In summary

Newsom seeks to balance competing desires as SF lawyer targets him with lawsuits. Banks flagged mask deal that went up in flames.

Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, May 12.

Newsom balances competing desires

Newsom discusses his plan for the gradual reopening of California businesses at the Display California store in Sacramento on May 5. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool)

Imagine you’re Gov. Gavin Newsom.

On one shoulder is perched a growing number of counties frustrated by what they consider unrealistic state requirements to further reopen the economy — and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who reopened his Fremont factory Monday against Alameda County rules

On the other are public health experts who say restrictions shouldn’t be eased too quickly, pointing to recently updated models projecting the worst is yet to come in California. 

What’s a governor to do?

Newsom on Monday came down on the side of public health but emphasized that he wants to “be as flexible as he possibly can” with local governments. 

  • Newsom: “I know others are more eager to move more quickly, and we will work with every county, with every city … but here’s the caveat. This is a health-driven conversation. … It’s not because we want to be particularly oppressive … it’s because public health dictates that we do this in a judicial (sic) way.” 

He added that “there are some stubborn data points that are impediments” to reopening more quickly, including “death rates that continue to be challenging.” 

Though California’s COVID-19 deaths are stabilizing, the Los Angeles Times reports coronavirus cases set a new record last week (though that’s likely due in part to increased testing) and things may get worse. Meanwhile, an influential model from the University of Washington now predicts California will see 6,086 deaths by early August, compared with the 4,600 projected last week, as restrictions loosen and people move around more. 

To reopen restaurants and offices, the state requires that counties have no more than one COVID-19 case per 10,000 residents and no COVID-19 deaths in the past 14 days, among other things. 

  • San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Monday: These “are not realistic standards that can be met any time soon in large counties across the state. Requirements like this could very well ensure major parts of our economy are shut down indefinitely.”

Newsom said he’ll release more details on those requirements today.


The Bottom Line: As of 8 p.m. Monday night, California had 69,298 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,779 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker. (These numbers are different from those of the state Department of Public Health, which are updated less often.)

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

Other stories you should know

1. Meet the San Francisco lawyer behind most of the lawsuits against Newsom

Harmeet Dhillon has filed the majority of the lawsuits against California Gov. Gavin Newsom's shutdown order
Harmeet Dhillon announcing a lawsuit against Google at a 2018 press conference in San Francisco. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Speaking of pushback against the governor, more than a dozen lawsuits have been filed against Newsom over his shutdown orders — and representing the plaintiffs in nine of them is Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney and Republican National Committewoman. CalMatters’ Ben Christopher explores Dhillon’s legal and political career in California, as well as the likelihood that the lawsuits against the governor will prevail. Plaintiffs include gun shops, churches, synagogues, businesses, beach cities, a bride whose wedding was delayed, a high school student whose graduation was canceled and a musician who now has to perform over Zoom.

  • Dhillon: The governor “went from ‘Let’s flatten the curve’ for two weeks to ‘Let’s put everyone on house arrest until we find a cure.'”

2. Banks, not state, flagged the $457 million Blue Flame deal as suspicious

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the governor's Office of Emergency Services, discusses the state's purchase of protective equipment to battle the coronavirus, during an oversight hearing in Sacramento on May 11, 2020. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Office of Emergency Services, discusses the state’s protective equipment purchases at a hearing in Sacramento on Monday. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

So why exactly did California enter into a $456.9 million deal for face masks with a 3-day-old medical supply company on March 26, before scrambling to get its money back hours later? Members of Newsom’s administration painted a clearer picture of the chaotic behind-the-scenes developments at an Assembly hearing Monday, revealing that the banks involved in the wire transfer were the ones that flagged the deal with Blue Flame Medical as suspicious, not the government itself, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Law enforcement will review the state’s emergency purchases moving forward, and lawmakers heard additional proposals to increase oversight of the vetting process for emergency vendors.

3. Five is better than one: Western states ask feds for $1 trillion

Gov. Gavin Newsom presents the 2020-21 state budget at a press conference at the California Capitol on January 10, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Newsom presents the 2020-21 state budget on Jan. 10. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

The governors and most of the legislative leaders of California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Nevada asked for $1 trillion in federal aid for state and local governments in a Monday letter to Congressional leadership. Without the aid, they warned, “states and cities will be forced to make impossible decisions — like whether to fund critical public health care … or prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other first responders.” But the letter also acknowledged that even $1 trillion won’t be enough to plug massive budget holes — as did an April letter Newsom sent individually to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which he made the same $1 trillion request.

  • Three out of four of California’s legislative leaders signed the letter. Absent was Shannon Grove, the Republican leader of the state Senate. Here’s her statement why.

4. Inmates tried to infect themselves with coronavirus, LA County sheriff says

Inmates at the Los Angeles County jail were intentionally trying to infect themselves with coronavirus in hopes of being released from the facility, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday. Security videos obtained by the LA Times show inmates sharing cups and breathing into the same face mask. Within a week, 21 of 50 inmates housed in the same module tested positive for coronavirus, the sheriff said. It remains unclear if the inmates knew someone was sick when they shared the items. As CalMatters’ Nigel Duara has reported, inmates say jail conditions are generally unsanitary.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The Capitol’s perennial jousting over workers’ compensation was jolted when Newsom declared all essential workers with COVID-19 presumptively eligible for benefits without having to prove they were infected on the job.

Include Latinos in economic rebuilding: Newsom’s new business and job-recovery task force and the Legislature must work to strengthen the Latino community for the long run — not just help it survive, write Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, and Juan Novello, chief operating officer of the California Latino Economic Institute.

Other things worth your time

Kamala Harris emerges as frontrunner for Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate. // Politico

Newsom leverages social media to raise his profile amid the pandemic. // The Los Angeles Times

Seth Meyers’ brother has taken to impersonating Newsom in his daily press conferences. // YouTube

Meet the surgeon keeping California veterans safe from COVID-19. // California Heathline

Massive Northern California reservoir project considerably scaled back. // The Mercury News

How a Santa Clara prosecutor is enforcing the county’s strict shelter-in-place order. // The New York Times


See you tomorrow.

Tips, insight, or feedback? Email

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...