Good morning, California. It’s Friday, December 11.

Daniel Kim departing

Yet another top official is departing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, leaving the governor to replace the leaders of two departments central to California’s pandemic response as he faces a make-or-break point in his career.

Daniel Kim, the director of the Department of General Services, will step down from his post on Jan. 4 after 5½ years on the job, and will take over as assistant county administrator of Yolo County in February, Kim told me Thursday.

  • Kim: “I have so enjoyed my time … at DGS.” But “most of my career has been in local government … So it’s great again to be able to work locally.”

Kim’s departure is the latest in a string of high-profile exits from the Newsom administration. Since August, Newsom has lost his director of public health, three top aides, the head of the state prison system, his communications director, and his chief of staff. And another big departure looms: Sharon Hilliard, the director of the beleaguered unemployment department, is retiring Dec. 31.

But this level of turnover isn’t necessarily unusual, said Daniel Zingale, Newsom’s former senior adviser for strategy and communications who was also a top adviser to Govs. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  • Zingale told me: “You have the intensity of being in an administration and a political environment, and today an epidemic environment. … It’s just kind of the nature of the beast.”

Kim’s successor will be tasked with overseeing key aspects of California’s pandemic response. Kim rattled off a list of his department’s responsibilities: Procuring personal protective equipment on behalf of the state. Building out the state’s new $25 million COVID-19 testing lab in Southern California. Setting up alternate care facilities and field medical stations to handle a surge in coronavirus patients. Obtaining hotel rooms for essential workers. Negotiating hotel contracts as part of Project Roomkey, Newsom’s initiative to house homeless Californians amid the pandemic.

Not all of those efforts have gone smoothly. Early on in the pandemic, California wired nearly half a billion dollars to a mask vendor that had been in business for just three days, only to claw it back hours later. Other high-dollar deals involved similar red flags.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 1,450,235 confirmed coronavirus cases and 20,463 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. California labs overwhelmed

A technician conducts COVID-19 tests at the state’s new facility on Oct. 30, 2020, in Valencia. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo/Pool

Speaking of the state’s new $25 million lab, it took three or more days to turn around results for nearly a third of its COVID-19 tests in the last week of November — despite the 24- to 48-hour timeframe mandated in its contract. But it isn’t the only lab struggling to keep up with a record number of COVID-19 specimens. The average turnaround time for test results in California rose 30% from the first week in November to the last week, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. And the pressure on labs is only expected to intensify as state and local officials expand testing sites and hours and residents rush to get tested before the holidays.

Now for some good coronavirus news: A panel of experts formally recommended Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The emergency authorization could come as soon as today, paving the way for California to receive its first shipment of 327,000 doses by Saturday.

2. California college update

A student walks across campus at Chico State University on Feb. 12, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Many Zoomed-out college students staring down another online semester won’t have spring break to look forward to, as an increasing number of California colleges cancel the week-long reprieve to prevent students from partying, traveling and spreading COVID-19, CalMatters’ Megan Bobrowsky, Matthew Reagan and Emily Forschen report. They’ll instead get five single-day breaks scattered throughout the semester, a decision many students say will have a detrimental effect on their mental health during an already stressful year.

Meanwhile, the California State University system announced Wednesday that its 23 campuses, which serve nearly 500,000 students, will reopen for in-person learning in fall 2021. The announcement was likely intended to encourage student enrollment at a precarious time — the number of students enrolling in college immediately after high school fell nearly 22% this fall compared to last year, according to a national survey released Thursday.

  • CSU Chancellor Timothy White: “California can ill-afford to lose a generation of students … I want to turn every stone to make sure that those individual students keep their doors open for their future.”

3. Meet our state dinosaur

The dinosaur figurine on sale at the Capitol Museum. Photo via Developmental Disabilities Service Organization

If you’re looking for a fun — and quirky — holiday gift for someone who loves California, look no further than this figurine of Augustynolophus Morrisi, California’s state dinosaur. (As my editor joked, “the first Californian.”) Custom-designed for the California State Capitol Museum’s gift shop, the figurine can be purchased individually or as part of a set with a sticker and keychain. Proceeds from sales help the Developmental Disabilities Service Organization, the gift shop’s parent company, said manager Stacey Hilton.

Augustynolophus Morrisi was a duck-billed, plant-eating dinosaur apparently exclusive to California, clocking in at 10 feet tall, 30 feet long and around 6,000 pounds. Its fossilized remains were first discovered in Fresno County in 1939, according to an accompanying fact sheet.


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CalMatters commentary

Newsom’s gas-car ban would perpetuate poverty: There are wiser climate investments we can make today that won’t adversely impact disadvantaged communities, argue Assemblymembers Megan Dahle, a Republican from Bieber, and Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Elk Grove.

State was right to reopen playgrounds: It’s a decision that correctly prioritizes the health and wellness of our children, write Dr. Jeffrey Klausner of UCLA and Phil Ginsburg of the San Francisco Recreation an Park Department.


Other things worth your time

Rain expected to fall in Bay Area for first time in nearly a month. // Mercury News

The climate crisis is killing California’s redwoods, sequoias and Joshua trees. // New York Times

Shasta and Tehama counties sue PG&E over the Zogg Fire. // San Francisco Chronicle

Trump administration rushes sale of California oil leases despite certain legal battle. // Los Angeles Times

Off-target pesticide service douses properties, people in Central Valley. // Fair Warning

California wildlife officials reject proposal to put housing on ecological reserve. // San Diego Union-Tribune

These wild lands in California may soon get federal protection. // Los Angeles Times

California’s water wars have created a delta dilemma: Fishing or fresh water? // San Francisco Chronicle

Toxic tap water in Latino towns is a legacy of racist policies, California officials say. // Fresno Bee

California said it would track COVID in the LGBTQ community. It largely hasn’t. // San Francisco Chronicle

New data sheds light on parent debt burden for California college students. // CalMatters


See you Monday.

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Update: This article has been updated to correct a quote from DGS Director Daniel Kim.


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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...