In summary

The state Assembly had to pass the California single-payer bill by Monday for it to stay alive, but its author didn’t bring it up for a vote.

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A controversial proposal to create a state-funded single-payer health care system met a silent death on Monday — an indication of the challenges progressives face in getting their ideas through California’s Legislature despite a Democratic supermajority.

The state Assembly had to pass the bill by Monday in order for it to stay alive, but its author, Democratic Assemblymember Ash Kalra of San Jose, chose not to bring it up for a vote — effectively shielding lawmakers from having to take sides on a politically contentious proposal linked to sizable tax hikes in an election year.

  • Kalra: “Especially with four Democratic vacancies in the Assembly, the votes were not there today, but we will not give up. Health care is a human right and CalCare has made clear the just path as an alternative to the inequitable system we have in place today.”

But a lot is still at stake politically: The California Democratic Party’s progressive caucus last week threatened to block endorsements for any lawmaker who didn’t support the bill, and said Monday it will still move forward with those plans.

And Kalra’s move didn’t go over well with the bill’s powerful sponsor, the California Nurses Association, which slammed him for “providing cover for those who would have been forced to go on the record about where they stand on guaranteed health care for all people in California.”

Another progressive proposal quietly bit the dust Monday after not being brought up for a vote: a bill that would have forced larger property owners in rent-controlled jurisdictions to hold onto their buildings for at least five years before invoking the Ellis Act, which gives them a path to exit the rental market and evict tenants.

  • Shanti Singh, communications and legislative director at Tenants Together: “The fact that they couldn’t even make their positions public on two major progressive priorities today, I consider that an insult to the public, honestly.”

Here’s a look at key bills that did advance Monday:

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 7,878,621 confirmed cases (+2.2% from previous day) and 79,284 deaths (+0.6% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 69,485,832 vaccine doses, and 73.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Maskless with Magic

A photo of California Governor Gavin Newsom and former professional basketball player Magic Johnson 49ers-Rams game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sunday Jan. 30, 2022. Photo via Twitter
Gov. Gavin Newsom and Magic Johnson at the 49ers-Rams game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Jan. 30, 2022. Photo via Twitter

From CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher: About a year after the French Laundry fiasco, Gov. Gavin Newsom is once again in hot water for failing to wear a mask — this time at Sunday night’s NFC Championship game at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium, where he and former professional basketball player Magic Johnson were photographed smiling together without their masks on. Johnson took a similar photo with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who was caught on video multiple times last year dancing maskless in nightclubs.

COVID policies are also ruffling feathers in Shasta County, where voters will today cast ballots in the recall election of GOP Supervisor Leonard Moty, who’s accused of not opposing Newsom’s restrictions vociferously enough.

2. An end to Death Row?

A condemned inmate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison, in San Quentin on Aug. 16, 2016. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is moving to dismantle the nation's largest death row by moving all condemned inmates to other prisons with in two years. The goal is to turn the section of San Quentin State Prison into "a positive, healing environment." Photo by Eric Risberg, AP Photo
A condemned inmate is led out of his cell on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison on Aug. 16, 2016. Photo by Eric Risberg, AP Photo

With Newsom’s recent budget blueprint topping $286 billion, you’d be forgiven for missing a $1.5 million request to dismantle San Quentin’s Death Row and transfer condemned inmates to other state prisons. The proposal, first reported by the Associated Press, aligns with Newsom’s adamant opposition of capital punishment: “I think premeditated murder is wrong in all its forms and manifestation, including government-sponsored premeditated murder,” Newsom said at his Monday press conference. The governor in 2020 took the unprecedented step of filing a court brief challenging California’s application of the death penalty, a year after he declared a moratorium on the practice.

Nevertheless, Newsom insisted Monday that his plans to repurpose Death Row are consistent with a ballot measure California voters approved in 2016 to accelerate executions. The measure included little-noticed provisions allowing “the state to house condemned inmates in any prison” and requiring all prisoners sentenced to death to “work while in state prison.”

  • Newsom: “The voters upheld the death penalty,” but “I don’t think many understood … when they affirmed the death penalty, they also affirmed a responsibility for (the state prison system) to actually move that population out of Death Row and to get them working.”
  • Nina Salarno, president of Crime Victims United of California: Newsom is “pouring more salt on the wounds of victims.”

3. College classes at a crossroads

A sign on the UCLA campus directs people to a COVID testing site on Sept. 24, 2020. Photo by Tash Kimmell for CalMatters

In-person classes are resuming this week at many California colleges as the omicron surge that postponed them begins to wane — but the challenges facing the state’s higher-education system are far from over, Omar Rashad, Stephanie Zappelli and Marnette Federis report for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. As administrators begin to craft strategies for coexisting with the virus, petitions at several UC campuses demanding a blend of online and in-person learning have garnered thousands of signatures, and students at UCLA, UC Davis and UC Irvine are planning one-day walkouts this week in support of more flexible instruction options.

Nevertheless, UC officials argue, campuses — which require vaccinations, boosters, masking, physical distancing and regular testing — are safer than the surrounding communities. “We believe the campus is safe and we encourage students to attend class,” UC Irvine Provost Hal Stern told the Los Angeles Times.

4. Pollution by the numbers — and photos

Nancy Gonzales stands near her home as a truck passes by, kicking up dirt into the air on Drumm Avenue in Wilmington, Calif., on Jan. 20, 2022. Gonzales, who has lived on Drumm Avenue for more than a decade, says she no longer opens the windows due to the noise and dirt pollution occuring in the neighborhood. "Before there wasn't so much dirt, even trucks," Gonzales said. "I never open the windows anymore because the dirt is too much, and sometimes I have to wear a mask for it." Photo by Pablo Uzueta for CalMatters
Nancy Gonzales stands near her Wilmington home as a truck passes by on Jan. 20, 2022. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

In Monday’s newsletter, you read about a stunning investigation from CalMatters’ Rachel Becker into whether California’s landmark environmental justice law is achieving its goal of clearing air pollution in low-income communities of color.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom is in the middle of an intense battle over payments to rooftop solar panel owners for their excess power.

It’s time to fund vital water projects: Over the past 40 years, California has not completed a major water storage project of statewide significance despite its population nearly doubling, argue Republican state Sens. Jim Nielsen of Roseville and Andreas Borgeas of Fresno.

Solving California’s rooftop solar conundrum: Here’s a four-part vision to get us where we need to go — starting with mandating that everyone pay a price for energy that’s much closer to what it actually costs, writes Michael Wara of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Other things worth your time

Democratic Assemblymember Autumn Burke is latest state lawmaker to resign. // CalMatters

Major delays at state labor agency leave many wage theft victims unpaid. // KQED

City quietly inked agreement on proposed Amazon delivery hub, raising hackles over back-room dealing. // San Francisco Standard

Will California take the high road to good jobs? // Capital & Main

White House frustrations grow over health chief Becerra’s handling of pandemic. // Washington Post

Would taxing San Francisco’s 40,000 empty homes help solve the city’s housing crisis? // San Francisco Chronicle

California prepares to launch $3 billion transition to community schools. // EdSource

2 California killers among hundreds to challenge murder convictions under change in state law. // Mercury News

In LA jail, health workers say deputies discourage vaccinations and deface COVID signs. // LAist

California armed jeweler stops smash-and-grab robbery attempt with gun, saying ‘I had no choice.’ // USA Today

Stockton fire captain shot and killed while responding to dumpster fire. // CNN

This Bay Area doctor got sent to jail for a year over a $217 bill, leaving his kids on their own. // San Francisco Chronicle

California city to retain Confederate general’s name after year of debate. // The Guardian

Here’s why it’s still illegal to eat roadkill in California. // Sacramento Bee

Should logging halt over endangered California animal? // Sacramento Bee

U.S. helps fund California port project as export delays hurt food makers. // Reuters

Documenting Los Angeles’ unlikely urban fishermen. // New York Times

California’s snowpack slips below average after dismally dry January, renewing concerns about drought. // San Francisco Chronicle

California to see new round of dry, gusty, offshore winds. // Associated Press

Shortage of pickleball courts prompts new proposals from city, players. // San Diego Union-Tribune

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...