A roundup of the biggest news stories in California this week…
Chaos on the Los Angeles City Council
Acting Los Angeles City Council President Mitch O’Farrell cancelled today’s scheduled council meeting. This is the latest event in a week of scandals surrounding the release of audio recordings of a conversation between former council president Nury Martinez, councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and labor leader Ron Herrera, during which Martinez made multiple racist and derogatory remarks. The conversation, which focused on the city’s redistricting process, took place last October and was released by an anonymous source on Sunday.
Facing public outrage and condemnation by council colleagues, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and President Biden, Martinez stepped down as council president on Monday and resigned from her council seat on Wednesday. Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León face continued calls to resign their council seats, but have not done so. Cedillo is set to leave office in two months after losing his primary election; De Leon has two years left of his term.
Read the full story at the Los Angeles Times.
California Starts Construction on Nation’s Largest Broadband Network
On Thursday, construction began in rural San Diego County on the first leg of a 10,000-mile broadband network aimed at bringing high-speed internet services to all Californians. The project is part of a $6.5 billion investment to expand broadband infrastructure and enhance internet access for unserved and underserved communities.
“California is now one step closer to making the digital divide a thing of the past,” said Governor Newsom. “We’re starting construction today to get affordable high-speed internet in every California home because livelihoods depend on equitable access to a reliable and fast internet connection. This is about ensuring that all Californians, no matter the zip code they call home, can be part of the Golden State’s thriving and diverse economy.”
Construction began Thursday on State Route 67 near Poway in San Diego County, where Newsom Administration officials gathered as 500 feet of fiber optic cable was blown through conduit in the first segment of a massive, $3.6 billion statewide project known as the “Middle Mile” broadband network.
The planned network, which will be the nation’s largest, will cover the entire state to help bring reliable, high-speed internet access to the millions of Californians who do not have it now. Roughly one in five Californians do not have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet. Once complete, funding for “last mile” efforts will support internet connections from “middle mile” lines to homes and businesses, as well as efforts to ensure individuals can afford broadband service where it already exists.
Californians interested in seeing if they qualify for discounted high-speed internet services available now may learn more at the state’s Broadband for All website here.
Consumer Watchdog Calls for Windfall Profits Tax on California’s Oil Companies
Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan advocacy group for American consumers, published a report last week illustrating the need for a windfall profits tax on California’s oil companies to bring gas prices back under control and put money back into consumers’ pockets.
“The proof of the gouging is in the oil refiners’ own profits reported to investors,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “When the California gap with US gas prices was $1.25 per gallon in June, California refiners reported unprecedented profits in the West of more than $1 per gallon – up to ten times their return last year. Now that the California gouge gap with US prices has doubled to nearly $3 per gallon, California oil refiners’ windfall profits have surely grown and could have doubled because their production costs have not increased. The truth will come out in third quarter investor reports released at the end of the month. Historically every gas price spike in California shows up as profit spike as well. The only way to rein in these outrageous gas prices is to take back the oil refiners’ excess profits.”
On September 30, Governor Gavin Newsom called for a windfall profit tax on the state’s oil companies. “Oil companies are ripping you off,” Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted. “Their record profits are coming at your expense at the pump. I’m calling for a NEW windfall tax exclusively on oil companies. If they won’t lower their prices, we will do it for them. The $$ will go directly back to you.”
The report also takes oil refiners to task for false statements. “California consumers paid $2.61 per gallon higher gas prices than the average US price as of October 4, 2022,” the report stated. “Refiners falsely claim the difference is due to environmental fees and taxes. Environmental regulation and taxes account for 69 cents of the difference.”
Digital License Plates Now Available in California
With the passing of Assembly Bill 984, co-authored by Assemblymember Lori Wilson, digital license plates are approved for all vehicles in California. Advantages of digital license plates include customization options, easier registration renewal, and safety features such as displaying messages in emergencies. Digital license plates, which are produced by California-based Reviver, also have built-in tracking technology that should help locate stolen cars.
A pilot program launched in 2018 issued digital license plates to 175,000 participants. They will now be available to all Californians as a replacement for traditional metal license plates for both private and commercial vehicles. Digital plates are available in battery-powered and wired versions, with rates starting at $19.96 per month. (Source: ABC 7 News)
DMV Encourages Californians to Change to a REAL ID
More than 14.3 million Californians now have a REAL ID as the federal enforcement date of May 3, 2023, approaches, according to Department of Motor Vehicles data. This is a 234,116 increase from the previous month.
“Fall is in the air and Halloween is just around the corner. Not all changes are brisk or scary – getting a REAL ID for example,” said DMV Director Steve Gordon. “All you have to do is fill out an online application, upload your documents and make a quick trip to the DMV. Come on down, no need to wait.”
Beginning next May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will require a valid passport or other federally approved document, like a REAL ID driver’s license or identification card, to board flights within the United States and access secure federal facilities.
To apply for a REAL ID, Californians should visit REALID.dmv.ca.gov, fill out the online application and upload their documents. Customers must visit a DMV office and bring their uploaded documents to complete the application.
California Coastal Commission Approves Desalination Plant Off Dana Point
On Thursday, the California Coastal Commission approved a permit for an ocean desalination plant off the Orange County Coast, The Mercury News reports. The plant is expected to cost $140 and will be able to turn approximately 5 million gallons of ocean water per day into drinking water. The commission unanimously approved a development permit for the plant, which is one permit short of full regulatory approval.
Advocates of the plant emphasize the importance of a reliable local water supply and diversification of water resources, and point to new technology designed to reduce the impact on marine life. Opponents, including the Sierra Club, have criticized the plant’s potential high energy use and environmental harm.
Updated Boosters Now Available to Individuals Aged 5 and Older
On Thursday, California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, issued a joint statement on the emergency use authorization of the updated Covid-19 boosters in the United States. Eligibility for the Moderna bivalent booster now extends to individuals 6 years of age and older and eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent booster now extends to individuals 5 years of age and older. This statement follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation.
“We are happy to announce that the updated boosters are now available for children as young as 5 years old. These boosters are safe and have been formulated to provide better protection not only against the original coronavirus strain, but also against the subvariants that continue to infect many, including the youngest amongst us.”
Everyone 5+ who has had their primary series vaccinations is eligible to get the updated booster 2 months following any COVID vaccine or booster dose.
All Californians are encouraged to talk to your doctor, go to MyTurn.ca.gov or call 833-422-4255 to find a vaccine or booster appointment near you.
You can read last week’s news roundup here.