California Dreaming

Face It, Oregon: On These Topics, California Is Way Ahead of Us

Buckle up, Beaver State. We have some catching up to do.

By Julia Silverman January 21, 2020 Published in the February 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

From the State Capitol in Sacramento to...Portland?

Dirty little Oregon secret right here: we are a smug, smug people.

We’re still riding high off that first-in-the-nation bottle bill, still very pleased with ourselves for being enlightened enough to pass the country’s first Death with Dignity act, still prone to congratulating each other for leading the way on vote by mail. (OK, the rest of the country really does need to get its act together on that last one.)

But while we’ve been busy with those decades-old mutual back pats, the behemoth to the south of us has been not-so-quietly passing revolutionary measures left and right, in effect setting up a shadow kingdom to rival the Trump administration. More often than not these days, it is Oregon trying to grab onto California’s coattails, whether on auto emissions levels, immigration policy, or subsidized universal preschool.

What might be next? Here’s a taste of what’s cooking right now in the Golden State, bandwagons our fair state might want to jump on if we intend to stay smug.

Humane Treatment for Gig-Economy Workers

Last fall, over strenuous objections from Lyft, Uber, and the like, the California legislature passed a bill that requires contract workers to be treated as employees. Similar legislation has surfaced in Oregon but failed to get enough support from lawmakers. At stake: wages and benefits protection for the million or so workers who make California’s on-demand economy possible. Graham Trainor, the president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, says his shop has been cheering on their colleagues in California and will throw its muscle behind passing similar legislation here.

Letting Tweens and Teens Sleep In

Studies have long suggested sleeping later is more in tune with adolescents’ hormonally addled stage of brain development and reduces rates of depression, obesity, and sleep deprivation in 11- to 18-year-olds. California has acted on that, passing a law in 2019 that mandates an 8 a.m. start at middle school, and an 8:30 a.m. start at high schools statewide. (A tradition of local control at Oregon school districts could make this one a tough sell here, but some districts aren’t waiting for statewide action. In Bend, for example, middle and high schools switched last fall from a 7:45 to an 8:45 a.m. start.)

Vacancy Tax on Empty Storefronts

In March, voters in San Francisco will consider an unusual tax, designed to motivate landlords to bring down rents and fill up storefronts instead of letting them sit, empty and boarded up, for months at a time. (Exhibit A: the former Pastaworks on SE Hawthorne Boulevard, an eyesore for several years now.) The tax would kick in after about six months of vacancy and ticks up depending on the size of the storefront. (Portland city commissioner Chloe Eudaly has noodled around with a similar idea for residential landlords but hasn’t gotten much traction.)

Image: Michael Novak

Payouts for College Athletes Who Bring In the Big Bucks

There are a lot of happy tailgaters at Autzen Stadium on fall Saturdays, and many of them show their appreciation for QB Justin Herbert and his crew of Rose Bowl champs with big-money donations to the University of Oregon. But Herbert doesn’t see a penny of that, despite the fact that it’s his body on the line and one wrong hit could end his money-making professional career. Enter California’s 2019 Fair Play to Pay Act, which lets college athletes ink their own endorsement deals. One immediate effect this could have: an exodus of top local high school talent to the UC system’s more lucrative pastures.

An Electric Heat Mandate

Across the bay in Berkeley, environmentalists are celebrating the city’s recently passed mandate that all new buildings must run on electric heat, reducing the reliance on fossil-fuel sources. (Top chefs are switching to induction stoves—you can, too!)

Garage Rentals

In LA, nonprofits are investing in an innovative design scheme to help homeowners convert detached garages into small but functional rental properties to alleviate the city’s wrenching housing crunch. (Sound familiar?)

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