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Newsletter: A rage for justice that will test California’s leaders

(Los Angeles Times)

As the sun rises across California on Monday, the state’s elected leaders face a challenge far greater than streets filled with angry and inconsolable protesters or the damage to property and commerce after successive nights of fires and looting.

They must decide how to give voice to the fear and frustration while seeking ways to de-escalate the tense conditions from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, Sacramento and beyond.

It’s a tall task, one in which even best efforts can be eclipsed by national developments in yet another round of painful conversations over race and policing. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to address the events of the weekend at a midday press conference — less than 48 hours after he made history by becoming the third governor since 1965 to send troops into Los Angeles to quell street violence sparked by police treatment of a black man.

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‘You’ve got to change culture’

Newsom, who has been tasked with solving more crises in his first 17 months in office than most governors confront in a full term, has long had a reputation for being a bit of a policy and technology wonk. But in recent months, he has been at his most passionate when talking about his four children.

On Friday, Newsom spent the first 12 minutes of his scheduled coronavirus update event talking about the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. It became an emotional monologue when the governor told a poignant story about how his children reacted to Floyd’s death last week, having seen the horrifying video of the incident online.

“My daughter wanted to make sure I saw it,” Newsom said of his 10-year-old, Montana, who ran out to meet him when he got home, with mother Jennifer Siebel Newsom‘s cellphone in hand. “And here she was tearing up because she knew it was wrong.”

From there, Newsom’s son Hunter spoke up. “My son, 8 years old, said, ‘It’s not just wrong, Dad. It’s worse than wrong,’ he said. ‘Because bad people are supposed to be bad, but good people are supposed to be good.’”

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Newsom’s 4-year-old son, Dutch (who stole the show during the 2019 inauguration), then spoke up, the governor said. “‘That’s not right, Hunter,’” Newsom recounted the young boy telling his brother. “‘Police officers are good people.’ And he ran away.”

He said his daughter Brookylnn then broke down in tears and ran off.

“Four young kids, trying to come to grips with what millions of Americans are trying to come to grips with,” Newsom said. “You’ve got to change culture. You’ve got to change people’s hearts and minds. It’s not just laws on the books. We’ve got to fundamentally change who we are and recognize what we’re capable of being.”

Unrest continues; Trump’s target

Newsom’s decision to send the National Guard to Los Angeles County echoes two infamous moments in California by his predecessors: the same order by Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown during the Watts riots of 1965 and the one by Gov. Pete Wilson in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in 1992.

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Troops stood with Los Angeles Police Department officers on the steps of L.A.'s City Hall on Sunday to protect the landmark. About 100 demonstrators had gathered in Grand Park after a demonstration earlier in the day at Pershing Square.

Government offices across California are expected to be closed Monday in the event of additional protests and incidents. And government officials are already taking some heat about a different shutdown: L.A.'s decision to close the city’s transit system while law enforcement commandeered some of the vehicles for transporting those who had been detained.

Having briefly offered condolences to Floyd’s family but also criticism of “angry mobs” on Saturday, President Trump took a different turn on Sunday: insisting far-left activists were to blame.

Trump’s subsequent Twitter promise to decree a loosely configured group of activists as a “terrorist organization” was questioned on legal grounds and by those who cast doubt on any idea that a coordinated pro-violence agenda was behind three days and nights of angry confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officers in a number of U.S. cities.

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The ‘split-roll’ showdown

It seems fitting that the same tool of direct democracy made famous 42 years ago this week by Howard Jarvis will be used by voters this November to decide whether to overhaul the centerpiece of the irascible icon’s legacy.

“We have proven here in California that we the people, not the politicians, are still the boss!” Jarvis roared into the microphone on June 6, 1978, celebrating victory in his quest to dramatically shrink property tax payments.

This fall, voters will settle the Proposition 13 fight we’ve expected for decades.

State election officials announced Friday that a closely watched proposal to redo Proposition 13 has earned a spot on the fall ballot. Its key components are pretty simple: remove commercial property from the 1978 law’s limits on reassessments. Collect new revenues from these properties as they’re taxed based on something more akin to market value. Use the resulting money to boost schools and local governments.

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The idea of “splitting” the tax rolls, with separate rules for commercial and residential properties, has been kicking around for decades. It has gained steam as schools and community services, once funded largely by local property taxes, have struggled to meet the demands of a growing state. (And yes, that generally sparks a secondary argument over government efficiency.)

Supporters of the concept — also known as Proposition 13 critics — insist only homeowners and small businesses should have access to its low-tax benefits, not large corporations and industrial landowners. Opponents — also known as Proposition 13 fans — insist that raising the cost of doing business will be disastrous for California’s economy.

Look for dozens of points and counterpoints to saturate online and broadcast venues, as well as voters’ mailboxes, by election day.

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California’s budget battle

Two weeks and counting for the Legislature to send a state budget plan to Newsom, and one thing seems clear: It’s shaping up to be a battle between optimism and austerity.

Led by the state Senate, lawmakers have rejected about $14 billion in spending cuts proposed by Newsom. It’s not that they’re unwilling to reduce spending but rather that they want time to see what Congress and Trump will offer in new coronavirus relief funds for state and local governments. Newsom’s plan would make deep cuts now and restore, if possible, later. Legislators want to use a $13 billion placeholder for federal cash and avoid the cuts.

While the legislative budget plan offers several other changes from Newsom’s approach, the “cut now vs. assume help is coming” disagreement is a big test of the governor’s political leadership. After all, it’s his fellow Democrats who think his budget is doing things the wrong way.

Essential California politics

— A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court on Friday upheld California’s limits on large church gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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— Newsom, who faced criticism early last month for a slow reopening of California’s economy, has now had to explain why state health officials have so quickly given the green light to most counties to loosen their stay-at-home restrictions.

— While most state employees face the threat of 10% pay cuts due to the state budget deficit, a citizens’ panel on Thursday decided not to cut the salaries of state lawmakers and other statewide elected officials.

— California’s Public Records Act prohibits the government from charging people for the cost of editing out exempt material in documents they’ve requested, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously.

Assemblyman William Brough (R-Dana Point) has been removed from all committee assignments after a state investigation found he made inappropriate comments and engaged in unwanted touching with an unidentified woman who filed a complaint with the Legislature.

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— The former top aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar agreed to plead guilty in the ongoing corruption investigation at City Hall, becoming the closest associate of Huizar to be snared in a federal “pay-to-play” probe.

— Tens of thousands of L.A. renters facing pandemic-related economic struggles could receive financial assistance under a plan from City Council President Nury Martinez.

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