KEEP TABS ON THE LATEST CALIFORNIA POLICY AND POLITICS NEWS


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Los Angeles Unified School District should adjust its vaccine mandate so the 34,000 students at risk of not meeting the January inoculation deadline won’t be kicked out of the classroom and back into online learning.

That was the implication behind comments Gov. Gavin Newsom made in a Wednesday appearance on “Good Morning America” to promote his new children’s book.

  • Newsom: “We need to fine-tune all this, this is iterative. … We want to keep the kids in school. … We don’t want to see 34,000 kids sent home, quite the contrary. And that’s why I’d say you have to accommodate. And I have all the confidence in the world the school board will work to accommodate.”

And today, the interim LAUSD superintendent proposed that enforcement of the mandate be delayed from January to the start of the next school year in fall 2022.

The governor also stressed that his first-in-the-nation student COVID-19 vaccine mandate — which isn’t set to go into effect until next year at the earliest and is more lenient than some district mandates — “includes personal exemptions, not just religious and/or medical exemptions, so there’s plenty of latitude for families to make decisions.”

The remarks suggest that Newsom, who’s facing reelection next year, is aware of the political liability inherent in banning tens of thousands of kids from campus not long after schools reopened for in-person instruction — and shortly after the U.S. Surgeon General warned of an impending youth mental health crisis.

But by emphasizing the personal belief exemption, Newsom also put himself on a possible collision course with Democratic state lawmakers, some of whom are considering legislation to remove the exemption when they return to Sacramento in January.

And he added to the myriad challenges facing Alberto Carvalho, the Miami-Dade schools chief who on Thursday was named the next superintendent of Los Angeles Unified. Also on the plate of Carvalho and school leaders across the state: an uptick in campus violence that many educators chalk up to the lingering effects of the pandemic.

On Sunday night, a Buena Park High School student was arrested for allegedly sharing a photo of a person holding a gun and warning classmates to stay away from school. On Monday, a 14-year-old Sycamore Valley Charter Academy student was booked into juvenile detention for allegedly threatening to kill two other students. On Wednesday, three students — one in Placer County and two in Sacramento County — were arrested for allegedly threatening school shootings. And some California teachers recently landed in the hospital after trying to break up student fights.

  • Tyrone Howard, a UCLA education professor: “All those signs are telling us that children are not well and are dealing with the effects of the pandemic. Just the disconnect from friends and social connections, even though they’re now reconnecting, just that absence can have a massive effect.”

To make matters worse, California is also seeing an uptick in COVID-19 — driven almost entirely by the delta variant, even as more omicron cases are confirmed — with the statewide daily average of new cases rising more than 30% since Thanksgiving.


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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,861,352 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 74,432 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 60,486,328 vaccine doses, and 69.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


1. New jobless claims tick back up

Nance Parry, pictured on Dec. 6, 2021, spends hours each day applying for jobs at her home in Duarte. Photo by Raquel Natalicchio for CalMatters

About 184,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims for the week ending Dec. 4 — the lowest total since 1969, according to federal data released Thursday. But, in another sign that California’s economy is recovering more unevenly than the rest of the country’s, nearly 57,000 Golden State residents filed new jobless claims — an increase of nearly 10,000 from the week before, when the state’s pandemic claims hit a record low. The state Department of Finance predicts that California’s unemployment rate won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, and a Wednesday report from the UCLA Anderson School of Management expects the state’s economic recovery to be “somewhat weaker” than projected, especially because of the uncertainty surrounding the omicron variant. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 restaurants across the country in a Thursday letter to Congress — signed by four-and-a-half pages worth of California establishments — asked for more federal aid to stave off the possibility of permanent closures.

But California’s economic outlook isn’t all bad. CalMatters’ Grace Gedye takes a look at why the state’s high number of job openings and quit rates may be cause for optimism.

2. Goodbye, gas-powered lawn equipment

Jorge Mijango of Ken’s Rototilling and Landscaping uses a chainsaw to cut trees for fire mitigation in Orinda on Nov. 16, 2021. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group

Banning the manufacture of new gas-powered weed whackers, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and smaller chainsaws by 2024? Check. Requiring big rig trucks to undergo smog checks? Check. Those two first-in-the-nation requirements were unanimously approved Thursday by the California Air Resources Board — bringing with them an estimated $8 billion cost over more than 20 years, though they’re also expected to prevent 8,400 premature smog-linked deaths and result in health benefits worth more than $84 billion, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Still, small business gardeners and landscapers — who make up more than 99% of California’s landscaping companies — warned the new rules could cost them their livelihood.

In other environmental news, an incoming atmospheric river is set to start dumping rain over California over the weekend and pile inches of snow on the Sierra Nevada. Yet much of the state remains locked in devastating drought, and thousands of Californians with unpaid water bills could soon see their water shut off. The state this week stopped accepting applications for its water debt relief program, and its ban on water shutoffs is slated to end Dec. 31. Although water agencies only applied for $303 million of the $985 million available, that money will cover as much as 90% of all outstanding water debt accrued during the height of the pandemic, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. But some agencies didn’t apply for funds, putting the state’s most vulnerable residents at risk of shutoffs, advocates say.

3. Dems battle with crime reality vs. perception

An officer tapes off a crime scene in downtown Oakland on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

It’s increasingly evident that crime is one of the key issues that will dog California Democrats in the 2022 elections. Newsom, in the Wednesday appearance on “Good Morning America,” was asked if lenient state criminal justice policies are to blame for a surge in smash-and-grab robberies. “I think it’s a convenient way of pointing a finger,” Newsom said, asserting that 31 states have stricter definitions of felony theft than California. He also said that “a lot of the red states” like Texas, South Dakota and Montana have higher rates of violent and property crime, adding, “We need some balance, a little bit, in the reporting.” (In 2020, according to the FBI, California’s violent crime rate was lower than those states, but was 11% higher than the national average.) Meanwhile, Attorney General Rob Bonta on Thursday announced the results of a months-long investigation into a San Bernardino criminal street gang: 180 felony arrests; the seizure of 92 handguns, 19 assault weapons, hundreds of pounds of illicit drugs and nearly $300,000 in cash; and the closure of 30 illegal gambling establishments.

But even as the state promotes arrests and prosecutions, it may have difficulty changing the perception that conditions are improving. On Wednesday, rapper Slim 400 was shot and killed in Inglewood, and on Thursday, burglars smashed the glass front door of a Garden Grove gun shop and stole approximately 40 firearms.


CalMatters commentary

Protect small businesses from lawsuit abuse: The American Tort Reform Foundation has named California the nation’s “Top Everlasting Judicial Hellhole” 16 times in the past 20 years — and for good reason, argues Victor Gomez, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

Reflecting on California’s nurse shortage: It appears that every hospital in the state is short staffed, putting patient safety at risk, writes Briana Daoust, a nursing student at CSU San Marcos.


Other things worth your time

Judge halts California ban on ‘pay to delay’ pharma deals. // Courthouse News

State hearing will focus on why little has changed in drug rehab industry. // Orange County Register

Gascón touts accomplishments, spars with critics on crime after one year in office. // Los Angeles Times

Gun violence in Oakland rises as homicides again surge across the U.S. // NPR

California reparations task force grapples with the task at hand. // Los Angeles Times

After a rocky round of redistricting, Los Angeles city leaders move to consider more independent process. // Daily News

California lenders taking less mortgage risk. // Southern California News Group

At the Granada Hotel, a homeless housing rush neglects elderly tenants. // San Francisco Standard

How two governors in a bathroom changed California’s Capitol. // New York Times

CalSTRS looking for tenants at $340 million headquarters. // Sacramento Bee

California’s public pensions are major fossil fuel investors. // Bloomberg

Safeguards for leaking oil pipe off Orange County coast not fully working. // Orange County Register

In Bakersfield, many push for bringing back the flow of the long-dry Kern River. // Los Angeles Times

Bay Area environmental group petitions U.S. to require new crab and lobster fishing gear to protect whales. // San Francisco Chronicle

California pushes composting to lower food waste emissions. // Associated Press

Five miles of stunning Northern California coast preserved in landmark redwoods deal. // Mercury News


See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...