A changing of the guard in Sacramento
Three days before California’s new state Legislature is set to be sworn into office — and to convene a special session focused on oil industry profits — it’s still not clear who will occupy two of the seats.
As of Thursday evening, Democrat Christy Holstege and Republican Greg Wallis each had 50% of the vote for a state Assembly seat straddling Riverside and San Bernardino counties. And Republican David Shepard was leading Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado 50.1% to 49.9% for a state Senate seat looping around east Bakersfield, California’s most fiercely contested stretch of political turf. (One California U.S. House race also remains too close to call.)
Shepard told local news outlet GV Wire that he plans to be in Sacramento on Monday, noting that Kern County is California’s largest oil producer: “The fact that there would not be a representative there” at the start of the special session “is a complete and total slap in the fact of the constituents here,” Shepard said. Hurtado, meanwhile, said she doesn’t plan to join the swearing-in ceremony “unless it’s clear that I’m the winner.”
That state lawmakers could be sworn into office before every race has been called is just another quirk of California’s lengthy vote-counting process, designed to improve accessibility and ensure accuracy but nevertheless a source of frustration for many. County elections officials have until Dec. 9 to submit their final results, and the secretary of state must certify them by Dec. 16.
But, even with two seats up in the air, history has been made: Californians elected at least 49 female lawmakers and could seat as many as 51 — up from the previous record of 39, set during the legislative session that officially came to a close at the end of Wednesday. Among them: Democrat Jasmeet Bains, who won an Assembly seat representing Bakersfield and will become the first South Asian woman in the Legislature.
Republican lawmakers are highlighting diversity milestones, too: Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City announced Thursday that Bill Essayli of Riverside will become the first American Muslim to serve in the Assembly, bringing “a unique perspective to the Republican Caucus” along with a “strong criminal justice background.”
Also set in stone: Democrats’ supermajority, which allows them to pass bills and budgets without a single Republican vote. As of Thursday, Democrats controlled 62 of 80 Assembly seats and 31 of 40 Senate seats.
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
Nearly one-third of lawmakers — at least 37 of 120 — will be new to Sacramento, paving the way for new political dynamics and new legislative priorities. But some legislators are giving us a sneak peek of what to expect during the next session, which will begin in earnest in January after the largely ceremonial swearing-in Monday:
- Democratic state Sens. Steve Glazer and Josh Newman said they plan to introduce an urgency bill Monday to exempt federal student loan forgiveness from state income taxes, a move backed by legislative leadership. Whether the federal government will be able to proceed with loan forgiveness is up in the air: The U.S. Supreme Court said Thursday it will review the legality of the plan, which has been blocked by lower courts.
- Democratic state Sen. Nancy Skinner said she will unveil a bill to strengthen existing protections for people who come to California “seeking refuge from prosecution by other states that have criminalized abortions or health care that supports and affirms an individual’s gender identity.”
- Republican state Sen. Brian Jones announced plans for bills to suspend the state gas tax — which will almost certainly be dead on arrival — and to ban homeless encampments near schools, libraries, day care centers and parks.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 10,651,573 confirmed cases and 96,803 deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 California environmental updates
From CalMatters water reporter Alastair Bland: The major storm that descended Thursday on California brought much-needed rain and snow to the state — but it didn’t change the grim forecast for thirsty cities parched by three consecutive years of drought: The state Department of Water Resources announced that local water agencies in 2023 will receive an initial allocation of just 5% of supplies requested from the State Water Project, which channels Northern California water south to 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland. (The communities served generally have other sources of water to draw from, but many of those are also strained by drought.) The 5% allocation underscores that the state expects the drought to continue putting extreme stress on water supplies — though final delivery amounts could change. In fact, most years the initial allocation goes up.
- Last December, for example, the initial allocation was 0% before a surge of late-year storms prompted state water officials to boost it to 15%. Then, a dry-as-dust winter led them to cut it to 5% in March. And for 2019, an initial allocation of 10% ballooned into a final figure of 75%.
- For now, precipitation in the months ahead — including accumulated mountain snowpack — will help determine how much water the state ultimately delivers.
In other Thursday environmental news:
- As Newsom ramps up his crusade against oil industry profits, the Center for Biological Diversity sued his administration for approving more than a dozen new oil and gas wells in Los Angeles and Kern counties, alleging they didn’t go through a proper environmental review process.
- State regulators cleared PG&E to exit a strengthened oversight process it was placed into last year for its role in a string of destructive wildfires, determining that the utility had taken corrective actions to clear vegetation along its highest-risk power lines. The California Public Utilities Commission also announced a new framework to help utilities transition away from natural gas projects as part of the state’s ambitious climate goals.
- Climate and solar advocates gathered in cities across California to urge the Public Utilities Commission to make further changes to its recently revised plan to overhaul the state’s rooftop solar program, arguing it still discourages residents from installing solar panels and could jeopardize the state’s clean energy goals.
2 How might California fix its prison ‘disaster’?
When it comes to operating prisons, California needs to learn the difference between liberal policies and stupid ones.
That was one of the key takeaways of CalMatters justice reporter Nigel Duara’s conversation with Francis Cullen, a former president of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences who won the 2022 Stockholm Prize in Criminology — which has been described as the field’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which runs the state’s prison system, has brought Cullen in to address its administrators, particularly as it relates to community corrections programs.
But over the past few decades, California’s prisons have gone from being an international model for rehabilitation to a cautionary tale, Cullen contends. For more details on how that happened — and how Cullen thinks California can return to being a model for the rest of the world — check out his interview with Nigel.
3 California’s strangest housing story of the year
What was California’s wildest housing story of 2022? As you can imagine, it’s hard to pick just one in a place like the Golden State: There was the court ruling that essentially equated college students with pollution, pushing UC Berkeley to the brink of slashing its incoming enrollment by thousands of slots. There was Fresno’s attempt to boost local spirits by hanging banners throughout the city, including one that said it had the nation’s hottest housing market — a quote taken from a Los Angeles Times story that found rising prices were in fact making it more difficult for longtime residents to live there.
But none could top the wealthy Silicon Valley of Woodside, which declared itself a mountain lion sanctuary in an attempt to bypass a new state law ending single-family zoning in most areas. In this beloved “Avocado of the Fortnight” episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon interview Angela Swartz, the reporter who first broke the story for The Almanac. (Why is this episode dubbed “Avocado of the Fortnight”? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out!)
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: What’s next for Newsom’s oil profits tax proposal?
UC strike hurts both students and workers: United Auto Workers’ demands could drive up housing costs, siphon much-needed funds from other programs, hamper student instruction and hurt the very workers the union represents, argue Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairpersons of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.
Striking UC workers deserve better pay and benefits: UC’s excellence is derived from these employees’ essential labor, and they make our work as faculty possible. They need a living wage — as a sign on the picket line put it, “Passion doesn’t pay rent,” argues Stacy Torres, an assistant professor of sociology at the UC San Francisco School of Nursing.
Other things worth your time
L.A. County COVID surge raises prospect of indoor mask mandate. // Los Angeles Times
A California hospital opened a critical care unit for kids. Then four died. // San Francisco Chronicle
Gun dealing sent a San Diego County sheriff’s captain to prison. New evidence suggests the corruption ran much deeper. // San Diego Union-Tribune
300 health department employees with secret side gigs come forward after scandal. // San Francisco Standard
Officers shoot 2 inmates after stabbing at California prison. // Associated Press
Mayor-elect Karen Bass’ daughter ‘not seriously hurt’ in hit-and-run crash. // Los Angeles Times
Opinion: ‘We’ let blind, mentally ill, homeless Mark Rippee die in Vacaville. But let’s name names. // Sacramento Bee
Striking UC student workers occupy chancellor’s office in Berkeley to push for deal. // San Francisco Chronicle
L.A. schools grapple with ban on nearby homeless encampments. // EdSource
Fresno teachers union pushing for free student laundry, lifetime health benefits in contract talks. // EdSource
One reason the California Supreme Court is less divided than SCOTUS? It has more women, says chief justice. // San Francisco Chronicle
California panel sizes up reparations for Black citizens. // New York Times
Losing pandemic benefits meant losing a lifeline for many Black and older people in California, report finds. // Sacramento Bee
Mass Bay Area tech layoffs thrust thousands of H-1B visa holders into frantic job hunt. // KQED
California, others ask court to temporarily stop $4 billion Albertsons dividend payment. // Reuters
San Diego taxpayers, not SDG&E, must pay to move gas pipelines for Pure Water project, judge rules. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California water thieves are getting away with it. // Grist
A giant sea cow once roamed California’s coast. Its disappearance is linked to major transformation. // San Francisco Chronicle
President Biden announces new national monument near Nevada-California border. // Mercury News