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October 2022, Volume 28, Number 4

California: Weather, Housing

California’s weather is normally predictable: wet and cool winters and dry and hot summers. However, weather patterns are changing. Sacramento experienced its wettest day on record in October 2021, then a long period without rain, and then its hottest ever temperature of 116F in September 2022 during a heat wave.

On September 6, 2022, as the demand for electricity surpassed 52,000 megawatts, the state sent an emergency text to residents asking them to conserve energy to avoid blackouts. Residents complied and blackouts were avoided. The September 2022 heatwave highlighted California’s rapid expansion of solar power that is available during the day but not in the evening when energy demand peaks.

On the hottest days, California’s Independent System Operator is rejecting megawatts of solar power during the day even as it seeks more power in the evening, much of which is imported from other states. The solution to this mis-match of supply and demand for energy is to build more battery storage and transmission lines to move power over time and space, a process often slowed by local opposition.

The average California household pays about $300 a month for electricity, twice the US average.

The first major wildfire of the season erupted near Yosemite National Park in July 2022; the Oak Fire burned over 17,000 acres and threatened giant trees in the park. The Mosquito Fire east of Sacramento burned over 75,000 acres before firefighters and rains extinguished the fire. Wildfires burned fewer than 375,000 acres in 2022, much less than the five year average of 1.7 million acres.

California’s Air Resources Board in August 2022 voted to ban the sale of new internal combustion vehicles in the state after 2035 in a bid to spur sales of electric vehicles. A sixth of cars sold in California are EVs, and the percentage is supposed to climb to 35 percent in 2026 and 68 percent in 2030. The mandate will be enforced by fining automakers that fail to comply.

The US Clean Air Act allows California to set its own emissions standards, and 15 other US states with a third of US residents often adopt California’s standards. The average electric vehicle sold for $66,000 in 2022 compared with $48,000 for the average internal combustion engine vehicle.

Housing. California has high rents and over 100,000 homeless residents, prompting state efforts to force cities and counties to approve more housing. However, cities and counties have pushed back, with some requiring the duplexes that are now permitted everywhere to have the highest level of energy efficiency, which raises their cost.

Higher land costs and government mandates and fees make it hard to construct cheaper starter homes that cost less than $250,000. With monthly housing costs averaging one percent of the cost of a home, a $250,000 home means $2,500 in monthly payments, although many lenders allow interest only or balloon mortgages that lower monthly payments for the first five or 10 years.

A million California residents lack access to clean drinking water, including many farm workers who live in isolated communities, such as those living in the 230-unit Oasis mobile home park on tribal land in eastern Riverside county. Complicated governance puts the US Bureau of Indian Affairs in charge of ensuring that non-Indian residents on tribal lands have clean water.

Worker advocates want Riverside county to build more affordable housing so that residents of the 400 unpermitted mobile home parks have alternatives.

Napa county wine grape growers in 2002 created County Service Area 4 to subsidize the cost of farm worker housing at three 60-bed centers, Calistoga, Mondavi, and River Ranch. In 2021, the $11 per acre tax on 45,000 acres generated almost $500,000, a third of the cost of operating the centers. Residents paid $14 a night for room and board, which covered half of the cost. Grape growers are expected to pay $12 an acre in 2022, and center residents $15 a day.

Other. A 3,000 page report outlined the environmental impacts of a 45-mile tunnel to move Sacramento Valley water under the Delta and into the San Joaquin Valley. The cost of a Delta tunnel is likely to exceed $20 billion, and if approved the project is unlikely to be completed before 2040.

About 70 percent of California’s oil is from Kern county, which is also a leading farm county. Oil provides 16,000 jobs and a quarter of the county’s property tax revenue, which could challenge the county if oil production ends in 2045 as proposed.

Many counties adopted policies during covid to reduce their jail populations by allowing persons arrested for some crimes to be released without posting cash bail. However, many of those released without bail were soon re-arrested, prompting some counties to return to pre-covid bail policies in mid-2022.

Reducing jail populations to prevent the spread of covid was separate from policies to reduce incarceration favored by progressive DAs.

California has issued 1.1 million restricted driver’s licenses to unauthorized foreigners since AB 60 went into effect in 2016. AB 1766 would allow all state residents, regardless of legal status, to obtain state IDs from the DMV. A quarter of the state’s residents were born abroad, and a quarter of these 11 million foreign-born residents are unauthorized.

Polls find that over half of California’s residents think the state is moving in the wrong direction. California is considered a leader among states in providing high-quality public education to diverse students, making health care available to poor residents at little or no cost, and coping with climate change, aiming for climate neutrality by 2045.

However, economic inequality is increasing and housing is often unaffordable. California has the highest personal income tax rate among states and taxes capital gains as ordinary income, so that 90 percent of the state’s income tax revenue is from the richest 10 percent of residents, and 40 percent is from the richest 0.5 percent of residents.

There are seven propositions on the November 2022 ballot, including Prop 26, which would allow in-person sports betting only in tribal casinos and horse racing tracks, and Prop 27, which would allow online betting throughout California.

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