California’s taking an environmental beating.

Orange County was hit with its largest oil spill in three decades when at least 126,000 gallons of crude oil spewed from a leaking pipeline connected to an offshore platform. The oil slick — which was first reported Saturday and grew large enough to cover the city of Santa Monica and then some — infiltrated Talbert Marsh, a critical stopover for migrating birds.

Onlookers reported oil-slicked fish and birds washing up dead on the shores of Huntington Beach, where millions of sightseers had gathered Friday and Saturday to watch the famed Pacific Airshow. Officials cancelled Sunday’s third and final show, likely costing the city millions. Beaches could be closed for weeks or even months, local officials said, and it could take months to understand the spill’s damage to wildlife.

  • Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley: “It’s a huge environmental impact and it’s an economic impact both in terms of the cleanup and shutting down a major tourist destination during a pandemic when we’ve all been struggling. It’s a tragedy on all fronts.”

The spill comes 30 years after 400,000 gallons of crude oil gushed into the waters off Orange County, prompting lawsuits, legislative action and the state’s creation of the Office of Spill Prevention and Response within the Department of Fish and Wildlife. That office, in conjunction with the Coast Guard and local authorities, will direct response on the latest spill. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Michelle Steel, an Orange County Republican, asked President Biden to authorize a major disaster declaration to free up federal recovery funds.

The spill also comes amid a cascade of other environmental crises, raising questions about whether the $15 billion California recently allocated to fighting climate change is coming too late.

  • Today, a stretch of railroad track in San Clemente is scheduled to reopen a month after closing due to rising seas. But the fix — a stack of boulders — is not a long-term solution, experts say.
  • The KNP Complex Fire burning in Sequoia National Park triggered more evacuations Friday amid unseasonably warm and dry conditions. It has destroyed at least one giant sequoia, while the nearby Windy Fire has killed at least 30. The Fawn Fire in Shasta County, however, was fully contained.
  • SoCalGas recently agreed to pay $1.8 billion to thousands of alleged victims who suffered health effects when its Aliso Canyon storage facility in 2015 became the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history. Although Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 directed Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, to accelerate Aliso Canyon’s permanent closure, the commission on Friday proposed allowing SoCalGas to store twice as much gas at the facility than is currently permitted. Batjer, meanwhile, announced last week she is resigning in December — more than five years before her term ends.

A Message from our Sponsor


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 4,496,717 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 68,796 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 49,809,374 vaccine doses, and 70.4% 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.


A Message from our Sponsor


1. Some vaccine rules tighten, others loosen

Brayden Stymans, 15, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Frick United Academy of Language in Oakland on May 19, 2021. Photo by Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

Students must receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend school in-person, Newsom announced Friday, making California the first state in the nation to add the shot to the list of inoculations required to set foot on campus. But the mandate is still a ways off for kids 12 and older, and even further away for those under 12: Students won’t be required to get the shot until the academic term after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the vaccine for those respective age groups, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports. School staff — who, under a previous Newsom mandate, were required to get the vaccine or submit to regular testing — must get the shot once it’s approved for kids 12 and older.

But even as Newsom cracks down on school vaccinations, his administration is backing away elsewhere. The governor suggested Friday he continues to oppose a federal judge’s order mandating vaccines for state prison employees, and his administration will no longer require most members of California’s largest state worker union to show proof of vaccination (those employees must undergo testing instead). San Jose also backtracked on its vaccine mandate for fear of a worker exodus; the city announced Friday it will allow city employees to forgo the shot if they test for COVID-19 twice weekly and take a weeklong unpaid break. And at least one Central Valley hospital is granting a religious exemption to any employee who asks for one. “We cannot afford to lose a single nurse,” Gary Herbst, CEO of Kaweah Health Medical Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

Although California continues to have the lowest coronavirus case rate in the nation, the National Guard recently dispatched medical teams to overwhelmed hospitals in the far reaches of Northern California and the Central Valley, where low vaccination rates have resulted in a patient surge.

2. Big money, big influence?

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters; iStock

Newsom has six days left to decide the fate of some 400 bills. And many of his decisions will impact donors who just spent millions helping him defeat a recall. CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall takes a look at some of the powerful interest groups that spent big — and whether those investments help them influence state policy. Top players include tech and Native American tribes, which each chipped in $3.8 million; Hollywood, which spent $3.9 million; real estate groups, which contributed $5.3 million; and labor unions, which spent a whopping $25.7 million to keep Newsom in office.

In other bill news, Newsom on Friday signed a stack of health care-related legislation, capping off a week of high-profile signings related to police reform and racial justice and affordable housing. But female lawmakers questioned why the group of legislators surrounding Newsom at the press conferences was predominantly men when women had authored numerous bills in both packages. “There definitely are women legislators who are feeling unseen,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a Glendale Democrat. Newsom’s office noted that three women who were invited to the events were not able to attend.

3. Californians rally to protect abortion rights

Linda Ellner, 71, who travelled to Puerto Rico for an abortion as a teenager, joins the Women’s March with her daughter, Rachel Berman, 44, on Oct. 2 in San Jose. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin what’s expected to be a highly controversial term, one in which abortion will take center stage. Thousands of protesters across California — from San Francisco to San Jose to Los Angeles to the Inland Empire to San Diego — took to the streets Saturday to support reproductive rights and denounce the court’s decision to let stand Texas’ ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The demonstrations, among more than 600 held across the country as part of the fifth annual Women’s March, come about two months before the court is scheduled to consider a Mississippi law that some scholars say could end the federally protected right to abortion. Some California lawmakers attended the protests, including state Sen. Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Rep. Karen Bass (who’s running for Los Angeles mayor) and Los Angeles County supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell.


For the final podcast episode, CalMatters’ Dan Walters and Politico’s Carla Marinucci discuss how the pandemic shaped California politics — and what to expect in next year’s election. Listen here.


Support CalMatters

We are dedicated to explaining how state government impacts our lives. Your support helps us produce journalism that makes a difference. Thank you!


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Will California’s experiment with European-style social democracy work?

How to get Californians back to work: Pay people to return, fix child care for working parents and expand training opportunities for high-wage jobs, argues David Smith, an economics professor at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.

Saving California’s salmon: These three key strategies will help hatcheries protect Central Valley Chinook salmon from current and future droughts, writes Tim Scully, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student.


Other things worth your time

UCSF’s Monica Gandhi on how COVID will impact your life over the next decade. // San Francisco Chronicle

New population figures change what we thought we knew about COVID in San Francisco. // San Francisco Chronicle

California releases new discipline guidelines ahead of an anticipated increase in student misbehavior. // EdSource

Holocaust survivors urge Newsom to veto ‘dangerous’ ethnic studies requirement bill. // KUSI News

‘It’s an ugliness’: School officials fear for their safety amid threats, disruptions at meetings. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Shooting of unarmed teen by Long Beach school police sparks outrage, questions. // Los Angeles Times

After a pandemic-year surge in murders, Los Angeles sees even more bloodshed. // Crosstown

Inside the state’s ‘completely broken behavioral health system.’ // San Diego Union-Tribune

CalPERS ‘watchdog’ loses reelection bid as union-backed candidates claim pension board seats. // Sacramento Bee

State lawmakers put political pressure on Hollywood to make fair deal with labor unions. // Deadline

California billionaire backing ballot initiative to end collective bargaining for public employees. // MSN

Port of San Diego helps with Los Angeles cargo ship backlog. // KPBS Public Media

City prepares to clear homeless people from MacArthur Park. // Los Angeles Times

Marijuana megacampus with 45 greenhouses is going up on the Bay Area shoreline. // San Francisco Chronicle

Setting sail on the winding waterways of California’s Delta. // New York Times

New documentary on California’s top whitewater kayaker lands on Netflix. // San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on TwitterFacebook and RSS.


We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions: commentary@calmatters.org

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...