Good morning, California. It’s Friday, February 19.

Tensions ramp up

Top Democratic lawmakers dealt a political blow to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday by unveiling a school reopening package without his input — a move to which the governor did not take kindly.

The bold step suggests that Newsom and lawmakers have significantly different interpretations of what’s necessary to get kids back in the classroom, especially when it comes to vaccines. The package introduced by three Democratic Assemblymembers would require local public health departments to offer vaccines to on-site school employees, while Newsom’s plan, introduced in December, maintains vaccinations aren’t a prerequisite to reopening.

Lawmakers are planning to vote on the bill on Monday — which could force Newsom to choose between abandoning his own proposal or potentially slowing reopenings by vetoing the bill, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

  • Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, on the possibility of a joint deal: “I don’t know — you’d have to talk to (Newsom). Our intention is to pass the bill on Monday.”
  • Newsom: My “plan is grounded in the same science that’s been recognized by the medical professionals at the (CDC), by … Dr. Fauci, and by the president himself. While the Legislature’s proposal represents a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough.”

The lawmakers’ proposal largely preserves the funding structure of Newsom’s original plan: $2 billion for reopening costs and $4.6 billion for learning loss. It calls on school districts, once they enter the red tier, to offer some sort of in-person instruction to K-6 students and older vulnerable students by April 15. If they don’t, they won’t receive full funding. Newsom had wanted elementary schools to reopen by Feb. 16, a plan rebuffed by districts, unions and lawmakers.

Meanwhile, tensions over school closures continue to grow. After a profanity-laced video surfaced Wednesday of a Bay Area school board president saying parents “want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back,” enraged residents began circulating a petition calling on board members to resign. Students and families infuriated by the San Francisco school board delaying a reopening vote held a protest Thursday in which they logged into remote classes outside closed campuses. In Los Angeles, some families are boycotting online classes altogether.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,421,720 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 47,924 deaths (+0.9% 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. Vaccine update

Alameda County Fire Department employee Max Shih, left, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Julia Jackson at St. Rose Hospital in Hayward on Jan. 27, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

If you want to keep tabs on vaccine administration in your county broken down by race and ethnicity, bookmark this new CalMatters dashboard. Although county data provided by state officials remains incomplete, it nevertheless offers a glimpse into who’s been vaccinated first — and in nearly all counties, white people have received the largest percentage of doses. Though this likely reflects the fact many counties have only administered vaccine to health care workers and Californians 65 and older, advocates are concerned about early warning signs of inequity.

Meanwhile, California’s vaccine rollout hit another snag Thursday as severe winter storms roiling the country disrupted shipments, forcing the state to postpone thousands of appointments and shutter mass vaccination clinics. CalMatters health reporter Barbara Feder Ostrov compiled a list of some delays and closures:

  • The Disneyland mass vaccination site in Orange County was closed until at least Monday.
  • The Petco Stadium supersite in San Diego was closed through Saturday.
  • Around 12,500 Los Angeles residents had appointments canceled at sites including Dodger Stadium.
  • Sutter Health postponed appointments for the first dose of the vaccine, a step Kaiser Permanente is also considering.
  • Fresno County’s shipment of around 8,000 Moderna doses was delayed indefinitely.

2. New unemployment claims spike

A pedestrian crosses an empty intersection in San Francisco on May 7, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California’s backlog of unemployment claims rose for the sixth straight week to reach 1.19 million, the Employment Development Department announced Thursday. And more claims are on the way: Nearly 159,000 Californians filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending Feb. 13, according to U.S. Department of Labor figures released Thursday. That’s California’s highest total in more than a month and a staggering 18.4% of all claims filed nationally. In recent weeks, the Golden State has accounted for an increasingly large share of the nation’s jobless claims, skyrocketing from 6.3% on Jan. 23 to 15.3% on Feb. 5, according to the Mercury News. That share is now approaching 20%, though California only accounts for 11.8% of the nation’s labor force.

3. Single-payer health care debate reignites

Members of the California Nurses Association rally at the State Capitol on June 28, 2017, in Sacramento. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Adding to Newsom’s political challenges, the debate over single-payer health care is set to resume today when San Jose Democratic Assemblymember Ash Kalra introduces a bill to replace private health insurance with a Medicare-like system for everyone in the state. When campaigning for governor in 2018, Newsom vowed to create a state-funded health program for all Californians — a promise that earned him the support of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and the powerful California Nurses Association. With Democrats now in the White House, those groups want Newsom to make good on his promise — but with a potential recall election looming on the horizon, the governor will have to tread carefully, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. Case in point: Newsom on Wednesday refused to disclose his position on a fracking ban he himself asked lawmakers to send to his desk.

4. State moves to address $35 million bill

Former Secretary of State Alex Padilla and State Controller Betty Yee. Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters; iStock

California may have found a way to pay for the controversial $35 million voter education contract then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office awarded to SKDKnickerbocker, a public affairs firm involved in Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. State Controller Betty Yee has for months refused to approve payment of the contract, arguing the funding identified by Padilla’s office was intended for counties. As of Jan. 20, California owed SKDKnickerbocker $34.7 million, according to documents I obtained through a public records request.

A budget bill amended Wednesday night attempts to address Yee’s concerns by changing wording that said funding “shall be provided to counties” to read “may be provided to counties.” It also allows certain funds earmarked for counties to be used “for voter education and outreach costs” and covers the remaining balance with federal coronavirus relief funds. Lawmakers could vote on the bill as early as Monday.

  • Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told me: “The proposed changes in this provision, we believe, address the legal concerns that the Controller has raised regarding the authority to pay for the approved contract.”
  • GOP Sens. Patricia Bates and Jim Nielsen: “Changing state law retroactively to pay for a sweetheart deal with a partisan political firm is an abuse of power.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom has pledged to address homelessness in California, but two new watchdog reports are skeptical and critical.

A more inclusive Los Angeles County: Here are four critical steps to help small businesses and build an economy that works for everyone, write Charisse Conanan Johnson of Next Street and Rodney Foxworth of Common Future.

Farmers can help fight climate change: We can turbo-charge the green revolution with crop-based biofuels, argue Orange County farmer A.G. Kawamura and North Dakota farmer Roger Johnson.

Thankful for the ‘Problem Solvers Caucus’: I believe many voters want to see their representatives work across the aisle, writes Pebble Beach resident Rick Verbanec.


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Other things worth your time

Security breach at DMV contractor may have exposed personal information of millions of California drivers. // San Francisco Chronicle

California’s REAL ID deadline is back, and the DMV is bracing for a surge of late applicants. // Sacramento Bee

San Jose mayor launches vague new advocacy organization. Here’s how he explains it. // Mercury News

California GOP delegates seek to censure Rep. David Valadao for voting to impeach Trump. // Los Angeles Times

Pandemic cost California more than 500,000 tourism jobs, $86 billion in 2020. // San Francisco Chronicle

New bill would require California agencies to award 25% of state contracts to small businesses. // San Francisco Chronicle

New crackdown on rentals could make it much harder to snag an Airbnb or Vrbo in Lake Tahoe. // San Francisco Chronicle

Fresno rent increases are the biggest in the country. // Fresno Bee


See you Monday.

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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...