(All images courtesy of CalMatters)

Coronavirus, of course, detonated our every expectation of 2020. For the most fortunate, this created room for new pastimes, new priorities. For the least so, it hollowed out holes that can never be filled.

Nor was COVID our only profound challenge. There were raging wildfires, again. There was an overdue reckoning with racism, again. There was an election that felt as if it was the most consequential of our lifetimes, again.

At CalMatters we sought to help Californians make sense of it all. So before we push the year off a cliff, here’s a retrospective sampler of some of the news that dominated 2020:

Close Quarters: California’s overcrowded homes fuel spread of coronavirus among workers

Until the pandemic struck, every day for the last 10 years, Isidoro Flores Contreras, above, stood at the edge of the Sand City Costco parking lot selling $15 bouquets. No matter the weather, he slowly walked back and forth along the sidewalk, a hitch in his gait as he waved bouquets at cars. More flowers sprouted from large white buckets behind him, tilted like umbrellas on an overflowing beach.

He shut down his business for 15 days when Monterey County issued its stay-at-home order, and returned when regulations permitted in early May.

Across California, essential and service workers like Flores Contreras are being hit hardest by the coronavirus, and so are the people they live with. He lives in the most crowded ZIP code in Monterey County, sleeping in the living room of a jam-packed, two-bedroom house he shares with four other people.

The poorest ZIP codes with the most people living in crowded housing are suffering the most from the coronavirus, according to an analysis of housing and health data by The California Divide, a statewide media collaboration. The millions of Californians who live in overcrowded houses are more likely to be infected.

Read the full story HERE.


California’s no-bid contracts for pandemic supplies reveal collapsed deals, untested vendors

A medical equipment supplier that was once raided by the FBI. A business executive fined for making false or misleading statements in financial reports. A corporation fined for Medicaid fraud. At least two companies that had existed less than a week.

These are among the hundreds of vendors the state of California has contracted with, or nearly gone into business with, as government officials rushed to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic.

While normal bidding and vetting procedures have been suspended during the state of emergency, California has entered into roughly $3 billion worth of no-bid contracts for masks, ventilators, call center workers and other supplies and services to respond to the health crisis, the state’s procurement database shows. Some of the vendors are established companies the state has been doing business with for a long time, but others are newcomers that launched amid a chaotic quest for medical supplies. The nationwide scramble kicked off in March when President Donald Trump told governors that states were on their own to secure equipment necessary to manage the pandemic.

Some of the contracts topped out at a half-billion dollars. And in a few instances, readily available public records and some Googling should have raised potential red flag.

Read the full story HERE.


Churches, gun shops, irked parents and irate brides: All the shutdown lawsuits against Newsom, explained

Alongside the beachgoers denied, the indignant gun shop owners and the house-bound pastors, Gov. Gavin Newsom now has yet more ticked off challengers to face in court: frustrated parents who want schools reopened despite the pandemic.

And, not to be forgotten, an extremely disappointed bride-to-be. Among the filing to challenge the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Monica Six, an Orange County resident, is suing California’s Democratic governor for civil rights violations after his executive order “caused her significant financial hardship as well as ruined her idyllic wedding plans …”

Restrictions that the governor’s March 19 stay-at-home order imposed on California civic and economic life were without precedent in state history. Partial reopenings in many counties led to coronavirus spikes, which in turn prompted some retreat back to restrictions. Many health experts say such drastic measures have been necessary to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed and more Californians from dying.

But drastic measures they are — spelling financial calamity for households, business owners, nonprofits and city governments, while testing executive power and the negotiability of many constitutional rights.

Read the full story HERE.


Voices of California protesters: same message, different motives

A celebrity influencer in an expensive Hollywood apartment, yelling at people, all black, some guilty of vandalism and burglary, some innocent — 28 years after the deadliest riots in modern U.S. history. It was an incident that provided a unique snapshot of a protest and civil unrest in Los Angeles.

The imagery of this week’s protests — buildings burning against a night sky, people running and screaming, cars on fire — evoked memories of the 1992 riots, in which 63 people died. But the worries and hopes and raw fury of Californians who took to the streets this week show that all protests, like politics, are local. Throughout the state, protesters had their own motivations, their own methods, their own issues with their police force and their city.

In Merced, protesters asked why the north side of town remains wealthy and safe, while the south side wilts. In Sacramento, protesters demanded the firing of police officers who fatally shot a Black man in 2018 in his grandmother’s backyard while he was holding a cell phone. And in Salinas, a police department three years into its own reforms is gleaning modest praise as well as complaints.

Uniting all the protests throughout California, as well as the rest of the nation, is the idea that police must reform — or be forced to reform — treatment of Black people.

Read the full story HERE.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.