President Joe Biden on Monday reassured Americans that the omicron variant “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic” — raising questions about the strategy Gov. Gavin Newsom will employ to respond to a form of COVID-19 about which much remains unknown.

The governor, who returned to California late Sunday night after a Thanksgiving trip to Mexico, hasn’t publicly addressed the omicron variant apart from a Saturday tweet urging Californians to get vaccinated and boosted.

But local governments and school districts are moving ahead with their own plans to clamp down on the virus. San Diego Unified School District, which on Sunday was temporarily blocked from implementing its student vaccine mandate due to a clause allowing pregnant students to seek exemptions, said Monday that it’s already taken steps to remove that clause and expects the mandate to be reinstated shortly.

Also Monday, the San Diego City Council approved a vaccine mandate that requires all city employees to submit proof of vaccination or request a medical or religious exemption by Wednesday. The move comes despite intense opposition from the city’s police officer union, which reported that about 709 officers, or 37% of department employees, were unvaccinated as of Nov. 17.

  • Assistant Police Chief Paul Connelly: “I think it’s obvious that any loss of our valuable employees will negatively affect our staffing levels and in turn affect our ability to meet the community’s expectations to serve them effectively and efficiently.”

The Los Angeles Police Department, meanwhile, has begun termination proceedings for five officers and one civilian employee who failed to agree to the terms of the city’s vaccine mandate; more could be fired if they don’t meet the Dec. 18 inoculation deadline. And Los Angeles on Monday began enforcing its order requiring nearly all indoor businesses to verify customers’ vaccination status.

Today also marks the deadline for Sacramento City Unified students to submit proof of at least their first vaccine dose. Students who remain unvaccinated by Jan. 30 will be moved to remote learning, the school district said. Such requirements have pushed some California families to sign their kids up for “learning centers,” programs that aren’t considered schools in the eyes of the state and thus don’t have to abide by vaccine requirements.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 4,801,843 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 73,656 deaths (+0.4% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 58,136,893 vaccine doses, and 67.5% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. When California police are accused of crimes

Los Angeles Police Department officers stand at the scene of a structure fire on May 16, 2020. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Los Angeles Police Department officers stand at the scene of a structure fire on May 16, 2020. Photo by Mark J. Terrill, AP Photo

In response to escalating violent crime rates, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf on Monday unveiled plans to increase the city’s police force, fund a new police academy and reverse planned cuts to the department’s budget. The proposal comes amid a beefed-up law enforcement presence in California due to a string of high-profile smash-and-grab robberies — but two new investigations expose alleged crimes plaguing some bureaus from within, reigniting questions about whether police adequately police themselves.

  • A Los Angeles Times exposé found that at least five law enforcement officers — four from the Los Angeles Police Department and one from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — bought firearms that had been stolen from the Los Angeles Police Academy’s gun store and then illegally resold by its manager. All but one of the officers — some of whom are accused of reselling large numbers of guns, including ones declared unsafe for commercial use in California — remain on active duty. Meanwhile, the LAPD captain who investigated the case said top commanders actively tried to stymie her work. “There have been several attempts to shut down this investigation,” Capt. Lillian Carranza told top officials, who denied the allegations.
  • An NBC Bay Area investigation dug into a federal lawsuit that three Mendocino County marijuana farmers and a former Texas police officer filed against at least four law enforcement agencies — including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife — for allegedly robbing them of cannabis, cash and other valuables in hundreds of illegal raids. “There’s nothing to document what happens to the marijuana after it leaves these farms,” said civil rights attorney John Scott, who’s representing the four plaintiffs. “I believe in my heart of hearts it is more than likely than not that tons of missing marijuana were stolen (by the law enforcement officers) and sold.”

2. Cannabis entrepreneurs call for tax relief

Workers harvest a fresh crop of marijuana at the Loving Kindness Farms in Los Angeles on May 08, 2020. AP Photo/Richard Vogel
Workers harvest marijuana at the Loving Kindness Farms in Los Angeles on May 8, 2020. Photo by Richard Vogel, AP Photo

Another link between law enforcement and marijuana was illuminated Monday, when Oakland cannabis merchants gathered outside City Hall to demand two years of tax relief after last week’s targeted robberies and shootouts — during which burglars broke into more than 25 licensed stores and stole at least $5 million worth of product. The business owners also criticized Schaaf for failing to adequately staff the police department and called for improved security at cannabis shops.

The press conference came about a week after cannabis entrepreneurs Michael Steinmetz and Flavia Cassani published a Medium op-ed urging marijuana businesses to stage a “tax revolt” if California doesn’t reverse its plans to hike cannabis taxes in January. Steinmetz and Cassani noted that although California could be swimming in a $31 billion budget surplus next year, many cannabis retailers have defaulted on debts or are on payment plans “because it’s almost impossible for any of us to operate profitably under California’s broken regulatory regime.” The solution, they argue, is less taxes and more retail — currently, only 174 of California’s 482 cities allow some form of licensed cannabis business. Meanwhile, the state reaped more than $322 million in cannabis tax revenue in the third quarter of 2021, according to recent data from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

3. Lots of changes at the Capitol

The California State House on Aug. 12, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

The California State Capitol is in turmoil. Not only are Newsom and state lawmakers relocating to a new building ahead of the planned demolition and reconstruction of their current offices, but the makeup of the Legislature is in flux as district boundaries are redrawn and legislators run up against term limits and vie for leadership positions. Several state lawmakers — including Democratic Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin of San Mateo County and Rudy Salas of Bakersfield — have already announced plans to run for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, freeing up spots in the state Legislature. And several Monday developments added to the political musical chairs:

  • Newsom nominated Assemblymember Ed Chau, a Monterey Park Democrat, as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. I first reported in January that Newsom was considering tapping Chau for the judgeship — a rare move given that in the past 50 years, only six state legislators have resigned after being appointed as judges.
  • State Sen. Sydney Kamlager, a Los Angeles Democrat, filed paperwork to run for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Karen Bass, who’s running for mayor of Los Angeles. The move comes not long after Kamlager, a former assemblymember, won a special election for the state Senate seat vacated by Holly Mitchell, who’s now a Los Angeles County supervisor.

CalMatters events

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s housing crisis is drifting toward a political war.

California must renew its commitment to innovation: The Golden State risks squandering its advantages without new approaches to developing and retaining talent, particularly as tech industries are drawn to incentives in other locations, argue Matt Horton and Aaron Melaas of the Milken Institute’s Center for Regional Economics.

California can’t squander its budget surplus: We must equitably invest in community-driven solutions that center the priorities, leadership and ideas of people experiencing the most health and economic pain, writes Ray Colmenar of The California Endowment.

Other things worth your time

Counting cash at dinner: The guide to the restaurants Jose Huizar dined at while allegedly collecting bribes. // L.A. TACO

Former California union official filed $44,000 worth of fraudulent time sheets, CalPERS says. // Sacramento Bee

Attorney agrees to plead guilty to bribery in Los Angeles Department of Water and Power case. // Los Angeles Times

Cal’s COVID crisis: Audio recording shows frustration with Berkeley. // Mercury News

Can hundreds of millions of dollars and staffing increases end city’s mental health crisis? // San Diego Union-Tribune

As abortion rights hang in the balance, East Bay doctor keeps making trips to Oklahoma clinic. // San Francisco Chronicle

California city apologizes for bulldozing blues community. // Associated Press

Union seeks details on Los Angeles’ hiring, housing plans for 2028 Olympics. // Daily News

How ‘climate migrants’ are roiling American and Californian politics. // Politico Magazine

First California plan to ban offshore oil failed, casts shadow over new efforts. // Los Angeles Times

Ahead of Thanksgiving, Biden, Newsom administration press judge to adopt California water restrictions. // San Joaquin Valley Sun

Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada could disappear in just 25 years. // San Francisco Chronicle

Big rains bring king salmon back to Bay Area. // Mercury News

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...