Good morning, California, on this week of Thanksgiving.
Camp Fire death toll: 77. Missing: 993. Woolsey Fire confirmed fatalities: 3. Structures destroyed: 12,794 in the Camp Fire, 1,452 in the Woolsey Fire. Go to Charity Navigator to find a charity helping to deliver aid.
Fire country waits for rain
Oakland school children, home from class due to the fires.
With precipitation forecast for Tuesday night in Northern California, finally, volunteers are hustling to shelter Camp Fire evacuees and wrap up the search for survivors, even as gasping cities downwind pray for rain. Air quality in the Bay Area and Central Valley is expected to be unhealthy again today.
- The Camp Fire is now officially not only the deadliest wildfire ever, but also the worst California disaster since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
- The ongoing risk: Health advocates last week urged the state to be more proactive in mandating breathing masks and other protections. Last week, more than 1.1 million K-12 public school students in fire areas statewide were told by school districts to stay home.
In Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire razed 100,000 acres of the Santa Monica National Recreation Area, The Los Angeles Times’ Louis Sahagun reported that biologists and botanists fanned out over the weekend to assess the damage to wildlife.
- The good news: Twelve of 13 mountain lions scientists had been tracking with radio collars were alive and accounted for “and moving outside of the burned areas in the vicinity of Point Mugu to the west, and from Malibu east to the 405 Freeway.”
National Park Service ecologist Seth Riley: “The national recreation area has become an immense natural experiment. The big question now is this: What happens when a huge wildlife refuge hemmed by freeways and development abruptly loses more than half of its habitat to wildfire?”
The President leaves Paradise
President Trump lands at Marysville after the Camp Fire.
Reactions to President Donald Trump’s visit to the fire scene at Paradise—and his remarks comparing California’s forest policy to Finland’s—ran the predictable gamut.
Except for Gov. Jerry Brown, who went out of his way to keep the presidential tour “collaborative and cooperative” because, as Brown bluntly put it: “We need the money. We need federal help.”
Brown on “Face the Nation” Sunday: “The president not only has signed a presidential declaration giving California substantial funding, but he said and pledged very specifically to continue to help us—that he’s got our back. And I thought that was a very positive thing. There have been some back and forth between California leaders and the president. But in the face of tragedy people tend to rise above some of their lesser propensities.”
- Paradise Mayor and retired Caltrans exec Jody Jones, via the Chico Enterprise: “One thing that really touched me is that he said ‘we have to help these people because they’re my people.’”
- Paradise Police Detective Gary Vrooman: “It’s definitely a morale boost for the Paradise P.D. that’s been working nonstop.”
- Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa, who represents Paradise: “The president wants to get something done on this. We need to be a lot more aggressive.”
CA vs. Finnish forest policy
Dead trees in the Sierra Nevada, un-raked.
Scientists, Finnish authorities and the Twittersphere took issue with Trump’s claim during his visit that Californians simply don’t spend enough time on brush clearance.
President Trump: “You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forests, it’s very important. … You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it’s a whole different story. I was with the President of Finland… he called it a forest nation and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don’t have any problem.”
- Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told Ilta-Sanomat newspaper that he spoke to Trump this month about Finnish forest management, but didn’t remember mentioning raking.
- The Los Angeles Times, quoting fire experts, reported that Finnish firefighting needs are nothing like California’s.
- The New York Times: “The secret to the Finns’ forest management system lies instead in its early warning system, aerial surveillance system and network of forest roads, said Professor Henrik Lindberg, a forest fires researcher at the Häme University of Applied Sciences, a college in southern Finland. At times of high incendiary risk, the Finnish authorities are highly effective at delivering warnings . . . .”
- Twitter: #RakeAmericaGreatAgain
A GOP expert on California’s ‘blue wave’
GOP Rep. Mimi Walters lost to Katie Porter, right, in OC.
Few Republicans felt the weight of the Democratic wave of 2018 more than California political consultant Dave Gilliard.
- Gilliard was the strategist for Republican congressional members Jeff Denham of Turlock and Mimi Walters of Laguna Beach.
- Also for Diane Harkey and Young Kim, the GOP’s choices to hold seats held by outgoing Congressmen Darrell Issa and Ed Royce in San Diego and Orange counties.
- Issa and Royce were Gilliard’s clients as well.
Yes-on-Proposition 6, the failed initiative to repeal the gasoline tax, also was a Gilliard client.
- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield led the funding effort for Proposition 6, incorrectly believing it would help Republicans retain their seats by energizing the conservative base.
- Democrats flipped six Republican congressional seats, meaning the GOP will hold a mere eight of California’s 53 congressional seats.
- Democrats claimed 60 of 80 Assembly seats and 28 of 40 Senate seats; they could get to 29 Senate seats.
- Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara beat former Republican Steve Poizner for insurance commissioner.
- Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, the Democratic Party’s choice for superintendent of public instruction, defeated fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck.
Gilliard in an email to me: “I can say with complete certainty that Democrats would not have flipped a single GOP House seat in California this year if Trump was not in the White House. He was the reason the Dems were able to out-raise and outspend us by large margins and why they were able to blow past historical turnout averages.”
Orange County goes blue: Walters, Kim and Harkey all gave money to the initiative to repeal the gas tax. The repeal won in easily in OC, once a conservative stronghold.
- GOP candidates? Not so much: No Republican will represent OC in Congress, for the first time in modern memory.
Another big loss for charter school backers
Marshall Tuck, left, lost to Tony Thurmond.
Democratic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond will be the new superintendent of public instruction, defeating wealthy charter school advocates’ chosen candidate, Marshall Tuck, in a $60 million-plus campaign.
Why the office matters: Some past superintendents have been forceful public advocates for schools, though the job is mostly administrative and has little policymaking power.
- Thurmond will sit on the UC Board of Regents and California State University Board of Trustees, can seize control of financially troubled schools and will run an office that is the repository of data about schools. And he’ll have a bully pulpit, to the extent he wants one.
CALmatters Ricardo Cano writes that Thurmond spent most of his childhood without either of his parents. Raised by his grandmother on food stamps and other government assistance, public education led him out of poverty.
- He promises to pursue an eight-year plan to raise California from the bottom tier to the top of state education spending rankings.
- Fiscal reality: That would require tens of billions of dollars in additional funding.
The politics: Public employee unions led by the California Teachers Association spent $21 million to elect Thurmond. Teachers oppose charter schools because they can be nonunion and operate with fewer restrictions than regular public schools.
- Tuck’s defeat was the second costly loss for charter public school advocates in 2018. The $40 million they spent on a failed effort to elect Tuck came after Netflix founder Reed Hastings, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and others spent $23 million on an unsuccessful attempt to elect former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa governor.
Mayors revive the R word to fix homelessness
Mayors of Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Sacramento, each facing a homeless crisis, called on Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom to revive a controversial funding source for affordable housing and make it easier for cities to build shelters.
- Yep, redevelopment: Cities used to use the process to declare regions blighted, and to give developers tax breaks to build various projects, supposedly for urban renewal. California subsidized the practice, at an annual statewide cost of $1.7 billion.
- In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown, facing a budget crisis, pushed the Legislature to end the redevelopment subsidy. Too often, the areas weren’t blighted and the process was used for developments such as auto malls that had nothing to do with urban renewal. (In Sacramento, redevelopment funded a “mermaid” bar.)
Some proceeds also went to build affordable housing, though, and some local officials contend the end of redevelopment has worsened California’s housing crisis.
- Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf related the story of a homeless Oakland woman who gave birth in a car last week.
- L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti called homelessness “the great humanitarian crisis the state faces.”
- Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer also weighed in on solutions at a panel for the California Dream project, a collaboration of CALmatters and public radio stations Capitol Public Radio, KQED, KPCC and KPBS. CALmatters Laurel Rosenhall moderated. Listen by clicking here.
Iconic landmarks turned to ash
Honey Run Covered Bridge is no more.
Lost in the fires this year, as always, have been some iconic California landmarks. CALmatters’ Elizabeth Castillo dug through old photos and produced this before-and-after gallery.
- Some you may know; some you may have seen on television and in movies. Some, such as Honey Run Covered Bridge in Butte County, can never be replaced.
As a Chico State student, Castillo visited the wooden Honey Run Covered Bridge, nestled in a picturesque wooded area. There would have been fall foliage until the Camp Fire struck.
- The last covered structure of its kind in the U.S., the bridge was built in 1886. It was nearly torn down in 1965 but was saved by a group of locals that formed the Honey Run Covered Bridge Association.
Commentary at CALmatters
Gregory Favre,: former executive editor, Sacramento Bee: The rupture in society has returned, led by too many leaders who forget that words matter, especially when they are mired deeply in the pools of the discord and distrust that exists today, and when they are given widespread exposure on the mountain of social media outlets available. Is it worse than the divisions of the last century? If so, how can it be erased?
Jeffrey Mount and Ellen Hanak, Public Policy Institute of California: Deal-making on water is hard. But facing the impending State Water Board regulations, parties in the San Joaquin River basin might be motivated to reach a voluntary accord. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom are pushing for it.
Dan Walters, CALmatters: As climate change threatens to affect California’s water supply, outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown tries to do a big picture water deal in the final days of his governorship.
See you tomorrow.