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Inside the Capitol: California News and Analysis

Where to find news about how the California Capitol works—the players, the policies that affect how state government affects you.

Inside the Capitol: California News and Analysis

The Legislature has released another swath of harassment records—this time detailing five cases it substantiated or in which a settlement was reached—involving elected members and high-level employees between 1992 and 2005.

Only one case involved an elected official, and he is not named in the records released by the Legislature. News accounts have described allegations against then-Sen. Richard Polanco, a Los Angeles Democrat, that resulted in a $117,200 settlement payment of taxpayer funds to Karri Velasquez in 1998, and those details match the date, amount and victim name in the documents released today.

The records also describe four cases of harassment by high-level legislative staff, only one of whom, Ronald Jackson, was terminated. The other three—David Commons, Bob Biddle and Josephine Figueroa—were given warnings, allowed to resign, or granted an unpaid leave of absence.

Read the Assembly records here.

Read the Senate records here.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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March 18, 2019 8:31 pm

Connected Bay Area recruiter gets no bid contract as online community college staffs up

Senior Editor
Bay Area executive recruiter Carolyn Carpeneti has been awarded a $500,000 no bid contract to help staff up the California online community college. Carpeneti has a daughter with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

California’s new online community college director, hoping to quickly establish her executive team, pushed Monday to grant a no-bid contract of up to $500,000 to an executive recruiter who is a friend and long has been a part of San Francisco’s political scene.

Heather Hiles, president of the nascent online college, has a goal of starting classes this fall. The community college board approved Hiles’ choice of executive recruiter Carolyn Carpeneti, even though some community college board members abstained, contending the contract should have been put out to competitive bid.

“I felt like she was far and away the best qualified,” Hiles said. Citing her goal of starting classes in a matter months, she added: “If I don’t get it staffed up, I can’t get it built.”

Before becoming an executive recruiter, Carpeneti was a political fundraiser whose clients included then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Brown and Carpeneti became romantically involved and had a daughter in 2001In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “nonprofit groups and political committees controlled by the mayor and his allies” paid Carpeneti $2.33 million over a five-year period.

In the early 2000s, Carpeneti did consulting work for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, then-Gov. Gray Davis, and former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, among others.

“That’s not my concern,” Hiles said of Carpeneti’s relationships. “My concern is who is best qualified.”

In an interview with CALmatters, Carpeneti said she shifted to executive recruiting more than a decade ago, and has focused on recruiting in the tech and educational fields. She called Brown a good friend and father, but said he has had no role in her executive recruiting business. 

Over dinner with Brown on Saturday, she said, she mentioned the potential of her online community college gig. He had never heard of the online college, or the contract.

Carpeneti did, however, say that her relationship with Hiles was key to her hiring.

“I highly admire her,” Carpeneti said. “She is the reason why I even took on this contract. I really believe in the mission. If the right people are in place, … this can be a beacon for the rest of the nation.”

Hiles came to the community college system from a venture capital fund. She is a Yale graduate, founder of digital portfolio platform Pathbrite and a former official at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hiles also is connected to San Francisco politics, having overseen communications for Gov. Gavin Newsom while he was running to succeed Brown as mayor of San Francisco in 2003. Newsom subsequently appointed Hiles to a seat on the San Francisco Unified School District board.

Gov. Jerry Brown pushed for creation of the online college, viewing it as key to helping train 8 million-plus underemployed and unemployed Californians who are not able to gain new skills by attending traditional brick and mortar campuses. Many of the students likely will be women, Hiles said.

Carpeneti and her firm, The Leadership Group, are supposed to recruit six top executives, including ones who will oversee product and marketing, and finance and administration; plus others identified as “chief learning officer,” “chief of workforce programs,” “chief success officer” and “chief people officer.”

Carpeneti’s goal is to have the people in place by May. Her pay would be capped at $92,000 for each person she recruits. The contract says she will conduct a new search for free if the recruits leave before serving in their positions for one year.

“We’re moving fast and trying not to break things,” Tom Epstein, president of the community college board, said at Monday’s hearing.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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March 13, 2019 6:42 pm

Utilities pushed toward fire prevention as Edison is blamed for Thomas Fire

Economy Reporter
Firefighters battle the Thomas Fire on Dec. 4, 2017, in Ventura County. Photo by Gene Blevins for the Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Pressure mounted on California utilities Wednesday to shift priorities to fire prevention, as investigators determined that Southern California Edison power lines sparked a major 2017 blaze that later resulted in a deadly mudflow.

A joint investigation of federal, state and local authorities found the Thomas Fire—like megafires last year and the year before in Northern California areas served by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.—was sparked by utility equipment.

In the Edison case, a so-called “line slap” brought power lines into contact with each other, creating an electrical arc that caused molten metal from the lines to ignite surrounding vegetation. The fire, which started Dec. 4, 2017, and raged for 40 days in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, destroyed more than 1,000 structures, killed two people and led to a massive mudslide that claimed 20 more lives.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the finding puts Edison on the hook for more than $1.3 billion in insurance claims from fire victims and for $400 million in claims from the mudslides. Edison will have to work with insurance companies to handle thousands of claims.

Heightened fire risks in the era of climate change are already battering utilities in the market, as rating services, concerned about soaring liability, have lowered their bond ratings and increased their borrowing costs.

PG&E has filed for bankruptcy, admitting last month that its transmission line likely triggered the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest blaze in state history. That utility, the state’s largest, recorded a $10.5 billion charge in anticipation of damage claims for that Butte County fire.

Edison can take advantage of a state law passed last year that makes it easier for utility companies to absorb the cost of fire damages by borrowing from the state and charging customers to pay back the bonds over many years, a procedure called securitization.

Under SB 901, the state can take into account the financial health of the company; a five-member Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery would help regulators decide whether utilities can pass costs onto customers. In January, PG&E opted to file for Chapter 11 reorganization rather than wait for the state to establish that regulatory approval process, contending that bankruptcy was its only option as access to capital dwindled.

But on Wednesday, the Southern California utility argued that SB 901 isn’t enough, arguing in a statement that utilities need more liability relief “to address the critical issues of fire prevention, enhanced suppression efforts and fair cost allocation rules.”

Meanwhile, legislators representing the communities impacted by the Thomas Fire said they’d like to see utilities do more on their own to address their historic failure to invest in fire safety.

“The Thomas Fire and the January 9th Debris Flow have left serious scars in our community,” said Assemblywoman Monique Limόn in a statement to CALmatters. “I am hopeful the full report will include concrete steps on how we can prevent this in the future.”

“Best practices, best available technologies, they are out there,” added Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson. “It’s just that, frankly, PG&E in particular but Edison to some extent have failed to commit to these more protective kinds of infrastructure and I think now they will be required to do so. It’s my hope they will because to protect the safety and security of life and property and our economy, it’s going to be critical they do so.”

Jackson noted that after San Diego Gas & Electric was unable to pass costs from a 2007 blaze onto customers, it invested heavily to protect its equipment and hasn’t experienced a major wildfire since.

“Clearly,” she said, “we need to hold Southern California Edison responsible and make the victims whole and ensure that they take all the preventative steps possible to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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March 12, 2019 7:51 am

Saying death penalty no longer “an abstract question,” Gov. Newsom halts executions in California

Political Reporter
Gov. Gavin Newsom says he wants “to give the voters a chance to reconsider” their endorsement of California’s death penalty.

Updated Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order today putting a moratorium on the death penalty in California and shuttering the execution chamber at San Quentin, a move that overrides a decision the state’s voters made in 2016 to maintain capital punishment.

While campaigning for governor last year, Newsom said he was fervently opposed to the death penalty but didn’t “want to get ahead of the will of the voters” and wanted to “give the voters a chance to reconsider.”

This morning, he said he changed his mind because his decision whether to permit executions had become more urgent. The state’s  lethal injection protocol was getting closer to being finalized and two dozen death row inmates had exhausted their appeals.

“I’ve had to process this in a way that I didn’t frankly anticipate a few months ago. It was an abstract question. (It became) a very real question,” Newsom said at a press conference in the Capitol.

“I cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings.”

Under the governor’s reprieve, all 737 people on death row will remain in prison and, on paper, sentenced to death. But executions will be halted as long as Newsom remains governor. A future governor would have the power to change their fate.

Newsom’s executive order argues that the death penalty is unfair, applied disproportionately to people of color and people with mental disabilities. It says innocent people have been sentenced to die, including five Californians since 1973 who were found to have been wrongfully convicted. 


His move is part of a larger swing in California away from tough-on-crime policies. In the last decade, Democrats who control state government and the state’s largely liberal voters have embraced policies to eliminate the use of money bail, reduce some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors and legalize marijuana.

But the death penalty so far has been politically untouchable—repeatedly favored by voters despite their progressive tendencies on other issues. In 2016, California voters passed a ballot measure to expedite executions and defeated a measure to end the death penalty. Voters also defeated a 2012 measure to end the death penalty.

A leading supporter of the death penalty said Newsom’s action is legal but “contrary to basic democratic principles.”

“The decision of whether we will have the death penalty or not is one the people have made over and over again through the initiative process,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates for capital punishment.

“It’s improper for an executive to use the reprieve power to frustrate the people’s position.”

GOP Assemblyman Tom Lackey said Republicans were looking for a way to reverse Newsom’s action but hadn’t yet figured out how. He criticized Newsom for changing his position from the campaign but ruled out an effort to launch a recall.

“He’s said conflicting statements. That’s how you lose trust,” said Lackey, of Palmdale.

It appears Californians may yet have another chance to weigh in.

Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine has introduced a measure that would, if approved by two-thirds of the Legislature, put the question on the ballot in 2020. He said having a governor campaign against the death penalty could make the difference in convincing voters to repeal it.

“We’ve never before had that type of leadership on one of these initiatives,” said Levine, of San Rafael. “We are going to learn from those failures….How do we do this right? How do we administer justice properly?”

Death penalty opponents urged Jerry Brown to grant a reprieve when he was governor, but he never did, despite his personal opposition to capital punishment. They have been lobbying Newsom to do the same since he was sworn-in in January.

Now they have their sights set on the next goal, said longtime anti-death penalty advocate Natasha Minsker: “The next step would be to go further and convert death sentences to life without parole.”

Watch Newsom’s comments on the death penalty here:

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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March 6, 2019 7:17 pm

Meet California’s new environment czar, who walked the state to ‘reset’

Environment Reporter
Jared Blumenfeld at a recycling event. Photo via U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Jared Blumenfeld at a recycling event. Photo via U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

What better way to decompress from a stressful federal government job than by trekking 2,600 miles on foot from Mexico to Canada?

That’s what Jared Blumenfeld, the new head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, did three years ago, setting out on the arduous and beloved Pacific Crest Trail that traces California’s searing deserts, rugged mountains and sparkling coastline. Turns out the dust on his boots afforded him just the perspective he needed to take on the job Gov. Gavin Newsom gave him in January.

“I had a healthy reset,” Blumenfeld said recently about his four months on the trail. “What you realize is the complexity of the environmental issues. We have so many people talking about environmental issues, but we say it in a way that most people don’t understand.” People want to be part of the solution to environmental problems, he said.  “What I got from a distance was (the importance of) bringing these messages home in a way that’s digestible and actionable.”

Blumenfeld’s work perspective also shifted, from his job as the regional administrator for the federal EPA during the Obama administration to its mirror agency in Sacramento.

Blumenfeld, who has law degrees from the University of London and UC Berkeley, left his federal job in May 2016, a few months before his appointment was set to expire.

The agency he now manages oversees a half-dozen departments that regulate matters including air and water quality, which are among the state’s most contentious issues. Those issues have put California on a collision course with the Trump administration, which is undoing dozens of federal environmental protections, including some that originated in the Golden State.

Perhaps the most consequential battle is over Obama-era rules tightening future car emissions and gas-mileage standards to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants; the regulations were crafted by California but adopted nationwide. The federal government announced it would roll back those rules and revoke California’s right, first granted by Washington decades ago, to set its own air-pollution standards. Such a move would significantly affect the state’s ambitious climate policies.

Blumenfeld, 49, said the state needs the federal government as a partner on these issues, but when it came to hammering out a compromise on the auto standards, it was a one-way conversation. The feds announced last week that they had broken off negotiations with the state.

“They did not negotiate,” he said. “It was a little spurious to say they ended negotiations. They never began. The rule that was passed by the Obama administration has been rewritten based on very spurious and kind of junky science by the Trump administration.” (Federal officials produced research that they said showed the regulations as set would make cars less safe and be difficult for automakers to meet.)

In a wide-ranging conversation, Blumenfeld also said:

  • The state will vigorously defend its right to waive some federal emissions regulations and set its own, stricter standards. He expects the fight to be resolved in court. “We do have law and precedent on our side,” Blumenfeld said. “But we do live in bizarre political times, and that does have an influence on how the highest court may look at this issue.”
  • He brought together the state agencies he oversees and provided marching orders to step up enforcement of California’s environmental laws and impose fines when called for. “The regulated community is frustrated that in some cases the enforcement is happening in some parts of the state, but it isn’t in happening in others,” he said. “Consistency, clarity and prioritizing enforcement are important.” He had criticized California for lax enforcement of water laws in an opinion piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle last year.
  • Blumenfeld worked for Newsom in San Francisco as environmental director for the city. Then-mayor Newsom took him and other key aides to Hunters Point, a highly polluted former Navy shipyard, and into the community to talk to residents affected by residual problems. Newsom told the aides, “I don’t want you sitting in your offices. I want you to get out and help people.” The nexus of environmental damage and public health will be a focus of the new governor, Blumenfeld said.

The enviro-czar didn’t just spend his time hiking while on hiatus from government service. He founded a green-tech consulting company and started a podcast, Podship Earth. The native of Cambridge, England, who retains a trace of his British accent, said it’s now time to get back to work.

“Previous governors came up with great laws and targets, and the Legislature does the same,” he said. “Our job is to implement those. Let’s not just jump to the next shiny-cool environmental thing that we could do. Our first order of business is to look at what we’re doing and make sure we’re doing it according to the plans that are already there.

“We have politicians in every level of government who care deeply about the environment,” Blumenfeld said. “California offers hope and inspiration on how to solve problems, from an innovation perspective but also politically. It’s exciting to be in California right now.”

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March 5, 2019 11:59 am

With a whopping 2,628 bills pending, here’s the one most popular among California legislators

Political Reporter
Which California bills are the most popular for coauthors, and which have attracting the most bipartisan coauthors? An illustration of a blue face and a red face with a lightbulb between them
By the numbers: Which California bills are the most popular for coauthors, and which have attracting the most bipartisan coauthors?

Nobody can say California lawmakers haven’t kept busy. Between their December swearing-in and a late-February cutoff, they introduced an average of more than 32 bills a day. Now they face a June deadline to decide which of those 2,628 ideas will advance out of either the Assembly or state Senate.

Many are mere placeholders. In the coming months they will be fleshed out, amended, and/or gutted. New authors will hitch themselves to clear political winners, while more controversial bills may see their backers back down.

But the policymaking—and political pandering—priorities of Sacramento are beginning to take shape. A by-the-numbers overview:

The most popular bills

Tax-free tampons, tax-free text messages, tougher police accountability measures, and a host of proposed remedies for California’s housing crisis—you can tell a lot about lawmakers’ goals by the bills they’re most eager to slap their names on.

Excluding procedural measures and symbolic resolutions, the single most popular bill in the Legislature—at least the one that more elected members opted to co-author than any other—would eliminate the sales tax on tampons and other menstrual products.

Nearly a third of all state lawmakers are co-authoring Assembly Bill 31, introduced by Bell Gardens Democrat Cristina Garcia. But only four of those 36 coauthors are Republicans. That includes Sen. Ling Ling Chang from Diamond Bar, who co-authored the same proposal with Garcia in 2016—a bill Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed. Now lawmakers hope Gov. Gavin Newsom is more open to the idea.

But just because a bill is popular doesn’t mean it’s destined to become law.

Assembly Bill 162, which would ban state fees on text message services, was introduced by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a Republican from Roseville. That’s a response to the California Public Utilities Commission, which floated the possibility late last year of slapping a monthly surcharge on phone plans with text message services to fund subsidized service to low-income and rural areas. The commission rescinded the proposal after federal regulators raised questions about its legality, but state Republicans quickly rallied against the Sacramento “text tax.”

The bill is backed by every GOP senator and all but four GOP members of the Assembly. That all-red support bloc doesn’t carry much weight in a legislative body where Democrats outnumber Republicans three-to-one. But sometimes bills are less about making policy than sending a message.

The most bipartisan bills

It’s easy to forget, but Republicans and Democrats don’t disagree on everything. Specifically, tax credits for renters, empowering nurse practitioners and boosting college aid for foster youth have all attracted bipartisan support this year.

Looking at popular bills (those with at least 10 coauthors), Orinda Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer’s proposal to boost the state tax credit for renters attracted a group of coauthors who most closely resemble the partisan breakdown of the Legislature itself. With 24 Democratic and 6 Republican coauthors, it is, in short, the most bipartisan bill of the year.

Other bills that had similarly representative cross-party appeal:

  • AB-890: A bill that would allow all qualified nurse practitioners to practice medicine without a physician’s supervision
  • SB-150: A bill that would allow the state program that awards college aid to current and former foster youth to reduce payment delays. It would also allow students who are not meeting academic qualifications to keep receiving aid for two years, rather than one, before being cut off.
  • ACA-11: A bill to put a state constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot that, if approved, would allow state lawmakers to provide more funding to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the nonpartisan agency tasked with assessing the fiscal impact of legislation and ballot measures.
  • AB-9: A bill that would give workers alleging employment discrimination three years to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The current statute of limitations is one year.
  • SB-12: A bill that would allow money dedicated for mental health services to be used to create drop-in mental health centers for kids and teenagers.
  • SB-50: A bill that would ban cities from blocking the construction of new apartment buildings within a half-mile of public transit. This is a controversial one. Read more here.
  • AB-31: A bill that would exempt menstrual products from the state sales tax.
  • AB 298: A bill that would study the creation of a state low-interest home loan program for first responders.
  • AB 614: A bill that would allow more California farmers to receive a tax credit if they donate food to food pantries.

The most bipartisan lawmakers:

Bipartisan bills require legislators inclined to occasionally venture across the partisan aisle. Some are more so than others.

Glazer is not only the author of the bill with the most bipartisan appeal, he has also been more willing than any other Democrat to coauthor legislation with a Republican. Of the 42 bills he has put his name to this winter, 17 have also been authored by a member of the opposite party.

On the Republican side, Sen. Scott Wilk from Santa Clarita has been the most bipartisan- curious, co-authoring bills with Democrats 55 percent of the time.

As a group, Republicans have led the pack in bipartisanship. That isn’t necessarily because the GOP is uniquely inclined towards legislative comity—there just aren’t very many Republicans in Sacramento these days. That helps explain why 80 percent of the bills introduced this winter were authored by Democrats. GOP lawmakers who want to actually make a law typically have to enlist some Democratic coauthors.

It’s not always clear why a legislator would be more or less inclined to work with their colleagues in the opposing party. But among GOP lawmakers, one possible reason sticks out in the data: the competitiveness of their districts.

Republican lawmakers who won their last election by less than 5 percent were much more likely to join hands with the other side: on average roughly 40 percent of the bills they co-authored shared credit with at least one Democrat. Meanwhile, Republicans in the safest districts who won their seats with margins over 20 percent in the last election, coauthored bills with Democrats nearly half as often—or only one-fourth of the time.

That relationship wasn’t as clear on the Democratic side. Case in point: Tom Umberg. In one of many Orange County upsets last November, he won his Senate seat by a mere 1.2 percentage points—the narrowest margin of a Democrat in the Legislature. Since coming to Sacramento, he has put his name on 24 bills. All but four of them were introduced in the final two days before last week’s filing deadline and none had Republican coauthors.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the number and co-author circumstances of Tom Umberg’s bills.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Feb. 21, 2019 4:19 pm

Preparing to draw lines for Election 2022

Senior Editor
Charles Munger Jr, a Republican, funded the initiatives that created California’s Independent Redistricting Commission. Photo for CALmatters by Laurel Rosenhall

One election is a fading memory and another is year away. What better time to prepare for the vote in 2022?

That’s what California State Auditor Elaine Howle is doing.

Howle’s office must do the spade work necessary to create a new California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw district lines for legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization seats. And she wants your help.

“We’re going to do this as publicly and with as much transparency as we can,” Howell said Thursday.

The State Auditor is responsible for ensuring the commission is as independent and reflective of California as possible. The process begins with an introductory town hall at the auditor’s office next Friday at 10 a.m. For details, click here

You can start submitting applications to serve on the commission on June 10.

To qualify, you must have been a registered voter for the past five years, and registered in your party of choice—or have been a no-party preference voter—for five years. You must have voted in at least two of the last three state elections, and you can’t have been a campaign donor in recent years.

You are ineligible to serve if:

  • You or an immediate family members have served in or been a candidate for congressional or state office.
  • You’ve been an officer, employee or paid consultant for a California political party.
  • You’ve been a paid consultant for a candidate for California congressional or elective state office.
  • You’ve been a registered lobbyist.

Auditors will winnow down the applications and pick eight commissioners by July 5, 2020. Those eight will pick the final six members. 

The commission will set about drawing lines for the coming decade, completing the task by Aug. 15, 2021.

Campaign Vote Buttons

California voters in 2008 and in 2010 approved initiatives stripping politicians of the power to draw their own district boundaries, and placed it in the hands of the independent commission.

Republican donor Charles Munger Jr. took the lead in funding the initiatives, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also a Republican, promoted them. Schwarzenegger continues to campaign against gerrymandering nationally, touting California’s model.

In California, district lines are not drawn in ways that protect incumbents, unlike in most states where the party in power tweaks district lines to ensure they retain control.

In recent years, several California legislative and congressional seats have become competitive. As it happens, Democrats are winning most of the swing seats, but that’s because Republicans are losing registration.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Feb. 14, 2019 3:29 pm

Should California buy disaster insurance?

Economy Reporter
Sacramento Metropolitan firefighters battle the Camp Fire. Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group
Firefighters battle the Camp Fire in Butte County. Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Hoping to save California taxpayers some money after spending nearly $1 billion to fight wildfires last year, three officials say it’s time to look at purchasing disaster insurance for the state.

Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Treasurer Fiona Ma announced Senate Bill 290, which would authorize the state to explore purchasing a policy to cover wildfires, earthquakes, floods and other disasters.

“It works just like your home insurance but for our state,” Lara said at a Capitol press conference Thursday. “You pay a premium each year and we are protected. If a disaster strikes, once you cover the deductible, the plan pays you back for your losses.”

Other states and even the federal government have used reinsurance policies to manage costs associated with natural disasters. Notably the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchases protection on their flood response to hurricanes. And Oregon has saved millions by paying premiums to cover their wildfire costs.

Dodd and Lara say the state needs to get creative in confronting climate change-driven disasters, which have transformed California into “a tinderbox” during fire season.

Last year, more than 6,000 wildfires burned 876,000 acres, leveled thousands of homes and killed 104 people.

The state recorded $24 billion in insured losses in the two most destructive wildfires—the Tubbs Fire in 2017 and the Camp Fire in 2018. As a result, the state has exceeded fire suppression costs in seven of the last 10 years.

In 2018, California spent $947 million on fire suppression and emergency response, far exceeding the budgeted $450 million.

“This is a smart approach to one of the biggest challenges ever faced by the state of California and that is, how to keep the public safe without breaking the bank,” Dodd said.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Feb. 6, 2019 5:00 am

Two CA polls in one day offer encouragement to Newsom, the new Legislature, and Kamala Harris for president

Political Reporter
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaks during a launch rally for presidential campaign in Oakland last month. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaks during a launch rally for presidential campaign in Oakland last month. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group

Updated: 9 p.m. Feb. 6, 2019

A statewide poll released tonight found that Californians are generally positive about Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and the new California Legislature, but still down on President Donald Trump, whom most blame for the federal government shutdown. As in previous polls, they favor keeping the state’s property tax limits for homeowners—but maybe not for businesses.

The poll, from the Public Policy Institute of California, indicated that 70 percent of all California adults and 64 percent of likely voters supported Newsom’s proposed budget after being read a summary of it, with robust majorities backing his push to spend $1.8 billion expanding early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs, and an extra $832 million on public colleges and universities.

PPIC’s poll was made public after the morning release of a Quinnipiac University Poll of registered California voters. It found that the state’s junior U.S. senator, Kamala Harris, has an early home state advantage among Democrats in her run for the presidency—just as long as more high-profile Democrats don’t jump into the race. The poll reported that 58 percent of Democratic-inclined California voters said they would feel “excited” if she became the Democratic nominee. Statewide, voters of all political persuasions were split over whether she would make a good commander-in-chief, with 40 percent agreeing and 38 percent disagreeing.

The excitement factor was higher for Harris than any other declared or hypothetical candidate, save one. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his high name ID, 60 percent of Democratic leaning California voters reported being enthusiastic about the prospect of former Vice President Joe Biden as the party’s presidential nominee. He has not yet said whether he will run.

For those who think it’s far too early for anyone to be earnestly crunching the numbers on 2020, get used to it. California legislators decided to move up the state’s place on the primary calendar up by three months, making it newly relevant for presidential aspirants and the pollsters and consultants who care about them. That all should provide ample fodder for California journalists—but apologies if you were hoping to get through dinner interrupted over the next 13 months.

The Quinnipiac poll also found Californians starkly divided on a wide range of issues. Among registered voters surveyed, a majority of only Democrats supported a single-payer health care system and expanding health insurance to undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile a majority of only Republicans approved of President Trump’s job performance, support a border wall, and oppose strict gun control and marijuana legalization. A majority of those Republicans, unlike Democrats and independents, also said the California economy is not doing well—perhaps a reflection of the fact that the GOP has failed to win any statewide office and Democrats hold a robust supermajority of the Legislature.

The PPIC poll asked Californians how they feel about the new state government, now that Gov. Jerry Brown has finally left state politics. Adults surveyed approved of Gov. Newsom 44 percent to 23 percent, a more than 10 point margin. A third of respondents were undecided. A similar breakdown of Californians support the new Legislature.

In contrast (and coming as surprise to virtually no one), the survey found that the vast majority of Californians disapprove of President Trump, with 64 percent (including 52 percent of political independents) blaming him for the recent 35-day shutdown of the federal government.

These approval and disapproval numbers generally mirror the findings of the Quinnipiac poll.

The Public Policy Institute also found that a broad swath (61 percent) of Californians believe that Proposition 13, the 1978 constitutional amendment that capped the rate at which property taxes can increase, has been “mostly a good thing” for the state. But 47 percent said they supported stripping that benefit from commercial property owners, compared to 43 percent who opposed it—marking some growth in support for the idea compared to earlier polls.

A ballot measure to tax commercial property based on its market value (often referred to as the “split roll” initiative) will be on the 2020 ballot.

Provided with a list of issues and asked to identify the most important issue for the governor and Legislature to work on in the coming year, 15 percent of respondents said immigration/illegal immigration (the top choice), followed by education/schools/teachers with 11 percent and jobs/economy with 10 percent.

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Feb. 6, 2019 12:01 am

Diverging bills aim to curb police shootings: Tougher legal standards vs. better training and policies

Political Reporter
Shirley Weber at the California Assembly's most recent swearing-in ceremony. Photo by Steve Yeater for CALmatters
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wants to change the legal standard for justifiable shootings by police. Photo by Steve Yeater for CALmatters

Negotiations have broken down between law enforcement and civil rights advocates on legislation to curb police shootings, with each side proposing their own bill meant to reduce the number of Californians killed by police—a development that indicates the Capitol’s dominant Democrats will likely be divided as the emotional issue of police shootings takes center stage this spring.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber is reviving a controversial idea she proposed last year: to change the legal standard for justifying deadly force so that police can only lawfully kill when it’s “necessary” to avoid imminent danger.

“Not when you think or feel fear, but when you know, given the totality of the circumstances, that the person trying to be apprehended is going to do harm to you, the officer, or someone in the immediate environment,” Weber, a San Diego Democrat, said in an interview.

The current legal standard, known as the “reasonable” standard, justifies deadly force whenever a “reasonable officer” in the same circumstance would do the same thing. It stems from a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case and is the reason so few police are prosecuted when they kill. Law enforcement officials see the reasonable standard as a critical legal protection they need to perform a dangerous job, and vehemently opposed Weber’s bill last year.

Weber, who plans to announce the bill at a Capitol press conference this morning, said a new standard will make officers safer too.

“We believe the necessary standard is an absolute, and a standard that has to exist because it talks about the sanctity of life,” she said.

“I think we all have always believed that officers only used deadly force when they had no other options available to them. That has always been my perception, and I discovered later that it’s not really true.”

Her legislation is backed by a coalition of civil rights groups and families who have lost loved ones to police shootings. Law enforcement groups are likely to fight it.

Instead, law enforcement groups announced separate legislation Tuesday, backing a bill to require police departments to adopt policies that detail techniques for avoiding force and guidelines for when deadly force is appropriate, and to develop a new statewide training program to educate officers on use of force rules. The bill, which has not yet been assigned a number, will be carried by state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Salinas Democrat.

It will “provide the utmost and highest standard of training for our officers around California… to find ways to reduce incidences of the use of force,” David Swing, President of California Police Chiefs Association, said in a phone call with reporters.

“The sanctity of life is important for all of our peace officers in California. This bill moves the needle on ensuring that we have policies and training that helps preserve the sanctity of life.”

Their bill also changes the legal standard for using force, but in a way that is narrower than Weber’s.

The law enforcement coalition, which includes rank-and-file officers in the Peace Officers Research Association of California, is also asking the state for $300 million over the next three years to provide more homeless services, mental health professionals and substance abuse programs with which police can coordinate.

Neither side would comment on the other’s proposal and it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday if the two policies could eventually co-exist. Civil rights advocates and law enforcement lobbyists have been negotiating for months over use-of-force legislation—and trying to find common ground. The fact that they introduced separate proposals, carried by different Democratic lawmakers, suggests they couldn’t agree.

“While these two pieces of legislation make their way through the process, I will continue to be engaged to find common ground,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, said in a statement.

The schism also indicates that the law enforcement groups are trying a new tactic this year, one that may complicate the politics inside the Capitol. Last year, police set out to quash Weber’s legislation, and they succeeded. This year, their actions indicate that they expect Democrats to act on the issue of police accountability, and are proactively defining their own solution.

Whether Democrats, who hold roughly three-quarters of the Legislature’s seats, will embrace both proposals—or just one of them—becomes the next big question.

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Feb. 4, 2019 5:08 pm

Sen. Bill Dodd proposes California wildfire warning center

Economy Reporter
Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), Aug. 9, 2018. Photo by Robbie Short for CALmatters
Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd has several fire prevention bills this year. Photo by Robbie Short for CALmatters

After four consecutive years of catastrophic wildfires, Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd wants to establish a California wildfire warning center that would allow officials to turn off power and better position firefighting crews during extreme heat and high winds.

“It would give us more tools in trying to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Dodd told CALmatters as he introduced legislation today.

The bill, SB 209, calls on the California Public Utilities Commission, the Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire to work together on monitoring fire weather and to make threat assessments. The center would partner with investor-owned utilities as they install weather-monitoring equipment. The hope is to be able to identify high winds and dangerous conditions before a wildfire breaks out.

SB 209 is just one of several wildfire prevention proposals being introduced this session. Dodd is also carrying SB 190 to improve local government plans for defensible space.

There’s no price tag for the bill yet.

“The cost of this a far less than the cost of fighting a fire and then taking care of people and communities after the fire as the state has done in every one of these events,” Dodd says.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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