Today marks a massive inflection point in California’s pandemic response.
The state is shifting from a phase of protection — marked by the implicit recognition that people had very little control over COVID-19 — to one of action, underscoring that vaccines are free, widely available to most of the population and key to bringing the pandemic to a close. Ending today: California’s statewide eviction moratorium, its ban on power shutoffs and its expanded paid sick leave program. (Its ban on water shutoffs, also originally set to end today, was recently extended through Dec. 31.) Starting today: California health care workers must be fully vaccinated or face consequences.
The expiration of three key pandemic safety net programs comes a few weeks after benefits were cut off to 2.2 million of the 3 million Californians receiving some form of unemployment insurance. And although protections remain — the state is rolling out $2 billion to help residents cover unpaid utility bills and $2.6 billion in rent relief — it may not be enough to keep people afloat. A recent National Equity Atlas analysis, for example, found that about 724,000 California households still owe $2.5 billion in rent.
- Mitch Steiger, a legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation: “A lot of workers are going to be left with nothing.”
Perhaps to lessen the sting of the eviction moratorium ending, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed into law a package of bills to connect homeless Californians with housing and behavioral health services. He also emphasized that some cities and counties are keeping local eviction bans in place and that tenants can still get help paying rent. To learn more, check out this comprehensive FAQ from CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias.
Meanwhile, fears of an employee exodus due to California’s vaccine mandate for health care workers appear to have been mostly unfounded. Major hospital systems — including Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, Stanford Health Care, UC Davis Medical Center and Keck Medicine — say they have vaccination rates of 90% or higher, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. But hospitals and health care facilities aren’t required to routinely report staff vaccination and exemption rates to the state or to the public — making it difficult to determine how many exemptions were granted and whether certain regions or sectors of workers are lagging behind.
Other mandates are facing more pushback. Los Angeles County employees are facing a Friday deadline to be fully vaccinated — which union representatives are calling “a scare tactic rather than a reasonable personnel policy.” They’re pushing for an extension — something the city of San Diego granted its workers this week, bumping the vaccination deadline from Nov. 2 to Dec. 1. The San Francisco Police Department is preparing to potentially lose hundreds of personnel ahead of an Oct. 13 vaccination deadline. And an Oct. 15 inoculation deadline is looming for employees of Los Angeles Unified School District — 20% of whom are currently unvaccinated.
For the record: This article was updated to clarify that the deadline for water shutoffs was recently extended.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 4,482,881 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 68,517 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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Other stories you should know
1. A sluggish economic recovery
California’s economy will recover more slowly than expected due to the unpredictability of the delta variant, according to a quarterly report released Wednesday by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Despite having by far the nation’s lowest coronavirus positivity rate, California’s unemployment rate has essentially remained stagnant for months and in August was the second-highest in the country at 7.5%. The UCLA economists predict the Golden State’s unemployment rate will average 7.6% this year before improving to 5.6% in 2022 and 4.4% in 2023 — still above its pre-pandemic level of 4.2%. That’s a slower pace of improvement than forecasted for the national economy, in part because of California’s reliance on the hard-hit tourism, leisure and hospitality industries.
- UCLA senior economist Leo Feler: “Being a restaurant server before wasn’t a risky job. Now it is. And it is hard to go back to the labor force when your kid might be sent home from school and quarantined for 10 days. You need a job that’s very flexible.”
In an apparent bid to boost both consumer and worker confidence, California is turning to stricter safety measures — but not all parts of the state are following suit. The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday delayed until next week a vote on whether to require adults to show proof of vaccination to enter nearly any indoor establishment, while the county eased vaccine and testing requirements for theme parks. Also Wednesday, Santa Cruz County lifted its indoor mask mandate and Sacramento County signaled it might soon follow suit — a day after San Francisco expressed openness to the idea.
2. Thurmond in hot water
It hasn’t been a good week for California’s statewide elected officials. On Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reported that Treasurer Fiona Ma — who is facing a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former employee — frequently shared hotel rooms with staff, a practice she said saved the state money. And on Wednesday, Politico reported that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond allegedly created such a hostile and toxic work environment that nearly two dozen top officials have fled the agency since 2019, when he took over as California’s schools chief. It’s the latest story to raise questions about how Thurmond is wielding the power of his office — in March, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reported that Thurmond had remained largely behind the scenes during the pandemic, despite the disruption to 6 million students’ education.
A few examples illustrating the level of turnover at the California Department of Education since Thurmond took over:
- Nine officials have been assigned to help oversee State Special Schools, which leads education for deaf and blind students.
- Thurmond has had three directors of communications and three chief deputies of public instruction — the department’s No. 2 officer — in less than three years.
In a sign that Thurmond is taking the allegations seriously ahead of next year’s election, he retained Nathan Click, a longtime Newsom spokesman, as a crisis communications consultant. And a Wednesday press conference at which Thurmond was scheduled to unveil “a new effort to improve African American student achievement in the state” was cancelled, though the superintendent did visit a wildfire-affected school to pass out face masks and gift cards.
3. Chiu to vacate Assembly seat
California’s nonstop game of political musical chairs revved up on Wednesday, when San Francisco Mayor London Breed appointed Assemblymember David Chiu as San Francisco’s next city attorney. Chiu is slated to take over on Nov. 1 for Dennis Herrera, whom Breed nominated to lead the city’s Public Utilities Commission after its previous director was charged by the FBI for accepting bribes. Although Chiu — who represents the eastern side of San Francisco and is one of the state Legislature’s most progressive Democrats — hasn’t yet submitted his official resignation, his imminent departure has set off a flurry of activity in San Francisco, with four candidates already announcing their intention to run for his Assembly seat. And it will likely cause a tumult in Sacramento as Democrats angle to replace Chiu as chairperson of the Housing and Community Development Committee, one of the highest-profile housing posts in the state. In addition to spearheading California’s 2019 cap on rent hikes and its pandemic eviction ban, Chiu was one of the legislature’s most vocal critics of the beleaguered unemployment department.
In other San Francisco news, a judge took the unusual step Wednesday of blasting District Attorney Chesa Boudin for running an office marred by “disorganization” and “constant turnover,” accusing Boudin of focusing more on the “national or state stage” than on the “unglamorous yet necessary work of public prosecution.”
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Women on corporate boards is good for business: A federal judge’s recent decision to reconsider challenges to California’s law requiring public companies to appoint women to their boards is bad news for investors, argues California State Controller Betty Yee.
CEQA is critical to housing justice: The state needs to keep CEQA strong, not cave to developers who mischaracterize the law as a cause of California’s affordable housing crisis, writes Ashley Werner of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
Other things worth your time
Local complaints, state investigation dogs COVID-19 test company Medivolve. // Santa Rosa Press Democrat
California school boards to Newsom: Protect us from abuse. // San Francisco Chronicle
California’s ban on all-white-male boardrooms is spreading. // Los Angeles Times
Britney Spears’ father is suspended as her conservator. // New York Times
California fire chief’s pension reduction could go to state Supreme Court. // Sacramento Bee
Former S.F. Realtors president illegally started construction on home —potentially twice, city says. // San Francisco Chronicle
Former Oakland building inspector fined for bribery in city’s largest-ever ethics investigation. // Mercury News
Why ADUs have made little progress in solving Sacramento’s housing crisis. // Sacramento Bee
New high-rise will house homeless people on city’s skid row. // Los Angeles Times
A design history of Los Angeles’ dingbat apartment buildings. // Bloomberg
Fate of Berkeley’s historic but crime-riddled People’s Park goes to UC regents. // San Francisco Chronicle
Oakland councilmember who’s called for more police resources is first to enter mayor’s race. // San Francisco Chronicle
Inside the San Francisco Bay Area’s pandemic murder surge: ‘No one knows this pain but us.’ // The Guardian
In the Antelope Valley, sheriff’s deputies settle schoolyard disputes. Black teens bear the brunt. // LAist
Animal rights activists protest outside Gavin Newsom’s Fair Oaks home. // Sacramento Bee
As animal hospitals struggle with vet shortages, pet owners worry about access to care. // San Francisco Chronicle
Lake Tahoe, sequoias survived wildfires thanks to forest thinning, but much more is needed, researchers say. // Wall Street Journal
Southern Sierra wildfires wiping out giant sequoia trees for second year in a row. // San Francisco Chronicle
4th graders can get a free annual pass to visit California parks. // abc10.com
Bay Area teen’s idea lost a science fair, but now it’s saving babies’ lives. // Mercury News
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