Three Charged in EDD Fraud That Used Names of Inmates

Federal prosecutors have charged three Inland Empire women in separate schemes in which they allegedly received COVID-related unemployment benefits using the names of California inmates. The women, who allegedly raked in a combined $1.2 million, are said to have falsely made claims under the names of inmates they said were unemployed due to the pandemic.

Sequoia Edwards, 35, of Moreno Valley; Mireya Ramos, 42, of Colton; and Paris Thomas, 33, of San Bernardino, are charged in separate criminal complaints. Each faces two counts: fraud in connection with gathering benefits and wire fraud, authorities said.

The women are part of a rash of pandemic-related unemployment fraud schemes that have occurred around the state in the past year, with at least $810 million in benefit claims improperly filed in the names of California prison inmates, authorities said. Investigators say overall losses from the fraud will top $11 billion. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Supreme Court Stops California Virus Rules Limiting Home Worship

The Supreme Court is telling California that it can’t enforce coronavirus-related restrictions that have limited home-based religious worship including Bible studies and prayer meetings.

The order from the court late Friday is the latest in a recent string of cases in which the high court has barred officials from enforcing some coronavirus-related restrictions applying to religious gatherings.

Five conservative justices agreed that California restrictions that apply to in-home religious gatherings should be lifted for now, while the court’s three liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts would not have done so. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Anti-Fracking Bill Could Severely Curtail Oil And Gas Extraction In California

California may soon take one of its most aggressive steps yet to fight climate change.

A bill before the state Legislature seeks to ban the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, in response to a high-profile request by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who last year urged lawmakers to move to halt the fossil fuel extraction technique.

But Senate Bill 467 wouldn’t stop there.

It would also eliminate several other methods that use water, steam or acid to wring oil from the ground. Taken together, the bill would prohibit most petroleum production in California and threaten many thousands of jobs, industry leaders say, particularly in places such as Kern County, where much of the state’s oil and gas is extracted.

Supporters of the bill are skeptical of the industry’s data but don’t deny that SB467 would have a major effect on the state’s oil and gas sector. It’s a necessary step, advocates say, to curb the ever-growing impacts of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

California Aims To Fully Reopen Its Economy June 15

California is aiming to fully reopen its economy June 15, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives and businesses of millions across the state.

Officials emphasize the move hinges on two factors: a sufficient vaccine supply and stable and low hospitalization numbers.

There also will not be a full return to pre-pandemic life. Notably, California’s mask mandate will remain in place.

But officials expressed confidence that the state, through continued improvement in its coronavirus metrics and the steady rollout of vaccines, is now positioned to begin actively planning for what comes after COVID-19. …

Click here to read the full article by the L.A. Times.

Coronavirus Infections On The Rise In The Bay Area

Coronavirus infections trended up in the Bay Area for the week ending Friday, with the average number of daily new cases at 475, up 8.7% from the prior week ending March 26.

The data could indicate that California is beginning to fall in line with the rest of the United States, where coronavirus infections have steadily plateaued or increased due to more infectious variants.

“On the West Coast, we see a leveling off,” which is not a bad thing, said Dr. George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at UCSF. “We may go back up a little bit. We may hit bottom and bounce up a little bit.”

This is the fourth straight week of rising cases nationwide, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

S.F. School Board May Reverse Its Vote To Rename 44 Schools

Just over two months after voting to rename 44 schools, the San Francisco school board is poised to reverse that decision Tuesday to avoid costly litigation over the issue.

The upcoming vote represents the latest development in a months-long initiative that culminated amid the pandemic. In late January, the board voted 6-1 to change dozens of school names associated with slavery, oppression, genocide and colonization as public schools districtwide remained closed.

The process began in 2018 with a resolution to create a committee to advise the board. The committee ultimately recommended changing 44 school names, including Lincoln, Washington, Mission and Balboa high schools, as well as Alamo, Jefferson and Serra elementary schools. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Benching COVID: Baseball Fans Return To California Stadiums

Long before he watched the windup to the first pitch, even before he entered the Oakland Coliseum, Sergio Santillan of Hayward was already feeling emotional.

“I kinda wanna cry. I’m just loving it,” he said, beer in hand, perched on a cement divider in the parking lot.

Last year would have been Santillan’s third year as an A’s season pass holder — but then it all came to a screeching halt. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic triggered a California shutdown, and the season was postponed and then closed to live fans, who were replaced by cardboard cutouts.

“I was,” he said, “bitter.”

But last night, Major League Baseball welcomed spectators back to stadiums for regular season games for the first time since October 2019. The significance of Californians returning to a large public gathering — albeit masked and socially distanced, and stadiums at about a quarter of capacity — wasn’t lost on anyone. And it was underscored by an inescapable reminder: In the parking lot just behind the stadium, occupants in dozens of cars were lined up to receive their Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine.

For baseball fans who turned out at California stadiums to watch openers by the Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s, the experience wasn’t exactly the same as before the pandemic. But the general consensus was that it felt good to be back.

“I was here before I was born. In this stadium and every year since,” said Kurt Samuels, a perennial season ticket holder for Oakland’s baseball team, the A’s, and football team, the Raiders. “The A’s winning or losing is such a tradition and to not have that last year made what was happening in 2020 that much more real,” he continued. “This last year has been torture.”

The pandemic disrupted the 2020 baseball season, as it did so many other things. Season openers were initially postponed from April to July, and the regular season was ultimately cut short to only 60 games rather than the usual 162. Fans were excluded from attending, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

But as spring of 2021 loomed, the prospect of attending a baseball game enticed Californians. It was no coincidence that Gov. Gavin Newsom — facing a potential recall election fueled in part by dissatisfaction over pandemic restrictions — staged his annual State of the State speech last month at a virtually vacant Dodgers Stadium, where he promised a return to at least semi-normal life.

Oakland, in Alameda County, falls in the orange tier on the state’s hierarchy and thus could have filled a venue to a third of capacity. But the smaller size of the Coliseum meant that A’s fans were limited to quarter capacity, or just over 12,000 attendees, to ensure six feet of social distancing between pods of two to four people. The Coliseum also required that all fans remain masked when not eating or drinking, and use cashless payments and ordering for concessions.

The only hiccup? The cashless payment system, which caused some friction for fans who had a hard time accessing the app.

“We’ve been having trouble with mobile ordering,” said Darby Nastasia, her sparkly green eyeshadow and A’s mask matching the sea of green around her. But she and her fiance, David Baker, agreed it wasn’t enough to take away from the experience, saying they were “just happy to be in this environment.” The Coliseum eventually opened beverage purchases to credit card holders.

As for the outcome, the A’s lost, to the bad boys of baseball, the Houston Astros, giving A’s fans the chance to boo the trash can bangers who cheated their way to a World Series title in 2017.

But for the most part, fans were happy to comply if it meant they could enjoy a game in person. “It’s a little different,” said Tracy resident Michael Saenz. “It’s definitely fine, but different.”

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org.

Growing Vaccine Demand a Big Test For California

The expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone age 50 and older will be the biggest test yet for California’s vaccine effort, which has stabilized recently but still faces questions about whether supply and appointments can keep pace with demand.

Millions more Californians qualify for a shot starting Thursday, and in two weeks, all residents 16 and older will be eligible.

For most people, actually getting a dose will involve wading into California’s vast array of appointment websites run by local health departments, private health providers and clinics, several major pharmacy chains and the state, through a portal called My Turn.

Public health officials are urging newly eligible people to be patient while searching for an appointment because the supply of vaccine doses coming from the federal government is still constrained in some places. Officials in several major counties have said they could vaccinate far more people if they received more supplies. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

How To Get The Vaccine If You’re 50-Plus

The threshold for COVID-19 vaccine eligibility continues to expand this week. On Thursday, all Californians 50 and older will qualify.

In some parts of the state, that batch of residents has already been greenlighted.

But eligibility doesn’t guarantee immediate access. State and local officials have been optimistic that vaccine allocation will increase significantly over the next several weeks but have warned that supply will continue to be constrained as competition for shots grows by the millions.

Here’s what you should know.

Who qualifies for a vaccine?

Roughly half the residents of the state have qualified. On Thursday, that number will grow exponentially when residents 50 and older reach eligibility. And two weeks later, on April 15, the state’s vaccine rollout will become a free-for-all, when residents 16 and over will qualify. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

New Poll: Newsom Has Big Lead In California Recall Election

Gov. Gavin Newsom would easily defeat an attempt to recall him if the election were held today, as many Californians are optimistic that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind them and believe the governor is doing a good job, a new poll indicates.

The poll of likely voters found that 56% oppose removing Newsom from office while 40% back the recall, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. That’s almost as wide a margin as in the 2018 governor’s race in which Newsom defeated John Cox, one of the Republicans who has declared himself as a replacement candidate in a recall election that is likely to be held later this year.

The survey “is good news for Newsom,” said Mark Baldassare, the institute’s president and CEO. “The burden of proof (to recall Newsom) is on the people who brought this before voters, and they haven’t moved that level of support much since 2018.” …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.