Will Newsom’s Delta tunnel plan hold up the budget?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La June 16, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

Will Newsom’s Delta tunnel plan hold up the budget?

Scheduling note: WhatMatters will observe the Juneteenth holiday on Monday and be back in your inboxes on Tuesday.

From CalMatters politics reporter Alexei Koseff:

As legislative leaders continue to negotiate a budget deal with Gov. Gavin Newsom ahead of the start of the fiscal year on July 1, expansive “trailer bills” proposed by the governor — essentially riders to the spending plan that provide an expedited path to changing policy — are the biggest remaining holdup to an agreement.

A package of measures advanced by Newsom to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects has proved particularly contentious, with lawmakers increasingly speaking out publicly about their discomfort with rushing through the proposal, which was unveiled just last month, in the budget.

“The Legislature feels that the policy process matters,” said Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a San Ramon Democrat and one of several lawmakers who has expressed reservations during recent committee hearings about adopting such significant revisions to environmental law without more comprehensive scrutiny.

A major concern for some legislators is the possibility that Newsom could use the permitting overhaul to fast-track the Delta tunnel, a controversial project that would carry more water to Southern California and is vehemently opposed by many residents of the north.

Without safeguards against that, the infrastructure package is a nonstarter for Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua, a Stockton Democrat.

“I understand the need to cut through red tape for projects such as housing or public transportation — these are issues many of us can get on board with,” he said in a statement. “But the excess risk that the Delta Tunnels pose on our communities cannot afford to lose any proper oversight.”

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat who leads the Senate budget committee, said Thursday that a deal is close, though she acknowledged that anxieties over which projects would benefit from streamlined review are a factor in the ongoing deliberations with the governor.

“If the past is any indicator, there will be some revisions to it,” she said.

Budget rundown: While the biggest hang-up may be infrastructure and environmental policy, the budget is still about the money — who gets it and who doesn’t. Thursday’s passage by lawmakers — meeting a constitutional deadline and also guaranteeing they keep getting paid — followed a familiar script. 

Democrats patted themselves on the back: They said the plan protects key programs from cuts despite the deficit and advances a more equitable economy.

Republicans objected, but their votes weren’t needed: They complained about a lack of transparency and warned that the revenue picture could worsen.

  • Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher, in a statement: “Californians deserve a real budget that controls spending, helps the economy and makes our state a better place to live. This spending plan isn’t it.”

Interest groups chimed in: Child care workers rallied at the Capitol to urge Newsom to agree to the $1 billion in additional pay in the legislative plan, while the League of California Cities thanked legislators for including $1 billion in grants for local homelessness programs, but bemoaned the lack of ongoing funding. 

For the record, the vote was 32-8 in the Senate and 61-14 in the Assembly.

Speaking of lots of money: CalMatters investigative reporter Lauren Hepler writes that a proposed class-action lawsuit filed in state court this week alleges that the California Employment Development Department violated workers’ rights to due process and illegally wasted public funds amid mass pandemic unemployment delays and panic over fraud. 

Attorneys say that, if certified by a judge, the lawsuit could include “hundreds of thousands” of workers who were allegedly not properly informed about critical issues with their cases, such as benefit denials, allegations that they committed fraud or orders to repay the state for money received. The complaint, filed by Legal Aid at Work and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, seeks financial damages and changes to the state’s unemployment system to make communications with workers easier to understand. 

  • George Warner, staff attorney for Legal Aid at Work: “A lot of claimants come to us, and they do not understand what is happening. Oftentimes, we look at the notices, and we don’t fully understand, either.”

Among the problems cited with communications from the EDD: hard-to-understand forms, important notices lost in the mail, “misleading” legal information and a tendency to “bury” information about workers’ rights to appeal their cases. The new lawsuit is one of several pending against the EDD or contractors including unemployment debit card provider Bank of America.


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1 A rare defeat for abortion rights advocates

An examination room at the Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Sacramento on June 1, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
An examination room at the Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Sacramento on June 1, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

What happens inside a “crisis pregnancy center” depends on who you ask.

To Democratic Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo of Santa Clarita Valley and other abortion rights advocates, these centers provide minimal medical services, stop women from accessing  abortions and are a “physical manifestation of the anti-abortion movement.” 

But as CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang explains, ask the directors of these centers and they paint another picture. They argue that the centers provide vulnerable women with abortion alternatives, as well as parenting support, which can include classes and free diapers.

  • Marie Leatherby, president of the California Alliance of Pregnancy Care and executive director of Sacramento Life Center: “We are a safety net for women that want to carry. (For) most women, it’s just a great place to start your pregnancy.”

According to a CalMatters analysis, more counties in California have at least one crisis pregnancy center than have abortion clinics. In rural areas, where primary care doctors are in short supply, these centers outnumber abortion clinics 11 to 2. Only about half of the centers in California are state-licensed facilities, according to Leatherby, but more are increasingly seeking to be licensed.

Sacramento-area resident Gabriel (her middle name, to protect her privacy) said she visited one of these centers as a “last resort” when she sought an abortion in 2016 with her boyfriend and couldn’t afford Planned Parenthood’s out-of-pocket fee. Describing her experience to Kristen, she said staffers gave her “random scary statistics like 80% of couples who go through abortion together break up.”

  • Gabriel: “I was definitely stressed and embarrassed. The rational part of my brain told me this was part of their fear tactic, but at the same time he and I were only like 22 or something still trying to figure our lives out. Naturally part of me was wondering if they were right about everything.”

Despite California recently voting to enshrine abortion and reproductive rights in the state’s constitution, two bills focused on these centers didn’t survive the suspense file: AB 315 would have stopped them from advertising misleading information, while AB 710 would have required the state Public Health Department to conduct a public awareness campaign about them.

2 CA may get more official symbols

The California golden chanterelle. Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters and Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The California golden chanterelle. Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters and Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The California golden chanterelle — an expensive, edible and strikingly yellow mushroom — is on its way to receiving the esteemed honor as the official state mushroom. The decision awaits a Senate floor vote after the committee on governmental organization passed the bill on Tuesday. The bill is authored by Democratic Assemblymember Ash Kalra of San Jose.

  • Kalra, at Tuesday’s hearing: The bill “would provide the public a golden opportunity to celebrate not just the critical role of fungi, but also their state’s rich history, culture and biodiversity.”

In addition to its crucial ecological benefits, the chanterelle is a pricey “culinary delicacy” that fetches as much as $224 per pound. The chanterelle was nominated by mycological citizen groups, as well as the California Institute for Biodiversity, in a crowded race among five other candidates, edging out the western jack-o’-lantern by nearly 300 votes. 

Besides the mushroom, another official symbol may get added this legislative session: Sen. Caroline Menjivar, a Van Nuys Democrat, wants to name a state bat, after a constituent gave her a 20-minute presentation on the topic. 

  • Menjivar, in a recent interview: “This 12-year-old young girl, she was like, ‘The pallid bat is so diverse, it has a golden coat just like California the Golden State.’ So I said I’m going to do the state bat, that’s the thing I’ll do.”

In addition to the well-known state flowers, birds and trees, states deem all kinds of things as symbols. California is no exception: Among the 40 or so official symbols, there’s a state fossil (saber-toothed cat), state fabric (denim) and a state dance because why not (West Coast Swing).

But proposing a state symbol isn’t always a guarantee. There have been failed attempts to establish a state milkshake, horse and ship. In 2006, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed an attempt to make Zinfandel California’s state wine, saying that it was inappropriate to single “one out for special recognition.”

3 How to make housing affordable in Fresno

Panelists listen to a question from the audience during a CalMatters-Fresnoland discussion on affordable housing at the Fresno Art Museum on June 15, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

From Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team:

If I can’t afford to live in the region where I grew up, where do I go?

It’s a question on the mind of many Californians struggling to find or keep affordable housing, while the cost of living and housing prices only seem to climb higher.

CalMatters partnered with Fresnoland to host a conversation Thursday evening about the situation in the Fresno area, where historic patterns of disinvestment in low-income communities of color, suburban sprawl and sudden pandemic population growth have made housing affordability concerns acute.

A panel of renter advocates, housing officials and local leaders, moderated by CalMatters housing policy reporter Ben Christopher, explored housing solutions for the Fresno region — and where more innovative ideas might be necessary.

Fresno, like much of the Central Valley, is often viewed as one of the last affordable regions of the state. But the pandemic’s sudden influx of remote workers fleeing more expensive regions of California dramatically increased housing costs and suddenly flipped a chunk of the area’s single-family rental homes to ownership, said Danielle Bergstrom, founder and executive director of Fresnoland. This paralyzed Fresno’s significant population of lower-income workers, she said.

Since 2020, Ben said, Fresno has seen both rents and the average home price increase by 35%.

Michael Duarte, chief real estate officer for Fresno’s public housing agency, said the pandemic only placed a greater spotlight on affordable housing struggles in the region. There’s always been great demand for affordable housing in Fresno, Duarte said, but the current need is “tremendous.” 

Some are so economically squeezed, they’re sometimes devoting three-quarters of the income to rent. Fresno renters are flooding new affordable housing options:

  • About 10,000 applied for a new 60-unit affordable housing community in Clovis, just east of Fresno;
  • More than 4,000 applications in two weeks for a 57-unit complex in the downtown Fresno neighborhood of Chinatown;
  • And 10,000 applications for Fresno’s Section 8 wait list on the very first day it opened.

The other panelists — Alexandra Alvarado, lead housing organizer for Faith in the Valley; Elliott Balch, president and CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership; and Anna Velazquez, district director for state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Merced Democrat — broke down dueling solutions that could expedite the creation of desperately-needed housing options. 

Some projects have already attracted state or city investment, such as replacing aging downtown infrastructure to spur denser housing, or pandemic rental assistance and eviction protections. But others that could be just as effective — including deed restrictions mandating affordable units in certain developments, or implementing rent caps — still failed to attract political support, while residents struggled to be heard.

“In the face of urgency, people really can move mountains,” Bergstrom said.

If you missed the panel, you can watch it here soon.

This is the latest in a series of public events CalMatters is hosting this year. Read more from our engagement team, check out our calendar and sign up today.

California’s housing crisis, explained: CalMatters has detailed looks at why housing is so expensive in California and why homelessness is so persistent. Now, there’s a lesson-plan-ready version of these explainers and other information — especially made for teachers, libraries and community groups — as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative, with Spanish translations. 


CalMatters Commentary

California’s isolation from the western U.S. power grid leaves it vulnerable, writes Mark Sprecht, a senior analyst for the climate & energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

CA Assembly speaker power struggle leaves bitter aftertaste // Politico

Silicon Valley luminaries boost RFK Jr.’s anti-vaccine message // California Healthline

Tech exec Joe White hired to lead the British charm offensive in Silicon Valley // Politico

West Coast dockworkers agree on contract with ports // The New York Times 

How trauma fuels Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s work for California // Los Angeles Times

Newsom and Texas sheriff ‘compare notes’ on possible DeSantis prosecution // Fox 11

DeSantis responds to Newsom’s criticisms, tells him to ‘challenge Joe’ // SFGATE

Thousands of California cops could be decertified under new law // San Francisco Chronicle

Pell Grant eligibility for students in prisons to be reinstated in July // EdSource

Breed accused of gutting SF ethics commission after FBI probe // The San Francisco Standard

Mayor London Breed discusses SF’s woes and what lies ahead // The New York Times

Marine suspected of firebombing Planned Parenthood clinic // The San Diego Union-Tribune

What’s missing from CA’s inmate recidivism report // CBS 13

Homeless residents unsure what to do next with new camping ban // Voice of San Diego

Sacramento County to remove foster children from former juvenile cells // The Sacramento Bee

See you next week


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