Blockchain and cryptocurrency. Artificial intelligence. Facial recognition technology. Health care innovation. The energy industry. Building tech economies in “underestimated” cities such as Fresno. Understanding the benefits of remote work. Helping small businesses thrive online.
Those are among the topics that state lawmakers and tech industry lobbyists are set to discuss today at the luxurious four-star Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa Valley as part of an event dubbed the Technology Policy Summit, according to a draft copy of the agenda I obtained.
The two-day conference — which, according to the draft agenda, began Thursday night with a panel on how 5G technology can help address climate change and was followed by a reception and dinner — comes exactly a week before lawmakers are set to make do-or-die decisions on a slate of controversial tech bills, including proposals to significantly expand kids’ privacy rights online, allow public prosecutors to hold social media companies liable for intentionally addicting youth, and regulate the cryptocurrency industry.
Those bills are all on the suspense file, an opaque, twice-annual procedure in which lawmakers rattle through a list of hundreds of proposals at breakneck speed, passing or killing them without a word of explanation.
Specifically, they are all on the suspense file in the Senate Appropriations Committee, led by Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino of Glendale, who is attending the tech policy summit, his office confirmed Thursday.
- Lerna Shirinian, Portantino’s communications director, said in a statement: “Senator Portantino has the reputation as being one of the most hardworking and accessible representatives in California, as he tries to meet with as many stakeholders as possible — both in the district and in the Capitol. Conference attendance doesn’t have an impact on who he meets with, nor does it impact his decisions. For the Senator, listening to a panel discussion on a topic is no different than tuning into a podcast.”
Also attending the event is Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Salinas, who’s angling to become the next speaker of the state Assembly, his office confirmed. Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Van Nuys Democrat authoring a high-profile bill to force social media companies to be more transparent about their terms of service, told me last month he also plans to attend.
Reached by phone Thursday, Ian Calderon confirmed he is also attending. Calderon, a former state Assemblymember who was co-chairperson of the California Legislative Technology and Innovation Caucus with its current co-chairperson, Democratic Assemblymember Evan Low of Cupertino, is now principal at a firm called Majority Advisors. State records show Majority Advisors is registered as a lobbying firm whose sole client is the Crypto Council for Innovation.
According to Calderon’s company bio, he authored as a lawmaker bills related to blockchain and cryptocurrency and in 2015 was named Legislator of the Year by TechNet, a powerful lobbying firm that counts among its members Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — AT&T, Apple, Google and Amazon.com.
Representatives of TechNet’s member companies were invited to the summit, Dylan Hoffman, the group’s executive director for California, told me. Hoffman declined to comment on whether they planned to attend. Last month, Hoffman told me that TechNet plans “to pursue every legislative avenue to try to stop” the social media liability bill.
The annual summit is hosted by the Foundation for California’s Technology and Innovation Economy, which includes Low’s chief of staff on its board of directors. Lobbyists could attend for a minimum donation of $10,000, speak on a panel for $20,000, and brief lawmakers on a particular topic for $35,000, according to the Los Angeles Times. Low is currently under state investigation for having stopped disclosing donations made to the foundation at his request.
- Low said in a statement: “Educational policy summits play a key role in educating legislators on many issues facing our state. Some may mischaracterize this as a one-sided conversation, but this is about policymakers partnering with the innovation economy on how to make California a state that supports growth for future generations to come.”
It’s unclear exactly how many lawmakers will be in attendance this year. But 18 legislators in 2021 — 15 Assemblymembers and 3 senators, all Democrats — reported having received gifts from the Foundation for California’s Technology and Innovation Economy at the time of last year’s conference, according to state records analyzed by CalMatters data journalist Jeremia Kimelman. Almost all reported gifts of about $1,250.
Some have criticized the summit for being shrouded in secrecy. On Thursday, a mobile billboard truck urging lawmakers to support the youth online privacy bill was parked at the entrance to Carneros Resort and Spa — until it was ordered off the premises, resort personnel told CalMatters assistant photo editor Martin do Nascimento. The truck, hired by youth advocates and nonprofit corporate accountability group SumOfUs, later parked across the street.
- Aliza Kopans, founder of Tech(nically) Politics and Emma Lembke, founder of Log Off Movement, said in a statement: “Instead of listening to tech lobbyists, we’re asking California lawmakers to listen to us — the young people hurt by technology’s most damaging effects.”
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,983,370 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 92,889 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
California has administered 78,762,612 vaccine doses, and 71.7% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
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Jerry Brown on California climate issues
Even when it comes to addressing climate change — which to former Gov. Jerry Brown is “the No. 1 existential threat to the world” — you can’t escape the realities of politics, or the realities of people’s day-to-day lives. That was one of the key takeaways from a climate-focused interview with Brown published Thursday in the Los Angeles Times. Brown — who served as governor while current Gov. Gavin Newsom was lieutenant governor, and has a complex relationship with his successor that at times has veered into veiled criticism — weighed in on some of California’s current climate controversies, including Newsom’s contentious plan to stabilize the state’s fragile energy grid by prolonging the use of some fossil-fuel-powered plants and potentially extend the operating life of Diablo Canyon, its last nuclear power plant.
Here are some key takeaways from Brown’s interview:
- On dealmaking: “Like sausage, you don’t want to look too closely at how it’s made. When I got the gas tax bill in California, to get the one Republican vote that I got in the state Senate — that senator got $500 million in transportation programs for his district. That is the nature of the legislative process.”
- On whether California and the country are doing enough on climate: “This is good what we’re doing — but no, it’s not enough. Even California is not doing enough. The country and state are doing all they can politically, and they’ll do more. But the resistance is huge.”
- On setting achievable climate goals: “How many vehicles do we have on the road, and how long are they going to last? If you want to get serious, you could say, ‘OK, in two years we’ll take away all the gas cars, we’ll buy them from you. And you’ll get an electric car in return.’ That’s not feasible. We’re still a fossil fuel civilization. … If you want to win victories, you’re going to have some more oil leases” in order to also get support for more climate-friendly policies.
- On Newsom’s controversial energy law: “If you want to get more gas-fired plants, the best thing to do is to shut them all down now. And then when the massive blackouts come, the politics will be so powerful that you’ll get even more gas plants than if you make sure that the lights don’t go out in the meantime. If you push too far, there’s a backlash. … So if you maybe try to move slower, you end up moving faster.”
- On whether California should keep Diablo Canyon open: “I’m not going to weigh in on that one. There are a lot of people who have their views. I know some people who think it should not stay open. Other friends of mine, equally intelligent, say, ‘No, keep it open for a while.’”
Feuer proposes private right of action bill
Private right of action legislation is having a moment. On Thursday — about two weeks after Newsom signed into law a bill modeled on Texas’ abortion ban allowing private Californians to sue anyone who makes, sells or distributes certain illegal firearms and win damages of as much as $10,000 per weapon — Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer unveiled draft legislation that would allow women to sue pregnancy service centers for misleading advertising. Feuer said in a press release the proposal is aimed at so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which, according to a consumer alert Attorney General Rob Bonta issued in June, “attempt to discourage people facing unintended pregnancies from accessing abortion care. While crisis pregnancy centers may advertise a full range of reproductive health services, they do not provide abortion or abortion referrals, and usually do not provide birth control or other forms of contraceptives.”
- Feuer said in a statement: “With the Supreme Court’s radical decision overturning Roe v. Wade, thousands of women under great stress will travel to Los Angeles for abortion care from states where abortion is outlawed. … For these women, time is of the essence. And they face great peril if they are misled by those to whom they turn for help. Pregnancy centers are entitled to express their opinions. They are not entitled to misrepresent their services, with women suffering the consequences.”
- There are 179 crisis pregnancy centers in California, compared to 144 clinics offering abortions, according to a report from the progressive policy organization The Alliance: State Advocates for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.
San Bernardino County to consider secession
Goodbye San Bernardino County, hello the state of Empire? San Bernardino County voters will decide in November whether to potentially secede from California after the board of supervisors voted Wednesday to place the measure on the ballot, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. The initiative, the latest in a long line of secession attempts, would have to be approved by both the state Legislature and U.S. Congress to go into effect, which seems like a long shot.
But actual secession may not be the point. “Do you want to spend our taxpayer dollars to do a study of what we are or are not getting as a county, and then fight for that, in a way we haven’t done before?” Curt Hagman, chairperson of the board of supervisors, asked his colleagues before the vote. Although San Bernardino County had nearly 2.2 million residents as of July 2021 and is the largest county by area in the contiguous U.S. — it’s physically larger than nine states, including Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined, according to the Press-Enterprise — it’s often overlooked by the state and federal governments, said Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren.
- Warren: “We cannot continue to beg and crawl and (grovel) to get resources for our county.”
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