Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, December 17.

People leaving for other states

California’s population is growing at the slowest rate in more than a century, showcasing the contradictions of a state known for its innovation, beauty and diversity but also for its high cost of living, destructive wildfires and homelessness.

The Golden State’s population increased by 0.05% from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020 — a rate not seen since 1900, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Finance. The state added 21,200 residents over that time period to bring its total population to 39.78 million, bigger than 21 states and the District of Columbia combined but still below the 40-million mark researchers had predicted California would cross in 2018.

Despite an influx of international immigrants, California actually lost 135,600 residents due to the high volume of people moving to other states. Thirty-two of 58 counties posted population losses, up from 25 in 2018-19. And for the first time this decade, seven of the state’s 10 largest counties saw more people moving out than coming in — with the exceptions of Fresno, Riverside and Sacramento.

The new data comes a week after a PPIC survey found that 45% of Californians don’t think the American Dream holds true anymore and 26% worry every day about the cost of housing. And with Elon Musk, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Oracle recently decamping to Texas, rumors of a mass California exodus have intensified — though five of the country’s eight most valuable companies are still based in Silicon Valley.

The pandemic has also affected California’s population growth, contributing to a spike in deaths and altering immigration patterns. Although lockdowns may have prevented some people from moving to California, they also pushed residents to leave as remote work continued and alternative lifestyles beckoned.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 1,671,081 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21,481 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. ICUs on the brink as shutdown challenged

Birgitta Ouni, RN, prepares a room for a patient in the Critical Care Unit at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton on December 1, 2020. Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG
Registered nurse Birgitta Ouni prepares a room at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton on Dec. 1, 2020. Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG

The Bay Area’s ICU capacity fell to 12.9% on Wednesday, triggering a regional lockdown that now applies to more than 98% of the state’s population. The picture was even grimmer in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, which had ICU capacities of 0% and 0.5%, respectively. Hospitals were so overwhelmed that some ambulances were forced to wait six hours to deliver their patients or were turned away altogether. In addition, more than 180 hospitals have applied for staffing waivers to stretch a limited health care workforce across more patients — increasing the probability of staff burnout as well as of lower quality patient care.

But some of the state’s lockdown measures were thrown into question Wednesday when a superior court judge ruled that two San Diego strip clubs could remain open in a sweeping decision that also apparently applies to the county’s restaurants. The ruling came about a week after a superior court judge issued a withering rebuke to Los Angeles County’s outdoor dining ban.

2. Can women be charged with murder for stillbirths?

Image via iStock

Two women who delivered stillborn babies, allegedly due to their methamphetamine use, have been charged with murder by the Kings County district attorney, throwing into question a decades-old California law that prevents women from being prosecuted for killing their unborn children, the Los Angeles Times reports. Keith Fagundes, the district attorney, said he believes that exception applies only to pregnant women who seek legal abortions. But other prosecutors — including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra — disagree. Though the state attorney general usually backs up district attorneys, Becerra said he supports both women being released and last month asked the state Supreme Court to intervene in one of the cases. The court has until Christmas to decide whether to weigh in.

  • Jennifer Chou, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California: “Expanding the law to criminalize pregnancy outcomes opens the door for women to be charged with murder for any behavior that could potentially harm their pregnancy, including things like jaywalking and working a physically demanding job.”
  • Fagundes: “We’re not sitting here seeking to lock up mothers who have miscarriages. … But there’s certain conduct a government should not partake in, which is allowing people to use drugs to a degree that’s harmful to themselves and others.”

3. A closer look at voter turnout

A steady flow of Sonoma County voters went to the polling place at Petaluma’s Community Center in Lucchesi Park to cast their votes on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by Crissy Pascual, Argus-Courier staff
Sonoma County voters at the polling place at Petaluma’s Community Center on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by Crissy Pascual, Argus-Courier

By now you know the November election set records in California — but here’s a closer look at the regions that helped propel the Golden State to 81% voter turnout, a level not seen in decades. Sonoma and Marin counties, which both saw 9 out of 10 registered voters cast ballots, took the cake for the state’s highest turnout counties, CalMatters’ Lewis Griswold reports. But Sun City Palm Desert, a Southern California retirement community, boasted a voter turnout of about 96% — the highest level for a precinct within the state’s 12 most populated counties.

Despite the record turnout, 4.3 million Californians chose not to vote in November. CalMatters talked with three of them.

  • Sergio Berrueta, 28: “It boiled down to this: No matter what happens, things are going to kind of stay the same.”
  • Gabe Kim, 21: “Yeah sure, my vote matters a little bit, but it’s not going to affect the outcome of the election one way or the other.”
  • Joseph Jewett, 29: “I think that there’s so much corruption to the point that it doesn’t matter that much.”


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: November’s election saw three Northern California mayors who had won acclaim outside of their cities suffer rejections.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has no time to waste: He needs to announce who will fill Kamala Harris’ Senate seat, and he needs to do it quickly, writes Darry Sragow, publisher of California Target Book.

Preventing a Texas exodus: Newsom’s new business ambassador will need more than luck to prevent more high-profile companies from leaving California, writes Los Angeles resident Michael Barr.

High stakes for San Joaquin Valley: The vision of a future powered by renewable natural gas is not based on facts — it’s based on fossil fuel industry talking points, argues Blanca Escobedo of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

Other things worth your time

A bumpy ride for California’s Amtrak as pandemic surges. // CalMatters

San Bernardino County sues Newsom to stop coronavirus lockdown. // Press Enterprise

California sued over new coronavirus workplace safety rules. // San Francisco Chronicle

California church creates ‘freedom fund’ for businesses open during lockdown. // Sacramento Bee

California is banning short-term rentals, but travelers can’t get refunds. // New York Times

San Francisco supervisors condemn naming city hospital for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. // Associated Press

Kelly Gonez, first in family to attend college, is new LA school board president. // Los Angeles Times

Airbnb co-founder donates $25 million to Bay Area homelessness programs. // San Francisco Chronicle

UC to launch its first bachelor’s degree program in prison. // KQED

Trump administration cuts off $200 million for California health care over abortion policy. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow.

Tips, insight or feedback? Email

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on TwitterFacebook and RSS.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

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...