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2 Years In – Assessing the Governor

 January 25, 2021 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, January 25th, Half-way Through Governor Gavin Newsom’s term... We’ll have that story next, but first... let’s do the headlines…. Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to rescind California's regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders today. That’s according to City News Service. The state will move back to their colored tiered system, meaning restrictions will be based on a variety of factors instead of just ICU capacity projections. It's unclear if the move will lift any business closures in areas hard hit by the virus like Los Angeles. Meanwhile, in San Diego, public health officials reported more than 1600 new coronavirus infections on sunday and 31 additional deaths. A new vaccination pod opened at the Mr luther king jr community center in National City over the weekend. Officials are hoping to vaccinate 500 people a day. You can find more information on how to book a vaccine appointment through the county’s website at san diego county dot gov. It’s raining in much of the county, and that’s expected to continue throughout the day today and on into tonight. Forecasters say a solid band of showers is coming through. Snow is expected in the mountains with heavy snow expected for places above 35-hundred feet of elevation. From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. This month marks the midpoint in Gavin Newsom’s term as California’s governor. That comes just as he is facing a possible recall effort that is gaining steam and could make it to the ballot. This week, we’ll be sharing stories that explore Gavin Newsom’s successes and shortcomings. To start our series, CapRadio’s politics reporter Nicole Nixon has this look at who’s behind the recall and whether it could actually succeed. Diana Ciocan is posted up in the parking lot of a grocery store in Citrus Heights, a suburb about 20 minutes north of Sacramento. She’s wearing a neon green vest and her car is draped with an enormous banner that reads “recall Gavin Newsom.” CIOCAN: I’m a hairstylist. When my salon got shut down, I had a lot of time on my hands. The 42-year-old comes here three days a week to gather signatures for a petition to do just that. CIOCAN: I got involved because it was disturbing to see all the businesses closing. <<:14>> Ciocan actually carries a list of reasons she thinks Newsom should get the boot. Pandemic shutdowns are at the top, but there’s a lot more. CIOCAN: We have the highest gas tax in the nation, the highest homelessness in the nation. He is promoting fear. Gavin Newsom goes to the French Laundry and eats without a mask. <<:09>> On any given day, there are dozens — maybe hundreds — of tables like hers up and down California. Organizers say they’ve collected over a million signatures. But if they want to get a recall on the ballot, they’ll need to get about a million more in the next six weeks. For a governor facing the very real threat of a recall election, Newsom has a high approval rating — 58 percent according to the most recent Public Policy Institute of California survey. That’s largely because Democrats have given the governor high marks throughout the pandemic, says Mark Baldassare. He’s with the PPIC. BALDASSARE: People are very polarized in terms of how they think about their leaders. So you're going to find people who have very strong feelings for and against this governor. <<:12>> Baldassare says there are big differences between this recall effort and the 2003 recall of former Democratic Governor Gray Davis. Democrats did not have such a tight hold on the state back then, and Davis’ approval sunk to a record low of 24% in the months before his ouster. There haven’t been voter surveys since the most recent stay-at-home orders or the French Laundry incident, when Newsom was photographed dining with a group of lobbyists at the exclusive restaurant. But the most recent surveys show Democratic voters still continue to support Newsom, while Republicans disapprove. VAN VECHTEN: Voters’ biggest cue will always be partisanship, as much as people don't want to admit that. <<:06>> Renée Van Vechten is a political science professor at the University of Redlands. She says while Newsom is clinging to the good graces of *most* California voters, there’s a lot riding on the next few weeks — including the all-important COVID-19 vaccine distribution. VAN VECHTEN: It is do or die time for the governor. Because he does face the very real possibility of a recall election. <<:16>> If the recall does qualify for the ballot, an election would likely be late this summer. And Van Vechten says Newsom shouldn’t rely too heavily on his base to carry him through. VAN VECHTEN: He's on a mountain, and he's driving around on a very narrow road. Could he go off the cliff at any time? It's possible. It’s just one little turn of the wheel and he's over the hill. That is what a French Laundry incident represents.” <<:16>> And she says voters may not have the appetite for another scandal. SOC And we’ll have another story tomorrow looking at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s successes and failures on climate change and wildfires. You can read more at CapRadio-dot-org-slash-NewsomMidTerm. February first is little more than a week away… the day that rent is due for many San Diegans. For those unable to pay because of the pandemic, KPBS reporter John Carroll says help is on the way. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria says the city is working as quickly as it can to distribute more than 42-million dollars in federal aid for residential and business renters. But, time is running out because a state eviction moratorium sunsets at the end of this month. So, Gloria is bringing an eviction moratorium proposal before the City Council on Tuesday. “We can either through a moratorium stop legal proceedings, and then through grant programs make those tenants and the mortgage holders whole, we know that we’re keeping people housed, keeping them out of homelessness and ultimately saving money in the long run.” The moratorium would last until 60-days after the City’s pandemic emergency declaration is lifted. Businesses would be protected from eviction through June 30th, or 60-days after the emergency declaration is lifted, whichever comes first. JC, KPBS News. DURING THE PANDEMIC, FOOD INSECURITY HAS GROWN ACROSS THE WORLD AND IN SAN DIEGO. AS PART OF OUR PANDEMIC PROFILE SERIES, KPBS REPORTER MAX RIVLIN-NADLER TELLS US ABOUT ONE LEMON GROVE MAN WHO WAS SPURRED TO ACTION. 46-year-old Darnell Williams saw the lines for food distribution growing during the early days of the pandemic. So…. Williams decided to do something about it…..Along with some friends, he began collecting food….within months, he’d established…. “Take What You Need Tuesdays” in City Heights….. There, people can pick up groceries they need for the week, no questions asked…. Williams… who worked in insurance before being laid off himself during the pandemic, said the program was inspired by his own upbringing, dealing with days where his single mother didn’t have enough food for the two of them…. 5:02 As a child, my mom and I found ourselves living on the street. The streets of Los Angeles when I was very young, and there was a time when we needed a program like this… and that program was a no-questions-asked program that was at a church. The distribution runs from 10am - 12 pm…. On the corner of University and Fairmount Avenues. Californians have accumulated as up much as one-BILLION-dollars in unpaid water bills since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. CapRadio’s Nina Sparling has more on the results of a new survey that shows the extent of the problem … and who it affects the most 1.6 million California households are behind on their water bills according to a recent survey from the State Water Resources Control Board A statewide water shutoff moratorium has kept tap on since March … even if people haven’t been able to pay their bills. But that is taking a financial toll … and the debt is adding up. POLHEMUS 1728 The way it makes me feel as we go through the data is don't panic, but be very worried That’s Darrin Polhemus, director of the division of drinking water at the agency, which surveyed over 500 water systems about their financial status. The survey found that Black and Latino households hold far more debt than white or Asian households … and that 130 water systems won’t be able to keep the lights on in six months without relief … Jonathan Nelson is the policy director at the Community Water Center, an advocacy group based in the Central Valley NELSON 0211 The very same communities that have already been hit hardest by this pandemic will also face the worst of this water shutoff crisis. And so, for us, this is really a basic matter of environmental justice and racial justice Nelson warns that this growing debt issue has added another crisis onto an already stressed drinking water system. NELSON 1300 the pandemic has really just exacerbated this divide between those that have safe and affordable drinking water and those that are really struggling to have it or may not have it at all. Legislators introduced two bills at the state level to address the debt … And Congress passed limited aid for water systems specifically at the end of December … but advocates say there’s a need for far more federal funding to address the growing debt … Coming up ...water supply in the west gets its start as snow in the mountains forests. But what happens when those forests burn? "We're kind of in a brave new world when it comes to snow and wildfire.” How scientists are racing to understand how massive burn scars affect the water cycle. That’s next, just after this break. Record-breaking wildfires in 2020 turned huge swaths of Western forests into barren burn scars. Western mountain forests normally store the winter snowpack that millions of people rely on for drinking and irrigation water. As KUNC's Luke Runyon reports -- scientists are investigating what happens when a river’s headwaters goes up in flames. TRACK: Roaming through a burn scar is like running an obstacle course. TRACK: There are downed trees to climb over, duck under, and get tripped by. KAMPF: [00:57:12] Oh, no. RUNYON: I'm OK. [00:57:14][1.8] KAMPF: Are you sure? RUNYON: Yup. TRACK: And the trees that are entirely burned out, leave gaping holes in the ground. KAMPF13: [00:55:37] “Wow, there's so much ash there.” RUNYON: “Oh, my gosh.” KAMPF: “That is so much ash!” TRACK: That’s Stephanie Kampf, a hydrology professor at Colorado State University. KAMPF: “They burned, like all the way down underground.” RUNYON: “Just like, followed the roots?” KAMPF: “Yeah, look at that.” TRACK: Kampf and a team of researchers are installing a weather station and stream gauges along a steep creek within the Cameron Peak burn scar. At more than 208-thousand acres, the northern Colorado fire is the state’s largest on record. Kampf wants to know: what happens to the snow that falls on a burned area this big. KAMPF9: [00:31:35] “Some of these streams have burned so much, I don't know if you noticed coming up, like the whole riparian zone is burned. And so there's nothing alive at all.” TRACK: Snow in the West equals water -- And Kampf says research shows fires can affect snowpack in very different ways. With no trees, more snow accumulates on the ground. But the lack of tree cover also means it’s more exposed to the sun, and in the spring, melting can become erratic. NOLIN5: [00:10:34] “We're kind of in a brave new world when it comes to snow and wildfire.” TRACK: Anne Nolin studies geography at the University of Nevada-Reno. She says another side effect of fire is how it can change the composition of snow when it falls on the ground ... it becomes darker, picking up charred bits of ash. NOLIN2: [00:07:04] “... and then all that black guck on the snow makes it melt a lot faster.” TRACK: Fires are an important part of forest ecology in the Western U.S. But Nolin says the fires in 2020 were unprecedented. NOLIN11: [00:28:20] “The scale that we're experiencing now. We actually don't know what the hydrologic impacts will be.” TRACK: That’s because no two fires are alike. Gabrielle Boisrame is a researcher at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas. She’s looked closely at one creek in Yosemite National Park. There land managers have been hands-off, and allowed smaller fires to burn more frequently. BOISRAME4: [00:08:03] “Do those kinds of fires then lead to less sedimentation and less problems with flooding and water quality? And it looks like they do.” TRACK: Another hurdle is getting good data from burn scars. Landslides and floods after a fire can destroy scientific instruments leaving the record incomplete. But as fires burn bigger and hotter, she says there’s a push for researchers to get into the field and understand how fire and water intersect. BOISRAME6: [00:21:31] “People are starting to realize that we're working on such thin margins in terms of water supply in the West that we actually need to know.” NATS -- BACK IN BURN SCAR KAMPF16: [01:17:00] “OK, well, I think we just ought to do this and we want to spend another day looking for more sites...” TRACK: After an hour and a half of scrambling through the Cameron Peak burn scar, researcher Stephanie Kampf and her team have found a location for their weather station, and begin staking it into the burnt ground. NATS hammering TRACK: Kampf says it can be easy to think of wildfires as singular, acute events, that displace people from their homes and choke the air with smoke until they are put out. But when it comes to snowpack, and water supplies, the impact can last for decades. KAMPF21: [00:05:49] And so when those areas get stressed by something like a whole series of severe wildfires, then we're talking about affecting the water supply of not just that area...” TRACK: But the entire water supply of the west... since most of our region’s rivers start in relatively small, snowy forests. That was Luke Runyon in Colorado. This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Colorado River, produced in partnership with public media station KUNC in northern Colorado, with financial support by the Walton Family Foundation. That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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This month marks the midpoint of Governor Gavin Newsom’s 4 year term in office. We’ll have a look back on the first two years as he continues to battle a pandemic and now a potential recall campaign. Meanwhile, a new vaccination pod opens up in San Diego’s South Bay. Plus, the State’s water board officials are warning about financial risk as billions in water bills haven’t been paid since the pandemic started.