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Bay Area Headlines: Thursday, 7/2/20, AM


Governor Dimming Switch On Indoor Activities / Bay Area Bridge Fees Rising / Lawmakers Slam Prison Officials Over San Quentin Outbreak

Governor Dimming Switch On Indoor Activities

Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered bars and indoor operations of restaurants to close for the next three weeks in most parts of the state. His order comes amid a troubling increase of California coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, and it applies to 19 counties covering 72% of the state's population. That includes Contra Costa, Solano, and Santa Clara Counties.

The governor said:

“This doesn't mean restaurants shut down. It means that we’re trying to take activities, as many activities as we can, these mixed activities, these concentrated activities, and move them outdoors, which is a way of mitigating the spread of this virus."

The order also applies to the indoor operations of movie theaters, wineries, tasting rooms, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums. Newsom did not close beaches. But he ordered parking lots closed at beaches in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay Area to limit overcrowding.

Bay Area Bridge Fees Rising

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District has raised bridge tolls and ferry and bus fares as well. As of Wednesday, driving across the bridge costs an extra 20 to 35 cents — the FasTrak rate is now seven dollars 70 cents per crossing into San Francisco. The higher fees are part of a five-year plan to improve infrastructure. It’ll also help close an 87 million dollar revenue gap that’s formed since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

A state appeals court sided with the Bay Area Toll authority, Monday, to increase other Bay Area bridge tolls by $3 over 6 years. Tolls at every bay area bridge except the Golden Gate rose by a dollar at the beginning of 2019. They’ll increase by another dollar in 2022, and a dollar more in 2025.

The fees, approved by voters in 2018, are set to fund more than 30 projects, including the next phase of BART’s extension through San Jose. Parts of that extension have already opened.

But the money has been on hold until now. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued the Bay Area toll authority soon after the ballot measure passed with 55% of the vote. The group argued that toll increases function as a tax, and therefore would need the support of two thirds of voters to pass.

A San Francisco trial court sided with toll authorities last year. On Monday, The First District Court of Appeals also rejected challenges to the measure. Representatives from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association say they will most likely file a petition with the state supreme court to review the case.

Lawmakers Slam Prison Officials Over San Quentin Outbreak

California lawmakers harshly criticized state corrections officials, Wednesday, saying they botched their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, triggering the state’s worst prison outbreak. A third of the 3,500 inmates at San Quentin State Prison have tested positive since officials transferred 121 inmates from the heavily impacted California Institution for Men in Chino on May 30 without properly testing them for infections.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, who represents the San Quentin area, said lawmakers and inmate advocates had been warning everyone from Governor Gavin Newsom on down since the start of the pandemic that prisons were uniquely vulnerable.

”I called for an expert in epidemiology or public health to be in a position of decision making authority at CDCR after the disastrous transfer of inmates to San Quentin that was nothing more than the worst prison health screw-up in state history. We did not meet this moment.”

Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz countered that prison officials "have worked tirelessly” to protect inmates statewide.

On Tuesday, the department created a command center at San Quentin that includes medical, security, emergency management and infectious disease experts from multiple state agencies.

San Quentin has erected six tents to treat infected patients and create room for more physical distancing elsewhere in the prison.

Officials recently announced a new plan to free certain inmates statewide who are within six months of their release date, and said those early releases to parole or probation supervision were being expedited at San Quentin. The state also plans to more swiftly release eligible inmates with high-risk medical conditions.

The San Quentin outbreak is in danger of helping overwhelm San Francisco Bay Area hospitals already strained by coronavirus cases, state and local health officials and advocates.

Clark Kelso, a federal court-appointed receiver who controls medical care in the prison system, said 42 of San Quentin's inmates have been sent to outside hospitals.

He said the problem at San Quentin stemmed from good intentions, when officials decided to move medically vulnerable inmates from the Southern California prison, which had been the hardest hit and has accounted for 16 of the prison system's 22 deaths.

“Although all patients had negative test results, in many cases the tests were two, three, and in some cases, four weeks old — far too old to be a reliable indicator for the absence of COVID.”

Twenty-five of the inmates transferred to San Quentin subsequently tested positive for coronavirus, Kelso said, and infections quickly spread through open cell houses with ventilated doors. There were delays in getting test results. And many inmates refused testing, he said, including as many as 300 inmates in one cell house. People incarcerated at San Quentin have said they were concerned about contagion because correctional officers were not all following safe practices.

Still, Kelso said, about 300 of the more than 1,100 infected inmates are expected to be deemed recovered this weekend.