PG&E power lines in the East Bay, October 2019. (Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group.)

In summary

Anger toward PG&E runs deep. Can microgrids help solve state’s power woes? Trump administration pressured carmakers to take his side in emissions fight.

Good morning, California.

“Now @GM, @Toyota & @FiatChrysler_NA have a new scheme to save their dirtiest vehicles: work with Trump to get rid of CA & 13 other states’ rights to clean air.”—California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols on Thursday. 

  • The New York Times reported that Toyota and the others succumbed to White House pressure to side with President Trump in its fight with California over auto emissions.

People long have despised PG&E

Orinda was one of many Northern California towns without electricity (photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group).

Anger at Pacific Gas & Electric may be at record levels as 2 million Californians have been disrupted by blackouts meant to prevent wildfires that could be sparked by the utility’s equipment. 

The company is on criminal probation for the deadly San Bruno gas explosion in 2010, and in bankruptcy from its liability for sparking fires, including the Camp Fire that killed 85 people in 2018.

But frustration with PG&E is not a new phenomenon in Northern California. It’s been part of the zeitgeist for decades, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s harsh rhetoric in recent weeks — criticizing PG&E for “greed and mismanagement” and “prioritizing profit over public safety” — reflects a public attitude that’s built up over the past half century. 

  • At a Bay Area mobile home park, Newsom declared: “They have spent decades, not focusing on you but focusing on themselves, focusing on shareholders. Focusing—with respect—on Wall Street. Not public safety.”

That tone has become a theme as Newsom tours fire-ravaged communities and poses for selfies with Californians frustrated and frightened by blackouts. 

It hasn’t always been such a contentious relationship.

Money matters: The company donated $115,974 to Newsom for governor and for lieutenant governor, and spent another $150,000 on an independent committee supporting him.

Tax filings show the company’s foundation gave $120,000 to the nonprofit run by Newsom’s wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, before he became governor.

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

What to know about microgrids

The microgrid, or small energy system, that powers the California desert town of Borrego Springs is seen from above. Photo courtesy of San Diego Gas & Electric
A microgrid powers Borrego Springs (photo courtesy of San Diego Gas & Electric).

Californians threatened by wildfires and left in the dark by public safety power shutoffs agree that what’s happening stinks. But not everyone agrees about what to do to be able to keep the lights on. 

The discussion has turned to microgrids, but does anyone know what they are? CalMatters’ Julie Cart did the reporting:

  • A microgrid can be any size and may be fueled by renewable energy stored in batteries and/or generators run by diesel or another conventional fuel.
  • These independent power providers are running private homes, neighborhoods, and supplying more than 90% of the electricity for a major university.
  • State officials are in the midst of coming up with plans to deploy the power backup systems to operate critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and police stations, during emergencies.
  • And, no, pulling the plug on your big utility and joining a small community choice power provider won’t save you. They are hooked up to the same grid that the utilities built.

Report: Carmakers bent to Trump

President Donald Trump points at the crowd during a rally.
President Donald Trump

The Trump administration pressured Toyota, General Motors and an association of foreign automakers to take the president’s side in his effort to break California’s power to regulate air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions within the state, The New York Times reports.

The automakers had told Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, they would not take a stand, The Times reported. 

That changed after Andrew Olmem, an aide to Trump, began pushing car companies to sign on to the administration’s effort to eliminate California’s right to set its own auto-emissions rules.

  • “He was joined on the phone in some cases by Justice Department officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

Trump’s ability to impose tariffs and other trade sanctions is not lost on the Association of Global Automakers or any carmaker that imports parts and cars.

The Justice Department leaked that it has opened an investigation into four automakers—Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW—that have signed onto California’s standards.

The Newsom administration has not responded. 

However, Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, amended legislation in September to deny clean vehicle rebates to automakers that refuse to adhere to California clean air standards.

So long, Katie Hill. For now

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swears in Rep. Katie Hill, with Hill's now-estranged husband, Kenny Heslep, during the opening session of the 116th Congress in January. AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Rep. Katie Hill is stepping down today (photo by Caroline Brehman, CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Katie Hill, the Simi Valley congresswoman once seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, will resign Friday after she acknowledged a sexual relationship with a campaign staffer, and humiliating photos were posted online, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

In her farewell speech on the House floor, Hill called out “shameless operatives” engaged in “the dirtiest gutter politics.”

  • “I am leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality, and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching.”

Hill’s lawyers have sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Daily Mail, which published the photos, citing California’s revenge porn law. Passed in 2013, it makes it a crime to share private, sexual images without a person’s permission.

California’s first-in-the-nation revenge porn law may not help Hill. That’s in part because the law requires prosecutors to prove “malicious intent,” a high bar when news organizations are involved.

However, Hill’s public shaming wasn’t the work of ordinary journalists:

  • Joe Messina, a right-wing radio show host in Santa Clarita, was the first to note the existence of a cache of photos. He’s a former chair of the Santa Clarita Valley Republicans.
  • Jennifer Van Laar, first to publish photos at the conservative blog RedState, has worked for Simi Valley Republicans, including former Congressman Steve Knight. Hill unseated Knight last November. 

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

Counting deaths on the streets of LA

Shopping carts full of personal items belonging to a group of homeless individuals sit across the street from Los Angeles City Hall.

The number of homeless people who died on Los Angeles County streets reached 1,047 in 2018, up from 536 six years earlier, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Department reports.

The report found:

  • 27% of the deaths were attributable to alcohol and drug use.
  • 24% from injury and violence, including transportation-related injuries, homicide and suicide
  • 22% from heart disease

The death rate has risen over time, indicating that the increase is not simply because there are more homeless people.

  • The report: “[W]hile mental health conditions are rarely coded as underlying causes of death, they often co-occur with alcohol substance use disorders, particularly among the homeless. Suicide is also commonly precipitated by mental health problems. Thus, a substantial portion of LA County homeless deaths may be linked to mental health disorders, indicating a critical service need for this population.”

Homeless people who are white have a higher mortality rate than African-Americans and Latinos. Deaths among homeless women are rising faster than for men.

Commentary at CalMatters

Naava Ellenberg, a young Democrat: The California Democratic Party has announced a new program titled the California Young Democrats Ambassador Program. With this program, two or three ambassadors will be non-voting members of every standing committee in the state’s party. Isn’t that great? We will get to be in the room where decisions are being made. Too bad we will have no say in those decisions.


Erratum: In Thursday’s newsletter, I misstated the number of terms a state senator can serve. It is three four-year terms.

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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.