More CA ballot measures try to go around Legislature

This story appeared on Calmatters

Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, a Ponoma Democrat, tracks bills during session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 24, 2023.

State lawmakers are passing many, many bills before they end the legislative session next Thursday.

But under California’s system of direct democracy — and happening at the same time — advocates for various causes are trying to go straight to the voters when their elected representatives won’t do what they want.

Tuesday, victims’ families filed an initiative to increase punishments for fentanyl dealers as legislative Republicans hit a Democratic roadblock for a similar constitutional amendment.

Former Fox News host Steve Hilton plans to file a ballot measure on another top-of-mind issue that legislators are wrestling with — the housing crisis. The California Homeownership Affordability Act seeks to defang the state’s landmark environmental law, which Gov. Gavin Newsom and YIMBY advocates also want to do. 

But as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the initiative would go further by only allowing the state attorney general and local district attorneys to sue under the California Environmental Quality Act to block housing projects. And it includes a second part that may not be as popular with Democrats: It calls for capping many of the impact fees paid by developers and used by cities and counties to help cover their costs of providing services to new residents.

Also, Next Gen Personal Finance filed a measure on Tuesday that would require high schoolers to pass a personal finance course to graduate. It’s similar to a bill that was introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, but weakened in the face of opposition from California School Boards Association, which said it interfered with local school districts. The Sacramento Democrat told Politico he backs the initiative, as did state schools chief Tony Thurmond.

One big caveat: Even if it qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, the initiative wouldn’t take effect until the 2029-30 school year.

After a relatively paltry seven ballot measures last November, next November is looking more and more like a collision of competing measures with campaigns that will cost millions of dollars.

At the same time, the Legislature can put measures on the ballot, and on Wednesday two proposed constitutional amendments with substantial implications for California elections cleared a major hurdle. 

After lengthy floor debates, the Assembly advanced both Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, which would lower the threshold for passing local housing and infrastructure bonds to 55% from two-thirds, and ACA 13, which would require initiatives raising the threshold for new taxes to pass by that same margin. If approved by the Senate before the end of session next week, they would go to voters in March. ACA 13 is particularly contentious because it is an effort to knee-cap an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot, which would set a higher benchmark for local voters to pass special taxes. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers are already turning their attention to lobbying Gov. Newsom to sign their favored bills, according to CalMatters state Capitol reporters Alexei Koseff and Sameea Kamal

On Wednesday morning, state Sen. Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat, appeared outside the Capitol with supporters of Senate Bill 702, which would require the governor’s office to release an annual report with demographic data about thousands of appointees to state board and commissions.

Limón said her bill, which has bipartisan support and passed the Senate unanimously in May, is a critical transparency measure to ensure the racial, gender, geographic and other diversity of California is represented in positions of power. But Newsom has vetoed two previous versions, citing cost considerations and the questionable utility of the self-reported data.

  • Limón: “We believe that our governor has made so many firsts that are very, very critical, but our governor is terming out in a couple years. So how do we institutionalize the best practices that we’ve seen in this administration? For many of us here, it’s not leaving it to chance.”

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Aisha Wahab, a Fremont Democrat, hosted a press conference on SB 403, her caste discrimination measure that passed through the Legislature Tuesday, noting that the “world is watching” and that other jurisdictions could follow California’s lead.

  • Wahab: “I know the governor will stand on the right side of justice, with the most marginalized people, and the right side of history.”

Wahab was flanked by three advocates, who are on a hunger strike until Newsom decides on the bill. Tarina Mand, chair of the South Asian Bar Association of North America’s Racial Justice Task Force, addressed arguments by opponents, such as the fact that not everyone has a caste. 

  • Mand: “California protects people with disabilities. Does everyone here have a disability? No. Should we protect people with disabilities? Yes.”

She added that no one would be required to reveal their caste background, as some fear: “Regardless of their caste background, irrespective of whether they’re low caste or high caste, the bill protects everyone equally.”


CalMatters events: The next event is scheduled for Sept. 19, on Gov. Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here. Here’s our coverage of the prior panel discussions in Sacramento, in May on homeownership, in June on police shootings and in August on electric vehicles and inequality.


School district’s ‘outing’ policy blocked

Attorney General Rob Bonta addresses the media during a press conference announcing new gun legislation targeting the state's public carry laws on Feb. 2, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Attorney General Rob Bonta during a press conference on Feb. 2, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters K-12 education reporter Carolyn Jones:

Chino Valley Unified’s controversial policy of informing parents if their children alter their gender identity is on hold, at least for now.

A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge on Wednesday granted the state’s request for a temporary restraining order, blocking the district from enforcing the 7-week-old policy. The order will be in place until the court rules on Attorney General Rob Bonta’s lawsuit to overturn the policy entirely

  • Bonta, in a statement: “(The) court’s decision rightfully upholds the state rights of our LGBTQ+ student community and protects kids from harm by immediately halting the board’s forced outing policy. While this fight is far from over, today’s ruling takes a significant step towards ensuring the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming students.”

The district’s policy requires teachers and other school staff to inform parents within three days of discovering that a child has changed their gender identity. That could include using different pronouns or joining a team or club that doesn’t align with the student’s gender identity on school records. Since Chino adopted the policy, several other districts have enacted similar policies. Orange Unified is scheduled to vote on one tonight.

The state argued that the policy discriminates against LGBTQ students, violates students’ privacy and is intended to harm students who are already vulnerable. Bonta also launched a civil rights investigation into the policy.

Chino Valley Unified’s board president, Sonja Shaw, was defiant about the district’s position.

  • Shaw, in a statement: “The battle has just begun. Parents, school boards: pay close attention. We can prevail as long as we stand united and strong against this agenda to marginalize parents and separate us further from our children. (Our policy) does not stop any lifestyle changes, it simply says the parents have a right to know what is going on at school…. The state picked the wrong parents to fight with.”

Speaking of students: Carolyn also dives into the effort by California public schools to engage students who are consistently late or absent from class. Last year, chronic absenteeism was around 30% — an all-time high and double the rate before the pandemic. The highest rates were among kindergarteners, in particular Black and Pacific Islander students, as well as students who have disabilities.

Reasons why kids cut class vary: Lack of transportation is the most common, but some students also work, care for a family member or are being bullied. Absenteeism doesn’t just jeopardize students’ chances of graduating; it can also lead to schools losing state revenue.

The state has poured billions into initiatives, aimed at boosting student engagement, such as after-school and summer programs, improved school meals, offering social services to students and their families, on-campus wellness centers and expanded school bus services. 

The Legislature is also taking notice — the Assembly recently asked Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonpartisan research organization, to study the issue and come up with recommendations. Read more on this issue in Carolyn’s story.

CA cuts EV rebates

An electric vehicle recharges at an electric vehicle charging station in Milbrae on July 29, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

An electric vehicle recharges at a charging station in Milbrae on July 29, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

If you’re eyeing an electric vehicle and counting on a state rebate to save some money, you may be out of luck depending how much you make.

More than 1.6 million electric cars have been sold in California, in part due to the incredibly popular Clean Vehicle Rebate Project that has been enticing early adopters since 2010. But now that zero-emission cars have become mainstream, the state is shifting its focus to lower-income residents, writes CalMatters’ climate reporter Alejandro Lazo.

California has ambitious goals to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2035. And as of July, the average cost of an electric car was $53,469 — about $5,000 more than the average car.

Under the current program, individuals earning less than $135,000 a year and families earning as much as $200,000 can receive as much as $7,000 for a new electric car. But starting next year, under the revamped Clean Cars 4 All program, Californians who earn more than 300% of the federal poverty level will not be eligible for a state subsidy (that’s about $43,740 for an individual and $90,000 for a family of four).

  • David Clegern, California Air Resources Board spokesperson: “We need everyone possible to afford a ZEV, and this has been part of the plan to do that for a number of years.”

The equity gap between electric vehicles haves and have-nots is stark: In a prior analysis, CalMatters found that the median household incomes in the top 10 ZIP codes for electric cars exceeded $200,000 (the statewide median is $84,097). In contrast, electric cars are nearly nonexistent in the state’s lowest income communities. Read more about the new rebate program.

Electric vehicle primer: We have a series on California’s electric vehicle transformation, plus a lesson-plan-ready version for teachers, libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The home insurance crisis is among the big proposals that could be tackled by the Legislature in its last two weeks.

CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: L.A. crime is complicated, and the LAPD and the city’s leaders are struggling to come up with the right strategy.


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