Good morning, California. It’s Friday, October 1.

Police reform + racial justice

Better late than never.

That was the message undergirding a stack of criminal and racial justice bills Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Thursday, a year after many of them failed to make it out of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. California now has a process to decertify police officers for serious misconduct — previously, it was just one of four states lacking that capability. But the law is a watered-down version of an earlier proposal, underscoring the might of the state’s powerful police unions — three dozen of which opposed the bill even after it was weakened.

  • State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Gardena Democrat and the bill’s author: “Many times it’s said, ‘Black and brown people hate the police.’ We don’t hate the police. We fear the police. This will help establish trust.”
  • The Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose police unions: “We urge Senator Bradford and the legislature to focus on reducing the rise in shootings, homicides and robberies each of our cities are grappling with.”

Among the other key bills Newsom signed: one to expand public access to police records, one to raise officers’ minimum age from 18 to 21 and another to limit police use of rubber bullets and similar weapons at protests.

But he still hasn’t decided the fate of other contentious criminal justice proposals, including one to end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and one to limit California’s gang enhancement law. The two bills are part of a package of reforms recommended by an obscure committee that could eventually result in the resentencing and release of thousands of incarcerated Californians — and prevent others from being sent to prison in the first place.

What is this obscure committee, and why is it so influential? CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons has the details. And for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network, Meghan Bobrowsky takes a look at a California college’s first-in-the-nation program bringing professors and students into prisons to learn alongside incarcerated people — who also have the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Newsom signed another monumental bill Thursday that returns Bruce’s Beach — a former resort for Black residents seized by Manhattan Beach city officials in 1924 — to descendants of the original couple who purchased the land.

  • Bradford, a member of California’s reparations task force: “It is never too late to address the injustices of the past. … This is an example of what real reparations can look like.”

Also Thursday, state parks officials voted to change the name of Patrick’s Point State Park in Humboldt County to the name given it by the Yurok tribe: Sue-meg State Park. And last week, Newsom signed a bill to return Blues Beach — Caltrans-owned land in Mendocino County — to local Native American tribes.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,488,848 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 68,670 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 49,352,744 vaccine doses, and 70.3% 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. Unemployment claims keep rising

Illustration via iStock

California now accounts for nearly 30% of the nation’s new unemployment claims despite making up just 11.7% of the labor force, according to federal data released Thursday. Nearly 87,000 Californians filed new jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 25 — an uptick of nearly 18,000 from the week before, and the state’s highest total in six months. The dismaying numbers come about three weeks after the federal government cut off benefits for 2.2 million of the 3 million Californians receiving some form of unemployment insurance, suggesting that expanded aid was not the main reason keeping employees from returning to work, as some experts had argued. The data also bolsters recent forecasts that California’s economy will recover more slowly than expected — as indicated by an unemployment rate that has barely budged in months.

  • Michael Bernick, a former director of the state Employment Development Department and an attorney at Duane Morris: “Workers are slow to return, especially for direct service retail and hospitality jobs. … At the same time … jobs that pay mid and upper-level wages in California are bringing tens, if not hundreds, of job seekers.”

Meanwhile, EDD’s backlog of unresolved jobless claims has also grown over the last two weeks, reversing a downward trend that began in late July when the department started auto-paying benefits to certain claimants. EDD spokesman Gareth Lacy told me the uptick for the week ending Sept. 11 was caused by 20% less work time due to Labor Day, and the increase for the week ending Sept. 18 was due to a heavier workload from federal benefits ending and a growing number of new claims.

2. State extends ban on water shutoffs

Photo via iStock

California’s pandemic mandates and moratoriums may not be as clear-cut as they seem. The state’s ban on water shutoffs, originally slated to end on Sept. 30 along with a host of other safety net programs, was quietly extended to Dec. 31 as part of a budget bill Newsom signed last week with no public fanfare. And although California’s moratorium on power shutoffs technically ended on Sept. 30, private utility customers with debt more than 60 days old were automatically enrolled in 24-month payment plans to help them retain access to electricity and natural gas service while the state rolls out $2 billion in relief funds. And some utilities, including PG&E, announced Wednesday they will not resume service disconnections at all this year.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Health appears to have backtracked on a plan — outlined in a Sept. 28 post on the California Hospital Association’s website — to allow unvaccinated health care workers to keep working past the Sept. 30 inoculation deadline if their facility was experiencing a critical staffing shortage. “We expect full compliance with this deadline,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

Though many hospitals are reporting vaccination rates of 90% or higher, the scrapped plan illuminates key gaps in state data that make it difficult to determine precisely how many vaccine exemptions were granted and whether certain regions or sectors of workers are lagging behind. Different hospitals also seem to be handling noncompliance differently: Scripps Health, for example, is terminating employees who weren’t fully vaccinated or approved for an exemption by Thursday, while Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health will place noncompliant workers on temporary unpaid administrative leave.

3. Water restrictions could be coming

Photo via iStock

With California’s new water year starting today, state officials said Thursday they’re considering imposing mandatory water restrictions if dryness persists into the winter. Though Newsom said about as much in August, conditions have worsened since then: Nearly 90% of the state is blanketed in extreme or exceptional drought, and Californians reduced their water use at home by only 1.8% in July compared to the same time last year. On top of $15 billion that Newsom and lawmakers recently dedicated to fighting climate change, the state could receive as much as $7.7 billion in federal funds to address wildfires and drought from a spending bill President Joe Biden signed Thursday to stave off a government shutdown. But the state on Thursday also approved a controversial plan to build up to 142 new campsites in the crowded, drought-stricken, wildfire-prone Auburn State Recreation Area, angering some residents and local fire agencies. 

  • Auburn resident Sheila Reynolds: “Having a campfire in this canyon is absolutely insane. We have already lost our home insurance because of our location, and you would be increasing the fire severity risk for people who live in Auburn.”

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CalMatters commentary

It’s time to achieve debt-free college: California must reform its Cal Grant program by streamlining and modernizing financial aid, argue Democratic Assemblymembers Jose Medina of Riverside and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Democratic state Sen. Connie Levya of Chino.

Universal transitional kindergarten is a game changer: Creating a 14th grade in our public schools will be an immense help for English learners and students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes, writes Steven Kellner of California Education Partners.

Other things worth your time

FBI investigating corruption at San Quentin State Prison. // Mercury News

Tax zappers found in 20% of California restaurants. // Bloomberg

Effort to redraw Los Angeles council districts turns contentious. // Los Angeles Times

UC regents approve major housing plan for Berkeley’s historic People’s Park. // San Francisco Chronicle

Golden Gate Bridge shutdown could signal the start of more direct activism on immigration reform. // San Francisco Chronicle

A terrifying murder on a quiet street highlights California’s blame game over crime. // San Francisco Examiner

First Dublin prison guards, now warden charged with sexual abuse of incarcerated women. // Mercury News

Walkouts at 6 Northern California schools over sexual assaults. // Mercury News

Editorial: LAUSD is shrinking. That could be a good thing. // Los Angeles Times

Chancellor of Contra Costa Community College District, two other administrators suspended. // EdSource

How modern medicine still neglects California’s disabled mothers. // Los Angeles Times

California stem cell agency gives out $2 million a minute. // Capitol Weekly

3 people die of suspected overdoses on BART trains, station this week. // San Francisco Chronicle

Alameda County deputies seize more than 100,000 marijuana plants in one of state’s largest illegal grows. // San Francisco Chronicle

How a California county’s war over weed and water led to a deadly police shooting. // Vice News

Map: 1 of every 8 acres in California has burned in 10 years, and here are the state’s biggest fires. // Daily News

Four emergency gas generators now online in California to serve summer peak capacity. // S&P Global

Chickens severely mistreated at ‘humane’ California slaughterhouse, new video alleges. // The Intercept

Special ops troops ‘hunkered down’ in California airport hangar after nighttime ninja attack. // Military News

Newsom writes children’s book about boy with dyslexia. // Associated Press

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...