In summary

Republican legislators tried to force a vote on ending the COVID state of emergency and cited the Super Bowl.

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The forecast for Super Bowl Sunday in Inglewood, Los Angeles County: unseasonably warm, with a chance of political controversy.

First, there was this week’s warning from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that truck drivers protesting vaccine mandates may seek to snarl Super Bowl traffic or to impede security operations — actions apparently inspired by trucker demonstrations blockading parts of the U.S.-Canada border.

Then, there are questions about who will benefit from a game expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors to a new $5 billion stadium built in a city that for years was so financially strapped it struggled to provide basic services to residents, most of whom are people of color.

  • In a Thursday poll from the Los Angeles Times and SurveyMonkey, 59% of Los Angeles-area residents said that they think large corporations and the wealthy benefit most from big events like the Super Bowl and Olympics, compared to 35% who said the same for local businesses and average residents.
  • Bellflower resident Dollie Lee: “Imagine investing $5,000” — the price of some of the cheapest Super Bowl tickets available Wednesday morning — “per student in arts or reading or after-school activities … I just want to see where the tax dollars and revenue from this go.”

And then there are the optics of the Super Bowl itself: tens of thousands of people crowding into SoFi Stadium — albeit with strict vaccine-or-testing and masking rules — in the middle of a pandemic.

Republican lawmakers seized — quite literally — on this image Thursday, when many showed up at the state Capitol in Sacramento wearing face masks emblazoned with the now-infamous photo of Gov. Gavin Newsom posing maskless with Magic Johnson at last month’s NFC Championship game, also at SoFi Stadium.

Their goal: Force a vote on ending California’s pandemic state of emergency — which would also terminate Newsom’s emergency powers. However, Democratic legislators voted against weighing in on proposals to do so.

  • Assemblymember Kevin Kiley, a Rocklin Republican and one of the proposal’s co-authors: “California is hosting the actual Super Bowl during a state of emergency. It is time to end the absurdity and let the people of California get back to their lives.”

Newsom, who on Thursday signed into law a $1.9 billion emergency COVID package, slammed the effort from Kiley and co-author Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City.

  • Newsom’s office: “Apparently, Asm. Kiley and Asm. Gallagher believe it would have been better to let Californians die and be turned away from care when hospitals reached capacity during the omicron surge.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 8,181,224 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 81,074 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 70,454,894 vaccine doses, and 73.7% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. California sues Tesla

Tesla workers examine a Model S used for training and tool calibration at the company's factory in Fremont on June 22, 2012. REUTERS/Noah Berger
Tesla workers examine a Model S at the company’s factory in Fremont on June 22, 2012. Photo by Noah Berger, Reuters

In the latest sign of bad blood between California and Tesla, the state’s civil rights regulator sued the electric-car maker late Wednesday night, alleging that “Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion.”

  • The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said its lawsuit was sparked by hundreds of worker complaints, including one from a Black employee who heard racial slurs as often as 50 to 100 times a day and others who said workers flashed Confederate flag tattoos as a means of intimidation. The department said other complaints alleged that “swastikas, ‘KKK,’ the n-word and other racist writing are etched onto walls of restrooms, restroom stalls, lunch tables and even factory machinery.”
  • Tesla, in a blog post published before the lawsuit was filed, said it will ask the court to pause the case. It also slammed the state for “attacking a company like Tesla that has done so much good for California,” noting that the Fremont factory “has a majority-minority workforce and provides the best paying jobs in the automotive industry to over 30,000 Californians.”
  • The lawsuit marks yet another rift between California and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who early on in the pandemic defied COVID lockdown rules to keep the Fremont factory open and later moved himself and the company’s headquarters to Texas.

News of the lawsuit came the same day as reports that California in 2021 became the first state to register more than a million electric and plug-in hybrid cars — and the federal government’s announcement that California is eligible for nearly $384 million in electric vehicle infrastructure funding over the next five years.

2. Scientists battle for better pay

Christina Toms, an Ecological Engineer and Senior Scientist with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, (center in light blue jacket) checks up on a new wetland restoration project she has been overseeing for the last year in partnership with the Army Corp of Engineers, and the National Park Service at Drake’s Beach in Point Reyes on Oct. 21, 2021. Nina Riggio for CalMatters
Christina Toms, center, an ecological engineer and senior scientist with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, at Drake’s Beach in Point Reyes on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters

Newsom has taken pains throughout the pandemic to emphasize the importance of “following the science” — but members of his own administration warned two years ago that underpaying state scientists is compromising California’s ability to follow through on its scientific endeavors, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Now, the union representing staff scientists is trying to negotiate a new contract to close the wage gap with other state workers, particularly engineers.

  • Though state engineers and scientists generally have comparable qualifications and do similar work, full-time rank-and-file state scientists on average earned 27% less than state engineers in 2020 wages, Rachel reports.
  • The scientists union argues that this disparity could be partly due to a gender pay gap, noting that about 78% of state engineers identify as men while the gender ratio is roughly even among state scientists.
  • Tricia Lee, a senior environmental scientist with the state’s Delta Stewardship Council: “I think there continues to be a narrative that state scientists are doing less important or … less technical work, and therefore are less deserving.”

3. Fire-related updates

The sun peaks through the smokey skies from the Camp Fire and a PG&E transmission line November 12, 2018, three miles west of Pulga, Calif. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group
The sun peeks through smoky skies and a PG&E transmission line on Nov. 12, 2018, near where the Camp Fire started. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

In case there was any doubt as to whether the Golden State’s fire season is now year-round, two fires broke out Thursday in Southern California amid summer-like temperatures and gusty Santa Ana winds, forcing thousands of evacuations in an affluent Orange County community near Laguna Beach and destroying at least two homes near the Los Angeles suburb of Whittier.

  • Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy: “This is supposed to be the middle of winter, and we’re anticipating 80- to 90-degree weather. … If this is any sign of what’s to come throughout the rest of the winter and spring, we’re in for a long year.”

The news came the same day that PG&E estimated its years-long plan to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in wildfire-prone areas could cost more than $25 billion. The utility — which recently secured a wildfire safety certificate from Newsom’s administration against the wishes of environmental justice advocates — also got the go-ahead from state regulators Thursday to increase rates for the second time this year. Starting in March, the average customer’s monthly bill will jump by 9.2%, or around $14, the Mercury News calculates.

CalMatters commentary

Why is California banning Indigenous philosophies in the classroom? If politicos want to outlaw Indigenous knowledge, they should learn it first, argues Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, a professor in Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona.

Paper water is a California constant: We all need to keep saying the state should calculate the actual amount of water available until the agencies in charge wake up, writes Jan McCleery, former president of Save the California Delta Alliance.

Other things worth your time

LA County on track to relax some outdoor mask rules. // Los Angeles Times

Oscars: In-person attendance won’t be contingent upon COVID vaccination. // Hollywood Reporter

Which GOP candidates will run to replace Devin Nunes? // CalMatters

3 Democrats vie for Elk Grove Assembly seat in state Legislature. // Sacramento Bee

Capitol staffers tell job gripes and slam bad bosses — anonymously. // Capitol Weekly

The gig workers of California community colleges face worsening conditions. // EdSource

Exits by teachers of color pose a new threat to COVID education. // California Healthline

California senators propose public fund for journalism. // The Hill

Does Fresno’s new rule make it harder to help the homeless? // CalMatters

COVID eviction battles have moved to the Bay Area suburbs. // San Francisco Chronicle

Survey underscores LA voters’ anger about homelessness. // Los Angeles Times

West Oakland’s only full-scale grocery store is shutting down. // San Francisco Chronicle

High-level OC prosecutor dismissed from District Attorney’s Office. // Orange County Register

3 million plaintiffs seek $1.2B from California health firm. // Associated Press

BART faces ‘most challenging revenue outlook’ in history as low ridership numbers persist. // San Francisco Chronicle

Paying by the mile for California roads and infrastructure. // Capitol Weekly

Older Koreatown businesses struggle amid COVID surge while hip spots thrive. // Los Angeles Times

Bay Area Starbucks, Chipotle stores closed or shortening hours due to omicron. // Mercury News

As drought continues, Southern California offers millions to buy Sacramento Valley water. // Sacramento Bee

Cupertino quarry and cement plant may be bought and shut down by Santa Clara County government. // Mercury News

Rare wayward dove lands in Palo Alto, sparking birdwatching frenzy. // Mercury News

See you Monday.

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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...