Washington rejected the auto industry's plea to meet California halfway on emissions standards. Photo by Thinkstock
Washington rejected the auto industry's plea to meet California halfway on emissions standards. Photo by Thinkstock

In summary

GM, Toyota join forces with Trump in emissions fight. Desalination proposal draws backlash in Monterey County. Race is on to fill Katie Hill’s seat.

Good morning, California.

“The state cannot continue to experience [shutdown] events on the scope and scale Californians have experienced this month, nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E in particular has exhibited.”—California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer, announcing an inquiry into how utilities are using power shutdowns to avoid sparking new fires.

  • Pacific Gas & Electric announced as many as 600,000 customers could be without power today in Northern California, as a Diablo wind is forecast to blow.

“The Getty is an incredibly safe place for the art. It’s sealed, and it’s secure. There are double walls. We’re very confident.—Lisa Lapin, communications director of the Getty Center, to The L.A. Times, as fire neared the museum.

Automakers ‘intervene’ in emissions suit

Cars stuck in traffic in San Francisco, California
Downtown San Francisco traffic

General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and several other automakers are siding with President Trump in the president’s effort to end California’s ability to regulate tailpipe emissions.

Remind me: In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom lined up support from Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW in support of the state’s emission standard. Several other states adhere to California’s standard. 

On Monday, the Association of Global Automakers, and a group called the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation announced it is intervening in a suit over California’s emission standard, siding with Trump and against California:

  • “With our industry facing the possibility of multiple, overlapping and inconsistent standards that drive up costs and penalize consumers, we had an obligation to intervene.”

The Associated Press lists some of the carmakers siding with Trump: GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Isuzu, Maserati, McLaren, Aston-Martin and Ferrari.

The announcement is a blow to California’s effort to maintain its ability to regulate emissions. But the automakers risk alienating Newsom’s administration and, perhaps, consumers in a state that is hardly Trump country.

  • California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols: “We are disappointed in the Association of Global Automakers for hiding behind the Trump administration’s skirts and its assault on public health.”

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, reflected the Democrats’ reaction, tweeting:

  • “Toyota, GM & Chrysler have great timing: moving to overturn California’s auto emission standards as our state burns due to climate change & the irresponsible policies that fuel it. Let’s remember this selfish corporate betrayal.”

Lobbying: In Sacramento, the Association of Global Automakers is represented by Axiom Advisors, a firm founded by lobbyist Jason Kinney, one of Newsom’s closest political advisers.

Once-mighty PG&E staggers

Officials are racing to redesign California's outdated electricity system for a renewable-energy future. Image by gjp311/istock
PG&E’s stock price has plummeted amid wildfire disasters (image by gjp311/istock).

“Could mass blackouts, Kincade Fire end PG&E as we know it?”—The San Francisco Chronicle’s headline reads.

The Associated Press headline: “Frustration at utility rising as California blackouts endure.”

  • In recent days, PG&E has acknowledged its equipment could have sparked the massive Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and smaller fires in the East Bay, even as it cut power to millions of Californians. 
  • In recent years, its failures have caused disasters that led to scores of deaths.

The Chron’s J.D. Morris: “PG&E says it’s trying to get its act together. But after the San Francisco energy company’s disastrous record in recent years, many Californians are ready for bigger changes.”

San Francisco has suggested creating a municipal utility like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo suggests creating a customer-owned cooperative.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom reiterated that he is hoping another private company will take control of PG&E:

  • “We continue to look for bidders large and small all across this country. … I just hope more people make a bid for the assets.”

An indicator: The company’s stock was above $54 a share four years ago. As the day started, the bankrupt company’s stock was trading at $3.80.

ICYMI: Fire coverage

A fire earlier this month in Sylmar (photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

As firefighters continue to battle the weekend fires and California’s fire weather persists, CalMatters is reprising a few of its pieces that help explain where we are and how we got here.

  • To read an explainer by CalMatters reporters Judy Lin and Julie Cart about wildfires, please click here.  
  • To read Cart’s series on California’s electricity grid, please click here, here and here.
  • To read Lin’s article about PG&E’s bankruptcy, please click here.
  • To watch Byrhonda Lyons’ video about what California must do to better prepare for fires, please click here.

Desalination is a complicated ‘fix’

A desalination plant proposal has stirred controversy in Monterey County.

Californians wishing for a quick fix to this state’s persistent water shortage often say desalination is the solution. Like all quick fixes, it isn’t.

Monterey County activists and some government officials are opposing a proposed desalination plant that could double the cost of water for some residents and endanger an aquifer that serves low-income people, Kate Cimini of The Californian in Salinas reports.

California American Water (CalAm), an investor-owned utility, says the plant is needed to fulfill the Monterey Peninsula’s water needs, and that the effects on other communities will be minimal, if any.

Money matters: 

  • CalAm estimates the project will cost $329 million over 30 years, including a pipeline that has already been constructed. 
  • The average bill of a CalAm customer in the affected areas is now about $90. With the desalination project, the company expects it to rise by about 50% to around $136. 

Affluent people might shrug at that increase. But 17.9% of Monterey County residents and 21.7% of children live at or below the poverty line, the Public Policy Institute of California reports.

Cimini’s report is part of CalMatters’ California Divide collaboration. To read her full report, please click here.

Seeking coveted congressional seat

California Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla

Several candidates are contemplating a run to replace Congresswoman Katie Hill, the freshman Democrat from Antelope Valley. Hill announced Sunday that she is quitting Congress after intimate photos of her were posted online and an ethics investigation was launched into whether she had a sexual relationship with a member of her staff.

Not surprisingly:

  • Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a first-term legislator from Santa Clarita, was the first to announce her candidacy. Her district is within Congressional District 25.
  • On the Republican side, former Congressman Steve Knight, of Palmdale, who served two terms, tweeted that he is considering a comeback attempt. Hill defeated Knight last year in one of the seven contests in which Democrats gained congressional seats in California.

Now, some names you might not have considered:

  • Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat who represented Pacoima in the Legislature, is mulling a run. Unlike Smith, who would need to give up her Assembly seat, Padilla would be able to keep his post while running. Newsom would nominate Padilla’s replacement if he were to win.
  • George Papadapoulous also is mulling a run, at least based on his Twitter feed: “I’m smelling blood in the water now that Katie Hill has resigned. California’s 25th congressional district is wide open for the taking…All talk, no action, and a bunch of sell outs.”

Papadopoulos, currently on a book tour, is the former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump who received a prison sentence of 14 days for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump tweeted favorably about the book.

Gaming out special election date

Voters will choose a replacement for Congresswoman Katie Hill.

Republicans stand a decent chance of retaking the seat being given up by Congresswoman Katie Hill. But Democrats are trying to game out the special election in a way that would help them hold the seat.

The Democrats’ goal: To have the general election fall on March 3. That’s a statewide primary, in which Democrats are expected to flock to the polls to vote for Democratic presidential candidates and, presumably, would vote for a Democrat to fill Hill’s seat.

Under one reading of the law:

  • Hill would need to resign effective today. 
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom would need to act immediately to set a special election to fill the seat on March 3. 
  • The primary for that election would fall nine Tuesdays earlier, which happens to be Dec. 31.
  • Separately, Democratic and Republican candidates seeking that seat would run in the March 3 primary, with the victors facing one another in the November general election. 

Not to make your head explode, but it’s possible that the winner of a March 3 special general election would lose the March 3 primary and serve in Congress for only a few months, and be replaced by whoever wins in November.

Commentary at CalMatters

Emily Estus, UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and School of Public Health: To really improve services and get students the help they need, we need to break the cycle of perpetually underfunding student health and counseling by changing how we think about providing and funding care. 

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Attorneys general slant official summaries of ballot measures to affect what happens at the polls.


Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, dmorain@calmatters.org, 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here

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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.