In summary

High inflation is triggering an increase in the California minimum wage, while a measure to boost it even more appears headed to the ballot.

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Due to skyrocketing inflation rates, California’s minimum wage for all employers will likely rise to $15.50 an hour starting Jan. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said Thursday.

The announcement came during the administration’s preview of an $18.1 billion inflation relief package Newsom will likely discuss in more detail today, when he unveils a revised version of his January budget proposal — and it supercharges a debate already primed to intensify in a key election year.

Also Thursday, supporters of a proposed ballot measure to raise California’s minimum wage to $18 per hour announced having submitted more than 1 million signatures — far more than the about 623,000 required to land it on the November ballot.

  • Joe Sanberg, the Los Angeles investor behind the proposed ballot measure: “Tacking 50 cents onto the current minimum wage doesn’t come close to making ends meet for working families. We need a living wage of $18 per hour to keep pace with inflation so that working people and their families can afford food and a place to live without having to take on second and third jobs.”
  • California’s current minimum wage is $15 per hour for employers with at least 26 workers and $14 per hour for employers with fewer workers, though that was set to increase to $15 on Jan. 1.
  • But an inflation rate above 7% triggers a requirement that the minimum wage also rise at a faster rate — meaning all employers would have to pay $15.50 starting Jan. 1, said Keely Bosler, director of the state Department of Finance. She said the state expects to finalize inflation numbers in July.

While many labor unions cheered the announcement — “Increasing the minimum wage at this time of spiking prices is a just and urgently needed measure,” said David Huerta, president of SEIU California and SEIU-United Services Workers West — some small business owners said it could further impede California’s economic recovery.

Newsom’s proposed $18.1 billion relief package also includes:

Other Capitol updates you should know:

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,687,626 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 89,957 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 75,088,046 vaccine doses, and 75.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Mothers protest open-air drug markets

Gina McDonald, part of Mothers Against Drug Deaths, poses for a portrait next to a picture of her and her daughter Sam who lives in the Bay Area and is struggling with addiction. The group held a rally at the Capitol in Sacramento on May 12, 2022 to urge Governor Gavin Newsom to act and solve the state’s out-of-control, fentanyl epidemic. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters
Gina McDonald, part of Mothers Against Drug Deaths, poses for a portrait next to a photo with her daughter Sam in Sacramento on May 12, 2022. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

A record 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021, according to new estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — including approximately 11,700 Californians, a whopping 22% increase from the year before. The individual lives behind those stark numbers were highlighted Thursday at the state Capitol, when the group Mothers Against Drug Deaths called on Newsom to declare a state of emergency to crack down on the notorious open-air drug markets in places like San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The group, which previously erected a billboard in Union Square decrying the city’s drug markets, are now putting up some in Sacramento with the slogan “Welcome to Camp Fentanyl: Open to kids everywhere” plastered across a photo of tent encampments lining a sidewalk.

  • Gina McDonald told me her 23-year-old daughter, Sam, is in recovery for the fourth time to treat a heroin and fentanyl addiction after living in a tent in San Francisco and other California cities.
  • McDonald, herself a recovering addict, told me she was forced into treatment after experiencing meth-induced psychosis that prompted her to tear open electrical boxes and swallow cell phone SIM cards. She said the treatment saved her life.
  • She said many politicians are “afraid” to talk about forcing people into treatment because “they don’t want to be seen as trampling on someone’s civil liberties. … I think a lot of push is for this ‘meet people where they’re at.’ And I get that, you have to meet people where they’re at, but you can’t leave them there. They’re handing them things and saying, ‘Here you go, don’t die, do this safely’ — and walking away. That’s ludicrous. … If you don’t expect more of somebody, they won’t expect more of themselves.”
  • Jacqui Berlinn, whose 30-year-old son is also battling a heroin and fentanyl addiction: “I feel like I’m screaming into the wind and that people aren’t listening. … The enabling of drug addiction on the streets in our big cities is incredibly frustrating. … And with drugs that are so incredibly deadly, as are fentanyl, it’s enabling someone and basically just letting them slowly kill themselves.”

2. Big environmental news

Incoming sea water pipes at the Poseidon Water desalination plant in Carlsbad on June 22, 2021. Photo by Mike Blake, REUTERS
Incoming sea water pipes at the Poseidon Water desalination plant in Carlsbad on June 22, 2021. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

A slow environmental news day in California? No such thing. Let’s dive in:

  • Desalination plant: After more than 20 years of buildup, the California Coastal Commission on Thursday evening unanimously rejected a project that could very well determine the future of turning seawater into drinking water in drought-stricken California, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. So contentious was Poseidon Water’s proposal to build a $1.4 billion desalination plant in Huntington Beach that Thursday’s public hearing and discussion stretched nearly 12 hours. Still, commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth said the vote wasn’t necessarily the final word on desalination in California, pointing to more optimistic prospects for the proposed Doheny Desalination Facility in south Orange County’s Dana Point.
  • Nuclear power: Amid concerns that California won’t have enough power to keep the lights on this summer, Newsom said he’s considering applying for federal funding to keep the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant open past its scheduled 2025 closure. But that plan comes with numerous technical, financial and logistical hurdles, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports in this story breaking down five things you should know about California’s reliance on nuclear power.
  • Toxic cleanup: California’s new agreement with the Boeing Company to clean up Ventura County’s radioactively and chemically polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory has sparked criticism from some experts and residents who say it significantly reduces cleanup standards for key contaminants, the Los Angeles Daily News reports.
  • Wildfires: Southern California Edison told state regulators that it detected “circuit activity occurring close in time” to the Coastal Fire, which ignited Wednesday amid fierce coastal winds and desiccated brush and destroyed at least 20 homes in the wealthy Orange County city of Laguna Niguel. The Newsom administration has secured federal funding to help suppress the fire, which around 550 firefighters were battling as of late Thursday morning. Separately, a 26-year-old firefighter was struck and killed by a falling tree in Calaveras Big Trees State Park while preparing land for a prescribed burn, the Los Angeles Times reports.
  • Last but not least: Hot, dry, windy weather is expected across the state this weekend, fueling fears that more wildfires could spring up.

3. Will CA accelerate student housing?

The location of a proposed UC Santa Cruz housing project. Photo by Ryan Loyola for CalMatters

Speaking of the environment, college activists are pushing state lawmakers to pass a bill to fast-track UC, CSU and community college housing developments by getting rid of a secondary review currently required under California’s marquee environmental protection law, Ryan Loyola reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. But one big question remains: Even if the bill passes, will it actually make a difference?

  • State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat: “I don’t want to be here in seven years after this bill expires and have no student housing because the UCs and CSUs haven’t gotten their act together on doing it.”

In other higher-education news, here’s a dispatch from Colleen Murphy, team lead for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network: Students on Wednesday filed a class-action lawsuit against Mills College, an all-women’s university in Oakland, arguing it misled them about a merger with Northeastern University. According to the lawsuit, the merger has forced some Mills students to either change majors or transfer, “resulting in delayed graduation dates and additional expenses.” 

  • Jenny Varner, one of the lawsuit’s lead plaintiffs who transferred out of Mills in response to the merger, previously told the CalMatters College Journalism Network that it “just wouldn’t be Mills anymore.” 
  • The merger is set to be made final next month. More such deals are likely, particularly among private colleges facing financial pressure.
  • Mills said in a Thursday statement that it’s working with Northeastern to “mitigate any issues” students may encounter as a result of the merger and emphasized that current students won’t pay more to complete their degrees, even if extra time is required. The university also said it will help students craft plans to complete coursework. 

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CalMatters commentary

Affordable housing production needs less stick and more carrot: To meet California’s dire housing needs, policymakers must put less emphasis on mandates and instead harness the power of incentives, argues Jason Ward, associate director of the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles.

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Other things worth your time

Joe Buscaino withdraws from L.A. mayor’s race, endorses Rick Caruso. // LAist

Opinion: Six ways Democrats need to start talking — and thinking — about crime. // San Francisco Chronicle

$10,000 reward for info on Sacramento gang shootout suspect. // Sacramento Bee

‘I hope nobody is bleeding out’: They called 911 in Oakland. They were told they’d have to wait. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sikh man sues California county over response to alleged hate crimes. // Sacramento Bee

San Jose police officer on leave over allegation he gave meth pipe in exchange for information. // Mercury News

Why S.F. might be about to prohibit police from making low-level traffic stops. // San Francisco Chronicle

Chesa Boudin recall: Who would replace the S.F. District Attorney if he’s recalled? // San Francisco Chronicle

VTA demolishes Building B where mass shooting began. // Mercury News

Homelessness: OC counts fewer on streets, in shelters than in 2019. // Orange County Register

State Supreme Court rejects a challenge by landlords to S.F. eviction protection law. // San Francisco Chronicle

Atherton to consider building townhomes to avoid California housing fines. Some residents would rather pay $100,000 a month in penalties. // San Francisco Chronicle

Four years among the San Francisco NIMBYS. // The Atlantic

How the California Public Utilities Commission undermines the Public Records Act. // San Francisco Public Press

Oil companies price gouging in California, Consumer Watchdog says. // ABC 10

California unlikely to fix massive wage-theft claim backlog anytime soon. // KQED

Foster Farms plant in Merced County asked Trump to help evade COVID rules. // Sacramento Bee

S.F. courts won’t be forced to lift COVID restrictions despite hundreds of backlogged criminal trials. // San Francisco Chronicle

L.A. County doctors to vote on strike authorization. // Daily News

Will California teachers be ready to teach ethnic studies? Some say training needed. // EdSource

Hayward superintendent picked to lead S.F. public schools. // San Francisco Standard

Wildfires, smoke, heat waves endanger West’s summer camps. // Bloomberg

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...