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If the pandemic made one thing clear in California, it’s that the state often fails to protect its most vulnerable residents.

That was the takeaway from an emotional eight-hour hearing Wednesday, during which state lawmakers listened to testimony about possible reforms to a state law governing how and when severely mentally ill family members can be forced into treatment.

  • Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Santa Rosa Democrat: “The worst thing we can do is continue to put money into a system that isn’t being effective without trying to change and improve the system. And that’s kind of what … we hear from our constituents constantly. This isn’t working.”

It was also the takeaway from a Monday legislative hearing, during which Democratic Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach said the California Department of Health Care Services has blood on its hands for failing to adequately regulate addiction treatment facilities.

And it was the takeaway from an October legislative hearing on nursing homes, during which Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Los Angeles accused the California Department of Public Health of “failing to crack down on bad actors who are gaming the system.”

Taken together, the three hearings suggest that when state lawmakers return to Sacramento in January, one of their main priorities will be revamping care for the elderly, homeless, mentally ill and addicted — and strengthening oversight of the agencies that provide that care.

It’s a priority that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration appears to share: The Department of Health Care Services is drafting a proposal that would fund facilities based on their ability to meet quality standards. The nursing home industry opposes tying funding only to staffing, but supports tying money to other patient quality standards, California Healthline reports.

Newsom, for his part, said Wednesday that he plans to include an additional $100 million in next year’s budget proposal for local governments to clean up trash and homeless encampments. He emphasized that the goal is not to put homeless people “out of sight, out of mind,” but to connect them with behavioral health services, addiction treatment and housing.

Meanwhile, pressure is also building on state leaders to investigate the California Medical Board, which licenses and disciplines doctors. A Wednesday investigation from the Los Angeles Times found that since 2013, the board has reinstated licenses for 10 of 17 doctors who had them revoked for sexually assaulting patients — a significantly higher percentage than for doctors who lost their licenses for all other reasons.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 4,896,401 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 74,794 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 61,740,985 vaccine doses, and 69.8% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Why is CA sticking with Valencia lab?

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, examines a device used to test for COVID-19 with the help of applied genomics specialist Kevin Carmody, in Valencia on Oct. 30, 2020. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool
Gov. Gavin Newsom examines a COVID-19 testing device at the Valencia lab on Oct. 30, 2020. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo/Pool

California’s recent decision to auto-renew a $1.7 billion contract for a problem-plagued COVID-19 testing lab has left some critics with one question: Why? Not only did the state’s own inspectors find such major deficiencies at the Valencia Branch Laboratory that it at one point risked losing its license, but it’s also consistently failed to meet the benchmarks mandated in its contract. And although the Newsom administration says the lab helped expand schools’ testing capacity, the state’s two largest districts — Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified — are using other vendors, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang and Ana Ibarra report. Part of the reason is cost: Each test processed at the Valencia lab costs the state more than three times the amount that Los Angeles Unified pays its testing vendor, SummerBio. The school district estimates it will pay SummerBio $350 million to test its 500,000 students and employees weekly throughout the school year — but California has already paid more than twice that amount to process just 5.5 million tests at the Valencia lab.

Some Californians were also confused by the state’s last-minute decision to exempt vaccinated patrons of certain businesses in San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda and Marin counties from the statewide indoor mask requirement that went into effect Wednesday. Adding to the back-and-forth, Los Angeles Unified on Tuesday night voted to delay enforcement of its student vaccine mandate from Jan. 10 to fall 2022, citing the chaos that would inevitably result from shifting tens of thousands of students back into remote learning.

2. New data shines light on “California Exodus”

A moving truck full of boxes from a home. Photo via iStock
A moving truck full of boxes. Photo via iStock

Is there really such a thing as the California Exodus? The takeaway from a Wednesday report from the nonpartisan California Policy Lab: It’s complicated. The report found that while the Golden State is losing more than twice as many people to domestic migration than it did before the pandemic, the decline is largely due to fewer out-of-state residents moving in, not more Californians moving out. And the report doesn’t take into account international migration — which for more than a decade has helped California’s population grow, albeit at a slower pace than the rest of the nation.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • 38% fewer people from other states entered California in September 2021 than in March 2020.
  • 12% more Californians left the state during that period — but that uptick is on pace with pre-pandemic trends.
  • All regions of California saw steep declines in people entering from out of state, but the impact was especially pronounced in the Bay Area, which saw a 45% decrease. (There was also a 21% increase in Bay Area residents moving to another state.)
  • By net moves, the most popular destinations for Californians leaving the state were Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Washington. Tennessee, Montana and Idaho saw the largest percentage increase in California arrivals, according to a San Francisco Chronicle analysis.

“If these trends continue, the implications for California are significant, ranging from federal funding allocations and tax revenues to how many seats we have in Congress,” said report co-author Natalie Holmes. “Population swings can have even more dramatic effects on local jurisdictions.”

3. Oil spill and drought updates

Crew members look for oil clusters along the sand in Huntington Beach on Oct. 5, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Wednesday brought with it a slew of California environmental news:

  • A U.S. grand jury hit Amplify Energy Corp. and two of its subsidiaries with a misdemeanor charge for a series of negligent acts that resulted in October’s massive oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach. Among the allegations against the companies: They failed to respond to eight leak alarms that should have prompted them to shut down the pipeline more than 13 hours earlier.
  • California joined Arizona and Nevada in signing an agreement to take significantly less water from the Colorado River in the coming years — yet another indication of the severe drought gripping the western U.S. The Golden State will also contribute $20 million for water efficiency projects.
  • California also got one step closer to building its first major reservoir in decades — though critics say the $4 billion project would imperil endangered salmon and harm the traditions of some Indigenous tribes.
  • The second storm of the week began dropping rain and snow across California — but, in a sobering reminder of just how parched the state is, none of its reservoirs’ water levels increased by more than 1%, and all are lower than both one year ago and historic averages.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Public Utilities Commission will probably side with major utilities by reducing payments to owners of rooftop solar systems. (Note: Dan’s column will pause until Jan. 3.)

Revolutionizing California’s education system: The state defines student success too narrowly and should move toward a competency-based approach to learning, argues Roman Stearns of Scaling Student Success.

California is short on electricity as it is: How is the state going to power the electric vehicle charging stations it’s requiring for all new multi-family buildings with parking? asks Chucker Twining of Broker Twining Properties.

Other things worth your time

How four California universities missed out on $47 million in coronavirus aid. // CalMatters

CSU poised to drop SAT as a college admissions requirement. // Los Angeles Times

California must address imbalance of too many eligible students and not enough UC and CSU slots, report says. // EdSource

Retailers say thefts are at crisis level. The numbers say otherwise. // Los Angeles Times

San Diego may start allowing cannabis dispensaries near parks, churches, libraries, playgrounds. // San Diego Union-Tribune

San Francisco becomes first city to require sick leave for nannies, cleaners, gardeners. // San Francisco Chronicle

Tax proposed on Los Angeles property sales over $5 million to fund homeless housing. // Los Angeles Times

Oakland restaurants are adding a new surcharge to feed homeless people. // San Francisco Chronicle

Controversy over San Diego bike lanes grows amid skyrocketing costs. // San Diego Union-Tribune

City employees solicit funds for Garcetti-backed charity. Ethics experts have concerns. // Los Angeles Times

Eric Garcetti skips past scandal on a glidepath to New Delhi. // Politico

Citing violence fears, SEIU International wades into dispute at California state worker union. // Sacramento Bee

Rating every member of Congress on their financial conflicts and transparency. // Business Insider

California was going to pass a net-zero bill. Then a debate over carbon capture got in the way. // Grist

Joshua tree seedlings planted in fire-scorched desert. // Los Angeles Times

‘The mad mushroom rush’: As a popular hobby has exploded, it’s straining Salt Point State Park. // SFGATE

For the record: An earlier version of this newsletter should have made clear that the industry association opposes tying funding only to staffing, but supports tying funding to other patient quality standards. Also, the item should have said that Assembly Health chairperson Jim Wood is the one appalled by the number of COVID-19 deaths in skilled nursing facilities.

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...