In summary

Gov. Gavin Newsom blasts Republicans, chides fellow Democrats and urges Americans to “wake up” on the threat to abortion rights.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom is running for reelection as governor of California, but from the impassioned speech he gave Wednesday outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Los Angeles County — and his repeated exhortations for Americans to “wake up” — you’d be forgiven for thinking he might be setting his sights even higher.

On the implications of a draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion to take away the federal constitutional right to abortion: “At a time when countries around the world are expanding liberties, expanding freedoms, expanding rights, here we are in the United States of America about to roll back rights. … And don’t think for a second — don’t think for a second — this is where they stop. … Wake up, America.”

On the Republican Party: “How about all of those women and girls raped in states where they don’t even make an exception for rape? Talk about extremist. … They claim to be pro-life, they’re pro-birth. That’s all this is about. This is the pro-birth party. And then you are on your own.”

On the Democratic Party: “I felt this enormous sense of frustration, like, Where the hell is my party? Where is the Democratic Party? You guys paying attention to what’s going on? … Across the spectrum of issues, where is the Democratic Party? Where’s the party? Why aren’t we standing up more firmly, more resolutely? Why aren’t we calling this out?”

The apparent implication behind those remarks: Where the party isn’t standing up, Newsom will; what the federal government can’t do, California will. “We’re not going to roll over. We will not back down. And we will continue to fill in the gaps and address the disparities that continue to persist,” the governor said.

Newsom’s press conference came the same day he released a campaign ad focused on reproductive rights, which he declared the “defining issue of the 2022 election.” But will that strategy prove effective in helping California Democrats turn out liberal and moderate voters even as the party faces strong national political headwinds? CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff takes a closer look.

Newsom — asked Wednesday why he was focusing on reproductive rights instead of issues such as inflation, skyrocketing interest rates and public safety when California already does more than any other state to protect abortion access — had a quick response: “Because rolling back fundamental constitutional rights has a profound impact across the spectrum of issues. It’s a foundational issue. Everything’s built off that fundamental right: Freedom.”

  • For more on Newsom and California’s plans to protect abortion rights: Join me and CalMatters Engagement Editor Meg Zukin for a Twitter Spaces conversation at NOON TODAY. Set a reminder for yourself here.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,631,663 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 89,694 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 75,238,171 vaccine doses, and 75.4% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Yee implicated in Blue Flame fiasco

California Controller Betty Yee during a meeting in Sacramento on June 28, 2016. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Remember the early days of the pandemic, when California wired nearly half a billion dollars to a face mask company that had been in business for just three days — only to claw the money back hours later when a bank flagged the transaction as suspicious? Text messages obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that Democratic state Controller Betty Yee — who isn’t seeking reelection this year due to term limits — worked behind the scenes to help the two Republican political strategists behind Blue Flame Medical LLC secure the no-bid contract. Yee assured the strategists she would “press governor’s folks” and ensure “the wire happens first thing this morning.” She also advised them not to disclose their estimated $134 million profit margin, noting, “If you share info with State, it may … become a matter of public record and make headlines.”

  • Rick Chivaro, the controller’s chief counsel, said in a lawsuit deposition: “The controller was merely trying to ensure that we had the face masks that we needed and other PPE to protect the nurses and the doctors that were handling these COVID cases.”
  • Yet Yee’s role in the Blue Flame fiasco stands in stark contrast to her role in another controversial pandemic no-bid contract: Her office for months refused to approve payments for a $35 million voter education contract then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office had awarded to public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker. Yee spokesperson Jennifer Hanson said the controller couldn’t legally pay the SKDKnickerbocker contract until the funds, originally earmarked for the counties, were made available for that purpose by the Legislature.
  • Controller candidate and Democratic state Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda told CalMatters this week: “Some of the no-bid contracts that have been put out during COVID, you want to make sure that the folks that took that money did the right thing.”

Text messages also formed the basis of a Mercury News investigation, which found San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and top-ranking Valley Transportation Authority officials sought to avoid publicizing federal estimates that BART’s planned extension to San Jose could cost $2.25 billion more than currently budgeted.

  • Liccardo: “To protect taxpayer dollars, it was my duty as a public official to avoid publicly discussing competing estimates for increased BART construction costs while private contractors were contemporaneously preparing bids on that same multi-billion dollar contract. Doing so would result in higher bids that would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. I would do precisely the same thing if I were confronted with this issue today, and I hope that any other public official representing our taxpayers would do so as well.”

2. Will CA follow Redondo Beach model?

Darin Backer hears from the judge at Redondo Beach’s homeless court on April 27, 2022. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

What’s the best way to help people experiencing homelessness access the care and services they need to get back on their feet? One approach is Newsom’s proposal to create a court framework to compel people with serious mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders into treatment; two San Diego city council members submitted a funding request this week to expand a city program that could place more homeless people into conservatorships.

And then there is the approach Redondo Beach took amid the pandemic: moving its homeless court program outdoors, in a central location where the unhoused tend to congregate, and incentivizing attendance by promising defendants they won’t be jailed for showing up. Participants are instead connected to housing programs, mental health and substance abuse services and legal assistance. The court has had an average attendance rate of 80% since September 2020, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports — and now Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Torrance is carrying a bill to expand such efforts statewide by offering counties grants to tailor homeless courts to their own communities.

  • Desiree Garibay, 31: “They actually work with you. I like just the fact they’re helping me with housing, just my own place finally to call home.”

3. Introducing: Homelessness super agency

A man walks at the homeless encampment located along Coleman Avenue between West Hedding Street and Asbury Street in San Jose on June 22, 2021. Photo by Dai Sugano, Bay Area News Group
A man walks by a homeless encampment in San Jose on June 22, 2021. Photo by Dai Sugano, Bay Area News Group

But, when all else fails, you can create a super agency on homelessness — which is what Los Angeles County supervisors voted 3-2 to do Tuesday on the recommendation of its Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness.

  • What makes the agency super? It’s intended to serve as a sort of superstructure to the county’s homelessness response, overseeing and coordinating efforts between its health, mental health and social services departments, among others.
  • Some supervisors applauded the new agency: It will contribute to a “framework for building a transparent, inclusive and accountable homeless governance system,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.
  • Others didn’t seem to think it was too super: It will “cause a thickening of the county bureaucracy and a process of administrative seat-swapping that will divert time, resources and attention,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “It’s like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic and thinking it will keep it afloat.”

In other housing news:

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A recap of Newsom’s first term: Reality bites.

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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...