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The Nooner for Friday, May 8, 2020, presented by SYASL Partners
¡Feliz viernes! It's casual Friday meaning that you should wear pants for your Zoom meetings. Another day of knowing I'm skimming the service, but I think I've covered some essentials. If there's something big discovered later, you know I'll be in touch...
I'm recording a Zoom podcast this afternoon on the COVID-19 impact on California's agricultural industry. Looking at my background flowers, I think I may need to run over to the market before NewsomAtNoon to freshen up my flowers for the background. If you haven't been watching this Twitter feed rating the background of teevee personalities as they do their remote shots, it at times is hilarious.
I can control my background on Zoom, but I can't do much about my hair. Last night I tweeted a pic and suggested that Gavin could skip the combing back and we could be part of the next tribute band for The Beatles.
"Let it go...let it go..."
Meanwhile, I just wonder if part of job interviews going forward will require a photo of an "acceptable background shot in your domicile" for future pandemics. That was never covered in Employment Discrimination in law school. Of course, it could be a mandated benefit that a green screen be provided for any employees required to work remotely.
Yes, this is the kind of stuff I've been thinking about.
Meanwhile, there as a Zoomin' Groovin' Happy Hour with the Sacramento Press Club yesterday. If you missed the panel with seven reporters -- all with California ties -- who are covering the 2020 presidential election in the strangest environment of our lifetimes, you can watch the recording of it. I watched the whole thing and didn't even switch tabs to do a NYT crossword puzzle as I often do on webcasts. If you can keep my attention at the point of my twelfth hour at the desk, that's saying something.
REOPENING: As expected, Governor Newsom yesterday announced the first in the statewide easing of stay-at-home orders, emphasized that counties could have tighter limits than the state, and provided a tight framework by which counties could faster advance with wider openings. Here is the press conference video, which begins with the discussion of the budget update provided by the Department of Finance yesterday.
Here are key items:
On variance, I put "must" because we know that counties were already well beyond "early Stage 2" (what I call Stage 2A) before the criteria were announced, but they reportedly have been working with CDPH to assess their compliance with the new variance criteria. It still is unclear what happens to counties that get out ahead of the state without the attestment to CDPH.
Do counties get put in "time out"?
Newsom clearly doesn't want the state to be a hammer against individual counties but rather to use a bully pulpit and peer pressure among counties. There are few areas in which the state can "punish" a defiant county without punishing residents, and usually the most disadvantaged.
Defiant businesses can be, however, punished through state or county action. Newsom earlier this week stated that over 80 bars had their Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control licenses suspended for operating in defiance with the state order. Individuals in other licensed professions, such as barbering and cosmetology, can also have their licenses suspended or revoked.
I've seen several restaurant owners quoted in the press saying that they are reopening this weekend even though they are not cleared under the state or county guidance. While there is no state PoPo that's going to come knocking, ABC will and is. A few I have seen listed in the media have full liquor licenses that can be suspended or revoked. Is it worth getting a two-week jump?
Newsom said yesterday that the state's alcohol and barbering and cosmetology agencies were cracking down in Sutter and Yuba, which defied state orders and are still ahead of those announced yesterday.
Aside from alcohol licenses, restaurant enforcement will be by counties, like with regular health department enforcement and can also be enforced by cities with business licenses. For other businesses, it will be mostly city enforcement by business licenses, but we know that many have already been looking the other way, and I'm not referring to the areas of the state with prominent and seemingly defiant reopenings over the last week -- this includes Sacramento within blocks of the State Capitol. It's a "spirit of the law" thing.
For AP, Kathleen Ronayne reports:
Only essential retailers, such as supermarkets and hardware stores, have been open since the order took effect March 19. But with improvements in California’s battle against the virus. Newsom said others can resume serving customers Friday with curbside pick-up only. The state also recommends they take precautions such as testing employees for virus symptoms when their shifts begin and providing them with face coverings. Customers also should wear masks.
All reopening businesses should create coronavirus prevention plans, and manufacturers should strive to keep workers at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.
The rules were developed “with an eye on turning the page and moving into a new phase in terms of our economic recovery,” Newsom said.
The announcement moves California into the second phase of a methodical four-step process to full reopening. While retailers such as clothing and book stores and florists can reopen, higher-risk businesses like hair salons, gyms and shopping malls will come later provided the state continues its progress.
Eating at restaurants will come later too, though some counties could start as soon as next week if they meet stringent requirements. Among them: No virus deaths and only one case per every 10,000 residents over 14 days, a minimum of 1.5 tests administered per 1,000 residents and 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.
HOMELESS HOUSING: Additionally, counties that want to move faster than the state order must attest that they have the capacity to house 15% of the county's homeless population. Here is the requirement for counties to attest to:
Availability of temporary housing units to shelter at least 15% of county residents experiencing homelessness in case of an outbreak among this population requiring isolation and quarantine of affected individuals. Please describe the county's plans to support individuals, including those experiencing homelessness, who are not able to properly isolate in a home setting by providing them with temporary housing (including access to a private bathroom), for the duration of the necessary isolation or quarantine period.
RURAL COUNTIES: Carla Marinucci writes for Politico that rural counties find the state criteria announced yesterday as crafted for urban and surburban areas and don't appreciate their unique circumstances.
In many cases, they are ineligible for broader reopening because of the criteria in the article by Ronayne and the homeless housing issue above. Governor Newsom has openly criticized some of these counties for not accommodating the homeless in his "Project RoomKey" program to place high-risk homeless in hotel rooms and leased trailers, with services.
“The governor's been saying that he wants a bottom up process ... with respect to reopening — but it's been nothing but top down, for seven weeks,’’ said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo).
Cunningham represents a Central Coast district where local leaders have been asking Newsom to let them reopen some businesses, arguing their infection curve is better than in more densely populated areas like Los Angeles. He said the economic situation has become so dire, he is now worried about “100 percent of the businesses” in his district.
Newsom described the likelihood of counties meeting his criteria as “very high in certain parts of the state,” but said they’ll still have to wait to get the all-clear until after the state releases new restaurant dine-in and other phase two guidelines on Tuesday.
While Newsom says his decisions are being driven by data and science, Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus), questions that.
Gallagher said the governor’s guidance is more restrictive than national health guidance he’s reviewed. He applauded Yuba and Sutter counties for deciding to defy Newsom's order and allow salons, gyms, restaurants and the local mall to reopen as long as they impose social distancing restrictions.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen, a former Assembly Republican leader, said some of the governor's reopening criteria “appears to be unachievable unless you’re the smallest of the smallest counties,” such as zero deaths in 14 days. Nineteen people have died from Covid-19 in Stanislaus County, most in skilled nursing facilities.
“There really is no statewide, consistent data for Covid-19," she added. "There’s so much variance around the state that many of us feel we should be trusted to make responsible decisions locally.”
TESLA: CNBC reports that Tesla is resuming "limited operations" today at its Fremont manufacturing plant, which appears not to be in compliance with the Alameda County public health order, after tension between the county and company when the order was initially issued.
Tesla’s HR boss, Valerie Capers Workman, sent a separate e-mail to U.S. employees on Thursday night with additional details. She said Tesla’s Fremont plant will resume “limited operations” Friday, bringing back around 30% of employees normally working on a shift.
It’s not clear from the executives’ emails how Tesla would be able to manufacture vehicles in Fremont with a reduced headcount.
While many remain on furlough, those employees called back must complete video training on new safety protocols meant to keep them safe from Covid-19, Workman said.
Although the steps taken by Tesla may meet the Stage 2A state criteria, most of the initial Bay Area six counties have stated that they intend to maintain orders stronger than the state.
WHO TO LISTEN TO? For the AP, Don Thompson writes up the difficulty business leaders are having in trying to figure out what the current order is and whether to listen to state or county officials. Add in the CDC guidance Wednesday that was then rebuked in the morning yesterday by The White House and by last night, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said it was merely being "edited." The 17-page guidance for states on reopening was online before being removed in the afternoon yesterday.
Throughout California, there has been an on-again, off-again patchwork of enforcement on everything from business closures to wearing face masks. It’s fallen to local officials to both interpret and enforce rapidly evolving rules, with state and local orders often at odds.
“The orders are changing, you have a national narrative, you have the state, you have other parts of the state that are opening up and people, some people are confused about everything that’s going on,” said San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. His department is not aggressively enforcing orders, instead preferring to warn businesses or people that they’re in violation.
The confusion is likely to continue after Newsom outlined more guidelines Thursday for local governments to follow as they allow businesses to reopen. The revised guidelines do not allow immediately reopening sit-down dining, nor hair or nail salons as he aims to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths.
The confusion is palpable and broad. I've fielded inquiries from multiple folks not in the policy loop wondering exactly this -- even those who watch NewsomAtNoon. Even today after yesterday's announcement there is lots of confusion out there.
UNMASKING: Laurel Rosenhall continues as the great masked reporter, writing for CalMatters that while legislators had been interested in the details of the now disclosed $1 billion mask contract with a Chinese manufacturer, they now want more details about the deal before that deal -- a $456.9 million contract with a three-day-old company run by two GOP political operatives. And the story about how it was stopped is fascinating. As Rosenhall writes, the Bee first reported on how the deal was halted.
The accountability and administrative review committee [Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach)] chairs plans to hold a hearing this month to examine the bizarre transaction that CalMatters revealed earlier this week in which California wired $456.9 million on March 26 to Blue Flame Medical LLC – then scrambled to get the money back hours later. The company was incorporated on March 23 by two Republican operatives, Mike Gula and John Thomas, with no track record in the medical supplies field.
The state decided to cancel the deal with Blue Flame for 100 million N95 masks after bankers involved in the wire transfer alerted California Treasurer Fiona Ma that they were suspicious of it, Ma told the Sacramento Bee. Ma declined an interview request from CalMatters.
The account she gave The Bee portrays a deal that was about to close until two bankers called her to raise alarms. One bank executive was not comfortable completing the transaction because the Blue Flame Medical account had been opened just the day before, according to The Bee’s report, and another banker involved in the wire transfer thought the transaction might be fraudulent and planned to call the FBI.
“That’s when I called the governor’s office and said, ‘this is fishy,’” Ma told The Bee. “‘We got the money back, but you need to vet these people better and go through the proper protocol.”
Newsom insisted today that his administration has improved its vetting process since the Blue Flame deal fizzled in the initial weeks of California’s coronavirus crisis.
“We were in the Wild, Wild West period in the early part of this pandemic,” he said. “Those dollars were protected and protocols were put into place that are much more strengthened after that specific incident.”
Great work to all chasing this story -- Bollag, Wiley, Sabalow, and Venteicher of the Bee and Rosenhall of CalMatters.
TAXING MATTERS: For the Chron, Kathleen Pender reports that Governor Newsom's announcement yesterday on the ability for counties to waive penalties and interest for late property tax payments for residential property owners affected by COVID-19 went far beyond what the counties were seeking. The counties were okay with a further delay of the April 10 payment due last month, but Newsom's order allows counties to delay the December 2020 and April 2021 payments as well. While it is still up to the county assessors, it puts huge political pressure on counties while they face huge budget challenges on both the revenue and health and human services expenditure side.
CITIES IN CRISIS? For CalMatters, Ben Christopher looks at the fiscal impact for California's 482 cities. It's all over the place based on not only how they treated the good years but also the composition of their revenue streams.
For local governments still sporting the budgetary scars of the last “once in a generation” recession, this downturn is at once familiar — forcing elected leaders to cut, furlough and delay — and entirely new. Never before in state history has so much economic activity ground to a halt so quickly.
“Those cities that are highly reliant on property taxes and not sales — it’s not to say that they won’t suffer, but their treasuries won’t get depleted immediately,” said Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
That’s because while sales taxes and tourism-dependent revenue sources like hotel taxes are paid into local coffers with each transaction, property taxes are paid twice a year. Property tax revenues tend to be stable from year to year too, because California law assesses residential or commercial buildings based on purchase price rather than current market value.
“For cities that rely on sales,” said Pagano, “it’s not like a downturn that we’ve ever experienced before. This is just an immediate shutting off of the spigot.”
The divide between municipalities that rely heavily on property values versus those that do not is a Tale of Two Cities. According to a CalMatters analysis of municipal tax revenue data from 2018, the cities that rely most on property taxes are Mountain View, Pleasanton, Newport Beach and San Clemente — all wealthy.
Cities that are dependent on sales and hotel taxes are more of a mixed bag, with some well-to-do tourism destinations, but also many working- and middle-class towns with below-average incomes or cooler housing markets: South Gate, Hemet, Merced, Redding.
FOOD: Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin has on his website a statewide map of over 1,800 food banks, pantries, and distribution centers, as well as Los Angeles County map of grocery stores with dedicated hours for seniors and other high-risk individuals. Here is a story on it.
"DAY OF PRAYER" OR SOMETHING: For CapRadio, Sammy Caiola and Bob Moffitt write that yesterday's "Reopen California" rally at the Capitol again had many messages, including prominance again of the anti-vaccination movement.
The microphone passed from person-to-person, who each attempted to encourage the few hundred within earshot. One woman said she was honored to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those in attendance. The next person to speak took the microphone and said a prayer.
People who oppose mandatory childhood vaccinations have been a driving force in recent protests against California’s stay-at-home orders. Many who are passionate about the issue say they haven’t vaccinated their children yet.
“I don’t vaccinate my children because I’ve done research on it and from experiences,” said Yvette Apfel of Modesto. “A lot of the people who don’t vaccinate because of experiences and that is not taken into account when they give their account of what’s happened.”
BALLOT MEASURES: One more initiative had the clock run out yesterday:
Cakeday, Dept of Corrections, and classifieds after the jump...
CAKEDAY: Happy birthday to Julian Canete, Evan Hawkins, Sean Henschel, Chris Megerian, Andres Ramos, and Frank Torres!
DEPT OF CORRECTIONS: Arden Fair Mall is just inside the City of Sacramento.