Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, November 18.

State of the state

As California enters its third shutdown of the pandemic, is it better prepared to tamp down the spread of the virus — and handle the economic fallout — than it was when Gov. Gavin Newsom initiated prior lockdowns in March and July? Here’s a look at where the state stands on three key fronts: testing, the economy and education.

— Testing. California conducted an average of 156,000 daily tests over the past two weeks, compared to 114,000 at the same point in July and about 1,900 in early April, state data show. The state recently unveiled a $25 million lab to double total testing capacity, though it was plagued with an unexpectedly high number of inconclusive test results during its first week. Meanwhile, cities are expanding their testing efforts ahead of Thanksgiving — though health officials worry many residents are getting tested to justify going to parties or traveling.

— Economy. One piece of bright news: The state collected $11 billion more in revenue for the first four months of the fiscal year than originally projected, according to a Tuesday report from the state Department of Finance. Still, significant challenges remain. With more businesses forced to close their doors or limit services, more Californians will likely file for unemployment and find it harder to make rent or mortgage payments — even as the state’s eviction moratorium is set to expire in February.

  • State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins: “The need for federal stimulus is still critical … to help California continue to meet some of our state’s most pressing needs, which includes enhancing unemployment benefits, providing relief for renters and mom-and-pop landlords, and supporting local governments and our schools.”

— Education. With 94% of California’s population now in the most restrictive tier, it looks increasingly unrealistic that millions of K-12 students will be able to return to campus in January. Meanwhile, California community colleges have seen a 9% drop in enrollment, potentially decreasing the number of students who go on to earn bachelor’s degrees, CalMatters’ Emma Hall and Tess Kazenoff report.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 1,037,978 confirmed coronavirus cases and 18,299 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. Auditor: State wasted $2.7 billion for affordable housing

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

California’s affordable housing shortage is due in part to the state’s failure to develop a well-coordinated plan, which allowed a state agency to mismanage and ultimately lose $2.7 billion that could have financed thousands of affordable housing units, according to a scathing report the state auditor released Tuesday. The news comes as California scrambles to find permanent homes for homeless people temporarily housed in hotels amid the pandemic and thousands of renters stare down an eviction moratorium that expires in February. Although the state needs to build an estimated 125,000 affordable housing units annually through 2029 to meet demand, it’s only supported an average of 19,000 units annually, the auditor found. A major factor: California’s labyrinthine financing process. While most large states have one department that handles affordable housing funding, California has five — and they report to different elected officials, meaning no one oversees the entire system, the Los Angeles Times reports. The lack of state oversight has also slowed development in cities and counties, which as of June 2019 had issued building permits for only 11% of the affordable units in their housing plans.

To overhaul the process, the auditor recommended eliminating one of the state agencies, improving communication among the others, and strengthening state oversight of local development. On Monday, the California Department of Housing and Community Development announced it would temporarily pause some affordable housing funding programs while other state agencies revised their funding criteria in order to “achieve increased collaboration and alignment for our customers.”

2. The battle over state psychiatric beds

Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County on June 26, 2013. Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG

As coronavirus ravages California’s psychiatric hospital system, the Department of State Hospitals has found itself enmeshed in a web of lawsuits — one asking it to release patients, another asking it to admit more. Disability rights advocates want the hospitals to release medically fragile patients, arguing the system hasn’t done enough to mitigate the risks of a virus that has so far infected 500 staff members and 400 patients, 19 of whom have died. Yet the hospitals are also under pressure in court to admit more patients — namely, mentally ill inmates from the state prison system, through which coronavirus has spread rapidly, Lee Romney reports for CalMatters. The inmates’ attorneys say the hospitals should start accepting prisoners without first requiring they test negative for COVID-19, as well as those who have tested positive. A federal judge could rule as early as Thursday on the matter.

3. Newsom signs Klamath River deal

A view of the Klamath River in Weitchpec on Sept. 17, 2020. Photo by Alexandra Hootnick for CalMatters

Newsom and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday threw their weight behind a controversial $450 million plan to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, signing a deal that holds their two states financially liable for any unexpected costs or damages in the course of demolition. Though federal regulators still need to sign off on the plan, officials said they were optimistic the demolition would start by 2023. Removing the dams will restore a 400-mile salmon run, a win for commercial fishermen and the Karuk and Yurok tribes, which have long relied on the runs to feed their families. But the deal is fiercely opposed by Siskiyou County residents, who recreate in the lakes created by the dams and say their property values will drop once they’re removed.


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: If Newsom continues to ooze hypocritical privilege, his first gubernatorial term could be his last.

Ethnic studies strengthens democracy: The latest recommendations to California’s proposed ethnic studies curriculum are a bold step forward for students, writes Albert Camarillo, a Stanford University professor of American history.

Upzoning isn’t a racial-justice tool: Progressives often conflate market-rate housing production with sorely needed welfare, argues Isaiah Madison of Livable California.


Other things worth your time

Los Angeles County cuts hours for some businesses to limit virus spread. // Los Angeles Times

Several California lawmakers emerge as apparent attendees of Maui conference. // Politico

The strange saga of San Francisco principals being ordered back to empty schools. // Mission Local

Will ‘Amtrak Joe’ bail out California’s troubled bullet train? Don’t count on it. // Los Angeles Times

State move to telework could seriously affect Sacramento office market. // Sacramento Business Journal

University of California agrees to $73 million sex abuse settlement. // Associated Press

Ponzi scheme suspect flees into California lake using underwater ‘sea scooter.’ // Sacramento Bee

Why this San Francisco neighborhood has one of the nation’s lowest carbon footprints. // San Francisco Chronicle

Paleontologists discover three new species of extinct walruses in Orange County. // Science Daily


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...