Happy Valentine’s Day, California. 

“I’m not going this time. I’ve got 35 chickens and a daughter who won’t leave them behind. So we’re staying.”—Lake Elsinore real estate Tim Suber, as Riverside County sheriff’s deputies sought to evacuate wildfire burn areas prone to mudslides during Wednesday’s epic rain. Suber told the Associated Press that between last summer’s wildfires and this winter’s storms, he has lost count of how many times authorities have told him to leave.

The next PG&E fire

Current fire victims could suffer if PG&E causes the next big fire.

What could be worse than the next big wildfire? Maybe the next big wildfire caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., CALmatters’ Judy Lin writes.

  • Lin traces PG&E’s history in the second installment of her look ahead at the next wildfire season, as well as the rising risk of climate-driven disaster and the challenge utilities are facing as they try to keep the lights on without sparking an inferno with their equipment in an increasingly fire-prone landscape.
  • But mainly, she examines the complications  from PG&E’s bankruptcy if it is determined to be responsible for another fire in 2019. The state’s largest utility recently filed for Chapter 11 protection in part to insulate itself from damages from lawsuits by victims of fires PG&E caused in 2017.

Because of how bankruptcy law works, victims from any new fire would have to file claims in bankruptcy court, as opposed to state court, and the bankruptcy court would put the new wildfire claims into an administrative bucket ahead of unsecured claims such as pre-bankruptcy victims.

USC law professor Robert Rasmussen: “If I were an existing tort victim, I’d say it’s terrible.”  

For an even deeper dive into the preparation underway for the next fire season, check out the first part of Lin’s series by clicking here.


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The grid sees all

Is your smart bulb spying on you?

To understand the future of electricity in California, check out this UC Irvine experiment on homeowners, undertaken with Southern California Edison’s help. In her latest installment on the grid, CALmatters’ Julie Cart describes it as a real-time Truman Show.   

  • Participants got smart appliances, LED lighting, water heaters, insulation, air conditioning, solar panels and batteries, even electric cars and charging stations.
  • In return, every energy decision was shared with a remote monitoring station: which lights were flicked on, and when; which families used air conditioning or hot water more than others; which wall sockets residents used.
  • The goal: to better understand, at street level, how a new generation of appliances and a fleet of electric cars could affect the grid. The cost? Privacy. And it all could be hacked.

Consumer protections are not keeping pace with the adoption of smart home devices, says Scott Samuelsen, director of UCI’s Advanced Power and Energy Program, which ran the project.

Samuelsen: “The market is out of control with respect to regulation (of devices). We are in a free-for-all.”

High-speed clash

Newsom's bullet train remarks earned more fallout Wednesday.

President Donald Trump seized on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to “be real” on high-speed rail Wednesday, using Newsom’s apparent retreat from the project to demand California repay $3.5 billion in federal funds.

  • In his State of the State speech, Newsom promised to continue to build a leg from Bakersfield to Merced, but not, for now, extend it to the Silicon Valley.

Newsom: “Let’s be real, the current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.”

Newsom said he was just trying to level with taxpayers, but he also gave the president Twitter grist. Trump called the project, long delayed and over-budget, a “green disaster.”

Trump, tweeting: “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now.”

Newsom, tweeting: “Fake news. We’re building high-speed rail, connecting the Central Valley and beyond. This is CA’s money, allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back. The train is leaving the station — better get on board! (Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??)”

Jerry Brown dealt differently with Trump, requesting last year that the president spend infrastructure money on what he viewed as a signature project.

Brown: “We have a world-class train system under construction. We invite you to come aboard and truly ‘Make America Great Again.'”

That elicited no presidential tweet.

About that money for homelessness

Even with funding, building new housing takes time.

Remember that massive bond Los Angeles voters passed in 2016 to combat the city’s crisis-levels of homelessness? The city’s chief accountant wants to know why so much Proposition HHH revenue is piling up unspent.

  • The $1.2 billion bond is supposed to build 10,000 units of housing for people who in another era would have been institutionalized, writes CALmatters contributor Matt Tinoco in the latest installment of the California Dream, our collaboration with public radio stations.
  • But not one unit of housing funded by it has been completed, and more than two years have gone by.

L.A. Controller Ron Galperin: “Building units that we’re not going to see for years and years is not working.”

But new housing takes time.

Tinoco: “As inequality increases and encampments sprout in virtually every city statewide, some Californians are taking it upon themselves to address the pressing needs of homeless people in their neighborhoods—doing the work they think government should be doing, but isn’t.”

Kids vote after all

The percentage of young voters has risen.

The percentage of young adults who turned out in the November 2018 election more than tripled from 2014, the last nonpresidential election year, and jumped by almost  10 percentage points from 2010, new research shows.

Some 27.5 percent of eligible voters 18-24 cast votes in November, according to Mindy Romero, director of the USC California Civic Engagement Project. That’s a dip from the 2016 presidential election—voting is inevitably higher in presidential years—but far better than the 8.2 percent who voted in 2014 and 18.3 percent in 2010.

Among other findings from Romero, whose research focuses on voting patterns among underrepresented groups:

  • Of the 3,450,454 eligible voters, age 18-24, 948,559 cast ballots.
  • Latino eligible turnout was 35.9 percent, double the 2014 level and above 28.7 percent in 2010.
  • Asian-American eligible turnout was 33 percent, up from 18.4 percent turnout in 2014 and 24.4 percent in 2010.

Young people are criticized for not voting. But efforts to register them appeared to have paid off, as 61.6 percent of people 18-24 are registered to vote, up from 52 percent in 2014. Romero did not track how they voted, but cited “a really strong reaction in the age of Trump” among young voters.

Romero: “Change and progress are incremental. In 2018, there was a good jump.”

Expect a fuller picture of voting patterns from her next month.

Medicinal gators in CA

A GOP assemblyman wants to lift CA's ban on alligator-part sales.

At the behest of the state of Louisiana, Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel has introduced legislation that would allow the continued sale of alligator and crocodile parts for a variety of uses including medicine.

  • California bans the sale of products from a variety of animals, including elephants, polar bears, kangaroos, crocs and ‘gators. The 1970 law was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. 
  • Legislators have granted exemptions for alligators and crocodiles, whose skin is used for various leather products, several times, most recently in 2014. That exemption expires in 2020. 

Voepel of Santee noted in a statement that alligators and crocodiles are common in Louisiana, where they are farmed for a variety of uses.

Those uses could include fighting various diseases and infections, according to the statement.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement: “Louisiana is grateful to our friends in California for their efforts on behalf of protecting alligator and crocodile habitats, encouraging sustainable farming practices, and supporting the responsible stewardship of the public’s natural resources.”

What’s ahead: Expect animal rights activists to mobilize to fight the bill. Drug companies with an interest in developing medicinal uses could lobby for it.

Commentary at CALmatters

Could solar energy help Californians avoid fire risk?

Audrey Lee, SunRun: We have a short period of time until the next fire season hits us. PG&E’s troubles have Californians demanding better solutions from their utilities, now. Sustainable business models and partnerships with solar leaders looking to protect fire-prone communities are a start.

Mary Jackson, Online Lenders Alliance: Online lead generators and lenders provide innovative financial services that reach Californians who aren’t being served by banks and credit unions. Ensuring laws are modernized, embrace innovation and protect consumers should be the Legislature’s top priority.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: The decades-long alliance between Democratic politicians and police unions has been eroded, as two legislative battles illustrate.

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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