Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven May 19, 2022
Presented by California Cattle Council, NextGen Policy, and California Water Service

Sticker shock as California gas prices pass $6 per gallon

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The average price of a gallon of gas has officially surpassed $6 for the first time in California — and U.S. — history.

The Golden State set a new record Wednesday with an average per-gallon cost of $6.05, though the price climbed as high as $7 in remote Mono County, according to AAA. The national average, meanwhile, was nearly $1.50 cheaper at $4.56 per gallon.

Gov. Gavin Newsom — apparently sensing that skyrocketing inflation rates might top rising COVID rates on many Californians’ list of concerns — pivoted from vaccines to the soaring cost of living while speaking Wednesday at a Bakersfield clinic after receiving his second booster shot.

  • Newsom: “We are proposing an $18.1 billion additional package of relief … to address the pressures, the cost pressures, the inflationary pressures, that everybody’s feeling. … We recognize the world we’re living in, the anxiety and stress so many people are facing. But this state is better positioned than any other state to address those issues head-on, and we look forward to making real on these promises … by finalizing budget negotiations with the Legislature and getting those checks out.”
  • Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Lancaster tweeted: “To use Gavin Newsom-style lingo, CA Democrats have left CA’s most vulnerable in petrol purgatory by dangling the promise of relief. Republicans have a plan to provide it NOW” by suspending the gas excise tax.

The cost of living was also a major focal point of a Wednesday event hosted by Californians Against Retail and Residential Theft, a new group composed largely of business associations that aims to educate lawmakers and the public about the “growing wave of theft” it says has been enabled by Proposition 47.

Amid high-profile smash-and-grab-robberies and rising voter concerns about crime, Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike introduced a variety of bills to toughen the 2014 voter-approved ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain theft and drug offenses — to no avail.

  • David Nelson, director of public policy for the California Asian Chamber of Commerce, told me: “The overarching point, it’s true — it is a political calculation. And I think that’s why we continue to face headwinds within the Capitol. But … look, it is an election year and we are socializing these issues from a political perspective with candidates.”
  • One particularly powerful argument, the group seemed to suggest: the impact on everyday Californians’ pocketbooks.
  • Richard Wardwell, president of Superior Grocers and member of the California Grocers Association: “As a business, if I’m making $100 a day in profit and I lose $100 in theft, I now have zero profit. So in order to make a profit, I have to raise retail prices. … So you have the rising cost of fuel, you have the rising cost of labor, you have the rising cost of theft, the rising cost of insurance … If an employee approaches a person stealing and gets hurt, then the worker’s comp component goes into play and that’s a significant impact to the business as well. So all of that relates back to the cost on the shelf and how people can afford to buy it.”

In related news:

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,757,871 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 90,219 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 75,489,752 vaccine doses, and 75.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 State investigating Kaiser mental health care

The facade of the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center hospital on April 17, 2017. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

From CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra: California health authorities are investigating whether Kaiser Permanente is providing adequate and timely mental health coverage to the more than 9 million residents it serves, the state’s Department of Managed Health Care said Wednesday. 

  • The department received a 20% increase in behavioral health complaints for Kaiser in 2021 compared to 2020, spokesperson Rachel Arrezola said in an email. It plans to conduct a “non-routine survey” into Kaiser’s provider network, its appointment scheduling and follow-up processes, and care response times, among other things. 
  • The investigation follows years of mounting pressure from patients, advocates and even Kaiser’s own mental health providers, who have repeatedly voiced concerns about and gone on strikes to protest months-long appointment wait times.

Kaiser spokesperson Steve Shivinsky said the health care giant “has been on a multiyear journey” to improve its mental health care system, including by expanding virtual care, embedding mental health professionals in more settings and looking for innovative ways to grow its workforce. But, Shivinsky said, challenges remain. 

  • Shivinsky: “The need for mental health care in America has never been greater, and at the same time harder to deliver. The national shortage of mental health clinicians was a crisis before the pandemic … and the pandemic has set us all back. We also know the pandemic has strained our mental health clinicians.”

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents Kaiser’s mental health clinicians, said Kaiser is unprepared to comply with a state law — set to go into effect July 1 — that will require all health plans to provide follow-up mental health therapy appointments within ten business days.  

The union said Kaiser should not be allowed to grow its Medi-Cal presence, as outlined in a controversial no-bid contract proposal currently making its way through the Legislature, until the state can guarantee that Kaiser will be able to meet access standards as required by law. 

2 A big day at the Capitol

A night view of the California State Capitol dome in Sacramento. Photo via iStock

Happy Suspense File Day to all who celebrate! Today, state lawmakers are slated to embark on a rapid-fire and often mysterious procedure that allows them to consider huge piles of costly bills all at once and gauge their fiscal priorities. But, as CalMatters has previously reported, the Capitol’s most powerful legislators can also use the suspense file to block controversial bills from advancing — typically without explanation, and sometimes without a public vote that could force their colleagues into politically precarious positions. There are nearly 1,000 bills on the state Assembly and Senate‘s suspense files combined, according to veteran lobbyist and adjunct law professor Chris Micheli.

Here’s a look at some of the bills CalMatters will be monitoring:

3 Newsom gets 2nd booster shot

Gov. Gavin Newsom received a Moderna COVID-19 booster shot from California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in Oakland on Oct. 27, 2021. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo

Newsom on Wednesday received his second booster shot of the Moderna vaccine at a Bakersfield clinic — “You’ve got all the contours of my muscles, right?” he joked with photojournalists — about seven months after receiving his first booster. The governor acknowledged that California’s COVID test positivity rate is ticking back up — this week, it reached 5% for the first time since February — but managed to work in a dig at Florida, noting its test positivity rate is over 12%.

  • Newsom: “This waning immunity is a thing of — I don’t want to say of concern — but something we need to monitor, something we need to be focused on, particularly now as we’re seeing our positivity rate break 5%. … We’re starting to see hospital numbers creep modestly back up, ICUs modestly. Nothing to be alarmed at, at this moment, we have a plan, it’s the SMARTER plan — we were the first state to put out an endemic plan.”

Also Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health announced plans to upgrade 146 state-funded OptumServe testing clinics to “Test to Treat sites,” which will allow residents to get tested for COVID and, if found positive, connect virtually with a provider and possibly be prescribed antiviral pills. State health officials noted that services are free and designed for uninsured residents; find a participating testing location near you here.

4 California environment updates

The Contra Costa Canal winds through Oakley on Feb. 9, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

A few quick environmental updates for you:

  • Amid California’s pervasive drought, Democratic state Sens. Melissa Hurtado of Hanford and Dave Cortese of Campbell asked the U.S. Department of Justice in a Tuesday letter to “intervene immediately” in the “sharp increase in the purchasing of water rights by hedge-funds that have been taking place at least since 2015.” This “anti-competitive” practice, the senators allege, “has the potential to subvert our regional water and our overall security.” They also noted that thieves have been stealing California’s scarce water to irrigate illegal marijuana farms.
  • California now has until July 5 to decide whether it wants to keep open the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, after the federal government announced Wednesday a 47-day extension of the funding application deadline.
  • Starting today and lasting through Friday, most of Northern California will be under a fire weather watch as high temperatures, low humidity, gusty winds and dry vegetation collide to form what forecasters warn could be a veritable tinderbox.
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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Of the four proposed ballot measures to legalize sports betting in California, just two remain — and only one might face voters this year.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

Elon Musk says three things are ruining California. // The Street

Feds send team to investigate Tesla crash in Southern California that killed 3. // MarketWatch

Woman serving life in California prison led $2 million unemployment fraud scheme, prosecutors say. // Los Angeles Times

Sacramento police chief confronts ‘alarming’ gun violence in first months on job. // Sacramento Bee

Survivors of sexual abuse at the California Legislature and public universities shouldn’t be excluded. // Daily News

Women who accused CSU official of misconduct dismayed at result. // Los Angeles Times

How did a small California university end up with a $12 million painting? // Mercury News

University students obtain housing assistance. Why can’t community college students? // End Poverty in California

LAUSD expecting 30% enrollment drop in the next decade. // Los Angeles Times

More CSU students graduate during pandemic, but drop may loom. // EdSource

Schools have dominated elections for the past year. So why is the state superintendent race such a snooze? // San Francisco Chronicle

Editorial: San Jose voters should reject moving mayoral election. // Mercury News

Redistricting drama continues as elections commissioner resigns in wake of turmoil. // San Francisco Standard

How Kevin Kiley won Donald Trump’s California Congress endorsement. // Sacramento Bee

With Feuer out, Caruso, Bass, De León vie for the undecideds. // Los Angeles Times

Homeless families living in vehicles are filling this quiet S.F. neighborhood. // San Francisco Chronicle

Omar Passons, who heads county’s Office of Homeless Solutions, is leaving position. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Time for California to mimic Vancouver’s safe drug-use sites. // Los Angeles Times

City Council will declare Oakland a pro-choice sanctuary city. // The Oaklandside

Will Fresno Starbucks organizing spur union ‘awakening’ for workers? // Fresno Bee

Homeowners sue SoCal Edison, claiming faulty equipment sparked Coastal fire. // Los Angeles Times

FEMA turned down California county’s request for wildfire aid. Residents beg Biden for help. // Sacramento Bee

East County’s $950M water recycling project could be in jeopardy as San Diego nixes pipeline deal. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Protests erupt as Foster City considers killing geese. // Sacramento Bee

Invasive jumping worms have made their way into California, and scientists are worried. // SFGATE

Scientists have just learned an amazing new fact about California redwood trees. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow

Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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