June 15 will be a big day for California.
That’s when the state will ease its mask mandate to allow fully vaccinated people to forgo face coverings in most places, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said Monday. It’s also when California will lift capacity limits on businesses, permitting the state to fully reopen for the first time in more than a year.
- Ghaly: “California has made amazing progress in our fight against COVID-19 … with more than 34 million vaccines administered, we now have one of the lowest case and positivity rates in the nation.”
That California will not follow new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for another month underscores the political and logistical complexities of changing the Golden State’s mask rules. And don’t expect the complexities to end on June 15: Ghaly emphasized Monday that counties and private businesses can choose to keep tougher mask rules in place. He also noted that the state’s workplace safety agency, which is meeting later this week to consider changes to its emergency coronavirus rules, may set its own standards for employers and workplaces. Meanwhile, masks will be required in schools “throughout the rest of this calendar year,” Ghaly said.
Adding to the confusion, the state is still figuring out whether Californians should be required to show proof of vaccination in order to walk maskless into a store, and if so, how. Although California has incentivized businesses to use vaccine passports, it’s shied away from creating a statewide system — though Ghaly said officials are “continuing to watch and see how these technologies can be used to help support public health in our state.”
Another reason the state is waiting a month to loosen its mask rules: It wants more Californians to get vaccinated first. Just under half of the state’s eligible population was fully vaccinated as of Monday. And when it comes to herd immunity, only two of 58 counties are close to reaching the vaccination levels experts say are necessary to keep COVID-19 at bay — while most trail far behind with less than half of their eligible population vaccinated, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,665,904 confirmed cases (+0.03% from previous day) and 61,510 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
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. An exaggerated budget surplus?
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who spent the past week touting the state’s staggering $76 billion surplus, had some of the wind taken out of his sails Monday when the nonpartisan group that advises the state Legislature estimated the actual size of the surplus to be $38 billion. The sizable discrepancy derives from different definitions of “surplus”: Newsom included constitutionally required spending on schools, reserves and debt payments in his total — presumably because a larger number would generate more buzz — while the Legislative Analyst’s Office did not. The office also poked holes in Newsom’s sprawling list of proposals, noting that it might be wiser to use the surplus to comprehensively address a few key issues, rather than spreading the money across 400 new programs.
Other key recommendations from the legislative analyst:
- “In contrast to the governor” proposing to borrow money and tap into reserves, lawmakers should “restore budget resilience” by saving money to help cushion the state against projected future deficits.
- Lawmakers should take more time to consider Newsom’s proposals, rather than spending almost all of the state surplus and federal stimulus at once with limited oversight.
Speaking of Newsom’s big proposals, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts breaks down who would qualify for the second round of Golden State stimulus checks, if they’re approved by the Legislature.
2. Newsom releases tax returns
Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom took in nearly $1.7 million in 2019, his first year as governor, according to tax returns released Monday. The couple’s adjusted gross income went up 40% compared with the year before, mostly due to assets held in a blind trust where Newsom moved his ownership stake in the Plumpjack wine and hospitality businesses after he was elected governor, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Now, Newsom’s re-election campaign is calling on Republican gubernatorial recall candidates to release their tax returns too, arguing that it’s required by state law. However, the law only applies to candidates who want to be on the ballot for a “direct primary election” — and the recall is a special election, not a primary.
- Jessica Levinson, a political law professor at Loyola Law School: “It’s going to be hard to overcome a plain language problem.”
- State Sen. Mike McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat and the law’s co-author: “The spirit of the bill is to release one’s tax returns, and all candidates — no matter their party affiliation — should do the right thing and be transparent with California voters.”
3. State unprepared for drought
Despite the takeaways from California’s last major drought — which ended four years ago — the state still isn’t prepared for the one currently ravaging it. In the first installment of a new series, “Lessons Learned? Drought Then and Now,” CalMatters’ Julie Cart and Rachel Becker report that some conditions in the state are worse and some are better than they were heading into the last drought. Groundwater, for example, is still being pumped with few restrictions and no statewide limits, severely limiting rural communities’ supply of drinking water. And although most urban Californians and some farmers are wasting less water, other farmers are drilling deeper wells to suck out more water to plant new orchards. Julie and Rachel also report that this drought will likely be felt unevenly across the state: While Northern California residents are preparing for water restrictions, Southern California has stored enough water to avoid them for now.
- Jay Lund, co-director of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Sciences: “We are in worse shape than we were before the last drought, and we are going to be in even worse shape after this one.”
- Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California: “The universal truism is that by the time you react to a drought it’s too late to react to a drought.”
4. Summer school programs falling short?
Despite billions of dollars from the state and federal government to address learning loss via summer school programs, it appears that not every California student will be able to benefit. The problem seems to be twofold: First, district officials are struggling to find enough teachers to fill classrooms, with many saying they’re too exhausted to take a summer job, EdSource reports. Second — and perhaps resulting from the lack of staff — some districts are only able to offer program slots to a fraction of their students. Though San Francisco Unified in March unveiled a plan to offer free summer school to all 52,000 K-12 public school students, the district is now offering spots for only 20,000 students, and is prioritizing kids who live in public housing, are experiencing homelessness, are in foster care, are learning English, are low-income or who have disabilities, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Demand is off the charts: San Francisco parent Meg Kammerud, whose kids don’t belong to a priority group, logged onto the website the second enrollment opened — only to find no spots left.
- Kammerud: “It would have been very helpful to get more clear communication from the city on exactly who was going to be able to benefit and take part in this.”
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom loves to show off, and the latest example is his elaborate rollout of a revised state budget with himself in the starring role.
The key to ending the pandemic: The only way we can safely reopen our state is by reaching community immunity with the help of three highly effective vaccines, writes Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s surgeon general.
Can California keep the lights on? The Golden State has no time to spare in developing new clean energy resources before its last nuclear power plant closes in 2024-25, argue Mark Specht of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Frank Lindh, former general counsel of the California Public Utilities Commission.
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Attorney General Rob Bonta sees state moving away from death penalty. // San Francisco Chronicle
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California bill would limit immigration consultants who commit fraud. // Fresno Bee
California’s parking minimums are bad for cities. Why do planners want to keep them? // Slate Magazine
Lumber prices soar, threatening Bay Area home projects. // Mercury News
New San Andreas Fault research might change how damage shakes out. // Mercury News
Arson suspect arrested in Pacific Palisades fire. // Los Angeles Times
California veterinarians could recommend cannabis under proposed law. // Sacramento Bee
To curtail illegal cannabis grows, water trucks aren’t allowed on these Siskiyou roads. // Mount Shasta Herald
These are the Bay Area’s most common professions uniting in marriages. // San Francisco Chronicle
Study ranks Fresno as most romantic city in America for singles. // Fresno Bee
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