Good morning, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who is on assignment today.

“They’re not going to get 16 percent…Period. Full stop…To increase returns on Wall Street investment at a time when you haven’t even settled the victims’ claims is not only tone deaf, it’s jaw-droppingly wrong.”— Gov. Gavin Newsom on PG&E’s request to hike utility bills and be allowed to earn a 16 percent profit so investors won’t abandon it in an era of climate-fueled wildfire. Southern California Edison made a similar request to state utility regulators earlier this week.

The urban wildfire threat

Gov. Gavin Newsom talks fire in the Berkeley Hills.

As California’s wildfire-prone future sent utilities running for financial cover, Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered a warning Tuesday in the Berkeley Hills: Cities need to prepare, too.

  • Newsom appeared with the mayors of Oakland and Berkeley near one of the state’s new fuel reduction projects, one of 35 that the governor exempted from state environmental regulations last month by executive order.
  • The site was also near the Oakland Hills firestorm that killed 25 people in 1991.

Newsom: “This moment also marks, as both mayors said, a sense of urgency that cannot be isolated just in rural parts of California.”

Along with fuel breaks and brush clearance, the governor called for evacuation plans, early warning systems and local building codes requiring property owners to use non-flammable materials in their homes.

  • The expense of any state plan to help hundreds of thousands of homeowners replace wooden roofs or install ember-resistant vents would be monumental.

Newsom: “If we had something that was sufficient, then we would not be having a conversation about holding the line on tuition at UCs and CSUs or having a conversation about expanding healthcare or having a conversation about universal preschool.”

Learn more about California’s worsening wildfire problem here.


Paging Dr. Pan

California's vaccine rules may tighten again.

This week is do-or-die time for hundreds of would-be laws, by Capitol tradition. Spending bills have until Friday to win the approval of a policy committee and progress to one of the two legislative appropriations panels where lawmakers will consider their cost. 

  • Prize for the noisiest reception is apt to go to Sacramento Democratic Sen. Richard Pan’s proposal to clamp down on vaccine exemptions, which today goes to the Senate Health Committee.  
  • Remind me: In 2015, Pan, a pediatrician, authored a bill tightening California’s immunization law for school kids, revoking parents’ ability to use philosophical reasons as an excuse not to immunize. Vaccine skeptics were not pleased.

The new vaccine law gave rise to a flurry of suspect medical exemptions. Pan’s new bill would crack down on those, requiring the state Department of Public Health to approve vaccine waivers.   

  • Pan chairs the committee, so there’s not much doubt that the bill will progress. But proceedings should be lively.  

Planning to attend: Orange County parent Kristen Dennis, whose 3-year-old suffered an adverse reaction to a vaccine as an infant.  

Dennis: “We are terrified about vaccinating him again and view this proposed bill as medically irresponsible…We are not ‘anti-vax’ or ‘crazy’ and actually fully support the immunization process.”

Some 626 measles cases in 22 states have been documented this year so far by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than the previous three years combined.


Battles we're watching

Housing, family leave and early childhood education are up today.

Keep an eye out this week for San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener’s proposal requiring cities to allow denser housing around transit corridors and job-dense areas.

  • That goes today to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, chaired by Healdsburg’s Mike McGuire, a fellow Democrat who helped kill a version of the bill last year.
  • How is the idea being received in suburban Silicon Valley? The Los Angeles Times reports: Not well.

Meanwhile on Newsom promise-watch:

  • Santa Barbara Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s bill to let employees take more unpaid family leave and more easily collect disability while caring for a sick or disabled loved one. That goes before the Senate’s Labor, Public Employment and Retirement committee.
  • Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty’s three-bill package to more than double funding for the state’s subsidized preschool program. That goes before the Assembly Education Committee.

Universal pre-school and paid family leave were among the governor’s signature campaign pledges.  Neither of these bills would get the state entirely there, but both are important first steps.

A grim record

Deaths of those experiencing homelessness are up in L.A County.

Last year, 918 homeless people died in Los Angeles County. That’s a 76% increase since 2014, according to an analysis of coroner data by Kaiser Health News.

  • More than any one cause, experts say the higher death count simply reflects the fact that more people are living on the street.

Michael Cousineau, a preventative medicine specialist at the University of Southern California: “It is a combination of people who are living for a long time in unhealthy situations and who have multiple health problems.”

Nearly 53,000 people were homeless in L.A. County last year, according to one county survey, up from just over 38,000 four years earlier.

  • The analysis also showed that homeless individuals in Los Angeles County were uniquely vulnerable to violence. Between 2014 and 2018, 269 deaths of those experiencing homelessness were categorized as murders.

Even so, a proposal by Los Angeles Assemblyman Mike Gipson to make violent attacks on homeless Californians a hate crime stalled in committee yesterday, The Sacramento Bee reported.

  • The bill was opposed by prosecutors as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which argued that hate crime designations should be reserved for attacks based on racial, ethnic, gender or sexual identity, rather than a temporary status such as homelessness.
  • Two subsequent versions of the proposal were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tactical retreat on deadly force

Police back down and negotiations survive—for now.

Negotiations on a potentially historic bill to change California’s legal standard for officer-involved shootings remained alive Tuesday as police groups backed off on a demand to write the current national standard into state law.

Law enforcement and civil liberties groups have offered competing bills to address the emotional issue of police violence, as Laurel Rosenhall has been reporting.

  • One, backed by the ACLU, would make it easier to prosecute police who kill unarmed civilians—think Stephon Clark—by allowing law enforcement to use deadly force only when “necessary.”
  • The other, backed by police, had stuck with existing case law, which has found that police can legally open fire on a suspect when that’s what a “reasonable officer” in the same circumstances would do.

The police bill was up Tuesday before a committee dominated by Democrats from some of California’s biggest and most liberal cities.

  • To get it passed, law enforcement advocates agreed to drop the “reasonable” threshold and make do with other proposals in the bill requiring departments to strengthen policies on use of force and provide more training.
  • The last-minute amendment legislatively links the bill to the ACLU’s measure, forcing the two sides to keep talking, at least for the moment.

ACLU lobbyist Lizzie Buchen: “My hope is that this will actually force them to finally come to the table.”

For more on this issue, follow Rosenhall’s new podcast, Force of Law.

Go West, young watchdog

Seth Frotman has taken the student loan battle to CA.

With student debt soaring and the Trump administration pulling back from Obama-era efforts against predatory lending, the federal government’s ex-student loan watchdog is looking to California to fight the good fight, CALmatters’ Felicia Mello reports.

  • Seth Frotman—who accused Trump appointees of abandoning consumers when he quit last summer as student loan ombudsman at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—testified Monday for Assemblyman Mark Stone’s bill to counter the federal rollback on student loan safeguards with new state-level student borrower protections.
  • On Tuesday, he joined Bay Area advocates to unveil some eye-opening stats on that region’s sky-high student debt, courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Frotman: “This is a generation that gets a bad rap: ‘Oh, you have too much student debt because you eat too much avocado toast.’ But that couldn’t be further from the truth.” 

By the numbers: California has nearly 3.8 million student loan borrowers with nearly $142 billion in outstanding student debt. Among them are one in three California millennials and more than 317,000 older Americans who are still paying off loans.

Umberg gets vetted

Lawmakers rein in California's National Guard.

Retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard has been an ongoing problem, The Los Angeles Times has reported.

Major John Trent: “They have a good ol’ boy system in place, and anything that attacks that system, they’re going to defend against with all their might.”

Harassment, intimidation and retaliation at an Air National Guard base in Fresno led to the removal of the head of the California Air National Guard and resulted in new legislation.

  • Sen. Tom Umberg, a freshman Democrat from Orange County and a former Army Reserve colonel, introduced a bill requiring whistleblower complaints to be handled by the governor’s office, rather than by an Inspector General within the Guard’s chain of command.

But when Umberg tried to add a provision on Tuesday giving whistleblowers the right to sue fellow service members, he hit a bipartisan wall of opposition from other vets on the Veterans Affairs committee.

Republican Sen. Shannon Grove, an Army vet: “I really do have a huge issue with the state interfering with the military command.”

Democratic Sen. Bob J. Archuleta, committee chair and vet: “The military Code of Justice is there for a reason.”

Umberg pulled the provision and the bill passed unanimously.

Commentary at CALmatters

California needs a more diverse lawyer workforce.

Leah T. Wilson, State Bar of California: California needs lawyers who reflect the state’s rich diversity. Recognizing the importance of this, lawmakers recently amended the State Bar’s public protection mission to include the furthering of diversity and inclusion in the profession. Admittedly, we have a long way to go.

Shannon Grove, Senate Republican Leader: Our economy and workforce are transforming, especially in California. We cannot restrict workplace flexibility with bad court rulings, such as Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. Instead, we need to ensure Californians have the opportunity to choose the terms on which they work.

Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected], 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you tomorrow.