A key advocate left the PG&E wildfire victims fund after he was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal at Sonoma State University.
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All roads lead to Sacramento.
That’s one takeaway from the convoluted series of events that led to tens of thousands of PG&E wildfire victims losing one of their top advocates in the state Capitol this week — just one day after veteran lobbyist Patrick McCallum pitched Gov. Gavin Newsom’s staff on the idea of a $1.5 billion loan to ensure survivors are fully compensated.
The PG&E Fire Victim Trust announced Wednesday that it and McCallum had “agreed to part ways, effective immediately, in light of certain recent publicly disclosed developments.”
Those developments could pose problems not only for the already beleaguered Fire Victim Trust — which a KQED investigation found has been slow to pay victims and quick to rack up big bills for lawyers and consultants — but also for the California State University system. Here’s why:
- McCallum, who is married to Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki, allegedly sexually harassed several women at a party at his house. The women reported the incidents to then-provost Lisa Vollendorf, who in turn reported them to CSU officials, prompting retaliation from Sakaki, according to a claim Vollendorf lodged against CSU and which the system paid $600,000 this year to settle, according to investigations from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Los Angeles Times. McCallum denies the allegations.
- Sakaki, who denies retaliating against Vollendorf, initially defended her husband but announced Monday that she is separating from McCallum. She’s now facing challenges of her own: The executive committee of Sonoma State’s academic senate voted Thursday to advance a vote of no confidence in her leadership, and Democratic state Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa said her response “deserves close scrutiny by the CSU chancellor and board of trustees as to how the interests of students and employees can be best served going forward.”
- It’s the latest scandal to embroil CSU, whose chancellor resigned in February amid accusations that he mishandled sexual harassment complaints against a high-ranking colleague while president of Fresno State. The system has since launched multiple independent investigations into its own policies.
But let’s pivot back to PG&E — and run through a rapid round of Thursday environmental news:
- PG&E, which has already raised customer rates twice this year, is seeking state approval to hike them yet again to help pay for a variety of projects, the Mercury News reports.
- Even as rain and snow soaked Northern California, lawmakers took a key step toward lowering the state’s standard for residential indoor water use — a move that could lead to higher rates despite lower consumption. Next week, the Bay Area’s largest water agency is also set to consider capping household water use.
- Newsom administration officials said California may need as much as $30 billion over three decades to protect the Central Valley from floods.
- A scathing report from the California state auditor found that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — the state’s largest, supplying water to 19 million residents — “must fundamentally change the way it approaches many personnel and ethics issues.”
- An American Lung Association report found that California is home to most of the U.S. cities with the worst year-round particle pollution, short-term particle pollution and ozone pollution.
- But another study, from nonprofit Environment America and research firm Frontier Group, found that California is home to five of the country’s top 20 cities with the most solar power per person.
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Other stories you should know
1. COVID workplace rules extended
Even as California winds down key components of its emergency COVID response, Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace safety agency, voted Thursday to extend mandatory pay for workers sent home for coronavirus-related reasons, the Associated Press reports. This so-called “exclusion pay” is on top of the COVID-related sick leave program Newsom and state lawmakers recently extended through Sept. 30 (but which exempts at least 1 in 4 California workers). Some business groups pushed back against the Cal/OSHA regulation, citing a provision that says exposed employees should receive exclusion pay until they test negative, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Rob Moutrie, policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce: “This incentivizes employees to refuse testing after (they’re) exposed because they will receive more exclusion pay.”
In other COVID economy news:
- California’s Housing for the Harvest program, which offers cash assistance and hotel rooms for COVID-exposed farmworkers, is slated to end on April 30, the Sacramento Bee reports.
- The state Department of Public Health announced Thursday a first-in-the-nation partnership with Meta (formerly known as Facebook) to launch WhatsApp chatbot tools aimed at combating COVID misinformation — “especially focused on the Spanish-speaking community.”
- And although California’s jobless rate is improving, new federal data reveals some warning signs: The Golden State accounted for more than 25% of the nation’s ongoing unemployment claims for the week ending April 16. And it had nearly 1.3 million job openings at the end of February, up 158,000 from the previous month.
2. GOP gears up for convention
Today, California Republicans are set to gather in Anaheim for the party’s annual convention, which lasts through Sunday and includes speeches from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and other GOP bigwigs, a “chocolate and cigars” reception and party endorsements for the upcoming election. McCarthy’s appearance got a lot more complicated after a bombshell report late Thursday that he wanted Donald Trump to resign as president following the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. McCarthy wants to replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House speaker if Republicans retake the House from Democrats in this year’s mid-term election. (Make sure to follow CalMatters political reporter Sameea Kamal, who’s covering the convention on the ground.)
The event comes at an interesting time for the GOP, which is still licking its wounds after Newsom overwhelmingly defeated last year’s recall attempt: On the one hand, Republican controller candidate Lanhee Chen on Thursday secured an influential endorsement from the Los Angeles Times; on the other, the powerful Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association endorsed independent Michael Shellenberger for governor over state Sen. Brian Dahle, the most prominent GOP candidate. (However, given Newsom’s resounding victory in the recall, it’s doubtful any Republican could mount a credible challenge against him.)
- And, although some conservatives see the attorney general’s race as an opportunity for a Republican to win statewide office in California for the first time in 16 years, it’s hard to get past the fundamental numbers: As of last month, nearly 47% of California voters were registered Democrats, compared to 24% Republicans and 23% no party preference.
- Still, the GOP could rack up some wins against Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Check out the hot races in CalMatters’ Voter Guide for more.
3. Meet the enforcers of CA’s housing laws
California — which has an annual budget north of $280 billion — is largely relying on YIMBY, or “yes in my backyard” activists, to enforce a new state law that allows property owners to build duplexes and, in some cases, fourplexes on most single-family parcels, CalMatters’ award-winning housing reporter Manuela Tobias writes in this fascinating piece. And while some of the enforcement is happening in court and some of it is happening via complaints filed with the state, a lot of it is happening on Twitter.
- David Coher, a planning commissioner for the city of Pasadena, which recently received a warning letter from Bonta: “What I see is they’re enforcing laws that historically have not been enforced. Part of that enforcement is in the right vein, and part of it is haphazard. I think part of it is because of a certain amount of performance that has to be done. … This is playing to an audience in a way that it never played to an audience before.”
- David Zisser, who leads the California Housing and Community Development Department’s new housing accountability unit: “The bulk of how we’re going to learn about these cases is through complaints that we receive from ordinary citizens, through advocates and other stakeholders. … The fact that we’ve gotten complaints about 29 different jurisdictions is a good example of how it’s working.”
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Cheaper energy rates could help consumers go electric: California’s electricity rates are high because of years of expensive decisions. New demand for environmentally beneficial electricity should not be saddled with those legacy costs, argues Steven J. Moss of the Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition.
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California cities are rethinking their marijuana business bans. // Reason
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California’s radical plan to defend homes from sea level rise: move them. // San Francisco Chronicle
L.A. company faked COVID test results, authorities say. // Los Angeles Times
LASD didn’t get approval for Villanueva helipad, audit finds. // Los Angeles Times
Inmates in Santa Clara County may wear ‘non-removable’ electronic wristbands. // Mercury News
Woman’s 1999 cold-case killing in her East Bay home solved by DNA sleuthing, authorities say. // San Francisco Chronicle
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How Lowell’s diversity compares to other elite public high schools around the U.S. // San Francisco Chronicle
San Dieguito superintendent placed on administrative leave. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California’s rural far north grapples with declining enrollment. // EdSource
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Opinion: Riding a bike in California shouldn’t be this dangerous. // New York Times
See you Monday.
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