Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, November 17.

Loopholes in state laws

Today, a man named Julio Garay is due to appear in Madera County Superior Court, where he faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing his wife, Calley Jean Garay, a month after she requested a domestic violence restraining order and told law enforcement her husband had a gun.

The horrifying story illuminates a problem that has plagued California for years: Despite having arguably the toughest gun laws in the nation, the Golden State often fails to disarm abusers. People served with a restraining order in California — even a temporary one — are required to surrender their weapons within 24 hours. But, as CalMatters’ Robert Lewis found in a monthslong investigation, whether that actually happens is largely dependent on the specific court or judge handling the case — violating the state’s promise of equal justice for all.

Among the numerous cracks and loopholes that Robert’s story exposes in state gun laws and protections for domestic violence survivors:

  • Although state law requires family courts to run a background check — including a search for legally purchased firearms — on an alleged abuser before issuing a restraining order, that requirement only applies to courts that can afford background checks.
    • The state hasn’t determined which courts meet those criteria.
    • Fewer than half of superior courts have access to a state portal that would allow them to see if the alleged abuser owns a legally purchased gun.
    • The process doesn’t account for illegally purchased or unregistered firearms — like the one Julio Garay had.
  • Even when judges do get information that an alleged abuser is armed, they often fail to confirm that guns are surrendered or punish individuals who refuse to comply.
    • That’s partly because they have limited powers. Judges aren’t law enforcement officers; they don’t go out to search people’s homes. And due to a high volume of backlogged cases, many don’t have enough resources to take on more work.

Julio Garay was served a temporary restraining order in June 2020 and told to surrender his guns. But at a hearing three days later, he said he didn’t have any firearms or ammunition, and the judge didn’t question that.

One month later, he shot Calley Jean Garay six times, killing her in front of their three children.

  • Paul Durenberger, a retired Sacramento County prosecutor who led his office’s family violence bureau: “We have to come up with a better way of doing this. The honor system is not working.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 4,744,517 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 72,590 deaths (+0.03% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 55,828,077 vaccine doses, and 66.7% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Speier sets off political musical chairs

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 16, 2020. AP Photo/Alex Brandon
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 16, 2020. Photo by Alex Brandon, AP Photo

The political musical chairs for the 2022 election are already in full swing: Rep. Jackie Speier, a San Mateo Democrat, announced Tuesday that she won’t seek reelection next year — opening up a rare Bay Area seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and sparking intense debate over who will run to replace her. It’s the latest development that California politicians, bedeviled by a swirling confluence of ever-changing factors, will have to take into account as they try to figure out whether — and where — to run next year. This morning, Democrat TJ Cox — a former U.S. Representative unseated by Republican David Valadao in 2020 — plans to endorse fellow Democrat Assemblymember Rudy Salas for the seat, the first public acknowledgement he doesn’t plan to challenge Valadao again. Yet the boundaries of the districts these politicians are fighting to represent remain uncertain: California’s independent commission hasn’t finalized the maps that will determine its legislative and congressional districts for the next decade. It is, however, meeting today to gather public comment on the draft congressional maps it released last week

Also today, labor leader and activist Dolores Huerta will discuss redistricting and California’s Latino community in a virtual event organized by the Latino Community Foundation and moderated by CalMatters reporter Sameea Kamal. Register here for the noon event.

2. Confusion around booster shot appointments

A nurse vaccinates a patient with the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Orange, Calif on Aug. 28, 2021. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
A nurse vaccinates a patient with the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Orange on Aug. 28, 2021. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

Newsom urged Californians to get a COVID-19 booster shot while visiting a Kings County vaccine clinic on Tuesday, noting that the Golden State recently expanded eligibility to all adults who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago or the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago. But many online appointment systems — including the state’s MyTurn website — are still only offering boosters to Californians who meet previous eligibility guidelines: the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions, and people who live or work in high-risk situations. State officials told the San Francisco Chronicle they plan to update MyTurn on Thursday to clarify that booster shots are now available to all adults who want them.

Newsom, who recently extended some emergency COVID rules through March 2022, also reiterated his concern that California could soon experience a winter surge. “We should anticipate an increase of cases, an increase in hospitalizations, an increase in people in ICUs, and tragically, the likelihood — if we don’t take seriously this moment — an increasing number of people that lose their lives,” Newsom said, even as he touted the fact that 90.5% of California adults have received at least one vaccine dose. He also provided an update on the vaccination status of two of his four children: His 12-year-old “got vaccinated a few weeks ago” and his 9-year-old “is getting vaccinated this afternoon.”

In other vaccine news:

3. Gas prices hit new record high

High gas prices at a full service gas station in Beverly Hills on Nov. 7, 2021. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
High gas prices at a full service gas station in Beverly Hills on Nov. 7, 2021. Photo by Damian Dovarganes, AP Photo

If you’re one of the 6.1 million Californians planning to take a Thanksgiving road trip, prepare to pay more at the pump. The Golden State’s average price for a gallon of gas skyrocketed to $4.69 on Tuesday — breaking the previous record of $4.68 set on Monday, according to AAA. That’s far above the national average of $3.41 and a whopping six cents higher than California’s average gas price last week. Sacramento has set a new record gas price 10 times this month, with the average cost climbing to $4.71 per gallon on Tuesday. A gallon costs more than $5 in many parts of the Bay Area, and some Los Angeles residents were shocked to see prices tick past $6 per gallon on Tuesday. “This is absurd,” Brian Sproule told the Los Angeles Times after paying $72 to fill a tank that normally only costs him $40. Meanwhile, rising inflation rates are pushing up the price of everything from electricity to meat. Frozen turkeys, for example, cost about 26 cents more per pound than they did last year.

  • Los Angeles resident Monica Oliva: “Even the carne asada at the market is $25 to $36, so we were like, ‘OK, we have to change our plans to make (Thanksgiving dinner) affordable.”

As the backlogged supply chain struggles to keep up with steep demand, California businesses reported a record high of $217 billion in taxable sales during the second quarter of 2021, a 39% increase over the same period last year and 17% higher than in 2019, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced Tuesday. Those numbers are not adjusted for inflation.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom could continue to govern by decree indefinitely, eroding the American concept of democracy.

Improving Auto-IRA: State lawmakers should consider how to expand access to California’s automatic retirement savings program, argue Matt Newman of the Blue Sky Consulting Group and Pete Manzo of United Ways of California.

Is hydrogen California’s zero-emissions solution? We cannot achieve a carbon-free future unless oil companies turn their focus to fuels that will decarbonize the planet, writes Teresa Cooke of the California Hydrogen Coalition.

Other things worth your time

Southern California families participate in school walkouts to protest vaccine mandates. // Orange County Register

Director of city film commission forced to resign after not getting COVID vaccine. // San Francisco Chronicle

As drought persists, Californians are backsliding in water conservation. // Los Angeles Times

How one California city cut its water use in half. // NPR

Settlement bans coal storage in California city by 2027. // Associated Press

California OKs $1.4B plan for car chargers, hydrogen refueling. // Reuters

Environmental groups say safety measures lacking as Santa Susana Field Lab buildings demolished. // Daily News

You have to ask for plastic utensils and napkins in Los Angeles now. // Los Angeles Times

Retirement fund giant CalPERS votes to use leverage, more alternative assets. // Wall Street Journal

ACLU calls for investigation into CHP’s use of aerial surveillance at George Floyd protests. // Sacramento Bee

Trans woman beaten after being jailed with men, lawsuit against San Diego Sheriff’s Department alleges. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Ballot proposal would ask city voters to create an office to support crime survivors. // San Francisco Chronicle

Palo Alto woman accused of starting Fawn Fire deemed mentally unfit for trial. // Mercury News

Why doulas are fearful of California’s effort to support birth workers. // Sacramento Bee

California caregivers to get $500 hazard pay from the state. // Sacramento Bee

Homeless Orange County woman fought to sleep in the park and won — for now. // Los Angeles Times

Will Oakland prevent homelessness by paying part of struggling residents’ rent? // San Francisco Chronicle

County supervisors aim to decriminalize bike violations. // Los Angeles Times

San Francisco working to open supervised drug use site by spring. // San Francisco Chronicle

He lives alone atop a California volcano. // Los Angeles Times

California’s 5 mph speed limit on ocean rescue boats could endanger lives, state Supreme Court says. // San Francisco Chronicle

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...