In summary

A Democratic bill would reverse a key aspect of Proposition 47 by reducing the felony threshold for petty theft and shoplifting, while a Republican one would overturn Prop. 47 altogether.

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Little did California voters know, when they approved a 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain theft offenses, that their decision would still be making headlines in 2022.

On Tuesday, Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield introduced a bill that, if passed by state lawmakers and a majority of voters, would reverse a key aspect of Prop. 47 by moving the felony threshold for petty theft and shoplifting from $950 back to $400.

  • Salas: “Enough is enough, we need to fight back against the criminals who are stealing from our communities. We have seen the unintended consequences of Prop. 47’s weakening of our theft laws and I believe California voters are ready to make their voices heard on this issue again.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Rudy Salas

Rudy Salas

Former State Assembly, District 32 (Bakersfield)

Salas’ statement sharply contrasts with those from prominent Democrats including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, who have repeatedly emphasized that Prop. 47 has nothing to do with California’s surge in smash-and-grab robberies. But it could help Salas, who’s running for the U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by Republican David Valadao, court GOP voters — many of whom blame Prop. 47 for the uptick in organized retail crime.

Indeed, a few hours after Salas unveiled his bill, a group of Republican state lawmakers — including Assemblymembers Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, James Gallagher of Yuba City and James Patterson of Fresno — introduced a proposal to repeal Prop. 47 altogether.

The other big issue making waves in the state Capitol on Tuesday? Guns, as CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports in the following dispatch.

First up: A bill from Democratic Assemblymembers Phil Ting of San Francisco, Chris Ward of San Diego and Mike Gipson of Gardena that would make it easier for gun violence victims to sue firearm companies that behave “recklessly, negligently or irresponsibly.” The proposal would effectively remove a loophole in a 2005 federal law that shields gun makers from responsibility when their products are used to commit crimes.

And later this week, Gipson plans to introduce a bill that would allow any Californian to file a private lawsuit against anyone who makes or sells “assault weapons” and ghost gun kits in the state. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Newsom pitched the idea in December as a way to clap back at the U.S. Supreme Court letting stand a similarly structured Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, another controversial bill appears to be dead for the year: Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco on Tuesday shelved a proposal that would have banned some types of surgeries on intersex children until age 12, when they’re considered old enough to participate in the decision.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 5,428,522 confirmed cases (+4.6% from previous day) and 75,924 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 65,162,546 vaccine doses, and 71.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Elder not running for governor

Recall candidate Larry Elder speaks to his supporters during a rally in Norwalk on July 13, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Larry Elder, who secured far more votes than any other challenger in last year’s failed attempt to recall Newsom, announced Tuesday that he won’t run for governor in 2022 — leaving the California Republican Party without a major candidate just six months before the June 7 primary election. The news suggests that Newsom, already in prime position after handily defeating the recall, could face an even smoother path to reelection than previously predicted. Elder, meanwhile, said he plans to focus on helping Republicans secure seats in Congress: “Today, we don’t just have a state to save, we have a country save (sic). The radical left’s woke agenda is destroying America.”

Another politically explosive fight was avoided Tuesday, when state Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino said she won’t seek reelection in 2022 — averting a clash with state Sen. Susan Rubio of West Covina after newly redrawn legislative maps placed the two Democrats in the same district. The faceoff would likely have been an expensive one: Labor groups were expected to spend big to support Levya and business groups to back Rubio. It’s unclear what Levya will do after her term ends this year, but she told CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn that she’s considering running for state Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2026.

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare officially resigned from Congress on Monday to lead former President Donald Trump’s new media company. Newsom has up to 14 days to call a special election to fill Nunes’ seat through the end of his term in January 2023 — which could cost Fresno County taxpayers as much as $1.3 million.

2. COVID test positivity sets new record

Eddie Daniels administers rapid COVID-19 tests at Greater St. Paul Church in downtown Oakland on Jan. 4, 2022. Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Eddie Daniels administers rapid COVID-19 tests at Greater St. Paul Church in downtown Oakland on Jan. 4, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

California on Tuesday notched its highest COVID-19 test positivity rate since the pandemic began at a whopping 20.4% — a figure that doesn’t include rapid at-home test results not reported to public health authorities. The reactions are pouring in thick and swift: Los Angeles County suspended criminal trials for two weeks; Bay Area courts suspended them for the next month. Joining the UC campuses that had already decided to keep classes virtual for the first two weeks of winter quarter, Sacramento State is holding most classes online through Feb. 6 and community colleges across San Diego are switching to remote operations. Hundreds of firefighters, health care workers and public employees are in quarantine, straining crucial services.

Schools appear to be especially hard-hit: Not only are many districts still waiting for rapid COVID tests promised by the Newsom administration, but staff shortages are also reaching unprecedented levels. In San Francisco, for example, more than 600 classrooms were missing teachers or aides on Tuesday — and with only 157 substitutes available, every district employee with a teaching credential was ordered to lead a class. But that still wasn’t enough to fill all the absences, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

However, health experts say this COVID surge may have less severe consequences than the one California experienced last winter. During that period, more than 80% of COVID-positive patients at hospitals run by the Los Angeles County of Department of Public Health Services were experiencing severe illness associated with the virus. But now, roughly two-thirds of COVID-positive patients at those hospitals were admitted for something other than the virus, Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly told the Los Angeles Times.

3. Get ready for new water rules

Sprinklers water a lawn in Sacramento on July 15, 2014. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Californians could soon be hit with fines as high as $500 for wasting water — the result of the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday unanimously approving yearlong emergency regulations that ban practices such as hosing down sidewalks and driveways with drinking water, washing cars without a shutoff nozzle on the hose and irrigating lawns and gardens too soon after rain, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. The new rules underscore that California is still gripped by drought, though a recent deluge of rain and snow has helped: The state Department of Water Resources resumed operations Tuesday at the Lake Oroville hydropower plant after shutting it off in August due to low water levels. Still, conditions could soon take a turn for the worse. “The expectations are a drier than average January, February and March,” said state climatologist Michael Anderson.

Other statistics the state water board released Tuesday emphasize that California has a long way to go in eradicating drought:

  • Californians reduced their water use by just 6% from July to November compared to the prior year — far short of Newsom’s goal of 15%.
  • On Jan. 1, the state’s reservoirs contained 7 million acre-feet of water — only about two-thirds of the historic average of 10.3 million.
  • California’s snowpack, a critical source of water, still needs to accumulate about another foot of snow by the end of March to reach its historic seasonal average.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California can’t isolate itself, try as it might.

Improving children’s mental health: Here are four things California should do to tackle the deficiencies in its mental health care system — before it’s too late, write Pedro Nava, Sean Varner and David Beier of the Little Hoover Commission.

Local bans on licensed cannabis sales bolster illicit market: It’s time for local officials to put an end to their NIMBYism and unwarranted fears surrounding marijuana retailers, argues Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Other things worth your time

PG&E power lines started enormous Dixie Fire, investigators say // San Francisco Chronicle

California engaged in groundbreaking COVID antibody study. // Mercury News

Kelly Ernby, deputy DA and former Assembly candidate, has died of COVID-19 complications. // Orange County Register

With sexually transmitted infections off the charts, California pushes at-home tests. // California Healthline

California’s 2022 ballot will be heavy on health care. // Kaiser Health News

San Diego’s legal fight to enact hotel tax ballot measure just got a little easier. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Los Angeles’ arms race of the affluent. // Los Angeles Magazine

Oakland’s Jeopardy! star Amy Schneider says she was robbed. // Mercury News

Sacramento had most homicides in 2021 since 2006. // Sacramento Bee

Californian sentenced for 21 Trader Joe’s holdups in 11 weeks. // Mercury News

California is sitting on $350 million in unclaimed bottle deposit funds, thanks to ‘recycling deserts.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

Tens of thousands of people in the Sierra are still without power a week after snow storms mangled PG&E equipment. // San Francisco Chronicle

California biologists: Are mosquitofish a menace or messiah? // Mercury News

‘A good year’ to see coho salmon make their annual return to Marin creeks. // San Francisco Chronicle

New California wildlife preserve gives animals room to roam. // Associated Press

A national climate corps? California is leading the way. // National Geographic

‘The queen of the desert’: How a Death Valley mining village was transformed. // New Yorker

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...