Capitol Alert

Update: Here’s how Newsom is doing on 10 campaign promises after his first year of lawmaking

From phasing out private prisons to signing a new cap on rent increases, Gov. Gavin Newsom used his first year in office to make progress on many of the promises he made while campaigning for the job.

He’s still far from achieving many of his long-term goals, like building 3.5 million new homes and creating half a million apprenticeships to boost California’s workforce. And he’s backtracked on some of his promises, like appointing a cabinet secretary to focus on homelessness.

Now that he’s wrapped up his first year of work with the Legislature, here’s an update on his progress toward the 10 campaign promises The Bee is tracking. Click each topic to learn more.

1. Build 3.5 million new homes by 2025

Newsom pledged to confront California’s housing shortage with an ambitious goal: 3.5 million new housing units by 2025. Reaching that figure would require the state to build housing five times faster than current rates. To boost construction, Newsom proposed increasing tax credits for affordable housing development and streamlining land use approvals. He also said he would hold cities accountable for failing to meet state-determined housing goals and revamp the tax code, which he believes encourages commercial development over home construction.

What he’s doing: Newsom helped pass a new law aimed at preventing cities from making it harder to build over the next five years. It cleared the Legislature after Newsom publicly endorsed it. The new law will prohibit cities from “downzoning,” diminishing the number of units that can be built in a particular space, such as only allowing a single-family home in a lot previously zoned for an apartment building. It will also limit cities’ ability to impose new building standards that drive up construction costs.

Some critics have noted Newsom didn’t weigh in on one bill that could have boosted housing production until after it was effectively dead for the year. The measure would have dramatically increased housing density by allowing more apartment complexes and multi-unit buildings on land previously reserved for single-family homes.

Newsom tried and failed to convince lawmakers to take money for road repairs from cities that aren’t building enough. Instead, he opted for a plan that fines cities between $10,000 and $600,000 per month if they fail to meet their state-mandated housing goals for at least a year.

After six months of fines, the court could revoke a local government’s authority over its housing plans, although it’s unclear whether any cities will get to that point.

Newsom sued Huntington Beach in January, arguing the Orange County city isn’t allowing enough housing for low-income people. Newsom has threatened to also sue other cities that fail to meet building targets outlined in state law.

In his first budget, Newsom included $250 million to help cities and counties plan for more housing and another $500 million for housing construction grants. The budget also includes half a billion dollars to expand a loan program for mixed-income developments and another half billion to increase the state tax credit for affordable housing projects.

Newsom is also pushing cities to build affordable housing on unused state property. One of the first projects from that effort will be a four-story affordable housing complex in downtown Sacramento.

2. Combat homelessness

California is home to a quarter of the nation’s homeless population. To tackle the issue, Newsom pledged in a campaign ad to create a cabinet-level position to address homelessness. He told The Bee in July that he wants to tie state funding to increased development of supportive housing as an incentive for local governments. He also wants to help communities enroll more homeless people in a federal disability program that provides a monthly stipend.

What he’s doing: Newsom backed away from his campaign promise to appoint a “cabinet-level secretary” on homelessness in August. Instead, he said he plans to rely on a homelessness task force led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. That means there isn’t a top aide in his office working full-time on the issue, but Newsom says it’s still one of his top priorities.

In his first budget, Newsom allocated $650 million for communities to address homelessness. The money will pay for shelters and other programs aimed at getting people off the streets.

The budget also includes $350 million more aimed at helping homeless people, including by expanding mental health services and funding housing for students at public California colleges and universities.

Newsom signed new laws to lift some environmental regulations for shelter construction and projects to convert hotels into supportive housing. He approved a new law to let the state’s transportation department rent property to local governments for shelters for $1 per month plus administrative fees.

3. Strengthen tenant protections

Although Newsom opposed what he described as a flawed November ballot initiative to let cities and counties limit rent increases, he said he still supported expanding rent control. Voters rejected the measure, and Newsom pledged to broker a better deal in the Legislature.

What he’s doing: In October, Newsom signed a new law to cap rent increases at 5 percent plus inflation across the state. It also restricts when landlords can evict tenants.

Newsom and other supporters argue it will protect tenants from rent price spikes, while critics say it will stymie housing construction and hurt small landlords. To address some of those concerns, the new law exempts buildings less than 15 years old and single-family homes managed by small property owners.

In the budget, Newsom and lawmakers allocated $20 million to fund grants for nonprofits to provide legal assistance for renters.

4. End use of private prisons and money bail

Newsom vowed to end the use of private prisons and the state’s bail system, arguing they contribute to over-incarceration and advance profits over justice. In 2018, Newsom co-sponsored a new law to end bail, arguing the practice unfairly punishes people for being poor. The law replaces the existing system with one that determines whether to release defendants awaiting trial based on their risk to public safety. But the bail industry has since put a referendum on the 2020 ballot that could overturn the law and delays implementation until voters weigh in.

What he’s doing: California must phase out private, for-profit prisons and immigrant detention centers by 2028 under a new law Newsom signed in October. It prohibits state officials from signing new agreements with private prisons or renewing existing contracts, unless needed to comply with court-ordered population caps. It also bans private immigrant detention centers from operating in California by the time their current contracts with federal immigration authorities expire.

In September, his administration announced it would no longer house inmates at the Central Valley Modified Community Correctional Facility, a private prison in McFarland. Earlier this year, the state also cut ties with a prison in Arizona that represented the last private facility housing California inmates out-of-state.

The state still contracts with three in-state private prisons that house about 1,600 people.

Newsom says he will “actively” campaign against the bail industry’s referendum but stopped short of pledging any of the $15 million left over from his gubernatorial run. He said campaigning on initiatives is an important part of his job but that he needs to know what else is on the ballot before promising money. “That’s certainly a big role and responsibility of the governor, so I will not take that off the table,” he told The Bee in April.

Newsom’s first budget includes $75 million over two years to help courts adopt new pretrial programs that evaluate a suspect’s risk of skipping town or endangering public safety if they are released from jail. Newsom has pointed to that funding as evidence of his support for overhauling the system.

5. Extend gun control measures

During his first press conference as governor-elect, Newsom called for “raising the bar” on gun control in the state. A staunch advocate of gun safety measures, such as banning high-capacity magazines and instituting background checks for ammunition, Newsom said he would revisit some bills Gov. Jerry Brown previously rejected.

What he’s doing: In October, Newsom signed several gun control measures that Brown had vetoed. They include a ban on buying more than one long gun per month and expansions to the state’s policy that lets people ask a judge to take guns from others they think are dangerous.

Newsom also increased funding by $5.6 million for the program that removes weapons from those who are no longer allowed to own them, which has struggled for years to keep up with confiscating weapons.

But Newsom says California can’t fix the problem through legislation alone. Newsom blamed President Donald Trump and Republicans for a “culture of gun violence” during a July appearance in Gilroy, where a gunman killed three people at a food festival the night before.

6. Provide health care for all

Newsom called for a universal health care system and endorsed a single-payer bill in 2017 that ultimately failed. That stance won him support from some progressives and the powerful California Nurses Association, even as Newsom also discussed the obstacles to developing government-run, universal health coverage at the state level, such as the high cost and need for federal approval.

What he’s doing: Newsom hasn’t called for the Legislature to take up a new single-payer bill. He did send a letter to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders seeking permission to pursue a single-payer system in California. The federal government is unlikely to approve it, but Newsom is taking other steps toward universal coverage.

He signed an executive order calling for state health care officials to negotiate all drug prices for Medi-Cal by 2021, a move intended to reduce costs.

Under Newsom’s first state budget, California will fine residents who don’t buy insurance. That revenue will help fund new subsidies for low- and middle-income people to purchase health plans.

The budget also makes California the first state to give undocumented adults state-funded health coverage by expanding the Medi-Cal program to people regardless of immigration status up to age 26.

“Universal health care is a right regardless of immigration status,” Newsom said at an event promoting his first state budget. “I’m going to get the rest of that done, mark my words, and make progress next year and the year after that.”

7. Establish universal preschool

Newsom closed his campaign emphasizing the need to expand early childhood education programs. As part of a broader focus on improving preparation and health outcomes during the first three years of a child’s life, he said he wanted to make preschool available to all kids. About half of California children eligible for the state’s public preschool programs are not enrolled due to a lack of space.

What he’s doing: As a first step, Newsom has proposed making preschool available to all low-income 4-year-olds in California over the next three years. His first budget includes $300 million in one-time funding for full-day kindergarten facilities and $125 million annually to create 10,000 more preschool slots. It also has hundreds of millions more for child care programs.

He also helped negotiate a proposed $15 billion education bond to fund school construction and renovation. He and the Legislature placed it on the March ballot and Newsom has since created a fundraising committee to convince voters to support it.

The measure designates $9 billion for preschool through high school, but some lawmakers criticized the proposal for not specifying a minimum amount for preschool classrooms.

8. Limit wildfire damage

Amid the devastating wildfires of 2018, Newsom told The Sacramento Bee that California must rethink its land management strategies, remove dead trees, increase funding for fire departments, invest in a statewide weather monitoring system, install a network of early warning cameras and more aggressively reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

What he’s doing: In the aftermath of the Camp Fire, the deadliest blaze in California history that drove PG&E into bankruptcy, Newsom is urging the Legislature to approve his plan to create a $21 billion fund to pay future wildfire costs. Ratepayers and shareholders of the state’s major utilities would both have to pay into the fund.

In the meantime, Newsom has declared a statewide emergency to fast-track tree clearing and other forest management work by exempting such projects from some environmental review. His administration is also launching a public information campaign aimed at helping communities prepare for fires. And he’s moved some National Guard troops from the Mexican border to assist with firefighting.

Newsom added more than $250 million to update California’s firefighting helicopters and purchase new technology for firefighting efforts. He also included $225 million for “forest health and wildfire prevention efforts,” according to his office. His first budget also adds a fee to Californians’ phone bills to fund an upgrade of the state’s 911 system.

He endorsed retrofitting more homes for fire resiliency, citing a McClatchy investigation that found homes built to modern fire standards were far more likely to survive the Camp Fire, but he didn’t include funding for it in the budget.

9. Create 500,000 apprenticeships by 2029

In the Central Valley, where fewer residents have college degrees than in other parts of the state, Newsom campaigned on boosting apprenticeships to help workers get jobs in a rapidly changing economy. He proposed partnering with community colleges and businesses to create half a million apprenticeships over the next decade in growing fields like advanced manufacturing, health services and information technology. “The vast majority of us will not get a bachelor’s degree in a fancy institution of higher learning, and we need an agenda to support those folks,” Newsom said in Fresno. He suggested it could be an area of collaboration with the federal government.

What he's doing: The budget includes $165 million over five years (about $33 million per year) for workforce development projects called for under California’s cap-and-trade law, which Newsom’s predecessor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2017. The spending will come from money raised by the cap-and-trade program, which makes companies pay to pollute. Newsom’s Department of Finance estimates these programs will train about 5,100 people for apprenticeships and other jobs, far short of Newsom’s stated goal.

10. Expand the earned income tax credit

One out of every five Californians lives in poverty – and by some measures it’s even more. Aiming to lift up some of those families, Newsom proposed expanding the state’s earned income tax credit, a recently-created refund for the working poor. About 1.3 million households received nearly $300 million in credits on their 2017 earnings, according to the Franchise Tax Board. Newsom could bolster the program by increasing the value of the credit, which maxes out at about $2,500 for a family of four, or by making more Californians eligible, including those who are out of work or are not living in the country legally.

What he’s doing: Newsom’s first budget makes about 3 million California families eligible for the state’s earned income tax credit, which can give households up to $2,559 per year. It raises the income level to qualify for the credit to $30,000. Families with children under the age of 6 will be eligible for an extra $1,000 credit. He’s paying for the expansion by making administrative changes to comply with the 2017 federal tax overhaul that would have some Californians paying more state tax. His budget has drawn criticism from some lawmakers and advocacy groups for not including undocumented immigrants in the tax credit program.

Former Bee writer Alexei Koseff contributed to this report.
Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
Support my work with a digital subscription
SUBSCRIBE TODAY
  Comments