Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, July 21.

Crackdown falling short


That’s how many Californians were believed to have guns at the beginning of the year despite being legally prohibited from owning them — the highest total since 2006, when the Golden State became the first in the nation to create a database of legal gun owners later deemed too dangerous to be armed.

But, as CalMatters’ Robert Lewis reports in a new investigation, the state’s effort to wrest firearms away from people who lost their right to bear them due to violent crimes, severe mental health issues or active restraining orders has persistently fallen short. The pandemic has only exacerbated those problems, with the state Department of Justice citing social distancing, self-isolation and travel restrictions as roadblocks to seizing guns from “armed and prohibited” people.

At the same time, the pandemic has supercharged the debate surrounding gun ownership in California. Legal handgun purchases skyrocketed a record 66% in 2020, while homicides rose 31%, resulting in the Golden State’s highest homicide rate in more than a decade. California also saw its deadliest mass shooting of the year in May, prompting the city of San Jose to pass a first-in-the-nation measure requiring firearm owners to pay a tax for the costs of gun violence. That, in turn, prompted a cease-and-desist letter from the National Foundation for Gun Rights, which blasted the city for “punishing law-abiding gun owners for the actions of criminals.”

The question of how to handle Californians who legally purchased — but unlawfully possess — guns remains one of the state’s biggest challenges. And, as Robert found by combing through piles of public records, the stakes are high:

  • A Santa Paula woman ordered to surrender her guns because of a mental health-related prohibition still has 22 of them.
  • An accused domestic abuser in Ukiah is believed to have 44 guns.
  • A Central Valley man awaiting trial on a rape charge for three years has remained armed despite a court order requiring him to hand over his gun.

Garen Wintemute, director of UC Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program, has a key question for the state.

  • Wintemute: “We’ve made a decision as a society that there are people who, for a constellation of reasons, should not be allowed to have firearms. Are we going to enforce that social decision or not?”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,767,185 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 63,653 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 43,045,275 vaccine doses, and 61.4% 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. Recall roundup

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers a speech during a rally at the Barrio Action Youth and Family Center, where he would sign the California Comeback Plan relief bill, on July 13, 2021. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers a speech during a rally at the Barrio Action Youth and Family Center on July 13, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Today, Secretary of State Shirley Weber is set to certify the final list of candidates running to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 recall election — and the main question now is whether it will include Larry Elder. The conservative talk show host, who Weber’s office says provided incomplete tax returns, is suing to be added to the ballot — and arguing that California’s law requiring gubernatorial candidates to release tax returns doesn’t apply to recall elections. (Another seven would-be candidates were rejected at least in part because of the tax return requirement.) Meanwhile, a 42nd candidate was added to the recall lineup on Tuesday: Armando Perez-Sarrato, a Democrat from Orange County who owns a combat supply store. It wasn’t immediately clear why he was a late addition.

Meanwhile, Newsom and his opponents continue to crisscross the state in campaign mode. In Tulare County on Tuesday, Newsom signed a $6 billion bill to expand broadband infrastructure. Recall proponents and crime victim advocates — including Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was murdered in 1996 — gathered in Sacramento to denounce Newsom’s criminal justice policies. Former GOP San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer challenged Newsom to a one-on-one debate. Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley held a Sacramento press conference to discuss his plans to reform public education. And Caitlyn Jenner announced plans to hold a statewide bus tour in August.

For Californians trying to figure out how to vote in the recall election, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Sameea Kamal put together a highlight reel of Newsom’s two-and-a-half years at the helm of state government, analyzing some of the most significant ways he’s changed California — and some of the ways he hasn’t. 

2. An end to single-use plastics?

Piles of non-recyclable plastic and other materials at the greenwaste sorting facility in San Jose on July 29, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, Calmatters
Piles of non-recyclable plastic and other materials at the Greenwaste sorting facility in San Jose on July 29, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California voters will decide the fate of single-use plastic packaging in November 2022, thanks to a measure that qualified for the ballot late Monday. The measure would levy a one-cent tax on plastics manufacturers for each single-use packaging, container or utensil they sell in California; require them to sell 25% fewer of those products; and ensure that what they do sell is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030. It would also ban food vendors from using Styrofoam containers. The measure, which is estimated to bring in a few billion dollars of tax revenue annually, goes further than two similar proposals that died in the state Legislature in 2019 and 2020 amid fierce opposition from powerful industry groups.

Other measures that have qualified for the November 2022 ballot: a referendum to overturn California’s flavored tobacco ban, a measure to legalize sports gambling, and a measure to undo a state law limiting damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.

3. Schools stare down cybersecurity threats

Image via iStock

Distance learning may have been a struggle for many California teachers and students, but it was a boon for cybercriminals hoping to capitalize on the “low-hanging fruit” of public school IT systems. Amid an uptick in the number of hackers holding online systems hostage until schools pay a ransom, some California campuses are scrambling to protect themselves via cyber insurance. But, as CalMatters’ Zayna Syed reports, the field of cybersecurity is still so new that California doesn’t know how many school districts carry cyber insurance, how many have faced cyber attacks, or how many have ended up paying ransoms. Information is also lacking at the local level: 61% of administrators nationally don’t know whether their school has cyber insurance, and 54% of educators haven’t received basic cybersecurity training. Many districts also lack the funds to hire cybersecurity professionals or invest in complex software.

  • Troy Flint of the California School Boards Association: “Cyber insurance is just sort of a new realm and it would be a leap into the unknown for districts. With budgets being tight traditionally in school districts, is that an expenditure that you want to make when most districts are not able to provide all the programs and services they want to give their kids?”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Two Los Angeles Times articles detail how the state medical board goes easy on incompetent doctors — but they also omit a key political angle.

Senate Bill 10 strengthens democracy: To meaningfully address the intertwined problems of climate change, wildfire risk and housing affordability, land-use policies in California must change, argues Christopher Elmendorf, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law.

Latinos must be involved in redistricting: It is essential that Latinos living in the same neighborhoods are placed within the same district boundaries to avoid weakening their political power, writes Jose Garcia of the Latino Community Foundation.

Other things worth your time

Amid Delta variant, six more California counties urge indoor masks. // Los Angeles Times

Palo Alto father sues school district after son not allowed in class without mask. // Mercury News

Pasadena to require COVID vaccines for all city employees. // Los Angeles Times

Hollywood crews could be forced to vaccinate under new deal with unions. // Los Angeles Times

‘Some serious problems’ with California recall law, secretary of state says. // CapRadio

Newsom administration hires special counsel in probe of California unemployment fraud. // Los Angeles Times

San Francisco deploys more foot police in tourist areas even as it battles perception city is overrun with crime. // San Francisco Chronicle

Newsom bans sending foster youth to faraway treatment programs after Chronicle abuse investigation. // San Francisco Chronicle

California court upends part of law to protect gay seniors. // Associated Press

Oakland City Council approves terms for Athletics stadium deal against team’s wishes. // Los Angeles Times

New fundraising numbers suggest Orange County House races will be hot again next year. // Orange County Register

St. Paul’s Hmong city council members wade into California water, cannabis dispute. // Mercury News

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...