Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, August 18.

Newsom orders investigation

Millions of Californians should expect rolling blackouts through Wednesday night — and they’ll likely last hours longer than those over the weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

Newsom said the state anticipates being 4,400 megawatts short of Monday’s energy needs. One megawatt can power up to 1,000 homes. The expected shortfall is four times larger than Friday’s and 10 times Saturday’s, underscoring the extent to which California will struggle to meet energy demands amid a historic heat wave that triggered its first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades.

  • Newsom: “We failed to predict and plan for these shortages, and that’s simply unacceptable. I’m the governor, I’m ultimately accountable and will ultimately take responsibility … to make sure this simply never happens again.”

But state regulators knew a shortage was likely on the horizon, Steve Berberich, CEO of the California Independent System Operator — which runs the state’s power grid — said Monday.

  • Berberich: “The situation we are in could have been avoided. … We have told regulators over and over and over again that (energy) imports were drying up and that more imports should have been contracted for. That was rebuffed.”

The governor — who said he was informed of the blackouts only minutes before they started — ordered an official investigation into the outages. He also issued an executive order that frees up additional energy capacity, but said the state is still “likely to fall short.”

The blackouts could potentially prompt a reevaluation of California’s energy strategy as the Golden State transitions from fossil-fuel-powered plants to solar power.

  • Newsom: “We are not backing off on that commitment. Quite the contrary. But … now we have to, I think, sober up to the reality that in this transition, we’re going to have to do more and be much more mindful in terms of our capacity to provide backup and insurance.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 628,031 confirmed coronavirus cases and 11,242 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.


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Other stories you should know

1. All CSU students must take ethnic studies class

Assemblymember Shirley Weber, center, on June 10. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

California State University students graduating in 2024-25 and beyond are required to take an ethnic studies course following Newsom’s Monday signing of a bill recently passed by the state Legislature, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. Newsom’s signature overrules a July vote by the CSU Board of Trustees that would have required all students to take either an ethnic studies or social justice class to graduate — and will likely frustrate academic leaders who chafed at the idea of the government mandating their curriculum. But proponents of Assembly Bill 1460 say it will ensure students take classes focused primarily on Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino Americans — whereas CSU’s proposal would have allowed students to fulfill the requirement with classes related to Jewish issues, women’s rights and LGBTQ people.

  • Assemblymember Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, on Newsom signing her bill: “What we are seeing in Washington and on American streets right now demonstrates the necessity of understanding the experiences and perspectives of these historically marginalized and oppressed groups who have nonetheless contributed to the building of our country.”
  • State Sen. Steve Glazer, a Contra Costa Democrat, in June: “How would you feel if the governor was named Trump? … Do you want that leadership telling our academic community what needs to be taught?”

2. California median home price sets record high

Single family homes in Concord on Aug. 16, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Want to buy a house in California? It’ll cost you. The median price of a home in the Golden State shot up to a record $666,320 in July — beating the previous record of $626,170 set just a month before — as sales reached their highest level in nearly three years, according to a Monday report from the California Association of Realtors. The surge in median price was primarily due to increased sales of million-dollar properties.

That trend was especially evident in the Bay Area, where single-family home sales shot up 36% in suburban Sonoma and Marin counties, compared to just 1.4% in San Francisco. (The median price for a Bay Area home in July was a staggering $1.05 million, tying a record set in May 2018.)

3. Former public pension investment chief under investigation

Image via iStock

California’s political ethics watchdog is opening an investigation into the former chief investment officer of the state’s largest public employee pension fund following conflict-of-interest complaints, the Sacramento Bee reports. Ben Meng abruptly resigned Aug. 5, just months after he approved a $750 million deal with Blackstone Group Inc., a private-equity fund in which he was a shareholder. State Controller Betty Yee also wants the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to launch its own investigation into Meng, who managed its $412 billion investment portfolio for less than two years. Meng was the primary force behind CalPERS’ risky new investment strategy of loaning money to private companies — a plan the pension fund will move forward with in an attempt to pay down hundreds of billions of dollars in debt.

4. Car companies sign on to California’s emissions standards

An electric car charging station at Niello BMW in Sacramento on Sept. 12, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Five car companies agreed Monday to comply with California’s vehicle greenhouse gas requirements nationwide rather than follow the Trump administration’s looser standards — an indication of the Golden State’s clout in the car world, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Thirteen other states follow California’s tailpipe emission rules, accounting for more than a third of the nation’s new light-duty vehicle sales — a fact likely not lost on BMW of North America, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen Group of America or Volvo. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota didn’t sign onto the deal — a decision that could cost them millions, as the state pledged last year to stop buying cars from manufacturers that didn’t abide by its standards.


CalMatters events

TODAY: 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 very troubled bullet train project reflects the decline of managerial competence in state government.

The Prop. 13 backstory: Four decades ago, California’s corporate leaders opposed the windfall given them by Prop. 13. In November they will spend millions to protect it, writes Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center.

Senate must pass Assembly Bill 376: It would make California the first state to establish basic consumer protections for student loan borrowers, argues Samantha Seng of Next Gen Policy and Cody Hounanian of Student Debt Crisis.


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Other things worth your time

California’s first plague case in five years confirmed in South Lake Tahoe. // Los Angeles Times

Four new counties added to state coronavirus watchlist as Santa Cruz is removed. // Los Angeles Times

Mask fines vary widely throughout California. // CalMatters

Los Angeles schools announce massive COVID-19 testing, tracing initiative for all students and staff. // Los Angeles Times

Five key takeaways for California’s 2020-21 school year. // CalMatters

Inside Berkeley’s vision for police reform. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco police appear to be doing their own defunding. // San Francisco Chronicle

With Kamala Harris as VP pick, Newsom’s White House hopes have stalled. // Los Angeles Times

California progressives’ mantra for the Democratic National Convention: Challenge Biden. // San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

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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...