Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, April 13.

Solutions elusive

When it comes to California’s big problems, big money isn’t always enough.

Today, Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign into law a $536 million wildfire prevention bill lawmakers sent to his desk on Monday. But even as the state Assembly and Senate unanimously passed the bill — which includes $280 million for projects to improve forest health and nearly $200 million to cut fuel breaks — lawmakers warned that it will take an even larger, sustained investment to get a handle on the threat, per CalMatters’ Julie Cart.

  • Assemblymember James Gallagher, a Yuba City Republican: “If we think this is enough to address the crisis of catastrophic wildfires we are fooling ourselves.”

Last year, California spent more than $9 billion to combat more than 9,400 fires — its worst wildfire season on record. But the state, which appears to be on the brink of a serious drought, could feasibly set a new record this year. From the start of this year through April 4, firefighters have fought 995 fires that burned 3,007 acres — a massive uptick from the 697 fires that charred 1,266 acres during the same period last year.

In other pervasive problems facing the state: Some lawmakers say more funding is needed to clear severe backlogs in California’s court system that have caused at least 1,300 defendants to wait behind bars for more than three years despite not being convicted or sentenced for a crime, CalMatters’ Robert Lewis reports.

But even when money is earmarked for a specific purpose, getting it can be a challenge.

Desperate child care providers who run state-subsidized programs are anxiously waiting on a one-time stipend of $525 per child promised by Newsom in February. But a complicated payment process — which involves routing the money from the federal government to state agencies to local organizations and then to providers — has caused significant delays, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

There is some good financial news, though: Californians enrolled in Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, will see substantial savings as $3 billion in federal aid kicks in, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports. Covered California opened a special enrollment period Monday to encourage hundreds of thousands more residents to benefit from the aid, which lasts through 2022.

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All eyes will be on California’s COVID vaccine registration site, MyTurn, as eligibility opens to everyone 16 and over on Thursday. Share your MyTurn experiences with CalMatters writer Barbara Feder Ostrov at bfostrov@calmatters.org.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,602,827 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 59,249 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 22,974,654 vaccine doses, and 27.4% of Californians 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. Churches can open at full capacity

Parishioners at Easter services at Resonate Church in Fremont on April 4, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California on Monday lifted capacity limits on places of worship, making them the first sites in the state able to reopen indoors at full capacity. The move followed five U.S. Supreme Court rulings against Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions for their impact on religious exercise, including a Friday order striking down the state’s ban on at-home religious gatherings and a February order rejecting its prohibition on indoor church services. Three of the five suits were brought by the nonprofit Center for American Liberty, founded by San Francisco attorney and California Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon. Dhillon is representing a sizable portion of the plaintiffs in the more than 70 lawsuits filed against the governor’s shelter-in-place orders. 

  • Dhillon: “While we celebrate the lifting of restrictions today, our work is not done. We will not relent until we have sufficient precedent from the courts prohibiting this civil liberties crisis from ever happening again.” 

Orders limiting in-person church services have long been a focal point in the yearlong battle over Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions. The recall’s first six-figure cash injection came from an Orange County businessman who opposed the governor’s limits on religious gatherings.

2. Homelessness up — again

A man sleeps on Valencia Street in the Mission district of San Francisco. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

A staggering 161,548 Californians were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2020 — a nearly 7% increase from the year before and the largest uptick in the country, according to new federal data. The point-in-time count — which advocates say is a significant underestimate — underscores the massive scope of California’s homelessness crisis even before the pandemic pushed millions of people closer to losing their homes. In 2020, the Golden State accounted for 28% of the country’s homeless population and 51% of its unsheltered population.

It may take years to measure the pandemic’s full effects on California’s homelessness situation, since this year’s January count was postponed due to COVID-19. And there are a lot of moving parts: Thousands of unhoused Californians have found shelter via Newsom’s Project Homekey program, but others are struggling to stay afloat amid skyrocketing home prices, rising rents and inadequate housing production. In this comprehensive explainer, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias explores why California’s housing costs are so high — high enough, in fact, that nearly one in three residents are considering leaving the state.

3. Biden taps more Californians

President Joe Biden speaks in the Oval Office on March 30, 2021, in Washington. Photo by Evan Vucci, AP Photo

President Joe Biden has tapped two more Californians for prominent posts in his administration, the latest in a stream of top state officials heading to Washington, D.C. The president will nominate Doug Parker, head of the state workplace health and safety agency Cal/OSHA, to lead the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Biden also nominated former Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — giving him a large role in the country’s national immigration response alongside two prominent California Democrats, Vice President Kamala Harris and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Parker’s nomination comes as Cal/OSHA faces scrutiny for limited on-site inspections and a significant undercount of worker infections and deaths amid the pandemic, despite passing an emergency workplace standard for COVID-19 risks in November. Biden’s nominee for deputy labor secretary, California Labor Secretary Julie Su, has also faced intense criticism for her oversight of the state’s beleaguered unemployment department.


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CalMatters events

April 21: The Future of Campus Policing. In the wake of national protests against racism and police brutality, join CalMatters and KQED for a wide-ranging discussion about the role of police on college campuses. Register here.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Chamber of Commerce’s annual list of “job killer” bills has ignited a new phase of a perpetual political conflict.

Cut the red tape: The attorney general’s office must release important data on gun violence, argue Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, and state Sen. Josh Becker, a Menlo Park Democrat.

Internet for all: I’m proposing a streamlined permitting process for high-speed internet projects to help bridge California’s digital divide, writes Assemblymember Bill Quirk, a Hayward Democrat.

Reader reaction: It’s imperative the state extend health coverage to undocumented immigrants, argues Eduardo García of the Latino Community Foundation.


Other things worth your time

Former porn star Mary Carey officially running for California governor. // ABC7 San Francisco

Here are the top 5 wealthy donors funding Newsom’s anti-recall campaign. // San Francisco Chronicle

Inside California’s elections officials exodus. // Los Angeles Times

No initiatives on California recall ballot, campaigns say. // Politico

How the decline in COVID-19 testing could blind California to new problems. // Mercury News

Coronavirus shutdown of jury trials upends California federal courts. // Los Angeles Times

Bay Area traffic is now back in full force. Here’s a look at the data. // San Francisco Chronicle

For California moms, back to school is not back to normal. // CalMatters

As students return to classrooms, Asian Americans still learning at home. // CapRadio

UC explains admissions decisions in record application year of much heartbreak, some joy. // Los Angeles Times

California’s community colleges at critical crossroads as more students opt not to attend. // EdSource

Four gray whales found dead in eight days in San Francisco Bay area. // Washington Post


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...