Good morning, California.

State of the State today at 11 a.m. Come to CALmatters.org afterward for coverage and live analysis.

“To suggest that Congress would authorize [Homeland Security] to build new border barriers but (impliedly) prohibit the maintenance, repair, and replacement of existing ones makes no practical sense.”—U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge M. Margaret McKeown, rejecting California’s environmental challenge to the Trump Administration’s border wall construction plans.  

Newsom pulls border troops

Only 100 troops will remain, to address drug crimes and gun running.

As demonstrators massed for competing El Paso rallies —one by President Donald Trump and one by Beto O’Rourke, the rising Democratic star from Texas—Gavin Newsom on Monday ordered that all but 100 of 360 National Guard troops be withdrawn from the California-Mexico border.

Newsom: “We’re not interested in perpetuating this political theater.”

Newsom signed the order withdrawing troops by the end of March at a press conference and handed it to Major General David S. Baldwin, the head of the California Military Department.

  • The 100 remaining troops will combat drug crimes and gun running. Newsom intends to reassign 110 Guard troops now at the border to help the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection with fire prevention. Another 150 troops will combat illegal marijuana cultivation, which Newsom attributed to drug cartels.

Gov. Jerry Brown last year complied with Trump’s request to send National Guard troops to the border, but decreed that the troops would not assist in detaining immigrants who cross the border.

  • Troops have helped by reporting instances of border crossings, and the nonprofit news organization Voice of San Diego cited court filings saying California National Guard soldiers assisted U.S. Border Patrol agents in apprehending unauthorized immigrants near the border.

Newsom disagreed with Brown, something he made clear during the 2018 campaign. His decision follows New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision last week to pull troops from that state’s border with Mexico.

An 'un-American' transgender ban

President Donald Trump has ordered the National Guard to oust transgender troops.

California’s National Guard probably cannot defy President Donald Trump’s directive that the military oust transgender people from its ranks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday, even as he denounced the President’s attempted ban as “un-American.”

  • In January, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Trump by lifting nationwide injunctions that had blocked the administration’s proposal to ban transgender people from the military. Litigation continues in lower courts.
  • Last week, Major General Matthew Beevers, the California National Guard’s second in command, was quoted as telling an Assembly committee that the guard would not oust transgender people, apparently in defiance of Trump’s policy.

Newsom clarified: “Can we make that decision unilaterally? Dare I say, perhaps not.”

Transgender people can serve in the National Guard’s reserves. That’s a state militia. However, the National Guard itself is governed by federal law.

Major General David S. Baldwin, the California National Guard’s top officer, agreed: “Our preference is that the Department of Defense sees the light and that transgender people should be allowed to continue serve alongside all the fellow soldiers and airmen because they bring value to our force. If they are willing to pick up a rifle and follow us into combat we welcome them on our side to do harm to those who would do harm to us.”

Newsom underscored his view: “To demean a group of folks for purely political purposes is just disgraceful. It’s un-American.”

The next big fire

Fire season will be back. Is California ready?

Is it even possible to prepare for the new wildfire abnormal? California is amassing new firefighting aircraft, hardening the electric grid and, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday, dispatching 110 National Guard troops to help with fire suppression.

  • But that still might not ward off the next inferno, CALmatters’ Judy Lin reports in the first of a two-part series.

Kelly Huston, deputy director of the state Office of Emergency Services: “I think we are better prepared. The real question is whether or not that’s enough.”

Climate change-driven wildfire is happening much faster than anyone predicted, says California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker. The commission, like other state agencies, hasn’t adapted.

Picker: “We are like a technical court. People have to have their day in court. It’s not a fast process. Have you been in a court proceeding that took one day?”

Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, who represents fire-ravaged Santa Rosa: “We don’t have time for a standard bureaucratic approach.”

Urgency has been a theme: Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., struggling to regain some public trust, announced Monday it is getting rid of at least half of the members of its board of directors this spring, according to The Sacramento Bee’s Dale Kasler.

  • Adding fuel to the coming fire, about 18.6 million trees died in 2018, mainly the result of dehydration and beetle infestation, The San Francisco Chronicle reports, citing a U.S. Forest Service estimate.

Floating an oil tax

Oil pumpjacks near Bakersfield.

An oil severance tax like those imposed by other oil producing states has been introduced by Sen. Bob Wieckowski, potentially posing some especially tough votes for some of his fellow Democrats.  

  • The proposed 10 percent levy on oil and gas pulled from California land would generate $600 million to $900 million, depending upon oil prices. At least part of that would be passed onto motorists.

Wieckowski: “These are natural resources owned by the whole state. … Our climate goals require us to move away from carbon.”

Wieckowski, whose district includes the Tesla auto factory in Fremont, noted that Gov. Gavin Newsom may be more open to oil taxes than was his predecessor, Jerry Brown.

  • However, Orange County voters recalled Democratic Sen. Josh Newman last June after he voted to raise gasoline taxes by 12 cents per gallon to pay for road repair, a lesson not lost on senators from swing districts.

The tax would hit hardest in Kern County, the state’s biggest oil producer, and would place Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a Democrat from Sanger, in an especially tough spot. She defeated Republican Andy Vidak in one of the closer races of 2018.

  • It’d also be a tough vote for Orange County Democrats including newly elected Sen. Tom Umberg, who narrowly defeated Republican Janet Nguyen.

Wieckowski: “We’re going to proceed cautiously.”

By the way: Newman has been raising money for a 2020 campaign to regain the Senate seat now held by Republican Ling Ling Chang.

Transition watch: Water board shake-up?

Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus.

Facing pressure from farm interests, Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared poised Monday to replace Felicia Marcus as chair of the  State Water Resources Control Board. 

  • San Joaquin Valley farming interests view Marcus as an environmental advocate who would curtail their water access.
  • Newsom has sought to pay heed to valley interests.
  • Marcus, a Brown appointee, is a veteran of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the L.A. Department of Public Works. Her term ended last last month, and the governor must appoint a new chair in March.

As Water Board chairwoman, Marcus presided over a years’ long process that could end up allocating more water to protect threatened fisheries and improve the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at the expense of Bay Area and valley water users.

  • Modesto Bee editorial page editor Mike Dunbar wrote an especially pointed column this past weekend calling for her ouster:

“Smart, gutsy and glib, Marcus has proved to be a great friend to those whose job it is to sell environmental fanaticism to the public. For everyone else, she’s a political target.”

Some San Joaquin Valley legislators also urged Newsom to replace her. On Monday, word spread through the Capitol that the governor had decided to replace Marcus. Newsom spokesman Nathan Click declined to comment.

Commentary at CALmatters

Floodplain reforestation can help California.

Julie Rentner, River Partners: Floodplain reforestation projects are biodiversity hotspots and climate-protection powerhouses that cost far less than old-fashioned gray infrastructure of levees, dams and reservoirs. They provide highly-effective flood safety by strategically spreading floodwater.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Jerry Brown’s unwillingness to monitor how local school districts are educating their students is giving way to successor Gavin Newsom’s pledge to increase accountability.

Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]org, 916.201.6281. Shawn Hubler, [email protected]edits WhatMatters. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

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