Lorena Gonzalez
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A few years ago, I wrote a freelance piece for The Atlantic about a local lawmaker whose ambitious legislation always found its way into the national news cycle.

This week, a freelancer wrote for Voice of San Diego about the effort to rein in use of independent contractors.

Now, ironically, that same lawmaker pushing all that ambitious legislation is working on another high-profile bill that could render illegal freelance pieces like both of those articles detailing her efforts.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has focused her legislative career on making the economy work better for working Californians. In doing so, she’s pushed many first-of-their-kind laws – some of them successful, some of them (like most things that are new) that have met intense pushback. So it’s not a surprise to see her taking on an issue that impacts workers up and down the state, even if it’s a big and thorny one.

But she’s got an incredibly intricate needle to thread.

The impetus for Gonzalez’s AB 5 was not freelance journalists but workers in the so-called gig economy, and a California Supreme Court ruling addressing employers’ efforts to classify them.

The court instituted a test “that says workers are employees if companies control what they do, if their tasks are central to a company’s core business, and if they don’t run independent businesses doing that work,” as the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Gonzalez’s bill seeks to codify the ruling into law.

Gonzalez has written on Twitter that workers should not have to take on a “side hustle” – a second (or third, or fourth) gig – just to make ends meet. That’s a noble goal.

And yet any piece of legislation should also acknowledge there exist side hustles that are truly on the side – meaning they’re not things people take on to stay afloat economically, but to fulfill desires and aspirations that are separate from their regular jobs. I write freelance pieces about national news and other topics that don’t make sense for a local investigative outlet like VOSD. One of my favorite contestants on the current season of “Top Chef” is a full-time chef who moonlights at a butcher shop not because he needs another job to make ends meet, but because he’s fascinated by the trade.

In an ideal economy, people could explore jobs not just to satisfy their financial obligations but to indulge intellectual curiosities and desires.

I asked Gonzalez’s office about whether freelance journalism might not fly under her bill, and they sent over this statement:

“Some representatives from the journalism industry have told me they have concerns about the State Supreme Court’s ruling, others have told me they welcome it. I’m running Assembly Bill 5 to ensure that the letter and spirit of the court’s decision is codified in order to protect those workers who are most vulnerable to falling prey when industries misclassify them. AB 5 also seeks to avoid any unintended consequences that the case law could have on certain types of workers who truly act like small businesses. Our office isn’t aware of any current legal challenges regarding freelance journalists, but I understand the concerns of these workers on both sides of the issue.”

What VOSD Learned This Week

If there was a theme for this week, it was rethinking big, costly projects and plans.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is re-imagining the Twin Tunnels project into more of an Only Child Tunnel. On local water projects, the Pure Water project could end up costing billions – with a b – more than leaders expected.

There’s also the Plaza de Panama, which is now on hiatus after construction bids came in far higher than the city expected.

Finally, the head of SANDAG dropped a bit of a truth bomb: Even if San Diego built the trolley lines and bus services leaders have been discussing, it would not do enough to meet state climate goals.

The latest temporary shelter for homeless San Diegans will be in … Golden Hall?

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Sweetwater officials have said their budget crisis came on suddenly and without warning. It turns out, there was warning. (Come for the news, stay for the moment when, late in the story, it’s revealed that Sweetwater’s spokesman lied to us on the record.)

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The other big news of the week, of course, was that Scott Lewis and I were in Sacramento, where we hit up Newsom’s State of the State speech and met with lawmakers and other politicos. You can check out our adventures on this week’s podcast. The governor said in his speech that he plans to convene many cities that aren’t doing their fair share on housing – we learned that Encinitas will be at the table.

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The state agency that handles teacher misconduct is juggling more cases than ever.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Only drink beer if you’ve looked into mirror and know yourself true in all things, or the beer will see and judge, and you will be found WANTING, will be STUCK ON PORTCH with John Boehner forever to make mundane observations about weather to pass time, an UNDREAMT-OF HELL.” — Don’t read this piece about the pitfalls of eating and drinking on the campaign trail if you are yourself eating or drinking, as you’ll laugh-spray it across the room.

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

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