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The latest decisions at the state Capitol and how they impact your life (Fridays)
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher gets some surprise pushback to a seemingly uncontroversial bill, the toll of public pensions, California considers a homelessness state of emergency and more in our weekly digest of news from Sacramento.
Sen. Joel Anderson has become the de facto voice for California Republicans’ opposition to sanctuary policies. He voted against Attorney General Xavier Becerra because of his support for city-level sanctuary policies. His latest target is a bill by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon that would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from working with the federal government on immigration enforcement.
He told KUSI it’s untrue that he believes all undocumented residents are criminals, but said SB 54 would prevent California from deporting violent criminals.
Anderson took his criticisms national on “Fox and Friends,” where he made the same case, saying the bill would shield “child molester(s), rapist(s) or murderer(s).”
Anderson also suggested undocumented immigrants might be using stolen identities to vote illegally.
Speaking of which, in an interview with the Union-Tribune this week, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reiterated that there is no evidence whatsoever of voter fraud in California:
“There’s absolutely no proof, no evidence of massive voter fraud in California or anywhere across the country. … We have procedures in place to investigate allegations of voter fraud, prosecute when the evidence is there, but as of now we have no evidence of noncitizens voting in November or voter impersonation at the polls. If somebody has information we’ll pursue it, but the invitation was extended then, we haven’t heard from them, but with now President Trump making those same allegations [recently] reminded folks of that offer. We haven’t heard from anybody in his team.”
• Assemlywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher this week announced a bill to fund legal services for U.S. military veterans who’ve been deported.
Though Anderson is opposed to sanctuary policies, he immediately signaled his support for helping vets:
— Joel Anderson (@JoelAndersonCA) February 9, 2017
When Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher sponsored a bill that aims to make visiting California’s beaches more accessible for everyone, she said she thought it would be one of her least contentious measures. But not everyone has been thrilled with her push to open up beaches to those who currently can’t afford to spend time there.
“I was kind of shocked,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “I’ve gotten a lot of blowback – racial comments – and I thought this would be one of my less controversial bills.”
The bill, AB 250, would study and plan for how state parks along the coast could provide more affordable accommodations. It would look at opportunities for providing more cabins and other lower-cost lodging in parts of the coast managed by the state.
“Basically people of color, people who are poor, people who live in the valley and inland don’t have access to our very public beaches and state’s coast,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “We’ve been talking about this for a while, but there’s been no plan to solve it.”
The bill was partly inspired by a UCLA study that found the cost of overnight lodging, parking and transportation keeps many Californians from enjoying the state’s coastal areas.
“It’s personally important to me,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “I am the product of being able to access the beach, quite frankly. How do you have Latino children from a working-class family so engaged with the environment and our coast? Because we could access it.”
Gonzalez-Fletcher’s brother, Marco Gonzalez, is one of San Diego’s most active environmental attorneys and focuses specifically on coastal issues.
The study found that California voters on average are willing to pay about $118 per night for lodging along the coast, but the average cost of an economy room in the summer ranges from $135 to $260.
Sixty-two percent of California voters said access to the beach was a problem. Central Valley voters, black voters and voters who earn less than $40,000 a year are also less likely than other Californians to visit the coast, the study found.
“The coast of California belongs to the people of California under our Constitution,” said Jon Christensen, a researcher at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, who co-wrote the study. “If people from households with lower income, people who live further away, people from different demographic groups feel they can’t visit the coast because of the cost, we have to do something about that to keep that promise that the coast belongs to all the people.”
– Maya Srikrishnan
When government officials declare a state of emergency, it’s often due to a natural disaster — a fire, storm or earthquake. A California lawmaker wants to add homelessness to that list.
A bill introduced last month by L.A. Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas would add homelessness to the California Emergency Services Act, the law governing when a state of emergency can be declared and how government responds.
Such a declaration would force the state to find money and dedicate staff time to get people off the street and into housing as quickly as possible, Ridley-Thomas said. “The governor can use the extraordinary power afforded under the emergency [declaration] to move heaven and earth to reduce the homeless challenge,” he said
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 22 percent of the U.S. homeless population, or 118,000 people, live in California. L.A. County has the second largest homeless population in the U.S. (43,854) and San Diego County has the fourth largest (8,669).
If the law passes, California wouldn’t be the first to declare a homelessness state emergency. In 2015, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a proclamation that freed up state funds to address homelessness. In California, San Francisco, and both the city and county of L.A. have declared homelessness emergencies. Last year, the state Assembly passed a resolution urging Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a statewide homelessness emergency. Brown has told the L.A. Times that a statewide declaration is “not appropriate.”
In August 2002, the San Diego City Council declared a state of emergency due to a shortage of affordable housing and laid out steps to address the issue. The Council terminated the emergency declaration in December 2015 and replaced it with a resolution that declared a “commitment to affordable housing programs and services in the City of San Diego,” but did not specify any actions.
Ridley-Thomas said local efforts to reduce homelessness aren’t enough, and a focused state response will save money in the long run. He described the costs of the impacts of homelessness — larger jail populations, public health and sanitation issues — as the “most ineffective allocation of resources in government.”
“The importance of an emergency declaration is just like a natural disaster,” he said. “You have to spend quickly and intensively and then the overall cost will be reduced.”
The bill is scheduled for its first hearing on Feb. 25.
— Kelly Davis
• Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Sen. Scott Weiner announced a bill that would repeal several criminal laws that single out people living with HIV.
• Gonzalez joined with Assemblymen Kevin McCarty and Adrin Nazarian this week to announce a trio of bills aimed at welcoming and accommodating refugees. The bills would provide in-state tuition at public colleges, help refugees obtain professional licenses and designate a World Refugee Day.
• Assemblyman Randy Voepel unveiled a bill that would let employers voluntarily give preference to veterans during the hiring process.
• Sen. Toni Atkins introduced a bill requiring training for hotel workers to spot signs of human trafficking. A very similar bill introduced last session by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia died in committee. Another new bill from Atkins makes it easier to go after those who violate state contracting rules.
The latest chapter of the excellent pension series by CalMatters, the L.A. Times and Capitol Public Radio chronicles the troubles of Richmond, Calif., which is so crippled by soaring pension costs that it’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Though neither the city or county of San Diego is doing as badly as Richmond, pension costs are a growing worry, even after extraordinary measures were taken to reign things in.
San Diego county and city pension funds have nearly $7 billion less in the bank than they need to cover benefits already earned by current and former employees, a deficit that’s risen 90 percent in just two years, new reports show. …
The latest shortfalls mark new troubling heights for each pension fund, surpassing levels that rocked the city during the pension scandal of the early 2000s. San Diego was dubbed “Enron by the Sea” when news surfaced that city officials moved to underfund pensions while boosting benefits and failed to disclose growing liabilities to bondholders.
Back in Richmond, Judy Lin reports that the city is making cuts like crazy to try to bridge the gap:
The city cut 11 positions, reduced after-school and senior classes, eliminated neighborhood clean-ups to tackle illegal trash dumping, and trimmed spending on new library books — saving $12 million total.
That might come as news to CalPERS, the state pension fund, which says on its website that it’s a “myth” that “increasing pension costs ‘crowd out’ government services like police and libraries.”
• Sen. Toni Atkins has revived an affordable housing bill similar to one that died last session, so critics are reviving their old concerns about a conflict of interest, because Atkins’ wife works in affordable housing. (Union-Tribune)
• California is generating far more power than it needs – and taxpayers are footing the bill. (L.A. Times)
• President Donald Trump said he was considering “defunding” the state of California. But that effort would face “serious legal, political and practical obstacles.” (KQED, McClatchy)
• Farmers in the Central Valley who voted overwhelmingly for Trump assumed his immigration pledges “were mostly just talk.” Now they’re terrified they’ll be short of workers. (New York Times)
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Judy Lin.