Fire weather prompts power to be cut across California, state falls short on climate goals, STD rises and takes a toll on babies

Good morning, California.

“People should be outraged, as we are. No one is satisfied with this. No one is happy with this. But we have to get through this fire season.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, as Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric prepare to cut power to hundreds of thousands of Californians ahead of expected hot, dry winds across the state, also known as fire weather.

Fire weather disrupts California

Ruins of a school destroyed by the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise.

Facing the worst fire weather of the year, Pacific Gas & Electric planned to cut electricity to as many as 800,000 Northern California customers in an attempt to avert a repeat of fire disasters of the past two years.

Southern California Edison, worried about fire fanned by Santa Ana winds, planned to cut power to 106,000 customers.

  • Classes at UC Berkeley, Sonoma State and Mills College were canceled.
  • More than 260 public schools in 14 counties, including Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa and Alameda, announced late Tuesday that they would be shut on Wednesday.

Using 2018-19 enrollment data, CalMatters Ricardo Cano calculated 108,000 students in nearly 50 school districts will be affected by emergency closures Wednesday. For more on that element of the story, please click here.

PG&E is in bankruptcy under the weight of up to $30 billion in costs associated with fire sparked in part by its equipment.

  • CalMatters’ Judy Lin: “PG&E’s woes have an additional wrinkle: the likelihood that the state’s pain will be compounded if PG&E ends up causing the next big disaster—which, given PG&E’s size and record, is a real possibility.” 

Even so, the prospect of power shut-offs irked Sacramento. Sen. Jerry Hill, a San Mateo Democrat and PG&E critic, told The L.A. Times:

  • “This cannot be something that can be acceptable nor long-term. This is third world, and we are not.”

Report: California lags on climate

California has a long way to go to meet climate goals.

California won’t meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals without dramatically picking up the pace, the think tank Next 10 and consulting firm Beacon Economics warn in a new report.

Called the California Green Innovation Index, the analysis describes the hurdles California faces as it approaches a 2030 deadline to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 40%.

CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports: 

In 2018, venture capitalists invested $3.4 billion in clean tech, especially in transportation and energy efficiency, the index reports 

Some observers think California is in better shape than the Next 10 report suggests but also say the state will need to do more to hit its 2030 targets.

This is the 11th edition of the index but the first in which Next 10 warns that at its current rate, California would meet its 2030 target 30 years late.

To read Becker’s full report, please click here.

Renters protection bill signed

Gov, Gavin Newsom signed renters protection legislation in Oakland.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation capping the size of rent increases and restricting landlords’ ability to evict tenants.

Remind me: Authored by Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu, of San Francisco, Assembly Bill 1482 caps annual rent increases at 5% plus inflation. The law to take effect Jan. 1 requires that landlords provide a specific “just cause” to evict tenants. 

  • Newsom, at a senior center in Oakland: “No one thought this could be done. There have been efforts over many years, they don’t even get a hearing.” 

The law is a compromise that exempts: 

  • Single-family homes and condos not owned by corporations
  • Apartment buildings built within the last 15 years 

There are reports of landlords rushing to beat the bill’s implementation. A legal aid organization reported 35 families in Los Banos recently received “no cause evictions” ahead of the rent cap law. 

Chiu says the law could not have been drafted in a way to close that type of loophole. Tenants unions are advising renters to contact them if they receive eviction notices. 

Sharp rise in STDs. Again

Blood sample positive with syphilis

Syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia are at their highest levels in 30 years, the California Department of Public Health reported Tuesday.

Among all states, California ranked second-worst for syphilis after Nevada, 13th worst for chlamydia and 14th worst for gonorrhea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The state Department of Public Health reports:

  • 25,344 cases of syphilis, 265% more than 10 years ago
  • 79,397 cases of gonorrhea, 211% more than 10 years ago
  • 232,181 cases of chlamydia, a 65% increase in 10 years

San Francisco held the ignominious status of leading all other counties in California in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, something it has done for years. 

The spike comes despite California’s expansion of health care spending, as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. James Watt of the state health department said one reason for the increase could be more people are getting tested, but he also said barriers remain to testing, including stigma.

Watt also said the increase could be due to the use of online apps to meet partners and less use of basic preventative steps such as condoms.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and a pediatrician, attributed the rise to under-funded public health programs—though this year’s budget increased funding to combat sexually transmitted diseases—and a lack of emphasis on prevention.

  • Pan:  “Public health has not been at the front of the line when it comes to the priorities.”

Syphilis’ toll on babies

Syphilis is preventable, but hundreds of babies are born with it each year in California, suffering neurological damage and even death. Photo by Jorgefontestad/istock.com
Syphilis is preventable, but 329 babies were born with it last year in Caliifornia.

At least 329 California mothers transmitted syphilis to their newborns in 2018—a 14% increase in a disease that is preventable but devastating if left untreated, the California Department of Public Health reported Tuesday

Just seven years ago, there were 33 cases of congenital syphilis.

Public health officials reported 19 infant stillbirths and three neonatal deaths attributed to syphilis. In 2017, there were 30 syphilis-related stillbirths. The state did not identify counties where the deaths occurred.

  • Counties with the highest congenital syphilis rates in 2018 were Yuba, Kern, San Joaquin, Fresno and Tehama.
  • Kern had 56 congenital syphilis cases, and Fresno had 37.
  • Los Angeles County, whose population is more than 10 times that of Kern and Fresno, had the greatest number—64, or double the number five years ago.

Only Texas, Nevada, Louisiana and Arizona had higher congenital syphilis rates than California.

Kaiser Health News’ Anna Maria Barry-Jester:

  • “It takes just a few shots of antibiotics to prevent a baby from getting syphilis from its mother. Left untreated, Treponema pallidum, the corkscrew-shaped organism that causes syphilis, can wiggle its way through a mother’s placenta and into a fetus. Once there, it can multiply furiously, invading every part of the body.”

Take a number: 120 million

Students at Luther Burbank Middle School in Los Angeles (photo by Jorge Macías)

The Los Angeles Unified School District has the largest distribution of free or reduced-price meals in California, and it’s increasing, Jorge Macías of La Opinión reports.

The public school district provided 120 million meals in the 2018-19 school year. That’s 720,000 per day, provided to about 80% of the students, 555,276 kids altogether. In 2015-2016, 72.4% Los Angeles public school students qualified for free or reduced-price meals.

To read Macias’ full report, please click here. It’s part of The California Divide, a CalMatters collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality in California.

And finally,

To keep up with bills Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed, vetoed and has yet to decide, please check out CalMatters’ bill tracker by clicking here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Alan Steinbrecher and Sean SeLegue, State Bar of California: Only 27% of low-income Californians received legal services when they needed them. People above the income threshold for legal aid barely fared better. In short, the vast majority of Californians who have a problem that could be resolved or mitigated with a legal solution instead struggle alone with their problems. The State Bar is working on solutions that could affect the legal profession.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Shouldn’t public schools be as accountable for outcomes as charter schools, for-profit colleges and community colleges?

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