Good morning, California. It’s Monday, February 1.

Let Them Play effort ramps up

Today marks yet another missed deadline in the nearly yearlong struggle to get California kids back in school — leaving the state limited time to find a solution before reopening campuses this academic year becomes moot.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $2 billion proposal required districts to submit reopening plans to the state by today in order to access grant money that would allow them to welcome their youngest students back to campus on Feb. 16. But the governor’s plan fizzled amid strong criticism from the state Legislature, large school districts and teachers unions — and the road to consensus appears long, even though Newsom said Thursday all aspects of the proposal are negotiable.

The main sticking point appears to be vaccines. The California Teachers Association, which exercises considerable sway in Sacramento, wants staff to be vaccinated before students return to school — a process that could take months. In January, the state epidemiologist said it could take California until June just to finish vaccinating residents 65 and older.

  • Newsom on Thursday: “If everybody has to be vaccinated, we might as well just tell people the truth: There will be no in-person instruction in the state of California.”

Adding to the tumult, Newsom’s reopening plan actually caused some school districts to scale back their plans for in-person instruction due to updated guidance requiring students’ desks to be spaced further apart, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

Newsom is also under increasing pressure to allow high school sports to resume. On Thursday, two student athletes and a grassroots group called Let Them Play CA sued the governor and San Diego County, arguing, “There is no medical evidence that competing in team sports is safe for college and/or professional athletes but not high school athletes.” In Sacramento, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is sponsoring a “Let Them Play” resolution.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,243,348 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 40,697 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. New vaccine framework raises concerns

Alameda County Fire Department employee Max Shih dispenses of a syringe at St. Rose hospital in Hayward on Jan. 27, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California has so far administered 3.4 million of its 4.8 million vaccine doses, lagging 37 other states in per-capita usage and prompting frustrated residents to ask: Where’s my vaccine? As it turns out, state officials don’t know, either: They can’t say where unused doses are, whether they’re reserved for upcoming appointments or whether they’re sitting in freezers unnecessarily, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports. The state is hoping a new partnership with Blue Shield of California — about which details remain scarce — will fill in the data gaps by centralizing a rollout that has so far been divided among 61 local health departments, seven major health systems, two state departments, and local pharmacies and clinics.

But California’s new vaccine framework has been met with pushback on numerous sides. Associations representing California’s 58 counties expressed “urgent concerns” about the Blue Shield partnership in a Friday letter to Newsom, arguing that it “threatens to eclipse our members’ core local public health expertise and functions.” And the state’s pivot to an age-based priority system has caused some health advocates to fear California is sacrificing equity for speed.

2. Newsom faces growing Dem frustration

Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference in Sacramento in March 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Key Democratic constituencies are openly criticizing Newsom’s frequently changing vaccine strategy and shifting reopening regulations, complicating the party’s attempts to paint the growing recall movement as one supported primarily by right-wing extremists. Organized labor and other advocacy groups are outraged by Newsom’s shift to an age-based vaccine system, which they say leaves behind vulnerable communities and frontline workers.

Meanwhile, some Californians who voted for Newsom in 2018 are so frustrated by the chaotic vaccine rollout that they say they’d support a recall.

  • Scott Hunyadi, 31, of San Dimas: “I’d never vote for a Republican, but given the opportunity, I’d certainly vote to recall Newsom and install a better Democratic candidate if one was on the ballot.”

3. Pan speaks out against anti-vaxxers

Sen. Richard Pan speaks at the dais during a floor session on Aug. 28, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

The mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium shut down for about an hour Saturday when around 50 anti-vaccine protesters gathered at the entrance, angering people who had been waiting for hours to get a shot, the Los Angeles Times reports. The protest, described as a “march against everything COVID, Vaccine, PCR Tests, Lockdowns, Masks, Fauci, Gates, Newsom, China, digital tracking, etc.,” was nonviolent and no appointments were canceled. But the pushback was swift from elected officials, including Newsom and state Sen. Richard Pan. Both men were recently threatened with violence at a budget hearing, and Pan, the author of a law cracking down on vaccine exemptions, has faced abuse from anti-vaxxers on numerous other occasions. In 2019, the Sacramento Democrat — who is also a pediatrician — was violently shoved by an anti-vaxxer while walking near the Capitol and splattered with menstrual blood by a woman who opposed the law. 

  • Pan in a Saturday statement: “Our schools, economy, state and country cannot be held hostage by a privileged minority who do not have facts supporting them and who resort to intimidation and violence to impose dangerous, false beliefs that endanger us all.”


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom is in the awkward position of advocating for massive new spending even as he opposes raising taxes.

Time to get rid of the gas tax: To ease the transition to electric vehicles, the Legislature should replace fuel taxes with a fee on miles traveled, argues Loren Kaye of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education.

Managing drought: While a new commodity futures market for California’s water may help manage the financial risk of droughts, it’s more important to strengthen the actual water market, writes Ellen Hanak of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Other things worth your time

After D.C. riots, California spent $22 million protecting the Capitol and state buildings. // Sacramento Bee

The little-known South Bay businesswoman who got clemency from Trump. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Shootings in Oakland soar as cuts to police department take hold. // San Francisco Chronicle

Pandemic pushes union share of California jobs to 6-year high. // Mercury News

A conversation with new Assembly Transportation Chair Laura Friedman. // Streetsblog California

Marin supervisors push back against huge state housing mandate. // Mercury News

California bishops fight 2019 clergy sex abuse law. // ABC News

LADWP ends free water deal for Long Valley ranchers, sparking anger among conservationists. // Los Angeles Times

Sacramento homeless lined up for shelter during the storm. The doors never opened. // Sacramento Bee

Is Sacramento really ‘the Midwest of California’? Transplants give the final word. // 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...