Good morning, California. It’s Friday, December 4.

Vaccine doses on the way

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a regional stay-at-home order Thursday after nearly a week of anticipation — but the state’s strictest measure in months doesn’t currently apply to any of California’s counties.

The order, which goes into effect Saturday afternoon, stipulates that if a region’s ICU capacity falls below 15%, broad swaths of the economy must close down and retail stores must limit indoor capacity at 20% for at least three weeks. It also instructs Californians to stay home as much as possible, with exceptions for things like grocery shopping, getting takeout, going to the doctor and exercising. As of Thursday, the ICU capacities for the state’s five regions — Northern California, the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California — were 18.6%, 25.3%, 22.2%, 19.7% and 20.6%, respectively.

  • Newsom: “The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed. If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see a death rate climb, more lives lost.”

The governor added that California is currently on track to hit 112% ICU capacity by mid-December. Still, frustrated lawmakers and business owners demanded the state provide data justifying the closure of playgrounds, restaurants, cardrooms, movie theaters and hair salons while allowing retail stores to remain open. K-12 schools already open can also stay open.

  • Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable: “These sectors should be provided the same flexibility (as retail stores) … to keep employers and their employees working to provide a lifeline for their families during this holiday season and beyond.”

Still, Newsom insisted there “is light at the end of the tunnel,” adding that the state will place its first vaccine orders today. The first doses are likely to arrive between Dec. 12 and 15, and will be reserved for health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities, as well as emergency medical responders and workers in dialysis clinics, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra and Barbara Feder Ostrov report.

Do you have questions about the new regional restrictions? Submit them here to be answered in an upcoming Q&A.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 1,264,539 confirmed coronavirus cases and 19,437 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. Bond Fire prompts thousands of evacuations

Firefighters battling the Bond Fire haul a hose in Orange County on Dec. 3, 2020. Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo

At least four fires erupted in Southern California late Wednesday and Thursday as fierce Santa Ana winds roared through bone-dry brush. In Orange County, the fast-moving Bond Fire — which remains 0% contained — forced around 25,000 evacuations, while a brush fire in San Diego County destroyed at least one home and damaged six others, prompting temporary evacuations, the Los Angeles Times reports. To mitigate fire risk amid the powerful winds, San Diego Gas and Electric cut power to 73,000 customers, while 300,000 Southern California Edison customers could ultimately lose power.

Dry, gusty winds are also expected to sweep across Northern California this weekend — pushing meteorologists to consider the rare step of issuing a red flag warning in December for the region.

In other not-so-great climate news, rising sea levels are expected to put 40% more of California’s affordable housing units in danger of flooding by 2050, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports. Three Bay Area cities are among the nation’s most at risk: Corte Madera in Marin County, Foster City in San Mateo County and Suisun City in Solano County. 

2. Cabinet contenders under fire

Julie Su, California Secretary of Labor, speaks in Sacramento on Sept. 10, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Being a frontrunner for a cabinet position in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration comes with a lot of scrutiny — and pushback. Today, the California Business and Industrial Alliance is running a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal criticizing California Labor Secretary Julie Su’s oversight of the beleaguered unemployment department. “Californians need Julie Su focused on fixing the state’s broken bureaucracy, rather than looking for her next job as Biden’s Labor Secretary,” the ad reads. Meanwhile, some environmental-justice groups are lobbying Biden to not appoint California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols as head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that she hasn’t done enough to crack down on big polluters. And demonstrators have staged protests outside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home for 10 straight days in an attempt to persuade Biden to not appoint Garcetti to a cabinet position.

3. Newsom adviser charged with felony domestic violence

Newsom adviser Nathan Ballard. Photo via Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nathan Ballard, a longtime friend and political adviser to Newsom who serves on the board of a nonprofit founded by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, was arrested and jailed on two felony domestic violence charges that include an allegation of trying to suffocate his 4-year-old daughter with a pillow, Politico and the San Francisco Chronicle report. A prominent Democratic strategist and former San Francisco deputy city attorney, Ballard also served as a spokesman for Newsom when he was mayor of San Francisco. More recently, he represented PG&E as the beleaguered utility faced bankruptcy for its role in causing deadly California wildfires.

  • Anthony Brass, Ballard’s lawyer:  Ballard “is currently in a residential recovery program to deal with his drinking problem in a responsible, comprehensive manner. He is a good father, he has his children’s best interests at heart, and he wants to resolve this matter privately, quickly and fairly for their sake.”

4. The challenge of hands-on classes

Advanced cuisine student Soon Gi Hwang at Diablo Valley College on Nov. 18, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Hands-on classes like culinary arts, dental hygiene or automative repair represent about 25% of the enrollment in California’s community colleges — but when the pandemic hit, instructors preparing students for direct entry into the workforce had to come up with creative new strategies, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. Once campus restaurants closed, one community college had its culinary arts students prepare meals for the school’s food pantry instead. Another college purchased tens of thousands of dollars of air purification devices to bring back a portion of their dental hygiene students. But as long as the pandemic limits how many students can physically be in a class, the career programs will suffer.


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CalMatters commentary

Why Eloy Ortiz Oakley should lead Biden’s Education Department: The California Community College chancellor has led ambitious reforms and significantly improved transfer rates to four-year universities, argues Max Lubin of student advocacy organization Rise.

Power of partnerships: Thanks to the government partnering with community organizations, nearly 70% of Californians self-responded to the Census, writes Lanae Norwood, creator of My Black Counts.


Other things worth your time

Dianne Feinstein backs Alex Padilla for Kamala Harris’ Senate seat. // San Francisco Chronicle

Feds warned California about possible inmate unemployment fraud this spring. // Sacramento Bee

Overcrowding is fueling California’s worst active COVID-19 prison outbreak, advocates say. // KQED

Former legislative aide accuses Assemblymember Bill Brough of rape. // Orange County Register

City administrator Naomi Kelly takes leave of absence amid City Hall corruption scandal. // San Francisco Chronicle

Real estate developer pleads guilty in sprawling LA campaign money laundering case. // Los Angeles Times

Orange County water districts file massive lawsuit over contamination from ‘forever chemicals.’ // Orange County Register

Plans to widen Highway 101 advance, despite complaints it will ‘suffocate’ redwoods. // San Francisco Chronicle

New California COVID trend: Caring for chickens. // San Francisco Chronicle


See you Monday.

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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...