California at odds over solving most intractable problems
“Mental illness. Substance abuse. Homelessness. These are all existential crises we have to address with urgency.”
That was Gov. Gavin Newsom’s response to a key legislative committee on Tuesday passing his controversial proposal to allow courts to compel people with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders into treatment — the state’s latest attempt to mitigate spiraling homelessness and drug overdose epidemics that are top of mind for many voters as the November general election approaches.
But although many state leaders, interest groups and activists may broadly agree on the set of “existential crises” facing California, they don’t always agree on how to address them — as illustrated by the controversies surrounding a pile of proposals aiming to help and protect the state’s most vulnerable residents.
First up: Newsom’s CARE Courts proposal. The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the governor’s bill Tuesday, but not without significant misgivings — which could prove increasingly difficult to overcome in upcoming hearings.
- Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat, became the first lawmaker to vote against the proposal so far. “I think that we should not underestimate the trauma that is incurred when someone is brought before the court system,” Kalra, a former public defender, said while wiping away tears. “This is about the dignity of the individual, this is also about their freedom.”
- Assemblymember Mark Stone, a Santa Cruz Democrat who leads the committee, cited a bevy of unresolved logistical questions. “I think part of the issue here is understanding what this really is, and it isn’t. … We’re getting late in the process with lots of questions and lots of issues.” The state needs to make sure it’s investing in a program it can “be proud of … rather than just something that is flashy … and we don’t have a lot of structure built around it ultimately for success,” Stone added.
Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story
State Assembly, District 25 (San Jose)
State Assembly, District 25 (San Jose)
Time in office
San Jose Councilmember / Educator
Asm. Ash Kalra has taken at least $1.5 million from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 53% of his total campaign contributions.
Former State Assembly, District 29 (Salinas)
Second: a bill to reform California’s troubled nursing home licensing system. Recent revisions to the proposal — which is up for a hearing today in the Senate Health Committee — have prompted one of its original sponsors, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, to attempt to kill it. CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener has the details on why the group is calling the bill “a step backwards.”
Last but not least: proposals to limit the negative effects of social media. Democratic lawmakers gathered outside the state Capitol on Tuesday to urge support for a bill that would force social media companies to publicly disclose their policies for handling online hate and share enforcement data. But the proposal, a version of which stalled last year, faces strong pushback from free speech advocates and business groups.
That bill is up for a crucial hearing next week, as is another proposal that aims to strengthen online privacy protections for kids.
- According to YouGov survey data shared exclusively with CalMatters, 37% of Californians aged 14-22 surveyed online May 13-25 said they worry about the way social media companies collect and use their information and data. A whopping 49% said social media apps should turn off unnecessary location tracking features; 44% said companies should prevent adult strangers from contacting young people online; and 39% said algorithms should be redesigned to stop promoting dangerous and hateful conduct.
- And 34% said companies should stop designing apps to be “intentionally addictive” — the focus of another bill facing a hearing next week that would allow California parents to sue social media companies for harms caused by hooking their kids on addictive algorithms.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,264,968 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 91,314 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.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Divestment bills shelved
Speaking of controversial bills, proposals to force California’s public pension funds to divest from the country’s largest oil and gas companies — and from Russia and Belarus following the invasion of Ukraine — appear to be dead for the year. Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove Democrat who leads the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement and was recently elected Sacramento County’s next sheriff, announced Tuesday that he will block both proposals from advancing past the committee.
- The California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California Teachers’ Retirement System — which together control about $775 billion in assets — had invested a combined total of $11.5 billion in large fossil fuel companies as of Dec. 31, 2021, according to a legislative analysis. And, as of late February, CalPERS and CalSTRS had a combined total of about $1.4 billion worth of exposure to Russia.
- Cooper: “Our hardworking public employees and retirees’ financial future should not be used as a political football. At a time when there is so much financial uncertainty and people are struggling to make ends meet, now is not the time to consider political divestment proposals that hurt the financial security of California’s pension systems.”
- CJ Koepp, communications coordinator for Fossil Free California: “It’s not surprising that our biggest obstacle to reducing the political influence of the fossil fuel industry in California and beyond is exactly that — the chokehold that Big Oil has on our political systems and our representatives.”
2 Key environment updates
And because there’s never a shortage of environmental news in California, here’s a breakdown of other must-know stories:
- California water officials are poised to release the first environmental review of Newsom’s controversial plan to replumb the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and thus protect the State Water Project — which provides water to 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland — from the intensifying effects of climate change. But Newsom’s vision of a single tunnel bypassing the Delta and funneling more water south still has to clear a gauntlet of reviews, would cost at least $16 billion and could take 20 years to complete, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.
- Meanwhile, Lake Oroville — the largest reservoir in the State Water Project — hit its peak water level for the year on May 8 at just 51% of capacity, the Los Angeles Times reports. For more on the water levels in California’s major reservoirs, check out CalMatters’ drought tracker.
- A triple-digit heat wave started rolling over much of the state on Tuesday, though monsoon-like moisture is slated to flow into the San Joaquin Valley, Sierras and Southern California today through the end of the week — potentially resulting in thunderstorms and lightning that could spark wildfires across California’s parched landscape. Two fires forced evacuations in San Mateo County Tuesday evening.
- Speaking of wildfires, the Newsom administration announced Tuesday that Cal Fire has hit peak staffing — meaning all stations are open and staffed 24 hours a day. The news came the same day an investigation from The California Newsroom found that Cal Fire “continues to fumble key responsibilities related to forest management and wildfire mitigation, potentially leaving the state at greater risk of catastrophic fires.” The department’s firefighters are also grappling with a worsening mental health crisis, CalMatters’ Julie Cart found in a recent investigation. Congress, meanwhile, is trying to pass legislation to protect California’s giant sequoias from intensifying blazes.
3 As housing bill dies, Prop. 13’s legacy evaluated
Joining the CalPERS and CalSTRS divestment bills on the list of proposals apparently shelved for the year: Democratic Assemblymember Tim Grayson of Concord’s effort to streamline California’s affordable housing financing. The bill, which failed to receive a vote in a crucial committee on Tuesday, aimed to overhaul a complex system of agencies that the state auditor last year blamed for causing California to lose $2.7 billion in affordable housing bonds. But State Treasurer Fiona Ma, who leads some of the committees in question, expressed her “fervent opposition” to the bill in a June 13 letter to state Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who leads the Senate Housing Committee.
- Ma: “The bureaucratic overhaul that (the bill) calls for would undermine many of the accomplishments, reforms, and synergies the Governor and I have ushered in since being sworn in … Such a drastic and fundamental change in California’s affordable housing effort warrants deep and meaningful studies of the risks — both known and unknown — weighed against the perceived benefits.”
In other housing news, Proposition 13 — the landmark 1978 ballot measure that capped California property taxes and spawned a family tree of related initiatives — has resulted in white homeowners getting annual property tax breaks that are on average more than 80% higher than those received by Black homeowners and more than twice the size of those received by Latino homeowners, according to a study being released today by The Opportunity Institute and Pivot Learning. But, as CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports, the study also found that Asian Americans’ share of the state’s housing wealth has risen from 4% to 19% over the past four decades — exceeding their share of population growth.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The U.S. Supreme Court just gave California businesses a win in the state’s long-running “tort wars.”
California needs to change how it deals with dying prisoners: Californians are worried about crime. Wasting finite correctional resources on people who are too sick to pose a risk to public safety will not help, argues Daniel Landsman, deputy director of state policy for FAMM.
Other things worth your time
U.S. Supreme Court denies Catholic bishops’ petition to overturn California sex abuse law. // CalMatters
U.S. Supreme Court rejects bid to end Roundup suits, leaves intact $25 million award to Bay Area man. // Bloomberg
Biden sides with pork industry in fight over California law setting standards for animal cages, asks U.S. Supreme Court for review. // San Francisco Chronicle
Drivers’ lawsuit claims Uber and Lyft violate antitrust laws. // New York Times
TV correspondent, accused of asking child for naked photos, hired Los Angeles County’s ex-D.A. as consultant. // Los Angeles Times
How San Francisco’s anti-corruption law is causing fundraising headaches in all the wrong places. // San Francisco Standard
Workers are unionizing across the country. Could staffers in the California Legislature be next? // San Francisco Chronicle
California EDD recovers more than $1 billion in fraudulent payments, Newsom administration says. // Sacramento Bee
California issues draft permanent COVID worker safety rule. // Bloomberg Law
Survey shows racial gap in broadband internet access in California. // Los Angeles Times
Berkeley school board votes to desegregate middle schools with new enrollment policy. // Berkeleyside
California campuses looking to offer housing for students and their children. // EdSource
Sacramento County ordinance could clear homeless encampments from parks and libraries. // Sacramento Bee
The liberals who won’t acknowledge the crime problem. // The Atlantic
California survey finds hot-button issues may spark voter turnout in November. // San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego retreats from ADU parking exemption, but only in coastal areas. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California trout to be euthanized after bacteria outbreak. // Associated Press
California wolf therapy helps teens learn forgiveness, acceptance and trust. // CBS News