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Read about the latest decisions at the state Capitol and how they impact your life (Fridays)
A major legal ruling and threats from the two biggest rideshare companies this week gave us a glimpse into the battle over whether drivers should be considered employees that will only get more intense heading into November.
Life comes at you fast: On Monday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had a splashy New York Times op-ed explaining the company’s opposition to AB 5, the labor law written by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that limits when employers can classify workers as independent contractors, and the rationale behind its November ballot measure that would exempt the company from the law.
But just a few hours later, a San Francisco judge granted a preliminary injunction against the company sought by several prosecutors across the state, including San Diego’s city attorney, arguing that the company was violating AB 5. In a scathing decision, the judge dismantled every argument Uber raised in its defense, including that the court should delay making a decision until voters weigh in on the ballot measure.
“The mere fact that a party may have filed litigation challenging a statute duly enacted by the Legislature does not disable the People from enforcing the law, nor does it relieve courts of their obligation to enforce the law as it currently exists,” wrote Judge Ethan Schulman.
In his op-ed, Khosrowshahi argued that offering employment protections to its drivers would harm both the company and the public that relies on the service: “Uber would only have full-time jobs for a small fraction of our current drivers and only be able to operate in many fewer cities than today.”
Indeed, soon after the ruling, Khosrowshahi told MSNBC that the company might shut down in California temporarily if it’s indeed forced to classify drivers as employees. Lyft has made similar threats. Many observers pointed out that Uber has wielded these threats before and even pulled out of Austin, but eventually returned.
– Sara Libby
Up to two-thirds of Southern California beaches could be gone by 2100, and with it homes and businesses. Sea level rise has the potential to cripple San Diego’s tourism-heavy local economy.
This isn’t new news. The city of San Diego has already mapped out just how rising seas (due to a human activity-induced rapidly warming planet) would affect its shores.
Then COVID-19 hit and the state lawmakers shifted their focus away from climate change, arguably the most pressing crisis until the global pandemic surfaced. San Diego Sen. Toni Atkins shelved a bill that could have made $100 million in state grants to aid coastal governments plan for catastrophic sea level rise.
Before that, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (a nonpartisan policy advisory body within the California State Legislature) gave lawmakers some recommendations on how the state should respond to the unstoppable mass of water headed this way, albeit very, very slowly.
Analysts said the state should help governments plan for sea level rise, support pilot projects to prove whether adaptation strategies (like sea walls, for example) are effective. Also notable, they recommend requiring that a home seller, for instance, disclose whether the property was susceptible to coastal flooding during a real estate transaction.
This week, the Legislative Analyst’s Office published a longer version of that sea level rise report in an attempt, it seems, to redraw lawmakers’ attention back to climate change. It hones in on San Diego, as rising seas threaten to flood our international airport and crumbling cliffs already killed a family in Del Mar.
Rachel Ehlers, principal fiscal and policy analyst at the LAO, said the agency thought it’d be worth “going a little deeper into the reasons why response is necessary” in this report.
There’s a lack of public understanding and support for undertaking coastal adaptation actions, Ehrlers said. That’s a key barrier local communities face in preparation for sea level rise, she said.
– MacKenzie Elmer
San Diego Gas & Electric Company officials briefed state regulators this week about the company’s preparations for any power shutoffs that might occur this year due to wildfires, amid a global pandemic and signs that another bad fire season may be on its way.
SDG&E, which serves 3.9 million people in San Diego and southern Orange County, began targeted shutoffs of electricity to customers in 2007 to reduce wildfire risks. Other California power companies, such as Pacific Gas & Electric, have since followed suit.
Twenty-seven thousand San Diegans lost power in October 2019, the worst fire month of the year. October and November 2020 are expected to be bad months for fire safety as well, a result of Santa Ana conditions, critically dry fields and windy weather, said Caroline Winn, chief executive officer of SDG&E.
SDG&E fire safety operations have changed some as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Winn told the California Public Utilities Commission.
SDG&E employees have participated in “extensive” drills for conducting wildfire management and shutoff procedures completely virtually, Winn said.
Furthermore, essentials such as snacks, water, first-aid and outage information will be offered at drive-in community resource centers during outages this year. The company partnered with 211 San Diego and 211 Orange County to provide resources to residents without transportation, said Scott Crider, SDG&E customer services vice president.
Using new technologies and backup power sources, Winn said SDG&E has also taken steps to reduce the number of customers who lose power this year. It has focused especially on keeping the lights on in community centers and in the homes of particularly vulnerable San Diegans, such as low-income families or people with electronic medical devices, she said.
Among other measures, Winn said SDG&E will install new underground power lines this year to serve the town centers of Julian, Campo and San Isabel, and new microgrids at Ramona Air Attack Base, Cameron Corners, Butterfield and Agua Caliente and Shelter Valley. These microgrids continue to provide power to smaller communities if their larger grid is shut off.
SDG&E has increased its capacity to modify grids and move power loads to other circuits, Winn said.
The company will offer portable generators to 1,250 residents who are part of its “medical baseline” program and have been impacted by shutoffs in previous years, Winn said. It also offers generators at reduced prices to low-income customers and has been working to put generators in four mobile home parks, Winn said.
To keep citizens better informed about outages, Winn said SDG&E will be launching an app in the next few weeks that will provide residents information about shutoffs specific to their locations, among other initiatives.
(Disclosure: Mitch Mitchell, SDG&E’s vice president for government affairs, sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.)
– Kate Nucci
Among the names being circulated as potential appointments to replace Sen. Kamala Harris should she be elected vice president in November, only Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins is from San Diego – and she’s probably a bit of a long-shot.
Though Gov. Gavin Newsom rose to fame in part by legalizing gay marriage in San Francisco and might relish the chance to give California its first openly gay senator, Atkins appears to be an underdog to some other pols mentioned far more frequently as contenders, including Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Rep. Karen Bass and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Atkins declined earlier this year to jump into the congressional race for the 53rd District seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Susan Davis.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez noted the state has never had a Latina statewide officeholder, and urged Newsom to tap Sen. Maria Elena Durazo for the job (conveniently, the reasons Gonzalez laid out in her case for Durazo would seemingly also apply to her). Two former chairs of the Legislative Latino Caucus mentioned Gonzalez as a candidate in an open letter to Newsom. If Padilla gets the call, Newsom would also get to appoint his replacement, and Gonzalez is already running to replace him when he’s termed out in 2022.
Meanwhile, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina is openly campaigning for the gig, and many local media outlets have taken the bait.
One observer wryly responded to the Union-Tribune’s story about Dedina’s campaign: “Well, of all the candidates we’ve seen, he’s one of them.”
– Sara Libby