Goodbye, gas-powered cars
Thursday was a day of climate contradictions in California’s state capital.
First, state air regulators voted unanimously to phase out the sale of new gas-powered cars, passing a rule that will require automakers to electrify 35% of their new vehicle fleets by 2026, 68% by 2030 and 100% by 2035, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had directed the California Air Resources Board to develop those regulations, called the move “groundbreaking and world-leading.”
Then, state lawmakers advanced a bill — just two days after it had been put into print — to accelerate cuts to California’s greenhouse gas emissions by requiring a 55% reduction to 1990 levels by 2030, instead of the existing goal of 40%. The bill is part of a five-pronged climate package that Newsom formally presented to lawmakers on Aug. 12, less than three weeks before the end of the legislative session next Wednesday. (His proposal to establish 3,200-foot setbacks between new oil and gas wells and sensitive areas went into print Thursday.)
Yet, as numerous legislators pointed out during a hearing on the greenhouse gas bill, California is not on track to meet its current emissions reductions goals, according to a 2021 state auditor report and numerous analyses conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and independent experts.
Indeed, at a separate hearing happening simultaneously, state lawmakers considered Newsom’s last-ditch proposal to bolster California’s fragile electric grid — and keep residents’ lights on and electric vehicles powered — by giving PG&E a forgivable loan of as much as $1.4 billion to prolong the life of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant.
The hearing underscored that Newsom is struggling to muster legislative support for extending Diablo Canyon’s lifespan, CalMatters environment reporters Rachel Becker and Nadia Lopez note. Not only are lawmakers circulating their own proposal that would instead funnel the $1.4 billion into renewable energy projects, but there’s also no clear indication that Newsom’s office and key legislators have reached a compromise or that a lawmaker has agreed to author the governor’s proposal.
The speed of the process has also sparked confusion and frustration: We “don’t understand all the aspects of this proposal because we received it at 10:08 p.m. last night,” said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network. “But we don’t believe anybody understands all of the consequences.”
State Sen. John Laird, a Monterey Democrat, added, “Why is this necessary to be done at this time with this level of rapidity?”
- State Sen. Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican running for governor who participated in both hearings, said during the one on greenhouse gas emissions cuts: “We are creating this crisis that we’re dealing with in the energy committee on the other floor, and I believe that this bill will do exactly the same thing. … We’ll have another crisis in a few years, because this is not going to work. … We haven’t achieved what we said we’re gonna achieve. That’s why we’re trying to keep Diablo open, because we don’t have the green renewable energy to support California right now.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting comments came from Democratic Assemblymember Bill Quirk of Fremont, the author of the bill to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Asked by Democratic state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, also of Fremont, how California would actually achieve the 55% reduction mandated by the bill, Quirk replied:
- Quirk: “Neither one of us will be here next year. You can lobby any senator, any assemblymember you want. We’re not going to be here, somebody else is going to figure this out.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,211,889 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 93,843 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.
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1 An avalanche of Capitol updates
Let’s dive into the rest of the flurry of news that flooded Sacramento on Thursday:
- As state lawmakers raced to act on hundreds of bills before next Wednesday’s deadline, legislative leaders announced their support for two competing housing bills after powerful labor groups were unable to resolve their differences on the proposals. Both bills would make it easier to build housing in now-empty stores across California — but contain different labor and affordability standards. The dual endorsement from the leaders of the state Assembly and Senate reflects their desire to speed up construction of much-needed housing in California, even if unions aren’t completely in agreement on how to do so, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports in her comprehensive breakdown of the two bills. “Every single interest group has a different interest and bills get hacked to death sometimes in the Legislature by 1,000 cuts,” said Democratic state Sen. Anna Caballero of Salinas, author of one of the bills. “In the end, we decided to do two bills that do two different things that will create an opportunity for everybody to get something that they liked.”
- A controversial bill to create a state council to regulate wages and working conditions in the fast food industry received proposed amendments that make significant concessions to business groups, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. The proposed amendments would eliminate a first-in-the-nation provision to hold corporate franchisors such as McDonald’s or Domino’s accountable for wage and labor violations in their franchise locations — an extension of liability that California applies in many other industries. Other amendments would create a 2029 sunset date and reduce the council’s powers, blocking it from creating new paid sick leave or time off requirements and from issuing rules around more predictable worker scheduling. Any minimum wages issued by the council would be capped at $22 an hour in 2023, and the council would have jurisdiction over fewer fast food chains, from those with 30 locations nationally to those with at least 100. Although business groups are still opposed to the bill, labor advocates are optimistic the amendments will be enough to sway moderate Democrats and push the bill toward final passage.
- Attorney General Rob Bonta released California’s 2021 crime statistics more than a month later than usual due to law enforcement agencies working to comply with new federal reporting standards. Among the key takeaways: California reported 2,361 homicides in 2021 — a 7.2% uptick from 2020, which itself saw a 31% increase from the year before. A firearm was involved in a whopping 75% of homicides for which a weapon was identified. Among the counties with a population of at least 100,000 people, Kern, Merced and Tulare reported the highest homicide rates. California’s violent crime rate increased 6.7% and the property crime rate spiked 3%, while the total arrest rate fell 7.3% and the number of full-time criminal justice personnel declined 2.7%. California also reported 628 incidents that involved peace officer use of force resulting in serious bodily injury or death of a civilian or officer, or the discharge of a firearm.
2 Medi-Cal gets new insurers
And now, for some Thursday health care updates:
The Department of Health Care Services announced the winners of its coveted Medi-Cal managed care plan contracts, granting just three bidders the opportunity to provide health insurance to the low-income patients who make up nearly a third of California residents, CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang writes. That’s a significant decrease from the nine commercial insurers currently serving Medi-Cal enrollees, and comes as the department embarks on an ambitious and wide-ranging strategy to overhaul Medi-Cal by improving outcomes and decreasing racial and ethnic disparities.
- The winners: Starting in 2024, Blue Cross of California, Molina Healthcare of California and Health Net Community Solutions will be responsible for overseeing the care of more than 3.4 million Californians, approximately 2.3 million of whom will need to switch health plans. (Kaiser Permanente has a separate Medi-Cal contract.)
- The losers: Unsurprisingly, plans that weren’t offered a deal have already announced plans to appeal the decision. Notably, Health Net, which has historically been California’s largest Medi-Cal plan, was outbid by Molina in Los Angeles and Kern counties, which collectively represent more than 1 million enrollees. The decision raised some eyebrows, as the Department of Managed Health Care recently levied a $1 million fine against Molina for failing to pay hospitals and doctors on time.
- The goal of the new contracts: Medi-Cal insurers have historically failed to provide quality care, and the new contracts require plans to meet stricter standards on things such as appointment wait times, childhood immunizations and mental health follow-up. Plans that don’t meet the standards will be required to invest profits into community organizations.
3 State wants closer look at Govern For California
California’s campaign finance regulator will not investigate a complaint into Govern For California, the subject of a recent CalMatters investigation that explored the nonprofit’s role influencing legislative elections and “pushing the envelope” of state campaign finance law. But Richard Miadich, chairperson of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said he intends to develop new regulations more clearly defining coordination among affiliated campaign committees, because he has questions about the independence of Govern For California’s network of 18 chapters and whether they could potentially be circumventing contribution limits, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff and Ben Christopher report.
- Miadich: “I’m troubled by the fact that this organization seems to be, I think, playing very close to the line. … It’s one thing to say you’re independent. It’s another to in fact be independent.”
- Nevertheless, David Crane, founder of Govern For California, declared vindication: “We are pleased that this baseless complaint was summarily rejected by the Fair Political Practices Commission, and that the legality of GFC’s organization, structure and operations have again been confirmed by the FPPC.”
Govern For California’s network as of Thursday had donated nearly $3.1 million to 113 candidates in the 2022 election, including 84 running for legislative seats, Alexei and Ben found. Its spending has taken on added relevance amid the ongoing squabble between Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas over who will lead the chamber in 2023. Rivas is one of the network’s largest beneficiaries; his brother, Rick Rivas, is its longtime advisor. (Crane and many donors to Govern For California are financial supporters of CalMatters, which retains full authority over editorial content and makes news judgments independently of donor support.)
4 State mismanaging gambling fund, auditor finds
From CalMatters economy reporter Grace Gedye: Odds are you’ve seen the ads — sports betting legalization will be on California’s November ballot, and tribes and gaming companies are vying for your attention. The two dueling initiatives can be confusing, in part because the way gambling currently works in California is complicated.
Indeed, one piece of the state’s system for regulating gambling isn’t working well, according to a Thursday report from the state auditor that found California is mismanaging a fund into which Native American tribes with large casinos pay.
The Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund — which California uses to pay for tribal casino regulation, treatment for people suffering from gambling addiction, and other needs — contained $127 million as of June 2022. That’s enough to cover nearly four years of expenses and a much higher sum than is considered best practice, according to the audit. (Unlike with personal finance, when it comes to government money, socking away more isn’t always better.)
The money built up because California was spending less than was coming in from the tribes, which are required to make payments based on set formulas. One reason why: Although the state previously used the fund to pay city and county governments impacted by tribal gaming, it hasn’t done so since 2015 because many tribes are now required to negotiate payments with local governments directly.
A 2019 audit also found that the state Department of Justice had inappropriately charged more than 27,000 work hours to the fund that weren’t actually related to tribal gaming enforcement. In the three years since that audit, the Department of Justice hasn’t fully reimbursed the fund, and has continued to inappropriately charge the fund for non-tribal work, the Thursday report found.
Prison-to-detention pipeline for migrants must end: California has passed important reforms to stop the growth of a punitive legal system — but those reforms haven’t extended to immigrant survivors of sexual, domestic and reproductive violence, argue Alisa Bierria and Lee Ann S. Wang, assistant professors at UCLA.
Other things worth your time
How nonprofits use a legal loophole to flip California homes — for a profit. // KQED
San Francisco offered them homes. Then it spent millions to kick them out. // San Francisco Chronicle
Sacramento homeless ballot measure can go to voters, judge rules. // CapRadio
Plan for iconic California park pits housing against history. // Associated Press
When Los Angeles slipped out of her budget, she looked east for more space. // New York Times
Millions could have helped downtown Fresno hospital. The money went to Clovis instead. // Fresno Bee
California may allow more ill, dying inmates to leave prison. // Associated Press
California Legislature passes bill to reclaim more EDD fraud money. // KCRA
Lawmakers ban state bar from spending funds to study letting nonlawyers practice law in the state. // Above the Law
California state workers hold out for raises of as much as 43% as contract talks fail with Newsom. // Sacramento Bee
California stem cell agency lists own board members with conflicts of interest. // Capitol Weekly
Pinterest is facing a civil rights investigation in California. // Protocol
NFL punter Matt Araiza and 2 SDSU football players accused in rape lawsuit. // Los Angeles Times
Dan Price, CEO known for giving raises, quits after Palm Springs rape investigation. // Los Angeles Times
Racist texts show Torrance police discussed killing Black suspects. // Los Angeles Times
Disgraced former S.F. public works chief Mohammed Nuru sentenced to 7 years for bribery scheme. // KQED
‘Slow and horrible death’: Gilroy councilmember sued over Halloween party shooting. // Mercury News
OC to pay $480,000 to former inmate who miscarried after deputies stopped at Starbucks on way to hospital. // Orange County Register
Gavin Newsom pledges $100,000 to Ron DeSantis’ opponent. // Sacramento Bee
San Francisco, Los Angeles billboard darkly warns about moving to Texas. // SFGATE
San Jose’s proposal to allow non-citizens to vote could be in trouble after San Francisco ruling. // Mercury News
California lawmakers renew call for feds to probe ‘drought profiteering.’ // Bloomberg
Is S.F. hoarding water? One environmental group wants the city to get real about its planning. // San Francisco Standard
Poll: Most Californians say drought is very serious, but many say it doesn’t directly affect them. // Los Angeles Times
Oil spill settlement reached with California businesses. // Associated Press
84 dead because of a broken hook. Meet the men who got the guilty plea from PG&E. // Wall Street Journal
California’s ‘climate migrants’ and the difficulty of finding a new home. // PBS Newshour
Anaheim officially recognizes America’s first Arab American district. // Voice of OC