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New COVID plan leaves many questions unanswered


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Good morning, California. It’s Friday, February 18.

Note: Due to Presidents’ Day, the newsletter will pause until Tuesday.

CA in it for the long haul

California Governor Gavin Newsom discusses the next phase of the state’s comprehensive pandemic response, California’s SMARTER Plan, at a press conference in Fontana, California on February 17, 2022. The press conference took place in one of many warehouses where PPE supplies are stored. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the next phase of the state’s pandemic response at a press conference in Fontana on Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters

Californians hoping that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new COVID strategy would contain clear benchmarks for when the state might transition away from pandemic policies and precautions were likely disappointed Thursday.

That’s because the Newsom administration’s blueprint, dubbed the SMARTER Plan, does not include any such metrics.

Although it does set specific goals for the state in each of the subject areas represented by a letter in SMARTER — shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education and Rx treatments — much of the rest of the 30-page plan is focused on flexibility, ensuring that California can respond quickly and precisely to new variants and constantly changing conditions, CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra and Kristen Hwang report.

  • That gives the state room to, for example, temporarily reinstate its mask order if hospitals become overwhelmed, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, said.
  • It also allows the state to respond to different situations differently, Ghaly said. For example, a deadly variant might prompt the state to focus on case numbers, as opposed to hospitalizations for a less virulent variant.

The central axiom of the state’s new plan: There is no such thing as a post-COVID world.

  • Newsom: “We have all come to understand what was not understood at the beginning of this crisis — that there is no end date, that there is not a moment where we declare victory.”

Despite the apparent fatalism of that statement, the governor struck a tone of cautious optimism, emphasizing that the plan marks the beginning of California’s transition from a “crisis mentality” and “reactive framework” to a “more settled approach” where people can feel “firm and confident” about where things are going.

Nevertheless, the plan’s lack of a clear timeline has reignited debate over when California might end the pandemic state of emergency that has endured for nearly two years — a policy the Newsom administration says has been essential in ensuring the state’s quick COVID response but has also given the governor special powers that have antagonized both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

  • On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, announced that a Senate committee on March 15 will debate a Republican-led resolution to end California’s state of emergency. For more on the significance of this decision, check out this report from CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff.
  • The move came less than a week after GOP lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to force a vote on ending the state of emergency ahead of the Super Bowl.
  • Atkins: “I understand we are all tired of living life in an emergency, but ending the emergency must be done responsibly to ensure there are no unintended consequences so we can continue to meet the need of our state’s residents in an unpredictable future.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 8,283,568 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 82,589 deaths (+0.3% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 70,926,254 vaccine doses, and 74% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


1. Castro resigns as CSU chancellor

California State University Chancellor President Joseph I. Castro has been accused of mishandling sexual harassment allegations while serving as President of Fresno State University. Photo by Cary Edmondson, Courtesy of California State University, Fresno
California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. Photo by Cary Edmondson, courtesy of CSU Fresno

California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro resigned from his post Thursday — two weeks to the day after a USA Today investigation revealed accusations that he mishandled sexual assault and workplace intimidation claims against a former colleague while president of Fresno State University, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports.

  • The USA Today exposé found that Castro was personally aware of at least seven complaints in six years against Frank Lamas, the head of campus student affairs at Fresno State, but nevertheless recommended Lamas for an achievement award and — rather than firing or calling for his resignation — paid him $260,000 and full retirement benefits to leave his post.
  • Castro submitted his resignation Thursday to the Cal State Board of Trustees, who had met behind closed doors the entire day, debating his fate, Mikhail writes.
  • It was a stunning fall from grace for the man who had just completed his first year as the first Mexican American chancellor of the nation’s largest four-year public university system — which now plans to conduct a systemwide assessment of its Title IX policies protecting against sex-based discrimination.
  • Castro: “The decision to resign is the most difficult of my professional life. While I disagree with many aspects of recent media reports and the ensuing commentary, it has become clear to me that resigning at this time is necessary so that the CSU can maintain its focus squarely on its educational mission and the impactful work yet to be done.”

2. Changes roil California colleges

Students walk past the Doe Memorial Library on the University of California, Berkeley campus on Feb. 3, 2022. Thalia Juarez for CalMatters
Students walk past the Doe Memorial Library on the UC Berkeley campus on Feb. 3, 2022. Photo by Thalia Juarez for CalMatters

The stunning news that a lawsuit over a key California environmental law could force UC Berkeley to turn away 3,050 students that it would otherwise enroll this fall is causing quite the hubbub in Sacramento. Pressure is mounting on state lawmakers to put together a contingency plan in case the California Supreme Court doesn’t halt the cap on UC Berkeley’s enrollment, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. Here are some of the options legislators may consider:

  • Complying with the enrollment cap by denying entry to out-of-state students and prioritizing admission for Californians — which aligns with lawmakers’ goal of increasing the number of in-state students at its premier public university system. (However, that would also result in a loss of revenue for UC. At least one key lawmaker told Mikhail he would support reimbursing the system for the money it would have otherwise collected from those students, who pay three times as much tuition as in-state students do.)
  • Amending CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, to exempt public university enrollment growth. 

In other California college news: Mills College in Oakland, one of the few remaining women’s colleges in the United States, is merging with Northeastern University, a co-ed school in Boston — a move that will help Mills avoid closure but that students fear will also fundamentally change the campus’ character, Juhi Doshi reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.

3. Advancing women in business

Corporate staff during a meeting in an office. Photo via iStock/Getty Images
Corporate staff during a meeting in an office. Photo via iStock/Getty Images

Yes, California’s controversial law requiring women on the board of each publicly traded company headquartered in the Golden State is facing legal challenges — closing arguments in a civil trial wrapped Wednesday — but in some ways its legality may be beside the point, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports. Here’s why:

  • Although the law has been in effect for more than two years, California hasn’t been fining noncompliant companies — and has no plans to begin doing so.
  • Nevertheless, the share of California boardroom seats held by women climbed from 15.5% to 29% over the same period.
  • And once something starts gaining momentum, it’s hard to stop: “I don’t think” the push to diversify corporate boards “is going to be reversed if the law is stripped down,” UC Davis law professor Katherine Florey told Grace.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat, introduced a bill Thursday that would force California companies with more than 100 workers to publicly report pay data — broken down by job, race, sex, ethnicity and other factors — for their employees and workers hired through third-party staffing agencies, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The bill would also require those companies to:

  • Include a pay range for posted employee and contractor jobs.
  • Make job promotion opportunities available and known to current workers.
  • Limón: “Pay transparency is one of multiple tools that can be used to close the gender or racial wage gap.”

CalMatters commentary

R&D investments drive California innovation: The state must help provide companies with the resources that new ideas and products require — and a recently reinstated R&D tax credit does just that, writes Dee Dee Myers, a senior Newsom adviser and director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

Storage, infrastructure critical for any new water policy: California needs to avoid “solutions” that cut water allocations to an industry that feeds the nation and supports the Central Valley economy, argues Ronald Silva, a Fresno real estate agent.


Other things worth your time

Will California’s latest wealth tax proposal fuel a Bay Area exodus? // San Francisco Business Times

Karen Bass takes early lead in LA mayor’s race, poll finds. // Los Angeles Times

Leondra Kruger known for her ‘persuasive powers’ on California Supreme Court. // Washington Post

Congress asks Britney Spears to testify on conservatorship. // Time

Ousted SF school board member abruptly steps down. // San Francisco Chronicle

Fresno Unified adds metal detectors to school board meeting. // Fresno Bee

Adjuncts often find ladder leads to nowhere in California community colleges. // EdSource

Cuts to California cannabis taxes would harm low-income youths, advocates say. // NBC News

Grand jury says Sacramento County misused 2020 COVID relief. // Sacramento Bee

Contra Costa County marina becomes the site of a nightmare eviction battle. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento tows vehicles in largest homeless sweep of 2022. // Sacramento Bee

From homeless to housed in rugged Del Norte County. // California Healthline

New Santa Clara County homelessness stats show progress. // Mercury News

Robot grocery delivery now live in this East Bay city. // Mercury News

California gas prices just hit a record high, and $5 gas could come soon. // CNN

California utility plans largest U.S. green hydrogen network for Los Angeles. // Bloomberg

Winds fan wildfire in eastern California’s Owens Valley. // Associated Press

California wildlife agency trying to capture and kill 500-pound bear that damaged dozens of homes. // CBS News

A bill of rights for cats and dogs? California lawmakers are considering one. // Sacramento Bee


See you Tuesday.

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