What’s behind Newsom’s safe injection sites veto?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven August 23, 2022
Presented by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, FIX PAGA: A Better, Fairer Way for Workers and Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership

What’s behind Newsom’s safe injection sites veto?

Read between the lines of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Monday veto of a controversial bill that would have allowed San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles to launch trial supervised drug injection sites in a bid to curb California’s epidemic of fatal overdoses, and you might catch a glimpse of the political tightrope he’s walking.

Although the governor’s veto message raises concerns about the operation of supervised injection sites — which currently aren’t allowed under federal law — it appears particularly apprehensive about the number of facilities that could have sprung up following his signature.

  • Newsom: “The unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill would authorize — facilities which could exist well into the later part of this decade — could induce a world of unintended consequences.”

Newsom added that he’s directing the state’s top health official to meet with cities and counties about best practices for overdose prevention programs, and he remains “open to this discussion when those local officials come back to the Legislature with recommendations for a truly limited pilot program.”

What exactly “truly limited” means is unclear. But it suggests that the governor — who in recent months has been amplifying his national profile and taking shots at prominent Republican officials in what some see as groundwork for a future presidential run — is trying to avoid lending legitimacy to the largely GOP-driven narrative of California as a needle-infested, drug-overrun dystopia.

  • Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City: “Providing state subsidized and supervised drug consumption is a sign that Capitol Democrats have given up on governing. This bill should have never made it to the Governor’s desk in the first place. I am very grateful to the Governor for being the sense of reason in this case.”

At the same time, by pinpointing the number of sites — not the sites themselves — as a primary sticking point, Newsom may also be seeking to minimize pushback from progressive Democrats in his native San Francisco and the country at large.

But the pushback was pretty strong Monday. State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, the proposal’s author, said it wasn’t “a radical bill by any stretch of the imagination,” adding, “We don’t need additional studies or working groups to determine whether safe consumption sites are effective. We know from decades of experience and numerous peer-reviewed studies that they work.”

  • Indeed, San Francisco may proceed with supervised drug injection sites on its own: City Attorney David Chiu said Monday that he “fully support(s)” a nonprofit currently offering overdose prevention programs, and Mayor London Breed tweeted, “We will keep working with our community partners to find a way forward.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Scott Wiener

Scott Wiener

State Senate, District 11 (San Francisco)

Scott Wiener

State Senate, District 11 (San Francisco)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 11 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 62%
GOP 7%
No party 25%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Scott Wiener has taken at least $904,000 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 13% of his total campaign contributions.

James Gallagher

James Gallagher

State Assembly, District 3 (Chico)

James Gallagher

State Assembly, District 3 (Chico)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 3 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 31%
GOP 40%
No party 19%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. James Gallagher has taken at least $566,000 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 10% of his total campaign contributions.

Other legislative updates you should know:

  • Among the stack of bills Newsom signed into law Monday was one to allow local government agencies to eject people from public meetings for disorderly conduct. Legislative Republicans opposed the bill, which Gallagher described as a “direct attack on parents coming to … school board meetings and voicing their passionate displeasure with how our schools have been managed.”
  • Lawmakers sent to Newsom’s desk a bill that would allow Californians to sue people in civil court for electronically sending them unwanted sexual pictures — watered down from an earlier proposal that would have made the action a criminal offense, the Los Angeles Times reports.
  • Several other bills met their death, including one that would have required prominent health warning labels on cannabis products. After industry opposition “torpedoed” the bill with proposed changes that “would have resulted in it bearing little resemblance to its original form,” its sponsors decided to table the proposal until next year.

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.


1 Inside behind-the-scenes debates

Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo. Photo by Lionel Hahn/REUTERS
The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo. Photo by Lionel Hahn, Reuters

However, some of the most heated debates of the waning days of the legislative session, which ends Aug. 31, are happening behind closed doors. They include:

  • To keep Diablo Canyon alive, or to not keep Diablo Canyon alive: Not long after the Newsom administration unveiled draft legislation to give PG&E a forgivable loan of as much as $1.4 billion to extend the life of California’s last nuclear power plant past its planned 2025 closure — a move it said would help stabilize the state’s fragile power grid — some Democratic lawmakers have countered with a proposal that doesn’t involve keeping Diablo Canyon running. Instead, the lawmakers want to funnel the $1.4 billion into accelerating clean energy projects; installing energy-efficient appliances, including solar panels and storage, in low-income Californians’ homes; and subsidizing electric bills, the Associated Press reports. Newsom spokesperson Anthony York told the Associated Press that the proposal, which he said originated in the state Assembly, “feels like fantasy and fairy dust, and reflects a lack of vision and a lack of understanding about the scope of the climate problem.”
  • Delaying seismic upgrades to hospital facilities while raising the minimum wage for some health care workers. The two-pronged proposal, the language of which is still being negotiated behind closed doors and doesn’t yet have a lawmaker attached as an author, is backed by an unlikely alliance: The California Hospital Association, an industry group that lobbies on behalf of hospitals, and the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, an influential union representing health care employees, the Los Angeles Times reports. The two groups have been locked in a series of battles in Southern California cities, where the union has been pushing a $25 minimum wage for health care workers at privately owned facilities over the opposition of the hospital association. But joining forces at the state level may be strategic: The California Hospital Association, which has long sought to delay a state law requiring all facilities to be able to withstand the effects of a massive earthquake by 2030 — citing costs it says could reach $100 billion — was told last year any such proposal would need union support to gain traction in the Legislature. And SEIU-UHW, which has fielded three statewide ballot measures in the last four years to tighten regulations on dialysis clinics, is known for leveraging unusual tactics to achieve its political goals. But the alliance has angered other unions — including the California Nurses Association and State Building & Construction Trades Council — which sent Newsom and legislative leaders a letter last week announcing their fierce opposition to the potential deal.

2 CHP shares annual travel costs

A group of California Highway Patrol officers ride motorcycles in Covina on December 10, 2015. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters
A group of California Highway Patrol officers rides motorcycles in Covina on Dec. 10, 2015. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

Newsom’s family trip to Montana last month made headlines not only because the governor’s office initially seemed reluctant to share where he had gone, but also because Montana is among the 23 states to which California has banned state-funded travel due to policies it deems discriminatory to LGBTQ+ people. (The latest, Georgia, was added last week.) Newsom and his office repeatedly emphasized that he hadn’t broken the law, noting that the Montana vacation was a personal trip paid for with personal funds. But questions remained about Newsom’s security detail — which is paid for by California taxpayers — even as the governor’s office and the California Highway Patrol said the travel ban exempts state-funded travel for “the protection of public health, welfare, or safety.”

In response to a public records request I filed with the California Highway Patrol about expenditures during Newsom’s Montana trip, the agency said it had records responsive to my request but declined to release them, citing security concerns. It also declined to release itemized costs for the trip, which it said “would reveal sensitive security information,” or “aggregate costs for a specific trip,” which “would reveal the scope of the protective detail.”

However, “in the interest of public transparency,” the California Highway Patrol disclosed the annual travel costs for Newsom’s protective detail: more than $221,000 in 2021, and nearly $132,000 as of Aug. 17, 2022.

3 A mixed bag of economic news

A sign hangs for a business looking to hire CDL drivers in Goleta on August 11, 2022. Photo by Rod Rolle, Sipa USA via Reuters
A sign hangs for a business looking to hire commercial drivers in Goleta on Aug. 11, 2022. Photo by Rod Rolle, Sipa USA via Reuters

California’s economy keeps sending mixed signals. For the second month in a row, the Golden State’s tax revenues fell short of projections: The state in July collected about $1.28 billion less than expected, largely due to lower proceeds from the personal income tax, according to a Monday report from the state Department of Finance. California in June collected about $2.4 billion less than expected, prompting concerns that the state could be on the cusp of an economic downturn amid rising inflation and interest rates, supply chain backlogs and global market instability caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

But there are positive economic signals, too: The state Employment Development Department reported Friday that California’s jobless rate fell to 3.9% in July, down from 4.2% in June and the lowest on record in a data series that started in 1976. The report also found that California’s private sector has fully recovered from pandemic-induced job losses and the state as a whole has regained more than 97% of lost positions. Still, conditions have changed even in the past month: Many tech companies are laying off workers or freezing new hiring, and a slowdown in online shopping recently prompted Amazon to scale back operations at 45 facilities across the country, including nine in California.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: What can California do to minimize the existential threat of a megaflood?

California needs to up its climate game: With fewer than two weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers must act quickly to update our state’s climate policy framework, writes Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen California.

Street vendor bill needs some adjustments: We are fully on board with making the permitting process more efficient and simpler. But any new legislation must retain the current level of local control, not reduce it, argues Randall Scott, executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Kiely Rodni: Missing California teen’s body apparently found after weeks. // The Guardian

Data on California prisons’ visitors, staff, inmates exposed in breach. // KCRA

Inmates want a say in closure of rural California prison. // Los Angeles Times

Sister Mary Sean Hodges has turned around thousands of lives in California prisons. // Daily News

Dangerous street takeovers take deadly toll on Los Angeles. // Los Angeles Times

Oakland leaders outraged following slaying of dentist in Little Saigon. // San Francisco Chronicle

California OKs bullet train link between San Francisco, San Jose. // Los Angeles Times

Whose side is the CPUC on? Not that of low-income Californians. // Forbes

California pig welfare rule delays frustrate small farmers. // Associated Press

California state union secures paid family leave in contract deal. Will others follow? // Sacramento Bee

In California’s largest race bias cases, Latino workers are accused of abusing Black colleagues. // Los Angeles Times

A group of Apple employees protests company’s three-day-a-week office policy. // Wall Street Journal

Thanks to Rick Caruso, attacks against California Democrats are coming from inside the house. // San Francisco Chronicle

Mayor recommends Midway Rising for selection in sports arena competition. // San Diego Union-Tribune

A look at the California celebrities accused of drought restriction violations. // Los Angeles Times

San Diego’s ‘drought proof’ water is proving ever more expensive. // San Diego Union-Tribune

California megadrought sends wave of death to Bakersfield wildlife. // KGET 17

Does the Bay Area have enough water for new housing? // Mercury News

Looking for a California apartment? That will be $400 in application fees, please. // Mercury News

How a deal to build Sacramento’s largest downtown homeless shelter fell apart. // Sacramento Bee

San Jose approaches federal deadline to clear its largest homeless camp. // Mercury News

How a homeless woman’s emotional support duck survives. // Los Angeles Times

See you tomorrow


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

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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