Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, February 11.

Tough confirmation hearings

Two Californians nominated for top positions in President Joe Biden’s administration could face tough confirmation hearings later this month, putting the Golden State’s pandemic response under a national microscope.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, tapped to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, appears to be Senate Republicans’ main target. For the past three decades, there has been at least one sacrificial lamb among a president’s Cabinet nominees — and this year, the GOP has homed in on Becerra as the most vulnerable of Biden’s picks. Chief among their criticisms are his 110 lawsuits against the Trump administration, his defense of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s church closures and shelter-in-place restrictions, and his support of Medicare for All and abortion rights.

Republicans would need to secure at least one Democratic vote to block Becerra’s nomination, but many seem unconvinced by the GOP’s arguments.

  • A person close to the Biden administration: “Republicans are being completely contradictory. They’re saying both that (Becerra) doesn’t have enough health care experience but also that he’s responsible for the pandemic response in California.”

California Labor Secretary Julie Su, whom Biden nominated Wednesday as deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor, could also face a contentious confirmation hearing. Congressional Republicans have criticized Su for her oversight of the state’s beleaguered employment department, where more than 1 million claims remain backlogged amid fraudulent payments that could reach $31 billion. The California Business and Industrial Alliance has been an especially vocal critic: In addition to taking out full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, the group sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposing Su’s nomination.

  • Newsom: “With a leader like Julie at the helm … the U.S. Department of Labor will play a central role in guiding us through recovery.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,362,981 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 44,995 deaths (+1.2% from previous day), 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. Valley mass vaccination site elusive

A truck pulling a livestock trailer leaves Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford in a 2012 file photo. Photo by Eric Zamora, The Fresno Bee

Newsom traveled to Fresno on Wednesday, but did not announce a mass vaccination site there, despite hinting that one would be unveiled this week in partnership with the federal government. “We are committed to working with the Biden administration to land on a date, because I know you want a date for when we have a mass vaccination site here in the Valley,” the governor said, as a group of around 20 protesters chanted “Recall Newsom” in the background.

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy five members of California’s congressional delegation — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who asked Newsom in a Wednesday letter to set up multiple mass vaccination sites in the Central Valley. “There are simply not enough vaccines being shipped and distributed to our rural communities, yet key resources are being directed to areas of the state that already have far better vaccination rates than the Valley,” the congressmen wrote, referring to the numerous mass vaccination sites being established in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Other concerns remain about the equity of California’s vaccine rollout. The state hasn’t prioritized enrolling community health clinics as vaccine providers, though the clinics serve nearly one in five Californians, many of whom are low-income and Latino, CalMatters’ Caitlin Antonios reports.

2. An interview with Newsom’s economy czar

Dee Dee Myers speaks at the Wynn hotel and casino in Las Vegas on May 14, 2018. Photo by John Locher, AP/File

Meet Dee Dee Myers, the country’s first female White House press secretary and former Warner Bros. communications executive who is now in charge of California’s economic recovery. In an interview with CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler, Myers talks small-business relief, reopening guidelines for businesses and schools, vaccine distribution, the fallout from Prop. 22, the governor’s stance on tax hikes and the much-discussed California exodus. 

  • Myers: “I think on balance, California is doing better than maybe the public realizes. Not that there haven’t been some stumbles and missteps, but we’ve now distributed 5 million vaccines. That’s substantially more than any other state. … We’re in, I don’t know, the fifth inning of this? The sixth inning? At the end of the game, there will be a score. Judge us by that.”  

3. Jason Mraz’s hopes for CA coffee industry

Screenshot of Jason Mraz testifying at an Assembly hearing on Feb. 10, 2021.

When I got a press release entitled “Assemblymember Robert Rivas Welcomes Jason Mraz and Other Farmers Ahead of Assembly Agriculture Hearing on Environmental Farming,” I did a double take: Jason Mraz and other farmers? It turns out the Grammy-Award-winning singer-songwriter owns an avocado farm in Oceanside, a city in San Diego County, and has since expanded into passionfruit and coffee. (If you want to buy avocados from his farm, you’re out of luck: They’re sold out through 2021.) At the Wednesday Assembly hearing, Mraz discussed the challenges and promise of California’s burgeoning coffee industry.

  • Mraz: “California has great terroir for coffee, and the reason it’s never been grown here is really the market, because (of) … our labor costs and water costs. … I think the goal is to enroll more and more farmers into the coffee industry, looking at it like wine was 50 years ago in California. The more farms we have producing coffee, eventually that price will come down and more and more … consumers … will be able to enjoy California coffee.”

Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Santa Rosa Democrat, said his son works for Frinj Coffee, a partner of Mraz’s farm. (Five-ounce bags go for $75.)

  • Wood: “It’s a very small world. He’s a big fan of your coffee. I don’t know about your music … I gotta ask him about that. But he’s a big fan of your coffee.”


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California now has a scaled-down plan for a 171-mile bullet train in the Central Valley. Is it worth the $20 billion-plus cost?

Local governments need help: They need support that goes beyond plugging budgetary holes, argue Marlon Boarnet and Andre Comandon of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and Seva Rodnyansky of Occidental College.

Countering drought: California’s leaders must take bold action to improve the health of our soils, which would improve water storage capacity, write Ellie Cohen of the Climate Center and Torri Estrada of the Carbon Cycle Institute.

No to Wall Street water casino: Markets cannot fix water scarcity, repair aging infrastructure systems or responsibly manage a public trust, argues Tomás Rebecchi, a Food and Water Watch senior organizer.


Other things worth your time

South Africa virus variant that reduces vaccine efficacy found in two Bay Area counties. // San Francisco Chronicle

Pricey Los Angeles private school moves ahead of others for teacher vaccinations. // Los Angeles Times

Vaccine shortage prompts temporary closures of Los Angeles mass vaccination sites. // Los Angeles Times

California probes whistleblower allegations from state COVID lab. // Associated Press

Child care providers to get more financial help from the state. // LAist

California schools struggle to test English learners’ progress during pandemic. // EdSource

Did a Beverly Hills cop play music to avoid being livestreamed by an activist? // Vice

Domestic violence grew more lethal in Sacramento County amid pandemic, officials say. // Sacramento Bee

Removing a condom without consent could lead to civil damages under California bill. // Sacramento Bee

California legislators should start paying Capitol interns, report says. // CalMatters

GOP names 4 California Democrats among its top House targets for 2022. // Sacramento Bee

California high-speed rail to run on single track in Central Valley as overall cost rises. // 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...