Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, May 26.

Approval rating grows

The scales appear to be tipping in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s favor.

The governor’s approval rating is ticking back up after months of decline, with 54% of likely voters giving high marks for his job performance, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released late Tuesday night. Although that’s only a slight increase from March and January — when the governor earned 53% and 52% approval ratings, respectively — support for the effort to oust him from office hasn’t budged. Just 40% of likely voters would vote to recall Newsom if the election were held today, the poll found — the same percentage as in March.

Still, discontent persists even among typical Democratic allies. The new president of California’s largest state employee union said Tuesday that SEIU Local 1000 won’t back Newsom after he cut state worker pay amid the pandemic. (The cuts are set to end in July.)

  • Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO: “Timing is everything in politics, and … the 2021 special election is most likely to occur in late fall. The public’s views on COVID and the economy could sour by then or be preempted by discontent over new crises such as wildfires or electricity blackouts.”

If timing is everything in politics, money is pretty important too. That’s why CalMatters’ Jeremia Kimelman built a tracker that follows all of the money pouring into the pro-recall and anti-recall campaigns. It will be updated daily, so make sure to bookmark it and check back often.

Meanwhile, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher analyzed the $15.1 million that’s been raised for the recall election so far. Here’s what he found:

  • Major donors — both for and against the recall — hail primarily from Silicon Valley and the toniest and most solidly Democratic parts of Los Angeles.
  • Recall supporters have raised about $4.6 million, while its opponents have raised about $10.5 million — including a $3 million donation from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings last week.
  • And despite frenzied national attention on the recall, both sides have raised 90% of their itemized donations from within California.

If you need a refresher on all the steps the state has to go through before the recall actually lands on the ballot, check out this incredibly informative — and fun — illustrated guide Cecily Mireles made for CalMatters.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,674,662 confirmed cases (+0.02% from previous day) and 61,770 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 36,511,557 vaccine doses, and 49.4% of eligible 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. Will California open to offshore wind?

Offshore wind turbines. Image via iStock

Offshore wind farms could spring up along the California coast for the first time in history under a federal-state agreement announced Tuesday. Lease sales are planned as early as 2022 for two locations — federal waters off the coast of Central California and another area on the North Coast — that officials estimate could contain enough turbines to power 1.6 million homes over the next decade. But here’s the catch: Although Newsom said the wind farms could help California reach its clean energy goals, the power may not even stay within the state. It will be sent to the highest bidder, whether that’s Nevada, California or elsewhere. And because the projects face a series of logistical and political hurdles, experts say it could take at least a decade for them to start generating a significant amount of energy. Among the obstacles:

  • Numerous state agencies have to sign off on the offshore wind farms.
  • The projects will likely face lawsuits from environmentalists concerned about their impact on fish and birds, as well as property owners concerned about turbines blocking ocean views.
  • Due to the deepness of the Pacific Ocean, the turbines will have to be attached by cables to the ocean floor — a significant design and engineering challenge.

As CalMatters environment reporter Julie Cart told me, no project of this scale exists in the U.S. — and possibly in the world. The massive machines, which will be assembled onshore and towed into fishing harbors like Humboldt Bay for repair and regular maintenance, are likely to transform some of the coast’s oldest places.

2. More in-state UC students?

The University of California. Image via iStock

California would cut the number of out-of-state students attending the University of California in half over the next decade, freeing up more spots for Golden State residents, under a proposal top Senate Democrats are advancing in budget negotiations with Newsom. But while the idea could help mollify California taxpayers frustrated that their children aren’t able to get into the nation’s top public research university system, it’s opposed by UC itself, which says out-of-state and international students bring invaluable geographical diversity even as their higher tuition helps plug budget gaps, the Los Angeles Times reports. Meanwhile, more and more qualified students are applying for the same number of seats: UC received a record 250,000 applications for fall 2021, a 16% increase from the year before. And because UC recently announced it would no longer consider SAT and ACT scores in admissions and scholarship decisions, applications are likely to continue spiking. 

3. California’s interconnected challenges

Cows graze dry grass outside of Bieber, a small town in Lassen County, in July 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

In case you weren’t convinced of the severity of California’s drought, consider these two stories: The farming town of Corcoran, in the San Joaquin Valley, has sunk nearly 12 feet in 14 years and could sink another 11 feet over the next 19 years due to agricultural companies pumping underground water to irrigate their crops, the New York Times reports. Farmers often turn to groundwater when they don’t receive enough water from local rivers or canals, as is the case this year. Not only has the sinking already cost Corcoran residents millions of dollars in infrastructure repairs, it could also potentially imperil a portion of California’s already beleaguered bullet train project (whose No. 2 executive, incidentally, abruptly left his job this week after a lengthy investigation). 

Meanwhile, Marin’s water district — which recently became the first major agency to issue mandatory restrictions — is facing such a shortage it’s considering banning new water service hookups. But that could exacerbate the county’s already dire housing crisis while driving up home prices even more, the San Francisco Chronicle reports

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom is painting a rosy, but flawed, picture of California’s economy.

Reform sentencing enhancements: California needs clear guidelines for sentencing enhancements to ensure the punishment fits the crime, argue Peter Espinoza and Michael Romano of the California Committee on Revision of the Penal Code.

Free meals for all students: California must support families who make too much to qualify for public programs, but not enough to make ends meet, writes Mayra Alvarez of The Children’s Partnership.

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Other things worth your time

SFUSD confirms schools will return 5 full days in the fall, probably with masks. // San Francisco Chronicle

LAUSD to fully open schools in fall and offer remote option. // Los Angeles Times

Newsom supporters stop asking recall supporters to withdraw their support. // San Francisco Chronicle

Plan for affordable downtown housing divides Bay Area city, with claims of racism, elitism. // San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area art festival canceled over homeless camp controversy. // Mercury News

City proposal would cancel rent for businesses shut in pandemic. Landlords won’t be happy. // San Francisco Chronicle

California hits Foster Farms with big fine for failing to protect workers from COVID outbreak. // Fresno Bee

California gig workers say Prop. 22 isn’t delivering promised benefits. // Protocol

Engineers warn state pressure at Los Angeles oil well site is building. // Capital & Main

Frustration and tears as Paradise turns out to protest the PG&E fire victim trust. // CapRadio

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...