Who must pay for wildfires

Good morning, California

“Frankly, PG&E violated our trust and must be held accountable”— Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat, said as a two-house legislative committee began hearings Wednesday into how to assess liability for future wildfires.

Legislators begin deep dive on fire costs

Legislative committee begins hearings on fire liability. Assemblyman Jim Wood is pictured in the screen to the left.

A state fire official on Wednesday offered no estimate for when investigators would identify the cause of the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County — the worst fire in California history — nine months after it killed 22 people and destroyed 5,300 structures.

Thom Porter, regional chief at the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection: “We are working diligently and methodically to get that done.”

Remind me: At Gov. Jerry Brown’s urging, legislative leaders established a two-house conference committee to consider major changes to the law governing liability when private utilities’ equipment sparks fire.

Currently, California imposes strict liability on utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, making them responsible for costs even if their wires were only partly to blame.

In Wednesday’s opening hearing, an expert said California’s law differs from all states other than Alabama. That expert, Michael Wara of Stanford, also said significant changes to the law could impact the insurance industry and people’s ability to buy fire insurance.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Democrat who represents the Santa Rosa neighborhoods devastated by the Tubbs Fire, questioned whether legislators have enough information to make such a weighty decision.

“We are being asked to affect future liability, but we don’t know the cause of the most expensive fire in the history of California. There is the potential we could miss something.”

P.S. In addition to representing the people who died, Wood is a special kind of dentist, a forensic odontologist. He was called to duty after the wine country fire and identified 22 victims by their teeth and dental records.

Brown once was a political reformer, but not now

Young Jerry Brown, once a political reformer.

As he approaches the end of his career, Gov. Jerry Brown is making his final marks on the political watchdog panel that he once championed, CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall and Robbie Short report.

Brown has tapped an old friend, who raised money for his 1976 presidential campaign, to lead the Fair Political Practices Commission as it recovers from recent infighting. And he could fill one more vacancy on the five-person panel before his term is up in January.

Brown rose to power in the 1970s expressing a passion for cleaning up politics but has not demonstrated the same zeal in the sunset of his career.

The idealism of a young candidate who championed the Political Reform Act has been replaced with the resignation of an experienced politician who seems to doubt how much the government can regulate human foibles.

Candidates take heed: The environment matters

Gavin Newsom and John Cox.

Environmental stands by gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom and John Cox are important to nearly all likely voters, and 56 percent view their positions as “very important,” a Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday shows.

That’s a significant jump from past polls.

Overall, Democrat Newsom leads Republican Cox in the race for governor among likely voters 55-31 percent, the poll found.

PPIC President Mark Baldassare: “The environment has people on edge right now.”

Among the poll’s other findings:

  • 86 percent of likely voters are very or somewhat concerned about global warming’s impact on wildfires. That view cuts across party lines.
  • Californians are far more likely to view global warming as a front-burner issue than voters elsewhere in the country (62 percent to 48 percent nationally), and 69 percent say global warming’s impacts have begun.
  • 60 percent of likely voters favor tougher auto emission rules and 66 percent think air pollution is a problem. That doesn’t bode well for the Trump administration effort to bar the state from imposing its own clean air regulations.
  • California voters disapprove of President Donald Trump’s handling of the environment by a 67-27 percent margin, and 93 percent of Democrats disapprove.

Water top of voters’ environmental concerns

The new PPIC poll also shows California voters place water storage and drought at the top of their concerns, and back an $8.9 billion bond on this November’s ballot that would fund an array of water projects.

Remind me: Proposition 3 is funded by some San Joaquin farmers and environmentalist groups and would earmark $2 billion for aqueducts, storage, reservoirs and dam repair.

The PPIC poll shows likely voters support the initiative by a 58-25 percent margin. Its support crosses party lines and regions. Nearly a quarter of voters place drought and water storage at the top of environment-related concerns, ahead of air pollution and climate change.

On cue: The state Water Commission earlier this week allocated $2.7 billion to build eight massive above and below-ground water storage projects. The largest is the Sites Reservoir and north of Sacramento. The state also is funding an expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County and Pacheco Reservoir outside San Jose. That money comes from a 2014 bond championed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Analysis: There’s no funded opposition to Proposition 3 yet, but numbers could tighten when voters realize the 40-year cost would exceed $17 billion. Voters approved a $4 billion parks and water bond in June. Brown has not taken a stand. His support or opposition will be significant.

Walters: Democrats’ time-tested dodge on single payer

CALmatters commentator Dan Walters focuses on a bill that establishes the Legislature’s intent to “ensure all Californians have timely access to necessary healthcare.”

It sounds impressive, but it would set up a commission to study the issue, a dodge that would allow more liberal Democrats who advocate a single payer system to sidestep the issue.

Walters: “Appointing a study commission is a time-honored (or -dishonored) way for politicians to buy time on a controversial issue, in this case nearly three years that would include two election cycles and the remainder of Donald Trump’s first – and, they hope, last – term in the White House.”


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See you tomorrow.

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