In summary

Santa Ana winds bring power shutdowns. State uses technology as new front in wildfires battle. Trump sues state over climate change program.

Good morning, California.

“Everyone has snubbed their noses at Imperial County. It’s ridiculous. It’s high time the state and federal government recognizes this disaster.”—Imperial County Supervisor Michael Kelley, in The Desert Sun, after the board voted to declare an emergency over toxic dust blowing off the shrinking Salton Sea.

More outages on the way

Power shutdowns are expected in coming days.

Santa Ana winds are expected to hit Southern California, prompting Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to consider shutdowns, The L.A. Times reported.

In Northern California, a hot, dry Diablo wind kicked up, and PG&E imposed another power shutoff affecting hundreds of thousands of people and businesses across as many as 17 counties.

Fire weather was expected to worsen with stronger wind over the weekend, precipitating more public safety power shutdowns.

Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine told the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, ground zero for the devastating Tubbs Fire of 2017:

  • “All eyes now are starting to turn toward Saturday night. The weather service is predicting a much stronger wind event, another round of red flag warning, and (a possible) PG&E public safety shutdown.”

Meanwhile: PG&E Chief Executive William Johnson rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s suggestion that PG&E rebate $100 to residential customers who lost power earlier this month and $250 to businesses, The Sacramento Bee’s Sophia Bollag reported.

And PG&E’s shutdown protocol is being unfavorably compared with San Diego Gas & Electric, a veteran of preemptive wildfire blackouts. But San Diego locals say California shouldn’t be so quick to put SDG&E on a pedestal, writes Claire Trageser of the California Dream project.

Fighting fire with technology

Los Angeles fire official Michael Flynn demonstrates advanced information equipment in a command vehicle, part of a California pilot program. Photo by Nancy Pastor for CalMatters
Advanced equipment in a command vehicle

California officials have opened a new front against fires with the use of technology, CalMatters’ Julie Cart writes.

In addition to spending $127 million on 12 new firefighting helicopters and seven C-130A tankers, the state has begun a $4.5 million pilot program that sends planes to scout fires. 

The crafts are equipped with high-definition cameras and other computing gear. The information is fed into a supercomputer at UC San Diego and packaged for fire commanders, in minutes.

Other approaches being examined:

  • Smartphone apps to guide residents along the safest evacuation routes during the smoke and chaos of fires
  • Equipment that utilities attach to power lines to provide real-time diagnostics
  • The use of artificial intelligence to “teach” remote cameras to monitor backcountry
  • Drones to observe fires
  • High-speed computing to predict and track fires

Technology can only solve so much. Dave Winnacker, chief of the Bay Area Moraga-Orinda fire district.

  • “We are always going to need people who can operate without the information scaffolding support. … We can’t just say, ‘The Wi-Fi is down; we can’t fight a fire today.’”

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

Trump’s new offensive

President Donald Trump

The Trump administration sued California over its signature program to combat climate change, one day after federal agencies proposed significant changes to water operations that likely will result in more water shipments to Central Valley farmers.

The suit claims California’s arrangement with Quebec, struck five years ago, to participate in the cap-and-trade program is unconstitutional. The feds contend foreign policy is the province of presidents, not states:

  • “California’s unlawful cap-and-trade agreement with Quebec undermines the President’s ability to negotiate competitive agreements with other nations, as the President sees fit.”

Trump long has denied climate change. California uses the cap-and-trade program in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring polluters—including people who drive— to pay to offset the impact of their emissions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced what he called a “political vendetta against California.” Other examples since Newsom took office include efforts to:

  • Withhold almost $1 billion high-speed rail funds
  • Strip California of its authority to regulate tailpipe emissions
  • Investigate automakers’ decision to follow California’s auto-emission standards
  • Threaten federal intervention over the state’s homeless crisis

Interesting timing: On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced plans to alter how it operates the massive pumps that push water from the Delta south to San Joaquin Valley farms. Trump would need California’s support to make that change.

A dark money attack in San Diego

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez

Legislation to expose the identity of donors to dark money political groups stalled earlier this year in the face of opposition from organized labor.

Now, one of those dark money groups, called Pick Justice, is airing ads attacking perhaps organized labor’s strongest ally in the Legislature, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, a labor lawyer and a former labor organizer.

The ad claims Gonzalez supports “building a wall between hard-working immigrants and the American dream.” The spot urges people to call Gonzalez’s office and tell her to “quit working for powerful union bosses and start working for us.”

Jesse Rojas, 26, of Bakersfield, takes credit for the ad and says it’s being funded by concerned citizens:

  • “I’m not going to disclose donors. Nobody does that.”

Organizations that champion greater campaign disclosure are pushing legislation by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a South San Francisco Democrat, to require disclosure of donors to such groups that air so-called issue-advocacy ads in the weeks leading up to elections.

Why it matters: Voters would be better able to evaluate the ads if they knew the funders.

The Service Employees International Union, which opposes many campaign-disclosure measures, is opposed to Mullin’s measure. It stalled, though Gonzalez voted for it. The bill could be revived in 2020.

Trent Lange of the California Clean Money Campaign: 

  • “We’re still working with them and are hopeful we will be able to address their concerns.”

Transition at Cal State University

California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White

California State University Chancellor Timothy White, who pushed to improve graduation rates while keeping tuition in check, announced he is stepping down in 2020. UC President Janet Napolitano announced last month she also will be stepping down.

Cal State is the nation’s largest public university system, with 480,000 students and 23 campuses, and annual in-state tuition of $5,742.

White, 70, took the helm in 2012, and told EdSource’s Larry Gordon

  • “I see a focused, stable and healthy organization. And in my view, it’s better to change this position when that is happening rather than have an organization in disarray and adding disarray by changing the chancellor at that time.”

White, an immigrant from Argentina by way of Canada, was a product of all three of California’s public higher education systems: starting at Diablo Valley Community College in Contra Costa County, Fresno State University and Cal State East Bay, and getting his doctorate at UC Berkeley.

Commentary at CalMatters

Daniel Barad, Sierra Club: Instead of continuing to create policies that use our money to pay the logging industry to incinerate its trash, the state must ban pile burning and demand that logging companies help develop a sustainable, clean biomass-utilization plan.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom seems to have a problem dealing with the politics of transportation.


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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.