Good morning, California.

“How do we thank those men and women who protect the American people daily, and who have been grievously wounded or lost forever?”Sacramento Bee editorial board, 2015.

California's 'new abnormal'

The weekend sun sets eerily in San Francisco, obscured by wildfire smoke.

Wildfire casualties are mounting in Northern and Southern California, Gov. Jerry Brown has asked President Donald Trump for a major disaster declaration, and Californians have donned breathing masks amid  “hazardousair quality.

  • Smoky air led to the cancellation of Veterans Day celebrations in cities throughout the state, and authorities said red flag fire conditions will last for days.

Brown at the Office of Emergency Services command center Sunday: “I’m going to amend something I said before. This is not the new normal. This is the new abnormal and this new abnormal will continue.”

  • At least 29 people perished in Butte County’s Camp Fire, with roughly 200 people there unaccounted for Sunday. The fire turned the city of Paradise to ash and destroyed 6,713 structures, making it California’s most destructive fire ever, supplanting the previous worst, the Tubbs Fire of 2017.
  • Two bodies were found in the Woolsey Fire that hit Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The fire was threatening Malibu and Topanga Canyon as Calabasas was evacuated and homeowners fled with their livestock to Zuma Beach.
  • Exacerbating the danger? Gridlock, as panicked evacuees jammed roads in Malibu and the Sierra Nevada foothills. At least four Paradise victims were found dead in their cars.

Wildfire causes and prevention

What sparked the Camp Fire is under investigation. But firefighters saw downed power lines at the spot where it broke out, near Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Poe Dam on the Feather River, the Bay Area News Group reported.

  • In past years, rain would have fallen by now. That would have dampened the fires’ progress. But October and November have been bone dry in much of the state.

Experts believe more can be done to restrict building in fire zones and thin overgrown forests, the Chronicle reported. Infrastructure to outrun fire-nadoes is a bigger challenge, The New York Times reports, citing the mayor of Paradise, a former California Department of Transportation traffic specialist.

But here are some steps California has taken:

  • A state appropriation of $1 billion to remove dead and dying trees from federal and state lands, made by Brown and California lawmakers during the 2018 legislative session. There is no federal match.
  • New state requirements for utilities and energy companions to manage their systems to prevent power lines and electric system for causing fires.
  • Streamlined permitting for logging on private land.

Trump and Congress cut the U.S. Forest Service budget to $4.77 billion in 2019, from $7.1 billion in 2016. Most of the dead and dying trees are on federal land, not state land.

Follow the never-ending fire season on CALmatters’ wildfire tracker.


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Trump tweeted as California burned

Gov. Jerry Brown at Office of Emergency Services command center on Sunday.

Californians widely condemned President Donald Trump after he threatened to withhold federal disaster aid to California, blaming the state for mismanaging forests.

  • Uncle Sam owns 57 percent of California’s forestland. The state owns 2.2 percent.

Nevertheless, as thousands of firefighters battled fast-moving flames in Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and as bodies were being discovered, Trump tweeted:

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

Reaction was swift.

  • Gov. Jerry Brown’s press secretary Evan Westrup: “Our focus is on the Californians impacted by these fires and the first responders and firefighters working around the clock to save lives and property—not on the president’s inane, uninformed tweets.”
  • Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom: “This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up.”
  • UC Merced fire scientist LeRoy Westerling: “The President is not well-informed.”
  • Brian Price, California Professional Firefighters: “Natural disasters are not ‘red’ or ‘blue’—they destroy regardless of party.”
  • Katy Perry: “This is an absolutely heartless response.”

Brown didn’t rise to the bait at his Sunday press conference, except to say:

“Managing all the forests in every way we can does not stop climate change. Those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we are now witnessing. … The chickens are coming home to roost. This is real.”

A portrait of gun ownership in California

A quarter of California gun owners eluded background checks.

California gun owners tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the state in general, UC Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Program found in the first survey of its type of gun ownership in California.

Also, surprisingly, many gun owners purchase their firearms without obtaining background checks as is required by law, the survey found.

  • Fourteen percent of California adults own guns, compared with 22 percent nationally, as I detailed in this post. And 40 percent of gun owners live in homes with children 12 and younger.
  • California has seen 19 mass shootings since 1984, more than any other state.
  • But gun-related death rates are lower here than all but six other states, perhaps because of California’s strict gun control laws, CALmatters Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

Housing measures: A mixed fate on Election Day

San Francisco was among many California cities voting on local housing initiatives.

California’s housing crisis dominated ballots from Encinitas to Santa Monica to Healdsburg. CALmatters’ Matt Levin and Elizabeth Castillo produced an interactive map summarizing the results for many of the most important local housing initiatives.

Want to see how the Airbnb ban fared in Lake Tahoe, or the effort to rebuild in the wine country? Click here.

School bonds: Disparities remain despite big gains

California school bond measures totaling some $12 billion are on track for approval by voters across the state, CALmatters Ricardo Cano reports.

  • The volume of school finance measures on the ballot speaks to the ongoing need and popularity of using local bonds to pay for school construction and renovation.
  • But the disparities in funding were glaring. Voters in poorer districts rejected bonds.

What mattered 100 years ago

Photo courtesy of the California State Library.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, allies and Germany signed an armistice ending the war to end all wars. It didn’t last.

The Sunshine Division was based at Camp Kearney in San Diego. The photo above, supplied courtesy of the California State Library, is from the back cover of sheet music printed to celebrate California’s returning troops after World War I.

Not all returned; 2,587 were killed in the war and 11,596 were wounded. Among the survivors was silent film star Buster Keaton, who served seven months in France with the Sunshine Division and lost his hearing in one ear as a result of sleeping “every night but one on the ground or on the floor of mills, barns and stables.”

In his autobiography, Keaton shares mostly light-hearted and self-effacing memories of his service, but adds: “In that war, we saw little but rain and mud.”

Commentary at CALmatters

Mary Creasman, California League of Conservation Voters: Pundits and political consultants once thought climate change was a distant concern and not an issue that would energize voters. But as fires rage from Chico to Malibu, people can plainly see, feel, and smell the impact of climate change. And they made their feelings clear at the ballot box.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Gavin Newsom will be only the second governor in the last half-century to begin his first term without a major budget crisis to be solved. But keeping the state in the black may be difficult, particularly as he pursues an expansionist agenda.

Mayors to discuss California Dream

All politics are local: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg discuss California’s crisis in homelessness and housing on Friday in Sacramento. CALmatters Laurel Rosenhall will moderate the panel. It’s part of CALmatters’ California Dream project done in collaboration with public radio. For event details and registration, please click here.

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

See you tomorrow.