How many ways does homelessness impact California? Here’s another
Most of what Californians experience with homelessness occurs along public spaces and city streets. With more than 170,000 unhoused people in the state, residents often see the crisis reflected in encampment tents along a roadside or panhandling on street corners.
But one aspect of homelessness has surprisingly presented itself in Ojai, a small mountain valley town located in Ventura County.
As CalMatters’ political reporter Alexei Koseff explains, the controversy first started with an explosive report from the county’s grand jury: An unnamed Ojai council member has not been living in the district since December 2021. And because they failed to establish a new residency in Ojai within 30 days, under local ordinance, they have thereby vacated their seat.
That council member is Suza Francina — a 74-year-old resident who has lived in Ojai for 67 years and served the city for more than 10 years.
In November 2021, the owners of the house she had been renting for the past eight years kicked her out when they decided to remodel the place. And so, for the past 18 months, Francina has been technically homeless — living in a small room above the garage at a friend’s home, across town from her district.
Now her opponents are leveraging her living situation, or rather lack thereof, to boot her off the council. They accuse Francina of hanging onto her seat because her political stakeholders need her vote on certain issues. During a three-hour city council meeting last week to determine whether or not Francina should be allowed to keep her seat, one resident said the “situation has gone on long enough.”
- Drew Mashburn: “Doing nothing is no longer an option. To honor your oaths, you must first uphold the law.”
Francina has never kept her housing status a secret (she even spoke to local media about it). And she doesn’t want to vacate her seat. Instead, she wants the city council to amend the election code so that she could continue being a council member while she finds a place to live within her district. Otherwise, only people who are wealthy enough to be homeowners will be able to securely serve on the council, she argues.
- Francina: “That’s unethical. You will not have a diverse council if they do not amend this ordinance.”
Her situation calls into question who is allowed to have influence in local politics. It also reflects a major driver of homelessness: The state’s lack of affordable housing. Along with economic instability, it’s one of the most common reasons unhoused people cite for why they’re homeless — more so than mental health issues or addiction.
In Ojai, demand for housing outpaces development. Despite a local ban, vacation rentals are replacing affordable guesthouses. And a low-income development on the outskirts of the city has a years-long waiting list.
For Francina, who has advocated in past years for the city to adopt environmentally friendly building standards and bicycle infrastructure, the irony doesn’t escape her: “We worked so hard to preserve it and here’s our reward. We can’t afford it.”
To find out what the council members ultimately decided, read Alexei’s story here.
Training the next generation: CalMatters has eight summer interns who are working across the organization, including in editorial, photography, membership and development. Read more about this stellar group from our engagement team.
Another honor for CalMatters: An award-winning series by CalMatters’ Julie Cart is up for another prize, this time a global one. “Trial By Fire,” which tells the stories of firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress, is one of seven finalists in long-form writing in the Covering Climate Now contest, which drew a total of more than 1,100 entries across all the categories.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Child care providers ramp up campaign
The campaign to pay child care providers more — workers who are mostly women of color — is reaching a fever pitch as the union contract for 40,000 home-based providers expires at the end of June, reports Jeanne Kuang from CalMatters’ California Divide team.
On the table? Union members are seeking a 25% bump in reimbursement rates, a bill that includes recalculating reimbursement rates and the inclusion of $1 billion in the state budget.
In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom allowed home child care providers to unionize and bargain with the state over subsidized child care reimbursement rates. Those bargaining rights are coming to a head now as child care providers argue that they don’t get paid enough by the state to cover the cost of their businesses. They want to increase the reimbursement rate and set up a trust for retirement benefits with state funding.
Gabriela Guerrero, a child care provider Jeanne spoke to, said that after accounting for costs, she takes home about $3 or $4 an hour. In Guerrero’s region, it costs a home-based provider an estimated $39,000 a year to provide quality care for one infant or toddler. The state reimburses about $12,000.
- Guerrero, from Imperial County: “I want the families to go to work knowing that (their children are) well taken care of, and they’re being loved and fed correctly.”
In the Legislature, lawmakers passed a spending proposal that included $1 billion for pay raises for 2023-24. But it will be an uphill battle as they continue to negotiate with Newsom while the state grapples with an estimated $31.5 billion deficit.
Sen. Monique Limón, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, has also written a bill that would direct the state to overhaul how it calculates reimbursement rates. One report suggests that rather than tying rates to how much the private sector charges (which are found to be artificially low), the state should look at how much it costs to provide care.
2 Affirmative action lite for CA?
When it comes down to it, the debate surrounding Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7 boils down to equity versus equality.
Assemblymember Corey Jackson, a Democrat from Perris, wants to amend the state constitution to allow the use of state money to fund programs that better the life and welfare of “specific groups based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, or marginalized genders, sexes, or sexual orientations.”
While it appears as if this measure would restore affirmative action — which the state already banned 27 years ago through Proposition 209 — Jackson argues that it does not, writes
CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn. Rather, the amendment would allow state agencies to send the governor a waiver request to avoid Prop. 209’s restrictions, as long as the exception is backed by scholarly research.
The reasoning behind the amendment is for the state to achieve greater equity: To compensate for historical injustices based on race, race must be considered in programs that aim to undo said injustices.
This is especially true with small, underrepresented populations. For example, because Black and Native American residents combined make up less than 10% of the state’s population, programs meant to broadly help “low-income Californians” may still fail to serve them.
But opponents of the measure, such as the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, argue that the proposal would fundamentally overturn Prop. 209 and “significantly weaken California’s constitutional principle of equal treatment for all.”
Because the amendment’s language is so broad, it could also allow the use of race as a factor in the state’s public universities’ admissions process, critics say. And it remains unclear, they argue, what scholarly research would be considered “sound.”
The measure awaits a third hearing in the Assembly. But even if it clears the required two-third votes from both chambers, it faces two major hurdles. First, voters might not pass it. Despite California being a liberal state, voters in 2020 struck down a proposition that would have restored affirmative action. Second, the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court is expected to strike down affirmative action nationwide sometime in June. Even if California voters were to pass Jackson’s amendment, the highest court may essentially prohibit it.
Speaking of amendments: Two other state constitutional amendments are on the Assembly floor calendar today: ACA 4 would allow prisoners who are still incarcerated to vote and ACA 8 would ban involuntary servitude as a form of criminal punishment.
But spokespersons for both Assemblymembers who authored the measures told me not to expect votes anytime soon. They’ll likely remain in the daily file until they can secure enough votes to pass — if that ever happens.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A groundbreaking new study traces the roots of California’s homelessness crisis.
Excessive taxes and local control are fueling the illegal cannabis market, writes Tiffany Devitt, board member of the California Cannabis Industry Association.
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