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Good morning, California. It’s Friday, January 7.
Proposal stirs controversy
To implement single-payer health care, or not to implement single-payer health care?
That’s the question facing state lawmakers after a group of Democratic legislators on Thursday unveiled a package of bills to create a universal health care program called CalCare. The proposal has already earned better reception than it did last year, when it was tabled without a hearing after lawmakers raised concerns about its lack of a funding source.
Democratic Assemblymember Jim Wood of Santa Rosa said Thursday that he will vote to move the bill forward next week when it’s scheduled to be considered by the Assembly Health Committee, which he leads.
Wood: “I continue to feel the frustration, desperation, and quite frankly, the anger that many Californians experience in their efforts to access quality and affordable health care. … Something’s got to give, so next Tuesday, I’ll be voting for change.”
But the funding source — taxes — proposed in a separate bill will likely face an uphill battle. Tax hikes must be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers in both the state Assembly and Senate — a tall order, especially in an election year — and a majority of voters to go into effect. And the doctors’ lobby, insurance industry and business groups are already mobilizing against the bill.
Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable: This “middle-class tax increase will drive more families into poverty, force more small businesses to close and compel more employers — and jobs — to leave this state.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 5,530,751 confirmed cases(+0.9% from previous day) and 76,049 deaths(-0.01% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
That sound you hear is thousands of Californians entering quarantine or isolation as omicron sweeps through the state. Nearly three dozen state lawmakers were absent from Thursday floor sessions after many of them, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, were potentially exposed to COVID-19 at a farewell event for a colleague on Tuesday night, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports — marking an inauspicious start to a legislative session that began less than a week ago. Other employers are beefing up protections:Los Angeles County is requiring businesses to provide, no later than Jan. 17, well-fitting medical-grade masks, surgical masks or respirators to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
Worker shortages are only exacerbating California’s difficulty in meeting testing demand. Newsom is expected to announce as soon as today plans to send the California National Guard to state-funded testing sites to help ease long waits, CalMatters contributor Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. But the problem is also one of supply: COVID-19 tests are nearly impossible to find in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, and the race to secure coveted appointments resulted in a four-hour traffic jam on Auto Mall Parkway in Fremont on Thursday. With appointments booked weeks in advance, and rapid test kits flying off the shelves as soon as they’re restocked, local governments such as Santa Clara County are trying to set up their own supply chains by negotiating with vendors. But increasing the supply of workers has proved even more challenging.
Demand for booster shots, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as high. Only 38% of vaccinated Californians have gotten a booster shot, according to an analysis from CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang and Ana Ibarra, and a third or less of residents are boosted in 20 of 58 counties. Only three counties — San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo — have seen more than half of their vaccinated residents get boosted.
3.Fire risk halts massive project proposal
A $1 billion proposal to build a luxury resort, fire station and 1,400 housing units in one of California’s poorest — and most fire-prone — regions was put on hold Thursday, when a superior court judge ruled that Lake County and the project developer failed to adequately account for potential hazards that could result from a wildfire forcing thousands of people to evacuate at the same time. The ruling is a win for Attorney General Rob Bonta and environmental groups, who recently secured a similar halt on a proposed development in a wildfire-prone area of San Diego. Taken together, the two rulings send a clear message: Local governments should not attempt to ease California’s housing crisis by building in areas of high fire risk — a term that applies to increasingly large swaths of the state.
Bonta: “We can’t keep making shortsighted land use decisions that will have impacts decades down the line. We must build responsibly.”
Lake County Supervisor Moke Simon: “The investments proposed, including adding housing supply and even a fire station and helipad, offered the potential for lasting regional economic benefits. If the ultimate result of this decision is the project not moving forward, that will be a tremendous loss.”
On the opposite side of the weather spectrum, PG&E estimates that it will finish restoring power by next Tuesday or sooner to approximately 14,000 customers in the Sierra Nevada foothills, some of whom have been without power for 11 days after fierce winter snowstorms swept the region.