Hey Gavin Newsom, do better

Hey Gavin Newsom, do better

Gavin Newsom’s failed environmental commitments need to be addressed with actions, not words

From rumors of recall to criticism about his handling of reopening the state, Governor Gavin Newsom has been in the news a lot lately. Although I wouldn’t go as far as endorsing an absolute recall, I would like to highlight Newsom’s many failures over the past few years. I’ve never had a favorable view of Newsom despite his progressive policies. I feel that he has consistently chosen to set goals and promote superficial policies rather than encourage real, substantive change.

Newsom has repeatedly attempted to capitalize on the momentum of the environmental movement and paint himself as a climate advocate fighting to protect California from the ravenous wildfires that have swept across our state the past few years. Despite his many public statements and promises, Newsom’s actions don’t exactly line up with that image. In fact, a lot of his stances have been superficial from the start. Last fall, Newsom set multiple environmental goals including the promise to ban fracking by 2024 in the state and phase out gasoline vehicles by 2035. Despite these lofty goals, Newsom signed roughly 1,700 oil and gas permits on public lands in the last year alone. This brings Newsom’s total well permits to nearly 8,000 since he was inaugurated in early 2019. 

“Newsom has the power to stop new well approvals under state law,” remarked Kassie Siegel, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, in a recent Newsweek article. “He could put in a health buffer zone (a space between drilling operations and residential areas or towns). The political pressure on him will only increase to take similarly decisive action.”

Newsom’s plan for the Delta has also been widely criticized by environmentalists, farmers and local residents. The proposed tunnel is 30 miles long and estimated to cost at least $17 billion. Opponents of the plan call it both unnecessarily expensive and have listed the countless environmental and economic impacts on the local community, from harming wildlife to affecting delta tourism. With the proper funds—since Newsom seems to have an extra $17 billion to throw around—many other sources of water could achieve the same goals like implementing more desalination plants and water recycling plans.

Recently, Newsom has also been criticized for his handling of reopening the state, especially in the context of education. California has the lowest literacy rate of any state, which has motivated Newsom to make education a priority in the past. However, within the context of a pandemic, Newsom has been pushing for the return of normalcy at any cost. This has prompted criticism from multiple teachers unions, who proposed an alternative plan that prioritizes vaccinating teachers in addition to a plethora of other safety precautions necessary for returning to work. 

“Get our educators vaccinated. That is the most crucial thing that we can do,” said Richard Barrera, the San Diego Unified Board President, in an interview with CBS. “In San Diego Unified, if we could just get a few thousand of our educators vaccinated, that would be the first step to starting to bring students back to school in phases, and I just think we need to have a sense of urgency.”  

Although the majority of research indicates that schools have not been as significant transmitters of the virus as previously thought, a lot of the evidence varies on a case-to-case basis. A recent study found that it is usually safe to reopen schools where rates of infection are already extremely low, whereas in-person instruction in communities with relatively high rates of hospitalization  will likely increase the spread of COVID-19.

Newsom is not by any means some kind of evil Machiavellian politician, but it is important to hold our politicians accountable, especially when every decision impacts the safety and health of our communities. Speaking about injustice and condemning is always a good first step, but taking real meaningful action, even if he makes some mistakes along the way, is what we need to keep moving forward.

Written by: Joe Sweeney — jmsweeney@ucdavis.edu 
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