In summary

Starting today, the California mask mandate ends for the unvaccinated in most indoor settings in counties that allow it.

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Starting today, unvaccinated Californians can join inoculated residents in going maskless in most indoor settings in counties that allow it — but the state’s indoor mask mandate for schools and child care facilities will remain in place until 11:59 p.m. on March 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced Monday.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, said California is treating schools differently than other venues because people often can’t choose where they send their kids to school in the same way they can decide which businesses to patronize. 

  • Ghaly: “They go to school because that’s the school in their neighborhood. That’s the school they’re assigned to. That’s the school where they get essential services, developmental services, access to food. … And so we have all along treated schools a little bit differently.” 

Newsom unveiled the changes in a joint press release with fellow Democratic Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington — but those states had already announced a timeline for ending their school mask mandates. Oregon health officials on Feb. 7 said the rule would expire no later than March 31, and Inslee in a Feb. 17 Medium post said face masks would no longer be required in Washington schools and child care facilities starting March 21.

Teachers unions on Monday emphasized the importance of local decision-making in any changes to school mask policies.

  • E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association: “Simply put, while some students are ready to immediately remove their masks, others remain very afraid. We urge local school districts to continue to work with educators and families and to act cautiously while prioritizing the safety of students, educators and their families.”

Meanwhile, some parent groups suggested that Newsom and other state leaders could face political repercussions for requiring kids to wear face coverings at school long after they were made optional for most Californians in most locations other than health care settings, public transit, homeless shelters and prisons.

  • Megan Bacigalupi, executive director of California Parent Power: “The public health and state response to the pandemic has destroyed trust between California parents and elected officials regarding whether the public school system is prepared to put children first in a crisis. … As we move to the endemic stage of this pandemic, the governor and other elected officials must reckon with our anger and frustration.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 8,381,196 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 84,700 deaths (+0.8% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 71,572,458 vaccine doses, and 73.8% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. CA pushes for divestment from Russia

The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) headquarters in Sacramento on February 14, 2017. Photo by Max Whittaker, REUTERS
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System headquarters in Sacramento on Feb. 14, 2017. Photo by Max Whittaker, Reuters

California’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine escalated Monday, when a bipartisan group of state lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation that would require the state, its agencies and its public pension funds to divest from Russian-based companies and assets. 

  • State Sen. Mike McGuire, one of the bill’s co-authors: “California has unique and remarkable economic power in this circumstance. As the fifth-largest economy in the world, we must use this power for good. We can help stop this autocratic thug, Putin, by … enacting our own financial divestments.”
  • A lot of money is at stake: The California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System — the two largest public pension funds in the world — together control about $775 billion in assets, according to the Sacramento Bee. That includes the about $900 million worth of exposure to Russia that CalPERS had as of last week, according to Reuters. CalSTRS’s Russia investments, meanwhile, totaled less than $500 million as of Feb. 23, public information officer Bill Ainsworth told me Monday. “As with all investments, we monitor risks to position our portfolio appropriately,” he wrote in an email. “CalSTRS will also follow any relevant financial sanctions levied by the United States government.”
  • The California Legislative Jewish Caucus said the state should also consider other options to isolate Putin, including “seizure of real estate and other assets held in California, suspension of sister state relationships and mobilization of state resources.” The caucus also implored California to deliver humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians and to support and accept refugees.

And, because all politics is local, a top San Francisco teachers union official has sparked controversy for sharing a Facebook post that accused the U.S. of helping provoke the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

2. CA Dem Party grapples with internal divisions

Rusty Hicks, California Democratic Party Chair, at the California Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco in 2019. Image via Wikimedia
California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks at the party’s convention in San Francisco in 2019. Image via Wikimedia

Get ready for a lot of (virtual) tension on Friday, when California Democratic Party delegates are set to kick off their three-day annual party convention on Zoom. The convention, supposed to bring party members together, will likely showcase the splinters within their ranks as candidates seek endorsements for an unusually high number of open seats in the state Legislature.

  • Amar Shergill, the leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive caucus, is encouraging progressives to refrain from donating or volunteering for the party and instead focus their organizing energy on outside groups, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports.
  • Meanwhile, party leaders — who plan to endorse nearly all state lawmakers running for reelection — have responded to the caucus with “iron-fisted” actions, including essentially blocking it from withholding support for lawmakers who opposed a failed single-payer health care bill and watering down its proposal to stop accepting money from oil and gas companies and law enforcement groups.
  • Shergill: “The party uses every advantage it has under the bylaws to ensure there is no democracy in the Democratic Party.”
  • Tenoch Flores, a former communications director for the California Democratic Party: “One of the beliefs is that if you have impassioned speeches and you scream truth to power, you can have policy change overnight. They’re not able to make good on any of their threats.”

The divisions in the Democratic Party were also showcased in a Monday scorecard from Courage California, the state’s largest progressive organization. While some Democratic lawmakers were named “all-stars” for “never fail(ing) to put people first” despite “corporate pressure,” others were placed in the “Hall of Shame” for “aligning with corporations and lobbyists instead of everyday Californians.”

3. California election updates

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian on the final day of the 2019-20 legislative session on Aug. 31, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Speaking of elections, let’s take a closer look at some key election-related developments:

  • Today, law enforcement leaders are set to announce their endorsement for California attorney general — heightening the stakes in what’s likely to be one of the most closely watched statewide elections this year.
  • Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, a Van Nuys Democrat, on Monday became the latest state lawmaker to announce that he will not seek reelection in 2022 — avoiding what likely would have been a fierce Dem-on-Dem clash with Assemblymember Laura Friedman of Burbank. Nazarian said he instead plans to run for Los Angeles City Council in 2024.
  • Also Monday, Democratic Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach unveiled a bill to ban ranked-choice voting, a system that he said “currently has a foothold” in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Leandro, Albany, Eureka and Palm Desert. “The election process can be slow and voters sometimes deliver surprises, but the current system where voters clearly select one choice works,” O’Donnell said. “The right to vote … should not be molded into something akin to playing a predictive video game.”
  • Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle did a deep dive on Mark Anthony Jacoby, whose company is collecting signatures for two high-profile measures that could end up on California’s 2022 ballot. Jacoby was previously convicted of falsifying his California voter registration and has been accused of using misleading methods to obtain voters’ signatures in other states, the Chronicle found.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Will sports betting be California’s next legal vice?

Change California’s automatic voter registration process: An oversight in the state’s implementation of the law has clouded understanding of its impact on people of color, write Mindy Romero of USC’s Price School of Public Policy, Mike Alvarez of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project and Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California.

New state privacy agency needs more time to develop rules: We are deeply concerned about the unintended consequences of rushing these regulations, especially for small, minority-owned businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, argue Julian Cañete, president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, and Edwin Lombard, former president and CEO of the California African American Chamber of Commerce.

Other things worth your time

Father kills 4, including 3 of his children, before shooting himself at Sacramento-area church // Sacramento Bee 

Richard Blum, husband of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, dies at 86. // Associated Press

California snow levels plummet in February, ensuring third year of drought. // San Francisco Chronicle

PG&E seeks higher monthly electric bills to put lines underground. // Mercury News

Cost-of-living increases for CalPERS pensions rise to highest level in 30 years. // Sacramento Bee

Newsom says he won’t intervene to stop Oakland schools from permanently closing. // KQED

Enrollment dropped faster than expected at San Diego Unified. // San Diego Union-Tribune

California EDD improves language access for non-English speakers. // San Francisco Chronicle

Big investors snapping up homes — but not in the Bay Area. // Mercury News

The California ZIP codes where home prices rose the most in the pandemic. // San Francisco Chronicle

Saratoga’s plan for future housing leaves residents frustrated. // Mercury News

Irvine forgoes property taxes to convert 1,000-plus units to middle-income housing. // Orange County Register

Number of CalFresh recipients skyrockets in Bay Area counties. // San Francisco Chronicle

London Breed wants office workers back in San Francisco. Not everyone is on board. // San Francisco Chronicle

How San Jose plans to spend the first chunk of Google’s $200 million community benefit package. // Mercury News

Fresno County leaders deny funding to public health project. // Fresno Bee

Why one California city might double down on natural gas. // Capital & Main

State fires Sacramento County Fair chief following critical financial audits. // Sacramento Bee

Leadership changes announced at SEIU California. // Sacramento Bee

SEIU Local 1000 VPs suspend elected union president. // Sacramento Bee

Meet the Modesto Police Department’s first Black lieutenant. // Sacramento Bee

CDCR begins accepting inmates after pausing because of COVID-19 uptick in prisons. // Bakersfield Californian

Four shootings in 32 hours leave residents on edge in Mountain View, Mount Hope. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Fentanyl death exposes Hollywood drug delivery business. // Los Angeles Times

Girl Scout cookies: There’s a shortage of Samoas and S’mores in Southern California. // Los Angeles 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...