Good morning, California. It’s Monday, February 22.

Trump key sticking point

The California Republican Party is attempting to balance on a political tightrope by keeping its eyes on the prize: recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom.

That dynamic was evident at the state GOP’s online convention this weekend, in which chairwoman Jessica Patterson — who was handily reelected — shut down motions that could have exposed party divisions in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. A measure to censure Rep. David Valadao, the only California Republican who voted to impeach Trump, was quashed without a vote — though like-minded Republicans in other states didn’t fare so well. And two measures to censure or revoke the membership of political extremists or never-Trumpers were pulled or voted down.

Also withdrawn was a resolution that would have given the party’s executive committee — rather than the full delegation — the ability to endorse a candidate in the potential recall election against Newsom.

  • Patterson: “It was dividing us at a time when nothing is more important than being unified and focused on making sure the recall qualifies for the ballot.”

But as the California GOP mobilizes behind the recall — to which it’s donated $125,000 — it will also have to reckon with Trump’s divisive legacy. Even as thousands of Californians left the GOP in the wake of the U.S. Capitol attack, a whopping 65% of the state’s Republicans said they would back Trump if he runs for president in 2024. To help push the recall across the finish line, the party will have to galvanize those voters without alienating disaffected Democrats and small-business owners.

Recall organizers had as of Feb. 5 submitted about 1.1 million of the 1.5 million signatures needed to trigger an election, according to state data released Friday. Of those, around 668,000 were validated, 130,000 were rejected and 296,000 hadn’t been reviewed. Organizers say they’ve gathered around 1.7 million signatures and will continue collecting them until the March 17 deadline.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,441,946 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 49,105 deaths (+0.6% 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.

How could the state do a better job of helping you manage the pandemic? The California State of Mind podcast, a collaboration between CalMatters and CapRadio, wants to hear from you. Share the advice you’d give state leaders here.


1. School reopening battle continues

Parents and students gather for a quiet protest at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley on Jan. 13, 2021. Photo by Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

Today, an influential Assembly committee is set to discuss a school reopening package introduced by three Democratic lawmakers — despite Newsom strongly suggesting Friday that he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk. We’ll be watching to see if it’s put up for a floor vote — which would signal an especially acrimonious relationship with the governor, who pushed back Friday on the Legislature’s proposal by announcing a plan to earmark 10% of the state’s vaccine doses for school employees starting March 1.

  • Newsom on the lawmakers’ plan: “I made it crystal clear. I can’t support something that’s going to delay the safe reopening of schools for our kids. … We would be, if we adopted that proposal, an extreme outlier.”

In some ways California is already an outlier. Although San Francisco has the lowest coronavirus case rate of any other major U.S. city, its public schools remain closed even as many across the country resume in-person instruction.

Also Friday, the state gave the green light for most youth sports to resume Feb. 26 in the purple or red tier — given local approval — but moved certain indoor sports, including volleyball, from the orange to the yellow tier, raising concerns the season will end before it began. However, a superior court judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order against Newsom that allows all sports to resume in San Diego County.

2. Building permits drop steeply

A multifamily building under construction in San Jose in 2019. Photo via iStock

California approved building permits for 102,800 new housing units in 2020 — an 8.8% decrease from 2019, which was itself a 3.8% decrease from 2018, according to a state Department of Finance report released Friday. The grim numbers — which include an 18.5% drop in the number of new multifamily units — underscore just how far the Golden State is from meeting Newsom’s campaign goal of building 3.5 million new homes by 2025, or 500,000 housing units annually. Legislative efforts to ramp up housing supply have faltered in recent years, with lawmakers failing last year to pass an ambitious housing bill. Further highlighting the challenges of California’s housing market, the median sale price for a single-family home rose 11.3% in 2020, following a 3.6% increase in 2019, the report found. The Golden State set five new median sale price records in 2020, closing out the year at an all-time high of $717,930.

3. Vaccine chaos at immigration detention centers

Detainees at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, on Aug. 28, 2019. Photo by Chris Carlson, AP Photo

Who is responsible for vaccinating the approximately 2,000 immigrants awaiting court proceedings in federally operated detention centers in California? Nearly a year into the pandemic, neither federal nor state authorities have taken the lead, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports. Further complicating matters, six of the seven detention centers in California are operated by private companies — raising questions about whether county health officers have the authority to enforce local guidance. At least one county, San Diego, has sent vaccine doses to a detention center, but other counties are awaiting instructions from state health officials — who say the centers are operated independently of the state. So far, 571 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least one has died.

  • California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris: “I can tell you very transparently right now, the answer is I don’t know” who’s responsible for vaccinating detainees. “There are some real complex jurisdictional issues that are at play.”

4. Will San Joaquin Valley stop ag burns?

The city of Orange Cove sits in smoggy Valley air on May 23, 2018. Photo by John Walker, The Fresno Bee

This week, California’s powerful Air Resources Board will decide whether to ban almost all agricultural burning in the San Joaquin Valley by 2024 — a move that would improve air quality but raise costs for growers by millions of dollars, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. The vote comes nearly two decades after the state first ordered Valley growers to stop agricultural burning. Though burning is the easiest and cheapest way to dispose of agricultural waste, clear patches of land and beat back weeds, pests and disease, it’s also contributed to the Valley having some of the nation’s unhealthiest air quality.

  • Air board member Dean Florez: “It has to end. It was the dark ages in 2003. And we’re still in the dark ages in 2021, which is even more disheartening.”

For environmental justice advocates, the decision will signal whether the Air Resources Board has changed priorities under new chair Liane Randolph. Former chair Mary Nichols, who retired in December, came under fire from activists who said she failed to protect low-income communities of color disproportionately harmed by air pollution. 


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s district attorneys are squabbling over whether the Golden State should continue to soften criminal penalties.

No need to raise taxes: Why are California lawmakers pushing for a multibillion-dollar tax hike on employers when the government has a massive budget surplus? asks Peter Blocker of the California Taxpayers Association.

Fighting for justice: With a rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans, this Lunar New Year became a time for mourning — and a call to action, writes Jeffrey Xiong, a Columbia University student.

Other things worth your time

Kaiser is expanding its California vaccinations. What you need to know. // Mercury News

California nursing home workers died of COVID. The industry failed to tell state watchdogs. // Sacramento Bee

San Francisco school board president puts school renamings on hold. // San Francisco Chronicle

Tens of thousands of California community college students still taking unnecessary remedial classes. // CalMatters

California’s disparity in suspending Black boys is widest in early grades, report says. // San Diego Union-Tribune

It looks as though Elon Musk isn’t moving Tesla out of California after all. // Los Angeles Times

San Diego pays top dollar and near-top dollar for hotels to house the homeless. // San Diego Union-Tribune

California prisons launched a unit to investigate staff misconduct. Wardens aren’t using it. // Sacramento Bee

Since California speaker rose to power, corporate money flowed to nonprofits tied to his wife. // Sacramento Bee

Sacramento EDD fraud bust turns up guns, $550,000, authorities say. // Sacramento Bee

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...