Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, October 8.

1.57 million claims unresolved

California’s unemployment department is in the hot seat — again.

Lawmakers ripped into the besieged agency in a Wednesday oversight hearing, exposing the breadth of challenges facing the Employment Development Department as it resumes accepting claims after a two-week reset period that ended Monday. During those two weeks, the department held off at least 136,000 new claims to give it time to implement a new ID-verification tool and address a backlog of nearly 1.6 million claims. Here’s a look at some of the main problems brought up in the hearing:

Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Laguna Beach Democrat, countered Hilliard’s assertion in previous hearings that backlogged claims were due to outdated technology and a lack of staffing.

  • Petrie-Norris: “The strike team report points out that this backlog is due not to outdated technology, but to operational shortcomings. … And in terms of the hiring of a few thousands (sic) of new staff members, the strike team report points out that that was not only just a total waste of taxpayer dollars, but … ultimately made things even worse.”
  • Hilliard: “We do need all these people and we’ve just moved them to different areas of responsibility until such time we get through the backlog and we can continue to train them.”

The department still had a backlog of 1.57 million unresolved claims as of Sept. 30, the most recent date for which data are available.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 831,225 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16,228 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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During last night’s vice-presidential debate, Kamala Harris gave American voters a preview of criminal justice policy under a Biden-Harris administration by pointing to her California record. As Ben Christopher writes, it was a selective summary.

Other stories you should know

1. State won’t pay for controversial voting contract, controller says

Photo by Robbie Short for CalMatters

The California State Controller’s office will not approve payment of the controversial $35 million voter-education contract that Secretary of State Alex Padilla awarded to public-affairs firm SKD Knickerbocker to conduct the Vote Safe California campaign, Jennifer Hanson, a spokesperson for the controller’s office, told me Wednesday. The news comes three weeks after state Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove demanded an investigation into the contract following a Sacramento Bee report that one of the firm’s managing directors is a senior adviser to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and several Vote Safe team members have worked on the campaigns of prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris.

Hanson told me that the secretary of state cited a “legally insufficient” budget appropriation that does not support payment — raising questions about how the state plans to pay the $35 million it owes SKD Knickerbocker. The budget allocated that $35 million to counties to help cover election costs, including ballot printing, mailing and postage, and additional staffing.

Both the secretary of state’s office and Heather Wilson, head of SKD Knickerbocker’s California office, told me work on the Vote Safe campaign is continuing.

  • Paula Valle, chief communications officer for the secretary of state’s office, told me: “We continue to work with the State Controller’s office, the Department of Finance, and others to determine the best method of payment for this voter education campaign.”

2. Newsom leans into executive orders

Newsom announces an executive order on Sept. 23, 2020, at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Photo by Daniel Kim, The Sacramento Bee via AP/Pool

Newsom on Wednesday committed to protecting 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030, signing an executive order that directs the state’s Natural Resources Agency to develop such a blueprint by February 2022. But in many ways, the state has already achieved that goal — raising questions as to whether the governor’s executive order was largely symbolic, the Mercury News reports. Interestingly, the executive order also codifies two bills that failed to pass the Legislature earlier this year — Assembly Bill 3030, which would have set a goal of conserving 30% of the state’s land and waters by 2030, and Assembly Bill 2954, which would have directed agencies to sequester carbon in the state’s natural and working lands in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

This legislative bypassing could rankle some lawmakers, who have chafed under Newsom’s expanded authority amid the pandemic and pushed for a greater role in decisionmaking. More executive orders are likely — when Newsom banned the sale of gas-powered cars starting in 2035 in an executive order less than two weeks ago, he said his team was “working on a series of additional executive orders” addressing climate change.

3. Prop. 24 divides consumer-privacy advocates

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters; iStock

Prop. 24 is one of the most confounding fights on California’s November ballot. The measure that would give Californians new rights over how companies use their digital data has resulted in consumer-privacy advocates fighting among themselves while tech companies lie low, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. To make matters even more complicated, the opposing campaigns are led by two Bay Area residents who were once allies in trying to win Californians the strongest data privacy law in the nation — the very law that Prop. 24 would amend. Confused yet? Check out Laurel’s article for more on why this measure has divided the privacy community.

4. The challenges of hybrid learning

First-grade teacher Mary Samis on the first day of in-person classes at Arroyo Vista Elementary School in Rancho Santa Margarita on Sept. 29, 2020. Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG

It turns out that developing “hybrid learning” plans — in which some students attend in-person classes for part of the time and learn remotely part of the time, while other students learn remotely full-time — is extraordinarily complicated. And as more California schools gain permission from the state to reopen, more and more school officials are “flying the plane and inventing what we’re building as we’re going,” in the words of Marian Kim Phelps, superintendent of San Diego County’s Poway Unified School District. Yet another hurdle: trying to balance the widely divergent beliefs of families and teachers on when, how and if schools should reopen, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

  • Jim Hanlon, an assistant superintendent in Chico Unified: “We have parents on one end of the spectrum begging us to reopen the schools, and we have parents clearly on the other side saying it is absolutely foolish to open the schools. And then there’s a whole bunch of people in between.”


Upcoming events

CalMatters is hosting “Props to You” events — virtual Q&As for you to ask all of your burning questions about the 12 propositions on California’s November ballot. Register here. Each event runs from 6-7pm.

CalMatters commentary

Prop. 22 hurts gig workers: It would legalize wage theft, leaving workers without core protections like sick leave or workers’ compensation, argues Rey Fuentes of the Partnership for Working Families.

Prop. 22 protects gig workers: Being a rideshare driver has provided a lifeline amid the pandemic, and has given me the flexibility to focus on music — my passion, argues Dave Thomasson, a West Covina musician and Lyft driver.

Other things worth your time

Hope fades for fire-dampening rainfall in Napa, Sonoma counties. // San Francisco Chronicle

Report: More than 100,000 low-income California college students lack internet access. // CalMatters

Four Bay Area counties fall short of state’s new coronavirus equity metrics. // San Francisco Chronicle

‘We’re going to be stubborn about it’: Newsom says theme parks won’t reopen anytime soon. // Sacramento Bee

Staff member in Newsom’s office tests positive for COVID-19. // Los Angeles Times

This was supposed to be the year for California’s homeless. Instead it’s a slow ‘train wreck.’ // Los Angeles Times

ICE arrests 128 undocumented immigrants in California sanctuary cities. // San Francisco Chronicle

UC Berkeley biochemist wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry. // 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...