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CalMatters has landed.

The new nonprofit news outlet is based in Sacramento and says its mission is “explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.”

The site’s first batch of stories all focus on climate change, and they include some good San Diego nuggets:

 Kevin de Leon, the state Senate leader who “grew up in the barrio of San Diego, the son of an immigrant maid who struggled to pay the rent,” is profiled as half of a powerful pair “that may shape the future of the state” by boosting environmental regulations. (De Leon grew up in Logan Heights but represents L.A. neighborhoods in the state Senate.)

 In its story examining the state’s controversial cap-and-trade program, a San Diego resident represents someone who benefits directly from the program: Miguel Abugaber “lives on the $76 a day he earns by caring for his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. They were struggling to pay the electric bill when he heard about a program that would give him solar panels almost for free. It uses cap-and-trade money to help low-income Californians install solar systems that would otherwise be beyond their means.” Abugaber was able to drastically lower his utility bill.

I did a short Q-and-A with CalMatters’ editor, Gregory Favre, to gauge the site’s goals. (Favre’s responses have been lightly edited for style and length.)

Sara Libby: Your first batch of stories all adhere to one broad theme: climate change. How did the idea for this come about, and will most of your coverage be rolled out this way, pegged to a theme?

Greg Favre: CALmatters was founded to help explain what is happening in the Capitol to the rest of California, to create a greater understanding, as well as more transparency, around the major issues and policies that affect millions of citizens in our state.

Climate change clearly fits that definition. It is obviously high on the Legislature’s agenda with two major bills that have passed in the Senate — SB 350 and SB 32 — and will be voted on when the Assembly returns after its summer break.

In addition, we are approaching the 10th anniversary of AB 32, which established the goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Gov. (Jerry) Brown and other supporters are confident that goal will be met. And when AB 32 was signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger, he predicted that other nations and the federal government would join in this fight.

But that has not happened. California is still pretty much alone in this far-reaching battle against climate change.

We will continue to examine policies and issues that have broad implications and, yet, have not gotten the exposure they should be receiving.

What do you think the Sacramento press corps does well, and where could it improve?

I have been an observer of the Capitol press corps for three decades, more than half of that time as either the executive editor of The Sacramento Bee or vice president of news for The McClatchy Company. And through those years the journalists covering the workings of state government, as well as the politics and politicians, have done an excellent job.

But as has happened throughout the country the press corps in the Capitol has shrunk considerably. Many newspapers, as well as broadcast outlets, have eliminated their bureaus in Sacramento, and those that remain have reduced the number of reporters.

Our objective at CalMatters is to supplement and complement the daily coverage that is available. We are partnering with organizations across the state, especially newspapers and NPR-affiliated radio stations, and are reaching audiences on all platforms.

For how big and influential California is, I’m always struck by how little so-called national reporters in D.C. and New York seem to care about it. Why do you think this is?

I don’t totally agree with your assessment. Certainly, the New York Times has covered many stories in California, such as the drought and the fight over water, with both depth and journalistic excellence. The Associated Press, through its California bureaus and its national reporting staff, has done the same on many issues.

I do agree that I often read stories by national journalists who parachute in to write about the state, and especially about its political leaders, that seem to be written with pre-conceived and ill-conceived notions of what California and its people are all about.

Because of the state’s population and economic size, what happens here has an impact across the land, as well as around the globe, there should be more emphasis by the national media on California. But, again, the last figures show that news organizations in the country have cut staffs by 40 percent in recent years.

I’m sorry; it is a mathematical fact that you can’t do more with less. And that’s why we are seeing more and more nonprofit journalism ventures with various missions, such as yours, and ours, being formed across the country.

♦ ♦ ♦

Favre was gracious with his time, but he wasn’t willing to answer my last question, which was whether a Republican – like, say, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer – has a shot at winning statewide office anytime soon. “It is a partisan political question and CalMatters is a non-partisan venture,” Favre wrote.

Respectfully, I disagree. As Favre pointed out, there are fewer journalists around to make sense of Capitol politics than ever, and the more we can do to help people understand the dynamics at play, the better. After all, pointing out that Hillary Clinton has a good shot at winning the Democratic nomination for president isn’t partisan – it’s the truth, regardless of how one feels about her.

Recall Watch

Vaccine opponents have been cleared to gather signatures in their effort to recall state Sen. Richard Pan, the pediatrician-politician who wrote SB 277, which required full vaccinations for schoolchildren. (Some good news for Pan: Time magazine this week named him one of history’s vaccine heroes.)

San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez was co-author of the bill. Her chief of staff, Evan McLaughlin, told me in an email: “There have been threats directed toward [Gonzalez] but we have not been served with a notice to recall, which I understand is a requirement of the recall process.”

Atkins Again Pledges State-ium Help

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins joined city and county leaders in their meeting with the NFL this week, and repeated assurances that she’d assist with state-level measures to secure exemptions from certain environmental rules that would help get a new Chargers stadium built.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer called Atkins’ support  “a new and exciting development,” according to the Union-Tribune, though she’s been saying she’d help with a stadium for at least two months now. The state has previously helped with CEQA exemptions for stadium projects in Santa Clara and Sacramento.

Turned Off by Turnout Measures

Assemblyman Brian Jones, who represents East County cities like Alpine and El Cajon, has a video series called “Are You KIDDING Me?” in which he rants about a particular subject, punctuating each one with that title phrase.

His latest target is measures aimed at increasing voter turnout, one of which is being pushed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

In the video, Jones seems to conflate voter registration and voter turnout: “Government forcing people to vote, are you kidding me?” he asks, though neither of the measures on the table would do that. (One, SB 415, would make cities with low voter turnout consolidate their races with statewide elections; another, AB 1461, would automatically register voters through the DMV.)

Jones’ broader point is that Democrats should “look in the mirror” if they want to boost turnout, meaning craft policies that are more attractive to voters. That’s an idea echoed by other Republicans in Sacramento. The Assembly’s Republican leader, Kristin Olsen, wrote an op-ed last week in which she says she supported the so-called Motor Voter bill but “to make a real difference, lawmakers should take a harder look at the root cause of low voter turnout and support policies that seek to earn back the trust of our constituents. Only then will we see voters turn out at the ballot box in higher numbers.”

One last point on Jones’ video: He warns that bills aimed at turnout are bound to lead to voter fraud. In Colorado, whose law was the model for the Motor Voter bill, fraud fears ran high among conservatives – but never panned out.

Body Cameras, Revisited

The Sacramento Bee editorial board, in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed black man by a now-former University of Cincinnati police officer, urges lawmakers to help outfit police across the state with body cameras, and to create policies that guide their use.

As the editorial notes, San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber tried to do just that, but was thwarted by law enforcement lobbyists.

Golden State News

 How do you solve a problem like Salinas? (Zocalo Public Square)

 A wealthy farmer is bankrolling a ballot initiative that would “require any state revenue bond costing $2 billion or more to appear on the statewide ballot,” according to the Sacramento Business Journal.

 A San Diego judge dismissed a lawsuit this week that could have opened a door to a legal right to die in California. Instead, the judge said creating such a right belongs to the Legislature, which considered right-to-die legislation this session but ultimately killed it. (NBC 7)

 Opinions on California’s drought and climate change split down the ol’ ideological divide. (San Francisco Chronicle)

 Meet the First Family of California Health Care. (NPR)

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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