Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, September 1.

Newsom signs in nick of time

Hundreds of thousands of California renters were saved from eviction — at least for the next few months — under a bill lawmakers passed and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed late Monday night, a day before the state’s eviction ban is set to expire.

Though the bill passed both the Senate and Assembly with a supermajority of votes — and bipartisan support — it leaves many unsatisfied, notably tenants rights’ groups, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports.

That’s because renters who aren’t financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic could be evicted starting tomorrow. And there isn’t rent forgiveness for tenants who are financially impacted by the pandemic, who must pay back all missed rent by March 1, 2021. To avoid being evicted come February, renters must pay 25% of what they owe from September through January.

  • Newsom: “California is stepping up to protect those most at risk because of COVID-related nonpayment, but it’s just a bridge to a more permanent solution once the federal government finally recognizes its role in stabilizing the housing market.”
  • Anya Lawler of the Western Center on Law and Poverty: “This is not a complete solution to the looming eviction crisis, nor is it a long-term solution to the very real financial impact the pandemic has had on tenants, small landlords and affordable housing providers.”

Though the bill was backed by the California Apartment Association, one of the state’s most powerful landlord lobbies, it still leaves unanswered small landlords’ questions of how they’re supposed to make their mortgage payments.

Many lawmakers stressed Monday that the bill is merely intended to serve as a stopgap until a more sustainable solution — ideally, rental assistance from the federal government — comes through.

  • Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat and bill coauthor: “This proposal is imperfect. I wish it had more for tenants. For example, we shouldn’t be starting evictions during this pandemic. … For struggling landlords, we should have real mandatory mortgage forbearance. For both, we need financial assistance.”

What else happened?

Sen. Andreas Borgeas speaks remotely on Aug. 31. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

With the legislative session officially over, check out CalMatters’ curated tracker of the most important bills lawmakers sent to Newsom.

Here’s a sneak peek at a few that passed Monday:

  • A bill that would extend tax credits to undocumented workers.
  • A bill that would require the state attorney general to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians.
  • A bill that would ban law enforcement from using chokeholds and neck restraints.
  • A bill that would ensure more Californians can return to their jobs after taking paid family leave.
  • A bill that would create a state Office to End Homelessness.

And a look at some that failed:

Oh, and there’s already a proposed referendum to ask voters to repeal the flavored tobacco ban Newsom signed into law Friday.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 704,085 confirmed coronavirus cases and 12,933 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. Top utility regulator fired

Screenshot of Alice Stebbins, California Public Utilities Commission Executive Director, speaking during a wildfire technology summit in 2019. Image via CPUC/YouTube

One of the top officials at the California agency that regulates utilities including PG&E and AT&T was fired Monday amid concerns she used unethical hiring practices — but executive director Alice Stebbins says the California Public Utilities Commission is kicking her out for whistleblowing. The news comes a month after a state investigation found that the commission hired 17 of Stebbins’ former coworkers — in some cases over more qualified candidates in appointments of “highly questionable legitimacy.” But Stebbins said she is being ousted for revealing the commission’s failure to collect $200 million in utility-owed fees and alleged that PG&E and AT&T lobbied the commission to remove her.

  • Karl Olson, Stebbins’ attorney: “I think there’s been a pattern at the (commission) for a long time, which Ms. Stebbins was trying to break … of the (commission) being extremely cozy with the entities that it’s supposed to regulate.”
  • Marybel Batjer, president of the commission: “None of us ever ignored or attempted to slow down or interfere with (Stebbins’) work in any way.”

The California Public Utilities Commission has recently come under heightened scrutiny as one of the agencies Newsom is holding accountable for last month’s rolling blackouts. It has also faced criticism for lax regulation of PG&E, whose equipment caused wildfires that killed at least 107 people in the last 10 years. The utility, which recently exited bankruptcy, also instituted blackouts last year to reduce fire risk.

2. Amid distance learning, LAUSD enrollment drops

Image via iStock

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, saw its kindergarten enrollment drop 14% for the 2020-21 school year — more than three times the size of the decline in recent years, the Los Angeles Times reports. The significant drop has raised red flags for school officials, who worry it’s due in part to the strain online learning has placed upon working families.

  • Los Angeles Superintendent Austin Beutner: “The biggest drops in kindergarten enrollment are generally in neighborhoods with the lowest household incomes. We suspect some of this is because families may lack the ability to provide full-time support at home for online learning, which is necessary for very young learners.”

But even when students are enrolled in school, are they actually learning? Los Angeles Unified’s online attendance policy — which permits teachers to count students as “present” even if they do nothing other than briefly log on to a school account — has raised concerns among advocates who say it will only result in at-risk students falling even further behind.

3. A session to remember

The bear statue outside the governor’s office sports a mask and is surrounded by signs encouraging social distancing on Aug. 28. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Most people thought the end of the legislative session — a frenzied and hectic time in the Capitol — couldn’t get any stranger than it did last year, when an anti-vaccine protester threw a cup of menstrual blood onto the Senate floor and several senators. But this year saw some pretty memorable moments of its own, as CalMatters’ Ben Christopher recounts. Ten Republican senators were forced to vote remotely for the last few days of session after being exposed to a colleague who tested positive for COVID-19 (though an assemblywoman on maternity leave and nursing a one-month old baby wasn’t allowed to vote remotely).

As you can imagine, Zoom mishaps abounded: One Republican dropped the F-bomb while on mute, one was overheard mocking another lawmaker’s comments, and another was interrupted by his doorbell ringing for a lunch delivery. And after Democrats limited debate on bills to two supporters and two opponents, the frustrated Temecula GOP Sen. Melissa Melendez delivered one of the night’s most iconic lines from behind her computer screen: “This is bullshit.”


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Does the trauma enveloping California this year — pandemic, recession, heat waves, blackouts and disastrous wildfires — make voters more or less likely to vote for tax increases?

Time to reopen health clubs and gyms: The mental and physical health needs of Californians demand it, argues Tony Ueber, CEO of 24 Hour Fitness.

Nuclear waste another social injustice: Investor-owned utilities continue to eye Indigenous lands as dumping sites for nuclear waste. To reach those sites, the deadly material would travel through hundreds of disadvantaged neighborhoods, writes Chelsi Sparti of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.

Trophy hunting doesn’t help African countries: A report being used to attack Assembly Bill 1175, which would prevent Californians from possessing African hunting trophies, uses information from hunting associations, writes Michelle Kretzer of the PETA Foundation.


Other things worth your time

In this year’s atypical fire season, California politicians find the blame game won’t work. // Los Angeles Times

Firefighters slowly gain control of Bay Area fires, but conditions expected to worsen amid upcoming heat wave. // San Francisco Chronicle

Why some residents who fled Bay Area fires never got evacuation alerts. // Mercury News

Runaways, prostitution and a girl’s death: How Sacramento’s largest group home failed its kids. // Sacramento Bee


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...