Essential California: The state of a state in flux

Gov. Gavin Newsom surrounded by lawmakers
A very different scene as Gov. Gavin Newsom entered the Assembly Chamber on Feb. 19, 2020, for his State of the State address last year.
(California Governor / Facebook)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, March 9, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

A little over a year ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a very different State of the State address from the one he’ll deliver Tuesday.

It was Feb. 19, 2020. There had only been a handful of known coronavirus cases in California, and a CDC official’s warning that we prepare for a “significant disruption of our lives” wouldn’t come for another week.

Every inch of the Assembly Chamber at the State Capitol appeared packed with people, with even more up in the balcony.


At the time, Newsom had the highest approval ratings he’d seen since taking office, and the mood was jubilant as he prepared to address a joint session of the Legislature.

Just before the governor entered the room, a group of people lining the back aisle jokingly formed a human arch with their arms, as if for him to walk through. During his nearly two-and-a-half-minute walk from the door to the dais, the governor shook countless hands and embraced at least a dozen people. Watching the footage in 2021 is surreal and anxiety-provoking — a strange artifact of pre-pandemic life, preserved during a moment when the virus was probably already silently spreading in the state.

Newsom began his 2020 address by declaring that — “by any standard measure, by nearly every recognizable metric” — the state of California was “not just thriving but, in many instances, leading the country, inventing the future, and inspiring the nation.”

It was a very different time. The state had seen 118 consecutive months of job growth and the bulk of the speech was devoted to homelessness, the crisis the governor identified as the state’s chief priority for the year to come. The word “coronavirus” was not mentioned once.

Fortunes have shifted dramatically, and often tragically, during the ensuing 384 days.

The state has emerged on the other side of its brutal third surge but remains badly battered. Many California students have not seen the inside of a classroom for nearly a year; 9% of Californians were out of work in December; and the state’s vaccine rollout has been plagued with issues.

Newsom is now a politician in jeopardy, facing the real threat of a recall election in the fall.


[See also: “What you need to know about the attempt to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom” in the Los Angeles Times]

When the governor delivers his third State of the State address Tuesday evening, it will be in a nearly empty Dodger Stadium, redolent with symbolism.

The tens of thousands of empty seats at the ballpark-turned-coronavirus-testing-center-turned-mass-vaccination-site will be a somber reminder of the more than 54,000 Californians who have died from COVID-19. As our Sacramento bureau chief John Myers reported, Newsom’s staff said the ballpark’s capacity is roughly equivalent to the number of COVID-19 deaths in California.

But the stadium location will also symbolize the easing of restrictions: California recently announced that fans will be allowed to attend Major League Baseball games, and the Dodgers could sell 11,200 tickets for their April 9 home opener if the county advances to the less restrictive red tier.

It’s too soon to know what the next few months will look like for Newsom, or whether he’ll have to do battle on California ballots in the fall. (After the March 17 signature-gathering deadline for the recall effort, local election offices will have until April 29 to complete their review of the recall petitions.)

[Read more: “News Analysis: A pivotal moment for Newsom in his State of the State address” in the Los Angeles Times]


But John writes that Tuesday’s speech still might “feel like the kickoff of the campaign to keep his job.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Some of California’s largest counties — including Los Angeles — could be poised to unlock parts of their economies as soon as this week if certain state-set benchmarks are met. The potentially accelerated opening in places like L.A., Orange and San Bernardino counties is possible thanks to a rewrite of California’s coronavirus reopening blueprint that state officials announced last week. Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Unified School District is aiming to reopen middle and high schools in late April under a timetable announced Monday by Supt. Austin Beutner. Under L.A. County health rules, local secondary schools could be eligible to open as soon as next week. Los Angeles Times

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Painter Francisco Palomares has turned the classic L.A. fruit cart into a mobile art studio and gallery. His goal: more direct connection between maker and buyer. Los Angeles Times

Artist Francisco Palomares stands in front of a converted fruit cart holding paintings as pedestrians walk
Artist Francisco Palomares stands in front of his converted fruit cart as pedestrians walk past on Traction Avenue in the Arts District.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The New York Times has spoken: “The best bagels are in California.” An ex-Brooklynite revels in the glory of the West Coast bagel boom, with particular praise for Boichik Bagels (Berkeley), Courage Bagels (Los Angeles), Midnite Bagel (San Francisco) and Pop’s Bagels (Culver City). New York Times

What to know about neighborhood council elections: A handy guide, given that most of the city’s 99 neighborhood councils will hold their elections over the next few months. The LAnd

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How the Clintons and Obamas rewrote the post-presidency playbook to become content creators: John Quincy Adams once said, “There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president.” Perhaps the nation’s sixth president might have felt differently had Netflix or Spotify come calling. Washington Post


What you can and can’t do after getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19: People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can resume some parts of their old life but must remain vigilant in many ways as the pandemic continues, according to new federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Los Angeles Times



“Prisons and jails do not promote parenting; they seriously impede it.” San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin writes a deeply personal essay about how his mother and father fought to parent him while incarcerated. The Nation

“Maybe they buy a new Tesla or convertible, but they don’t go out and start buying airplanes overnight.” In Silicon Valley, the newest start-up millionaires are proceeding less ostentatiously as they navigate their “giraffe money” windfalls during a pandemic. (Per the story, giraffe money is a level of wealth that “can support casual giraffe ownership.”) New York Times

The Bay Area migration has turned the Central Valley into a suddenly hot housing market: Between March and November of 2020, at least 6,320 households moved to ZIP Codes in San Joaquin County from Bay Area counties, according to United States Postal Service data. San Francisco Chronicle

A poem to start your Tuesday: “We never know how high we are (1176)” by Emily Dickinson.

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 63. San Diego: sunny, 61. San Francisco: rain, 54. San Jose: cloudy with occasional rain showers, 57. Fresno: a cloudy day will become a rainy night, 61. Sacramento: occasional rain starting in the late morning, 54.


Today’s California memory comes from Andy Ludlum:


I remember going to the Ascot Park Speedway in the 1960s with my father. It had a small stadium with a dirt track, and we’d watch the sprint cars race. My favorite part of the evening would probably make liability lawyers shudder today: When the racing was over, fans were welcome to come down to infield, where all the race cars were parked. You could look at the cars and talk to the drivers. I remember my father warning me not to touch the red-hot mufflers of the cars that had been in the last race.

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.