Tiny, endangered fish hinders California’s Colorado River conservation plan

Southern California’s Imperial Irrigation District, which supplies water to farmers who grow most of the nation’s winter vegetables, planned to start a conservation program in April to scale back what it draws from the critical Colorado River.

But a tiny, tough fish got in the way.

Now, those plans won’t start until at least June so water and wildlife officials can devise a way to ensure the endangered desert pupfish and other species are protected, said Jamie Asbury, the irrigation district’s general manager. The proposal to pay farmers to temporarily stop watering feed crops such as alfalfa this summer has environmentalists concerned that irrigation drains could dry up, threatening the fish that measures the length of an ATM card.

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“Drains are created for farmers to be able to convey irrigation runoff, and the pupfish decided it was a good place to live,” Asbury said.

Protecting the desert pupfish, listed as endangered since 1986, has been one of many vexing problems facing the Colorado River and the people and species that rely on it.

The 1,450-mile (2,334-kilometer) river provides water to 40 million people in seven U.S. states, parts of Mexico and more than two dozen Native American tribes. It’s long been over-tapped, a problem aggravated by recent years of prolonged drought. The Western states are negotiating a new long-term use plan meant to stabilize the river.

Last year, Arizona, Nevada and California offered to cut back on their use of Colorado River water in exchange for money from the federal government to avoid forced cuts. California, which gets the most water of all the states based on a century-old water rights priority system, agreed to give up 1.6 million acre-feet of water through 2026, with more than half coming from the Imperial Irrigation District. An acre-foot serves about two to three U.S. households per year.

The Imperial district envisioned a summer idling program in which farmers could turn off water for 60 days for feed crops since yields already are down at that time of year and growing requires much more water. But environmental officials worried that limiting the flow of water through irrigation drains could harm the desert pupfish. They also raised concerns about the impact on migratory birds that frequent the Salton Sea, Asbury said.

Now the district, the biggest user of Colorado River water with more than 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) of canals and drains, is in talks with state and federal officials on how it can proceed while setting up a monitoring program to ensure the fish isn’t further threatened, Asbury said.

The curious fish — the males turn blue during breeding season while females are tan or olive — was once plentiful. But with the introduction of invasive species in the Colorado River, its numbers dwindled, according to California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. The fish feeds on invertebrates and snails and can handle an extreme range of water temperatures and both fresh and saltwater.

Today, it lives in a few areas in California, Arizona and Mexico, including the Imperial Irrigation District’s drains, which funnel water runoff from farms in California’s Imperial Valley into the saline Salton Sea, a drying lake with no outlet that’s a stopover point for migratory birds.

Often, the district’s drains have more fresh water than the Salton Sea, so the fish seek out those spaces, said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. The fish has proven remarkably resilient and can survive in water with low oxygen levels, high salinity and temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius).

“A lot of them do live in these really bizarre drains, these agricultural drains,” she said. “These fish are incredibly tough — they basically just try to find a space where they can carry on their lives.”

The desert pupfish is a key part of the ecosystem in the Salton Sea, feeding on biting flies and serving as a food source for birds, said James Danoff-Burg, vice president of conservation at the Palm Desert-based Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, which works on desert conservation. In the summer, creeks that flow into the Salton Sea can dry out so much the fish risk getting stranded, so they are moved to special ponds as an insurance population, he said.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife declined to discuss the water conservation plan. The department said in an emailed statement that officials support water use reductions on the Colorado River and will work with other agencies to “find solutions that proactively minimize and mitigate any potential impacts to the great work underway.”

The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates major dams in the Colorado River system, did not immediately comment.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Fast Food Restaurant Owners Brace As $20 Minimum Wage Law set To Go Into Effect Next Week

New law causing more layoffs, reduced hours across state

photo of cheeseburger and french fries
Photo by Isaac Taylor on Pexels.com

With only a week to go before the AB 1228 $20 fast food minimum wage law comes into effect, restaurants across California continue to make last minute firings, employee hours cuts, and other measures to remain profitable and stay in business.

Following the signing of AB 1228 in October by Governor Gavin Newsom, the new $20 minimum wage for fast food employees, a massive jump from the $16 minimum wage, has had multiple companies take extreme measures. Some, like Chipotle and McDonalds, have announced already raised prices before the wage raise date of April 1st. Others are investing in automated kiosks and other automated devices to help reduce the number of employees. Some stores outright closed.

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Most notable, however, has been the massive amount of layoffs. Already, over 1,200 Pizza Hut drivers have had announced lay-offs, with drivers to be replaced by services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats in the coming months. Roundtable Pizza has also done the same with many of their delivery drivers, with many other chains currently also looking into doing the same for deliveries. Seeing signs of massive layoffs ahead, many workers have even transitioned out to other lines of work in anticipation.

In recent weeks it has got even messier. Panera Bread, which was originally exempt over having in-store bakeries and selling bread on stand-alone, voluntarily went to the $20 wage following accusations that Governor Gavin Newsom had allowed the exception to take place to benefit a major donor. AB 1228 bill author, Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), recently also created a new bill that would grant numerous exemptions to the bill in an attempt to lighten the economic blow of AB 1228. However, as the Globe noted, AB 610 does anything but cleanup the mess caused by AB 1228.

While there have been attempts to try and spin this as a major labor win, with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) launching the new and largely toothless California Fast Food Workers Union in February, fast food restaurant owners and managers have been bracing for the worst. Now, with a week left, many stores are scrambling to cut back employee hours, fire employees, set up lines so fewer employees are needed, and figure out what hours to close during the day during slow hours.

“This is what is incredibly stupid of the bill,” said “Annette”, an owner of a sandwich chain restaurant in Upstate California to the Globe. “If I still lived in LA, a $20 minimum wage would have been a major pain. Sure, you get customers coming in, but there are a lot more expenses for a restaurant there. I mean, taxes alone. Then, up here. You can have a restaurant in Siskiyou County or Shasta County where taxes are cheaper, but you still struggle with fewer customers. You can even have a spot on the Interstate on the 5, but there wouldn’t be enough traffic or cars coming in to justify the $20 an hour.

“It was a flat increase. You need to take into account a ton of variables. They were just thinking of the cost of living for employees. But that should just be one factor out of many. You have to go by county or by city. And you hit the nail on the head by pointing out just how much we are investing in automation and technology. It has been killing a lot of industries for years, especially blue collar ones. And now it is going after minimum wage jobs like these all thanks to new laws like these.”

$20 an hour hurting businesses

Another, a KFC franchisee, told the Globe “Major hour cutbacks for sure are happening here. We already kept it below 32 so not many are considered full time. But now we’re looking at the equivalent of giving them another shift off. We’re doing the same with less and consolidating tasks or having people only be at the register when customers are there.

“So people have been doing the math on $20 per hour. You know, $800 a week, or $41k  a year. So, first of all, virtually no fast food worker works that long. This is a part time gig for kids, or if they’re lifers, they do two or three stores to make the equivalent of a full time job. And that’s all before taxes.

“Where it becomes a problem for us is, obviously, the costs. But, for a silver lining, we are now putting the few people above the 32 hours mark well below 30 now, so a lot of benefits just went out the window for them. I’m not using any glee or anything here. It sucks and we really wanted to do right by our employees as much as possible. But this $20 ruins that. If you see more people working 2 or three jobs or are frustrated by not having any customer service, thank AB 1228. We’re doing what we can to make this work, but they aren’t giving us any wiggle room.”

One of his employees, Pedro, who has worked there for almost 15 years, added that “My hours are being cut. This pay raise from the minimum wage is doing nothing because of that. So now I’m looking to take on another job to make ends meet. Which is hard now, as a lot of fast food workers are doing the exact same thing as me since they are in the same position all within the same industry. And I voted for these people who approved this.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Walters: Newsom, legislators opt for gimmicks and wishful thinking to close California’s budget deficit

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature spent their way into a massive state budget deficit by assuming that a one-time surge in revenues would become a permanent cornucopia of money to expand medical and social services.

As revenues flattened, particularly all-important personal income taxes, the gap between income and outgo could no longer be ignored. In January, Newsom pegged the deficit at $38 billion as he proposed a 2024-25 budget.

The Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabe Petek, calculated that the real deficit over the remainder of the current fiscal year and through 2024-25 is many billions of dollars higherperhaps as much as $70 billion, and warned legislators that the state faces annual deficits in the $30 billion range for the remaining three years of Newsom’s governorship.

“The state faces significant operating deficits in the coming years, which are the result of lower revenue estimates, as well as increased cost pressures,” Petek said in his analysis of Newsom’s budget. “These deficits are somewhat compounded by the governor’s budget proposals to delay spending to future years and add billions in new discretionary proposals. State revenues in the out-years would need to exceed the administration’s forecast by roughly $50 billion per year in order to sustain the spending proposed by the governor’s budget.”

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So far, Newsom and legislative leaders are ignoring Petek’s advice and are using wishful thinking, accounting gimmicks and borrowed money to fashion a budget they will portray as balanced, but would, as Petek says, make the state’s fiscal predicament even worse in future years.

The duplicity begins with assuming that the deficit is billions of dollars smaller than Petek’s estimate. It continues with an agreement to enact “budget solutions worth $12 to $18 billion to address the shortfall” this spring.

Those “solutions” are laid out in Newsom’s budget and a “Shrink the Shortfall” proposal from state Senate leaders. They consist largely of temporarily suspending some of the appropriations in the 2023-24 budget that was adopted last June, shifting some spending from the general fund into special funds, borrowing from various pots of money and tapping into reserves.

Newsom termed it “a balanced approach that will take a significant chunk out of the projected shortfall.”

They are the sort of things that California’s politicians have embraced during previous budget crises to avoid either concrete reductions of spending or new taxes, akin to financially stressed families running up their credit cards, stiffing some creditors and tapping relatives for loans.

Were California experiencing only as temporary gap due to recession, a case could be made for a jerry-rigged budget to minimize impacts on those who depend on money flowing from Sacramento. However, the state faces what budget mavens call a “structural deficit,” meaning there is a fundamental imbalance disconnected from the state’s overall economy.

The deficit is born of Newsom’s 2022 declaration that the state was enjoying a $97.5 billion surplus, thanks largely to a $54.8 billion projected uptick in revenues. “No other state in American history has ever experienced a surplus as large as this,” Newsom bragged.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Ready to hit the road for spring break? Gas prices in L.A. County are now topping $5 a gallon

If you’re hitting the road for a spring break trip, be prepared to pay more at the pump.

As of Sunday, the California national average for a gallon of regular gas is $4.986, up about eight cents from last week and an increase of nearly 35 cents compared with the average a month ago, according to the American Automobile Assn.

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Drivers in Los Angeles County are facing even higher prices with an average of $5.035. Across Southern California, Ventura County’s average is slightly higher at $5.051, with San Bernardino County drivers and Orange County drivers seeing average prices of slightly less than $5 a gallon.

What’s contributing to these higher prices? Crude oil prices typically rise at this time of year and have reached prices of more than $80 per barrel, which filters down to the retail level where drivers buy their gas, said Doug Shupe, Auto Club spokesman. There’s also increased demand from drivers, who are increasingly getting out of town to enjoy spring break.

“When you have so many people filling up … you’re going to have upward pressure on the pump prices, and that’s what we’re seeing now at the pumps,” he said.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

The Newsom-Panera Bread scandal is an admission that minimum wage laws are harmful

Gov. Governor Gavin Newsom made national headlines again this month with his latest scandal. Per Bloomberg reports, Newsom gave Panera Bread an exemption to a new minimum wage law in California. Why? Because he went to highschool with the owner and didn’t want to see his buddy’s business tank.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1228 passed in 2023 and mandates that fast-food franchises with at least 60 national branches must pay a minimum wage of $20 dollars per hour to their employees. The law, however, had a very specific exemption for “chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item.”

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Panera has 24 locations in California owned by Gregg Flynn, Newsom’s friend and billionaire campaign donor. Newsom denies helping his friend out, though the Bloomberg article reports that he and Flynn have a long business relationship with each other, with Flynn apparently bragging to colleagues that he is on a texting basis with the governor.

While most commentary on the scandal has focused on calling out corruption and crony capitalism (which is fair), there’s also a clear economic angle to the story that should not be neglected: Newsom’s actions are a clear admission that minimum wage laws are bad for business.

If minimum wage laws are so great, why is the governor shielding his allies? If you really believe businesses really are exploiting the labor of less fortunate employees, then shouldn’t they all have to abide by minimum wage law, regardless of whether or not they’re a friend of the governor? Evidently, you’re only underpaying your employees if you’re a business Newsom doesn’t care about.

Like any good businessman, Flynn knew that this new law was going to do serious financial harm to the industry, and even, per the Bloomberg report, wrote an op-ed in 2022 about AB257, a California bill that placed labor relations in the fast food industry under the oversight of a regulatory council of government appointees.

In that op-ed he wrote about the importance of the franchise business model for the economy and how AB 257, “would effectively kill the franchise business model in the state – putting at risk the more than 75,000 local businesses and 728,000 jobs in our franchise sector.” Contrary to what most people think, fast food restaurants in California have small profit margins. Legislation like this can make or break a franchise, and Newsom, being aware of this, gave an exemption to both Flynn and the fast food labor unions.

This is not the first time proponents of a minimum wage have been caught in hypocrisy. During his campaign for the 2020 presidential election, Senator Bernie Sanders was reported to have paid his campaign employees less than $15.00 per hour, while he was advocating for a national minimum wage of $15.00 per hour. The employees complained about this inconsistency and when pressed on it, his campaign stated that they offered a competitive wage for their campaign employees — an admission that markets set better wages than the government can.

In the end, the Sanders campaign raised the wages of their employees, but cut their hours in order to cover the costs of the higher wages. We can expect the same to happen to restaurants across California thanks to AB 1228.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

California Democrats Try to Preserve Disastrous Proposition 47

California Democrats are trying to preserve Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure that eased penalties for theft and which is blamed today by many critics for a crime wave targeting retail stores in the state’s major cities.

Proposition 47 was sold to the public as “criminal justice reform,” but it did little to improve the state’s programs to rehabilitate criminals. Instead, it just changed some felonies to misdemeanors, including thefts under $950.

That, many Californians believe, created a strong incentive for criminal to commit petty theft, especially at retail stores, knowing that prosecutors would be unlikely to pursue charges or that any penalties would be minimal.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) introduced a set of reforms aimed at reducing property crimes, but left Proposition 47 intact. Other legislators proposed reforms to Proposition 47, or suggested it simply be repealed.

However, as the Associated Press reports, most (not all) California Democrats — at Newsom’s direction — are defending Proposition 47, and attempting to focus their legislative efforts on other policy changes:

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Following Newsom’s directions, Democratic leaders in both chambers at the Capitol also have shut down calls to repeal the measure [Proposition 47]. Last month, the state’s new Senate President Pro Tempore Mike McGuire, with bipartisan support, introduced a package of legislation that would target auto thefts and large-scale resell schemes and expand diversion programs such as drug courts and treatment services. Online marketplaces also would be required to crack down on users reselling stolen goods on their platforms under the proposal.

But some Democratic lawmakers said those efforts won’t be enough to make a difference. Assemblymember James Ramos, who authored bipartisan legislation to increase penalties for repeat shoplifters, said many lawmakers want to see “the pendulum swing back to the middle.” The bill would require voters’ approval.

“Prop. 47 needs to have some type of resetting,” Ramos said. “We have the opportunity now to start that dialogue.”

Click here to read the full article in Breitbart

The feds want to study giving cash to renters. Will Californians be included?

Guaranteed income has become a buzzword in California, as the state struggles to stop people from getting priced out of their homes and landing on the streets.

 Photo by Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via Reuters

The latest entity pushing to give cash directly to people in need isn’t a nonprofit or an uber-progressive politician — it’s a massive federal agency not typically known for its innovation.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is encouraging local housing authorities to experiment with giving cash directly to renters in pilot programs it wants to follow. It wants to know if this simplified method, which cuts down on red tape and puts more power in tenants’ hands, works better than its decades-old approach: a voucher system where money flows from the federal government, to the local housing authority, to the landlord’s pocket. 

If the tests succeed, they could inspire national change.

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“This could be a significant seachange in how HUD implements subsidies,” said Jimar Wilson, vice president of the Southern California market for national housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, which is considering getting involved in the test program. 

Advocates say the pilots could help more people find housing by making landlords less likely to discriminate against renters who get federal aid. At least one California housing authority — in Silicon Valley — is very interested in participating. 

But nobody knows what these programs would look like, and, most importantly, how they would be funded. Despite advocating for guaranteed income pilot programs, HUD says it can’t use federal money, placing the idea in limbo until funding sources come forward. Santa Clara County’s housing authority has pushed back on HUD’s claim that it can’t use federal money for this purpose.

“HUD doing this and being willing to look at the role of cash aid or direct cash assistance or subsidies in this way is moving in the right direction,” said Jennifer Loving, CEO of Santa Clara County-based nonprofit Destination: Home. “What would make it incredibly perfect is if they were championing new funding for this.”

HUD published an online article in September calling for nonprofits to partner with it on cash-aid pilots, convened an in-person event in November to discuss cash aid, and has been hosting monthly virtual meetings on the topic attended by nonprofits and housing authorities around the country. 

HUD offered CalMatters an interview with one of the September article’s co-authors — then rescinded the offer two days later. Instead, a HUD spokesperson sent an emailed statement that referenced the article, November event and monthly meetings, but failed to address several of CalMatters’ questions.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has made strides to expand, streamline, and strengthen the (Housing Choice Voucher) program including continuing to explore a broad range of actions to improve and expand rental assistance for low-income households,” spokesperson Andra Higgs wrote. 

Why give people cash?

The idea of giving cash directly to people in need, known as guaranteed income, is swiftly gaining traction in California. Nonprofits, cities and counties throughout the state have launched dozens of local programs. Even Gov. Gavin Newsom recently set aside $35 million to fund a handful of programs testing the idea. Early results suggest this model has helped people become more financially stable. 

Philadelphia already is testing giving 300 renters cash instead of housing vouchers — a program HUD is keeping a close eye on

So far, cash aid programs have been limited to scattered, small-scale, temporary pilots that lack the resources to scale up. HUD jumping into the ring marks the first time a federal agency is taking a cohesive look at the model and potentially creating a path for it to influence national policy.

“That’s what’s exciting about this, the fact that the initial call has come from HUD,” said Alexa Rosenberg, who co-leads Enterprise’s economic mobility initiatives. 

HUD operates the country’s Housing Choice Voucher program (also known as Section 8), which doles out vouchers to low-income tenants who can’t afford market-rate rent. The program started in the 1970s as an alternative to place-based subsidized housing. Instead of having to rent an apartment in a building specifically designated as affordable housing, the tenant can use the voucher to pay a portion of the rent at any market-rate property. Payments under the voucher system go directly to the landlord, who first has to pass a housing inspection. Tenants pay 30% of their income toward rent, and the voucher covers the rest.  

That system, which is a cornerstone of America’s subsidized housing program, has a number of problems. People languish for years on waitlists before they get a voucher, and many never get one at all. Only about one in four households eligible for rental assistance receives it, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For those tenants lucky enough to score a voucher, about 40% can’t use it: They either can’t find an apartment that meets HUD’s requirements or a landlord willing to accept the voucher, according to HUD data. Though California prohibits landlords from discriminating against a potential tenant based on their source of income, many still refuse to rent to voucher-holders.

“That’s what’s exciting about this, the fact that the initial call has come from HUD.”ALEXA ROSENBERG, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS, ENTERPRISE COMMUNITY PARTNERS

The direct cash program could eliminate some of those issues. The housing department  envisions allowing the tenant to inspect their own unit, rather than having to wait for an official inspection from their local housing authority. And the landlord would not have to sign a contract with the housing authority. Instead, the renter would pay the landlord directly, just like any other renter. Advocates say that could help prevent discrimination. 

Santa Clara County’s housing authority is “very interested” in participating, said deputy executive director Angie Garcia-Nguyen. Her team has been attending monthly virtual meetings hosted by HUD. 

“We thought this would be a good opportunity to learn where we have been a barrier in folks achieving housing,” she said. 

Margarita Lares, chief programs officer for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, is less convinced. She worries that without oversight, renters will spend the cash they get from this program on things other than rent — leaving their landlords in the lurch. 

Not everyone within HUD is convinced cash is necessarily the answer, either. The current voucher system is working, said Richard Monocchio, principal deputy assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing. He called it “the best homelessness prevention program of all time.” While he said he has nothing against testing cash aid, he doesn’t think it will prevent discrimination, and he’s focused instead on increasing resources for the existing program. 

“I don’t want to do anything to diminish this program,” he said. “I mean, it’s the largest rental assistance program in history, and it works.” 

So, who’s paying for this?

Santa Clara County’s main hang-up when it comes to a cash-aid pilot? A lack of money. 

HUD says it doesn’t have the authority to use federal funds to pay for this experiment. Garcia-Nguyen disagrees. She says Santa Clara County, as part of HUD’s Moving to Work program — which is supposed to fund innovation — should be allowed to use federal dollars.

Without federal money, Garcia-Nguyen doesn’t see a way forward. Their average housing voucher payment is $2,200 per month. HUD envisions these pilots lasting up to four years, and experts say each one likely would need a few hundred people in order to demonstrate convincing results. 

“We’re going to need a lot of money,” Garcia-Nguyen said. 

HUD has indicated it will reconsider its position on Moving to Work funds, Garcia-Nguyen said, and now they’re waiting for the agency’s final determination. 

HUD declined to comment to CalMatters on the funding question.

“We thought this would be a good opportunity to learn where we have been a barrier in folks achieving housing.”ANGIE GARCIA-NGUYEN, DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SANTA CLARA COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY

In the meantime, HUD expects nonprofits to pay for this effort. But so far, none has committed.

“We haven’t seen our members jumping at this,” said Amanda Misiko Andere, CEO of Funders Together to End Homelessness, an organization made up of homelessness nonprofits.

Housing organizations generally support the concept of cash aid, but are reluctant to be the first one to throw their hat in the ring, said Jeanne Fekade-Sellassie, executive director of Funders for Housing and Opportunity. Before they commit, they want more details about what the programs will look like. 

So far, HUD’s best bet is likely Enterprise. The national housing nonprofit could act as an umbrella agency that helps coordinate the pilots — making sure they operate with similar guidelines, setting evaluation metrics and bringing together funders, said Rosenberg. 

Enterprise wants a year to plan its approach, pick locations for pilots and identify resources. Just to fund that year of planning, Enterprise will need about $850,000, Roseberg said. After that, she estimates it would cost between $4.7 million and $7.7 million to fund each pilot for between three and five years, plus an additional $2 or $3 million in infrastructure costs. She hopes they launch at least five pilots.

But Enterprise isn’t committing to anything until it has funding in hand.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Gavin Newsom calls for a ceasefire in Gaza

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday he supports President Biden’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza, citing the “ongoing and horrific loss of innocent civilian life.”

“I support President Biden’s call for an immediate ceasefire as part of a deal to secure desperately needed relief for Gazan civilians and the release of hostages,” he wrote in a letter addressed to California’s Muslim, Palestinian American, and Arab American communities. “I also unequivocally denounce Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel. It is time to work in earnest toward an enduring peace that will furnish the lasting security, autonomy, and freedom that the Palestinians and the Israeli people both deserve.”

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Newsom’s statement came one day before the U.S. asked the U.N. Security Council to back a ceasefire resolution, though Russia and China vetoed it. And it follows other leaders shifting to more forceful calls for Israel to change its conduct of the war. 

On March 3, Vice President Kamala Harris, the former U.S. senator from California, called for an immediate, but temporary ceasefire — the strongest statement from the Biden administration to that point. 

Following his State of the Union address on March 7, when he announced a new effort to bring in humanitarian aid by sea, President Biden called for a six-week ceasefire and a hostage-prisoner exchange. And in a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, the president expressed concerns about the civilian death toll and Israel’s blockade of aid delivery, according to a White House summary

And on March 14, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official, called for new elections in Israel, saying on the Senate floor that Netanyahu is an “obstacle to peace” and “has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.” 

The governor’s statement, sent during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, comes after months of criticism by pro-ceasefire supporters that he wasn’t even-handed in his stance on the Gaza war

But in California, views have been more mixed. 

More than 60% of likely voters in California supported an immediate ceasefire in a poll released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California. But they’re more divided on whether to increase, decrease or maintain military aid to Israel and humanitarian aid to Palestinians. 

The state’s Jewish Democrats have been split over calls for a ceasefire; Newsom’s move puts him at odds with those who have opposed the idea and framed the issue as Israeli having a right to defend itself.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who has advanced to the November election for U.S. Senate, had rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire, but said earlier this month that he would support one contingent on Hamas releasing hostages it kidnapped from Israel, adding that “the obstacle to getting that temporary ceasefire is Hamas.”

Assembly Republicans have called for a resolution condemning Hamas. And in response to Newsom’s letter, Jim Stanley, Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher’s spokesperson, accused the governor of treating Israeli hostages as “an afterthought.” 

Patrick James, former professor and director of USC’s Center for International Studies, said that the governor’s statement has little impact on the conflict itself and that it’s rare for governors to get involved in hot-button international issues. 

“They have some involvement in trade and investment policy, and yes, they even will visit other countries,” he said. “But they generally don’t talk about things like this.” 

That’s why James sees Newsom’s statement as a strategic one: “It’s about a very skilled politician, positioning himself — and I think he’s doing this brilliantly — to be the Democratic nominee if there is an emergency and Biden pulls out, or for 2028.” 

“He’s hedged his bets,” James added. “He has not come out and said, ‘I love Hamas, and from the river to the sea’ or anything that extreme. He even has said some cautiously neutral to even pro-Israeli sounding things as well.”

In the letter, Newsom acknowledged the suffering of the Muslim community — particularly those who had lost family and friends in Gaza.

“The scale of suffering in Gaza is so vast that it seems few Palestinians across the world have been spared personal loss,” he said. “And now burgeoning disease and starvation threaten to deepen the devastation, especially among children. This is unacceptable.”

Newsom added that he will “always defend your right to take part in the California tradition of peaceful protest — to publicly express your opposition to any war or government decision you oppose, including the war in Gaza.”

Officials from California chapters of the Council on American Islamic Relations and other groups have been pushing the governor for months — including at a meeting in December, where community leaders and organizers from around the state asked the governor to call for a permanent ceasefire. 

“We’re pleased to share that after many months of advocacy by various groups, including a meeting CAIR-CA convened with the Governor and Muslim leaders, this afternoon, Governor Newsom joined the resounding global call for ceasefire,” said CAIR California CEO Hussam Ayloush.

The group also praised the governor for sending medical supplies and aid to Gaza. 

But for others, the statement didn’t come soon enough. 

“I certainly welcome Gov. Newsom’s support for a ceasefire. It should be noted however, that like President Biden, Gov. Newsom is making a political as opposed to a moral, ethical, or a principled judgment,” said Yousef Baker, co-director of the Middle East Studies program at California State University, Long Beach. “Newsom and other leading Democrats need to step up and show true humanistic leadership and put pressure on the Israeli government to halt its collective murder of Palestinians.”

In a statement Friday, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California said it appreciated that Newsom’s letter included support for its core positions on the war: the return of remaining hostages, removing Hamas from power, maximizing aid to Gazans and minimizing civilian casualties.

“We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with Governor Newsom to strengthen California-Israel ties, achieve a peaceful and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians, counter antisemitism, and make California a safe and welcoming place for all,” the statement said.

The escalating violence and worsening humanitarian crisis followed the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas, in which 1,200 were killed and at least 200 taken hostage. Later that month, Newsom added a stop in Israel on the way to a climate change tour of China. While in Israel, he met with government officials and visited the parents of a Californian being held hostage. Newsom did not go to Gaza due to security issues, and his pledge of medical and humanitarian aid for Palestinians wasn’t fulfilled until weeks after similar aid was delivered to Israel, also due to security issues.

Click to read the full article in CalMatters

Newsom and Democrats announce a plan to reduce the enormous budget deficit. How? TBD

With a budget deficit of at least $38 billion hanging over their heads, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders of the state Senate and Assembly announced an agreement on Wednesday to take action in April to begin to dramatically reduce California’s historic shortfall.

The problem: Democrats at the state Capitol couldn’t actually agree on an amount — offering only a range of $12 billion to $18 billion — or explain what, exactly, they plan to cut.

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Those details, the governor’s office said, will be discussed and shared next month.

The head-scratching announcement of a plan to have a plan comes as pressure mounts on Democrats over the looming fiscal crisis.

Newsom has urged the Legislature to take “early action” to begin to whittle away at the deficit now — well before the June deadline to pass a budget — by clawing back unspent funding, delaying programs and reducing planned spending. The cuts currently under discussion are largely considered the easier choices, with the hope of freeing up Democrats to focus on tougher deliberations that will come later this spring when the full scope of the budget hole becomes clearer.

The Senate unveiled its own plan last week to slice off $17 billion from the deficit with early cuts, which include delaying and pulling back more than $1 billion to expand early education classrooms and support school facilities. But the Assembly, where Democrats hold 62 of 80 seats under a new speaker who has promised to give his members more input on big decisions, has been slower to rally behind a plan.

The struggle to reach a real consensus on the early cuts speaks to the challenge ahead as Democrats embark on a process to correct what could be the largest fiscal deficit the state government has ever experienced. Some estimates suggest the shortfall could be nearly twice as much as Newsom’s estimates, which will force lawmakers to make difficult choices in May and June about programs that affect millions of Californians.

Democrats often pass an initial budget by the June 15 mandate required by state law and revise it again before the fiscal plan takes effect on July 15.

“In some ways, I think this forces an earlier reckoning of the reality of what they’re going to have to actually vote on,” said Rob Stutzman, a longtime GOP strategist who worked for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “And they’re going to wholly own it.”

Whereas Republicans shared the pain during the budget crisis in Schwarzenegger’s era, now Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature by wide margins.

Only a handful of lawmakers have experience in office during the prior budget crisis, and Newsom has never been forced to make cuts of this magnitude.

His call to shave the deficit early has been met with mixed responses from the Legislature, prompting Newsom to come to the Capitol this week for meetings with Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly leader in hopes of reaching an agreement before they leave Sacramento for spring break on Thursday. Lawmakers are expected to pass one of Newsom’s major budget proposals before the recess, a tax increase on managed-care organizations that allows the state to draw more federal funds for healthcare.

In a statement included in the announcement of the agreement, California Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said the Senate is ready to move quickly on tough budget decisions.

“The deficit is serious and it’s grown by billions since January, which is why we must move with speed to shrink the shortfall immediately,” McGuire said.

The Senate’s plan to cut $17 billion, coupled with a desire to tap $12.2 billion from the rainy day fund, could leave lawmakers with $29 billion less to offset in June.

Newsom’s Department of Finance has said the governor’s administration backs the Senate’s package. But the Assembly has yet to detail how it wants to move forward.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Prop. 1 backers and foes both seek count of thousands of disqualified ballots

Opponents concede likely defeat but revived their campaign to join Newsom’s push to correct ballots

Opponents and proponents of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Prop. 1 mental health bond measure are seeking to correct rejected ballots from the March 5 primary — usually rejected due to a voter’s missing signature or a mismatched signature — as the fate of Prop. 1 hangs by a razor-thin margin.

Prop. 1 was backed by 50.1% of voters and opposed by 49.9%, according to the March 16 update from the secretary of state’s office. That leaves just 20,000 votes, in a state with 22 million registered voters, standing between its passage and its failure. The opposition campaign estimates that upwards of 110,000 disqualified ballots could be corrected and counted.

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Late last week, Governor Gavin Newsom urged Democratic voters to correct ballot signature issues to ensure that his $6.4 billion bond measure actually passes, Politico reported. On Thursday evening, he emailed supporters of Prop. 1, asking them to volunteer to reach out to Democrats whose ballots had been rejected.

If passed, Prop. 1 would direct $4.4 billion to create 10,000 new mental health beds and $2 billion for homeless housing projects. It would also require counties to spend 30% of revenue from the Mental Health Services Act on housing.

“This ballot initiative is so close that your commitment to volunteer could mean the difference between people getting off the streets and into the treatment they need… or not,” Newsom stated in his email to supporters. “Truly. It is that close.”

On Monday morning, Californians Against Prop. 1 revived their campaign — to also urge voters to “cure” their disqualified ballots. On March 12 the opposition campaign conceded likely defeat, but are now revoking that call until the ballot correction effort is completed.

“We believe all ballots should be counted,” said Paul Simmons, a director of Californians Against Prop. 1, in a statement. “We know that many Democrats voted against Prop. 1, so the governor’s effort is no slam dunk. If you’re a Republican or independent, we want you to know that your ballot might make the difference in this election.”

In past primary elections an average of 1.5% of ballots were rejected.

“We don’t know if reviving rejected ballots will change the outcome of this election, but if the governor thinks it might we for damn sure aren’t going to let him have the field to himself,” Simmons said.

Californians Against Prop. 1 relaunched their website on Monday with instructions on how voters can find out if their ballot was disqualified and correct issues such as missing or mismatched signatures.

Governor Newsom is also changing his plans due to the disqualified ballots. He postponed his annual State of the State Address from Monday to an unspecified future date — until the measure has clear results.

While Prop. 1 has consistently held a narrow lead in successive ballot updates, no major news organization has called it as a win. The secretary of state’s office is scheduled to certify the results on April 12.

The outcome holds major political gravitas for Newsom who is banking on its passage to fulfill his promise to address the twin crises of mental health and homelessness.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register