Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, June 24.

Things go up in flames

The wind wasn’t blowing in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s direction Wednesday.

First came the CapRadio investigation that found the governor vastly overstated the amount of land treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns to prevent wildfires from harming California’s most vulnerable communities. Newsom claimed in January 2020 it was 90,000 acres; the actual number was 11,399. Months later, California saw its largest fire season in recorded history — and experts say this year could be even worse.

Then came the announcement from Secretary of State Shirley Weber that only 43 Californians withdrew their signatures from petitions to oust Newsom from office. Nearly 1.72 million signatures remain — more than enough to trigger a recall election later this year. (Check out this explainer from CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall for next steps.)

The revelations in the CapRadio and NPR’s California Newsroom report — that Newsom exaggerated the state’s progress on fire prevention; that the state fire chief knew Newsom was sharing incorrect figures; that California’s fuel reduction efforts dropped by 50% in 2020 — could push Democratic lawmakers to continue accelerating the recall election. They took steps to do so earlier this month, likely in response to arguments that it could help Newsom avoid catastrophes — such as wildfire season — and stay in office.

Although Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter took the blame for the governor’s misleading statements, the fire report fueled Newsom’s GOP recall opponents, with former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer saying it’s “even more clear that he is in over his head and unable to lead California.” Newsom himself remained mum — though on Monday his press office posted a tweet thread highlighting his “bold action to combat & prepare for the upcoming wildfire season.”

Even as Newsom takes heat from the right for incorrect numbers, he’s taking heat from the left for outdated ones. In response to a Monday New York Times article highlighting Newsom’s plan to pay 100% of pandemic rent debt for low-income tenants — originally unveiled in May — San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston slammed the governor on Twitter.

  • Preston: “This cynical BS is why people hate politicians and maybe part of why our Governor faces recall. Rather than increase $ for back rent or issue a real eviction moratorium, Gov simply repackaged a prior announcement & went on a PR offensive.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,705,427 confirmed cases (+0.02% from previous day) and 62,741 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 40,724,096 vaccine doses, and 57.3% 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. A snapshot of the Capitol

A sign on Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s door reads “Thank you for stopping by” on June 23, 2021. Photo by Emily Hoeven, CalMatters

More than a week after California threw open its doors, many in the state Capitol remain closed. The majestic building in Sacramento — usually bustling with lawmakers, staff, lobbyists and members of the public — was eerily quiet when I visited on Wednesday. Just a few people wandered across the shiny floors, whispering to each other under their masks — which are required, regardless of vaccination status, in many areas of the building. And although lawmakers’ offices are typically open to the public, the vast majority I saw were affixed with a sign reading: “Thank you for stopping by. Our office is currently not accepting drop-ins.” If you wanted to reach your representative, you’d have to slide documents under the door, call or email first.

But that doesn’t mean the offices were empty — on several occasions, I saw staffers entering and exiting. And, ironically, some of the lawmakers whose doors were closed were scheduled to hold in-person fundraisers on Wednesday — including Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin, a Daly City Democrat, and Suzette Martinez Valladares, a Santa Clarita Republican. Tickets to Mullin’s birthday reception cost at least $1,500, and tickets to Martinez Valladares’ wine tasting cost at least $1,200, according to Capitol Morning Report.

Of the six offices I visited that were open to the public, four belonged to Republicans — Assemblymembers Laurie Davis of Laguna Niguel and James Gallagher of Yuba City, plus state Sens. Pat Bates of Laguna Niguel and Shannon Grove of Bakersfield — and two to Democrats, Assemblymembers Luz Rivas of Los Angeles and Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego. The staff in all six offices told me they hadn’t received more than a few visitors each day.

2. California in the legal spotlight

Image via iStock

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday reaffirmed private property rights in two very different high-profile cases involving California. First, the court ruled in favor of a California driver ticketed for drunk driving by a police officer who followed him into his home garage without a warrant. Then, the nation’s highest court overturned a landmark California law championed by United Farm Workers founder César Chávez that allowed union organizers to enter growers’ private property to encourage farmworkers to organize. While many California growers celebrated the decision, labor activists said it won’t stop them from reaching out to workers and advocating for their rights, CalMatters’ Kate Cimini reports.

The Golden State was also caught in the crosshairs of a national media frenzy Wednesday, when pop star Britney Spears testified that she wants to be freed from the conservatorship she’s lived under for the past 13 years. Under the terms of the conservatorship — a legal guardianship typically reserved for people who can’t take care of themselves — Spears said she had virtually no control over many aspects of her life, even as she performed and made millions of dollars. For example: Although she wanted to remove her IUD to try to have another child, her team wouldn’t let her. Lawmakers are currently considering legislation to reform California’s conservatorship system, largely due to Spears’ experience.

3. Fighting for budgetary inclusion

Charis Hill poses for a portrait at their home in Sacramento. Photo by Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters

Time is running out for Newsom and lawmakers to settle the details of a $267 billion budget — and many disabled Californians are waiting on tenterhooks to see if they’ll receive $600 Golden State Stimulus checks after being excluded from prior rounds. Though the state automatically sent checks to the 1.2 million disabled Californians belonging to one federal safety-net program, the 1.2 million who belong to another — Social Security Disability Insurance — only got checks if they worked in 2020, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports. Yet many SSDI recipients are unable to work — prompting advocates to argue California is leaving some of its most vulnerable behind.

Some lawmakers are pushing Newsom’s administration to send stimulus checks to SSDI recipients. But there are other demands, too: The Senate Republican Caucus sent Newsom a letter Wednesday urging him to use the surplus to halt the gas tax increase scheduled for July 1, pointing out it “disproportionately impacts our low to middle-income residents.” And today, Senate President Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon will march to the state Capitol with 400 child care providers to demand Newsom increase provider wages.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A superior court ruling may make it more difficult for Californians who oppose new housing projects to block them with ballot measures.

Data needed for equity efforts: The California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund would ensure that governments and community-based organizations have accurate data so resources can get to the communities that need them, writes Rod Lew of Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership.

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Other things worth your time

UnitedHealthcare skimping on COVID-19 test pay, California doctor group alleges. // Healthcare Dive

Did Newsom’s California COVID vaccine lottery boost doses? // Los Angeles Times

San Francisco will require all city workers to be vaccinated. Those who don’t could be fired. // San Francisco Chronicle

Photo essay: College graduation, at last. // CalMatters

Los Angeles school board OKs $20 billion budget for COVID recovery. // Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County Supervisors vote 4-1 to close Men’s Central Jail. // Daily News

Why big climate bills keep dying in the California Senate. // Capital & Main

California drought is withering almond, dairy farms in food inflation threat. // Bloomberg

San Jose water: New drought rules limit lawn watering to two days a week. // Mercury News

Sonoma to mandate water restrictions in July. Here’s what will be banned. // San Francisco Chronicle

Where did Sierra snow go this spring? Not into California rivers and water supplies. // Daily News

Animal rights group sues park service over California dying elk. // Associated Press

In world of stem cell research, ‘UC Caucus’ reigns supreme. // Capitol Weekly

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...