Good morning, California. It’s Friday, October 8.
At last: rain and snow
California is about to get a breath of fresh air — literally.
Cooler weather is set to sweep across much of the state over the weekend, bringing light rain to Southern California, the first significant snowfall of the season to the Sierra Nevada, and a collective sigh of relief to Californians who just endured the hottest September on record. In anticipation of snow-slicked roads, Caltrans on Thursday closed three Sierra Nevada mountain passes, with plans to reevaluate conditions on Saturday.
California’s reprieve from hot, dry weather may last longer than the weekend. October temperature and precipitation outlook maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that California has an equal chance of being warmer or cooler than normal — and of being drier or wetter than normal. Though that may not sound particularly promising, it’s actually an improvement from past months, when outlook maps predicted the Golden State would be warmer and drier than normal.
California’s drought, however, is expected to persist. And that’s not the only challenge facing the state: A stunning Los Angeles Times investigation found that California is severely undercounting the number of people who die each year from extreme heat. State data shows 599 Californians died from heat exposure between 2010 and 2019, but the true toll is likely six times higher, according to the Times — claiming the lives of about 3,900 residents.
Since 2013, California has made progress on only six of its own 40 recommendations to prepare for extreme heat, the Times found. It also doesn’t monitor heat-related deaths and illnesses in real time.
- Edith B. de Guzman, a UCLA researcher: “If we don’t know which communities are dying or showing up at the hospital disproportionately, we cannot have an informed response, and we end up losing people. Our hands are tied if we get the data three or five years later.”
California is also ill-prepared when it comes to wildfire evacuation plans, experts told the Washington Post — as evidenced in August, when South Lake Tahoe residents fleeing the Caldor Fire were caught in traffic so knotted some vehicles moved just 30 feet in two hours.
Speaking of evacuations, new ones were ordered Wednesday as the KNP Complex Fire continued to terrorize Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Along with the Windy Fire in Sequoia National Forest, the two blazes have potentially killed hundreds of ancient sequoias.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,529,563 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 69,351 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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Other stories you should know
1. Newsom signs, vetoes more bills
With two days left for Gov. Gavin Newsom to act on the bills on his desk, here’s a look at some of the key proposals he signed into law on Thursday — as well as those he vetoed.
Signed into law:
- Making it illegal to remove a condom without consent during sexual intercourse.
- Reforming California’s penal code to punish spousal rape as seriously as the rape of a non-spouse.
- Allowing sexual assault survivors to electronically receive updates on the status of their rape kits.
- Banning employers from using secret settlements to prevent workers from speaking out about illegal harassment or discrimination.
- Requiring large local governments to allow residents to remotely attend city council or county board of supervisor meetings through Dec. 31, 2023. “This bill would set a precedent of tying public access requirements to the populations of jurisdictions,” Newsom wrote in his veto message.
- Requiring the governor’s office to establish a working group to recommend ways to diversify gubernatorial appointees. “My office already makes an intentional, transparent effort … to build a diverse and qualified pool of candidates for appointed positions,” wrote Newsom, who recently signed a law banning all-white corporate boards.
- Establishing a forestry training center in Northern California to prepare residents, particularly formerly incarcerated inmate firefighters, for entry-level forestry and vegetation management jobs.
2. Bay Area prepares to loosen mask mandates
The Bay Area is getting closer to lifting its indoor mask mandate — kind of. Eight of the region’s nine counties, plus the city of Berkeley, on Thursday announced criteria for ending indoor mask requirements (which were never reinstated in Solano County): spending at least three weeks in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moderate COVID-19 transmission tier, having low and stable coronavirus hospitalization rates and having at least 80% of the population be fully vaccinated. That last requirement will be virtually impossible for many counties to meet until vaccines are approved for children under 12 — which could be weeks or even months away, though Pfizer on Thursday asked federal regulators to authorize emergency use of its COVID vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. Meanwhile, San Francisco on Oct. 15 will lift indoor mask rules for certain locations that require proof of vaccination, including gyms, offices and college classrooms. Absent from the list: restaurants, bars and nightclubs — where San Francisco Mayor London Breed was recently photographed dancing and singing maskless.
- Manny Yekutiel, who owns the San Francisco restaurant Manny’s: “It feels like the goal posts keep moving. … There’s this feeling of, ‘You told us all to get vaccinated, and we did. You asked us to restrict our spaces to be vaccine-only, and we are.’ But we’re running out of things to do on our part.”
3. Employment barely budging
Volatility continues to define California’s unemployment situation. More than 68,000 residents filed new jobless claims for the week ending Oct. 2, according to federal data released Thursday — and although that’s a decrease of more than 10,500 claims from the week before, the Golden State still accounts for a whopping 26% of new claims filed nationally. The numbers reinforce the increasingly accepted consensus that the federal government’s Sept. 4 cutoff of expanded benefits didn’t push many people to reenter the workforce. So what’s keeping them away? One theory, suggested by thousands of UC lecturers and Hollywood production workers on the verge of striking, is less-than-ideal labor conditions.
- Los Angeles Times culture critic Mary McNamara: “When a historically mild-mannered union (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) calls for and gets its first strike authorization in more than a century, well, every big employer in every single industry should probably start paying attention.”
Adding to workers’ woes, many Californians who filed jobless claims are seeing huge online claim balances — but the vast majority won’t actually be able to collect the money, the Sacramento Bee reports. That’s because when 2.2 million Californians lost their federal benefits on Sept. 4, the state Employment Development Department transferred many of them to another federal program expiring Sept. 11. Those Californians saw on their dashboard the amount of money they would have been able to collect under the program’s full length — which was 13 to 20 weeks — even though they were eligible for only one week of extra payments.
4. Elon Musk moving Tesla to Texas
In other California employment news, Elon Musk announced Thursday that he is moving Tesla’s headquarters from Palo Alto to Austin. The latest chapter in California’s longstanding rivalry with Texas came a day after Newsom yelled, “Eat your heart out, Texas!” while unveiling the Golden State’s higher education budget. Musk, who moved to Texas himself last year, said he plans to continue expanding operations at Tesla’s Fremont factory, but noted California’s high housing costs are hampering the company’s growth.
- Musk: “It’s tough for people to afford houses, and people have to come in from far away. There’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area.”
Case in point: A recent joint study from the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University found that a whopping 57.8% of homes in California cost more than $500,000, compared to just 7.8% in Texas. In September, the median price of a single-family home in California was $827,940.
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Repeal Prop. 19: California’s tax on inherited properties is hurting minority communities, argues Edwin Lombard, president and CEO of the California African American Chamber of Commerce.
Three cheers for Newsom’s veto: I, along with many grassroots organizers, thank the governor for vetoing the Democrats’ version of voter suppression, writes Bob Mulholland, a former campaign adviser for the California Democratic Party.
Other things worth your time
Newsom administration issued 138 offshore well permits in California waters prior to new oil spill. // Sacramento News & Review
Former elected officials Nuñez, Boxer, Villaraigosa lead exodus from top California lobbying firm. // Los Angeles Times
San Jose State University President Mary Papazian to resign amid sex abuse scandal. // Mercury News
Parents sue state alleging harm toward Black, Latino students. // Los Angeles Times
One in three students at local California schools failed last year — but who’s tracking? // CBS Sacramento
Proposed California ballot measure could spark court challenges to teacher protections. // Wall Street Journal
Sacramento State’s Latino community speaks on disproportionate ratios between faculty and students. // State Hornet
Changes to California’s youth prison system prove difficult to implement. // EdSource
Suicides in jails, prisons rose sharply over two decades, federal data shows. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California rice plant backed by state files for bankruptcy. // Sacramento Bee
Water is scarce in California, but farmers have found ways to store it underground. // NPR
San Diego County OKs expansion of backcountry marijuana shops. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Some Bay Area venues are providing fentanyl testing strips to patrons. // KQED
How AT&T helped build San Diego’s far-right One America News. // Reuters
Marie Wilcox, who saved her Indigenous Central California language from extinction, dies at 87. // New York Times
See you Monday.
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