Good morning, California. It’s Friday, July 9.

Drought + heat + fire

A trifecta of troubling conditions is set to collide in California over the weekend.

First: drought. With the vast majority of the state gripped by extreme dryness, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday asked all Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15% and put nine more counties under drought emergency declarations — which now cover a whopping 50 of 58 counties representing 42% of the state’s population, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. But that wasn’t enough for some members of a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing especially parched regions of the state.

  • State Sen. Andreas Borgeas, a Fresno Republican: “We are well beyond the need for a statewide declaration or voluntary reductions in water usage. We need Governor Newsom to issue specific instructions to relevant state agencies … that they must execute decisions that formally prioritize human welfare and food production.”

Newsom, perhaps wary of issuing unpopular mandates ahead of a quickly approaching recall election, emphasized he was “not here as a nanny state” or “trying to be oppressive.” But the political challenges keep piling up: State officials warned this week that “nearly all” juvenile members of an endangered salmon species could die this fall as drought causes Sacramento River temperatures to rise.

That brings us to the second condition: heat. Much of California will spend the weekend under an excessive heat watch, with Death Valley expected to hit 130 degrees on Sunday — just four degrees shy of the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth. The heat wave could also put California at risk of another round of rolling blackouts; the state’s electric operator on Thursday issued a Flex Alert for today. Although a state agency last year voted to keep four controversial gas-powered plants running to stave off future energy shortfalls, three of the plants broke down as temperatures skyrocketed in June.

Last but not least: fires. Experts warn the heat wave could result in increased fire danger, a dismaying prospect given that the state has already seen nearly 4,000 wildfires this year — up from around 3,300 during the same period last year. A crew of Mississippi firefighters is heading to California to help contain the flames.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,722,422 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 63,317 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 42,205,449 vaccine doses, and 60% 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. COVID spreads among unvaccinated

Image via iStock

A little more than three weeks after California fully reopened, the state’s coronavirus positivity rate has tripled from 0.7% to 2.1%, COVID hospitalizations have risen 34% and the highly infectious Delta variant is accounting for an increasingly large proportion of positive cases. But the pandemic is now primarily raging among unvaccinated people: The Bay Area, one of the most highly vaccinated regions in the world, didn’t report a single COVID-19 death from Sunday through Tuesday — the first time three consecutive days passed without a COVID fatality in more than 15 months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In San Diego County, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents make up 99.8% of deaths, 99.88% of hospitalizations and 99.1% of cases. Statewide, only 0.0003% of the more than 19.5 million Californians fully vaccinated as of June 23 died from the virus, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.

  • Newsom on Wednesday: “This is the call to anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated: Get vaccinated. What more evidence do you need?”

Meanwhile, a coronavirus outbreak is sweeping through the state Capitol, prompting the state Assembly to consider a vaccine mandate for members and employees.

2. Is the California Exodus real?

Image via iStock

Is there such a thing as the California Exodus, or isn’t there? Two reports released this week offer conflicting answers, underscoring the topic’s complexity and opacity. First, there was the Tuesday report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that found a sustained increase in the number of older, wealthier residents leaving the state. Then, there was the Wednesday report from the University of California that found there isn’t an unusual amount of people leaving the state — or evidence of “millionaire flight.” The UC study also found that a majority of residents still believe in the “California Dream,” though, tellingly, that was a view held primarily by those making more than $150,000 annually. Residents making between $50,000 and $99,999 per year were the most pessimistic about California’s future.

Coincidentally, the Public Policy Institute of California on Thursday released a report finding that 65% of Californians think the state should do more to address income inequality.

3. Bonta-Ramachandran race heats up

Then Assemblymember Rob Bonta looks on as his wife, Mia Bonta, speaks during a community event on April 18, 2021 in San Leandro, days before his confirmation as California Attorney General. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Then-Assemblymember Rob Bonta looks on as his wife, Mia Bonta, speaks during a community event on April 18, 2021 in San Leandro, days before his confirmation as attorney general. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

One of the most closely watched legislative races of the year: the special election to fill the Alameda state Assembly seat vacated by Rob Bonta when Newsom named him attorney general. On Thursday, the California Democratic Party formally endorsed Mia Bonta, Rob’s wife, for the seat. But the party had actually already endorsed her a few days before — in a process challenged by Janani Ramachandran, a progressive Democrat facing off against Mia Bonta in the Aug. 31 runoff election. In a formal complaint, Ramachandran alleged the party’s endorsement process was rife with improprieties and fraud. She also accused Mia Bonta’s campaign of casting a fraudulent vote and Rob Bonta of violating conflict-of-interest laws. Nathan Click, a spokesman for Rob Bonta, said the allegations were “ridiculous”; the California Democratic Party did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

  • Ramachandran: “Democrats should be the party of fairness — not voter suppression and refusal to address charges of corruption and self-dealing.”
  • Rowena Brown, Mia Bonta’s campaign manager: “Ramachandran’s baseless allegations and cries of fraud echo those of Donald Trump and national Republicans who seek to undermine voter confidence in the election process, a dangerous narrative we as a party must not feed into.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Does Newsom deserve to be recalled three years into his first term?

Addressing California’s housing and water shortages: Lawmakers promoting high-density housing need to meet with state and local water agencies to hammer out realistic approaches to our changing reality, argues Rick Johnson, formerly of the San Francisco water department.

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Other things worth your time

The female inmates fighting California’s wildfires. // Intelligencer

Women say they endure ‘frat house’ culture at Los Angeles Fire Department. // Los Angeles Times

New hybrid working models may mean worse Bay Area traffic. // Mercury News

San Francisco’s jobs-to-housing ratio is disturbing. Here’s how wide the gap is getting. // San Francisco Chronicle

California voters give schools and teachers top grades in year-end survey. // EdSource

Some surprises in the handling of California’s budget this year. // Capitol Weekly

Universal basic income program comes to Sacramento: $300 payments for 100 families. // Sacramento Bee

Long Beach offering $500 a month to 500 low-income-families. // Los Angeles Times

Flush with funding, San Francisco’s homelessness department shows persistent underspending. // Here/Say Media

State fines Los Angeles County Superior Court for safety violations during COVID-19 pandemic. // Los Angeles Times

Officers sue California city over Black Lives Matter mural. // Associated Press

Berkeley’s ban on natural gas in new buildings upheld by federal judge. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you Monday.

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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...