A homeless encampment under a Friars Road bridge in Mission Valley. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The state Legislature approved a $200 billion state budget Thursday that, in addition to building $16 billion in reserves, steers hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding to universities and programs for the poor, including a big boost to homelessness and an expansion of CalWorks.

Homeless spending got a boost in the budget deal by more than $600 million.

San Diego County will receive $32 million, second only to Los Angeles. Of that, $14 million will go directly to the city of San Diego. The remainder will be administered through the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the countywide group that coordinates the region’s homelessness response efforts.

San Diego’s annual homeless census counted 8,576 homeless – down from the 9,116 reported last year, though this year’s count left out hundreds of people. If those people had been included, as they had been in previous years, the count would have shown an uptick in homelessness.

The Regional Task Force will direct close to $1 million toward homeless youth or youth at risk of homelessness. The remainder of the money is flexible.

“Homelessness throughout our state is a humanitarian catastrophe, and we are sending considerable resources to our local communities to bring people who are struggling into safe and stable housing,” said Sen. Toni Atkins. “San Diego has been hit particularly hard. I am pleased that the governor and the Legislature could come to an agreement on this major infusion of funding, which is so desperately needed in our city and our region.”

Maya Srikrishnan

The State Is Ushering in Big Changes for Community Colleges

The state budget includes significant changes to how the state’s 114 community colleges receive funding.

Funding for community colleges had been mostly based on enrollment numbers. Under the new budget, 20 percent of the funding will now be tied to performance and student outcomes, such as the number of degrees awarded and transfer rates to four-year colleges and universities. That and other changes made under California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley have not gone over well among faculty members at community colleges across the state.

Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, acknowledged that the old system needed improvement, but said she doesn’t know enough yet about how the changes will play out in San Diego.

“We haven’t seen any budget simulations yet,” she said. “How (it’s) sorted out in actual dollars and cents is still something we’re looking at.”

Another part of the change is tied to the performance of low-income students.

Carroll said she was concerned about tying funding to performance because not all programs are counted.

“We have programs … that require six to nine classes,” she said, citing continuing education programs such as the Certified Nursing Assistant certificate program. “The non-credit outcomes are not part of the mix.”

But there are other changes on the horizon that are better news for low-income students. A program that provides free tuition to students in the San Diego Community College District, partly as a result of a state law signed last year, expanded this week to include almost 3,000 additional students.

AB 19 provides one year of free community college for first-year, first-time students. The expanded program will fund the second year for those same students, Carroll said, and will rely on private donations. Carroll said she’s optimistic that officials will secure enough funding to ensure the tuition promise is kept.

“We want to make sure the students who come into the program receive support so they succeed,” she said. “I’m very sanguine and optimistic in our ability to fund the program.”

Carroll is also still advocating for an expansion of the four-year degree programs at community colleges. This spring, the first crop of baccalaureate degrees was awarded under the new program.

“Studies have shown California is deficient in the number of bachelor’s degrees they offer,” she said. “This is something very, very important for our state and economy. There are many employers that require bachelor’s degrees for entry where they used to require associates (degrees).”

She said all the Mesa College graduates under the new four-year program have already found jobs or received salary increases or promotions.

The program is limited to fields that aren’t offered at traditional four-year schools, such as mortuary science. That was key to overcoming objections from the state’s university systems, which feared competition.

“I’d like to see, at some point, no limit to how many degrees can be offered,” Carroll said.

A state Senate bill currently in the Legislature would expand the program, but a similar bill failed last year.

Andrew Dyer

No Money for Marijuana Crackdown

Since the start of the year, licensed marijuana outlets have looked to local and state authorities to keep bad actors out of the marketplace. They were pleased last month when Gov. Jerry Brown’s draft budget included $14 million for the creation of five teams within the attorney general’s office that would target illegal large-scale operators.

That money is now on hold.

The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the governor was in dispute with the Legislature over the source of enforcement dollars. Brown wanted to draw on a marijuana retail tax, but Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s office argued that those funds are already earmarked for education, drug treatment and more.

“It’s another victory for the black market,” said Chris Coggan, a member of the California Cannabis Industry Association’s manufacturing committee.

Proposition 64 gave municipalities the ability to craft their own marijuana rules. But according to Weedmaps, an online company that connects buyers and sellers, about 85 percent of cities and counties ban marijuana outlets, which helps keep the legal marketplace small.

Coggan, who also serves on the San Diego Cannabis Delivery Alliance, said the state is getting fed up with municipalities that created limited or closed markets but want help uprooting illegal operators. Promising to clean up the marketplace and then failing to deliver, he said, robs legitimate players of the incentive to take on the high costs of compliance.

The question facing local authorities, in the meantime, is how much of their own budgets are worth dedicating to marijuana enforcement. Coggan shared with me part of the marijuana permit application in Baldwin Park, where officials asks applicants to voluntarily donate $50,000 to the local police department.

— Jesse Marx

More Budget Bits

Two San Diego Assembly members helped secure funding in the budget for their longtime respective priorities:

• Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher has proposed numerous ideas for making diapers more affordable to low-income families – including bills that would allow families to use food stamps to purchase them, and one that allows low-income families to receive reimbursement for diaper purchases under the state’s welfare-to-work program.

The latest plan includes $10 million to be distributed across four major food banks that will go toward distributing diapers to families in need.

• Assemblywoman Shirley Weber secured $300 million in the budget that will be used to help close the achievement gap for low-performing students in public schools.

Ever since Gov. Jerry Brown changed the way California schools are funded, Weber has argued the system doesn’t have enough accountability checks and that there are few guarantees money that is supposed to go toward boosting low-income and other vulnerable students is actually being spent on those students.

— Sara Libby

Bills Tackle Fires, Fault and Frustration

A bill currently making its way through the Legislature would let utilities pass the costs of wildfire damage on to ratepayers – even if the utility was responsible for starting the fire.

The New York Times, in examining the bill, highlights a Fallbrook couple that has struggled to rebuild in the wake of the 2007 fires, which officials determined SDG&E was responsible for.

Cal Fire said in a report last week that Pacific Gas & Electric was the culprit in the deadly wine country fires that ravaged Northern California late last year.

A separate Senate bill from San Diego Sen. Joel Anderson would require 10 percent of any fine levied against a utility by the California Public Utilities Commission for a wildfire to go toward community-based recovery efforts; currently 100 percent of those fines go into the state’s general fund. Anderson said last week the bill was one of his highest priorities.

— Sara Libby

Golden State News

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