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WhatMatters

Your guide to California policy and politics by Emily Hoeven

Presented by California Health Care Foundation and Mattress Recycling Council

Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, September 30.

Iconic landmarks destroyed

The Glass Fire burns behind Kelly Fleming Wines in Calistoga on Sept. 28, 2020. All of Calistoga was under mandatory evacuation Monday night. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group
The Glass Fire burns behind Kelly Fleming Wines in Calistoga on Sept. 28, 2020. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group

California’s Wine Country, one of the most famed and iconic tourist destinations in the state, is at a tipping point.

Gone is the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood, home to the region’s most celebrated fine dining. Gone are sections of well-known wineries, including Chateau Boswell, Castello di Amorosa, Hourglass Winery and Spring Mountain Vineyard. Gone are at least 113 structures, including homes. And potentially gone are Sonoma and Napa counties’ famed wine grapes, likely tainted by wildfire smoke, throwing a multibillion-dollar industry and the region’s economic future into free fall.

All are casualties of the Glass Fire, which more than quadrupled in size Monday to nearly 43,000 acres. The blaze remains 0% contained as it terrorizes a region still recovering from the nightmarish Tubbs and Nuns fires in 2017 and the monstrous Kincade Fire in 2019. And for Napa businesses struggling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s yet another massive blow. Still, many are forging ahead.

Many of the affected wineries plan to rebuild, as does The Restaurant at Meadowood. But as fires barrage Wine Country year after year, “it’s difficult to imagine anyone else wanting to build other new restaurants of its caliber here,” San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho writes — a sobering thought that throws into question the region’s long-term viability not only for food, wine and tourism, but also for the residents who call it home.

Meanwhile, in Shasta County, the Zogg Fire grew to more than 40,000 acres, remaining at 0% containment. The blaze has killed at least three people and destroyed nearly 150 structures. And the August Complex Fire in Tehama County — already the largest fire in California history at more than 938,000 acres — grew rapidly Tuesday amid powerful winds.

Wildfires this year have burned more than 3.8 million acres. That’s nearly twice the size of the 1.98 million acres burned in 2018, California’s previous modern-day record.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 807,425 confirmed coronavirus cases and 15,640 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


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“I’m all for electric cars,” President Donald Trump said during Tuesday night’s presidential debate against former Vice President Joe Biden. “But what they’ve done in California is just crazy.” CalMatters’ Ben Christopher catches you up on the role California played during the debate. Hint: It was mainly Trump’s scapegoat.


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Other stories you should know

1. More counties can reopen businesses indoors

Masked employees work in the open kitchen overlooking the dining room at Cole’s Chop House in downtown Napa where guests are seated in the dining room reconfigured to meet social distancing requirements on May 22, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Masked employees work in the open kitchen overlooking the dining room at Cole’s Chop House in downtown Napa on May 22, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California is approaching yet another inflection point in its pandemic response. The statewide coronavirus positivity rate is the lowest it’s ever been at 2.8% over a 14-day period, but Gov. Gavin Newsom and public health leaders warned Monday that the rate of transmission is ticking up in several regions, potentially signaling a looming wave of cases that could result in further business restrictions. Nevertheless, seven counties — Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Fresno, Contra Costa, Butte and Yolo — moved into the state’s red reopening tier Tuesday, allowing them to reopen restaurants, gyms and churches indoors with limited capacity. And San Francisco, Amador and Calaveras counties moved into the orange reopening tier, permitting businesses to reopen indoors at even greater capacity. Los Angeles County, by far California’s most populous, remains in the most-restrictive purple tier, along with 17 others. Twenty-three are in the red tier, 14 in orange and three in the least-restrictive yellow tier.

2. Newsom signs, vetoes bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference at Solomon's Delicatessen in Sacramento on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Daniel Kim, Sacramento Bee/Pool
Newsom speaks at a press conference at Solomon’s Delicatessen in Sacramento on Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Daniel Kim, Sacramento Bee/Pool

Today marks Newsom’s deadline to sign or veto the remaining bills of the legislative session — and he’s saved some of the most high-profile and controversial proposals for the final day. Here’s a look at some of the key bills he signed into law or vetoed Tuesday.

Signed into law:

Vetoed:

3. Homelessness remains top of mind for Californians

Will, who provided his first name only, sits on the sidewalk across the street from LAC+USC Medical Center on Aug. 7, 2019. Will says he has been homeless since he arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago in 1982. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Will, who provided his first name only, sits on the sidewalk across the street from LAC+USC Medical Center on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Although Newsom has one of the highest approval ratings of any California governor in the past 50 years at the same point in their first term, many voters disapprove of the way he has handled the state’s homelessness and housing affordability crises, a Tuesday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found. Sixty-four percent of voters said they approve of Newsom’s overall performance, comparable to the 59% approval rating voters gave Newsom in a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey. But 55% said Newsom has done a poor or very poor job of addressing homelessness, and 46% gave him low marks for handling housing costs. With voters naming homelessness and housing costs as their No. 1 and 2 issues, this signals an ongoing challenge for the governor.

Newsom on Monday asked lawmakers to approve an additional $200 million for local governments to convert properties into permanent supportive housing for homeless Californians, many of whom are moving out of temporary pandemic housing. The state currently has $600 million for Project Homekey, which has received 138 applications requesting more than $1 billion.

4. California sues feds over gun policy

Attorney General Xavier Becerra gives a press conference on Sept. 25, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

In his 92nd lawsuit against the Trump administration, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the federal government Tuesday, arguing it should regulate “ghost guns,” or those built from unfinished frames and receivers, like other firearms. Ghost guns were used in several high-profile shootings in California, including one at a Santa Clarita high school last year. The Golden State is home to 18 of 80 known online ghost-gun retailers, the most in the nation, according to the lawsuit.

  • Hannah Shearer of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which is suing alongside California: “If you can assemble Ikea furniture, you can definitely build a ghost gun. … Yet for no reason at all, the parts used to build ghost guns aren’t treated as firearms under federal law.”
  • Brandon Combs of the Firearms Policy Coalition: “Under Becerra’s utterly absurd interpretation of law, flat pieces of metal at Home Depot would be treated as firearms and chunks of aluminum would be so-called ‘ghost guns.’”

The lawsuit comes the same day UC Davis researchers secured three of 18 grants for gun violence research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among the first such grants in decades. The agency was banned from funding gun violence research from 1996 to 2019.


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Upcoming events

Oct. 3: How Prop. 22 Could Affect the Future of Work, a debate moderated by CalMatters economy reporter Lauren Hepler. Register here.

Oct. 6-14: CalMatters is hosting five “Props to You” events — virtual Q&As for you to ask all of your burning questions about the 12 propositions on California’s November ballot. Register here. Each event runs from 6-7pm.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Is California’s Prop. 19 a tax reform or a tax increase? Voters will decide.

Reopen all museums: Museums in 25 counties are closed even though retailers and shopping malls are open, revealing inconsistencies in California’s COVID-19 response, argues Julie Perlin Lee of Catalina Island Museum.

Time for all-electric building codes: Indoor pollution from gas furnaces, heaters, dryers and gas stoves can cause asthma in children, writes Dr. Lisa Patel, a Bay Area pediatrician.


Other things worth your time

Newsom talks to Kara Swisher about handling the pandemic and an environmental crisis. // New York Times (podcast)

California Democrats are spending public money on voter outreach. Are they breaking the rules? // Sacramento Bee

California’s largest-ever fire threatens cannabis farms worth millions. Many won’t evacuate. // Los Angeles Times

Limited reopening of Los Angeles County elementary schools allowed if waivers are approved. // Los Angeles Times

State allows playgrounds to reopen — with lots of new rules. // San Francisco Chronicle

Los Angeles County backs a controversial crime app to track coronavirus spread. // Los Angeles Daily News

Disney to lay off 28,000 workers at domestic theme parks and other units. // Los Angeles Times


See you tomorrow.

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

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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