This week, 10 counties in the inland portions of Central and Southern California were slated to transition to the new vaccine distribution system helmed by Blue Shield — but limited communication, technical challenges and lack of transparency have resulted in delays for at least three counties. Meanwhile, the state is overhauling its equity program after young, healthy and wealthy residents in Los Angeles and San Francisco obtained vaccine access codes intended for vulnerable Californians.

It’s just the latest setback for the Golden State, which enlisted Blue Shield to speed up and streamline a slow and chaotic rollout. But although San Joaquin County was among those set to finish onboarding to the Blue Shield system by Monday, “nothing’s really transitioned at this point in our county,” Greg Diederich, the director of the San Joaquin County Health Care Services Agency, told me Wednesday. Diederich added that the county “didn’t get a lot of direct dialogue” with Blue Shield “until Thursday last week,” when the insurance giant passed along model contracts for vaccine providers.

  • Diederich: “Nobody to my knowledge has really signed that contract.”

Fresno County is also still in the process of “discussing that transition plan,” with a new projected launch date of March 1, Joe Prado, the county’s health division manager, said at a Tuesday press conference. Stanislaus County on Monday said it still hadn’t received any guidance from Blue Shield.

The state Department of Public Health declined to specify which counties, if any, had successfully transitioned to the new system, saying more information would be provided later this week. Blue Shield referred all questions back to the Department of Public Health.

MyTurn, the state’s one-stop-shop for vaccine registration and appointments, appears to be a principal source of glitches and delays. Although the state told counties they would likely be able to import registrations from county websites into MyTurn, it turns out they can’t — forcing some residents to manually reregister with the state, Diederich said.

  • Diederich: “The counties … have the local partners, the local considerations, we’re ready to run. But unfortunately, you know, the state went with the (third-party administrator) concept. … If the decision was made today, it’s definitely the wrong decision.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,455,361 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 49,877 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.


1. Will the Salton Sea power the future?

A swing set stands alone in the Salton Sea on Feb. 4, 2021. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

Could one of California’s biggest environmental problems end up being one of its biggest solutions? Today, a new state commission on lithium extraction will meet for the first time to discuss the treasure lurking beneath the Salton Sea, whose plumes of toxic dust blanket the Imperial Valley, a long-overlooked corner of the state near the Arizona and Mexico borders. The sea contains brine rich in lithium, one of the planet’s most prized elements used to manufacture electric-car batteries and other forms of energy storage, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports. Companies mining the sea to produce geothermal energy are beginning to explore harvesting lithium there, too — and California has already doled out $16 million in grants in the hopes of transforming the ailing desert into a juggernaut that will power the next century. But local residents worry lithium extraction could simply result in more waste and pollution.

  • Eric Reyes, an organizer with the group Amigos de la Comunidad: “The first thing they are dangling is jobs. We are all for jobs. But we cannot let everyone do whatever they want. Our community has a history of bending over for industry. We need to be smarter now. We are on the cusp of environmental disaster.”

2. Will California ban indentured servitude?

Image via iStock

Here’s a preview of a measure that may end up on your 2022 ballot: A proposal to remove the sentence “Involuntary servitude is prohibited except to punish crime” from the California Constitution. The amendment’s supporters say the phrase represents California’s last formal tie to slavery by legalizing what is essentially free labor inside the state’s prisons and jails, which are disproportionately filled with people of color; opponents say it’s another instance of the Golden State going soft on crime. But numerous states — including Utah and Nebraska — have already banned involuntary servitude in their prisons and jails, raising the stakes for California, which often positions itself at the forefront of progressive policy, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Golden State’s reliance on cheap prison labor — particularly when it comes to inmate firefighters, who usually earn between $2 and $5 a day — has come under fire in recent months.

3. District attorney group under fire

Image via iStock

Speaking of criminal justice, environmental groups are demanding lawmakers sever the state’s ties with the California District Attorneys Association, which was recently discovered to have misspent $2.9 million of state funds intended to prosecute environmental violations, the Appeal reports. The association instead used the funds to train its own employees and lobby elected officials against proposed criminal justice reforms — widening a rift between its more traditional law-and-order attorneys and so-called progressive prosecutors, who recently formed their own group called the Prosecutors’ Alliance of California. The progressive group’s most prominent member, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón — who is no stranger to controversy himself — left the California District Attorneys Association on Feb. 16.

  • Gascón: “The fact that CDAA diverted millions of dollars from environmental prosecutions to lobby against criminal justice reform is repugnant and emblematic of the organization’s increasingly fringe values.”


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state politicians talk a good game about confronting California’s housing crisis, but they’ve failed so far to perform.

Colleges and universities need stable funds: Future California budgets need to make up for the funding losses public higher education has suffered in recent years, write Dick Ackerman and Mel Levin, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.

Improving food access: California must provide emergency food assistance that includes immigrant communities, argues Courtney McKinney of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Other things worth your time

West Covina votes to terminate services with Los Angeles County health department. // San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Despite pandemic nosedive, San Francisco rental prices still highest in nation, report shows. // San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley vows to end single family zoning by the end of 2022. // San Francisco Chronicle

California bill would fine retailers $1,000 for separate girls and boys toy section. // Reason

California public employees disabled by COVID-19 could get tax-free pensions under proposal. // Sacramento Bee

Federal judge says California can enforce net neutrality law. // Associated Press

Toothless and rudderless California jails watchdog needs an overhaul, state analyst says. // Sacramento Bee

Berkeley adopts sweeping police reforms, including taking cops off routine traffic stops. // San Francisco Chronicle

Victims fund sues 22 former PG&E officials over 2017, 2018 wildfires. // San Francisco Chronicle

California sued over its oil and gas permitting practices. // Desert Sun

The activists trying to save the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. // New Yorker

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...