Bay Area Headlines: Tuesday, 5/26/20, AM | KALW

Bay Area Headlines: Tuesday, 5/26/20, AM

May 26, 2020

California Vote-By-Mail Challenged / Church Congregations Return With Limitations / Voters To Decide On App-Based Driving Labor Laws / Fire Guts San Francisco Fishing Industry

California Vote-By-Mail Challenged

Governor Gavin Newsom’s concept to send mail-in ballots to all Californians who are registered to vote faces a new legal challenge. The California Republican Party, along with the National GOP, has filed a lawsuit against Newsom to stop his plan. The governor has said mail-in ballots will ensure voters stay safe in November amid concerns about COVID-19. And, that some in-person voting will be allowed.

But GOP attorney Harmeet Dhillon says California law already allows voters to request a mail-in ballot. She adds that it’s the Legislature, not the governor, that makes state elections laws:

“The governor is simply running roughshod over those six months before this election, which is totally unnecessary. We can do this safely. We can even do more people voting by mail if they want to. We do not need to do it the way he wants.”

The lawsuit argues that sending out vote-by-mail ballots would lead to theft and fraud. Election experts have said voter is exceedingly rare. In a statement, a spokesman for the governor said “voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote.” 

Church Congregations Return With Limitations

California churches can resume in-person services but worshippers will be limited to 100 people and they should wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books and skip the collection plate under state guidelines released yesterday.

The California Department of Public Health released a framework under which county health departments can approve the reopening of churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship that have mostly shuttered their doors since Governor Newsom’s March stay-at-home order designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The guidelines also urge houses of worship to avoid large gatherings for holidays, weddings and funerals and warn that activities such as singing or group recitation — which are intrinsic to many faith gatherings — “negate” the safety benefits of social distancing.

Worshippers have been eagerly awaiting their turn after Newsom began relaxing constraints on stores and other secular outlets as part of a four-phase plan to reopen California’s economy, saying progress is being made in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Some 47 of 58 counties have received permission to move deeper into the reopening by meeting state standards for controlling the virus. The state on Monday cleared the way for in-store shopping to resume statewide with social distancing restrictions, although counties get to make their own choices of whether to permit it.

Churches are included in the next phase of the reopening plan, which could come in the next few weeks. But several thousand churches have vowed to defy the current stay-at-home order for May 31, which is Pentacost, a major holiday for many Christians.

Voters To Decide On App-Based Driving Labor Laws

California voters will get to decide in November if app-based drivers are exempt from AB5, a labor law that would convert many of them to employees with benefits and set schedules.

The ballot initiative is backed by more than 100 million dollars from companies including Uber, Lyft and delivery app DoorDash. The gig economy giants argue the law would upend their business model by eliminating flexibility for workers. The companies want to continue classifying their drivers as contractors.

Proponents of AB5 say drivers should be entitled to benefits and protections, like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.

If passed, the measure would require gig companies to provide some level of health benefits and guaranteed compensation, based on how long a driver works.

Fire Guts San Francisco Fishing Industry

A huge fire that tore through a warehouse on San Francisco’s Fisherman's Wharf over the weekend destroyed fishing gear used to deliver about two-thirds of the city's fresh seafood. The fire erupted before dawn Saturday and wiped out the warehouse the size of a football field near the end of Pier 45.

Larry Collins, who runs the San Francisco Community Fishing Association, estimates that thousands of crab, shrimp and black cod traps worth up to $5 million were lost in the blaze. He told the San Francisco Chronicle the numbers could be far higher since port officials changed the warehouse's function into a storage facility in February because it lacked proper fire sprinklers.

“Pier 45 is the heart and soul of commercial fishing out of the Bay Area,” he said. “To take a hit like this, it’s a bad one. Most people don’t think about where their salmon, crab, or black cod come from, but that’s where: It’s Pier 45.”

The concrete pier is home to a mix of seafood and maritime businesses and tourist attractions, including the Musée Mécanique — a museum devoted to historic arcade games — and the SS Jeremiah O'Brien — a historic World War II liberty ship. They are among numerous tourist attractions on the wharf.

The Chronicle reported that most of the salmon gear was saved because it's currently on boats. The black cod traps are largely in place for next week.

However, the crab pots that were packed to the ceiling in the warehouse couldn't be salvaged. With the Dungeness crab season expected to begin in mid-November, local crab boat owners launched a campaign to raise $1 million to buy new gear. Crab pots cost up to $300 each.

Investigators were assessing any damage to the pier and were looking into the cause of the fire.