“The challenge is there is no water.”

That bleak assessment from Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources, puts the devastating scope of California’s drought into perspective even more sharply than the sea of statistics released Tuesday and reported by CalMatters’ Rachel Becker:

  • 90% of the state is gripped by extreme or exceptional drought.
  • Californians reduced their home water use by just 1.8% in July compared to the same time last year — despite a plea from Gov. Gavin Newsom to cut consumption by 15%.
  • 40% of water suppliers in the South Coast region — which includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura counties — actually used more water than they did last year.
  • Water systems serving 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland could receive 0% of their allocation from the State Water Project next year.
  • 80% of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River could die this year.

Another indication of how desperate California is for water: Marin County water officials are competing with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, to purchase three portable desalination plants to bolster water supplies.

The dismaying numbers increase pressure on Newsom to issue mandatory statewide water restrictions as then-Gov. Jerry Brown did during the last drought. Newsom, who appeared to be trying to steer clear of unpopular mandates ahead of the Sept. 14 recall election, said in mid-August that such restrictions likely wouldn’t happen until the end of September.

In other environmental news, firefighters on Tuesday managed to keep the KNP Complex blaze away from General Sherman and other beloved giant sequoias, though flames were threatening a group of century-old mining cabins. The Windy Fire, burning in the nearby Sequoia National Forest, significantly damaged a sequoia known as the Bench Tree and had “completely surrounded” other ancient groves, according to the Los Angeles Times.

And as the Biden administration moves forward with a plan to develop federal workplace heat standards, an investigation from Columbia Journalism Investigations, KPCC and LAist found that more than 150 firefighters working for Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency, were sickened by heat exposure over the past 18 months. The report also found that since 2001, five firefighters — four of them inmate firefighters — died from employee training injuries likely tied to heat-related illness.


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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 4,428,117 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 67,628 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 48,666,192 vaccine doses, and 69.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters is tracking the results of the Newsom recall election and the top 21 bills state lawmakers sent to Newsom’s desk.


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1. California coronavirus updates

Personal care assistant Riza Green receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Carefield Assisted Living Facility in Castro Valley on Feb. 3, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California’s seven-day coronavirus positivity rate on Monday fell to 2.9% — a number not seen since early July, before the state’s summer surge. On the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s map of coronavirus transmission levels, California is the only state in the orange zone — the others are in the red tier designating the highest level of community spread.

Other key coronavirus updates:

2. CA sets new median home price record

A new homes for sale sign near the East Garrison neighborhood in Marina on Nov. 27, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

The median price of a single-family home in California shot to a jaw-dropping $827,940 in August — the fifth time the Golden State has broken its own record in the past six months, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Finance. (It almost makes one nostalgic for last August, when California’s median home price broke the $700,000 barrier for the first time.) Evidence of sky-high prices is everywhere: In Los Angeles, $1 million homes are popping up in all kinds of neighborhoods, while the typical home value in Los Altos is approaching a cool $3.8 million. The costs have risen so steeply that a Sacramento program hasn’t been able to deliver grants to low-income families and people of color hoping to buy their first home — because the homes themselves are no longer within those Californians’ price range.

News of the increasingly expensive housing costs came a few days after Newsom signed a package of bills to ease California’s affordable housing crisis. It also comes about a week before California’s eviction moratorium is set to expire.

3. Campaign for 2022 election in full swing

Kevin de León in September 2015. Photo by Max Whittaker for CalMatters

A week after California voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to recall Newsom, prominent Democrats have turned their attention to the 2022 election. On Tuesday, Kevin de León, a Los Angeles City Councilman and former state lawmaker, launched his campaign to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti, whom President Joe Biden recently nominated as the U.S. ambassador to India. Also vying to lead California’s largest city: Councilman Joe Buscaino, City Attorney Mike Feuer and business leaders Jessica Lall and Mel Wilson. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass — a former contender for vice president and for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris — is also seriously considering running for mayor. The campaign comes at a pivotal point for Los Angeles: A recent survey found that 51% of residents think the city is going in the wrong direction and 93% think homelessness is an extremely serious or very serious problem.

Meanwhile, with the incumbent state insurance commissioner facing a Democratic challenger in 2022, other state officials appear to be shoring up their flanks. On Tuesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond — who took a backseat in prior school reopening debates — launched a statewide literacy campaign to ensure all third-grade students can read by 2026. Also Tuesday, Attorney General Rob Bonta sued American Airlines and JetBlue for forming an anticompetitive alliance, announced key arrests in an alleged student loan debt relief fraud scheme and hosted an anti-hate-crime roundtable discussion.


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CalMatters commentary

Protecting vulnerable communities from blackouts: Newsom must sign a bill that would create a pathway for local governments and communities to provide critical public services during power shutoffs, argues Assemblymember Suzette Martinez Valladares, a Santa Clarita Republican.

Correcting abuses by health care providers: It’s time to radically reform the incentives in our health care system that motivate physicians to maximize their earnings by limiting their time with each patient and adopting abusive billing practices, writes Tom Epstein, former deputy commissioner of the California Department of Insurance.


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Other things worth your time

Remembering Scott Lay, 1972-2021. // Capitol Weekly

Larry Morse, former Merced County district attorney, dies at 64. // Fresno Bee

George Holliday, who filmed Rodney King video that transformed Los Angeles, dies of COVID. // Associated Press

California home births gain popularity in ‘baby bust’ decade. // California Healthline

California Community Colleges seeks $100 million to tighten security after bot attacks. // EdSource

3 things to know: California’s digital divide and broadband. // CalMatters

California is sued over its rule on solar power installers. // New York Times

California’s megafires spur insurers to send in special, private crews before a blaze hits. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Diego concerned new ambulance company struggling to hire, secure new vehicles. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Public defender sues court system, claiming hundreds have been denied speedy trials. // San Francisco Chronicle

Bomb threat at Northern California prison followed alleged employee shooting. // Sacramento Bee

School board votes to reinstate safety officers after student stabbed to death. // Lookout Local Santa Cruz

Four members of far-right groups plead guilty to conspiring to destroy evidence in Oakland guard’s death. // San Francisco Chronicle

Why has massive California never been split up? // Los Angeles Times


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...