Gov. Gavin Newsom is losing more top aides — including Anthony Williams, his main liaison with the state Legislature — as his administration struggles to control the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild a crumbling economy.

The news of Williams’ departure and that of two other administration staff comes days after the Sunday resignation of the director of the state Department of Public Health. Newsom also lost his top economic advisor in April when Lenny Mendonca stepped down for health reasons.

Williams’ departure was confirmed to CalMatters reporters Matt Levin and Laurel Rosenhall by legislative sources on Thursday afternoon. The governor’s office declined comment until 9:25 p.m., when it issued a statement to the Sacramento press corps:

  • Newsom: “When Anthony accepted my offer to return to public service in Sacramento — far away from his young family — he pledged to give this state the full measure of his devotion for a maximum of two years. … Anthony recently expressed an understandable desire to return home before the start of his children’s school year.”

Dan Seeman, a deputy cabinet secretary who specialized in criminal justice and public safety policy, is departing to work on the campaign opposing Prop. 20, a November ballot measure backed by law enforcement groups that would roll back recent changes in criminal sentencing. Also leaving is Chongtoua Mouavangsou, the governor’s Central Valley coordinator for external affairs.

The pandemic has strained Newsom’s relationship with the Legislature, which bristled at the governor’s use of executive power while lawmakers were away from the Capitol during stay-at-home orders.

Now back in Sacramento, they’re scrambling to finish the legislative session that ends Aug. 31 — a period during which Williams, Newsom’s legislative affairs secretary, plays a critical role. Williams will leave after the session ends. 

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 593,141 confirmed coronavirus cases and 10,808 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.


CA’s first week of distance learning

Manzanita SEED Elementary School student Nicole Lopez, 8, on Oakland’s first day of school on Aug. 10. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group

School is officially back in session for some California districts, and just a few days in, the uneven effects of the state’s patchwork of policies are beginning to show.

Oakland Unified began distance learning on Monday with 20% of registered students lacking laptops or hotspots. For those able to log on, it wasn’t always smooth sailing: One student’s laptop stopped working after the family dog threw up on it, and another’s teacher didn’t show up for class.

With the state leaving the length of the school day and amount of live instruction up to individual districts, some — like Oakland and Los Angeles Unified — are shortening days, while others — like San Jose Unified — are requiring a full day of virtual classes. Meanwhile, some rural and elementary schools are reopening for in-person instruction.

  • Superintendent of Palo Alto Unified School District Don Austin at a Thursday CalMatters event: “Leadership at the state level’s been weak throughout. … We have 1,000 school districts trying to be creative who are all on their own. That means 1,000 superintendents, that means over 5,000 board members, over 50 counties, each going in their own direction. … In times of crisis, it’s not a time for everyone to go out on your own. It’s time for some top-down uniformity, and I think it was an absolute missed opportunity.”

A Fresno County private school held in-person classes Thursday, violating Newsom’s order that bans schools in counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list from reopening. It also plans to sue Newsom over the order — and won’t be the first to do so.

  • Austin: “We do things that are just absolutely contradictions. Schools are announced closed … and yet … they allow for waivers to ask to have your elementary schools back open and they allow child care to be on the same campuses that were just closed in the same cohorts that were just prohibited. It makes no sense.”

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Other stories you should know

1. Could Trump affect California’s all-mail election?

A mail carrier wearing a mask and gloves in Berkeley on March 27. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California will likely be able to successfully hold an all-mail November election despite recent operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service and President Donald Trump’s Thursday assertion it would be impossible to do so without infusing more funding into the public mail delivery system — which the president said he is reluctant to do, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. Though the USPS changes may lead to postal delays and reduced mail capacity, California has workarounds: Newsom signed an order requiring ballots be accepted up to 17 days after Election Day (as long as they’re postmarked by that date), and voters can also deposit their ballots at polling locations or drop-off boxes. Some in-person voting locations will also be available.

  • Trump: “If we don’t make a deal, that means they (USPS) don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.”
  • Alex Sackler, lobbyist with the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service: “Without one additional dime, the Postal Service has both the capacity and the cash on hand to handle all the ballots that will be put in the mail this year.”

2. California’s gig-work war is just beginning

Protesters carrying signs supporting AB 5, California’s gig-work law, in front of the Capitol on Aug. 28, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California’s escalating battle with ride-hail giants Uber and Lyft reveals the state is still far from figuring out how to regulate gig-economy work, even as the pandemic leads more Californians to seek temporary work through apps, CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler reports. After a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled this week that Uber and Lyft drivers should be classified and paid as employees, the companies appealed the order, saying it would lead to “hundreds of thousands” of job losses. They also threatened to shut down California operations until November, when voters will weigh in on a ballot measure that would keep drivers classified as contractors with some additional benefits. Prop. 22 would also make it virtually impossible for drivers to unionize, raising big questions about the future of organized labor in California’s growing gig economy.

  • Carlos Ramos, a full-time Lyft driver: “(Prop. 22) is a blatant example of billionaires trying to buy their way out and trying to bend the rules to fit only them.”
  • Jan Krueger, a part-time Lyft driver: “I feel like the unions just want us to unionize. They just want to get their hands on this industry so bad.”

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

Mixed messages: Californians are suffering from confusing and ever-changing messages from the top down when they should be guided by their local circumstances, argues state Sen. Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican.

Transforming health care: California needs universal health care coverage. Here’s how to transform our broken system, writes Dr. Robert Ross, CEO and president of The California Endowment.

Every person counts: With the Census ending a month earlier than expected, our campaign will focus on lower-responding areas, writes Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count — Census 2020 office.

All-electric is good: Cities replacing home natural-gas hookups with all-electric appliances are protecting our children’s health, argues Dr. Amanda Millstein, a Richmond pediatrician and founder of Climate Health Now.


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Other things worth your time

California judges vote to end eviction moratorium Sept. 1. // Mercury News

California assemblymember introduces first-in-nation wealth tax amid coronavirus economic fallout. // Mercury News/CalMatters

Will Newsom’s ‘strike teams’ make a difference in the hard-hit Central Valley? // Sacramento Bee

In health-conscious Marin County, virus runs rampant among Latino essential workers. // KQED

Employee dies, more than 100 inmates infected with coronavirus at Folsom State Prison. // Sacramento Bee

How a rush to reopen drove Los Angeles County into a health crisis. // Los Angeles Times

Who is in charge of solving the sewage crisis at California’s border? // Voice of San Diego

Wild turkey that shut down Oakland park remains on the loss. // East Bay Times


See you Monday.

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