Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, October 6.

‘We have to wait for people to die’

California’s reputation as a national leader in the COVID response was turned on its head Tuesday, when state lawmakers launched a blistering attack on the Newsom administration’s handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic.

The rebuke of the California Department of Public Health came during a legislative hearing on the state’s process for licensing nursing homes, during which lawmakers repeatedly cited an investigation from CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener that found the state allowed Shlomo Rechnitz, California’s largest nursing home owner, to operate many facilities even as their license applications languished in pending status — or were outright denied. Rechnitz is now facing a lawsuit alleging that one of his homes — for which the state denied him a license — is responsible for the COVID-related deaths of 24 residents.

Wood also slammed Craig Cornett, the president of a nursing home industry group, the California Association of Health Facilities, for apparently saying that California “was the shining star in the nation” when it came to preventing coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes.

  • Wood: “We saw this pandemic playing out in Washington a couple of months before it started in California, and yet it took a couple of months … to begin to react. … I expect better from us, we deserve better here in California, and I’m appalled. If we were the best, I shudder to think what was going on in other states, and I’m pretty, pretty, pretty shocked by that.”

Cornett emphasized that “every death is a tragedy” but noted that “if there’s any silver lining to this very dark cloud” it’s how much progress the state has made in combating the virus.

“I appreciate your perspective,” Wood said, “but that cloud doesn’t have a silver lining for me.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 4,519,467 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 69,027 deaths (-0.02% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 49,970,814 vaccine doses, and 70.9% 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. Orange County oil spill updates

Crew members covered in oil replace a boom near Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach on Oct. 5, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Newsom traveled to Orange County on Tuesday for a briefing on the massive oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, which officials said may have been caused by a ship anchor cutting a foot-long gash in a pipeline and then dragging it for more than 100 feet along the ocean floor, bending nearly a mile of it into the shape of a bow string. Cargo ships heading to the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports routinely pass through the area — which has gotten increasingly crowded amid the pandemic as supply bottlenecks result in a record backlog of vessels waiting to unload their cargo. Also Tuesday, officials revised their estimate of the spill’s size from 126,000 gallons to as much as 144,000 gallons. The oil has infiltrated a trio of marshes that provide rare feeding and resting grounds for at least 90 species of shorebirds, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports — just one year after restoration work wrapped up on Talbert Marsh, which was damaged in a 1990 oil spill.

  • John Villa, executive director of the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy: “It’s heart-wrenching … just to see all that work, and now we’ve got the oil within the marshes. … It could be 10 to 15 years before those plants come back again.”
  • Newsom: “Banning new drilling is not complicated. … The deeper question is, how do you transition out and still respect the workforce that, by the way … are also working … on the capping of these wells as well.”

2. State’s private prison ban takes a hit

A guard escorts an immigrant detainee at the Adelanto Detention Facility on Nov. 15, 2013 in Adelanto. Photo by John Moore, Getty Images

California must exclude federal immigration detention centers from its law phasing out for-profit prisons, according to a Tuesday ruling from a federal appeals court that found the state’s law discriminates against the federal government and interferes with its ability to enforce immigration policy. The decision marks a significant win for the U.S. Justice Department and GEO Group, a for-profit prison company that brought the case against California — and a blow to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who authored the 2019 law as a state assemblymember. The legal battle, however, appears far from over.

  • Bonta: “Prisons and detention centers shouldn’t be places of profit. We will continue the fight to ensure the dignities and rights of everyone in California are protected.”

The court’s 2-1 majority found that California’s for-profit prison ban discriminates against the feds because it blocks them from using facilities after their contracts end in 2024, while the state could use them through the end of 2027 if it needs to house an overflow of state prison inmates, according to Politico. The ruling comes a few weeks after GEO Group announced a six-month extension of its contract to operate a federal detention center in San Diego, which was originally slated to close Sept. 30.

3. Why is UC’s lecturer turnover so high?

UC Berkeley lecturer David Walters stands for a portrait at Encino Park in Encino on March 23, 2021. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

About a third of undergraduate students at the University of California could see their instruction cancelled if UC lecturers go on strike — and with the union and system leadership at a stalemate over a new contract, it’s a distinct possibility. At issue are the lecturers’ labor conditions, which CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn spent 11 months digging into for this exclusive story: Most lecturers lack any assurance that they’ll have a job after teaching a term or two, and their average pay hovers around $32,000. Meanwhile, nearly 25% of the lecturer workforce turns over annually, a rate significantly higher than average for the public education sector. That’s a problem not just for workers but for students, who lose mentors and confidants.  

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California might soon return to the bad old days of local speed traps — and more traffic fines flowing into state and local coffers.

California’s dirty little secret: As the state invests billions of dollars in renewable energy, it’s steadily building a shadow grid powered by fossil fuels, argue Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Steven Moss of M.Cubed.

New approaches needed to fight wildfires: Having seen the devastation of the Camp Fire firsthand, I can tell you that what we’re doing isn’t working, writes Dana Hessheimer, the National Guard dual-status commander for the Camp Fire.

Other things worth your time

San Francisco schools’ financial tailspin prompts state to intervene in face of massive shortfall. // San Francisco Chronicle

California’s state travel ban covers one-third of America. // Sacramento Bee

San Bernardino County judge overturns voter-approved measure slashing supervisors’ pay. // San Bernardino Sun

San Jose looks to shift mayoral elections to presidential years. // Mercury News

Dangerous air investigation prompts lawmaker calls for worker protections, fire prevention investments. // CapRadio

Latest National Guard dispatch boosts deployment at Kern hospitals to 38. // The Bakersfield Californian

New California law lets survivors sue for pain and suffering in assault and medical mistreatment cases. // San Francisco Chronicle

Californians with autism have never had more support — except when it comes to employment. // Politico Opinion

San Jose State professor smiling with Native American skull ignites fiery debate. // MSN

San Diego’s sports arena site back on the market. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Public lands have become a refuge for people priced out of housing in the West. What now? // Bay Nature

California’s last boarding school for Indigenous students moves toward embracing — not disgracing — tradition and culture. // Alta Online

Oregon wolf’s epic trip to Southern California could be among the century’s longest. // Jefferson Public Radio

See you tomorrow.

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Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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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...