Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, July 20.

Many thanks to Ben Christopher for filling in for me while I was out sick!

Static unemployment rate

Looking at California’s latest unemployment numbers, you’d be forgiven for thinking the state is still under lockdown.

That’s because the jobless rate didn’t budge from May to June: It remained at 7.7%, just slightly down from April’s revised rate of 8%, according to figures released late last week by the Employment Development Department. Although employers added 73,500 jobs in June, total civilian employment only increased by 24,500 people — meaning thousands of open positions are going unfilled. At the same time, the number of jobless Californians grew by 11,000 people as unemployment ticked up significantly in some areas — San Diego, for example, saw its jobless rate skyrocket from 6.3% in May to 7% in June.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday touted the state’s progress on job creation as evidence of the California economy “roaring back.” Yet the press conference itself underscored the economic precarity that defines many Californians’ lives: Standing in front of a Sebastopol hotel converted into permanent supportive housing for homeless people, the governor signed into law a package allocating $10.3 billion for affordable housing and $12 billion to address homelessness.

The question hanging over the announcement — will it be enough? — also looms over California’s other major pandemic relief programs, including a $2 billion fund to pay off utility and water debt. As CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports, official estimates of unpaid water and energy bills accumulated during the pandemic verge on $2.7 billion, affecting a few million Californians — and those figures continue to grow rapidly. 

Meanwhile, California’s struggling tourism industry received a one-time infusion of $95 million to boost travel in the Golden State. Yet the marketing campaign comes at a confusing time: As tourism officials pronounce the state open for business, Los Angeles County is again requiring masks indoors and a growing number of Bay Area and Sacramento-area counties are recommending them to ward off the rapidly spreading Delta variant. The statewide coronavirus positivity rate was 4.1% on Monday, a figure not seen since February; if California still had its tiered reopening system, at least 12 counties would be in the most restrictive purple tier.

Fears about the Delta variant’s economic impact were also reflected in the stock market. The Dow Jones, for example, fell by more than 700 points on Monday, notching its biggest one-day loss this year.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,762,462 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 63,649 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 42,972,332 vaccine doses, and 61.3% 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. Lawsuits galore over recall ballot

A supporter of conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, holds a sticker in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021 during an event where Elder announced his bid as a recall candidate for governor. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
A Larry Elder supporter holds a sticker in Norwalk on July 13, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

With less than two months to go until the Newsom recall election, things are heating up. Just ask Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who is already facing at least three lawsuits over the recall ballot. Conservative talk show host Larry Elder announced Monday he’s suing to be listed as a candidate, while real estate YouTuber Kevin Paffrath plans to sue in order to include his nickname “Meet Kevin.” Kevin Faulconer on Monday also announced plans to sue in order to be described as “retired San Diego Mayor” on the ballot. Also Monday, Weber’s office held a randomized alphabet drawing to determine the order in which recall candidates’ names will appear on the ballot — though that order will rotate by state Assembly district. To learn more about all 41 candidates, check out our comprehensive guide.

To learn even more about them, check out this piece in which CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall and Sameea Kamal analyze the five years of tax returns all candidates were required to publicly release.

2. A black market for water

The vandalized water source where most water thefts occur in Lancaster, on July 2, 2021. The water is pumped into large containers that are sold and bought on the sides of the road. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
The vandalized water source where most water thefts occur in Lancaster on July 2, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

As drought ravages California, water has become one of the state’s hottest commodities — pushing thievery to record levels. Bandits are pumping water from rivers and lakes to sell on a burgeoning black market, while other thieves plug into city hydrants under the cover of darkness and top up. But illegal cannabis growing operations appear to be the biggest culprit of them all, Julie Cart reports in the next installment of CalMatters’ “Lessons Learned? Drought Then and Now” series. And it’s only gotten harder to prosecute them: After California in 2018 legalized recreational marijuana use for adults, it also downgraded the illegal cultivation of large quantities of pot from a felony to a misdemeanor.

  • Marina West, general manager of the Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency: “I don’t mean to be rude, but the state is taking the word ‘criminal’ out of the dictionary. … We’re here to provide water to this community, we’re not here to provide cheap water to an illegal business that’s making millions of dollars.”

California’s parched conditions are also fueling the spread of wildfires — though PG&E noted in a Sunday filing to state regulators that its equipment may have sparked the Dixie Fire in Butte and Plumas counties, which has swelled to over 30,000 acres and remains just 15% contained. Meanwhile, the explosive Tamarack Fire in Alpine County is now larger than 23,000 acres and remains 0% contained. Both blazes have forced numerous evacuations. Newsom on Friday declared a state of emergency in Siskiyou, Lassen and Plumas counties in response to massive fires that continue to threaten homes and critical infrastructure.

3. Big California spender indicted

DaVita dialysis center in Oakland on Oct. 31, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A DaVita dialysis center in Oakland on Oct. 31, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Written by Ben Christopher: Patients and health experts know DaVita as one of the biggest dialysis clinic chains in the country, while California politicos recognize it as one of the biggest spenders in state electoral history. That spending will likely face stricter scrutiny after a federal grand jury last week charged the Denver-based company and its former CEO with two antitrust violations, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. Although the charges have little to do with DaVita’s management of clinics in California — where it treats 200,000 patients — the indictment still puts candidates who have taken campaign donations from the company in a bit of a bind.

Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Democrat from Santa Rosa who chairs that chamber’s health committee, said he wasn’t surprised by the indictment because DaVita has a trend of “increasing profits at others’ expense.” However, as Barbara notes, Wood also accepted $10,300 from DaVita between 2016 and 2018. He declined to comment on those contributions.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: How much muscle is the state willing to use to force local compliance with its housing goals?

Britney Spears shouldn’t be conservatorship poster child: The “Free Britney” media campaign has created a national myth-making machine that excludes some of the most vulnerable members of society, such as my son Danny, writes Teresa Pasquini, a mental health advocate.

Employers don’t deserve EDD debt: Newsom and lawmakers should commit to paying down California’s $22 billion unemployment insurance debt, rather than foisting the cost onto employers, argues Robert Gutierrez of the California Taxpayers Association.

Secure future water supply: There is simply no better investment California can make now than providing at least $500 million for recycled water projects, writes Jennifer West of WateReuse California.

Other things worth your time

California Treasurer Fiona Ma sued for sexual harassment by former employee. // San Francisco Chronicle

Law enforcement unions donate to Democrats before vote on police reform bill. // Sacramento Bee

Housing-starved San Francisco fines developer $1.2 million for building too many units. // Reason

California cuts the number of tests teachers must take to earn credential. // EdSource

More California schools adding yoga to the school day. // EdSource

California Community Colleges chancellor to take temporary job with Biden administration. // Los Angeles Times

Biden to tap Stanford director for top Treasury post overseeing financial rules. // Wall Street Journal

UC admissions hit new diversity record, but harder to get in. // Los Angeles Times

Orange County Rep. Katie Porter: The climate change and infrastructure crises are interconnected. // Teen Vogue

Caltech fined for damaging Native American cultural site. // Los Angeles Times

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...