Big bucks for ballot measures in 2024 California election

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La August 4, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

Big bucks for ballot measures in 2024 California election

From CalMatters data reporter Jeremia Kimelman:

As California’s 2024 election gets more crowded by the day, some ballot measure campaigns are already building their war chests for the costly fight to come, raising more than $60 million since January.

Last year, nearly $700 million was spent, mostly by companies, to sway voters on seven November measures, the vast majority on two sports gambling measures that both failed

And, like last year, at least two measures next November will be industry-backed referenda to overturn new laws.

Almost immediately after the passage last year of a law to establish a fast food workers council to set wages and workplace standards for restaurants, fast food chains vowed to fight the bill. By January, they gathered enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot, freezing the law until after the vote.

And last month, the money started flowing into their campaign. On July 5, In-n-Out cut a $10 million check to the ballot measure committee. Over the next two days, McDonalds, Chick-fil-a and Chipotle all donated $10 million as well. So far, the committee has reported raising more than $50 million.

Not as much cash has been raised by the oil industry campaign that spent $20 million to qualify a November 2024 referendum to block a state law banning new wells within 3,200 feet of hospitals and schools

So far, there aren’t any committees officially involved in the measure, but one committee entirely funded this cycle by Chevron, Valero, and Marathon Petroleum has raised $2.1 million. More money may be on the way: Wednesday, a coalition of environmental and public health groups filed a competing initiative to uphold the law. 

Next November, voters will also decide on a measure to remove some limits on cities’ ability to enact local rent control. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is in for $10 million supporting the measure

Though there is no official opposition committee yet, the California Apartment Association reported more than $1.7 million in contributions this year. In 2020, the group spent more than $72 million to defeat Proposition 21, the most recent rent control measure on the statewide ballot.

Not too early for 2026: Though voters won’t select the next governor and other statewide officials until 2026, some candidates have already launched campaigns — and are collecting cash, too.

The top three fundraisers so far:


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1 Lessons in CA housing policy

Residential single family homes under construction in the community of Valley Center on June 3, 2021. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters
Residential single family homes under construction in the San Diego County community of Valley Center on June 3, 2021. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

From CalMatters’ housing reporter Ben Christopher:

California lawmakers — specifically Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener — got two abject lessons in how state housing policy does and doesn’t work on Thursday.

Lesson 1: Going big often isn’t nearly big enough

Five years ago, the Legislature passed a law authored by Wiener that lets apartment developers sidestep environmental review of their projects in parts of California that haven’t kept up with state housing production goals. In exchange, the projects have to set aside a certain number of units for lower income residents and abide by union-favored labor standards.

How has the law worked in practice? 

Researchers at the UC Berkeley Terner Center put out a report card:

  • Between 2018 and 2021, the law was used to fast-track the approval of 15,335 new units, with 2,880 still pending.
  • 62% of the fast-tracked projects were composed entirely of units set aside for people making less than 80% of the local median income. That isn’t entirely surprising; the bill included laxer standards for “affordable” projects.

Wiener is trying to push an 11-year renewal version of the same law through the Legislature this year with a few controversial tweaks.

While 18,000 units may be a significant boost, it’s a drop in an ocean of housing unaffordability. The state Housing and Community Development Department says the state needs to be churning out more than 300,000 units every year.

  • Wiener, to the Los Angeles Times: "These laws are complicated and it takes time for people to figure out how to use them."

Lesson 2: Passing a law is one thing. Putting it into action is another.

In 2021, California passed another Wiener bill to let small apartment complexes of as many as 10 units skip environmental review if they’re built near public transportation or in otherwise dense urban areas.

But there’s a catch: Cities have to opt in. 

So far none have, but San Diego was thinking of becoming the first. 

On Thursday morning, the city planning commission began debating Mayor Todd Gloria’s package of policies meant to streamline housing development, cut costs and protect renters. Included in the package was Wiener’s proposal — the red-hot issue of the day.

Dozens of irate homeowners — and more than a few supporters of the policy — gathered to give public testimony that lasted more than five hours.

The result: The commission unanimously voted to pass the housing package along to city council on Sept. 21 — but only after stripping out the Wiener policy. 

  • After the vote, Wiener simply praised the mayor: “I support what Mayor Gloria is trying to do and appreciate his willingness to fight for more housing. I know he’ll continue to work for a brighter housing future for San Diego.”

California’s housing crisis, explained: CalMatters has detailed looks at why housing is so expensive in California and why homelessness is so persistent, plus lesson-plan-ready versions for teachers, libraries and community groups as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative.

2 How to lure more college students

Marketing for California Community Colleges at the Sacramento International Airport in Sacramento on July 31, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters
Marketing for California Community Colleges at the Sacramento International Airport in Sacramento on July 31, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

As California community colleges struggle with some of the lowest enrollment rates in decades due to COVID — with colleges losing nearly 20% of students between 2019 and 2021 — some institutions are using their $1 billion in federal and state pandemic aid on marketing blitzes to woo new students and retain current ones, writes CalMatters’ community college reporter Adam Echelman.

These campaigns include calling and texting potential students, hiring outreach staff and holding in-person events at high schools. But some of the more extraordinary examples include high-tech drone displays from Los Rios Community College District and time-honored billboards from San Diego Miramar College (Don Draper would be proud). 

The Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, which has spent more than $40 million on marketing since 2021, double the prior two years, is buying TV commercials during the Women’s and upcoming Men’s World Cup.

  • Gabe Ross, chief strategy officer for Los Rios Community College District: "We may never have this kind of influx of resources again."

While it’s difficult to measure these campaign’s success in luring students, Ross told Adam that his district expects to see a near 10% enrollment increase this fall after losing more than 18% of its students during the pandemic. 

Keep in mind that community colleges in the U.S. spend far less on marketing compared to other colleges and universities. For-profit colleges spend more than four times the money on advertising per student than private colleges, and 20 times compared to public institutions, according to a 2020 report from the Brookings Institution. And community colleges spend less on average per-student than four-year institutions.

In other higher education news: California State University will likely not hit goals to increase graduation rates by 2025, EdSource reported Thursday. Though its four-year graduation rate of 35% in 2022 is twice as high as it was in 2015, according to a report by The Campaign for College Opportunity, the nonprofit estimates that CSU is not on track to reach its targets — which it established for itself in 2016 — for increasing graduation rates among incoming first-time students within six years and transfer students within four years.

Racial disparities still persist as well, the report finds, as the four-year graduation rate for underrepresented populations, such as Black, Latino and American Indian or Alaska Native students, is 14 percentage points lower than white and Asian students.

Also on Thursday, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said he will retire from the position next summer, reports the Los Angeles Times. His announcement follows a sexual abuse scandal related to a former UCLA gynecologist, which cost the University of California $700 million in settlements. By the time he officially steps down on July 31, 2024, he would have served as chancellor for 17 years. Block will return to UCLA as a faculty member, researching sleep. 


CalMatters Commentary

Expanding the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument would be a significant step, especially for L.A.-area Latinos who lack access to open space, writes Mike Gomez, a pastor at Calvary Chapel Assembly of God in Los Angeles and a member of Por La Creación, a coalition of Latino faith leaders working to protect the nation’s natural resources.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

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Medi-Cal covers gender-transition treatment, but getting it isn’t easy // California Healthline

Why child marriage is legal in CA and who wants to keep it that way // Los Angeles Times 

California needs renewable energy, so could we harness wave power? // KQED

Valley fever risk increases in California after heavy winter rains // Los Angeles Times

Near $1 billion land purchase near Travis Air Force Base under investigation // KQED

Actors on strike, but many A-list celebrities still working // Los Angeles Times

Attempt to change Anaheim minimum wage election date denied // Orange County Register

The first help center for Thai workers in the US open in LA // LAist

Bay Area startup Alef plans to build and sell world's first flying car // San Francisco Chronicle

Caldor Fire survivors are taking legal action against US Forest Service // CapRadio

Salesforce cuts more jobs, other SF tech firms confirm layoffs // San Francisco Chronicle

New San Jose law would ban homeless encampments near schools // The Mercury News

Temecula school district sued over its ban of ‘critical race theory’ // Los Angeles Times

See you next week


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