California is incentivizing businesses to require customers show proof of vaccination, suggesting that the Golden State is moving toward a “vaccine passport” system despite health officials’ comments to the contrary.

The state Department of Public Health last week unveiled little-noticed revisions that allow conferences, live events and performances, stadiums, family entertainment centers and other gatherings to reopen at higher capacity if all guests show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or of full vaccination. Doing so would permit stadiums in the orange tier, for example, to reopen at 67% instead of 33%, and people in the fully vaccinated sections wouldn’t have to physically distance. The new guidelines also allow fully vaccinated out-of-state visitors to attend events that would otherwise be restricted to Californians.

Yet thorny logistical, ethical and legal questions remain. Citing privacy and civil liberty concerns, Assemblymember Kevin Kiley, a Rocklin Republican, recently introduced a bill that would ban state and local governments, as well as entities that receive state money, from using vaccine passports. Other advocates are concerned such a system could reinforce racial and economic inequities. And the UC and CSU systems appear unlikely to require students get the COVID-19 vaccine — doing so could raise legal issues, as it’s only received emergency use authorization so far.

Experts say the policy around vaccine passports will likely be driven by the market.

The market appears to be heading in that direction. Salesforce, San Francisco’s largest private employer, announced earlier this month that it would require proof of vaccination for the first employees returning to the office. The San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors are also requiring attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result.

  • State Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat: Banning vaccine passports would mean “what we’re basically telling businesses is, ‘Sorry, we’re denying you a piece of information that could allow you to reopen safely.’ Why would we want to stand in their way?”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,618,695 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 59,772 deaths (+0% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 25,790,401 vaccine doses, and 31.7% 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. Mandatory water restrictions begin

Image via iStock

Today, the first major water agency in the Bay Area is expected to approve mandatory water restrictions — another indication that California is in the midst of a serious dry spell that could lead to the state’s first official drought emergency in years. The Marin Municipal Water District is poised to adopt plans that would require about 200,000 residents to limit outdoor watering to one day a week and ban washing cars, refilling swimming pools and power-washing homes, among other things, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Offenders could face fines of up to $250 starting next month. Golf courses would also have to limit watering, and street cleaning with potable water would be banned.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has so far resisted calls from some lawmakers and advocates to declare a drought emergency, which would enable him to mandate conservation measures and relax environmental restrictions on some water sources to divert more to farmers.

2. Homeless spending ratchets up

Esteban Gonzalez keeps watch over a dozen shopping carts full of personal items belonging to a group of homeless individuals across the street from Los Angeles City Hall on August 7, 2019. According to Gonzalez, someone must stay with the shopping carts at all times to avoid having their items taken away by authorities so he and the other participants take turns throughout the day never leaving the carts unattended. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Esteban Gonzalez watches over a dozen shopping carts belonging to a group of homeless individuals across the street from Los Angeles City Hall on August 7, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California’s homeless population appears to be growing even as state and local governments spend exponentially more money trying to address the issue. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans Monday to spend nearly $1 billion on homelessness next fiscal year — the largest one-year sum in city history and a nearly sevenfold increase from his budget five years ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. Similar increases are popping up across the state: San Francisco is proposing spending more than $560 million on homelessness next year, up from $242 million six years ago. And Sacramento has spent more than $110 million on homelessness over the past two years, a massive increase from the less than $2 million it spent in 2015.

Yet recently released federal data shows that California’s homeless population shot up nearly 7% from January 2019 to January 2020, the largest uptick in the country. But even as Newsom’s Project Homekey program has opened up thousands of permanent supportive housing units for homeless Californians, the pandemic has also pushed millions of people closer to losing their homes. And public housing authorities, especially in Los Angeles, have left out critical information about pandemic relief and protections in letters sent to tenants — which advocates say could lead to tenants evicting themselves when they don’t have to, CalMatters’ Amy Martyn reports.

3. State preschool program lags behind

Image via iStock

Despite spending $1 billion more on preschool than the next highest-spending state, California is falling behind in preschool access and quality, according to an annual report released Monday by the National Institute for Early Education Research. California ranked 15th nationally for preschool access in 2019-20, a step down from 14th place the year before. The report found that the Golden State would need to create around 500,000 new preschool seats to reach 90% of 3- and 4-year-olds. As it was, California’s preschool enrollment fell by more than 6,000 students amid the pandemic — a drop also seen in kindergarten and K-12 enrollment. Quality is also a concern: The state’s preschool program only met six of 10 quality standards and its transitional kindergarten program only met three standards, while six states met all 10 standards.

Newsom’s administration in December released a master plan for early learning and child care, including universal preschool for all 4-year-olds and universal preschool for all 3-year-olds with disabilities or from low-income families. But the proposal was light on details of how the state would create and pay for such programs.

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CalMatters events

WEDNESDAY: 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: After tripling the number of prisons in the 1980s and 1990s, California is beginning to shut down some of the older facilities.

Why no Democrat should run in the Newsom recall: Take it from someone who was involved in the Gov. Gray Davis recall: There are two significant problems with another Democrat entering the race, writes Democratic strategist Garry South.

Putting rooftop solar out of business? California utilities recently proposed charging households $78 per month to have rooftop solar panels in order to increase investor profits, argues Dave Rosenfeld of the Solar Rights Alliance.

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Other things worth your time

California soda tax bill dies in another win for Big Soda. // San Francisco Chronicle

After a deadly year on the roads, California pushes for safety over speed. // California Healthline

CalPERS audit shows misspending on hotels, wine corkage. // Sacramento Bee

Former CalPERS employee defrauded $685,000 from 10 retirees, lawsuit says. // Sacramento Bee

Facebook banned Newsom recall organizer during 2020 crackdown. // San Francisco Chronicle

Newsom has his own petition to fight the recall. Experts say it’s misleading. // Sacramento Bee

Border fiasco spurs a blame game inside Biden world, with Becerra as main target. // Politico

California and Biden plot to vacuum away climate change. // Los Angeles Times

Clam hunters’ supertool has California worried: ‘It might be too good.’ // The Guardian

Yet another death at notorious California skydiving center, bringing total to 22 since 1981. // SFGATE

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...