVID-19 deaths in skilled nursing facilities.       


New CA housing law

Manuela Tobias gives a quick rundown of a major change in single-family zoning in a “New law in a minute” video produced by Byrhonda Lyons.

2021 housing stories you should know

William Brown (right), and Josh Lowe (left) with his dog near the encampment where they both were staying before it got disbanded by CalTrans in San Clemente. Nov. 6, 2021. Photo by Ariana Drehsler for CalMatters

A lot happened this year on the housing and homelessness beat. Here’s a look back at the biggest developments, as reported by CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias. 

Did the COVID-19 pandemic and the first population decline since 1850 stop California’s housing prices from rising in 2021? 

Nope. The statewide median home price reached a record $800,000, more than double the national average.

While potential homeowners had it rough, so did some renters. The Legislature twice extended a statewide eviction moratorium that banned landlords from kicking out tenants over missed rent payments. But an investigation by CalMatters uncovered that at least 10,000 households fell through that safety net and were locked out between March 2020 and March 2021.

The state received more than $5 billion in federal aid for rent relief, but the rollout for tenants and landlords was slowed for much of the year by problems with language, reliable internet and public awareness.

There was some action at the state Capitol to increase the housing supply. The most significant move: a new law that does away with the single-family zoning that dominates the majority of the state’s developable land. 

  • David Garcia, policy director for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley: “It signals that lawmakers are willing to take on the traditional sacred cows of housing and single-family zoning. From a political standpoint, that’s a pretty significant shift in the housing landscape.”

Meanwhile, homelessness became an even bigger issue in 2021. In the campaign for the Sept. 14 recall election, the major Republican candidates hammered Gov. Gavin Newsom’s policies as ineffective. The unsheltered population has increased by 24% from 2018 to about 161,000 people in 2020. 

Experts believe that number has risen during the pandemic, though the state converted motels to create about 6,000 housing units. A study by UCLA researchers found that nearly 1,500 people, the vast majority likely homeless, died on the streets of Los Angeles County between March 2020 and July 2021, many from drug overdoses. 

The increase is especially discouraging after the state has spent $13 billion on homelessness since 2018. A scathing state audit from February points to a main culprit: a lack of coordination and accountability across the web of state agencies and local counties, cities and service providers. 

Still, Newsom and legislators allotted another $12 billion to address homelessness over the next three years, including $2.75 billion to buy and convert hotels, office and commercial buildings into housing and $2.2 billion for behavioral health treatment. Some money is also going to clear homeless encampments

Learn even more in the newly updated CalMatters explainer on homelessness

Check out the full CalMatters Primer, with everything you need to know and might have missed about California policy and politics in 2021. 

Here’s your primer: What California state government has been up to in 2021

History will remember 2021 as the year when a windfall of governmentspending sought to address years of inequality, poverty and a growingpopulation left behind. Trillions of dollars were spent by the federal government, but California’s state government, facing the nation’s highest poverty rate, also saw an unprecedented budget surplus that the state’s supermajority Democrats used…

And here’s a peek at what to watch for on housing in 2022:

And keep up with housing issues by listening and subscribing to the “Gimme Shelter” podcast. The last episode of 2021 is about buying a home and the zaniest housing stories of the year.


Other things worth your time

Lori McClintock, wife of California congressman, dies // Sacramento Bee

Omicron variant likely to bring spike in COVID cases, hospitalizations, officials warn // Los Angeles Times

As vaccine availability for kids expands, rates vary across California // CapRadio

San Francisco mayor declares state of emergency around overdoses in Tenderloin district // Los Angeles Times

California’s ‘smash and grab’ robberies – what’s really going on behind the headlines? // The Guardian

Family of Sacramento Uber driver killed in SF wants answers // The Sacramento Bee

Drakeo the Ruler, who helped define the sound of L.A. hip hop, dead at 28 in stabbing // Los Angeles Times

It’s been a home for decades, but legal only a few months // New York Times

Afghan evacuees struggle with housing and immigration hurdles // KQED

They fled gangs in Central America, now must navigate new lives // San Francisco Chronicle

New analysis shows San Diego’s proposed foam ban can be enacted // San Diego Union-Tribune

Spotify unveils sprawling podcast hub in downtown L.A. // Los Angeles Times


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Foon Rhee is deputy editor for CalMatters who works with reporters covering the state Capitol and housing. After graduating from Duke University, he covered local and state government for The Charlotte...