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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Starting immediately, California state agencies will no longer buy gas-powered sedans, officials said Friday—and starting in January, the state will stop purchasing vehicles from carmakers that haven’t agreed to follow California’s clean-car rules.

The decision affects General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and multiple other automakers that sided with the Trump administration in the ongoing battle over tailpipe-pollution rules. The policy will hit General Motors particularly hard; California spent more than $27 million on passenger vehicles from GM-owned Chevrolet in 2018.

California’s Department of General Services, the state’s business manager that oversees vehicle purchases for California’s fleet, announced the bans on Friday afternoon. The immediate ban on state purchases of cars powered only by gas will include exceptions for public-safety vehicles. 

“The state is finally making the smart move away from internal-combustion engine sedans,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement emailed to CalMatters. The new policies align with Newsom’s September executive order urging the state government to reduce greenhouse gases. “Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power,” Newsom said.

It’s the latest volley in the fight over climate-changing pollution from cars and trucks. “It certainly sends a strong message to the automakers that have come out on the other side of California in this litigation,” said Julia Stein, supervising attorney at UCLA’s Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic. “It’s taking steps to encourage automakers to be on what it views as the right side of that dispute.”

The Trump administration has long proposed rolling back Obama-era standards curbing greenhouse gases and increasing fuel economy of passenger vehicles. Those rollbacks have yet to be finalized, but in September, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stripped California’s authority to make its own greenhouse gas rules—rules that 13 other states and the District of Columbia follow.

The move kicked off what’s likely to become a lengthy court battle—and, indeed, California and 22 states sued the EPA this month, after suing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in September.

To fend off the uncertainty of a long fight in court, four major automakers—Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen—cut a deal with California. California agreed to relax the Obama-era greenhouse-gas targets somewhat, and the carmakers agreed to follow the state’s rules.

Earlier this year, California officials indicated they were optimistic that more carmakers would sign on. But amid growing pressure from the White House, two auto-industry trade groups representing more than a dozen auto manufacturers including General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota aligned themselves with the Trump administration by calling for a single set of clean-car standards nationwide.

Now California’s Department of General Services is crafting policy that will prohibit state purchases from carmakers that haven’t signed on to its clean-car deal—and manufacturers could stand to lose millions in sales to the state. In addition to the $27 million in purchases from Chevrolet, the state also spent more than $11 million on Fiat Chrysler brands, and more than $3.6 million on Toyota. Toyota, well-known for its environmentally friendly Prius, is also facing public backlash for its alliance with the Trump administration. 

The move might deepen the divide in an already fracturing auto industry, Stein speculates. “There’s already been a little bit of a wedge driven,” she said. “You could see something like this driving the wedge even further.”

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Auto Alliance trade group that represents both automakers that signed on with California’s clean-car deal and companies that sided with the Trump administration, said automakers have invested heavily in electrified vehicles. “So we support efforts by fleet managers to buy more of these vehicles,” she said in an email. “As consumers see more electrified vehicles on the roadways, we hope to see a tipping point where they become more mainstream.”

This isn’t the first time that California has hinted it would use its power as the world’s fifth largest economy to reward carmakers that followed its rules, and punish those that didn’t. In remarks written for a May workshop, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols warned that federal tailpipe emissions rollbacks could force “an outright ban on internal-combustion engines.”

More recently, CalMatters discovered that legislation written in September would weaponize the state’s clean-car rebates by restricting them to only the carmakers that signed on to California’s deal. The bill didn’t receive a vote, but its language urging the state to spurn “companies that are not helping to achieve the state’s public health and climate goals” foreshadowed Newsom’s comments today: “In court, and in the marketplace, California is standing up to those who put short-term profits ahead of our health and our future.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Environment

In the waning hours of the legislative session, Democrats pushed through new labor requirements widely viewed as retaliation against Tesla, the electric car maker embroiled in a union-organizing campaign at its Fremont plant.

Labor unions got lawmakers to insert two sentences into a cap-and-trade funding bill requiring automakers to be certified “as fair and responsible in the treatment of their workers” before their customers can obtain up to $2,500 from California’s clean vehicle rebate program.

At the time, Democrats openly wrestled with the concern that the United Automobile Workers—which is trying to maintain its major role in the auto industry as the companies make big bets on electric vehicles—was expanding its unionization campaign from the factory floor to the Senate floor. Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda said the state should not “hold our environmental projects hostage to a fight with one progressive employer,” while Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino countered that California shouldn’t want companies to succeed at the expense of workers.

With regulators starting to draft the new rules, a lingering question remains: How far will California—the first state in the nation to approve a $15 minimum wage and a state that has set an ambitious goal to put 1.5 million zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2025—go in order to graft its blue values onto the green sector?

“In politics, your oldest friends are your best friends,” said Dan Schnur, former head of California’s campaign watchdog agency and now a professor at the University of Southern California. “The tech people may have come to Sacramento with a lot of money and with an agenda that dovetails with the governor and legislators’ policy priorities, but they’re still the new guys on the block. Labor’s been there for a long, long time.”

Now state regulators—at both the state Air Resources Board and the Labor and Workforce Development Agency—will hold public hearings and draft rules for certifying automakers who want their vehicles to qualify for California rebates. The Legislature will then need to approve those.

Among the points of contention:

• What is “fair and responsible” to auto workers?

• How will the state weigh wage and benefit standards, or training and safety requirements, against manufacturing costs?

• How will the state certify vehicles made outside of California, or even out of the country—in places such as in Mexico and China—where wages are lower and labor regulations are less stringent? Or will automakers self-police by adhering to a code of conduct?

Dean Florez, a former Democratic state lawmaker and a member of the air board, said California can have both labor protections and environmental leadership as the state charts new territory.

“We shouldn’t be using public money to fund or support companies that do not meet basic worker protections,” Florez said. “We shouldn’t undercut the labor protections that we have fought for, for so many years. And I think that there is a danger in doing so; I think we would lose the confidence of the public for environmental leadership in the end.”

California’s new requirement will apply to all automakers, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tesla, a company that prides itself on innovation and disrupting the status quo. When plant workers went public with complaints about low pay, long hours and unsafe conditions, Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk labeled labor’s tactics “disingenuous or outright false.”

While making $17 to $21 an hour is above minimum wage, Tesla employee Jose Moran noted that a living wage in the San Francisco Bay Area is a lot higher—around $28. Musk responded that Tesla’s compensation package is higher than those at General Motors, Ford and Fiat when including Tesla’s employee stock program.

The company wouldn’t comment now, beyond referring back to what its policy director Sanjay Ranchod told lawmakers at a September hearing: “The company is committed to protecting the health and safety of its workers, and we are committed to continue and to make progress towards our goal of becoming the safest auto factory in the world.”

The nation’s newest automaker is also on track to be the first to max out on a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 per vehicle. And with its Model 3 sedans pitched as its affordable electric car at $35,000, Tesla will need California’s rebate more than ever to compete against other electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Bolt.

Business boosters wonder why the state would single out clean-energy vehicles over gasoline cars for greater scrutiny when 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gases come from tailpipe emissions. They worry Sacramento’s pro-labor stance will dissuade companies from locating or expanding in California. Already, Tesla located its first battery factory just outside the state line in Sparks, Nev.

Politicians say they want good-paying jobs, and to grow manufacturing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “and yet, we’re in the ironic place where Tesla is being attacked by some elected officials relative to whether or not their workers are unionized,” said Carl Guardino, head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a trade association representing nearly 400 Silicon Valley employers, including Tesla.

California is home to about 10,000 auto industry workers, virtually all from Tesla. That’s compared to 38,000 in Michigan, 24,000 in Kentucky and 20,000 in Ohio, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Union representatives say the goal is not to slow the production of clean-energy vehicles. Rather, they maintain that if taxpayer money is being used to help sell cars, then it’s up to the state to make sure it results in good-paying jobs.

“This is all part of our work at the labor movement to make sure there’s accountability for public investments,” said Angie Wei, an influential lobbyist for the California Labor Federation, the umbrella group for unions including the UAW. “If we’re going to put taxpayer money into it, then we’d sure better be getting something out of it for jobs.”

The union also is trying to maintain its role as the auto industry makes big bets on electric vehicles. Just this year, Volvo and GM announced plans to phase out conventional engines. The union can also use a win in labor-friendly California after losing an organizing effort at a Nissan plant in Mississippi, a right-to-work state.

It’s worth noting the Nummi plant that Tesla took over in Fremont was represented by the union before the joint venture between GM and Toyota closed in 2010.

“It is about Tesla, and it isn’t about Tesla,” Wei said. “We had a gas-and-combustion industry that for decades created good middle-class jobs. They’re now being replaced by electric vehicles. This is our new economy, and with major public investment. The question is: Are we going to allow the auto industry to create and maintain middle class jobs? Or are they going to become the next Walmartization of the economy?”

Sacramento has placed itself at the forefront of cleaning up the environment. Gov. Jerry Brown and fellow Democratic lawmakers have pitched California as a model to the world for reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, in direct response to the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory philosophy.

But California has also had a longstanding relationship with labor unions, boosting the minimum wage and offering access to paid sick and family leave. In recent years, the California Labor Federation has successfully pushed legislation to protect immigrant workers from threats of deportation and expanded authority for the state to go after employers who skirt overtime or minimum-wage laws.

Lobbying reports show Tesla spent $189,237 on lobbying in the three-month cycle during which the bill was debated, compared to $103,351 for the labor federation. But labor’s might comes also from being able to mobilize its members on issues and during elections.

Democratic lawmakers who struggled to prioritize the interests of two political allies will have more to soul-searching to do next year. Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who has a record of advancing the green economy and supporting prevailing wage to maintain union pay on public works projects, said he was unhappy that the so called “Tesla rule” had been inserted at the last minute. “This is significant and important enough that it should be vetted through a normal legislative process with public scrutiny. That, to me, is the best way to come to the right solution,” he said.

His fellow Democratic lawmaker and San Franciscan Phil Ting, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee and authored the measure, insisted it strikes “a good middle ground.”

“We could have said, ‘You’re not going to get any money unless your workforce is unionized.’ That could have been something we inserted. We didn’t,” Ting said in an interview. “Having said that, we also could have done nothing. So if you look at the two extremes where we could done nothing or we could have dictated the type of workforce, I think this is the middle of those extremes.”

Ultimately, the decision to unionize remains up to workers. Michael Catura, 33, a battery-pack line worker who has been at Tesla for nearly four years, said he supports joining the union, because it would mean a higher wage and seniority for him. As the son of a postal worker, Catura said he has been disappointed that he has been passed over for promotions because supervisors can play favorites. He said he started at $17 an hour and now makes $21 an hour.

Catura has one message for Elon Musk: “I would tell him, ‘Hey man, scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. Give us more than just a bone.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

This one may just be eligible for Guinness World Records: Palm Springs resident Tracy McKain has been a victim of vehicle-related thefts four times in the 3 1/2 years she has lived at her current residence.

In fact, her latest vehicle, a 1999 Honda Civic, has been swiped three times since last October. During the most recent theft, in May, the car was taken even though half of the steering wheel had been cut off during the previous theft.

The police report reveals that the car didn’t even have license plates.

“And no gas, nor lights, either!” McKain said. Yet her Honda was again stolen at night, and somehow driven to Desert Hot Springs, where police found it abandoned.

For 3 1/2 years, McKain has rented a studio in a small Stevens Road condo complex not far from downtown Palm Springs. Her front window is about 50 feet away from her designated parking spot. She used to drive a Ford truck, until its wheels where stolen in the middle of the night in that same spot.

After that, she was only able to afford a used late-model Honda. (It’s worth noting that the Honda Civic is the second-most-stolen car in the country, right behind the Honda Accord, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.)

“I’m on state disabilities due to a work injury,” she said. “I’m not working at this time.”

The police reports indicate McKain’s Honda was first stolen from the parking lot at her Stevens Road residence last October. She remembered walking out of her home—and realizing her car was gone.

“I was standing in my empty parking spot, and I just burst into tears,” she recalls.

Eighteen hours later, the police found the car in an empty field in Desert Hot Springs. To protect her car, McKain got “The Club” anti-theft device and placed it on the steering wheel. Nonetheless, six months later, the Honda was stolen again.

“I was sad and wondering: How did they take ‘The Club’ off?” she said.

She got her question answered when the car was found—still running—seven hours later. It was missing half of its steering wheel, as well as the stereo and part of the dashboard.

Less than a month later, the same Honda—despite the crippled steering wheel and the missing stereo—was stolen yet again.

Sgt. William Hutchinson, spokesman for Palm Springs Police Department, confirmed these vehicle-theft reports, and explained what happens after a stolen-vehicle report is filed.

“We take a report and enter that information into a statewide database,” he said. “… Property detectives may potentially receive the case, or the Riverside County auto-theft task force may take the case.”

Hutchinson said no suspects have been identified regarding the thefts of McKain’s car. He added that it would be helpful for the condo complex to install security cameras.

Cindy Anderson, the property manager for the condo complex where the thefts took place, did not respond to an interview request regarding camera placement. Instead, she forwarded it to the homeowners association board.

Lee Bothe manages Community Association Financial Services, a company which works with the property. She agreed that cameras are an inexpensive way to safeguard cars and HOAs.

“With all the affordable technology of today, all that’s needed are cameras and a DVR in a box locked up at the HOA,” Bothe said.

As for McKain, she has bought yet another car, her third since moving to the condo complex. She is keeping her fingers crossed that the HOA will install cameras and motion-detecting lights.

Published in Local Issues

Dear Mexican: What is it about Mexicans and collecting old cars? I have three Mexican neighbors with middle-class incomes, but in each case, when the old car or truck wouldn't run anymore, they would buy a nearly new replacement—and then let the old clunker sit in the driveway up close to the house or garage ... for MONTHS! Hood up, radiator out on the ground, flat tires ... etc.

Flying With My Ford

Dear Gabacho: When my brother became of age, I lectured him on the facts of life. No, not sex, as that's for him to discover with cousins his age watching Tube8 on a laptop (as opposed to my generation of cousins, who'd watch pornos on scratchy VHS tapes while all of our parents were gossiping during carne asada Sunday), but on what would make him a man: when he could afford a classic car.

Just like our fathers and abuelitos in la patria weren't real men until they had a beautiful horse to call their own, modern-day Mexican males in the United States aren't real hombres until they have enough disposable income to afford a classic car, be it a bomb or boat. It shows you have money; you have taste; you know your way around an engine; and you have an investment you can sell in a second if you ever need bail money for some primo or other. We don't drive these often—you always need a dependable daily vehicle to drive as well—but a classic ranfla is so much better than the latest Lexus or BMW that every gabacho douche buys for their bit of conspicuous consumption. A la chingada con stocks: Nothing valuates better than a '59 Chevy Impala convertible that stays in the garage 360 days of the year and is equipped with an air-raid siren, custom rims and an Aztec maiden mural on the trunk.

Dear Mexican: Here's my question. I hope you take me seriously ... what's so great about the U.S? War, bad politicians, Social Security gone, stereotypes, drunk driving, gang wars, scary public schools, no respect for anybody who doesn't want to live the way they live, etc. I know my family risked their lives so I could be born here, but I hate it. The jobs aren't that great. and there's crime everywhere. How is that any different from the Mexico they left? Is the American Dream over?

Pocho Ready to Go

Dear Pocho: As I've written before, the United States basically is Mexico without Aztec pyramids at this point, thanks to Republicans. Horrible violence (14,043 murders in the U.S. in 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal, compared to the much-ballyhood narco-murder rate of 15,273 in Mexico that same year), an ineffectual government, stuck-up fresas who insist there's such a thing as “authentic” Mexican food—we've become Mexico in its worst manifestations.

But is the American Dream done? Not even close, as long as we have Mexicans and other immigrants who flee bad lives and want to improve themselves in the country where it's historically been possible. That's becoming harder and harder, of course—net migration from Mexico to the United States has been nearly zero for the past couple of years because of the Great Recession—but the American Dream will live as long as we have someone crossing the desert in the middle of July, as long as we have fake passports, and as long as people willingly stuff themselves into cars for the opportunity to hear their gabacho bosses bitch about how horrible life is.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

Published in Ask a Mexican