In summary

California appears to be on the brink of one of its most dramatic shifts in COVID policy: changing school mask mandates.

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California appears to be on the brink of what could be one of its most dramatic shifts in COVID policy since the pandemic began nearly two years ago: changing school masking rules.

State health officials announced Monday that they are working with “education, public health and community leaders to update masking requirements at schools to adapt to changing conditions and ensure the safety of kids, teachers and staff.”

The move — which came the same day three Democratic-led states unveiled plans to end statewide school mask mandates as soon as the end of this month — follows a 65% decline in California’s test positivity rate from the peak of the omicron surge that derailed much of the state’s workforce and forced many schools to temporarily close.

It also follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s repeated hints at a forthcoming “endemic strategy” for dealing with COVID, of which the state seemed to reveal several points Monday:

And that’s not all: “Additional adjustments to the state’s policies” will be announced “in the coming week,” state health officials said.

The about-face is the latest indication that California is facing a critical juncture in its COVID response: As Newsom and state lawmakers head into an election year with Californians divided on the state’s pandemic strategy, big, controversial decisions loom — including whether to create stricter vaccine mandates for children and require proof of COVID inoculation to enter almost all public places.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 8,079,771 confirmed cases (+0.9% from previous day) and 80,539 deaths (+0.6% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 70,183,793 vaccine doses, and 73.5% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. COVID emergency bills head to Newsom

Lawmakers on the Assembly floor on Jan. 31, 2022. Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Lawmakers on the Assembly floor on Jan. 31, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Even as California moves to loosen some coronavirus restrictions, state lawmakers on Monday sent to Newsom’s desk a bundle of bills to ramp up the state’s pandemic response.

Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Bakersfield Republican and vice-chair of the Assembly Budget Committee: “This bill spends nearly another $2 billion on COVID response without providing sufficient justification, including several no-bid contracts which a number of us have asked questions about. … There must be measurable outcomes to assess the effectiveness of the state’s spending of taxpayer monies.”

According to the Newsom administration, here’s how the money will be allocated:

  • $1.6 billion for the California Department of Public Health for contact tracing, hospital surge response, vaccine distribution and administration, and testing support.
  • $205.5 million for the state prison system, mostly to expand testing.
  • $100 million for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to procure personal protective equipment.

In other Newsom administration news: The governor on Monday appointed Office of Digital Innovation Director Amy Tong to replace Yolanda Richardson — the administration’s so-called “vaccine czar” who announced her resignation Thursday — as Government Operations Agency Secretary. He also named Toks Omishakin, director of the California Department of Transportation, as Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency.

2. Dahle to launch gubernatorial bid

Sen. Brian Dahle on the Senate floor on the first day of the 2020 legislative session. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

From CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff: Who will be the Republican Party’s standard-bearer in California’s 2022 gubernatorial race — a potentially quixotic quest to take out Newsom just a year after he handily defeated a recall attempt

Today, state Sen. Brian Dahle is set to become the first prominent Republican to enter the race when he formally launches his gubernatorial campaign at a kickoff event in Redding. Dahle, a longtime state lawmaker and farmer from rural Lassen County, is set to term out of the Legislature in 2024. 

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Brian Dahle

Brian Dahle

State Senate, District 1 (Redding)

Brian Dahle

State Senate, District 1 (Redding)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 1 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 29%
GOP 42%
No party 19%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Brian Dahle has taken at least $573,000 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 8% of his total campaign contributions.

It’s not yet clear which, if any, challengers Dahle might face within his own party. Larry Elder, the radio shock jock who led the field of replacement candidates in the recall election, has already taken a pass. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and real estate developer John Cox, who couldn’t quite scrounge up a million votes between them last year, are both still weighing another run.

3. CA housing market gets tighter

A housing development construction site in Long Beach, on July 22, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
A housing development construction site in Long Beach on July 22, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Five of the nation’s six cities with the least amount of available affordable homes for middle-class residents — those making between $75,000 and $100,000 per year — are in California, according to a Monday report from the National Association of Realtors. Nationwide, the amount of available affordable homes for that salary range dropped by more than 400,000 from December 2019 to December 2021 as the pandemic helped spur record-high housing prices and record-low availability.

Here’s a closer look at the six metro areas with the least amount of homes for sale for those earning between $75,000 and $100,000:

  • San Jose: 1 home listing available for every 3,528 households.
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura: 1 listing per 1,385 households.
  • San Diego: 1 listing per 1,138 households.
  • Los Angeles: 1 listing per 1,025 households.
  • Seattle: 1 listing per 830 households.
  • San Francisco-Oakland: 1 listing per 723 households.

The report also found that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Black Americans to achieve homeownership, noting that in cities such as San Francisco white families are twice as likely to be able to afford buying a house than Black families.

  • Chief Economist Danielle Hale: “Due to the reductions in inventory over the last few years, today’s buyers in large tech markets can actually afford a smaller number of homes than they could two years ago, despite an uptick in wages.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Cities are trying to thwart California’s push for more housing.

Why single-payer health care failed: There is no clearer example of legislation in recent memory that uses a sledgehammer where a scalpel is more appropriate, writes Roger Niello, a small-business owner and former state assemblymember.

California is stiffing older adults: We don’t want any more stinking plans that end up in a slush pile. Budgets and legislation dictating mandated actions are needed immediately, argues Dev Berger, a retired health policy consultant and planner.

Other things worth your time

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What to expect from the police brutality trial that led to SFPD’s rift with DA Chesa Boudin. // San Francisco Chronicle

‘May soon be unable to provide civilian oversight’: Police commission asks for emergency appointments. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Proud Boys member files to run for California Assembly seat. // Sacramento Bee

California county supervisor leaves GOP over Jan. 6 statement. // Mercury News

Fresno State stonewalled release of sexual harassment investigation records and sought an NDA. // USA Today

Marine families anguish over hearings into fatal sinking. // San Diego Union-Tribune

‘San Fransicko’ author Michael Shellenberger kicked out of Tenderloin Linkage Center after purportedly scaling a fence to get in. // San Francisco Chronicle

Just how bad is crime in LA? // Los Angeles Magazine

Crime trends are diverging in city’s rich and poor neighborhoods. // San Francisco Chronicle

When private equity becomes your landlord. // ProPublica

California town drops cougars as reason to bar more housing. // Associated Press

Bay Area calls on homeowners to help house homeless residents. // Mercury News

BEI Hotel fined thousands for leasing rooms as long-term apartments. // San Francisco Business Times

Court upholds California law banning government officials from discouraging union membership. // San Francisco Chronicle

Nun gets one year in prison for stealing $835,000 from Torrance elementary school. // Los Angeles Times

Parents struggle to get nurses for medically fragile kids. // Los Angeles Times

A California water board assures the public that oil wastewater is safe for irrigation, but experts say the evidence is scant. // KQED

In Wine Country, one radical farmer is growing an unexpected heirloom crop. // San Francisco Chronicle

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...