Good morning, California.

“I begin my week, every Monday, with this as the top topic. There is not a day that goes by when I am not engaged.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking to reporters about Pacific Gas & Electric’s bankruptcy and his concern that the contagion could spread to other utilities.

Newsom joins battle over PG&E's fate

The fight for control of PG&E's board has caught Gov. Gavin Newsom's attention.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he and his team are seeking the “appropriate way of injecting ourselves” in what could become an epic battle for control of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s board of directors.

  • PG&E set Tuesday as the deadline for nominations to its board as it restructures itself in bankruptcy court in San Francisco.
  • PG&E’s creditors include major hedge funds that could nominate slates to sit on its board. California’s massive public employee pension funds, which hold stakes in PG&E, could assert themselves, too.
  • Elliott Management, a hedge fund controlled by New York billionaire and Republican donor Paul Singer, holds a major stake in PG&E, and has retained one of Sacramento’s top lobbying firms, KP Public Affairs.

Newsom, answering my questions during a Friday appearance: “Clearly, we’re concerned that one particular hedge fund is playing an outsized role and trying to influence that (process) in a way that I don’t think inures to the best interest of the public. …

“I should broaden that. I’m concerned about the interests of a few getting in the way of the interests of the many. My job is to represent the ratepayers, taxpayers, the public interest in California, not the interest of a particular hedge fund or two.”

Representatives of major creditors are not talking publicly, with one exception: BlueMountain Capital Management, which offered a high-profile slate of 13 directors, including Phil Angelides:

  • Angelides, the 2006 Democratic nominee for governor, was California treasurer during PG&E’s first bankruptcy in 2001.
  • He chaired the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which delved into the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown.

Newsom: “I’m not on any one side. I’m on the public side.”


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Care for mentally ill falls short

A 1999 bill sought to bring about parity in mental health care.

People with severe mental illness receive lesser treatment from California health care providers, two decades after then-Gov. Gray Davis signed the state’s first law mandating equivalent levels of care for mental and physical ailments.

CALmatters contributor Jocelyn Wiener details evidence in this second installment of our series on the status of mental health care:

  • The Department of Managed Health Care has levied millions of dollars in fines against health plans for mental health-related violations.
  • A federal judge in San Francisco ruled that United Behavioral Healthcare wrongly restricted treatment for patients with mental health and substance abuse disorders in order to cut costs.
  • Parents of children with serious mental illnesses sometimes get their kids on the Medi-Cal program for low-income Californians because it offers more mental health care benefits than private insurance.

Mental health care advocates cheered Davis in September 1999 when he signed that first parity bill, and later when the federal government enacted a national parity law.

As Jill Williams see it, however, parity remains elusive. Her 25-year-old son, who has schizophrenia, was discharged after she had taken him to a Sutter emergency room in suburban Sacramento last winter.

She rushed to the hospital to find him standing outside, shoeless on the cold morning. He bolted, ran into a parking structure, and jumped from the third story. When he landed, she says, he was placed on a gurney and whisked inside.

His life was saved. But for this mother, it illustrated the contrasting ways in which the medical system responds to mental and physical crises.


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Has tobacco tax paid off?

It's unclear whether a tobacco tax increase has pushed doctors to accept Medi-Cal.

Californians voted to raise tobacco taxes by $2 per pack in 2016 to help pay doctors and dentists more when they treat low-income patients.

The state has collected nearly $2.5 billion in additional funds since the tax kicked in in 2017.

But it’s unclear whether the money is achieving one of its main goals: getting more medical and dental providers to accept Medi-Cal patients, the government’s health plan for the poor, CALmatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera writes.

  • Pay increases range from $5 to $107 per visit, treatment or procedure, depending on patient complexity and provider.

Aguilera: There have been slight increases in the number of doctors and dentists who accept patients in the state’s Medi-Cal program, but some experts say it’s too early to attribute that bump to the new money, largely because it has taken a year or more for some providers to be paid the extra sums.

Anti-vaxxers take aim at bill

San Diego legislators have introduced a bill designed to control disease outbreaks.

Anti-vaccination activists are targeting legislation that seeks to prevent hepatitis A outbreaks like the one that swept through San Diego homeless encampments in 2017 and 2018, the Voice of San Diego reports.

Despite Facebook’s promise that it would crack down on anti-vaccination messages, activists are still using the platform to get their word out.

Facebook announced last week:

“We are working to tackle vaccine misinformation on Facebook by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic.”

  • Voice of San Diego linked to a Facebook video posted by a woman describing herself as a “health freedom advocate” and urging followers to come to Sacramento for the bill’s March 19 hearing.

“We need to pack the house!!!” one commenter said in response.

A state audit detailed lapses that failed to contain the outbreak, which resulted in 20 deaths and 398 hospitalizations in San Diego. Drug users are particularly susceptible to the highly contagious but preventable disease.

  • Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, both of San Diego, responded to the audit by introducing the bill. It would mandate more rapid reporting of outbreaks and grant local health officers the authority to “take any action the health officer deems necessary to control the spread” of a communicable disease.

Gonzalez: “We had over 20 people die from hep A, deaths that could have been prevented if they had been vaccinated. Most of us have seen the damage caused by the anti-vaxxers. Their arguments are as bad as people who deny climate change.”

Take a number: 63

Gov. Gavin Newsom looked on as 63 new CHP officers were sworn in Friday.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Warren Stanley swore in 63 CHP officers who completed their 29-week academy on Friday, pushing the total number of officers of all ranks to 7,351.

Starting pay: $7,927 per month, $95,124 per year.

Commentary at CALmatters

Mental health deinstitutionalization has impacted California.

Vern Pierson, El Dorado District Attorney: Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown, two of the most consequential governors ever in California, led the state during two of the most well-intended but poorly executed movements in this state’s history. The first was the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill. The second resulted in fewer prison inmates, and significant increases in homelessness and untreated mental illness.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: New legislation and a new threat by the attorney general are the latest attempts to undermine the California Public Records Act.

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See you tomorrow.