Newsom invites Warren Buffett to seek control of PG&E, a Democrat falls, and Trump challenges California

Good morning, California.

“We’re having a lot of conversations with a lot of people. My hope is that those that are interested really step up those efforts because we are running out of time.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, to Bloomberg, on potential suitors to take control of bankrupt PG&E.

Newsom seeks a PG&E white knight

More than 3,400 firefighters battled the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County as wind gusts approached 100 miles an hour. (Photo by Bay Area News Group).

Gov. Gavin Newsom is encouraging Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway to take control of Pacific Gas & Electric, as PG&E shut power to millions of Californians, and tens of thousands of people across the state fled wind-driven fires.

Bloomberg quoted Newsom on the prospect of Berkshire riding to the rescue of the bankrupt utility:

  • “We would love to see that interest materialize, and in a more proactive, public effort. That would be encouraging to see. They are one of the few that are in a position to make a significant run at this.”

PG&E’s ownership is in play as it struggles in bankruptcy. Holders of its stock control it now. Holders of its bond debt seek to take control.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. hadn’t responded as of Sunday, but there is a relationship.

Berkshire owns:

  • PacifiCorp, the largest grid owner and operator in the West. Gov. Jerry Brown had pushed to create a Western regional grid tying California to several states, but that stalled.
  • Pacific Power, which serves customers in Oregon, Washington and far Northern California.
  • Kern River Gas Transmission Company, which has a pipeline connecting Rocky Mountain natural gas-producing basins and Western markets.

Berkshire’s holdings also include coal. Though Berkshire says it intends to “retire” its coal plants by 2038, California law all but prohibits the importation of coal-powered electricity.

Congresswoman Katie Hill’s fall

Katie Hill’s signature 2018 campaign ad showed her rock climbing.

With $1.5 million in her campaign account, Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill had plenty of money to fend off a Republican challenger. But the Antelope Valley freshman announced Sunday she was quitting, after acknowledging she had an improper sexual relationship with a campaign worker.

At 32, Hill was one of the youngest members of Congress and a rising star. But amid a contentious divorce, intimate photos of her surfaced on a conservative website, in a British tabloid, and on Twitter.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, clearly not wanting a distraction as House Democrats focus on impeaching President Trump, made clear Hill’s short time was up:

  • “She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.”

Hill’s quick resignation draws a contrast with Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, of San Diego County, who remains in office even as he faces criminal charges for misusing campaign funds for personal use, including for a series of affairs.

Hill unseated Republican Congressman Steve Knight by 9 percentage points last November, flipping one of seven seats Democrats took from Republicans in California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom must call a special election.

Trump challenges ‘sanctuary’ law

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer handcuffs an adult male.
State law restricts the ability of immigration authorities to deport undocumented residents.

President Donald Trump is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn California’s so-called sanctuary state law that seeks to thwart Trump’s immigration policy, and is citing an Obama administration stand as its precedent.

Trump’s solicitor general, Noel Francisco, contends legislators stepped onto federal turf by approving a bill by then-Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León that, with some exceptions, blocks state and local cops from helping federal immigration authorities deport undocumented immigrants. Embraced by Democrats, the bill passed on a party-line vote in 2017.

  • The appeal: “The result is that more removable aliens—often with criminal records—are released into the community … and federal officials have sometimes declined to transfer aliens to state law enforcement, even when they are wanted on serious state criminal charges.”

Trump’s appeal cited the Obama administration appeal that resulted in a Supreme Court decision striking down a 2010 Arizona law that empowered local police to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants. Then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio championed that law.

The appeal notes California lawmakers framed the law as a way “‘to protect its residents from federal immigration enforcement.’”

  • “States may not escape preemption ‘just by framing’ a preempted law in an artful way. [T]he federal government has exclusive authority over the presence of aliens in the United States, including ‘which aliens may be removed from the United States and the procedures for doing so.’”

The justices will decide in the coming months whether to take the case.

Cost of Trump’s cap-and-trade suit

President Donald Trump

The Trump administration’s assault on California’s climate policies could make it more expensive for oil refineries and greenhouse gas emitters to cut their emissions, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. 

Remind me: The Trump administration’s Justice Department sued California last week over its signature strategy for combating climate change: cap-and-trade. 

The claim: The state’s voluntary cap-and-trade agreement with Québec struck in 2014 strayed into the federal realm of foreign policy.

The concern: A carbon-trading advocacy group called the International Emissions Trading Association, which counts major oil companies and manufacturers among its members, warned that drawn-out litigation could add costs to greenhouse gas polluters. 

John Sims, a constitutional law professor emeritus at McGeorge School of Law, expects the case to linger in court for years—but he suspects that the federal government doesn’t care:

  • “Winning this case three years from now is the least of their concerns. There’s a political battle going on.” 

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

Trump’s plan for California water

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta slough near Clarksburg

The Trump administration says its proposal to pump more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will not jeopardize endangered species. But it comes just three months after other federal scientists said it would.

CalMatters contributor Alastair Bland talks to experts to get their take on some of the fundamental questions:

  • What will this decision mean for the state’s water supply?
  • What impact will the new rules have on endangered species?
  • Was this decision based on science? 

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

Letting teenagers sleep later

Photo illustration

Few pieces of legislation will have more impact on the everyday lives of students and parents than the new law mandating later start times for high schools and middle schools, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to sign the legislation was a milestone for the national movement by public health advocates to start school later

It also raises logistical questions for school districts to answer by the 2022-23 school year, when the later start times must begin for middle and high schools. 

Significant impact: Only 21 out of more than 400 high schools in the state start at 8:30 a.m. or later, by Cano’s count of the state’s largest school districts. Most California high schools start between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.

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

Take a number: 31,000

A rally earlier this year in support of legislation requiring gig economy companies to hire people who now are considered independent contractors

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash reacted to legislation that would require them to turn their drivers from independent contractors into employees by each placing $30 million into campaign accounts for an initiative for the 2020 ballot

Expect the language of that measure to emerge any day. 

Meanwhile: Uber is spending campaign money the old-fashioned way: filling candidates’ coffers. 

The San Francisco-based company gave $31,000 to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022 reelection committee last week. Newsom’s Future of Work Commission is developing policy that presumably would affect gig economy companies, defining employee, independent contractor or some category in between.

What Seattle can teach California

Seattle’s police department was held up as a model by supporters of California’s new law limiting when police can use deadly force, which is set to take effect Jan. 1.

For the final episode of her Force Of Law podcast, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall traveled to Seattle to find out what the state can expect as its law enforcement agencies adjust to the new law. 

California lawmakers sought to tighten the law in an attempt to reduce police shootings. Seattle has seen a significant drop in police use of force since being under a federal court order requiring changes in its police department.

Police shootings still happen in Seattle, and no officer has faced criminal prosecution in the seven years since the overhaul began. But Seattle’s experience suggests that law enforcement agencies can change in ways that make the public safer without putting officers in greater danger.

Listen to Force Of Law here on Apple podcasts and here on other platforms.

Commentary at CalMatters

Juan Haines, San Quentin News: I’ve had my new set of teeth for about five months. Today, my friends compliment me on my smile. I put on a little weight, and my health is much improved. And I appreciate that the governor and the Legislature have ended the $5 co-pay.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: As California increases its income tax bite on the wealthy, some are tempted to flee, but how many do is debatable.

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