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California Cities Are Building ‘Sanctioned’ Homeless Encampments. Here’s What That Looks Like.

At least two California cities are now building their own open-air tent encampments for the homeless, putting on stark display the state’s present inability to safely get people indoors amid an unprecedented pandemic. The new, so-called “sanctioned encampments” in Santa Rosa and San Francisco space out tents by several feet and enforce social distancing guidelines,…

California Cities Are Building ‘Sanctioned’ Homeless Encampments. Here’s What That Looks Like.

At least two California cities are now building their own open-air tent encampments for the homeless, putting on stark display the state’s present inability to safely get people indoors amid an unprecedented pandemic.

The new, so-called “sanctioned encampments” in Santa Rosa and San Francisco space out tents by several feet and enforce social distancing guidelines, improving upon the more crowded conditions in some encampments that previously left homeless people at greater risk for illness. They also offer basic services like food and security, and places to wash up and use the bathroom.

But such arrangements might be too little, too late, considering the circumstances of the pandemic, said Brian Edwards, an advocate with San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness. Usually, sanctioned encampments are a welcome alternative to the more drastic measures cities take to control their homeless populations, like tearing down tents or issuing citations.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that this is here,” Edwards said. “But when I said I wanted to sanction encampments this year, I wasn’t thinking in the middle of a fucking pandemic when people should be in hotel rooms.”

San Francisco is expected to open several such encampments in the coming weeks. The city first invited people into its “Safe Sleeping Village” — a parking lot of 50 tents between a library and art museum, steps from City Hall — on Thursday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s unclear whether they’re cheaper or easier to set up when compared to hotel rooms, Supervisor Matt Haney told the San Francisco Examiner, but some homeless people have expressed their appreciation of the effort.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has come under fire from advocates who believe that the city’s 8,000 homeless people should’ve been placed in hotel rooms weeks ago. The city’s Board of Supervisors demanded that Breed lease 7,000 rooms for especially vulnerable people by the end of April, although she said that was unrealistic in such a short timeframe.

Now, she’s embracing the sanctioned encampments amid the “immense” logistical challenges of putting people in hotels, she said in a Twitter thread on May 15.

“While in normal times I would say that we should focus on bringing people inside and not sanctioning tent encampments, we frankly do not have many other options right now,” Breed said on Twitter on May 15. “Having places with resources serving people in the neighborhood is better than unsanctioned encampments.”

The city is currently facing a lawsuit from residents of the Tenderloin district, where tent living has risen dramatically since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

San Francisco currently has 2,176 hotel or RV units “actively” available for those who need them, according to its own data, while 1,347 are occupied. Similarly, nearly half of the 15,000 hotel spots California secured for homeless people are sitting vacant right now, according to the Los Angeles Times. That means only about 5% of the state’s 151,000 homeless people have been moved into a safe, isolated room. Cities have said they lack the necessary resources to adequately staff hotel rooms and care for the people living inside, and that the rooms take weeks to prepare after they’re leased.

“I’m really worried about starting an encampment in the first place, and it kind of being accepted as something that’s normal and OK, because it’s not,” said Eric Tars, legal director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “We have the resources in this country to do better and we’re choosing not to.”

Santa Rosa’s temporary sanctioned encampment, meanwhile, opened Monday in the parking lot of a nearby community center, where it’s overseen by the Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa. It’s expected to host about 140 people by the end of the week, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, while the city previously worked to place half as many homeless people in a local motel. Others were moved to vacant dorms at Sonoma State University.

Nearly 3,000 homeless people reside in Santa Rosa and the surrounding Sonoma County.

“The only reason we’re doing this is in response to our health emergency. This is new ground,” Tom Schwedhelm, Santa Rosa’s mayor, told local radio station KSRO Tuesday.

City officials did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment about whether there were any barriers to getting people into hotels.

Advocates have long pointed out there aren’t exactly available alternatives to outdoor living for the nation’s poor, particularly on the West Coast. Cities including San Francisco are in the throes of an affordable housing crisis, and adequate homeless shelter space wasn’t easy to come by even before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with sickness spreading fast in congregate settings, remaining shelter beds can seem outright dangerous for those who could otherwise choose to bunker down in a tent outdoors.

Sanctioned encampments have been controversially taken up by a few cities in recent years as a last-ditch solution to control burgeoning homeless populations that would otherwise build their own makeshift communities, outside the purview of city officials.

Sweeps of those makeshift communities have continued during the pandemic, too, spurring outrage from homeless people and activists who are at this point well aware of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to leave tents alone if there’s no private space available.

“In the past, we saw legalized encampments as a transitional harm reduction positive; it’s better for people to be in a place where they know they can leave their tent, leave their belongings during the day, where they don’t have to worry that someone is going to steal them,” said Tars. “But I think in this time of the coronavirus, we’re seeing that there is a possibility, using FEMA dollars, to get people into full housing.”

Cover: An aerial view of San Francisco’s first temporary sanctioned tent encampment for the homeless on May 18, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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California rolling blackouts caused by green energy plan, heat wave

California’s electricity grid picked an inconvenient moment to stumble, at least for Democrats seeking to drum up support this week for Joseph R. Biden’s $2 trillion green-energy plan at the Democratic National Convention. The Golden State’s ambitious renewable portfolio standard is coming under fire as the state’s energy grid buckles under the strain of an…

California rolling blackouts caused by green energy plan, heat wave

California’s electricity grid picked an inconvenient moment to stumble, at least for Democrats seeking to drum up support this week for Joseph R. Biden’s $2 trillion green-energy plan at the Democratic National Convention.

The Golden State’s ambitious renewable portfolio standard is coming under fire as the state’s energy grid buckles under the strain of an oppressive heatwave, prompting rolling blackouts that have left millions without power as the state moves to replace nuclear and natural gas as energy sources with solar and wind.

California seeks to generate 60% of electricity via renewables by 2030, but Mr. Biden’s Green New Deal is even more aggressive, calling for a 100% carbon-free grid by 2035 “to meet the existential threat of climate change while creating millions of jobs with a choice to join a union.”

“If they want to know what’s going to happen in a Biden presidency with his energy plan, look to California today,” said Larry Behrens, Western director of Power the Future. “You can apply that nationwide. You can look at forms of energy that have been reliable for decades, providing not only energy but affordable energy and jobs for communities, being swept away.”

President Trump weighed in Tuesday on the blackouts with a swipe at Mr. Biden as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom have also called for powering the electrical grid with net-zero carbon emissions.

“Democrats have intentionally implemented rolling blackouts — forcing Americans in the dark,” tweeted Mr. Trump. “Democrats are unable to keep up with energy demand … Meanwhile, I gave America energy independence in fact, so much energy we could never use it all.”

He added, “The Bernie/Biden/AOC Green New Deal plan would take California’s failed policies to every American!”

Less capacity across West

California turned to rolling power outages last week as temperatures soared over 100 degrees in many locations, the first time the state has done so to combat electricity deficits since 2001. Last year’s rolling blackouts were implemented to reduce wildfire danger from electrical lines.

In 2001, however, the shortage was caused by energy-market manipulations during peak load times, while this month’s blackouts occurred when demand exceeded supply after solar-power generation shut down after sunset, combined with the loss of fossil-fuel power plants across the West.

“There are several things at play,” said Stephen Berberich, president of the California Independent System Operator [CAISO], which runs the state grid. “The first is we do have less capacity here in California. A number of units have been retired since the 2006 heat wave, and there’s also less resources across the West because many of the large units in the West have retired or are retiring, as people move off of coal.”

That means California has less ability to import electricity to cover surges in demand.

“So what we’re seeing is less capacity in California, but more importantly, less capacity across rest of the region,” Mr. Berberich said.

Heartland Institute senior fellow Anthony Watts, who runs the skeptical Watts Up With That website, said that “California is paying the price for abandoning reliable energy sources in favor of green energy sources.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Monday an investigation into the blackouts, which he noted Friday “occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation.”

“Residents, communities and other governmental organizations did not receive sufficient warning that these de-energizations could occur,” Mr. Newsom said. “Collectively, energy regulators failed to anticipate this event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power to Californians. This cannot stand. California residents and businesses deserve better from their government.”

The triple-digit temperatures, coupled with lightning strikes in Northern California, also fueled wildfires, including the SCU Lightning Complex fire in Santa Clara, which had burned 25,000 acres and was 0% contained as of Tuesday, according to CalFire.

‘Caught off guard’

As Mr. Berberich pointed out at a Monday operator meeting, his agency has been concerned for years about possible power shortages.

“Every year it’s a big issue,” said Kenny Stein, policy analyst at the Institute for Energy Research. “CAISO has been warning the state for about a decade now, saying, we’ve got more and more solar, that’s making it harder and harder for us to meet peak demand after the sun sets. You need to do something.”

The problem? Californians already pay some of the highest electricity bills in the nation, and it would cost billions to bring battery storage in line with the state’s renewable mandates, he said.

“The state has not taken any action, partly because it would be very expensive,” Mr. Stein said. “They’ve got to have a bunch of battery power, or they’ve got pay someone to have a natural gas plant sitting idle.”

On a Tuesday press call, Mr. Berberich took responsibility for Friday’s outage, saying “we were caught off guard” by a surge in demand throughout the heat-strapped West, but said an unexpected drop in wind generation played a role in Saturday’s blackout.

“On Saturday night, right before the peak, we lost the 400-megawatt unit, and the wind had been very good, and then it ran out, 1,000 megawatts, right about the time that unit went off line,” he said. “And we found ourselves in a deficit.”

He added that “if the wind hadn’t run out on us, we would have been okay.”

Mr. Berberich said the state needs to look at how it backfills retired coal and natural-gas units, but stressed that “renewables have not caused this issue.”

“This is a resource issue, not a renewables issue, and I think we need to be more thoughtful about what the grid looks like now,” he said.

Trying to end gas, nuclear

Renewable energy, including hydropower, supplied nearly half of the state’s electrical grid in 2018, while natural gas contributed about 40%, but the state has moved to decommission natural-gas power plants to makes the transition off fossil fuels.

The state only has one nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, after shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Station in 2013.

“California’s electricity prices will continue to rise if it continues to add more renewables to its grid, and goes forward with plans to shut down its last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, in 2025,” said Michael Shellenberger, author of “Apocalypse Never,” in an op-ed in Forbes. “Had California spent an estimated $100 billion on nuclear instead of on wind and solar, it would have had enough energy to replace all fossil fuels in its in-state electricity mix.”

Ralph Cavanagh, energy co-director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a Monday post that California should improve conservation and Western grid integration to improve reliability, lower costs, and maximize “our growing fleet of renewable energy generators like wind and solar.”

“That’s a far better and cheaper reliability strategy than running dirty emergency diesel generators on hot afternoons (often in densely populated places),” he said.

Critics of California’s renewable mandates said that Democrats at this week’s convention should bear that in mind as they cheer proposals for an all-renewable grid.

“There are few states have the winds and solar exposure that California has, and if it fails in California at short of a 50% implementation of renewables, you can bet others states with even less solar/wind resources are going to go dark,” said Mr. Watts. “A 100% renewables target is a pipe-dream and a recipe for disaster.”

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California surpasses 600,000 coronavirus cases, most in US: Live |NationalTribune.com

The French health ministry reported more than 2,500 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, setting a new post-lockdown daily high for the third day in a row, and taking the country’s cumulative total of cases to 249,611.  An Australian inquiry into the virus-infected Ruby Princess cruise ship said health officials made a “serious and material error”…

California surpasses 600,000 coronavirus cases, most in US: Live |NationalTribune.com

The French health ministry reported more than 2,500 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, setting a new post-lockdown daily high for the third day in a row, and taking the country’s cumulative total of cases to 249,611. 

An Australian inquiry into the virus-infected Ruby Princess cruise ship said health officials made a “serious and material error” in allowing passengers to disembark from the vessel. 

Worldwide coronavirus cases surpassed 21 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, while more than 13 million people have recovered. More than 763,000 people have died.

Here are the latest updates:
Saturday, August 15
04:55 GMT – New Zealand’s outbreak grows
New Zealand reported seven new cases of COVID-19 as a lockdown in the country’s biggest city, Auckland, was extended in response to the Pacific nation’s first coronavirus outbreak in months.
Six of the seven new cases have been linked to the cluster responsible for all the previous community cases, while one case was being investigated, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a media briefing in Wellington.
The new cases bring New Zealand’s total infections since the start of the year to 1258, while the number of currently active cases stands at 56. Twenty-two people have died so far.
04:21 GMT – Latin America’s caseload exceeds 6 million
Coronavirus cases in Latin America has exceeded 6 million and is continuing to accelerate, according to a Reuters tally, as most of its nations begin to relax lockdown measures.
The region reached 6,000,005 confirmed cases by Friday evening and 237,360 deaths. That accounts for just under one-third of the world’s total case load and a similar share of reported deaths from the pandemic.
The climb from 5 million to 6 million cases took 11 days, one day less than it took to reach the previous million.
Latin America is the region of the world worst-affected by the pandemic, reporting an average of more than 86,000 daily infections and more than 2,600 deaths in the last seven days.
03:47 GMT – China reports 22 new cases
Health authorities in China reported 22 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for August 14, compared to 30 cases a day earlier.
Of the new infections, 14 were imported and the locally transmitted cases included seven in the far western region of Xinjiang and one in Guangdong province.
On Friday, a shopping centre in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong, was sealed after a COVID-19 case was confirmed there. The Shenzhen health authority later that day said two positive cases had been found, both of whom had worked inside the mall at the Alibaba-owned supermarket Freshippo.
Freshippo said in a separate statement that it had suspended operations at 21 of its stores in Shenzhen to carry out disinfection work and nucleic acid tests for its employees.

Medical workers wearing protective suits are seen at a nucleic acid testing site outside the IBC Mall in Shenzhen after a worker was confirmed to have COVID-19 [David Kirton/ Reuters]

03:13 GMT – Australia’s Victoria reports 303 new cases
The Australian state of Victoria continued to flatten the curve in its wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths, reporting four more fatalities and 303 new cases in the past 24 hours.
It was the second-lowest daily figure in Victoria this month after 278 cases on Thursday.
Victoria’s daily numbers are gradually decreasing, with the seven-day average down to 344 from 521 a week ago. But authorities warn more progress is needed before lockdown restrictions in the city of Melbourne can be eased.
“We could not conceive of opening up with 200 cases a day. We couldn’t do it with 100 cases a day. We have to head for the lowest possible number,” said Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

101 EAST | Australia’s Cruise Ship Nightmare (23:48)

02:45 GMT – South Korea’s cases jump again
South Korea reported 166 newly confirmed case of the coronavirus, it’s highest daily jump in five months, amid fears transmissions were getting out of control in the greater capital area.
The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) brought the national caseload to 15,039, including 305 deaths.
The KCDC said 155 of the new infections were locally transmitted, mostly from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area where authorities scurried to shut down thousands of churches, which have emerged as a major source of COVID-19 cases. Many of them had failed to properly enforce preventive measures, allowing worshippers to take off their masks, sing in choirs or eat together in diners.
Other clusters have been tied to nursing homes, schools, restaurants, outdoor markets and door-to-door salespeople.
02:29 GMT – Top official says coronavirus has peaked in Mexico
Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico’s point man for the coronavirus pandemic, said he thinks the country reached its peak of infections over the last three weeks.
“We have now had a maximum point in the curve,” the assistant health secretary said, while also predicting that second waves of infections would continue occurring around the world for some time.
“This is a phenomenon that is going to be with us in the whole world for several years,” he said.
Lopez-Gatell had had previously wrongly predicted that infections would peak in May and June.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Mexico rose by 5,618 on Friday to reach 511,369. The health department reported 615 newly confirmed deaths from COVID-19, bringing the country’s total deaths to 55,908.

COVID-19 vaccine: Safety concerns as countries rush for cure (1:57)

01:37 GMT – Paris expands mask requirements for pedestrians
France’s capital, Paris, is expanding the areas of the city where pedestrians will be obliged to wear masks starting on Saturday morning.
The Champs-Elysees Avenue and the area around the Louvre Museum are among zones where masks will be mandatory, and police checks ensuring respect for mask-wearing in designated areas are to be reinforced.
Bars and restaurants could be ordered closed if distancing and other barriers to virus transmission are not respected, health officials said. 
00:20 GMT – California surpasses 600,000 cases, most in US
California became the first state in the United States to surpass 600,000 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although Governor Gavin Newsom said he was encouraged to see that hospitalisations have declined 20 percent over the past two weeks and admissions to ICU wards were down 14 percent in the same period.
“The number that really matters to us is that positivity rate,” he said when asked about the state’s caseload. The positivity rate – the number of confirmed infections as a percentage of tests done – has declined from 7 percent to 6 percent statewide over the past 14 days, Newsom said.
“I’m not going to back off on more tests because I fear [more cases],” he said.

Karla Funderburk, artist and owner of Matter Studio Gallery, stands among some of the thousands of origami cranes hanging during an exhibit honouring the victims of COVID-19 in Los Angeles, the US on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 [Richard Vogel/ AP]

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives. 
For all the key developments from yesterday, August 14, go here. 
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California Republican lawmakers blast Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shutdown order

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest shutdown order met with an outcry from Republican lawmakers, who insisted there was “no justification” for Monday’s executive order. In a statement, four congressmen and state legislators representing Northern California said that it was important to “act responsibly in order to suppress the virus and protect our community,” but that…

California Republican lawmakers blast Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shutdown order

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest shutdown order met with an outcry from Republican lawmakers, who insisted there was “no justification” for Monday’s executive order.

In a statement, four congressmen and state legislators representing Northern California said that it was important to “act responsibly in order to suppress the virus and protect our community,” but that business and church reopenings were not to blame for the recent surge in cases.

“There is no justification for this approach. There is no evidence that any of these activities are causing an increase in Covid-19 cases,” said the Monday letter headed by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, California Republican.

The Democrat Newsom ordered the closures of indoor businesses statewide, including restaurants, bars, museums, movie theaters and zoos, while the 30 counties on the COVID-19 monitoring list must also shutter gyms, churches, offices for non-critical sectors, hair salons, indoor malls and protests.

Those counties represent 80% of the state’s population and include all the counties along the state’s southern border, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino and Imperial, but not the state’s northernmost counties.

“As a consequence of an increase in positivity rate, increase in hospitalizations and ICUs, based upon the predicate, this foundation that we laid of utilizing a dimmer switch, today we are announcing additional statewide actions as relates to our stay-at-home order,” Mr. Newsom said.

The Northern California lawmakers pointed out that 7.5 million residents were still without jobs, and that the state has yet to process some unemployment benefit claims filed in March.

“Restaurants and churches are not the source of our increase in cases,” said the letter. “Small businesses are hanging by a thread and this action puts all the burden of this crisis back upon them. Main Street is struggling for its very life, while Lowe’s and Home Depot are packed with people and having record years. No one can make any sense of these confusing orders.”

Earlier today, I joined my colleagues from the North State in issuing this statement on closing down [email protected] @RepLaMalfa @J_GallagherAD3 @AsmMeganDahle pic.twitter.com/dgrsjmeldb
— Brian Dahle (@BrianDahleCA) July 14, 2020

California is among the Sun Belt states grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases, with the Golden State reporting 109,910 cases in the last 14 days, or 273.9 cases per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, the death rate has remained relatively steady, with 1,014 deaths, or 2.8 per 100,000, in the last 14 days.

The state reported Monday a 2.6% increase in cases, with a 0.3% increase in the death rate.

The Republicans said that the shutdown order punishes businesses that have “done everything they’ve been asked to do.”

“Businesses have NOT been the direct cause, they’ve done everything they’ve been asked to do successfully,” the letter said. “These shutdown orders punish them, their customers and it completely misses the target, especially in our rural towns.”

The legislators on the letter were state Sens. Jim Nielsen and Brian Dahle; Assemblyman James Gallagher; and Assemblywoman Megan Dahle.

“We have said it before: human lives are at stake. People are stressed and filled with anxiety about their livelihoods,” they said. “The mental health and other side effects of today’s decision will be felt for years into the future.”

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