Tensions rise between Newsom, mayors over homelessness
As voters cast ballots in the last few days leading up to California’s Nov. 8 election, who will they blame for the state’s persistent housing and homelessness crises?
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s surprise Thursday announcement — that he’s withholding $1 billion in state homelessness funding until local governments and service providers come up with more ambitious plans to reduce the number of people living on the streets — seems to serve as an implicit reminder to Californians that he isn’t the only one responsible for the state’s ballooning homeless population, which grew by at least 22,500 during the pandemic.
Newsom said the local plans would reduce street homelessness by just 2% statewide by 2024 — a figure that is “simply unacceptable.” He also slammed some regions for estimating their homeless populations would grow by double digits in four years, and said he plans to meet with local leaders in mid-November to review the state’s approach to homelessness and identify more effective strategies.
- Newsom said in a statement: “Everyone has to do better — cities, counties and the state included. We are all in this together.”
- But he was more pointed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “Deliver damn results. … It’s a crisis. Act like it. Everybody step up. I’m not the mayor. You want me to come in? I’ll do the job. I’ll do it. Happily. I’ve been going into cities cleaning up encampments. Has anyone gotten the hint? If someone did that to me when I was mayor, I’d be like, ‘OK, I got it.’”
Having heard the hint loud and clear, many of the mayors of California’s largest cities are pushing back:
- San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias: “We need to put down the megaphones and pick up the shovels. … Let’s bring all the solutions in, but it’s not going to happen at a photo op. It’s not going to happen with 90 people in a room. You’ve got to have a lot of conversations with technocratic experts at the table, to try and understand exactly how you can get it done. That’s much harder work.”
- San Francisco Mayor London Breed told Politico: Newsom is “creating more hoops for local governments to jump through without any clear explanation of what’s required.”
- Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told the San Francisco Chronicle: I’m “perplexed how delaying (these) funds advances our shared goals.”
The mayors also argued that their ability to address homelessness is constrained by a lack of ongoing state funding. Some have been calling on the state for years to create a multibillion-dollar permanent funding stream for homelessness, and have thrown their support behind Proposition 27 — a ballot measure that would legalize online sports betting and direct a sizable portion of tax revenue to homelessness and mental health services — for that reason. Newsom announced last week that he opposes Prop. 27.
Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, also called on the state to create a permanent funding stream to address homelessness. California’s 58 counties are tasked with implementing Newsom’s ambitious and controversial plan to force more people with severe mental illness into housing and treatment — even as questions abound as to whether the state has enough housing for the program to work.
- Although Newsom campaigned on building 3.5 million homes by 2025, the state has so far issued permits for just 13% of those units, according to a CalMatters analysis.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, criticized Newsom for failing to seriously consider their ideas to resolve homelessness. Last month, GOP legislators asked the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate to declare a special legislative session devoted in part to homelessness, but they rejected the request and left no time for an appeal, Casey Dunn, a spokesperson for Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher, told me Thursday.
Liccardo told Manuela that California’s big city mayors plan to ask the state for more land on which to build homeless housing, to streamline the construction process and protect projects from lawsuits, and exempt more developments from CEQA — the state’s marquee and much-bemoaned environmental review law.
But the state may first have to deal with a recent Superior Court decision that found state housing laws don’t apply to projects until after local agencies complete their environmental reviews under CEQA. This could allow a city to keep postponing its CEQA reviews and thus “impose an unreviewable death by delay on almost any housing project it wants to kill,” UC Davis law professor Chris Elmendorf argued in a Wednesday column in the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Democratic State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco tweeted: “We must clarify CEQA doesn’t give the cities the power to ignore state housing law. Better yet, let’s remove infill housing from CEQA entirely.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 10,519,175 confirmed cases and 96,185 deaths, according to state data now updated once a week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 Special interest cash floods legislative races
“The people that even came up with these lies genuinely should be ashamed of themselves, and they should be fired and never work in politics again.”
That was Hayward City Councilmember Aisha Wahab’s take on inflammatory campaign mailers bashing her candidacy for a hotly contested state Senate seat representing Fremont and Hayward. But the flyers didn’t come from Fremont Mayor Lily Mei, Wahab’s opponent in the race and a fellow Democrat: They were paid for by an independent expenditure committee, a political spending group legally required to be unaffiliated with the candidates it’s trying to support.
Since Sept. 1, these groups — which often have innocuous names that obscure who’s funding them, and which aren’t subject to state campaign contribution limits — have spent nearly $40 million trying to influence competitive legislative races across California, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Sameea Kamal report. That staggering sum is 25% higher than it was in 2020 — and nearly one-fifth of it comes from oil and gas companies and electric utilities. One of the first tasks newly elected state lawmakers will face: voting on Newsom’s controversial proposal to tax oil and gas industry profits.
- Doug Morrow, a former Democratic Assembly staffer who publishes a daily tracker of independent expenditures: Candidates may not have “asked for Chevron to come in and help push them over the line, but naturally, if they vote the wrong way, they’re going to get slammed.”
- To find out who exactly is benefiting from this spending, and which other special interest groups are pouring money into hot races, check out Ben and Sameea’s comprehensive breakdown.
Your guide to the 2022 general election in California
2 State unveils first review of fatal civilian shooting by police
From CalMatters justice reporter Nigel Duara: The California Justice Department on Thursday offered its first glimpse into the process for determining whether to charge police officers with crimes when they shoot unarmed civilians.
The long-awaited report was the first to be released under a law that went into effect in July 2021, empowering the state to investigate these shootings instead of leaving the cases to local authorities.
In this case, state and local authorities arrived at similar conclusions: Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the Justice Department had insufficient evidence to criminally charge the officers who shot an unarmed Los Angeles man last year. The Los Angeles Police Commission had already unanimously ruled that the shooting was justified.
- Bonta said at a news conference Thursday: The officers “acted in self-defense and the defense of others.”
The person shot, Matthew James Sova, 48, was menacing people on Hollywood Boulevard on July 15, 2021. Callers told police he had a knife and a gun.
- Body camera footage shows that when two Los Angeles police officers approached, Sova was holding an object and raising his arm in the direction of the officers. They fired six rounds, five of which struck Sova, who died at a local hospital. When they searched him, Sova had a six-inch folding knife and a butane lighter with a pistol grip.
- Sova had had at least 10 contacts with the LAPD Mental Health Unit between 2017 and 2021, the Justice Department noted in its report.
- Callers that day initially reported Sova acting erratically, “strongly suggesting that the person in question was having some sort of mental health episode, as opposed to someone who was an active assailant,” the 25-page report stated.
Nevertheless, the Mental Health Unit was never called to the scene, and neither officer discussed the possibility that they were encountering someone experiencing a mental health crisis, according to the Justice Department.
Neither officer agreed to be interviewed by the Justice Department. Although the state still has 24 open cases into fatal officer-involved shootings of unarmed civilians, Bonta pledged that the investigative process will be faster in the future.
3 Tech layoffs rattle California economy
The economic warning signs keep mounting in California, even amid record-low unemployment: Starting today, Twitter CEO Elon Musk is planning to cut roughly 50% of the company’s jobs, according to Bloomberg — and San Francisco Mayor London Breed is trying to recruit some of those employees to fill nearly 5,000 vacant posts in city and county government. Other Bay Area companies are preparing for mass layoffs: Ride-hailing giant Lyft is slashing 13% of its workforce, or nearly 700 workers, while Stripe — the country’s second most valuable private startup — is cutting 14% of its staff, or more than 1,000 workers, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Amazon, meanwhile, is putting a pause on corporate hires.
Orange County transit maintenance workers went on strike Thursday, leading to a shutdown of bus service. And nearly 50,000 student workers at the University of California are set to launch an open-ended strike as early as Nov. 14, which could lead to the mass closure of classrooms and laboratories ahead of final exams. Meanwhile, inflation continues to squeeze California workers’ wage gains.
Still, California seems unlikely to stop being an economic powerhouse anytime soon. The Golden State snapped up most of the country’s venture capital investment in the first half of 2022, with nearly $52.4 billion going to the San Francisco Bay Area and another $12.6 billion to Southern California, Jerry Nickelsburg, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said in a Thursday presentation on California’s economic outlook. He added that although California logistics growth is expected to slow to a crawl in 2023, the tech, government and construction sectors are expected to keep growing — just at a slower rate.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The fight over a San Francisco housing project may go statewide.
Could Proposition 1 change California abortion law? The language of the proposed amendment says it’s intended to “further” the constitutional right to privacy. A word like “further” — rather than “preserve” — suggests the goal of Prop. 1 is to expand current law, not to maintain the status quo, argues Elizabeth Kirk, director of the Center for Law & the Human Person at the Columbus School of Law.
What pundits get wrong about youth voter turnout: Low youth turnout rates in California and across the country are often misattributed to a lack of interest or political apathy, when it has more to do with barriers to voting and inadequate civics education, writes Sumayyah Rose Abuelmaatti, a political science and philosophy student at Palomar College.
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