In California: Effort to recall Governor Newsom gains steam amid COVID-19 frustration

Greetings! I'm Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, wondering how it got to be February so soon. Here are the latest headlines from the Golden State on this Monday.

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.

Newsom feels the heat  

California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlines his 2021-2022 state budget proposal during a news conference in Sacramento on Jan. 8, 2021.

With COVID-19 ravaging the Golden State and creating economic hardship, Californians are frustrated. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom was already disliked by pockets of the state for his liberal policies, but the pandemic has pushed discontent to a new level. And Newsom is in the crosshairs.

A movement to make Newsom only the second California governor ever recalled is gaining steam. The recall effort's lead proponent is Orrin Heatlie, a former police officer, who listed among his reasons Newsom's decision to suspend the death penalty in March 2019 two months into his term, his stance on immigration, his French Laundry scandal, his gun control initiatives and his administration's handling of unemployment benefits, among others.

California allows elected officials to be recalled only if the secretary of state receives a petition with signatures numbering 12% of the votes cast in the most recent election, among other caveats. In this case, the magic number is 1,495,709. If that many verified signatures are submitted by March 17, the issue will go to a statewide vote.

Meanwhile, Newsom's approval rating remains high at 58%, according to a December poll on the economy from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Newsom, who has deflected on the topic, saying he's focusing on his job, was elected governor in 2018 after serving as lieutenant governor and mayor of San Francisco. In his career, he has faced six recall attempts. In comparison, Jerry Brown faced 10 recall efforts as governor and two as attorney general. And former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faced seven, with the first coming in 2004, the year after the Republican took over for Gray Davis, the only California governor who has been successfully recalled to date.

In other Newsom news, law enforcement officials are investigating a series of violence and death threats the governor, his family and his various businesses.

According to The Sacramento Bee, one communication included a threat to burn down one of the wineries owned by PlumpJack Group, the hospitality company Newsom founded in 1992, with patrons inside.

Upon taking office, Newsom placed his businesses in a blind trust to reduce potential conflicts of interest. This makes him legally barred from being involved in day-to-day operations or participating in buy-and-sell decisions.

Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services, said he couldn’t answer specific questions about the threats but confirmed that law enforcement agencies are investigating.

U.K. coronavirus variant begins rapid spread in SoCal

Los Angeles residents wait in line in their cars to receive a covid-19 vaccine at Dodger Stadium, on Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. California is revamping its vaccine delivery system to give the state more control over who gets the shots following intense criticism of a slow and scattered rollout by counties.

Scientists are voicing "deep concern" about a possible surge in Southern California of the highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in Britain, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The U.K. variant — officially known as B.1.1.7 — is expected to become the dominant variant within a matter of weeks. So far, at least 113 cases have been identified throughout California, with 109 cases in San Diego County. Two cases have been identified in Los Angeles County with another two in San Bernardino County.

Last week, health authorities in San Diego County announced the first death linked to B.1.1.7, a 71-year-old man who was a household contact of someone who was confirmed to have been infected by the variant.

"This particular variant is estimated to be 50% to 70% more transmissible than previous variants, leading to surges in cases,” said Natasha Martin, associate professor in the UC San Diego Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Health.

While currently available vaccines are believed to be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, officials are urging people to remain vigilant by continuing to wear masks and maintaining social distances.

Newsom, California teacher unions clash over school openings

Sunny Sands Elementary School students engage in their grade-level teacher's online instruction at the school site learning hub in Cathedral City, Calif., on Friday morning, November 20, 2020. The cohort is currently limited to 14 students.

An effort to reopen California schools is causing frustration across the Golden State from parents eager to get their kids back in classrooms, a governor who wants them there and unions that want all teachers vaccinated before sending them back to work.

Parents and behavioral experts say many schoolchildren are feeling helpless or depressed and need a classroom setting to improve their mental health. However, teacher unions say they won't send their members into an unsafe environment. 

California’s 10,000 public schools have for the most part been closed since March. As most of the state's 6 million public school students approach a one-year anniversary of distance learning, parents are grappling more than ever with the toll of isolation and intense screen time on their kids' well-being.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention said in a recent study that schools should resume in-person learning as soon as possible and there is little evidence of spreading the infection when proper precautions are taken, such as masks, physical distancing and proper ventilation.

Newsom has said he will not force public schools to reopen but instead wants to “incentivize” them and has proposed a $2 billion plan that would give schools extra funding for COVID-19 testing and other safety measures if they reopen. But the state's largest school districts — Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, Long Beach, San Francisco and others — say the plan sets unrealistic rules and timelines.

California theme parks: Great America sets a reopening date

Under current COVID guidelines, large-scale theme parks in California are allowed to reopen at 25% capacity if the county they’re located in enters the state’s least strict (yellow) tier.

Don't tell Disneyland, but California’s Great America in Santa Clara is announcing plans to reopen its gates with limited capacity this spring.

“California’s Great America has scheduled its opening date for May 22 to allow time to ensure a safe return to fun for our guests,” spokesperson Danny Messinger told The San Francisco Chronicle via email. “The park continues to monitor state guidelines and work with industry and government officials to ensure that reopening plans meet all required health and safety guidelines.”

Great America is the first amusement park in California to set a 2021 reopening date.

Large-scale theme parks in California are allowed to reopen at 25% capacity if the county they’re located in enters the state’s least strict (yellow) tier. According to Messinger, the company is working with local health departments and will continue to share updates on its reopening plans.

It was also announced that all 2020 season passes have been extended through the 2021 season. Unused tickets from 2020 will be valid through Sept. 6, 2021.

Newsletter provides information, inspiration to Stockton homeless

(1/8/21)

Kathie Trees, right, who was once homeless herself, hands out the Tent 2 Tent newsletter to Ken Smith at a homeless encampment on Weber Avenue near Washington Street in downtown Stockton, She created the newsletter to inform the homeless about programs and services that they can take advantage of. CLIFFORD OTO/ THE STOCKTON RECORD

Stockton resident Kathie Trees was homeless until a few months ago. But after seeking help at a local shelter, she was able to move into a trailer with her dog and boyfriend and also recently found employment.

Sometimes all that stands between a homeless person and the resources they need is simply knowing where to look. In the hopes of breaking down those barriers, Trees and a partner, Kitty Ruhstaller, have created a weekly newsletter called Tent 2 Tent, which offers “the latest news, views and announcements” for the homeless. It has information about things like local food pantries, how to apply for CalFresh or instructions on obtaining a Social Security card. It also contains stories intended to inspire people into seeing what options are available to them.

In addition to delivering meals and supplies to homeless camps, Trees also hands out the newsletter to anyone who will take it. Tuleburg Press of Stockton prints and provides the materials for the newsletter free of charge, Trees said.

"If one person picks up this newsletter and uses the information, it'll all be worth it," Trees said.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee, Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle. We'll be back in your inbox tomorrow with the latest headlines.

As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at winston.gieseke@desertsun.com.