When it comes to California’s fire season, there’s no rest for the weary.
Soon after PG&E began restoring power to the 24,000 customers hit with shutoffs amid Monday and Tuesday’s gusty winds, the utility warned another 29,000 customers could face blackouts starting Thursday morning, when a second round of powerful winds is expected to pummel the state.
California is still reeling from wildfires spread by the first round. The Alisal Fire, which ignited Monday afternoon near Santa Barbara, has already charred more than 13,000 acres, forced thousands of residents to evacuate and shut down portions of Highway 101 and nearby railroad tracks. The blaze is also threatening more than 100 homes and iconic ranches — including Rancho del Cielo, once a vacation home for former President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.
Firefighters on Tuesday were also working to contain a fire that roared through the Rancho Marina Mobile Home & RV Park in Isleton on Monday, displacing 150 people and destroying 42 structures within minutes. At least 20 structures in the Sacramento County community were still at risk Tuesday.
- Resident Dennis Barbour, 74: “I’ve lived here 30 years. There’s a lot of stuff here. Irreplaceable.”
Also Tuesday, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara ordered the state’s “insurer of last resort” — available to residents unable to secure private coverage due to high fire risk — to expand its protections for farmers and vintners. Lara also directed private insurers to cut premiums for those who protect their property against wildfires. The two measures will likely bring much-needed relief to Wine Country, which was ravaged by a series of nightmarish fires last year that caused many vintners’ premiums to skyrocket and others’ policies to be dropped altogether.
Meanwhile, California’s drought is taking a toll on Lake Tahoe, whose water level is expected to temporarily sink below its natural rim — affecting not only tourists’ ability to enjoy the lake but also the habitat of kokanee salmon and other wildlife. The lake’s famously clear water was already clouded earlier this year by smoke from the Caldor Fire.
- Geoffrey Schladow, director of UC Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center: “If we’re going to have these big fires every summer, and we start getting these temporary effects every year, at what point does that temporary become the norm?”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 4,557,285 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 69,756 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Plus: CalMatters is tracking the results of the Newsom recall election, which will be certified Oct. 22.
Other stories you should know
1. When COVID leads to a lung transplant
Before contracting COVID-19, Dr. Shura Alexis Moreno ran an East Los Angeles clinic, hit the gym a few times a week and played the drums. Despite being relatively young and healthy, the virus rendered him so weak he could barely walk — and after his lungs didn’t respond to months of intensive therapy, his doctors recommended him for a double lung transplant, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports in this stunning profile of one of the 25 people with COVID-19-related diagnoses who have received lungs at California transplant centers so far. Moreno, who is still recovering from his April surgery, will take at least five medications daily for the rest of his life. But after spending five months in the hospital and seven hours in surgery, he counts every day with his wife and son as a blessing — and encourages anyone who will listen to get vaccinated.
- Moreno: “If it happened to me, a doctor taking all the precautions, it can happen to anybody. That’s my preaching point.”
In other COVID news, state Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita sent a letter to the Newsom administration on Monday, pointing out that although the state said it would release in mid-March a report investigating “significant deficiencies” at its COVID-19 testing lab, it has yet to do so. In February, state health officials revealed that problems at the rapidly built lab were pervasive enough to potentially impact its license and maybe even lead to its closure. “It is crucial that we receive a transparent and timely accounting of the issues regarding working conditions in the lab and the accuracy of the tests,” Wilk wrote. (The California Health and Human Services Agency did not return a request for comment Tuesday.)
2. Rent relief out of reach for many
Although California’s statewide eviction ban expired about two weeks ago, tenants can still apply for rent relief from the state’s $2.6 billion pot of money. But that’s where things get tricky, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports: For immigrants who speak limited English, navigating the state’s application portal — which relies on imprecise Google translations — can spark confusion and frustration. The program’s website and phone line setups have hampered access for Californians with disabilities. Many other vulnerable tenants simply don’t know the rent relief program exists, despite the state pouring millions of dollars into advertising. And although California has simplified its application process and formed hundreds of partnerships with local organizations to reach marginalized communities, the number of non-English speakers applying for aid has actually gone down in recent months.
- Armando Valdez, director of the Community Center for Arts & Technology in Fresno: “It’s easy to say, ‘We have the relief funds,’ but who you are targeting? We ask, ‘Do you have staff canvassing those communities in need?’ And the state will tell you, ‘All they need to do is call us. All they need to do is get online.'”
3. UC lecturers launch protests
Today and Thursday, the union representing thousands of University of California lecturers will hold informational protests at campuses across the state — a move that follows an impasse in years-long negotiations with UC leadership over a new contract. In announcing the demonstrations Tuesday, the union cited what it deemed an “explosive” report from CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn, who spent 11 months reporting on lecturers’ labor conditions for a story for which UC repeatedly declined interview requests. Mikhail found that the UC is increasingly relying on lecturers — who are paid $32,000 on average and often lack any semblance of job assurance — to teach its classes.
- Mia McIver, the president of the lecturers’ union: “The UC often expects us to take the pride and prestige of teaching at the University of California as part of our compensation package, which it is not.”
It’s a sentiment that much of California’s — and America’s — burned-out workforce appears to share. A record 4.3 million Americans — nearly 3% of the workforce — quit their jobs in August, according to federal data released Tuesday. “People are sorting themselves into conditions that suit them best,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. “People are voting with their feet.”
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom and state lawmakers continue to paddle California’s canoe to the left.
Indigenous knowledge can help prevent wildfires: It’s time for decision-makers to summon the political courage to let Indigenous people lead with their knowledge of fire and lands, write Chelsi Sparti of the Wintu Nation and Chris Villarruel of the Pit River Nation.
CEQA harms housing efforts: Even Democrats acknowledge CEQA’s pernicious effects — that’s why they sponsor bills to waive or limit it for politically favored projects, argues Donald Wagner, an Orange County Supervisor.
Other things worth your time
How many city workers received an exemption to the COVID vaccine mandate? Zero. // San Francisco Examiner
Coachella, Stagecoach reverse decision on vaccine mandate for festivals. // KTVU
UC campuses mandate flu vaccines for students and staff. // Sacramento Bee
Health industry wields power in California’s high-stakes battle to lower health care costs. // California Healthline
Walgreens to close 5 more city stores, citing rising costs of retail crime. // San Francisco Chronicle
Hollywood fight trainer in conservatorship battle. // Los Angeles Times
A California haven for lives fraught with pain. // New York Times
Biden’s spending plan has big income tax changes. Here are the Californians who would benefit. // Sacramento Bee
California has long wait for students to enroll in some community college nursing programs. // EdSource
McGeorge School of Law receives $30 million donation to provide scholarships for students of color. // Sacramento Bee
Italian church vandalized with anti-colonization graffiti. // Los Angeles Times
San Diego lottery for short-term rental licenses should give priority to ‘good actors,’ council insists, // San Diego Union-Tribune
Rite Aid workers face heat risks in SoCal warehouses. // Los Angeles Times
California oil spill legal fight likely to last years. // Associated Press
The oil spill was bad, but toxic waste is everywhere in Los Angeles. // Los Angeles Times
When will we have the last oil spill? // New Yorker
Meet Dr. Color, who’s painted more than 17,000 San Francisco buildings. // SFGATE
See you tomorrow.
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