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Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven January 3, 2023
Presented by California Optometric Association, Dairy Cares, National Resources Defense Council and Southern California Edison

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:

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.


1 Storms bring much-needed rain but strain infrastructure

Traffic drives through flooded lanes on Highway 101 in South San Francisco on Dec. 31, 2022. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo

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.

2 Leadership shuffles in the Capitol

The state Capitol in Sacramento on Nov. 17, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
The state Capitol in Sacramento on Nov. 17, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

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.

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

Eli Erlick in her parents' backyard in Sebastopol on Dec. 26, 2022. Photo by Talia Herman for CalMatters.
Eli Erlick, co-founder of Trans Student Educational Resources, in her parents’ backyard in Sebastopol on Dec. 26, 2022. Photo by Talia Herman for CalMatters

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 Commentary

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

Some stories may require a subscription to read

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 emily@calmatters.org.

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