In summary

Newsom expected to sign wildfire legislation. Bill would put plug in Mojave water-pumping project. Insurance commissioner to return campaign donations.

Good morning, California.

“This is the new age of what you can do with food.”—Ryan Pandya of Perfect Day, a company in Emeryville that debuted its product, ice cream created by protein not produced by animals. Price: $20 per pint.

Fire legislation, fire questions

Assemblyman Chris Holden

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign far-reaching legislation today giving financial security to California’s two electric utilities that are not in bankruptcy.

For CalMatters’ explainer on how we got to this point, please click here.

By a 63-10 vote, the Assembly gave final approval Thursday to Assembly Bill 1054, intended to help California grapple with ever-more intense wildfire in a time of climate change by:

  • Limiting utilities’ liability when their equipment sparks wildfires if they are not negligent.
  • Requiring utilities to spend billions to harden their systems
  • Ensuring that victims of 2017 and 2018 wildfires get compensated

Much remains to do:

  • Large energy users such as refineries seek certainty that their power won’t be shut off when utilities power down during severe fire weather. 
  • Large consumers will also seek relief from high prices. Refineries have $1-million-a-year electricity bills.
  • Consumers will continue paying a $2.50-a month-charge that was supposed to disappear in 2020. But costs could rise more as utilities seek California Public Utilities Commission approval to raise rates.
  • Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which is in bankruptcy because of fire-related costs, is in play, as hedge funds press to purchase the utility.

Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena, the bill’s lead author: “No one has ever said this bill would be the silver bullet.”

Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine of Marin County, a no-vote, excoriated PG&E: “It’s hard not to see this bill as something of a reward for monstrous behavior.”

Legis to Cadiz: Put a plug in it

Mojave Trails National Monument

The Assembly gave final approval to legislation to plug Cadiz Inc.’s plan to pump 16.3 billion gallons of water a year from the Mojave Desert aquifer.

The company will urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto Senate Bill 307 by Sen. Richard Roth, a Democrat from Riverside. 

  • A veto seems unlikely. 

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fierce critic of Cadiz’s plan, issued a statement assuming Newsom is on her side:

“The California legislature has delivered a major victory for the Mojave Desert and our treasured natural resources. Once Gov. Newsom signs the bill, this will pose a key obstacle to the Cadiz effort to drain a vital desert aquifer.”

Speaker Anthony Rendon tweeted: “California needs water, but we also need to protect our treasured lands. We won’t let a developer’s goal of short-term profits take precedence over long-term protection.”

The legislation would require that the proposal, which dates back decades, receives further review form the State Lands Commission.

  • Cadiz Vice President Courtney Degener was in the Capitol for the vote, and said after: “We hope the review is a science-based process. We don’t want it to be a ruse to kill the project.”
  • The company, she said, is reviewing its options.

Insurance commish’s money

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). Photo by Max Whittaker for CALmatters
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara

Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has promised to return $53,000 in insurance-related donations to his 2020 reelection campaign.

Among the donations: $15,500 in April from Theresa DeBarbrie, administrative coordinator of Barrow Street Nursery School in Greenwich Village.

  • New York nursery school administrators aren’t regular sources of campaign money for California insurance commissioners. 
  • However, she’s married to Carl DeBarbarie, of Remco Insurance in New York.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Jeff McDonald, who ferreted all this out, reached Carl DeBarbrie, who acknowledged that his firm does business in California. When pressed on details about the donation, DeBarbie said:

“I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

After initially brushing off McDonald, Lara issued a statement: “I pledged not to accept insurance money during my campaign, and it is a pledge I intend to keep. I appreciate The San Diego Union-Tribune bringing this to my attention.”

Lara has been here before. During his 2018 insurance commissioner campaign, he took money from Doctors Company, a medical malpractice carrier. After CalMatters pointed it out, Lara returned it.

History lesson: Chuck Quackenbush, once a rising Republican star, took insurance industry campaign donations while serving as insurance commissioner and acted on issues related to those donors. 

Seeking Trump’s tax returns

President Donald Trump

Once again poking at President Donald Trump, California legislators gave final approval to legislation that would require presidential and gubernatorial candidates to release their tax returns if they want to appear on the primary ballot.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation two years ago, seeing it as a slippery slope and of dubious legality, if not gratuitous. What, for example, would prevent a legislature from requiring presidential candidates to produce a birth certificate or high school report cards?

  • Brown didn’t release his tax returns when he ran for governor. Gavin Newsom did.

Seizing an opportunity, Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire, of Healdsburg, reintroduced the bill.

Newsom has not said what he’ll do with the bill. 

  • As Congress sues to get Trump’s tax return, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that would grant Congress access to Trump’s New York state tax returns.
  • No word on whether California will follow New York’s lead by passing legislation to require California state tax authorities to release Trump’s California tax return to Congress. Trump has California holdings and so would file California tax returns.

Tom Steyer’s plan for America

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer at the California Democratic Party’s convention

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, who has called for President Trump’s impeachment and battles climate change, says he will spend up to $100 million on his Democratic presidential run.

That would be on top of what he already has spent on politics: $248 million, by the count of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Steyer told CBS: “I don’t think it’s about the money. For the last 10 years, I have been trying to push power back to the people of the United States, to retake the government from what I think of as a corporate takeover.”

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher took a look at Steyer’s plan to fix American politics. Californians would find it familiar:

  • A national referendum system. 
  • Term limits for lawmakers.
  • Expanded voting by mail.
  • Independent redistricting commissions to draw electoral maps.

Californians are used to such notions. But the ideas would require U.S. constitutional amendments.

Commentary at CalMatters

Chris Ising, Culligan Water Service: Assembly Bill 792 by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco would require plastic beverage containers in California to be made with at least 25% recycled content material by 2021. The measure would force up prices on products that communities like Paradise need, literally, to survive.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.

Barbara is a master's student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she studies new media. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Sacramento State, where she served as editor...