Good morning, California. It’s Friday, September 18.
Three bills signed into law
As California enters its sixth month of the pandemic and coronavirus outbreaks rip through garment factories, meatpacking plants, fast-food chains and strawberry fields, Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state agencies took action Thursday to expand worker protections.
Newsom signed a trio of bills Thursday that he said “prioritize our … frontline essential workforce that we pay a lot of lip service to but often we don’t back up.” They include:
- A bill requiring employers to notify employees of potential COVID-19 exposure at work and to notify county health departments of outbreaks.
- A bill that presumes essential workers were infected with COVID-19 on the job, making it easier for them to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
- A bill guaranteeing more Californians can return to their jobs after taking paid family leave to care for a new baby or sick loved one.
Though the last bill was introduced before the pandemic hit, supporters said COVID-19 underscored its importance.
- First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a key influence on Newsom’s parenting agenda: “COVID-19 revealed how vulnerable we are when we do not support parents, and moms in particular, in their dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners.”
Also on Thursday, the standards board of Cal/OSHA — the state agency that regulates workplace health and safety — voted unanimously to develop an emergency standard for COVID-19 risks. The standard, which could be adopted as soon as November, would outline new safety requirements for employers and give Cal/OSHA stronger enforcement powers.
And earlier this week, Santa Barbara County apparently became the first to enforce workplace COVID-19 protections for farmworkers brought on a special visa from other countries to harvest produce in the U.S., CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports.
- Assemblymember Robert Rivas, a Hollister Democrat who authored another farmworker protection bill on Newsom’s desk, in April: “I think people do care. … They certainly realize that as we go through this pandemic, our supermarkets are stocked with fresh food, meat and produce because of farmworkers.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 766,201 confirmed coronavirus cases and 14,721 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. Late: strike team’s unemployment department solutions
Something I’m keeping an eye out for next week: a roadmap of solutions for the various problems confronting California’s unemployment department, which Newsom said would be shared within 45 days of forming a “strike team” on July 29. When I asked Newsom Wednesday why the report hadn’t been shared despite more than 45 days passing, he said it was “all but done” and he was waiting for the department to clarify what it planned to do with the strike team’s recommendations. The governor’s comments came the same day the Beverly Hills Police Department revealed it had arrested 44 people and confiscated 129 fraudulently obtained debit cards potentially containing more than $2.5 million in unemployment benefits, according to the Los Angeles Times.
- The police department: “They will then use the cards to lease short-term rentals, rent luxury vehicles, dine at restaurants and purchase high-end merchandise.”
Fraud is one of the components that the state auditor will examine in an emergency audit of the unemployment department, set to begin by the end of September. Newsom also said in July that the department anticipated eliminating its backlog of “actionable claims” by the end of September.
2. California sets median home price record — again
The median price of a California home shot up to a record $706,900 in August — breaking the $700,000 mark for the first time while also smashing previous records set in June and July — as home sales reached their highest level in more than a decade, according to a Wednesday report from the California Association of Realtors. San Mateo took the crown for the county with the highest median price for sold single-family homes at a whopping $1.8 million.
- Leslie Appleton-Young, CAR chief economist: “Persistently low housing inventory will continue to push up home prices due to heavy buyer competition, which is starting to outweigh the benefits of record low interest rates and hamper housing affordability.”
The record comes as data released Thursday from the U.S. Census’ American Housing Survey show that about 28% of California tenant households spend more than 50% of their income on rent.
3. California wildfire update
Gusty winds forecast through tonight in the Sierra Nevada could exacerbate the North Complex wildfire, the fifth-deadliest and sixth-largest in state history, state fire officials said Thursday. The news comes as 17,400 firefighters battle 26 major wildfires, including the Bobcat Fire in Los Angeles, which forced additional evacuations Thursday. Yosemite National Park shut down indefinitely Thursday due to unhealthy air quality caused by wildfire smoke, joining Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, which shut down earlier this week. Last week, the U.S. Forest Service closed all 18 of California’s national forests in the most extensive fire closure of public lands in state history.
4. Controversial water project back to drawing board
A water company withdrew its application for a controversial desalination project in the Monterey Bay town of Marina on Wednesday, one day before it was set to come before the California Coastal Commission for a final vote, the Los Angeles Times reports. The decision would have been the first big test of the commission’s new power to consider a project’s impact on underserved communities, with major implications for the water-challenged Monterey Peninsula. California American Water plans to bring their desalination proposal back to the commission after a few months of conversations with Marina residents, many of whom favor a recycled water project — Pure Water Monterey — to meet the region’s water needs.
Time is running out. Cal Am — which supplies water to most of the Monterey Peninsula at some of the highest rates in the country — is under state orders to stop overpumping the Carmel River by December 2021, and has been trying to find an alternative water supply since 1995. For more on the complicated politics of Cal Am’s project, check out CalMatters commentaries in support and in opposition.
Travel responsibly: The California tourism industry understands the imperative to provide a safe environment. Here’s what it’s done to make travel safer, writes Gene Zanger, a board member of Visit California.
Not just business as usual: AT&T California is publicly supporting and actively advocating for the passage of key reforms, argues Rhonda Johnson, president of AT&T California.
Redirect funds from high-speed rail: California’s leaders are sending mixed messages about our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and buying electric vehicles, writes Felicia Williams, a Pasadena resident.
Other things worth your time
The recurring trauma of California wildfires. // The New Yorker
California is turning the corner on coronavirus. Will it last? // Los Angeles Times
Newsom says California has no restriction preventing PAC-12 football from restarting. // Los Angeles Daily News
Orange County mayors call on Newsom to let Disneyland and Knott’s reopen. // Los Angeles Times
More than 850 inmates at Folsom Prison have caught COVID-19, most of them in the past two weeks. // Sacramento Bee
State watchdog investigating Assemblymember Kansen Chu’s campaign spending. // Mercury News
Redondo Beach says it will sue state water board over power plant extension. // Daily Breeze
See you Monday.
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