Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, June 16.
For many, masks here to stay
Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither did California reopen in one.
Flanked by minions, Smurfs and Transformers at Universal Studios Hollywood, a maskless Gov. Gavin Newsom drew $15 million worth of prizes in the state’s vaccine lottery and declared the Golden State open for business after 453 days of lockdowns. But the reality for many Californians on Tuesday — the first day fully vaccinated residents could forgo face coverings in most situations and many businesses could reopen at full capacity — was more complicated, reflecting the divide between urban and rural parts of the state.
Many residents buying a cup of coffee or grocery shopping in the Bay Area and Los Angeles kept their masks on, despite boasting some of California’s highest vaccination rates. Meanwhile, more conservative parts of the state — like the San Joaquin Valley city of Merced — questioned why it took Newsom so long to ease tough pandemic rules.
- Merced Mayor Matthew Serrato: “There’s that general perspective in our community that it’s a little too late.”
- Lafayette resident Francis Wong: “I’m relieved, but not really relaxed yet. It’s a good day, but we’re all going to have to get used to this.”
To make matters more complicated, a patchwork of policies is already emerging across the state. Many restaurants in San Francisco, for example, are allowing diners to forgo masks indoors. But others are requiring them whenever diners aren’t seated at their table. And although Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace safety agency, is expected to vote Thursday to permit fully vaccinated workers to go maskless, some companies say they will continue requiring all employees to wear them.
- Jeffrey Sout, owner of Be.Steak.A and Orchard City Kitchen in Campbell: “That creates two different classes of employees. We’d still require all our staff to wear masks. It would just be for equality.”
Despite the fanfare at Universal Studios, the state government itself is reopening gradually. The state Capitol opened to the public at reduced capacity on Tuesday, with masks required — as they will be for anyone taking a behind-the-wheel driving test at the DMV.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,697,927 confirmed cases (+0.02% from previous day) and 62,515 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
California has administered 39,789,490 vaccine doses, and 55.6% 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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Other stories you should know
1. Housing reemerges as major focal point
Now that the state has opened, many Californians will likely shift their focus to other pressing challenges — namely, the housing crisis. The Golden State’s eviction moratorium expires in two weeks, sparking fears that tens of thousands of renters could be forced out of their homes. CalMatters’ Nigel Duara asks housing expert Carolina Reid, a UC Berkeley associate professor of city and regional planning, to break down what’s at stake.
The problems extend to housing that hasn’t been built yet. Lawmakers’ attempts to accelerate affordable housing development are being hampered by a standoff between the state’s powerful construction workers union and affordable housing developers, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports. The State Building and Construction Trades Council wants lawmakers to require new housing be built with union labor; developers say such a rule will constrict an already small labor pool and make projects impractical in areas with low union membership.
- Robbie Hunter, president of the Trades: “You cannot address poverty and housing by driving construction workers and our families into poverty.”
- State Sen. Anna Caballero, a Salinas Democrat: “So Trades, are you coming into the Central Valley? If you’re coming into the Central Valley, I’m happy to start creating positions. But if you’re not going to come in, what’s our solution?”
2. Two signs drought is worsening
How bad is California’s drought? Well, state regulators on Tuesday took their most aggressive step in years to restrict the use of water rights, warning about 4,300 users — primarily farmers and cities — to stop diverting water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta watershed, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. The move came a day after the same regulator, the State Water Resources Control Board, approved a plan for water releases into the Sacramento River that could kill up to 88% of endangered winter-run chinook salmon, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Advocates slammed the decision, which they said prioritized the agricultural industry at the expense of fish facing extinction.
Another thorn in the state’s water management strategy: Officials don’t know whether the notices telling users to restrict their water use will actually make a difference, Rachel reports. Research has shown California has issued far more water rights than there is water to supply them.
- Barbara Barrigan, executive director of Restore the Delta: “We’re sending out notices that you can’t have something, but it’s already oversubscribed, so it’s paper water. It’s really a paper chase for paper water. It’s not a meaningful action yet.”
3. Lawsuits galore
Quite a few interesting lawsuits involving California are wending their way through state and federal courts this week. Here’s a look at a few of them:
- On Tuesday, GOP Assemblymembers Kevin Kiley of Rocklin and James Gallagher of Yuba City filed a petition with the California Supreme Court to challenge a May appeals court ruling upholding Newsom’s emergency powers.
- California could very well face a lawsuit over Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s Tuesday announcement that candidates running in the gubernatorial recall election must release five years of tax returns. As CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall has reported, some legal experts say it’s unclear if that step, which is required for gubernatorial candidates in “direct primary elections,” applies to recall elections.
- On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court took a step toward allowing San Francisco and Oakland to sue oil companies Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell in state court for profiting off products they knew would increase global warming — and passing the resulting costs onto government.
- California is currently duking it out in court with the federal government and private prison corporation Geo Group, both of which are trying to overturn the Golden State’s 2019 law banning private prisons.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: How California handles competing demands during this drought may be a harbinger of the conflict over the long-term reallocation of water as climate change affects supply.
Make abortion more affordable: California must ensure that health plans can’t require cost-sharing for abortion or abortion-related services, argues Dr. Sarah Roberts, a UCSF professor with the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program.
Support American workers: If we want workers in California and the rest of the country to benefit from our switch to electric vehicles, lawmakers must put domestic parts and assembly at the heart of Assembly Bill 794, write David Campbell of United Steelworkers Local 675 and Jennifer Drudge of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
Reader response: Although Newsom should take responsibility for the unemployment department’s failings, it was terribly run long before he came on the scene, writes Oakland resident Gerald Cauthen.
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Other things worth your time
How the virus unraveled Hispanic American families in Santa Clara County. // New York Times
San Francisco is urging landlords to add housing units. Renters say they’re paying the price. // San Francisco Chronicle
California local elections officials: Don’t hold Newsom recall before Sept. 14. // Politico
Councilman Mike Bonin is served with a recall notice, the second in Los Angeles in a week. // Los Angeles Times
Petitions out to recall entire Mount Diablo school board. // Mercury News
New contract gives 20% raises to some California state attorneys. // Sacramento Bee
California offers $100 million to aid legal cannabis industry. // Los Angeles Times
Long Beach City College receives $30 million donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, largest in school’s history. // Press Telegram
Scientists are trying to make California forests more fire resilient. // Bloomberg
LAUSD teams with Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre to create ‘the coolest high school in America.’ // Daily News
See you tomorrow.
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