PG&E has a come-to-Newsom moment + how schools spend their bills + a mental health care initiative, perhaps

Good morning, California.

“I came to California with one basic purpose: Let’s make sure we don’t kill anybody at our operations. I think we achieved that this year. I understand the hardship, I apologize for it, but for me, safety has to come first.”—PG&E Chief Executive Officer William Johnson, who took over the company in April, speaking to reporters in Sacramento on Tuesday, explaining the point of recent power blackouts.

PG&E’s come-to-Newsom meeting

PG&E CEO William Johnson leaves Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Capitol office.

In a show of his resolve, Gov. Gavin Newsom summoned PG&E’s chief executive, William Johnson, to a closed-door meeting Tuesday and reportedly made clear his seriousness about a state intervention if the utility fails to sort out its leadership structure quickly.

Johnson, accompanied by PG&E’s board chair and chief financial officer, remained in the governor’s Capitol office for 45 minutes. He spent much of the day in other meetings with the governor’s top aides on the energy issue, and about 30 others, many of them lawyers representing interests seeking control of the utility or compensation for wildfires.

  • Johnson, referring to Newsom in brief comments to reporters: “I welcome his interest in getting this done.  … His message was clear: Let’s resolve these things … and serve customers and make it safe.”

PG&E executives and others will reconvene Wednesday in San Francisco, where its future is being determined in mediation ordered by the judge overseeing PG&E’s bankruptcy.

Against this backdrop, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is gathering support of other local leaders for his plan to transform PG&E from an investor-owned utility into a nonprofit, customer-owned cooperative. 

The San Francisco Chronicle: “Local government officials have a long way to go before their proposal could become reality, but the support Liccardo has received is perhaps the strongest sign yet that cities’ and counties’ distaste for PG&E is reaching a tipping point.”

Johnson opposes the plan, saying he wants to keep the current investor-owned structure in place.

To read CalMatters’ updated analysis of wildfires and the future of PG&E, please click here.

Billions for needy students

A Japanese classroom with desk and tables and blakckboard is taken from low angle.
Are school-funding dollars going where they should?

Seven years ago, California started addressing its achievement gap by pumping billions of dollars into schools with the neediest students. Now a new state audit has found that the state’s landmark school-funding law isn’t ensuring that targeted money is actually going to the disadvantaged students it’s supposed to help, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

The audit released Tuesday is the latest in a growing body of research pointing toward more state oversight of California’s groundbreaking 2013 overhaul of school finance. Look for lawmakers to make some long-sought tweaks next year to former Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature education reform. 

The Local Control Funding Formula simplified how the state pays for schools, directing extra money to districts with high proportions of low-income students, foster kids and English learners and pushing many spending decisions to the local level. But it has been criticized for not including consistent and clear spending transparency.

Bottom line issue: Concern that some school districts are using money intended to help high-need students to instead pay for operating expenses, salaries and—wait for it—teacher pensions.  

The audit found that oversight is so inconsistent that it was impossible to tell whether the funding formula is working.

In three districts—Oakland, Clovis and San Diego—$320 million in extra money for high-need students was mistaken by schools for “base” funds.

Meanwhile: State test scores have shown painfully slow progress in closing the achievement gap. 

Billions for mental health care

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas indicates he didn’t think there would be a 2020 initiative focused on homelessness. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg signals there will be one.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, co-chair of Gov. Newsom’s homelessness commission, said Tuesday that California will need a ballot measure in 2020 to sort out mental health care funding and homelessness.

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the other co-chair, appeared on the same panel and said he wasn’t sure there would be such an initiative.

That difference aside, Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas agreed that mental health care services delivered by government and private insurance and health care providers must be improved.

  • Steinberg: “Fixing the broken mental health system is an essential piece of fixing homelessness.”

The L.A. Times’ Liam Dillon and CalMatters’ Matt Levin, co-hosts of the Gimme Shelter podcast, questioned the officials at a Town Hall in Santa Monica that was co-hosted by the news organizations and the Milken Institute. To view a video of the discussion, please click here.

Steinberg authored the 2004 initiative that raised income taxes on people earning $1 million a year or more to pay for mental health care. That measure generates about $2.4 billion a year. 

Steinberg said the measure should be be tweaked to focus funding on three areas: chronic homelessness, mental health care in jails, and prevention and early intervention aimed at young people. 

  • That adjustment would take a ballot measure.

Why people in need miss out

Yongjie He restocks shelves with canned goods at the UC Berkeley campus food pantry.

College students, seniors and immigrants are among the groups most likely to miss out on the food stamps they qualify for. Obstacles also face working families and homeless people, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts and Felicia Mello report for the California Divide collaboration

  • Just 5% of students are getting food stamps even though one in every four is eligible at California State University campuses.
  • Just 19% of California seniors get the assistance, compared with 42% of seniors nationally.
  • Among eligible U.S. citizens, the rate of immigrants who reported participating in CalFresh is 70% that of people born in the United States, according to 2018 California Health Interview Survey data.
  • About 61% of eligible working poor people participated in CalFresh in 2016, compared with 75% across the country.

It’s complicated: Misconceptions about who’s entitled to food stamps abound. Federal eligibility rules for students and immigrants are complex, and immigrants increasingly fear using safety net programs. Getting on and staying on CalFresh requires a lot of time, diligent record-keeping and comfort navigating bureaucracy. Many need the support of food banks to guide them through the program.

  • Jessica Bartholow, of Western Center on Law and Poverty, believes closing the gap is doable: “It’s not as complicated as being hungry and trying to go to school, or being hungry and trying to find housing.”

To read the stories of Californians who lose out on the food assistance, please click here.

California air has improved

Air quality is improving in Los Angeles even as the population grows.

California’s ever-tightening auto-emission standards have helped bring about significant improvements in air over the decades, and provided clear health benefits, Harriet Blair Rowan of Kaiser Health News’ California Healthline reports.

The analysis comes as Toyota, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Subaru and the Association of Global Automakers side with the Trump administration in its effort to strip California of its power to regulate tailpipe emissions, in favor of one looser standard set by Trump. California is suing to block the rollback.

  • Fewer regions in the state exceed ozone levels now, when compared with past decades. 
  • Parts of the state that remain problems, such as Los Angeles and Bakersfield, are improving even as the population and economy grows.

Reducing smog has a health impact. Kaiser cites a recent USC study that found 20% fewer childhood asthma cases in Los Angeles during the past 20 years.

In Washington, the Republican-controlled Senate seems ready to reduce, if not eliminate, the federal tax break for consumers who purchase electric vehicles, The McClatchy-DC Bureau reports.

President Trump has proposed ending the incentive this year, as have some Republican senators. That would fall hardest on Californians, who buy half of all electric vehicles sold in the nation.

Let light shine, but not incandescent

Light bulbs

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the Trump administration for the 62nd time, this one over the administration’s attempt to roll back an Obama administration regulation to increase the efficiency of light bulbs.

In a mass email to his supporters that coincided with the suit, Becerra called Trump’s effort a “dim-witted move.” California already regulates light bulbs, as it strives to reduce electricity usage.

California, New York and 13 other states argue that the new rule violates federal energy law, CalMatters detailed in its Becerra vs. Trump lawsuit tracker.

In September, Trump’s Energy Department prolonged the lives of incandescent light bulbs by reversing energy-efficiency standards put in place on President Obama’s last day in office, as The Washington Post detailed.

Sorting out wildfire issues

Firefighters battled a blaze near the Getty Center in October.

Californians are grappling with a new and very dangerous normal with wildfires and blackouts, not to mention angry residents and a furious governor. To help sort it all out, come to a discussion of the issues and potential solutions.

Who: CalMatters’ Julie Cart will moderate a panel that includes Sen. Bill Dodd, Rebecca Miller of Stanford University, Steve Nielsen, a wildfire survivor, and Moraga-Orinda Fire District Chief Dave Winnacker.

When: 11:30-1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Where: Public Policy Institute of California, 500 Washington St., San Francisco.

It’s free, but please register by clicking here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife: Gov. Newsom, the Trump administration’s water plan is an extinction plan and does not reflect California’s values. We expect you to defend the health of our Bay Delta ecosystem for the benefit of all Californians. 

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom wants an overhaul of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., but what kind?

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See you tomorrow.

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