In summary

From wildfires to COVID-19 outbreaks and the Newsom recall election, many crises are competing for Californians’ attention right now.

There’s never a dull moment in California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom this week signed an executive order permitting firefighters and first responders working outside their home counties to cast provisional ballots in the Sept. 14 recall election — perfectly encapsulating the swirl of monumental events converging on the state. Other examples — a COVID-19 outbreak sidelining a strike team of firefighters attacking the Caldor Fire, a woman evacuating her South Lake Tahoe home while awaiting word as to whether her son made it out of Afghanistan — underscore how many crises are competing for Californians’ attention right now.

Nevertheless, 70% of likely voters say the outcome of the recall election is very important to them, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released late Wednesday night. That appears to be a mixed blessing for Newsom: While the poll found that 58% of likely voters would keep him in office, compared to just 39% who would oust him, it also found that 54% of Republicans and 53% of independents are more excited than voting about usual, compared to just 40% of Democrats.

In an apparent attempt to fire up left-leaning voters, Newsom seized on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wednesday decision to let stand for now a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. “This could be the future of CA if we don’t vote NO on the Republican Recall,” Newsom tweeted.

But if he was hoping to draw a sharp contrast with recall frontrunner and conservative talk show host Larry Elder, he may have been disappointed: In a Wednesday press conference, Elder — the top-polling replacement candidate in the PPIC survey with 26% support — described himself as “pro-life” but said there was “zero possibility” California’s Legislature would overturn abortion rights.

Also Wednesday, Newsom visited Camp Sacramento to assess damage from the fast-growing Caldor Fire, though it appears he spoke to only one California media outlet. He also sent a letter to President Joe Biden and secured a Presidential Emergency Declaration to free up federal aid for emergency response and recovery.

The governor has held few public events in the past several weeks, apart from promoting the state’s vaccine progress at an Oakland clinic on Tuesday. However, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of progressive Democrats, is set to join him at a campaign rally in Los Angeles this weekend.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 4,246,050 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day, due to more than 10,000 cases delayed from Kaiser Permanente Northern California) and 65,430 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 46,959,875 vaccine doses, and 66.6% 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. Bots attack community college system

Image via iStock

As it turns out, California’s unemployment department isn’t the only target for fraudsters. In what experts are calling one of the state’s biggest financial aid scam attempts in recent history, California’s community college system has identified more than 65,000 fraudulent aid applications that appear to have been filed by bots posing as students — and who are likely seeking to capitalize on $1.75 billion in federal relief funds earmarked for the Golden State’s community college students. At least 10 districts or individual colleges have seen increases in fake applications, registrations, financial aid filings or some combination of the three, according to a CalMatters investigation. Though it’s unclear how much, if any, aid was paid to fraudulent students, the bots are wreaking havoc in other ways: they’re blocking real students from being admitted, they’re filling up classes and preventing real students from enrolling, and they’re demoralizing faculty and students.

2. Snapshot of key bills

Joined by Senator Anna Caballero, left, Gov. Gavin Newsom signs bills at a press conference at Solomon’s Delicatessen in downtown Sacramento on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Daniel Kim, Sacramento Bee/Pool

With the legislative session ending Sept. 10, state lawmakers don’t have much time left to decide the fate of controversial bills — and the pressure is starting to build. Here’s a look at some of the last-minute maneuvering to push proposals across the finish line:

  • Mental health advocates are racing to find the $50 million they estimate is needed to support call centers and related crisis response services for 9-8-8, a forthcoming number Californians can call when seeking help for a mental health crisis, CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener reports.
  • Lawmakers are making significant concessions to law enforcement groups in an effort to pass a package of police reforms; for example, a proposal that would create a process to decertify bad cops was amended to include tougher standards.
  • Police unions are also battling a bill that would expand California’s sanctuary state law by blocking local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal authorities to deport undocumented immigrants accused of certain crimes.
  • A bill that would repeal laws banning people from loitering with the intent to commit prostitution is facing fierce opposition from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, the California Family Council and other groups that say it will increase sex trafficking of poor women.

Meanwhile, lobbyist Chris Micheli pinpointed some noteworthy bills that lawmakers on Wednesday sent to Newsom’s desk:

3. Vaccine mandates stir controversy

Facilty employee Domingo Comin holds his vaccination card at Carefield Assisted Living in Castro Valley on Feb. 3, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Facilty employee Domingo Comin holds his vaccination card at Carefield Assisted Living in Castro Valley on Feb. 3, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, the Oakland Democrat who publicly toyed with the idea of introducing a vaccine mandate for many indoor venues and workplaces, didn’t vote on how to handle a fellow lawmaker’s proposal that would have required every member of the Assembly to show proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by 5 p.m. Wednesday. But the vast majority of Wicks’ colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, voted to delay the proposal by sending it to the Rules Committee — an indication of just how contentious vaccine mandates can be. The Los Angeles City Council is seeking to limit how close protesters can approach private residences after people rallying against vaccine mandates targeted some council members’ homes. And following protracted debates with anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night apparently became the first in the nation to declare “COVID-19 misinformation” a public health crisis.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Legislation and a pending lawsuit could make big changes in California’s 108-year-old system of compensating workers for job-related illnesses and injuries.

California must have ability to decertify bad cops: The most vulnerable neighborhoods, which have the greatest need for trustworthy policing, are often the ones most hurt when bad cops stay on the job, argues Walter Katz, vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures.

State lawmakers must rethink housing solutions: To confront California’s housing crisis also means confronting its water crisis, because fewer homes get built when water supplies tighten, writes Rich Campbell, a U.S. EPA attorney.

Farmworkers deserve right to vote by mail: Assembly Bill 616 will go a long way toward ensuring that farmworkers can decide, by free and fair elections, whether they wish to join a union, argues Catherine Fisk of UC Berkeley Law.

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Other things worth your time

Judge knocks down challenge to Newsom’s death penalty moratorium. // San Francisco Chronicle

Top California law enforcement agencies report vaccination rates far lower than public. // The Guardian

Feds find California county jail violates inmates’ rights. // Associated Press

Exasperated by drought, farmers could be critical in Newsom recall fight. // San Francisco Chronicle

Column: Why this Democrat and education reformer is backing Larry Elder for governor. // Los Angeles Times

SEIU Local 1000 board moves to strip union president of his powers. // Sacramento Bee

Should all California school districts be required to offer transitional kindergarten? // EdSource

Malibu vs. Santa Monica in messy school district split. // Los Angeles Times

Amid community groundswell, Rep. Karen Bass says she’s seriously considering run for Los Angeles mayor. // Daily News

What voters in a California swing district say about Afghanistan. // New York Times

Silicon Valley’s $250 million answer to the homelessness crisis? // Mercury News

Why this California town is one of the most studied earthquake locations on Earth. // Sacramento Bee

It’s now a crime to feed peacocks in parts of Los Angeles. // Los Angeles Times

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...