In summary

California’s projections for how much water it can expect from the Sierra Nevada are far from reality — another result of climate change.

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Hello winter my old friend.

Many Californians will wake up this morning to freezing or near-freezing temperatures as a cold snap continues its voyage across the state — less than two weeks after Los Angeles County hosted one of the hottest Super Bowls in recorded history.

It’s the latest case of weather whiplash for Californians, some of whom have not seen rain for six weeks — putting the state on track to notch its driest-ever January and February.

That’s good news for a state in the claws of persistent drought.

The bad news: California’s projections for how much water it can expect from the Sierra Nevada are far from reality — the result of climate change transforming the snowpack’s behavior faster than the state can update its models and calculations that help determine how much water is sent to cities, growers and water managers, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,336,730 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 83,523 deaths (+0.8% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 71,216,289 vaccine doses, and 74.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Homeless count starts tonight

Homeless survey volunteers gather survey information from a couple of homeless people living in the Lowell neighborhood of Fresno during the Point-in-Time homeless count on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Photo by Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee
Homeless survey volunteers gather information from homeless people living in the Lowell neighborhood of Fresno on Jan. 29, 2020. Photo by Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee

From CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias: Although recent polls show a majority of voters disapprove of California’s response to homelessness, very little is known about the pandemic’s effects on the state’s unhoused population. But key data will start being gathered tonight, when volunteers and service providers are set to fan out in jurisdictions across the state to count and, in some cases, survey people experiencing homelessness. (The process is already underway in some jurisdictions, such as Los Angeles.)

  • The last time every California jurisdiction took stock of its homeless population was in January 2020 – before the pandemic upended normal life, let alone the job and housing markets. The 2020 tally found more than 161,000 people experiencing homelessness across the state — a figure experts say is almost certainly an undercount.
  • The count was postponed in January 2021 due to the pandemic and delayed again last month amid the omicron variant and the shortage of homeless service workers it helped accentuate.
  • But don’t hold your breath waiting for new numbers: The final data from the federal government won’t be available until a little under a year from now. 
  • More volunteers often means a more accurate count, so if you’re looking to get involved in tonight’s tally, contact your local continuum of care.

2. EDD fraud saga faces key juncture

Image via iStock

California lawmakers are facing a conundrum: Continue funding programs to crack down on unemployment fraud and potentially risk freezing benefits for legitimate claimants — or stop funding those programs and open the door to more fraud at the Employment Development Department, which has already acknowledged paying at least $20 billion in fake claims.

In other Tuesday Capitol news:

3. Is California’s economic gap growing?

Businesses in downtown Roseville closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. May 14, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A closed business in downtown Roseville on May 14, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California, already flush with a record budget surplus, could collect between another $6 billion and $23 billion in unanticipated tax revenue, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated last week. Yet experts combing through data from California’s pandemic-induced 2020 recession suspect it will follow the pattern of past economic downturns in widening the gap between rich and poor, CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo reports.

  • Although many lower-income Californians received state and federal stimulus checks and were able to secure higher wages and better benefits amid a tight labor market, some of those wins have been undercut by spiking inflation rates driving up the cost of living. Housing affordability, as measured by the number of Californians who could afford a median-priced, single-family home, hit 23% in the second quarter of 2021, the lowest point since 2007, according to the California Association of Realtors.
  • And gas, already at record-high prices, could potentially become even more expensive as the Ukraine crisis drives up energy costs.
  • “Even if people are working again, or more people are working, the cost of food is outpacing their incomes. Just having a job is not enough to guarantee that you have enough food to feed your family,” Jacob Hibel, co-director of UC Davis’ Center for Poverty & Inequality Research, told Alejandro.

4. COVID hospital tracker gets new feature

A patient with COVID-19 is treated by staff in the intensive care unit at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange on July 23, 2021. Photo by Omar Younis, REUTERS
A COVID-19 patient is treated by ICU staff at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange on July 23, 2021. Photo by Omar Younis, Reuters

From CalMatters data journalist and web developer John D’Agostino: CalMatters’ COVID hospitalization tracker now includes a breakdown of patients by vaccination status. The new dashboard is based on California Department of Public Health data that shows whether patients at least 12 years old are unvaccinated, vaccinated but not boosted, or vaccinated and boosted. Partially vaccinated patients are excluded from the analysis, and people are only counted once for a single day, even if they stayed in the hospital multiple days.

  • CalMatters’ dashboard shows that during the delta surge on Aug. 9, 2021, about 85% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated. During the omicron surge on Jan. 11, the unvaccinated proportion of hospitalized patients dropped to 56%, while 34% of patients were vaccinated but not boosted.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Environmental Quality Act’s unintended consequences cry out for reform.

California should expand inmate good conduct credits: Officials must not succumb to fearmongering and overturn the will of the voters by ignoring a promise made to thousands of people behind bars, argues Chala Bonner of the Safe Return Project.

Why my group sued over Indigenous chants: Ethnic studies must be treated as a rigorous intellectual endeavor rooted in empirical testing, not dogmatic presumptions on race, racism, power and oppression, argues Wenyuan Wu of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation.

Other things worth your time

Los Angeles prosecutors overwhelmingly want to oust their progressive boss George Gascón. // Politico

SF Unified school board to vote on hundreds of possible teacher, staff layoffs. // NBC Bay Area

California proposal would require school COVID testing plans. // Associated Press

Troubling questions follow closure of California pain clinic chain. // Kaiser Health News

California Congressman Adam Schiff asks FBI to investigate ‘deeply concerning’ misuse of rape exam DNA. // San Francisco Chronicle

Wrongly placed on state’s child abuse list, she fought years to clear her name. // San Diego Union-Tribune

CalPERS taps Canadian for chief investment officer. // Wall Street Journal

Mayoral candidate Karen Bass’ campaign manager departs. // Los Angeles Times

Truckers set to gather in California as People’s Convoy heads to D.C. // Los Angeles Times

Uber could settle misclassification lawsuit for $8.4 million under proposed agreement. // San Francisco Chronicle

Key upcoming decisions could intensify the battle over Uber and Lyft drivers’ employment status. // San Francisco Chronicle

CHP warns drivers about Northern California highway violence. // Sacramento Bee

California lawmaker brings bill targeting sheriff use of phone fees. // Sacramento Bee

Authorities seize more than 100 guns in Los Angeles County sweep. // Los Angeles Times

Inside California’s cannabis crisis. // Rolling Stone

California lawmaker introduces legislation to accept crypto as payment for government services. // Cointelegraph

California’s public universities are (mostly) full. Why not build another campus? // LAist

California beekeepers using tracking devices to protect precious hives. // Associated Press

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...