In summary

A new bill would supersede Gov. Newsom’s student COVID-19 vaccine mandate by requiring all kids in K-12 to get the shot by Jan. 1, 2023.

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This week is shaping up to be a particularly consequential — and controversial — one in Sacramento.

Setting the stage Monday was state Sen. Richard Pan’s introduction of a bill that would supersede Gov. Gavin Newsom’s student COVID-19 vaccine mandate by eliminating the personal belief exemption — and requiring all kids in kindergarten to 12th grade to get the shot by Jan. 1, 2023. Under the Sacramento Democrat’s proposal, only students with rare medical exemptions could opt out.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Richard Pan

Richard Pan

Former State Senate, District 6 (Roseville)

It’s the latest bill to emerge from a vaccine work group Democratic lawmakers formed last week. On Thursday, state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco unveiled a proposal that would allow kids 12 and up to get vaccinated, including against COVID-19, without parental consent or knowledge.

And more are in the works: According to California Healthline, lawmakers are weighing introducing bills that would remove religious exemptions for health care workers and require proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter almost all public places, including workplaces, schools, malls, museums and restaurants.

The bold proposals are likely to intensify California’s already fierce vaccine wars, which saw an anti-vaccine protestor in 2019 throw a cup of menstrual blood onto state senators, including Pan. And, if the bills pass the Legislature, they could put Gov. Gavin Newsom in a tough spot. Although the governor has defended his first-in-the-nation vaccine mandates, he’s also taken pains to emphasize that the personal belief exemption for students leaves “plenty of latitude for families to make decisions.”

Meanwhile, a torrent of contentious bills that failed to pass either the state Assembly or Senate last year face a Jan. 31 deadline to clear their house of origin and stay alive. They include:

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 7,419,643 confirmed cases (+4.2% from previous day) and 78,101 deaths (+0.5% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 68,599,763 vaccine doses, and 72.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. PG&E to exit probation

Fire smolders under high voltage towers in Pulga, Calif., November 9, 2018, near the reported start of the Camp Fire blaze that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed at least six people. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group
Fire smolders under high voltage towers in Pulga on Nov. 9, 2018, near where the Camp Fire started. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

At midnight tonight, PG&E is set to emerge from five years of criminal probation — much to the chagrin of the federal judge charged with overseeing the nation’s largest utility after one of its natural gas pipelines exploded in 2010, destroying a San Bruno neighborhood and killing eight people.

  • U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote in a scathing final report issued last week: “In these five years, PG&E has gone on a crime spree” — setting at least 31 wildfires, burning nearly 1.5 million acres, destroying nearly 24,000 structures and killing 113 Californians — “and will emerge from probation as a continuing menace to California. … We have tried hard to rehabilitate PG&E … however, I must acknowledge failure.”

Alsup recommended PG&E be split into two companies — one serving high-risk areas and another serving the rest of the state — and that the utility stop outsourcing tree trimming and vegetation management to contractors. PG&E acknowledged that “we have more work to do,” but noted that it “has become a fundamentally safer company over the course of our probation.” Alsup, however, estimated that PG&E has a seven-year backlog of hazardous trees and vegetation to clear. And the utility is also under federal investigation for its role in the Dixie Fire, the second-largest blaze in California history.

Meanwhile, easing winds helped firefighters improve containment of the Colorado Fire near Big Sur to 35% as of Monday morning, though about 500 people remain under evacuation orders. And more winter fires are possible: Weather experts predict California will continue to see very dry conditions for the rest of the month, with some parts of the state possibly notching their driest January on record.

2. Intraparty battles intensify

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones at a news conference, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Sacramento. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones at a news conference on April 25, 2018 in Sacramento. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Intraparty tensions in two 2022 races heated up on Monday, a reminder that the June primary is quickly approaching. First, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones announced that he’s running for the same congressional seat as fellow Republican Kevin Kiley, a state assemblymember from Rocklin who challenged Newsom in last year’s recall election. Jones, who in 2016 narrowly lost his bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, pledged to “fight for law and order in America, stand up against the ‘Defund the Police’ movement, and secure our border.” His law-and-order messaging suggests a focus different than Kiley’s, who has gained recognition for promoting school and parental choice. Also running for the seat is Democrat Kermit Jones, who recently accused Kiley of having “radical associations.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael made waves by announcing that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon had endorsed his campaign for insurance commissioner against incumbent and fellow Democrat Ricardo Lara. That earned a clapback from Robin Swanson, a strategist for Lara’s reelection campaign, who noted that Rendon had also endorsed Lara and accused Levine of “spreading misinformation” and putting out “fake news.”

3. Transit worker shortage hits state

AC Transit buses circulate in downtown Oakland on Jan. 20, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento/CalMatters
AC Transit buses circulate in downtown Oakland on Jan. 20, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

What has it been like to be a transit worker amid the pandemic? Brandi Donaldson, a driver for AC Transit, California’s third-largest bus system, painted a vivid picture in a conversation with CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal:

  • Donaldson: “I was spit on in April 2020, then four more times because of the passenger limits and not being able to pick people up. … I had my bus door bashed in on two different occasions. A guy tried to hit me with an umbrella. They put plexiglass up to put a barrier between us and passengers, and I had somebody punch it in — all because of having to enforce mask policy and the passenger limit.”

Experiences like this one — paired with the omicron variant’s impact on California’s workforce — help explain why transit agencies across California are grappling with persistent worker shortages. And fewer transit workers mean fewer trains and buses are running — which in turn makes it harder for employees, especially low-income workers, to get to work, Sameea reports.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Downtown Sacramento has been hit hard by COVID-19, stalling its recovery from years of decay. Can it snap back?

New school start times this fall will be a disaster: The last thing students need right now is less stability, less routine and less predictability, argues Jeremy Adams, a teacher at Bakersfield High School.

California casualties in congressional antitrust bills: Proposed regulations targeting tech companies would negatively affect small, minority- and women-owned businesses in California, writes Julian Cañete, president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

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Other things worth your time

UCSF doctors say it’s time to end ‘mindless’ COVID rules in open letter to Newsom. // San Francisco Standard

Thousands of Contra Costa students stay home, citing omicron fears. // KQED

At California hospitals, children are coming in with COVID — not for COVID. // Los Angeles Times

Could California get tougher on crime, homelessness this year? // Mercury News

A fight over rooftop solar threatens California’s climate goals. // New York Times

Mayor Breed vs. supervisors: Battle over ballot box issues heats up. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Jose to vote on gun control insurance and fee measures. // Mercury News

Fresno leaders share plans to address homelessness. // CalMatters

Review of OC 211 calls shows vulnerable residents mostly need but rarely get housing help. // Voice of OC

One of California’s richest cities could have its first big housing project in decades. // San Francisco Chronicle

Placer officials to vote on anti-camping ordinance for homeless. // Sacramento Bee

San Pablo renters are fighting their eviction to stay. But is it safe? // Mercury News

California investor buys Tucson seniors complex, raises rents by 50%. // Arizona Daily Star

A members-only luxury club with fees up to $100,000 is coming to the Transamerica Pyramid. // San Francisco Chronicle

Hundreds of migratory seabirds wash ashore in California. // Los Angeles Times

‘Like witnessing a birth in a morgue’: The volunteers working to save the Joshua trees. // The Guardian

The Gold Rush returns to California. // Undark Magazine

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...