Starting today, millions of Californians will be subject to new stay-at-home orders amid a third wave of COVID-19 infections that has hospitalized a record number of residents.

Under Los Angeles County’s new stay-at-home order — which lasts through Dec. 20 — almost all gatherings are banned, and retail stores must further limit capacity. Santa Clara County, the Bay Area’s largest, announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for residents entering the region from more than 150 miles away, new capacity limits for retail stores, and a ban on contact sports. The new directives, which last through Dec. 21, will effectively ban San Francisco 49ers practices and games at Levi’s Stadium.

These restrictions are on top of the state curfew — which now applies to 99% of residents — and come as California shattered its previous record for coronavirus hospitalizations. On Sunday, 7,415 Californians with COVID-19 were hospitalized or in intensive-care units, compared to a previous high of 7,170 in July, CalMatters’ tracker shows. Average daily deaths also shot up 44% in the last two weeks, though they remain significantly below record levels, state data show.

Amid concerns that cases and hospitalizations could surge even higher following the Thanksgiving holiday, other Bay Area counties said they would consider orders similar to Santa Clara’s, while Los Angeles plans to implement an even more restrictive stay-at-home order if cases keep increasing.

The tighter rules are just another gut punch to struggling businesses and restaurants, and resistance is rising. This week, Lancaster, a city in Los Angeles County, will consider a no-confidence vote in the county’s public health officer, as well as potentially establishing its own public health department. Other officials are fed up.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 1,198,934 confirmed coronavirus cases and 19,121 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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1. State improperly issued oil well permits

An oil derrick in Bakersfield. Image via iStock

California oil regulators ignored their own rules and issued inappropriate permits for hundreds of new wells last year, according to a scathing Department of Finance audit released the day before Thanksgiving. Although the audit found that the California Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM, “generally” complied with regulations, it also identified significant breaches that the department is required to address in a corrective action plan due in 60 days. CalGEM’s breaches include:

  • Issuing 201 oil well permits between April and October 2019 using “dummy folders,” which allowed the projects to move forward without required reviews or approval.
  • Allowing companies to modify large projects without required reviews — in one such case, CalGEM approved adding 400 new wells to an existing project.
  • Failing to update permit review policies and procedures for the past decade.
  • Incorrectly mapping and diagramming some proposed fracking projects, while failing to document risk assessment for others.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has come under fire for approving new fracking permits even as he tasked the state Legislature with halting the practice by 2024. Many of the new permits have gone to Aera Energy — a firm represented by lobbyist Jason Kinney, whose birthday Newsom was celebrating at the infamous French Laundry dinner.

2. Unemployment backlog rising again

Image via iStock

The backlog of claims at California’s unemployment department is growing again after weeks of decline, representing the latest pitfall for the beleaguered agency and the hundreds of thousands of residents unable to access their benefits. The backlog, which fell from 1.6 million in September to 590,000 on Nov. 19, increased to 622,000 on Thursday, according to figures released by the Employment Development Department. The news came a day after prosecutors revealed that California may have paid up to $1 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims filed on behalf of prison and jail inmates. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers demanded answers in a letter to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, whose company froze more than 358,000 debit cards loaded with unemployment benefits due to potential fraud, CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler reports.

  • The lawmakers: “It is simply unacceptable that Californians entitled to benefits are suddenly not able to obtain them due to a Bank of America determination that is impossible to appeal.”

3. Project Homekey progress report

Americas Best Value Inn Corte Madera, a Project Homekey site, on Nov. 13, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Just how successful has Project Homekey — Newsom’s $800 million effort to convert property into homeless housing — been? Although the state has issued grants to buy 97 properties containing more than 6,100 housing units, only 25 projects have closed escrow so far, and seven have fallen through, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports. Despite federal funds and the ability to bypass lengthy approval processes, local governments and neighbors are still finding ways to prevent the projects. Still, advocates say they can’t remember a time when the state has added so much homeless housing stock so quickly. But even if all of the properties end up closing escrow, it won’t be enough to make a visible dent in California’s homelessness problem: at last count, more than 150,000 residents were experiencing homelessness.

  • Dr. Margot Kushel of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations: “If we hadn’t done Roomkey, if we hadn’t done Homekey, things would have looked even worse. When things look like they’re the same, what people are not seeing is that the same is a lot better than worse.”

4. CA GOP makes a comeback

California Republican Party chair Jessica Millan Patterson shakes hands with a delegate in February 2019. Photo by Ben Christopher for CalMatters

2020 has been the best year for California Republicans in more than a decade, despite the fact that President Donald Trump lost the state by nearly 30 percentage points, Politico reports. Not only did the GOP claw back at least three of the seven House seats lost to Democrats in 2018 — with another too close to call — it also regained its status as the state’s second-largest party after falling behind No-Party-Preference voters in 2018. Meanwhile, California’s progressive reputation was complicated by voters’ rejection of affirmative action, rent control and a commercial property tax hike, as well as their approval of labor law exemptions for gig-economy companies. And although Democrats hold every California statewide office and supermajorities in the Legislature, the GOP is setting its sights on the 2022 gubernatorial election as Newsom is besieged with fallout from the French Laundry fiasco and unemployment department scandals.


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The Year of Loss

The pandemic has touched all of us. We have lost loved ones. Our health and mental health have been challenged. We have lost jobs, income, housing, stability. Our children have missed out on school, birthday parties and graduations.

Each of us has a story to tell about the impact of this past year. CalMatters wants to hear yours. What have you lost in 2020? Fill out our survey.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom insists his management of the pandemic is driven by science, but a new study shows school closures will shorten children’s lives.

Dearth of doctors: Here are a few ways California can address its shortage of health care workers, writes Brian Ternan, CEO of Health Net.

Solving water issues: 2021 will be an important year when it comes to implementing major changes in water law, argue Cannon Michael of Bowles Farming Co. and Ann Hayden of the Environmental Defense Fund.


Other things worth your time

The lobbyist who Newsom celebrated at the French Laundry has a history of controversy. // Sacramento Bee

Are California prison guards covering up misconduct? Lawmaker wants an investigation. // Sacramento Bee

Newsom appoints new head of state’s troubled recycling agency. // CBS Sacramento

Two shot, killed at Northern California mall on Black Friday. // Associated Press

More than 3,000 Californians had their power shut off on Thanksgiving amid wildfire danger. // CNN

Wildfires deal another blow to Northern California’s fragile bee populations. // San Francisco Chronicle

Wildfire smoke is poisoning California’s kids. Some pay a higher price. // New York Times

S.F. renters gain rare leverage with vacancies up, prices down. // San Francisco Chronicle

California bill seeks to give tribes more standing to recover sacred objects from museums. // San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

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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...