In summary

California gas prices are the highest in the nation, posing political challenges for Newsom and lawmakers ahead of the 2022 election.

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That was the average price of a gallon of regular gas in California on Monday — a record high that shattered the record of $5.29 set just one day before, according to the American Automobile Association.

The double whammy of skyrocketing inflation and the possibility of Western bans on Russian oil due to that country’s war on Ukraine — which became real with President Biden’s announcement Tuesday of a U.S. ban on imports — has led to an unprecedented rate increase: Just last week, California’s average price for a gallon of regular gas was $4.83. A year ago, it was $3.75.

While California continues to post the nation’s highest gas prices, the United States set its own record Monday with an average price of $4.104 per gallon — breaking the previous all-time high of $4.103 set in 2008 just before the Great Recession, according to GasBuddy.

That’s a foreboding prediction for California, where the price of gas is quickly becoming one of the most politically contentious and urgent topics facing Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature as they seek to guide the state out of the pandemic and gear up for the 2022 elections.

  • Republican lawmakers, who are pushing to suspend California’s gas tax, have relentlessly slammed Democrats for the state’s sky-high gas prices and their disproportionate effect on low-income residents.
  • Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City: “This is a crisis of Democrats’ own making — from their war on domestic energy production to the taxes and mandates that add $1.27/gallon to the cost of gas.”
  • But many Democrats — who took on the perilous task of increasing the state gas tax in 2017 at the expense of one of their own members being recalled — are loath to suspend or water down the tax, pointing out the money helps fund critical infrastructure and public transit projects.

That puts Newsom in the middle. The governor, who’s proposed forgoing an annual increase to the gas tax set to take effect in July, is expected to discuss the pernicious effects of economic inequality in his annual State of the State speech tonight, CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo reports.

  • A Newsom aide told Alejandro: “One of the themes of the speech is going to be democracy, and tying that to how unchecked inequality undermines democracy.”

The challenge for Newsom may be connecting that rhetoric to what many Californians are experiencing at the gas pump.

  • San Jose resident Helen Pelayo: “The gas prices are ridiculous, that’s what they are. … I had to stretch my budget. I don’t go out to visit as often or go places. I just go to work and then go home.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 8,412,311 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 85,849 deaths (+0.6% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 71,926,958 vaccine doses, and 74% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Child care centers confront new mask rules

Oscar Tang, 35, watches over kids as they play at Modern Education Family Childcare in San Francisco on Thursday, January 20, 2022. The center had to close recently out of precaution after a child who attends the center had tested positive for Covid-19. Photo by Thalia Juarez for CalMatters
Oscar Tang watches as kids play at Modern Education Family Childcare in San Francisco on Jan. 20, 2022. Photo by Thalia Juarez for CalMatters

When California’s statewide school mask mandate expires at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, so too will its face covering requirement for child care centers — concerning some experts, advocates and parents who point out that COVID vaccines haven’t yet been authorized for kids ages 2 to 5, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

  • Shira Shafir, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health: “The wise thing to do is to continue to have children mask until they are eligible to be vaccinated and there is a sufficient number of them vaccinated to be protected.”
  • San Francisco Unified School District, for example, will allow middle and high school students to go maskless after March 11, but face coverings will be required in preschools and elementary schools through April 2.

Indeed, individual districts and child care providers still have the ability to keep stricter mask rules in place, and some plan to. But others, such as Aspen Leaf Preschool in San Diego, have long resisted face coverings. After a parent complained with state regulators about the preschool’s refusal to enforce the mask mandate, the California Department of Social Services interviewed kids about the school’s mask policy — apparently without any other adults present, infuriating many Aspen Leaf parents, the Voice of San Diego reports.

2. Bill would limit police use of survivor DNA

State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at a press conference in San Francisco on Jan. 21, 2022. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group
State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at a press conference in San Francisco on Jan. 21, 2022. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

Law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from using sexual assault survivors’ DNA samples for any purpose other than identifying the perpetrator of the crime under a bill introduced Monday by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco. The proposal, which would also block law enforcement from retaining those samples in searchable databases, comes a few weeks after San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin accused San Francisco police of using a survivor’s DNA to identify and arrest her in an unrelated crime. A subsequent USA Today investigation found the San Francisco Police Department has for more than seven years cross-checked DNA from sexual assault survivors, child victims and others to search for matches to suspects in unrelated criminal cases. Wiener’s bill is co-sponsored by Boudin, the Prosecutors Alliance of California and survivor advocates.

  • Wiener: “Sexual assault is among the most traumatic events that any person can experience, and we must do everything in our power to support and protect survivors who make the brave choice to come forward. It’s unacceptable to use survivors’ DNA — given expressly for the purpose of finding or prosecuting a perpetrator — to incriminate that same survivor.” 
  • Other law enforcement officials are taking pains to separate themselves from the San Francisco police department, which has already stopped cross-checking survivors’ DNA samples and called the practice “a horrendous mistake.”
  • Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen denounced the practice at a Monday press conference: “We want to protect victims of sexual assault — not collect evidence from them that could be used against them later. We haven’t and we’ll never do that,” he said.

3. 2022 election updates

Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) speaks during a press conference in Orinda on Feb. 17, 2020. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group
Sen. Steve Glazer speaks during a press conference in Orinda on Feb. 17, 2020. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

Ahead of a Friday deadline for candidates to file paperwork declaring their intention to run in the June 7 statewide primary election, some Californians threw their hats in the ring Monday:

Some key endorsements were also unveiled Monday:

  • Rep. Karen Bass, one of the leading contenders to replace Eric Garcetti as mayor of Los Angeles, was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • And Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones’ congressional campaign was endorsed by GOP Rep. Tom McClintock, who called Jones the “real conservative” in the race — an apparent dig at the other Republican contender, Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin.
  • Meanwhile, questions have emerged about the California Democratic Party’s endorsement of Michael Schaefer’s re-election bid for a state Board of Equalization seat, given the 84-year-old’s past — which includes a conviction for misdemeanor spousal abuse, legal sanctions for renting rodent-infested apartments and a restraining order blocking him from getting within 100 feet of actor Brad Garrett, of “Everybody Loves Raymond” fame, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: If California politicians want to help the poor, they should stop creating policies that harm them.

California must advance water projects: The state should focus on projects that will enhance water supply for everyone instead of getting sidetracked by issues that won’t add one drop of water to our supply, argues Bill Diedrich, president of the California Farm Water Coalition.

California needs more ambitious zero-emission vehicle rules: State regulators should set a sales standard of 75% new pollution-free cars by 2030 to help us reach our climate and air quality goals, writes David Reichmuth of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Other things worth your time

California lawmaker stopped at airport security after loaded gun found in bag. // Politico

Skelton: California gun laws are irrelevant if not enforced. // Los Angeles Times

California courts will relax COVID rules, but want lawmakers to allow remote appearances. // San Francisco Chronicle

A militia helps conservatives spread influence in liberal California. // Washington Post

Online university fined $22M for misleading California students. // Associated Press

What happens when an elite San Francisco public high school becomes open to all? // New Yorker

California union takes ‘legal action’ after suspended president occupied Sacramento HQ. // Sacramento Bee

San Francisco may embrace fourplexes — while undercutting part of state density law. // San Francisco Chronicle

Concerns grow over Urban Alchemy’s security work in the Tenderloin. // San Francisco Standard

Google and Twitter launch experiment on Silicon Valley work. // Mercury News

Breed signals broad support for unionized Amazon shop in private meeting. // San Francisco Standard

San Diego Unified chooses longtime district educator as its new superintendent. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Will a universal dyslexia screening test mislabel California’s English learners? // EdSource

Southwestern College: Allowing Kumeyaay free use of facilities not racial preferential treatment. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Congressional race in Little Saigon is focused on China. // Orange County Register

These California Latino farmers have built success. Can it survive for their children? // NBC News

Stretching California’s rice belt. // Modern Farmer

LA sank them into debt. Will this family find a better life in rural California? // Los Angeles Times

State seeking help with outreach for water issues in rural valley communities. // Bakersfield Californian

Environmental groups press California on electric car rules. // Reuters

Why is California wasting millions on hydrogen fuel? // Canary Media

Stitching the Bay Area’s 2,600 miles of trails together is goal of new collaborative. // San Francisco Chronicle

Coastal Commission threatens enforcement to stop railroad fence in Del Mar. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Rare kangaroo rat struggles for survival amid California development. // Los Angeles Times

A California startup believes it can one day speed delivery by storing items in orbit. // New York Times

In search of the California barbecue tradition. // New York Times

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...