Good morning, California. It’s Friday, March 12.

More vaccines, more reopenings

Things are about to change big time in California.

Today, the state is expected to reach its goal of administering 2 million vaccines in underserved communities, triggering a shift in reopening criteria that will make it easier for counties to move from the most restrictive purple tier into red. This, in turn, eases the way for restaurants, gyms, museums, movie theaters and other businesses to reopen indoors at limited capacity. For more details on what exactly the shift means, check out this piece from CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra and Rachel Becker.

However, California’s tally of administered doses has been “incomplete due to (a) data processing delay” since Tuesday, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Also Thursday, the state loosened restrictions for bars, breweries and sleepaway camps. Previously, breweries had only been allowed to reopen if they served food — prompting a lawsuit from the California Craft Brewers Association questioning why wineries weren’t held to the same standard.

California Public Health also quietly updated its vaccine guidelines Thursday to open eligibility on March 15 to public transit workers, commercial airline workers and those living and working in congregate living spaces, including people experiencing homelessness and those in federal immigrant detention centers. That’s the same day millions of Californians with disabilities and severe health conditions are set to become eligible for the vaccine — raising questions about how the state plans to facilitate an increasingly complex rollout when the vast majority of counties don’t want to work with Blue Shield, the insurance giant in charge of vaccine administration.

At the same time, President Joe Biden, in his first prime-time speech, directed states to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1.

Meanwhile, top California health officials publicly received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Thursday to build trust in what some advocates have labeled a “second-class shot” they fear will be disproportionately given to minority communities. The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine prevents about 85% of severe illness, compared to 95% for the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but all three prevent about 100% of hospitalizations and death, experts say.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,516,862 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 54,891 deaths (+0.5% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 10,988,301 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. Tubbs joins Newsom as economic advisor

Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs at a press conference in Sacramento on March 9, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs was named Newsom’s special advisor for economic mobility and opportunity on Thursday, an announcement that follows Tubbs’ surprise November defeat for a third term and comes as Newsom faces an almost-certain recall election. Tubbs, who’s received national recognition for launching a universal basic income program found to have measurably benefited Stockton residents, could lend some star power to the campaign to keep Newsom in office. Tubbs told me he turned down a position at the White House to join Newsom’s team — even though he won’t be paid.

  • Tubbs: “My vision for economic opportunity in the state is really grounded in what I learned when I was a student at Stanford, in that my colleagues at Stanford were smart, but they weren’t necessarily smarter than the people I grew up with in south Stockton. The biggest difference was differences in resources and opportunities.”

Tubbs told me he would “one million percent” push Newsom to consider implementing policies like the expanded child tax credit in the federal relief package that Biden signed Thursday. Tubbs listed his top priorities as addressing child poverty, incentivizing businesses to move to inland California and spurring economic recovery.

  • Daniel Zingale, Newsom’s former senior adviser for strategy and communications, told me: “In the State of the State, the governor said going back to normal isn’t good enough … By creating that position and putting Michael Tubbs in it, he’s showing that we have to do a better job around equity and lifting up the millions of Californians who have been left behind.”

2. Call center highlights questionable EDD contracts

Image via iStock

California’s beleaguered unemployment department has only answered 5.5 million of the more than 73 million calls it’s received since late September — but the state nonetheless extended multiple times its no-bid contract with Deloitte, the consulting firm running the call center, CapRadio reports. During that time, Deloitte’s contract with the Employment Development Department quintupled to $55 million.

  • Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat: “There has not been an analysis yet of very troubling contracts with private sector players, like Deloitte, like Bank of America — where EDD’s failures have been showcased because their partners have fallen down on their work.”

As CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler has reported, Bank of America — EDD’s longtime debit card contractor — has refused to share how much money it’s made off unemployment debit card fees, despite a contract requirement to disclose that information each month. Meanwhile, many jobless Californians remain in limbo amid frozen debit cards, more than 1 million backlogged claims and up to $31 billion paid to fraudsters.

3. State orders insurers to refund drivers

The nearly empty Bay Bridge access road over downtown San Francisco at rush hour on March 17, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Car insurers have overcharged Californians by hundreds of millions of dollars during the pandemic — and they must form a plan by April 30 to refund drivers some of their money, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said Thursday. Although the state’s 10 largest insurers cut premiums by 9% between March and September 2020, they should have actually slashed rates by 17% to reflect a steep decline in claims for property damage and bodily injury, Lara said. The insurance commissioner’s announcement came a day after major insurer State Farm said it would return $400 million to 3.5 million California policyholders, the Sacramento Bee reports.

  • Lara: “My order” to reduce premiums “saved California drivers more than $1.75 billion last year — the most in the nation. But while millions of us stayed home … insurance companies continued to collect inflated premiums.”

CalMatters commentary

D.A. Gascón’s reforms are common sense: By eliminating sentence enhancements, we can incentivize positive behavior at maximum-security prisons, argues Kunlyna Tauch, a Cambodian American from Long Beach incarcerated in Pelican Bay State Prison.

Newsom’s green policies are spot-on: If we don’t invest in clean transportation now, we’ll miss out on critical economic and job creation opportunities, write Joel Barton of the State Association of Electrical Workers, Bernie Kotlier of IBEW-NECA California and Nevada, and Amisha Rai of Advanced Energy Economy.


Other things worth your time

Susan Collins’ backing gives Xavier Becerra bipartisan support for Senate confirmation next week. // San Francisco Chronicle

Major California political data firm shuts door on Republicans. // Capitol Weekly

Highly critical report faults LAPD for mishandling George Floyd unrest. // Los Angeles Times

Will Biden give California more judges? Sacramento courts are backlogged for years. // Sacramento Bee

Despite the pandemic, San Diego County homebuilding increased in 2020. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Rancho Mirage gets the first 3-D-printed housing community in the country. // Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles-Orange County homeownership ranks nation’s worst, again. // Orange County Register

Moffett Field in Mountain View may be used as detention shelter for migrant children. // San Francisco Chronicle

Feds in Los Angeles make deals to not prosecute corporate polluters. // Los Angeles Times

Mudslide evacuations remain in Orange County as incoming storm keeps fears high. // Los Angeles Times

Scores of songbirds are dying across the Bay Area. Your bird feeder might be the reason why. // SFGATE


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...