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Bay Area Headlines: Monday, 5/18/20, AM


A Different Kind Of 'Sanctuary' City / California’s 'Education Crisis' / Help Wanted For Hospitals / Hotel Rooms For Unhoused People

A Different Kind Of 'Sanctuary' City

More parks and hiking trails welcomed visitors again over the weekend. And one city declared itself a “sanctuary” from California's stay-at-home order.

Atwater’s a city of 30,000 people in central California. And now it’s on the map, thanks to officials who unanimously agreed Friday not to enforce the state’s nearly 2-month-old stay-at-home order. That means local authorities won't interfere with any business or church that decides to reopen ahead of state restrictions.

The declaration was a symbolic gesture of defiance against Governor Gavin Newsom. The city's mayor cautioned that businesses were taking their own risks by reopening — because they could lose their license.

California is moving through the second phase of relaxing the order. Businesses deemed lower risk have been gradually allowed to reopen, with retailers offering curbside pickup. Five of the six Bay Area counties that were the first in the nation to issue stay-at-home ordinances join the state in Phase Two, today. Those include San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin.

Meanwhile, state public health officials confirmed nearly 100 deaths Saturday for a total of 3,200 fatalities. More than half that total are in LA County. In some less-populated areas mainly in the northern half of the state, the virus barely registered. There have been few or no deaths, and even hospitalizations are rare.

As a result, California has seen counties move at different paces in reopening their economies.

Butte County, north of Sacramento, announced Friday that a person who attended a religious service on Mother's Day tested positive for the coronavirus. That possibly exposed more than 180 members of a congregation. The church that held the service chose to open its doors despite rules banning gatherings of any size, according to a statement from county public health officials. It said:

“Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures.”

California’s 'Education Crisis'

Governor Newsom said last week that California faces an “education crisis.” That is, unless it can offset its 19 billion dollar drop in revenue for K-12 schools and community colleges.

Newsom proposed a variety of ways to close the shortfall. Those include a mix of temporary revenue hikes, using federal stimulus money for education and withholding a planned pension debt payment. But even with those actions, Newsom says the overall investment in K-12 education would drop about 13 percent compared with last year’s budget. Education advocates and teachers unions said they’re worried about the funding cuts, adding that they will only make it more difficult to safely reopen school campuses next fall.

Here in San Francisco, the Unified School District anticipates a budget shortfall above 82 million dollars for the next fiscal year, and over 107 million dollars the following year.

Help Wanted For Hospitals

Most California hospitals have not gotten an expected influx of coronavirus patients. According to an advocacy organization, small, rural hospitals have seen revenue drop as much as 60 percent. After two slow business months, hospitals say they need a boost. Erica Murray directs the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems:

“They cleared out their spaces, both clinical and non-clinical to expand their capacity for surge. The public health care systems developed their own abilities, in some cases, for testing. All of those things have had a huge impact to public health care systems financially.”

Newsom turned down hospitals requests for $4 billion to help with staff and equipment needed to both treat COVID-19 and see regular patients long term.

The federal government did give hospitals and clinics $5.3 billion. But the California Hospital Association says it’s not enough. Next, they plan to ask the legislature for support.

Hotel Rooms For Unhoused People

Roughly 7 thousand people in California have been moved out of shelters, vehicles and off streets to ride out the pandemic in hotels. It’s an effort Governor Gavin Newsom announced in March to shield some of the state's 150 thousand estimated vulnerable homeless.

Newsom has praised the progress, although counties are still struggling to acquire rooms, and squabbles have developed in some cities. Local officials say the process has been complicated as they find appropriate hotels, negotiate leases and get staffing in place.

As a point of comparison, New York City has also tried to decompress its shelters. They typically hold more than 57 thousand people, and the City is sending unhoused people into hotels and other temporary lodging. But only about 35 hundred typically live on the streets there, compared with California’s tens of thousands.

In San Francisco, which has moved more than a thousand of its estimated 8 thousand unhoused people into hotels, nonprofits raised money to get rooms for some who couldn't get them.Activists have pleaded with Mayor London Breed to do more.

LA County has the state’s largest concentration of homeless people with about 60 thousand. By Wednesday, last week, the county had housed only about 18 hundred people at two dozen hotels.

In his new budget, Newsom proposed spending $750 million in federal stimulus funding to buy some of the hotels to permanently house the homeless.

Samantha Batko is a senior researcher at the Urban Institute.

“If California turned around and purchased those rooms, would it be—would it be sufficient response to the extent of homelessness in California, certainly not. But it would be a big part of any comprehensive plan to address homelessness in the state.”

The governor’s revised budget is currently under consideration by the state legislature.