Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven October 17, 2022
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Why was Newsom absent during Biden visit?

President Joe Biden’s three-day trip to Southern California, which concluded Friday, featured events with a who’s who of California Democrats — but not Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Many of the state party’s biggest names — including U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; U.S. Reps. Karen Bass, Katie Porter and Ted Lieu; and state senator and congressional candidate Sydney Kamlager — turned out alongside the president as he made stops in Los Angeles and Orange County to tout federal infrastructure investments and plans to lower health care costs. Biden also headlined a fundraiser with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Los Angeles.

Newsom’s absence was “strange,” given that “it certainly is the tradition that the governor of the state — particularly when the governor’s from the same party — will see the president” when he’s in town, Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and California political commentator, told me Sunday.

NBC News political director Chuck Todd described the situation to KCRA as a “head-scratcher.”

  • Newsom spokesperson Alex Stack told me Sunday: “The Governor unfortunately had scheduling conflicts. For example, he had an event in Sacramento on Friday morning for his book, in addition to state commitments.”
  • The White House was unable to provide a response in time for publication.

Levinson said she was skeptical of the governor’s claim: “‘Scheduling conflict’ is the equivalent of ‘I’m dropping out of this political race that I’ll never win to spend more time with my family.’ Nobody really believes it.”

Levinson ran through a few possibilities for why Newsom and Biden may have avoided meeting with each other:

Asked whether potential political animosity between Biden and Newsom may have foreclosed a meeting between the two men, Stack said: “No.”

Meanwhile, the governor’s office on Friday published a recap of events showing how “the Newsom administration was hard at work this week taking action for Californians across a variety of issues,” including breaking ground on a 10,000-mile broadband network to help expand high-speed internet access and cracking down on illegal cannabis operations.

At the end of the day, Newsom‘s reticence on high-profile Los Angeles issues may simply reflect his expected easy path to victory in California’s Nov. 8 election over gubernatorial candidate Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber, Levinson said.

  • Levinson: “Where’s the political upside for him to get involved? I mean, nobody’s going to vote for Brian Dahle because (Newsom) didn’t take a strong stand in the LA mayor’s race or because he didn’t say vigorously enough that he condemns what happened in Los Angeles” on the city council.

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1 State short on staff to enforce labor laws

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

Will California’s wage theft hearing officers and investigators please stand up?

Although California has long been considered a national leader in tackling labor violations such as wage theft — employers’ failure to pay workers what they’re owed — the state doesn’t have enough agents or other personnel to enforce its tougher-than-most laws, CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo and Jeanne Kuang and CBS13’s Julie Watts report in the latest installment of the California Divide team‘s series “Unpaid Wages: A Waiting Game.” It’s a problem that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and ongoing labor shortages.

  • Case in point: It can take years for a California wage theft claim to be decided. From 2017 to 2021, it took the state an average of 505 days to decide wage claims for workers who didn’t drop or settle their case, much longer than the 135-day maximum set by state law, data show.

“We need to put more urgency into it,” said Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat who chairs the Assembly labor committee, ”and that could include having hiring bonuses, whatever it takes to increase the staffing, because it’s unacceptable — the current state of affairs. If we really care about these workers, we need to show it.”

The Labor Commissioner’s budget this year is $166 million, enough funding for nearly 840 positions. But nearly a third of positions were vacant as of May, officials said.

2 California public health updates

A sign advertising free flu shots posted outside of CVS in Piedmont on Sept. 2, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A sign advertising free flu shots posted outside of CVS in Piedmont on Sept. 2, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Let’s take a closer look at how California is faring on three key public health fronts:

  • The flu and other respiratory viruses: Public health officials are increasingly concerned that this fall and winter could usher in a “twindemic” of COVID and influenza following little flu seasons in 2021 and 2020. Warning signs are emerging in San Diego, where last week mass crowds of students — including nearly 40% of the student body at one high school — called in sick. At this time last year, San Diego County was recording 32 flu cases a week; it’s now recording 304, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s deputy public health officer, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, also are increasing, with Kaiser Permanente San Diego last week recording a 40% increase in cases compared to normal seasonal levels. “The most important thing you can do is get your flu shot, get that COVID booster,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser said.
  • Which brings us to COVID: State health officials announced Thursday that Californians as young as 5 are now eligible for updated COVID booster shots, though it’s unclear how enthusiastically residents will respond. The uptake of the new shots nationally has been slow, and fewer than 59% of eligible Californians have so far received both their primary vaccine series and a booster shot, according to state data. Also Thursday, the state public health department changed its definition of what constitutes a COVID “close contact” and answered some frequently asked questions about the shift.
  • Monkeypox, which the state now refers to as MPX: The California Department of Public Health said Friday that it will no longer send out a weekly MPX press release due to the “spread of MPX slowing in California.” Instead, the department said it will update its MPX website once a week on Fridays. As of Friday, the state had reported 5,278 probable and confirmed MPX cases, 213 hospitalizations and one death and had received more than 165,000 vials of the MPX vaccine.

3 What community college students want in new chancellor

Sara Marquez, a sophomore at LA Mission College, on campus in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters
Sara Marquez, a sophomore at Los Angeles Mission College, on campus in Los Angeles on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

The next chancellor of California Community Colleges — the country’s largest system of higher education, with 1.8 million students enrolled — will face a myriad of challenges. Not only has the COVID pandemic led to a hemorrhaging of student enrollment, but the system also has virtually no chance of reaching its ambitious academic goal of narrowing by 40% the graduation rate gap among its Black, Latino and white students in five years, as CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn recently reported. So what qualities should the system’s next leader — who will replace former Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, its first Latino chief executive — possess? Here’s what some community college students told Andrea Madison of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network:

  • Sara Marquez, 19, a student at Los Angeles Mission College: “I feel like it needs to be someone young with innovative ideas … I also feel like they also have to be very good at branding, especially in this age of technology. We need someone who can get us out there and speak to younger generations.”
  • Lorraine (Rain) Barron, 51, a student at American River College in Sacramento: “I would like to see them take more accountability for what’s happening at the community colleges … Right now, the biggest thing I’m having a problem with is the cleanliness of the campus. It is so dirty. Even the bathrooms are disgustingly filthy. And there’s a million and one excuses why everything is so dirty.”
  • Cassandra Shoneru, 19, a student at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill: “We definitely need somebody that has been to a community college because they have firsthand experience of what the students are going through, and also somebody who has a background in this type of administration, that has accomplished things.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The managers of California’s vast water system are edging toward a historic reallocation of the state’s shrinking supply that could have a life-altering impact on the nation’s largest agricultural industry.

Note: Dan is on vacation this week. His column will resume Monday, Oct. 24.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

‘We are sure we stopped another killing’: Stockton man arrested in connection with serial killings. // Stockton Record

Amid surge in violent crime, Oakland mayor calls for a federal health emergency. // KQED

Alleged serial San Francisco harasser arrested after numerous women come forward. // San Francisco Chronicle

Newsom blocks Charles Manson follower’s parole, marking 15th denial for Patricia Krenwinkel. // Associated Press

Investigating Prop. 57 prison credits: Are most felons really ‘earning’ early release? // CBS Sacramento

A year after alleged SDSU gang rape, prosecutors still mum about bringing charges. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Los Angeles just got new political maps. City council scandal could tear them up. // Politico

New details show sprawling web of corruption in Southern California cannabis licensing. // Los Angeles Times

How California fails to regulate gun ranges that leave toxic waste in their wake. // San Francisco Chronicle

State watchdog investigating 2019 China trip made by top Milpitas mayor candidate. // Mercury News

Is there such a thing as too much labor support — even in a union town like Oakland? // San Francisco Chronicle

New California racial profiling research adds to growing push to reduce cops’ role in traffic stops. // San Francisco Chronicle

As Supreme Court considers affirmative action case, University of California offers cautionary tale. // EdSource

This one fact could completely change how you think about California wildfires. // San Francisco Chronicle

Shasta Lake helped water California. Now its dryness is a threat to the state. // Wall Street Journal

A herd of wild horses just moved into this iconic California destination. No one knows what comes next. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow


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