2020 just keeps getting better.

As many as 2 million Californians experienced one-hour blackouts on Friday and Saturday nights as the state triggered rolling power outages for the first time in nearly two decades amid a record-breaking heat wave. The sky-high temperatures, paired with gusty winds and dry conditions, exacerbated fires across the state, contributed to rare lightning storms and led the National Weather Service to issue a historic warning for a “fire induced tornado” raging through three rural Northern California counties.

The blackouts represent yet another political hurdle for Gov. Gavin Newsom as he struggles to respond to glitchy state tech systems and get a handle on the crumbling economy even as top staff leave his administration.

The state last instituted rolling blackouts in 2001 — helping cost then-Gov. Gray Davis his job in a recall election.

The California Independent System Operator — which runs the state’s power grid — said the shutoffs were due to heat and two out-of-service power plants.

But the demand for electricity peaked at 46,800 megawatts Friday — less than the record 50,270 in July 2006, during which blackouts were avoided even as 140 Californians died amid the heat.

California relies more heavily on solar power than it did in 2006, which has cut down its fossil fuel consumption but also constrained its ability to produce energy after dark — a problem compounded by inadequate battery storage, experts say.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 621,562 confirmed coronavirus cases and 11,224 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. California coronavirus update

Clinica de la Raza staff members administer Covid-19 tests in Oakland on July 7. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

California has finally cleared its backlog of nearly 300,000 coronavirus tests — and the state’s two-week positivity rate fell from 7% to 6.2%, Newsom said Friday. Hospitalizations declined by 30% and intensive-care admissions by 20% over the same period, CalMatters’ tracker shows. Nevertheless, challenges remain: The state’s death toll crossed 11,000 Friday, and over 600,000 people have tested positive for the virus — more than any other state. And a recent Desert Sun investigation found that it took 94% of California counties more than two days to turn around coronavirus test results and 58% up to a week, which means “you’ve lost that window to have the test serve its purpose,” a Harvard health policy professor said. “It’s an interesting footnote historically but has no role anymore for preventing further spread.”

2. Virus tears through guest farmworker motel rooms

Farmworkers enter the El Dorado Motel in Salinas on Aug. 1. Photo by David Rodriquez, The Salinas Californian

The imported farmworkers who pick California’s produce sleep five to a motel room on average, creating perfect conditions for coronavirus to spread. But unlike other congregate facilities like nursing homes, neither state nor federal officials have issued requirements to keep guest workers safe, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts and the Salinas Californian’s Kate Cimini report in a new investigation. More than 350 have been sickened and at least one has died amid outbreaks. Many of those sickened work for three of the five largest guest worker employers in California, picking produce for companies like Trader Joe’s and Albertsons. Many of the guest workers are recruited from Mexico and are transported, housed and fed by their employers — who say they’re doing all they can to protect workers, but are hamstrung by overregulation and California’s housing shortage.

  • Van Do-Reynoso, Santa Barbara County’s public health officer: “When you have a crowded living condition, when you have a population that perhaps may not have access to health care services, preventative services, social supports; when you have a population that may be socially isolated, all of that makes a perfect storm during a pandemic.”

3. Newsom to allow in-person instruction for some students

Image via iStock

Students with disabilities and other “acute” needs will be able to return to school for in-person instruction in small groups — even in counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list — under new state guidelines likely to be released this week, Newsom said Friday. The governor also unveiled a new executive order requiring state agencies to accelerate efforts to connect all students to high-speed internet. The two announcements came after some California schools’ first week of distance learning — during which not all students were able to log into classes. While advocates will likely applaud guidelines allowing needy students to resume in-person instruction, they add yet another wrinkle to the state’s complex — and in some eyes, contradictory — educational policies amid the pandemic.

4. California’s ban on high-capacity magazines unconstitutional, court rules

Image via iStock

California’s ban on high-capacity magazines — guns that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition — violates the Second Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in a decision likely to be appealed by the state. However, California gun owners won’t be able to immediately buy high-capacity magazines due to another court ruling that remains in place. The Golden State banned high-capacity magazines following the 2016 passage of Prop. 63, a measure championed by then-Lt. Gov. Newsom after the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino. Prop. 63 also required background checks to buy ammunition — a provision facing its own legal challenges.

  • Newsom on Friday: “I think it was sound, I think it was right, and … the overwhelming majority of Californians agreed when they supported a ballot initiative that we put forth.”
  • Judge Kenneth Lee: “Even well-intentioned laws must pass constitutional muster. California’s near-categorical ban of (high-capacity magazines) strikes at the core of the Second Amendment — the right to armed self defense.”

CalMatters events

August 18: Student Town Hall with California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. Register | Submit Your Questions

August 19: Student Town Hall with California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White. Register | Submit Your Questions

August 20: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Children’s Mental Health. Register | Submit Your Questions

Visit our events page for more information. Questions or comments? Email info@calmatters.org.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s local officials routinely use taxpayer dollars for ballot measure campaigns, even though it’s illegal. One county just got fined $1.35 million — also paid with taxpayer dollars.

Fix AB 5 amendment: If the Legislature doesn’t protect California’s franchise model, family businesses may be lost across the state, writes Shoukat Ali, a Los Angeles businessman and retail franchise owner.

Protect sacred ground: CSU Long Beach is trying to take over Native American sacred land, and Newsom should permanently protect the prehistoric site, argues Matias Belardes, chairman of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians.

Reclaiming Native lands: Native Americans are quietly repossessing their ancestral lands, transactions that hold promise for the environment and all of us, writes independent journalist Jane Braxton Little.

Expanding access to electric cars: We need Assembly Bill 326 — an example of pro-consumer, pro-safety and pro-environment legislation — more than ever, argue Rosemary Shahan of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety and Bill Magavern of Coalition for Clean Air.


Other things worth your time

How one school district stayed open — and didn’t have problems. // Voice of San Diego

California’s coronavirus response hampered by high-level resignations. // Los Angeles Times

California oil production limits stall in Legislature, leaving ball in Newsom’s court. // Los Angeles Times

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown ran on returning to what worked; he says Joe Biden can do the same. // Los Angeles Times

What’s in a mispronunciation of a name? Ask Kamala Harris. // San Francisco Chronicle

California voter registration at 68-year high. // ABC7

‘Crazy’ sales of camping gear in Bay Area as people flee to mountains. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow.

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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...