The good, the bad, and what to watch. Newsom’s final bill actions

Oct 18, 2023

For a moment it looked like 2023 might be the year of no, as Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed one measure after another. But then things shifted last week. In the end, Newsom maintained his usual veto rate of 14% — and his promise to halt bills with unaccounted costs. According to Politico, the Governor cited budget concerns in 64 of his 156 vetoes.

So, how did cities fare overall, especially in the final week? For cities, it was a good year. Cities did not win every fight. But they won a lot of important battles and laid the groundwork for future advocacy efforts. 

Below are the most important measures that the Governor signed and didn’t sign last week. The League of California Cities also has a list of every tracked bill signed by the Governor.

The good

California's behavioral health system is set to undergo more changes with the Governor’s signature of SB 326 (Eggman), one of the most watched bills this year. The measure will modernize the Mental Health Services Act to prioritize investments in housing interventions for individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

Cal Cities attended the bill’s signing ceremony last week. In 2022, the Cal Cities Board of Directors adopted a new policy that allowed the organization to take a more active role in advocating for better behavioral health services statewide, especially for unsheltered individuals.

Speaking of last year’s business: The Governor signed AB 1526 (Committee on Natural Resources). This measure will create a mechanism and schedule for plastic producers to remit funds to local governments for costs associated with implementing a landmark single-use plastics law, SB 54 (Allen, 2022). Time constraints prevented Sen. Ben Allen from adding the agreed-upon language to the bill last year.

The Governor also signed four key public safety measures: AB 40 (Rodriguez), AB 33 (Bains), SB 19 (Seyarto), and AB 1448 (Wallis).

AB 40 will address a longstanding issue: lengthy ambulance offload times. Approximately 70,000 Californians wait over an hour to be moved to a hospital bed. This delay can lead to poor care, increased morbidity, and even mortality. AB 40 will create a statewide standard for ambulance patient offload times and require a protocol to reduce offload time if needed.

The other three bills focus on curbing illicit drugs. AB 33 and SB 19 will establish a multisector task force to address fentanyl addiction and overdoses. AB 1448 will incentivize cities to take enforcement actions against illicit cannabis operations by providing a 50/50 split of the statutory penalties recovered in actions brought by local jurisdictions.

The bad

No one bats a perfect game in politics. Cal Cities had a handful of setbacks this year. But when it comes to bad bills for cities, most failed to reach the Governor’s desk. Many that did make it to his desk were then vetoed.

One notable bill that did make it through was SB 423 (Wiener). The measure will extend a 2017 streamlined permitting law to coastal cities and move the law’s sunset date to 2036. Cal Cities opposed the bill from the start since it may override stated-mandated housing plans and local building requirements. Under the new law, the Department of General Services can determine building standards on state-owned or -leased land.

In a related press release, Newsom reiterated his pledge to “[hold cities] accountable to plan for and permit their fair share of housing.”

The Governor signed 56 housing bills this year. Many of these measures nibble around the edges and fail to address the significant challenges facing the housing market, such as high interest rates, the inability to finance projects, a lack of qualified buyers, increased costs of construction, and a limited labor force.

What to watch

California's water — or lack thereof — has become a key concern for lawmakers. It’s unsurprising then that the Governor signed one low-hanging fruit into law: Last year’s temporary restriction on using potable water to irrigate non-functional grass is now permanent.

According to state agencies, the yearly use of potable water to irrigate non-functional grass is equivalent to the water usage of 780,000 households. Public agencies must comply with AB 1572 (Friedman) by Jan. 1, 2027. Commercial, industrial, and institutional properties must comply by 2028. Cal Cities had a neutral if amended position for AB 1572.

Cal Cities and several water associations secured changes that give disadvantaged communities more time to comply with the new law.  Disadvantaged communities must comply by Jan. 1, 2031, or when a state funding source is available — whichever is later.

The move comes as the state begins crafting new regulations that would reduce water usage in most communities from 2025 onward.

The Governor also signed AB 531 (Irwin), a companion bill to SB 326 (Eggman). AB 531 will place a $6.38 billion bond on the March 2024 ballot for new community behavioral health beds and supportive housing. The bond measure includes $1.5 billion specifically to help cities and counties.

Cal Cities removed its support for AB 531 after lawmakers introduced concerning, by right approval amendments one week before the session ended.

But wait, there’s more

It’s not over until it’s over. California’s legislative cycle lasts two years. This means that some “dead” bills could come back to life next year. This includes measures that would restrict the usage of police canines, a statewide tax on short-term rentals, and several Cal Cities-sponsored measures.

There’s also a possibility that last-minute tax receipts could lead to a 2023-24 budget revision next year. The Internal Revenue Service extended the filing deadline a second time for Californians impacted by winter 2022’s severe storms. The state generally follows the same deadlines as the federal government.

As for what Cal Cities will focus on next year: That’s for you to decide. Hundreds of city officials from throughout California will convene in Carlsbad later this year to determine Cal Cities 2024 Advocacy Priorities. Key to those efforts is Cal Cities’ annual member survey, which the Cal Cities Board uses to develop member-informed legislative priorities.

Responses are due Oct. 26