Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Ben Christopher August 22, 2022
Presented by Sutter Health

Clash of the titans

The end of the legislative year is upon us and that can only mean one thing in California: We’re about to have another loud debate about a controversial housing bill.

It’s a Sacramento tradition years in the making. Legislators like to wait until the last minute (sometimes literally) to consider the year’s most contentious pieces of legislation. For the last half decade, big-ticket housing bills have regularly topped that list. 

This year’s hot housing item: Assembly Bill 2011, authored by Oakland Democrat Buffy Wicks, which aims to make it easier for developers to convert vacant strip malls and other storefronts into affordable apartment buildings. 

Usually Capitol housing debates pit “Yes in my Backyard” pro-housing advocates and developers against  landlords and other defenders of local control. But this year’s debate has a new wrinkle, CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias explains. That’s because Wicks’ bill pits union against union. 

  • For the bill: The state’s carpenters union, as well as the largest unions representing teachers and health care workers.
  • Against it: The Building and Construction Trades Council and the AFL-CIO umbrella group, the California Labor Federation.

At issue: The Trades want a requirement that a certain share of the workers on projects authorized by the bill come from apprenticeship programs. The carpenters say there aren’t enough of those program grads to fill the need. The Trades say this is one way to fix that. 

Wicks said she isn’t looking to pick a labor-on-labor fight. But she may not wait around on a compromise.

  • Wicks: “If a deal isn’t reached, many of the colleagues I’ve spoken to in the Senate are prepared to support the vote for solving this problem.”

Besides housing here are a few other hot-button proposals still awaiting a possible floor vote:

Gov. Gavin Newsom has his own decision to make today. 

The Legislature already passed a bill that would let certain cities set up supervised injection facilities — places where drug users can shoot up with clean needles under the watchful eye of trained medical professionals. Newsom has until the end of today to sign it — or not.

MeToo unit revise: Legislative leaders announced on Friday that changes are coming to the Capitol’s Workplace Conduct Unit, the body tasked with investigating allegations of workplace harassment and mistreatment. 

The four-year-old unit was created in the wake of a series of high-profile harassment allegations that led to the resignation of three Democratic legislators. Responding to criticism from advocates and reporting in the San Francisco Chronicle that the unit’s operations are opaque and that survivors are often left in the dark, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said the unit already has received more resources and that it’s committed to providing more regular updates on its investigations.

The two leaders also vowed to create a “navigator” position — someone tasked with providing “clarity and support for those participating in the WCU process.”

In an email exchange with CalMatters reporter Sameea Kamal, Ruth Ferguson, a former legislative staffer who accused a colleague of harassment and the founder of Stop Sexual Harassment in Politics, said she was pleased with the announcement but was waiting on further details.

  • Ferguson: “We will continue to work with Pro Tem Atkins’ office to ensure that survivors have a seat at the table as these changes are implemented.”
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,175,617 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 93,704 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 79,368,117 vaccine doses, and 71.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 Minding the Cal State Black graduation gap

Christopher Carter, 22, a fifth-year communications student at Cal State Northridge, stands for a portrait on Aug. 19, 2022. “I want the world to know that as a young Black man, you can achieve big things in life,” Carter said. “Through all the trials and tribulations, don’t quit.” Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

As the nation’s largest public university system, Cal State is meant to be an engine of upward mobility. But for a disproportionate number of Black students, it’s an engine that routinely sputters.

In a deep-dive of graduation rates across the system, CalMatters higher ed reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn and former College Journalism Network Fellow Michaella Huck teamed up with CBS13 investigative journalist Julie Watts and found that the gap in graduation rates between Black CSU students and students from well-represented demographic groups hasn’t budged in more than a decade.

Over the last six years, the Black graduation rate was just 50%. That’s compared to an overall rate of 63%.

And despite a pro-graduation campaign backed by $400 million in ongoing state support, the gap at 11 of the 22 campuses analyzed has only grown in the last four years.

Why are these disparities so stubbornly persistent? Mikhail, Michaella and Julie spoke to students, faculty and experts and found there isn’t a single answer, but many. Among them: A lack of Black faculty role models, patchy support for resource centers, a lack of financial aid and mental health services.

For Cal State Northridge senior Christopher Carter it was the lack of academic advisors and mental health counselors — especially Black ones who, he said, might have a better sense of where he was coming from.

  • Carter: “I feel like I’m alone on campus … I don’t see those counselors who look like me, to where I’m like, okay, I’m comfortable here, you know?”

2 “MPox” update

Staff prepare monkeypox vaccines for administration at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Aug. 12, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

In a sign that the worst of the pandemic might really be behind us, a lot of public health news broke over the weekend — and none of it was about COVID-19.

So I’m handing half the newsletter over to the real expert here, CalMatters health policy reporter Ana B. Ibara with the latest on monkeypox — or as Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state’s public health officer, prefers to call it, “Mpox”:

In a Friday media call, Aragón shared a new strategy to stretch current vaccine supply and an updated isolation guidance: Rather than injecting a full vial into the fat layer underneath the skin, the new federally approved protocol is to inject one-fifth of a vial into the skin.

California needs between 600,000 to 800,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine to vaccinate its at-risk population, including its LGBTQ residents. The state has received a little more than 109,400 doses.  

  • Aragón: “We do not have enough, and that’s why the intradermal strategy is really critical.” 

With this approach, providers can now divide a vial into five doses, increasing its supply. 

The FDA approved administering the monkeypox vaccine, Jynneos, via this intradermal approach earlier this month, and in the Bay Area, some medical providers are already administering vaccines this way, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  

As of Aug. 18, California has reported 2,660 suspected or confirmed cases, 62 hospitalizations and no known deaths. More than half of the cases are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

While there are growing concerns about inequitable distribution of vaccine doses across the state, Aragón said that the state’s distribution to counties is based on case counts — the more cases, the greater the allocation of doses. 

The state last week also released updated isolation guidance, which mirrors the feds’ but includes a little more detail. 

The guidance instructs people who become infected to stay home unless they need to see their doctor. People should isolate until their skin lesions have completely healed — that means scabs have fallen off and a fresh layer of skin has formed. It also calls for infected people to avoid having sex, kissing, hugging, and skin-to-skin contact in general. People should also avoid sharing bedding, towels, utensils or cups, and electronics. And if people live with others, they should cover their lesions with clothing or gauze, and frequently disinfect shared areas, like bathrooms.

3 Medi-Cal showdown settlement

Rob Bonta speaks to the press during a visit to Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Alameda on March 16, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Another bit of news from Ana: 

Ventura County’s local Medi-Cal plan and three providers will pay a total of $70.7 million in settlements resolving allegations that these health systems knowingly misused Medi-Cal funds, the U.S. and California Departments of Justice announced last week. Of that, California will receive $2.45 million plus interest.

Gold Coast Health Plan, a Medi-Cal plan for Ventura County residents, along with its network providers Dignity Health, Clinica del Camino Real and Ventura County (which runs the county hospitals) “submitted false claims in an organized scheme to wrongfully retain federal funds” that were designated to expand Medi-Cal coverage to more people under the Affordable Care Act, according to a press release from Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office. Medi-Cal is the health insurance program for low-income people. 

  • Bonta’s office: “Medi-Cal props up our communities by providing access to free or affordable healthcare services for millions of Californians and their families. Those who attempt to cheat the system are cheating our communities of essential care.”
  • Nick Liguori, CEO at Gold Coast Health Plan: “Although (the health plan) believes that its disbursements to providers under this program were lawful and proper, we agreed to participate in a mediation with the regulators to reach a settlement to prevent an expensive and protracted process.”

CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California is losing population and some of those leaving the state are high-income taxpayers who provide a huge share of the state’s revenues.

Wildlife crossings make roads safer for both animals and humans, writes Assemblymember Laura Friedman.

A bill to convert idle commercial land into homes isn’t just good housing policy, but a vital step to combat the climate crisis, write Dan Silver of the Endangered Habitats League and Amanda Brown Stevens of the Greenbelt Alliance.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

The casualties of California legalizing pot: Growers who went legal // Washington Post

Why Kaiser Mental Health Workers Are Striking // KQED

Paradise gets huge share of federal fire relief grants // Sacramento Bee

Want a free vasectomy? California could soon have you covered // Los Angeles Times

Rip up your lawn for $6 a square foot? Welcome to drought-stricken California // CNN

From Taipei to Cupertino: My dad and Kurt Cobain // New Yorker

Oakland sued over ballot measure to let non-citizens vote // EdSource

A dad took photos of naked son for the doctor. Google tagged him a criminal // New York Times

Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy testifies dead rat was warning from colleagues // LAist

Western fires outpace California effort to fill inmate crews // Associated Press

Opinion: Are San Francisco dogs getting high off meth-laced poop? // Los Angeles Times

See you tomorrow

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