Senate Cancels Floor Session After 2 New COVID-19 Cases Found In Capitol

On Wednesday, less than 2 months after the State Capitol Building and surrounding office buildings shut down to to a mini-outbreak, 2 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Capitol Building were announced, cancelling today’s floor session and threatening to shut down future proceedings once again.

A Senator with COVID-19, another Senate delay

Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) and an unnamed California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer both had confirmed positive cases announced during the day.

“Senator Brian Jones today, upon his return to Sacramento this week for the end of Session, received news that he has tested positive for COVID-19,” said the office of Senator Jones in a tweet. “He will be taking additional tests to recheck the results and to rule out possibility of a false-positive result. In the meantime, he’ll be following CDC and CDPH protocols for those receiving a positive test result.”

While the CHP officer had only been in the Capitol Building on Monday, Senator Jones had been to a floor session on Monday and a Caucus on Tuesday, potentially spreading it to other Senators.

Senator Toni G. Atkins. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Senate President Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) now has to decide how the Senate will complete the next 5 days, as over 270 bills are either at or close to floor votes, not counting amended bills that need a revote in the Senate. A continuation of in-person voting with heightened health measures, remote voting, or a hybrid mix of the two are currently on the table, despite the Senate reaffirming earlier this year that there would be no remote voting during floor votes.

“The Senate will be prepared to continue our work when we have completed public health protocols to ensure that the risk of exposure has been eliminated,” said Senator Atkins in a statement on Wednesday. “The Senate will use the tools available to us to make sure that we can complete necessary work prior to August 31st.”

Senator John M. W. Moorlach. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Many Senators expressed optimism for continuing in-person and to carry on the last few days until the end of the session next week despite one of the new cases infecting Senator Jones.

“We have, as senators, done a pretty good job of avoiding COVID-19 for five months,” explained Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa). “We’re all doing our best and we’re all trusting that everyone else is doing the same. I would like to conclude session, and if those that tested positive have to do it remotely, then so be it.”

Many Senators are also insisting that they can carry-on their work under social distancing and any increased measures in the Capitol Building.

With hundreds of bills to go and only 5 days left, the Senate has a hard call to make on voting

Capitol Building insiders also point out that, ever since the Assembly and Senate shut down for an additional few weeks last month due to the outbreak, that the new measures have been by and large working.

“Less people, less staffers have been allowed in, there are virtually no tourists, and everything is social distanced,” explained “Dana”, a State Capitol worker, to the Globe. “Everyone’s reacting to those cases, like Senator Jones’ case, as generally a ‘fluke’.  A case was bound to show up again, and it was two isolated cases close together, assuming that the first tests weren’t false positives.

“The thing is, even with a reduced amount of bills, everyone is behind and rushing to get things done. There cannot be any more delays like this. They cancelled a floor session today, and that was critical. You can’t just stamp out hundreds of bills over a few days. Everyone has been working hard on all of them, especially staffers stuck working at home. I’ve had meetings with dogs barking and babies crying in the background. It’s been nuts.

“We’ll know very soon just how much more work and nights burning the midnight oil are up ahead.”

While the Senate is currently mulling their options for voting for the rest of the session, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) has said that floor session there would continue on as usual despite the two cases.

Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at [email protected]

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Weather, reinforcements helping in California wildfire fight

Firefighters hard-pressed by some of the largest wildfires in California history scrambled Wednesday to take advantage of cooler weather and an influx of aid as they carved and burned containment lines around the flames.

“Every percent of containment is hours and hours of sweat and blood up on those lines,” Jonathan Cox, deputy chief with the state’s fire agency, Cal Fire, said Tuesday evening.

Progress was made on three major blazes around the San Francisco Bay Area and the wine country north of San Francisco. One was 27% surrounded.

The fires, which started as clusters of lightning-sparked blazes last week, slowed down at lower altitudes as a morning marine layer — an air mass drawn from the ocean by intense heat on land — brought cooler temperatures and higher humidity. The cooler air, however, didn’t reach the higher forest and rural areas full of heavy timber and brush. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press.

California Coronavirus Hospitalizations Down 35% Since June

COVID-related hospitalizations in California continued on the decline as of Sunday. The state reported 203 fewer patients, 5,665, down 35% from its high of 8,820 July 21, according to counts from county websites.

California reported 10,268 new cases of the coronavirus, on Sunday, Aug. 23, bringing the cumulative total since tracking began to 667,470.

There were also 160 new deaths reported, making for a total of 12,150 people who have died, according to unofficial counts from county websites. …

Click here to read the full article from the OC Register.

Appeals court gives reprieve to Uber, Lyft in California

An appeals court has allowed ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft to continue treating their drivers as independent contractors in California in a decision that will give the two companies a few more months to protect their business models in a key market.

The stay pauses a lower-court ruling that was scheduled to take effect at midnight on Friday and would have forced Uber and Lyft to treat all their drivers as employees. The companies said that such a change in status would be impossible to accomplish overnight and would have saddled them with a financial burden difficult for them to shoulder while they are still struggling to turn a profit.

Lyft told riders and drivers in a Thursday blog post that it planned to discontinue providing rides in California just before midnight without a stay. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had repeatedly said its service would have no choice but to stop providing rides in California if the state’s law goes into effect because the company can’t just flip a switch and quickly hire about 50,000 drivers as employees.

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press.

Northern California wildfires threatening thousands of homes

Wildfires raged through Northern California on Wednesday, threatening thousands of homes and blackening the skies near San Francisco as crews struggled to surround them despite steep terrain and blistering heat.

The fires, many caused by lightning and sometimes pushed by strong winds, had burned hundreds of thousands of acres as they chewed through brushland, rural areas, canyon country and dense forest to the north, east and south of San Francisco. Fires also carved their way through the wine country and the Sierra Nevada.

In addition to about two dozen major blazes, small fires kept erupting, though most were quickly stopped.

In central California, a pilot on a water dropping mission in western Fresno County died Wednesday morning when his helicopter crashed about an hour from New Coalinga Municipal Airport. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press.

Newsom Declares State of Emergency Due To Heat, Wildfires

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency due to high temperatures and over two dozen separate wildfires currently burning across the state.

Newsom’s declaration, which will give California out-of-state funding to help combat wildfires and to assist electricity providers in rolling blackout affected areas, also focused on evacuation assistance from fires in Napa, Nevada, and Monterey counties

“We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme conditions,” said Governor Newsom in a Tuesday press release. “California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions.”

Governor Newsom’s office also sent out a tweet clarifying the declaration, saying “Governor Gavin Newsom today declared a statewide emergency to help ensure the availability of vital resources to combat fires burning across the state, which have been exacerbated by the effects of the historic West Coast heat wave & sustained high winds.”

While fires had been raging across the state for several weeks, including the large Lake Fire outside of Los Angeles, they had been seen more as isolated until very recently.

“The heat wave is helping keep many of these fires alive,” said former PI wildfire fireman Victor Gabarra. “I had worked during heat waves before, and any water or coolant you put down only evaporates faster. It keeps temperatures up and fire actually starts to change color a little bit in high heat.

“You also have firemen dropping off more to the heat. A lot of people getting heat stroke since they’re caught between two temperatures of being over 100 degrees high. They said Death Valley hit 130 the other day. If that temperature was around where firemen were, well, we would be looking at deaths. It’s little wonder that the Governor declared an emergency.”

Before Tuesday’s state of emergency declaration, Governor Newsom had also secured Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants to help stop some of the wildfires. However funding and increased megawattage had not been given to power companies, a decision which has brought rolling blackouts to many areas across the state. The situation was so dire on Tuesday that the power grid reached a Stage 2 Alert, warning that rotating power outages are “imminent.”

Many, including President Donald Trump, blamed California leaders for the outages and criticized them for allowing the widespread power outages to happen.

“In California, Democrats have intentionally implemented rolling blackouts — forcing Americans in the dark,” said President Trump in a tweet. “Democrats are unable to keep up with energy demand.”

It is not yet known when the state of emergency will end, but due to temperature highs across the state still being above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and fires still blazing in Northern and Southern California, it is not expected to end for at least a week.

Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

George Washington statue near L.A.’s City Hall vandalized

Seven individuals were arrested Thursday night in the vandalism of a statue of George Washington in downtown’s Grand Park, Los Angeles police said.

No further details of the arrests were available, police said. Footage from KCAL-TV Channel 9 shows the statue toppled, with red paint smeared on its hands and face and the anarchy symbol tagged on the base.

The incident followed a small protest at the park across from City Hall on Hill Street between Temple and 1st streets, according to media reports.

Protests over landmarks and spaces dedicated to public figures with troubling histories have emerged in recent months following the killing of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him at the neck with his knee for more than eight minutes. …

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

L.A. County to Settle Lawsuit Over Tax Measure

An investigation by the state’s political watchdog and a civil lawsuit have resulted in a pending settlement that would require Los Angeles County to pay $1.35 million to resolve claims that it failed to properly disclose its use of public funds to support a ballot measure that raised the sales tax to fund homeless services.

The case centers on the campaign for Measure H, a multimillion-dollar effort approved by voters in 2017 that was sponsored by businesses and labor groups, among others. Measure H received 69.3% of the vote, clearing the required two-thirds’ support by 2.6 percentage points, and is projected to produce $355 million annually over a decade.

The Fair Political Practices Commission opened an administrative investigation in March 2017 following a complaint by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. alleging that the county had conducted an illegal political campaign by running ads with positive messages about the measure. …

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

Virus Surge Appears To Be Abating in California

Six weeks after California began re-closing swaths of the economy, there is cautious optimism that coronavirus transmission is heading downward, officials said.

If it stays that way, the state may be on the cusp of curbing its second surge of the pandemic.

The potential crest comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s speedy economic reopening in May and early June led to a near doubling of the weekly death toll over the spring tally. California’s cumulative pandemic death toll is now about 11,000, one of the worst disasters in the state’s modern history.

But there are now several signs that Newsom’s second shutdown, which began in late June and broadened in early July, is finally having its intended effect. It can take three to five weeks to start seeing the health effects of stay-at-home orders, and six weeks have passed since much of the state was required to close bars and indoor dining rooms at restaurants, an order that was expanded to the rest of the state a month ago. …

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

Thousands of listings may violate short-term rental law

Tenant activists celebrated when Los Angeles ushered in new rules to clamp down on renting homes for short stays, saying the city needed to stop landlords who were running apartment buildings like hotels.

But more than a year after that law went into effect, many rental hosts appear to be ignoring it. Thousands of illegal rentals are still being advertised online, according to city officials and a Times analysis of listings on the popular platform Airbnb — and only a fraction have been penalized with fines.

The new law limits Angelenos to hosting short-term rentals in their “primary residence,” not in a second home or an investment property — a rule meant to ease the housing crisis. It also requires hosts to register with the city, which checks that they meet that and other requirements. Advertising an unregistered listing could be a way to try to dodge those rules. …

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