Good morning, California. This is Shawn Hubler, deputy editor at CALmatters, sitting in for Dan Morain, who’s enjoying a long Thanksgiving holiday.
“Dear Camp Fire evacuees, our community is heartbroken by the recent events. While there is much we want help with [to] pick up the pieces, we want to start by providing a Thanksgiving Dinner.”—Invitation to displaced wildfire victims from the town of Lincoln, population 47,000.
Co-organizer Jeannette Bermudez said she was inspired by her 9-year-old son as they watched news of the devastation. “He said, ‘What are you going to do about it?'” she told NBC.
Serving on the front lines
Searchers with cadaver dogs scour the Paradise rubble.
Firefighting costs have topped $118 million for the Woolsey and Camp Fires and are expected to rise, according to CalFire, with fire deaths roughly double what they were last year. Some 5,000 firefighters remained deployed on the two catastrophes Tuesday; thousands of those who’ve been battling the infernos are prison inmates.
- In Southern California, survivors of the Woolsey Fire were urged to prepare for flash floods and mudslides. Meanwhile, lawyers for fire victims announced a lawsuit against Southern California Edison for allegedly waiting to cut the power in red flag conditions.
- In Northern California, where PG&E also is being sued by victims, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District predicted clearer air, thanks to wind from an incoming cold front.
- The cost to insurers for the two fires was estimated by the risk modeler RMS at between $9 billion and $13 billion, marking the second fire season in the row with insured losses of over $10 billion.
The Camp Fire death toll in Butte County stands at 81, with more than 870 missing. More than 500 volunteer searchers from 38 California counties have combed the ashes of razed houses and the husks of melted vehicles, looking for bodies, The Mercury News reports.
Joe Moses, Monterey County sheriff’s deputy and commander of the Camp Fire search operation: “You look up, look around and imagine there’s a fire coming. What would I do? Where would I run?”
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Giving closure to fire survivors
Assemblyman Jim Wood, left, at the fire scene with a Paradise school official.
Among the forensic experts piecing together the heartbreaking story of the deadly Camp Fire—and there are many—is a Sonoma County dentist with especially relevant expertise.
- Healdsburg Assemblyman Jim Wood is a forensic odontologist—a dentist specially trained in the art of using teeth to identify dead bodies. Last year, he helped identify victims of the fires in Santa Rosa. This year, he has been at the Sacramento morgue with a team of specialists, examining the remains that have arrived daily in body bags.
- CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall caught up with him there as he took a break, his shoes still covered with white surgical booties, his eyes weary from poring over metal crowns and porcelain fillings, teeth and roots of teeth. Click here to read her fascinating profile.
The work is clarifying, Wood says. At one point this summer, he interrupted a long Public Utilities Commission discourse on utilities and fire mitigation with a terse reminder to the PUC president that “people are dying.”
Wood: “Last year was hard because it was home. I knew the streets, I knew the neighborhoods. I didn’t know any of the victims but it felt much more personal to me, and the sheer numbers we were dealing with. Which is a fraction now of what we’re dealing with in this fire.”
The year of the women
Somewhat lost in the blue wave this month was big news for California women. Some 54 female candidates appear to have been swept into office in November, reports Ben Christopher of CALmatters, more than in any other election so far this century.
Christopher: “That includes 28 members of the state Legislature and 19 members of Congress, but also three statewide constitutional officers—Lt. Gov.-elect Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer-elect Fiona Ma and state Controller Betty Yee. … Or, to put it another way, men hit a record-low, winning a measly two-thirds of all state and federal races across the state.”
Most of the new women are Democrats, he points out. For instance, the female wave doesn’t appear to be helping incumbent Republican Sen. Janet Nguyen in Orange County, where Tom Umberg, a lawyer and former Democratic Assemblyman, pulled ahead in updated returns this week.
Click here to read Christopher’s analysis and check out maps that illustrate how much more of California now will have at least one female representative in the Legislature or U.S. House.
Catching up with family leave
An expanded women's caucus could also expand family leave.
Men still dominate state government in California. But elections do have consequences, particularly when they increase the clout of the Democratic women’s caucus at the Capitol.
Look for more emphasis on support for child care and work-life balance, including more coherent laws on family leave.
- CALmatters contributor Martha Groves checked in on California’s New Parent Leave Act, which has been in effect for almost a year, and which expanded the state’s existing benefits—in ways that not all workers quite understand yet.
Groves: “So far, employers and employees are feeling their way under the new law, which the California Chamber of Commerce opposed as a potential “job killer.” Those affected must weigh the pros and cons—and try not to get lost in the state’s envied-but-complex patchwork of family leave legislation.”
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, the Santa Barbara Democrat who has doggedly pushed to improve the state’s family leave laws, tells Groves that “if you want to have healthy families and productive employees, you have to recognize they have lives outside of work.”
Mike Carson, owner of an L.A. air-conditioning company who had to scramble when his dispatcher got pregnant: “I understand that family and people’s health come first. But I hope that employees understand we still have a business to run.”
Speaking of families
US District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar.
- If Tigar’s name is familiar to Californians, it may be because the UC Berkeley grad and former Alameda County Superior Court judge is the son of the legendary human rights attorney Michael Tigar, who taught at UCLA Law School in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
From the Washington Post archives: U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan hired the elder Tigar in 1966 as a law clerk, only to withdraw the offer the week he was to start work. The young UC Berkeley Law grad was heading cross country with his then-wife and two kids (Jon and Katherine) in a VW bus when Brennan’s office demanded a list of his political activities. Tigar refused.
- The issue? J. Edgar Hoover and conservative pundits had lashed out, protesting that Tigar, a student activist, was a leftist.
- Years letter, the Post wrote, Brennan wrote him to say he regretted his surrender and inscribed a photo Tigar showed the reporter: “To Michael Tigar, whose tireless striving for justice stretches his arms toward perfection. William Brennan.”
- The president lashed out Tuesday, calling the ruling “not my law” and a “disgrace,” and Tigar “an Obama judge.” The son is an Obama appointee.
And speaking of the law
Former state Sen. Rod Wright.
The California Supreme Court cleared the way Tuesday for Gov. Jerry Brown to pardon Rod Wright, a former state lawmaker who was convicted of felony charges for living outside his Inglewood district and lying about it. The court recommended clemency for Wright.
- Wright’s advocates argued that the law was murky. This year, Brown signed legislation carried by Wright’s successor clarifying the residency requirement.
Brown’s decisions on clemency tend to be philosophical, not political, writes Abbie Vansickle of the Marshall Project, in a joint report with Pacific Standard.
- Recent Brown beneficiaries include Asian immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and now face deportation; non-citizen veterans who were deported for crimes committed after their service; and prisoners serving life without parole.
Vansickle: “Unlike President Donald Trump, who has focused attention on cases brought to him by fellow celebrities and on political allies, Brown’s clemency decisions focus on people facing what the governor seems to view as systemic injustices. They are often timed to coincide with Catholic holidays, a reflection of his faith.”
Brown’s decisions are expected before the end of the year.
Commentaries at CALmatters
Daniel Zingale, California Endowment: As Gavin Newsom begins the somber duty of declaring disasters, issuing statements of reassurance and condolences, and lowering the capitol flag to half-staff, here are some disruptive ideas for keeping the spirit of California up–ideas he may not hear from those around him responsible for putting out the day-to-day fires.
Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute: California oil regulators have issued more than 21,000 new drilling permits on Gov. Jerry Brown’s watch. Continued permitting is undermining California’s ability to meet its own climate goals and those of the Paris agreement. Will Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom finally stop this drilling free-for-all?
David Crane, Govern for California: The Los Angeles Unified School District should stop subsidizing health insurance for retirees who are entitled to these federally funded insurances or subsidies. That money could be used to reduce class sizes, raise teachers’ salaries, and hire more staff.
What Matters will be taking a Thanksgiving break tomorrow and Friday. If you, like many of us, are thinking of the wildfire victims this holiday season, please click here for a list of highly rated organizations bringing relief to the survivors. Have a great holiday. See you next week.