This story appeared in Calmatters
From CalMatters’ politics reporter Alexei Koseff:
Whatever lingering concerns legislative Democrats may have about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently revised proposal to punish oil companies for high gas prices, they seem ready to pass it anyway — and fast.
The bill sailed through its first committee hearing Wednesday, a week after Newsom’s office announced major changes — including a provision that would empower the California Energy Commission to establish a maximum profit margin for oil refiners above which they could be penalized, rather than asking the Legislature to determine that cap — and just two days after the amended language went into print.
The 13-2 party-line vote in the state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee followed hours of hand-wringing over how quickly the process is moving. But it set up the full 40-member Senate to pass the measure as soon as today, sending it to the Assembly for consideration before its spring recess at the beginning of April.
During the hearing, the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the oil industry in California, lambasted supporters of the bill for rushing into a new regulatory scheme without fully considering potential unintended consequences:
Yet aside from Sen. Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican who represents a major oil-producing district and who grilled Newsom’s senior climate advisor Lauren Sanchez about definitions in the measure, there were few questions from the committee members about the proposal itself.
Sen. Brian Dahle, the Bieber Republican who ran against Newsom for governor last year, called it “socialism. This is pushing the government to pick winners and losers.”
The Democrats on the panel mostly used their time to monologue. Many of them lamented the speed at which everything was moving, then justified their votes by pointing to internal deliberations that had been happening for months, to how much better the new proposal was than its previous iteration, and to the urgency of acting on an issue that has slammed their constituents’ pocketbooks.
Sen. Dave Min, a Costa Mesa Democrat, cast the proposal as a “moral obligation” to fix a system that, regardless of whether oil companies are actually colluding to gouge customers, has become completely warped to their financial benefit — to the tune of $700 million per day at the height of last year’s price spike that prompted Newsom to call a special session of the Legislature.
The lopsided vote in favor, pulling in even business-friendly Democrats who had expressed doubts about the governor’s original plan at an oversight hearing in late February, suggests Newsom has found a compromise that allows his party to score its political victory over a favorite liberal boogeyman without being too close to the fallout if prices at the pump soar again in the coming months.
CalMatters covers the Capitol: CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.
California spends billions and billions of your money, but it’s not always clear how much difference it makes. Any legislative requests for audits have to get the blessing of a joint Assembly-Senate committee, which decided the fate of several proposals Wednesday.
First up: A look at the state’s spending on homelessness.
From CalMatters housing reporter Ben Christopher:
Between 2018 and 2021, California spent nearly $10 billion trying to tackle the state’s homelessness crisis. Between 2021 and the end of this year, lawmakers plan to spend at least $12 billion more. Meanwhile, the population of Californians sleeping on sidewalks, beneath underpasses and alongside railroad tracks has only grown.
So where is all that money going?
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers wants to know. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted unanimously to order the State Auditor’s Office to answer some fairly basic unanswered questions about state homelessness policy:
Last month, the Newsom administration put out a report that offered a bird’s eye view of state homelessness spending. But that report notably did not get into how the money ought to be spent. That task now falls to the auditor.
Sen. Dave Cortese, a Campbell Democrat, initially proposed the audit after touring an encampment in San Jose last fall. Since then, he’s been joined by Cupertino Democratic Assemblymember Evan Low and three Republicans — Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh of Rancho Cucamonga, Sen. Roger Niello of Sacramento and Assemblymember Josh Hoover of Folsom.
That rare bipartisan coalition also wants the auditor, Grant Parks, to look at the management of homelessness dollars in the city of San Jose, plus in another city of the auditor’s choosing.
Also approved: An audit on long delays in wage theft claims.
As Alejandro Lazo and Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team report, the committee asked the state auditor to investigate the state Labor Commissioner’s Office to find out why it takes the agency so long to clear worker claims of wage theft.
This is despite labor unions, including the California Labor Federation, opposing the audit, saying that it is unnecessary and it would distract the department, already strained and understaffed, from carrying out real improvements.
As a compromise, proponents of the audit have agreed to push the start date to Sept. 1. And if the labor commissioner implements changes that will satisfy lawmakers before then, the committee can rescind its audit request.
By law, claims of wage theft are supposed to be in 120 days and decided 15 days after that. But in a multi-part investigation on wage theft, CalMatters revealed that from 2017 to 2021, California averaged 505 days, which later climbed to more than 800 days in 2022.
The massive three-day strike of the Los Angeles Unified School District is anticipated to end today, and as school workers demand better wages and working conditions, members of the Legislative Black Caucus and other Democrats, not surprisingly, voiced their support.
After a nearly years-long negotiation with the nation’s second-largest school district fell apart, members of Service Employees International Union Local 99 — which represents 30,000 L.A. Unified school workers who drive buses, prepare meals, clean classrooms and support students with special needs — began taking to the streets in protest on Tuesday.
According to a February 2022 survey, members of the union are 64% Latino, 20% Black and 74% women. Among other demands, the union is advocating for a 30% wage increase, better health benefits and more staffing.
The strike has upended the daily schedules of many Los Angeles residents, with students missing out on school and parents desperately looking for childcare options. The city’s mayor, Karen Bass, has also stepped in to assist with negotiations.
However, if “demands are not met,” union spokesperson Blanca Gallegos told the Los Angeles Times, another walkout may be in the works.
And on the subject of educators’ pay, from CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn:
The 28,000 educators of California State University earn roughly as much as professors at other similar campuses nationwide… or do they?
The overall findings, produced by Mercer, a global human resources firm that Cal State’s Office of the Chancellor hired, did not consider the higher cost of living in California compared to the rest of the nation, calling into question just how much the data reveal.
Instead, the study factored in “cost of labor” which is not the same thing. Cost of labor deals with the wages and benefits paid to employees. Cost of living refers to the cost of maintaining a certain standard of living — stuff like housing, food, and transportation — within a specific geographic area.
Several trustees stressed the full salary picture is incomplete without considering California’s higher cost of living.
The study’s national comparison group of roughly 80 public campuses didn’t include the University of California or the state’s community colleges, which have different missions than Cal State, Mercer’s representatives said. Many of the campuses in the comparison group were in states with far lower costs of living than California, such as Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota and Texas. Only one school from New York, a high-cost state, was on the list.
From CalMatters housing reporter Ben Christopher:
Experts have dubbed it “naturally-occurring affordable housing,” but you might know it better as “cheap apartments.”
Whatever you call it, it’s increasingly endangered in California, according to a new report out today from the California Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that advocates for more affordable housing.
In legislative circles, “Affordable housing” with a capital-A seems to get all the attention. Those are the units usually found in buildings built by nonprofits, that are subsidized with taxpayer dollars and legally restricted in how much they can rent for.
In California, there are a little more than 500,000 of those types of units, and they’re the destination of choice for billions of dollars in state spending each year.
That’s in contrast to nearly 864,000 affordable units of the “naturally-occurring” variety, according to the report, which drew on a database of private real estate data.
Looking at market rental data, property age, building quality and a list of other factors, the report estimates that:
Matt Schwartz, the partnership’s president, argued that state legislators need to start prioritizing this stock of cheap housing as the vital resource of still-affordable housing it is.
This isn’t just a California phenomenon. A 2021 report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company said these unsubsidized cheap rentals, rented “predominantly” by low-income people of color, make up “the lion’s share of affordable-housing units” across the country.
For about 1.6 million Californians, mobile home parks are their answer to affordable housing.
But as CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reported this week in a groundbreaking five-month investigation, state oversight of these parks is questionable.
She talks about her reporting in the latest episode of the “Gimme Shelter” podcast with Liam Dillon, a housing reporter for The Los Angeles Times. They discuss how poor housing conditions in California impact displaced residents and what state agencies are doing (and not doing) to address issues of substandard housing.
And coming next week: Manuela will have a follow-up report examining one possible solution: A loan program, run by the state housing department, designed to help mobile home park residents turn parks into co-ops. But even as parks have deteriorated, roughly $34 million has sat mostly untouched for a decade. With a program overhaul and $100 million infusion, the housing department is hoping to change that this spring.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Will the third time be the charm for Newsom’s crusade against California gasoline refiners for what he alleges have been unjustified price spikes in recent months?
CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: The water crisis in the West and the decline of the Colorado River are going to require painful changes for Southern California farms, and a lot less water.
Before and after photos: California towns swallowed by floods // Los Angeles Times
Newsom doubles down on Naloxone distribution in opioid ‘master plan’ // KQED
Bill would force Facebook, Google to pay publishers for news content // Los Angeles Times
Berkeley neighborhood undergrounding utility lines could be the last of its kind // Berkeleyside
California bill could ban the sale of Skittles, Hot Tamales and more // The Hill
New bill aims to outlaw caste discrimination in California // AP News
San Diego must make its largest ever annual pension payment this year // The San Diego Union-Tribune
Cal State to debut dual admission transfer program this fall // EdSource
Fresno homeless shelters to see security changes following investigation // Fresno Bee
Federal judge blocks key parts of California handgun law // AP News
Fewer than 10% of levees in Bay Area have a federal flood risk rating // KQED
UC admissions: Acceptance rates for every CA school // San Francisco Chronicle
Oakland landlords disrupt city council meeting, demanding end to eviction moratorium // The Oaklandside
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