What a week it’s been for Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.
On Tuesday, she took the stage for two panels at the United Nations climate change conference alongside President Joe Biden’s national climate advisor, governors and business executives — just four days after Gov. Gavin Newsom abruptly cancelled his trip to Glasgow, Scotland and announced that Kounalakis would lead the California delegation in his place.
That’s not a lot of time to prepare for a high-stakes international trip — and the weather didn’t make things any easier.
In conversations with Kounalakis and her chief of staff on Tuesday, I learned that their plans to travel by train from London to Glasgow on Sunday were derailed — quite literally — by a storm-uprooted tree knocking out the power lines for the only direct rail link between the two cities. So they made the 7-hour drive instead.
Kounalakis, who plans to leave Glasgow on Thursday, told me that her schedule is materially the same as what the governor’s would have been: four panels — including one today with U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and the governors of Louisiana and New Mexico — a tour of an electric bus transportation hub and numerous meetings.
- Kounalakis told me: “The overall message is the strength of California’s subnational leadership and the power of our innovation economy to help the world scale up on climate solutions.”
She also emphasized those points in one of her Tuesday panels, asserting that “California has been the tail that has wagged the dog on environmental protection.” As an example, she cited Newsom’s order to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, noting, “We are the largest consumer market in the United States, and this standard is most certainly already shaping the future.”
When New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asked Kounalakis how California handles climate change skeptics, Kounalakis suggested that wasn’t the Golden State’s primary concern: “For Californians, I think that the bigger question is, if we do our part, will the rest of the country follow and the rest of the world follow? And frankly, that’s why I’m in Glasgow, that’s why we have one of the largest delegations we’ve ever had … of officials from California,” she said.
Still, cracks stemming from Newsom’s last-minute cancellation were apparent. Lujan Grisham initially referred to Kounalakis as the lieutenant governor of Hawaii, and Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate advisor, said the audience was “looking at three governors who have the courage to actually set the pace for change in the United States of America.”
And public details about Kounalakis’ schedule were initially scarce: Although Newsom’s office sent me her event lineup on Tuesday in response to a media inquiry, the only place I could find information about her schedule before that was an Oct. 31 press release from the New Mexico governor.
Limited information has been a consistent theme in the Newsom administration’s handling of the conference: Reporters weren’t informed that he would be attending until nine days after the deadline to apply for a press credential, and the governor has not elaborated on the “family obligations” that prompted him to cancel his trip.
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Other stories you should know
1. Plot thickens at state COVID lab
Who, you might wonder, is directing California’s scandal-plagued COVID-19 testing lab, for which the state recently auto-renewed a contract worth up to $1.7 billion? Answer: Adam Rosendorff, the former lab director and whistleblower of Theranos, the disgraced blood-testing Silicon Valley startup whose founder, Elizabeth Holmes, is accused of bilking investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars and is facing federal charges that could land her in prison for up to 20 years. In ongoing court hearings reported by the Mercury News and CBS Sacramento, Holmes’ lawyers have sought to paint Rosendorff’s “incompetence” as a primary reason for Theranos’ failure — and one of their proof points is California’s Valencia Branch Laboratory. Further complicating matters, Rosendorff acknowledged that some of the federal inspectors investigating the Valencia lab are the very same people he tipped off about Theranos’ problems. Those federal inspectors and Rosendorff are both testifying against Theranos — even as the inspectors decide whether to suspend Rosendorff’s license for persistent problems at the Valencia lab. This has prompted Holmes’ lawyers to allege conflicts of interest.
- Holmes lawyer Lance Wade: Rosendorff’s “career hangs in the balance at the hands of the federal government.”
- Federal prosecutor John Bostic: “What the defense is trying to do here is to bring in unrelated conduct. That is not a proper use of that kind of evidence.”
2. Pfizer shot cleared for young kids
The federal government on Wednesday cleared Pfizer’s low-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 — and once a panel of California, Washington, Nevada and Oregon health experts sign off on the recommendation, 3.5 million kids in the Golden State will be eligible for shots. It’s a development that will likely be met with mixed reactions. On the one hand, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 30% of parents nationwide with children ages 5 to 12 would “definitely not” get them vaccinated — and California’s teen inoculation rates remain relatively low, with just 59% of kids 12 to 17 fully vaccinated as of Oct. 24, according to California Healthline. On the other hand, some California mothers, fearful of their children contracting COVID-19 before they became eligible for the vaccine, have been delaying weaning their kids in order to pass them COVID-19 antibodies via breast milk.
Meanwhile, two UCSF doctors are petitioning Newsom and state health officials to create “off-ramps” for school masking, testing and quarantine rules now that shots are available for young kids. “Without clear benefits from vaccination, such as attending school unmasked, many parents of elementary school children will feel ambivalent about vaccination,” wrote Drs. Jeanne Noble and Monica Gandhi, noting that regions like the Bay Area and Los Angeles have outlined conditions under which mask mandates can be lifted in businesses. In other vaccine news, a superior court judge denied a request for a temporary restraining order to block Los Angeles Unified’s student vaccine mandate, and the district has begun removing athletes who aren’t fully vaccinated from team rosters.
3. The cost of education
Two tales of money and California schools:
- On Tuesday, San Francisco Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews was set to unveil a proposal to plug the district’s estimated $125 million budget deficit — which is so daunting the state hired a fiscal consultant to help it find ways to slash costs. Matthews’ suggestions? Reduce school site budgets by $50 million, slash more than 10% of positions at those sites and cut $40 million from central services. But even after all those reductions, the district will probably need to cut millions more, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “They’re going to have to set some priorities,” said Michael Fine, CEO of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, which is working with many of the state’s cash-strapped districts. “I think they’ve gotten the message they chose to ignore a year ago.”
- Meanwhile, former Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner has teamed up with a slate of celebrities — including Dr. Dre, will.i.am and Issa Rae — to propose a statewide ballot measure that would raise $800 million annually for public school art programs. “I’m all in on giving kids more access to music and arts education because creativity saved my life,” musician and producer Dr. Dre told the Los Angeles Times. Around 80% of the funding would be used for instructor salaries.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: When San Francisco officials rejected a 495-unit apartment project, they set up a test of state laws aimed at preventing arbitrary blockage of housing developments.
California needs to adopt ranked-choice voting: If Californians are tired of the chemical warfare of partisan politics, this could be the declaration of independence that brings the resistance together, argue S. Chad Peace of the Independent Voter Project, Lori Thiel of the League of Women Voters San Diego and Amy Tobia of Represent.us San Diego.
California must help youth in crisis: County child welfare leaders and social workers are stymied by a lack of tools needed to support foster youth, writes Cathy Senderling-McDonald of the County Welfare Directors Association of California.
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See you tomorrow.
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