Housing, mobility and child care dominated many of the discussions between San Diego business and political leaders, and state officials during the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual trip to Sacramento this week.
Stefanie Benvenuto, vice president of public affairs at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the trip is intended as a kind of two-way communication — a chance for local leaders to gather policy ideas while also sending a message about what the city’s needs are.
“San Diego and all of Southern California has a geographic disadvantage when lobbying,” she said. “It’s just harder for us to get there with frequency.”
More than 100 people associated with public and private agencies attended, and the agenda extended over nine hours of meetings, she said. The topics included sea-level rise and wildfire prevention. There was a discussion with state Treasurer Fiona Ma about how to boost and leverage the inclusion of women on corporate boards.
More broadly, though, the conversations tended to focus on quality-of-life issues.
“How do you care for your kids and work? How do you travel around? We’re trying to be thoughtful and proactive in giving the business community a voice at the table while learning from other places that are doing well and being open to other ideas,” Benvenuto said.
San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate said housing and homelessness were by far the most prevalent issues that came up throughout the group’s meetings, particularly discussions about how state funding to address homelessness will be allocated to cities and other entities.
He said he wants to see more state efforts to ease regulations and cut down approval times for developments.
“I believe that works and that those types of incentives work,” Cate said.
Both Cate and Councilman Chris Ward, who also made the trip, and who is running to represent the Assembly district being vacated by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, said San Diego is more welcoming of building than other cities.
“I’m very familiar that not all cities are as welcoming to development as we are. But there are still some hindrances, and some of them are state-led, not necessarily within our control. So help us do what we need to do to take our fair share,” said Cate.
How much power the state should have when it comes to forcing municipalities to build housing has been a dominant issue in the San Diego mayor’s race. I asked Ward, who currently represents the city but could soon be approaching housing solutions from the state level, how big of a role the state should play.
“Of course you want to make sure we’re working on housing goals and housing solutions at the local level. But there are a lot of cities that are refusing to own that responsibility,” he said. “And when cities by the dozen start to not be a part of what is a statewide pressure, that’s just going to put more onus on cities like San Diego, who’s trying to be a pro-housing city. And that’s not fair.”
Both Cate and Ward said another affordability issue was front of mind for them in Sacramento: efforts to make child care more accessible and more affordable.
Cate said he’d welcome legislation “to ease some restrictions on licensing – not from the public safety standpoint, but some of these arbitrary requirements – to open up more child care slots.” Cate noted a recent San Diego Workforce Partnership laying out the scarcity and high costs of child care across San Diego.
Ward said on top of the need for more child care slots, “I was really trying to press the issue of worker pay. The fact that we know there are people who work for our systems here who decided to leave that as a career path and – I kid you not – go work at Costco or other low-income jobs because they’re actually even lower-income for child care workers.”
Ward said he told state officials San Diego would be well positioned to pilot programs testing out various solutions to the child care dilemma.
Gonzalez Unveils Freelance Journalist Changes to AB 5
After months of intense criticism, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez officially debuted changes to AB 5 impacting freelance journalists.
The law, passed last year, limits when employers can classify workers as independent contractors, and included a cap for freelance journalists limiting them to 35 submissions per publication.
The changes, which are contained in AB 1850 along with other adjustments to the law, also require that freelance journalists are able to negotiate their own rates and set their own hours, hold a business license and conduct their work somewhere other than the hiring business. The new provisions also require that contracts include “a defined time by which they must receive their payment” — often freelance journalists wait weeks or months before they’re paid.
A separate bill introduced by Republican Sen. Pat Bates also seeks to exempt freelance journalists from AB 5 entirely.
Freelance groups have challenged the law in federal court, arguing that it treats different groups of workers differently in violation of the Constitution. A hearing in that case is scheduled for March 9, according to the Associated Press.
Boerner Horvath-Waldron Bill Would Boost County Mental Health Efforts
Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath is pushing state legislation to bolster the county’s efforts to overhaul its fractured mental health system.
Late last week, Boerner Horvath unveiled AB 2601, which aims to supply state funding for a county pilot that would establish a group of a care coordinators who work closely with behavioral health patients to ensure they are connected with needed services.
The bill doesn’t offer specifics yet, but county leaders have for months been discussing ways to better link vulnerable patients who can struggle to navigate a complex system with ongoing care to help them avoid repeated hospital stays and mental health crises.
County Behavioral Health Services Director Luke Bergmann has said the county wants to set up an entity of so-called care coordinators who could assess Medi-Cal patients’ needs, regularly keep tabs on their conditions and help create longer-range care plans for them. UC San Diego Health, which is poised to eventually operate the county’s Midway psychiatric hospital and a new hub in Hillcrest, has pledged to eventually roll out the program at those facilities and a recently approved agreement with Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside also envisions care coordination work.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who has championed reform efforts, said Wednesday that he had been speaking with Boerner Horvath about the county’s plans and she expressed interest in providing state support.
“We believe care coordination is a cornerstone to successful progress on behavioral health issues and homelessness,” Fletcher said.
In a statement, Boerner Horvath said she was eager to continue to work with Fletcher, county officials and Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron, a fellow North County legislator who co-wrote the bill.
“I’m proud to be working with Supervisor Fletcher to find ways to ensure a continuity of care for people in San Diego County who come out of our hospitals, are recovering from a crisis, and have no housing or access to care,” Boerner Horvath wrote. “We’re still working on the details of the legislation, but it is innovative solutions like these care coordinators that will help address homelessness, improve access to care for those who need it and enhance the quality of life for everyone in our county.”
– Lisa Halverstadt
Golden State News
The state department poised to implement Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ambitious housing agenda is severely understaffed. (Sacramento Bee)
There’s a new class of Latino politicians rising in the Coachella Valley. (Los Angeles Times)
The candidates challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are trying to set themselves up for when she retires. (Buzzfeed News)
The state lottery is shortchanging the public education system, a new state audit found.
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice argues in favor of abolishing the California gang database. (Los Angeles Times)
Jesse Marx contributed to this report.