Good morning, California

“She was told by the staff that if she were to leave to be treated that she would have to come back to the DMV another day, so she insisted that emergency personnel treat her there” — Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, a San Ramon Republican, referring to an elderly constituent who fainted while waiting in a Department of Motor Vehicles line.

Showdown over fire liability law

Cause of the 2017 Santa Rose fire still has not been determined.

High-stakes legislation that would alter liability law for California utilities whose equipment sparks wildfires faces a hearing today before a special two-house legislative conference committee.

Remind me: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has been seeking an overhaul of liability law as fire becomes more common in a changing climate. Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a change in liability laws that could help the utilities.

The company and its allies, including organized labor, have been airing ads calling for the change:

“Our climate has changed and our laws need to change, too.”

Missing: The agenda released late Wednesday does not list any representative from PG&E. A PG&E spokeswoman said Wednesday night that Southern California Edison’s attorney would be representing the view for all utilities.

An alternative explanation: PG&E, blamed for several 2017 fires, has become a punching bag for legislators and probably would prefer to operate behind the scenes.

Also missing: The agenda for today’s hearing includes a space for the governor’s office. No one is named to speak for the governor’s proposal. In the past, the governor has testified on matters that are especially important to him. Although the future of utilities is a high priority, Brown apparently will be sending a surrogate.

Politics: It’s an election year. Legislators don’t want to be perceived as siding with utilities at the expense of people who have lost loved ones and houses.

Why this matters: PG&E warns it could go bankrupt if it is liable for the full cost of the 2017 fires, which is in the billions. Future—and current—fires will also be expensive. If PG&E goes bankrupt, Brown and others have said, California’s hope to obtain 100 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources will be derailed.


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State Supreme Court rejects PG&E’s plea

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to hear Pacific Gas & Electric Co. appeal seeking relief from strict liability rules governing wildfires its equipment caused.

PG&E appealed after losing before a Superior Court and a District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

In its petition to the high court, the utility pointed out that “privately owned utilities have seen their market capitalization eroded and their credit downgraded” in recent months because of potential liability for fires.

The justices didn’t rule on the merits. They simply declined to hear the case. But their decision adds urgency to the legislative fight for relief from liability.


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Will California require women on corporate boards?

California could become the first state to require companies to have women on their boards—assuming the idea could survive a likely court challenge, CALmatters’ Antoinette Siu writes.

The legislation by Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, was sparked by debates around fair pay, sexual harassment, and workplace culture.

Jennifer Barrera, senior vice president at the California Chamber of Commerce, argued in opposition that the bill focuses “on one aspect of diversity.”

By the numbers: A quarter of California’s 445 publicly traded companies have no women on their boards.

P.S. Proponents acknowledge the measure would face a court fight if it reached Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk and he signs it into law.

Future of a third of California is uncertain

Forest health is declining.

Climate change, megafires, and population pressures are prompting officials to question how much of California’s forests are sustainable.

The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports:

“As global warming increases, there are concerns that forests will struggle to adapt to rapid changes in climate and altered disturbance regimes. As a result, some forest types may not be sustainable under future climate conditions.”

Though city dwellers might not realize it, a third of California is forestland, 32 million acres, roughly the size of Louisiana. As much as 8 percent of that land could be lost to climate change, the report says.

Fire damage has increased quickly: an average of 708,000 acres burned annually since 2000. That average was 343,000 acres between 1980 and 1999.

Complicating matters: More than 1 million homes are in parts of the state designated as “very high fire hazard severity zone.”

Northern California air truly is terrible

In the first seven-plus months of 2018, the Sacramento Valley already has experienced more instances of unhealthful levels of damaging air pollution from wildfires than occurred between 2008 and 2017, according to data supplied to me by the California Air Resources Board.

The pollutant: PM2.5 refers to particles that are 3 percent of the diameter of a human hair or smaller, so tiny that they can cross from the lungs into the blood. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established a level for such pollutants of 65 or greater as unhealthy.

“Exposure to fine particle pollution can cause premature death and harmful cardiovascular effects such as heart attacks and strokes, and is linked to a variety of other significant health problems.”

The numbers: From 2008 to 2017 — nine years — there were 102 instances when the daily maximum of PM2.5 was 65 or greater in the nine-county region from Shasta to Sacramento counties.

This year there were 109 instances between Jan. 1 and Aug. 6. In those seven-plus months, there were 38 instances when the level was 100 or greater, a number equal to levels for the entire period of 2008-2017.

A note: The count includes readings from multiple locations on specific days when the air was bad. For example, on Monday readings at 17 different sites across all counties in the region showed especially bad air.

Caution: The data are preliminary. But judging from the haze blanketing the region, it seems about right. Authorities urge people to stay indoors.

Walters: Jerry Brown’s final Supreme Court pick

CALmatters commentator Dan Walters asks why Gov. Jerry Brown is waiting so long to make his fourth and final nomination to the California Supreme Court. By waiting until the end of this month, the governor could ensure that his appointee won’t face voters until 2022. Could that final nominee be Anne Gust Brown, who was a corporate attorney before marrying the former and future governor of California and becoming his closest political confidante and advisor?

Walters: “Such an appointment would certainly seal Brown’s lasting influence on the nation’s most important state court.”

Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, dmorain@calmatters.org, 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you tomorrow.