Good morning, California.
“If there’s one consistent thread in California’s history, it’s that we often ignore the profound risks that come with living in this big beautiful state — the earthquakes, the mudslides, the wildfires, the floods, the droughts and, yes, even the volcanoes.”—Ryan Sabalow, in the Sacramento Bee.
Newsom's plan for tackling wildfires
Gov. Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom will release a report today detailing his prescription for confronting California’s wildfire crisis. Legislators have held off convening most hearings until he delivers the report.
- With Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in bankruptcy, and as a changing climate fans wildfires, Newsom established a task force two months ago with instructions to deliver suggestions by today.
- Lawmakers have considered creating a wildfire relief fund, akin to the Earthquake Authority. Wildfire victims could tap a state wildfire fund to recover some of their damages.
The big question: Will Newsom recommend altering a California liability law that has forced one utility into bankruptcy? Insurance companies would fight such a step, but it could help ease the financial strain on utilities. As it is, they face full financial responsibility if their equipment is once partially a cause of a fire.
Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a significant increase in spending for wildfire prevention. Newsom similarly has called for more prevention.
Some lawmakers have suggested restructuring the California Public Utilities Commission, discouraging development in fire-prone areas and increasing spending to retrofit homes to make them more fire resistant. Look for an all-of-the-above series of suggestions.
Fraught politics: Interests include wildfire victims and their attorneys, the insurance industry, hedge funds that invest heavily in the utilities, unions representing electrical workers, and any consumer who pays an electric bill. None of this will be easy.
Awaiting Newsom's position on fracking
A fracking site
California’s long and profitable relationship with the oil and gas industry could be headed for a breakup, CALmatters’ Julie Cart reports.
- In the long term, the state’s many climate-change goals likely will lead to an eventual phase-out of fossil fuels.
- In the near term, the drumbeat continues to ban hydraulic fracturing, in the name of protecting public health and water quality.
Activists hope to get a more sympathetic hearing from Gov. Gavin Newsom than his predecessor, Jerry Brown, who championed climate change action while allowing the state’s oil interests to continue to drill.
So how might the new governor approach the issue?
As a candidate, Newsom said he supports a fracking ban. After three months in office, he has been mum on the subject.
The Legislature is considering a host of bills that would tighten regulation of the oil industry, but no one has yet to propose a ban on fracking, which is already regulated via what are considered the strictest rules in the country.
- Public health experts have far less concern about fracking than what they say are the more obscure but dangerous well-maintenance practices and using high-pressure injections of steam and acid to coax oil from tired wells.
Air board member resigns
Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins called for Clark Parker's resignation
A week after Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins demanded his resignation, a Beverly Hills developer, charter school operator and campaign donor is stepping down as the Senate’s appointee to the South Coast Air Quality Management District board.
The backstory: In an investigative report, the L.A. Times raised significant questions about Los Angeles-area charter schools operated by Clark Parker and his wife, citing cockroach-infested classrooms, no internet, lack of books and high teacher turnover.
- Parker’s roles at the schools and on air board aren’t directly related.
- But upon seeing the Times’ story, Atkins sent Parker a terse letter “to request your immediate resignation from … South Coast Air Quality Management District Governing Board.”
Parker replied a week later, resigning effective April 30: “The reason for my resignation is during the next two to three years I have a business opportunity regarding developing a large piece of real estate that I have recently received approval from the local approval agencies to proceed.”
Parker’s departure comes at a critical time for the air district:
- It’s seeking legislative approval to place a tax hike before voters in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
- It’s considering a rule to phase out use of toxic modified hydrofluoric acid at Valero’s refinery in Wilmington, a step Valero is fighting.
Money matters: The Parkers have donated at least $197,000 to state politicians, focusing on those who oversee education. They’ve also spent $55,000 to lobby for approval of charter schools.
Poll: Climate change is an emergency
Smoke from fall wildfires obscures the sun.
Nearly 90% of California Democrats and 63% of all voters in the state believe climate change is an emergency, a new Quinnipiac University Poll shows.
Among its other findings on the climate change question:
- 71% of Hispanics view it as an emergency.
- 75% of people ages 18-34 see it as an emergency
- 20% of Republicans view it as an emergency.
The issue is relevant as California struggles to deal with wildfires thought to be driven in part by climate change, and as the state considers the future of oil use.
Take a number: $3.93
Gas prices are on the rise.
The average price of gasoline in California hit $3.93 per gallon, the highest it’s been in more than 18 months, and is above $4 in San Francisco. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the surge follows problems at refineries in the Bay Area and Southern California.
Commentary at CALmatters
TreShawn Weatherspoon, American River college student: Here’s why the Cal Grant program must be expanded: I am a father to two daughters, and, like many other community college students, I juggle work, school and family responsibilities every day. I also happen to be one of the 84 percent of black students who did not receive a Cal Grant award to support my education due to California’s inadequate financial aid system.
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, California Coalition for Public Higher Education: Unethical and even criminal tactics used to slide students into prestigious universities cannot be tolerated. But there’s something else we should not tolerate: the insufficient higher education capacity to meet student demand in California.
See you Monday.