President Joe Biden said Monday that states should pause their reopening efforts amid a new surge in coronavirus cases, creating a potential political liability for Gov. Gavin Newsom as he ushers California into its fastest reopening yet.

Biden’s comments came the same day that Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed a sense of “impending doom” about a fourth coronavirus wave. Over the past two weeks, positive cases have skyrocketed 133% in Michigan, 62% in Connecticut and 42% in New York, according to a New York Times database. Although California’s seven-day case rate is at an all-time low of 1.6%, health experts warn transmission levels could increase as people gather for Passover and Easter and travel for spring break.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus variants continue to pop up throughout California. The Brazilian variant, which appears to be more infectious and to reduce the effectiveness of some antibody treatments, showed up last week in San Diego and the Bay Area for the first time. The state Department of Public Health is tracking five “known variants of concern” and three “known variants of interest,” which together account for more than 9,000 cases statewide.

Today, some of the state’s largest counties — including Orange and Los Angeles — are expected to progress into the second-least restrictive reopening tier, paving the way for more businesses to reopen at fuller capacity. And some amusement parks will reopen this week after Newsom gave them the green light to welcome customers back starting April 1.

The state is also set to open vaccine eligibility to all Californians 50 and older on April 1, but a likely backlog of appointments could hamper efforts to accelerate distribution.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,564,468 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 57,778 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 17,356,911 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. More wild recall rules

Recall Newsom volunteer Pat Miller makes a sign during a petition signing event at SaveMart in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Recall Newsom volunteer Pat Miller makes a sign during a petition signing event at SaveMart in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Candidates seeking to run against Newsom in a likely recall election later this year could have as little as 24 hours to enter the race — just another quirk of California’s unique recall rules, which could also cause Newsom to lose his job even if he garners more support than the top candidate to replace him. Under California law, replacement candidates would likely have to file their paperwork no later than 59 days before the election — which must itself be scheduled 60 to 80 days after the secretary of state certifies the recall measure, the Los Angeles Times reports. Should Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis decide to schedule the election 60 days after certification, that would give candidates just one day to file — potentially limiting the number of challengers Newsom will face.

Another wild card: whether high-dollar initiatives expected to go before voters in November 2022 end up on the recall ballot instead. It appears likely a referendum to overturn a flavored tobacco ban Newsom signed into law last year will go on the recall ballot, while the timing of three other initiatives — including one to legalize sports betting in tribal casinos — is more uncertain. The implications are massive for interest groups supporting and opposing the initiatives: Not only do special elections typically see different voters turn out than regular elections, but the campaigns will also take place much earlier than expected.

2. New SF controversy: summer school

San Francisco Supervisors have delayed approving a summer school program over “political agenda” concerns. Image via iStock

Eyebrow-raising news just keeps coming out of San Francisco. Several weeks after announcing a $50 million initiative to offer free in-person summer school and child care to the city’s public school students, the Board of Supervisors voted to delay approving the program in order to investigate the “political agenda” of the philanthropic group donating half the money, Recode reports.

  • Supervisor Hillary Ronen: “There has to be … unprecedented transparency and agreement that funders of this initiative are doing so because they’re very concerned about children — and aren’t trying to advance some alternative privatization, charter agenda that is meant to dismantle our public schools.”

Ironically, Ronen in January introduced a $2 billion plan that would seek sizable donations from billionaires to revamp San Francisco’s public school system.

To say nothing of the ongoing school board fiasco, it’s just the latest example of the city getting in its own way. A modular housing developer that employs many formerly incarcerated people is building permanent supportive housing for homeless San Franciscans much faster and cheaper than usual. But San Francisco’s powerful construction trades unions, which were cut out of the deal, are pressuring supervisors to desist from future modular projects, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Several supervisors have already said they won’t back another modular project unless the city’s unions are included.

3. CA politicans flip redistricting stance

Image via iStock

Congress is fiercely divided over a sweeping elections reform bill that would, among other things, require every state to create an independent commission to redraw its legislative and congressional districts — something California has had for a decade. The bill is championed by San Francisco Democrat and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and opposed by Bakersfield Republican and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — a stark reversal of their stances when an independent redistricting commission was put before California voters years ago. Republicans pushed heavily for the commission, while Democrats — including Pelosi and labor unions — spent millions opposing it, Dan Morain, this newsletter’s creator and former author, writes for the Washington Post.

That’s because Democrats, who controlled California’s Legislature, feared that giving their redistricting power to a commission composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and four no party preference voters would result in Democratic losses. (Those worries appear to have been unfounded: Although California Republicans flipped four congressional seats in 2020, they still hold less than they did in 2010.) But nationally, Republicans control more state legislatures than Democrats do — meaning they also control redistricting in those states. And that’s something, Dan writes, that McCarthy is loath to give up.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s selection of Assemblymember Rob Bonta as attorney general was an inevitable result of identity politics.

California needs a health information exchange: Statewide health data infrastructure would improve patient care, transform Medi-Cal and augment service quality and affordability, argues Claudia Williams of Manifest MedEx.

LA needs a Youth Development Department: The city’s youth programs are currently spread ineffectually across 26 departments, hindering access to critical services, writes Kelly Bruno of the National Health Foundation.

Other things worth your time

How did $2.7 billion in California housing bonds disappear? // CalMatters

Mayor London Breed is working on a huge expansion of homeless housing. Will it help? // San Francisco Chronicle

Contractor warns of another two-year delay for California bullet train. // Los Angeles Times

Californians have recall fever, and Newsom could just be the start. // Politico

Newsom’s experiment to get rid of public trash bins in San Francisco seems to have failed. // Mission Local

Stockton mass vaccination site on hold after vaccine supply delayed. // Stockton Record

School reopening safety a tough sell for LAUSD parents. // Los Angeles Times

Women say California Legislature fails sexual harassment victims. // Sacramento Bee

Young Kim and Michelle Steel carve out different paths in Congress. // Orange County Register

Sierra, Sequoia national forest plans revised after California fires. // Fresno Bee

New wildlife bridge might be what saves Southern California’s mountain lions. // Daily News

Boy’s death on San Diego County mountain led to wilderness survival program that endures. // San Diego Union-Tribune

See you tomorrow.

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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...