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On the surface, California’s economic recovery from the pandemic is looking rosier and rosier — but underneath, worker discontent is brewing.

Today, nursing home workers are scheduled to hold events across the state — including a vigil at the Capitol — to honor California’s nearly 10,000 nursing home residents and employees lost to COVID-19. And, alongside Democratic lawmakers, they’re set to unveil a proposal to create a Skilled Nursing Facility Quality Standards Board that would allow workers to help set statewide staffing and wage standards.

  • The plan evokes another controversial bill making its way through the Legislature that would permit the state to negotiate wages, hours and work conditions for the entire fast-food industry.
  • And it follows a February poll from SEIU Local 2015 — which represents California long-term care employees — that found half of nursing home workers are likely to leave their current position in the next year. A whopping 86% cited staffing levels and wages as their top concerns.
  • SEIU 2015 Executive Vice President Arnulfo De La Cruz: “Long-term care workers have been on the front lines protecting our communities throughout the pandemic, but they are quitting in droves due to lack of fair pay and protections.”

Nursing home workers aren’t the only ones putting their foot down.

Given the state’s shrunken labor force, employee dissatisfaction and “ongoing employer complaints of the difficulty of finding workers,” it’s “surprising” that California posted such massive job gains in February, said Michael Bernick, a former director of the state Employment Development Department and an attorney at Duane Morris.

  • The Golden State added a whopping 138,100 nonfarm payroll jobs last month — accounting for 20.4% of the nation’s new jobs — as its unemployment rate fell to 5.4%, EDD announced Friday. That’s significantly lower than its revised January rate of 5.7%.
  • Though it’s higher than the national jobless rate of 3.8%, California no longer has the country’s highest unemployment rate: It’s now tied with Alaska for the third-highest, behind New Mexico and the District of Columbia.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom: “These latest numbers show that California is continuing to drive our nation’s job growth.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 8,476,399 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 87,809 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,589,987 vaccine doses, and 74.4% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Gas rebate poses existential questions

Vehicles head westbound on Interstate 580 toward Oakland on July 22, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Newsom wants to give California car owners up to $800 to offset the skyrocketing cost of gas, which reached a per-gallon average of $5.91 on Sunday. Yet he’s also directed the state to prohibit new oil fracking by 2024 and ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. What gives?

  • Although that may sound like a multibillion-dollar contradiction, sending drivers gas money wouldn’t necessarily undercut California’s climate goals. CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports why.
  • But the higher gas prices rise, the more bipartisan pressure builds on Newsom to ramp up in-state oil production. GOP state Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield unveiled a bill Friday that would ban California from importing crude oil from nations “with demonstrated human rights abuses” or lower environmental standards. State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a Hanford Democrat, also touted California’s strict standards for oil production in a Sunday KSEE segment. “There’s so many benefits in being able to produce more in the state of California, and in the Central Valley particularly,” she said. “Not having enough oil for drivers … I don’t try to politicize these issues, because they’re directly tied to, and can impact, working families and families that are struggling.”
  • Indeed, for many critics, the central problem with Newsom’s proposal is its failure to recognize that “inflation is far less damaging for rich families than for poor families,” as Annie Lowrey put it in a Saturday column in the Atlantic.

State Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat, is leveraging a similar argument in advancing a bill that would increase the wage percentage low-income workers can earn while taking paid family leave, CalMatters’ Lil Kalish reports. Under the program’s current structure, Durazo said, “low-wage workers are subsidizing the leave of higher-wage workers.”

2. Mixed reactions to proposed eviction ban

Demonstrators surround Los Angeles Superior Court to protest an upcoming wave of evictions on Aug. 21, 2020. Photo by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

Today, state lawmakers are set to consider a last-minute proposal that would extend eviction protections — currently set to expire Thursday — until June 30 for Californians applying for funds from the state’s COVID rent relief program, which has struggled to quickly process paperwork and distribute money. But some advocacy groups for both tenants and landlords are unhappy with the bill, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports.

  • Christine Kevane La Marca, president of the California Rental Housing Association: “Rental housing providers are being forced to carry the financial weight of the pandemic and some of them will lose their properties as a result.”
  • However, the bill only covers tenants who apply for state rent relief by Thursday. And it also limits local governments’ ability to enact new tenant protections, concerning advocates who point out that in the most recent survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 977,000 California households at all income levels reported no confidence in their ability to pay April’s rent.

In other California housing news: Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, unveiled a bill Friday that could result in the state earmarking about $10 billion annually for a decade to address homelessness. “California must create an ongoing funding source tied to an investment strategy to end homelessness and produce more affordable housing,” Wicks said. Previous legislative attempts to create an ongoing source of funding for homelessness — a 2020 bill proposed $2 billion annually — failed.

3. Revamping the 911 response

Nevada County Sheriff’s Deputy Galen Spittler, left, and licensed clinician Ernesto Alvarado on patrol in Penn Valley on March 15, 2022. Photo by Max Whittaker for CalMatters

Who do you call in a mental health crisis? For many people, the answer is 911 — but, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and a national reckoning over police use of force, an increasing number of California communities are trying a new approach: pairing law enforcement officers with behavioral health clinicians who can help respond to the mental illness, homelessness and substance abuse often underlying emergency calls, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports.

  • The big question facing California — especially as the state prepares to launch a new mental health hotline and lawmakers consider Newsom’s proposal to force more mentally ill people into treatment — is whether such an approach will help vulnerable people access needed services while reducing fatal encounters with police.
  • As a case study, Alexei takes us to Nevada County, which launched its first mobile crisis team — a sheriff’s deputy plus a mental health clinician — in October 2020. Less than four months later, law enforcement officers shot and killed a distressed woman brandishing a knife. The mobile crisis team had been unavailable to respond to the incident.
  • Ernesto Alvarado, the clinician on the mobile crisis team, told Alexei there’s no guarantee the situation would have turned out differently if he’d been there: “I’m not a wizard. I can’t just wave my hand and calm everybody.”
  • Meanwhile, demand is growing for the mobile crisis team’s services: “We are the catch-all for everything,” said sheriff’s deputy Galen Spittler. “If someone doesn’t know how to fix something, we are the fixers.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: “Tax expenditures” are a backdoor way for California to spend billions of dollars without the same scrutiny as other forms of spending.

It’s time to investigate the state water department: I’ve asked the California State Auditor to investigate the Department of Water Resources’ operations and management and figure out how the state wasted enough water to provide for at least 1.4 million households for a year, writes Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat.

California needs to build lots of transmission infrastructure — fast: Two bills moving through the Legislature give us a fighting chance of building our way out of the climate crisis, argue Michael Colvin of the Environmental Defense Fund and V. John White of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

Other things worth your time

State ships millions of free COVID tests to schools to prepare for return from spring break. // Associated Press

State legislation to close ‘pay-to-play loophole’ for local officials and contractors is up for vote. // KCET

A deep dive into Newsom’s plan to overhaul mental health policy. // Capitol Weekly

Opinion: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown are the dynamic duo the world has been waiting for. // San Francisco Chronicle

‘Is there another election?’: Assembly candidates go door to door in search of every possible vote. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento County candidate wants to call himself a teacher. He got a permit last month. // Sacramento Bee

Andi Mudryk is first transgender judge appointed in California. // Los Angeles Times

How three Bay Area health leaders managed the COVID crisis. // San Francisco Chronicle

SEIU Local 1000 president fails to regain leadership powers. // Sacramento Bee

Hayward police to pay hiring bonuses of up to $20,000. // Mercury News

Parole recommended for 1976 California school bus hijacker. // Associated Press

Fearing bad publicity, LASD covered up case of deputy who knelt on inmate’s head. // Los Angeles Times

One death, 12 deputies, two trials, $85 million: inside a record-setting civil rights case. // San Diego Union-Tribune

9 charged in organized retail thefts throughout California. // Associated Press

SeaWorld defaults on back rent to city; San Diego says pay up. // San Diego Union-Tribune

A stalled housing project asks: Should we preserve Bay Area hillsides or watch ‘people move to Texas’? // San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area air regulators didn’t tell public about illegal emissions for three years. Can residents trust what comes next? // San Francisco Chronicle

This weekend’s storm could drop the most rain the Bay Area has seen this year. // San Francisco Chronicle

Searching for fire survivors in one of California’s rarest forests with Butano Cypress. // Mercury News

California groundbreaking set for largest wildlife crossing. // Associated Press

Farmers, activists, investors fight over treatment of pregnant pigs. // Wall Street Journal

California education reformer Marion Joseph dies at 95. // 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...