Most Californians are waking up today to strong and dangerous winds — and some are waking up without power.

PG&E began shutting off power for about 172,000 customers in 22 counties late Monday night to mitigate fire risk amid strong winds forecasted to pummel much of the northern part of the state through Wednesday. In Southern California, powerful, dry Santa Ana winds at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour are expected through Wednesday.

The elevated fire danger, which follows a weekend of record-shattering high temperatures, comes as three of the four largest fires in California history simultaneously rage across the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday declared a state of emergency in five counties for three new fires — the Creek Fire, El Dorado Fire and Valley Fire — that exploded Friday and Saturday. More than 200 people were evacuated by military helicopters after getting trapped by the Creek Fire, which generated enormous pyrocumulonimbus clouds and likely set off fire tornadoes.

While the causes of the Creek and Valley fires remain unclear, state fire officials said Sunday the El Dorado Fire was caused by “a smoke generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party.” To limit human-caused fires, the National Forest Service on Monday closed eight national forests in Southern California.

Wildfires have now burned more than 2 million acres this year, setting a modern-day record for the Golden State. And peak fire season hasn’t yet set in. (Nor, for that matter, has peak Santa Ana wind season.)

  • Lynne Tolmachoff, a Cal Fire spokesperson: “It is a frightening thought. We’ve had bad years before, but this is different. … And we’ve just hit September. September and October have historically been two of our worst months.”
  • Newsom: “California has always been the canary in the coal mine for climate change, and this weekend’s events only underscore that reality.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 735,235 confirmed coronavirus cases and 13,726 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. New unemployment benefits on the way

Image via iStock

In a timely celebration of Labor Day, California’s unemployment department on Monday began sending $900 in federal benefits to millions of jobless workers — about two weeks after the Golden State’s application to President Donald Trump’s program was approved. The payment covers three installments of a $300 weekly benefit retroactive to the week that ended Aug. 1. Workers will later receive a $600 payment for an additional two weeks of benefits. To be eligible for the federal benefits, workers must be receiving at least $100 weekly in state benefits and have certified their unemployment is related to COVID-19.

The two-week turnaround time seems to represent progress for California’s beleaguered unemployment department, which in August said it could take up to 20 weeks to process new federal benefits. However, lawmakers on Thursday approved an emergency audit of the department amid reports of fraudulent claims — even as another 1 million remain backlogged.

2. Trump, Thurmond face off over California curriculum

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond at a press conference on Oct. 31, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

President Trump threatened Sunday to withdraw federal funding from California schools that plan to incorporate into their curriculum the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery … at the very center of our national narrative.” It’s unclear how many schools plan to use the project. Nevertheless, the president’s threat drew a Monday rebuke from California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

  • Thurmond: “California’s educators should feel empowered to lead courageous conversations with their students about the history of race and racism in our country — not worry if their school will lose funding.”

The ramped-up tension between California and the federal government comes a week after lawmakers sent a bill to Newsom’s desk that would require high school students to take an ethnic studies class. It also comes less than a month after Newsom signed into law a requirement for all California State University students to take an ethnic studies class.

3. Newsom weighs relief for undocumented Californians

Mariana with her children on Sept. 7. The family has fallen behind on rent due to Mariana and her husband, who are undocumented, both losing months of work amid the pandemic. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Undocumented Californians could receive $600 in emergency grocery money and those who pay taxes could receive the state’s tax credit for low-income workers starting next spring if Newsom signs two bills lawmakers recently sent to his desk, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports. The bills represent lawmakers’ latest attempt to patch together a partial pandemic safety net for undocumented Californians, who aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus payments. Left with no other option to stay afloat, many have been forced to keep showing up to work — even under unsafe conditions.

  • Manuel Pastor, a USC sociologist: “That’s certainly how agriculture, meatpacking and garment (industries) have been able to keep moving.”

Undocumented workers have also continued picking grapes in fire evacuation zones in Sonoma County to keep the wine industry going, the Intercept reports.

  • Gervacio Peña Lopez of the Movimiento Cultural de la Unión Indígena, an Indigenous workers’ group: “We work when there are rains, we work when there is fire, we work in whatever conditions. … There is no resource we can count on, so there’s nothing left but to work.”

4. California sets voter record

California mail-in-ballot. Image via iStock
California mail-in-ballot. Image via iStock

California on Friday surpassed 21 million active registered voters for the first time in history, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced. An updated voter breakdown will be released later this month, but data from July show that the percentages of Democrats and independents have increased since 2016, while the percentage of Republicans has decreased.

Other key findings from the July voter breakdown:

  • Likely voters are disproportionately white. Whites make up 41% of California’s adult population and 55% of likely voters, while Latinos make up 35% of adults and 21% of likely voters. Asian Americans make up 15% of adults and 14% of likely voters, and Blacks make up 6% of adults and likely voters.
  • Likely voters also tend to be older, more educated and homeowners. Californians 55 and older make up 33% of adults and 46% of likely voters, while Californians between the ages of 18 and 34 make up 32% of adults and 22% of likely voters. Eighty percent of likely voters have some college education or a college degree, and 66% are homeowners.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Democrats may dominate the California Legislature, but there’s still plenty of political conflict — including a rivalry between the Senate and Assembly.

End gig-economy exploitation: I’m one of the tens of thousands of Californians who drive for Uber or Lyft, and I have never received basic worker benefits or protections, writes Mekela Edwards, an Oakland Uber driver.

Protections for domestic workers: Although we clean houses after wildfires and amid COVID-19, we aren’t protected by Cal/OSHA. Newsom can change that by signing Senate Bill 1257, argues Socorro Diaz of the California Domestic Workers Coalition.

More peer supporters needed: Newsom has called for expanding the role of peer providers in mental health services, and he now has the opportunity to sign Senate Bill 803 into law, writes Keris Jän Myrick of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.


Other things worth your time

California’s eviction protections: What you need to know. // CalMatters

Medical board slams California doctor for exempting kids from school vaccinations. // CalMatters

Newsom signs bill allowing labor law exemptions for musicians, coaches, freelance journalists and more. // Sacramento Bee

Coronavirus shutdowns hit Vietnamese-owned nail salons hard. // CalMatters

Thousands gather for Christian music event at California Capitol, including the Republican leader of California’s state Senate. // Sacramento Bee

Burning Man gathering at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach was ‘reckless and selfish.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

Republican John Cox launches exploratory committee to challenge Newsom in 2022. // Fox LA

California Supreme Court consistently unanimous, even in contentious cases. // 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...