In summary

Democrat Kevin Paffrath spiced up the fourth recall debate, clashing with Republican Kevin Faulconer. But Faulconer aimed most of his fire at Larry Elder, the frontrunner who is skipping the debates.

Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, August 26.

Hospitals short on nurses

Mask and vaccine mandates are causing turmoil within California workplaces.

The state’s workplace safety agency on Wednesday encouraged all employers and workers to wear face masks indoors regardless of vaccination status — a move that came less than two months after Cal/OSHA voted to allow most fully vaccinated workers to forgo face coverings. However, Cal/OSHA said last week it likely won’t formally update its workplace pandemic standards until December — potentially to avoid another confusing back-and-forth that saw the agency in June change its mind on mask rules four times in the space of two weeks.

Democratic state lawmakers are also considering statewide vaccination requirements to enter hotels, indoor restaurants, gyms, sports arenas and other facilities, according to Politico. Businesses would apparently be required to ask their workers to get the shot or submit to weekly testing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval Monday of the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and older has prompted a wave of new vaccine mandates from public and private employers across the country and state — and not all of them are going over smoothly.

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to require attendees and staff of certain events held at city facilities to show proof of vaccination before entering — but not before a crowd of unmasked protesters stormed the meeting, forcing council members to temporarily evacuate. On Wednesday, San Jose’s police union warned that requiring vaccinations for city employees could lead to as many as 100 officers being fired. Meanwhile, a Los Angeles firefighter is under internal investigation for posting a viral YouTube video denouncing a vaccine mandate for city employees.

California’s new vaccine mandate for health care workers is also compounding a staffing shortage that predated the pandemic but has worsened amid widespread burnout from 18 long months of treating COVID-19 patients. Pushed to the breaking point, many understaffed hospitals are seeking to hire temporary, traveling nurses — only to have some of them turn down California assignments because they don’t want to get vaccinated, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 4,145,550 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 64,802 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 46,269,592 vaccine doses, and 65.6% 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 campaign takes interesting twist

Democrat Kevin Paffrath, left, speaks as Republicans John Cox, Kevin Kiley and Kevin Faulconer look on during a recall candidate debate held by KCRA 3 and San Francisco Chronicle in Sacramento on August 25, 2021. Photo by Scott Strazzante, San Francisco Chronicle

When real estate broker and YouTuber Kevin Paffrath joined the lineup of recall candidates for the fourth gubernatorial debate on Wednesday night, he not only brought the total percentage of people onstage named Kevin to 75% but also became the first Democrat to participate. Paffrath, who repeatedly name-dropped his website and described himself as a “JFK-style Democrat,” worked to appeal to independent centrist voters by slamming both Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Republican candidates, whose responses he called “BS.” He also raised a few eyebrows by referring to the state Legislature as “Congress,” proposing to solve California’s water shortage by building a pipeline to the Mississippi River and calling on the other candidates to drop out and endorse him. Paffrath focused his attacks on former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who snapped back, “It’s not time for a test drive — it’s time for someone with experience.”

Still, Faulconer reserved his sharpest critique for recall frontrunner and conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who didn’t attend the debate. Faulconer castigated Elder both for his past comments about women and for supporting the legalization of “some of the most dangerous drugs on our street.” Also Wednesday, Elder’s ex-fiancée Alexandra Datig filed a report with Los Angeles Police regarding a 2015 incident in which he allegedly brandished a gun at her. The report includes a new allegation that Elder pushed Datig in 2014 during a fit of “drug-induced anger.”

In other recall news, San Francisco attorney and Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon filed a motion Wednesday on behalf of three California voters to intervene in a recent federal lawsuit challenging the recall as unconstitutional. Newsom, meanwhile, is gearing up for a Friday car rally with Vice President Kamala Harris; attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the governor’s campaign has also apparently been urging Snoop Dogg to disavow Elder — who claims he introduced the rapper to marijuana.

2. A smoother path to UC, CSU?

Image via iStock

Today, more than 500 proposals could meet their demise — or live to see another day — as state lawmakers race through the “suspense file,” an opaque process often used to euthanize bills without having to cast a politically precarious vote or offer a public explanation. Among the proposals facing a do-or-die vote: A plan to make it easier for community college students to transfer to a UC or Cal State campus — which, paradoxically, is opposed by current community college students and faculty groups, the chancellor’s office of the community college system, the UC Office of the President and Newsom’s own finance department, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. One reason community college faculty aren’t backing the bill: They question whether it will actually result in more students transferring to the UC and Cal State systems, which are already struggling to enroll more undergraduates.

Although state lawmakers have vowed to increase the number of annual available seats by at least 15,000 at both systems for California residents starting in 2022-23, hurdles remain. On Tuesday, a superior court judge ordered UC Berkeley to freeze next year’s enrollment at last year’s level, citing the university’s flawed analysis of the environmental impact of its growing student body.

3. New fires force more evacuations

Smoke from the Caldor Fire, shrouds Fallen Leaf Lake near South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 24, 2021. The massive wildfire, that is over a week old, has scorched more than 190 square miles, and destroyed hundreds of homes since Aug. 14. It is now less than 20 miles from Lake Tahoe. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Smoke from the Caldor Fire shrouds Fallen Leaf Lake near South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Many more Californians on Wednesday joined the thousands of residents already forced to evacuate as wildfires tear through the state. The Caldor Fire — earlier this week deemed the nation’s top priority when it comes to allocating firefighting resources — continued encroaching on Lake Tahoe, putting public safety officials on high alert for possible evacuations and warnings. Meanwhile, the Brush Fire forced evacuations and threatened structures and infrastructure in Riverside County, the fast-moving Bennett Fire in Nevada County prompted mandatory evacuations as it chewed through Grass Valley and the Airola Fire caused evacuations in Calaveras County. Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, in a Wednesday video stressed the importance of taking evacuation orders seriously.

Newsom, who on Tuesday announced that President Joe Biden had approved his request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration in response to the Dixie and River fires, said Wednesday the state had secured a federal grant to handle the French Fire in Kern County. Also Wednesday, a group of congressional and state Republicans called on Biden to tour California’s fire damage firsthand — a move that could potentially co-opt the president’s expected visit to the Golden State to campaign against the Newsom recall.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s epic battle over the status of gig workers has entered a new phase with a judge overturning Proposition 22.

Pandemic exposed need for mental health care: State lawmakers must increase funding for Californians struggling with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, writes Steve Pitman of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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Other things worth your time

Democrats plagued by California recall ballot’s second question. // Los Angeles Times

‘This is who he is’: Mara Reinhardt reveals extent of alleged family abuse by prominent politico and former Newsom advisor Nate Ballard. // KQED

Sacramento County extends motel program sheltering hundreds of homeless residents through November. // CapRadio

Racial slurs and ‘monkey noises’ targeted Moreno Valley cheerleaders at Temecula game, coach says. // Riverside Press Enterprise

Los Angeles City Council orders ‘racial equity audit’ of city programs, policies and practices. // Daily News

Cruise looks to Central Valley solar panels to power its self-driving cars. // San Francisco Chronicle

Images show ‘unusual’ lack of snow on Mount Shasta — here’s what meteorologists say is going on. // San Francisco Chronicle

Column: Can California make do with the water it has? // San Diego Union-Tribune

Berkeley abode for sale once housed Dorothea Lange and her darkroom. // SFGATE

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...