Another fire season, another investigation into whether PG&E equipment may have sparked a deadly blaze.
This time, it’s the Zogg Fire in Shasta County, which has so far killed four people and destroyed more than 200 structures. Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, took possession of PG&E equipment as part of its investigation into the cause of the blaze, the utility disclosed Friday. The announcement came just days before PG&E warned it may have to shut off power for up to three days this week to mitigate fire risk amid elevated temperatures and gusty winds.
It also comes a few months after the beleaguered utility pled guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire — the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history — and emerged from bankruptcy incurred by billions of dollars in wildfire-related liability costs.
- Newsom in July: “I’m not going to overpromise … on the PG&E front that everything’s going to change overnight. … But we’ve never had … the real oversight and accountability than (sic) we do today. … Let’s continue to hold that company accountable.”
Meanwhile, hot, dry, windy weather is expected to sweep across Northern and Southern California this week, bringing with it elevated fire danger. This is unwelcome news for a state that has already seen fires burn more than 4 million acres and just wrapped up its warmest April-to-September period in 126 years.
- Climatologist Bill Patzert: “Weather forecasters across the country are sounding like the grim reaper these days.”
Still, firefighters are approaching 100% containment on major blazes, including the Zogg Fire, the Glass Fire tearing through Wine Country and the August Complex Fire, which last week became the first in California history to top 1 million acres.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 846,579 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16,564 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.
Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Last week, five ballots arrived at Susan Lambert’s Pasadena home — one for each member of her family, and one for a mystery voter named George. What do you do when you receive a ballot that isn’t meant for you? Ben Christopher explains.
Other stories you should know
1. Newsom, lawmakers tussle over federal money
Seven months into the pandemic, lawmakers are still chafing under Newsom’s expanded authority and feeling left out of key decisions — as revealed by letters I obtained from the state Department of Finance regarding Newsom’s request to use $200 million in federal coronavirus funds for Project Homekey, an initiative to permanently house homeless Californians in motels. Lawmakers had already approved a specific plan for how the federal dollars should be spent — and weren’t aware that some would be left over and available to reallocate elsewhere, according to a letter state Sen. Holly Mitchell, chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, sent the Department of Finance. The committee on Wednesday grudgingly approved Newsom’s request — under the condition that he earmark at least another $200 million of the federal money for lawmakers’ priorities, which include food insecurity, assistance for low-income seniors and tenant relief. (The letters were first reported by California Globe, a conservative-leaning publication.)
- Mitchell: “Since March, the Legislature has repeatedly called for the Executive Branch to collaborate with the Legislature on COVID-19 response. But time and time again, the Legislature has been put in the position of simply giving a yes or no answer to the governor’s priorities.”
The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office had recommended lawmakers “reject without prejudice” Newsom’s request, pointing out that it’s too early to know if the state will have any leftover federal funds.
2. Workplace safety agency limits inspections
Despite coronavirus outbreaks sickening and killing workers in garment factories, meatpacking plants, fast-food chains and strawberry fields, the state agency that regulates workplace health and safety has conducted on-site inspections for just 5% of COVID complaints, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports. That’s a steep decline from prior years, when Cal/OSHA conducted inspections for 25% of complaints. Amid the pandemic, Cal/OSHA has defaulted to sending employers letters asking them to respond to workers’ concerns — an education-over-enforcement strategy mandated by Newsom in a March executive order. But without a workplace inspection, Cal/OSHA can’t cite an employer for health or safety violations — raising questions about how many COVID hazards the agency may be allowing to persist.
- State Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat: “There appears to be a very direct connection between workplace enforcement and being able to stop the spread in our communities.”
3. Gyms push to reopen
Speaking of workplace inspections (or the lack thereof), a number of gyms are reopening as essential businesses by citing membership in an association of fitness centers offering medically supervised training for elderly, ill or disabled people. But only one center in California is actually certified by the Medical Fitness Association, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.
- Terry Delamater, owner of two Bakersfield-area gyms: “To tell you the truth, I was blown away that they deemed me essential without walking into the club and looking at anything.”
The push to reopen comes amid a mixed coronavirus picture for California. The statewide positivity rate and intensive-care admissions are at an all-time low, and hospitalizations are at a level not seen since early April. But two counties regressed to more restrictive reopening tiers last week, and several others — including San Diego and Riverside — could do so this week. Meanwhile, two nursing homes in Santa Cruz and Shasta counties are grappling with major outbreaks that have infected more than 100 and killed 16, despite state regulations mandating regular testing of residents and staff.
- Patricia McGinnis of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform: “It depends on the place, it depends on the facility, and I am not sure there is a lot of follow-up.”
CalMatters is hosting “Props to You” events — virtual Q&As for you to ask all of your burning questions about the 12 propositions on California’s November ballot. Register here. Each event runs from 6-7pm.
- Oct. 13: Tech Battles. Register | Submit Your Questions
- Oct. 14: Wait, Didn’t We Vote On These Already? Register | Submit Your Questions
Oct. 21, 5-6:30pm: Rebuilding and Resiliency: How We Need to Handle Wildfires From Now On. In this two-part virtual event, CalMatters examines rebuilding and resiliency in California through the lens of Rebuilding Paradise, a new documentary from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard. Register | Submit Your Questions
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom has issued another sweeping order on climate change, but we may not know for years whether it has any concrete meaning.
Clean-energy roadmap: California needs to accelerate toward cleaner, safer, more reliable and more affordable energy sources, argue Kevin Sagara of San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas and Chris Cramer of the California Restaurant Association and California Craft Brewers Association.
A clean-air future: The California Public Utilities Commission must encourage the installation and use of microgrids, writes P.J. Quesada of Ramar Foods.
Key ballot measures: These propositions would significantly impact the state’s ability to address the pandemic and economic inequality, argues Tom Epstein of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges.
Financial support needed: The state is ordering local governments to create new housing but isn’t giving homeowners a way to finance it, writes Rachel Olsen, a San Diego real-estate agent.
Other things worth your time
A tale of two Orange Counties: Why California’s Disneyland is closed and Florida’s Disney World is open. // Wall Street Journal
Many unemployed Californians are about to get a $300 payment — but it won’t continue. // Sacramento Bee
California kept prison factories open amid the pandemic, and inmates worked for pennies an hour as the virus spread. // Los Angeles Times
Pressure on California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein ahead of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing. // San Francisco Chronicle
Private firefighting crews spark conflict after allegedly setting illegal backfires amid Glass Fire. // San Francisco Chronicle
Business donors meet their match in battle over Prop. 15’s split-roll tax. // EdSource
Uber, Lyft push Prop. 22 message where you can’t escape it: your phone. // Los Angeles Times
See you tomorrow.
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