California lawmakers and 500 more from around the nation want the federal government to do more to address climate change. The federal government wants to know whether PG&E was responsible for causing the Dixie Fire, the second-largest blaze in California history.
The legislators’ letter to President Joe Biden and PG&E’s regulatory filing announcing the Oct. 7 subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California were both unveiled Monday — the day world leaders, including Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, gathered in Glasgow for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
But the federal probe wasn’t the only bomb PG&E dropped Monday: It also projected that it will face a loss of at least $1.15 billion — a figure it acknowledged was “on the lower end of the range” of reasonable estimates — from the Dixie Fire, which destroyed the historic town of Greenville, became the first blaze in state history to burn from one side of the Sierra Nevada to the other, and resulted in at least one death.
PG&E recently told a federal judge that the Dixie Fire likely would have been averted if the utility’s new “Fast Trip” safety initiative — which aims to mitigate wildfires by triggering blackouts whenever power lines come into contact with trees, animals or other objects — had already been in place. But California’s top utility regulator slammed the initiative as “shortsighted” in an Oct. 25 letter to PG&E CEO Patti Poppe, noting that it’s caused more than 560,000 homes and businesses to abruptly lose power since late July.
- California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer: “Care and understanding for how the loss of power may affect customers has been overwhelmingly absent.” These problems “are deeply and sincerely concerning, and continue to raise questions about PG&E’s ability to evolve as a company and to internalize and prioritize customer well-being.”
- A PG&E spokesperson told the Sacramento Bee: The program has “proven effective at preventing wildfires,” but “our initial customer communications fell short, and reliability on some circuits has been unacceptably poor. We have committed to improving on both.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who pulled out of attending the UN climate change conference at the last minute, shared a video on Twitter that says California “is confronting the climate crisis head on” and calls on “the global community to end their dependence on oil.”
Kounalakis, who is leading the California delegation in Newsom’s stead, posted a photo of herself speaking at an event on jobs and climate action alongside three other panelists, including Ali Zaidi, Biden’s deputy national climate advisor. “Our zero carbon future must not only be healthier, cleaner but also more equal,” Kounalakis wrote.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 4,666,938 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 71,532 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
California has administered 53,127,097 vaccine doses, and 73% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
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Other stories you should know
1. California health care updates
Monday brought a slew of developments in California’s health care sector. Here are the highlights:
- Open enrollment began for Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace that currently serves 1.6 million residents. Californians can sign up for coverage through Jan. 31, 2022 — and 85% of the roughly 1.1 million uninsured residents eligible for financial assistance could get no-cost coverage thanks to expanded federal aid, officials said.
- Secretary of State Shirley Weber cleared for signature-gathering yet another proposed ballot measure that would set new regulations for kidney dialysis clinics.
- The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a California appeals court decision that permits Evan Minton, a Sacramento-area transgender man, to sue a Catholic hospital by refusing to perform a hysterectomy at its facility.
- Meanwhile, a federal judge on Saturday issued a temporary restraining order that blocks portions of a new state law restricting protests at vaccination sites.
- California’s exodus of public health employees is raising concerns among experts who say it could put residents at greater risk of contracting various diseases.
- To make matters worse, California’s — and the globe’s — backlogged supply chains are leading to a shortage of certain medical supplies. “I am definitely working with some of the biggest names out there and really asking, begging, pleading that we should prioritize medical devices over another cell phone, another electric car, another cloud-connected refrigerator,” ResMed CEO Mick Farrell told the San Diego-Union Tribune.
2. Meet California’s housing czars
The three people charged with implementing California’s response to the housing crisis are likely officials you’ve never heard of: Lourdes Castro Ramírez, who leads the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency; Gustavo Velasquez, who directs the California Department of Housing & Community Development; and Tiena Johnson Hall, who leads California’s Housing Finance Agency. Yet their agencies exert enormous influence on California’s housing landscape — as they discuss in the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter,” a podcast hosted by CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon. For example, Velasquez is leveraging new authority and resources to investigate the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ recent rejection of a proposal to build a 495-unit apartment complex in a parking lot.
- Velasquez: “There will be jurisdictions that will be unwilling” to plan for and build enough housing to meet the state’s regional needs. “But we have now … more capacity to track this work, to monitor this work, and if need be, take enforcement actions as required by state law.”
3. Pandemic hits middle-class Californians hard
How severely was California’s middle class squeezed during the pandemic? Well, since March 2020, the Golden State’s billionaires added more than $551 billion to their net worth, even as the state’s other residents filed more than 25 million unemployment claims. Among them was Maybelle Manio, a 42-year-old commercial real estate agent and San Mateo County school board president who had never before turned to government assistance. But as the bills piled up and work dried up, Manio found herself $70,000 in debt — even after the last-resort measure of emptying her son’s college fund. For CalMatters’ California Divide project, Jesse Bedayn explores what Manio’s experience reveals about the financial, social and existential predicaments many middle-class Californians have experienced amid the pandemic.
- Manio: “I’ve always been independent and self-sufficient. … I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I’m falling deep into this financial hole. I have no idea how I’m going to get back, and I have no idea where this is going to lead me.”
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The decline of Pentagon spending in California suggests we should not take prosperity for granted.
California’s check-cashing fees are too high: The state’s check-cashing regulations are costing consumers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It’s time for lower fees and fewer stores, argues Prasad Krishnamurthy, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law.
California falling short on combating climate change: Current actions aren’t enough to meaningfully safeguard our state, our country and our world, writes Matt Lundy of the Morgan Hill Climate Action Plan Working Group.
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Other things worth your time
California pension fund to award $1.1 million record-breaking bonus to investment chief. // Sacramento Bee
California’s fourth proposed sports betting initiative is being pursued by three new tribes. // PlayCA
Gut unions and boost private schools? 2022 ballot proposals aim at California labor. // Sacramento Bee
Tearful, angry parents protest possible Oceanside school closures, consolidations. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California high school students stage mask mandate protest. // Sacramento Bee
Fighting for the education of Black students in California. // EdSource
As S.F. lags, Las Vegas tourism roars back, with help from weed and the Raiders. // San Francisco Chronicle
Nintendo to close Bay Area office. // SFGATE
Facebook, TikTok looking for big Bay Area office expansions. // San Francisco Chronicle
East Bay, Silicon Valley home prices soar with suburban demand. // Mercury News
Push to overhaul sex-work laws hinges on a central question: Who counts as a victim? // San Francisco Chronicle
War hero’s body left 10 days in morgue, state investigation shows. // Los Angeles Times
Cal Fire firefighter gets 4 years for arson, fraud. // Mercury News
Drought, fire threaten California family’s Christmas tree business. // Los Angeles Times
Monarchs flourish in rare Bay Area butterfly breeding boom. // Mercury News
Baby seal saved from cars on San Rafael roadway. // San Francisco Chronicle
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