California water use is going up despite repeated calls for conservation, increasing penalties and pressure on Gov. Newsom.
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Get ready for a summer of brown lawns, water cops and even public shaming.
The stakes of California’s devastating drought got a lot higher on Tuesday, when state water officials announced that residents and businesses used nearly 19% more water in March than they did two years ago, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.
The massive increase represents California’s highest level of water use since 2015 — and is a sharp rebuke of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plea last year that Californians voluntarily slash their water use by 15%.
The backsliding increases pressure on Newsom to order mandatory statewide water restrictions — a step he appears reluctant to take, instead preferring to leave most of the details to local governments. And, as some Californians react with fury to unprecedented local restrictions, one understands why Newsom may be loath to issue top-down orders ahead of the June 7 primary election.
- Michael McNutt, a spokesperson for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which serves wealthy enclaves west of Los Angeles: “People freaked out. It was insane. I felt terrible for the front-office staff, which are doing a tremendous job for us. Irritated, pissed-off people, all that stuff.”
Indeed, about 6 million Southern Californians will face never-before-seen water restrictions next month. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power unveiled its game plan to achieve the required cuts: Nearly 4 million people will be limited to watering their lawns twice a week for eight minutes. Las Virgenes Municipal Water District may limit outdoor watering to just once a week.
- Santa Clara County, which saw its water use increase by 30% in March compared to the same point in 2019, wants to hire “water cops” for the first time in its history to issue fines of as much as $500 to residents who waste water, the Mercury News reports.
- And the East Bay Municipal Utility District will make public, as it legally required to do upon a California Public Records Act request, the names, home addresses and water use data of customers who violate its restrictions after voting last month to immediately adopt an excessive water use penalty ordinance.
In other environmental news:
- California regulators on Tuesday unveiled an updated climate change roadmap that aims to minimize job losses and costs while achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 — but is largely silent on the role that its signature environmental policy, cap and trade, will play in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports.
- Opponents of an initiative to phase out single-use plastics — which will likely land on California’s November ballot — are highlighting the fact that its main funder, Recology, pled guilty last year to bribing San Francisco officials, Politico reports.
- The South Coast Air Quality Management District, the powerful agency responsible for cleaning the air of 17 million people in the Los Angeles basin, is threatening to sue the federal government for making it “impossible” to reach a critical clean air standard next year, the Los Angeles Times reports.
- And California regulators recently approved a seaweed feed for cows that’s been shown to reduce their burps’ methane emissions, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,687,626 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 89,957 deaths (+0.1% 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.
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Other stories you should know
1. Abortion’s role in AG race
If California Democrats are leaning into abortion rights as a “defining issue” in the 2022 election, they’re doing so with a particular focus on the attorney general’s race. On Tuesday, women lawmakers of color held a press conference to discuss the impacts the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft majority opinion to overturn the federal constitutional right to an abortion could have on their communities. Attorney General Rob Bonta was the only man to speak at the event.
- His wife, Democratic Assemblymember Mia Bonta of Oakland, said that “he held my hand, when I made that decision when I was 21 years old” to get an abortion, “and I know, as not only the People’s Attorney, but the Women’s Attorney, and the Birthing People’s Attorney, our California state general will fight to ensure that anyone from the state of California and anyone throughout the country who comes to the state of California will be able to have the protection under the law to access abortion care.”
- Abortion rights also figure prominently in a new ad running on conservative talk radio stations that describes Rob Bonta as “strongly pro-choice” and GOP candidate Eric Early as “very pro-life.” Paradoxically, the ad was funded by an independent group backing Bonta. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli explains the convoluted political logic: Bonta’s backers want Early to advance from the top-two primary election next month, rather than his other conservative challengers, the better-funded and abortion-rights-supporting Anne Marie Schubert and Nathan Hochman. That way, in the November general election, Bonta can paint Early as a Trump-supporting uber-conservative — and presumably sail to victory using the same strategy Newsom did to defeat Larry Elder in last year’s recall election.
- Meanwhile, Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes told CalMatters’ Nigel Duara that he plans to refile a murder charge against a woman who delivered a stillbirth while high on meth, priming him for conflict with Bonta. The news came a day after Bonta announced that Fagundes had dismissed criminal charges against her, noting, “California law is clear: We do not criminalize people for the loss of a pregnancy.”
2. Vaccination rates lag among Medi-Cal members
Despite spending $350 million to boost COVID vaccination rates among the 14 million Californians covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor, the gap between their inoculation rate and the statewide population’s is growing, CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra reports. As of April, just 57% of Medi-Cal members 5 and older had received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 84% statewide. That 27-percentage-point gap is slightly bigger than the one recorded last summer, before the state rolled out its grant program.
- Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network: “They’re not making the type of progress that one would hope for. … I think it’s possible that health plans may need to reevaluate their strategies.”
Health officials also want to improve child vaccination rates. As of mid-April, just 28% of Medi-Cal members ages 5 to 11 had received at least one dose, compared to 40% statewide, Ana reports.
- But on Tuesday, Los Angeles Unified School District’s school board unanimously voted to accept Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s recommendation to delay its student COVID vaccine mandate until July 2023 at the earliest, in alignment with the state’s own postponement.
- Other agencies are reinstating COVID protections as case rates tick back up: San Jose last week required city workers to wear face masks until at least May 20.
3. Problems persist at CSU
The upheaval continues at California State University: Two state lawmakers on Monday called on Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki to step down after faculty advanced a vote of no confidence in her leadership. The vote followed allegations that Sakaki retaliated against a former Sonoma State provost who reported claims to top CSU officials that Sakaki’s then-husband, veteran Sacramento lobbyist Patrick McCallum, had sexually harassed several women.
- Democratic state Sens. Bill Dodd of Napa and Mike McGuire of Healdsburg told the Los Angeles Times: “The faculty has spoken and it’s time for the healing process to begin. President Sakaki should step down for the greater good of the university.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the academic senate of CSU Los Angeles overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in President William Covino. The vote came about a week after police forcibly removed CSU professor and Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles leader Melina Abdullah from a Los Angeles mayoral debate held at the university. Covino told academic senate representatives last week that he wasn’t consulted prior to Abdullah’s removal and wouldn’t have approved it, according to the Los Angeles Times. Abdullah has said she was removed for not having a ticket to the event.
- Speaking of Los Angeles mayoral news: In what could be the latest roadblock to the U.S. Senate approving Mayor Eric Garcetti as President Joe Biden’s ambassador to India, GOP Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa on Tuesday released a report that found it “extremely unlikely” Garcetti was unaware of a former top aide’s alleged sexual harassment and racist comments. Garcetti has repeatedly denied knowledge of the incidents, and the aide denies they occurred.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California has many pressing issues — some of them crises — but without a real contest for governor, none of them will get a full political airing.
Untangle affordable housing application process: In 21st-century California, a simple, practical, online application for available affordable housing is long overdue — which is why lawmakers should pass Assembly Bill 1961, write Amber-Lee Leslie of Housing California and Jo Barrett of Residents United Network.
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Other things worth your time
Opinion: Can Michael Shellenberger beat Gavin Newsom? // Wall Street Journal
Recall of Chesa Boudin just got its first endorsement from an elected S.F. official. // San Francisco Chronicle
S.F. boba shop was a front for an international car-burglary operation, Boudin says. // San Francisco Chronicle
Transgender woman whose sex assault case tested Gascón’s policy on juveniles is charged with murder in Kern County. // Los Angeles Times
Gascón on Chappelle attacker: ‘This was not felony conduct’ under California law. // FOX 11 Los Angeles
Advocates push for release of California women’s prison abuse victims. // Associated Press
Leaders at San Jose church confirm they conducted ritual to rid 3-year-old of ‘evil spirits,’ leading to her death. // Mercury News
FBI abandons $1 million marijuana cash seizure in California. // Los Angeles Times
San Francisco’s legal logjam. // San Francisco Examiner
CalPERS found widespread violations of retired annuitant rules. // Sacramento Bee
Can Santa Ana PD sergeant-turned association president sweeten pension for life? // Orange County Register
San Diego wasting millions by not preventing worker injuries, possible fraud, new audit says. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Gloria pledges not to wind down homeless housing aid after kerfuffle. // Voice of San Diego
County sweetens deal, offers services to cities that open homeless shelters. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Students from across California share experiences with campus gun violence. // EdSource
Good news for S.F. classrooms: More than 300 teachers to be spared from imminent layoffs. // San Francisco Chronicle
Deaf education vote is latest parents’ rights battle in L.A. // Los Angeles Times
Company used laws on COVID tests to cash in, city officials allege. // Los Angeles Times
Roseville restaurant that hosted ‘Newsom hour’ facing 30-day closure over COVID order. // Sacramento Bee
California wants to embrace cryptocurrency. There’s one big problem. // Los Angeles Times
Another Bay Area community bans single-use plastic for takeout food. // San Francisco Chronicle
Divers pulled 25,000 pounds of trash from Lake Tahoe. Now they want to clean more Sierra lakes. // San Francisco Chronicle
See you tomorrow.
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