Good morning, California. It’s Friday, March 26.

Statewide network incomplete

All Californians 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in three weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.

Under the state’s new guidelines, Californians 50 and older — a group that includes Newsom himself — will become eligible on April 1, with those 16 and older following on April 15. The state also loosened guidelines Thursday to permit health care providers in lower-income areas to offer a vaccine to anyone they think should get one — an attempt to accelerate the inoculation of communities disproportionately ravaged by the virus, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports.

The new timeline puts California a few weeks ahead of President Joe Biden’s goal of opening vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1. But the Golden State still lags others: Alaska, West Virginia and Mississippi are vaccinating everyone 16 and above, and 50-year-olds in Florida and New York can already get their shots. And although California expects a surge in vaccine supply next month, some residents with medical conditions not on the state’s high-risk list are concerned they won’t be able to access doses when the eligibility floodgates open.

Meanwhile, the transition to a statewide vaccine distribution system remains incomplete. As of Thursday, only 20 of 61 local health jurisdictions had agreed to join the vaccine network run by Blue Shield, according to the California Department of Public Health. Of those, only two counties signed contracts directly with the health insurer, while the others signed a memorandum of understanding with the state that gives some of Blue Shield’s decision-making power back to local health officials.

Blue Shield is scheduled to take full administrative control of the network on March 31, one day before all Californians aged 50-plus become eligible for the vaccine.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,553,307 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 57,091 deaths (+0.4% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 15,979,099 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. Court bans bail for some defendants

Abba Bail Bonds across from the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 21, 2020. After voters recently rejected Prop. 25 that would have ended cash bail, the California Supreme Curt ruled that some defendants are entitled to relief. Photo by Tash Kimmell for CalMatters
Abba Bail Bonds across from the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 21, 2020. Photo by Tash Kimmell, CalMatters

It is unconstitutional for California to keep defendants behind bars while awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The landmark decision comes a day after Newsom nominated as attorney general Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who wrote the 2018 law abolishing cash bail in California — which voters overturned in November. Under the ruling from the state’s highest court, judges can still order defendants to post bail, but will first have to take into account their ability to pay, criminal record and the seriousness of the charges. But that option should only be exercised if the defendant poses a risk of harming others or of failing to return to court and if “nonfinancial conditions of release” can’t be secured, the ruling says.

How exactly judges should make these determinations remains unclear, CalMatters’ Robert Lewis reports — meaning the ruling is unlikely to throw open the jailhouse doors anytime soon for the 44,000 people across California who are behind bars on any given day, despite not being convicted and sentenced for a crime.

2. State diesel rules save lives

Image via iStock

California’s emissions regulations for trucks, buses, ships and heavy equipment have cleaned up diesel exhaust more than anywhere else in the country, cutting the estimated number of deaths the state would have otherwise seen by more than half, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science. Federal policies slashed diesel particulates nationwide by 51% from 1990 to 2014, but California’s emissions fell 78% during the same period even as its diesel use shot up 20% — an indication the state’s engines were burning cleaner, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. It’s a spot of bright news for the state, which is battling the nation’s worst air quality and appears unlikely to meet its ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.

  • Research author Álvaro Alvarado: “When I started doing this work 20 years ago, it just seemed daunting to think that you could make a change in air pollution. It just seems so intractable. It is gratifying to know that your work has real impact.”

3. Rare Cailfornia condor, gray wolf events

The California Condor will be returned to Northern California for the first time in 100 years. Photo by Don Graham via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The California Condor. Photo by Don Graham via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A happy Friday item: In two once-in-a-century events, the endangered California condor will return to the northern part of the state, and a rare gray wolf has entered Fresno County in the species’ farthest trip south in modern history.

The Yurok Tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to release four or six captive-bred juvenile California condors each year for 20 years throughout Redwood National Park, which intersects with ancestral Yurok territory, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The birds, which almost became extinct in the 1970s, can live to about 60 and have magnificent 10-feet wingspans.

The rare gray wolf, OR-93, entered Fresno County on Monday after crossing into California from Oregon on Jan. 30. Gray wolves are endangered in California, where fewer than 12 live.

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CalMatters commentary

Wealth tax could sabotage recovery: Proposals that drive away Californians who fund a large share of our state’s budget will ultimately hurt everyone we represent, argue Democratic Assemblymembers Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach, Tom Daly of Anaheim, Tim Grayson of Concord, Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton, James Ramos of San Bernardino County, Carlos Villapudua of Stockton and Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park.

California must mandate higher education for police officers: The complexity of 21st-century policing demands a college degree, writes Christie Gardiner, a professor of criminal justice at CSU Fullerton.

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Other things worth your time

Judge denies San Francisco’s request to order schools to reopen to all students. // San Francisco Chronicle

Santa Ana Unified students to remain off campus rest of the school year. // Orange County Register

Antioch school district to remain in distance learning but offer in-person help. // East Bay Times

Lawmakers push to expand California hate crime laws after attacks on Asian Americans. // CalMatters

USC to pay $1.1 billion to settle decades of sex abuse claims against gynecologist. // Los Angeles Times

California auditor rips counties, state over failure to track $8 billion in jail funding. // Sacramento Bee

Limited visits with COVID rules resume at California prisons. // Sacramento Bee

California unemployment claims drop below 100,000 for first time since February. // Mercury News

California gas prices hit $3.76, highest since late 2019. // Mercury News

California energy regulators OK plan to prevent rolling electricity blackouts. // San Francisco Chronicle

Are California oil companies complying with the law? Even regulators often don’t know. // Desert Sun

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...