In summary

Newsom needs to fire up voters to beat the recall, but he may be bolstering turnout among the very Californians who want to see him ousted.

Gov. Gavin Newsom needs to fire up voters to stay in office — but he may be bolstering turnout among the very Californians who want to see him ousted in only the fourth gubernatorial recall in U.S. history.

A poll released Tuesday by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that 47% of likely voters would recall Newsom on Sept. 14, compared to 50% who would keep him in office — a difference just shy of the poll’s margin of error. The near-even split hinges on the category “likely voters”: Although California has nearly twice as many registered Democrats as it does Republicans, the poll found a whopping 87% of GOP voters are highly interested in the recall, compared to just 58% of Democrats and 53% of no party preference voters.

  • Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll: “I think the Newsom campaign really has to light a fire among the Democrats and say, ‘Look, the outcome is in jeopardy unless you get out there and vote.'”

Newsom appeared to make an overture to progressive voters on Tuesday, when he signed into law a bill extending Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor, to undocumented immigrants 50 and older. But the measure falls short of the state-funded single-payer health care system Newsom campaigned on, and he didn’t publicly support a bill — tabled earlier this year in the state Legislature — that would have created such a system. Also Tuesday, Newsom signed a bill funneling billions of dollars into California’s higher education system, though the most ambitious programs remain unfunded promises.

Meanwhile, Twitter was ablaze Tuesday with comparisons to the French Laundry scandal that stoked the recall after photos surfaced of Newsom’s maskless son sitting with other unmasked children at an indoor summer camp, despite state rules requiring kids to wear face coverings at day camps. A spokeswoman for the governor told the Sacramento Bee that the Newsoms hadn’t seen an email from the camp stating it wouldn’t enforce mask guidance, and that their kids would no longer attend the camp.

The summer camp news appears to have been broken by Reopen California Schools, a parent advocacy group that last week sued Newsom over a requirement that all students wear masks to school in the fall. Another parent group called Let Them Breathe also recently sued Newsom over the mask rule. That could bode poorly for Newsom, given that recall ballots will be mailed to Californians starting Aug. 16 — right around the time many parents will be sending their kids back to school.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,815,702 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 63,811 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 43,568,444 vaccine doses, and 62.1% 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 return to masks indoors?

Customers at Wa Wa Restaurant in Long Beach are wearing masks. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Adding to Newsom’s challenges, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with “high or substantial” COVID-19 transmission rates — a category that includes 45 of California’s 58 counties and about 96% of its 40 million people, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. The new federal guidance could increase pressure on Newsom to issue another statewide mask mandate, which likely wouldn’t go over well with pandemic-weary Californians, many of whom just got the go-ahead to remove their face coverings last month.

Meanwhile, mandates and restrictions popped up across the state on Tuesday. Los Angeles and Long Beach announced that city employees must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, a day after Newsom unveiled the same policy at the state level. The 23-campus California State University system said it will require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall, a few weeks after the UC system said the same. And the Sacramento-area county of Yolo on Tuesday became the latest to mandate masks be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

California’s constantly changing conditions — such as the Delta variant, the possibility of new restrictions and subject-to-change school reopenings — have slowed the state’s economic recovery by making it harder for businesses to plan ahead and hire employees, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports.

2. Recall candidates promote school choice

Under plans for funding public education shared by republican recall candidates, parents would take the $14,000 of per-student state funding to any public, charter or private school they want — cultivating competition between schools and rewarding those that offer the highest-quality education. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Republican recall candidates are proposing a different model of public education. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Schools are shaping up as a key battleground in the Sept. 14 recall election, and the coterie of Republicans running to replace Newsom is offering voters an alternative vision of public education: school choice. Under the plans John Cox, Larry Elder, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose shared with CalMatters education reporter Joe Hong, state dollars would be sent directly to families rather than school districts. Parents could then take that $14,000 of per-student funding to any public, charter or private school they want — cultivating competition between schools and rewarding those that offer the highest-quality education. Yet many experts are wary of overhauling California’s education system, noting that Newsom and state lawmakers just infused a record level of funding into public schools.

  • Ose, a former Sacramento-area U.S. Representative: “We need to empower the parents to evaluate schools. I think parents right now are beat down by a system that pats them on their heads and dismisses their concerns.”
  • Julie Marsh, a USC education professor: “For a long time, California ranked at the bottom of per-pupil funding relative to other states. I don’t think we’re ready to throw in the towel just yet.”

Meanwhile, recall candidate and former GOP San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer held a Tuesday press conference in San Francisco to lambast Newsom’s record on crime, days after the governor assured voters he was cracking down on organized retail theft. And on Thursday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will travel to Fresno to campaign for the recall — which could bolster the Newsom campaign’s effort to depict it as a “partisan political power grab.”

3. Tougher water restrictions on way

A sailboat travels along the Sacramento River near Rio Vista on June 15, 2021. The state has notified 9,000 water users from Fresno to Sacramento to stop diverting water from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers watershed. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
A sailboat travels along the Sacramento River near Rio Vista on June 15, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Drought-plagued California is poised to bar thousands of farmers, landowners and others from pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an action likely to result in lawsuits from irrigation districts that say the move exceeds the water board’s authority, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. It would also mark the first time state regulators have taken such wide-reaching action to prevent diversions from the massive watershed that stretches from Fresno to the Oregon border and serves 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland — underscoring just how dire California’s drought really is.

The environmental challenges just keep piling up. A heat wave is expected to blanket California today, prompting the state’s electric grid operator on Tuesday to issue a Flex Alert urging residents to conserve energy tonight. Meanwhile, the monstrous Dixie Fire in Butte and Plumas counties grew to nearly 210,000 acres amid monsoon-like weather that created difficult conditions for firefighters. The fire is now the 14th-largest blaze in state history.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The Delta variant is surging in California, once again forcing Newsom into crisis management mode.

Public safety is public health: Our government can promote public safety by prioritizing treatment and housing — not jails — for people with untreated behavioral health needs, write state Sen. Sydney Kamlager, a Los Angeles Democrat, and San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Shining a light on algorithm-driven workplaces: State lawmakers must pass legislation that would require employers like Amazon to disclose workplace quotas, argues Yesenia Barrera of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center.

Other things worth your time

California is failing to meet demand for UC admission. // Los Angeles Times

California teachers’ pension fund CalSTRS sees record investment gains. // Sacramento Bee

Audit: California prison program illegally spent $1.3 million. // Associated Press

Dubious property tax appeals are costing Los Angeles County millions. // Los Angeles Times

Work-from-anywhere perks give Silicon Valley a new edge in talent war. // Wall Street Journal

San Diego would make outdoor dining permanent for restaurants willing to pay fees. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Public access expanded during the pandemic. Why do some California cities want to take it away? // Los Angeles Times

Women say California insurer makes it too hard to get drug for postpartum depression. // California Healthline

First steps taken to make pumped hydro energy storage project at San Vicente Reservoir a reality. // San Diego Union-Tribune

What does California owe its incarcerated firefighters? // The Atlantic

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...