AG unveils wording of lead paint ballot initiative as manufacturers ask high court for review

By John Breslin | Feb 12, 2018

SACRAMENTO - California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra has unveiled the wording of the title and summary of a ballot initiative that proposes to raise $2 billion in bonds for remediation work on homes and other buildings affected by lead paint.

The ballot initiative also eliminates the liability of manufacturers for claims that lead paint causes a public nuisance in cases still pending after Nov. 1, 2017.

California resident Randy Perry filed notice of the initiative in November, one week after an appeals court ruled against three companies accused of manufacturing and supplying lead paint despite knowing the dangers.

Perry, a well-known lobbyist with experience in ballot initiatives,named the lead paint remediation proposal the Healthy Homes and Schools Act. It seeks to issue bonds and to remove of the liability of the three companies.

A committee to support the initiative, which is named Caifornians for Safe and Affordable Housing, was set up in December. The named agent is a partner with the Sacramento-based firm Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni.

The three manufacturers, Sherwin-Williams of Ohio, ConAgra Grocery Products Co. of Nebraska, and NL Industries of Texas, have each given $2 million to the committee. Proponents of the initiative need to submit 365,880 valid signatures by July 25, 2018 in order to get the measure on the ballot for the November general election..

Ten California cities and counties sued the three companies, accusing them of endangering the public because they knew the lead in their products was dangerous but continued to manufacture and sell them.  They asked the courts to declare the homes a public nuisance and the companies liable for remediation.

Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled in 2013 that the three companies were liable for the lead paint in homes built prior to 1981. In November, the Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled that they were only liable for those homes built pre-1950.

As it stands, the plaintiffs are facing a bill of anywhere between $400 million and $700 million, down from the original $1.15 billion. Calculating the liability following the appeals court decision will be the job of the trial court.

The three companies have asked the California Supreme Court for a review. They have the support of a number of groups, including Sacramento-headquartered Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), the trade organization American Coatings Association (ACA), and the National Organization of African Americans In Housing (NOAAH).

Kevin Marchman, NOAAH chairman and managing director, said he is concerned that lower income individuals, African-American and others, will be most affected if property is declared a "public nuisance."

"When it comes down to it this will be an unfair burden on working class folks," Marchman told the Northern California Record.

Marchman's argument is that bad landlords, those who have done little to clean up their properties, will be first in line for any money that may come from the companies if they ultimately lose the case.

Further, with that money and upgrades, those landlords will be able to price lower income people out of the rental market, Marchman said. Further, solid homeowners who did carry out work on their properties will get no benefit.

"If this stands, there could be extreme hardship or at the very least real inconvenience to low income renters and home owners," Marchman said.

The title and summary of any initiative is crucial as many voters will make decisions based on the wording of both.

Attorney General Becarra announced the wording of the title will be as follows:

"Eliminates Certain Liability for Lead-Paint Manufacturers. Authorizes Bonds to Fund Structural and Environmental Remediation Projects. Initiative Statute."

And included in the summary: 

"Declares that lead paint in homes is not a public nuisance. Eliminates liability of lead-paint manufacturers—in cases pending on or after November 1, 2017—for claims that lead paint in homes causes a public nuisance.

"Authorizes $2 billion in state general obligation bonds to fund grants for certain structural and environmental remediation projects as follows: $1.5 billion for certain residential units; $400 million for schools; and $100 million for senior housing facilities. Appropriates money from the General Fund to repay bonds."

While the attorney general focuses on lead in his title and summary, the filing by Perry refers more obliquely to the awarding of "competitive grants to assist homeowners in the remediation of structural and environmental hazards, which includes, but is not limited to mold, asbestos, radon, water, pests, ventilation and lead hazards."

In its fiscal analysis, the Legislative Analyst's Office stated that the measure will cost the state general fund, that is taxpayers, $3.9 billion in total, including $2 billion in principal and interest of $1.9 billion on bonds over a period of 35 years. Annual payments would average $110 million, the legislature's fiscal and policy adviser concluded.

There would be reduction of several hundred million dollars or more in funding for local programs to clean up lead-based paint in homes due to the reversal of the court decisions against the three manufacturers, the office said.

"The Healthy Homes and Schools Act is a holistic and comprehensive approach to cleaning up existing homes in California by creating a statewide solution to address a variety of hazards in homes, such as mold, lead, asbestos, pests and other threats," Tiffany Moffatt, a a lobbyist and spokeswoman for the bond campaign, said in a statement.

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Organizations in this Story

California Attorney General California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Conagra Brands, Inc. County of Santa Clara, California Sherwin-Williams - Headquarters

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