I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, and I’m pleased to announce that we have made it to Wednesday. And I hope wherever you are that it’s as beautiful as it is here in the desert. Here are some of today’s headlines.
In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.
Newsom: South African variant of COVID-19 identified in California
California has identified its first two cases of the South African variant of the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. The cases were found in Alameda and Santa Clara counties, both in the San Francisco Bay Area. In total, the state has fewer than 1,500 identified cases of different variants, the governor said.
It was a dim note in an otherwise upbeat press conference, as Newsom announced that California’s infection rates, hospitalizations and cases continue to fall rapidly.
Fewer than 5% of people tested are now turning up positive results and daily confirmed infection cases have dropped to about 8,400 from a high of more than 50,000 a month ago, he said. More than 5 million vaccine doses have been administered.
However, scientists and health officials fear the variants could be more contagious, less responsive to treatments and more likely to re-infect people who already had the virus. The South African variant was first identified in the United States late last month in South Carolina.
‘Hero pay’: Who’s getting it and who wants it
Irvine is the latest city in Southern California to approve a raise for grocery store workers due to the risks they face from possible exposure to COVID-19. CBS Los Angeles reports that the Irvine City Council approved an ordinance that will require large supermarket and drug stores to pay employees an additional $4 per hour in hazard — or “hero” — pay for at least the next 120 days.
But Irvine is not alone. Long Beach also approved a temporary $4 increase with similar terms, as did the city of Montebello. And last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to move forward with the preparation of an ordinance that would raise the compensation of its own grocery workers $5 per hour.
As a result of the added wage expense, Kroger Co. announced it will close two Southern California supermarkets, a Ralphs market and a Food 4 Less, on April 17.
Despite the pushback, the City of Coachella is considering following suit and even extending the controversial benefits to farmworkers. If approved, Coachella would become the first city in the nation to require the premium pay for farmworkers, according to city leaders.
Up north, meanwhile, the San Jose City Council voted 7-3 Tuesday to pay its grocery workers an additional $3 an hour for the next 120 days, according to The Mercury News. A $5-per-hour wage increase was approved last week by the Oakland City Council.
On the flip side, the California Grocer’s Association, a group representing hundreds of grocery stores in California, has sued every city which has approved hero pay for workers, claiming the ordinance interferes with the collective bargaining process between grocery stores and unions representing workers.
Make a sick kid smile on Valentine’s Day
Sunday is Valentine’s Day. And regardless of what you think of this greeting card holiday, receiving a piece of mail with a big heart on it can certainly make someone’s day — especially a child who’s stuck in the hospital.
This year, abc7.com is encouraging folks to help turn a frown upside down by sending a Valentine’s Day card to a kid at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
It’s easy: Visit chla.org/valentine and choose one of three V-day dinosaur cards (“You’re T-rrific!”, “You’re Dino-Mite!” or You’re the TriceraTOPS”) and then add a personal message. The cards will be hand-delivered to each patient, along with a goody bag and balloons in the hopes of giving them an extra sweet Valentine’s Day.
It’s completely free, and it actually raises money for the hospital. For each card sent before Feb. 12, an anonymous donor has pledged to donate $1, up to $25,000.
Sacramento considers allowing apartments in single-family home neighborhoods
In Northern California news, the City of Sacramento is close to approving a plan that would make it the first city in California, and among the first in the nation, to put an end to zoning that allows only one single-family home on a property. If approved, the plan would permit up to four homes to be built on lots.
The Los Angeles Times reports that “Sacramento’s effort to dramatically alter its streetscape reflects the capital city’s rapidly broadening identity.” The city, which was once populated primarily by state government employees, has enjoyed a housing surge of people working in the fields of healthcare and technology. While this has benefited the city’s arts and cultural scene, it has resulted in drastic rent increases as well as increases in the homeless population.
Sacramento’s Democratic mayor, Darrell Steinberg, is in favor of the proposal, as is a group of activists concerned that housing costs will spiral as they did in the Bay Area.
“Sacramento should be a pioneer in saying ‘yes’ to more homes for all,” the organization, which calls itself House Sacramento, wrote last month to the City Council.
While the city officials are uncertain how many new homes the proposal would create, either by building new homes or subdividing existing ones, it is believed it will be fewer than 100 per year.
Bite-sized news bits
- Should porch pirates pay penalty with prison? Fun alliteration aside, should serial package thieves face prison time? That’s a discussion resulting from a law currently being considered in the California Senate. The Sacramento Bee reports that Senate Bill 358, introduced by Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, would allow a porch pirate with two or more convictions of misdemeanor package theft within a three-year period to be charged with a felony.
- Light rain expected in SoCal this weekend. Some light rain could hit Southern California, reports The Press-Enterprise, though a pair of expected storms are expected to be relatively minor. Look for the first drops on Friday, with more on Saturday and Sunday.
- After half a century of earthquakes, California’s aging dams face new problems. The Los Angeles Times reports that Federal engineers have found that three major dams in Southern California — Whittier Narrows, Prado and Mojave River — are structurally unsafe and could collapse, causing significant floods that could potentially inundate millions of people downstream. It’s estimated that upgrading the 62-year-old Whittier Narrows Dam could cost an estimated $600 million.
- RIP Larry Flynt. And lastly, we say goodbye to publisher and self-proclaimed First Amendment champion, who died Wednesday at age 78.
In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: abc7.com, CBS Los Angeles, The Mercury News, The Press-Enterprise, The Sacramento Bee. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow with the latest headlines.
As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: South African variant of COVID-19 identified in California, Newsom says