Good morning, California. It’s Monday, March 1. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

National criticism mounts

Gov. Gavin Newsom was skewered in this weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live for dining at the French Laundry and for California’s chaotic vaccine rollout — adding to growing national criticism as he fends off a potential recall.

In SNL’s opening skit, Dr. Anthony Fauci, played by Kate McKinnon, hosts a game show called “So You Think You Can Get the Vaccine.” She describes Newsom, played by Alex Moffatt, as being “hated by every single person in California except for those 10 people he had dinner with in Napa that one time.” When asked how things are going in California, Moffatt, who is wearing the governor’s signature bear-emblazoned jacket, responds, “Teeth: White. Body: Tight. COVID: Pretty bad.”

The skit also lampooned Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose name has appeared alongside Newsom’s in a slew of recent headlines characterizing the two men as fallen Democratic stars. Cuomo — facing numerous allegations of sexual harassment as well as accusations that he obscured the number of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes — is in hotter water than Newsom. But Newsom continues to be haunted by the nearly 4-month-old specter of the French Laundry, as well as widespread frustration over business and school closures and unemployment fraud. He’s also facing pushback for holding recent press conferences inside shuttered restaurants.

  • Andrew Gruel, chef and owner of Slapfish Seafood: “California is the only state where indoor dining is banned. Industry gutted. It’s an explosive topic. Newsom holds an event INSIDE a restaurant … people are actually saying this is OK? If it’s ok for them then open it all up.”

Meanwhile, the list of potential recall challengers is growing. Richard Grenell, former President Donald Trump’s acting national intelligence director, strongly hinted at a run for California governor in a Saturday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

  • Grenell: “If a public official is still failing to deliver on their promises … there’s always one other option: You can run against them yourself.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,475,562 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 51,979 deaths (+0.3% 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.

In the newest episode of the California State of Mind podcast, California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris discusses the state’s pandemic response and small business owners weigh in on new stimulus grants.

California State of Mind is now airing on radio and digital stations. You can tune into the show on CapRadio every Friday at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

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1. New vaccine system starts today

Patients enter Levi’s Stadium to receive Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 9, 2021 in Santa Clara. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Blue Shield will take over California’s vaccine distribution today, ensuring all counties play by the same eligibility rules while setting aside 10% of the state’s weekly doses for education workers. Ten counties are slated to onboard to the Blue Shield system today — a week behind schedule — with the remaining counties making the switch by the end of March, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra and Barbara Feder Ostrov report. Under the new system, Blue Shield will recommend the number of doses each county should receive and decide which providers can administer them. (It’s already approved health care operations firm OptumServe, which has quietly assumed a significant role in California’s vaccine rollout.) The counties will also be required to transition to MyTurn, a statewide appointment system that’s grappled with glitches and delays.

Health officials said California will today attain the capacity to administer 3 million vaccines weekly, up from its current pace of 1.4 million. But that goal is highly dependent on supply. California is set to receive this week 380,000 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — which won emergency use authorization Saturday from the Food and Drug Administration — in addition to around 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine.

2. California to spend big on asylum seekers

A person from Tijuana, Mexico peers through the border fence at the Border Field State Park in Imperial Beach. Photo by LiPo Ching, Bay Area News Group

California will spend up to $28 million on food, shelter, transportation, medical care and other services for immigrants crossing into the United States from Mexico to await court dates, the Newsom administration announced Thursday. The move, which follows President Joe Biden’s suspension of a Trump policy that required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their court hearings, signals that California has officially abandoned the resistance state label it cultivated under the Trump administration. That status has instead been assumed by Arizona and Texas, which has already sued Biden over his immigration policy.

It also comes as California has unusually flush coffers, which are overflowing in part because of a staggering wealth gap. Newsom announced last month that California ended up raking in $10.3 billion more than projected in his record-high budget proposal.

3. Colleges plan for next school year

Students at UC San Diego at a genetics lecture in large outdoor tents in Revelle Plaza on Feb. 17, 2021. Photo by Arlene Banuelos for CalMatters

As most California colleges and universities zero in on fall 2021 to return to campus life, they’re trying to figure out what, exactly, it will look like. Something it likely won’t include: mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, as the vaccines have only been authorized for emergency use, CalMatters’ College Journalism Network reports. But that could change “pretty quickly” if the vaccines are approved for nonemergency use, a CSU official said.

Classes may also take different forms. Some universities, like UC San Diego, are holding in-person classes in outdoor tents equipped with wifi, weatherproof speakers, podcasting equipment, whiteboards and display screens. Others, like UC Berkeley, are holding indoor classes capped at 26 students. And online learning will probably remain in the picture.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: State Auditor Elaine Howle has been on a roll, repeatedly revealing politically embarrassing facts about state agencies and programs. (Note: Dan’s column will pause until March 15, when he returns from vacation.)

Proposed legislation would set schools back: Both Newsom and the Legislature’s plans to reopen campuses would actually hurt schools that are already holding in-person classes, argue state Sen. Brian Dahle and Assemblymember Megan Dahle, Republicans from Bieber.

Welcome to new series Overcharged: I’ll be examining how unfair fines and fees criminalize poverty in California and exploring possible solutions, writes Anne Stuhldreher, director of San Francisco’s Financial Justice Project.

Other things worth your time

These parts of Los Angeles barely felt the winter coronavirus surge. // Los Angeles Times

Reopening high schools gets ugly, divisive in Bay Area district where rich and poor mix. // Los Angeles Times

State Sen. Richard Pan: Anti-vaccine extremism is akin to domestic terrorism. // Washington Post

California lost 175,000 ‘creative economy’ jobs, study finds. // New York Times

Backlash in Fresno as evangelical church tries to buy Tower Theatre, a bohemian landmark. // Los Angeles Times

Bay Area cities want to end single-family home zoning, but will it create more housing? // San Francisco Chronicle

Victims rights advocates launch recall effort against George Gascón. // Los Angeles Times

Energy company to breed endangered California condors to replace birds killed by turbine blades. // Los Angeles Times

California doctor performs surgery while appearing at video traffic court appointment. // Sacramento Bee

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...