Good morning, California.
“It’s about getting people off the streets and into a safe location.”—San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu
“It’s perpetuating addiction, which is the opposite of what we want to do.”—Lake Elsinore Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez
Will wildfires bankrupt PG&E?
Sonoma County fire, 2017. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat)
Lawmakers late Monday inched toward legislation they hope will help keep the state’s largest electric utility from going bankrupt, without imposing huge costs on residential ratepayers.
Remind me: A two-house committee has been meeting for a month on 2017 wildfire costs that must be borne by investors in Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and perhaps Southern California Edison and their ratepayers. Lawmakers want the issue resolved by Friday, the end of the legislative session.
The issue: PG&E could go bankrupt if its rating is downgraded. It’s seeking state backing for bonds that would spread billions in fire-related costs over 20 years.
The proposal: The California Public Utilities Commission would determine PG&E culpability in the fires and impose costs on the utility’s shareholders, and ratepayers.
What to expect: If the utility spreads, for example, $5 billion over 20 years, residential ratepayers would pay about $26 more per year, legislators said.
Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat and the committee’s co-chair: “It’s a reasonable plan.” Assemblymembers seemed unconvinced.
Questions: Oil refineries and other industrial users hope to cap their liability, shifting more to residential users. It’s unclear whether Wall Street will view the package as sufficient.
Money matters: Healthy utilities are not only key to the economy, but also to California’s effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have allies. Last week, the California State Association of Electrical Workers donated $1 million to the California Democratic Party. The union fears its members would face layoffs and cuts in pay and pensions if PG&E goes bankrupt.
Coming calamity of climate change
The broader context of the fire bill was all too apparent in an ominous assessment Monday by California’s Natural Resources Agency. The report projects that heat waves will become more severe, wildfires will blacken more of the state’s forests, Sierra snowpack will decline by two thirds by 2050, and rising oceans will do billions of dollars worth of coastal damage.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s statement: “These findings are profoundly serious and will continue to guide us as we confront the apocalyptic threat of irreversible climate change.”
Newsom: Halt desert water project
Cadiz Water Project could threaten the Mojave Desert ecosystem
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom joined U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein Monday in urging legislators to derail a major Mojave Desert water project pushed by Cadiz Inc.
Step back: Cadiz seeks to pump 50,000 acre-feet of water a year from a Mojave aquifer and sell it to Southern California consumers. Opponents say it would wreck the desert ecosystem. Backers say the project is fully vetted and safe, and ready to proceed.
Sen. Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat, is pushing a last-minute bill for further review by the State Lands Commission, which is chaired by Newsom.
Newsom’s letter to legislators: “The vulnerability of desert ecosystems …requires additional caution.”
Feinstein’s letter: “Projects like Cadiz put private profit over public lands that belong to all Californians.”
Politics: The Trump administration in October approved the Cadiz Water project, reversing an Obama administration decision that would have blocked it. That’s one incentive for California Democrats to say no. Another is the clout of Feinstein, California’s senior U.S. senator, and Newsom, the front-runner to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown.
Matt Dababneh, former Assembly Democrat
An Assembly investigation substantiated the most explosive allegation to come out of the #MeToo movement in the California Capitol—that then-Assemblyman Matt Dababneh pushed a lobbyist into a bathroom and made her watch him masturbate, CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall writes.
Dababneh resigned in December. On Monday, the Assembly released records showing it denied his request for an appeal. A spreadsheet of harassment cases can be found here.
What cities can do about evictions
About 140,000 California households a year receive eviction notices, often leading to homelessness. That’s expensive for cities, not to mention harrowing for families.
San Francisco is providing free lawyers to people facing eviction. Advocates say the savings in keeping people off the streets outweigh the legal costs to the city. CALmatters health reporter David Gorn explores how it works as part of our California Dream collaboration with public radio.
Walters: Bail bill helps public employees
CALmatters commentator Dan Walters asks: Why the rush on the bail overhaul legislation? His theory: Legislative leaders feared that, given a few days, the bail reformers and bail bond agents who opposed it could peel away enough votes to block passage.
Walters: “Legislative leaders also faced heavy pressure from unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union, to pass the bill because the new bureaucracy it would create would mean thousands of new unionized civil-service workers.”
Pro-Con: Water tax to pay for clean water
Legislators this week will vote on a $1-a-month tax on water users to clean toxins from water. Here’s the pro-con.
Veronica Garibay: “Families in 300 communities are risking their health every time they cook, brush their teeth, or drink a glass of water.”
Cindy Tuck: “There is a way to implement the voluntary contribution concept at a much lower cost.”
See you tomorrow.