Who’s watching out for residents of California mobile home parks?
It’s no surprise that California has an affordable housing crisis. It has squeezed 500,000 people out of the state and forced tens of thousands onto its streets.
But there’s an oft-overlooked group of Californians — 1.6 million of them — who live in mobile home parks. They tend to be older and poorer than the average renter, so the parks — where rent can be a little more than half the monthly housing cost of a single-family home — are a last refuge. And some of their residents are living in squalor.
In a five-month investigation, CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias uncovered questionable state oversight of mobile home parks across California. Focusing on a park on the outskirts of Stockton, she met residents who had to wade through pools of putrid brown liquid for months.
- Bobby Riley, an 87-year-old resident: “It was even terrible in here. It was just shit everywhere.”
Among Manuela’s key findings:
- State inspectors, who rely mostly on complaints filed by residents, visited 91% of parks in the last decade, but only half were full inspections and 330 parks weren’t visited at all.
- The state housing department conducts parkwide inspections for about 3,700 parks, while city and county governments oversee another 800.
- State law only outlines a goal, not a requirement, for parkwide inspections at 5% of mobile home parks each year, meaning that a park could go as long as 20 years without a full inspection.
- Former state Sen. Connie Leyva, a Democrat from Chino: “Obviously the percentage, five percent, is not enough…. It’s ridiculous. Ridiculous. It’s laughable.”
Other findings from Manuela’s investigation:
- Between July 2019 and October 2022, the state received at least one complaint from the public at 1,730 parks.
- Of the roughly 5,700 complaints that CalMatters reviewed, less than half received a response within five days, about a quarter took three weeks or longer and 3% of complaints did not get a state response for three months or more.
- The state is limited in what it can do when park conditions get really bad. It can prohibit park owners from collecting rent until owners fix the problems, but bringing in civil action falls to the city or county district attorney’s offices.
A representative from the state’s housing department, however, defended the state’s oversight:
- Kyle Krause, deputy director of codes and standards at the state housing department: “I think things are working, and they’re maybe frustrating for some and maybe painful for others, because it takes time for those violations to ultimately be corrected. But there are proper tools in place for all those things to happen.”
California’s water crisis, explained: Despite the series of atmospheric rivers and devastating floods, the state is still gripped by a deep drought. CalMatters has a detailed look at how California might increase its water supply. And now, you can read it in Spanish.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Newsom wraps his CA tour
From Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team:
On the last stop of his State of the State tour, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Sunday that the state is cracking down on the opioid crisis, partly by expanding the role of the state’s National Guard at the Mexico border.
California’s National Guard has already hired, trained and deployed 144 new members to prevent drug-trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, Newsom said at the Guard facility in National City after visiting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
The extra National Guard staff is aimed at relieving the strain on border officers and to combat manufacturing, distribution and trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border, one officer said. Specifically, they will be manning new X-ray technology to search cars for drugs as they cross official ports of entry, he said.
- Newsom: “They just showed me a massive seizure they did in the last 24 hours with this technology…quite literally the number of lives that were saved from that one act …. This is serious. This is literally life or death.”
An additional $15 million will be spent over the next two years establishing and operating a fentanyl enforcement program within the state Department of Justice, which will include intelligence gathering and investigations, Newsom said. He added the $1 billion his administration has already spent trying to address the problem “feels like a drop in the bucket.”
The rollout of his “master plan” for tackling the fentanyl and opioid epidemic also includes $79 million for distribution of Naloxone, the medication that quickly reverses an opioid overdose, which was already included in his proposed budget. The governor said 120,000 people had been revived with the medicine since his administration began.
Some 5,961 people died from fentanyl overdose in 2021, while 7,175 people died from any opioid overdose that same year, according to figures from the California Department of Public Health.
In December, Newsom’s office released figures showing that California in 2022 seized enough fentanyl to potentially kill the entire population of North America twice.
CalMatters politics reporter Sameea Kamal was one of the few journalists who followed the governor each day of his four-day policy tour. She gives her impressions, and along with CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff, analyzes what it means for California and for Newsom as he laid out proposals that will, for better or worse, shape his legacy.
With varying levels of detail, Newsom outlined solutions (dubbed “the California way”) to address the state’s homelessness, criminal justice and health care crises. In many ways, the tour gave him a chance to refocus the priorities he had in 2019, before “a recall effort and a seemingly inescapable pandemic scrambled his agenda,” write Sameea and Alexei.
These priorities include lowering consumer drug prices and revising 1990s-era crime policies that led to rising prison populations. Homelessness and housing also played an outsized role during the tour, bookending as themes to his kick-off event in Sacramento on Thursday and resurfacing again in San Diego on Sunday.
With the tour now behind him, Newsom will visit “Lithium Valley” near the Salton Sea in Imperial County today to see geothermal energy projects. Lithium and other rare minerals are key to batteries, which are essential in California’s electric vehicle revolution. His office plans to send its State of the State as a letter to the Legislature this week.
Newsom spokesperson Anthony York may have summed up the weekend best: The State of the State is not just a tour, “it’s a state of mind.”
2 Paying back workers and retirees
From Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team:
Why is it taking so long for the state to clear worker claims of wage theft?
State Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat, really wants to know. And this Wednesday, a legislative committee is set to act on his request for the independent state auditor to investigate the backlog at the understaffed California Labor Commissioner’s office, a years-long problem that has worsened as low-wage employees emerge from the pandemic.
Charged with enforcing some of the nation’s toughest labor laws, the Labor Commissioner’s Office has struggled to address wage claims in a timely manner, CalMatters detailed in a series of articles last year.
Wage theft — the failure of employers to pay the minimum wage, overtime premiums, or provide meal and rest breaks — primarily affects low-wage workers who often are immigrants or people of color.
By law, each worker’s claims are supposed to be heard and decided by 135 days. But between 2017 and 2021, California averaged 505 days. Back pay can take years to recover, and many who win their claims are never paid. The backlog was exacerbated last year, when new wage theft claims hit a record 38,000 and wait times climbed to nearly 800 days.
The office, which had no comment on the audit request, has been plagued with a high vacancy rate. Officials are asking for $12 million in the next fiscal year to add 43 staffers. The goal: Reduce wait times to 200 days.
Glazer’s audit request puts the moderate Democrat at odds with labor groups and workers’ advocates. In a joint letter to the audit committee last week, the California Labor Federation and several unions and worker centers warned an audit would divert the attention of an already stretched agency.
- Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, executive secretary-treasurer of the Labor Federation: “Everyone knows there’s a problem, including the labor commissioner. I don’t think an audit is going to tell us anything we don’t know already.”
On Friday, the federation announced its own proposed solutions. In addition to increased funding, the suggestions include cutting red tape in the state’s hiring process, boosting the use of criminal charges against problem employers and a bill expanding local officials’ abilities to sue businesses on behalf of workers to relieve pressure on the state.
“Given the failures of this office to effectively enforce wage theft laws, I am surprised to hear my friends in the labor community oppose this independent oversight,” Glazer said.
Speaking of payouts — CalPERS, the country’s largest public pension fund, will have to pay up big time for misleading clients.
In the 1990s, CalPERS promised it wouldn’t substantially raise rates on its long-term care insurance plans to retirees. But in 2012, it hiked rates by 85%, and continued to raise fees for years after, reports CalMatters’ Adam Ashton.
Now, CalPERS will owe policyholders (or their relatives if they are deceased) a total of $800 million to settle a lawsuit that it duped retirees into buying certain insurance plans with premiums that were “protected” from inflation, but actually weren’t. Some retirees, already on fixed incomes and strained budgets, opted for lesser coverage to limit costs.
The agreement is seen as a compromise, since CalPERS will ultimately owe a lot less than it could have if retirees were required to drop their insurance plans with the agency entirely. If that happened, CalPERS would have owed $50,000 apiece, which would have totaled $2.7 billion.
- Stuart Talley, an attorney for the plaintiffs: “There are so many people who want out of this program. Even though this isn’t the greatest settlement in the world, I think it’s best to move forward.”
3 More uncertainty for gig workers
Last week, a California appeals court upheld Proposition 22, ruling that platforms such as Uber, Lyft and Doordash can treat gig workers as independent contracts and not employees. It’s a classification that supporters say give drivers more flexibility, though it excludes them from certain workplace benefits, including minimum wage, sick leave, unemployment benefits and more.
The court considered most of Prop. 22 constitutional. But one part of the measure — a part that says a seven-eighths majority vote from the Legislature is required to enact amendments to the proposition — was struck down.
This is a small victory for pro-labor groups opposed to Prop. 22, reports CalMatters’ Grace Gedye, since “amendments to the proposition” can include laws that, for example, unionize app-based drivers, and a seven-eighths majority vote is incredibly difficult to achieve.
By invalidating this requirement, unions say the ruling gives lawmakers a pathway to pass collective bargaining legislation, via a simple majority. It’s one of many options drivers and the Service Employees International Union are considering, but even that strategy has its hurdles.
Not only would companies challenge the notion that a new law to unionize should be considered an amendment to the proposition in the first place, the companies could also argue that collective bargaining by workers who aren’t employees is price fixing and violates antitrust laws.
For now, parts of Prop. 22 remain in legal limbo as drivers and the unions they work with aim to appeal last week’s decision.
Grace also reports that Friday, a federal court handed down a ruling on the landmark California workplace law that changed the rules around who is an employee and who is an independent contractor — and that led to Prop. 22.
Uber, Postmates, and two individuals challenged the law on several grounds, including that the law targeted certain companies, and tried to get a court to stop it from going into effect for them.
They didn’t initially convince a district court judge. But on Friday a panel of judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found their claim about being targeted was plausible.
- Judge Jonnie B. Rawlinson: “Plaintiffs plausibly allege that the primary impetus for the enactment of A.B. 5 was the disfavor with which the architect of the legislation viewed Uber, Postmates and similar gig-based business models.”
The court also dismissed other claims that Uber and Postmates made about the law. Ultimately, the judges sent the case back down to a lower court for reconsideration.
- Samantha Prince, assistant professor of law at Penn State Dickinson Law: “Basically, what this court did was just add to the conversation by saying, ‘Maybe you need to relook at this.’”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Marion Joseph battled for years to boost phonics instruction. Now after her death last year, phonics is becoming the state’s favored method of overcoming California’s literacy crisis.
Artificial intelligence will pour gasoline onto existing tech battles, so California lawmakers need to tackle a whole new set of policy problems, writes Jarrett Catlin, a vice president at Tusk Strategies.
Other things worth your time
Newsom has barely used LGBTQ clemency initiative he launched // Los Angeles Times
New California bill would protect doctors who mail abortion pills to other states // AP News
The debate over California’s landmark environmental law hits new venue // Orange County Register
Dragging California’s child care crisis into the light // Capital & Main
Hundreds of affordable housing units at risk after SVB collapse // San Francisco Standard
A California town’s frantic fight to save itself from floods // Los Angeles Times
Could First Republic bank collapse trigger a recession? // San Francisco Chronicle
Manhattan Beach unveils new Bruce’s Beach monument // Los Angeles Times
LAUSD families prepare for school closings in possible strike // EdSource
Former Cal State Bernardino employees sue for discrimination, equal pay // The Fresno Bee
Shasta County offers top job to secessionist leader // Los Angeles Times
SF hired cops with incomplete background checks, state says // San Francisco Standard
Is the risk of getting long COVID changing? // San Francisco Chronicle
The hype versus reality of AI in Hollywood // Los Angeles Times
Reddit is leaving San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood // San Francisco Chronicle
Will SVB’s collapse burst San Francisco’s AI hype bubble? // San Francisco Standard