Essential California Week in Review: Newsom hits pause on school vaccine mandate


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, April 16.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week

California will not require COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren this fall. Newsom made headlines in October when he announced California would be the first state to mandate the vaccine in schools once shots were fully approved by the FDA for children 12 and older, with the requirement going into effect by July 1. But Thursday he paused the state mandate. The state Department of Public Health said the timeline would be pushed back to at least July 1, 2023, since the FDA has not yet fully approved the vaccine for children and the state will need time afterward to initiate its rule-making process.

California has 110,000 fewer public school students this year. Enrollment has dropped for the fifth year in a row as K-12 schools struggle against pandemic disruptions and a shrinking population of school-age children. The decrease is so large that educators are asking, “Just where are those kids?” said one academic official. “We don’t have satisfying data to answer that question.”

Grocery workers got double-digit pay raises in a new contract. Whipsawed by the pandemic, spurred by fury over wage stagnation and alarmed by inflation, Southern California’s unionized grocery workers gained their biggest pay raises in decades Thursday as they ratified a new contract with the region’s largest food chains.


Amid severe drought, Klamath farmers will be allocated little water. The federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin would be apportioned a limited amount of water this summer. The bureau also announced $20 million in drought-response aid and an additional $5 million for projects led by Klamath Basin tribes.

YouTubers who USC said staged classroom takeovers, causing students to panic, are being sued by the university. The school says Ernest Kanevsky and Yuguo Bai, who are not USC students, staged an incident in which they pretended to be Russian mafia, and another in which they physically intimidated a professor out of the room before taking over the lectern and demeaning students. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order banning the pair from campus and school buildings.

Homicides are up, but the number of child victims declined. The stunning climb in homicide rates in recent years in California and big cities across the nation obscures a remarkable trend involving young children: The number of child homicide victims fell dramatically in California over the last decade, the latest death certificate data show, a pattern mirrored to a lesser extent nationwide.

Police were looking for another suspect in the Sacramento gang shooting, one with a long rap sheet. Police named Mtula Payton as among those responsible for the shootout that killed six and wounded 12 in downtown Sacramento this month. Early in the week they said they had exhausted “all leads” and needed the public’s help in finding him. Before the shooting, Payton was already wanted on multiple felony warrants, including domestic violence and gun charges.

L.A. gangs have sent out crews to find, follow and rob people who look wealthy. More than a dozen gangs are aggressively targeting residents, sending out crews in multiple cars to locate and rob those driving high-end vehicles or wearing expensive jewelry, police say. In some cases, suspects have been arrested but then released from custody, only to commit additional robberies.

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Green lawns, old appliances and leaky pipes are sucking up California’s water. A new study found that a host of existing technologies and standard practices could improve efficiency to reduce total urban water use by as much as 48%. Measures include fixing leaks in water pipes, replacing inefficient washing machines and toilets, and replacing lawns with plants suited to California’s dry climate.

The western Joshua tree “is currently abundant and widespread.” State biologists recommended against designating the tree as threatened with extinction. Environmentalists who had filed a petition about the effects climate change would have on the trees vigorously objected: “Current domestic and global warming trends cast doubt on the tree’s future survival.” A final decision by the California Fish and Game Commission is expected in June.

It’s been over a month since Gov. Newsom pledged cash to offset rising gas prices, and the effort is still stalled. He and state lawmakers have yet to find common ground on the most basic details of the plan: Who should be eligible for refunds and how much should they receive?

Drug use among teens dropped — but overdoses spiked. Drug use among teens is not becoming more common, a UCLA researcher says, but it is growing much more dangerous: Teens “are at a much higher risk of overdose death because of the spread of counterfeit pills that look like Percocet and OxyContin or Xanax, but they’re actually illicit fentanyl.”

For $55 million, PG&E will avoid criminal charges for two wildfires started by its equipment. Prosecutors said the settlements in the Dixie and Kincade fires were a better outcome for fire victims and communities because limitations in criminal law made it difficult to hold corporations accountable. Some community advocates said the utility essentially bought its way out of culpability.

Those big cans of AriZona iced tea have cost 99 cents for 30 years now. Owner Don Vultaggio says the company is committed to the price and has tightened its belt: “Consumers don’t need another price increase from a guy like me.”


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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Erica Anderson is one of the few clinical psychologists specializing in transgender youth to publicly question the sharp rise in adolescents coming out as trans or nonbinary. Anderson herself is transgender, and she’s helped hundreds of teens transition. But she has also come to believe that some children are falling under the influence of peers and social media and that some clinicians are failing to subject minors to rigorous mental health evaluations before recommending hormones or surgeries: “For a while, we were all happy that society was becoming more accepting and more families than ever were embracing children that were gender variant. Now it’s got to the point where there are kids presenting at clinics whose parents say, ‘This just doesn’t make sense.’”

“Sylvia, someone has to tell the story.” Sylvia Mendez promised her mother she’d keep the story alive of how her parents won their fight to take her out of a “Mexican school” in Orange County and enroll in a whites-only school. That was 75 years ago, and her fight for equality continues. Mendez, 85, travels around the country to speak at schools on the case — which helped lead to the desegregation of California schools and influenced the legal arguments that were used in Brown vs. Board of Education seven years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that separate schools based on race were unconstitutional.

Your guide to literary L.A. Ahead of the L.A. Times Festival of Books, April 23-24 at USC, The Times has an interactive guide to the 65 best bookstores in the city. You can sort the list to find shops near you, or filter to find “art,” “cookbooks,” “rare & used” and more. The package of stories includes writers talking about what — and where — inspires them; historic hotspots; and customers talking about their favorite bookstores. “Lit City” will have you itching to explore new bookshelves.

Today’s week-in-review newsletter was curated by Laura Blasey. Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to

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