Good morning, California. It’s Friday, October 22.

Long road to divestment

Oil is on its way out in California — kind of.

“We don’t see oil in our future,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, as his administration unveiled a draft proposal — originally scheduled for release last year — that would ban the development of new oil and gas wells near schools, hospitals and homes.

The proposed rules, however, likely wouldn’t go into effect until 2023 at the earliest — and could be significantly changed as they wend their way through an extensive regulatory and public comment process, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. And they would have to survive the lobbying efforts of California’s powerful oil and gas industry, which earlier this year helped kill a bill that would have banned fracking and established buffer zones around oil and gas wells.

Some of Newsom’s other landmark climate announcements — banning new fracking by 2024, eliminating the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 — also move too slowly for environmentalists. But the deferred deadlines highlight a complicated truth: California is the seventh largest producer of crude oil in the country. “Banning new drilling is not complicated,” Newsom said earlier this month, while surveying damage from the Huntington Beach oil spill. “The deeper question is, how do you transition out and still respect the workforce?”

He isn’t the only one grappling with the complexities of divestment. The California State University system pledged this month to purge its fossil fuel investments — but the process could take years, and individual campuses aren’t required to divest, Stephanie Zappelli reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.

In other environmental news, the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday approved PG&E’s controversial wildfire mitigation plan — a move that critics said would give the utility “license to burn.” But President Marybel Batjer — who is resigning at the end of the year — said the commission’s ability to oversee PG&E is now limited by the newly launched Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety, part of Newsom’s administration.

Speaking of fires, officials are rushing to shore up recent blazes’ burn scars to mitigate the risk of flash floods and rockslides from the deluge of rain and snow expected to hit Northern and Central California over the weekend and early next week. Intermittent showers have already knocked out power for thousands of PG&E customers.

And because there simply aren’t enough disasters to go around, Californians on Thursday heard sirens and received phone alerts as the state tested its earthquake emergency alert system. Also Thursday, a report from the U.S. Geological Survey revealed just how devastating a major earthquake could be to the state’s communication services.

Oh, and that noxious smell that’s been plaguing the city of Carson for more than two weeks? It will last through the weekend — and residents should avoid prolonged outdoor exercise, Los Angeles County officials said Thursday.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,600,506 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 70,741 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 51,603,034 vaccine doses, and 72.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters is tracking the results of the Newsom recall election, which will be certified Oct. 22.

1. Jobless claims keep growing

Apprentices sort through wire ropes called chokers at Iron Workers in Benicia on June 20, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Apprentices sort through wire ropes at Iron Workers in Benicia on June 20, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California now accounts for a whopping 31% of the nation’s new unemployment claims, with more than 80,000 residents filing claims for the week ending Oct. 16, according to federal data released Thursday. That’s an increase of more than 17,500 claims from the week before and the state’s highest total in six months — which does not bode well for President Joe Biden’s goal of moving toward 24/7 operations at the clogged ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

  • Michael Bernick, a former director of the state Employment Development Department and an attorney at Duane Morris: “The explanations previously given for California lagging behind the national economy are no longer convincing. California’s COVID rates are below other states, schools have reopened and child care is coming back. The small business economy in California remains decimated, limiting job openings. However, employers who do have job openings … report few applicants.”

On Monday, more than two months after it was originally scheduled, state lawmakers are set to hold a critical hearing on EDD’s progress on key reforms. EDD on Thursday announced customer service improvements, such as website upgrades and a new phone call policy. The agency’s backlog of unresolved jobless claims has also fallen dramatically in recent weeks, with around 139,000 stuck in the logjam for more than three weeks as of Oct. 9. However, EDD also noted Thursday that some claimants are waiting up to 26 weeks for an eligibility interview.

2. Auditor slams another state agency

California State Auditor Elaine Howle gives a press briefing in Sacramento to introduce the City Fiscal Health Dashboard, a new online database ranking the fiscal health of more than 470 cities across the state. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
California State Auditor Elaine Howle gives a press briefing in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

State Auditor Elaine Howle is on a roll. On Thursday — two days after releasing a report slamming school districts’ use of federal pandemic relief funds — she excoriated California’s prison oversight board for mismanaging its share of the money. Howle found that the Board of State and Community Corrections — which advises the state’s adult and juvenile criminal justice systems and inspects their facilities — “unnecessarily delayed, unfairly awarded and inadequately monitored” the $59 million it received. As a result, Howle wrote, the agency risks returning millions of misused dollars to the feds. Among her key findings:

  • The board gave $22 million to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation outside of its established grant process and without assessing the state prison system’s specific needs. 
  • The board didn’t make funds available to cities or tribes — although it had said it would — and created an “overly burdensome” application process for counties, forcing them to wait nearly a year for the assistance. But it also “unfairly awarded funds to some counties that did not meet all of the requirements.”
  • The board hasn’t monitored recipients’ use of the money or submitted required transparency reports to the federal government. 

In its response to the audit, the board noted that it received just 0.62% of California’s federal pandemic relief funds. This “does not alleviate Community Corrections from the responsibility to disburse funds to counties in an urgent manner,” Howle snapped back.

3. Newsom recall results are final

Gov. Gavin Newsom begins his statewide, anti-recall campaign, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at a stop in San Francisco. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group
Newsom begins his statewide anti-recall campaign on Aug. 13, 2021, in San Francisco. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

Today, Secretary of State Shirley Weber certified the results of the unsuccessful Sept. 14 election to recall Newsom from office — and the numbers are essentially the same as they were in 2018. That year, Newsom was elected governor with 61.9% of the vote. And this year, as CalMatters’ recall results tracker shows, 61.9% of Californians voted to keep Newsom in office. The data also suggests that California is getting more polarized: A San Francisco Chronicle analysis found that Newsom this year increased his margins in counties where a majority of voters supported him in 2018, while his margins fell in counties where a majority of voters opposed him in 2018.

The recalls, though, are far from over. In February, three San Francisco school board members will face recall elections. And the Shasta County registrar of voters announced Thursday that an attempt to recall Supervisor Leonard Moty had qualified for the ballot.

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CalMatters commentary

Actions speak louder than money: With critical funding secured for Asian Pacific Islander equity, we urge state lawmakers to consider legislation that can help track hate crimes, including a multilingual hotline, write C.C. and Regina Yin, co-founders of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs.

Texas is no model for California: As someone who left Texas to escape the tyranny of the right, it’s time for a reminder that Americans don’t want neglected infrastructure, health care denials or a cash bounty on anyone who helps a rape victim obtain a safe abortion, argues Phil Hardgrave, a Lagunitas resident.

Other things worth your time

California’s new energy infrastructure: A transition to nowhere. // City Journal

New law curbing small gas motors affects portable generators, too. // Capitol Weekly

Radioactive contamination migrated off field lab site in Woolsey Fire. // Ventura County Star

California tax-filing experiment gets another look in Washington. // Los Angeles Times

California shows what a national guaranteed income could look like. // New America

Few completions, more dropouts as Calbright College continues to struggle. // EdSource

Falling grades, stalled learning. Students ‘need help now,’ Times analysis shows. // Los Angeles Times

Border arrests have soared to highest levels ever recorded, new data shows. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Congressional lawmakers take aim at three immigrant detention centers in California. // San Francisco Chronicle

These California workers struggled to get care before COVID. The pandemic made it worse. // Sacramento Bee

City has compelled only one person into treatment for mental illness and drug addiction in the past year. // San Francisco Chronicle

Los Angeles councilman will sleep overnight in Tiny Home Village. // Daily News

148 elder-care workers getting more than $8.3 million in wage theft case. // Orange County Register

East Bay city moves to recognize Ohlone land, ‘make things right.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

California, Hoopa Valley Tribe try to save salmon and a way of life. // Reuters

A rare Native American restaurant opens in the Bay Area next week. Here’s a look inside. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you Monday.

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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...