|Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, April 28, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
At the end of last year, Los Angeles careened into a national epicenter of the pandemic, with virus cases surging and hospitals at their breaking point. But after a catastrophic fall and winter surge, the tide finally began to turn in late January and early February.
On Tuesday, the region notched another achievement that would have been unthinkable a few months ago. Case rates in Los Angeles County finally reached the threshold to qualify for the yellow tier, meaning L.A. could enter the most lenient category of the state’s four-tiered reopening system as soon as next week.
Under the state’s reopening blueprint, counties have to maintain metrics for two consecutive weeks to progress, so L.A.’s big move will be dependent on the county sustaining its numbers through next week.
[Read the story: “L.A. County hits yellow tier marker; widest reopening could be a week away” in the Los Angeles Times]
L.A. County — home to roughly a quarter of all Californians — in many ways reflects and helps chart the course of the pandemic statewide, as my colleague Luke Money writes. State case rates haven’t been this consistently low since last spring. And in a stunning reversal of fortunes, California now has the lowest coronavirus case rate in the U.S.
As Luke reports, officials and experts say continuing the recent progress will hinge on two primary factors: more people getting vaccinated and continued adherence to the public health protocols that can keep the coronavirus from gaining a new foothold.
What does the yellow tier mean?
The yellow tier indicates minimal virus risk, meaning most indoor businesses can operate with modifications. Life won’t look markedly different from the orange tier, but the allowable capacity for a variety of businesses — from gyms and movie theaters to outdoor sports venues — will increase substantially. Indoor bars that don’t serve meals can also reopen, as can saunas and steam rooms.
[Read more: “What the yellow tier means for restaurants, bars, amusement parks, gyms and more” in the Los Angeles Times]
Besides L.A. County, San Francisco, Marin and Trinity counties also appear poised to enter the yellow tier next week if trends hold.
What comes after the yellow tier?
Officials have set a target date of June 15 to move beyond the blueprint entirely and fully reopen the state’s economy.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
Facebook, Google and Blue Shield of California are among the companies that contributed a staggering $226 million to government causes on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s behalf last year, unprecedented levels of spending that are raising alarms about the influence large corporations are amassing in Sacramento.
State records reviewed by The Times show that “behested payments” spiked dramatically in 2020 compared to the year prior. With no limit on how much money can be donated by organizations or individuals at the behest of the governor, millions of dollars flowed in to prop up public services during the pandemic and fund Newsom’s favored programs. Los Angeles Times
It’s never been easier to get a COVID-19 vaccine in California, officials say, with Los Angeles County and many other counties now offering vaccines at some sites without requiring an appointment. Los Angeles Times
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As Scott Rudin steps back from Hollywood, will there be long-term consequences? Few Hollywood luminaries have spoken publicly about Rudin in the wake of allegations of abusive and bullying behavior. Los Angeles Times
New limits placed on LAPD officers’ personal social media activity: L.A. police officers could face discipline for discriminatory or harassing behavior on their personal social media accounts as part of an updated policy. Los Angeles Daily News
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s shifting narrative on the Capitol riot : Back in January, the top House Republican seriously criticized former President Trump’s handling of the deadly insurrection, saying the president bore responsibility for not doing more to quell the attack after it began. But the Bakersfield congressman pulled “something close to a 180″ in a sit-down on Fox this weekend, where he suggested Trump had in fact responded sufficiently to his pleas for action on Jan. 6. Washington Post
California braces for another “clown car” of recall candidates: “If you want to be famous for being famous, there’s no better way to do it than to run for governor of California — even if you have no chance of winning,” said veteran California PR guru Larry Kamer. “It’s kind of the political equivalent of running naked down the street.” Politico
CRIME AND COURTS
Paul Flores moved to L.A. after Kristin Smart vanished. New sexual assault claims followed. Los Angeles Times
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
CDC relaxes its advice about wearing masks outdoors: U.S. health officials say fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers, and those who are unvaccinated can go without a face covering outside in some cases too. Associated Press
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that California would be aligning with the new CDC guidelines. “If you’re fully vaccinated, outdoors, and not in a large crowd — you do not need to wear a mask,” the governor wrote in a tweet. (K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Did San Francisco’s zeal to stave off an earthquake calamity set the stage for a post-earthquake fire calamity? After a pair of Mission Local reports on the issue, three San Francisco supervisors called for a hearing into possible dangers stemming from the city’s mandatory seismic retrofit projects, specifically around gas lines encased in new concrete foundations. Mission Local
As COVID canceled quinceañeras, Fresno’s Latino businesses learned how to survive: Latino entrepreneurs whose businesses depend on cycle-of-life events such as baptisms, first communions, weddings and quinceañeras have suffered considerable losses. Fresno Bee
After more than 40 years at the Press-Democrat, columnist Chris Smith is retiring. Smith began his tenure at the paper as a 23-year-old Mendocino Coast correspondent in September 1977. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
A poem to start your Wednesday: “Mourning What We Thought We Were” by Frank Bidart. Read Good Poetry
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Los Angeles: finally, a return to the untempered sunshine you left Iowa for, 79. San Diego: sunny, 72. San Francisco: sunny, 64. San Jose: sunny, 81. Fresno: sunny, 84. Sacramento: still sunny, 88.
Today’s California memory comes from Sharon Vaipae:
I first arrived in California during August 1969. Driving from Iowa in a candy apple red 1967 Cougar down Highway 99 and headed to Fresno with my 5-year-old son Marc for a teaching position beginning the next month. The views were spectacular with palm trees in the median and the mountains off to the east. Few of those palm trees are now there … and I miss them! It was in the Central Valley that I also discovered my car did NOT have air conditioning.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.