Category Archives: California

Shots fired: California sues oil companies

California goes on offense against Big Oil

The lawsuit makes California the largest economy to join the campaign against oil companies. | Ben Margot / AP Photo.

California is one of the country’s top oil and gas producers, and Chevron, one of the defendants, is headquartered in the state.

Politico, by Blanca Begert and Debra Kahn, September 16, 2023

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a lawsuit Saturday against five major oil companies and their subsidiaries, seeking compensation for damages caused by climate change.

The suit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court by Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, accuses the companies of knowing about the link between fossil fuels and catastrophic climate change for decades but suppressing and spreading disinformation on the topic to delay climate action. The New York Times first reported the case Friday.

The suit also claims that Exxon, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP — as well as the American Petroleum Institute industry trade group — have continued their deception to today, promoting themselves as “green” with small investments in alternative fuels, while primarily investing in fossil fuel products.

It seeks to create a fund that oil companies would pay into to help the state recover from extreme weather events and prepare for further effects of climate change. It argues that California has already spent tens of billions of dollars on responding to climate change, with costs expected to rise significantly.

“The companies that have polluted our air, choked our skies with smoke, wreaked havoc on our water cycle, and contaminated our lands must be made to mitigate the harms they have brought upon the State,” the suit says.

Shell and API said the question of how to address climate change should be dealt with in the policy arena.

“We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress,” Shell spokesperson Anna Arata said in an email.

“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” API Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ryan Meyers said in a statement. “Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not the court system.”

California’s legal action joins dozens of similar lawsuits brought by seven other states and many municipalities seeking to hold major polluters accountable for allegedly lying about their role in causing climate change.

Eight California local governments filed some of the country’s first climate lawsuits in 2017 and 2018 that are now in state courts. At’s filing makes California the largest economy to join the campaign against oil companies. California is also one of the country’s top oil and gas producers, and Chevron, one of the defendants, is headquartered in the state.

A spokesperson for Newsom said the timing was motivated in part by the Supreme Court’s decision in April to allow existing suits from local governments to proceed in state court, rather than be moved to federal courts as oil companies wanted. State courts are seen as friendlier venues for plaintiffs seeking climate damages because they’re generally more receptive to considering state laws that deal with climate change.

“All these cases got tied up in years of procedural wrangling; oil companies doing everything they could to drag their feet,” said spokesperson Alex Stack. The “Supreme Court finally let these cases go forward this spring — the state as a whole is joining cities and counties.”

California officials have been contemplating legal action against oil companies for years, since at least the early 2010s, when former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown was serving as California attorney general. The state did sue coal companies and automakers before that, alleging public nuisance harms stemming from climate change, but the Supreme Court rejected the arguments.

The links between oil companies and efforts to downplay the effects of climate change have become clearer since then, a former top California legal official said.

“At that time there was less information about the ongoing and continuing efforts by oil companies to mislead and misrepresent on the record,” said Ken Alex, a former senior assistant attorney general under Brown who led the office’s environmental section. “I don’t think we had the same level of information that they have now about that conduct.”

The evidence has continued to pile up. A study published this year from Harvard University and the University of Potsdam in Germany found that Exxon’s climate models from 40 years ago were spot on.

California joining the legal parade against oil companies could prove significant.

“Having California participate is a big deal,” Alex said. “These are difficult cases. They have five defendants who have endless resources; it’s not simple to prove what they need to prove in terms of misrepresentation.”

California is seeing a surge in cases as BA.5, a rapidly spreading subvariant, takes root

Though new case reports have climbed in California, local officials have hesitated to reimpose mask mandates or limits on public indoor settings. Residents relaxed outdoors in Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco in June. Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

New York Times, by Soumya Karlamangla, July 7, 2022

California is in the grip of its third-largest coronavirus surge of the pandemic, with roughly 19,000 new cases being reported here each day on average, according to a New York Times database. The true number of people falling sick is undoubtedly even higher, since most at-home test results aren’t included in official case counts.

Experts say the surge is being driven by the Omicron subvariant known as BA.5, which has rapidly become dominant in the United States and is especially good at infecting people even if they’ve been vaccinated, boosted and already had the virus.

“It’s highly immune-evasive, and that is why it’s causing trouble,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in San Diego. “And it comes along in California at the same time that we basically have this delusion that the pandemic is over.”

As of the end of June, 39 of California’s 58 counties had high community levels of the virus, including the whole Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while only two rural counties in the state had low levels. Continue reading California is seeing a surge in cases as BA.5, a rapidly spreading subvariant, takes root

Are California’s strict COVID mandates working? Here’s what the data shows

People make their way through Union Square in San Francisco on Wednesday. Indoor mask requirements for everyone are back in most of California, though San Francisco has an exemption for offices and gyms where everyone is fully vaccinated. | Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle, by Aidin Vaziri, Susie Neilson, Dec. 15, 2021

With California approaching an unfathomable milestone of 75,000 coronavirus deaths and 5 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, many are wondering if the state’s many mitigation measures — some of the most stringent in the nation — have made a tangible difference in reducing the toll of the virus.

On Wednesday, Californians adjusted to new rules requiring everyone to mask up again in indoor public settings for at least a

month, regardless of vaccination status — with a few regional exemptions — to blunt the impact of another winter surge.

“These are all trade-offs, these decisions,” said Dr. Michael A. Rodriguez, a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “Many people will be upset about having to wear masks again. At the same time, will many people be saved? There is no doubt about it.”

California was among the first states to issue an indoor mask mandate, require proof of vaccination for large events, place capacity limits on private gatherings, issue vaccine requirements for schools, and impose many other rules. Masking and vaccination are all the more urgent, California officials say, as the highly contagious omicron variant gains traction.

Some recent headlines have pointed out that California’s daily case rates are now higher than those of Florida and Texas, Republican-led states that have frequently blocked pandemic control measures such as indoor masking and vaccination requirements.

As of Wednesday, the seven-day average of daily cases per 100,000 people in California reached 113, while Texas reported 102 cases and Florida 78, according to data collected by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But that is a snapshot in time — and while states’ case rates have fluctuated throughout the pandemic, California’s overall case rate is still below that of the other large states. As of Dec. 11, California’s overall COVID-19 case rate was about 13,000 per 100,000 residents; Texas’ was 15,000, and Florida’s was 17,300.

But with vaccinations protecting residents against serious disease, most experts also say case rates aren’t the only important metric when determining the pandemic’s impact.

“A lot of people are focused on the case numbers and those numbers can be overwhelming,” said Rodriguez. “But it’s those cases that require hospitalization and those who end up dying that are the most significant metrics used to get a sense of the impact of the pandemic — and what we ultimately want to bend the arc away from.”

By that measure, California’s diligent policies have helped the state avert a larger disaster.

Data collected by The Chronicle showed California with 74,685 cumulative deaths on Wednesday. It’s the most in the nation, but that is hardly surprising because California is the most populous state. On a per-capita basis, the death rate in California is 189 per 100,000 people, versus 252 for Texas and 288 for Florida.

California also has a smaller proportion of deaths after controlling for age. When comparing death rates for the 50-to-64-year-old age group in each state, California’s death rate for that cohort is 235 per 100,000 residents, compared with 257 for Texas and 274 for Florida.

While some might expect California’s numbers to be even lower relative to other states given the vast difference in policies, public health experts note that there are many factors in play in a state of nearly 40 million residents.

“California has an extremely diverse population, such as Latinos and African Americans, that may not have equal access to public health or health care facilities,” said Rodriguez. “When you you look at things in a more granular level, depending on the different areas of California, you will see differing levels of protection.”

Another indicator that pandemic measures are working is California’s relatively high vaccination rates, experts say.

Widespread uptake of vaccines and masking — most likely the result of a variety of state rules — helped the state stem a summer surge as the delta variant spread across the United States over the summer, preventing California’s health care systems from becoming overwhelmed.

Nearly 65% of Californians are fully vaccinated, state data shows. Florida is not far behind, with 62% of its residents fully vaccinated. In Texas the figure is about 56%.

“I think with all of these behaviors, however hard it is, it did make an impact,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF.

He added that these smaller measures have prevented California from reaching the point where it had to lock down again, setting off a chain of business closures, social distancing rules and capacity restrictions.

But some argue that statewide measures are an overreach and erode trust in public health systems when they are levied seemingly at random. A regional approach that fits California’s geographic diversity would feel less punitive, said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert with UCSF.

“I think masks and ventilation made a huge difference in counties and states that imposed them before vaccination,” Gandhi said. But after vaccines became available, she said, “mask mandates didn’t seem to make a difference during the delta surge.”

Solano County Health Officer Bela Matyas said public mask requirements might help some people feel safer but that they aren’t that effective in limiting transmission. People are far more likely to transmit the virus at home or in private social gatherings, he said.

“In those situations, people don’t wear a mask,” Matyas said. “If that’s where the disease is spreading, imposing a mask requirement in a public setting isn’t going to change the spread of the disease.”

Assemblyman James Gallagher, D-Yuba City (Sutter County), criticized the Newsom administration’s one-size-fits-all approach to the pandemic given the state’s diversity. He, too, said California didn’t provide compelling evidence to show a mask mandate would be effective.

“Ultimately I think we’re at a point now, and I think we’ve been there a long time, where localities have been able to manage this virus risk on their own,” Gallagher said.

State officials appear to be listening, at least to regions that have already taken aggressive stances on masks.

After issuing the broad statewide indoor mask mandate on Monday, the California Department of Public Health said on Tuesday it would recognize the efforts that places like San Francisco, Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties have taken throughout the pandemic to control spread and allow them to exempt offices and gyms where everyone is fully vaccinated.

Some experts said measures like masking help enforce good behavior, even if not everyone follows them.

“It’s a statement by our public health and political leaders that, ‘We care about you,’” Chin-Hong said. “Nobody gets a kick out of telling people to wear masks. They do it because they feel like it’s the right thing for their people, and they are worried about resources like hospital systems.”

Rodriguez said he believes states that put the pandemic on the backburner and ignore virus mitigation strategies do it at their peril, especially with omicron looming.

The state reported 48 cases of the variant on Wednesday, up from 39 the day before.

Chin-Hong noted that there is a mental health toll that comes with living with restrictions for the past 21 months. Ongoing mandates drive up feelings of isolation and fatigue, especially among adolescents and young adults.

But the trade-off, he said, is those who live in more restrictive states are less prone to live in fear of illness.

“Even if you’re free from masks in Florida, you have people who are sick around you,” he said.

Chronicle staff writer Julie Johnson contributed to this story.
Aidin Vaziri and Susie Neilson are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers.

Who’s dying in California from COVID-19?

Who’s dying in California from COVID-19?

Cal Matters, by Hannah Getahun, September 22, 2021
Emergency medical workers lift a patient onto a gurney in Placentia in January. The average age of people dying from COVID-19 in California has been declining in recent months. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

California’s COVID-19 deaths are skewing younger, with the average age dropping seven years in September. And death rates are increasing for most racial groups, particularly Latinos. A by-the-numbers look at California’s COVID-19 deaths.

It’s been longer than a year and a half since COVID-19 first arrived in California, and the demographics of who is dying from the virus are changing.

So far, 67,628 people have died in California during the pandemic, more than in any other state. In recent months, those who are dying are younger on average. And, unsurprisingly, people of color are still among the most devastated by COVID-19, with the highest death rates among Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and Black people.

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at COVID-19 deaths in California.

How much younger are they?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the average age for Californians who died from COVID-19 is 73. But in April through September the average age dropped to 67, and in August and September, it dropped to 66, according to a California Department of Public Health analysis of state data.

“We are observing that it’s not the older populations that were first dominating a number of fatalities in the pandemic,” said Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra. “It’s now skewing younger and younger in terms of who gets hospitalized and — unfortunately — who goes on to have a very tragic outcome of a fatality.”

A major reason? Older people are vaccinated at higher rates than younger residents. About 67% of Californians 18 to 49 are fully vaccinated, compared to 73% for people 65 and older.

Hospitalizations and infections are on the rise for Californians under 18. But old age — and the underlying conditions that come with it — will still be an important factor in death rates, said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

What’s the racial breakdown? Has it changed?

Latinos are dying at a lower rate than white and Black people in California, according to the state’s data. However, Latinos have had the sharpest increase in the death rate in the last month, rising from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in August to 4 per 100,000 in September. That rate, however, is far eclipsed by the peak last January, when 11 Latinos died per 100,000.

For Black people, 7.4 per 100,000 people died from COVID-19 this month, up from six deaths per 100,000 in August yet down from 9.3 last January. Death rates in Asian American populations and white people also increased this monthAsian Americans currently have California’s second lowest death rate.

The culprit is most likely vaccine disparities: Latinos make up 39.4% of California’s vaccine eligible population but they’ve only received 29.5% of the doses. This means that, proportionally, not as many doses are finding their way into Latino communities as they should, health experts say. Black people also make up a higher share of the vaccine-eligible population than the doses they have received.

“The myths and the misgivings… are real for the communities who have suffered at the hands, historically, of a racist, systemic problem.”  – SARAH REYES, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS AT THE CALIFORNIA ENDOWMENT

A reason for these disparities could be the barriers that communities of color still face to accessing vaccines, including medical misinformation and hesitancy stemming from medical mistrust, according to Sarah Reyes, managing director of communications at the nonprofit California Endowment, which focuses on improving health care access in underserved communities.

“People have to understand that the myths and the misgivings of the medical community are real,” Reyes said. “They’re real for the communities who have suffered at the hands, historically, of a racist, systemic problem.”

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders have died at the highest rate of any racial group. But some good news: The rate decreased from 18.4 deaths per 100,000 people in January to 17 in August and 11.8 in September.

Is there a growing gender gap?

Men are dying at a slightly higher rate than they were in the beginning of the pandemic, according to the state data.

In September of last year, 45.2% of deaths were female and 54.6% were male. But in August 2021, it was 41% female and 58.9% male, which shows that the gap is widening in favor of women.

In Long Beach, 70% of deaths since July 2021 have been males, compared to 58% from March 2020 through July 2021.

Before vaccine availability, males made up a slightly larger percentage of deaths than females. Now as the gap widens, vaccinations may play a role.

“I can’t help to think that some of that is due to failure to vaccinate — differential failure to vaccinate, meaning that women are more likely to vaccinate than men,” Rutherford said.

Women are more likely to be vaccinated than men in the state, and there is still a slight gap between the proportion of men who make up the state’s vaccine population and those who still need to get vaccinated.

How do deaths in California compare to other states?

California, as of this past week, has the lowest seven-day death rate nationally — at five people dying for every million residents — and the lowest rate since January, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, what is happening in California is happening across the country: People 64 and under make up a larger share of deaths in 2021 than they did in 2020. National data also shows that the older you are, the more likely you are to be vaccinated.

How do counties compare?

The average age of Californians dying from COVID is skewing younger across the state.

In Fresno County, people 50 to 69 years old now make up a larger share of COVID-19 deaths than they previously did, while those 70 and older are a smaller share.

In Long Beach, which has its own health department, the average age of COVID death since August 2021 is 59 years old, 13 years younger than March 2020 through July 2021. In Long Beach, 99% of people 65 and older are vaccinated.

In Riverside County, people under 45 made up 4.1% of total deaths between Jan. and March. Between June and Aug., that number jumped to 16.1%. Among adults, people under 45 have the lowest vaccination rates.

Eleven people died in Riverside County on Sept. 20 and five of those people were under 40, said Jose Arballo, senior public information specialist at Riverside University Health System-Public Health.

Were most of the people who died unvaccinated?

Vaccinated people make up a small fraction of the deaths — approximately 500. “Far and away without any doubt, without any question, 95% of (stopping deaths) is vaccines,” Rutherford said.

Although there’s still the potential for breakthrough cases, vaccination makes it much less likely that serious illness will develop.

So if the best way to prevent deaths is the vaccine, how do health officials get younger people to get the jab? It’s complicated, but mandates — like proof of vaccination to go to restaurants or work in certain places — can help, Rutherford said. Fear can be a motivator, too.

“People are scared of the Delta variant — as they should be,” Rutherford said.