Good morning, California. It’s Monday, August 2.

Blackouts a real threat

First, Gov. Gavin Newsom offered cash for vaccinations. Now, he’s offering cash for energy conservation.

In a sign that California is at dire risk of rolling blackouts this summer, Newsom on Friday signed an emergency proclamation that orders the state to reimburse utilities for payments made to energy-thirsty industrial customers who agree to reduce their use when the grid is strained. The directive authorizes payments of up to $2 per kilowatt-hour — well above the 14-cent average paid by industrial customers.

The move suggests that conditions have worsened since May, when Elliot Mainzer, president of the state’s electric grid operator, expressed “guarded optimism” that California would be able to avoid blackouts. In the emergency proclamation, Newsom said the state currently faces an energy shortfall of up to 3,500 megawatts — enough to power 2.6 million homes — and could face a deficit of 5,000 megawatts next summer.

  • Mainzer: “Given the types of deficits we’re facing, we’re going to have to do more.”

To help make up the shortfall, Newsom suspended certain environmental requirements — but said the state would compensate for the extra greenhouse gas emissions by coming up with a plan by November to improve air quality in affected communities. He also directed state agencies to streamline clean energy projects — though they could face local hurdles. The Kern County Board of Supervisors, for example, is reevaluating its approach to approving new solar projects after the Newsom administration denied 21 permits for new oil fracking wells.

Also Friday, Newsom met virtually with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Western governors to discuss wildfires. Newsom criticized the federal government — which owns nearly half of California’s land — for frequently taking a “wait and see” approach to fires, rather than snuffing them out immediately. Experts cite the Tamarack Fire burning on the California-Nevada border as a prime example of the policy’s shortcomings.

Meanwhile, a host of new wildfires — including two in Northern California sparked by lightning — ignited over the weekend. PG&E, whose equipment may have sparked the monstrous Dixie Fire, will also face criminal charges for starting last year’s Zogg Fire, the Shasta County district attorney announced Thursday.

All these conditions underscore the precarity of Newsom’s situation as he heads into the Sept. 14 recall election — which could be why he appealed to the national Democratic Party in a recent interview with the McClatchy editorial boards.

  • Newsom: “I don’t think the national Democratic Party’s asking themselves that question” of what happens if he loses. “If this was a successful recall, I think it would have profound consequences nationwide.”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 3,840,364 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 63,935 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 44,060,955 vaccine doses, and 62.8% 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.

Podcast: I join CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and CapRadio’s Scott Rodd to talk about how Newsom’s vaccine requirements and wildfire response could impact the recall election.

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1. California reels from Delta variant

Phlebotomist lab assistant Jennifer Cukati, right, and Registered Nurse Carina Klescewski, left, care for a COVID-19 patient inside the Sutter Roseville Medical Center ICU in Roseville on Dec. 22, 2020. Photo by Renee C. Byer, The Sacramento Bee via AP/Pool

If the Delta variant has proved anything, it’s that the pandemic isn’t over. Less than two months after a Santa Monica hospital dismantled its coronavirus ICU unit, it was forced to reassemble and expand the space due to a surge in patients. At least 233 employees at two major San Francisco hospitals tested positive for COVID-19 in July — the vast majority of whom were vaccinated. Cities from San Francisco to Fresno are reporting an uptick in infections among young people. All the while, the divide between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated appears to be growing wider. An increasing number of local governments and businesses — ranging from San Diego County to the San Jose Unified School District — are taking a page from Newsom’s playbook and requiring employees to either be vaccinated or tested frequently for COVID-19. Some, like a group of Los Angeles restaurants, are requiring customers to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result. Demonstrators gathered outside San Diego City Hall on Friday to protest such policies, which they said discriminated against unvaccinated people and children under 12; Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, meanwhile, argued there should be separate restaurants for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Even as the pandemic rages on, some relief programs are ending. The federal eviction moratorium expired Saturday, putting millions of families at risk of losing their homes. Although California’s moratorium lasts through Sept. 30, people are still falling through the cracks. CalMatters’ Nigel Duara found that at least 221 households have been evicted in the city of Long Beach since July 2020, one of the densest evictions clusters in Los Angeles County — itself the county with the most residential evictions in California.

2. Key bills await Legislature

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters; iStock

In two weeks, state lawmakers will return to Sacramento for the final month of the legislative session, during which they will decide the fate of hundreds of bills. Here’s a look at some high-profile proposals that await:

  • A bill that would drastically reduce which products can be labeled recyclable. Despite the best intentions of Californians who diligently sort their trash and recycling, at least 85% of single-use plastics end up in the landfill, CalMatters’ Marissa Garcia reports. Supporters say limiting use of the triangular recyclable symbol would reinforce truth in advertising. Opponents say it would force manufacturers to make California-specific packaging, resulting in price hikes that would disproportionately impact low-income consumers.
  • A bill that would make it easier for Californians to choose assisted death. Although the Golden State legalized assisted death in 2016, it remains rare — which advocates say is due partly to unnecessary bureaucratic barriers, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Opponents say streamlining the process could result in disabled people being coerced into ending their own lives or low-income Californians choosing assisted death over costly medical procedures.
  • A bill that would require doctors to tell patients if they’ve accepted payments from drug and medical device manufacturers. The proposal has already been significantly watered down due to opposition from the powerful California Medical Association, which argues it would drown doctors in paperwork, the Los Angeles Times reports. But supporters say such disclosures would help patients discern if doctors are prescribing products for financial reasons, rather than patients’ well-being.

Meanwhile, California recently formed the nation’s first state Senate committee focused specifically on cybersecurity — but will it actually accomplish anything? CalMatters’ Zayna Syed takes a look.

3. Bacon: A California rarity?

Proposition 12 seeks to require more living space for hens, pigs and calves. Photo by Mark Robinson via Fickr.
Photo by Mark Robinson via Flickr

First there was a shortage of toilet paper, then coins, then chlorine, now — bacon? California could lose almost all of its pork supply next year, when it starts enforcing a ballot measure voters approved in 2018 that requires more space for breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens and veal calves, the Associated Press reports. Only 4% of hog operations nationwide currently comply with the rules, putting California — whose restaurants and groceries use about 255 million pounds of pork per month but whose farms only produce 45 million pounds — in a tough spot. And it’s unclear if relief is on the way: A federal judge last week rejected a legal challenge from the meat industry, though a coalition of California restaurants and business groups have petitioned Newsom to put the new requirements on hold. Critics say they could cause bacon prices to jump 60% in California, pushing a $6 package to $9.60.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Blue California is often criticized by conservative media, but now it’s receiving scrutiny from liberal writers.

Importance of informed voting: As Black people, we need to stop freely giving our votes away to Democrats without checking their records to see whether they support what is important to us, argues Jacquelyn Johnson, a Sacramento-based writer, speaker and activist.

Supporting asylum seekers: California is on track to become the first state in the nation to introduce case management services for people granted asylum, write Rabbi Sydney Mintz of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El and Joe Goldman of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Other things worth your time

Former Schwarzenegger staffer: California should not dismiss Newsom recall election as a joke. // Sacramento Bee

California Wine Country rebuilds as threats persist. // New York Times

California learns costly pandemic lesson about hospitals. // Associated Press

Bay Area businesses with COVID-19 outbreaks rarely faced fines. // Mercury News

Confusion over mask mandate for California schools sparks tensions between districts and parents. // EdSource

‘Freaking out’: Aftercare crisis has families worried as children head back to school. // San Francisco Chronicle

California effort to increase number of women on corporate boards suffers setback. // Ms. Magazine

Lately, an escape to Tahoe feels like a frightening glimpse of the future. // SFGATE

Desalination plant would mean 10% fee hike annually for West Basin customers. // Daily News

Before he died, author Anthony Veasna So immortalized Cambodian California. // Los Angeles Times

This California family has visited every In-N-Out in the country. // Daily 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...