No reparations recs, but a new state agency?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Sameea Kamal BY Sameea Kamal March 6, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

No reparations recs, but a new state agency?

California’s reparations task force has until July 1 to make recommendations to the Legislature on how to compensate descendants of enslaved Black people, but with just under four months to go, the group has made few final decisions

The nine-member panel met in Sacramento on Friday and Saturday, and, after two days of often intense discussion and public comment, voted to buttress the power of a proposed California American Freedmen Affairs Agency to help carry out reparations, reports CalMatters’ Wendy Fry

Ideas for the proposed agency include a genealogy branch to confirm who is eligible for reparations, a legal affairs branch to provide free law services while advocating for justice reforms, and a labor branch to “supervise” discrimination claims, according to a task force summary. The agency would also have some oversight of other state departments, such as the California Department of Justice’s enforcement of voting rights.

But the task force will require more conversations to meet their recommendation deadline. In future meetings, including at the end of March, they’ll need to get into more nitty-gritty details on what reparations payments will look like.  

  • Monica Montgomery Steppe, task force member and San Diego’s city council president: “What we are doing — every step of it — is going to have resistance. And it is going to be hard. It’s going to take decades.” 

The task force was created by state law after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, and has been widely watched as a potential blueprint for deliberations in other states or cities. 


Wage theft: TheCalMatters’ California Divide team wrote a comprehensive series on wage theft, including stories on how long workers wait for back pay, the struggles at the state agency in charge and nonprofits trying to help. Now, CalMatters for Learning has a version specially made for classrooms and libraries. It’s the second in a series, following one on how state government works.  


1 SoCal welcomes DeSantis

Florida Governor and likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, U.S. March 5, 2023. REUTERS/Allison Dinner

Sunday marked the one-year countdown to the March 2024 presidential primary in California, so what better time for a likely Republican presidential candidate — Florida governor Ron DeSantis -– to visit the Golden State?

California’s primary taking place so early in the election cycle means the state’s delegates could provide a major boost to becoming the party’s nominee.

DeSantis headlined a GOP fundraising event in Orange County Sunday, and spoke at a book event in Simi Valley

Although former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are the only prominent GOP candidates to have officially entered the race, it’s a strategic move by DeSantis.

The Florida governor is often on the receiving end of Newsom’s political jabs, namely for policies that target LGBTQ+ populations and book bans in schools. Still, among Californians, he “vaulted ahead” of Trump as the preferred Republican presidential candidate in a recent U.C. Berkeley poll

One difference between the two: DeSantis, until recently, took pride in Florida’s election processes, in contrast to Trump’s consistent unfounded claims of fraud. 

That’s still an issue for Republicans in some parts of California. In Kern County, despite pushback from some who continue to allege election fraud by Dominion Voting Systems, the board of supervisors voted to renew the contract, while their Shasta County counterparts voted to terminate their contract – gaining the attention and approval of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who wants to fund a pilot program for a new voting system

But it wasn’t all welcome banners, as the Los Angeles Times’ Seema Mehta reports: at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library where DeSantis’ book event was held, an entry was vandalized with the words “Ron DeFascist.” 

2 Impacts of the snow

Sean de Guzman of the California Department of Water Resources conducts the first snow survey of the 2023 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Jan. 3. Photo by Kenneth James, California Department of Water Resources
Sean de Guzman of the California Department of Water Resources conducts the first snow survey of the 2023 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Jan. 3. Photo by Kenneth James, California Department of Water Resources

From CalMatters water reporter Alastair Bland: 

California’s mountains are in hot pursuit of the state’s all-time snowpack record. On Friday, the state’s latest measurement at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada found snowpack was 177% of average for that date. 

The deep snow — which, in some regions, is trailing just behind that of the record 1982-83 winter — comes after a wildly stormy January. Sierra Nevada snow is vital for the 19 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland that receive water from the State Water Project. 

Water officials have fingers crossed that the coming weeks are cold and snowy — not warm and wet, which could prematurely melt snow, cause flooding in the Central Valley and result in too little runoff in the spring months. 

You can keep track of the situation with the CalMatters drought monitor.

Following Friday’s report, another “significant storm” over the weekend was expected to add another four to six feet of snow, according to the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab

The severe weather has led to a state of emergency in 13 counties throughout the state — including Southern California’s mountain communities. Some have been trapped in their homes for a week, and are grappling with power outages, roof collapses, a lack of baby formula and medicine they rely on

3 Farmworker unionization: Changes pending

Members and supporters of the United Farm Workers march through Fresno during day 10 of their 24-day march on Aug. 12, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
Members and supporters of the United Farm Workers march through Fresno during day 10 of their 24-day march to Sacramento on Aug. 12, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

After a 335-mile march to Sacramento and public pressure from President Joe Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law expanding unionization rights for California farmworkers — with the caveat that, during this legislative year, there would be compromises enacted, agreed upon by labor leaders.  

But those changes remain to be seen, reports CalMatters’ Nicole Foy. No bill with the agreed-upon changes had been filed by the Feb. 17 bill introduction deadline. 

Neither union officials nor the governor’s office commented on why.

As it stands, the law allows farmworkers to vote to unionize by mail or by signing unionization cards. The most significant amendment calls for completely removing the law’s mail-in voting process. The changes also would cap the number of new unions organizing via card-check at 75 per year, until the bill expires in 2028.

Antonio De Loera-Brust, a union spokesperson, said their leadership plans to honor their agreement, but didn’t provide specifics on timing: “We want this done as soon as possible,” he said.

In other news on the labor front: Citing its move into the next phase of its COVID-19 response, the California Department of Public Health released a plan Friday to end vaccination requirements for healthcare workers

  • CDPH Director Dr. Tomás Aragón: “…We have now reached a point where we can update some of the COVID-19 guidance to continue to balance prevention and adapting to living with COVID-19.”

The updated guidance also relaxes rules on masking in high-risk settings, and reduces the recommended isolation time after a positive COVID-19 test to five days, as well as reductions in state support for “underutilized” programs such as contact tracing. The eased requirements go into effect April 3.

The California Nurses Association opposed the move, saying it endangers the health and safety of health care workers. 

  • Bonnie Castillo, executive director of California Nurses Association: ​​“They want to pretend Covid is over, but it’s not over … Nurses and patients do not live in a world of make believe.”

As of March 2, more than 11 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported, with a daily average of 2,760. The number of hospitalizations were only down by about 3%  compared to last year, but the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU are down about 52%. More than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 had been reported in California, CalMatters continues to track the numbers.  


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A push for governmental reform has popped up in an unlikely place: the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.


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Eli Lilly slashed insulin prices, starting a race to the bottom // California Healthline

San Diego police want streetlight cameras, license plate readers as crime-fighting tool // San Diego Union-Tribune

Prison for 2 in CA Democratic headquarters bomb plot // Los Angeles Times

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is hospitalized in S.F. with shingles // San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area single-family homes with garages face earthquake risks. California is offering money for retrofits // San Francisco Chronicle

As the Oakland NAACP battles for fired police chief, it also fights for its relevance // San Francisco Chronicle

Nearly 1.5 million California seniors could get help to buy food, but don’t. Here’s why // Sacramento Bee

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email sameea@calmatters.org.

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