In summary

California’s drought and wildfire seasons are worsening and are converging on Gov. Gavin Newsom as he tries to beat back a recall attempt.

California’s environment is not cooperating with Gov. Gavin Newsom.

By Aug. 16, local elections offices must start mailing recall ballots to Californians. That same day, state regulators could begin issuing formal orders to temporarily block thousands of farmers, landowners and others from pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed — the result of the state water board voting unanimously Tuesday to authorize the aggressive action for the first time in California history.

The move — which illuminates the increasingly dire California drought — was slammed by state lawmakers who represent Central Valley growers, with Democratic Assemblymember Adam Gray of Merced calling the orders “one of the most destructive measures possible,” CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Meanwhile, local governments are also cracking down: The city of Roseville on Tuesday announced a mandatory 20% reduction in water use for all residents.

Also Tuesday, Lake Oroville, one of the state’s largest reservoirs, reached its lowest level since September 1977. It now measures 643.5 feet above sea level; if it falls lower or within the range of 630-640 feet, its power plant could shut down due to insufficient water for the first time in history. U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, state Sen. Jim Nielsen and Assemblymember James Gallagher, all Republicans, gathered at Oroville Dam on Tuesday to “decry Governor Newsom’s lack of leadership and gross mismanagement of the state’s water, power and forests/wildlands.”

To make matters worse, PG&E told state regulators late Monday that its equipment may have sparked the Fly Fire, which later merged with the monstrous Dixie Fire — itself possibly caused by PG&E equipment. The Dixie Fire, now the 11th largest blaze in state history, continued to grow Tuesday, forcing new evacuation orders in Plumas County — parts of which will be under a red flag warning today.

In a sign Newsom may be trying to appeal to voters who are lukewarm on his environmental record, his administration on Tuesday denied 42 permits for new oil fracking wells — a few weeks after rejecting another 21.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,881,089 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 64,096 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 44,182,488 vaccine doses, and 63% 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. Will EDD scandal affect Newsom recall?

Image via iStock

By now we’ve all heard the horror stories surrounding California’s unemployment department. But did jobless residents’ negative experiences with the Employment Development Department affect how they plan to vote in the Newsom recall election on Sept. 14? In the first installment of CalMatters’ new series “Building Blocs: Key voters in California’s recall election,” I talk with people of all ages and backgrounds — many of them Democrats like Newsom — to see whether EDD changed their perception of the governor. Here’s what they said.

Meanwhile, two new polls released Tuesday — a day before some of the leading Republican recall candidates are set to debate for the first time — bolster recent reports suggesting Newsom has reason to worry about his job security. An Emerson College/Nexstar poll found 48% of likely voters oppose the recall while 46% support it. That’s up from 43% just a few weeks ago, a change the poll’s director said could be attributed to growing concerns over crime. The poll also found that Hispanics are the only racial group in which a majority of voters (54%) are in favor of the recall. Meanwhile, a poll from Core Decision Analytics also found a narrow gap: 50% of “definite” voters want to keep Newsom in office, while 43% would vote to oust him.

CalMatters received a lot of questions about how the recall ballot works and what it means to vote “yes” or “no” — so we put together an FAQ on the basics. Check it out here.

2. Vaccine mandate for teachers?

A fan puts on a ‘vaccinated’ pin after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during an event sponsored by the California Department of Public Health. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
A man puts on a ‘vaccinated’ pin after receiving the J&J vaccine during an event sponsored by the California Department of Public Health. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

With many kids preparing to head back to school, it seems inevitable that the next front in California’s battle over vaccine mandates will center on teachers. On Tuesday, state Sen. Josh Becker, a Menlo Park Democrat, called on school districts to either require vaccinations for all staff before students return to campus or test them regularly for COVID-19 — the same framework that Newsom recently put in place for health care workers and state employees. San Jose Unified has already adopted such a policy, and Los Angeles Unified will require weekly testing for staff and students regardless of vaccination status. But the California Teachers Association said it would oppose a statewide vaccine mandate for its members.

  • Lisa Gardner, a CTA spokesperson, told me: “From the beginning, CTA has strongly supported vaccines, along with multiple layers of safety protections — including masks, testing and physical distancing — as our primary and most important defense against COVID. We support the growing number of educators and local unions working with school districts to develop robust testing and vaccine verification policies.”

Another source of tension: state rules requiring all students and staff to wear masks indoors. Though many kids told the Los Angeles Times that wearing masks is almost “second nature” to them now, parents remain divided, with two advocacy groups recently suing Newsom over the school mask mandate. But proponents point out that risk remains: On Monday, two Bay Area school districts reported 23 coronavirus infections among students and staff, just days after in-person classes resumed.

3. Can state handle COVID testing surge?

Technicians conduct COVID-19 tests at the state’s new lab in Valencia on Oct. 30, 2020. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo/Pool

Demand for COVID-19 testing is rising as the Delta variant tears through California, prompting many local governments and health care providers to hire more staff, extend hours and reopen mass testing sites not long after they were shut down or scaled back. On Monday, Kaiser Permanente extended the hours of its drive-through testing sites in San Diego County after average wait times last week hit one hour. In Sonoma County, health officials are considering a return to staffing labs on the weekends and running tests seven days a week to avoid lags; Contra Costa County may open new sites to keep up with demand. And with Newsom’s recent directive for health care workers and state employees to receive the vaccine or undergo an intense testing regimen, demand will likely continue to skyrocket — raising questions as to whether the state is prepared to handle the surge without encountering supply challenges or processing lags.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Californians could see power blackouts this summer, and if they do, Newsom could feel the backlash.

Only one recall reform necessary: California law should be changed to require the lieutenant governor to serve if a recall is successful. It would stop abuse, focus both political parties on winning general elections and reduce costs, argues Paul Kronenberg, a retired trade association executive.

Demanding solutions to gun violence: There is plenty of evidence that restrictions on assault weapons save lives, writes Dr. Andre Campbell, a professor of surgery at the UCSF School of Medicine.

Other things worth your time

Recall candidate Larry Elder says minimum wage should be $0. // Sacramento Bee

Jane Fonda explored recall run amid concerns about Newsom’s vulnerability. // San Francisco Chronicle

California Attorney General Rob Bonta leads challengers in campaign cash. // Los Angeles Times

Mayor London Breed to be fined nearly $23,000 for series of ‘significant’ ethics violations while in office. // San Francisco Chronicle

Lagging in fundraising, Sacramento district attorney candidate dropping out of race, sources say. // Sacramento Bee

Funds pouring in for four Democrats trying to flip San Diego’s last Republican council seat. // San Diego Union-Tribune

UC retirement systems delays pensions to California retirees. // Sacramento Bee

From a housing crisis to a fire crisis: San Francisco’s exodus led many to a new conundrum. // San Francisco Chronicle

RAND: Los Angeles’ homeless housing bond measure fell short of 10,000 units because of labor requirement. // Daily News

Bay Area 211 workers helpless in face of homelessness crisis. // Mercury News

Crime, fires, drugs, trash plague Millerton Lake near Fresno. // Fresno Bee

Lake Tahoe is filled with trash. I went diving with the crew whose mission is to clean it up. // San Francisco Chronicle

Turkey, California, Italy: Wildfires rage in Northern Hemisphere. // Wall Street Journal

Monrovia woman contracts typhus after disposing of dead rat. // Los Angeles Times

East Bay weightlifter sets American record in his Olympic debut. // 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...