Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, May 12.

Newsom previews changes

If you’re looking for a sign that California is approaching the end of the pandemic, here it is: The state may soon ease workplace rules that require employees to wear face masks and physically distance from each other.

Next week, California’s workplace safety agency is set to consider proposed changes to its emergency coronavirus standards adopted in November, the Sacramento Bee reports. The suggested revisions would on Aug. 1 lift a mandate requiring most workers to maintain six feet of distance at all times. They would also permit fully vaccinated workers without COVID symptoms to forgo masks outdoors as well as indoors, as long as everyone else in the room is also fully vaccinated and doesn’t have symptoms.

But it also appears the changes could come even sooner — and be more widespread. Gov. Gavin Newsom told Fox LA’s Elex Michaelson on Tuesday that he envisions eliminating California’s mask mandate by June 15, the state’s target date for a full reopening.

  • Newsom: “Only in those massively large (indoor) settings where people from around the world … are convening and where people are mixing in real dense spaces” would masks be required. “Otherwise … no mandates in businesses large and small.”

Other signs that California could soon return to pre-pandemic life: The Golden State’s coronavirus positivity rate is at a record low of 1%, three more counties moved into less restrictive reopening tiers on Tuesday, and a swath of large counties will likely enter the loosest yellow tier next week.

Meanwhile, a vaccine safety workgroup is meeting today to decide whether to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for Californians ages 12-15, for whom appointments could begin Thursday. The Bay Area appears to be on the cusp of herd immunity, and Los Angeles predicts 80% of its residents will have received at least one shot by mid- to late-July. And in yet another bright spot, there is growing scientific consensus that existing vaccines are effective against virus variants.

Still, political challenges remain. The state’s proposed workplace rule changes, for instance, would seem to require that employees show proof of vaccination in order to go maskless. California is already incentivizing businesses to require customers show proof of vaccination, but these so-called “vaccine passports” are being met with staunch opposition in some parts of the state, such as Orange County.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,656,967 confirmed cases (+0.03% from previous day) and 61,246 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 32,851,089 vaccine doses, and 45.5% 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. Newsom proposes $12 billion for homelessness

An encampment along East 12th Street and Lake Merritt Boulevard in Oakland on Sept. 15, 2020. Gov. Newsom just announced a $12 billion package expanding on pandemic emergency responses to help end homelessness. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group
An encampment in Oakland on Sept. 15, 2020. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

Newsom kicked off Day Two of his “California Roars Back” tour Tuesday by proposing to spend $12 billion on homelessness over the next two years, an investment he said would “end family homelessness within five years.” Much of the money would be used to expand Project Homekey, a program launched amid the pandemic to house homeless Californians in converted hotel and motel rooms. But despite the proposal’s massive price tag — it’s 10 times more than what Newsom suggested spending on homelessness in January — officials and advocates worry it still won’t be enough in the long term, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports.

The homelessness crisis also continues to be one of Newsom’s biggest political liabilities. Although a Tuesday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that a growing percentage of Californians oppose the effort to recall him, 57% say he has done a poor or very poor job of addressing homelessness.

2. Bonta’s busy first few weeks

Assemblymember Rob Bonta speaks during a press conference announcing his nomination as the new Attorney General at International Hotel Manilatown center in San Francisco on March 24, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Rob Bonta during a press conference announcing his nomination as the attorney general in San Francisco on March 24, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Attorney General Rob Bonta hasn’t been in office for long, but he’s taking significant steps to make his mark before facing reelection next year. Bonta announced Tuesday the creation of a new Racial Justice Bureau within the Department of Justice that will, among other things, develop regional strategies for combating hate crimes, address police bias and assist with a newly formed task force studying reparations for Black Californians. The state is hiring six new attorneys and a deputy attorney general to staff the bureau. Bonta, the state’s first Filipino American attorney general, had pledged to focus on hate crimes amid a surge in anti-Asian harassment and violence.

It’s the latest in a string of initiatives Bonta has unveiled in recent days. On Monday, he launched a grant program aimed at helping local law enforcement agencies process backlogged rape kits and urged Facebook not to develop a version of Instagram for kids under 13. He also distinguished himself from his predecessor, Xavier Becerra, by releasing gun violence data and pledging to accelerate the release of police use-of-force and misconduct records — both of which Becerra was loath to do.

3. State forced to accelerate health coverage

A man has his reflexes tested at a clinic in Bieber, California on July 23, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A man has his reflexes tested at a clinic in Bieber on July 23, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

From CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov: Californians who sign up for Medi-Cal will now receive immediate health coverage instead of remaining uninsured for months while waiting for their applications to be approved, according to the terms of a settlement finalized Monday. Advocates for the poor sued California officials in 2014 to end what they described as the state’s practice of denying health care to Medi-Cal applicants until their income and eligibility could be verified. At the time, the state was expanding the Medi-Cal program under the Affordable Care Act, and more than 350,000 people waited months longer than state and federal regulations allowed for their applications to be approved. Frances Rivera, a plaintiff in the case, said her son died from a treatable condition while he waited for the state to approve his Medi-Cal application — only to receive a letter shortly after his death confirming he was qualified.

  • Jackie Dai of Neighborhood Legal Services, which represented plaintiffs in the case: “Medi-Cal is supposed to be the great health care equalizer. This settlement moves us a little closer to that promise.”

4. Is Calbright on its last legs?

A scathing report from the state auditor's office found that Calbright--the state's fully online community college--has been unable to retain students or provide them with job placement, among other findings. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Maria Garcia, at home in Antioch, works her way through a Calbright cybersecurity course. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Three years after California launched its first online-only community college in an attempt to reach students left out by traditional higher education, only 12 of its 904 students have graduated and Calbright College’s executive team still hasn’t developed a detailed spending plan, according to a scathing report Tuesday from the state auditor. The auditor recommended that lawmakers eliminate Calbright altogether if it can’t make necessary reforms by 2022 — a suggestion that came a week after the state Assembly voted unanimously to defund the college by 2023, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. Yet the audit also found that “Calbright’s potential value to the state is significant,” pointing out that its 100% self-paced programs could be particularly helpful to Californians who work multiple jobs, care for family members or don’t have access to child care. But lawmakers remain skeptical, and the only thing that may save Calbright this year is the state’s $75.7 billion surplus.

A cheaper, more relevant education was among experts’ ideas for creating a more equitable California economy, shared Tuesday at a virtual event hosted by CalMatters and the Milken Institute. Check out the main takeaways here.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s $100 billion “California Comeback Plan” might help him beat the recall effort.

California Assembly is unfair to tenants: Its housing committee is denying majority rule to protect real estate speculators, which isn’t consistent with Democratic Party values, argues Randy Shaw of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

Hold the line against new taxes: Lawmakers are proposing significant tax increases that would make California less competitive in attracting jobs and investments, argue Robert Gutierrez of the California Taxpayers Association and Allan Zaremberg of the California Chamber of Commerce.

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Other things worth your time

First-generation California college students push for in-person graduations. // CalMatters

San Francisco seniors might go back to school for only one day before term ends. Families are furious. // San Francisco Chronicle

Police training at California public colleges gets a shakeup. // EdSource

Meet the woman who will lobby California lawmakers on behalf of Black communities. // Sacramento Bee

Newsom recall: Caitlyn Jenner didn’t vote for Trump in 2020 and skipped the election to play golf. // CNN

Jenner says she didn’t vote in 2020. But records show she did. // Politico

How Trump, Cheney and the GOP impacted Kevin McCarthy. // Los Angeles Times

Why COVID-19 tests could still cost you $400 in San Diego County. // inewsource

Could this $36 million Central Valley river restoration project help with California’s droughts? // San Francisco Chronicle

This is how California’s water use has changed since the last drought. // San Francisco Chronicle

On the heels of one rare gray wolf’s epic journey into California, another arrives. // Los Angeles Times

Big-league bluff or real threat, Oakland A’s told they can look for new home. // San Francisco Chronicle

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...