California Politics: A dose of reality in Newsom’s war on Big Oil

Gov. Gavin Newsom is giving up his high-profile call for the California Legislature to set a cap on oil company profits and instead will ask lawmakers to increase transparency and oversight of the industry, my colleague Taryn Luna reports.

The governor’s newly amended proposal would give the California Energy Commission more authority to investigate gasoline price spikes and the option, through a public hearing process, to place a cap on profits and penalize oil companies, Newsom’s aides said. With increased regulatory authority, they said, the commission will be empowered to prevent the kinds of gasoline price spikes consumers saw last year.

But the plan does not include a requirement for regulators to cap profits or penalize the industry, as Newsom called for in October when he announced his intent to convene state lawmakers into a special session to rein in the oil industry’s excessive profits as gas prices topped $6 a gallon.

Determining the level at which refinery profits should be penalized became a political hot potato in Sacramento. Democrats were concerned that the plan could potentially backfire because of the complicated nature of the oil markets, lack of transparency from the industry, and concern that it could carry unintended consequences on gasoline prices.

All of which points to Newsom’s habit of seizing on hot-button issues to make political pronouncements before he’s figured out how to implement them. He responded to public frustration over high gas prices by saying he wanted to tax the oil industry’s excessive profits. But the plan required support from the Legislature and lawmakers in his own party weren’t convinced that a penalty would solve the problem.

While the plan amounts to a scaled-back version of what Newsom originally floated, consumer advocates remained upbeat about its potential to keep prices down, while Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher of Yuba City fumed that it would give “unelected bureaucrats the authority to impose this new tax.”

But even Newsom’s new plan was announced without explicit buy-in from legislative leaders, so… stay tuned.

Read the full article here.

I’m Laurel Rosenhall, The Times’ Sacramento bureau chief, here with the week’s news in California politics.

But first, a mea culpa: In last week’s newsletter, I erroneously wrote that Republicans who ran in the last two Senate races in California did not make it past the nonpartisan primary. That’s what happened in 2016 and 2018, but Republican Mark Meuser lost to Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla in November 2022.

Newsom’s plan to reinvent an infamous prison

On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce a sweeping plan to remake San Quentin State Prison, California’s first and most infamous penitentiary, where criminals including Charles Manson and Scott Peterson have done time.

By 2025, reports Times columnist Anita Chabria, San Quentin will become the largest center of rehabilitation, education and training in the California prison system. No longer will it be a maximum security facility. Instead, it will be a place for “turning out good neighbors,” Chabria writes, by incorporating an approach used in Scandinavia that emphasizes job training and life skills over fear and punishment.

The vision for a new San Quentin includes training for careers that can pay six figures, trades such as plumbers, electricians or truck drivers, and using the complex as a last stop of incarceration before release. The plan for San Quentin is “not just about reform, but about innovation,” a chance to “hold ourselves to a higher level of ambition and look to completely re-imagine what prison means,” Newsom told Chabria.

She recently visited a prison in Pennsylvania that’s already using the model planned for San Quentin. Read all about it in this column.

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California tribes grapple with generational trauma

In Indian Country, everybody seems to know somebody who’s gone missing or been murdered, writes Times reporter Hannah Wiley.

But one case hit particularly close to home for Greg O’Rourke, the police chief for the Yurok Tribe along California’s North Coast: The disappearance of Emmilee Risling, a 32-year-old mother of two, who was last seen in 2021 in a forested area along the Klamath River.

O’Rourke knows Risling’s family well. She used to babysit his kids, including his foster daughter, Charlene Juan. O’Rourke took Charlene in after her own mother disappeared.

Now, while he works on finding Risling, O’Rourke worries that Charlene could go missing, too.

Like her former babysitter, Charlene has struggled with addiction, domestic violence and mental health. O’Rourke fears Charlene is following the same road map that guided Risling and dozens of other women into a missing-persons file, a decades-long problem in Indigenous communities that traces back to white settler colonialism, a broken foster care system and the forced assimilation of Native children in the state’s punitive boarding schools.

This is a beautifully written, deeply reported story that showcases The Times’ emphasis on literary journalism and reflects the tenacity of a reporter who spent months tracing intergenerational trauma in a tribal community. I hope you’ll make time to read it.

California’s latest front in the abortion fight

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last year, California Democrats acted swiftly to pass several new laws to expand abortion access and prepare the state to serve as a national safe haven for people seeking reproductive healthcare.

But that wasn’t enough, legislative Democrats said this week as they announced a new package of bills to further bolster California’s role as an abortion sanctuary in a nation where more than a dozen states have banned the procedure since the high court ruling last year.

“We cannot rest at all in this onslaught,” state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said at a news conference in the state Capitol, where the Legislative Women’s Caucus unveiled 17 bills.

Several bills in the package would expand privacy protections for people seeking abortion, contraception, or pregnancy healthcare. Others would add new requirements for insurance companies. The new legislation also includes efforts to expand public awareness of abortion options and other reproductive health services, including through information given to students at schools and to the public via publicity campaigns.

Read more about California’s latest front in the abortion fight in this article by Times reporter Vanessa Arredondo.

Keeping up with California politics

California bill would require schools to notify parents if their child is transgender
Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli of Riverside has introduced a bill that would force California school districts to notify parents that their child is gender-nonconforming or transgender, sparking backlash from LGBTQ activists and organizations.

Eric Garcetti finally got the ambassadorship he wanted. Here’s how he did it.
It took nearly two years, but former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti finally got the job. With a bipartisan vote Wednesday, the Senate voted to confirm Garcetti as the next U.S. ambassador to India.

Inside the financial ties between a controversial housing nonprofit and Kevin de León
Political ethics experts said Kevin De León’s business relationship with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and failure to disclose his financial ties once he was elected to the City Council raise a potential conflict-of-interest concern.

McCarthy receives homecoming welcome from California Republicans after being elected speaker
Speaking to the California GOP convention over the weekend, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said his successful yet protracted fight for the gavel was a test from God.

Biden consoles Monterey Park over mass shooting, signs order to curb gun violence
“I know what it’s like to lose a loved one so suddenly. It’s like losing a piece of your soul,” President Biden told a crowd gathered less than half a mile from the Monterey Park dance studio where 11 people were killed and nine wounded on the eve of Lunar New Year.

New cost estimate for California high-speed project puts it deeper in the red
A new report is raising fresh concerns about the future of the nation’s largest infrastructure project: Costs now exceed future funding, an official estimate of future ridership has dropped by 25% and the schedule to start to carry people is slipping.

Companies say they value diversity. So why are Latinos left off corporate boards?
California enacted the nation’s first law ordering racial and ethnic diversity on corporate boards. It has failed Latinos, who comprise 40% of the state’s population. “We’re often seen as the housekeepers, the farmworkers, the mechanics,” said former Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a co-author of the bill. “Culturally, this sense of what we are eligible to do limits us.”

California appeals court reverses most of ruling deeming Prop. 22 invalid
Companies that backed Proposition 22 — including Uber, Lyft, Doordash and Instacart — celebrated the ruling that upheld the 2020 voter-approved law allowing ride-hailing and delivery companies to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Labor union leaders said “every California voter should be concerned about corporations’ growing influence in our democracy and their ability to spend millions of dollars to deceive voters and buy themselves laws.”

Why some progressive groups are staying out of this L.A. City Council race
Some far-left activists admit that they don’t have a deep network in District 6, which extends from Lake Balboa to Sun Valley. Others say they don’t have the resources to support a candidate in the special election, which was prompted by leaked audio that revealed Council President Nury Martinez making racist comments.

Former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina says she has terminal cancer
Gloria Molina, the trailblazing politician who made history as the first Latina elected to the state Assembly, the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors, said she is suffering from a “very aggressive” terminal cancer and that she feels fortunate to have lived a “long, fulfilling and beautiful life.”

Column: Gloria Molina, you were always a chingona. L.A. will miss you
News of Molina’s terminal cancel hit “like a gut punch,” writes Times columnist Gustavo Arrellano: “I fully expected her to live the rest of her years as the lioness of L.A. politics, enjoying a world where the Eastside can boast of a Latina Assembly member (Wendy Carrillo), a Latina state senator (Maria Elena Durazo) and a Latina (Hilda Solis) on the all-female Board of Supervisors.”

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