Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, August 31.
Hectic evacuation process
Thousands of cars stuck in traffic so knotted that one South Lake Tahoe resident moved just 30 feet in two hours. Snow guns deployed to beat flames away from the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort. Smoke and ash so dense that the clarity of Lake Tahoe’s brilliant blue water — not to mention the balance of its delicate ecosystems — could be troubled for years to come, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.
Those are just some of the scenes emerging from the Caldor Fire, which on Monday forced South Lake Tahoe’s 22,000 residents to evacuate as flames entered the basin — a scenario firefighters had long been working to avoid. The blaze is the second in state history to burn from one side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the other — a feat achieved earlier this month by the still-growing Dixie Fire. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday night declared a state of emergency and issued an executive order to support the state’s wildfire response and recovery efforts.
- Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter: “There is fire activity in California we’ve never seen before.”
And, experts say, things are likely to get worse amid gusty winds and low humidity. The National Weather Service extended through Wednesday a red flag warning for the Northern Sierra and Southern Cascades initially slated to expire tonight. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it will today close all 20 million acres of California’s national forests through at least Sept. 17, citing “extreme fire conditions” and “strained firefighting resources.”
- Jennifer Eberlien, California’s regional forester: “I do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety. It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”
The timing couldn’t be worse for Newsom, who is facing a recall election on Sept. 14 and has taken particular heat for vastly overstating the state’s progress on fire prevention. Today, a group of Republican state lawmakers is holding an informational forum on wildfires — an attempt to revive an oversight hearing into Newsom’s fire prevention strategy that was abruptly canceled last week, along with a hearing on the state’s beleaguered unemployment department.
In a sobering indication of how many crises the world is facing right now, the U.S. Army is sending about 200 active-duty soldiers to assist with wildfire suppression in Northern California. Meanwhile, Newsom on Sunday deployed urban search-and-rescue teams to Louisiana to help the state respond to Hurricane Ida.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 4,213,057 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 65,271 deaths (+0.04% from previous day), according to state data.
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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Other stories you should know
1. Your recall concerns, addressed
By now, you’ve probably seen posts on Twitter or Facebook raising concerns about the security of the Sept. 14 recall election. Questions abound: Why does the envelope of my mail-in ballot have a hole in it? Why does the crease in my folded ballot run through a certain candidate’s name? Why have I heard stories about stolen ballots, extra ballots and even dead people receiving ballots? Can I trust Dominion voting machines? CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal examines all of these rumors — and breaks down recall fact and fiction — in this helpful piece.
- Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation: “Elections in California have never been simple. That results in confusion and unfortunately some people, when they don’t understand something, jump to the worst-case scenario.”
Meanwhile, the Newsom campaign rolled out a new anti-recall ad featuring Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who clinched the state’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The Sanders spot follows a similar ad featuring Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, indicating that Newsom is hoping to fire up his Democratic base by having national progressives denounce the recall as a Republican-led power grab. As the Los Angeles Times reports, it’s a strategy similar to that used by former GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the only governor in American history to defeat a recall: Attack those trying to remove you, instead of defending your record.
2. Controversial bills head to Newsom
With the legislative session ending on Sept. 10, state lawmakers have less than two weeks to decide the fate of 740 bills — but they lightened their load on Monday by sending two controversial housing bills to Newsom’s desk. The governor has until Oct. 10 — about a month after the recall election — to decide whether to sign or veto them:
- A bill that would eliminate single-family zoning in California by allowing up to four units on single-family lots statewide — and which a group is already trying to overturn via a proposed constitutional amendment for the November 2022 ballot. In the newest episode of the “Gimme Shelter” podcast, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon talk with Democratic Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon about why the bill has caused so much furor.
- A bill that would allow up to 10 housing units on single-family lots in transit-rich urban cores — as long as local governments approve.
Another contentious bill still wending its way through the Legislature: one that would give farmworkers more ways to vote in union elections. Business groups say the proposal is a job killer and would leave farmworkers vulnerable to pressure from union organizers, while supporters say it would limit employers’ ability to deter workers from forming unions, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports.
But at least one explosive proposal won’t be making its way to Newsom: Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, said Monday that she is no longer advancing a plan to mandate vaccines for many indoor venues and force employers to require worker vaccinations or regular COVID testing.
3. A dose of positive news
Many readers have told me they crave positive news — and, with seemingly endless reports of destructive fires, I could use some myself. So here are two amazing stories of Californians defying the odds.
On Sunday, Robert Paylor, who in 2017 was paralyzed from the neck down while playing for Cal’s rugby team — and had been told he might never be able to move again — stood up from his wheelchair, grabbed his walker, and accepted his diploma from UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, the Mercury News reports.
- Paylor: “While this was only 5 to 10 yards, it’s some of the most important 5 to 10 yards I’ll ever walk in my life. … I hope when they saw me walk across that stage they saw themselves overcoming their own challenges.”
And last week, when a Calabasas mother saw that a mountain lion was attacking her 5-year-old son, she ran out and started beating the animal with her bare hands, according to the Associated Press.
- Capt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: “The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life.”
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: How would Newsom continue to pursue a political career if he’s recalled from office this year?
Speeders shouldn’t set speed limits: State lawmakers must pass legislation allowing cities to lower speed limits on our busiest, most complex streets, argue Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Jeffrey Tumlin of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority.
Closing California’s digital divide: The state must leverage existing broadband networks and create economic “middle mile” services to reach 463,000 largely rural households, writes Michael Kleeman, a senior fellow at UC San Diego.
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Other things worth your time
San Francisco school board recall hits critical milestone to qualify for the ballot. // San Francisco Chronicle
Rage against the vaccine: how a San Diego group is lashing out at COVID-19 rules. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Hundreds protest in Santa Monica over proposed vaccine mandates. // Los Angeles Times
Life insurance can’t be cut off without proper notice, California Supreme Court rules. // San Francisco Chronicle
Federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department may be nearing its end, attorneys say. // Oaklandside
Cal State’s incoming freshman class key to meeting system’s graduation goals. // EdSource
‘Lobster claws’ test questions land Crowden School principal in hot water. // Berkeleyside
Dozens of Sacramento-area students may be stranded in Afghanistan. // Sacramento Bee
Lithium fuels hopes for revival on California’s largest lake. // Associated Press
Marin County’s median house price hits $1.8 million. // Marin Independent Journal
See you tomorrow.
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