Policy Areas

The California 100 Initiative: Innovation Project Policy Areas

The following is a list of policy areas (horizontals) and throughlines (verticals) that will comprise the work of the California 100 Initiative. Below, we discuss the historical and strategic importance of each issue to the strength and success of California, contemporary threats and opportunities, and how research and innovation projects can help chart a stronger future for the state.

The Call for Innovation Projects invites projects in any of these areas, as well as projects that cut across policy domains. These may include, but are not limited to, policies aimed at fostering inclusion and equity, promoting civic engagement, strengthening public management (e.g., improving how residents interact with government, or recruiting and supporting a high quality public-sector workforce), and improving public service delivery (e.g., ensuring resilience, increasing procedural justice, or reducing administrative burdens).

Policy Areas

Advanced Technology and Basic Research

1. Why is it important for California’s future? For decades, California has led the nation in research and development, commercialization, and mass adoption of advanced technologies. Building on the foundations of Jet Propulsion Laboratory and CalTech in the early 1930s, to Stanford Industrial Park in 1951, and defense-related R&D investments in the decades that followed, California has been a leader in advanced technology in fields ranging from semiconductors and personal computing, to advancements in Internet software and biotechnology. California’s continued success in the coming century depends critically on maintaining its leadership in advanced technology, while at the same time upholding core values of inclusion, sustainability, and equity.       


2. What are the threats/challenges?  Tech innovation clusters in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere in the United States increasingly offer alternate venues for investments, and challenges in other issue areas (such as education, housing affordability, and federalism dynamics) constrain the future growth potential of the state’s human capital and business infrastructure.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? Research, based on public-private partnerships elsewhere in the United States and in other countries, is essential to understand the opportunities and challenges to maintain and grow California’s leadership in advanced technology. Key topics for inquiry include the catalyzing and sustaining role of strategic government investments, the inter-relationships between university research, commercialization and regional economic development, and the future importance of physical proximity to industrial cluster development. This is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a more forward-looking technology strategy for California.

Arts, culture, and entertainment

1. Why is it important for California’s future?  California has long captured the nation’s imagination, from its successful entertainment industry to its cultural influences in fashion, music, architecture, technology, and industrial design. California has thriving profit-making and non-profit arts, entertainment and design sectors that support and reinforce one another.


2. What are the threats/challenges?  Global competition from Canada, Asia, and from elsewhere in the United States challenge California’s future in entertainment and cultural production, and high costs in real estate and production hamper the growth of startup ventures.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? Research is essential to understand the opportunities and challenges to maintain and grow California’s leadership in arts, entertainment, and culture. More needs to be known about the mix of public, private, and philanthropic investments needed to strengthen educational, economic, and workforce benefits connected with arts, culture, and entertainment.

Education and workforce (cradle to career)

1. Why is it important for California’s future?  In the 1960s and 1970s, California led the nation in K-12, community college, and undergraduate and graduate education. This educational leadership spawned and supported several generations of innovation in movie-making, agriculture, and aerospace. Today, it seeds innovation in the Internet, energy technology, biotechnology, and nano-technology. California still leads the world in the quality and accessibility of its community college and four-year colleges, but has fallen behind in K-12 education.


2. What are the threats/challenges?  California’s K-12 education has fallen behind at a time when the labor market has hollowed out in the middle, and students grow up in contexts of concentrated and multi-generational poverty. The higher education sector faces the challenges of diminished public funding and growing racial disparities in college attainment.   California’s potential for innovation depends on a strong educational system from K-12 through graduate education, but this system is weakening, and it has not adequately addressed the needs of life-long learning.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? California needs new models for ensuring educational excellence, accessibility, and equity. It needs a new “Master Plan” for higher education. It needs a plan for life-long learning. Research can identify these new approaches.

Economic mobility and inequality

1. Why is it important for California’s future?  Despite its great wealth, California has a very high poverty rate, especially when adjusted for cost of living. Inequality and its consequences (homelessness, crime, poverty, and health problems) create a less fair and livable society. Economic mobility creates hope and optimism about the future. 


2. What are the threats/challenges?  California faces grave housing, health, and family problems stemming from inequality. It needs a mixture of workforce policies (e.g., the EITC, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and child care) and consumer policies (e.g., housing, health care, education, and food availability) to facilitate economic mobility and to ensure a high quality of life for all groups in the state.  


3. How can research and innovation projects help? California needs a concerted look at how its piecemeal policies can be better designed and coordinated to ensure equity and to reward hard work and diligence while keeping costs and taxes at a reasonable level.

Energy, environment and natural resources

1. Why is it important for California’s future? Much of California’s appeal as a destination for tourism and living depends on its temperate climate and natural beauty. The state also boasts an abundance of natural resources including rich agricultural land, forests, and minerals, but it is a fragile ecosystem “beyond the 100th Meridian” with its water, air, and land resources subject to the vicissitudes of meteorological disturbances and climate change.   


2. What are the threats/challenges?  California’s natural assets are under considerable stress, with frequent droughts, growing wildfires, and concentrated air pollution threatening the health and livelihoods of millions, with impacts being disproportionately borne by low-income, Black and Brown communities.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? California has taken the lead in 21st century renewable energy policies and technologies, including solar, wind, and geothermal. Research can show how to broaden these policies to ensure adequate water resources, responsible land management, and the maintenance of good air quality in a systematic approach to environmental justice and environmental protection. Research can also shed light on the conditions under which development of hydrogen fuel, lithium extraction, and battery storage can be done in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Federalism and foreign policy

1. Why is it important for California’s future? Lord Bryce famously said that California was the only American state that could be a nation-state. California is the world’s fifth-largest economy with significant trade relationships, but it is not a nation-state.  Yet it exists within the US federal system that provides substantial leeway for action by each of the fifty states, and this latitude for action has been important for California’s success in many areas including the environment, education, health care and welfare policy, and even some aspects of immigration policy.


2. What are the threats/challenges?  California’s ability to continue innovating in the coming century will depend on actions by the federal government, including Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court, but it will also depend upon its continuing ability to use its flexibility within the federal system to innovate on its own.  


3. How can research and innovation projects help? Research is essential to understand the structural, economic, and political factors that can expand or constrain the ability of states to exceed or modify federal standards on a range of issues, and to deepen the state’s ties with public and private foreign entities.

Governance, media, and civil society

1. Why is it important for California’s future? Progressive era reforms from a century ago, including direct democracy and nonpartisan local elections offered the promise of citizen control over important decisions from the local to statewide level, but they do not seem to be working.


2. What are the threats/challenges? With the decimation of local news outlets, the growth of misinformation, and the growing influence of money in politics, it is challenging for residents to be informed and meaningfully engage in various policy decisions. In addition, California faces other crises in governability, as legislative districts grow in size (state senate districts are now larger than Congressional districts), as special districts proliferate, and as constitutionally mandated restraints on taxation and spending provide little room for fiscal flexibility.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? We need research that points out the best ways to improve resident awareness and civic engagement, and the kinds of systemic reforms needed to build a more inclusive system of state and local governance among legislators and constituents alike.

Health and wellness

1. Why is it important for California’s future? Public opinion polls show that health care has been the major public policy concern of Americans for over a decade. It is simultaneously a major fiscal issue because health spending comprises 18% of the nation’s GDP and about the same percentage of California’s general fund expenditures. Health care access, affordability, and quality are fundamentally important for the well-being of California’s families.  


2. What are the threats/challenges?  The much greater than inflation yearly increase in health care costs has elbowed aside other expenditures in household, institutional, state, and national budgets. Lack of access to health care has been an ongoing concern in California even after passage of the Affordable Care Act and expansions in health care to immigrant children. Racial inequities in life expectancy and other health outcomes remain unacceptably high, something made painfully evident during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.  


3. How can research and innovation projects help? Research can help uncover the kinds of innovations and efficiencies that can be achieved from reforms in policy (as evident, for example, with MediCal expansion and the creation of a Covered California” health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act), private-sector innovations that can benefit from strategic public investments, and changes in practices that can reduce cost overruns and eliminate racial disparities in health.

Housing and Community Development

1. Why is it important for California’s future? Housing costs in California are a major component of the state’s high cost of living, and they contribute to long commutes, people leaving the state, poverty, and homelessness. California needs to deal with housing availability and affordability in order to ensure that its population can live near its workplaces.  


2. What are the threats/challenges? California’s housing problems stem from restrictive land-use policies, high construction costs, complex bureaucratic regulations for siting and permitting, lack of tax funds for providing infrastructure, and restrictions on housing construction methods.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? Instead of trying (and failing) to push statewide reforms, California could benefit from experimentation and innovation projects in particular regions. Some useful projects would explore ways to reduce regulatory burden while protecting the environment or investigate new construction methods that reduce costs while protecting the rights of labor. 

Immigrant integration

1. Why is it important for California’s future? California is the national leader on policies that promote immigrant integration, from in-state tuition and financial aid to driver’s licenses and expanded access to health insurance and social services. Indeed, many have noted that California has created its own kind of state citizenship, with immigration reform that fixes various shortcomings in national policy.


2. What are the threats/challenges? Immigration to California has slowed and immigrants remain anxious under federal enforcement policies. California is tremendously dependent on immigrant labor in industries that range from agriculture to technology and hospitality.  Immigrant labor has helped to create California’s dynamic economy. California must find ways to welcome and support immigrants to maintain its dynamism.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? We need research to better understand how the state can continue to attract, retain, and support its immigrant residents and workers.

Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

1. Why is it important for California’s future? Public safety is the most important function of most local governments, and the level of real or perceived safety affects housing prices, local commerce, and quality of life. Local police departments are under stress from concerns about the broad array of functions that they perform, the inequities in their administration, their lack of accountability, their rising costs, and their large pension obligations. Criminal justice has also become a major state expenditure item as well, with concerns about over-incarceration and the high financial and human costs of corrections.  


2. What are the threats/challenges? Criminal justice systems must be redesigned to be more racially equitable, more cost-effective, and more accountable while still ensuring public safety. These efforts must restore trust in police and criminal justice systems, especially in communities of color that have borne the brunt of America’s high rates of incarceration.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? Little is known about the impacts of “unbundling” local police departments to hive off mental health, domestic violence, traffic, and many other functions. Research and innovation projects could help us determine which reforms work and how well they work.

Transportation and Planning

1. Why is it important for California’s future? Even before the opening of the first freeway in the United States, the Pasadena Freeway in 1940, California was a highly mobile culture in love with the automobile. The current highway system dates from the 1950s and 1960s, and it has only slowly been augmented with major mass transit systems in California cities (e.g., San Francisco Bart in 1972-3 and the Los Angeles Metro in 1990). Housing, land-use, transportation, and jobs are inextricably linked, and California’s future requires better planning to better connect housing with jobs, commerce, and amenities.  


2. What are the threats/challenges? California must decarbonize its transportation system, reduce its commute distances, improve its land-use, and make its housing affordable to ensure that its cities are competitive and livable.  


3. How can research and innovation projects help?  Transportation and planning experts are developing exciting ways to improve transportation by creating smart cities and by developing more sustainable and accessible cities. Making use of this research requires taking a broad view across many different policy areas and many different jurisdictions in order to provide better legal regulations and cross-subsidies that take into account the many externalities in transportation systems.

Fiscal Reform

1. Why is it important for California’s future? California’s ability to remain a land of equal opportunity for future generations will depend critically on its ability to efficiently cover the cost of essential public goods and services, including physical, educational, and civic infrastructure. In other words, most of the visionary reforms envisioned by the Commission will need to answer the questions of who pays for it, how the money would be raised, and how efficiently it would be spent.


2. What are the challenges? To some extent, California is succeeding despite its fiscal structure, meaning the way it raises and spends taxes and fees to cover the cost of various services. First, the state is heavily reliant on income taxes, which makes it more vulnerable to economic downturns than a system of taxation that includes a higher mix of sales and property taxes. Heavy reliance on income taxes also makes the state vulnerable to any potential future exodus of wealthy individuals and corporate headquarters. Direct democracy has also played a significant role—not only has Proposition 13 constrained the contribution of residential and commercial property taxes, subsequent fixes through “ballot box budgeting” have significantly limited the amount of discretion left in the state’s general fund.


3. How can research and innovation projects help? We need research on fiscal reform that provides more precise understandings of how state and local governments pay for various public goods and services. Viewed either from the macro perspective of government agility and accountability, or from human-centered approaches such as behavioral economics, research on state and local government spending in various issue domains can shed significant light on how California can engage in smarter spending, not only with respect to government spending also with respect to any coordination of public and private spending to ensure California’s continued success in that particular issue area. Finally, long-range thinking on spending and solutions for issues such as energy/environment, education, and health will also require us to also think about expanding time horizons on revenues (beyond our current tendency to think in one- or two-year cycles) to effectively and efficiently cover those expenses.