In summary

California grants a safety certificate to PG&E just after the utility came off probation for the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

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A “license to burn.”

That’s what environmental justice advocates are calling the safety certificate Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration issued to PG&E late Monday, allowing the utility to “recover catastrophic wildfire costs from its ratepayers” or from a $21 billion state insurance fund partly funded by surcharges on customers’ power bills for the next 20 years.

At the end of Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign’s Monday press conference urging the governor to reject the safety certificate, organizers found out the Newsom administration had granted it hours earlier — even though the campaign said it was scheduled to meet with his office on Feb. 7 to discuss the decision ahead of a Feb. 10 deadline.

  • Campaign coordinator Mari Rose Taruc: “It’s no coincidence that hours before we were going public with our demands, days before meeting with the people who have been terrorized by PG&E, the Newsom administration quietly handed a license to burn back to the most murderous corporation in history.”
  • Newsom’s Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety, which issued the certificate, is under the California Natural Resources Agency, which said in a statement that the certificate validates that PG&E “is working toward becoming safer and improving its operations and culture” but “does not shield PG&E from enforcement or penalties for safety violations.”

The news comes a week after PG&E exited five years of criminal probation for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people. Although the utility said it “has become a fundamentally safer company,” the federal judge charged with overseeing it disagreed.

It also comes as California faces increased fire risk. The strong winds that began sweeping much of the state on Tuesday and caused thousands to lose power are slated to last through Thursday in some regions, and San Diego County is gearing up for three back-to-back Santa Ana wind events that could last until Monday.

To make matters worse, water contained in the state’s snowpack dwindled to 92% of normal levels amid an extraordinarily dry January, state water officials said Tuesday — a precipitous decline from December, when heavy rain left the snowpack with 160% more water than usual.

And dry conditions are likely to last through at least mid-February, suggesting California’s drought could stretch into an even drier third year.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 7,915,768 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 79,382 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 69,591,517 vaccine doses, and 73.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Contentious COVID policy expires

Emergency medical technician Thomas Hoang, 29, of Emergency Ambulance Service, pushes a gurney into an emergency room to drop off a COVID-19 patient in Placentia on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo
Emergency medical technician Thomas Hoang drops off a COVID-19 patient in Placentia on Jan. 8, 2021. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

California’s controversial rule allowing asymptomatic COVID-positive health care workers to stay on the job at severely understaffed facilities expired at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, a win for labor groups that had denounced the policy. The shift comes as California’s omicron wave continues to decline — the statewide seven-day test positivity rate was 13.8% on Tuesday, a 5.1-percentage-point decrease from the week before. But the situation is still dire in some parts of the state with lower vaccination rates: The California Department of Public Health said Friday that ICUs in the San Joaquin Valley are at or near capacity and are activating surge protocols to transfer patients to hospitals with more space.

Other COVID updates:

2. Recall reform on 2022 ballot?

Image via iStock
Image via iStock

A solid majority — 60% — of likely California voters think state lawmakers should put a proposition on this year’s ballot to reform the recall process, according to data released Tuesday from the Public Policy Institute of California’s February 2022 statewide survey. Although there’s a partisan divide — 72% of Democrats support the idea, compared to 55% of independents and 47% of Republicans — it’s not as pronounced as those that emerge for specific proposals, such as:

  • Raising the signature-gathering requirement from 12% to 20% of the total votes cast in the previous election for that office. 69% of Democrats support this idea, compared to 39% of independents and 22% of Republicans.
  • Replacing a recalled governor with the lieutenant governor. 67% of Democrats approve of this change, compared to 40% of independents and 28% of Republicans. (State Sen. Josh Newman, a Brea Democrat, has already proposed a constitutional amendment to do this.)

The divide was on clear display Tuesday, when state lawmakers held their third and final hearing on possible changes to the recall. While Democratic Secretary of State Shirley Weber signaled support for several possible reforms, every person who participated in public comment — including Orrin Heatlie, a retired sheriff’s deputy who led the campaign to oust Newsom from office — adamantly opposed overhauling the process.

  • One woman, who said she worked on the campaign to recall Newsom, argued: “Nothing screams corruption like your legislators attempting to pass legislation that keeps you from recalling them.”

3. How CA’s homeless plan is working on ground

Jackie Botts interviews Fernando Maya during a reporting trip in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Jackie Botts interviews Fernando Maya in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Newsom on Tuesday announced $45 million in awards to provide 170 housing units in Los Angeles and Sacramento for people exiting homelessness — but transitioning people from streets or shelters into permanent supportive housing is often anything but smooth, as CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillion discuss in the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast.”

  • Manuela and Liam talk with Jackie Botts and Fernando Maya, a formerly homeless vet who took Jackie and CalMatters readers along on his journey from the streets of Los Angeles to a Project Roomkey hotel room to his own studio apartment in subsidized housing.
  • Maya discussed the importance of case workers — who are in severely short supply — to him and other people experiencing homelessness: “Some of us need help. Some of us don’t know we need help.” 

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The best argument against California launching a single-payer health care system may be its unemployment department’s abysmal record.

The problem with Daniel Hertzberg’s campaign for state Senate: It’s an old script with an all-too-familiar storyline: The unqualified man benefits from the political machine, bypassing the qualified woman, argues Kate Karpilow, former director of the California Center for Research on Women and Families.

Actually, California is planning clean energy buildout: The state’s existing transmission system can accommodate all of these new resources with six relatively small planned upgrades, writes Simon Baker of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Other things worth your time

Oakland students, faculty walk out in protest of proposed school closures. // San Francisco Chronicle

Teachers declare hunger strike over Oakland schools closure plan. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento schools delay vaccine mandate for teachers, staff. // Sacramento Bee

Minor under Madera County’s care housed in office building. // Fresno Bee

California AG to review sheriff’s cases county lawyers call ‘politically motivated.’ // Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles sees record-breaking hate crimes in 2021. // Crosstown

California senators confront Democrats over tech antitrust. // Los Angeles Times

State stem cell agency’s first royalties: $15 million from Stanford. // Capitol Weekly

Los Angeles’ great train robbery redux. // New Yorker

Big teacher’s retirement system eyes new downtown Oakland tower. // Mercury News

San Diego to clear Sports Arena homeless camp. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Fremont homeless navigation center housed 31 in first year. // Mercury News

Investigators arrest four suspected unlicensed contractors in Paradise Camp Fire area. // Sacramento Bee

California ballot measure to build more reservoirs, water projects dies due to lack of signatures. // Mercury News

A battle is brewing over the LA River’s murky runoff. // Los Angeles Times

LA is building a future where water won’t run out. // Bloomberg

Amid climate crisis, California city might build a gas plant. // Los Angeles Times

How community science might be key in saving California’s monarch butterfly migration. // CapRadio

The rampaging pigs of the San Francisco Bay Area. // New York Times

See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...