Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, November 12.

Dwindling options

Proposition 15 is dead — and with it, one of California’s few remaining hopes of infusing money into local governments and schools staring down massive deficits.

The Associated Press called the race late Tuesday night with 51.8% of voters opposing and 48.2% supporting the campaign to raise taxes on commercial properties. For Prop. 15‘s supporters, it signaled how close they were to winning a majority of the vote. For its opponents, it underscored the enduring power of Prop. 13, the landmark 1978 measure that capped property taxes and limited state and local governments’ ability to raise new revenue, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

Prop. 15 would have raised up to $11.5 billion annually, funneling 60% to local governments and 40% to schools and community colleges. But the money wouldn’t have been available until 2022 — too late for schools trying to physically reopen campuses and brace for even larger budget deficits next year, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

What exactly lawmakers will do to address the problem remains unclear. California’s earlier bet on a federal stimulus package didn’t pay off, and though schools and local governments are staking their hopes on President-Elect Joe Biden providing financial relief, that bet may not pay off either.

That leaves Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators with two unappealing choices: Raise taxes, or cut services that primarily benefit the poor.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 984,682 confirmed coronavirus cases and 18,070 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.


1. Largest county backslide yet

A man bikes along Mission Beach in San Diego on Sept. 9, 2020. On Tuesday, 11 counties including San Diego, Sacramento and Contra Costa moved into more restrictive tiers. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A man bikes along Mission Beach in San Diego on Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Eleven counties moved into more restrictive reopening tiers Tuesday in the largest backslide since the state introduced its new reopening framework in August. It also marked the first week that no counties moved forward into a less restrictive tier. San Diego, Sacramento and Stanislaus regressed into the most restrictive purple tier, a category that now contains more than half the state’s population and prohibits restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and places of worship from operating indoors. Additional counties are teetering on the edge of more restrictive tiers, and some — including San Francisco — preemptively shut down indoor dining. Others, including Placer County, refuse to enforce the tighter restrictions.

The latest whiplash of openings and closures is likely to exacerbate tensions between counties and the state, while also widening the rift between Newsom and the business community. Disneyland announced more furloughs Monday, blaming the state’s “untenable” coronavirus rules, and a group of restaurants recently sued California government agencies to reclaim millions of dollars in liquor and health fees.

  • Lapsley of the California Business Roundtable: “Despite the governor and public health officials citing family gatherings as the main cause of the increase in COVID cases, it’s once again the workers and small business owners that is (sic) paying the price.”

2. Progress report on new state lab

Technicians conduct COVID-19 tests at a new facility Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Valencia. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo/Pool
Technicians conduct COVID-19 tests at the state’s new lab in Valencia on Oct. 30, 2020. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo/Pool

Less than two weeks after Newsom opened a $25-million lab to double California’s coronavirus testing capacity, the facility is grappling with a “higher number than expected” of inconclusive test results due in part to a chemical reaction failing to occur, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Tuesday. Ghaly added the problem has since been resolved. Rodger Butler, a spokesperson for the California Health and Human Services Agency, told me Wednesday approximately 5% of the tests conducted in the lab’s first week came back inconclusive, compared to 2% currently. The lab has processed 40,000 tests so far, Butler said.

In addition, some test results have taken more than five days to turn around — despite the fact that diagnostics company PerkinElmer is obligated under its $1.4 billion contract with California to provide test results within 24 to 48 hours. Butler told me the lab is returning 92% of tests within 48 hours.

This isn’t California’s first testing hurdle. In August, a tech glitch led to a backlog of a quarter-million lab records, likely catalyzing the resignation of the director of California’s public health department. Last month, another glitch-induced backlog caused Los Angeles County’s coronavirus positivity rate to swell significantly.

3. Remote county faces firefighter shortage

A sign on the eastern side of Cedarville in Modoc County on July 8, 2020. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

Modoc County, a region prone to lightning-sparked wildfires, will lose its inmate firefighting camp by the end of the year — leaving the area vulnerable and more than 100 miles of winding rural roads away from the nearest fire camp. When California last month announced plans to close eight inmate firefighting camps — even as the state struggled with a severe firefighter shortage — officials said they would try to minimize impacts to isolated communities that rely on the services provided by inmate fire crews. Modoc appears to be the only region left without nearby resources to help fight fires, raising concerns about its ability to respond to dangerous, fast-moving blazes, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo reports.

  • Modoc County Supervisor Ned Coe: “Response times to fires are going to be greatly extended, which is not conducive to getting ahead on fires while they’re still small. Additionally, the fire crews in the off season provide a huge service in the form of conservation work that they do in the community.”


Upcoming events

Monday, Nov. 16 from 1-2pm: The Future of Work: A Q&A With California Mayors. CalMatters talks with mayors around the state about how they plan to confront their communities’ most pressing issues during the pandemic. Register | Submit Your Questions

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: There’s no shortage of post-election angst in California, including finger-pointing and rationalizations among those who lost.

Newsom’s historic opportunity: Newsom should appoint California’s first Latino or Latina senator to fill Kamala Harris’ Senate seat, argues Claudia Medina of the Latino Community Foundation.

COVID inequities: A new study shows striking health disparities revealed in higher rates of COVID-19 antibodies among Orange County’s minority communities, writes Bernadette Boden-Albala of UC Irvine’s Program in Public Health.

Reimagine racist policing: It’s time for California to stop enforcing non-traffic infraction laws, argues Tifanei Ressl-Moyer of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.


Other things worth your time

Newsom’s first state Supreme Court Justice nominee unanimously confirmed. // CalMatters

Newsom eases penalties for 35 former felons. // Associated Press

Democrats poised to expand their control of California Legislature. // Los Angeles Times

Biden’s education transition team gets California leader. // Los Angeles Times

California would decriminalize psychedelic drugs under Scott Wiener bill. // San Francisco Chronicle

Did renters’ rights shape Oakland elections this year? // Oaklandside

Kings County election department shuts down due to COVID-19, delaying results. // Bakersfield Californian

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors one step closer to ousting sheriff Alex Villanueva. // Los Angeles Magazine

Health officials want Sacramento County executive fired. // Sacramento Bee

No more natural gas in San Francisco buildings starting next year. // San Francisco Chronicle

Bison plan for California’s Catalina Island stirs debate. // Associated Press

Emily Harrington’s record-setting ascent of El Capitan. // New York Times

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...