Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, March 25.

Bonta a win for progressives

By nominating Assemblymember Rob Bonta to be California’s next attorney general, Gov. Gavin Newsom is priming the state to take a significantly different approach to criminal justice — one that could help him shore up progressive support ahead of a likely recall election, but could also alienate moderates and law enforcement.

If confirmed by the state Legislature, Bonta will take over the position vacated by Xavier Becerra, who was confirmed last week as President Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary. Bonta, an Oakland Democrat, would be the state’s first Filipino American attorney general, representing Newsom’s third historic and high-stakes appointment in the same number of months. The governor faced pressure to choose an Asian American as the state’s top prosecutor amid a surge in anti-Asian harassment and violence.

Bonta’s record as one of the most liberal members of the Assembly signals he will likely view criminal justice through a different lens than Becerra, who was often reluctant to get involved in cases of police misconduct. Bonta co-authored a new law requiring the attorney general to investigate all deadly police shootings of unarmed civilians. He also co-wrote the 2018 law abolishing cash bail — which, ironically, voters overturned in November by rejecting Prop. 25. (Bonta has since reintroduced a bill that would mostly eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and many nonviolent, low-level felonies.)

Bonta also led efforts to end California’s use of private prisons and increase the rights of immigrants in federal detention centers, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. And last year, he introduced a bill that would require district attorneys who have accepted money from law enforcement unions to recuse themselves from investigations into officer misconduct.

  • Bonta on Wednesday: “We have enough enhancements, enough criminalization, enough mass incarceration, enough over-sentencing — more than we need. We need prevention, we need healing. Rather than retributive justice, we need restorative justice.”

Bonta has faced scrutiny for soliciting more than $560,000 from companies that lobby the Legislature and directing it to groups that employ his wife. Mialisa Bonta, who is president of the Alameda Unified School Board, has already been floated as a potential candidate for her husband’s likely soon-to-be-vacant Assembly seat.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,551,056 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 56,850 deaths (+0.4% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 15,537,745 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. Californians lead immigration response

Then-Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during a rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland on Jan. 27, 2019. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group

Two prominent California Democrats are leading the national response to a two-decade high in border crossings, which will likely have a more direct impact on the Golden State than any other. Biden on Wednesday tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to spearhead diplomatic efforts with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to address “root causes of migration” — a task that has posed extraordinary political challenges for both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Meanwhile, as health and human services secretary, Becerra is responsible for managing shelters for undocumented children who enter the U.S. alone. Becerra has already enlisted the San Diego Convention Center — which up until recently was housing homeless people — as a temporary shelter for migrant children. California also recently allocated $28 million on food, shelter, transportation, medical care and other services for asylum seekers awaiting their court dates in the U.S.

2. Chaos returns to vaccine rollout

John Muir Health staff members work a checkout desk at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Walnut Creek on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

Despite the state’s efforts to streamline its vaccine rollout, county policies are once more beginning to diverge — creating yet another confusing patchwork of eligibility rules and availability. Both San Diego and San Francisco, for example, are now vaccinating people considered to be overweight — but San Diego defines that as having a body mass index of 25 or higher, whereas it’s 30 or above in San Francisco. And while the vast majority of counties are only vaccinating people 65 and older, at least four counties are offering vaccines to Californians 50 and above, and one has lowered its age eligibility to 45. Some counties, including San Francisco, have also expanded eligibility to include conditions like HIV and mental-health and substance-abuse disorders.

The counties’ decision to move beyond state guidelines reflects that California’s are among the most restrictive in the nation, even after a massive eligibility expansion last week. Numerous states, including Alaska, West Virginia and Mississippi, are vaccinating everyone 16 and above, and Georgia, Arizona and Texas are set to follow suit this month. Meanwhile, Florida and New York have already opened eligibility to everyone 50 and older, the Los Angeles Times reports. Newsom said last week California plans to throw eligibility open to all adults by early May in alignment with Biden’s recent directive.

3. Will investment in farmworker shelter pay off?

Farmworkers pick strawberries in Watsonville. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

Newsom is pumping up to $24 million into a program to help farmworkers self-isolate amid the pandemic — but Housing for the Harvest has only provided 137 hotel rooms since last summer, raising questions as to whether the state is overstating the program’s effectiveness, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports. California estimates that up to 17,600 people across 20 counties will participate in the revamped program, which includes up to $1,000 in cash assistance and permits farmworkers to shelter at home. But so far, only 12 counties have expressed interest. And with farmworkers apparently eager to be vaccinated and coronavirus case rates dropping across the state, it seems unlikely that demand will match the state’s projections — especially because farmworkers who already got sick and lost pay can’t benefit from the program, which only provides the wage replacement for those who test positive going forward.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The housing crisis and tax cuts offer two examples of California’s relationship with the political food chain.

New priorities for next drought: Newsom must not prioritize water for big agriculture at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, endangered species and communities, argue Darius Waiters of Restore the Delta and Brandon Dawson of Sierra Club California.

An opportunity to lead the nation: Here’s why California needs to go all in on offshore wind, write Eddie Ahn of Brightline Defense and Jeff Hunerlach of Operating Engineers Local #3.

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Other things worth your time

Some school districts offer reopening bonuses to teachers. // San Diego Union-Tribune

What are California teachers seeing as the early grades go back to school? // EdSource

Small businesses exempted from California’s expanded sick leave. // Capital & Main

Riverside County removes public health officer. // Press Enterprise

A tradition of violence: The history of deputy gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. // Knock LA

Sacramento rents increasing so fast they’re now higher than Seattle. // Sacramento Bee

San Francisco tourism spending plunged by $8 billion in 2020; full recovery not expected until 2025. // San Francisco Chronicle

Cannabis sales key to city of Marysville’s stable revenue amid pandemic. // Appeal-Democrat

Los Angeles now has a road map for 100% renewable energy. // Los Angeles Times

California scrambles to improve electric grid to avoid summer blackouts. // San Bernardino Sun

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...