Key issues that will shape California in 2023
Welcome to 2023 — a year that will likely prove decisive in California’s attempts to address some of its most pervasive challenges, ranging from housing and homelessness to climate change.
Wednesday, state lawmakers are set to return to Sacramento (though some may be driving instead of flying Southwest as they usually would) to resume the two legislative sessions that ceremonially started in December: a regular session focused on the typical business of debating and passing bills, and a special session focused on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to levy a penalty on oil companies he accuses of price-gouging Californians at the gas pump.
If the session double-header sounds confusing, it’s because the legislative process often is — which is why CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal and Jeremia Kimelman put together a comprehensive, concise explainer that delves into how California’s state government works and how it interacts with local, regional and federal governments. They also explain what influences state lawmakers’ agendas, who represents you and how you can make your voice heard. Check it out.
On Sunday, many of the 997 bills Newsom signed into law last year — out of the nearly 1,200 state lawmakers sent to his desk — went into effect. In this explainer supplemented by audio segments, CalMatters breaks down nine of the most consequential laws. The explainer is also available in Spanish.
Now let’s dive into some of the key issues CalMatters is keeping an eye on in 2023:
- Tough budget decisions: Newsom by Jan. 10 will unveil his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year — one that will have to account for a projected $24 billion deficit, testing the state’s commitment to expanding social safety net programs. And California’s public pension plans, both of which posted negative returns on investments last year, are expected to face similar or worse conditions this year — increasing pressure on local governments and taxpayers.
- An industry reckoning: Even as Newsom doubles down on his campaign against the oil industry, people close to him say he remains a pro-business centrist who’s fiscally conservative and socially liberal, Politico reports. Meanwhile, a first-in-the-nation law setting statewide standards for wages and working conditions for the fast food industry — set to take effect Sunday — was temporarily blocked Friday after a judge approved industry groups’ request to put it on hold until local elections officials determine later this month whether enough signatures were collected for a 2024 referendum, which would block the law until voters weigh in.
- The implementation of ambitious and controversial programs:
- Mental health: By Oct. 1, seven of California’s 58 counties are set to launch CARE Court, Newsom’s contentious plan to make it easier to compel severely mentally ill people into housing and treatment. But its potential limitations are already becoming clear: No CARE Court participant can be forced into treatment or forcibly medicated, unless they’re under the constraints defined by the decades-old Lanterman-Petris-Short Act governing conservatorships, a California Health and Human Services Agency spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.
- Health care: As California embarks on a multi-year plan to dramatically overhaul Medi-Cal, its health care insurance program for the poor, it’s backtracked on a controversial plan to offer Medi-Cal contracts to just three companies (plus Kaiser, under a separate deal) instead of nine. Blue Shield and Community Health Group will also now receive Medi-Cal contracts in 2024, the state Department of Health Care Services announced Friday, noting that all plans “will be held to new standards of care and greater accountability.”
- Housing: As California contends with the country’s highest homelessness rate, the state this year will get its first glimpse of the impacts of two new laws that aim to speed up affordable housing development in former commercial areas. Lawmakers will also consider a bill to make it easier for religious organizations and nonprofit colleges to build 100% affordable housing on their property. Meanwhile, some local governments are facing a Jan. 31 deadline to submit blueprints requiring the state to plan for 2.5 million homes by 2030 — but, although the state is enforcing this more seriously than it has in the past, it’s all fun and games until the actual homes get built, as CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias put it.
- Immigration and the border: Although the U.S. Supreme Court last week temporarily blocked the expiration of Title 42 — a federal pandemic policy allowing U.S. officials to turn away migrants seeking asylum — state and local officials are increasingly concerned about California’s financial inability to support an influx of immigrants once Title 42 ends, CalMatters’ Wendy Fry reports.
- Population and public perception: Even as the U.S. population grew, California’s population fell to about 39.03 million as of July 1, 2022, a 0.3% decrease from the year before, new U.S. Census Bureau estimates show. That doesn’t bode well for a state that just lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in history. Making matters worse, Texas and Florida — with whose Republican governors Newsom frequently spars — gained more residents than any other state, while California lost more than any state but New York.
It’s often said that you can’t move forward without looking back — so take a moment to remember the highs and lows of 2022 in this lovely photo essay from CalMatters’ incredible photojournalists.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Storms bring much-needed rain but strain infrastructure
At least two deaths. Tens of thousands of Northern California homes and businesses without power. At least three breached levees in the Sacramento area. Road and freeway closures, landslides, mudslides, floods, fallen trees. Mandatory evacuations, including of more than 1,000 inmates at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Sacramento County and of 19 elderly residents from a flooded Castro Valley nursing home. A 10-foot sinkhole that formed at the entrance to the Oakland Zoo, forcing it to close until at least Jan. 17.
These were just some of the effects from a massive atmospheric river that pummeled Northern California over the weekend, causing widespread flooding near Sacramento and prompting San Francisco to notch its second-wettest day in more than 170 years on Saturday, when 5.46 inches of rain fell. Another, potentially even more powerful storm is expected to hit California on Wednesday, following a projected reprieve today and comparatively light rain and snowstorms Monday. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said in a statement that it’s coordinating with local governments — including in response to the levee failures — and has pre-positioned resources in critical areas.
- A National Weather Service forecaster for the San Francisco Bay Area wrote Monday: “To put it simply, this will likely be one of the most impactful systems on a widespread scale that this meteorologist has seen in a long while. The impacts will include widespread flooding, roads washing out, hillside collapsing, trees down (potentially full groves), widespread power outages, immediate disruption to commerce, and the worst of all, likely loss of human life. This is truly a brutal system that we are looking at and needs to be taken seriously.”
- The brutal series of storms could test the state’s emergency response less than two weeks after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Humboldt County, killing at least two residents and damaging critical infrastructure. A 5.4-magnitude quake hit the county again on New Year’s Day, a stark reminder that more than 1 million Californian homes need to be structurally retrofitted.
- One (sort of) silver lining: The storms are a welcome antidote to California’s persistent drought and have helped replenish its snowpack. But just how much of a long-term difference they will make remains to be seen: “It just has to sustain itself, because we still have two more of the wettest months of the year to go, and we really need them to be wet as well, where (in 2022) they were record dry,” Mike Anderson, state climatologist at the Department of Water Resources, told the Los Angeles Times.
2 Leadership shuffles in the Capitol
New year, new positions: Newsom in the final days of 2022 unveiled his choices for top jobs in his administration, which saw sizable turnover during his first term. The first two nominees must be confirmed by the state Senate before they can be sworn into their new roles.
- Newsom appointed Nancy Ward as director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The high-profile and high-stress position — as evidenced by the pandemic, ongoing storms and recent earthquakes — was last held by Mark Ghilarducci, who retired Dec. 31 after a decade on the job. If confirmed, Ward — who has worked at CalOES since 2014 and also held leadership positions at the Federal Emergency Management Agency — would be the first woman to hold the job. “Under her leadership, California will remain ready to respond, no matter the crisis, keeping the safety of Californians at the forefront,” Newsom said in a statement.
- Newsom tapped Stewart Knox to serve as secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Knox, the agency’s undersecretary since 2021, will replace Natalie Palugyai, who abruptly departed in December and whom Newsom subsequently appointed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. The shift comes at a critical time for the agency, which will be charged with implementing controversial new legislation, including a new law making it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections and the temporarily halted fast food law.
- In other noteworthy Newsom news: The governor made key appointments to the California Public Utilities Commission and redesignated Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, whom he swore into office for her second term Monday, as his international affairs and trade representative to advance California’s economic interests abroad. He also granted 10 pardons — mainly for drug-related offenses — and nominated one appeals court justice and 15 superior court judges, all of whom are registered Democrats except for three registered without party preference. On Monday, Newsom swore in two of his nominees to the California Supreme Court: Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero, who was approved by voters in November, and Associate Justice Kelli Evans. And Newsom is vetting Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg for an appeals court appointment, which could result in a special election for the leader of California’s capital city, according to Politico.
But Newsom isn’t the only one making appointments: Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon revealed his picks for chamber and committee leadership, influential roles that help determine a bill’s chance of survival. The decisions had been closely watched ahead of this summer’s planned speakership transition, when Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Salinas is set to take over. Rendon reappointed Rivas as chairperson of the Assembly Agriculture Committee.
3 Changing conditions at California colleges
This year is poised to bring lots of changes for California colleges and universities:
- California college campuses could face more responsibility for combatting discrimination against transgender and nonbinary students under proposed federal regulations making their way through the U.S. Education Department’s lengthy rulemaking process, Zaeem Shaikh reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. The proposed rules would strengthen existing laws in California, which already bans discrimination based on gender identity and expression. “While on paper, trans students are certainly protected in our schools, we don’t always experience that,” said Eli Erlick, a UC Santa Cruz doctoral student who co-founded Trans Student Educational Resources.
- A growing number of California colleges are responding to campus sexual assault and harassment with restorative justice, allowing survivors to request a facilitator-led conference in which the accused listen to the impact of their actions, take responsibility, and commit to a plan to help repair the harm they caused and prevent it from happening again, Oden Taylor and Felicia Mello report for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. Although some survivors have praised the process — even saying it restored their faith in humanity — others have questioned its fairness and potentially problematic power dynamics.
- Better wages and benefits are on the way for tens of thousands of University of California academic workers after union members on Dec. 23 ratified a tentative agreement to end a six-week strike thought to be the largest-ever labor action of U.S. university employees. Although some union negotiators had opposed the deal, saying it didn’t do enough to support workers, many described the contract as historic. “Once you see a university system this large come together and demand livable wages, better benefits … then you’re going to see it across the nation,” Melissa Atkins, a labor and employment partner at law firm Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s going to be just a ripple effect of university grad students wanting what California obtained.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As a new year dawns, the Democratic politicians who dominate the state Capitol face a raft of old problems that, if anything, worsened during 2022.
California shouldn’t over-regulate the metal recycling industry: If the state were to classify scrap metal recycling facilities as hazardous waste treatment plants, it would result in millions of tons of end-of-life metal items with nowhere to go, argues former state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat.
California’s promise of a human right to water remains unfulfilled: Despite meaningful progress, more than 1 million residents still face water insecurity due to ongoing contamination, high water rates and groundwater well failures, among other challenges, write Jenny Rempel of the UC Berkeley Energy & Resources Group and Kristin Dobbin of the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
Other things worth your time
McCarthy’s bid for Speaker remains in peril even after key concessions. // New York Times
Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as House Speaker, in her own words. // Washington Post
Opinion: Why Monterey embodies California’s failure of political representation. // San Francisco Chronicle
Alameda County admits tallying error in ranked-choice voting, flips one result and raises big questions. // San Francisco Chronicle
California’s institutions face thousands of childhood sexual abuse claims following Dec. 31 deadline. // Los Angeles Times
State’s top insurance regulator faces new accusation of favoring insurers over ratepayers. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Tom Girardi’s other legacy: Tighter regulation of California lawyers. // Los Angeles Times
San Diego is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle public-records lawsuits. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, apartment owners sue to block Los Angeles’ new housing tax. // Los Angeles Times
Twitter sued over rent payment in San Francisco. // Wall Street Journal
Opinion: Why California’s travel ban is harmful. // New York Times
‘The War on Drugs Part II’: California taxes, rules are killing small legal weed farms. // Los Angeles Times
SF says it could end street homelessness in three years with an additional $1.4 billion. // San Francisco Chronicle
How some CSUs are working to close the Black graduation gap. // CBS News
She spent 32 years in prison for a violent robbery. Now she’s been granted parole under a new state law. // Los Angeles Times
‘Full-on crisis’: Groundwater in California’s Central Valley disappearing at alarming rate. // Los Angeles Times
Conservationists fight to end Los Angeles water imports from Eastern Sierra’s Mono Lake. // Los Angeles Times
CalMatters’ 2022 Voter Guide proves critical for Californians. // CalMatters
See you tomorrow
Tips, insight or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven
Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.
Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.
CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.