Assemblywoman Shirley Weber speaks at a press conference announcing a constitutional amendment to repeal Prop. 209. / Photo courtesy of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber

Two San Diego lawmakers are helping lead a push to repeal California’s Prop. 209, the 1996 initiative that banned the consideration of race, gender and ethnicity in college admissions, government hiring and contracting.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who chairs the California Legislative Black Caucus, announced ACA 5 this week, a constitutional amendment that would overturn the original initiative. Two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses of the Legislature must vote to put it on the November ballot, but it only requires a majority vote from voters to pass.

“Since becoming law in 1996, Proposition 209 has cost women- and minority-owned businesses $1.1 billion each year,” Weber said in a statement. “It has perpetuated a wage gap wherein women make 80 cents on every dollar made by men and has allowed discriminatory hiring and contracting processes to continue unhindered.”

The measure was championed at the time by Gov. Pete Wilson, a former mayor of San Diego.

In a long tweet thread, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a co-author of ACA 5, detailed her personal experiences with affirmative action policies: “Affirmative Action gave me a second look at Stanford. It made the admissions person look beyond my grades and test scores to see my life experiences as a daughter of an immigrant,” she wrote. “I didn’t take someone’s place. I was seen and acknowledged for my unique life experiences and given a shot. Once given the opportunity, I was able to succeed alongside folks who had never faced a challenge in their life. Latinas in my community deserve that second look.”

Not everyone is so sure about the repeal effort.

When CalMatters asked Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon at the beginning of the year about a potential Prop. 209 repeal, he was wary it could get done this year:

I would like to see (Prop.) 209 repealed. That being said, if we are going to get something on the ballot, get it passed in November, from a political standpoint, it almost seems too late. You have to raise a lot of money. You have to have your ducks lined up. And I haven’t seen that from any of the activist groups that have been talking about that. It’s disappointing that people sometimes seem to want to jam things on the ballot. Good intentions, but (they) don’t go through the very simple political steps of raising money and having a proper coalition to get something passed by voters.

Coronavirus and the Legislature

Things are evolving rapidly on the coronavirus front, but here’s the latest as of Friday morning:

  • State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said in a statement Thursday that for now the Senate will continue business as usual.
  • Gonzalez and Sens. Ben Allen and Maria Durazo announced they’re working on an urgency measure requiring employers to provide paid sick leave during a public health crisis. Allen’s office told VOSD Friday that it’s still working on the language, and the measure has not yet been filed.
  • Assemblyman Phil Ting is planning a bill to temporarily halt evictions and foreclosures during the coronavirus outbreak, the Sacramento Bee reports.
  • EdWeek details how learning will look for California students who are no longer in school.

SDG&E Will Spend $1.5 Billion on Retrofitting for Fire Prevention

San Diego Gas and Electric plans to spend up to $1.5 billion over the next three years retrofitting its system to avoid sparking wildfires and, hopefully, reduce wildly unpopular grid power shutoffs.

The utility spent that much over a 12-year period since the 2007 Witch, Guejito and Rice fires — ignited by SDG&E’s equipment — burned over 200,000 acres, killed two people and destroyed 1,300 homes.

Robert Iezza, an SDG&E spokesman, said a majority of that cost is already factored into approved rate increases on customers through 2021.

That money will be used to “harden the system” in utility speak, which includes replacing wooden utility poles with steel ones, adding weather stations, purchasing back-up generators and tree trimming, Iezza said.

Iezza said the price tag is all part of the utility’s plan to reduce the risk of fires and power shutoffs.

SDG&E shut down power five times in 2017 and in 2018, and four times in 2019. But while the power shutoffs dropped slightly, the number of hours customers were without power rose substantially.

In 2017, customers experienced 744,542 hours without power. And last year, the blackouts topped 1.3 million hours. The utility cut power to over 25,000 customers in a wide swath of northeastern San Diego in October because of strong seasonal winds, called Santa Anas. Areas like Valley Center had not experienced a power shut off until that event, Iezza said.

Iezza said to avoid this, part of the SDG&E’s solution will be to start running electric wires underground in high fire-risk areas instead of through the tree canopy.

California’s privately held utilities are working against an April 16 deadline to submit drafts of their second state-mandated wildfire mitigation plans to the California Public Utilities Commission. Publicly owned utilities like the new San Diego Community Power, which was officially certified by the CPUC Thursday, have until July 1 to submit their wildfire mitigation plans.

Disclosure: SDG&E Vice President Mitch Mitchell sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.

MacKenzie Elmer

San Diego City Council Details State Lobbying Priorities

San Diego’s homelessness and housing crisis topped this year’s list of state and federal legislative priorities for the San Diego City Council. The agenda was unanimously approved Tuesday.

Patrick Bouteller, director of government relations for the city, presented the agenda with few changes from the previous year. Among the other top priorities were infrastructure, water and the environment, the economy, open government and public safety.

But the city also plans to focus more of its lobbying efforts on any discussions related to immigrant affairs, Medi-Cal behavioral health services and community choice aggregation, as the city is in the process of establishing its own public energy agency.

Multiple City Council members lingered on the recent death of SB 50, a California bill that would’ve allowed higher density housing near major transit stops. They wondered whether a similar effort will emerge in the near future.

When considering state and federal resources, Councilwoman Vivian Moreno said, voucher programs would be a good place to start for housing the homeless population.

“In a city with over 1 million people … we only have 15,000 vouchers available,” Moreno said. “And 4,000 of those go directly to homeless individuals. I think that’s a very, very small number and it definitely needs to increase.”

Sewage issues from the Tijuana River were also a big topic of discussion, as the cross-border nature of the problem depends on federal solutions. Bouteller said a recent $300 million allocation by Congress marks the largest federal investment on sewage cleanup and prevention in decades. The city is also pushing for an additional $35 million this year from the state.

But even in the midst of a conversation about this year’s state and federal legislative priorities, it was impossible to forget the global spread of the coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization earlier this week.

Councilwoman Jen Campbell reminded the group that none of the above considerations should be made without giving thought to how the city is going to allocate its resources to prevent the spread of the virus, especially among vulnerable populations.

“We have to have some real conversations about resources and how we’re going to prevent the spread of the virus among the homeless, as well as among all of our citizens,” Campbell said. “I think in San Diego we have 10 days to two weeks’ time before this is really going to hit us hard. I hope I’m wrong.”

Bella Ross

Golden State News

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

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