Inside California’s overlooked political powerhouse
Note: The amazing Ben Christopher will be handling the newsletter on Monday and Tuesday. I’ll see you Wednesday!
Don’t underestimate Kern County.
This swath of land in the southern Central Valley produces 70% of California’s oil, and industry groups have already raised more than $8 million to gather signatures for a 2024 referendum to overturn a new law banning new or extensively retrofitted oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of sensitive areas such as homes, schools and hospitals.
- Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, which is spearheading the referendum effort, said in a statement: “Governor Gavin Newsom may say he is going after energy companies, but in reality, he is going after the high-paying careers of over 50,000 hardworking Californians on the heels of more than two years of COVID-19 related economic turmoil and a looming recession.”
- Newsom’s office tweeted Thursday: “Keeping harmful drilling near schools & homes will NOT lower gas prices. Oil companies are using record profits to fight a law that protects kids from the impacts of drilling in their communities — including increased risks of cancer, asthma, & more.”
Kern County also represents one of California and the country’s most competitive pieces of political turf, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Ariel Gans write in this deeply reported story examining three overlapping toss-up races in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election:
- There’s the congressional race between Republican U.S. Rep. David Valadao and Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas, now the second-most expensive House contest in the country and one that could help determine which party controls the next Congress.
- There’s the contest between state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, widely considered to be the most endangered Democratic incumbent in the Legislature, and political newcomer David Shepard, the Republican scion of a Tulare County farming family.
- And there’s the face-off for the local Assembly seat between Democrat Leticia Perez and fellow Democrat Jasmeet Bains, who have attracted the financial backing of the oil industry and state doctor’s lobby, respectively.
As Ben and Ariel write, the outcome of all three races will largely hinge on voters in east Bakersfield — historically the city’s poorer, Latino and less politically powerful side — as well as voters in the ag towns of Shafter, Delano and McFarland.
Your guide to the 2022 general election in California
There are a lot of unique dynamics at play in this part of the Central Valley, which has more conservative Democrats than any other part of the state. Kern County is the center of California’s agricultural and oil industries; it also has the state’s highest homicide rate. Its electorate is majority Latino, but voters here tend to be less liberal than Latinos in coastal parts of California.
- Ivy Cargile, a political science professor at California: There’s “the myth … that demographics is destiny. That’s not necessarily the case.”
And the population is growing — and changing — quickly: Bakersfield’s population grew faster than that of any of California’s most populous cities in 2020. Demographics are shifting, too: In addition to a growing Latino population, the city is home to sizable Sikh and Punjabi communities.
Perez, who’s running for the state Assembly seat, became the first Latina elected to the Kern County Board of Supervisors in 2013. And her opponent, Bains, would be the first Sikh and the first South Asian woman in the state Legislature if elected.
- Bob Alvarez, former chief of staff to Dean Florez, the first Latino to represent the Central Valley in the state Senate: “There’s a broader sense that things are more fair now, that we have a fair shot and it just comes down to electing people.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 10,476,942 confirmed cases and 95,808 deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Bonta tells law enforcement to be on the lookout
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning federal abortion protections, many states are taking steps to regulate actions outside their borders. And those regulations could take deceiving forms, Attorney General Rob Bonta warned California law enforcement in a Thursday memo outlining how they should respond to requests for help from agencies in states where abortion is restricted or outlawed. Although California law enforcement is banned from helping out-of-state investigations into patients seeking reproductive health care in the Golden State, out-of-state agencies “might conceal their intent under the guise of investigations into other crimes, such as child endangerment, child abuse, drug abuse, concealing a death, or murder,” Bonta’s office said in a press release.
- Such situations have already happened in California: The Kings County district attorney charged two women with murder after they delivered stillbirths while testing positive for methamphetamine. Although both women have since been released from prison and the charges against one woman were later dropped, the district attorney has vowed to refile them. However, Newsom recently signed into law a bill that bans investigation, prosecution or incarceration of women who end a pregnancy or experience pregnancy loss.
- Bonta said in a recent interview with CalMatters: “We are 10,000% in on doing everything we can to make sure women are not treated as second class citizens, that there’s bodily autonomy choice and reproductive freedom.”
2 Growing push for Central American Studies at California colleges
Of the approximately 7 million people in the U.S. who were either born in or can trace their roots back to Central America — a region that includes El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica and Belize — a quarter live in California. And, as momentum for ethnic studies grows across the state — it’s a graduation requirement for both high school and California State University students — East Los Angeles Community College is launching the state’s first two-year degree program in Central American Studies, Itzel Luna reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. The program, which is set to begin in the spring, will offer five courses transferable to the UC and CSU systems.
- Jocelyn Duarte, a professor of Central American Studies at East Los Angeles College and CSU Northridge: “Since the summer of 2020, we have a lot of people talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. … We’ve been fighting for this. Now, it’s time to amplify the conversation.”
- Iris Ramirez, a UCLA student pursuing a Ph.D. in Chicana/o and Central American Studies: “I think a lot of us hope that we can have our own space once the institution understands that we can’t homogenize Latinos. We should get our own autonomy and not always have to ask the question of why we are important within the context of Chicano Studies.”
3 Another round of eye-popping climate studies
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this week was chock-full of concerning California climate studies. You may remember those mentioned in Tuesday’s newsletter, including one that found wildfires in 2020 — California’s worst wildfire year on record — resulted in more than double the total greenhouse gas emissions slashed by the state from 2003 to 2019, and another that found greenhouse gas emissions skyrocketed at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in 2021.
Here’s a closer look at three studies that received media attention Thursday:
- Greenhouse gas emissions from large California facilities, including power plants and refineries, increased by about 2 million metric tons in 2021 compared to the year before, according to new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analyzed by the San Francisco Chronicle. There was a similar uptick nationwide in 2021 due to an “increase in economic activity following the economic slowdown and decrease in emissions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said in a press release.
- Gas stoves in California are leaking more than 4 tons of the cancer-causing pollutant benzene every year, equivalent to the benzene emissions from about nearly 60,000 cars, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. These emissions, which are not accounted for by the state, are a “good reason to encourage electrification not just for the climate, but for health, too,” Stanford University earth scientist Rob Jackson, who wasn’t involved in the study, told the New York Times.
- And about 21 times more Californians are regularly breathing air with unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke than they were a decade ago, from about 200,000 people in 2010 to about 4.5 million in 2020, according to another paper published in Environmental Science and Technology and analyzed by KQED. “It’s hard to think of another environmental exposure where things have changed so quickly,” climate economist Marshall Burke, associate professor of Earth system science at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and co-author of the paper, told KQED.
Other things worth your time
Newsom pledged to end chronic homelessness as S.F. mayor. It remains his biggest challenge. // Sacramento Bee
‘A lot of cases will get another look’: More convictions can be challenged over racial bias under new California law. // San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco mayor apologizes for saying ‘a lot of’ drug dealers are Honduran. // Los Angeles Times
In Los Angeles, politics are more complex than a racist recording indicates. // New York Times
State Senate candidate Aisha Wahab says she received death threats due to false campaign mailers. // San Francisco Chronicle
Top S.F. public health official drew second six-figure salary from drug nonprofit as its finances unraveled. // San Francisco Standard
How the end of federal COVID funding will shift cost to California consumers. // Mercury News
California full undergraduate enrollment declines have slowed, but still ‘troubling.’ // EdSource
Professors sue California State University system over caste anti-discrimination policy. // Yahoo News
Black developers won’t work with De León on $1.6 billion Angels Landing project. // Los Angeles Times
Celebration for S.F.’s $1.7 million toilet canceled after backlash: ‘The cost is insane.’ // San Francisco Chronicle
Is Santa Monica about to get Manhattanized? // Slate
Bay Area sees ‘eviction tsunami’ as pandemic renter protections end. // Mercury News
Are S.F. landlords sitting on tens of thousands of empty homes? Vacancy tax could put debate to rest. // San Francisco Chronicle
California has lost more groundwater than held in all of its reservoirs. // New Scientist
Californians can get $3,000 earthquake retrofit grants. // Los Angeles Times