Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, December 8.

New app coming Thurs.

Against a backdrop of escalating crises, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a 90-minute press conference Monday in which he unveiled a coronavirus exposure app and public education campaign but failed to address some of the state’s biggest challenges.

The app, CA Notify, launches Thursday. Once enabled, it notifies users when they come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Newsom said the app protects user privacy and doesn’t gather personal information like your name or location. He added that around 250,000 people used the app and 60 were notified of exposure during a pilot program at some California universities.

The governor also named a new public health director — San Francisco Health Officer Tomás Aragón will take over the post Sonia Angell abruptly vacated in August — and announced an $80-million public education campaign composed of 1,000 billboards with slogans like “Six feet apart” and “Keep friends safer.”

But reporters were frustrated by Newsom’s refusal to provide a clear rationale for why he’s implemented statewide regulations for everything from hair salons to grocery stores — but not schools. When asked why he hasn’t directly intervened to address the growing educational gap between the haves and have-nots, Newsom repeated the same answer he’s given for months.

  • Newsom: “We’ve provided (schools) $5.4 billion of equity support. … We’ve provided two months of PPE (personal protective equipment), we worked on establishing protocols, processes and procedures based upon data.”

The governor also avoided mention of the elephant in the room: California’s besieged unemployment department. After weeks of decline, the backlog of unemployment claims has steadily risen for three straight weeks — from 543,000 on Nov. 12 to 725,000 on Dec. 3 — despite the state’s goal of clearing it by January. Meanwhile, the Employment Development Department likely paid at least $2 billion in fraudulent claims via prepaid debit cards, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Monday. That includes $1 billion in the names of jail and prison inmates and another $1 billion to people living outside California.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 1,366,435 confirmed coronavirus cases and 19,935 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. Legislature gavels in new session

Freshman Assemblywoman Lisa Calderon, foreground center, and other members of the state Assembly are sworn-in to office, in Sacramento on Dec. 7, 2020. In order to make sure the Assembly members had enough room to follow social distancing guidelines, the Assembly session was held at the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Freshman Assemblymember Lisa Calderon, foreground center, and other members of the state Assembly are sworn into office in Sacramento on Dec. 7, 2020. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

The California Legislature launched its 2021-22 session Monday in true pandemic fashion — with most of the state Assembly’s 80 members taking their oaths of office at individual tables spaced six feet apart in the Sacramento Kings basketball arena while most of the 40 state senators took theirs in the Capitol building. The remaining legislators were sworn in remotely.

The legislative session begins in earnest on Jan. 4 and will be defined by its response to a pandemic that has left many Californians clinging to the edges of a rapidly fraying safety net. Here’s a look at some key proposals lawmakers introduced Monday:

2. A closer look at the Legislature

Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins addresses her colleagues on the first day of the 2020 legislative session. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins addresses her colleagues on the first day of the 2020 legislative session. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

OK, so you know there are 80 assemblymembers and 40 state senators — but what else do you know about the Californians representing you in Sacramento? Here’s a closer look at the Legislature’s demographic breakdown, according to statistics compiled by the California State Library.

  • There are 60 Democrats, 19 Republicans and 1 No Party Preference member in the Assembly. In the Senate, there are 30 Democrats, 9 Republicans and 1 vacant seat (state Sen. Holly Mitchell’s; more on that below).
  • There are 24 women and 56 men in the Assembly, compared to 14 women and 25 men in the Senate. At the start of the last session, California tied Georgia for 20th place nationwide in terms of legislative female representation.
  • The Assembly is composed of 39 white, 20 Latino, 12 Asian/Pacific Islander, 8 Black and 1 Native American member/s.
  • The Senate is composed of 26 white, 10 Latino, 2 Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1 Black member/s.

Other interesting tidbits from Monday’s swearing-in ceremony:

3. Gascón pledges to end cash bail

George Gascon in 2010. Photo via Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
George Gascón in 2010. Photo via Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Californians voted to uphold cash bail this November — but George Gascón, who was sworn in Monday as Los Angeles County’s district attorney, has already introduced a plan to end the practice in the nation’s largest court system, the Los Angeles Times reports. The bold move indicates that Gascón intends to draw a sharp contrast between the “progressive prosecutor” style he’s known for and the more traditional law-enforcement approach embodied by the county’s former district attorney, Jackie Lacey. Gascón on Monday also unveiled plans to ban prosecutors from seeking most sentence enhancements; end misdemeanor prosecutions of most first-time, nonviolent offenders; ban the death penalty in new cases; stop trying juveniles as adults; and review thousands of old cases for potentially lighter sentences or prisoner releases. But not all of the 1,200 deputy district attorneys who now report to Gascón are on board with the drastic changes.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Deciding which Californians get the vaccine first could be deciding who lives and who dies.

Promoting economic recovery: Newsom’s California Rebuilding Fund is a good start, but much more must be done to help small businesses, argue Pedro Nava, Sean Varner and David Beier of the Little Hoover Commission.

California Truth and Healing Council convenes: This five-year process will help articulate the genocide perpetuated against the state’s Native people, writes Frankie Myers of the Yurok Tribe.

Renewing democracy: California needs to reclaim the democratic purpose of public schools, argue Joseph Kahne and Erica Hodgin of UC Riverside and John Rogers of UCLA.

Other things worth your time

Suspected Chinese spy targets California politicians. // Axios

Fire ignites in Ventura County, spurring evacuations and power shutoffs. // Los Angeles Times

PG&E cancels planned Northern California outages, but windy conditions and fire risk persist. // San Francisco Chronicle

LAUSD announces hard shutdown of public schools. // Los Angeles Times

California may consider historical injustice in deciding how to allocate coronavirus vaccine. // KQED

California attorneys worry for clients — and themselves — making in-court appearances. // CalMatters

Sacramento mayor announces plan to stop NIMBYs from blocking homeless shelters. // Sacramento Bee

Protests continue outside Mayor Garcetti’s house for 13th straight day. // Los Angeles Daily News

A month-by-month look at California’s harrowing 2020. // Los Angeles 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...