In summary

A key advocate left the PG&E wildfire victims fund after he was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal at Sonoma State University.

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All roads lead to Sacramento.

That’s one takeaway from the convoluted series of events that led to tens of thousands of PG&E wildfire victims losing one of their top advocates in the state Capitol this week — just one day after veteran lobbyist Patrick McCallum pitched Gov. Gavin Newsom’s staff on the idea of a $1.5 billion loan to ensure survivors are fully compensated.

The PG&E Fire Victim Trust announced Wednesday that it and McCallum had “agreed to part ways, effective immediately, in light of certain recent publicly disclosed developments.”

Those developments could pose problems not only for the already beleaguered Fire Victim Trust — which a KQED investigation found has been slow to pay victims and quick to rack up big bills for lawyers and consultants — but also for the California State University system. Here’s why:

  • McCallum, who is married to Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki, allegedly sexually harassed several women at a party at his house. The women reported the incidents to then-provost Lisa Vollendorf, who in turn reported them to CSU officials, prompting retaliation from Sakaki, according to a claim Vollendorf lodged against CSU and which the system paid $600,000 this year to settle, according to investigations from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Los Angeles Times. McCallum denies the allegations.
  • Sakaki, who denies retaliating against Vollendorf, initially defended her husband but announced Monday that she is separating from McCallum. She’s now facing challenges of her own: The executive committee of Sonoma State’s academic senate voted Thursday to advance a vote of no confidence in her leadership, and Democratic state Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa said her response “deserves close scrutiny by the CSU chancellor and board of trustees as to how the interests of students and employees can be best served going forward.”
  • It’s the latest scandal to embroil CSU, whose chancellor resigned in February amid accusations that he mishandled sexual harassment complaints against a high-ranking colleague while president of Fresno State. The system has since launched multiple independent investigations into its own policies.

But let’s pivot back to PG&E — and run through a rapid round of Thursday environmental news:

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,550,657 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 89,054 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 74,361,797 vaccine doses, and 75.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. COVID workplace rules extended

Roxanna Torres prepares to-go meals at Baker & Commons in Berkeley on Jan. 19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Roxanna Torres prepares to-go meals at Baker & Commons in Berkeley on Jan. 19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Even as California winds down key components of its emergency COVID response, Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace safety agency, voted Thursday to extend mandatory pay for workers sent home for coronavirus-related reasons, the Associated Press reports. This so-called “exclusion pay” is on top of the COVID-related sick leave program Newsom and state lawmakers recently extended through Sept. 30 (but which exempts at least 1 in 4 California workers). Some business groups pushed back against the Cal/OSHA regulation, citing a provision that says exposed employees should receive exclusion pay until they test negative, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In other COVID economy news:

2. GOP gears up for convention

Republican candidate for controller Lanhee Chen outside of his office in Sacramento on Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Today, California Republicans are set to gather in Anaheim for the party’s annual convention, which lasts through Sunday and includes speeches from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and other GOP bigwigs, a “chocolate and cigars” reception and party endorsements for the upcoming election. McCarthy’s appearance got a lot more complicated after a bombshell report late Thursday that he wanted Donald Trump to resign as president following the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. McCarthy wants to replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House speaker if Republicans retake the House from Democrats in this year’s mid-term election. (Make sure to follow CalMatters political reporter Sameea Kamal, who’s covering the convention on the ground.)

The event comes at an interesting time for the GOP, which is still licking its wounds after Newsom overwhelmingly defeated last year’s recall attempt: On the one hand, Republican controller candidate Lanhee Chen on Thursday secured an influential endorsement from the Los Angeles Times; on the other, the powerful Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association endorsed independent Michael Shellenberger for governor over state Sen. Brian Dahle, the most prominent GOP candidate. (However, given Newsom’s resounding victory in the recall, it’s doubtful any Republican could mount a credible challenge against him.)

3. Meet the enforcers of CA’s housing laws

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

California — which has an annual budget north of $280 billion — is largely relying on YIMBY, or “yes in my backyard” activists, to enforce a new state law that allows property owners to build duplexes and, in some cases, fourplexes on most single-family parcels, CalMatters’ award-winning housing reporter Manuela Tobias writes in this fascinating piece. And while some of the enforcement is happening in court and some of it is happening via complaints filed with the state, a lot of it is happening on Twitter.

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CalMatters commentary

Cheaper energy rates could help consumers go electric: California’s electricity rates are high because of years of expensive decisions. New demand for environmentally beneficial electricity should not be saddled with those legacy costs, argues Steven J. Moss of the Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition.

Other things worth your time

Harris focuses on maternal health in California as the White House struggles on midterm message. // Los Angeles Times

Suit: Social workers, LAPD ignored signs before kids’ deaths. // Los Angeles Times

Overdose deaths at city-funded facilities totaled 246 over two years. // San Francisco Standard

S.F. police responding to fewer mental-health calls, but officials call for quicker action. // San Francisco Chronicle

Did S.F. deliver on promise to redirect $120 million from law enforcement to Black community? // San Francisco Chronicle

California cities are rethinking their marijuana business bans. // Reason

L.A. says it can’t take care of its sickest and most vulnerable. The county isn’t buying it. // Los Angeles Times

Fixing the crisis in California’s nursing homes. // Capital & Main

Mold and sewage plague South L.A. apartments even after inspections, tenants say. // Los Angeles Times

California’s radical plan to defend homes from sea level rise: move them. // San Francisco Chronicle

L.A. company faked COVID test results, authorities say. // Los Angeles Times

LASD didn’t get approval for Villanueva helipad, audit finds. // Los Angeles Times

Inmates in Santa Clara County may wear ‘non-removable’ electronic wristbands. // Mercury News

Woman’s 1999 cold-case killing in her East Bay home solved by DNA sleuthing, authorities say. // San Francisco Chronicle

UC Berkeley lifts lockdown over threat; classes cancelled. // Associated Press

How Lowell’s diversity compares to other elite public high schools around the U.S. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Dieguito superintendent placed on administrative leave. // San Diego Union-Tribune

California’s rural far north grapples with declining enrollment. // EdSource

School enrollment in S.F. is a maddening ‘mystery.’ Here’s why it’s even worse this year. // San Francisco Chronicle

Leaders raise concerns about proposal to switch city to ‘instant runoff’ voting. // San Diego Union-Tribune

49ers give major contribution to San Jose mayoral candidate Cindy Chavez. // Mercury News

Opinion: Riding a bike in California shouldn’t be this dangerous. // New York Times

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...