Good morning, California. It’s Friday, October 15.
Burnout + deadlines converge
Employee burnout and resistance to vaccine mandates are colliding across California, leading to strike authorizations, walkouts and worker shortfalls in health care, education, transportation and logistics, hospitality, retail, entertainment and law enforcement.
This week, nearly a third of California hospitals reported critical staffing shortages to the federal government as thousands of exhausted workers walked off the job and onto the picket line, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. Their primary grievance? Inadequate staffing levels.
- Peter Sidhu, a former intensive care nurse at Kaiser Woodland Hills Medical Center: “I’m 42, and I was planning on working at the bedside until I turn 60. And then after COVID, I said, ‘I am done.'”
Meanwhile, nearly 200 San Francisco police officers and firefighters who remained unvaccinated ahead of the city’s Wednesday deadline will now be put on paid leave — hobbling departments already operating below recommended staffing levels.
Today, California’s requirement that teachers be vaccinated or tested weekly goes into effect. Some educators who oppose the mandate are planning to participate in a nationwide walkout on Monday, forcing some campuses —including Oak Run Elementary in Shasta County — to close.
- Oak Run Elementary Chief Business Officer Tiffany Fulkerson: “We will not have a school if this mandate takes place. We have to set an example.”
Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, is also running up against its own deadline: It will not allow employees to return to campus on Monday if they don’t receive at least one vaccine dose by today. But thousands of educators have yet to get the shot — and the district already has thousands of existing vacancies.
Also Monday, film and TV production could come to a halt across the country if the union representing Hollywood crews doesn’t reach an agreement with the producers’ alliance.
But the state prison guards’ union — which, with the backing of Gov. Gavin Newsom, is challenging a federal judge’s order mandating vaccines for prison employees — got another reprieve Thursday, when a superior court judge temporarily blocked a state vaccine mandate for correctional officers working in or near prison health care settings.
Meanwhile, federal data released Thursday shows that for the week ending Oct. 9, California accounted for more than 27% of new unemployment claims filed nationally. More than 67,000 Californians filed new jobless claims — an increase of more than 3,000 from the week before.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,565,279 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 70,010 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Plus: CalMatters is tracking the results of the Newsom recall election, which will be certified Oct. 22.
Other stories you should know
1. Fire and rain forecast
It’s time for a California earth, wind, fire and water update.
- Earth: As California emerges from its driest summer in more than 100 years, tensions between wildfire scientists over how to best protect California’s forests are reaching a breaking point. “I and my colleagues are getting really tired of the type of activism that pretends to be science and in fact is just self-serving garbage,” Crystal Kolden, a UC Merced professor of wildfire science, told the Sacramento Bee.
- Wind: PG&E, which originally planned to cut power to 29,000 Northern California customers on Thursday due to gusty winds, cancelled the potential shutoffs amid improving conditions. But much of Southern California will be under a red flag warning through Saturday due to powerful Santa Ana winds, which spread smoke from the Alisal Fire near Santa Barbara and prompted concerns the blaze would grow over the weekend.
- Fire: More than 1,300 firefighters worked Thursday to contain the spread of the Alisal Fire, which for days has closed off portions of Highway 101 and a major rail line. Also Thursday, the state’s “insurer of last resort” appealed a Sept. 24 order from California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara directing it to offer more comprehensive coverage to homeowners who lost their private insurance due to high fire risk.
- Water: Above-normal rainfall is expected to soak the Bay Area next week — enough to slightly improve drought conditions and potentially bring the region’s fire season to a halt. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday a developing La Niña weather pattern will likely result in drier-than-usual conditions lasting through spring 2022. And the San Jose Water Company is preparing to set monthly residential water budgets for its 1 million customers — with financial penalties for those who exceed them.
2. Fresno CPS at a breaking point
Children under the care of Fresno County Child Protective Services spend up to several weeks living in the agency’s office building — sharing one bathroom, often going without showers, sleeping on tables in conference rooms where the lights are on 24/7, eating fast food, and mixing with other kids who may have violent tendencies or serious behavioral health concerns — as overwhelmed social workers try to find placements for them, a stunning Fresno Bee investigation found. Agency leaders say recent state laws have made it harder for them to find placements for kids, especially those with complex needs — prompting Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, to ask the Newsom administration in a Wednesday letter for immediate intervention.
- Patterson: “These are children with high needs and past experiences of trauma; this unsafe and unsanitary living situation is just one more instance of trauma they will endure.”
Further exacerbating the problem is high levels of burnout and turnover among Fresno County social workers, who are struggling to keep up with a demanding caseload as the department remains chronically understaffed.
- Hector Cerda, a social work practitioner with the Department of Social Services: “I cannot manage 30 children and I’m supposed to see them every month. Once a month, it’s impossible. There’s going to be holes and cracks that are going to open up in things that I cannot get to in a timely manner.”
3. State considers recall reforms, reparations
Two California committees gathered this week to consider controversial proposals: reforming the state’s recall process and recommending reparations for Black Californians. On Thursday, the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, heard testimony from four experts on whether the Golden State should change its process for firing elected officials, and if so, how. Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, presented survey data showing that among likely voters, the most popular reform would be requiring a runoff election between the top two replacement candidates if no one secures more than 50% of the vote. The Little Hoover Commission will continue to hold hearings on recall reforms; Californians can submit their thoughts here.
Meanwhile, the state’s first-in-the-nation reparations committee met on Tuesday and Wednesday to continue untangling thorny questions, such as whether compensation should be prioritized for direct descendants of enslaved people or for all Black Californians. The commission will meet again in December and issue its final recommendations in June 2022.
- Lisa Holder, a task force member and racial justice scholar: “The cops don’t wait to listen if you have a Nigerian accent before they shoot. … If you have Black skin, you’re catching hell, and you deserve some kind of reparations, and we can start there.”
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Judges must protect direct democracy: California courts should head off challenges to the recall, referendum and initiative processes that would impede the will of voters, argues Loren Kaye of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education.
Many Californians benefit from backup power systems: Diesel generators are necessary to maintain the electrical system and mitigate outages’ potentially disastrous effects, writes Allen Schaeffer of the Diesel Technology Forum.
Other things worth your time
OC oil spill was likely about 25,000 gallons, Coast Guard officials say. // Orange County Register
California county loses bid to reinstate fracking ban. // Bloomberg
State begins effort to clean up toxic ‘Delano Plume.’ // Bakersfield Californian
Q&A: How California’s new ban on gas-powered leaf blowers affects you. // Mercury News
Lithium stocks are jumping as California says RIP to gas lawn mowers. // Motley Fool
Unlike LA, no COVID-19 vaccine mandate coming to San Diego. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Longtime housing activist is now facing his own eviction, despite the city’s moratorium. // San Francisco Chronicle
They fled for Joshua Tree during the pandemic. Now they face the reality of desert life. // Los Angeles Times
California hotel housekeepers may not be getting their jobs back. // Capital & Main
Nearly half of money for California high-needs students not getting to their schools, analysis finds. // EdSource
San Dieguito school board poised to ban ‘critical race theory’ instruction. // Times of San Diego
Mayor London Breed is facing pressure to declare the overdose crisis a health emergency. Would it help? // San Francisco Chronicle
Employee death at California winery under investigation. // Associated Press
Shigella outbreak reported among San Diego homeless. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Inglewood ignored mayor’s history of sexual harassment, new lawsuit alleges. // Orange County Register
Oakland is facing a surge in homicides — but there’s a generational divide on how to deal with it. // San Francisco Chronicle
USC apologizes for WWII action that derailed education of Japanese American students. // Los Angeles Times
How a California state forest became a battleground for logging redwoods on public land. // SFGATE
The race to save California’s rarest butterflies. // BBC
See you Monday.
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