Assemblywoman Shirley Weber announces two bills aimed at reforming school funding. / Photo courtesy of the California Assembly

Year two of a two-year legislative session, which kicked off this week, so far looks a lot like year one: Vaccine protesters assembled in the Capitol. Republicans want to undo major legislation passed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. And everyone’s fighting over SB 50.

Let’s dive in.

SB 50 is back, and a San Diego lawmaker could play a pivotal role in its fate.

Sacramento’s most high-profile bill is back, and its future could now depend on San Diego’s highest-ranking legislator in the Capitol.

The bill, SB 50, would dramatically increase the number of of homes that could be built near jobs, good schools and transit across California, and would effectively end single-family zoning by allowing up to four homes to be built on any single-family lot.

It was shelved last year by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, but turned into a two-year bill to keep it alive. Now, due to state legislative rules, it needs to clear the Senate by the end of the month. If it does, it will head to the Assembly on a normal legislative schedule.

To pass it, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins will have to play a major role.

Sen. Scott Wiener, who wrote the bill and rolled out amendments this week to pick off some of the opposition it’s faced, said this week he’s optimistic that Atkins will help get it through.

He said he has a great relationship with Atkins and she has been a major asset in keeping the bill alive and getting it in a position to pass this month, citing supportive comments she’s made about her intention that it receive a full floor vote this month after it died in the appropriations committee last year.

“I don’t want to speak for (Atkins), but ultimately she’s the leader and has made decisions about whether bills move or don’t move,” Wiener said this week on the Gimme Shelter podcast. “She often defers to her chairs, she’s a very collaborative leader, she’s not very heavy handed. But there are times where she makes decisions as a leader, she’s done that on other bills, and she’s made statements about what she wants to happen with this bill, about it having a vote and I will defer to those statements. The bill can make it to the floor, and we very much want to make it to the floor. On the floor, I’m cautiously optimistic about our votes. There was a lot of support. There’s now more support. I have members who were on the fence last May who have told me they’re in favor of the bill now.”

Wiener’s changes to the bill this week could also resonate in San Diego.

Namely, the bill now gives cities two years to implement their own development increases, allowing them to tailor growth to their communities and avoid the blunt, one-size-fits-all approach prescribed by the bill. That change, he said, was aimed at local officials who objected to Sacramento infringing on their local control of land use.

Cities would now need to allow for the same amount of new housing prescribed by SB 50’s zoning changes, but they could decide where is most appropriate for the new housing to go. Cities would also need to demonstrate that their changes wouldn’t increase how much residents drive, keeping them from turning to sprawl development to meet the new housing demands.

It’s unclear whether that will be enough to win the support of Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who said he didn’t yet support the measure before the latest changes were introduced.

The bill has become a key piece of the mayoral race, where Gloria is running against Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who has vowed to oppose any Sacramento involvement in local zoning for homes. Gloria won’t have to vote on the measure ahead of the March primary, but if SB 50 clears the Senate and he makes it through the primary, he’ll need to decide on it before November.

Wiener’s changes this week could address some of Gloria’s concerns.

For instance, Gloria said he believes two areas, like Adams Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard, may not be equally suited to increased development, even if they have the same transit service. The old SB 50 would upzone those two areas in the same way, but the changes could let city officials decide where to put the increased housing, if it results in the same number of new homes.

Gloria also said he’s wary of upzoning areas based on transit service, knowing that in a recession, transit agencies could be forced to slash service after the increased development has already been built, and has cautioned that the bill’s definition of high-frequency transit may be too liberal.

The changes to the bill could give local officials the ability to maneuver those issues, forcing them to upzone certain areas but allowing them to avoid automatic triggers that apply to the entire state.

Andrew Keatts

Republicans’ attempt to undo the New Motor Voter law died.

“If it was championed by Lorena Gonzalez, we want it to die” is not the worst way to describe state Republican lawmakers’ ethos.

This week, as the Legislature got back in session, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee killed SB 57, a measure carried over from last year that would have gutted the central tenet of one of Gonzalez’s biggest legislative achievements, the Motor Voter Act, which made voter registration automatic once someone got a driver’s license through the DMV. Sen. Pat Bates’ bill would have instead required voters to opt into the program, which has faced numerous flaws and errors.

Bates has tried to characterize the bill as a relatively minor fix and has rejected claims her bill would kill the law, but as the Los Angeles Times noted, “studies show that if people are required to opt in before being registered, then the number of registrants drops dramatically. In the three years before California switched, the opt-out rate was about 80%, compared with just 15% in the last year. Bates’ proposal seems to be little more than an attempt to gut the motor voter program.”

“The decision to register to vote should be made by the individual – not the state. Those who oppose my bill fail to appreciate that an ‘opt-in’ process gives citizens more control over their own voter registrations and reduces opportunities for errors and fraud,” Bates said in a statement.

But there’s a much bigger Gonzalez target: AB 5.

Gonzalez is prepping “AB 5 Part 2” – fixes to her wildly controversial bill limiting the instances in which employers can classify workers as independent contractors.

She introduced AB 1850 this week, a bill to further clarify AB 5 and the Dynamex decision it’s based on. Right now, the bill is filled with what’s called intent language – meaning the bill isn’t written yet and there’s essentially just placeholder text there for now.

The Washington Post this week published an inside look at Uber’s push against the law, including new features that allow drivers to see fares of potential rides before they decide whether to accept a rider – something the company says bolsters the drivers’ independence.

CALmatters asked Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon whether the Legislature is likely to consider further updates to spare gig workers like Uber drivers.

“I don’t believe we would. I felt as though we were doing a tremendous favor to a lot of people by even addressing that. We could have easily just let it go and let the court ruling stand. I have no interest in getting involved in that. I think we’ve been quite good to those people,” he said.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that independent truck drivers are exempt from the law because a federal measure regulating interstate commerce pre-empted AB 5.

The latest sector to start speaking up about the law is artistic performers like musicians and actors who say their gigs are now in jeopardy.

Republicans, with little clout in the Legislature, have seized on all of these critiques, with tweets like this from the Assembly GOP: “AB5 hurts more than just rideshare drivers. It stops musicians, dancers, singers and artists of all kinds from making living in #CA.”

Republican June Cutter, who’s challenging Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, railed against the law in a podcast interview this week, calling it a “disaster.” Sen. Brian Jones, who represents Santee and is running for Congress, called it “one of the worst laws ever written.”

In New York, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to be following California’s lead on AB 5. In his State of the State address, this week, he vowed to rein in companies’ use of independent contractors, calling such practices “fraud.”

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber unveiled her proposals to fix school funding.

When Gov. Jerry Brown ushered in a new system to fund California public schools, the theory was straightforward: Schools with more vulnerable students should get more money to help address their needs.

But the system, called the Local Control Funding Formula, is anything but straightforward – and San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber has for years warned that it’s not accomplishing its main goal. Last year, she vowed to institute reforms.

This week, she unveiled them. The two bills seize on issues found in a recent state audit of the LCFF system that found districts, including San Diego Unified, used funds meant specifically for disadvantaged populations on general expenses like libraries.

“We are particularly concerned that the State does not explicitly require districts to spend their supplemental and concentration funds on the intended student groups or to track their spending of those fund,” auditors wrote.

The audit also found that many districts don’t spend all their funds in a given year – and when they roll over into the next year, they lose the strings attached to them. In the 2017-2018 school year, San Diego Unified underspent its funds by more than $3 million.

Weber’s bills, co-written by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, would require districts to report to the state how they’re using the supplemental and concentration funds meant specifically for vulnerable students, and that they must identify unspent funds every year – and continue reserving those funds solely for the vulnerable groups for which they were originally intended.

In a press conference introducing the legislation, Weber said that someone at an earlier event in San Diego mentioned that school districts would find further accountability measures to be a burden.

“And I said to them, ‘The real burden is on the children who do not get the services they deserve. The real burden is living a life without having the adequate skills to make a living. And so if I give you billions of dollars and you consider it a burden to tell me what you did with it, then we should find someone else who doesn’t see it as a burden but sees it as an opportunity to help children, so that they will not be burdened by ignorance.”

Golden State News

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

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