Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, February 24.

Two reports cast doubt

California is unlikely to meet its ambitious climate goals, two reports released Tuesday show.

The first, from California State Auditor Elaine Howle, doesn’t mince words: “The state will fall short of meeting the 2030 goal” of a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels “unless emissions reductions occur at a faster pace.” The audit, which found that transportation emissions have actually increased since 2013, rebuked the California Air Resources Board for overstating the impact of its emissions-reduction programs — including rebates that encourage Californians to buy clean vehicles, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.

  • Howle: The air board “generally does not know how often many of its incentive payments influence consumers to purchase a cleaner (lower-emission) vehicle than they otherwise would have purchased.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who in September ordered the air board to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, wants to direct $1.5 billion toward constructing electric charging and hydrogen fueling stations and subsidizing purchases of zero-emissions cars. The rebates would be paid with money from the state’s carbon trading program, which Howle characterized as “unpredictable.” Officials are currently reevaluating whether the program should form the cornerstone of California’s climate policy.

The second Tuesday report, from the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and nonprofit think tank Next 10, found that Californians are paying two to three times more for electricity than it costs utilities to provide — which could push customers to use appliances powered by fossil fuels instead. And rates are expected to keep growing steadily for the next decade, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

  • The report: “This massive gap … creates incentives that … discourage electricity consumption, even though greater electrification will reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The news comes as Newsom is scheduled to deliver today the keynote speech at a policy summit called Driving California Forward, dedicated to discussing “forward-thinking solutions to achieving California’s ambitious climate goals and zero-emission vehicle targets.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,450,058 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 49,563 deaths (+0.5% 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.


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1. Stark disparities in campus reopenings

Two students wear face masks at All Saints’ Day School in Carmel on Dec. 10, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

As California’s impasse over reopening schools drags on, its disparities are becoming clearer. Among the state’s richest schools, nearly 7 in 10 elementary school students attend a district offering some form of in-person learning — compared to less than 1 in 10 students in districts with the highest poverty, according to an analysis of state data from CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano and Jeremia Kimelman. And the discrepancy between public and private schools is just as stark. Here’s a closer look at the numbers:

  • 74% of students in public elementary schools are in distance learning only, compared to 31% of those in private schools.
  • 84% of students in public middle schools are in distance learning only, compared to 49% of those in private schools. 
  • 86% of students in public high schools are in distance learning only, compared to 60% of those in private schools. 

Newsom on Tuesday declined to discuss ongoing negotiations with lawmakers over campus reopenings or to take a stance on whether all students would be able to return for in-person instruction before the end of the school year.

  • Newsom: “I’m not saying we’re at the 1- or 2-yard line, but we’re certainly in the red zone in terms of working with the Legislature.”

2. Newsom pushes desalination project

The AES Huntington Beach power generating facility on Jan. 12, 2017. Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG

The lobbyist with whom Newsom dined at the French Laundry represents Poseidon Water, the company proposing a controversial $1.4 billion plant to desalinate seawater along the Orange County coast. Despite concerns that the plant would quintuple water rates and harm the environment, it’s close to obtaining final approval — which critics say is due in part to Newsom’s unusual decision to replace one of the project’s most outspoken critics on a regional water board with a councilmember backed by pro-Poseidon labor groups. The move came just ahead of a key vote, which project opponents say Poseidon delayed until Newsom could make the replacement, the Los Angeles Times reports. In another red flag, members of Newsom’s administration — including Jared Blumenfeld, who heads the California Environmental Protection Agency — called water board members during deliberations in an apparent violation of state rules.

  • Sean Bothwell of the California Coastkeeper Alliance: “We are very concerned by these communications, and the pattern by the Newsom administration to influence — and interfere with — the decision of the regional water board on such a controversial project.”
  • Newsom’s office: The governor “carefully reviews all appointments and has made many changes across his administration over the past two years to bring in new members to provide fresh perspective.”

3. State’s lackluster affordable housing plan

Unpaved roads in Moreno Valley in Riverside County on Feb. 4, 2021. Photo by Nigel Duara for CalMatters

For proof that California’s affordable housing plan isn’t working too well, look no further than Riverside County. The state in 2011 determined the county needed to build 30,000 units across all income levels, and Riverside complied by zoning thousands of acres of land for high-density housing. Years later, not one single unit has been built.

That didn’t stop California from instructing Riverside County this year to build 40,000 units by 2029, with 17,000 units set aside for low- and very low-income residents, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports. Meanwhile, rich municipalities have managed to reduce their allocations via an intensive appeals process.

4. Black students’ graduation rates improve

Image via iStock

More Black Californians are graduating from college in the wake of key legislative and educational reforms, even as significant disparities in Black and white graduation rates persist, according to a Tuesday report from the nonpartisan research center Campaign for College Opportunity. For example, Black CSU students’ four-year graduation rate doubled over the past decade to reach 20%, even as the gap in Black and white CSU students’ graduation rates grew to 25%, the report found. One reform that helped put Black students on a faster graduation path was a 2017 law that largely allowed community college students to take transfer-level classes without first taking remedial courses — even though tens of thousands of students are still taking unnecessary remedial classes, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn found.

Other key findings from the report:

  • The number of Black applicants to the UC system shot up 20% after the Board of Regents eliminated the use of the SAT and ACT in admissions. UCLA and UC Berkeley saw a 50% spike.
  • More than 50% of Black students entering UC since 2012 have graduated in four years or less, though there’s a 20% gap in Black and white students’ UC graduation rates.
  • 26% of Black Californians have a bachelor’s degree — a number researchers want to see reach 60% by 2030.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s political wrangling over reopening public schools may be nearing a climax.

Extend Medi-Cal to undocumented adults: With no quick federal solution, it’s up to states like California to lead with an inclusive recovery plan for all, write state Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat, and Sarah Dar of the California Immigrant Policy Center.

Time to tax large corporations: Reversing California’s housing crisis and addressing homelessness will require large investments, argue Reuven Avi-Yonah, David Gamage and Darien Shanske, professors at the University of Michigan; Indiana University, Bloomington; and UC Davis, respectively.


Other things worth your time

Who gets a California stimulus check and when? // CalMatters

Five California counties get looser COVID restrictions. Others could soon follow. // Sacramento Bee

Newsom vows changes after vaccine earmarked for hardest-hit communities improperly used by others. // Los Angeles Times

Emails link Los Gatos teacher vaccines to meal donations for hospital staff. // Mercury News

California’s vaccine rollout leaves essential workers exposed. // The Guardian

Alameda County prosecutor seeks his boss’s job as DA race heats up. // San Francisco Chronicle

SDPD’s previously untested rape kits are yielding DNA hits. // Voice of San Diego

Santa Clara County is model for plan to give $1,000 monthly to California foster youth. // Mercury News

Major expansion of Cal Grant financial aid proposed for state’s college students. // EdSource

Richmond wants to open a homeless RV site at a mostly vacant mall. Neighbors aren’t happy. // San Francisco Chronicle

Red alert sounds on California drought as Valley gets grim news about water supply. // Sacramento Bee


See you tomorrow.

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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...