In summary

A new poll finds that crime and homelessness are key issues for California voters and that Gov. Newsom’s approval rating has dropped.

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Crime and homelessness.

Those are the two issues on which California Democrats are most vulnerable heading into the 2022 elections, according to a Tuesday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times. Underscoring the political risk: a drumbeat of recent headlines on brutal crimes and attacks allegedly committed by homeless individuals.

The survey’s findings were especially grim for Gov. Gavin Newsom: 48% of registered voters said they approve of his overall performance as governor, while 47% disapprove. That’s a marked increase in criticism from September 2021, when 50% approved of the governor and 42% disapproved — and Newsom overwhelmingly defeated an attempt to recall him from office.

  • The Tuesday survey found that disapproval of Newsom’s job performance is rising among key voter blocs, including Democrats, strong liberals, moderates, Los Angeles County voters, Latinos and Asian Americans.
  • Voters also gave Newsom low marks for handling eight out of ten major issues facing the state, with 66% rating his response to homelessness as “poor” or “very poor” and 51% saying the same about his approach to crime and public safety.

Ultimately, though, the governor’s declining approval rate will likely have a negligible impact on his reelection prospects. With the June primary less than four months away, Newsom’s most serious challenger so far is GOP state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber, who acknowledged that running against an incumbent with a $25 million campaign war chest is like “David versus Goliath.”

2022 Election

Your guide to the 2022 general election in California

But voters’ clear dissatisfaction with the status quo could pose challenges for Democrats running in competitive, newly redrawn districts — and sway the outcome of high-profile races, such as for mayor of Los Angeles. According to the UC Berkeley survey:

  • 78% of registered voters said crime has increased over the past year, and 65% said it’s worsened in their local areas.
  • 59% said they would support amending Prop. 47, a 2014 ballot measure that reclassified some theft and drug felonies as misdemeanors.
  • 54% believe California is on the wrong track, a 9-point increase from May 2021.

Many California Democrats — including Newsom — have already begun to embrace tough-on-crime rhetoric. (Here’s the CalMatters explainer on the state’s crime numbers.)

In other election news: Tuesday was the last day for voters in San Francisco and Los Angeles to cast or mail in their ballots in several closely watched special elections. Three San Francisco school board members were recalled, while current county Supervisor Matt Haney and former Supervisor David Campos are headed to an April runoff for a state Assembly seat representing part of San Francisco. Democrat Mike Fong, a Los Angeles Community College trustee, is the apparent winner in the race for an Assembly seat representing part of Los Angeles.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,259,026 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 82,142 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 70,785,204 vaccine doses, and 73.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Guerrero nominated for top court

State Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero is Gov. Gavin Newsom's new pick for the California Supreme Court. Photo via California Courts
State Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero is Newsom’s pick for the California Supreme Court. Photo via California Courts

Newsom on Tuesday nominated Patricia Guerrero to the state Supreme Court to fill the seat vacated by former Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, who stepped down to lead a foreign policy think tank. If confirmed, Guerrero, an associate justice for the Fourth District Court of Appeal with a generally liberal record, would become the first Latina on the state’s highest court, CalMatters’ Byhronda Lyons reports.

  • Newsom: “Born and raised in the Imperial Valley by immigrant parents from Mexico, (Guerrero’s) extraordinary journey and nomination to serve as the first Latina Justice on the bench of our state’s highest court is an inspiration to all of us and a testament to the California Dream’s promise of opportunity for all of us to thrive, regardless of background or zip code.”
  • Representation on California’s judicial benches is worse for Latinos than any other racial group, Byrhonda found. After Byrhonda reported on the state’s struggles to get more Latino attorneys to transition into judgeships, Newsom launched a program to help more diverse candidates apply to serve on the bench.
  • This marks Newsom’s second nomination to the state Supreme Court: In 2020, he chose Martin Jenkins, the court’s first openly gay justice.

In other key appointment news: The board of directors of Covered California — the state’s health insurance marketplace that last month surpassed a record 1.8 million enrollees — on Tuesday named Jessica Altman as its new CEO. Altman, who currently serves as Pennsylvania’s insurance commissioner, will replace longtime leader Peter Lee when he steps down in March.

2. Minimizing COVID misinformation

Assemblymembers on the floor during the first day of the legislative session on Jan. 3, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Assemblymembers during the first day of the legislative session on Jan. 3, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

As the Newsom administration prepares to relax some COVID restrictions — with the statewide indoor mask mandate expiring today in most places for vaccinated residents — Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled two bills to crack down on COVID-19 misinformation peddled by doctors and online platforms.

  • Assembly Bill 2098 from Assemblymember Evan Low of Campbell would make it easier for the Medical Board of California, which regulates doctors, to discipline physicians who “disseminate or promote misinformation or disinformation related to COVID-19, including false or misleading information regarding the nature and risks of the virus, its prevention and treatment; and the development, safety, and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.”
  • Senate Bill 1018 from state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento would require online platforms that use algorithms, such as Facebook, to publicly disclose how those algorithms work and share that data for research purposes. “It should not be left to a handful of potentially very rich tech executives to decide what what happens to our society and how we respond to a pandemic,” Pan said.
  • Some critics denounced the bills for being too quick to define misinformation, arguing the scientific understanding of COVID is still evolving.

The proposals are the latest to emerge from a vaccine work group composed of Democratic lawmakers. The group has also introduced bills that would require businesses to mandate COVID vaccines for all employees, mandate the vaccine for all students except those granted rare medical exemptions, allow kids 12 and older to get inoculated without parental consent, and permit schools to check students’ vaccination status in the state’s private immunization database.

3. California climate roundup

A view of a scarred mountain peak from last summer's Caldor Fire, which burned through El Dorado County near the site of the California Department of Water Resources media snow surveys at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Photo taken Feb. 1, 2022. Photo by Kelly M. Grow, California Department of Water Resources
A view of a mountain peak scarred from last summer’s Caldor Fire on Feb. 1, 2022. Photo by Kelly M. Grow, California Department of Water Resources

There’s never a shortage of climate-related news in California, so let’s hop right in:

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Costs keep rising for California’s bullet train project, but the officials who manage it can’t tell us how it will be financed.

Why so much hate for CEQA? Weakening California’s landmark environmental law might increase profits for a few industries, but it would wreak havoc on communities for years to come, argue Jennifer Ganata of Communities for a Better Environment and Aruna Prabhala of the Center for Biological Diversity.

California must deliver equity in cancer care: Our current one-size-fits-most system prevents many cancer patients from accessing optimal care, resulting in needless suffering and lost lives, writes Elizabeth Helms of the California Chronic Care Coalition.

Other things worth your time

Podcast: What do mountain lions have to do with California affordable housing? // CalMatters

LA County’s outdoor mask requirement will end Wednesday morning. // ABC7 Los Angeles

California teachers union leader under fire for maskless picture at Rams game. // Fox News

Roseville implements mask-optional policy for students against state rules. // Sacramento Bee

California’s subsidized preschool program may expand to toddlers. // EdSource

Former Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn on Stephon Clark, anger toward law enforcement. // Los Angeles Times

What’s wrong in San Jose? 15 killed in vehicle crashes, including 8 pedestrians, since year began. // San Francisco Chronicle

Nearly 500 arrested in statewide human trafficking operation. // Los Angeles Times

Bonta puts county jails on notice over reproductive health care. // Sacramento Bee

Bonta sues East Bay foundry for alleged undisclosed releases of cancer-causing chemical. // San Francisco Chronicle

Wildfires are threatening the inmates in California prisons. // The Intercept

California tries to end wildfire insurance woes for homeowners. // Sacramento Bee

Just 80 CZU Lightning Complex fire survivors have rebuild permits. // Santa Cruz Sentinel

Amazon is using San Francisco’s zoning policy to plot a huge expansion in the city. // San Francisco Chronicle

Another homeless ballot measure could go before Sacramento voters. // Sacramento Bee

Berkeley, once hostile to development, is now inviting it. But has the city actually built much housing? // San Francisco Chronicle

California auto sales are rebounding — but you’ll pay more for that new car or truck. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Avocado spat with Mexico puts California farmers in spotlight. // KTLA

Crowds return to Yosemite for a chance to glimpse ‘firefall’ waterfall. // Wall Street Journal

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...