California’s homeless population increased — again
It’s the white whale of California politicians and policymakers, the problem that only seems to intensify no matter how much attention and money are devoted to it: homelessness.
About six in 10 Californians said the homeless population has grown in their community over the past year, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey. A whopping 70% of likely voters identified homelessness as a big problem — a warning sign for candidates in the Nov. 8 general election — and 14% of residents described the issue as the most important facing the state, second only to the share who chose jobs, the economy and inflation.
But do people’s perceptions square with California’s homelessness reality?
Yes, according to a new story from CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias, the first to reveal a statewide snapshot of California’s homelessness crisis since the onset of the pandemic three years ago: The number of people in the Golden State without a stable place to call home has increased by at least 22,500 since 2019, to 173,800.
- See how homelessness has changed where you live: Type the name of your city into this nifty tool built by CalMatters data journalist Jeremia Kimelman, guess how much the local homeless population has grown or contracted, and discover how that squares up with official numbers.
California’s homelessness data — based on an every-other-year volunteer headcount of people sleeping on the streets and service providers’ tally of those staying in shelters — is far from perfect, Manuela notes. But here’s what we can learn from the latest figures:
- More and more Latinos are falling into homelessness. In Los Angeles, which is home to 40% of the state’s homeless population, the number of unhoused Latinos spiked by 26%. Is this “a harbinger of what increases could look like in the broader population, as some of these pandemic relief measures fade away? As eviction restrictions are rolled back?” asked Alex Visotzky, senior California Policy Fellow at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
- More people are sleeping in shelters — but more people are also sleeping on the streets. California created more than 14,000 shelter beds between 2019 and 2021, and the number of people staying in emergency and longer-term shelters has grown 34% since 2019. But the number of unsheltered people rose 7% during the same period, to 116,600 people.
- This, despite California spending more than $14 billion to address homelessness. Critics say this is evidence that the state is mismanaging money and that California’s “Housing First” homelessness strategy isn’t working. Supporters of that approach argue that it will take time to build enough permanent, affordable housing to bring people indoors. “We have to solve this rotting core in the center of California, which is that we are a million units short of housing for extremely low-income workers,” said Margot Kushel, director of the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.
Meanwhile, here’s a closer look at a recent spate of stories in the national media about California housing and homelessness:
- “How do you tell the story of the biggest crisis on the West Coast when every typical journalistic avenue seems to have run its course?” That was the question Jay Caspian King posed — and sought to answer — in a Tuesday column in the New Yorker.
- California may be the “heartland of the housing crisis,” but the state is finally making progress on building new housing with a pile of laws that restrict local government’s ability to obstruct development, Binyamin Appelbaum argued in a Tuesday New York Times op-ed.
- Accessory dwelling units could signal the end of the American suburb as we know it — and California is leading the charge, with some 60,000 units permitted since they were legalized in 2016, M. Nolan Gray, California YIMBY’s research director, wrote Wednesday in the Atlantic.
Ballot measure breakdown: I will be joining CalMatters Editor-in-Chief Dave Lesher at Voice of San Diego’s Politifest on Saturday, Oct. 8 to analyze the seven statewide propositions on the November ballot. RSVP for in-person and livestream tickets here.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 California gas prices approach record highs
What in the world is going on with California gas prices? The average price of a gallon of regular shot to $6.43 in California on Wednesday, just one cent below the record $6.44 set in June and about $2.60 more than the national average, according to AAA.
The California Energy Commission, which last week sent a letter to five oil refinery executives demanding they explain the dramatic uptick in prices at the pump, suggested in a scathing Wednesday press release that their response wasn’t cutting it. (Lindsay Buckley, the commission’s director of communications, told me that it had received one reply as of Wednesday afternoon and plans to publicly release it this morning. Buckley said the commission “is in communication” with the other executives and expects responses soon.)
- Commission Chairperson David Hochschild said in a statement: “The oil industry’s lobbying group argued that gas prices increased because of drilling permitting issues, which is misleading. The reality is 40% of the oil industry’s approved permits in California are still valid but have not yet been used, and the price increase is occurring at the refining stage of gas production, not the oil extraction stage. And it does not explain the sudden gap between national and California prices.”
- He added: “Even the 2015 explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance caused a price increase of only 46 cents per gallon, and the California Department of Justice deemed this price shock to be exacerbated by illegal price-fixing. So, refinery maintenance alone — especially prescheduled maintenance — cannot explain a sudden $1.54 increase in what refineries charge for every gallon of gas Californians buy.”
Meanwhile, OPEC+, a group of countries that makes much of the world’s oil supply, pledged Wednesday to reduce production by 2 million barrels a day to prop up sagging crude prices. But that likely won’t have much of an effect on California, experts told the Los Angeles Times. Several reasons why: Refineries with maintenance issues are coming back online, and many will soon start offering cheaper winter-blend gasoline following last week’s directive from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
2 California offers to slash Colorado River imports
When it comes to the environment, Western states can agree — and they can agree to disagree.
Today, Newsom is set to meet in San Francisco with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier John Horgan to “further expand the region’s climate partnership through the signing of a new climate agreement,” according to Newsom’s press office.
Meanwhile, under pressure from the federal government, California water agencies offered Wednesday to slash the amount of water they pull from the drought-stricken Colorado River starting in 2023. But it remains to be seen if California’s proposal will satisfy Arizona and Nevada, which are already facing federally mandated cuts to Colorado River water and have accused California of not contributing enough, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Meanwhile, the Golden State warned the feds that its proposed reductions — which would largely impact Southern California residents and farmers — are contingent on federal funds, including a “clear federal commitment” to help stabilize the Salton Sea. The huge inland lake has been receding — and growing saltier — as growers conserve water.
3 California election updates
California’s Nov. 8 election is inching ever closer, so let’s dive into the latest updates:
- Newsom and his Republican challenger, state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber, are set to hold a gubernatorial debate on KQED radio on Oct. 23. But Dahle now wants to debate sooner — given that county elections offices are required to start sending mail-in ballots no later than Monday — and on live TV. So he’s resorted to launching a petition to get Newsom to agree.
- The race for state controller, already the most closely watched among statewide elected positions on the ballot, keeps heating up. The latest: Republican Lanhee Chen is attacking Democrat Malia Cohen for the state’s 2021 suspension of her business license and for the 2010 foreclosure of her San Francisco condo, the Los Angeles Times reports. “If Malia can’t figure out how to manage her own finances, she shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near ours,” said Chen, whose campaign told me it is today launching a new video and website highlighting Cohen’s “record of financial failures.” The video, titled “Imagine,” is part of an upcoming seven-figure statewide media buy. In it, a man’s voice intones, “Imagine buying a house and not paying the mortgage. Malia Cohen did. Imagine not paying your business taxes and having your license revoked. Malia Cohen did.”
- Cohen told the Times she couldn’t “recall” what made her walk away from the condo and “cannot explain what happened” with her business license suspension “because I don’t recall.” Later, through a campaign spokesperson, Cohen told the Times the suspension resulted from missed mail due to an address change.
- No news is good news — except when it comes to election endorsements. Neither the Sacramento Bee nor the Orange County Register editorial boards could bring themselves to endorse either Democratic incumbent Ricardo Lara or Republican challenger Robert Howell for California insurance commissioner. In a particularly scathing Wednesday editorial, the Sacramento Bee editorial board wrote, “What’s as remarkable as Lara’s ethical decrepitude is the virtual certainty that he will win a second term … and while it’s tempting to choose (Howell) over Lara on principle, the Republican doesn’t inspire confidence that he could serve competently in the office, let alone come anywhere near being elected to it.” The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, meanwhile, reluctantly endorsed Lara — but only after calling him “the lesser evil.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Here’s how Republicans could affect the outcome of the intensifying state Assembly speakership feud.
Other things worth your time
Addiction experts fear the fallout if California legalizes sports betting. // California Healthline
Proposition 1 revives historic abortion debate over ‘viability’ in California. // KQED
Doctors who question COVID vaccines sue California over new medical misinformation law. // San Francisco Chronicle
CEO of election software firm held on California ID info theft charges. // Associated Press
New California law wants to help minority state workers get promoted. Here’s how it works. // Sacramento Bee
KQED sues California prison department for records on staff use of force and misconduct. // KQED
Vallejo Police officer who killed Sean Monterrosa fired for policy violations. // Vallejo Times Herald
Third rapper shot and killed in L.A. County in less than a month was found dead in planter. // Los Angeles Times
Alameda DA to personally review death of beloved Bay Area rapper Zumbi, says ‘new information’ has come to light. // Mercury News
Stockton serial killer: Residents afraid to venture out at night. // San Francisco Chronicle
Education on fentanyl, other drugs often optional in California schools, if offered at all. // EdSource
What will happen to a California scofflaw, his composting toilet and two acres of land in Marin County? // New York Times
Mountain lions are eating California donkeys. Why scientists say this is a good thing. // Los Angeles Times
This common item is on the way out at California grocery stores. // Mercury News
Fresno Unified gets ‘game-changing’ $20 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. // EdSource