Inflation Triggers California Minimum Wage Increase in 2023

California’s minimum wage will jump to $15.50 per hour next year, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced Thursday, an increase triggered by soaring inflation that will benefit about 3 million workers.

The increase is required by a state law passed in 2016. But it comes at a good time for Democrats in the nation’s most populous state as they rush to find ways to boost taxpayers’ bank accounts in an election year marked by rising prices that have diluted the purchasing power of consumers.

Thursday, in a preview of his upcoming budget proposal, Newsom doubled down on his plan to send up to $800 checks to car owners to offset this year’s record-high gas prices despite opposition from Democrats in the Legislature. And he revealed a new proposal to send at least $1,000 checks to 600,000 hospital and nursing home workers in recognition of their dangerous work throughout the pandemic.

It’s part of a new spending proposal to put $18.1 billion into taxpayers’ pockets through a combination of rebates and assistance with rent, health insurance premiums and utility bills.

“We’re still overall having a very strong economic recovery in the state from the COVID-19 recession,” California Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said. “But it’s clear that we face a lot of headwinds: gas prices remain high, food prices are high because of inflation.”

California lawmakers voted to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2016, but the increase was phased in over several years. Today, the minimum wage is $15 per hour for companies with 25 or more workers and $14 per hour for companies with 25 or fewer employees.

The law says the minimum wage must increase to $15.50 per hour for everyone if inflation increased by more than 7% between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. Thursday, the California Department of Finance said they project inflation for the 2022 fiscal year — which ends June 30 — will be 7.6% higher than the year before, triggering the increase.

Official inflation figures won’t be final until this summer. But the Newsom administration believes the growth will be more than enough to trigger the automatic increase.

California has about 3 million minimum wage workers, according to a conservative estimate from the state Department of Finance. The increase in the minimum wage will be about $3 billion, or less than 0.1% of the $3.3 trillion in personal income Californians are projected to earn.

California Department of Finance Director Keely Martin Bosler said the increase could cause prices to jump for restaurants, which have low-profit margins. But overall, she said the minimum wage increase is “expected to have a very minimal impact on overall inflation in the state’s economy.”

The increase will impact smaller companies the most, which will see the minimum wage jump $1.50 in January. Kerry Jackson, a fellow at the conservative-leaning Pacific Research Institute’s Center for California Reform, said the increase could cause some employees at smaller companies to work fewer hours.

“It may be very painful for them,” he said.

Inflation has been a problem everywhere, as consumer prices jumped 8.3% nationally last month from a year ago. A labor shortage throughout the pandemic has prompted many companies to increase pay sometimes beyond the minimum wage just to attract and retain workers.

In California, average gas prices hit a record high in March of $5.91 per gallon. Newsom and Democratic legislative leaders have pledged to return some of the states’ record-breaking budget surplus to taxpayers. But so far, despite being from the same political party, they haven’t agreed on how to do it.

Newsom’s plan would send up to $800 checks to car owners — $400 per car for a max of two cars per owner — plus another $750 million to give everyone free rides on public transportation for three months.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature have rejected that plan, instead favoring one that would send $200 checks to low-to-moderate-income taxpayers and their dependents.

“Senate Democrats do not believe a rebate tied to car ownership does the job,” Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins said. “That plan leaves out non-car owners, including low income and elderly Californians, who are also impacted by the current high costs of consumer goods and are also deserving of relief.”

Republicans favor temporarily suspending the state’s gas tax, which at 51.1 cents per gallon is the second-highest in the nation. But Newsom and Democratic leaders have rejected that plan, arguing it’s better to send relief directly to taxpayers.

Newsom’s plan to send checks to health care workers would apply to anyone who works inside a hospital or a nursing home — including doctors, nurses and other support staff. Workers would be guaranteed a $1,000 check. But if companies agree to add in another $500, the state will match it for a total of $2,000.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Court: California’s Under-21 Gun Sales Ban Unconstitutional

A U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday that California’s ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 is unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday the law violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms and a San Diego judge should have blocked what it called “an almost total ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifles” for young adults. “America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” Judge Ryan Nelson wrote. “Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms.”

The Firearms Policy Coalition, which brought the case, said the ruling makes it optimistic age-based gun bans will be overturned in other courts.

Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the decision is a clear sign of how courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court which has a major gun case before it, are expanding gun rights.

“Federal judges can read the tea leaves,” Winkler said. “In the coming years, the courts seem certain to strike down numerous gun safety measures in the name of the 2nd Amendment. This 9th Circuit ruling is a harbinger of things to come.”

The ruling, however, was not a total victory for gun rights advocates.

They also sought an injunction blocking the state from requiring a hunting license for adults under 21 — who are not in the military or law enforcement — to purchase rifles or shotguns.

Handgun sales to those under 21 were already prohibited when the hunting license requirement was passed in 2018 after some of the nation’s worst mass shootings were committed by young adults using rifles, including the Valentine’s Day slayings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The following year, the Legislature acted to address what they saw as a loophole after an April 2019 synagogue shooting in San Diego County.

A 19-year-old armed with a semiautomatic rifle he had just purchased with a hunting license killed a 60-year-old woman and injured three others, including the rabbi and an 8-year-old girl at Chabad of Poway.

The state passed the law banning sales of semiautomatic centerfire rifles to anyone under 21. There were exemptions for police or military troops but not for those with hunting licenses.

Matthew Jones, a 20-year-old at the time from Santee in San Diego County, originally sued saying he wanted a gun to defend himself and other lawful purposes but didn’t want to obtain a hunting license.

His lawsuit, which had been filed before the under-age ban on semiautomatic weapons, was amended to also challenge that law.

The suit said the state had “whittled down (the) already inapplicable and irrelevant hunting license ‘exemption’ — the only exemption that is even possible for an ordinary, law abiding young adult who does not wish to enter into a highly dangerous career in law enforcement or the military — by prohibiting an entire class of firearms.”

The 9th Circuit ruled the hunting license requirement was reasonable for increasing public safety through “sensible firearm control.”

But it said an outright ban on semiautomatic rifles for those under 21 went too far.

“It’s one thing to say that young adults must take a course and purchase a hunting license before obtaining certain firearms,” Nelson wrote. “But to say that they must become police officers or join the military? … It is a blanket ban for everyone except police officers and servicemembers.”

Nelson and Judge Kenneth Lee, who ruled in the majority, were part of Republican President Donald Trump’s wave of conservative-approved nominees that reshaped the famously liberal court.

Two years ago, Lee authored a 2-1 decision that threw out California’s ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, saying the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the right to bear firearms. That ruling was later overturned by the court’s 7-4 review of the decision.

A dissent was written by U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein, who was assigned to the panel from the Southern District of New York. Stein was nominated to that court by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Stein said he would have upheld the lower court’s decision not to block either law.

Stein said the regulation did not place a “severe burden” on gun ownership rights on young adults and noted they could get semiautomatic rifles from family members or borrow them from others.

He also said the majority failed to consider the the disproportionate amount of violent crime committed by those under 21 who have relatively less mature cognitive development.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Glendale Third-Grade Teacher Showed Gay Pride Videos. A Year Later, Furious Debate Erupts

A Glendale third-grade teacher who nearly a year ago showed videos celebrating gay pride to her students has been involuntarily transferred from her classroom for safety reasons after receiving threats — alocal chapter in the nation’s furious debate over what should be taught in schools about gender identity.

The conflict in the Glendale Unified School District, a suburban L.A. County school system of about 25,000 students, centers on four short videos the teacher prepared to show her class. Three of the videos explain gay pride with songs and animation. One features a song called, “Love Is Love,” with the message that parents and families come in many configurations and what matters most is the love between a guardian and a child. In another, “Queer Kids Stuff,” a cheerful young narrator celebrates pride.

The video that has spurred the most objection — and one that some parents said crossed the line of age appropriateness — is “Talking to Kids about Pride Month.” It shows an enthusiastic roundtable discussion with young children led by Canadian TV personality Jessi Cruickshank.

In the nearly three-minute video, Cruickshank uses the terms “sexual diversity” and “coming out of the closet” and notes that, as a youth, her admiration for actress Jodie Foster made her question her own sexuality, especially after seeing Foster naked in a film, which she said she watched several times. The children joyfully explain the possible advantages of having two parents of the same gender or becoming a “gay icon.”

While it’s not clear which videos were shown in class, parents, teachers, students, activists and community members have packed recent school board meetings — at times shouting or jeering — to express profoundly held views on whether, when and how gender identity lessons are appropriate. At one point a school board member, who supports such lessons, walked out during the public comments.

Some speakers expressed measured concern specifically over the Cruickshank video. Others said parents have a right to remove their child from these lessons or that such discussions should take place only within the family, not at school.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

“Water cops” Likely This Summer as Santa Clara County Misses Drought Goal by Large Margin

If you waste water in Santa Clara County, water cops could soon be on the way.

Since last summer, Santa Clara County residents have been asked to cut water use by 15% from 2019 levels to conserve as the state’s drought worsens. But they continue to miss that target — and by a growing amount.

In March, the county’s 2 million residents not only failed to conserve any water, but they increased use by 30% compared to March 2019, according to newly released data.

Now, faced with the alarming prospect of water shortages, the Santa Clara Valley Water District — a government agency and the county’s largest water provider — is proposing to hire water enforcement officials to issue fines of up to $500 for residents watering so much that it runs into the street or watering lawns too many times a week or wasting water in other ways.

Not all details have been worked out. The water district’s board is expected to discuss the enforcement plan Tuesday and vote on a detailed ordinance on May 24 at its meeting in San Jose. If the crackdown goes forward as expected, it will be the first time in the agency’s history it has taken such a step.

“These trends are alarming. We are in a serious drought emergency,” said Aaron Baker, a chief operating officer of the water district, on Monday. “We are looking to take additional actions to help us meet the goals.”

California has had three years in a row of below-normal rainfall. Overall, 95% of the state is now in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal report. That level is similar to 2014 when the state was in the depths of its last drought, an emergency that began in 2012 and finally ended in 2017 with heavy winter rains.

But this time, Santa Clara County is in a more severe predicament than many other parts of Northern California and the Bay Area. Federal dam regulators in 2020 ordered the district’s largest reservoir, Anderson, near Morgan Hill, drained for earthquake repairs. The $1.2 billion job, which involves constructing a huge new outlet tunnel and essentially tearing down and rebuilding the 235-foot high earthen dam, has been plagued by delays and cost overruns and is not scheduled to be finished until 2030.

On Monday, all 10 of the district’s reservoirs were just 24% full. The agency has also been told it will receive little water from state and federal suppliers. It has been spending millions to buy water from Central Valley farmers with senior water rights and also has been pumping groundwater to make up the difference.

But this year, water sales are more scarce. And district projections show that without more conservation, groundwater could drop to dangerously low levels next year in Santa Clara County if the drought continues into 2023. That could cause subsidence, a condition where the ground sinks in some places, potentially breaking roads, building foundations, water lines and gas lines.

“We are looking to end the year at adequate groundwater levels,” Baker said. “But if we are unable to meet the call for conservation, groundwater levels will be below our subsidence levels, and wells will go dry in South County.”

Since last June, when the district declared a drought emergency and asked residents to cut water use 15% from 2019 levels, through March, the total cumulative savings has been only 3%.

Water use in Santa Clara County increased 30% in March 2022 from March 2019 levels -- missing a goal of 15% water conservation by a large amount. Cumulative water savings from June 2021 to March 2022 was just 3% compared with 2019 levels. (Source: Santa Clara Valley Water District)
Water use in Santa Clara County increased 30% in March 2022 from March 2019 levels — missing a goal of 15% water conservation by a large amount. Cumulative water savings from June 2021 to March 2022 was just 3% compared with 2019 levels. (Source: Santa Clara Valley Water District) 

The water district has asked the public to water landscaping no more than 2 days a week. Most of the cities in Santa Clara County have passed local ordinances requiring that. But some, such as Milpitas and Sunnyvale, still allow 3 days a week. Several others — Palo Alto, Mountain View and Stanford University — have put no limits in place on weekly watering.

More significant, cities and private water companies that have limited watering to 2 days a week have not enforced the rules.

“Fines aren’t the only thing we need to be doing, but they are an important component of a drought strategy,” said Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland non-profit that studies water issues.

“There are individuals who may not respond to conservation requests,” she said. “And if people are allowed to waste water, that makes other people feel like ‘I’m not going to save because that person isn’t.’ It creates a culture of ignoring the requests.”

The Santa Clara Valley Water District already asks people to report if residents are watering lawns so much that water runs into the street or watering more than twice a week. They can call the district at 408-630-2000 or email [email protected] and the district sends a letter or puts out a door hanger asking the water waster to conserve. But until now, the district has not taken the additional step of issuing fines for repeat violators.

Data from the water district shows that many of the wealthiest areas are using the most water — much of it to water lawns during January, February and March, which were the driest three months to start any year in Northern California since 1849.

Click here to read the full article at the Mercury News

Anti-worker or Pro-Worker? Why Labor Unions are Fighting Over a Housing Hill

More than two dozen men and women clad in hard hats and safety vests filed into a crowded hearing room April 27 to cheer on yet another bill trying to solve California’s housing crisis.

The Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act would allow developers to fast-track local approval to build affordable housing where offices, strip malls and parking lots sit right now. But it has quickly become one of the most hotly contested bills in the California Legislature because the labor requirements on those projects satisfy some but not most unions. The bill, introduced by Assembly Housing Chair Buffy Wicks, mirrors multiple bills that died in recent years as a result of squabbling between developers and labor unions.

The men and women in hard hats, however, were carpenters, and so represented something previous bills didn’t have: Support from both developers and some construction unions.

But despite the neon flashes in a sea of suits, the impasse is far from over.

Following the carpenters, a parade of electricians, pipe-fitters, ironworkers and drywallers — wearing union logos but no hard hats — stepped up to the microphone to voice their disapproval. While the state’s Conference of Carpenters, which represents about 82,000 workers, co-sponsored the bill, the Building and Construction Trades Council — an umbrella labor group known colloquially as “the Trades” and spanning almost half a million workers in nearly every other construction industry — remains vehemently opposed. The California Labor Federation, which represents more than 1 million members including the Trades, said they “stand in strong solidarity” with the Trades. 

After several years of gridlock, the rare split within the construction unions presents both an awkward conundrum and a potential for compromise on a proposal that would free up swaths of land for development of affordable housing. It certainly makes it harder to paint bill supporters as anti-labor — a phrase that amounts to slander for politicians in deep blue California.

Longtime Democratic strategist Garry South said lawmakers may have to calculate which facet of organized labor will cause them the most pain during a major election year. And the Trades, which contribute tens of millions of dollars in campaigns and engage in aggressive lobbying, remain a force to be reckoned with. According to a CalMatters analysis of the 2022 races so far, state and local Trades councils have contributed more than $1 million to political candidates while carpenters groups have given more than $800,000.

But as the housing crisis reaches a fever pitch among voters, South said “elected officials will ignore it at their own peril.”

That’s the motivating factor for the bill’s author.

“I don’t want to be the housing chair presiding over inertia and status quo,” said Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland. “Here’s the reality: I and 79 of my other colleagues in the Assembly every weekend go home to constituents who are homeless, constituents who have to live in people’s garages, constituents who are squeezed out of their house, who are living in motels, who are living in their cars, who are being evicted or experiencing foreclosure, or who are barely hanging on. That is simply not okay. And so what that means is building more low-income and middle-income housing. And that’s what this bill does.”

What does the labor language really say?

The bill, which has the support of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, would allow housing that is 100% affordable to low-income households to be built “by right” on areas now zoned for offices, retail and parking. That means skipping many city council meetings that tack on costly delays as well as the state’s premier environmental law many blame for its housing woes. Livable California, a local control group, has already dubbed it “the worst bill of 2022.”

The bill would also allow mixed-income housing, with a minimum of 15% of units affordable to low-income households for rent or 30% of units affordable to moderate-income households for sale, along commercial corridors such as strip malls.

The Carpenters and the Trades are at loggerheads over how much unionized labor developers would have to use to take advantage of the streamlining. The Trades are pushing for language requiring a certain amount of the workforce be graduates of an apprenticeship program, which effectively means union members. That’s common for public works, but unusual for residential construction. 

A 2019 Trades-commissioned study found less than a fifth of construction workers across California were unionized in 2017, a number likely lower in the residential sector.

Developers argue the standard — that at least 30% or in some cases 60% of the workers in each trade for a given project be graduates of an apprenticeship program, most of which are run by unions — is too hard to meet, particularly in areas of the state lacking in apprenticeship programs. The Carpenters agree.

“If you had a standard that can’t be met when you need to move forward on construction then it’s not a standard, it’s a barrier,” said Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters.

Click here to read the full article at CALMatters

Democrats’ Fate Lies In The Nation’s Political Battlefield: Orange County

Orange County is at the center of the political universe again, the battleground where upward of $35 million — or about 10 times what’s typically spent on Bay Area House campaigns — will shower each of two key races that will help determine whether Democrats keep control of Congress.

But a lot has changed since 2020, when Republican Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim made history by being the first GOP Korean American women to ever serve in Congress. Or 2018, when Democrats flipped four GOP seats here to help take the House. Now, Steel’s race is rated a “toss-up,” while Kim is seen as having a slightly better chance of holding her seat.

For starters, both must introduce themselves to a new crop of voters after California’s redistricting commission redrew the state’s political boundaries. Plus, a number of outside factors could reshape their races, from abortion to Donald Trump to COVID to a battle to win over Asian voters that is among the most intense — and complex — in the country.

In Steel’s race, much of that struggle will be fought in Little Saigon, a hub of more than 200,000 Vietnamese residents that stretches over parts of Orange County, about 10 miles southwest of Anaheim. It’s one of the largest such enclaves in the country.

Instead of running in the more conservative, coastal district where she won in 2020, Steel is now running in the 45th Congressional District, where Democrats have a 5-point registration advantage.

But Steel’s campaign is confident, largely because Little Saigon boosts her district’s Asian American slice of the electorate to 35%. Vietnamese voters were an integral part of the coalition that helped carry Steel to victory in 2020 over incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda, who is white, said Fred Whitaker, chair of the Orange County Republican Party.

“That’s why Michelle Steel moved over (to run in that district), because that was one of her strongest bases,” Whitaker told me. “The party registration may be a little more Democratic, but the way that they vote is Republican.”

The Republican National Committee took notice and last June opened an office in a strip mall in the heart of the community to try to strengthen its ties there. Since then, the GOP has knocked on 75,000 doors and made 200,000 calls in the Steel’s new turf, according to GOP officials.

Steel visited the storefront recently during a training for volunteers to make calls in Vietnamese. Strung across one wall is a 12-foot-long banner featuring a quote attributed to her: “I live in the best country on Earth and I want future generations to achieve their own American Dreams.”

“We’re going to win,” Steel told the dozen volunteers at the training. “No matter what.”

Long Bui, a professor of global and international studies at UC Irvine, said Vietnamese American businesses and voters “will be key to determining who wins this race.”

Their voting patterns, however, aren’t predictable.

Bui, the author of “Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory,” said there’s “a tendency” to think that older Vietnamese — particularly those who fled the Communist takeover of their homeland after the war ended — vote more conservatively than the younger generation.

Instead, Bui said, “the community often considers personalities and who runs the most savvy, impactful campaign. Issues and charisma matter as much or sometimes more than party affiliation.”

Diedre Tu-La Nguyen, the mayor pro-tem of Garden Grove, which is part of Little Saigon, said the Vietnamese community is still small enough that personal relationships often trump party affiliation. The Vietnam-born Democrat, who fled a refugee camp as a child after the war and is now a cancer researcher, is running for Assembly.

“Vietnamese don’t vote for a party, they vote for people,” Nguyen told me over dinner of sea snails, garlic noodles and grilled shrimp at a Little Saigon restaurant. She said that until she ran for office, many didn’t know she was a Democrat. “You just know who people are in the community by their reputation, by what they’ve done.”

In a sign of how unpredictable voters are here, even Nguyen’s household is split. Nguyen’s husband is a Republican.

Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California's 45th Congressional District.
Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California’s 45th Congressional District.Allison Zaucha/Special to The Chronicle

Steel’s main opponent is Jay Chen, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, U.S. Naval Reserve officer, school board member and owner of a real estate firm.

Chen is a better fit for the new district, which “is more working class,” said Ajay Mohan, executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party. Democrats intend to pound Steel for not supporting the federal Paycheck Protection Plan that provided funding to the small businesses that drive the community.

They say Steel — a fervent Trump supporter who received a 77% rating by the Conservative Political Action Committee scorecard (slightly higher than House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield) — is too conservative for the newly drawn district.

Perhaps even more damaging, Chen said, is that she voted against establishing the commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and against the bipartisan $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan last year.

Steel said the plan was too pricey and sprawling.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley Pledges to Refund the Police While Also Embracing Law Enforcement Alternatives and Violence Prevention

Berkeley leaders are jumping back into the debate about crime and policing nearly two years after councilmembers called for defunding law enforcement, but this time the political landscape is different.

City councilmembers want to divert more nonviolent 911 calls from police and fund more violence prevention programs, but they’re also pledging to add more police officers, citing pressure from constituents worried about violent crime. A similar debate is playing out in Oakland and San Francisco.

On Thursday, the City Council approved Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s $5.3 million plan to fund more efforts to reimagine public safety and reform the police. The city will now expand violence prevention programs and kick off a process to create more police alternatives to respond to mental health calls. At the same time, the council also agreed to restore 30 of the police department’s frozen positions — a move pushed by several councilmembers.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín called the vote an “important milestone” and said that Berkeley can be a model for other cities.

“A lot of the conversation nationally has been focused on ‘defunding’ or abolishing or cutting the police department,” said Arreguín, who was a big proponent of cutting the department’s budget two years ago. “We refunded and we also expressed support for other approaches. We found a balance.”

The votes come nearly two years after Berkeley made headlines when leaders pledged to slash the police department’s budget in half.

In fact, the city ended up cutting about 12% of its police budget by freezing 30 positions. At the time, all city departments were required to find cost-saving measures because of pandemic deficits. The department accounts for nearly 40% of the city’s general fund with a nearly $73 million budget that will grow to about $80 million in the next fiscal year. The department currently has about 150 filled positions.

City leaders in Berkeley and Oakland say that police should focus more on violent crime and that most of their time is taken up with low-level calls. One way to free up officers — and potentially cut down on racial disparities in policing — is to move traffic enforcement away from cops. More than a year ago, Berkeley approved a plan for sweeping law enforcement reforms, including changes to traffic stops, but some of the plan has been stymied by limitations in state law.

While councilmembers said they feel pressure from constituents worried about violent crime, there isn’t a clear increase in homicides. Berkeley has recorded two homicides this year compared to none last year and five in 2020. Still, council members said Thursday they received nearly 900 emails from constituents urging them to hire more cops.

Dan Lindheim, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and a member of the city’s reimagine task force, said Thursday’s debate focused too much on police staffing.

“If this is the net result of a reimagining process in which Berkeley seems to be interested in reducing the footprint of policing, to fully fund the police seems like a bizarre result,” he said.

In parts of the East Bay, violent crime has disproportionately impacted Black and brown neighborhoods. Councilmembers in Oakland and Berkeley who represent those areas have called for more police. Council Member Terry Taplin, who represents part of South Berkeley, said a homicide occurred in his district earlier this week and that he’s tired of being lectured by “more privileged communities” that aren’t facing the same safety concerns.

Taplin told The Chronicle gun violence has impacted him personally. He said he’s had friends, cousins and loved ones murdered and so he’s “really eyeing these proposals with a lot of scrutiny.”

“How does keeping our police positions frozen improve my ability to protect my residents?” Taplin said.

Taplin ended up voting for the mayor’s proposal after Arreguín added several amendments that committed to restaffing the police department and allocated more funding to a new department of Office of Race, Equity and Diversity to study disparities in all city departments. The city manager will bring a proposal to the council to restore the positions over the next few weeks.

Berkeley is already working to launch a team of social workers and civilians — run by a nonprofit — to respond to some mental health and homelessness calls, part of a Bay Area trend to launch alternative policing teams of unarmed civilians. But the mayor’s plan approved Thursday would create a new office of community safety to eventually house the city’s different police alternatives.

Arreguín said the city’s efforts to rethink policing has been slow and methodical on purpose.

“Some cities have rushed into making decisions, some have backed away from reimagining,” he said. “We’ve taken our time and really given this serious thought.”

Arreguín said his plan lays out a framework for how “reimagining public safety” priorities can be implemented.

The city will also begin transitioning two aspects of traffic enforcement — collision analysis and crossing guards — from the police department to public works.

Arreguín’s proposal also commits funds to violence prevention and youth services among other programs and directs city staff to explore creating a team of unarmed community mediators.

The City Council will have to vote next month on how to fund Arreguín’s proposal, which will take several years to fully implement.

Still, not all councilmembers were on board. Council Members Lori Droste and Rashi Kesarwani voted against the mayor’s proposal.

Click here to read the full article at SF Chronicle

California Democrats Lean Into Abortion Rights As ‘Defining Issue’

When a draft Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion leaked Monday night, Democratic leaders in California reacted swiftly with shock, grief and fury.

It didn’t take long for the personal devastation to turn political.

By Wednesday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for re-election this year, had already cut a new campaign ad about “reproductive freedom under attack.” In a tweet unveiling the ad, he framed defeating “anti-choice Republicans” as the “defining issue of the 2022 election.”

As the stark reality has sunk in that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is unlikely to make it to its 50th birthday, many Democrats are leaning forcefully into abortion rights as a key election issue. With decades of public polling indicating that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, it could be the party’s most potent counterweight in a campaign cycle in which Republicans seem poised to capitalize on voter frustration over inflation and crime.

“Don’t think for a second this is where they stop,” Newsom said Wednesday outside Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, where he raised the alarm that conservatives would also seek to roll back other rights such as same-sex marriage. “Pay attention, America. They’re coming after you next.”

In his remarks, Newsom called for a stronger Democratic counteroffensive on protecting abortion. He slammed Republicans for claiming to be pro-life while opposing policies to provide more support to women and families after a baby is born, previewing a political attack that could soon be coming to swing districts across the country.

“That’s how extreme the Republican Party is in the United States of America. You want extremism? Rape and incest, they don’t even make an exception,” Newsom said. “Wake up, America. Wake up to who you’re electing.”

Democrats, weighed down by sagging approval ratings for President Joe Biden and in danger of losing control of Congress in the November midterm election, have been struggling to find a message that might motivate liberal voters to show up to the polls and persuade moderates to stick with their governance.

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said the reality of a Supreme Court ruling against abortion rights could provide a significant boost. Though warnings about that potential outcome have not historically driven turnout for Democrats while the Roe decision withstood decades of attacks, Pitney said voters are much more alert to loss.

“The issue has moved from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real,” he said.

And it could remain near the top of the news through the rest of the year, with the official opinion expected this summer and then potentially dozens of states passing new abortion restrictions after that.

“It’s kind of like a wildfire, and the burning embers and debris will spread over the electorate for months to come,” Pitney said.

Still, it is uncertain how much of a difference abortion can make for Democrats, who are facing significant political headwinds nationally from pocketbook issues such as spiraling inflation and high gas prices.

While probably not potent enough to shift the balance of power, Pitney said abortion could move the margins in close races with national implications, such as the contests for U.S. Senate in Georgia and Wisconsin. Some Republicans are already planning to push for a nationwide abortion ban should the GOP win complete control of the federal government in the next few years. The ruling, Pitney added, might also help Democrats regain some ground with young voters, who have particularly soured on Biden.

There is probably less of a potential impact in California, where Democrats have nearly maximized their power at every level of government.

Beth Miller, a Republican political consultant, said Californians who are motivated by abortion rights are already quite engaged politically. She is skeptical that it will bring new or infrequent voters the the polls, especially when abortion access is not under immediate threat here.

“The overriding issue in California is the cost of living,” Miller said.

But California Democrats are quickly elevating abortion to the forefront of their messaging anyway, with some even fundraising off the news that Roe v. Wade may be overturned. More than 70% of Californians oppose repealing the ruling, according to a poll this year by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

If Supreme Court Overturns Roe, Southern California Could Be Haven For Choice And Outrage

More abortions and more people casting votes in November.

Also, more outrage and frustration.

All of those disparate trends and emotions could come to Southern California if the Supreme Court overturns or severely limits Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed a federal constitutional right to an abortion.

On the abortion front, the upturn is already underway.

Since September, when Texas enacted a controversial law that outlaws abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat (typically around six weeks), the number of out-of-state women seeking to terminate their pregnancies at Planned Parenthood clinics in Southern California has roughly quadrupled, according to officials from local chapters of that organization.

But that trend could kick into overdrive if Roe is struck down as a leaked Supreme Court draft decision suggested. At least 26 states are poised to ban or severely restrict abortion if and when the Supreme Court takes action, states that include about 58% of American women of child-bearing age.

In a post-Roe world, many of those women will turn to California, where abortion rules are arguably the most lenient in the country.

“It could be a deluge,” said Nichole Ramirez, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood’s nine-office region in Orange and San Bernardino counties.

“The dismantling (of Roe) would impact about 36 million Americans, most of whom are women of color and women without money,” Ramirez added.

A spark?

On the political front, consultants of all political stripes believe the question isn’t if but how much a move to strike down Roe will animate voters. And many predict the biggest upturn will come from voters who previously weren’t expected to turn out in big numbers – younger women.

“This year’s mid-term was going to be one of the most boring, low-turnout elections we’ve had in a long time,” said Adam Probolsky, an Irvine-based political researcher and pollster.

“But now, with that draft by (Supreme Court Justice Samuel) Alito out there, you have every 18- to 25-year-old woman, every younger voter in general, with a keen interest in the outcome of this election, from federal offices on down,” Probolsky said.

“Nobody can say right now exactly how much this will change things, but every political consultant in this country is recalibrating what they expect for turnout in November.”

And on the outrage front, local pro-life advocates were thrilled that the Supreme Court might be poised to give their cause the win they’ve sought for two generations – but they saw an anti-Roe ruling as a starting point.

“We are cautiously optimistic. … The ruling would help make it clear to everyone who is paying attention that there is no right to abortion in this nation,” said Susan S. Arnall, vice president of legal affairs for the Right to Life League, a Pasadena-based group that pushes for tougher abortion laws.

And while Arnall said an anti-Roe ruling would “absolutely buoy pro-life forces,” she expressed frustration with several proposals in Sacramento to make abortion easier and more affordable in California.

Her group’s fight against California’s abortion stance, Arnall suggested Tuesday, would only intensify if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe.

“I’m flying to Sacramento tomorrow.”

Divide widens

If California has the most lenient abortion laws in the country, it might be because public opinion backs that.

While national polls show roughly two-thirds of Americans don’t want to see Roe overturned by the court, California voters are particularly supportive of a woman’s right to choose.  A June 2021 poll from the California Public Policy Institute found 77% of state voters – including 59% of Republicans – don’t want to see Roe erased.

That context was clear in Sacramento late Monday and into Tuesday.

Minutes after news broke about the Supreme Court draft ruling, Gov. Gavin Newsom took to Twitter to say, “California will not sit back. We are going to fight like hell.” By Tuesday, lawmakers were pushing to codify the right to an abortion into the state Constitution.

But over the past year, in anticipation of an anti-Roe ruling by the Supreme Court, state lawmakers, health providers and others have been pushing for new legislation to widen abortion access statewide.

At least 10 bills are being discussed in Sacramento that would do everything from cover out-of-pocket expenses for women, protect health providers from civil suits filed against them in other states and expand the world of medical experts who can legally provide an abortion procedure or prescribe a medical abortion.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday encourage passage of a State Senate bill that would make L.A. County a safe haven for women seeking abortions and other reproductive care.

One proposal, from Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie Norris, D-Laguna Beach, would train health care workers to provide abortions in underserved parts of the state. Another would create a reproductive health pilot program in Los Angeles County.

Still, news that Roe might go away also sparked an instant response among activists – and from people who say they don’t consider themselves activists but said they’ll speak out against the government having control over a woman’s decision to have a child.

Late Tuesday, groups throughout Southern California were planning to demonstrate in support of women’s rights.

“It is part of a national response,” Riverside resident Chani Beeman, who for many years has been an advocate for women’s rights, said about plans Tuesday by several groups in Southern California to demonstrate in support of women’s rights.

“It will be a wave across the country.”

Connie Ransom, who helped lead the 2017 Riverside Women’s March, planned to attend a rally in Riverside.

“This is just astonishing that this has come to pass,” Ransom said

“It’s just going backwards. It’s like (the current national debate on) voting rights — it’s taking away the individual freedom of women.”

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Killings In L.A. Are On Pace To Top Last Year’s High

People are being killed in Los Angeles so far this year at a slightly faster pace than 2021, when homicides hit a 15-year high, according to the latest data from Los Angeles police.

While the newly released figures indicate the dramatic escalation in violence that the city experienced in 2020 and 2021 may be leveling off, they show violent deaths are still occurring far more frequently than a few years ago, experts said.

“We certainly see instances of street violence that we tie into gangs, with a lot of ready and easy access to handguns and rifles,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in an interview with The Times. “It’s resulting in this loss of life and this high frequency of shootings.”

Through April 30, there had been 122 homicides in L.A., six more than were recorded during the same time period in 2021, according to the data. Last year ended with 397 killings in the city, the largest annual total since 2006.

The bloodshed remains far below that of the early 1990s, when the city had more than 1,000 homicides per year. But it nonetheless marked another uptick, however slight, in the troubling surge of gun violence that erupted in 2020 and has become a top concern among residents as well as a key issue in the race for the city’s next mayor.

While up only marginally compared to 2021, this year’s homicide count represents about a 40% increase in killings over the same period in 2020, which included the final months before COVID-19 emerged in the U.S., protests over the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd erupted and the crime landscape radically changed in cities across the nation.

While the rest of the year could see a significant decrease in the rate of killings, the numbers so far likely scuttle any hope that the city would find a way to return to pre-pandemic levels of gun violence, experts said.

Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime analyst whose firm AH Datalytics maintains an online database of homicide totals in 71 U.S. cities, said homicides nationally were down slightly less than 1% overall through March — which was similar to where L.A. stood at the time. 

While some cities have seen big increases in killings this year and others big drops, Asher said the data so far suggest the rapid increases in killings across the country in the latter half of 2020 and in 2021 have peaked.

“It’s plausible that things sort of leveled out at this new, elevated level of murders,” Asher said. “What we’re looking for: Is this a plateau, or are things going to come down? Or are they going to keep rising?” Asher said.

In L.A., the level of killing has fluctuated. A drop in homicides at the start of the year, which was cause for cautious optimism, was offset by a spike in killings in recent weeks. Homicides were down 25% through January, compared to 2021, but that decline had narrowed to 13% by the end of March. Then, there were 36 homicides in April, a month which saw only 21 killings last year, Moore said.

Moore said the violence was driven in part by a cluster of shootings in the city’s 77th Division, where disputes among gangs appeared to be escalating into gun violence. Of the 36 homicides in the city in April, 11 were in the 77th, Moore said.

Moore said killings were also occurring within the city’s large homeless population, with more than a fifth of all 2022 killings involving a homeless victim. Moore said he didn’t have information on how many suspects in this year’s killings were unhoused since many killings remain unsolved.

Moore said the “overarching effort” among police now is “to try to quell further acts of violence” by working with gang intervention workers and other community leaders to quell disputes and perceived insults that may spur gang shootings, as well as by adding investigative resources to identify and arrest suspects. 

Click here to read the full article at LA Times