Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Ben Christopher August 18, 2022
Presented by Sutter Health

Who’s atop the food chain in California?

This is CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher, filling in for Emily who is out sick. Feel better, Emily!

Fast food workers and labor advocates wrapped up two days of marching, chanting and mariachi playing around the state Capitol on Wednesday, part of a years-long campaign for a legislative proposal that could transform California’s fast food industry.

The headline summary of Assembly Bill 257: It would allow a state board to set wages, hours and work conditions for the entire industry, supercharging the bargaining power of its more than 700,000 low-wage, mostly non-unionized workers.

But there’s more to the fast food bill if you peek under the bun.

As Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team explains, the labor-backed bill would also put the corporations that own fast food chains — along with the individual franchise owners — on the legal hook for wage and hour violations. That has the potential to upend the business model upon which countless burgers have been sold.

Whether that’s a good thing depends on whom you ask:

  • Janice Fine, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University: “How you hold the companies at the top of the food chain, who are really setting the terms and conditions of employment, responsible for the lower levels — California has been way ahead on that.”
  • Jeff Hanscom of the International Franchise Association: “You’d be holding an entity responsible or assigning liability for things they don’t have control over.”

That’s only if the bill becomes law. With the legislative session ending Aug. 31, this is among the most contentious proposals that lawmakers still have to grapple with, one that cleaves California’s ruling Democrats between its labor-aligned progressives and business-friendly moderates. It’s also one of the few California bills that’s drawn the attention of national news outlets and opinion writers.

Though the bill cleared an important legislative hurdle last week, it still has to pass the Senate, ping back to the Assembly to resolve any last-minute changes and then get the sign-off from Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom hasn’t said where he stands on the issue, but his own Department of Finance announced its opposition earlier this summer.

A 20-point equity gap at the Cal States: CalMatters and CBS are collaborating on a project to explore the causes of — and solutions to — the Cal State system graduating its Black students at far lower rates than white, Asian and select other groups. 

The CBS California stations will be running the first in a series of broadcast news stories today and Friday: at 5 p.m. on KPIX5 in the Bay Area; 9 p.m. on CBS2 in Los Angeles; and 10 p.m. on CBS13 in Sacramento. These broadcast reports will build on CalMatters’ own reporting about these graduation gaps. CalMatters will have more on the problem and possible solutions in a follow-up story next week.

A message from our sponsor

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,146,137 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 93,517 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.

California has administered 79,191,867 vaccine doses, and 71.8% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

A message from our sponsor

1 Year of the ticked-off parent?

Taylor Kayatta (left) and parent-teacher Vanessa Cudabac (right) during a door-to-door campaign strategy on Aug. 13, 2022. Kayatta is running for Sacramento City Unified School District Board Area 6. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

In Wednesday’s newsletter, Emily shared a story by CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal about how California Republicans are recruiting and training conservative candidates for local school boards across the state.

But as it turns out, not every conservative candidate can count on the GOP’s support.

Meet Jeffrey Erik Perrine. Up until at least last year, he was a member of the Proud Boys. As the Sacramento Bee reported on Wednesday, he’s also running for the San Juan Unified School District Board of Education. And he won’t be getting help from either the Sacramento County Republican Party or the state GOP.

Perrine, a registered Republican who failed in his bid for an Assembly seat last June, has been persona non grata with the Sacramento GOP since he was tossed from its Central Committee. That meeting culminated in Perrine threatening to sue the party and bemoaning “minorities.”

Perrine’s brand of anti-establishment conservatism may be of a particularly extreme variety. But with roughly 2,500 school board seats up for reelection this year across California, candidates appear to be disproportionately hailing from a particular corner of the ideological spectrum, writes CalMatters education reporter Joe Hong

Mask mandates. Teachers unions. Education purportedly awash in discussions of race, sexual orientation and gender identity. This mix of hot-button issues from the pandemic-era have driven many ticked-off parents to run for office this year.

2 More pandemic-era fraud

Homes are photographed from Bayview Park in San Francisco on March 9, 2021. Photo by David Rodrigues, The Salinas Californian

Earlier this year, CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias chronicled the many delays and hiccups that beset California’s rent relief program, which was designed to help renters pay down the debts they’d accrued to their landlords during the worst of the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Controller’s Office, the state’s financial overseer, released its own assessment of the program. Here’s Manuela’s dispatch:

The state’s massive rent relief program to help people make up missed rent payments during the pandemic ended in March — but its troubles persist. The state approved nearly 500 potentially fraudulent rent relief applications worth $18.1 million between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2021, according to the controller’s report.

Working with the state’s Housing and Community Development Department, the controller caught about $11 million of those payments before they went out. In its response, the department said that the $7 million in possibly fraudulent rent payments that were issued represent less than 1% of the $1.5 billion it paid out during the same time period. The program has paid out more than $4 billion to date through a contract worth as much as $278 million with Horne LLP, a Mississippi-based accounting firm.

The department is now working with the California State Franchise Tax Board and law enforcement to get the money back, though those efforts are on hold due to litigation. A spokesperson said the department has issued 1,915 voluntary notices to claimants so far.  

  • From the report: “Although some potentially fraudulent documents would have been identified as such only upon more careful inspection, in some cases there were clear and visible signs that documents had been altered — which HCD’s vendor should have identified upon proper inspection.”
  • From the department: “Throughout the program, HCD has balanced the need to provide assistance to eligible applicants by reducing barriers to the program while maintaining the program’s integrity.”

The controller also found the contractor lacked adequate controls over the application review process, resulting in at least $280,000 in overpayments and $98,000 in underpayments.

CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: When the federal Bureau of Reclamation issued mandatory reductions in diversions from the Colorado River Tuesday, California dodged the bullet.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

California officials warn of COVID home test false negatives // Los Angeles Times

California’s $2.7 billion transitional kindergarten expansion plan is off to a bumpy start // KQED

All eyes on Valadao: Just two House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are on the ballot in November // FiveThirtyEight

California freshmen admitted to UC reaches an all-time high // Mercury News

Valley fever cases on the rise in Kern County // KVPR

1 million square feet of L.A. roads are being covered with solar-reflective paint // Fast Company

The reading wars: A movement rises to change the teaching of reading // EdSource

Extremism in the North Bay: Three percenters in Solano and Napa counties // Vallejo Sun

‘It’s not fun to work in a sauna’: Food truck workers cope during a heat wave // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow

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

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.