In summary

Rain is descending on California as a bomb cyclone and atmospheric river hit the state, enough to end fire season but not the drought.

Drought-stricken, fire-plagued California asked for rain — and got a bomb cyclone and a Level 5 out of 5 atmospheric river expected to keep pounding the state today.

In other words: Rain, and lots of it. Enough to force evacuations in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties due to the threat of flash floods and mudslides near wildfire burn scars — and to prompt evacuation warnings, debris flow warnings and flash flood advisories throughout Northern and Central California. Enough to knock out power for about 148,000 PG&E customers. Enough to start a landslide that shut down a portion of Highway 70 and to stir powerful winds that flipped over two trucks on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. And enough to cancel hundreds of flights; call off the Ironman California race scheduled in Sacramento; and close numerous roads, ferries, bridge sidewalks and other locations.

The possibly historic storm descended on California just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide drought emergency and begged residents to conserve water — underscoring the whipsawing weather patterns that scientists say are evidence of climate change. Indeed, many of the communities fleeing flash floods on Sunday had fled from flames not long before.

Although the downpour is not expected to reverse the state’s devastating drought, experts say it could put an end to Northern and Central California’s fire season. (Southern California, which only saw a bit of rain over the weekend, is still at risk.) But that won’t erase the damage that’s already been done: Newsom on Friday issued an emergency proclamation to support counties still recovering from recent fires — the same day state parks officials said they will have to remove 10,000 ancient sequoias near the site of the KNP Complex Fire. The trees, weakened by fires, drought, disease and age, risk collapsing onto the nearby highway, officials said.

Southern California, largely spared from the side effects of the bomb cyclone, faced its own challenges over the weekend. A magnitude 3.6 earthquake shook downtown Los Angeles on Sunday morning, and officials said they no longer have an estimate for when the horrible smell that for weeks has plagued Carson — and which some have likened to “rotten flesh sitting in the sun” — will dissipate.

The good news is that popular ski and snowboard resort Mammoth Mountain is set to open on Friday — two weeks ahead of schedule — thanks to the storm unleashing buckets of snow on the Sierra Nevada.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 4,606,599 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 70,884 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 51,906,771 vaccine doses, and 72.5% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. California’s unemployment conundrum

Image via iStock

Today, state lawmakers are set to quiz the director of California’s unemployment department about the agency’s progress on key reforms. The long-awaited hearing — originally scheduled for August — comes as California grapples with a jobs conundrum. The Golden State and Nevada tied in September for the nation’s highest unemployment rate of 7.5%, the Employment Development Department reported Friday. That’s the same rate California posted in August — and essentially unchanged from the 7.6% rate it notched in both July and June. California’s job growth also took a hit: The state in September accounted for about 24% of the country’s new jobs — a significant decrease from August, when it accounted for 44%. And it comprised a whopping 31% of the nation’s new unemployment claims for the week ending Oct. 16.

The factors behind these trends are complex and interrelated. Job growth may have stalled as companies — hoping to stave off strikes, walkouts and workers quitting in droves — focus on retaining the employees they have. Despite the apparent surplus of open positions, getting hired remains a challenge: California’s job market is the second-most competitive in the nation, with 1.43 million unemployed workers battling for 1.1 million openings, according to an analysis from Orange County Register business columnist Jonathan Lansner. And the pandemic is shifting what jobs workers consider desirable.

  • Sandy Sigal, president and CEO of NewMark Merrill: “It’s not just wages — it’s lifestyle. One of the first questions I get is, ‘Can I work at home?’ Well, it’s hard to be a property manager and work at home: You’ve got to go see the property. And I lost a great accountant because someone offered him a work-at-home job.”

2. Bring on the booster shots

Miguel Villegas Ventura receives his Pfizer booster vaccine from LVN Alyssa Evidente at a vaccine drive in Fresno on Oct. 9, 2021. Photo by Alex Horvath for CalMatters

Millions more Californians are now eligible for COVID-19 booster shots — the result of public health experts from California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington voting Friday to uphold federal recommendations authorizing booster shots for Moderna vaccine recipients six months after their second dose and J&J vaccine recipients two months after their first dose. Booster shots are recommended for every Californian 18 and older who received a J&J vaccine. For Moderna recipients — like Pfizer recipients — they’re recommended for people 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, and people ages 18 to 64 with underlying medical conditions or high-risk jobs. The Western public health experts also approved the federal “mix-and-match” strategy, which allows anyone who qualifies for a booster shot to receive any of the vaccines. For example, someone who received the J&J vaccine could get a Moderna booster.

Also Friday, federal regulators released data showing that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in children ages 5 to 11. A key committee is set to vote Tuesday on whether to recommend authorizing the vaccine for those kids — the first in a series of steps that could make it a required school vaccination in California. The state, which has some of the strictest inoculation requirements in the country, rejected nearly 6% of medical exemptions for other required school vaccines this year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. And the COVID-19 vaccine is now required for correctional officers who work in or around prison health care settings — the result of a superior court judge on Friday reversing his own tentative ruling from the week before.

3. Democratic Party punts donation ban vote

Image via iStock

The California Democratic Party on Sunday postponed until February a vote on whether to formally ban donations from law enforcement groups, fossil fuel companies and investor-owned utilities — angering the party’s progressive wing, which said the move “confirms that the influence of dark money runs deep in our political system.” But the controversial proposal — the latest example of the sharp dividing line between the progressive and moderate members of California’s majority party — wouldn’t prevent individual candidates from accepting donations from those groups, which have poured millions into state legislative races and helped defend Newsom from the recall.

Speaking of recalls, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin — one of the country’s most visible progressive prosecutors — will likely face a recall election as early as June, after campaign organizers on Friday submitted roughly 32,000 more signatures than required. The news comes amid what appears to be mass turnover at Boudin’s office: About a third of his employees — including some top prosecutors — have departed since he took charge in January 2020. Among those who recently quit is Brooke Jenkins, a self-described progressive prosecutor who is now volunteering for the recall campaign.

  • Jenkins: “The DA’s office now is a sinking ship. It’s like the Titanic, and it’s taking public safety along with it.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The longer California puts off handling its water problems, the more intractable they will become.

Washington, don’t negotiate away housing aid: If we are to address California and the nation’s housing crisis, the federal Build Back Better Act must retain its $327 billion housing portion, argue Carol Galante of UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation and Barry Zigas of the Consumer Federation of America.

Other things worth your time

Following Alec Baldwin prop gun shooting, California senator calls for ban of live ammunition on sets. // Los Angeles Times

State charges trio with pocketing $400,000 in public funds meant to help homeless. // Los Angeles Times

Sports betting could be coming to California, and so could millions to help homeless people. // San Francisco Chronicle

California’s veterans forced to leave homes to seek aid in dying. // Mercury News

Ersie Joyner was one of Oakland’s top crime fighters. How did he become a crime victim? // San Francisco Chronicle

Ex-NFL player’s suit to resume California executions fizzles after governor’s order made issue moot. // Mercury News

Why isn’t California’s signature environmental justice law working? // Grist

In this California county, one town has no water. Another has enough to share. // Washington Post

50,000-acre Bay Area land sale snuffs dream of creating California’s next great state park. // San Francisco Chronicle

How surfing became the key to Orange County’s political future. // Bloomberg

Santa Ana becomes first Orange County city with rent control. // Voice of OC

COVID hurt school volunteering, PTAs for California parents. // Sacramento Bee

Emotional Coronado school board meeting ends early after trustees describe threats, information leaks. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Clovis student shouted down by adults at school meeting. // Fresno Bee

These California area codes now require 10-digit dialing. // Los Angeles Times

Seniors can keep renewing driver’s licenses from home. // Sacramento Bee

New generation of truckers face DMV backlog to secure Class A drivers’ licenses. // Daily News

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...