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IN THIS ISSUE – “Progressive…But I Wouldn’t Say Radical”
- Dems Own Historic Majorities of Legislature
- The Political Class Already Plans for 2020 Election
- “Biggest Single Leap for Women in CA History” – 2018 Voting
- Highest Mid-Term Election Voter Turnout in 36 Years
- Meet the First Partner
- Gov. Kounalakis – “A Hard-Working Person”
- Newsom Leads Alta California Delegation to Mexican President’s Inauguration
- Can Delta Tunnels Clear Final Hurdle?
- Air Board Report Critical of Clean Air Progress
- Wildfires Cost Up To $13 Billion…Who Pays?
Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests. Please feel free to forward
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FOR THE WEEK ENDING NOV. 30, 2018
California Democrats are on track to make historic gains in the state Legislature.
They are on pace to control three-fourths of the Assembly — 60 out of 80 seats — a feat has not been accomplished in 135 years, in 1883. In the Senate, Democrats are likely to grab 29 seats out of 40, which would be the party’s largest margin since 1962.
“Voters gave Democrats an advantage in the Legislature that is unprecedented in modern times,” said Alex Vassar, legislative historian for the California State Library.
A few races remain close as ballot counting concludes and some candidates have not yet conceded. But Democrats are already beginning to take their victory lap.
“When the nation looks toward California, it will look like the sun is rising in the west. That’s our future, shining bright,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount.
The victories will give Democrats numbers well beyond the two-thirds threshold needed to approve tax increases or place constitutional amendments on the ballot without Republican votes. It remains unclear whether the Democratic caucus will, as it has in the past, include enough centrists to block liberal proposals opposed by business groups.
Chris Tapio, political consultant for moderate Democrats, said centrist candidates in California had a strong showing. Tapio claimed victories in four legislative races and said Sacramento will soon host more moderates than ever before.
“We were successful in keeping the Berniecrats and Democratic Socialists out of the Legislature entirely,” he said. “The Democrats that were elected in this huge wave are more your typical, mainstream Democrat views. Progressive: no doubt; but I wouldn’t say radical.”
Steve Maviglio, Democratic political consultant, said the historic number of Democrats will make it easier for the liberal wing of the party to pass bills without support from moderates. “There’s gonna be more progressives than ever. Two-thirds is not the holy grail. … The sheer number to get 41 votes is what it’s all about, and now it’s easier for the progressives to get there.”
Still, Maviglio cautioned against lumping lawmakers into ideological baskets.
“The Legislature is very much a member-by-member, personality-driven body,” he said. “You have to be effective in doing that to get votes.”
Because there’s no official legislative caucus for moderate Democrats, there’s not a precise number of them. While Tapio is unsure whether there will be enough centrists in the Capitol to quash a bill, he is confident the party will remain intact. “Despite the internal struggles that we have, we are still a pretty united party and share a common vision for the future.”
In a news conference after the election, Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters he doubts the supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate will affect significant policy issues.
“I think the chances of getting the Legislature to vote by two-thirds on new taxes are very, very limited and unlikely,” Brown said. “The fact is it’s a simple formula: The more Democrats win legislative seats, the more conservative are the ones who win. The caucus takes into itself more conservative-thinking people.”
Kevin Liao, spokesman for Rendon, said lawmakers have “no plans at this point on any tax increases.” He said Democrats will continue to work with Republican colleagues, just as they have in the past.
Senate Minority Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, was not immediately available for comment. She is expected to win her re-election bid, though the Associated Press has yet to officially declare her the winner.
Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, who was recently selected to lead Assembly Republicans, was not immediately available for comment either. But in a Nov. 7 news release announcing her leadership position, Waldron called for “an aggressive, new approach” to address “why our party continues to decline.”
Democrats were widely expected to gain ground in the Legislature, dominate statewide races and pick up a few Republican-held House seats, but a blue wave of this magnitude came as a surprise to many political leaders.
Former Republican Assembly leader Kristin Olsen said after the midterms the party is beyond repair, going so far as to call Republicans “dead” and “not salvageable at this point in time.” GOP political consultant Mike Madrid said his party’s best path forward is for a splintering of the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party.
They are still counting votes in California’s $1 billion off-year election, but the state’s professional politicians are already thinking ahead to the next one because it might give them a rare opportunity to play roles in presidential politicking.
Most of today’s politicians were children, or perhaps not even born, the last time California counted in the quadrennial exercise of choosing presidential candidates.
Traditionally, the state has held its primary elections in June, and in recent decades both parties’ candidates have been pretty well locked in by then.
California’s late primary was not bothersome to would-be presidents. None relished having to spend the many millions of dollars that full-blown campaigns in the state require. A couple of efforts to move California’s primary earlier and make it something more than a rich source of campaign funds—to be spent elsewhere—failed to change national dynamics.
However, 2020 could be different.
Not only are several Democratic politicians from California itching to join the ever-growing field of those eager to take on President Donald Trump, but also the Legislature has once again tried to make the state relevant by moving its presidential primary to March.
As with past efforts, the rationale is that aspirants to the presidency should not be allowed to ignore a state as large and culturally and economically important as California. An unspoken factor is resentment among California politicians that they were being bypassed as White House candidates courted political figures in other, much smaller states with early primaries.
The change of California’s date means, as political statistician Paul Mitchell noted at a recent post-election discussion on this year’s vote, mail ballots for the March 2020 presidential primary will be distributed to voters in less than 15 months.
That, Californians hope, will force presidential aspirants to change their focus. Instead of spending the early weeks of 2020 just tramping through the snow in Iowa and New Hampshire to shake hands with voters, serious candidates will have to spend time and money—lots of money—in California to demonstrate viability by grabbing significant shares of its huge trove of Democratic National Convention delegates.
It would seemingly give an edge to candidates that have fat bankrolls to spend on television ads and advice from California’s big corps of campaign consultants.
It might also favor potential candidates from California. There’s little doubt that California’s early primary is a factor in the unusual number of home-grown Democratic potentials.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are already campaigning, albeit unofficially. And other Californians, such as billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Congressmen Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, are emitting signals of interest.
There’s already speculation in the national political media about whether Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom could convert his landslide win this month into a California presidential primary win 16 months hence, as either an active candidate or a favorite son to give him personal clout within the Democratic Party.
There are so many would-be presidents sprouting up in California that if all or most of them actually run, they could cancel each other out in the state’s presidential primary and once again make the state a non-factor in choosing someone to challenge Trump.
On election night, Susannah Delano, executive director of Close the Gap CA, a group focused on increasing the share of women in the state legislature, made a prediction: “2018 will be the biggest single leap for women in state history.”
Now the numbers are in.
Sure enough, the 2018 midterm election in California was a high-water mark for women seeking elected office. But it was also a reminder of just how male-dominated our politics remain.
Though not every race has been called, it appears 53 women were elected at the state and federal level across California this year. That includes 28 members of the Legislature and 19 members of Congress, as well as three statewide constitutional officers—Lt. Gov.-elect Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer-elect Fiona Ma and state Controller Betty Yee.
That’s a higher number than any other election this century. It’s also a record-high rate: one-in-three winning candidates this year were women. Or, to put it another way, men hit a record-low, winning a measly two-thirds of all state and federal races across the state.
Many saw this coming. Since our last federal last election, we’ve seen the inauguration of President Trump and two rounds of nation-spanning Woman’s Marches; we’ve seen the downfall and prosecution of Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and the emergence of the #MeToo movement; we’ve seen the resignation of lawmakers in Washington D.C. and California in the face of sexual assault allegations and the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice despite them.
And while many have dubbed 2018 the second “year of the woman,” a redux of 1992 when a record number of women were elected to federal office including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, it might be more accurate to call 2018 the “year of the Democratic woman.”
Just 6 percent of the female candidates who won this year in California were Republicans—a total of three women. That isn’t simply because there are fewer Republican women candidates. Republicans in a blue state like California are less likely to win than Democrats, but male GOP candidates were more than twice as likely to win than their female counterparts.
And of all the candidates who ran, including those in the primary, only 7 percent of Republican women went on to win in this year’s general election (compared to 17 percent of Republican men). Meanwhile, 40 percent of Democratic women won their races (compared to 35 percent of male candidates).
In concrete terms, the 2018 election results mean that many more of the state’s residents will now be represented by women. Or, at least, by one. The two maps below offer a before and after picture, with orange showing those regions with at least a female congressional representative, assemblywoman or state senator. Viewing the two maps side by side, you can see the large strides toward something approximating gender equity in our state politics. You can also see how much more work there is to be done.
Californians showed up to vote in historic numbers this fall, with the state likely to post its highest turnout for a non-presidential election in nearly four decades.
Turnout is expected to be around 64 percent this year among those who were registered to vote — the highest rate in a midterm general election since 1982, when 69.8 percent of registered voters showed up to decide hotly contested races for governor and U.S. Senate.
And as the final votes are tallied in the next few days, the results will show about half of those eligible to vote cast a ballot in November. That could be the highest percentage in a non-presidential election since Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term as governor in 1970.
Resistance to President Donald Trump’s policies was likely responsible for the uptick this year, according to Mindy Romero, founding director of the California Civic Engagement Project at USC.
“In our state, we saw a lot of young people and a lot of people of color expressing not only a concern about Trump but also framing these midterms and voting as important,” Romero said. “We know from historical patterns that when you have higher-than-normal turnout, that typically means you’re getting higher turnout from under-represented groups like young people and people of color.”
Secretary of State Alex Padilla said the emerging numbers “show that democracy is strong in California.”
Lawmakers have made it easier for people to vote. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been automatically registered since the state’s new Motor Voter program launched in April, though the program has come under fire recently for thousands of registration errors that occurred when customers visited the Department of Motor Vehicles.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday called the state’s voting policies “bizarre,” while Padilla defended the state, saying in a statement he is “proud that California is leading the way with reforms to make it easier for voters to cast their ballots and have their votes counted.”
More than 25 million Californians were eligible to vote in the election, and nearly 19.7 million of them were registered — both record-highs. About 12.7 million Californians are expected to have voted in the November elections — the highest number in a general election midterm cycle in state history. Nearly 1.9 million additional voters registered since the last gubernatorial election in 2014.
Though it’s too early to know who exactly showed up to the polls, Romero said enthusiasm among young and minority voters will likely be very high. She also cited partisan get-out-the-vote efforts and outside campaign spending as motivating forces.
Billionaire anti-Trump activist Tom Steyer spent about $6 million in California through his advocacy organizations, most of which went toward turning out young people.
Toward the end of the election, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent nearly $9 million on ads supporting two Democratic congressional candidates in Southern California.
“This is not high tide for Democrats yet,” said Paul Mitchell, political consultant and vice president of the bipartisan voter data firm Political Data Inc. “If we have this kind of environment with 12 to 13 percent more voters in 2020, Republican chances to rebuild don’t come until the next election in 2022.”
An hour after her husband was elected California’s next governor, Jennifer Siebel Newsom took the stage alone at his Los Angeles victory party to extol his win, and welcome — in English and Spanish — all Californians to their extended family.
It’s not uncommon for a political spouse to play election-night emcee. Less common was the message staring back at her on the electric-pink T-shirts of a cluster of audience members: WE LOVE GAVIN + JEN.
California’s first couple now finds themselves navigating notoriously thorny territory: political spouses who share double billing. The Bill and Hillary Clinton era showed how “two for the price of one” could simultaneously evoke a power couple’s combination of talents and a presumptuous elevation of an unelected wife.
And it gets even thornier. Siebel Newsom, who has built her public persona as a documentary filmmaker and advocate focusing on gender relations, is becoming California’s first lady at the moment gender politics in the country is at its most raw and combustible, after #MeToo and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
“People look at what you’re doing from a political lens,” Maria Shriver said of the first lady post, which she held from 2003 until 2011. “It’s underestimated what a great job it is, how much you can do — and also that it’s tricky.”
Siebel Newsom doesn’t project much nervousness about the high-wire act that awaits her. She looks forward to seizing the platform and to making California the incubator of cultural change she has preached for years.
“We obviously have a long ways to go,” she said, sitting in Newsom’s campaign bus during the final days of the race. “We have tremendous inequality. But because Gavin wants to pri-or-i-tize that” — her over-enunciation echoing her husband’s speaking style — “and I’m in the process of finishing a film that I think shows a path forward … to right the wrongs of the past and shift toward a more equitable society, I really think we could actually do that here in California.
“It’s a matter of priorities and a matter of political will. And I think we will have that in California with Gavin’s leadership and our partnership.”
Then she laughed, with the satisfaction of a filmmaker recognizing a good soundbite when she hears it.
“That sounded good!”
Siebel Newsom, 44, is a California native, one of five daughters in an affluent, politically conservative family from Marin County. She was a high achiever as a youth: academics (a bachelor’s degree and master’s of business administration from Stanford), athletics (a nationally competitive soccer player) and altruism (international aid work in Africa and Latin America).
And acting, which she decided to pursue full time after business school. But she found herself typecast in Hollywood as the trophy wife or the icy Hitchcock blond. Her age — a geriatric 28 — and her education were seen as a detriment, which led her to produce and eventually make her own films with a focus on gender dynamics in society.
Now Siebel Newsom has two under her belt — “Miss Representation,” which explores the over-sexualization of women by the media, and “The Mask You Live In,” which looks at the corrosive social pressures that boys face. A third film, “The Great American Lie,” a study of economic immobility through the lens of gender, is slated to debut in January.
She also runs a nonprofit group that aims to use films and social media to combat gender stereotypes.
“She’s a really well-respected filmmaker in her own right. … She was long into gender issues before it was trending. … She’s a mom, she’s a political spouse,” said Amy Ziering, a documentarian whose films Siebel Newsom helped produce. “One alone would be a full-time job.”
That Siebel Newsom is assuming such a high-profile political role at a tumultuous moment in gender relations is kismet, say those closest to her.
Newsom, who has appeared in all of his wife’s films and has incorporated “toxic masculinity” into his political vocabulary, acknowledged that the #MeToo reckoning had stirred up raw emotions.
“It’s been long overdue, and we’re all expressing ourselves in a way that a decade ago we weren’t. So I think it’s uncomfortable for many,” he said, adding that his wife had been wrestling with the topic for years. “The way she’s presenting this debate is in a much safer place because she doesn’t look through the prism of politics and who’s to blame. It’s much more focused on what to do.”
But cultural change can be messy and divisive, particularly when questioning long-held norms. Feminists, from the suffragettes of the early 20th century to the #MeToo leaders of today, have often been accused of trying to tear the genders apart and of undermining traditional values.
“Calling men ‘toxic’ is both wrong and counterproductive,” said Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who wrote a critique of “The Mask You Live In” when it was released. “Ms. Newsom should promote gender peace — not war.”
Siebel Newsom was a constant and distinctive presence on the campaign trail. Upbeat and assertively stylish, she’s a confident public speaker and a cheerful wrangler of her four children.
There is also an undercurrent of vulnerability that at times rises to the surface, as it did on one October afternoon, when in a claustrophobic trailer in Stockton she appeared to be flattened by anguish.
The trailer housed an immersive exhibit on child abuse, each room staged as an everyday interior where mistreatment occurred. She wandered from room to room, listening on an iPod to children agonizingly detailing their stories. One moment she leaned against a wall for support, in another she flapped her hands in front of her face to dry tears. At one point, she moaned in distress.
Still, Siebel Newsom has spent much of her time exploring pain. Her films and public statements focus heavily on trauma, that of her subjects as well as her own, including abuse she says she suffered from a childhood coach and Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.
“Self-flagellation,” she joked later when explaining her willingness to explore such emotionally charged territory. She then went quiet in contemplation, before choosing her words carefully.
“I feel like I’ve been given so much privilege. One of those privileges was there was an accident. I lost my older sister,” she said, trailing off after that brief allusion to the death of her sister Stacey, 8, in a golf cart accident.
Collecting herself with a tissue and damp eyes, she continued: “I feel like it’s my responsibility to stand up for the underdog.”
When the emotional labor of her work gets to be too much, she goes “inward,” she said, turning to her family, their pets and her closest girlfriends.
That willingness to be publicly vulnerable is an asset, her husband said.
“It takes someone who is willing to put themselves out there in that space to bring people in, to invite people into a conversation,” Newsom said. “And that’s why I think she has the capacity to do more than many others that are unwilling to do that.”
The Newsoms have been married since 2008, but Siebel Newsom’s first political role started two years before that, when she was “first girlfriend” to the then-mayor of San Francisco.
Months into their courtship, news broke that Newsom had previously had an affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, his onetime appointments secretary, who was also his campaign manager’s wife, while he was separated from his first wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Siebel Newsom was a staunch defender — perhaps too staunch, laying the blame on Rippey-Tourk in public comments. After a minor brouhaha in the local press, she quickly issued an apology.
“It was a rocky start. All of a sudden, she was thrust into the spotlight,” said Nathan Ballard, who was Newsom’s press secretary at the time. “There was nothing in her life that could prepare her for this intense scrutiny.”
Being in the glare of politics has left its scars.
“I’m a very trusting person. I suppose you learn that you can’t be so trusting,” she said. “I definitely am more wary.”
Now she’ll take on her newest political role: “first partner,” a term she prefers over “first lady” — she sees it as more inclusive. But exactly what a first partnership looks like is to be determined.
Recent governor’s wives have taken different approaches to the role. Shriver, whom Siebel Newsom considers a role model, built on her well-established public persona as a journalist to champion key initiatives such as revamping the state history museum during then-husband Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure. Anne Gust Brown, in contrast, chose to avoid public campaigns in favor of wielding her influence in private. Not only has she been a trusted political confidant, but she also held the official but unpaid post of special counsel to the governor.
Siebel Newsom is quick to assert she does not consider herself to be her husband’s political equal.
“But,” she added, “I see that we complement and support each other, and I’m obviously a thought partner of his — and the main thought partner.”
Her influence on the governor-elect’s policy agenda, particularly his emphasis on early childhood development, was evident throughout the campaign. His new chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, served for years on the board of Siebel Newsom’s nonprofit, the Representation Project.
For now, Siebel Newsom describes her role in largely amorphous terms.
“The work I do really parallels and complements Gavin’s work,” she said, “because it’s about awakening people’s consciousness, shifting hearts and minds, attitudes and behaviors.”
But that emphasis on sweeping cultural change can be at odds with the incremental, compromising nature of governing.
“In theory, here’s the danger of having a first partner who is involved in politics, like Bill and Hillary: One spouse has to do what’s possible and the other spouse gets out ahead of the other with what’s ideal,” Ballard said. “In Jennifer’s case, she has learned where there is any daylight between her and Gavin. She is adept at sidestepping that so he can get things done.”
Still, allies say Siebel Newsom’s most refreshing quality is that she speaks her mind, political politeness be damned. Crystal Strait, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which made the GAVIN + JEN T-shirts, recalled Siebel Newsom joining several prominent male politicians at a recent protest against the Trump administration.
“She called out that there were too many men in office. In front of all these men,” Strait said. “She didn’t worry a reporter would turn to her and say, ‘What about her husband?’ ”
Nor did she seem concerned about condemning Google after the company was reported to have made a $90-million payout to an executive accused of sexual misconduct — a story she brought up unprompted in an interview.
“I’m horrified that any company would spend $90 million to make someone who harassed a woman go away,” she said.
Would she say the same as first lady?
Would there be any hesitation?
“No, never. My poor husband,” she said with a laugh — and an addendum. “Let me clarify that. Gavin’s proud of me using my voice to stand up against injustices and inequities.”
Eleni Kounalakis bristles at the suggestion that she won the election for California lieutenant governor because of her wealthy father’s support.
It’s true that her father Angelo Tsakopoulos is a very rich land developer. But his mother couldn’t read or write and he spent his early years working in the fields after arriving in this country from Greece.
“My father started as a farm worker,” she said. “The community I grew up in in Sacramento was a hardworking immigrant community. It never occurred to me in my life that I wouldn’t need to work to support myself. I have always been a hard-working person.”
The Democrat, who has never before held an elected office, beat fellow Democrat Ed Hernandez, a state senator representing the San Gabriel Valley, in the Nov. 6 election with 56.6 percent of the vote. She garnered 5.4 million votes to Hernandez’s 4.1 million votes. Kounalakis will replace Gavin Newsom, who was just elected governor.
Kounalakis, 52, worked in her father’s business AKT Development for more than 18 years, working her way up from project manner to president.
The support of her father has riled some of her critics.
“Hey Dad! Thanks for the help with the millions you gave me! #BillionaireClub” was posted the day after the election on the Facebook site “True Facts about Eleni Kounalakis,” created by the anonymous group “Californians Who Just Care.”
But Kounalakis credits her win to her decision to visit all 58 of the state’s counties and to listen carefully to residents of all walks of life. “It was an investment at the beginning of the campaign to truly be able to understand the economy and the society that Californians are experiencing in their local communities,” she said.
Kounalakis said she does have experience working in government, citing her 2010 appointment by then-President Barack Obama as ambassador to Hungary. She served three-and-a-half years and overseeing an embassy of about 400 people. “I will bring all the tools of running a U.S. government office to the office of lieutenant governor,” she said.
She said she learned a lot during her campaign for lieutenant governor talking to middle-class families still recovering from the economic hit they took a decade ago. “Many middle-class families across the state were not participating in the recovery at all and were trying to dig out of the hole of credit card debt and mortgages that they got themselves into to survive the Great Recession,” she said.
As lieutenant governor, her focus will be on keeping higher education affordable, preserving the environment and promoting the state’s economy.
Her post gives her seats on the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees. Higher education resonates with her because her father felt he hit a turning point when he was able to attend Sacramento State University on a waiter’s salary. She earned her masters of business administration degree from UC Berkeley (she earned her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College).
Kounalakis’ role as lieutenant governor also gives her seats on the State Lands Commission, the Ocean Protection Council and the California Emergency Council. She will fill the role of governor when Newsom is not in the state.
Kounalakis decided to run for lieutenant governor because she was looking for open seats and she believed her skills fit the job description. She had originally hoped to work under Hillary Clinton’s administration if Clinton had been elected president. But when Clinton lost, Kounalakis thought it was time to run for office herself.
She was particularly motivated to run because she wanted women to be represented in the state’s top offices.
Even though the California Labor Federation supported her opponent, the group still expects she will be an excellent lieutenant governor, said Steve Smith, the organizations’ communications director.
“We have no qualms about her or her qualifications,” he said. “She shares our priorities on a number of fronts. She is outspoken on equal pay for equal work and is a tremendous advocate for universal health care.”
As a child growing up, Kounalakis was very involved with the Greek Orthodox Church and the local Greek community. She spent a lot of time outdoors with her family, hunting and fishing and going on hiking trips.
Kounalakis is now married to journalist Markos Kounalakis, who reports on foreign affairs for The Miami Herald and has appeared on CBS News and CNN International. The couple live in San Francisco and have two sons, ages 16 and 17.
The boys had their first experience canvasing in 2008 for Hillary Clinton and helped walked precincts in Nevada for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
“They texted tens of thousands of Californians asking voters to support me,” said proud mother Kounalakis, adding “they’re very, very happy that’s all over.”
Kounalakis said she doesn’t know if they’ll want to follow in her footsteps and go into politics.
“I’m sure no matter what they do they will always be involved in their communities. They were raised to value civic involvement the way I was raised to value civic involvement.”
Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and state lawmakers are heading to Mexico City this week to celebrate the inauguration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The message: The country’s most populous state wants to work with Mexico despite the president’s rhetoric.
“We’re ushering in new leadership and there is a vital strategic interest for the state of California for continued economic growth on both sides of the border, with collaboration and cooperation that benefits both California and Mexico, regardless of Washington’s lack of leadership,” said state Sen. Kevin de León, the former Senate leader who authored California’s “sanctuary state” law. “A lot of folks view foreign policy through the prism of Washington, D.C., however, because California has the fifth-largest economy in the world and because we share a border with our neighbor to the south, we have many shared interests.”
De León, who leaves office in January, is part of a delegation of California lawmakers invited by Mexico to attend López Obrador’s swearing-in ceremony in Mexico City on Saturday. At least nine state legislators are expected to attend, in addition to Newsom and Becerra.
Trump is not attending the inauguration, but Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Trump’s daughter Ivanka will be among those representing the U.S., the White House announced Wednesday.
The inauguration comes the same week that Trump threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, called for border wall funding and sought to block a caravan of refugees from Central America seeking asylum. Over the weekend, U.S. law enforcement officers fired tear gas on those seeking refuge.
“This is a humanitarian crisis and it’s very personal to me,” said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) who fled El Salvador with her family seeking asylum when she was a child. “I could have been one of these children currently locked up in cages and separated from their parents and being tear-gassed at the border.”
Carrillo, who has pushed lawmakers to fund legal services for immigrants with temporary protected status, said California will continue to “protect our immigrant communities.”
“What is missing from this conversation is the reason people immigrate,” she said. “It’s violence and human rights violations, lack of economic opportunity. Parents want to offer their children a better life.”
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) said while California may not have broad authority on issues like trade and immigration, the state does have jurisdiction to set policy on issues such as water and air quality.
“The New River is one of the most highly polluted rivers in the nation, and it’s a similar situation with pollution in San Diego with the Tijuana River … These are issues that impact water quality and the public health of Californians,” Garcia said. “There are far more pressing issues along the border that pertain to people’s health and well-being, rather than this loud, divisive rhetoric and billions and billions of dollars to build a wall.”
On air quality, he said California and Mexico can work together to address the flow of pollutants from vehicles into the atmosphere.
“There are wait times of four hours to cross from Mexico into the U.S.,” he said. “That clearly has a significant impact on the air quality of our border region, when we have people idling and releasing emissions for hours and hours.”
Garcia blasted the idea of shutting down the border.
“That has serious economic implications to American companies and the manufacturing and industrial sectors, along with agriculture — sectors extremely important to the U.S. economy,” he said. “Our economies are intertwined … It’s absurd this would even come to mind.”
Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-Grand Terrace) said she’s looking forward to the relationship between Newsom and López Obrador.
“There has been … and will be a lot of work done in the California Legislature that I think clearly sends a message that California is not posturing in the same way that our president is,” she said. “We are looking for solutions [on immigration] that will be beneficial to both countries, remembering that they are our neighbor.”
As Gov. Jerry Brown leaves office, his controversial Delta tunnels plan is on the ropes.
Most farmers who would get water from the tunnels still haven’t agreed to pay their share. Rather than support the tunnels, the Trump administration is trying to bend federal environmental laws to simply deliver more water through the existing Delta system to San Joaquin Valley farms and cities — and just rejected the project’s request for a big startup loan. Brown’s successor, Gavin Newsom, says he would like to see the project scaled down. Lawsuits challenging the project abound.
Amid that uncertainty, an obscure state council is poised to send the $16.7 billion project back to the drawing board — potentially throwing another roadblock at the tortured, decade-long plan.
On Dec. 20, the Delta Stewardship Council will vote to determine whether the tunnels project — officially known as California WaterFix — complies with what’s known as the “Delta Plan,” a set of policy goals, mandated by state law, that put protection and restoration of the fragile estuary’s eco-system on an equal footing with more reliable water supplies.
The council was formed in 2009, when the Legislature passed the Delta Reform Act. The law established that water supply and eco-system improvements were “coequal goals” that must be met when it comes to managing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub of California’s north-to-south water delivery system.
Now the council appears on the verge of ruling that WaterFix doesn’t measure up. The council’s staff found the project fell woefully short of complying with the Delta Plan on several fronts. The report said the state Department of Water Resources, which is overseeing the project, failed to prove that south-state water agencies have done enough to reduce their dependence on water shipped through the Delta — as the Delta Plan requires. It said the tunnels project poses unacceptable “conflicts with land uses in existing Delta communities.” It scolded DWR for not using up-to-date scientific analysis on how climate change would affect operations of the tunnels.
At a council meeting right after the staff released its report, board Chairman Randy Fiorini blasted the Brown administration for trying to rush the project through before the governor leaves office.
“Political expediency is not the goal here for such an important and significant project,” said Fiorini, a Brown appointee and a grape farmer from Turlock. “Frankly, I’m frustrated. This project came to me before it was ready.”
He urged the Brown administration to withdraw its petition before the council meets again to vote on Dec. 20.
It’s not clear what the Brown administration plans to do. The state Natural Resources Agency, which oversees DWR, provided a letter to the council from Resources Secretary John Laird declaring that WaterFix is consistent with the Delta Plan, the Delta Reform Act and the concept of “coequal goals” of water deliveries and ecosystem health.
“It’s disappointing that the … council staff (fails) to acknowledge the Legislature’s intended vision for addressing long-term conveyance improvements under the Delta Reform Act,” Laird wrote. “Conveyance” refers to rerouting water from the north part of the Delta to the south, via tunnels or a canal.
Because its authority has not yet been seriously tested in court, it’s not clear whether a “no” vote from the stewardship council would be enough to kill the project outright, said Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law & Policy Center at UC Davis.
But Frank said it’s just one more hurdle for a project that seems to be losing steam as Brown’s final term as governor winds down.
“It’s unclear to me whether this has the momentum to get to the finish line,” Frank said. “I’m sure Jerry Brown regrets the fact that he was unable to get it to the finish line before he left office.”
Delta Council staff report:
California has some of the most ambitious clean air goals in the country, but a report the state’s Air Resources Board released Monday shows communities are not on track to meet them.
California law requires regions to develop plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through land use and transportation policies. But communities aren’t actually implementing those plans, according to the report.
“Initial indications suggest that while California has put in place appropriate long-range greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, as well as the regional growth and investment plans that would allow it to slow growth in vehicle travel, the real-world results are falling significantly short of the SB 375 targets and are moving in the wrong direction,” the report says.
Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership, California has become a global leader on climate change policies. Brown oversaw an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program that charges polluters for emissions and approved other laws to boost clean energy use.
The state recently announced it met its goal to reduce emissions to 1990 levels four years early. The regional targets are separate from that goal. But communities will need to significantly reduce transportation emissions to reach the state’s next goal of lowering emissions another 40 percent by 2030, according to the report.
The report released Monday highlights the challenges California faces meeting its future goals, as emissions from transportation increase.
“It’s a wake-up call,” said Ella Wise of ClimatePlan California, a nonprofit group that advocates for sustainable land use and transportation policies.
She attributes the results to local governments failing to invest in public transportation, build affordable housing near transit and make it easier for people to walk or bike to work instead of driving.
The state’s housing shortage forces many residents to live far from where they work, increasing the time Californians spend driving. Emissions from transportation are the largest source of greenhouse gasses.
The Air Resources Board sets air pollution standards, monitors air quality and develops plans to meet the emissions reduction goals set by the Legislature. It also sets emissions reductions goals for California regions.
Next week, the Air Resources Board and the California Transportation are scheduled to meet and discuss the findings in the report, which calls for different parts of government to work together to reduce emissions.
The report is the first by the Air Resources Board to assess regions’ progress on their climate goals. A law approved by the Legislature and the governor last year calls for reports every four years to assess the effect of the 2008 law that required regions to develop emissions reduction plans. When that 2008 measure was moving through the state Legislature, one committee analysis on the bill warned it lacked enforcement provisions to ensure communities actually implemented the plans.
The report comes on the heels of a federal assessment released last week that found climate change seriously threatens the U.S. economy and is exacerbating natural disasters like wildfires.
The human toll of this month’s California wildfires is staggering – dozens known to have died and hundreds still unaccounted for, especially residents of Paradise.
The financial losses pale in significance, of course, but they are also very heavy, and it may take years to determine how they will be borne. Moreover, the financial accounting for this year’s infernos may set a pattern for what Gov. Jerry Brown has termed “the new abnormal” of wildfires.
We do not know yet what the financial hit will be on individual property owners, be they mobile home dwellers from Paradise or celebrities in Malibu, but it’s likely to be something beyond $20 billion.
A clue is that slightly less devastating fires last year, including the ones that torched sections of Santa Rosa, generated more than $12 billion in insurance claims.
RMS, a risk modeling firm, last week estimated insured losses from this year’s two big fires at between $9 billion and $13 billion, but that’s just an estimate and doesn’t include uninsured damage.
We also don’t know whether investor-owned utilities will be liable for the damages. There are strong indications that power lines downed by high winds may have ignited fires at both ends of the state.
Were utilities to be held responsible, insurers who will be paying the initial claims could recoup their losses, but even if they do, it’s uncertain whether the utilities’ stockholders or its ratepayers would bear the ultimate burden.
Last year’s fires pushed the liability issue into the legislative arena, with utilities and their unions pitted against fire victims and their attorneys. Ultimately, Brown signed legislation that allows utilities to borrow money, via bonds, to pay fire damages, and then tap their ratepayers over time to repay the loans. However, it applied to fires in 2017 and in 2019 and beyond, leaving a gap for 2018 fires.
Pacific Gas and Electric appears to have the greatest potential exposure for the Camp Fire that virtually erased Paradise. Even as the fire continued to burn, the San Francisco-based utility’s stock plummeted and its credit rating declined due to investor and lender fears that it was headed for bankruptcy.
The stage is set for a renewal of the liability issue when the Legislature reconvenes in December and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom succeeds Brown in January.
An even greater uncertainty is the future of California’s insurance market if, as Brown and others contend, climate change means the state will experience a perpetual fire season, threatening communities that are in what some have termed the “wildland-urban interface.”
Those communities are home to perhaps a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents and their endangerment might render their homes uninsurable.
“We’re not in a crisis yet, but all of the trends are in a bad direction,” Dave Jones, the outgoing state insurance commissioner, told the New York Times. “We’re slowly marching toward a world that’s uninsurable.”
Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara, who narrowly won his race to succeed Jones in this month’s election, will face that issue in January.
It might be time to explore a new model – some sort of statewide umbrella policy, financed by fees on all property – to cover extraordinary wildfire losses beyond those borne by private property insurance.
Florida has experimented with approaches to cover hurricane damages, and we have precedents of a sort in federal flood insurance and California’s state-sponsored earthquake insurance program.
If this is “the new abnormal” that Brown describes, we cannot deal with its financial consequences normally.