Thirty-two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order, counties across California are forming coalitions to challenge what they say is prolonged top-down rule from Sacramento.

Officials from 12 rural counties gathered Thursday for the “Conference of North State Representatives,” an event aimed at “restor(ing) representative democracy for our citizens.” On the agenda: challenging the state’s public health guidelines, charting a path to reopen schools and businesses, and protesting Newsom’s withholding of federal coronavirus funds from local governments that don’t comply with state orders. The conference was organized by five Republican lawmakers, including Assemblymembers James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley, who are currently challenging one of Newsom’s executive orders in court.

  • Gallagher told me: “There’s a lot of broad consensus among the counties that … we should be able to return to local control of the crisis and not be stuck under this (tiered reopening) metric for the long term.”

In Southern California, Riverside County is pushing for a partnership of its own. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a report that calls on the region to band together and communicate to Sacramento “the devastating impacts” of the state’s tiered reopening system.

  • Supervisor Kevin Jeffries: “There is the potential that certain counties are getting preferential treatment. Generally, if you’re Bay Area, you’re treated in much higher regard, much more respect. And the inland counties, you’re basically poorer counties and, ‘Good luck, you’re on your own.'”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The push for more local flexibility comes amid a slight statewide uptick in coronavirus cases, positivity rates, hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions after months of decline. Californians traveling to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut now have to quarantine for two weeks after arrival, the three states announced this week — about a month after the Golden State was removed from their quarantine list.

Nevertheless, California’s coronavirus positivity rate of 3.2% over the past seven days remains significantly below the national average of 6.3%.

______________

The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 912,904 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17,541 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.


President Trump has spent much of 2020 warning voters not to trust the vote-by-mail system. Here’s how it could backfire for the California GOP, writes Ben Christopher.


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1. Newsom silent on Prop. 22

Newsom answers questions after voting at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Oct. 29, 2020. Photo by Renée C. Byer, The Sacramento Bee/Pool

Newsom cast his ballot Thursday — but refused to disclose how he voted on Prop. 22, the most expensive ballot measure in state history that would exempt Uber and Lyft from a labor law the governor signed last year. His reticence is remarkable given his vocal support for the law, which reclassified many independent contractors as employees. In a 2019 Sacramento Bee editorial, Newsom slammed “companies eager to save on labor costs” who “shirk responsibility to safety net programs like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance” by classifying workers as independent contractors instead of employees. He also emphasized the importance of “creating new ways for workers to organize.” Yet Prop. 22, which would keep gig drivers classified as independent contractors — and prohibit them from unionizing — was just one of three measures on which Newsom didn’t take a public stance. (The other two are Prop. 23, which also pits unions against big business, and Prop. 24, another measure involving tech companies.)

Newsom’s silence also sets him apart from prominent Democratic lawmakers — including presidential and vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and a slew of state legislators — who publicly oppose Prop. 22.

  • Newsom, in response to my question on how he voted on Prop. 22: “There are some that I’m going to let the people decide. … And I want to position ourselves as relates to this issue in a position where we could accommodate if there is a need and desire to see some compromise on this issue.”

2. The cost of a ballot campaign win

Image via iStock

Speaking of propositions, California ballot campaigns that spent more money than their opponents won 67% of the time on Election Day, according to a Thursday report from the California Target Book that examined spending on the 112 statewide ballot measures voters faced from 2006 through the March 2020 primary.

  • Marva Diaz, editor of California Target Book: “It’s not surprising that campaigns that spend more win more. The anomalies seem to be those where voters have a predisposed point of view that dollars cannot sway.”

Here’s a look at spending and polling for the four most expensive ballot campaigns this election.

3. State auditor unveils wasteful spending

California State Auditor Elaine Howle gives a press briefing in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California state agencies inappropriately spent more than $800,000 and the state stands to wastefully spend millions more if it doesn’t take corrective action, according to a Thursday report from the state auditor. The report, based off investigations into dozens of whistleblower complaints against state agencies, found “wasteful and improper personnel decisions, improper contracting, a conflict of interest, misuse of state resources, and dishonesty.” State Auditor Elaine Howle highlighted a few key examples:

  • The Department of State Hospitals gave 17 tele-psychiatrists extra retirement benefits meant for workers exposed to a risk of physical injury, potentially costing the state millions.
  • The California Department of Veterans Affairs issued 10 emergency contracts totaling nearly $630,000 in circumstances that didn’t legally qualify as emergencies — including renovating two administrators’ housing units.
  • A Cal Fire battalion chief entered into a $100,000 contract with a construction company that employed his wife and was owned by his wife’s family.
  • Several departments preselected candidates for management positions and gave them inflated salaries.
  • Several California Department of Transportation employees used state-owned vehicles for their commutes, costing the state $22,000.

CalMatters commentary

Confidence in COVID-19 vaccine: Counterintuitively, vaccine side effects are actually a reason for optimism, write Jessica Saleska and Kristen Choi of UCLA.

California gradually banning handguns: Newsom recently signed a bill that solves no problems and creates yet another hurdle for law-abiding firearm manufacturers and consumers, argues Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.


Other things worth your time

California may “shatter the total vote record.” // CalMatters

What Cal/OSHA has — and hasn’t — been doing for workers. // CalMatters

Housing affordability crisis deepens in fire-prone parts of California. // Wall Street Journal

In California rent control battle, controversies swirl around funders on both sides. // The Appeal

Los Angeles’ surge in homicides fueled by gang violence, killings of homeless people. // Los Angeles Times

What it’s like to leave a California prison amid a pandemic. // The Guardian

Can LA County Supervisors remove Sheriff Villanueva? // Los Angeles Times

Santa Clara County education board race flooded with money, proxy battle between charters and unions. // Mercury News

They look like California news sites. Their backers: conservative operatives. // Sacramento Bee


See you Monday. Happy Halloween and Día de los Muertos!

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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...