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

Three big decisions

The results of three controversial votes on Thursday could reverberate across California’s political, environmental and educational landscape for decades to come. Here’s a closer look at what’s at stake:

— Ethnic studies curriculum. After heated debate that spanned four years, four drafts and more than 100,000 public comments, the state Board of Education unanimously passed an ethnic studies model curriculum that schools can use to develop lesson plans on marginalized communities in California. Originally focused on Asian, Black, Latino and Native Americans, the curriculum now includes lessons on Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Pacific Islanders and Sikh Americans. Developing the curriculum was such a contentious process that the original draft’s authors last month demanded their names be removed from the text. Meanwhile, the state Legislature is currently reconsidering a bill to make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement after Gov. Gavin Newsom last year vetoed it.

  • Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta: “It is not enough to say, I am not a racist. … We have to be anti-racist. … There is no place that has the greatest responsibility than our educational system.”

— An end to off-roading. The California Coastal Commission ordered that off-road vehicles be phased out within three years on what is arguably the state’s most contested stretch of sand: a beach in Oceano Dunes state park that permits jeeps, monster trucks and other vehicles to race over the dunes. The unanimous vote, which followed an intense 12-hour meeting, caps 40 years of acrimony and debate over whether the park’s endangered species, off-roading enthusiasts and nearby communities can coexist, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports. But the battle is far from over, and will likely end up in court: The coastal commission’s sister agency, the state Department of Parks and Recreation, is unwaveringly loyal to off-roading because of the level of revenue it generates.

— A new attorney general. In a tight 50-49 vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra as President Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary, priming Newsom for his third high-stakes appointment in the last few months. Who Newsom chooses as California’s top cop will have massive implications not only for the state, but also for the governor’s own political future as he stares down a likely recall election. Newsom is under increasing pressure to appoint an Asian American or Pacific Islander attorney general following a surge in anti-Asian harassment and violence.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,535,534 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 55,795 deaths (+0.4% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 13,382,046 vaccine doses.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

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1. Becerra admits to glitchy gun site

Former Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Sept. 25, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

A day before Becerra resigned as California attorney general, his office discreetly signed a settlement agreement in federal court admitting that its gun-registration website was so riddled with problems that potentially thousands of Californians weren’t able to register their assault weapons — putting them at risk of being charged with either a misdemeanor or felony, the Sacramento Bee reports. The news comes less than a year after a federal judge said California’s ammunition background check website was so glitchy it prevented tens of thousands of legal gun owners from buying ammunition, a violation of their Second Amendment rights.

The tech glitches are just the latest to plague California state government. The Employment Development Department announced Thursday that nearly 1.1 million unemployment claims remain backlogged, marking the seventh straight week the logjam has topped 1 million claims. The state’s MyTurn vaccine registration system is fraught with tech issues, and a massive tech glitch that resulted in an undercount of coronavirus cases appeared to spark the resignation of California’s public health director last year.

2. State bans cheerleading, bands at games

Image via iStock

Spectators at youth and high school sports games are limited to one adult per player, and cheerleaders, bands, scouts and college recruiters are not allowed to attend games, according to guidelines the California Department of Public Health quietly released Tuesday. The new rules — which come about two weeks after the state permitted all youth and high school sports, including cheerleading, to resume — immediately set off a firework of protests. Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, a San Luis Obispo Republican, called the guidance “incredibly dumb,” pointing out that stadiums for professional sports games can soon reopen at limited capacity.

The rules also ignited fury among parents. Dereka Anderson, whose daughter is a varsity cheerleader at St. Joseph High School in Santa Barbara County, told me the team had been “so excited” about cheerleading tonight at the school’s first varsity football game of the pandemic-shortened five-game season. But then the new guidance came out, and “we had all our … girls crying, because they have been wanting to cheer, because they have been practicing” for months, Anderson said.

  • Anderson: “I really feel like these guidelines were … setting us all up to fail.”
  • Erinn Dougherty, St. Joseph’s principal, told me: “I wonder if this was a sport predominantly played by males, would we be telling them that their participation was unnecessary?”

3. Fresno County tipped off Foster Farms

Vehicles including Foster Farms trucks enter and exit the Foster Farms facility located at 1000 Davis Street in Livingston, on Aug. 27, 2020. Photo by Andrew Kuhn, Merced Sun-Star
Trucks enter and exit the Foster Farms facility in Livingston on Aug. 27, 2020. Photo by Andrew Kuhn, Merced Sun-Star

As Foster Farms’ chicken processing plant in southeast Fresno grappled with the county’s largest known workplace coronavirus outbreak that killed at least five people, public health officials tipped off company executives about an upcoming inspection from Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace safety agency. County officials also coordinated media talking points with Foster Farms, withheld information from the public and issued no corrective actions — despite feeling “very uncomfortable” about the chicken processing plant’s lack of health precautions, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports. The revelations — disclosed in emails Manuela obtained through a public records request — raise serious concerns for worker advocates and lawmakers, who say county officials appeared to be prioritizing Foster Farms over workers’ health. The Fresno County health department maintains its job is to work collaboratively with companies, as opposed to the state’s enforcement role.

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CalMatters commentary

Newsom’s stadium speech fell flat: The governor’s State of the State address was too Hollywood and overly choreographed, playing right into the hands of the opposition, argues Calvin Naito, a Los Angeles-based communications professional.

The wrong way to help contract workers: Codifying California’s rules for independent contractors at the federal level will increase nationwide unemployment at the worst possible time, writes Stephany Wilkes, a writer and sheep shearer.

We need to restore trust in democracy: Turnout gaps by race and age remain entrenched in California’s electoral system, argues Mindy Romero of USC’s Price School of Public Policy.

Other things worth your time

Nothing is safe here in California’: Chinese Filipino man wants to leave state after violent attack. // San Francisco Chronicle

Here’s the political team Newsom has assembled to fight the recall. // Politico

Get ready for California recall to break the bank in 2021. // Politico

Few San Diego County teachers use vaccine appointments reserved for them. // San Diego Union-Tribune

No exodus here: Google to invest $1 billion on California real estate in 2021. // San Francisco Chronicle

He was the king of water in the Southern California desert. His abusive reign revealed a troubling culture. // Los Angeles Times

Opponents of new power plants in California get right to sue in local courts. // San Francisco Chronicle

California Legislature OKs expansion of paid sick leave. // Associated Press

One California Republican voted to give ‘Dreamers’ a path to citizenship. Here’s why. // Sacramento Bee

California tax agency whistleblower honored after losing his job. // Sacramento Bee

SFUSD faces lawsuit over controversial renaming of 44 schools. // San Francisco Chronicle

Troubled California skydiving school ordered to pay millions after another fatal jump. // SFGATE

See you Monday.

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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...