Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven August 29, 2022
Presented by Pacific Environment, California School Boards Association, and California Water Service

T-minus 3 days for California lawmakers

It all comes down to this.

The two-year legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight, giving Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers just three days to hammer out agreements on complex, controversial bills and budget items encompassing everything from nuclear power to abortion to youth vaccination.

According to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli, legislators still need to determine the fate of about 525 bills, or about 175 per day. (Newsom on Friday signed a pile of less contentious bills already sent to his desk.)

Looming over the frenetic negotiations is the Nov. 8 general election, which adds an extra layer of political complexity when it comes to voting on controversial proposals — especially for lawmakers running for contested seats in the state Assembly and Senate.

And then are the internal politics stemming from the ongoing battle to lead the Assembly: Current Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat, reiterated as recently as this weekend that he intends to hold onto his crown when the next legislative session begins in January. But Assemblymember Robert Rivas, a Salinas Democrat, has for months been angling to assume the powerful position that helps shape the Legislature’s policy agenda and influences which bills stand a chance of making it into law.

In many ways, these next few days mark the end of a policymaking era: More than a quarter of the Legislature’s 120 members won’t be coming back next year, the largest turnover in at least seven years. Whom Californians elect to replace them could have a significant effect on the future policy debates and laws coming out of Sacramento.

But there are still plenty of debates to be settled this legislative session. Some of the most hotly contested topics include:

  • Farmworker unionization. Thousands of farmworkers and their supporters descended on the state Capitol on Friday, the last stop on the United Farm Workers’ 355-mile, 24-day march to urge Newsom to sign a bill to make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections after he vetoed similar legislation last year. But, as CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports, Newsom and the union have yet to reach a compromise on the bill, even after it was amended to include some provisions the governor supports. The revised bill would allow agricultural employers to choose between a union election — during which farmworkers could decide to vote by mail — or a “card check,” in which a majority of workers sign up indicating they want union representation. But the parties disagree on details of the proposed mail-in ballot process, and although the governor’s office emphasized there’s still time to reach a deal, “we cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election,” Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon said in a statement. Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, told Sacramento Bee opinion writer Melinda Henneberger that she thinks Newsom will sign the bill because “Gavin wants to be president, so he can go a step further and recognize that these are the people who are making California rich.”
  • Diablo Canyon. Democratic lawmakers, most of whom are none too thrilled with Newsom’s last-ditch proposal to extend the lifespan of California’s last nuclear power plant to help stabilize the state’s fragile energy grid, are discussing what could be the beginnings of a compromise with the governor’s office. The tentative plan would involve allowing PG&E, Diablo Canyon’s operator, to seek federal funds to help keep the plant afloat while delaying thornier questions about the facility’s future until the next legislative session, according to the Associated Press.
  • Abortion. Newsom — despite saying he wants California to be a “sanctuary” state for women seeking abortions as other states restrict the procedure following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade — didn’t include money in his May budget proposal to help cover travel costs and other expenses for out-of-state women coming to California. But he’s since reversed course, the Associated Press reports: A budget amendment unveiled Friday would authorize as much as $20 million in taxpayer funds to help out-of-state women travel to California for the procedure.
  • Youth vaccination. Lawmakers are set to consider today a highly controversial bill to allow kids 15 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent. In a sign of the uphill battle the proposal could face, it cleared its previous legislative hurdle only after being amended to raise the minimum age from 12 to 15.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,237,892 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 94,047 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 79,522,958 vaccine doses, and 72% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 California election updates

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington. D.C., on June 10, 2020. Photo by Erin Schaff, The New York Times via AP

It’s hard to believe, but California’s general election is just a little more than two months away. Let’s dive into the latest developments:

  • A new poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times found that progressive U.S. Rep. Karen Bass is leading the more moderate billionaire developer Rick Caruso in the Los Angeles mayor’s race by a widening margin, with 43% of the city’s registered voters supporting Bass, 31% backing Caruso and 24% undecided. The poll also found that had the effort to recall Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón gathered enough signatures, it would have had a good chance of ousting the progressive prosecutor from office.
  • Voters will decide whether Patricia Guerrero, an associate justice on the California Supreme Court, will become its next chief justice and the first Latina to hold the position — after a judicial commission on Friday confirmed Newsom’s nomination. The governor tapped Guerrero for the role earlier this month after current Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced she plans to retire on Jan. 1 instead of seeking another 12-year term. Newsom’s choice raised some eyebrows, as he had nominated Guerrero to the California Supreme Court fewer than six months before proposing to elevate her to its top position. But the Commission on Judicial Appointments, in unanimously confirming Guerrero, described her as “exceptionally well-qualified” and “universally lauded for her superior intellect, clear writing, judicial temperament, work ethic, and compassion.”
  • A fuller portrait emerged of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans, whom Newsom nominated to replace Guerrero as an associate justice on the state’s highest court, in a Saturday Los Angeles Times profile. Evans, who if confirmed would be the court’s first openly lesbian justice, said she was raised by her grandmother because her mother suffered from severe mental illness. Evans met her wife when they were both undergraduate students at Stanford, and they married in Oakland in 2008, one day before California voters approved a later-overturned ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. Her career experiences include serving on a team of federal monitors overseeing the Oakland Police Department and working as Newsom’s chief deputy legal affairs secretary, where she helped fend off a challenge to his moratorium on death penalty executions and advocated for a law restricting police use of force. (If confirmed, Evans wouldn’t go before voters until 2026.)
  • With San Francisco’s law allowing noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections recently tossed out by a superior court judge, the Mercury News and East Bay Times editorial boards on Saturday argued voters should reject similar proposals in Oakland and San Jose, deeming them “bad policy, potentially legally flawed and politically misguided.”

2 State issues progress report on homeless encampments

John Vasquez, 61, sorts through the remains of a fire at a homeless encampment in Sacramento on Feb. 24, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

California has cleared an average of 100 homeless encampments per month for the last year, totaling 1,262 sweeps since September 2021, Newsom’s press office announced Friday. Newsom and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also cheered a federal judge’s Friday ruling paving the way for Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency, to relocate about 200 of the estimated 300 people living in Oakland’s Wood Street homeless camp, which spans nearly 25 city blocks and is the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

But what exactly it means to clear a homeless encampment isn’t always, well, clear. On Thursday, for example, a Starbucks store in Sacramento became the first in Northern California to close due to safety concerns. The store was next to a homeless encampment that migrated there after Caltrans cleared the campers from where they’d previously been living under a freeway overpass, Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela told the Sacramento Bee. A Jamba Juice next to the Starbucks closed last month. Meanwhile, Sacramento voters are set to vote on a highly contentious November ballot measure that would expand shelter and force homeless people to accept it.

The disconnect between state policies and the reality on the ground was also evident on a recent stop on Michael Tubbs’ statewide “poverty listening tour” in Antioch. There, Newsom’s economic advisor met with renters and tenant advocates who told him that despite billions of dollars in state funds to protect at-risk renters, many in their community are still facing eviction. Tubbs told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli that his key takeaway was: “Money is no substitute for good policy. So we have a lot of money, but we also need the policy framework that goes with (it) to make those dollars go farther.” (Days later, the Antioch City Council passed a local rent control ordinance, one of a growing number of California cities to do so following voters twice rejecting a statewide rent control policy, the Los Angeles Times reports.)

3 A tale of two-plus dams

A view of the Klamath River in Weitchpec on Sep. 17, 2020. Photo by Alexandra Hootnick for CalMatters

Didn’t Isaac Newton say something about when one dam goes up, another must go down? Well, that could soon be the case in California: The federal government on Friday issued a final environmental report that brings it one step closer to demolishing four hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River along the Oregon-California border to help bolster the dwindling population of migratory salmon, the Associated Press reports. The removal of the dams — three of which are in California — would be the largest dam demolition process in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, the Golden State plans to build dams as part of its $4 billion Sites Reservoir project in Colusa County, which when completed would be the first major reservoir in California in nearly half a century and could help the state stave off increasingly dire drought. But state water regulators on Friday told project officials they need to strengthen their application for the right to draw water from the Sacramento River, because it doesn’t show that there’s sufficient water to actually fill the reservoir, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • Erik Ekdahl, a deputy director who oversees water rights for the State Water Board, told the Chronicle: “It has been this administration’s priority to move more quickly on regulatory permitting. At the same time, this is a big investment, and that means we should really take the time upfront to make sure we have the technical details right.”
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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The involvement of California’s Native American tribes in high-stakes political battles this year is the latest chapter in their amazing rise from slaughter and poverty into owners of a major industry.

Why San Bernardino County may consider seceding from California: It’s time to investigate why San Bernardino County is in the bottom third of state funding despite having the fifth-highest number of residents, argue Curt Hagman and Dawn Rowe, chairperson and vice-chairperson of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

6 wounded in Los Angeles bar shooting; 3 shot at Sikh temple in Stockton. // Associated Press

Oakland youth football team fled gunfire twice but won’t be crushed by violence. // San Francisco Chronicle

California does little to ensure all kids read by third grade. // EdSource

UTLA members vote to boycott optional school day aimed at helping students catch up. // Daily News

San Jose school sends boys home for refusing to wear face masks. // Mercury News

California lawmakers amend recently resurrected bail reform bill. // Sacramento Bee

California Legislature again fails to pass movie gun safety bill. // Los Angeles Times

California film tax credit extension put on hold. // Variety

State Sen. Jim Nielsen: California’s budget process is corrupt, no longer transparent and has poor priorities. // Pasadena Star-News

State Sen. Richard Pan will leave office as champion of tough vaccine laws. // California Healthline

Rep. Ro Khanna’s apology tour, and why Trump voters love it. // Politico

Op-Ed: I am California’s acting surgeon general, and I have bipolar disorder. // Los Angeles Times

Kaiser braces for 3-month strike, dangles incentives to mental health contractors. // Sacramento Bee

Cal Fire firefighters would get 3 raises in a single year, more time off in new contract with Newsom. // Sacramento Bee

California can’t require abortion coverage by churches, court rules. // Los Angeles Times

California’s extreme wildfires taking lethal toll on elderly who can’t escape flames. // Los Angeles Times

Sister of 73-year-old McKinney fire victim, dozens of others sue PacifiCorp utility. // Los Angeles Times

The fight against drought in California has a new tool: the restrictor. // CNN

California to install solar panels over canals to fight drought, the first in U.S. // CBS News

Blue states poised to copy California’s gas-car phaseout. // Politico

Column: What we lose when California bans gas-powered cars. // Los Angeles Times

Pandemic reversal: L.A. surpasses Bay Area train and bus ridership. // Mercury News

I tracked thieves stealing my car in S.F. Then I saw firsthand what police can — and can’t — do next. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Diego continues to lead on gun violence restraining orders, state attorney general says. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Affirmative action was banned at top two university systems, including in California. They say they need it. // New York Times

Gavin Newsom’s PlumpJack group buys vineyard in Napa for $14.5 million. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow

Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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