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Lockdown, Drought & The Election

You could see this coming a million miles away.

Governor Gavin Newsom has by now established a pattern of telegraphing his next, immediate move. A few days preceding the action to be taken, he gives a warning or hint of things to come.

On Monday, Nov. 30, the Sacramento Bee reported that Newsom warned that a new stay-at-home order would be necessary if COVID case rates didn’t decelerate. At the time, he said the state’s modeling showed intensive care units would be overrun by mid-December if viral transmission wasn’t curbed.

I knew then it wouldn’t be long before the warning would be transformed into decree.

On Thursday, Dec. 3, Newsom issued what many consider a draconian revision of his original Stay at Home Public Health Order signed in March.

Among other things, the Order sets out:

• Health officials will track the state by five regions: Northern California (includes Mendocino County), Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. 

• Regional Stay at Home Order took effect Saturday, Dec. 5; affects regions with less than 15 percent ICU availability. 

• If a region falls below the 15 percent ICU threshold, it will have 24 hours to implement the Stay at Home Order.

• Regional Stay at Home Orders will require Californians to stay at home as much as possible, close operations for certain sectors and require 100 percent masking and physical distancing in all others. 

• Regional lockdowns would last for three weeks minimum.

• Schools currently open can remain open and retailers can operate indoors at no more than 20 percent capacity to reduce exposure risk

“We are at a tipping point in our fight against the virus and we need to take decisive action now to prevent California’s hospital system from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” said Newsom. “By invoking a Stay at Home Order for regions where ICU capacity falls below 15 percent, we can flatten the curve as we’ve done before and reduce stress on our health care system. I’m clear-eyed that this is hard on all of us — especially our small businesses who are struggling to get by. That’s why we leaned in to help our small business owners with new grants and tax relief to help us get through this month. If we stay home as much as possible, and wear masks when we have to go to the doctor, shop for groceries or go for a hike, California can come out of this in a way that saves lives and puts us on a path toward economic recovery.”

With exception of the Bay Area, Newsom said the other four regions could lock down within the next couple of days based on their respective ICU shortages.

According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), these are the current available ICU capacities by region:

• Northern California 18.6%

• San Joaquin Valley 19.7%

• Southern California 20.6%

• Greater Sacramento 22%

• Bay Area 25.4%

Since Mendocino County is grouped with the Northern California region — the one closest to hitting ICU capacity — we can expect to shortly fall under the new order.

Back in March, former County Public Health Officer Dr. Mimi Doohan said there were only 45 ICU rooms with ventilators in the county. She went on to say that even if the county were given an additional 100 ventilators, they couldn’t be used because more hospital beds, doctors, nurses and technicians would be required. Once Mendocino County maxes out its ICU capacity, its only option is to transport COVID patients to out-of-county hospitals, assuming those counties aren’t overwhelmed.

The real problem with the new Order is are Californians going to comply with it?

Prospects are not good for that outcome given that for the past three months far too many people have been nonchalantly ignoring Public Health Orders, especially restrictions on travel and group gatherings during recent holidays (Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving). 

And with Christmas just weeks away, we’re probably going to see a continuation of the same behavior.

The other side of the compliance coin is enforcement. Most law enforcement agencies throughout the state, either by policy or passivity, exercise a hands-off approach to Public Health Orders and show no inclination to penalizing residents who don’t follow them. Simply stated, I would say cops are busy enough on a daily basis dealing with real criminals.

Good luck with your new Order, Governor, we’re all going to need it.

Drought Deepens

The latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows about 90 percent of California remains in persistent drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought. The only areas designated as non-drought (normal) are a small portion of Orange County and nearly all of Riverside County, both ironically located in SoCal.

Here in Mendocino County, the eastern half is categorized as “extreme drought” while the western sector is in “severe drought.”

In northern Mendo, usually super-saturated annually with 60-plus inches of rain, Laytonville has registered just 3.50 inches of precipitation to date. That’s 19.4 percent of our normal rainfall on December 3rd of 18 inches. Historically, Laytonville receives about 67 inches, annually.

And just like everything else in this bizarre year of 2020, we still have to contend with the threat of wildfires in December. 2020 has been a devastating and record-breaking year for wildfires in California. Tinder dry landscapes coupled wintry windy conditions make for perfect firestorms.

Post Election Thoughts

I look at the Nov. 3rd Election as a tale of two elections: Presidential and everything else.

The Dems won the White House by about 6 million votes with Joe Biden garnering 80 million to 74 million for Trump. 

But in nearly all the other elections, the so-called “down ballot”, where you find governors, state legislatures, and Congressional elections, the GOP gained ground or held on to what they had previously controlled. Most pre-election polls predicted big wins all down the line by Democrats.

So what happened?

It appears that quite a few Republicans and Independent voters switched horses by voting for Biden in the Prez Election, but then remounted their old steeds and voted GOP on the down ballot.

Clearly the presidential election was a referendum on Trump’s performance, otherwise we would have seen a Democratic clean sweep on the down ballot.

So voters sent a message with their bifurcated ballots: We really don’t like Trump but we really don’t trust Democrats to have total control of government at all levels.

This split vote just about guarantees a general standoff or gridlock of the governing process on most issues. However, I believe that with Trump no longer in the picture after January, both parties will be able to come together to work out bi-partisan deals on the big problems such as an economic recovery plan, unemployment relief for record numbers of the jobless, and a unified front on fighting the Pandemic.

The GOP picked up seats in the House of Representatives, including winning four held by Democrats here in California.

Overall, Republicans flipped nine seats in the House of Representatives, despite pollsters forecasting that Democratic control of the House would be boosted. That never happened. Interestingly enough, seven out of those nine seats were won by female candidates. Another sign that Girl Power is here to stay.

We’ll know what the U.S. Senate scorecard looks like in early January when the runoff elections results for Georgia’s two Senate seats will be known. Democrats would need to win both Georgia's Senate races to split the Senate chamber 50-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris, starting in 2021, having the tie-breaking vote. Republicans need to win one seat to maintain their Senate majority. 

One final thought on the election, redistricting: Every 10 years, after the census, congressional and state legislature districts are redrawn to account for population changes. This gives whoever is drawing the maps the power to maximize the number of districts that favor their party — a tactic in its extreme form known as “gerrymandering.” The 2020 election represented the last chance for voters to weigh in on who would draw those maps. Both parties went into the election with a chance to draw more congressional districts than the other, but the end result was just about the best-case scenario for Republicans. According to Ballotpedia (a nonpartisan digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections), Republicans are set to control the redistricting of 188 congressional seats — or 43 percent of the entire House of Representatives. By contrast, Democrats will control the redistricting of, at most, 73 seats, or 17 percent.

As the old saying goes, “Elections have consequences.”

BCC’s Lori Ajax Retires

Last week, Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax announced her retirement after nearly 27 years of state service. After spending 21 years at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), Ajax was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown as Chief of what would become the Bureau of Cannabis Control in February of 2016, and retained by Governor Newsom when he took office in 2019. 

I thought Brown missed the boat when he set up legalized pot under the newly created BCC. He should have slid it under the jurisdiction of ABC where they have decades of experience in administering a regulatory framework for a drug.

Prior to Brown naming Ajax as the first Ganja Czarina of California, she was well known here on the Northcoast when she headed up the Santa Rosa Office of ABC.

Assistant Chief Counsel Tamara Colson has been appointed to serve as Acting Bureau Chief beginning this week. Colson has served as Assistant Chief Counsel for the Bureau of Cannabis Control since May of 2016. Her general knowledge of cannabis issues and experience with the Bureau should prove helpful through the transition to hire a new Pot Czar.

With tongue half-way-in-cheek, I say whoever gets the job should give serious thought to placing Mendocino County’s failed Pot Program under state trusteeship since they have no one in the County seat capable, willing, or qualified to administer a regulatory framework. What a mess. What a failure. Only Mendocino County officialdom could create all this chaos out of order. It’s their specialty.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

One Comment

  1. izzy December 10, 2020

    Orders, orders. It’s hard to forget the Guv’s recent faux pas at The French Laundry, apparently followed by the SF Mayor’s repeat of the same transgression.
    As far as the mask requirement goes (and the constant hyperventilating exhortations on the subject), some interesting data on that has come out of Carnegie Mellon’s nationwide survey of compliance with masks. Here in Mendocino County, we are apparently at 95.96% congruence, as are the designated hot spots around the country. So the question then becomes, why isn’t it working as advertised?®ion=42003

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