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I’m a big fan of the Twitter hashtag #PortlandiaIsReal, in which people document events from Oregon, my home state, that seem like they could be part of the parody show “Portlandia” but are actually real.

California, too, can occasionally veer into self-caricature territory. We saw it happen a few times this legislative session.

The Celeb Cameos

Celebrities live in California, so it’s natural that they’ll occasionally step into the ring when it comes to political issues they care about.

This year, that happened mainly with two big issues: vaccines and climate change.

San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who co-authored the bill to make vaccines mandatory for most California schoolchildren, had a good encounter debating the bill with actress Jenna Elfman, an anti-vaccine advocate, and a not-so-good encounter with Rob Schneider.

Other celebs who campaigned against that measure, which ultimately passed, include Jim Carrey, Alicia Silverstone, Selma Blair and Juliette Lewis.

A different group of celebrities stepped up to support SB 350, Senate leader Kevin de León’s bill to combat climate change. Actors Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio campaigned for the bill, and many more – Rosario Dawson, Helen Mirren, Billy Crystal, Moby, Halle Berry, among others – signed on to a letter supporting the measure.

Beer on Bikes, Beer in Markets, Fish in Markets

It wasn’t just the people advocating for new laws that was So California – it was the laws themselves.

I’m thinking particularly of laws like the one allowing beer bikes – big contraptions that let groups of people peddle together, usually from one bar to another. The governor signed the bill while on a beer bike with his wife and two dogs.

California Governor Jerry Brown signs beer bike bill:

— #NBC7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) October 5, 2015

Brown also signed a law that lets breweries give out samples of free beer at farmers markets. Take a second and drink in how California that is. That law, of course, amends a different beer-at-farmers-markets law that allowed craft beer sales to begin with.

Indeed, Californians love a good farmers market. Now, they can enjoy markets that specialize in fish, right off the docks, thanks to a law that began with some San Diego fishermen’s efforts.

When Legislation Becomes a Plotline, or Vice Versa

I’m guessing this doesn’t happen as much in other states. Earlier this year, I pointed out the freaky synergy between a few HBO storylines and the California Legislature:

First, there was Season two of “True Detective” – which, if you cut through 75 layers of convoluted plot, involved the small city of Vinci, based on tiny Vernon near L.A., and California’s yet-to-be-built high-speed rail line.

The synergy between the fictional plot and California’s actual attempt to built out high-speed rail has delighted conservatives who’ve always hated the project.

Call it a timing fluke, but as the season got under way, news reports about the viability of the real high-speed rail project started to kick into gear. Investors were warming to the idea. One of them is named … Vinci Concessions.  And this week, when KQED took a look at interest peddling in Sacramento, it found the city that spent the most per capita on government lobbying was – yep – little old Vernon.

Then there’s another HBO storyline that viewers in other parts of the country might’ve found delightfully weird but we know is all too familiar. I’m talking about legalizing ferrets. That issue wound its way into the latest season of “Silicon Valley.”

And, like clockwork, the legalization push roared back into the news Friday. A new ferret initiative has been cleared to collect signatures.

What did I miss? Send me your best That’s So California moments from this session.

CEQA, Part I: Reform Is Still Out of Reach

CEQA, the state’s landmark environmental law, has long been a handy way for people who don’t like a project to attack that project.

Sometimes the beefs are about environmental issues the law was designed to address. Sometimes they’re not.

In the past couple weeks, we’ve written about a union that sued Imperial County solar developers – a union leader admitted he hadn’t been able to reach labor agreements with the developers.

And in another case, two environmental nonprofits sued several solar developers and walked away with millions of dollars in settlements – some of which also went to local farmers – after many of those projects went forward. Leaders of Backcountry Against Dumps and the Protect Our Communities Foundation say they had significant environmental concerns and that their efforts led developers to make changes to their project but we couldn’t discern any tweaks we could solely attribute to their lawsuits. (The two groups said the settlements were confidential so they couldn’t offer specifics.)

Tales of cash settlements and union lawsuits are among the concerns fueling a long-running conversation about the need for CEQA reform.

That reform’s been elusive and Gov. Jerry Brown – the state’s most prominent CEQA critic – recently acknowledged he’s not counting on it.

“Reform of CEQA is the Lord’s work, but unfortunately the Lord’s work doesn’t always get done,” Brown said at an Urban Land Institute conference earlier this month.

Indeed, many legislators and advocates agree on the need for an overhaul. But they don’t agree on what that should look like.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez told us in August that her office has talked about the possibility of a bill but thus far been stymied by the enormity of the task.

“We’ve gotta get a lot of people on board. It’s not one of those ones where I can just say, ‘We’re gonna do it and we’re gonna move forward,’ cause there’s a lot of experts that need to be consulted on both sides,” Gonzalez said.

Then there’s the fact that past efforts have failed. In recent history, both former state Sen. Darrell Steinberg and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León have pledged change. It didn’t materialize.

Lisa Halverstadt

CEQA, Part II: Brown Fast-Tracks Stadium Legal Challenges

Gov. Jerry Brown this week boosted San Diego’s football stadium hopes by granting the inevitable environmental lawsuits against the project quicker review through the courts. Importantly, this doesn’t mean the stadium won’t have to abide by CEQA laws; it means we’ll know if the stadium is legal faster.

In doing so, however, Brown sidestepped an inconvenient part of the law.

Back in 2011, state legislators allowed the governor to grant expedited CEQA review for projects that meet certain job-creation and clean-energy requirements. As part of the law, legislators decreed that this process would be for projects that don’t require taxpayer dollars. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Chargers stadium plan calls for $350 million of such money so this appears to be problematic.

Brown’s office noted this issue in its letter to the Legislature approving the project, but then essentially said it wasn’t the governor’s problem. Public financing isn’t an issue the governor has to weigh when deciding if a project is eligible. It’s simply something the Legislature said it wanted.

Matt Awbrey, Faulconer’s spokesman, agreed.

“There is not a requirement that it not be publicly financed,” Awbrey said.

Awbrey also said that two prior projects receiving streamlined CEQA review also received public investment through tax credits.

Liam Dillon

This Week in Gambits

“Mildly Shady Gambit” isn’t just a great potential band name, it’s how the Union-Tribune described Assemblywoman Toni Atkins’ plan to use money from her state Senate campaign to try and buy memberships in Democratic clubs around town, hoping to stack the deck before those groups made an endorsement in her race against Sen. Marty Block.

Atkins’ campaign consultant told the U-T: “Even though we followed the rules, I should have taken into account what the norm is for San Diego campaigns.”

Golden State News

• Think the right-to-die bill is settled now that Gov. Jerry Brown gave it the OK? Not so fast – George Skelton points out that thanks to inaction in the Legislature’s special session, “The law’s effective date is nowhere in sight.” (L.A. Times)

• Meanwhile, an effort to overturn the right-to-die bill is under way.

• This thoughtful piece points out that state pension data can basically be sliced and diced to show whatever you want – that public employee pensions are astronomically high, or that they’re modest benefits that make up for small salaries. (San Francisco Chronicle)

• The good news for advocates who want to legalize pot in 2016: They’ve got some big donors, like Sean “You know what’s cool? A billion dollars” Parker, in their corner. The bad news: The behind-the-scenes infighting that’s always haunted the effort is still as strong as ever. (Sacramento Bee)

• CalMatters details how the speakership of the California Assembly has changed over the years, and talks with the next speaker, Assemblyman Anthony Rendon.

• Attorney General Kamala Harris gives the most in-depth interview of the Senate race so far to Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter, where she talks about self-care for women, the possibility of tracking down crimes recorded on Periscope and more. There’s no link yet, because it’s a newsletter, but you can sign up for it here. (Disclosure: My husband works for the attorney general’s office.)

 I guess journalism isn’t always a thankless job.

• The L.A. Times editorial board goes to bat for the newly passed Reproductive FACT Act, which is being challenged in court.

• The 17-year-old activist who helped make the state ban on the word “redskins” in public schools happen talks about his efforts. (Indian Country)

• As presidential candidates weigh in on whether paid family leave should be the law of the land, California can act as a case study. The state’s law “hasn’t been the death blow to businesses that opponents warned of, according to studies over the past decade.” (Bloomberg)


This quote deserves its own section. From a New York Times story on Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson declining to run for a third term, amid renewed attention on an old sexual abuse allegation:

Steven Maviglio, who is Mr. Johnson’s political adviser, said that the video had not dissuaded the mayor from running, and that he had little doubt he would have won re-election.

“He put this city on the map,” Mr. Maviglio said. “If this was proven true or there was an indictment this might be different story. This is Sacramento. We have drunk legislators being arrested all the time. People are like, ‘Whatever.’”

Sara Libby

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

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