In summary

Californians facing eviction as soon as next week would get a temporary reprieve under a bill endorsed by the state’s Democratic leaders.

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Californians facing eviction as soon as next week would get a temporary reprieve under a bill endorsed Thursday by the state Legislature’s Democratic leaders — and apparently by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood announced their support for a proposal that would extend eviction protections through June 30 for Californians applying for funds from the state’s COVID rent relief program. Atkins and Rendon said the bill will get its first hearing on Monday.

  • Under current law, statewide eviction protections are set to expire on April 1 — just one day after the March 31 deadline for residents to apply for state rent relief.
  • Although the new proposal keeps the March 31 application deadline in place, it protects Californians from eviction while they wait for the state to process their paperwork. As of Tuesday, the state had distributed funds to about 214,000 households — fewer than half of the nearly 490,000 that had applied for relief — prompting advocates to warn of an impending “eviction tsunami.”
  • A Newsom spokesperson told CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias: “The Governor strongly supports an extension that continues to protect tenants well into the summer and ensures that every eligible applicant is protected under this nation-leading rent relief program as it winds down.”
  • The bill also prevents local governments from passing their own eviction protections until July 1 at the earliest — a major reason why the powerful California Apartment Association, which represents landlords, investors and developers — supports it, according to the Associated Press.

The last-minute proposal comes amid a flurry of reports that illuminate how the Golden State’s cost of living is becoming prohibitively high for a growing number of people.

In the face of such statistics, actions like the one Attorney General Rob Bonta took Thursday — putting the city of Encinitas on notice for denying a permit for an apartment building with affordable units — may seem like small potatoes.

Meanwhile, Sacramento City Unified schools closed for the second day in a row Thursday as employees continued striking over pandemic policies, staffing shortages and what they say are insufficient wages. And thousands of Southern California grocery workers appear primed to authorize a strike on Monday.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 8,473,370 confirmed cases (+0.03% from previous day) and 87,702 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,557,645 vaccine doses, and 74.4% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Lawmakers squabble over gas tax

A customer refuels their vehicle at a Mobil gas station in Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood on March 10, 2022. Photo by Bing Guan, REUTERS
A customer refuels their vehicle at a Mobil gas station in West Hollywood on March 10, 2022. Photo by Bing Guan, Reuters

Republicans’ second attempt to advance a bill to suspend California’s 51-cent-per-gallon gas excise tax failed on Thursday, prompting fierce Twitter squabbling between Democratic and GOP lawmakers and members of the Newsom administration over whose gas rebate proposal would offer the most help to residents shouldering the nation’s highest gas prices.

  • GOP Assemblymember Vince Fong of Bakersfield: “As Californians are calling for immediate relief at the gas pump, Democrats in Sacramento again continue to ignore the demand for urgent action. The fastest way to provide relief at the gas pump, is to temporarily suspend the gas tax with our state budget surplus.”
  • Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes of San Bernardino: “Democrats are for providing relief to the people of California. The Republican plan will only bolster oil company profits. Can they really be trusted to lower gas prices?”
  • Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin and Anthony York, Newsom’s senior communications adviser, also duked it out on Twitter: Kiley accused York of making “false claims about oil companies,” while York said Kiley’s proposal to suspend the gas excise tax for six months would result in a “$1 billion reduction for road repair.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Vince Fong

Vince Fong

State Assembly, District 32 (Bakersfield)

Vince Fong

State Assembly, District 32 (Bakersfield)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 32 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 26%
GOP 47%
No party 18%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Vince Fong has taken at least $608,000 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 13% of his total campaign contributions.

Eloise Gómez Reyes

Eloise Gómez Reyes

State Assembly, District 50 (San Bernardino)

Eloise Gómez Reyes

State Assembly, District 50 (San Bernardino)

How she voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 50 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 46%
GOP 24%
No party 23%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Eloise Gómez Reyes has taken at least $1.2 million from the Labor sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 27% of her total campaign contributions.

It’s no surprise that each group wants to paint their plan as the best: Officials are heading into an election year, and voter dissatisfaction with the status quo appears to be growing. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released late Wednesday found that Newsom’s approval rating among likely voters has slipped to 50%, down from 57% in January. And just 41% of likely voters approve of the Legislature, down from 44% in January.

  • Another example of lawmakers apparently seeking to respond to voter concerns: Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Torrance unveiled a bill Thursday to toughen Proposition 47, the controversial 2014 ballot measure that lowered penalties for some theft and drug offenses. But recent polls showing voter support for amending Prop. 47 weren’t enough to dissuade Democrats this week from shooting down another Democratic-led bill that would have reversed one of its key aspects.

2. Auditor slams state utility regulators

An electricity pole damaged by the Camp Fire lies near a Pacific Gas & Electric truck in Paradise on Nov. 14, 2018. Photo by Terray Sylvester, REUTERS
An electricity pole damaged by the Camp Fire lies near a PG&E truck in Paradise on Nov. 14, 2018. Photo by Terray Sylvester, Reuters

State officials are failing to hold California’s electric utilities accountable for preventing fires caused by their equipment, according to a scathing report Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden released Thursday. Tilden found that the newly created Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety, part of the Newsom administration, approved utility companies’ wildfire prevention plans even when they were “seriously deficient,” CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports

  • Included were plans from San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and PG&E — California’s largest utility, which sparked the deadliest wildfire in state history, the Camp Fire, that killed 85 people in 2018. 
  • The Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety also recently granted PG&E a safety certificate that allows it to “recover catastrophic wildfire costs from its ratepayers” or a state insurance fund.  
  • Another target of Tilden’s audit: the California Public Utilities Commission, which he criticized for failing to “use its authority to penalize utilities when its audits uncover violations.” 
  • Tilden also found that state officials aren’t doing enough to ensure utilities prioritize equipment upgrades in areas of high fire risk: In 2020, for example, utilities replaced or upgraded equipment on 1,540 miles of lines. But as of last summer, there were still 40,000 miles of bare power lines in high-risk fire areas, Tilden wrote. 

3. More state money for private college students?

Joshua Elizondo is a student at Pepperdine University. March 10, 2022. Photo by Lucian Himes for CalMatters
Joshua Elizondo, a Pepperdine University student, on March 10, 2022. Photo by Lucian Himes for CalMatters

As California’s public colleges and universities overflow with students — remember the UC Berkeley enrollment saga? — lawmakers are considering a proposal to increase the amount of money students at private colleges can receive through the state’s main financial aid program, Carolyn Kuimelis reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. Supporters say the bill would help make private colleges more affordable for low-income students, increase diversity and ease the capacity crunch in California’s public universities — but others warn it could end up actually reducing the number of community college students who transfer to private colleges while limiting aid for public school students.

CalMatters commentary

Disney’s lip service to LGBTQ+ people is no longer enough: Addressing social problems is no longer the sole responsibility of government and civil organizations, argues Christina Fialho, managing director of the USC Marshall School of Business’ Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab.

CEQA isn’t UC Berkeley’s problem: The university failed to plan for and develop sufficient housing for its ballooning student population, writes Eric Parfrey, a former member of the Berkeley Planning Commission.

Other things worth your time

Chevron, union schedule talks to end California refinery strike. // Reuters

Calls for action after regulators criticize delays in L.A. County’s public health system. // Los Angeles Times

Ninth Circuit overturns behavioral health care rulings that required insurer to reconsider thousands of claims. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento woman died after eviction from homeless program. // Sacramento Bee

Fogging company used mislabeled pesticides in California city purportedly to kill coronavirus. // East Bay Times

Bill seeks to expand access to medical marijuana — but some worry it could backfire. // San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland is trying to shut down a Denver-based firm using huge diesel generators to grow cannabis. // KQED

The tech exodus from California? It was a bust. // Los Angeles Times

Bass and Caruso offer divergent views of L.A. // Los Angeles Times

Lawsuit: California police accused of sex on duty, harassment. // Sacramento Bee

Oversight panel launches ‘full scale’ investigation of LA sheriff deputy gangs. // LAist

Second GOP senator this month puts ‘hold’ on Garcetti’s nomination to India ambassadorship. // Daily News

Oceanside City Manager Deanna Lorson abruptly resigns. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Orange County more likely than most to elect women to office, but gaps persist. // Orange County Register

California’s online community college faces third attempt to shut it down. // EdSource

What makes some California school districts so much better at preventing bullying? // San Bernardino Sun

California plan to fight climate change with biofuel draws worry. // Los Angeles Times

How one California transit agency electrified its fleet 18 years ahead of schedule. // Canary Media

CAISO approves nearly $3B of transmission projects to prepare for California’s clean energy goals. // Utility Dive

Cupertino megaproject will include world’s largest green roof. // San Francisco Chronicle

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...