California politics updates: Rams football legend Rosey Grier ends his bid for governor

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This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here’s what we’re watching right now:

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Questions over Russia, healthcare dominate Rep. Eric Swalwell’s town hall at Livermore high school

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin)
(Jazmine Ulloa / Los Angeles Times)

Over the shouts of a lone heckler at a packed Livermore town hall, Northern California Rep. Eric Swalwell on Saturday once more called for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“If we do anything, we should make sure that the 2018 election is more secure than the 2016 election,” Swalwell said, drawing a round of applause from the audience.

Roughly 500 people filled the seats at a Granada High School gym, many of whom were attending a town hall for the first time amid concerns over what they said they view as a tense and divisive political climate in Washington. The event was organized to address questions from constituents about jobs, healthcare and what Swalwell called efforts to protect democracy.

It came days after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III convened a criminal grand jury to investigate the presidential election, focusing on Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Questions over the Russia probe and GOP efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act dominated the discussion.

Swalwell, a Democrat from Dublin who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, has started a web page detailing the alleged Russian ties of Trump administration officials. He said Mueller’s investigation did not eliminate the need for an independent commission.

The congressman said there was no evidence Russian actors had changed votes. But intelligence reports had shown President Vladimir Putin influenced the election through “a multifaceted attack” that he said included hacked emails and the spread of fake news through social media trolls.

“What we know the Russians did do is that they went into a number of state election voter databases,” he said. “We don’t know why. You could speculate that they wanted to show that they could at least get in, and that it would sow discord or sow doubt when the result came out.”

The event was largely free of the protests and rambunctious tactics that have overtaken recent town halls in California. One man in the audience shouted questions at Swalwell as he spoke about Russian interference, yelling, “Get over it. He won.” But he was soon silenced by the audience.

Swalwell also fielded questions about his efforts to ease college debt and build the Future Forum, a group of young Democratic members of Congress focused on student loan debt and homeownership.

On healthcare, Swalwell called for a “Medicare for all” system, saying lawmakers needed to continue to expand access and reduce costs. Constituents quizzed him on who would pay for such a plan.

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Advocacy groups want to reverse a state housing rule they say disrupts the schooling of migrant farmworkers’ children

Workers prune grapevines at a Napa Valley vineyard.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

More than 30 community organizations and advocates are working to reverse a California state agency rule that requires migrant farmworkers to clear out of subsidized housing at the end of a growing season and move more than 50 miles away.

They say the outdated regulation from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, known as the “50-mile rule,” forces children to switch schools twice a year, causing most to fall behind and drop out. But state agency officials say support for the rule has been just as strong to regulate the limited supply of migrant farmworker housing.

The debate comes as California is struggling with a shortage of homes driving its affordability crisis, and a labor shortage in the fields that has brought new temporary guest workers to towns and cities along the state’s coastal agricultural belt.

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Inquiries about immigration status will be barred in most civil liability cases under a new California law

(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday that makes a plaintiff’s immigration status irrelevant to the issue of liability in civil cases involving consumer protection, civil rights, labor and housing laws.

Assembly Bill 1690, written by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), prevents inquiries into a person’s immigration status in civil court, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that such a query is necessary to comply with federal immigration law.

The legislation, which was backed by the Consumer Attorneys of California, immigration rights groups and several public policy centers, was meant to clarify current state law, which states that all civil protections, rights and remedies are available under state law, except if banned by federal law.

The new bill prohibits legal inquiry into a person’s immigration status if they bring forth a claim to enforce state labor, employment, civil rights or housing laws.

Supporters pointed to federal court decisions that have found that allowing legal discovery into immigration status would deter plaintiffs from pursuing claims with a likelihood to win in court. It had no noted opposition and largely sailed through the Assembly and Senate chambers.

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Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes a bill that would make it a crime to ‘willfully release’ helium balloons

Dozens of legislative proposals have been rejected by Gov. Jerry Brown through the years over his lament that there are too many laws, and now added to that list is the danger of high-flying helium balloons.

Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 1091 on Monday, a bill that would have made it a crime to “willfully release” balloons made of Mylar or another “electrically conductive material.”

A legislative analysis of the bill offered statistics from utility companies showing how often in recent years Mylar balloons have resulted in power outages or surges. The metallic finish on the balloons can conduct electricity. Last month, a balloon briefly knocked out power to 2,800 utility customers in Huntington Beach.

Brown’s veto message doesn’t deny that there is a problem — rather, that it’s not a problem to be solved by a state law.

“Criminal penalties are not the solution to every problem,” the governor wrote.

Brown’s rejection of the bill follows a small but noticeable trend of proposals he has vetoed for a stated belief that there might be too many laws. Even so, he has issued fewer vetoes than most any governor in modern times. In 2016, Brown vetoed only 15% of the proposals sent to his desk by the Legislature.

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Gov. Brown signs bill making it easier to create bike lanes — but not that much easier

Riders on Santa Monica's bike-share system.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)

It might sound strange that one of the main impediments for bike lanes in California is a state environmental law, but it’s true.

The California Environmental Quality Act requires new projects to take into account effects on car congestion, and doing so has stymied bike lanes up and down the state for more than a decade.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation allowing cities to continue sidestepping provisions of CEQA when planning for new bike lanes or painting them on roads. But the measure, Assembly Bill 1218 from Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake), doesn’t do much to address the problem.

Obernolte’s bill extends for three years — until 2021 — CEQA exemptions for bike lane projects that have been on the books for the past few years. Cities have taken advantage of the exemptions only three times, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. Bicycle advocates have said the measures don’t go far enough because they still require cities to complete costly traffic studies and hold public hearings.

Instead, cyclists have pinned their hopes on forthcoming regulations changing how congestion is measured under CEQA to fix the bike lanes problem. The Brown administration began writing those regulations in 2013, but they’ve been repeatedly delayed and aren’t expected to be complete until next year.

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Former football star Rosey Grier takes a pass on the California governor’s race

Former football player Rosey Grier.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Former Los Angeles Rams football legend Rosey Grier has dropped his bid for California governor.

“I decided not to run for governor in January, after much prayer, research and counsel,” Grier said in an email Monday.

Grier, a member of the famous “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line, announced he was running in January but he never officially filed for office or actively campaigned.

Grier, a Republican who lives in west Los Angeles, has an eclectic political history. He supported the presidential bids of Democrat Jimmy Carter as well as Republican Ronald Reagan.

Grier was serving as an aide to the presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy when he was gunned down by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan outside the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. Grier grabbed Sirhan’s leg and gun hand after the shots were fired.

Grier faced long odds in the race for governor, which has already attracted a list of top Democratic candidates, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang.

The Republicans in the race include Assemblyman Travis Allen (Huntington Beach) and a Rancho Santa Fe venture capitalist John Cox.

See our list of who’s running and who’s still on the fence in the governor’s race.

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John Chiang: The no-drama contender for California governor in the era of Trump

John Chiang at the Summer Solstice Festival in Santa Barbara.
(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

It took decades for John Chiang to hustle into the top ranks of California politics, and he relished all the schmoozing along the way.

On the Lunar New Year, Chiang turned up at a firecracker party in Westminster. Weeks later, he awoke early for a cattlemen’s breakfast in Sacramento. When the Fresno Rotary Club sought a luncheon speaker, Chiang made time.

His nonstop networking has paid dividends. He won five elections in a rout, most recently for state treasurer in 2014.

Yet to many Californians, Chiang is just a vaguely familiar name, often mispronounced. (It’s Chung, not Chang.) It shows up on ballots, somewhere near the middle.

But now that he’s running for governor, Chiang is competing on a much bigger stage. Voters pay close attention to the top of the ticket, appraising character and personality.

For the first time in his career, the way that Chiang’s reserved, low-key demeanor comes off on television will matter — all the more so in a race against two of the state’s most charismatic politicians.

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Political Road Map: There’s little on the horizon when it comes to ballot measures in 2018

Supporters rally last summer in Los Angeles for Proposition 62, an unsuccessful 2016 ballot measure to eliminate California's death penalty.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

In the wake of last November’s super-sized ballot, which sparked the most expensive ballot measure election in California history, the political arena where initiatives are crafted has been in the midst of a summer of stagnation.

Consider where things stood at the same point in 2015. Then, there were 31 initiatives gathering signatures in hopes of landing on the November 2016 ballot. Out of that came 17 propositions that ultimately made it to voters.

By contrast, there are only five initiatives now in the signature-gathering phase. Nine others are awaiting a formal vetting.

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Today’s newsletter: On healthcare fallout, and one of the hopefuls aiming to be California’s next governor

Today’s Essential Politics newsletter highlights our best work from the last few days, along with stories from around the Web we’ve noticed.

The newsletter comes out Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Are you a subscriber? Sign up below.

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Nancy Pelosi raises more than $25 million for Democratic efforts to retake the House

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s reelection campaign said she has raised $25.9 million for House Democrats’ bid to retake the chamber in 2018, with the majority of the money going to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Long known as a fundraising powerhouse, San Francisco’s Pelosi has seemed invigorated with her new role of opposing President Trump.

Since joining House leadership in 2002, Pelosi has raised $593.8 million for Democrats, according to her campaign spokesman Jorge Aguilar.

The 124 fundraising events she’s held in 22 cities this year garnered $1.2 million from a New York City fundraiser in March, nearly $2 million from a fundraiser in San Francisco and nearly $1.5 million from a Los Angeles fundraiser, both in April.

Aguilar said the haul “demonstrates the growing enthusiasm for House Democrats to retake the House.”

Though none of them has raised more than $50,000, Pelosi has attracted a handful of challengers for 2018, including Democratic challenger Stephen R. Jaffe, a supporter of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who has criticized Pelosi for raising money from corporations and special interests.

Pelosi was reelected in 2016 with 80% of the vote.

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From Times Opinion pages: Why Dianne Feinstein shouldn’t run again

At age 84, Dianne Feinstein is the oldest of the 100 U.S. senators. And the word, both in Washington and around California, is that she plans to run for reelection next year to a six-year term that will end when she’s 91.

The problem with yet another Feinstein candidacy is partly a matter of image. Ever since the tea party landslide of 2010 wiped out a generation of Democratic up-and-comers, many of the party’s central figures — Barack Obama decisively excepted — have been disproportionately older. Some of those Democrats have flourished with age: Sen. Bernie Sanders, technically an independent, has led a rebirth of the American left; Rep. Nancy Pelosi remains the most accomplished legislative leader Congress has seen in many decades; Rep. Maxine Waters has become the bubbe of the anti-Trump activists; and Jerry Brown, in his second go-round as California governor, has become the nation’s commander-in-chief in the fight against climate change.

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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher faces hostile crowd during panel about Russia and Trump at Politicon

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, right, and Rep. Ted Lieu, second from left, were among the speakers at a Politicon panel titled "From Russia with Trump."
(Christina Bellantoni / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher on Sunday braved a crowd of politically engaged Southern Californians for a panel called “From Russia with Trump.”

It started with boos for the congressman and went downhill from there.

“Let’s avoid outright hostility,” moderator Vince Houghton told the audience in the Civic Auditorium at the Pasadena Convention Center, where the Politicon convention was held this weekend.

Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) said he appreciated being able to speak with people “who obviously don’t like me” on the topic, one from which he has not backed down even as he’s been in the headlines for his pro-Russia positions.

The crowd wasn’t having it. They heckled him. “Shame on you!” they shouted. They called for “town hall meetings” in his district, 50 miles from the convention. They called him “paranoid.” They hissed and they laughed.

Organizers for Politicon, in its third year, said more than 10,000 attended. Not everyone there was liberal, but this was an event which featured a popular panel on impeachment and where fans stood in long lines to take photos with MSNBC hosts.

The moderator didn’t ask Rohrabacher about his own ties with Russia, or about his informal nickname: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman.

“There are some bad guys in Russia and Putin is one of them,” he said, adding there also are “bad guys” in the United States. Then he compared Putin to “Mayor Daley and his gang,” presumably a reference to the late Chicago politician known for hardball tactics.

When he was shouted down, the congressman warned, “It’s usually fascists who don’t let somebody talk.”

Rohrabacher went after familiar targets, including President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. A man in the crowd shouted, “Fox News talking point!”

When it came to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections, Rohrabacher questioned the intelligence unearthed in the investigation and brought the conversation back to Clinton’s controversial campaign emails. “They were not making up emails,” he said. “All they were doing was releasing information that was accurate.”

The congressman said he’s learned not to trust American intelligence until he can verify it, and cited the reports of weapons of mass destruction during the Iraq confict to back up his point.

“You’ve got to be skeptical and you’ve got to ask for proof before you just accept something,” he said.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) didn’t shy away from going after his colleague.

“You can believe Trump’s CIA director, Trump’s NSA director, Trump’s director of national intelligence. Or you can believe Dana Rohrabacher,” Lieu said. The crowd applauded.

Rohrabacher scored a point on the rest of the panel when he challenged if they had actually been to Russia. When they admitted they had not, he boasted of his work for President Reagan and his role as chairman of the “emerging threats” subcommittee in the House.

“We have people here who are advocating policy and they have not been to Russia,” the congressman said.

Acknowledging the political leanings of the audience and his fellow panelists, Houghton took a moment at the close of the panel to thank Rohrabacher for showing up in front of such an unfriendly crowd.

“He is on an island up here right now ... he has done an exceptional job,” the moderator said.

7:30 a.m.: This post was updated with information about the convention size.

This post was originally published at 3 a.m.

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2018 could be the year of the rookie in California’s congressional races

Pediatrician and Democrat Mai Khanh Tran is one of five first-time candidates challenging the reelection bid of Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton).
Pediatrician and Democrat Mai Khanh Tran is one of five first-time candidates challenging the reelection bid of Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton).
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Mai Khanh Tran came to the U.S. as a child refugee, worked as a janitor to put herself through Harvard University and is a two-time breast cancer survivor. But she describes the months-long process of deciding to run for Congress as an “agonizing” time.

“I am leaving a very nice, private life that I’ve worked very hard to build and to be at a position where I can now take it easy and enjoy my family,” said Tran, a pediatrician who lives in Yorba Linda and has announced a run against Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). “It’s going to be a year and a half of work that’s not in my comfort zone.”

This is Nguyen’s first time running for office — she’s one of more than two dozen candidates who have never run for office before but have announced bids in California’s 13 most competitive congressional races.

Many of them say the election of President Trump, a first-time candidate who rode his reputation as a political outsider to the highest office in the nation, spurred them to run.

Most are concentrated in Orange County, where four of California’s seven most vulnerable Republican House members are based. But newcomers to politics are popping up on both sides of the aisle. The 2018 roster includes scientists, businessmen, doctors, veterans and at least one lottery winner.

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California Politics Podcast: A formal resistance might be forming inside state Democratic ranks

California Democrats found themselves in the springtime facing a bitter battle for the party leadership. Now it appears the loser in that contest may be forming a new faction inside party ranks.

On this week’s California Politics Podcast, we discuss this week’s announcement by Kimberly Ellis, who, while continuing to challenge the results of the state party chair’s race, is suggesting that she and other liberal activists are digging in for the long haul.

We also discuss the departure of a Republican hopeful from the 2018 race for governor, as well as how a group of Democratic state legislators has asked gubernatorial hopefuls to sound off on the issue of affirmative action.

I’m joined by Times staff writers Melanie Mason and Liam Dillon.

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Single-payer healthcare supporters take first step to launch recall against California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Single-payer supporters rally in the state Capitol in June.
( Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

When Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) halted a measure to establish single-payer healthcare in California, the bill’s most dedicated backers immediately called for him to be removed from office.

Now, more than a month later, single-payer advocates have taken the first formal step to follow through on their threat, giving Rendon’s office this week notice of intent to circulate a recall petition.

Rendon’s move to stop the single-payer bill — which he called “woefully incomplete,” noting it passed the state Senate without a method to pay for it — was the catalyst for the outcry.

“If we recall the Assembly speaker, maybe someone else [will be] willing to push this bill, to get it out of the rules committee and send it to the Assembly to get a vote on it,” said Jessica Covarrubias, a proponent of the effort. “Maybe that will help everyone get healthcare.”

Covarrubias, a 27-year-old law student from South Gate, described the recall campaign as “literally a grassroots effort.” She first learned of the recall campaign when single-payer activists, incensed by Rendon’s action, launched a door-knocking drive to inform voters in his district.

The notice, which proponents mailed on Tuesday and was received by Rendon’s office Friday, was signed by 60 people; at least 40 signatures must be deemed valid, belonging to registered voters of his Southeast Los Angeles County district. It was filed by Stephen Elzie, an Irvine-based USC law professor who is acting as an attorney for the effort.

“Assemblymember Rendon trusts in the fair-minded voters of his district to see through the misleading and false allegations made by the recall’s petitioner, who doesn’t even live in Southeast Los Angeles,” said Bill Wong, a spokesman for Rendon.

The recall effort faces tough odds. As the powerful Assembly speaker, Rendon has been a robust fundraiser, ending 2016 with more than $1.2 million in the bank. Other labor groups, including unions representing construction workers and grocery clerks, publicly sided with the speaker’s decision to shelve the single-payer bill and could serve as as a well-financed cavalry should Rendon face a heated campaign to oust him.

Still, this week’s step forward in the recall effort underscores how activist anger over Rendon’s decision continues to simmer weeks after the measure, SB 562, was blocked.

Last week, the California Nurses Assn., which sponsored the legislation, paid for two mailers to be sent in Rendon’s district, assailing his move as “holding healthcare hostage” and “protecting politicians, not people’s healthcare.” Both mailers encouraged recipients to call or visit Rendon’s office to voice their displeasure, although the flyers stopped short of calling for a recall.

Michael Lighty, policy director for the nurses’ group, said the union was not involved with the recall effort, focusing instead on pressuring Rendon to let the single-payer bill move forward.

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Former Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang plans to challenge Sen. Josh Newman if recall measure qualifies

After losing a close race last year for the state Senate, former Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang said Friday that she plans a rematch against Democratic Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton if pending petitions qualify a recall measure for the ballot.

Chang, a Diamond Bar resident, lost to Newman by less than 1% of the vote last year, and said she thinks he is vulnerable because of the recall drive by Republicans critical of his vote for a gas-tax increase.

Chang noted that she voted to stop tax increases during her two years in the Assembly.

“By contrast, Josh Newman voted to raise gas and car taxes by $52 billion and increased the cost of living for the average [Senate District] 29 family by $300 a year,” Chang said in a statement. “I’m running for state Senate and support the recall because we can’t afford three more years of Josh Newman.”

The California Republican Party has turned in more than 100,000 signatures to put a recall measure on the ballot, while 63,500 of them have to be verified as district voters for the measure to qualify.

If the measure qualifies, voters will be asked to answer whether Newman should be recalled and which candidate should replace him if the recall passes.

Chang’s name and others, including Republican Fullerton Mayor Bruce Whitaker, would be on the ballot as candidates to fill the Senate seat.

Newman campaign spokesman Mike Roth responded: “This is political opportunism to the extreme - just 8 months after voters fired Ms. Chang she’s betting her political future on them believing the bucket of lies they’ve been fed about the recall.”

Updated at 6:20 pm to include a comment from Mike Roth.

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Anthony Scaramucci cancels weekend appearances at Politicon convention in Pasadena

(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was going to be among the hottest draws at Politicon, a two-day political convention in Pasadena this weekend.

But on Friday, organizers announced that he had canceled his appearance at the event — shortly after a profanity-laden interview emerged in which he trashed his new White House colleagues.

Organizers of Politicon downplayed the cancelation, pointing to several other guests, including Chelsea Handler and Ann Coulter, who are still scheduled to appear, and poked fun at Scaramucci’s recent tirade.

“At least now we don’t have to worry about violating any local obscenity laws!” they said in a statement.

Scaramucci had been scheduled to take part in three sessions: an hourlong interview, a panel about the likelihood of World War III and a panel about what the United States will look like after President Trump leaves office.

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Here’s why a big Bay Area housing project won’t get built

Bill Dettmer, left, tells neighbors gathered at Madhouse Coffee in Brisbane, Calif., why he's in favor of the proposed 4,400-home project.
(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Lots of California politicians, business leaders, housing activists and others want 4,400 new homes built on 640 acres right outside the city of San Francisco.

But none of them gets to decide what happens on the land. Instead, it’s under the control of the city of Brisbane, whose residents are wary of a project that could triple the city’s population from its current 4,700. Beyond that, California’s tax system ensures the city would earn a lot more revenue if it rejected housing and instead approved more commercial or hotel development on the site.

These reasons, state officials say, show why California is struggling to meet its vast housing affordability problems.

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Volkswagen gets green light for charging stations under settlement plan

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

California regulators approved on Thursday the first phase of Volkswagen’s plan to install electric vehicle charging stations around the state.

The plan, which will be carried out by a subsidiary called Electrify America, is part of a much larger, multibillion-dollar settlement over the automaker’s cheating of emission rules.

Thursday’s decision by the Air Resources Board green lights the first $200 million of the company’s required $800-million, 10-year investment.

The vote came only after Electrify America modified its spending plan to increase the number of charging stations in disadvantaged communities.

“It’s been a long process, but I hope you feel like it’s been worth it,” said Mary Nichols, the board’s chair. “We certainly feel like we’ve gained a lot of confidence that it will be a success.”

Volkswagen’s investment could become an important part of the state’s efforts to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road. It’s estimated that the company’s spending will provide up to 8% of the necessary charging infrastructure in coming years.

This post has been updated to correct the day of the Air Resources Board’s decision.

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California’s tax board members aren’t happy about how new disclosure rules are being applied

Members of California’s Board of Equalization objected Thursday to a broad interpretation of a new state law requiring that they disclose their private meetings with taxpayers who are engaged in appeals.

A state attorney said ex parte communications must be disclosed on currently pending matters — even if they occurred before the enactment of the new law on July 1. Tax board members said they did not track who they and their staff talked to before the law took effect.

“No one is prepared to go back,” said Board of Equalization Chairwoman Diane Harkey. “We want to make sure we have no liability here. This is an impossible situation.”

The dispute led the panel on Thursday to delay action by three hours on several tax appeals, while attorneys found a way to temporarily allow the hearings. In the end, each board member announced whether he or she recalled any communications with the taxpayer whose appeal was being heard.

Board member Jerome Horton said attorneys whom he has consulted with disagree that the law applies retroactively.

However, since a reorganization signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the board currently does not yet have its own attorney. The reorganization shifted most of the board’s responsibilities and employees to a new agency.

“The frustrating part for me is that this reorganization was supposed to be seamless and it is anything but seamless,” said Board Vice Chairman George Runner.

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Watchdog panel’s support for lifting some donation limits is likely boost to state senator facing recall

State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is facing a recall election.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

A watchdog commission appointed by Democrats opted Thursday to support lifting the limits on donations to officials targeted by recalls — just as a Democratic state senator is facing one.

The change must be finalized at a future commission meeting. The limits still apply until that happens.

Going against the recommendation of its attorney, all but one Fair Political Practices Commission member voted in support of allowing larger contributions than have been allowed in the past.

The change could be a big boost to freshman state Sen. Josh Newman, being targeted for ouster for voting to raise the gas tax.

FPPC attorneys must still draft a new legal opinion subject to public comment and approval by the panel. The attorneys had issued a memo continuing the long-held position that candidate-controlled committees to fight recalls are subject to a $4,400 contribution limit.

Richard R. Rios, an attorney for Senate Democrats, said it is “unfair and creating a playing field that is not level,” to limit contributions to Newman’s committee, while large contributions can be made to the recall.

Commissioner Maria Audero said her reading of the law is that the limit that applies to candidates running for office should not be applied to their committees fighting recall.

“I think the argument that ‘It is so because that is the way we have been doing it’ really has no validity,” she said.

Commissioner Brian Hatch also said that the law, as he reads it, does not limit contributions. He said he regretted it had been interpreted that way in the past.

“Hopefully here today we are going to correct these past injustices,” Hatch said.

Commission Chairwoman Jodi Remke voted against reversing the 15-year-old legal posture setting limits.

Citing the makeup of the commission -- which was appointed by Democrats— and the timing in the middle of a recall targeting a Democrat, Remke said the reversal in favor of Newman “could be considered political, potentially impacting the public’s perception of the integrity of the commission.”

The vote was 3-1.

“I believe that the longstanding commission interpretation is correct,” Remke told her colleagues. “I do not believe there is a sound basis to reverse our decision.”

Carl DeMaio, a Republican activist involved in the recall, denounced the panel’s vote. “With this action to decimate campaign finance rules in favor of big money in politics, California Democrats show they are breaking and bending all the rules to keep power,” said DeMaio, a former San Diego City Councilman.

Updated 1:18 pm to clarify that the contribution limits still apply until a final vote approves the changes.

Updated at 3:40 pm to include comment from DeMaio.

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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher accused of violating Russian sanctions by backer of Russian sanctions law

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Financier Bill Browder has accused Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of violating federal sanctions by using information provided by Russian officials to try to convince Congress to overturn those sanctions.

Browder filed a complaint with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control this week saying Rohrabacher and his staff member, Paul Behrends, violated the Magnitsky Act by taking information from a sanctioned Russian official and using the information to try to change the act.

The act is named for attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after accusing several prominent Russians of stealing $230 million in taxes. Browder, who was Magnitsky’s boss, persuaded Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act in 2012. It prevents more than 40 prominent Russians involved in the affair from traveling to or banking in the U.S. The act infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by halting U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

The complaint relies heavily on a recent Daily Beast report about a memo Rohrabacher received detailing complaints about Magnitsky and Browder during a 2016 meeting in Moscow with a high-ranking Russian justice official who was among those sanctioned under the act.

Congress was considering expanding the act at the time, and there was an intense lobbying effort by a handful of people with Russian ties on Capitol Hill to have Magnitsky’s name removed from it.

In the complaint, Browder alleges Rohrabacher and Behrends “provided services to one of the central figures targeted by the Magnitsky Act” because they got information from the Russian official and used it to try to change the law.

In a statement responding to the complaint, Rohrabacher said he questions why Browder doesn’t want the congressman to get information from multiple sources.

“Anyone who knows me understands that I am the Member of Congress least likely to take directions from government officials, especially foreign government officials. Because of some grotesquely misleading headlines, Mr. Browder flatters himself by claiming that I contemplated conducting a hearing all about him. Perhaps he protests too much,” Rohrabacher said.

Browder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and called out Rohrabacher as part of Russian efforts to sway Congress to get rid of the Magnitsky Act. It’s unusual for a sitting member of Congress to be called out by a witness on Capitol Hill, but senators didn’t react to the statement.

“We know for sure that part of their campaign was running around Capitol Hill. One of the people that they were able to convince to go along with them is a member of the House of Representatives from Orange County, Dana Rohrabacher, who they have met with on a number of occasions and who has been effectively touting, or spreading their propaganda around the House of Representatives,” Browder said.

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Adam Schiff, President Trump and the serendipity of slander

The road to elected office can be long and winding and is not always paved with the best of intentions.

Some politicians — think of the Kennedys, or the Bush family — are born to the trade. Others are borne by tragedy.

Former Santa Barbara Rep. Lois Capps succeeded her husband when he fell dead of a heart attack. Former New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy was spurred to run when her husband was killed and her son gravely wounded in a mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road.

Typically, though, the ascension is more methodical, one rung after the next, often with a pinch of right-place, right-time fortune thrown in for good measure.

Lately that bit of luck has visited itself upon Adam B. Schiff, in the form of Russian meddling and a president who hurls tweets like poison thunderbolts.

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The cannabis industry has a clear favorite in the race to be California’s next governor

Marijuana for sale at CannaCruz medical cannabis dispensary in Santa Cruz. The company gave $5,000 to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's campaign for governor.
(David Royal / For The Times)

The fundraising dinner for Gavin Newsom in Salinas was in most ways a typical night for a political candidate. Local business leaders paid up to $5,000 for a chance to talk with the man aiming to be California’s next governor over cauliflower bisque, strip steak and Meyer lemon pudding cake.

The hosts that March evening were in the agriculture business, in a region known for its lettuce, grapes and strawberries. But they left their signature dish off the menu: candy infused with marijuana.

California will soon have open sales of recreational marijuana, and it needs to decide how to regulate its newest cash crop. Hoping to influence those decisions, the cannabis industry is seeking access to the state’s political leaders.

One candidate in 2018’s open race for governor is actively inviting their support. The industry is responding by following a conventional political playbook and pouring money into the lieutenant governor’s campaign to replace Gov. Jerry Brown.

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California targets pollution with new law, but many activists remain unsatisfied

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Two months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown was in Bell Gardens to tour some of the area’s polluted neighborhoods and hear from activists about their environmental concerns.

On Wednesday he was back in town to sign legislation intended to improve air quality and public health, but some of the same activists he met with haven’t been satisfied.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Angelo Logan, a member of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, which protested outside the ceremony.

The legislation is part of a broader deal to extend California’s cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a key part of the state’s policies on climate change.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) defended the measure by saying a new effort on air quality would ensure disadvantaged neighborhoods aren’t left behind during the battle against global warming.

“It’s good that we think about our global community … but we need to make sure that communities like this are not left behind,” she said.

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Women gaining political power in California cities as they’ve lost it elsewhere

In California's 10 biggest cities, only one has a woman serving as mayor -- Oakland's Libby Schaaf.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

While women have lost ground in California’s legislature and its congressional delegation, the state has seen a small increase in women serving on city councils over the past two years, a new report found.

Women now account for 31% of the members on California city councils, up from 29% in 2015. Women also serve as mayor in 28% of the state’s 482 cities.

The report was released Wednesday by California Women Lead, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office.

Here are some of the report’s other notes:

  • The number of women in California’s congressional delegation, including the 53 House members and two senators, decreased from 22 in 2015 to 19 in 2017.
  • The number of women in the California Legislature decreased from 31 in 2015 to 26 in 2017.
  • In California’s 10 largest cities, only one has a woman serving as mayor: Libby Schaaf in Oakland.
  • There’s just one city with an all-female council — Blue Lake in Humboldt County. Fifty-six cities have all-male councils.
  • Of California’s eight statewide offices, only one is held by a woman: Controller Betty Yee.
  • California has been represented by female Democrats in the U.S. Senate since 1993: Dianne Feinstein since 1992; Barbara Boxer from 1993-2017; and newly elected Kamala Harris.