California Gas is ‘Out of Whack’ – Nearly $2 More than National Average. Who’s to Blame?

California has long been known as the country’s priciest place to fill up your tank, but these days the Golden State is “completely out of whack.”

As gas prices plummeted around the nation in recent weeks, California’s price at the pump has rebounded with a vengeance to an average of $5.58 a gallon.

That’s $1.89 more than the national average — the highest price gap in at least 22 years, according to a Bay Area News Group analysis of AAA data.

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove prices higher around the world, California’s perplexing price swing is largely due to the local oil industry, experts say, which is putting the state on another planet when it comes to gas.

“The commodity price of gasoline in California has gotten completely out of whack,” said Severin Borenstein an energy economist at UC Berkeley. “If this holds, we’re just starting to see the increase. It’s going to go up even more.”

Although fuel costs are still down from their peak in June, drivers are contending with nearly seven months of average prices topping $5 a gallon.

“It’s unfair,” said Sonya Khvann, a single mother of three, who was pumping gas in Alameda on Friday. She spends about $800 a month on fuel shuttling around her children. “It’s not like you can change your career overnight,” said Khvann, a part-time real estate agent. “Not everyone can be in tech.”

Much of California’s high gasoline costs are explainable. The state’s 54-cent gasoline excise tax is among the highest in the country — only Pennsylvania’s is higher. There are also stricter environmental regulations and special fuel blends that prevent rampant smog from accumulating in cities, altogether these factors tack on roughly $1.20 to California’s gas prices.

But the widening gap between what everyone from San Jose to Los Angeles is paying compared to the rest of the country is due to the concentrated nature of California’s oil refineries, experts say. Due to the state’s special gas blend, California is often termed a “fuel island” because nearly all gas sold in the state is refined locally by a handful of companies, including Chevron, Marathon Petroleum and PBF Energy. That means mechanical hiccups at refineries can cause major price spikes not seen elsewhere in the country.

Tom Kloza, of the Oil Price Information Service, said the reduced flow of gas is likely due to refiners bringing equipment offline for maintenance. He said much of the oil industry deferred regularly scheduled maintenance in spring so they could continue reaping record profits during the energy price spike following the Russian invasion.

But it’s hard to get to the bottom of exactly why California’s oil refiners have reduced output now just as prices drop elsewhere. There has been no major refinery outage or catastrophe reported in recent months. Instead, experts glean information from oil production reports. “Because of antitrust regulations, we don’t know how individual refineries are operating,” said Kevin Slagle, vice president of the Western States Petroleum Association.

In a statement, the California Energy Commission said state refineries are seeing “temporary” production issues that, coupled with maintenance activity and “lower-than-normal gasoline inventories,” is driving the current price spike over the past four weeks.

The mysterious price surge comes as California Gov. Gavin Newsom has turned up the rhetoric against the oil industry as the Golden State moves to phase out most gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and expand restrictions on drilling. In a statement on Friday, Newsom’s office accused fossil fuel companies of “holding families hostage” while touting Sacramento’s plan to send up to $1,050 to California families to alleviate the financial pain.

“We’re phasing out the fear of gas prices and ushering in our oil-free future,” Newsom’s office added.

Borenstein has spent years studying the gap between California’s gas prices and the national average. He said the unaccounted-for difference, which he termed a “mystery surcharge,” took off in 2015 when gas prices spiked in the aftermath of a Torrance oil refinery explosion. Before the blast, the unexplainable price gap was about 2 cents, but afterward it ballooned to over 40 cents and has remained high ever since.

Kloza, Borenstein and David Hackett, an energy expert at Stillwater Associates, said there is no evidence of racketeering among the state’s oil refineries. There is an ongoing probe into gas pricing and oil industry practices in the State Assembly, however. Sacramento has a long history of accusing the industry of price-gouging and announcing investigations that yield few results.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

California Governor Rejects Mandatory Kindergarten Law

Beyond what they learn academically in kindergarten, students learn everyday routines: how to take care of class materials and how to be kind to their peers, according to Golden Empire Elementary School kindergarten teacher Carla Randazzo.

While developing those skills became more difficult for students going to school online during the pandemic, occasionally, a student entering first grade at Golden Empire didn’t attend kindergarten at all, Randazzo said. Nearly two-thirds of students at the Sacramento school are English learners.

“Those kids just start out having to climb uphill,” she said. “They need a lot of support to be successful.”

Randazzo always thought it was “peculiar” that kindergarten is not mandatory in California. For now, though, California won’t join 20 other states with mandatory kindergarten. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, vetoed legislation Sunday night that would have required children to attend kindergarten — whether through homeschooling, public or private school — before entering first grade at a public school.

As he has with other recent legislative vetoes, Newsom cited the costs associated with providing mandatory kindergarten, about $268 million annually, which he said was not accounted for in the California budget.

Newsom has supported similar legislation in the past. Last year, he signed a package of education bills, including one transitioning the state to universal pre-K starting in the 2025-26 school year. But the state’s Department of Finance opposed the mandatory kindergarten bill, stating it would strain funds by adding up to 20,000 new public school students.

Proponents of mandatory kindergarten say it could help close the academic opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color, as well as help children develop important social skills before the 1st grade. The bill was introduced after K-12 attendance rates dropped during the pandemic and some students struggled with online learning. 

Kindergarten enrollment in California dropped nearly 12% in the 2020-21 academic year compared to the previous year, according to the state Department of Education. Nationwide, public school enrollment dropped by 3 percent in 2020-21 compared to the previous school year, with preschool and kindergarten enrollment dropping at higher rates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Samantha Fee, of Citrus Heights, said her 7-year-old son could solve practically any math equation during the 2020-21 school year, while he attended kindergarten online. But by the end of the school year, he still couldn’t read and didn’t know all his letters.

She said the family made the difficult decision to have her son, who attends Golden Empire, repeat kindergarten to prepare him for first grade. 

“They learn a lot in that first year — how to sit at their desks, and how to raise their hand and all that they’re expected to know in the first grade,” Fee said. “Without kindergarten, they don’t have that.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Agencies gave back funds for homelessness

Housing officials failed to utilize nearly $150 million of HUD grants to city, county.

Nearly $150 million worth of federal grants to the three main housing agencies working to reduce homelessness in Greater Los Angeles went unspent between 2015 and 2020, as the number of unhoused people soared.

Instead of being used to address L.A.’s acute homelessness crisis, the money was returned to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to data provided to The Times by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. More than 85% of the returned funds were earmarked for sorely needed permanent supportive housing.

LAHSA returned more than $29 million to HUD during the six-year period; the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles returned more than $82 million; and the Los Angeles County Development Authority returned nearly $38 million.

Asked why so much federal money went unspent, LAHSA spokesman Ahmad Chapman said in an email that, while the data are “imperfect,” his agency operates “in a climate where the rental market is so hard to access, it makes it very challenging to use all these resources.”

But the amount given back to HUD by the three agencies over the six years is more than the total amount of grants the federal housing agency awarded them in 2020, $133.1 million.

“Given the need in L.A., we want every single dollar utilized,” said Molly Rysman, LAHSA’s chief programs officer.

That’s not a realistic short-term goal given HUD’s “rigid” and “complex” funding system, which can make it difficult to spend funds quickly or reallocate money that can’t be used for its initial purpose, Rysman said. Instead, some of those federal dollars go unspent.

“We’ve said this to HUD over and over again,” she said. “We need a lot more flexibility.”

In emailed statements, the county and city housing authorities blamed their underspending on a range of issues. The county housing authority cited insufficient workable housing units and client referrals, poor credit and rental histories among the homeless population, and program attrition.

The city housing authority pointed to landlords’ unwillingness to rent to homeless people, the city’s tight rental market, and high unit turnover rates. It also blamed shortfalls by “program partners” in key areas including referrals, housing search assistance and case management.

A HUD spokesperson said in a statement that “[t]here are many reasons that HUD may recapture” funds. “In some cases, new projects take time to start up, and are not fully operational in time to expend their initial grants. Recipients may also have challenges finding housing units.”

The amount of money L.A. County’s continuum of care program returns to HUD annually has fallen from $30.2 million for grants that expired in 2019 to $21.1 million for grants that expired in 2021, according to a July LAHSA memo. The program is ledby LAHSA and coordinates housing funds for homeless people.

The memo described the recent decrease in unused HUD money as a “positive trend resulting from the sustained partnership and collaborative efforts aimed at improving the use of” the funds.

But affordable-housing developers decry the return of any funds, blaming red tape and government inefficiency for their underuse. Many say they could immediately use some of that money to house Angelenosin desperate need of assistance.

Deborah La Franchi is founder and chief executive of SDS Capital Group, which finances permanent supportive housing projects across Greater L.A. She said she was dismayed to learn that millions of federal dollars for permanent supportive housing are being returned each year by LAHSA and the city and county housing authorities.

“When Angelenos see funding reverting back to Washington, D.C., for homelessness when we have a homelessness crisis in our backyard, it creates a lack of confidence that the right solutions are in place,” she said.

::

Washington View Apartments is a stucco-and-tile complex in South L.A.’s University Park neighborhood, tucked between Crypto.com Arena and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum south of downtown. Its 122 units sit on an underused historic site once occupied by the city’s first full-service funeral home.

The complex has four new, multistory apartment buildings. It is a 1¼-acre example of:

The difficulties inherent in paying for and building permanent places to live for the more than 69,000 homeless people in Los Angeles.

The confusing web of government funding supporting that effort.

How HUD money could be used immediately — but often isn’t.

Over the last two months, dozens of previously unhoused people with disabilities, acute medical conditions, addiction or mental disorders have moved into permanent supportive units at Washington View.

“I really wanted it to be low-income because of my dad,” said developer and financier Fariba Atighehchi of L.A.-based Western Pacific Housing, choking up as she walked through the complex’s sunny courtyard. “It was his dream to do low-income housing. He never did it.”

As in other supportive housing complexes, residents have been chronically homeless, and the rent they pay each month is based on their income, which is often little more than a Supplemental Security Income check. A dedicated nonprofit partner provides on-site social services, addiction and mental health treatment, and other assistance for residents.

But not everyone who has moved into the Spanish Colonial Revival-style property in recent weeks is subsidized by a permanent supportive housing voucher.

Thirty of Washington View’s apartmentsare simple low-income housing units with no associated supportive services. That’s because, Atighehchi said and records show, for more than two years, the city and county repeatedly denied the development team’s requests to provide enough vouchers for all of Washington View’s units to include supportive services.

The rules for awarding project-based vouchers such as the ones Washington View sought impose a variety of limits, including on the percentage of units that can typically be subsidized by the vouchers.

But housing agencies across California and the U.S. often grant exemptions to the requirements, and the reasons given for denying Washington View’s requests ranged from a lack of available vouchers to the project’s location near a highway interchange. The development team was left with no choice but to move forward with just 91 supportive units.

If some of the money the city or county housing authorities gave back to HUD had instead been used to fund the complex’s final batch of requested vouchers or otherwise back the project, Atighehchi said, all of its apartments would soon be occupied by formerly chronically homeless people receiving assistance for their most urgent needs.

It would also allow her and her partners on the project to recoup their multimillion-dollar investment and pour the funds into other affordable housing projects they are developing in L.A. and San Bernardino counties.

But it’s not quite that simple, said Rysman of LAHSA. One of the main reasons HUD funds go unspent in L.A. is because “the money isn’t going to the most useful things,” she said.

“If what you want to see is more housing supply for people who are homeless, which is truly what we need,” Rysman said, HUD should fund more project-based vouchers, which pair rental assistance with specific housing units instead of with individual tenants.

“If we had more project-based vouchers,” she said, “we would have way more building.”

At the same time, Rysman acknowledged that her agency “probably need[s] to do a lot more” to pursue the repurposing of funds that go unspent.

The Housing Authority of the City of L.A. and the L.A. County Development Authority did not provide responses to detailed lists of questions about the unspent federal housing dollars.

The total cost of funding the additional 30 vouchers for Washington View would be about $300,000 per year, estimated the project’s development team, led by Atighehchi.

“All I need is 30 vouchers for these people that are coming in and they’re so happy,” she said.

::

Had the agencies that provide housing to those in need disbursed more of the federal money they returned to HUD, more people like Angel Martinez could have a roof over their heads and the services they need to survive.

Ever since he moved into Washington View Apartments last month, Martinez has taken to playing “Prenda del Alma” and other songs of his youth on his cherry red Fender acoustic-electric guitar in a park down the street.

His one-bedroom apartment is the first permanent home the 63-year-old has had since shortly after his last carpentry job ended more than a decade ago.

Martinez keeps pen and paper in his front button-down pocket to jot down lyrics for his own baladas. For decades after he moved to Long Beach from Mexico at age 25, he had always found ways to make ends meet. But that was no longer the case after the bottom fell out of the U.S. housing market.

“Remember 12 years ago there was no work for nobody?” asked Martinez, who was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Mexico. “It was 12 years ago. I know that because I always relate to my granddaughter’s age. When she was born, that was when everything happened. She’s 11 years old now.”

The construction industry took years to rebuild after the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession. During that extended downturn, Martinez lost his livelihood and his home. Sometimes he slept on the grass in parks around town. He lived in a truck for a while. He spent a few months in a shelter.

At the same time, his health was deteriorating. Diagnoses piled up. Today, Martinez suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and shoulder and back problems. He has an ulcer and a hernia.

So after he was released several months ago from the emergency room at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, where he’d been treated for severe stomach issues, a social worker helped get Martinez off the street.

“Nowadays it’s so difficult even to rent a room in a house. Some people ask for $1,000,” he said. “I cannot work. … How can I make that kind of money? It’s impossible.”

But as a disabled, low-income senior, he was eligible for one of Washington View’s permanent supportive housing units via one of the 91 HUD-funded vouchers the complex has been granted to subsidize the rent for such apartments.

Without the placement, Martinez said, he would still be in a medical rehab facility, waiting to find out where he’d be living.

“This is a miracle. And I’m going to keep it this clean all the time,” he said, as he sat on a sleek gray couch that came in the furnished unit, along with amenities such as central air conditioning and a dishwasher.

“When they don’t have a place like this … they send people to the shelters in downtown L.A.”

::

Diane Reed barked instructions at a pair of movers, as they loaded furniture, racks of clothing and other belongings from her 10-by-15-foot storage unit into a first-floor Washington View apartment.

“Just put it right there, and the TV stand’s going to go over there where that black chair is,” she told them one morning in early September, pivoting around her new open-concept living area. The 65-year-old beamed, recounting the perks of her new apartment: high ceilings, untouched oven and refrigerator, no more roommates.

Her apartment is in the same complex as Martinez’s, but supportive services are not included. Reed’s is standard affordable housing, meaning that income — not disability status or medical or mental health issues — was the key criterion necessary to qualify for her unit.

She also had to have been previously unhoused, a stipulation for any project financed in part by L.A.’s Proposition HHH Supportive Housing Loan Program, which voters approved in 2016 to help drive more permanent supportive housing development. Washington View received a $12-million loan from the program in 2018.

Affordable housing subsidized by HUD’s Section 8 program is in short supply. It’s a necessary part of the solution to the housing crisis that for decades has helped provide shelter for thousands of Angelenos. But the need is not as great and the circumstances of people such as Reed who move into standard Section 8 units are not typically as dire as those who move into permanent supportive housing.

For about two decades Reed didn’t earn enough to afford her own place. She “slept in and out,” often crashing at family members’ homes, before she was selected via lottery to move into Washington View.

“I waited a long time. I’m so overwhelmed. It is a big day,” said Reed, who was born and raised in L.A. and has three adult children and five grandchildren. “It feels good to have your own space.”

As with other Section 8 housing, Reed’s rent is subsidized by HUD; she pays only 30% of her income to live in the apartment. But her apartment is not supportive housing; it’s one of the 30 affordable apartments that could instead be occupied by some of the very neediest people.

People like Daniel Castro, who never had his own apartment before he moved into a small one-bedroom permanent supportive housing unit at Washington View last month.

A self-described longtime “transient,” Castro said his kidney was removed when he was 8. Fifty-one years later, he suffers from a host of health problems, from scoliosis and hypertension to an enlarged prostate and chronic kidney disease.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California Governor Urges Overhaul of Democrats’ Strategy

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an overhaul of Democrats’ political strategy on Saturday, saying the party is “getting crushed” by Republicans in part because they are too timid, often forced to play defense while Republicans “dominate with illusion.”

Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas — the territory of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, one of Newsom’s chief political foils — Newsom was careful to praise current party leaders like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But he said that mantras that may have worked for the party in the past — like Michele Obama’s famous quip “when they go low, we go high,” — simply don’t work today because “that’s not the moment we’re living in right now.”

“These guys are ruthless on the other side,” Newsom said. “Where are we? Where are we organizing, bottom up, a compelling alternative narrative? Where are we going on the offense every single day? They’re winning right now.”

Newsom said that’s why — even though he is running for reelection as governor of California — he has been spending some of the millions of dollars in his campaign account on TV ads in Florida urging people to move to California, newspaper ads in Texas decrying the state’s gun laws, and putting up billboards in seven states urging women to come to California if they need an abortion.

“There’s nothing worse than someone pointing fingers. What are you going to do about it?” Newsom said. “The reason we’re doing those ads is because … the Democratic Party needs to be doing more of it.”

Of course, the main reason Newsom can do those things is because he faces little pressure at home. Newsom is likely to cruise to a second term as governor of California in November, facing a little-known and underfunded Republican challenger one year after defeating a recall attempt.

Newsom’s actions have increased speculation he might be running for president, an idea he has repeatedly denied — doing so again on Saturday in Texas. Asked if he was considering running for president in 2024 or 2028, Newsom said: “No, not happening.”

“I cannot say it enough,” he said. “I never trust politicians, so I get why you keep asking.”

Newsom said that President Joe Biden’s first two years in office have been “a master class … on substance and policy.” But later, he said good governance, by itself, is not enough to win elections — adding that “otherwise Biden would be at 75% approval.” In reality, about 53% of U.S. adults disapprove of Biden, according to the most recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The problem for Democrats, Newsom said, is that they “fall in love so easily” with “the guy or gal on the white horse to come save the day.”

“We missed a more important paradigm that leadership is not defined by that person in formal authority, it’s defined by people with moral authority every single day,” he said.

Newsom’s aggressiveness could end up helping Abbott, who is locked in a more competitive race with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Kenneth Grasso, a political science professor at Texas State University, said there has been concern among some in the Republican Party that Abbott is “not conservative enough.” Newsom’s attacks against Abbott “only helps him with those people,” Grasso said.

“If you stress that they’re right-wingers, you call them extremists, using that kind of language, all you are going to do is enhance their popularity in their own base,” he said.

Despite that risk, Texas Democrats seem to be welcoming Newsom’s attention.

“I like this guy,” Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said of Newsom. “I like the way he’s showing the contrast between what y’all do in California and what the narrow-minded, extremist positions that occur here in the state of Texas.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Will You Get a Payment? California Readying ‘Tax Refunds’ For 23 Million Residents

Qualifying couples who pay their taxes jointly and have dependents will get $1,050.

In three weeks, California will begin sending Middle Class Tax Refund payments to 23 million qualifying residents.

The state set aside $9.5 billion from its $308 billion annual budget for the inflation-relief payments. Initially proposed as a gas rebate, the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom settled on a plan to return some of the state’s $98 billion budget surplus to residents struggling with rising prices amid record-high inflation.

“California’s budget addresses the state’s most pressing needs, and prioritizes getting dollars back into the pockets of millions of Californians who are grappling with global inflation and rising prices of everything from gas to groceries,” Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in June when the provision was signed.

Payments will range from $200 for certain high-income earners to $1,050 for married, joint tax filers.

Similar to the pandemic-related Golden State Stimulus payment programs, recipients of the MCTR must be California residents and tax filers in order to qualify. The state will base relief payments on adjusted gross income found in 2021 tax returns.

Also like the GSS distribution, the Franchise Tax Board will be sending the relief money via direct deposits. Instead of sending out paper checks to the nonelectronic filers, the state will mail debit cards.

FTB representatives said Monday that the agency is working on a distribution calendar, but for now, recipients should expect most direct deposits to land between Oct. 7 and Nov. 14.

Households with joint tax filers will get as much as $1,050 if they have eligible dependents and earn less than $150,000 annually in AGI. The benefit falls to $750 for income earners above $150,000 and to $600 for dual-filers who earn $250,001 to $500,000. There is no benefit for joint filers who make more than $500,000 annually or single filers who earn $250,000.

Here’s how it breaks down for single tax filers and those who claim “head of household” on their tax returns:

—Less than $75,000 annually in adjusted gross income will get $700 if they have a dependent. Those with no dependents will get $350.

—$75,001 to $125,000: $500 (with dependent) or $250 without

—$125,001 to $250,000: $400 (with dependent) or $200 without.

MCTR distribution will go something like this, the FTB said Monday:

Direct deposit payments for Californians who received Golden State Stimulus (GSS) I or II will be issued to bank accounts Oct. 7-25, with the remaining direct deposits occurring between Oct. 28 and Nov. 14.

About 90% of the direct deposits will be issued in October.

Debit cards will be mailed between Oct. 25 and Dec. 10 for Californians who received GSS I and II. The remaining debit cards mailed by Jan. 15, 2023.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

COVID-19 School Closures Undermined Learning

Whether California’s schools should remain open or be closed was a hot issue when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging in 2020 and 2021.

Although medical authorities quickly concluded that children had a much smaller risk of being infected or experiencing severe effects if infected, California schools were mostly closed, in large measure because teachers and their powerful unions insisted on it.

With schools closed, local administrators scrambled to provide on-line classes, what became known as “zoom school,” but they were poor substitutes for the real thing — especially for English-learner students and those from poor families.

Those children — roughly 60% of the state’s nearly 6 million public school students — were already trailing their more privileged contemporaries academically when the pandemic hit. The closures made it worse, for obvious reasons.

They tended to lack internet access and proper equipment for on-line classes. Their parents were often compelled to work outside the home to make ends meet, so kids were often left to fend for themselves. Absenteeism from on-line classes was widespread.

Affluent parents, particularly those who could easily work from home during the pandemic, made certain that their kids attended on-line classes, helped them with their school work, formed informal collaboration groups and/or hired tutors. Thus, the ill effects of closures were mitigated. And, of course, private schools, such as the one Gov. Gavin Newsom’s kids attend, either remained open or minimized closures.

For months, politicians from Newsom downward quarreled over how the schools should function and angry parents formed the core of a movement to recall him from office. Newsom survived the recall, but the educations of millions of kids did not, as new data confirm.

While the state Department of Education has not released 2022 academic test data that would allow comparisons with pre-pandemic results, individual school districts are doing so and the numbers from the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, are stunning.

About 72% of the district’s students are not meeting state standards in math and 58% are behind in English, essentially wiping out five years of progress that it had recorded prior to the pandemic.

“The pandemic deeply impacted the performance of our students,” LAUSD Supt. Alberto Carvalho said. “Particularly kids who were at risk, in a fragile condition, prior to the pandemic, as we expected, were the ones who have lost the most ground.”

While the district released gross data, it did not break down the test results by ethnic or economic subgroups. The Los Angeles Times, however, gleaned the detail from a school board document marked “not for public release.”

Why the secrecy? Apparently it was to mask the particularly disturbing data about Black and Latino kids.

“About 81% of 11th-graders did not meet grade-level standards in math. About 83% of Black students, 78% of Latino students and 77% of economically disadvantaged students did not meet the math standards,” the Times reported.

We won’t know how the state as a whole fared until — and unless — the Department of Education finally releases 2022 complete “Smarter Balance” test results. But there’s no reason to believe that what happened — or, more accurately, what didn’t happen — in Los Angeles isn’t also true of other systems, particularly those with large numbers of at-risk students.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

California Governor Signs Sweeping Climate Legislation

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a sweeping package of bills Friday to expand California’s reliance on clean energy and reduce carbon emissions, moves he said further establish the state as a global climate leader.

The new laws include proposals aimed at reducing exposure to gas and oil pollution in communities of color, expanding clean energy jobs and accelerating the state’s timeline for getting most of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Newsom signed them following a record-breaking heat wave that forced California to rely more heavily on natural gas for its electricity production.

“We could talk about the way the world should be and protest it,” Newsom said while standing underneath an array of solar panels. “Or we can actually make demonstrable progress.”

State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Democrat, was an author of one bill aimed at protecting vulnerable communities from pollution coming from oil and gas production sites. It bans the drilling of any new oil and gas wells with 3,200 feet (975 meters) of homes, schools and other neighborhood sites and requires wells in those zones to enact stricter safety measures. Neighborhood oil drilling is prominent around Los Angeles and oil-rich parts of the Central Valley.

“The reason why we do this, first and foremost, is because some of us are parents,” said Gonzalez, who represents the southern part of Los Angeles County.

Another bill Newsom signed requires California to reach carbon neutrality by 2045, meaning it will remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as what it emits.

The state’s accelerated carbon reduction targets are a “big win for California,” Kassie Siegel, of the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, said in a statement.

The oil industry has broadly criticized Newsom’s climate package, saying it will harm an industry that still provides many jobs throughout the state. California is the seventh-largest oil producing state.

Some environmental groups were critical as well, though for different reasons. Food and Water Watch California, a nonprofit aimed at addressing climate and water issues, opposed a bill in the package that creates a permitting system for carbon capture projects. Such efforts rely on technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere to store underground.

Critics of the technology say it’s dangerous, unproven and a means for oil companies to keep emitting.

“Carbon capture is a smokescreen for fossil fuel industry players to protect their bottom lines at the expense of our climate and communities,” Food and Water Watch California Director Chirag G. Bhakta said in a statement.

Newsom, a Democrat, also took the opportunity to swipe at Republican political leaders in Texas. He compared California’s energy production to that of Texas, another major producer, where a winter storm in February 2021 left millions without power.

“And they’re talking to us about keeping our lights on?” Newsom said of Texas.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

DeSantis: Newsom’s Hair Gel is ‘Interfering With his Brain Function’ Over Immigration Stance

The public feud between governors Gavin Newsom, of California, and Florida’s Ron DeSantis continues to make headlines.

This time, the issue stems from their two conflicting stances on immigration. On Thursday, Newsom slammed DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott for migrants being shipped across the country. Newsom announced Thursday that he has requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the migrant children being “used as political props.”

On Friday, DeSantis responded to Newsom’s criticism, saying the California Governor’s “hair gel is interfering with his brain function.”

Newsom issued a response on social media to DeSantis’ comments, saying the Florida Governor is “struggling, distracted and busy playing politics with people’s lives.” Newsom challenged DeSantis on a debate and vowed to bring his hair gel as the Florida Governor is allowed to “bring hairspray.”

The two’s contentious exchange comes just days after Newsom donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ opponent ahead of Florida’s gubernatorial race.

“You want to ask what my ‘why’ is in life? I don’t like bullies,” Newsom said back on August 25. “I didn’t like what DeSantis said about Fauci, that you may disagree with him, but to call someone pejorative terms because they’re short. Who the hell are these guys? What kind of people are they?”

Newsom also compared DeSantis to former President Donald Trump.

Click here to read the full article at FoxNews

Voters Push to Take Local Redistricting From Politicians

California’s independent redistricting commission has received generally good reviews for its new maps that voters are using to elect legislators and members of Congress in November. 

Voters who say they are disenfranchised want similar panels to draw their local districts — and they’ve gone to the Legislature to make that happen.

Three bills on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would overrule local officials and require independent redistricting commissions in Fresno, Kern and Riverside counties, respectively. If he signs them, those panels would work on districts for the boards of supervisors in those counties, starting after the next Census in 2030.

“I think people are aware now of how politicians have been using political lines to keep themselves in power. I think people want to see that power in the hands of the people,” said Lori Pesante, civic engagement director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which sponsored Assembly Bill 2030 for the Fresno County citizens commission. 

“Redistricting is very much in the consciousness of the people, so I hope the conditions are ripe now for the governor to sign,” she added.

While Newsom vetoed a bill in 2019 that would have required all 21 counties with populations of 400,000 or more to establish independent commissions to draw county supervisor districts, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed two other bills to create such panels just in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Under current law, counties are allowed to use advisory or fully independent commissions, but aren’t required to have them. 

The 2022-23 state budget includes $1 million for the Riverside citizens redistricting commission.

“This failure of a majority of the Board of Supervisors to protect the voting rights of our Latino community illustrates why an independent citizens redistricting commission is needed to draw fair maps for Riverside County,” Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, a Corona Democrat, said in a statement. She authored AB 1307 to create the Riverside commission and is vice chairperson of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. 

Advocates in Riverside County aren’t waiting on a new commission to draw fairer districts in the future. They’re suing to overturn districts drawn by the board of supervisors last year, alleging that the maps disenfranchise Latino voters by splitting them among districts. 

“What we saw happen in Riverside County was pure political self-preservation by the county supervisors,” said Michael Gomez Daly, executive director of Inland Empire United, a coalition that seeks to elect diverse candidates in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. “It had nothing to do with fair representation for the communities that they purport to serve.” 

Representative democracy? 

Riverside County is a prime example of the voting population shifts that can occur from decade to decade — and even more quickly. Within just one year during the pandemic, from July 2020 through July 2021, Riverside County gained 36,000 residents — the third highest county population gain in the nation. Even before that, the county saw 10% growth, with a couple of cities nearly doubling in size from 2010 to 2020.

It seems logical: The Inland Empire led the country in job growth after the Great Recession. It’s home to warehouses for retail giants such as Amazon, Walmart and Target. Housing is also more affordable than the rest of Southern California.

Riverside County’s demographics have also shifted, with increases in the Latino population and Asian populations, and decreases in the white population.

That’s why groups including Inland Empire United and the UCLA Voting Rights Project warned supervisors that the maps they were leaning towards would disenfranchise Latino voters. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say their input on a map with two majority-Latino districts instead of just one was ignored. 

“For months, Riverside residents demanded the county to do the right thing and adopt maps that would lead to equitable and fair representation. Instead, the supervisors ignored the community and adopted maps that would ensure they had easier reelections,” Daly said in a statement in June. “The supervisors’ redistricting plan is a classic case of politicians putting their own interests over people.”   

The plaintiffs are calling on the board to rescind the current map, and adopt one that keeps communities of interest together.

Similar complaints are behind the bill for a Fresno County commission.

Critics said that supervisors approved a map that changed little from the 1991 version, despite a growing Latino population.

“Our county is changing, and Latinos now make up the majority of the population,” Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, a Fresno Democrat, said in a statement when he introduced AB 2030. “We can no longer tolerate a process in which elected officials give lip service to following redistricting requirements, ignore public input, and then adopt a map that serves their purposes. This change is long overdue.”

The bill for the Fresno commission, however, is opposed by both the county and the California State Association of Counties.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

California to give $2,500 Training Grant to Workers Who lost jobs during pandemic

Living through a pandemic sucks, but for Diana McLaughlin, early 2020 was especially bad: A divorce in February 2020, societal shut-down in March, and as part of the COVID-19 economic fallout, she lost her job in April of that year, returning to full-time work only 18 months later.

California lawmakers had economically distressed folks like McLaughlin in mind when last year they approved half a billion dollars on education grants worth $2,500 to help workers displaced by the pandemic acquire new job-related skills. 

McLaughlin is among the first 3,000 or so recipients of this grant, adult learners who were issued checks in a pilot program this spring and summer. Now the state is opening the grant to a wide range of adults with low incomes who lost their jobs or saw their hours severely cut during the pandemic. Half of the grant funds are reserved for displaced workers with children under 18. 

Officials expect to reach 190,000 people with this money, called the Golden State Education and Training Grant Program

Among the few stipulations to receive the grant, applicants must fill out a short application that takes about 10 minutes to complete and attest that they lost a job or hours after March 4 2020, when Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency. Applicants also must affirm that they weren’t enrolled in an educational or job-training program when they lost their jobs. There’s an income threshold as well. 

Part of what makes the application quick to complete is how little it asks. Unlike other grant applications for college, this one is self-reported and self-certified, wrote Judith Gutierrez, spokesperson for the state financial aid agency running the grant, in an email. “We are not requesting any documentation,” she added.

McLaughlin wasted no time once she received her grant in June, 2022. After taking courses part-time at American River College, a community college in Sacramento, since October of 2020, she decided to go full-time to pursue her first ever-degree this fall and chose accounting as her major. 

The $2,500 is paying for her textbooks, software required for schoolwork and other supplies — anything remaining she’s putting in a personal education account. Though she receives tuition waivers as part of a state financial aid program and additional dollars through the Cal Grant, the Golden State grant gives her extra confidence that she can afford an education while earning around $38,000 a year.

“I spend my lunch break doing schoolwork,” she said. After returning from the office, she takes her associate degree courses online. McLaughlin’s younger son is a virtual charter school student, so the two complete their homework side by side. 

“I feel that it’s showing him how important an education is and to never give up because here I am, 47, and in college,” she said.

Expanding financial aid in California

At first blush the Golden State Education and Training grant, which will last through 2024 and is funded mostly through one-time federal stimulus funds, is yet another example of the state’s growing effort to lower the cost of college for adults and bring more Californians into college classrooms. 

In the past two years, public funding grew by nearly 50% for the California Student Aid Commission, which oversees most of the higher-education grant aid to students, to nearly $3.6 billion. That growth includes more tuition and cash support for community college students, middle-class students at the University of California and California State University, students formerly in foster care, students raising children and the Golden State training grant, among others.

But the Golden State grant’s eligibility rules start where other state and federal grants drop off, extending cash assistance to would-be students who otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for traditional college financial aid.

The Golden State grant can cover education programs that are shorter than about four months — something the federal Pell and state Cal Grant do not. Students receiving the Golden State grant may also use the money for extension and so-called noncredit programs, such as English-as-a-second-language courses, bicycle repair and various landscaping certificates. There’s no minimum program length for this grant — and because state dollars cover some of the grant costs — undocumented students are also eligible for the $2,500. Anyone getting the grant needs to already know which training program they plan to pursue.

Getting the word out

So that displaced workers with no ties to a college also apply, the Student Aid Commission is working with regional workforce boards, The California Workforce Development Board and other agencies to get the word out about the grant, said Jake Brymner, director of governmental relations for the Student Aid Commission. 

Grant recipients can also use the funds if they enroll in certain workforce training and apprenticeship programs unaffiliated with colleges or universities. The Student Aid Commission is reviewing which workforce training programs are eligible and will soon add those to the approved list on the grant application. Students will only be able to use their grants at California public colleges, universities and these approved workforce training programs.

During the pilot when only public colleges and universities were eligible, 84% of the grant applicants sought educations at community colleges, data from the Student Aid Commission shows. 

“This specific grant has great potential,” said Daisy Gonzales, interim chancellor of the California Community Colleges. “What it does is it provides an entry point to our colleges for students that may not know about us.” Students with no exposure to community colleges can gain access to food pantries and coordinators who are familiar with other state and local social services for which students could qualify. 

She’s also hopeful the grant may help to recover some of the colossal enrollment loss the system suffered in the past two years.  

Grant can combine with other student aid

Even if grant recipients qualify for free tuition, especially at community colleges where nearly half of learners attend for free, they can use the money to cover gas, housing, food and other expenses. It’s an added perk for learners who had no spare dollars to afford an internet connection or other expenses associated with attaining a degree.

Muideen Olawoyin was one class away from earning an associate degree in human services, a stepping stone toward social work. But a series of bad breaks and a long-term injury left him cash-dry. 

“I (couldn’t) even afford internet then, it was so hard,” he said. When he picked up the Golden State check from his school, Cosumnes River College, he was able to get back online, enroll in that final course and earn his degree this summer. 

The average income of the roughly 3,000 grant recipients was about $22,000 when they first applied, according to California Student Aid Commission data provided to CalMatters.

Some degrees don’t boost wages

Not all training and education programs are made equal, however. Some research shows that shorter-term college certificates — like the kind in which students with this grant can enroll — have a mixed record of boosting the earning power of graduates.

Overall, these certificates lead to higher wages, but noncredit programs are less remunerative than traditional for-credit certificates. Still, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees lead to even higher wage gains for graduates, according to a 2020 Urban Institute study. Meanwhile, a fifth of certificate programs at public colleges and universities lead to lower wages than what workers with high school diplomas earn, a Hechinger Report analysis of national data showed

California’s foray into funding short-term credentials could inform the national conversation on whether to permit federal grant aid to pay for educations that are shorter than four months. For a few years now advocates have been trying to introduce “short-term” Pell grants, but the idea hasn’t won over enough lawmakers yet

None of the four Golden State training grant recipients CalMatters spoke with were pursuing short-term credentials — all wanted an associate degree. McLaughlin, who now works as an accountant for a fencing company, is dreaming bigger.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters