California ran up against a slate of important deadlines Thursday that could affect the state’s fiscal, political and environmental landscape for decades to come. Here’s a breakdown of what’s at stake:
—Federal stimulus. Thursday came and went, and the federal government did not pass another coronavirus relief package — dashing California’s hope of reversing $11 billion in cuts to state employee salaries, courts and higher education. Without an influx of federal funding, California will stare down a projected $8.7 billion budget deficit next year, forcing lawmakers to choose between raising taxes and slashing services that mainly benefit the poor.
- Chris Hoene of the California Budget and Policy Center: “Our state leaders must take action to provide greater state support and produce the revenues needed to make significant public investment in California’s future.”
—Census count. Thursday was also the final day of the U.S. Census, determining not only how much federal funding cash-strapped California will receive for the next decade but also the number of seats it will hold in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state had a self-response rate of around 69.4%, compared to 68.2% in 2010. Still, officials fear communities may have been undercounted in the nation’s hardest-to-count state, especially after the Trump administration shortened the census period.
—Exide bankruptcy. Whether Exide will get to walk away from its shuttered battery-recycling plant in Los Angeles — the site of the largest toxic contamination in California history — and leave taxpayers to shoulder millions of dollars in cleanup costs and health problems hinges on hearings in federal bankruptcy court that began Thursday. The U.S. Department of Justice is backing Exide’s plan, which state lawmakers have condemned.
- Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon: “If the proposed settlement is approved, it will be evidence to other industries around the country that they will not be held accountable for damage they cause to public health and the environment, despite our federal and state laws.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 858,401 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16,757 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. Trump rejects Newsom’s request for fire aid
The Trump administration has rejected California’s request for federal disaster relief funds to address at least $346 million in damages caused by six major wildfires, a spokesperson for Newsom’s Office of Emergency Services said late Thursday. Newsom asked Trump for the aid on Sept. 28, two weeks after the president visited California for a wildfire briefing in which he simultaneously touted his “very good relationship” with Newsom and pushed back on the idea that climate change was the principal reason for a historic fire season in which more than 4.1 million acres have burned. Trump has often threatened to withhold aid from California unless it improves its forest management policies — though nearly 60% of forests in California are managed by the federal government.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Trump denied California’s request, but Brian Ferguson of the state Office of Emergency Services told the Sacramento Bee that the state plans to appeal. He also noted that aid could come through another federal program, and that the Trump administration has been known to reverse a rejection, as it did with a request for $300 million to repair the Oroville Dam. The state will also likely submit another request for aid to respond to damage incurred by the deadly Zogg Fire and destructive Glass Fire.
2. Wave of state citations headed for Kaiser
California workplace safety officials have issued a “serious” citation against a Kaiser Permanente psychiatric facility in Santa Clara for failing to provide workers with adequate protection against COVID-19, but the problems facing the health care giant may run much deeper. Another wave of citations is expected to crash over Kaiser facilities statewide for failing to acknowledge that COVID can be transmitted via particles in the air, a source inside the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health told CalMatters’ Jackie Botts and Ana Ibarra. This marks a significant shift in Cal/OSHA’s education-over-enforcement approach to COVID complaints: Up until this week, the agency had closed 80 coronavirus-related complaints at Kaiser facilities without issuing a single citation.
3. Educational inequities widen
In yet another indication that the pandemic is amplifying educational inequalities, Native American and Black student enrollment in California community college courses dropped more steeply this spring than that of other racial groups as classes shifted online, according to a recent report from the Public Policy Institute of California. Native Americans’ course enrollment fell 36%, compared to 23% for Black students, 20% for white students, 18% for Latino and Pacific Islander students and 17% for Asian American students. Total course withdrawals increased by a whopping 54% compared to spring 2019, while the total number of community college students fell by 6%.
- The report’s authors: “This drop in enrollment numbers, combined with the dramatic rise in course withdrawals, will likely slow long-term educational trajectories, especially for students of color.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday the mayors of California’s 13 biggest cities sent Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond a letter urging them to safely reopen K-12 schools as soon as possible.
- The mayors: “Black, Latino, and low-income students, students with special needs, newcomer students, homeless and foster youth are particularly at risk of falling further behind their peers. Simply put, we are facing the greatest education equity crisis in most of our lifetimes.”
4. California’s looming water problem
California doesn’t just have to contend with a soon-to-expire eviction moratorium: It also has to handle the fallout from a water shutoff moratorium that has allowed residents to keep the water on even if they can’t pay their bills, accumulating millions of dollars of debt even as water providers are pushed to the financial brink, CapRadio reports. Some providers say they have seen revenues drop by 20 to 50%, and small water systems — which tend to serve high rates of low-income Californians — have been hit hardest, experts say.
- Jonathan Nelson of the Community Water Center: “Those water bills are going to come due. Not only is there no plan for what to do about that crisis of water debt and potential mass shutoffs next year, but we don’t even know the full scope of the problem.”
Oct. 21, 5-6:30pm: Rebuilding and Resiliency: How We Need to Handle Wildfires From Now On. In this two-part virtual event, CalMatters examines California wildfires through the lens of Rebuilding Paradise, a new documentary from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard. Register | Submit Your Questions
Census builds strong communities: Even though the Census was cut short, we can take solace in the fact that support for an accurate count cuts across racial and partisan lines, writes Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at UC Riverside.
Latinos must turn out to vote: California is home to the nation’s largest voting bloc of Latinos, who have also been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, writes Jose Garcia of the Latino Community Foundation.
Support Orange County desalination plant: The same people that oppose desalination plants forced the premature closure of power plants, and now we have rolling blackouts, argues Gloria Alvarado of the Orange County Labor Federation.
Other things worth your time
Power out to thousands of Bay Area residents until Friday as windy, warm weather continues. // San Francisco Chronicle
New maps show how climate change is making California’s fire weather worse. // ProPublica
Progressives call on Dianne Feinstein to step aside after Amy Coney Barrett hearings. // San Francisco Chronicle
For many Californians, the pandemic marks the end of ‘barely making it.’ // CalMatters
Ag commissioner issues ‘largest ever’ Monterey County fine against fumigation company. // Monterey County Weekly
Glendale becomes first California city to pass a resolution apologizing for history of racial exclusion. // Los Angeles Times
One man’s eye ‘exploded,’ another lost 8 teeth from LAPD projectiles fired at Lakers revelers. // Los Angeles Times
‘Domestic violence bordering on torture’: Records reveal years of allegations against Vallejo councilmember. // Open Vallejo
See you Monday.
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