Good morning, California.
“So, I’m pleased to announce on ‘The View’ that I’m not ready to make my announcement.”—U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.
Will the lights go out at PG&E?
PG&E's credit rating was downgraded Tuesday to 'junk' status.
Is there any way for Pacific Gas & Electric not to go bankrupt?
- S&P Global Ratings downgraded the credit rating of California’s largest electricity provider to “junk” status on Tuesday as it faces tens of billions in liability over 2017 and 2018 wildfires.
- Meanwhile, three top executives who oversaw its electricity unit are retiring this month in an apparent management shuffle, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
A PG&E bankruptcy would be “elective on their part,” California Public Utility Commission President Michael Picker told me. “It is something they have to be considering fairly closely.”
Picker: “From where we sit, bankruptcy is not the best policy. If it happens, you deal with it.”
Among the issues:
- Ensuring ratepayers are considered in a bankruptcy proceeding.
- Keeping the lights on. The need for poles and wires won’t go away.
- Protecting renewable electricity contracts with energy companies whose solar and wind power serve clean energy goals in California. A bankruptcy judge could abrogate those contracts, concluding they’re too costly.
Picker cites pressures on the company including lawsuits, past criminal prosecution, and the imperative to improve its safety record:
“The leadership may not be capable of dealing with all these different forces, particularly the Board of Directors. They don’t seem like they have been most dynamic.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom declined to speak about a bankruptcy Tuesday: “I’m very sensitive to things governors say, particularly as it relates to the markets.”
The company’s statement: “PG&E’s most important responsibility is public and workforce safety, and we are committed to providing safe and reliable energy that our customers expect and deserve.”
Newsom focuses on the ‘new abnormal’
Gov. Gavin Newsom at Tuesday's press conference in Colfax.
Gov. Gavin Newsom called for $105 million to prevent wildfires, more firefighting helicopters and better alert systems including greater use of infrared cameras.
- Made in the fire-prone Sierra Nevada foothills, the announcement is the latest hint at the governor’s budget proposal, now set to be released Thursday.
- Its message: “The new abnormal,” as Jerry Brown called it, isn’t going away soon, and neither is the need to deal with it.
Newsom: “It’s not a coincidence that my first full day as governor is focused on emergency preparedness. It’s deliberate, it reflects intentionality, and it speaks to the priority that I place on emergency preparedness, response and recovery.”
The Sacramento Bee: Newsom said the new funding would come on top of $200 million already earmarked for forestry management by the Legislature last fall, bringing the total to $305 million in new spending.
The Mercury News: “Newsom continued former Gov. Jerry Brown’s message, supported by the state’s scientific community, that climate change is raising temperatures, drying out vegetation and making wildfires worse.”
Newsom co-signed a letter with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, urging Trump to work with the states on forest management. Uncle Sam owns most of the forest land in California.
Political note: In his inaugural speech, Newsom vowed to pay attention to all parts of California, whether they voted for him or not. For his first press event outside Sacramento, Newsom traveled to Colfax in Placer County east of Sacramento, where the governor only got 41 percent of the vote.
Montecito, a year later
The 2018 Montecito mudslide, via Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts.
A year ago today, torrential rain pelted a Santa Barbara County hillside that had been scorched a month earlier by wildfire, unleashing mud and boulders the size of cars, killing 23 people and destroying 130 homes in Montecito.
- The Santa Barbara-based independent news site Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts produced a powerful video detailing the events from a year ago, and the implications for the future.
“Government officials did not heed decades-old warnings to build bigger basins that could have made the mudslides far less catastrophic,” The L.A. Times reported last month.
Rebuilding is slow, made slower by a greater understanding that climate change is having a greater impact on fire and rain.
Are legislators like you?
New members of the Senate being sworn in last month.
There are (still) more white men named James or Jim in the California Legislature than African-American and Asian-American women combined. Throw in some white Robs, Bobs and Roberts, CALmatters staffers report, and you have a pretty sizable “JimBob” caucus—and a state government that still looks more like the California of 30 years ago than the California of today.
- CALmatters’ Matt Levin, Elizabeth Castillo and John Osborn D’Agostino created this bilingual interactive tool with translation from Felicia Mello and editing from Vicki Haddock to help you see how much you have in common with state lawmakers (or not).
This week, a new class of California lawmakers starts their policymaking. You may not know their names, but their work is important to your day-to-day life, impacting everything from your taxes to the quality of the air you breathe.
To play with the filters and see which of California’s legislators match your own demographic characteristics, click here.
Kamala Harris watch
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, displaying signs of a run for president.
Appearances on Good Morning America, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The View and a new book, all as the new year gets started, make clear: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris soon will announce her presidential candidacy.
- Harris shut down her Harris for Governor 2026 account, and is donating its $1 million to various civic groups, Politico reported. That, too, will help in a national campaign.
Expect an announcement by the end of the month. That would give Harris time to prove her viability by raising a significant sum by the end of the first quarter.
- Harris has sought to build loyalty by raising $6 million via email pitches for other candidates and causes. That has helped her cultivate her small dollar donor base, vital these days to running national campaigns.
- She has raised nearly $7 million into her Senate campaign account, a third of her total, in increments of less than $200, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Commentary at CALmatters
Brenda W. Davis, The Forest Foundation: Some people say that climate change has made megafires inevitable. Others claim that forest thinning and fuel reduction treatments may actually increase fire intensity. Neither argument should be an excuse for inaction. So what can be done to reduce the chance of another Paradise type disaster? Here are a few steps.
Dan Walters, CALmatters: Donald Trump and Gavin Newsom have similar political problems in delivering on promises they made during their campaigns.
Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]
See you tomorrow.