In summary

In an attempt to soothe voters spooked by crime rates, Gov. Newsom signed a bill to continue classifying organized retail theft as a crime.

And then there were 46.

The number of Californians running to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 election swelled by four on Wednesday, when a judge ruled that a state law requiring gubernatorial candidates to release tax returns doesn’t apply to recall elections, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. That catapulted onto the ballot conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who had been left off for providing what Secretary of State Shirley Weber deemed incomplete tax returns. Three other people rejected only because of the tax document requirement were also added to the final candidate list Weber certified late Wednesday.

Kevin Faulconer, however, wasn’t so lucky: He lost his bid to be described as “retired San Diego Mayor” on the recall ballot, and will instead be referred to as “businessman/educator.” Real estate YouTuber Kevin Paffrath was also blocked from including his nickname “Meet Kevin.”

Although those details may seem trivial, they can be decisive. Career descriptions, party preference, name recognition and the order of names on the ballot have all been shown to influence electoral outcomes — which is likely why Newsom sued Weber to be listed as a Democrat on the recall ballot after his lawyers made a filing error. A judge ruled against Newsom last week, meaning his party preference will not be included.

While Newsom’s challengers spent Wednesday in court battling over ballot designations, the governor was making his own appeal to the court of public opinion. In a likely attempt to soothe voters spooked by a 31% spike in homicides, potentially shorter prison sentences for 76,000 inmates, and viral videos of store robberies, Newsom signed into law a bill to continue classifying organized retail theft as a crime and keep task forces in place. He also appeared to chastise progressive district attorneys, such as George Gascón in Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, by encouraging prosecutors to “take seriously those re-offenses” and “be a little bit more proactive on enforcement and prosecution of those crimes.”

The press conference came a day after high-profile victim advocates — including Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was murdered in 1993 — gathered in Sacramento to denounce Newsom’s criminal justice policies.

  • Joanna Rodriguez, spokesperson for Recall Gavin Newsom Action: “Californians deserve a governor who cares about their safety and the economic impacts of increasing crime all the time — not just when facing the threat of recall.”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,772,470 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 63,664 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 43,119,323 vaccine doses, and 61.5% 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. Conservatorships in the spotlight

Britney Spears supporter Alandria Brown, of Hendersonville, Tenn., holds a sign outside a court hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse Feb. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo by Chris Pizzello, AP Photo
Britney Spears supporter Alandria Brown holds a sign outside a court hearing concerning the pop singer’s conservatorship at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Feb. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo by Chris Pizzello, AP Photo

Thanks to Britney Spears, a topic once debated only in niche circles — California’s complex conservatorship laws — has suddenly become dinner table conversation. Thousands of people are now opining on whether California makes it too easy or too difficult for representatives to assume decision-making power for people deemed so cognitively impaired they can’t make choices for themselves. The back-and-forth is also playing out in the state Legislature: Lawmakers recently tabled a bill that would make it easier to conserve people with serious mental illness, while a proposal inspired by the Spears case that would require increased transparency and stricter accountability continues to advance, CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener reports.

2. Is the bullet train doomed?

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters; iStock; CA High Speed Rail Authority; Shae Hammond for CalMatters

Thirteen years after California voters approved $10 billion to build a bullet train stretching from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it’s unclear whether the first section of track — a 119-mile stretch connecting the tiny towns of Madera and Shafter — will ever be finished. That’s because Newsom and state lawmakers can’t decide whether to fund it: While Newsom proposed pouring $4.2 billion into finishing the first segment, some top Democratic legislators are wondering if more money should go toward improving public transportation in highly-populated areas like Los Angeles, CalMatters’ Marissa Garcia reports. The Newsom administration, meanwhile, says high-speed rail offers good-paying jobs in the economically struggling Central Valley — though the project has only created about 20% of the jobs union leaders and politicians say it has.

3. PG&E wants to bury power lines

Power lines are silhouetted by the sun seen through a smoky sky in Oakland on June 30, 2018. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

PG&E announced Wednesday that it plans to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines in the coming years, an effort that would likely cost at least $20 billion but could help the utility avoid sparking more disastrous wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The news comes just days after PG&E told state regulators its equipment may have caused the Dixie Fire in Butte and Plumas counties, which has since exploded to nearly 86,000 acres and remains just 15% contained despite more than 3,300 firefighters attacking the flames. The blaze on Wednesday burned at least two structures and was threatening at least 800 more.

Consumer advocates, while applauding the idea of underground power lines, said PG&E should not burden ratepayers with the cost of developing such a system.

  • Mark Toney of the Utility Reform Network: “We’d be living in a world where only the wealthy could afford electricity. PG&E needs a plan to reduce the most risk possible at the least cost possible to ratepayers.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Three growing crises could affect the Newsom recall.

Schools should spend extra $15 billion on students: The massive influx of one-time federal aid should be used to improve student outcomes, not pad the teachers’ union budget, argues Chantal Lovell of the California Policy Center.

Other things worth your time

Caitlyn Jenner op-ed: California gives trial lawyers a powerful weapon to wield against businesses. // Wall Street Journal

The California dream is dying. // The Atlantic

California COVID hospitalizations hit highest point in months amid Delta spread. // Los Angeles Times

Thousands of students in South San Diego County head back to school this week. // San Diego Union-Tribune

California summer school’s big hopes tempered by staffing shortages, exhaustion, family vacations. // Los Angeles Times

Orange County to explore tense issues over ethnic studies and race. // EdSource

California housing crisis extends to Central Valley college students. What can be done? // Fresno Bee

San Francisco expands authority to impose mental health holds to paramedics. // San Francisco Chronicle

California’s electric car revolution, meant to save the planet, also takes a toll. // Los Angeles Times

California voters approved billions for water projects. Where are the new dams and reservoirs? // Sacramento Bee

In California drought, water witches are stumped. // New York Times

Seas are rising. Will California’s ‘managed retreat’ ease fears? // Christian Science Monitor

California can expand insurance for wildfire areas, court rules. // Associated Press

Report: Bay Area hospitals not complying with price transparency rule. // Mercury News

CalPERS investment return increases employee pension costs. // Sacramento Bee

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...