In summary

California laws push progressive policies, but the courts push back, most recently a gender diversity mandate in corporate boardrooms.

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As California pushes the envelope with progressive, first-in-the-nation policies, the courts are pushing back.

The latest casualty: a controversial law requiring all publicly held companies headquartered in the Golden State to have at least one woman on their board of directors.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy Lewis on Friday declared the law unconstitutional, ruling that it violates the equal protection clause of California’s constitution by explicitly distinguishing between individuals on the basis of gender, CalMatters economy reporter Grace Gedye writes.

  • Duffy Lewis wrote: The law’s “goal was not to boost California’s economy, not to improve opportunities for women in the workplace nor not to protect California’s taxpayers, public employees, pensions and retirees. … The Court found the evidence offered by defense (the state) … demonstrated that the Legislature’s actual purpose was gender-balancing, not remedying discrimination.”
  • Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis tweeted: “Thanks to (the law), the number of women directors on California boards went from just 766 in 2018 to 1,844 just 3 years later. It’s disappointing to see this set back for such an effective tool to help us achieve equal representation.”
  • But the decision’s practical implications are limited, David Levine, a UC Hastings Law professor, told Grace. During the trial, state officials acknowledged they hadn’t been fining companies for breaking the law and had no plans to begin doing so
  • Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced Tuesday that her office plans to appeal the ruling, saying the decision would “allow systemic gender discrimination to create an impenetrable wall which excludes women from the State’s most influential boardrooms.”

The ruling comes about a month after another Los Angeles County Superior Court judge struck down a similar law requiring publicly held companies headquartered in California to have at least one board member from an “underrepresented community” — including those who identify as LGBTQ, Black, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Native American.

And it comes just a few days after a federal appeals court panel ruled unconstitutional California’s ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under age 21.

Meanwhile, other high-profile California laws are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court — whose conservative majority has repeatedly served as a political foil for Gov. Gavin Newsom.

  • Justices agreed earlier this year to hear a challenge to a voter-approved ballot measure requiring pork sold in California to come from pigs raised under conditions that animal rights advocates say are more humane.
  • And a group of California Catholic archdioceses and dioceses have asked the nation’s highest court to review their case against a state law that reopened a window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file legal claims against their alleged perpetrators, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred.

Another court test could soon follow if state lawmakers pass a Newsom-sponsored bill that co-opts the structure of Texas’ abortion ban by giving private Californians the right to sue manufacturers, sellers and distributors of illegal assault weapons, “ghost” guns and certain other firearms. Guns rights advocates have already voiced suspicions that such a law could be unconstitutional.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 8,707,327 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 90,117 deaths (+0.2% 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 75,290,805 vaccine doses, and 75.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Analyst warns of impending ‘fiscal cliff’

Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils his 2022-23 revised state budget in Sacramento on May 13, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

California could see a budget problem to the tune of $25 billion next year if state lawmakers approve Newsom’s blueprint as written, potentially forcing cuts to government programs, according to a no-nonsense Monday report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises legislators on fiscal issues. The analysis offers the latest — and starkest — indication that California could soon be headed for a “fiscal cliff” despite the state’s staggering $97.5 billion surplus. The report “strongly” recommends that lawmakers “consider building more reserves than proposed by the governor,” noting the state is facing “heightened risk of a recession within two years” and Newsom’s plan “includes very few proposals to help the state prepare for the next downturn now.”

  • The report adds that a recession isn’t the only risk to California’s bottom line — so is an obscure voter-approved constitutional amendment, called the Gann Limit, that blocks the state from spending more tax dollars per person than it did in 1978, once adjusted for inflation. The Gann Limit requires any excess money to be divided between schools and taxpayers or spent on certain projects, such as infrastructure.
  • According to the report, California could face $25 billion in such requirements by next year. And that’s a problem, because “for each $1 in revenues the state collects above the limit, it must allocate about $1.60 in constitutional requirements” — in other words, spend more than it’s bringing in.
  • H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for Newsom’s Department of Finance, pointed out the governor’s budget blueprint acknowledges the possibility “the limit may be exceeded in future years.” But he said Newsom’s proposal “positions the state well for those future uncertainties,” including by allocating most of the surplus to one-time spending and ensuring $15 billion of that “can be adjusted or dialed back as needed to deal with any changes” in future years.
  • When asked why Newsom didn’t put more money into the state’s reserves, Palmer responded: “We think better positioning the state to deal with potential energy shortages, a drought that we know we’re in the middle of, a wildfire season that has every potential to be as bad as last year’s or recent years’, and the fact that we want to provide immediate relief to Californians who have been suffering sticker shock that’s been driven by inflation — we think that those are immediate needs that can and should be addressed and we are addressing appropriately through revenues that are one-time in nature.”

2. Disabled patients lack timely dental care

Namirah Jones, at home with her mom Mia Costley, in Corona on May 2, 2022. Jones has severe autism as well as an intellectual disability. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

In other budget news, the California Dental Association wants $50 million to build special needs clinics and surgery centers across the state. Although tens of thousands of disabled Californians require special accommodations for dental care — such as wheelchair lifts or sedation before a procedure — only 14 centers in the state have the resources and equipment to treat them, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. And, although most Californians with disabilities are covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor, it’s accepted by less than one-third of all licensed dentists in the state.

3. Sneak peek of new homeless numbers

Mayor Sam Liccardo, left, takes part in the 2022 Point in Time Count for Santa Clara County in San Jose on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group
Mayor Sam Liccardo, left, takes part in the 2022 Point in Time homelessness count for Santa Clara County in San Jose on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group

Preliminary numbers from California’s first statewide count of its homeless population since 2020 are beginning to trickle in — and they paint a somewhat hopeful, albeit muddled, picture of the state’s progress in addressing one of its most persistent problems amid the pandemic. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • San Francisco saw a 3.5% drop in its homeless population, with volunteers counting 7,754 unhoused people on a single night in February, down from the 8,035 counted at the same point in 2019.
  • Most of the rest of the Bay Area saw sizable upticks, with Santa Clara County notching a 3% increase in its homeless population, Alameda County a 22% increase and Contra Costa County a 35% increase compared to 2019. San Jose, which is in Santa Clara County, saw an 11% uptick in its homeless population, while Oakland, in Alameda County, saw its number of unhoused residents skyrocket by 24%. Fremont, also in Alameda County, saw a whopping 69% increase in the number of homeless residents.
  • Orange County notched a more than 16% decrease, with 5,718 homeless residents this year compared to 6,680 in 2019.

Final tallies of homeless populations aren’t due until July. But experts say the early numbers suggest that an unprecedented amount of federal and state money to combat homelessness has made a difference in some locations, even as the crisis worsens in others and many voters express discontent with the state’s handling of the issue.

  • Gauging programs’ effectiveness is complicated: For example, although San Jose’s overall homeless population went up, the number of people sleeping in shelters — rather than on the streets — also increased, by a whopping 19%.
  • Jacky Morales-Ferrand, San Jose’s housing director: “While I am heartened to see our investments begin to pay dividends with fewer people on our streets, we must do more.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom is capitalizing on inflation and abortion issues.

Four strategies for watershed management: California needs to come to grips with the fact that conditions are changing in its most important watershed. Modernizing our drought and wet-year management tools is the best way to ensure that not every dry period becomes an emergency, write Ellen Hanak and Greg Gartrell of the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center.

Other things worth your time

Authorities: Hate against Taiwanese led to Los Angeles church attack. // Associated Press

State attorney general asks for hold on Angel Stadium land sale amid corruption probe. // Los Angeles Times

A top police group gave $250,000 to Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta. // San Francisco Chronicle

California cop killer gets minimum sentence, prompting El Dorado district attorney to rebuke judge. // Sacramento Bee

Big cross-border drug tunnel tunnel found linking Tijuana, San Diego. // Associated Press

‘It’s finally over.’ San Diego DA drops 22-year-old murder case against Jane Dorotik. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Court rules COVID restrictions impeded a Bay Area man’s right to a public trial, overturns gun conviction. // San Francisco Chronicle

In rural California, Republican Brian Dahle plants the seeds of a campaign for governor. // Los Angeles Times

Garcetti’s nomination remains stalled in Senate. // Los Angeles Times

CalPERS long-term care insurance lawsuit settlement canceled. // Sacramento Bee

Health insurance can now help some Californians find housing. // Mercury News

Investors are buying up mobile home parks. These Fresno tenants have a different idea. // PBS NewsHour

A sleepy California city gets the Elon Musk makeover. // Bloomberg

How a Del Mar fairgrounds vendor landed a no-bid contract extension in exchange for a $2M loan. // San Diego Union-Tribune

New state law for alcohol servers could leave many non-English speakers out of luck. // San Francisco Standard

Teens help lead union drive at Starbucks. // San Francisco Examiner

Strategies for California? Texas university helps students cross finish line. // EdSource

New California NIL bill could completely upend college model. // Los Angeles Times

Crashes and pollution prompt calls to close L.A. airport. // Los Angeles Times

These California counties will see the greatest increase in wildfire risk, new analysis says. // Sacramento Bee

California getting new state park, first in 13 years. // Associated Press

Joan Didion’s magic trick. // The Atlantic

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...