Friday, January 7, 2022

DA Fleming Won't Seek Re-Election

Posted By on Fri, Jan 7, 2022 at 5:16 PM

Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted photo
  • Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming.
Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming announced in a press release this afternoon that she will not seek a third term in office.

"It has been a privilege to serve the people of Humboldt County; I thank the voters for the opportunity," she said in the release. "I believe that during my tenure as D.A., the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office has made many important advances in its efforts to achieve justice and enhance public safety. The current people in the office are a dedicated, collaborative group that provides excellent service to the county — it has been an honor to work with them."

Fleming was first elected to the office in 2014 and took over for Paul Gallegos, who served three terms, becoming the first woman to hold the position in Humboldt County's history.

See the press release from Fleming below, as well as a letter she sent staff today.


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Public Health Confirms 72 New COVID-19 Cases, Two Hospitalizations

Posted By on Fri, Jan 7, 2022 at 3:38 PM

Humboldt County Public Health Microbiologist Annayal Yikum prepares patient samples for the COVID-19 testing process. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Humboldt County Public Health Microbiologist Annayal Yikum prepares patient samples for the COVID-19 testing process.

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 72 new cases today — making 853  this week — as well as two new hospitalizations, while also reporting that local hospitalization rates continue to be "17 times higher in unvaccinated individuals."

Today's cases —which came after a single day record reported Tuesday, which came after 400 cases were reported Monday as having been confirmed since Dec. 30 — come amid news the highly contagious Omicron variant has been confirmed to be circulating in Humboldt County. For context, more than 7.2 percent of the cumulative cases the county has confirmed since its first recorded positive test 685 days ago have now come since Dec. 30.

"As part of its ongoing monitoring, a small number of samples of positive COVID-19 cases from primarily health care staff tested this week by the Humboldt County Public Health Lab suggest that the Omicron variant is increasing in the community," Public Health reported in a press release. "Additional samples from the state have confirmed cases of Omicron from late December and early January."

In a sharp contrast to previous reports, Public Health also notes that for the first time infection rates are higher for vaccinated residents than their unvaccinated counterparts, an indication that Omicron — which has been shown to infect the unvaccinated and vaccinated at similar rates — is spreading locally. Specifically, the report notes that vaccinated residents are being infected at a seven-day average rate of 63 per 100,000 residents, while the unvaccinated are being infected at a rate of 37 per 100,000. (It's important to note, however, that there are now almost twice as many vaccinated residents in Humboldt County as unvaccinated, and that unvaccinated residents continue to suffer the brunt of hospitalizations and severe illness. More on that below.)

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Public Health, meanwhile, reported Wednesday it is modifying local quarantine and isolation requirements for asymptomatic individuals, reducing it from 10 days to five under specific conditions. (The full guidance can be found here.) Yesterday, California also extended a statewide indoor mask mandate in public settings, though one has remained in place in Humboldt County for months.

Monday, the county reported that genomic sequencing on two samples taken between Dec. 19 and Dec. 21 were determined to be Omicron, meaning the variant has likely been circulating in the county for at least a couple of weeks. For more on the Omicron variant and what it means for Humboldt, read this week's Journal cover story here.

Hoffman urged local residents to protect themselves and their families from all variants by masking in public settings and getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible.

Today's cases come after laboratories processed 516 samples with a test-positivity rate of 14 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September. In October, it dipped to 12.1 percent but rose to 14.2 percent in November and December. So far in January, it has leapt to 29.4 percent.

Over the past seven days, Humboldt County has confirmed 853 new cases, or approximately 90.3 per day per 100,000 residents, while recording a test-positivity rate of 29.4 percent. California, meanwhile, has confirmed an average of 124.5 new cases daily per 100,000 residents with a test-positivity rate of 21.7 percent, while the nation has seen an average of 722 new cases confirmed daily per 100,000 residents and a test-positivity rate of 26.3 percent over the past seven days.

Public Health officials continue to stress that the best way for residents to protect themselves from COVID-19 and variants like Omicron is to get vaccinated, wear masks indoors and in crowded places, ventilate indoor spaces, get tested immediately regardless of vaccination status if any cold- or flu-like symptoms develop and stay home when sick. Eligible residents, health officials say, should get their booster shots, as well.

The CDC has designated Humboldt County as an area of high community transmission and recommends holding gatherings outdoors when possible, limiting the number of participants in indoor gatherings, adjusting the indoor layout to allow for physical distancing and enhancing the ventilation of indoor spaces.

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HSU Police Chief Resigns, Headed to Pennsylvania

Posted By on Fri, Jan 7, 2022 at 12:43 PM

University Police Chief Anthony Morgan - HUMBOLDT STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Humboldt State University
  • University Police Chief Anthony Morgan
Humboldt State University Police Chief Anthony Morgan has resigned his post, having accepted another chief of police position at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

“It has been an honor to work in service of the students, faculty, staff, and guests of Humboldt State University. I have enjoyed many of the relationships we were able to solidify over the last year," Morgan said in a press release. "The ongoing pandemic continues to present some unique challenges. It has not stopped our ability to interact in a positive manner with the campus community. I am grateful for my team’s increased efforts to engage the community and the overwhelmingly positive response to those efforts. I am confident the department will stay the course of service to the community."

During his time at HSU, Morgan developed several programs and services to help enhance relations between the university police department and students. He created an advisory panel of campus community members and met with a wide range of people and groups and also developed a non-sworn officer position to respond to mental health crises and other incidents, in an effort to improve campus safety. Most notably, the release states, Morgan led efforts to get to know all of the resident students in housing, utilizing campus partnerships to enhance officer training, and shifting the culture within UPD to one that embraces change.

“I appreciate Chief Morgan’s commitment to safety and community building, especially during this challenging past year. I wish him well on this move and future endeavors,” said Shahrooz Roohparvar, vice president of administration and finance.

Morgan’s last day at HSU will be on Jan. 28. The university has begun the search for an interim police chief and will be engaging a search firm to assist in filling the permanent position with a July 1 start date.

Read the full press release below.


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Wanted Murder Suspect Arrested in Loleta

Posted By on Fri, Jan 7, 2022 at 12:01 PM

A man wanted on suspicion of murder in Washington state was arrested early this morning in Loleta after previously fleeing law enforcement, crashing his car on Lundblade Mill Road and running into a wooded area where he was able to avoid capture for a time.

According to a Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office news release, William Lee Rickman was apprehended after a nearby resident called law enforcement to report a man had approached their house and asked for a ride.

“Deputies responded to the residence, located Rickman and took him into custody without further incident,” the release states. Rickman was booked into jail on a fugitive from justice warrant and is being held without bail while awaiting extradition.

The HCSO release states the department received information Thursday that Rickman could be in the Loleta area and officers with the Bear River Tribal Police Department first located him in a vehicle just after midnight on the 600 block of Singley Hill Road.

While deputies responded, the release states, Rickman fled in the vehicle, which was later found crashed on Lundblade Mill Road.

“Sheriff’s deputies, HCSO K9 Yahtzee and officers with the California Highway Patrol conducted a search of the wooded area nearby the abandoned vehicle in an effort to locate Rickman,” the release states. “Despite extensive search efforts, teams were unable to locate Rickman.”

A short while later, the call came in from a nearby resident reporting a stranger asking for a ride and Rickman was then taken into custody.




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No, California’s Drought Isn’t Over. Here’s Why.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 7, 2022 at 6:00 AM

In a clear sign that the drought persists, California this week adopted new emergency regulations aimed at stopping residents from wasting the state’s precious water.

The rules ban practices such as hosing down sidewalks and driveways with drinking water, washing cars without a shutoff nozzle on the hose and irrigating lawns and gardens too soon after rain. 

Approved unanimously by the State Water Resources Control Board, the mandates could take effect as soon as Jan. 15 and have a one-year expiration date unless extended. Fines can reach as high as $500, but enforcement will be spotty: Local governments and water agencies are allowed to enforce them at their discretion, and they will largely be complaint-based.

“There’s not going to be like a statewide force of water cops or anything like that,” said Eric Oppenheimer, the water board’s chief deputy director. 

LESSONS LEARNED: DROUGHT THEN AND NOW

A CalMatters series investigates what’s improved and what’s worsened since the last drought — and vividly portrays the impacts on California’s places and people.

California’s drought is not over despite a bounty of snowfall and rain over the past month: California’s snowpack — a critical source of water — is 150 percent of average for Jan. 4. But with three months left of the wet season, it’s not enough to bring an end to the severe drought and water shortages.

California still needs about another foot of snowpack by the end of March to reach its historic seasonal average, according to the state data. Almost 16 inches had accumulated by Tuesday.

“December alone will not end the drought, clearly,” said Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager for the Department of Water Resources. “December was wonderful, but now we just hope it keeps on going.”

The amount of water now stored is actually worse than last year at this time: The state’s reservoirs in December were projected to contain about 78 percent of average — compared to about 82 percent in 2020.

Moderate to exceptional drought still grips the entire state, and a soggy start to the rainy season does not guarantee even an average water year. California has felt that false hope before: In 2013, during the last record-breaking drought, a wet December turned into a dry January and February. 

Climatologists predict that the state will dry out during the rest of the winter and spring.

“After we get through this weather system this week, things go dry. And the expectations are a drier than average January, February and March,” said California’s state climatologist Michael Anderson.

And conservation still lags. California Gov. Gavin Newsom in July called for Californians to voluntarily cut water use by 15 percent in the face of the ongoing drought. But state officials today announced statewide savings of only 6 percent from July to November compared to last year. 

November, a dry month, saw only a 6.8 percent reduction in water use — down from 13.3 percent in October, which saw torrential rains. The greatest savings came from the northern half of the state; water use increased slightly by 0.8 percent in Southern California.

“You want to kiss every snowflake and every raindrop that comes down, because it was just so bad,” said Felicia Marcus, who chaired the State Water Resources Control Board under Gov. Jerry Brown during the last drought. “At the same time, we've got to exercise our efficiency muscles every way we can, all the time.” 

Similar restrictions on wasteful water use were temporarily enacted during the last drought under former Governor Jerry Brown, who also issued a statewide water conservation mandate.

In October, Newsom instructed regulators at the State Water Resources Control Board to consider once again barring wasteful water uses when he extended the drought emergency statewide.  

The emergency rules adopted today take aim at residents as well as homeowners associations, which can no longer penalize residents for brown lawns and drought-tolerant landscaping plants. Local governments may no longer use drinking water to irrigate ornamental turf on street medians.

The new rules do not affect agriculture, the leading user of water in California. And both public commenters and board member Laurel Firestone raised concerns about how penalties could affect low-income Californians — spurring the board to add new language requiring warnings and fees based on the recipient’s ability to pay. 

“This is not the most effective, or even in my mind appropriate policy approach to save water when we're in a drought emergency,” said Firestone, who called for a more systemic approach rather than individual penalties. “Unfortunately, like in the last drought, we don't have a more appropriate and effective policy developed that we go to in drought emergencies.”

The state's efforts to make permanent the emergency water waste rules enacted during the last drought faced opposition from powerful urban and agricultural water interests, and ultimately fizzled. But many local water agencies adopted their own rules. 

Officials couldn’t say how much water the regulations adopted this week are expected to save. Instead, they said, the focus is largely on educating consumers, rather than collecting fines.

“I don't believe that there were any fines of up to $500. There were, I believe, a small handful throughout the state of smaller fines after multiple levels of warnings and outreach,” said David Rose, senior staff counsel with the water board. “Mostly what the suppliers chose to do was to implement their own existing water waste or water use restrictions as opposed to the board's regulation.” 

The timing of the decision after such a soggy start to the water year “wreaks havoc with messaging,” Marcus said. 

But it’s a change that she said she hopes will persist longer term — which would require a different regulatory process. 

“To me, these rules are sort of the least we can do. They're primarily common sense.”

Julie Cart contributed to this story.

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Thursday, January 6, 2022

Sheriff's Office Investigating Alderpoint Homicide

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2022 at 5:41 PM

One man has been arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the death of another man who was found outside a residence on the 100 block of Sixth Street in Alderpoint with what appeared to be a gunshot wound just before 5 a.m. today.


“While investigating, the sheriff’s office received information that a vehicle possibly associated with the incident had been involved in a traffic collision on Highway 36 near Buck Mountain, and California Highway Patrol Officers had located and detained two individuals associated with the vehicle,” a news release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office states.


The driver, Jake Henry Combs, 29, was arrested. The name of the man who died is currently being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The case remains under investigation and the HCSO release states there is “no perceived threat to the community at this time.”


Anyone with information is asked to call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268-2539.


Read the HCSO release below:


On Jan. 6, 2022, at about 4:55 a.m., Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a residence on the 100 block of 6th Street in Alderpoint for the report of a gunshot victim.


Deputies arrived in the area and located a deceased adult male with what appeared to be a gunshot wound. While investigating, the Sheriff’s Office received information that a vehicle possibly associated with the incident had been involved in a traffic collision on Highway 36 near Buck Mountain, and California Highway Patrol Officers had located and detained two individuals associated with the vehicle.


Upon further investigation, the driver of the vehicle, 29-year-old Jake Henry Combs, was determined to be the suspect responsible for the victim’s death. Combs was arrested and is being booked into the Humboldt County Correctional Facility on charges of murder (PC 187(A)).


This case is still under investigation. There is no perceived threat to the community at this time.


The victim’s identity is being withheld pending next of kin notification. An autopsy is in the process of being scheduled.


Anyone with information about this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268-2539.


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Public Health Confirms 107 New COVID-19 Cases, Two New Hospitalizations

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2022 at 3:56 PM

PUBLIC HEALTH
  • public health

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 107 new cases today — making 781 so far this week — as well as two new hospitalizations.

Today's cases —which came after a single day record reported Tuesday, which came after 400 cases were reported Monday as having been confirmed since Dec. 30 — come amid news the highly contagious Omicron variant has been confirmed to be circulating in Humboldt County. For context, more than 6.6 percent of the cumulative cases the county has confirmed since its first recorded positive test 684 days ago have now come since Dec. 30.

Public Health, meanwhile, reported yesterday it is modifying local quarantine and isolation requirements for asymptomatic individuals, reducing it from 10 days to five under specific conditions. (The full guidance can be found here.) Yesterday, California also extended a statewide indoor mask mandate in public settings, though one has remained in place in Humboldt County for months.

Health Officer Ian Hoffman said in a press release Tuesday that he believes Delta is still the dominant strain locally but monitoring is ongoing to determine to what degree Omicron is circulating locally.

"We hope to know more by the end of the week but this is likely the beginning of a surge," he said.

Monday, the county reported that genomic sequencing on two samples taken between Dec. 19 and Dec. 21 were determined to be Omicron, meaning the variant has likely been circulating in the county for at least a couple of weeks. For more on the Omicron variant and what it means for Humboldt, read this week's Journal cover story here.

Hoffman urged local residents to protect themselves and their families from all variants by masking in public settings and getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible.

Today's cases come after laboratories processed 501 samples with a test-positivity rate of 21.4 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September. In October, it dipped to 12.1 percent but rose to 14.2 percent in November and December. So far in January, it has leapt to 32.7 percent.

Over the past seven days, Humboldt County has confirmed 781 new cases, or approximately 82.6 per day per 100,000 residents, while recording a test-positivity rate of 32.7 percent. California, meanwhile, has confirmed an average of 107.1 new cases daily per 100,000 residents with a test-positivity rate of 21.4 percent, while the nation has seen an average of 193 new cases confirmed daily per 100,000 residents and a test-positivity rate of 25.7 percent over the past seven days.

Public Health officials continue to stress that the best way for residents to protect themselves from COVID-19 and variants like Omicron is to get vaccinated, wear masks indoors and in crowded places, ventilate indoor spaces, get tested immediately regardless of vaccination status if any cold- or flu-like symptoms develop and stay home when sick. Eligible residents, health officials say, should get their booster shots, as well.



The CDC has designated Humboldt County as an area of high community transmission and recommends holding gatherings outdoors when possible, limiting the number of participants in indoor gatherings, adjusting the indoor layout to allow for physical distancing and enhancing the ventilation of indoor spaces.

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UPDATE: No Sign of Hunter Lewis Found During Dive Search

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2022 at 1:17 PM

Hunter Nathaniel Lewis - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Hunter Nathaniel Lewis

UPDATE:

According to the Search for Hunter Lewis Facebook page, no debris field or signs of Hunter Lewis were found during today’s dive search at Flatiron Rock.

“Thank you to the divers and all the agencies that made it possible today for the search to happen,” the post states. “We will be continuing the search on beaches and asking for everyone to continue to be safe while searching.”

PREVIOUS:

The search for Hunter Lewis, a college student from Blue Lake who went missing after launching his family’s canoe from a Trinidad Beach on Dec. 30, is continuing today with dive teams from Humboldt Bay Fire conducting underwater surveys in the Flatiron Rock area.

The area was selected based on information relayed by friends and family members and items found by community members who have continued to scour the local shoreline for signs of the 21 year old after an extensive multi-agency search was suspended after sundown Dec. 31.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office states in a Facebook post that the search crews are taking advantage of a “small window of decent weather conditions to conduct dive efforts.”

Lewis is believed to have entered the ocean in his 15-feet green fiberglass canoe between 10 a.m. and noon Dec. 30 and hasn’t been seen since. Half of Lewis’ canoe was found north of Elk Head and other items have been found in the Trinidad area.

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, California State Parks and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are assisting in today’s search.


Read the Humboldt Bay Fire release below:
At about 7:30a.m. on Thursday, January 6, 2022 the Humboldt Bay Fire Dive Rescue & Recovery Team (HBF DRRT) joined the ongoing search for missing canoer Hunter Lewis.

Hunter was reported missing on Thursday, December 30, 2021, after he failed to return home from recreating in Trinidad. Hunter is believed to have entered the ocean in his canoe near Trinidad Harbor that morning.

The HBF DRRT began coordinating the underwater search this week based on new information from the family regarding Hunter’s last known destination. Due to the exceptionally high surf, tidal swings, and winds that have been present since Hunter went missing and the oncoming storm surge expected Thursday evening, the team predicted a narrow window this morning where conditions would allow for a dive.

The HBF DRRT partnered with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, California State Parks and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct today’s search.

Resources used in the search included multiple boats, a sidescan and a deep-water sonar, lifeguards, divers, and a HBF rescue swimmer. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office also provided scene security to ensure the privacy of involved family. The team concluded their search by 1 p.m.

Unfortunately, they did not find any signs of Hunter nor any of his belongings. At this time, we are asking the public to leave aquatic search efforts to the professional rescuers. The area in which Hunter went missing is extremely hazardous given the current weather conditions and may likely endanger the health and safety of well-meaning searchers.

The Sheriff’s Office will continue to monitor local beaches for signs of Hunter or his belongings. Anyone with information regarding Hunter’s current or possible whereabouts is urged to contact the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at 707-445- 7251.
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Huffman Releases Statement on Anniversary of Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2022 at 11:22 AM

Members of Congress run for cover as insurrectionists try to enter the House chamber during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. - ALEX GAKOS / SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Alex Gakos / Shutterstock
  • Members of Congress run for cover as insurrectionists try to enter the House chamber during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
North Coast Congressmember Jared Huffman released a statement on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, recounting the lessons learned from the violent day and asking Americans to stay vigilant in defending democracy during this year's mid-term elections.

Last year, a mob of violent Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol as Congress was preparing to certify the Electoral College results from the Nov. 3 election, which saw now President Joe Biden win the popular vote by 8 million votes and an Electoral College victory after narrow wins in six states.

Huffman, at the time, had been preparing for the joint session of Congress scheduled to begin at about 1 p.m. EST, but when the mob entered the Capitol, Congress entered an emergency recess, and lawmakers were forced to shelter in place where secure, with Congressional leaders moved to an undisclosed location, as Capitol Police worked to clear the building amid a chaotic scene.

“Jan. 6, 2021, was one of the darkest days in our nation's history," Huffman said in today's statement. "While some might want to rewrite history, the truth is a violent mob of insurrectionists breached the Capitol in an attempt to block the certification of a free and fair election.

"Hundreds of extremists, provoked by Donald Trump and his allies, ransacked the Capitol, sought to hunt down members of Congress and Vice President Pence, and viciously attacked police officers who fought to defend not only the lives of those inside, but democracy itself. The insurrectionists’ goal was nothing short of upending – and perhaps simply ending — American democracy by installing Trump as an unelected president despite his overwhelming defeat in the election (which was scrutinized and affirmed by election officials of both parties and dozens of court decisions, including the Supreme Court of the United States).

"Five people lost their lives in the attack, and four officers who withstood the horror of that day later took their own lives."

Read the full statement below and find past Journal coverage here.


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The California Legislature is back: What to expect in 2022

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2022 at 10:19 AM

Another coronavirus variant spreading like wildfire, and another huge state budget surplus: In some ways, 2022 is off to a similar start as 2021. 

That could carry over to the state Legislature’s new session that started Monday. In addition to the pandemic and surplus, California is dealing with some of the same big issues it has long grappled with — including housing and climate change. 

“Our challenges continue to be the challenges that we have started and built momentum to work towards,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, told CalMatters. 

The difference? Looking at key issues more through a lens of equity, she said.

The state Assembly’s agenda shares those priorities, said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat. Access to health care will be another focus: “We’re proud of where we are as a state, but we need to make sure that everybody in the state is covered.”

Where will things look a little different? The state Capitol complex is undergoing renovations, which means the “Bacteria Bear” is safely in storage for now.

The public and press will be allowed to attend in person, but due to COVID, access and seating will continue to be limited, masks and social distancing will be required and meetings will continue to be livestreamed. “We had hoped that as we go back, we’d be through the pandemic, but it hasn’t gone away,” Atkins said. “We’re going to have to continue to bear that in mind.”

There’s also the makeup of the Legislature itself. Following the redistricting process after the 2020 census, state Senate and Assembly district lines have been shaken up — and a number of lawmakers will be lame ducks this session because they’re not running for re-election in 2022.  

Here are four themes to watch in the new legislative session:

Cash rules

Compared to the $76 billion surplus from 2021, California is projecting a $31 billion surplus in the general fund, plus $20 billion in Proposition 98 funding for education. 

The windfall is fueled, like last year, with tax revenue and federal funds. In addition, the November cap-and-trade auction generated $732 million, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office

In his budget proposal that is due by Jan. 10, Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to include more than $350 million to stop organized retail thefts, plus more money for dyslexia programs after authoring a children’s book on his own battles. He’s also hinted that he’ll include another round of stimulus checks.

Gov. Gavin Newsom presents the breakdown for his revised budget at the Secretary of State building auditorium in Sacramento on May 14, 2021. The proposal focused on education, housing and climate resiliency measures. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom presents the breakdown for his revised budget at the Secretary of State building auditorium in Sacramento on May 14, 2021. The proposal focused on education, housing and climate resiliency measures. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Neither of the spending priority lists put out by Senate or Assembly leaders mention a stimulus check. Instead, they are framing the budget around a more inclusive economic recovery, and a more equitable economy.

Atkins said California’s economy is strong, but that wealth needs to be put to work.

“Those at the top are doing better than ever before, and that’s good for California in terms of our revenue,” Atkins said in an interview. “But as strong as the economy is, we face a homelessness crisis that you see every day in every corner of the state. And we know how hard it is for everyday, ordinary families to get by.”

The Senate plan builds on 2021 programs, including targeted relief such as the child tax credit, Earned Income Tax Credit and small business aid. 

Senate and Assembly leaders also say they will seek to put more money into K-12 schools and higher education, and to maintain the state’s reserves — “to protect the progress we are making from future downturns,” Atkins said. Last year, the Legislature was able to maintain $25 billion in reserves.

“As strong as the economy is, we face a homelessness crisis that you see every day in every corner of the state. And we know how hard it is for everyday, ordinary families to get by.”

Senate president pro tem toni atkins

Rendon said that the budget surplus would enable California to “rebuild infrastructure in every corner of the state.” Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are calling for $3.3 billion to be spent on water projects, most for the contentious Sites Reservoir. 

Expending one-time funds on infrastructure would help the Legislature avoid exceeding the Gann Limit, which requires that when the state hits a spending revenue threshold two years in a row, the excess money must be reimbursed to taxpayers or spent on schools. Revenue spent on building reserves and paying off debt is excluded from the limit. 

Jason Sisney, Rendon’s budget advisor, noted that the Gann limit did not kick in last year, despite the historic surplus. 

Assembly Budget Chairperson Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, told reporters last month that with less money than last year to expand programs, the Legislature is likely to employ more creative one-time funding measures, including on transportation and transit, which didn’t receive as much funding in 2021.

“We’re definitely not back towards normal, but as we sort of come out of the pandemic a little bit, it’s not exactly clear where the best investments are and where the biggest impact is,” Ting said. “This is what the budget process is for. We have from now ’til June to really identify where we can make the biggest impact.”

And while there is a budget surplus, Rendon said one challenge this year is to make sure that the Legislature is fiscally responsible, and that big and small cities alike get their fair share.

Guns and abortion

In the final weeks of 2021, two hot-button issues reemerged and landed squarely on the legislative agenda.     

While California already has some of the nation’s toughest gun control laws, some are tied up in court. So Newsom went after guns and tied the issue to abortion.  

He took a page from Texas’ playbook after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed that state’s ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy to stand in a December ruling. Newsom vowed to work with state lawmakers and Attorney General Rob Bonta — whom he appointed — to draft a bill that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells illegal assault weapons or “ghost” guns, modeling it after Texas’ unusually structured abortion law

The Texas abortion law has also prompted advocates and lawmakers to double down on abortion access in California

A task force appointed by Newsom is recommending measures to make California a “sanctuary state” for abortions, including helping to pay for the procedure, along with travel, lodging and other costs for women who come to California because their states limit access.   

Potentially, that could be tens of millions of dollars in state taxpayer money. If the U.S. Supreme Court effectively repeals Roe vs. Wade next summer, advocates say that could lead to 26 states immediately banning or severely limiting abortions. California would then become the closest state with broad abortion access within driving distance for 1.4 million women.

Other issues

On other issues such as housing and climate change mitigation, legislative leaders said they plan to see through the investments they made last year.

That includes more affordable housing for families, as well as more permanent and temporary supportive housing for homeless people. To figure out what’s working and what’s not, Rendon said incoming Assembly Housing Committee chairperson Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, will review accountability of state programs on housing, rent relief and homelessness.

“We’re kind of hesitant to change our approach drastically,” Rendon said. “We’ve invested again, $12 billion over two years. Rather than continually changing our ways of dealing with homelessness, if there are mid-course corrections that need to be made then we should do that.”

As part of bolstering California’s safety net, both chambers plan to continue investments in public health. Legislators are also expected to revisit single-payer health care — one of Newsom’s campaign promises — and a plan to create an “Office of Health Care Affordability” to set cost targets for health plans, hospitals, physician groups and prescription drugs. 

Advocacy groups have called on Newsom to lower deductibles before Medi-Cal will pay the costs of healthcare. Others have asked the Legislature to ensure that federal funds from the proposed Build Back Better bill boost programs for seniors and those with disabilities.

Progressives and labor groups also plan to push to restore emergency paid sick leave for COVID-19, which expired Sept. 30. SEIU California says that additional sick leave is even more important with shortened quarantine requirements for healthcare workers who are “being called to sacrifice and risk our lives again” despite the surge fueled by the omicron variant. 

Children are also a priority area, including investments in mental health resources for students and to address learning losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, plans to introduce a bill to create savings accounts of as much as $5,000 for children whose parents died from the virus. Also, it’s likely that lawmakers will revisit a highly-charged debate that has led to death threats previously: Whether to narrow or eliminate the personal belief exemption from the vaccine mandate for K-12 students and staff.

Rendon, who was part of the California delegation that attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland in November, said the Assembly also plans to ramp up its efforts to meet the state’s 2030 climate goals, including lowering carbon emissions. Rendon also said there would likely be more focus on single-use plastics, building on last year’s bills.

Atkins said the Senate plans to continue finding ways to prevent wildfires and addressing drought, water and sea level rise.

State water agencies have also recommended updated water use efficiency goals for water suppliers: 55 gallons per person per day by 2023, declining to 47 gallons per day by 2025, and 42 gallons by 2030. To take effect, the standards would need to be adopted by the Legislature. 

Also in 2022, the conversations around law enforcement and criminal justice reform are likely to continue, including another attempt to reform cash bail after voters in 2020 overturned a more sweeping law. Laws passed in 2021 included allowing a state commission to decertify police officers for wrongdoing, and limiting police use of rubber bullets and other less lethal weapons at protests and demonstrations. 

Assembly leaders also say they plan to increase oversight at the problem-plagued Employment Development Department, including a strike team plan to help Californians receive their unemployment benefits. 

Finally, legislators could reconsider any of the 66 bills that they passed but that Newsom vetoed. But there’s little discussion of doing so. It takes a two-thirds vote of both the Assembly and Senate to override a veto, and that hasn’t happened since 1980.  

Hellos and goodbyes

Say hello to your new districts, and goodbye to some lawmakers. 

Following every census, state legislative and congressional boundaries are redrawn to account for population changes. On Dec. 27, the state’s independent redistricting commission certified its new maps.

The commission drew the lines from scratch without taking current district lines or incumbents into account. As usual, that means there will be some musical chairs as legislators compete against fellow incumbents drawn into the same district, try to appeal to voters in a new district or decide to run for higher office. 

So far, 10 legislators have announced that 2022 will be their last session and they won’t seek re-election, while seven others hit term limits. And three — Democratic Assemblymembers Ed Chau of Monterey Park in Los Angeles County, David Chiu of San Francisco and Jim Frazier of Fairfield — have already resigned, so there will be special elections to replace them.   

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon whispers to then-Assemblymember David Chiu on September 11, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, left, whispers to then-Assemblymember David Chiu on September 11, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Rendon said that not having a full slate of Assembly members can be difficult, but that he hopes all those seats are filled as soon as possible. 

“It’s difficult from the standpoint that they’re friends, it’s hard to see them go,” said Rendon. “At the same time, we’ve had a tremendous amount of turnover, and that’s brought on freshmen, and opportunities for people like Mia Bonta, Akilah Weber and ​​Isaac Bryan. The freshmen have a lot to offer as well, and the turnover also offers opportunities for new chairs and leadership.” 

Rendon also reaffirmed that he isn’t planning to step aside early: “I’ve got a job to do, and I’ll do it until 2024.” 

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