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A political transformation of the California Legislature takes an important leap forward this week, one that feels a little like a blast from the past: The era of long-tenured lawmakers is back.

  • California Legislature
California State Capitol
California State Capitol (Los Angeles Times)

The new state Legislative session will see a change in the upper house’s top executive position, with Capitol veteran Erika Contreras nominated Friday to become secretary of the state Senate.

Contreras has been the chief of staff for Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) since 2010 and fills a post being vacated at the end of December by Daniel Alvarez, who is retiring after more than 32 years in state government.

“Erika is deeply familiar with the inner workings of the Senate and has a profound appreciation for our traditions,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who introduced a resolution expected to be approved next week by the Senate. “I’m confident she has the skills and temperament to guide this chamber into the future.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

In the past few years, homeless populations across California have risen dramatically and nowhere more so than in the state’s largest cities. 

On this episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” we play excerpts from a forum held earlier this month with big city mayors talking about how they’re addressing the issue and what else needs to be done. On the panel, which was moderated by CALMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall, was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

We also talk to former Houston Mayor Annise Parker about her widely praised efforts to reduce homelessness in her city during her tenure and how Houston’s different laws for home building — the city has no zoning rules — affects housing affordability there.

A conceptual rendering of the California high-speed rail project.
A conceptual rendering of the California high-speed rail project. (California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The group behind the failed gas-tax repeal effort was given state approval Thursday to begin collecting signatures for a new initiative to cancel the high-speed rail project and revamp state transportation funding.

The initiative was proposed by former San Diego City Council member and radio host Carl DeMaio before the November election as an answer to opponents of Proposition 6, which would have repealed an increase in the state gas tax but was rejected by voters.

The  new initiative would shift about $10 billion in state revenues from state and local non-transportation programs to local transportation funds, resulting in potential deep cuts to general fund revenue used for other state services, according to an analysis released Thursday by state Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor.

California lawmakers are proposing to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products including those used in electronic cigarettes.
California lawmakers are proposing to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products including those used in electronic cigarettes. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

Six California legislators proposed Thursday to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products — including those used in electronic cigarettes — in retail stores and vending machines in the state, citing concern over a steep increase in nicotine use among youths.

The lawmakers said they would introduce such a measure when the Legislature convenes next week, and that it would also impose age verification requirements for online sales of tobacco products.

“We must stop the appalling epidemic of e-cigarette use by youths,” said Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), who is co-authoring the bill with others including Democratic Sens. Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge and Connie Leyva of Chino.

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom
Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom is calling for the chairman of the California Democratic Party to resign in light of “very serious” sexual harassment allegations against him. 

Newsom requested that Eric Bauman step down one day after The Times reported that 10 party staff members and political activists said the chairman made crude sexual comments and engaged in unwanted touching or physical intimidation. In response to the story, Bauman said he planned to seek treatment for health issues and alcohol use.

“Sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated — no person or party, no matter how powerful, is above accountability,”  Nathan Click, a spokesman for Newsom, said on Thursday. “The governor-elect believes the investigation should move forward and the victims should be heard. But given the numerous detailed, severe and corroborated allegations reported by The Times, he believes the best course of action for the party is for the chair to resign.”

When the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Kevin McCarthy trooped with other Republican lawmakers to a splashy Rose Garden celebration, smiling alongside President Trump as they celebrated the moment.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) was “overly familiar” with a state employee during a 2014 legislative softball game, in violation of the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy, according to an investigative report made public Wednesday.

Other allegations made by Assembly aide Daniel Fierro, including accusations that Garcia touched his genitals and that she retaliated against him after he sought a consultant contract with a school district, were not substantiated by the investigation.

Investigators found “the preponderance of the evidence supported a finding that Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, while in a state of inebriation, encountered Mr. Fierro in the dugout of the 2014 legislative softball game, grabbed his arm for support, put her hand on his back, and was overly familiar with him in a way that she would not have been had she been sober,” said a letter from John T. Kennedy, a private attorney whose law firm represented the Assembly during the investigation. 

  • California Legislature
The night of the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks.
The night of the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. (Mike Baker / For The Times)

Three weeks after a mass shooting killed 12 people at a Thousand Oaks bar, a state lawmaker on Wednesday proposed a new gun tax to fund violence prevention programs in California.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) said he would introduce a bill to tax the sale of semiautomatic firearms, such as the .45-caliber Glock handgun used Nov. 7 in the deadly shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill.

Levine cited the Thousand Oaks shooting this month and another last month that killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue as recent examples of gun violence that require more action, but said he had been trying to reduce shootings for years.

A Pacific Gas & Electric worker replaces a power pole after a 2017 wildfire in Glen Ellen, Calif.
A Pacific Gas & Electric worker replaces a power pole after a 2017 wildfire in Glen Ellen, Calif. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)

In a report filed with state regulators Tuesday, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. offered little explanation about why it failed to shut off power in Butte County before the deadliest wildfire in California history.

The utility giant, under pressure to stop its power lines from sparking wildfires, adopted a plan this fall to turn off power during high-risk weather conditions. Days before the Camp fire killed at least 88 people, PG&E warned customers that it might cut electricity in Paradise and other fire-prone areas of the Sierra foothills on Nov. 8. But the company ultimately canceled plans for the shut-off. 

“The forecasted conditions didn’t meet the criteria to initiate a public safety power shutoff,” said James Noonan, a spokesman for PG&E.