Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, August 25.
Lots on the line
—Wildfires. More than 14,000 firefighters are fighting about 625 fires, including two of the three largest in California history, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. Altogether, the fires have killed seven people and destroyed at least 1,200 structures. Cooler and wetter conditions on Sunday gave overworked firefighters a reprieve, though many of California’s 17 major fires saw little containment, and Monday forecasts of lightning strikes and gusty winds could worsen conditions.
- Newsom: “This is an important week. The weather, again, continues to be a little unfavorable. … The winds will be very determinative in terms of our ability to suppress these fires.”
—Pandemic. This week, California will release new guidelines for reopening businesses as counties fall off the coronavirus watch list amid an “encouraging” statewide decline in positivity rates, hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions, Newsom said.
The governor declined to provide details on the new guidelines, but said last week that some epidemiologists have advised him to maintain “a little bit more time” — ranging from 14 to 21 days — between sector reopenings to gauge their impact on the virus’ spread.
Such a policy would likely mollify critics who say Newsom opened the economy too quickly last time, while frustrating counties like San Diego and Orange that have pushed for faster reopening timelines.
—Everything else. California lawmakers are rushing to stave off a fast-approaching eviction cliff, weigh proposed police reforms and stimulate the economy — among other things — before the legislative session ends Monday.
- Newsom: “We will have a very busy week this week in terms of accommodating everybody’s needs and landing where we hope to collectively land on fundamentally addressing the economic anxiety that exists and persist (sic) in the state.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 668,615 confirmed coronavirus cases and 12,152 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.
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. Will California delay gas plants’ closure?
In the first major energy dilemma facing Newsom’s administration since the rolling blackouts that afflicted millions of Californians, state officials will decide next week whether to delay closing four controversial natural-gas plants in Southern California, the Los Angeles Times reports. The decision will shed light on California’s ability to reach its goal of 60% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2045. A lot hinges on planning ahead — which, in the case of the gas plants, didn’t seem to happen. In 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board gave utilities and regulators a decade to find alternative sources of energy to replace the plants. But state regulators started ordering utilities to find new supply just last year — and are now asking to delay the plants’ retirement.
- Bill Brand, mayor of Redondo Beach, where one of the plants is located: “They’ve known the retirement date for all of these plants for the last 10 years. What happened with the planning?”
2. California unemployment department update
California’s beleaguered unemployment department plans to combine its call centers to make it easier for claimants to get the help they need — but not until October, the director of the Employment Development Department said at an Assembly hearing Monday. The new center will be staffed with 3,700 employees, 1,800 of whom will be dedicated to “the more specific, complex cases” — a massive increase from the 100 currently handling such questions, Director Sharon Hilliard said. Though the department has made progress amid the pandemic — it was answering 40% of calls by mid-August, compared to 3% in early April — it still falls far short of the industry standard of 80%, and many Californians have reported calling hundreds of times to no avail.
Hilliard also said the department will begin issuing $300 weekly benefits from the federal government in September — within about four weeks of the approval of California’s application to the program. Earlier this month, she said it could take the department up to 20 weeks to process new federal benefits.
3. California child-care providers close
Nearly 25% of licensed child-care providers in California have shut down amid the pandemic — and more than 1,200 of the 9,300 closures are permanent, eradicating roughly 19,000 child-care slots in a state already starved for adequate spots, the Fuller Project and Los Angeles Times report. Small home-based centers have been hit particularly hard — accounting for more than 80% of permanent closures — along with rural northern counties, where closures are disproportionately concentrated. It remains unclear when or if other providers will be able to reopen, throwing into question the future of an economy that depends on parents being able to return to work.
4. California bashed on first night of RNC
California figured prominently in Kimberly Guilfoyle’s Monday speech at the Republican National Convention, with Newsom’s ex-wife and former First Lady of San Francisco depicting the Golden State as a Democratic dystopia. Guilfoyle is now a senior adviser to the Trump campaign and Donald Trump, Jr.’s girlfriend.
- Guilfoyle: “If you want to see the socialist Biden-Harris future for our country, just take a look at California. It is a place of immense wealth, immeasurable innovation and immaculate environment, and the Democrats turned it into a land of discarded heroin needles in parks, riots in streets and blackouts in homes.”
Guilfoyle wasn’t the only speaker to attack California Monday, and the theme will likely recur throughout the convention. As the first California Democrat to land on the national ticket, vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris has brought the Golden State — and all of its stereotypes — into the spotlight with her.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California is short-circuiting the legislative process for an electric-car measure that would largely benefit one new company based in the hometown of the assemblymember backing it.
California’s blackout déjà vu: It’s time for our state’s energy regulators and leaders to plan for a system based on physics rather than wishful thinking, argues Bob Foster, former chair of the California Independent System Operator.
A moment of reckoning: What will California do to save the next George Floyd, the next Breonna Taylor — or you? Two major police reform bills in the Legislature will tell, writes Aloe Blacc, a Los Angeles musician, record producer and philanthropist.
Key to California’s recovery: Here’s how the state can fund infrastructure investment in radically new ways, argue Matt Horton of the Milken Institute, Micah Weinberg of California Forward and Mark Pisano, a USC professor.
Other things worth your time
One week after reopening, El Dorado school announces student tested positive for COVID-19. // Sacramento Bee
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown takes stock of the pandemic and president. // Los Angeles Times
In California, prisoners’ families must pay for remains after COVID-19 deaths. // San Francisco Chronicle
California is asking nursing home inspectors to be more cooperative with facilities. // Sacramento Bee
An apocalyptic August in California. // New Yorker
See you tomorrow.
Tips, insight or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven
Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.