In summary

Lawmakers have twice postponed a key hearing on the Employment Development Department — and it won’t happen until after the recall election.

Key hearing delayed — again

Californians who want to know how much progress the state unemployment department has made on crucial reforms will likely have to wait until after the Sept. 14 recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

That’s because state lawmakers have twice postponed a key hearing on the Employment Development Department — and likely won’t take up the issue again until Sept. 21, I’ve exclusively learned. The hearing, originally scheduled for Aug. 17, was pushed to Aug. 24. Then a notice was published online: “HEARING POSTPONED.” Staffers told me the delay was due to scheduling conflicts inherent in bringing together four committees during the frenzied last month of the legislative session.

But the twice-moved date, when considered in light of other developments, also raises questions.

Earlier this week, state lawmakers canceled an oversight hearing into wildfire prevention scheduled after a CapRadio report found Newsom overstated by 690% the amount of land treated to prevent fires from harming California’s most vulnerable communities. The cancellation came amid a swirl of sobering statistics: Although it’s early in the fire season, more than 1 million acres have already burned. This week, the monstrous Dixie Fire became the first in state history to burn clear across the Sierra Nevada, while clouds of smoke caused Tahoe to notch its worst air pollution readings in a decade.

The problems are just as persistent at EDD, which has consistently been one of Newsom’s biggest political liabilities during the pandemic — and which some Democratic voters told me prompted them to support the recall. On Thursday, State Auditor Elaine Howle released a report on high-risk state issues and agencies, citing EDD for its failure to detect fraud and for paying out billions of dollars in improper claims. Incidentally, an Arkansas woman was sentenced to prison on Thursday for filing over 100 fraudulent unemployment claims with EDD, which ultimately paid her more than $569,000.

Although EDD has reduced its claims backlog, more than 216,000 claims had been stuck in the logjam for at least three weeks as of Aug. 7, the most recent date for which numbers are available. And the claims keep coming: Around 68,100 new claims were filed in California for the week ending Aug. 14, the highest total in three months, according to federal data released Thursday.

Californians can track online the status of the state auditor’s recommendations to both EDD and the state Legislature — see here and here. But legislative hearings often offer more details and deeper accountability: EDD leadership, for example, is expected to testify at the joint hearing.

Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, a Los Angeles Democrat and chair of one of the committees holding the EDD hearing, told me in a Thursday statement, “We cannot ensure a successful joint hearing … without including an evaluation of the impacts of federal unemployment benefits ending in early September.” She added:

  • Carrillo: “There have been five EDD oversight hearings in just over a year. Hundreds of millions of dollars in the state budget are focused on making Californians who need access to benefits whole. … We will continue to take action until the job is done.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,070,083 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 64,383 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 45,681,458 vaccine doses, and 64.8% 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. Larry Elder in conversation with CalMatters

Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, talks to his supporters at a rally in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder at a rally in Norwalk on July 13, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Conservative talk show host and recall frontrunner Larry Elder did not attend the campaign’s third gubernatorial debate Thursday night, but his name dominated the headlines. After Politico reported on allegations from Elder’s ex-fiancée that he brandished a gun at her while high on marijuana — which Elder denied — the San Francisco Chronicle and CNN published articles unearthing past controversial comments he made about women.

  • Alexandra Datig, Elder’s ex-fiancée: “I was raised that you never use a gun in anger, and you don’t use it when you’re drunk or you’re high to make a point in frustration — which is what he did.”
  • Elder, via Twitter: “People do not get into public life precisely because of this type of politics of personal destruction. I am not going to dignify this with a response — it’s beneath me.” 

Before the slew of reports came out, CalMatters reporters spent an hour interviewing Elder about his libertarian policies, how he would spend California’s massive budget surplus and why he won’t debate other Republicans. Check out the five key takeaways CalMatters’ Ben Christopher compiled from the conversation — and make sure to watch the video, too.

2. An end to single-family zoning?

Elizabeth Olson and her son Lucas, 2, sit in the living room of their newly-purchased home in the Land Park neighborhood of Sacramento on Aug. 4. 2021. Olson hopes to renovate the house into a duplex so to make room for her aunt and her partner, who currently live in the home. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Elizabeth Olson hopes to renovate her home in the Land Park neighborhood of Sacramento into a duplex. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California got a step closer to eliminating single-family zoning on Thursday, when an influential Assembly committee approved a controversial bill that would allow as many as two duplexes, two houses with attached units, or a combination — capped at four units — on single-family lots statewide, without local approval. The proposal has sparked a political firestorm in Sacramento, with homeowners groups and local lawmakers opposing it and advocacy groups including California Yes In My Backyard supporting it. But ultimately, the bill might not move the needle too far either way, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports: It likely won’t make too much of a dent in California’s housing crisis, and it probably won’t translate into the nightmare scenario described by opponents.

Another bill causing hubbub in the Capitol: one that would require garment manufacturers to pay most workers by the hour, not by the piece — and extend the liability for wage theft from the factories to the brands and retailers that sell the clothes, as well as any subcontractors in between, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports. Supporters say it will help end wage exploitation; opponents say it could harm the U.S. garment industry, which unexpectedly thrived amid the pandemic.

3. Record-high COVID hospitalizations

Health care employees work at the COVID-19 testing site at Veterans Hall in Fort Bragg on August 10, 2021. Mendocino County is one of the California counties with hospitalizations exceeding or approaching the winter surge. Photo by Mary Rose Kaczorowski, The Mendocino Voice
Health care employees work at a COVID-19 testing site at Veterans Hall in Fort Bragg on Aug. 10, 2021. Photo by Mary Rose Kaczorowski, The Mendocino Voice

COVID hospitalizations have hit record levels in six rural Northern California counties — the result of sharp spikes in infections and low vaccination rates. Paired with a Monday order from the California Department of Public Health requiring hospitals to accept transfer patients from facilities with limited ICU capacity, it’s the latest indication that the pandemic is far from over, Kristen Hwang reports for CalMatters. Another indication: Two of the counties have zero ICU beds available. Others are cancelling elective procedures and limiting visitors. To see which counties have record hospitalizations and how your county is faring, check out Kristen’s report.

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CalMatters commentary

Farmworkers deserve democratic protections: State lawmakers are considering a bill that could deprive California farmworkers of many of their rights in choosing whether to form or join a union, writes William Gould IV, a professor emeritus at Stanford Law School.

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Other things worth your time

City moves to suspend police, fire and sheriff’s employees who refuse to report vaccination status. // San Francisco Chronicle

Former Newsom aide sentenced to probation in domestic violence case. // San Francisco Chronicle

How Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services’ failures led up to Noah Cuatro’s child abuse, death. // Los Angeles Times

San Francisco district attorney sues three California-based ‘ghost gun’ makers. // Associated Press

Montebello high school closed by ‘horrific’ rat infestation. // Los Angeles Times

Some Los Angeles County parents won’t be told of COVID infections in their kids’ classroom. // Capital & Main

New map shows how much gas costs in every California county. // Sacramento Bee

Funding deadlines loom for troubled California bullet train. // Los Angeles Times

How much carbon is buried under Mission Bay? Scientists seek to know. // San Diego Union-Tribune

The Oakland Latina who’s leading Newsom’s climate agenda at 31. // KQED

‘Paradise’ excerpt: California wildfire threatens school bus with 22 kids aboard. // Washington Post

Assemblymember Rudy Salas set to join field against Rep. David Valadao in 2022. // San Joaquin Valley Sun

A full moon unlike any other in 2021 to rise this weekend. // AccuWeather

Ben will see you Monday.

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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...