TGIF, California! It’s April 9. This is CalMatters politics reporter Ben Christopher. Emily Hoeven will be back in your inbox on Monday.

Biden goes California on guns

After yet another wave of mass shootings, including one in Orange County, President Biden took aim at gun violence Thursday — and a page from California’s playbook.

In new proposed executive orders, Biden plans to:

  • Require home-assembled “ghost guns” to be etched with serial numbers, and subject buyers of these kits to background checks;
  • Develop model “red flag” laws, which allow firearms to be temporarily removed from people deemed high-risk;
  • Pour federal money into gun violence “intervention” programs.

If Biden’s new orders sound at all familiar, that’s because California already has many of them on its books. DIY guns are required to include state-issued serial numbers. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill requiring anyone who buys an “unfinished receiver” — the pre-finished gun frame that gets milled into a functioning firearm — to get a background check first. That law, however, doesn’t go into effect until 2024. 

This is Biden’s first crack at changing national gun policy and stops short of his campaign promise to ban “assault rifles.” But he stressed these are first steps. Bigger changes will require Congress to step up, something Biden demanded: “Enough prayers, time for some action.” 

Note: The deciding vote in the Senate is currently this guy.

Newsom, one of the nation’s most vocal proponents of tough gun regulation, applauded Biden’s moves — along with California’s own efforts. 

  • Newsom, in a statement: “California has led the nation in passing gun safety laws. We are grateful to now have a partner in the White House who knows we can – and must – do more to end gun violence.”

Want to learn more about how California came to be the toughest state in the union on guns? CalMatters has an explainer for that.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,588,152 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 58,788 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 21,483,192 vaccine doses and 8,074,797 people are fully vaccinated.

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. Second thoughts?

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

Don Perata, former top dog of the California Senate, wants to convince backers of the all-but-certain recall election that, on second thought, Gov. Newsom isn’t so bad after all.

Once a recall petition’s signatures are certified, California law gives each signer 30 days to pull their support. 

Perata’s plan is to persuade enough Californians to pull their signatures. Depending on how many signatures are verified in late April, that could be in the hundreds of thousands. Perata acknowledged to me that it’s “a climb.”

An added difficulty: He has no idea who he should be trying to convince. That’s because the recall campaign is under no obligation to share the contact information of those who signed the petition.

Not yet.

State Sen. Josh Newman, who was recalled in 2018 only to be put back in office in 2020, is pushing a bill that would require recall campaigns to hand the names and numbers of petition signers to the politician under attack for “purposes of communication.” 

  • Newman: “Consistent with our standard of justice in the US, the accused, if you will, should have a right to at least address or engage their accusers.”

But legislation passed this year won’t go into effect until 2022 — after the Newsom recall — unless lawmakers add an “urgency provision.” Newman said he isn’t interested.

  • Newman: “That would, I think, color this effort in a way that it wouldn’t be helpful…this has no bearing on the current gubernatorial effort. And secondly, this is not sour grapes for me.”

Side note: Perata’s campaign is called “Stop the Steal” — yes, like the slogan used by the pro-Trump rioters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. As campaign mascot, Perata picked California’s governor Hiram Johnson, the father of the recall. 

The technical term for this is “trolling.”

  • Perata: “We all had a little fun. And, you know, why not?”

2. Fighting fire with money

Wind and flames leap high in the air as firefighters attempt to put out the Creek Fire Northeast of Shaver Lake in Fresno County on Sep. 6, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

Gov. Newsom and the Legislature have reached a deal to spend an extra $536 million on immediate fire prevention measures.

CalMatters environment reporter Julie Cart covered Thursday’s announcement. While it may seem a little early to be talking fire (one calamity at a time, please), she notes that even though traditional wildfire season is still months away, “more than 800 fires have ignited this year” so far.

Here’s Julie’s dispatch: 

The funding — about half of the governor’s proposed $1 billion for wildfire response — includes $280 million for projects to improve forest health and $30 million to make communities and homes more fire-resistant.

Officials made the announcement near Shaver Lake, in Fresno County, the site of last year’s 380,000-acre Creek Fire, which took four months to contain. Yellow-helmeted fire crews worked in the background as Newsom and CalFire Chief Thom Porter and state Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot laid out the scope of the problem, made more urgent by dire drought predictions. 

“We can’t sugarcoat the fact that this summer is going to be challenging,” Crowfoot said.

Some $200 million of the emergency funds will be allocated for cutting fuel breaks in the state’s forests, although state authorities manage only about three percent of California’s 33 million wooded acres. 

The governor alluded to a new relationship with the U.S. Forest Service, which in recent years had been, he said, more like a “sparring partner” than an ally to manage the state’s forests.

3. Purple with envy

A mule team makes its way down North Main Street during the 2017 Mule Days parade in Bishop. Photo by The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Will Bishop hold its annual Mule Days celebration as planned this Memorial Day? Or will the Owens Valley town be forced once again to cancel its week of equine festivities, including “the world’s longest mule parade”? 

The answer all comes down to a color.

In the state’s rainbow-coded system of COVID-19 restrictions, only two counties — Inyo, home to Bishop, and Merced in the Central Valley — are stuck at the most restrictive, purple end. 

That means no indoor dining, no bars and limited gatherings. That’s hardly conducive to a week spent mule pleasure riding with the family. 

The dramatic decline in the state’s “purple” population speaks to the rapidly improving public health situation. Earlier this week, the governor announced plans to open the entire state back up to “business as usual” on June 15 (terms and condition apply).

But as CalMatters health reporter Ana Ibarra notes, it’s unclear why that progress has been so slow to come to these two unlucky counties.

Locals in Bishop say the state’s tier system, which sets thresholds based on the number of infections per capita, implicitly punishes less populous counties.

  • Mayor Stephen Muchovej: “That’s why you see Inyo perpetually stuck in purple, because one case makes a huge difference.”

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Upcoming event:

The Future of Campus Policing: In the wake of national protests against racism and police brutality, join CalMatters and KQED for a ranging discussion with students and administrators about how we rethink the role of police on campuses. April 21 | Register


CalMatters commentary

Defund the school police: As the pandemic forces us to reassess how schools can best meet the needs of students, it’s time to reimagine school safety, argues Jackie Byers of the Black Organizing Project.

Rural California needs recycling too: Nearly 1,000 California redemption centers have closed since 2015, leaving the state riddled with recycling deserts, write Heidi Sanborn and Richard Valle of the California Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling.


Other things worth your time

Judge halts sprawling Tejon ranch housing development, citing wildfire risk // Los Angeles Times

Four women accuse wine country mayor of sexual assault // San Francisco Chronicle

Jenner Watch: seasoned GOP politicos now working for reality TV star as she considers run for governor // Politico

Olympic karate hopeful the latest target of anti-Asian abuse in Orange County // ABC7

Gavin Newsom’s recall defense sounds like a re-run from 2003 // San Francisco Chronicle

Good times projected for the California economy // ABC7

Horny toads: Researchers help endangered amphibians get intimate // Los Angeles Times 

Elk Grove paying unhoused residents to pick up trash // CBS Sacramento

The Space Force is coming to Los Angeles // Associated Press

Former Rep. Katie Hill loses first round of revenge porn suit // Los Angeles Times

Asian and Asian-American photographers show us images of love in a time of hate // New York Times


See you Monday!

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Ben Christopher

Ben covers California politics and elections. Prior to that, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and budget. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has written...