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BY Emily Hoeven December 16, 2022
Presented by Prologis, California Water Service, American Pistachio Growers and Cal Needs Assessment

Major votes intensify California climate controversies

If there’s one thing Thursday made clear, it’s that climate policy and controversy go hand in hand in California.

Depending on whom you ask, the two major actions state regulators took Thursday are either indicative of California “leading the world’s most significant economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution” (as Gov. Gavin Newsom put it) or represent “a complete retreat from California’s unrivaled position of leadership in the clean energy revolution” (as Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, described the state’s new rooftop solar rules).

What are those new rules? In the final installment of what some have described as “a kind of solar rooftop Hunger Games,” the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to overhaul the state’s 27-year-old residential solar rules — reducing payments to homeowners for excess power but providing nearly $1 billion in incentives to encourage more solar projects for low-income homes, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports.

Almost all of the comments delivered during the intense, hours-long meeting were in opposition — and neither utility companies nor solar advocates emerged happy.

The divisive vote comes as California races to shore up its fragile energy grid — which narrowly escaped rolling blackouts this summer and remains at high risk of energy shortfalls during peak demand, according to a Thursday report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation — while simultaneously relying more on solar power as part of its plan for achieving carbon neutrality.

Just how fast will that transition be? Well, the sweeping, ambitious blueprint approved unanimously by the California Air Resources Board calls for slashing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 48% below 1990 levels by 2030, up from the 40% reduction currently required by state law.

To meet the plan’s targets, state officials estimate that California over the next 20 years will need about 30 times more electric vehicles, six times more household electric appliances and four times more wind and solar generation capacity, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports. The estimated cost: $18 billion in 2035 and $27 billion in 2045.

  • Air Resources Board Member Daniel Sperling: “This is an extraordinary exercise and document, and it’s the most comprehensive, detailed plan for getting to net zero anywhere in the world.”
  • But many members of the public who spoke during the eight-hour meeting opposed the plan’s reliance on carbon capture, a controversial strategy to capture emissions from oil refineries and other facilities and inject the carbon deep into rocks underground. Critics say that approach merely prolongs the lifespan of fossil fuel plants.
  • Olivia Seideman, a climate policy advocate at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability: “California’s shiny new climate strategies still sacrifice low-income and communities of color with increased pollution across the state.”

A few other climate nuggets of interest:

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1 COVID workplace rules get a big overhaul

Luna Walker bags chocolate croissants at Nabolom Bakery in Berkeley on Jan. 19, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

California businesses will no longer have to pay COVID-infected workers to stay home under rules approved Thursday by Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace safety agency — a development applauded by industry groups and opposed by labor unions and worker safety advocates. The new regulations, which are set to take effect early next year and last for two years, are the latest example of California winding down its pandemic policies ahead of a scheduled Feb. 28 expiration of the COVID state of emergency. State data updated Thursday shows that California’s COVID test positivity and death rates are beginning to tick down after a late-fall surge, though hospitalizations are still on the rise.

Here’s a look at other key changes to California’s current COVID workplace safety rules, as identified by the San Francisco Chronicle:

  • Employers no longer have to screen their employees for COVID symptoms; instead, workers are encouraged to self-report them.
  • Companies no longer have to notify local public health departments about workplace cases and outbreaks, though the agencies could require them to. A bill that would have required this information to be shared publicly died in the state Legislature.
  • There are new definitions for such COVID buzzwords as “close contact” and “infectious period.”

Another California COVID policy coming to an end: a law requiring large employers to offer workers as much as 80 hours of COVID-related paid sick leave. The program expires Dec. 31, but Californians can continue to receive the benefit into January as long as they start a claim by the deadline — and can also request retroactive payments if they took unpaid or underpaid leave between Jan. 1 and Feb. 19, 2022, according to the Chronicle. Moving forward, infected Californians may be eligible for other benefits, such as disability insurance or workers’ compensation.

2 Chronic absenteeism jumps in California schools

Students in a classroom at St. HOPE’s Public School 7 Elementary in Sacramento on May 11, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters education reporter Joe Hong: Chronic absenteeism in California’s K-12 public schools was way, way up last school year, data released Thursday by the state Department of Education shows. This spike in chronic absences isn’t surprising, especially considering that the omicron surge of early 2022 wreaked havoc on both student and staff attendance

But the California School Dashboard — which was rebooted Thursday for the first time in three years after a pandemic pause — shows that nearly a third of all students missed at least 18 days out of a typical 180-day school year in 2021, three times as much as in 2019.  (On Wednesday, the education department issued guidance to help local school districts address chronic absenteeism.)

  • And student absences were just one of many disruptions to education last year: As Joe has reported, even if students were in class, there’s a good chance their teachers were out and substitutes were unavailable, especially for schools in high-poverty communities. One result: California student test scores plummeted, even as some achievement gaps narrowed.
  • Susan Markarian, president of the California School Boards Association, said in a statement the dashboard “underscores the need for continued investment in public education. Many of the issues facing schools are generational in nature and will extend beyond the timeline of emergency relief funding.”

You can search for your school or district on the state’s dashboard, which includes a variety of data points. Suspension rates, for example, remained stable statewide since 2019, while four-year graduation rates increased by 2 percentage points to 87%. But, state education officials acknowledged, some of that increase was likely due to a 2020-21 state law that — in an attempt to “give a boost to students most impacted by COVID-19” — allowed some letter grades to be changed to pass/no pass and exempted from some local graduation requirements high school juniors and seniors who weren’t on track to graduate in four years.

3 California wildfire updates

Cal Fire firefighter Bo Santiago lights a backfire as the Rocky Fire burns near Clearlake in 2015. Photo by Josh Edelson, AP Photo

California’s wildfire season this year may have been mild, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t wildfire news:

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CalMatters Commentary


California should be immensely proud of nuclear fusion breakthrough: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s fusion achievement illuminates a new path for clean energy. It also cements California’s role as a world leader in cutting-edge science and technology, writes Robert Powell, a distinguished professor at UC Davis.

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Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

California’s Middle Class Tax Refund: Thieves target debit cards. // KCRA

Lawmakers quick to unload Bankman-Fried’s contributions. // Associated Press

Here are 5 new laws that will change local government in California. // Sacramento Bee

Conservative group files suit over Oakland measure allowing noncitizen voting in school board races. // San Francisco Chronicle

Tens of thousands of San Jose housing units can be built after city and county dodge lawsuit. // Mercury News

‘A lot of areas of concern’: Cupertino could miss state deadline for housing plan. // Mercury News

SF’s deadly failure on the drug crisis is unfolding inside its own housing program. // San Francisco Chronicle

LA’s rich are already scheming ways to avoid new ‘mansion tax.’ // Los Angeles Times

Outdoor dining venues near San Diego coast face tough new restrictions from California Coastal Commission. // San Diego Union-Tribune

New data shows how dire SF’s budget deficit could get as economic outlook sours. // San Francisco Chronicle

SF’s only trauma hospital faces enormous staffing challenge. // San Francisco Chronicle

Adding to SF Union Square’s woes, Macy’s workers plan two-day strike on key shopping days. // San Francisco Chronicle

Vallejo mayor requests investigation into city’s destruction of police records. // Vallejo Sun

UCLA said its pot research was independent but hid that Big Cannabis was paying some of the bills. // Los Angeles Times

Anderson Dam: Progress made on tunnel as part of $1.2B earthquake project. // Mercury News

An ecologically crucial Sierra pine becomes one of few tree species protected by the feds. // San Francisco Chronicle

Officials doubling efforts to save Yosemite’s sequoias from wildfires. // San Francisco Chronicle

Editorial: California’s water future mirrors housing disaster. // Mercury News

See you next week

Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

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