Good morning, California.

“The contents of the letter are troubling”— Gov. Jerry Brown spokeswoman Ali Bay as quoted in the Sacramento Bee about photos delivered anonymously to the governor’s office depicting bad behavior at the California Lottery. One photo shows a lottery official with his head inside a woman’s shirt at a bar. She is wearing the shirt.

Legislators skeptical of plan to limit utilities fire liability

Assemblyman Chris Holden, Sen. Bill Dodd and staffer Leslie Spahnn at a two-house conference committee hearing this week on wildfires.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to limit electric utilities’ liability costs for future fires faced tough questions at a committee hearing Thursday, while utility representatives said the change is needed to keep them solvent.

A Southern California Edison lawyer, speaking for the utilities, said repeatedly said that California law makes utilities liable for wildfires even if they are not negligent. That threatens their ability to do business in California.

Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, a San Bernardino County Democrat: “If we lower the standard, what’s the incentive going to be to do those things that need to be done for safety, for prevention?”

Sen. Jeff Stone, a Temecula Republican, told the utility’s lawyer: “The path you’re asking us to embark on is not constitutional.”

The Legislature’s chief lawyer, Diane Boyer-Vine, issued an opinion saying the governor’s proposal “may violate the separation of powers doctrine” by stepping on the turf of courts which already have ruled on the liability issue.

Legalities and policy aside, the politics are intense.

Democratic pressure: Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon urged legislators to leave liability laws intact, as did John Dunbar, mayor of the Napa Valley town of Yountville. Their testimony was aimed at Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat and co-chair of a special committee considering the issue.

Republican pressure: The conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association joined the coalition opposing changes. Shawn Steel and Harmeet Dhillon, California’s two Republican National Committee members, declared their opposition in an op-ed for the Orange County Register.

Wall Street pressure: “The increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of California’s wildfire season over the last several years is a rising credit challenge for California and its municipalities” — Eric Hoffmann, a senior vice president for Moody’s.


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Lobbyists spending big on fire issues

Since last year’s deadly wildfires, utilities and insurers with a huge stake in fire-related legislation have poured more than $8.4 million into California campaign donations and lobbying, CALmatters Laura Rosenhall reports.

Among her findings:

  • The state’s three big electric utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric — together more than doubled spending on lobbying during the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year.
  • Insurance trade associations, the utilities’ adversary, increased spending on lobbying in the Capitol by 51 percent this year over last.
  • Utilities and the insurance industry spent no less than $69,000 on meals, Giants tickets and other of swag for legislators and their staffers.

One legislator just said no: PG&E sent $1,000 to the re-election campaign for Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood. On June 30, he returned the money. Wood represents Santa Rosa, which was ravaged by last October’s fire.


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Not so fast on Aliso Canyon settlement, senator says

Democratic Sen. Henry Stern said Thursday he intends to push legislation that would force a change to the proposed $120 million settlement over the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak.

Remind me: On Wednesday, Southern California Gas Co. agreed to pay $120 million to the state and the city and county of Los Angeles for the October 2015 leak of toxins, including the carcinogen benzene, from an underground gas storage complex. The leak displaced residents, many of whom experienced headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms.

Stern, who represents Aliso Canyon, objects to one component: $25 million of the settlement would be spent to capture methane from Central Valley dairy farms. He intends to amend legislation next week to force the money to be redirected to the affected area to help fund solar and battery technology that could help residents wean themselves from gas.

“A manure management strategy does smell right. … If you keep mining gas, even it’s methane, you’re still going to store it in Aliso Canyon. That facility is still on the biggest fault line in all of Southern California. It is still a huge risk.”

Chances? Stern understands significant forces are pushing for the deal as is. But it’s true that all politics are local. And the Porter Ranch residents, who suffered from the leak, have the power of the vote.

Josh Newman: It’s not over till it’s over

Josh Newman, the Orange County senator who was recalled in June, is hosting a fundraiser in Sacramento later this month, possibly as part of a plan to seek his old seat in 2020.

Remind me: Republicans mounted a recall citing Democrat Newman’s vote last year to raise the gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon to fix California roads and bridges. Republican Ling Ling Chang won the Senate seat in the June 5 recall vote.

Newman told the LA Times: “I am more than open to the prospect of putting my hat in the ring to do it again.”

The fundraising invitation quotes Bluto, the John Belushi character in the 1978 movie, Animal House:

“Over? Did you say ‘over?’ Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

Bottom line: Being a senator is a nice job.

Have you paid attention? Take our quiz and see

Which tweet by President Donald Trump fanned flames and muddied waters in California this week? How much land does the Trump administration propose to open to oil exploration? What information is Attorney General Xavier Becerra seeking to elicit from the Trump administration? Which Hollywood celebrity graced Sacramento this week to frankly discuss #MeToo policy? To test your knowledge on these and other questions, click here.

Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, dmorain@calmatters.org, 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you on Monday.