Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, April 22.

Central Valley wants in

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a regional drought emergency Wednesday, but stopped short of issuing a statewide proclamation or mandating water conservation measures — a decision that drew ire from some lawmakers.

Newsom’s emergency declaration applies to the Russian River watershed, which spans Sonoma and Mendocino counties and serves hundreds of thousands of Californians. The region relies on rainfall and is isolated from state and federal aqueducts, making it especially vulnerable to the drought parching California. Newsom’s order authorizes state agencies to restrict the amount of water diverted from the river and speed up contracts for certain services, such as relocating endangered fish stranded in drying puddles, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.

Although the declaration also calls for a number of statewide actions — such as improved monitoring of groundwater pumping and reporting of dry wells — it wasn’t enough to satisfy lawmakers who have repeatedly called on Newsom to declare a state drought emergency and ensure Central Valley farmers receive enough water.

  • State Sen. Scott Wilk, a Santa Clarita Republican: “While the overwhelming majority of the state is experiencing extreme drought conditions, Governor Newsom has chosen to only serve his French Laundry wine and cheese crowd.”
  • Newsom: “We need to … approach the challenges with a laser-like recognition that you can’t focus this state as a one-size-fits-all solution, meaning we have to target our solutions regionally.”

The governor added that he will “add other counties to that list as necessary … based upon actual conditions on the ground.” He also said it isn’t yet necessary to mandate water conservation, noting that Californians in urban areas are using 16% less water than they were at the start of the last major drought in 2012. Nevertheless, a major Bay Area water agency — which receives about 25% of its water from reservoirs on the Russian River — on Tuesday approved mandatory water restrictions for its 200,000 residents.

Tensions are also rising on the Oregon-California border, where the federal government recently told farmers they will only get a tiny portion of the water they need even as endangered fish remain at risk.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,622,427 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 59,890 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 26,454,819 vaccine doses, and 32.7% 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. Single-payer health care tabled

Assemblymember Ash Kalra at a press conference on the opening day of the 2020 legislative session. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

A proposal to create single-payer health care in California has been tabled until next year — freeing Newsom from having to take a stance in a heated intra-party debate as he faces an almost-certain recall election. The bill’s lead author, Assemblymember Ash Kalra, said Wednesday that he chose to delay consideration of the bill until January 2022 in response to “many of my colleagues” raising “concerns that the funding mechanism for the bill had not been identified.”

  • Kalra: “I believe that we will benefit from more time to evaluate still evolving conversations on funding options while the bill remains alive. Otherwise, pursuing the bill in its current form … would have certainly led to it dying at the committee level.”

The news comes a week after a controversial bill that would have banned fracking and other oil extraction methods died in a nine-member Democratic-majority committee — erasing Newsom’s other main political headache as he works to shore up party support ahead of the likely recall. Still, single-payer health care was one of Newsom’s biggest campaign promises — suggesting that some progressive voters may not let him off the hook that easily.

2. MyTurn bypassed for most appointments

Alyssa Jenkins helps someone search for a vaccine on MyTurn at her Pacifica home on April 19, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California spent $50 million building MyTurn, a website billed as one-stop shop for residents to learn when they were eligible for the vaccine and make an appointment for their shot. But appointments booked on MyTurn account only for 27% of the vaccinations given each day across the state — largely due to persistent glitches and gaps that not only frustrated Californians, but actually limited their ability to find available appointments nearby. CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov breaks down some of the site’s problems:

  • It can’t schedule appointments for large providers like Kaiser, Sutter Health or Carbon Health. If you enter the ZIP code for Dodger Stadium, for example, into MyTurn, it won’t show appointments at the mass vaccination site because it’s managed by Carbon Health.
  • It can’t schedule appointments for retail pharmacies and grocery stores that receive doses directly from the federal government.
  • It can’t schedule appointments for nonprofit community clinics or for homebound residents.

MyTurn has other critical functions — it tracks vaccine orders and distribution, collects vaccination data and helps organize volunteers — but its public interface appears to have fallen significantly short.

3. More taxpayer rebates on the way?

Image via iStock

California is so flush with money that it may be forced to issue taxpayer rebates for only the second time in state history — but this rare occurrence is poised to become a lot more frequent, according to a Wednesday report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Current law prevents California from spending more tax revenue per resident than it did in 1978, when adjusted for inflation, and requires any surplus revenue to be split between schools and taxpayer rebates. But as the gap between California’s rich and poor residents grows wider and voters approve ballot measures that hike taxes, among other factors, the state is increasingly likely to collect more tax revenue than it is authorized to spend. That excess revenue could top $10 billion by 2024-25, according to the legislative analyst. “As a result, we anticipate the Legislature will need to make — potentially major — changes to the state budget in the coming years,” the office wrote.

  • The legislative analyst: “For example, this year, the Legislature could decide to issue refunds and provide additional funding to schools. This response might not be sustainable over the long term, however. As existing program costs increase, revenues available for appropriation could be insufficient to meet current service levels. Consequently, changes to the state’s revenues and expenditures” — taxes and programs — “would be required.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: “Tort wars” over the rules governing personal injury lawsuits in California are heating up again in the Capitol.

Should California create a public bank? When government duplicates or replaces private businesses, the outcomes are undesirable except for politicians and their chosen beneficiaries, argues Kerry Jackson of the Pacific Research Institute.

Time to tax ultra-wealthy: Lawmakers have a few weeks to decide whether to consider the California Tax on Extreme Wealth. It’s their duty to pass this measure and let voters decide, argues Jeff Freitas of the California Federation of Teachers.

Reader response: We’re proposing changes to our rooftop solar program not to make a profit, but to support customer equity and California’s clean energy future, argues Robert Kenney, PG&E’s vice president of regulatory and external affairs.


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Other things worth your time

San Francisco students face ‘Zoom in a room’ after 500 educators granted medical exemptions. // San Francisco Chronicle

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner to step down in June. // Los Angeles Times

Without walls: How some Los Angeles and Orange County schools are embracing outdoor learning. // KQED

New wrinkle in Bay Area: Slowdown in interest for thousands of vaccination slots. // San Francisco Chronicle

‘A feeding frenzy’: Southern California home prices up 15%. // Los Angeles Times

He spent $200,000 trying to open an ice cream shop, but was no match for city bureaucracy. // San Francisco Chronicle

Los Angeles club owners confront crashed government website and puzzling reopening rules. // Los Angeles Times

California marijuana advocates want cannabis back on the ballot. // Sacramento Bee

The Los Angeles River’s overlooked anglers. // High Country News

Here’s Sacramento’s plan to stop sex trafficking at places acting as massage businesses. // Sacramento Bee


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...