Dianne Feinstein remembered as political icon, but also with personal stories

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La October 6, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Dianne Feinstein remembered as political icon, but also with personal stories

A California political who’s who gathered Thursday to honor Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose unexpected death last week could reshape next year’s election.

Members of Congress — including Reps. Barbara Lee and Adam Schiff, who are running to succeed Feinstein — flew from Washington, D.C., with Vice President Kamala Harris on Air Force Two to be present.  

During the unseasonably warm afternoon outside San Francisco City Hall, the handful of speakers — interrupted intermittently by U.S. Navy Blue Angels flying overhead — called her a trailblazer for women and spoke of her integrity. 

But it may be the more personal remembrances that those sitting in the audience will take away from the roughly one-hour service.   

  • Vice President Kamala Harris: Feinstein “invited me to her Senate hideaway. There, with one hand, she presented me with a glass of California Chardonnay, and with the other hand, a binder full of her draft bills. And true to her mayoral roots, she was deeply immersed in the details of each bill…”
  • Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “She cultivated relationships, bringing people together: officially, personally and romantically. You know that Dianne was a matchmaker…. And Dianne cultivated flowers. She loved flowers, she’d grow them, to show them, to paint them and share them on drawings and on mugs. Anybody here have a Dianne mug?”
  • Eileen Mariano, Feinstein’s granddaughter: “She would also say to me, ‘If you ever go out of town, no matter where you’re going — doesn’t matter if you’re going to a city or the desert or a beach or the mountains — always pack a black pantsuit. There is no occasion to which you can’t wear a black pantsuit.'”

The 1,500 guests included Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. senators, “more than a dozen” members of Congress, state senators, city supervisors and others, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Former San Francisco mayors were also in attendance, including Willie Brown who told KCRA on Wednesday that his “only shot at heaven” was Feinstein “making the case.”

She served more than three decades in the U.S. Senate, and her death set off a flurry of political questions — mostly, who would be the one to immediately assume her seat as Democratic Reps. Lee, Schiff and Katie Porter have already been campaigning aggressively to be her successor.  

Faced with intense public pressure to appoint a Black woman to the job — in part due to his own comments in 2020 that he wanted to do so — the governor announced Sunday that EMILYs List President Laphonza Butler would replace Feinstein and is free to run a full term afterward. 

Butler, who also attended the memorial, is the first openly LGBTQ+ person and the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate. She has said she would wait until after the service to announce whether she will join the crowded field of candidates running for Senate next year. To give her some more time, the California Democratic Party announced Wednesday that it is extending its deadline to seek its endorsement from Oct. 13 to Oct. 27.


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1 Is state running out of rent relief?

Tenants and housing rights activists protest for a halting of rent payments and mortgage debt, during the COVID-19 outbreak, in Los Angeles, on Oct. 1, 2020. Photo by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters
Housing rights activists protest for a halting of rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, on Oct. 1, 2020. Photo by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

The state’s multi-billion dollar rent relief program for residents impacted by COVID-19 may soon run out of cash — and ultimately fail to deliver on previous claims that it would pay all eligible applicants.

As CalMatters’ housing reporter Ben Christopher explains, a group of lawyers representing anti-poverty groups that entered into a legal settlement with the state Housing and Community Development Department earlier this year received an email in September from a department staffer that said as of the end of July, “the program had $128,940,473 in funding left for disbursement to applicants” and that after another round of payments to about 5,500 households, there might only be enough money left for one additional payment.

In short, the 100,000-plus renters who are still awaiting assistance from the $5.2 billion rent program (which has already stopped taking new applications more than a year ago) may not receive help after all.

Department spokesperson Pablo Espinoza did not dispute the contents of the email, but said in a statement that the program did still have cash available.

  • Espinoza: “We have not run out of funds and we continue to evaluate applications that are eligible for funding…. The fact is that this was always meant to be a temporary emergency program, and funding is not infinite. It is unclear whether there will be sufficient funding to pay all eligible applicants.”

But this contradicts department statements from 2022, which asserted that the program would “continue to operate until all complete applications received are processed and all eligible applicants have been paid.” For more details on the issue, read Ben’s story.

2 Is CA headed toward recession?

Andrew McDowell, a small business owner of With Love Market & Cafe, rearranges the pastry case in Los Angeles, on August 4, 2021. According to McDowell, it has been a difficult task to keep his business in full operation due to the pandemic and a lack of financial assistance from the government. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
A small business owner of With Love Market & Cafe, rearranges the pastry case in Los Angeles, on August 4, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

From CalMatters’ new economy reporter Levi Sumagaysay:

The Legislative Analyst’s Office isn’t “necessarily in the business of calling a California recession,” said Brian Uhler, deputy legislative analyst — but it is sounding an alarm about a looming downturn. 

The office wrote this week: “Our primary indicator, which combines data on unemployment, inflation, home sales, and bond markets, has been giving a warning signal for a little over a year.” 

The office is now forecasting a possible $9.5 billion increase in state revenue relative to what it projected for the approved 2023-24 state budget, which covers a $30 billion-plus deficit, because of income tax withholding reversing a downward trend, and a rise in stock prices. But it still sees flat revenue coming from personal income, corporate and sales taxes for the next three years, Uhler said Thursday. 

“The outlook continues to be weak in historical terms,” Uhler said. “The warning lights haven’t turned off.”

In March, the state unemployment rate rose, triggering the “Sahm rule,” an indicator federal policymakers use to signal the start of a national recession, and which the LAO said has also accurately identified prior California recessions. The state unemployment rate has ​​climbed from 3.8% in August 2022 to 4.6% in August 2023.

But Jerry Nickelsburg, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast — which is not forecasting a recession because of what he sees as a continued strong job market — said Thursday that California data for the past two recessions show the “Sahm rule” was too early in indicating the 2008 recession by six months, but “did not pick up (the 2001) recession until three months after it started.”

Still, “we’re forecasting a very weak 2024,” Nickelsburg added, saying his expectation of a 1% economic growth rate is “fragile” and “plays directly into what the LAO is saying.”

3 Rooftop solar battle moves to apartments

Solar installers from Baker Electric place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego on Oct. 14, 2016. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters
Solar installers from Baker Electric place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego on Oct. 14, 2016. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

A proposal by the California Public Utilities Commission to reduce payments that apartment building owners would receive from the electricity they generate via rooftop solar panels is getting major pushback from an unlikely coalition of critics

And as CalMatters’ Ben Christopher explains, the concerns reflect the ongoing debate between environmentalists and state officials over how big a role individually-owned solar panels should play in Californian’s ambitious plan to move away from fossil fuel-derived energy.

On Oct. 12, the utilities commission will vote on a new pricing structure designed to buttress solar energy with batteries. Batteries can store solar energy gathered during the afternoon (when it’s abundant and cheap) and release it after the sun sets — when both solar energy drops off and when the CPUC’s proposed adjusted rates are higher. The proposal is similar to a policy the commission adopted in 2022 for solar-powered single-family homes. (In both cases, the new rules only apply to new customers.)

California’s major electric utility companies support the potential overhaul, arguing that the new rates, which vary over the course of a day, are more accurate and fairer to customers who don’t live in a building with solar panels. 

But landlords, tenant rights organizations, affordable housing advocates, environmental nonprofits and the building industry all argue that cutting rates would torpedo the multifamily solar market. 

  • David Chanin, co-founder of FutureFit Partners, a company that helps building owners sustainable energy investments: “Solar is one of the biggest revenue streams for a landlord asking, ‘Why should I invest all this money in a heat hump, a new hot water system?’ Under these new rules I have pretty serious concerns that entire building electrification projects just won’t pencil out anymore.”

Since the rate cuts for single-family homes went into effect, another solar industry expert  reported that the number of residential solar projects dropped at least 40%. 

Opponents also argue that the proposal is counterintuitive to California’s own goals to combat climate change, air pollution and the affordable housing crisis. For more on the CPUC’s new plan, read Ben’s story.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters at Politifest: We’re teaming up with Voice of San Diego for the annual event. It’s today and Saturday, and focuses on California’s housing and water crises. Register here.

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