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A key deadline in California’s pandemic response is looming: March 31 is the last day for residents to apply to the state’s COVID rent relief program.

Starting April 1, landlords can move to evict non-paying tenants in cities or counties without local eviction protections in place — even if they have rent relief applications pending before the state.

On Tuesday, advocates urged Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to “stop the eviction tsunami” by extending the rent relief program, citing a recent analysis that found only 16% of the nearly half a million renters who applied for state money had been paid as of early March.

  • Nur Kausar, a communications manager for the state Housing and Community Development Department, told me in an email: “This is an emergency program designed to address the specific need that resulted from the pandemic.”
  • Kausar added that although the state’s rent relief application portal closes on March 31, the program “will continue to operate until all complete applications received are processed and all eligible applicants have been paid.” She said the state has paid more than $2.47 billion to more than 215,000 households, though that’s less than half of the nearly 490,000 that have applied for relief so far.
  • Legislative staffers told me that conversations with stakeholders are ongoing.

Meanwhile, a Tuesday report from Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden found that California isn’t effectively using the state’s surplus properties to alleviate the affordable housing crisis — one reason why more than 1.4 million low-income households were unable to access affordable housing in 2021.

The report found that:

  • California could build more than 32,000 affordable housing units under Newsom’s 2019 executive order directing state agencies to identify surplus land for that purpose.
  • However, after surveying more than 44,000 parcels of surplus land, the state Department of General Services identified just 92 suitable for development. Of those, it’s made only 19 available for more than 1,700 units of affordable housing.
  • The department’s current pace means it would take another seven years to make the remaining 73 properties available — though adding just one staff member could slash that time by more than two years.
  • Tilden wrote: “The state’s need for affordable housing is significantly outpacing its production, which is negatively affecting Californians. … High housing costs often result in families becoming behind on their rent and going without food, utilities, or health care. Further, a lack of affordable housing correlates with a significant increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness.”

Also Tuesday, Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Democrat, unveiled a bill that would require the state to create an online database of affordable housing listings and help low-income applicants simplify their search for a place to live.

Housing and homelessness also played a central role in Tuesday night’s debate for the five leading Los Angeles mayoral candidates — as it did Monday, when a group of homelessness activists shut down a candidate forum at a San Fernando Valley synagogue by screaming profanities at the participants.

For the record: This item has been updated with the correct date of the rent relief application deadline — March 31.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,466,020 confirmed cases (+0.01% from previous day) and 87,498 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,488,563 vaccine doses, and 74.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. State Capitol roundup

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during the State of the State in Sacramento on March 8, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers the State of the State address in Sacramento on March 8, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Tuesday was a busy day at the state Capitol, so let’s dive right in:

  • Secretary of State Shirley Weber published the 2020 tax returns of the 2022 gubernatorial candidates. Newsom and his wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, reported $1.48 million in income — down from $1.69 million in 2019 — and paid $480,223 in federal taxes. GOP state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber and his wife, Assemblymember Megan Dahle, made $371,351; Republican businesswoman Jenny Rae Le Roux and her husband, Paul Le Roux, made $266,990; independent author and activist Michael Shellenberger and his wife, Helen Lee, made $363,390; and Republican Navy combat veteran Shawn Collins and his wife, Zeina Jafar, made $380,654. 
  • Newsom signed into law a bill to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for abortions and abortion-related services and slammed “continued attacks on reproductive freedom throughout the country” — shoring up California’s status as a counterweight to Texas and Florida
  • Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield’s bill to reverse a central aspect of Proposition 47 failed to advance out of a key committee — signaling that many California Democrats are loath to walk back criminal justice reforms despite polls showing voter support for amending the 2014 ballot measure that reclassified some theft and drug felonies as misdemeanors. 
  • A proposal to eliminate “involuntary servitude” as a constitutionally protected form of punishment cleared the Assembly on Monday and now heads to the Senate. If approved by voters, the measure could spark lawsuits that could force California to pay minimum wage to its prison inmates, who are required to either participate in education or rehabilitative programs or work for a monthly salary ranging from $20 to $56, the Associated Press reports. And it would “remove the ability to force anyone that is incarcerated to do work they choose not to do,” said Democratic Assemblymember Ash Kalra of San Jose.

2. Gas prices keep going up

Gasoline prices at a Mobil gas station in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2022. Photo by Ted Soqui, SIPA USA via REUTERS
Gas prices at a Mobil gas station in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2022. Photo by Ted Soqui, Sipa USA via Reuters

The average price of a regular gallon of gas shot to $6.01 in the Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area on Tuesday — making it the first in the country to surpass the $6 milestone, according to the American Automobile Association. Statewide, the average price for a gallon of gas hit $5.866, up from $5.855 on Monday — even as the national average continues to decline. The troubling trend will likely increase pressure on Newsom and state lawmakers to quickly settle on a plan for sending financial relief to residents — but in the meantime, Republicans aren’t wasting the opportunity to accuse Democrats of dragging their feet. The GOP Assembly Caucus on Tuesday released a “Truth vs. Lies” infographic about their proposed gas tax holiday, a day after unveiling a timer tracking how long it takes Democrats to put money back in Californians’ pockets.

  • Why are prices increasing in California but decreasing nationwide? Several oil refineries in the state have been experiencing problems that have limited gasoline production, driving prices up, Patrick De Haan, head analyst at GasBuddy, told the Los Angeles Times. And at another refinery, more than 500 workers have gone on strike.
  • Meanwhile, many Southern California counties on Friday will start requiring retail gas stations to sell “summer blend,” a more expensive mix of gas designed to reduce air pollution. Other counties are set to do the same on May 1 or June 1.
  • Demand for gas also typically increases in warmer weather — and California on Tuesday began experiencing a heat wave that could push temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than usual in some areas and is expected to shatter records across the state today.

3. California judicial updates

State Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero is Gov. Gavin Newsom's new pick for the California Supreme Court. Photo via California Courts
Justice Patricia Guerrero. Photo via California Courts

Tuesday was a big day for California and the judiciary. First, Patricia Guerrero, Newsom’s second nominee to the California Supreme Court, was confirmed by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments. Newsom is scheduled to swear in Guerrero on March 28 as the first Latina to serve on the state’s highest court. In November, voters will decide whether to keep Guerrero in office for the remaining four years of her predecessor’s term; former Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar stepped down last year to lead the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla questioned Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, during the first of two days of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • Feinstein’s questions focused on gender equality and abortion access.
  • Padilla asked Jackson about voting rights, the right to counsel and the federal government’s relationship with Native American tribes. And, perhaps because he’s facing reelection for the job to which Newsom appointed him in 2020, he took pains to emphasize his own backstory. In Monday opening remarks, Padilla said the country’s founding fathers “could never have imagined” that Jackson “would one day be here” as the first Black woman nominated to the country’s highest court. “Nor,” he added, “could they have imagined that list to include me … the first Latino” to represent California in the U.S. Senate. And on Tuesday, Padilla tweeted that he was “thrilled to celebrate my birthday questioning Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California is finally making progress on the vital Sites Reservoir project.

California gets a “D” for climate inaction: This grade reflects that California isn’t on track to meet its current goals to address climate change and hasn’t passed significant climate legislation in more than three years, argues Mary Creasman, CEO of California Environmental Voters.

Making California a state of belonging: Here’s how we can achieve health, housing, voting, schools, justice and equality for all, write Robert K. Ross and Minerva Carcaño of The California Endowment.

Other things worth your time

Sacramento school administrators say they’ve ‘lost confidence’ in district as strike nears. // Sacramento Bee

Several dozen employees at Disney’s Burbank headquarters walk out in protest over Florida bill. // LAist

CSU halts program that paid millions to departed executives. // Los Angeles Times

California community college officials eye new rules forcing districts to hand over data. // EdSource

UCLA apologizes and backtracks on controversial ad for unpaid adjunct job. // EdSource

Alvarez work for SDG&E could have violated city ethics law. // Voice of San Diego

Allegations mount against O.C. judge under fire from the state. // Orange County Register

Search for Russian oligarch wealth hits a wall in S.F. // San Francisco Standard

Mike Madrid: While Democrats debate ‘Latinx,’ Latinos head to the GOP. // New York Times

School apologizes after teacher leads California preschoolers in anti-Biden chant. // NBC News

London Breed is taking on San Francisco’s far left. Can she prevail? // Los Angeles Times

‘Bullied with middle finger tweets’: New school board eyes civility code after contentious era. // San Francisco Chronicle

Amazon pauses work on proposed San Francisco warehouse after city supervisors vote on delivery moratorium. // San Francisco Chronicle

The rich Bay Area millennials who want to get rid of their wealth. // Mercury News

L.A. launches largest universal children’s savings program in country. // Courthouse News

Wave of SRO listings have set San Francisco Chinatown on edge. // San Francisco Chronicle

SoMa sees spike in shootings as police, Urban Alchemy push drug dealers out of Tenderloin. // San Francisco Standard

USC project tracks police killings across the country. // LAist

District Attorney introduces ‘humane’ plan to reduce crime against and by mentally ill homeless people. // San Diego Union-Tribune

‘We have failed’: How California’s homelessness catastrophe is worsening. // The Guardian

L.A. County pushed to hand out 50,000 boxes of Narcan. // Los Angeles Times

San Diego leaders divided over ballot measure that could eliminate free trash pickup. // San Diego Union-Tribune

California warns of mandatory cutbacks to water rights holders amid drought. // Sacramento Bee

California wildfires: Expert predicts ‘busy June’ as lack of rain, early heatwaves ripen plants for fire danger. // ABC7 San Francisco

An ode to U.S. Route 395, arguably California’s best highway. // SFGATE

See you tomorrow.

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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...