In summary

Gov. Gavin Newsom announces new COVID vaccine and testing requirements for California teachers, but Republican recall candidates push back.

Teachers and other school employees across California have a choice to make in the coming weeks: Get vaccinated, get regularly tested or find another job.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new mandate at an elementary school in the Oakland hills Wednesday. This comes a week after he rolled out a similar first-in-the-nation vaccine requirement for all healthcare workers. This new rule is another first. While Hawaii has a similar policy on the books for public school teachers, California is the first to apply it to all school workers at all schools

  • Newsom: “We think this will be well received because it’s the right thing to do — to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe, our children.”

More on the political response below, but spoiler alert: The news was not well received by everyone.

As CalMatters education reporter Joe Hong notes, public health experts and many parent advocates have been urging the state to adopt a version of this policy for weeks. Many are now applauding the move, as is the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher union, which is fully on board after some early iffy-ness

The order goes into effect immediately, but schools will have until Oct. 15 to fully comply.

The new policy comes as millions of kids across the state — many of whom still aren’t eligible for a vaccine — are returning to school. 

How is everyone feeling about that?

There’s understandable anxiety as the state’s COVID hospitalization numbers continue to climb. The Los Angeles Times spoke to one parent who asked herself: “Am I putting our health at risk by going to school in person?” 

There’s relief, as one music teacher told Oaklandside: “It was wild trying to get to know middle schoolers on Zoom and teaching music with a delay.”

And then there are feelings, in short supply during this pandemic, that used to invariably arrive with a new school year: Excitement and joy. As one first grade teacher told KQED: “I’m looking forward to just seeing little faces again.”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,969,722 confirmed cases (+0.25% from previous day) and 63,976 deaths (-0.55 % from previous day), according to state data. The decline in reported deaths reflects a revision to the data from Santa Clara County.

California has administered 44,854,015 vaccine doses, and 63.8% 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. Vax, tax and other attacks

Supporters of conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, rally in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Supporters of conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, rally in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Is this latest vaccine-or-test requirement for teachers going to be an issue in the recall campaign? 

Does a bear roar in a John Cox campaign ad

Some responses from the candidates hoping to take Newsom’s job:

  • Larry Elder: “Encouraging vaccination is fine. Government mandating it is not.”
  • Assemblymember Kevin Kiley: “Gavin Newsom needs to stop using teachers and nurses as political pawns.”
  • Cox: “This is just further government intrusion into people’s personal lives.”
  • Kevin Faulconer: “Sacramento politicians should not be pushing uniform statewide orders on every school district.”

All of this is fodder for Team Newsom, which has spent months characterizing the candidates — and the entire recall campaign— as anti-vaccines. It’s a cudgel the governor has been particularly eager to direct at the top polling candidate, Elder.

Elder said he is vaccinated, but he did allow a doctor to espouse false medical conspiracy theories on his radio show in July — something the governor’s defenders have eagerly broadcast.

You can learn more about Elder’s policy positions and background in new candidate cards put together by CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal. Beside Elder, there are primers on Cox, Faulconer, Kiley and Caitlyn Jenner.

One thing Newsom’s team won’t be able to mine for potential hits on Elder: his tax returns. 

The quick back story: In 2019, Newsom signed a law requiring candidates for governor to submit their tax returns. Elder submitted his, but Secretary of State Shirley Weber said he misfiled and blocked him from the ballot. Elder sued and won, getting a judge to place him on the ballot and rule that the 2019 law doesn’t even apply to recalls

So what happened with the tax returns Elder turned in? 

Political reporter Laurel Rosenhall filed a public records request with the Secretary of State’s office and got this response: “All tax returns in our possession that were submitted by replacement candidates have been returned, destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed.”

Legal update: Remember when the California appeals court affirmed that the governor has the right to change, rescind or make state laws by executive order, slapping down a challenge brought by Assemblymembers James Gallagher and Kiley? Wednesday, the state Supreme Court agreed.

2. Willie Horton redux?

Image via iStock

It isn’t just a campaign trail talking point: Violent crime really is up in California.

The latest data point comes out of Los Angeles, which last month recorded 46 homicides, according to the nonprofit news site Crosstown. That’s the most since at least 2010. 

While statewide crime stats are slower to come in, homicides in 2020 increased 31% over the prior year, even as other types of crime flatlined or declined.

And while preliminary FBI statistics suggest homicides increased by 25% across the country last year, the California numbers could present a political problem for Newsom. California Republicans have always taken Democrats to task over crime, but after decades of declining crime statistics, the data is now on their side.

Today, a pro-recall campaign will finish its tour of the state highlighting what they call Newsom’s weak record on law and order. Earlier this week, business leaders in Oakland’s Chinatown begged the governor to send in the California Highway Patrol to curb a wave of local robberies and assaults (Newsom acquiesced). And Republicans continue to excoriate the governor over the release from prison of a man who buried his developmentally disabled victim alive 40 years ago. 

California’s Board of Parole granted David Weidert application for early release four times since 2015. Those paroles were reversed twice by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and once by Newsom. 

But this year the governor decided that Weidert, who committed the crime when he was 17 and is now 58 years old, “does not pose a current unreasonable risk to public safety.”

3. Home improvement

Image via iStock

And now a dispatch from CalMatters environment reporter Julie Cart:

While policymakers are still digesting the grim news from this week’s United Nations’ climate change report, the California Energy Commission took a step Wednesday to move the state closer to its hoped-for decarbonized future via a wonky-but-effective means: the building code.

The commission unanimously voted to update California’s already-strict building efficiency standards, which have so far achieved greenhouse gas reductions that equate to taking more than two million cars off the roads annually.

Among the updates:

  • Require certain types of commercial buildings to have rooftop solar and battery storage 
  • Implement stricter standards that improve indoor ventilation
  • Ensure that homes using natural gas are “electric-ready” 
  • Encourage efficient electric heat pump technology for space and water heating

The state has focused on finding ways to operate buildings across the state more efficiently — 70% of California’s electric power is consumed by homes and businesses.

  • Energy Commission Chairman David Hochschild: “Decarbonization is the issue of our time.” 

The new code must be submitted to the California Building Standards Commission in December. If approved, the update will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Oops!: In the Wednesday newsletter I overstated how much federal money is likely to go to the state’s high-speed rail project. The agency that oversees the project has identified $20 billion to $40 billion in the infrastructure bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate that it could be eligible to compete for. But it won’t be getting all of that money.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A four-month delay in releasing Census data means those tasked with redrawing the boundaries of California’s legislative and congressional districts are running out of time.

Water for ecosystems: If California doesn’t start setting aside more freshwater for salmon and other aquatic life, mass extinction is inevitable, writes Sandi Matsumoto and Julie Zimmerman of The Nature Conservancy.

Other things worth your time

How to keep your child safe from the delta variant // CapRadio

California’s great eggs and bacon fight, explained // Vox

Opinion: we research misinformation on Facebook. It just disabled our accounts // New York Times

Forty-times more energy intensive than lettuce, weed isn’t so green // Politico

“You’re a schmuck for not wearing a mask” says former governor Schwarzenegger // Vanity Fair

How museums are preparing for the growing threat of wildfire and other climate catastrophes // Washington Post

Highway expansion efforts “not the right projects for San Diego,” says regional planning head // Voice of San Diego

Search is on for San Francisco woman who’s been feeding raw meat to coyotes // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow.

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Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...