Blackouts loom as record heat wave blankets California
California teetered on the edge of rolling blackouts Tuesday, as the state entered the most sweltering stretch of a heat wave that Gov. Gavin Newsom described in a video message as “the hottest and the longest on record for this state and many parts of the West for the month of September.”
As high-temperature records fell across the state — downtown Sacramento reached 116 degrees, surpassing the previous record of 114 degrees set in 1925 — it was clear that state officials were pulling out all the stops to avoid another round of power outages just two years after California experienced its first in nearly two decades.
The persistent drumbeat of warnings and pleas for residents to save energy hinted at the stark political, economic and health repercussions of air conditioners, refrigerators, lights and medical devices abruptly turning off.
Among the measures taken Tuesday:
- California’s grid operator declared a Stage 3 emergency, clearing the way for it to order rotating power outages if necessary, but ended it at 8 p.m. The California Independent System Operator credited consumer conservation for helping avoid temporary outages even as peak demand surpassed 52,000 megawatts, breaking the record of 50,270 megawatts set in 2006. Today, the state will spend its eighth straight day under a Flex Alert asking residents to conserve energy between 4 and 9 p.m. “If we keep it up we can get through this unprecedented heatwave,” Newsom tweeted Tuesday night.
- The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services sent out a blaring emergency alert urging residents to turn off nonessential power until 9 p.m. if their heath allowed, warning, “Power interruptions may occur unless you take action.”
- In addition to Newsom personally exhorting Californians to conserve energy by pre-cooling their homes and avoiding the late-afternoon use of large appliances, the governor extended for the third time provisions of his earlier emergency proclamation and executive order to free up additional power, increase energy production and expand flexibility for state agencies, energy users and utilities. Many state buildings switched off lights and raised thermostat temperatures at 4 p.m. to save energy.
- Newsom signed a bill requiring counties to ensure that local community centers are prepared to help all residents during extreme heat events and other environmental disasters and that those centers are incorporated in local emergency plans. He also signed a pile of legislation and budget trailer bills, including several dealing with energy, drought and wildfires.
Many Republican lawmakers tied the looming threat of blackouts to “a failed energy policy championed by the Democrat super-majority in Sacramento,” as Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City put it. “It’s rich to watch them now scramble to keep the lights on by firing up brand-new natural gas plants and extending the life of California’s only remaining nuclear power plant, which they previously advocated for closing,” Gallagher said in a statement. “This crisis was both avoidable and predictable.”
Meanwhile, firefighters continued to battle a series of wildfires in Siskiyou County, as well as the Fairview Fire in Riverside County, which as of Tuesday evening had seared 4,500 acres, killed at least two people, injured at least one more, prompted thousands of evacuations and remained just 5% contained, according to state fire officials. Southern California Edison reported “circuit activity” at about the same time the fire exploded, but it’s unclear whether the utility’s equipment played a role in starting it.
Newsom announced Tuesday the state had secured federal support to help cover the costs of fighting the Fairview Fire.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,314,717 confirmed cases (+1.8% from previous day) and 94,351 deaths (+0.01% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 CalMatters launches November voter guide
California’s Nov. 8 general election might seem like a long way away, but consider this: Mail-in ballots will be sent to every active, registered voter by Oct. 10 — just a little more than a month from now. Here to help you make sense of it all is CalMatters’ comprehensive, award-winning, nonpartisan Voter Guide — a newly revamped version of which we’re launching today. Here’s a look at some of the guide’s noteworthy features, courtesy of CalMatters’ Membership Manager Sonya Quick:
- The full guide is available in both English and Spanish — the first statewide voter guide to offer this feature as part of our drive to improve access to information.
- We’re bringing back our award-winning Props-in-a-Minute videos explaining the seven statewide ballot measures in clear, concise, 60-second summaries.
- We also brought back our award-winning interactive game “Gimme Props,” which helps voters decide where they stand on complex ballot measures.
- And we’ve added interactive quizzes that help voters determine which statewide candidates they align with on quality-of-life issues.
- The guide also includes the most comprehensive campaign finance data we’ve ever provided — updated in real time so voters can understand the flow of money in the election.
- That’s not all: The guide features candidate resumes and job descriptions for each office; a breakdown of hot races for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and state Assembly and Senate; and a curated selection of must-know election news and analysis.
- Questions? Check out our frequently-asked-questions section, where you can not only share your own questions with the CalMatters team, but also find a wealth of information about key election dates and when and how to vote.
In related news: One of the more confusing aspects of California’s November ballot: Voters will decide the outcome of two separate initiatives to legalize sports betting, the result of a pitched battle between gaming companies, Native American tribes, card rooms and others that’s already broken campaign cash records.
But what does California’s gambling landscape currently look like, and how would sports betting fit into that? How much money do Native American tribes earn from casinos? How many people suffer from gambling addiction? And what even is a card room? CalMatters’ Grace Gedye answers all of those questions and more in this comprehensive explainer.
2 A peek at more bills on Newsom’s desk
Here’s the latest snapshot of interesting bills on Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature or veto:
- In a rare, last-minute deal, state lawmakers sent Newsom two bills to make it easier to build homes on land zoned for such commercial uses as strip malls, offices and parking lots. But how did the deal get clinched, and how might the bills reshape California’s housing landscape if Newsom signs them into law? CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon break it down on the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast.”
- The governor will also decide whether to increase the amount of money given inmates upon their release from state prison from $200 to $1,300, a figure that would keep rising with inflation starting in 2024. California currently spends about $8 million annually on this so-called gate money, a total that would rise to at least $42 million annually if Newsom signs the bill, according to the Los Angeles Times columnist Erika D. Smith. She urged him to approve it, arguing, “Those who work in crime prevention and intervention all say the same thing: The first few days after people get released from prison are the most critical. Whether they stay out of trouble or turn back to crime often depends on resources.”
- And he’ll determine the fate of a bill to change the local recall election process by blocking most cities and counties from holding an election to replace a recalled official. The seat would instead be filled by appointment, succession or another process — one that “transforms the recall from a highly democratic system to one with zero voter choice in the replacement,” argued Joshua Spivak, a national expert on recalls and author of “Recall Elections: From Alexander Hamilton to Gavin Newsom,” and David A. Carrillo, executive director of the California Constitution Center at Berkeley Law, in an SFGATE op-ed.
Speaking of bills: A federal judge recently struck down a portion of California’s law allowing terminally ill patients to end their own lives, finding unconstitutional its provision requiring physicians — regardless of moral or religious objections — to report patients’ requests for life-ending medication, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The news comes about a year after state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill to speed up the aid-in-dying process, citing studies that found some died while waiting for their requests to be approved.
3 Years-long waits for assisted living
Deciding to place a loved one in an assisted living facility is tough — and that’s without taking into account the often arduous process of finding the right program, figuring out insurance coverage and dealing with other complex logistics. And then there’s the question of money: Assisting living and memory care centers cost about $5,000 to $7,000 per month — a sizable price tag for families even with comfortable incomes. Medi-Cal, the state’s health care insurance program for the poor, covers assisted living costs for eligible low-income residents and disabled people in 15 of California’s 58 counties, but there aren’t nearly enough slots to keep up with demand. According to the state’s most recent data, there are 6,301 people enrolled in Medi-Cal’s assisted living program and 4,754 people waiting to get in.
Although the federal government recently greenlighted an additional 7,000 slots in California, some families are still facing years-long waits, CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra reports. The state says it plans to clear the waitlist or at least reduce it substantively by Feb. 28, 2024.
- Chelsea Oruche, a Los Angeles County resident who cares for her 70-year-old mother Peggy: “We’re operating under water. It’s not sustainable. It is a full-time job to care for a parent. Unless you’ve done it, you can’t wrap your head around it.”
- Kelsey McQuaid-Craig, a Sacramento County resident who with her husband Brandon cares for his 67-year-old mother Mary: “We had to file a self-neglect case because there is no abuse, but we also are running up on not being able to take care of her for much longer. Unfortunately, that was the only way to move her up (on the waitlist).”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s unions had a lot to celebrate on Labor Day.
Paid family leave isn’t an option for California’s low-income workers: If new parents want to take bonding leave, or adult children want to care for an ill parent, they need to be able to afford a 40% pay cut. Newsom needs to sign my bill to change that, argues state Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat.
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