Ricardo Lara unveils insurance plan for CA wildfires

Your guide to California policy and politics
Sameea Kamal BY Sameea Kamal September 22, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Ricardo Lara unveils insurance plan for CA wildfires

As the threat from wildfires in California only grows with climate change, insurance companies have been pulling back their offerings to homeowners. But while the Legislature was unable to agree on how to address the high cost of doing business in the state while protecting homeowners, the executive branch is stepping in.

On Thursday, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara unveiled an agreement calling for insurers to return to wildfire zones, but giving companies an easier path to rate increases.

CalMatters’ housing reporter Ben Christopher explains the proposed regulations: Major insurers will be required to cover a certain share of homeowners in the most wildfire-prone areas. In exchange, the Department of Insurance will allow companies to charge more. 

Lara said that, if adopted, the changes will be the most significant adjustment of insurance policies since 1988, when Californians voted to require insurance companies to get prior approval before raising premiums. Read more about the details in Ben’s story. 

Less than two hours before Lara’s announcement, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that directed the commissioner to “take swift regulatory action” to expand choices for consumers, especially in underserved areas; improve the speed and transparency of the rate approval process; and shore up the state’s FAIR Plan, which offers limited insurance to homeowners who cannot find a policy through a private insurer.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “This is yet another example of how climate change is directly threatening our communities and livelihoods. It is critical that California’s insurance market works to protect homes and businesses in every corner of our state.”

Lara’s plan addresses many of the main points raised by the governor.

Wildfire smoke worsens air quality: Air quality in Northern California reached unhealthy levels this week as eight wildfires greater than 300 acres burned across the state. Most of them are near the Oregon border, but the smoke blew as far south as the Bay Area.

After a shift in wind direction, air quality is expected to improve today — but that relief may be short-lived. An updated study published this week by researchers at Stanford University found that wildfire smoke is rolling back decades of progress the U.S. has made at reducing air pollution. 

The situation is worse in California and Nevada, which saw particulate pollution — toxic particles released from smoke —  drop 32% from 2000 to 2015, then jump 14% from 2016 to 2022, according to the study. 

The impacts on public health, according to the study: Even a few hours of exposure to elevated levels of that pollution can trigger asthma and heart attacks, while longer-term prolonged exposure can take years off your life expectancy. 

So what is the state doing to tackle wildfires? As CalMatters’ Julie Cart has reported, the growing unpredictability of modern wildfires has led the state to invest in new technology, such as drones, military satellites and AI-assisted maps. 

Keep up with wildfire season: For more on where wildfires are burning in California, check out the CalMatters tracker, which is now using data by Watch Duty, a nonprofit that tracks and sends alerts in real time on wildfire and firefighting efforts in the West. 


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1 Hollywood strike could end at key time

Screen Actors Guild members and Writers Guild of America members picket at the Amazon Culver Studios in Culver City on June 17, 2023. Photo by Julie A Hotz for CalMatters
Screen Actors Guild members and Writers Guild of America members picket at the Amazon Culver Studios in Culver City on June 17, 2023. Photo by Julie A Hotz for CalMatters

Could one of the highest–profile strikes during California’s hot labor summer be over soon?

Negotiators for the unions representing Hollywood writers and actors met again Thursday with studio executives to try to end a walkout that has stretched for more than 140 days. 

A settlement would come at an interesting time for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said he would talk again this week to all sides and earlier offered to help mediate. One contentious bill on his desk would give jobless benefits to workers after two weeks on strike. Thursday, Assembly Republicans put out a “bad bill” alert that includes the measure.

It’s only one of the bills that Newsom is being lobbied on, to either sign or veto.

Gun tax: Thursday, gun control advocates rallied at the Capitol urging the governor to sign a bill that would impose an 11% tax on gun and ammunition sales, with proceeds estimated at $160 million a year funding gun violence prevention programs.

  • Celina Perez, a volunteer with advocacy group Moms Demand Action: “Taxing gun dealers and gun manufacturers to fund gun prevention programs ensures that responsible ownership contributes to the safety of our community. This is a collective effort towards reducing gun violence and protecting lives.” 

Sick days: The California Chamber of Commerce sent out an alert urging Newsom to veto a bill that would increase the number of paid sick days from at least three a year to five days — and that it calls a “job killer.” But the California Budget & Policy Center points out that the state’s sick leave is less generous than in several other states.

  • The Chamber alert: “SB 616 will increase labor costs and these increases will inevitably either be passed on to consumers as higher prices for goods and services, or force employers to reduce jobs or cut wages or other benefits.”

In total, about 900 bills are on Newsom’s desk for his decisions, with an Oct. 14 deadline. CalMatters is keeping track of many key bills. Bookmark this page for updates.

2 Bonta sues over ‘abortion reversal’ claim

Pregnancy Care Center, an affiliate of Heartbeat International, in Fresno on Sept. 21, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
Pregnancy Care Center, an affiliate of Heartbeat International, in Fresno on Sept. 21, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June 2022, California Democrats have been building up abortion rights protections within the state. Last November, they persuaded voters to put it in the state constitution.

Thursday came the latest step: Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he is suing two groups over their claims about an “abortion pill reversal” process. 

CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang explains that the 30-page complaint alleges two organizations — Heartbeat International, a national anti-abortion group, and RealOptions Obria, which operates five crisis pregnancy centers in Northern California — use fraudulent and misleading claims to promote the safety and efficacy of an experimental hormone therapy to stop medication abortion from proceeding.

  • Bonta, in a statement: “(Heartbeat International) and RealOptions took advantage of pregnant patients at a deeply vulnerable time in their lives, using false and misleading claims to lure them in and mislead them about a potentially risky procedure.”
  • Gov. Newsom’s office, in a tweet: “We are a reproductive freedom state and will stay that way.” 

The lawsuit picks up where two legislative efforts fell short this year to address the transparency of crisis pregnancy clinics. Assembly Bill 315 would have stopped the centers from advertising misleading information, and AB 710 would have required the state Public Health Department to conduct a public awareness campaign about them.

In a statement, a representative for Heartbeat International said the organization learned about the lawsuit through media requests and has not yet been served. 

  • Heartbeat International, in a statement: “Through our Abortion Pill Rescue Network hotline, we know that some women almost immediately regret their chemical abortion choice. These women deserve the right to try and save their pregnancies. No woman should ever be forced to complete an abortion she no longer wants.”

Read more about the lawsuit in Kristen’s story.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters events: The next event is Oct. 24 about whether debt-free college is more than a dream in California. Register here. Here’s our coverage of the prior panel discussions in Sacramento, in May on homeownership, in June on police shootings, in August on electric vehicles and inequality and in September on prisoner rehabilitation.


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Free COVID tests through the mail from the federal government are coming back // KQED

New hospital mask mandates for some Bay Area counties amid COVID-19 surge // San Jose Mercury News

What’s the current status of DACA? Here’s what you need to know // Los Angeles Times

Delayed California ‘inflation relief’ payments on the way // Los Angeles Times 

Climate lawsuits v. energy giants: Can they succeed? // Wall Street Journal 

When will the SF economy hit bottom? Here’s what experts say // San Francisco Chronicle

Cruise CEO downplays ‘awkward’ SF robotaxi incidents // San Francisco Standard

Sunol school board member goes on the offensive on pride flag ban // East Bay Times

Santa Clara mayor claims 49ers hiding 2026 World Cup financial info // San Francisco Chronicle

See you next week


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