In summary

Even with the California drought, urban residents used 2.6% more water in January 2022 than they did in January 2020.

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California is going in the wrong direction when it comes to addressing the state’s persistent drought.

Urban residents used 2.6% more water in January 2022 than they did in January 2020, state water officials reported Tuesday — despite Gov. Gavin Newsom last year urging all Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15% and declaring a statewide drought emergency.

  • Statewide, Californians reduced their water use 6.5% from July 2021 to January compared to the same period in 2020 — less than half of Newsom’s goal.

And, with the state recording its driest January and February in history amid a dwindling Sierra Nevada snowpack — which provides California with about a third of its water supply — some experts say it’s past time for Newsom to issue mandatory statewide water restrictions, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.

Newsom administration officials declined to say Tuesday if the governor is considering mandatory cutbacks — though he suggested last year such measures were possible if the drought worsened.

Instead, the governor’s office outlined plans Sunday night to double down on public campaigns to educate Californians about water conservation efforts. The administration also announced a $22.5 million drought emergency package that allocates:

“Climate change has fundamentally altered the state’s hydrologic cycle,” Newsom’s office said in a statement on Tuesday — the same day that California Environmental Voters, an influential advocacy group, issued a scorecard giving California a “D” for its 2021 response to the climate crisis. Newsom got an 82% — his lowest mark yet.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,439,055 confirmed cases (+0.01% from previous day) and 86,792 deaths (-0.002% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,261,187 vaccine doses, and 74.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. COVID state of emergency to stay

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during the State of the State in Sacramento on March 8, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Newsom speaks during the State of the State in Sacramento on March 8, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters political reporter Sameea Kamal: A Republican-led proposal to end California’s COVID state of emergency — and terminate Newsom’s pandemic emergency powers — failed to pass a key Senate committee Tuesday, though the bill’s author, state Sen. Melissa Melendez of Murrieta, can bring it back later for another vote. But Tuesday’s party-line vote — with 4 Republicans supporting the measure and 8 Democrats opposing it — suggests it doesn’t stand much of a chance of clearing the supermajority-Democratic Legislature. It’s the second big loss for the GOP in as many days: On Monday, the Assembly declined to consider a Republican proposal to suspend California’s gas excise tax for six months.

  • Melendez: “California has been under a state of emergency for more than 700 days. … It’s time for the state to allow local governments to take the lead and address emergencies locally without the shotgun approach of a statewide emergency.”
  • Though the bill garnered some public support — including from Californians for Good Governance, a Placer County Board of Supervisors representative and Placer County Moms for Liberty — it was opposed by a host of powerful groups, including the California Hospital Association, California Labor Federation, California Professional Firefighters and the cities of San Jose, Oakland, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. They said the flexibility in health care administration granted by the emergency declaration was still needed.
  • The Newsom administration last month unveiled plans to phase out many COVID executive orders and said that by the end of June, just 30 of the original 561 measures will remain.

Another bill that failed to advance Tuesday: A Democratic-led proposal to crack down on crime by reauthorizing district attorneys to prosecute organized retail theft and similar crimes that often cross county lines. But the bill’s author, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks, can bring it back later for another vote.

2. More money for struggling renters

Protesters surround the Los Angeles Superior Court to prevent an upcoming wave of evictions and call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to pass an eviction moratorium in Los Angeles on Aug. 21, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Protesters surround the Los Angeles Superior Court to prevent upcoming evictions on Aug. 21, 2020. Photo by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

California has received an additional $136 million in federal pandemic rent relief funds to help tenants stay housed and landlords paid, the state Department of Housing and Community Development announced Tuesday. The good news comes ahead of a fast-approaching deadline: Under state law, landlords will be able to evict tenants who failed to pay rent by April 1. And although the state says it’s distributed more than $2.36 billion to assist more than 206,000 low-income households so far, a study released earlier this month found that only 16% of the Californians who applied for rent relief from the state had received the money.

In other Tuesday California housing news:

3. CA labor disputes go national

The US Supreme court in Washington DC. Photo by Richard Sharrocks via iStock
The U.S. Supreme court in Washington, D.C. Photo by Richard Sharrocks via iStock

Pushback to California’s strict worker protection laws is going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Later this month, the nation’s highest court is slated to hear a case that could overturn a California law allowing workers to sue their employers for violating state labor regulations, such as not paying minimum wage or granting required meal and rest breaks, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The law, known as PAGA — the Private Attorneys General Act — was California’s way of blocking companies from requiring workers to settle such disputes out of court and in private arbitration. But many businesses oppose PAGA and say it violates federal law. At stake: lots of money and workers’ ability to hold employers accountable. 

  • Paul Clement, an attorney representing Viking River Cruises, the defendant in the PAGA case before the Supreme Court: PAGA lawsuits are “extracting millions of dollars from employers … (as) another tax for doing business in California.”
  • Attorney General Rob Bonta: PAGA is essential in “ensuring the fair and legal treatment of some of the state’s most vulnerable workers, including those in the agricultural, garment and frontline service industries.” 
  • Further complicating matters: A group called Californians for Fair Pay and Accountability, composed of prominent trade and business groups, is collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot measure to repeal PAGA

That isn’t the only California labor law making headlines: The airline industry wants the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a lower court ruling that found California-based flight crews are subject to state laws giving them more meal and rest breaks than guaranteed under federal law, the Associated Press reports. According to airline groups, complying with California’s law could cost the industry between $3.5 billion and $8.5 billion annually. 

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s dominant Democratic Party is taking heat from both progressives and more conservative unions.

Put the brakes on new data privacy policies: California’s chaotic, rapid-fire onslaught of privacy laws and regulations threatens to harm businesses and eclipse a well-intentioned effort to protect consumers, argues Pat Fong Kushida, president and CEO of the California Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Ballot initiative would restore clean air: Leading environmental, labor and business groups have coalesced behind a ballot measure to reduce emissions from transportation and wildfires, write Mary Creasman, CEO of California Environmental Voters, and Joel Barton, secretary-treasurer of the State Association of Electrical Workers.

Other things worth your time

California to send medical supplies to help Ukrainian refugees. // KCRA

California gas prices reach $5.75 a gallon but falling oil prices could mean cheaper gas in the weeks ahead. // Mercury News

How high oil prices threaten a California plastic container business. // New York Times

Oil and gas industry heavily outspends clean energy, environmental groups on California lobbying. // Capital & Main

California’s climate fight may send its power demand soaring 90%. // Bloomberg

Instagram, TikTok could get sued for addicting kids under California proposal. // Politico

How California is building the nation’s first privacy police. // New York Times

Inside the fight for a new abortion clinic in one California city. // Reuters

Walnut Creek: New laws for Planned Parenthood protests. // East Bay Times

One Bay Area county says it could end homelessness this year. Can its approach spread? // San Francisco Chronicle

California legislation aims to limit minor league contracts. // Associated Press

State Bar breach of confidential attorney discipline records worse than originally reported. // Daily News

Will the real Modesto postmaster please stand up? // Modesto Bee

Russian oligarch indicted in campaign finance scheme had ties to Sacramento pot businessman. // Sacramento Bee

LAFD chief deputy allegedly drunk on job gets no discipline. // Los Angeles Times

Contra Costa Sheriff continues to stand by convicted deputy, even as audits are requested. // Mercury News

Del Norte County sheriff resigns after being charged with voter fraud. // Los Angeles Times

Survey: Many L.A. County Asian Americans fear racial attacks, don’t want to decrease police budgets. // Los Angeles Times

Victims of 2015 California bridge collapse to share $38.5 million settlement. // Mercury News

Californians deserve to know their houses are going to burn. // The Atlantic

Bay Area salmon fishing will be shorter this year to protect Northern California fish. // San Francisco Chronicle

Local paleontologists announce discovery of new San Diego saber-toothed catlike species. // 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...