Good morning, California. It’s Friday, March 5.
Lots of changes at once
Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading California into its largest and fastest reopening since the state first shut down nearly a year ago — even as questions remain as to whether the necessary infrastructure is in place.
State lawmakers on Thursday sent to Newsom’s desk a bill that would incentivize schools to reopen, but noted the governor had changed the terms of the deal in a late-night announcement that came hours before the vote. “It’s a little dishonest what’s happening,” said Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, though the San Diego Democrat nevertheless voted in favor of the bill. Newsom’s new policy makes it easier for counties to move from the most restrictive purple tier into red, pushing schools to physically reopen campuses to older students sooner if they want to receive the full share of funding.
Newsom administration officials also said Thursday the state will likely loosen rules in the next few days for outdoor business operations.
- Santa Clara County Executive and physician Jeff Smith: “So (Newsom) is changing the blueprint rules without any logical reason. Our futures are in the hands of a governor trying to stop a recall.”
The jury is out as to whether the school bill will actually accelerate students’ return to campus — and the state’s ability to execute its new vaccine strategy is similarly unclear. California is now reserving 40% of vaccine doses for its poorest and most diverse communities, but the state’s MyTurn system is so riddled with flaws that counties apparently can’t restrict appointments to certain ZIP codes or eligibility requirements — meaning the doses could potentially be snagged by other Californians.
- Newsom on Thursday: “We are working on this whack-a-mole every single day. … And so we’re trying to geo-fence that … and create more burdens and obstacles for people abusing that privilege.”
Even as California struggles to troubleshoot the appointment system on which the new reopening strategy depends, it’s set to open vaccine eligibility on March 15 to millions more residents with serious health conditions or disabilities.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,488,467 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 53,048 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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Other stories you should know
1. Becerra refuses to release gun data
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office is withholding gun violence data from a research center created by the state Legislature and funded by taxpayers — and is also asking universities to destroy previously provided records, the Sacramento Bee reports. Researchers at the UC Davis California Firearm Violence Research Center say their relationship with the attorney general’s office changed drastically when Becerra took over in 2017, prompting them to ask lawmakers to introduce multiple bills — including one this year — to force the Department of Justice to supply the requested data. Becerra has also come under fire for refusing to release certain police misconduct and lethal force records.
- Garen Wintemute, the center’s director: The DOJ is “effectively, knowledgeably, shutting down research on some of the most important policies in California. … Lives are in the balance here.”
- A DOJ spokesperson: “We … take seriously our duty to protect Californians’ sensitive personally identifying information.”
The news comes as Becerra appears likely to be confirmed next week as President Joe Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services — leaving Newsom to appoint his successor as attorneys general face heightened scrutiny in the wake of calls for criminal justice reform.
2. Judicial system slowly diversifying
Speaking of criminal justice, California’s bench of judges and justices is growing more diverse — especially on the seven-member state Supreme Court, where over 40% of the justices are women and more than half are people of color, new data show. But that diversity hasn’t yet trickled down to the state’s trial and appellate courts, where Californians are most likely to interact with the judicial system, CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons reports. Around 65% of trial court judges are white and 63% are male, while 73% of appellate court judges are white and 61% are male — and in numerous majority-Latino counties, there aren’t any Latino trial court judges. Because the vast majority of judges and justices are appointed, not elected, diversity has become a major priority for California governors in recent years. Of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s more than 600 appointees, 27% were people of color and 34% of women. Of Newsom’s 78 appointments, 56% were people of color and 50% were women.
- Retired Superior Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte: “I think the needle has moved somewhat, but not nearly as much as it should have, particularly at the trial court level.”
3. Stockton UBI experiment worked, study says
Stockton’s universal basic income program of giving 125 residents $500 per month for two years — no strings attached — appears to have paid off, according to a study released Wednesday by researchers at the University of Tennessee and the University of Pennsylvania. When the program launched in February 2019, 28% of the participants had full-time jobs. A year later, 40% had full-time jobs — whereas a control group of people who didn’t receive the money saw only a 5% increase in full-time employment. The study also found that people who received the money reported lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who didn’t, and less than 1% of the funds were spent on tobacco or alcohol. The news comes as California lawmakers consider a bill that would provide a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for three years to youths aging out of foster care. It also comes several months after former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, who launched the UBI program, lost his reelection bid to pastor Kevin Lincoln.
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Ethnic studies model curriculum a historic win: It will provide an honest accounting of the experiences of people of color while inspiring action in countless young scholars, writes California Secretary of State Shirley Weber.
Other things worth your time
Californians should consider wearing 2 masks in public, Newsom says. // Sacramento Bee
More than 12,000 coronavirus cases have been reported at California child care centers. // CalMatters
15 California state departments reported employees died from COVID-19. // Sacramento Bee
Nurse shortage could make reopening California schools more difficult. // EdSource
The Newsom recall effort has a big problem: Orange County. // Los Angeles Times
In the Capitol, new push to unionize staff members. // Capitol Weekly
San Francisco corruption saga: Under Nuru, garbage company overcharged ratepayers $95 million. // KQED
San Francisco pays $61,000 per tent per year to shelter the homeless. Why so high? // San Francisco Chronicle
Rose Parade will return in 2022, organizers say. // Los Angeles Times
Santa Barbara Zoo becomes first ‘zoo preschool’ in California. // KEYT
See you Monday.
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