Good morning, California.

“On Nov. 26, NASA’s InSight spacecraft will blaze through the Martian atmosphere and attempt to set a lander gently on the surface of the Red Planet in less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg.”—NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. 

InSight is expected to touch down on the surface of Mars at 11:54 a.m. At 12:01 p.m., expect a “beep” transmitted from Mars to Earth, indicating the spacecraft is alive and well. Follow these and other developments at JPL, which will monitor it all.

PG&E dug deep to win wildfire legislation

PG&E transmission lines in Butte County, framed by smoke from the Camp Fire.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spent $6.28 million—three times more than any other entity—on lobbying the governor, legislators and the California Public Utilities Commission in the critical third quarter of the year as it pushed for legislation to avert bankruptcy from the costs of wildfires it may have sparked.

  • The next biggest spender on lobbying in the third quarter spent $2 million. That was Edison and its subsidiary, Southern California Edison, which face liability from Southern California fires in 2017.
  • In the comparable period in 2016, PG&E spent $566,000, and in 2014 Q3,  it spent $340,000.

Besides paying some of the top lobby shops, law firms and public relations consultants in Sacramento, San Francisco and Washington, PG&E gave $2 million in campaign donations in California between October 2017—when the wine country fires struck—and Election Day. That included $486,000 to the Democratic Party and $535,000 to the Republican Party.

PG&E: “The number of large fires is expected to increase by 50 percent in the coming decades … due to extreme weather and climate change. … We must continue to work together to ensure ongoing investment in climate resiliency and clean energy, and to combat the devastating threat that extreme weather and climate change pose to our state’s shared energy future.”

The Camp Fire’s cause is to be determined. But Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea counts 85 deaths from the most destructive wildfire in California history, and hundreds unaccounted for. Officials announced Sunday the fire was at last 100 percent contained.

What’s ahead: Given the billions in potential liability from the Camp Fire, expect PG&E to return to state lawmakers for help in 2019. Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena intends to introduce legislation that would help the company avert bankruptcy when the Legislature convenes on Dec. 3.

Mindy Spatt of The Utility Reform Network: “Consumers are disgusted to see PG&E launching another bailout campaign before the bodies are even counted from the Camp Fire.”

Landmark climate report and California

Tree die-offs in the Sierra Nevada are at epic levels.

Citing Valley fever, Sierra tree die-offs, the Oroville Dam spillway failure, devastating fires, depleted groundwater, sea level rise and much more, the landmark federal report issued Friday detailing the national implications of climate change is especially relevant to California.

The report acknowledges impacts as well as efforts to combat climate change in this state. Among them:

  • Record heat and drought in the state in 2015.
  • Tree die-offs “unprecedented in recorded history,” as 40 million trees died across 7.7 million acres of Sierra Nevada forests, and 62 million trees died in 2016, “unprecedented in recorded history.” That has implications for fire and for water.
  • Drought—a problem for farmers—but also dramatic increases in the length of the growing season in Arizona and California.
  • Drier soil conditions that can encourage growth of a fungus that causes Valley fever.
  • Rising sea levels that could raise the coastline in San Francisco by 30 inches, put one-fifth of houses and one-quarter of roads in Redwood City at risk of flooding and completely erode two-thirds of Southern California beaches by 2100.
  • Mitigation costs that could sock commercial ports in San Diego, Los Angeles-Long Beach and San Francisco-Oakland with $9–$12 billion in estimated retrofitting expenses to deal with rising sea levels.

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom tweeted: “The Trump admin tried to bury this report. But, the evidence of climate change is all around us—and the consequences of inaction are deadly.”

Mass shooting and mental illness

Shoppers at a gun store in Orange County.

Mental illness plays only a small role in most forms of violence. But its role in mass shootings is clearer and more complex, California Healthline reports.

  • About 60 percent of mass shooters studied by researchers at the Minnesota Department of Corrections had a history of serious mental disorders, and two-thirds had never been seen by a mental health professional. That suggests a greater need for treatment.
  • But the one-third who did get help “carried out an attack anyway,” notes the researcher, Grant Duwe. “So, even getting mental health care is not the panacea people make it out to be.”

Diagnosing risk, in particular, is a challenge: The Aurora, Co., shooter had reported homicidal thoughts to his therapist but was not reported to authorities because he voiced no concrete plan. The Virginia Tech shooter was hospitalized overnight and ordered by a judge to receive outpatient treatment, but then never got it.

  • A mental health crisis team assessed Ian David Long, the Afghanistan war veteran who earlier this month killed 12 people, and himself, in a Thousand Oaks bar. They concluded he was not sick enough to be held for psychiatric care.
  • Nor did they access another remedy, California’s so-called red flag law—a gun violence restraining order that might have disarmed Long.


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Confronting gun violence before it happens

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott.

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott is leading the state in obtaining court orders to temporarily remove guns from individuals who seem likely to commit violence. She has advice for other officials who want to do the same.

  • Under a state law that took effect in 2016, judges can order the temporary removal of firearms from people who seem on the verge of violence. Gun violence restraining orders can be extended for up to a year.

Elliott has obtained 80 gun violence restraining orders since December 2017, removing 169 guns from unstable hands. Among them: 16 assault rifles and 80,000 rounds of ammunition from individuals who were reported by family, police, friends and co-workers.

Elliott: “There are a lot of indications before tragedies happen. He or she had a weird social media post. … You can see where this person will go if there is not an intervention.”

Her motivation: Her young children who were the age of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. She’s also a UC Santa Barbara graduate. In 2014, a 22-year-old man killed six people before shooting himself to death in a rampage that prompted lawmakers to approve gun violence restraining orders.

At Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Phil Ting’s urging, the Legislature gave Elliott’s office a $50,000 grant earlier this year to provide training for other law enforcement around the state. Her office provided its most recent training earlier this month in Ontario and is planning others in San Francisco, Fresno and Sacramento.

Elliott: “It is a prevention tool. A tragedy doesn’t have to occur.”

Riding high, then #MeToo accusations

California Democrats were euphoric after a sweep of statewide offices in this election, huge gains in the Legislature and the pick-up of at least six congressional seats. Now state party chair Eric Bauman has been accused of sexual harassment.

Vice Chairman Daraka Larimore-Hall, the party’s third-in-command, said in an email to the party’s executive board that Bauman should be dumped, based on what he called “credible, corroborated and utterly heart-breaking allegations.”

Bauman: “I take seriously any allegation brought forward by anyone who believes they have been caused pain.”

The matter is under investigation.

Money matters: Bauman, who took office in May 2017, presided over a party that made major electoral gains and raised huge sums. The California Democratic Party has raised $37.2 million so far in 2018, to the California Republican Party’s $19 million. The state Democratic Party raised $26.4 million in 2016.

California’s new First Partner

Incoming 'First Partner' Jennifer Siebel Newsom in Sacramento.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom doesn’t see herself as Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s political equal, but does intend to be “first partner” in her husband’s administration, The L.A. Times’ Melanie Mason writes.

  • Siebel Newsom hopes to build on California’s tradition of strong and engaged gubernatorial wives, including Jerry Brown’s wife, Anne Gust Brown, and Maria Shriver, now the ex-wife of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mason: “Her influence on the governor-elect’s policy agenda, particularly his emphasis on early childhood development, was evident throughout the campaign. His new chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, served for years on the board of Siebel Newsom’s nonprofit, the Representation Project.”

In her interview with Mason, Siebel Newsom condemned Google’s reported $90-million payout to an executive accused of sexual misconduct: “I’m horrified that any company would spend $90 million to make someone who harassed a woman go away.”

What’s ahead: Look for Newsom to sign legislation aimed at combating on-the-job harassment.

Commentary at CALmatters

James Binnall, Long Beach State University: A citizen who bears the mark of a felony conviction poses no more of a threat to a jury than does any other citizen who has at some point lied, cheated, stolen, made a mistake, but has never been caught. And like those citizens, prospective jurors with a felony criminal history ought to be allowed to take part in jury selection, to help ensure that our juries reflect our citizenry.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: School reform advocates pumped big money into two statewide campaigns this year, but lost both as the education establishment’s preferred candidates won the governorship and the superintendency of public instruction. Now the “Equity Coalition” must decide to continue their drive for structural change or back off.

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