Good morning, California. It’s Monday, February 8.

Churches can reopen indoors

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive authority when it knocked down California’s ban on indoor worship, ruling that the governor’s pandemic restrictions unfairly targeted churches in violation of the First Amendment.

The 6-3 ruling issued late Friday prompted Newsom’s administration to release new guidelines Saturday permitting places of worship to hold indoor services at 25% capacity in purple- or red-tier counties and at 50% capacity in orange- or yellow-tier counties. The Supreme Court left intact the state’s prohibition on indoor singing and chanting, though Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church, one of the plaintiffs, plans to petition for the right to sing indoors. In another wrinkle, Santa Clara County said it will continue to ban indoor worship because its health orders are different than the state’s.

Although some California religious institutions plan to continue holding online services for the time being, others opened their doors for Sunday services.

The ruling is likely to embolden other groups fighting Newsom in court who argue they, too, are being singled out. Among them:

  • Let Them Play CA. The group sued Newsom for banning high school sports but allowing college and professional sports teams to compete.
  • The California Fitness Alliance. The group on Friday questioned why Newsom “continues to bend the rules subjectively” by allowing one-on-one personal training indoors, but not indoor gym workouts.
  • The California Craft Brewers Association. The group is suing Newsom for “arbitrary” rules that allow wine tasting rooms to serve wine by itself but force brewpubs to serve food with beer.

Newsom offered his perspective on reopening at a Wednesday press conference.

  • Newsom: “We want to do it safely and a lot of great data has been provided by the same groups that are suing us. If I was concerned about lawsuits, I would have collapsed a year ago. We receive dozens of them every week.”

CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher is tracking all those pandemic suits — 67 and counting.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,335,926 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 43,942 deaths (+0.7% 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. EDD claim backlog passes 1 million

Image via iStock

California’s beleaguered unemployment department revealed Friday that its claims backlog now tops 1.03 million — the first time it’s surpassed 1 million since October 2020. The news underscores the breadth of challenges facing the Employment Development Department: Although EDD last week finished clearing a backlog of 1.6 million claims first identified in September, its new logjam is nearly as large as the first. And more delays are in store: EDD announced Friday that Californians whose federal jobless benefits expired Dec. 26 will not be able to recertify their claims until March 7 — even though the federal government reinstated the benefits on Dec. 27. The reason for the months-long delay that could affect some 750,000 claimants? “EDD has been working on the programming,” the department said Friday — despite promising in December “to make these new benefits available as soon as possible.”

  • State Sen. Josh Becker, a Menlo Park Democrat: “I’m just appalled. A lot of people will just get a letter out of the blue saying, ‘We can’t process you until March 7.’ Californians rely on benefits for food and shelter, and now this group will have to wait (at least) two and a half months.”

2. Next AG faces new landscape

California State Courthouse Building in Sacramento. Image via iStock

If Xavier Becerra is confirmed as President Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary — something Senate Republicans are trying to prevent, or at least delay as long as possible — the person Newsom picks as California’s next attorney general will face a decidedly different set of circumstances. Under Becerra, California positioned itself as the center of resistance to the Trump administration, which it sued 110 times. But with a Democrat in the White House, California’s next attorney general will likely look inward, focusing on issues like consumer protection, gambling and firearms regulation, internet privacy and investigating deadly police shootings of unarmed civilians, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. The pick also has political implications for Newsom as he faces a potential recall: Will he choose a progressive attorney general to help him shore up his liberal base, or a more moderate Democrat to keep him in good standing with law enforcement? For a look at top contenders, check out Laurel’s story.

3. Money flows into California

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters; iStock

Newsom revealed last Wednesday that California has raked in $10.3 billion more than projected in his budget proposal released last month — an announcement that didn’t get much coverage, perhaps because he unveiled it on TikTok rather than at his press conference earlier that day. Newsom said the money will help support small businesses, vaccine administration and reopening schools. It’s just the latest unexpected windfall California has received in recent days: The federal government last week gave the Golden State an unanticipated $1.7 billion to help with its coronavirus response and vaccination efforts and announced it would reimburse California for 100% of costs for pandemic programs including Project Roomkey, Great Plates and Housing for the Harvest. The expanded federal funding will permit Los Angeles and the Bay Area to scale up the number of hotels and motels temporarily housing homeless Californians via Project Roomkey.

Still, long-term homelessness solutions remain unclear. Although Newsom’s 2021-22 budget proposes allocating $750 million to Project Homekey — an effort to permanently house homeless Californians in hotels and motels — “local entities’ ability to fund the ongoing costs … is unclear and calls into question the state’s ability to preserve these units in the long term,” the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote in a recent report.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: How long will California’s pandemic-induced recession continue?

Making government work for you: We are forming the California Problem Solvers Caucus, a bicameral and party-agnostic group dedicated to finding solutions and creating results, write Republican Assemblymembers Tom Lackey, Suzette Martinez Valladares and Jordan Cunningham; Democratic Assemblymembers Cottie Petrie-Norris and Adam Gray; Independent Assemblymember Chad Mayes; and Democratic state Sens. Melissa Hurtado and Josh Newman.

Protecting racial progress: We fear California’s budget crunch could lead the UC to fail to deliver on social mobility for underrepresented students, argue Charles Hale, Katharyne Mitchell and Bill Maurer, deans of social sciences for UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz and UC Irvine, respectively.


Other things worth your time

San Francisco school district, unions reach tentative deal to reopen classrooms. // San Francisco Chronicle

Levi’s Stadium will open this week as Northern California’s largest vaccination site. // Mercury News

Conspiracy theory doctor surrenders license to California medical board. // CalMatters

California’s smallest county makes big vaccination gains. // California Heathline

Contra Costa district attorney hosted wedding party as county battled summer surge. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento woman is first guest in Biden’s revamped weekly address. // Sacramento Bee

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s meeting with Newsom revealed in new report. // Mercury News

Netflix CEO makes huge donation to Newsom campaign as recall battle intensifies. // Fox News

‘This isn’t a peaceful protest.’ Activists hold demonstration outside Mayor Steinberg’s home. // 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...