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

In summary

Senate to scrutinize power shutdowns. Lack of emergency-evacuation system hinders fire victims. State to shun some carmakers.

Good morning, California.

“A remarkable experience, being with 14-, 15-year-old survivors, that are consoling you, not the other way around.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, after visiting two girls at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. They were shot at Saugus High School on Thursday. 

  • Nathaniel Berhow, who turned 16 on the day of the shooting, killed two students, Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, wounded three, and shot himself in the head. He died on Friday, with his mother nearby.
  • Authorities seized guns from his home, some of which reportedly were unregistered, a crime.
  • The weapon he used appears to be a “ghost gun,” manufactured from parts.

Senate to focus on power shutoffs

Charred car and downed power pole during the wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise. Photo by Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee
Downed power pole during the Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise (Photo by Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee)

The Senate is holding an oversight hearing today into utilities’ practice of shutting down electricity to avoid wildfires, as hot, dry, wind-driven fire weather returns this week.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins will attend the hearing. 

Scheduled to testify: William Johnson, chief executive officer of Pacific Gas & Electric, and top executives of San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison.

Also testifying: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lead on the electricity crisis, Ana Matosantos, and Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission.

The public is taking a dim view of the utilities’ use of power shutdowns. Expect greater regulatory and legislative oversight.

Scattershot emergency alert system

Holy Jim Fire above Lake Elsinore, 2018 (Photo Orange County Register/SCNG)

California has no statewide standard for emergency evacuation, and no set of uniform plans that can be used to alert people of fires, flooding, earthquakes and other emergencies, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports.

Lacking a comprehensive system, few people who lived in Paradise were aware that the deadly Camp Fire was approaching last year.

  • Cart: The fire incinerated cell towers and communications equipment, revealing a vulnerability of the telephone-based disaster alert system.
  • The Butte County Grand Jury: “The only notification systems left were emergency vehicle sirens and bull horns … word-of-mouth with families and neighbors… and immediate action.” 

Cell phones were useless for many people affected by October fires, prompting an inquiry by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The Legislature has required local government to have a mechanism to warn residents during emergencies. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services released guidelines, which advocate a scattershot approach to alerts:

  • Sirens, loudspeakers, social media, texting, even ringing church bells. 
  • The rules require alerts when there is an “imminent threat to life, health or property” and emphasize that time is critical. 
  • Worries about triggering mass panic are not an excuse to avoid or delay issuing a warning. 

To read Cart’s report, please click here.

State to shun GM, Toyota, Chrysler

Photo by Paul Kreuger via Flickr
California and the Trump administration are battling over clean car rules (Photo by Paul Kreuger via Flickr)

Gov. Gavin Newsom answered General Motors, Toyota and Chrysler’s decision to side with the Trump administration’s effort to undermine California’s clean air standards by ordering that the state cease buying their vehicles, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.

Remind me: Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW agreed to follow California’s rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions. General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and the Association of Global Automakers sided with President Trump as his administration works to end California’s authority to make its own clean car rules.

Starting on Jan. 1, the California Department of General Services will buy vehicles only from those automakers that have signed onto California’s tougher emission standards: Ford, VW, BMW and Honda.

  • Becker: “California spent more than $27 million on passenger vehicles from GM-owned Chevrolet in 2018.”

That’s a fraction of GM’s 2018 revenue of $147 billion. 

However: GM sold more vehicles to the state in 2018 than any other manufacturer. And the local government can use state discounts when purchasing vehicles, so the state action will have ripple effects. On the flip side, the feds could decide to shun California-aligned carmakers.

Starting immediately, the state will stop buying cars powered solely by internal combustion, although public safety vehicles will be exempted.

  • Newsom: “The state is finally making the smart move away from internal combustion engine sedans … Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power.”

Meanwhile: Attorney General Xavier Becerra and attorneys general from 22 other states sued the Trump administration on Friday to block the Environmental Protection Agency from stripping parts of California’s federal waiver to manage tailpipe emissions.

Dems in Long Beach

Sen. Kamala Harris in Long Beach

With the notable exceptions of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, presidential hopefuls descended on Long Beach for the California Democratic Convention. But there was much more. 

Our Ben Christopher reported that Sen. Steve Glazer, a Democrat from Orinda who follows a moderate path, failed to garner the party’s endorsement for his reelection. Glazer, a lifelong Democrat, has annoyed party poobahs with stands against organized labor.

In their CalBuzz blog, veteran political reporters Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts wrote that the most impressive speaker of the convention was not a candidate for the White House but Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank:

  • “The most profound threat to democracy today is not from Russia, or Putin’s desire to rebuild a lost empire. Nor is it from China, though China is busy exporting its digital form of totalitarianism to other nations. No, the most grave threat to the life and health of our democracy comes from within, from a president without an ethical compass.”

Politico reported that there was much chattering about whether U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris should drop out of the race before the late December filing deadline when she must commit to being on California’s March 3 ballot.

  • Politico reported Harris delivered a defiant response to media reports, most notably in Politico, that her flagging campaign is crippled by internal disputes and on the ropes.

Except to hear more about this story in the days to come.

Behind vaping disease statistics

Zane Martin, 15, at Loma Linda’s Children’s Hospital (Photo by Elizabeth Martin, courtesy of The Desert Sun)

The California Department of Public Health now counts 163 Californians hospitalized from vaping-related lung disease.

The Desert Sun’s Nicole Hayden helps Elizabeth Martin and her 15-year-old son Zane tell the story behind the statistics.

  • Elizabeth Martin: “We were in the ER, and his heart rate raised to 180 beats per minute. He was having a difficult time breathing. He still had a fever. He was panicking because he couldn’t breathe.”

Hayden writes that before becoming ill, Zane had spent most of his free time at the Desert Hot Springs skate park, and bought vaping devices at a store in Desert Hot Springs and from kids at the skate park. He used nicotine and THC:

  • “I liked the doughnut flavor. Since I got sick, though, I told my friends they should stop.”

Zane is expected to stay for six to 12 weeks at Loma Linda Hospital’s children’s rehabilitation hospital. 

TBD: Long-term damage to lungs.

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

Take a number: $2,275,083

David Daleiden walks outside of a courtroom in San Francisco, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Planned Parenthood has made an unusual legal demand to join California's criminal prosecution of two anti-abortion activists charged with invasion of privacy for secretly making videos as they tried to buy fetal material from the organization.(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
David Daleiden, outside a San Francisco courtroom in February (Photo by AP)

A federal jury in San Francisco awarded Planned Parenthood $2,275,083 stemming from its suit against anti-abortion activist David Daleiden and his associates in connection with a scheme to surreptitiously videotape Planned Parenthood representatives in 2014 and 2015.

Edited versions of those videos spurred a then-Republican-controlled congressional investigation into allegations Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue. It doesn’t. 

In a case presided over by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, the jury rejected Daleiden’s defense—provided without charge, as CalMatters reported, by a phalanx of conservative attorneys— that he was acting as a “citizen journalist.”

  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America: Friday’s “ruling makes clear what many already knew: the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the ones behind this dangerous fraud, and we’re glad that they’re being held accountable.”
  • “They sued citizen journalists for revenge. 9th Cir. awaits,” one of the lawyers, Harmeet Dhillon of San Francisco, tweeted after the verdict, suggesting an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and beyond. Dhillon is a Republican National Committee member.

On Dec. 6, Daleiden is scheduled to be in San Francisco County Superior Court, where he faces criminal charges related to secretly recording people. California Attorney Xavier Becerra’s deputies are prosecuting the case.

Homeless ‘crackdown,’ perhaps

A homeless man on the street in San Francisco. Conservatorship law complicates treatment for mentally ill homeless Californians.
Homeless man in San Francisco’s Tenderloin (Photo via Creative Commons)

From The Washington Post: A top federal homelessness official has left his post at the Trump administration’s request, as the White House plans a sweeping crackdown aimed at homelessness in California.

No word on what Trump’s crackdown might entail, though the president has been talking about California’s homeless crisis. The Newsom administration declined to comment on the report.

Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness with roots in San Diego, wrote in an email that the administration “no longer wishes to have me” in the position. 

On Twitter, the response to his departure is striking.

Commentary at CalMatters

Toni Atkins, California Senate President Pro Tem: With all the discussion and proposals circulating, and more likely on the way, there must be a comprehensive approach—call it an action plan—that encompasses all the moving parts involved in preventing fires and providing reliable energy.

Vern Pierson, El Dorado County District Attorney: The problem of mass shootings is not simple. An actual solution will not be simple either, but we can mitigate the threat by analyzing the commonality in mass shooters.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: The federal government is poised to give California’s huge Westlands Water District a long-sought permanent supply contract, and it’s shaking up the state’s water picture.


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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.