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Good shaky morning, California.

“The heat is on. The state can either ignore what science is telling us or we can respond to this challenge in a responsible way.”—Then Assemblyman Byron Sher, 1989. The L.A. Times’ Julia Rosen quoted Sher for a story about 1988 legislation he wrote that required a study warning about global warming, 30 years ago.

Focus on wildfire legislation

The 2017 Thomas Fire in Ventura

Legislators return to Sacramento today to focus on far-reaching wildfire legislation intended to provide financial stability for private electric utilities and better prepare California for ever-more intense blazes.

Assembly Bills 1054, 110 and 111 would create a wildfire fund that could grow to $40 billion to help pay fire-related claims.

Utilities would be expected to improve safety, and would be audited to ensure they’re complying with new standards. 

  • Utilities would invest $5 billion to harden the grid against fires.
  • Utility executives’ pay would be tied to safety standards.
  • The state would create a California Wildfire Safety Advisory Board and a California Catastrophe Response Council.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s standard for allocating wildfire costs against utilities would be softened somewhat, making it easier for the commission to pass fire-related costs to ratepayers when a utility operates its system in a reasonable and prudent manner. 

Fines and penalties for utility violations of law would be handled under separate proceedings. Utilities and Wall Street investors would welcome those changes.

Less pleasing for utilities: They’d be expected to pay liability costs associated with 2017 and 2018 fires, and most costs associated with a new catastrophic wildfire fund to help pay damage claims associated with major fires. 

The bills require two-thirds majority, never easy. Legislators hope to vote on the bills by Friday, the final day before their summer break.

Reminder: The 2017 and 2018 conflagrations driven by changing climate killed 139 people.


Weekend quakes, earthquake preparedness

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake was near the quakes' epicenter.

No deaths were reported, but there was plenty of damage in Ridgecrest and Trono as a 25-year lull in major earthquakes in California ended over the weekend.

The Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, near the epicenter of the quakes in Ridgecrest, offered this Facebook posting early Saturday

“NAWS China Lake is not mission capable until further notice; however, security protocols remain in effect.” describes China Lake as the Navy’s largest single landholding, 1.2 million acres. It supports the Navy’s research, testing and evaluation missions, and is home to Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and praised President Trump for offering federal aid. More to the point, he urged every Californian to be prepared for the Big One.

The L.A. Times, quoting Caltech seismologist Lucy Jones: “There’s about a 1 in 10 chance that we could have another 7 in this sequence.”


Can CA save rain forests? Should it?

California’s air board is weighing what to do about disappearing tropical forests, CALmatters’ Rachel Becker reports

Four Democratic Assembly members sent a letter in June recommending that the California Air Resources Board endorse the Tropical Forest Standard

  • What’s that? It’s a playbook for evaluating international efforts at the state or province level to curb tropical deforestation. The goal is to direct investments to governments that are trying to combat climate change.
  • Investments could come from companies participating in carbon-trading, perhaps through California’s cap-and-trade program. The air board says letting the state’s polluters offset their emissions by paying to protect tropical forests isn’t a sure thing. 

Jason Gray, chief of the air board’s climate change program evaluation branch: 

“There’s a lot of other steps that would need to occur, and we just don’t have any guarantee or certainty on if and when. Our focus now on the tropical forest standard is really on saying, ‘Here’s the playbook.’”

Opponents warn that California’s stamp of approval could send an international signal, paving the way for land decisions that hurt forest-dwelling and indigenous people. 

It also might allow more pollution at home as industries use tropical forest investments to shield themselves from reducing their own emissions.

Even the lawmakers’ letter pushed for caution: 

“[T]here is still a lot of uncertainty on whether the [tropical forest standard] will be successful in protecting forests and the people who inhabit them.”

Jump-starting electric vehicle sales

California is behind its target for zero emission vehicles.

Seeking to super-charge zero emission vehicle purchases, legislation would significantly raise consumer incentives to buy them, and potentially empower the California Air Resources Board to develop a continuous funding source.

  • To offset the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, then-Gov. Jerry Brown set a goal of having 5 million zero emission vehicles on California roads by 2030.
  • Californians bought 74,358 zero emission vehicles in the first six months of 2019. That was a 24% increase from the first half of 2018, but it’s not enough.

California’s subsidy would increase to as much as $7,500 per vehicle, from the current $1,500 to $5,000, under legislation by Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco.

Ting: “The whole point is that if we don’t jump-start vehicle purchases, we’re not going to reach 5 million by 2030.”

  • Tesla Motors supports the bill. 
  • The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers opposes it, contending it would give the California Air Resources Board power over pricing.

A Senate Transportation Committee analysis raised issues:

  • Californians operate 600,000 zero emission vehicles, more than any other state but far short of the 5 million goal. The total rebate cost to reach the goal could be $16.5 billion. It’s not clear where the money would come from.
  • California would need 250,000 charging stations for just 1.5 million ZEVs. The state has 18,000 charging stations now.

What’s next: Ting will hold a news conference in San Francisco today. The Senate Transportation Committee will hear the bill Tuesday.

A new charter school fight

Sacramento-area music teacher Heather Williams

A high-profile proposal to overhaul California’s charter schools and curb their growth includes a provision that would toughen credentialing standards for charter school teachers, CALmatters’ Ricardo Cano reports

  • Today: Charters have flexibility to permit non-credentialed instructors to teach if they aren’t teaching college prep classes or core courses such as language arts, math, science and social studies.
  • Legislation by Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach would remove that flexibility for new charter teachers starting Jan. 1, 2020, and require the publicly funded, independently operated and mostly non-union schools to adhere to the same credentialing standards as traditional district schools.

O’Donnell: “The goal here is to ensure that every student attending a California school funded with public money has a qualified teacher in the classroom.”

Charter school educators say the proposal would violate a basic aspect of charter schools by limiting innovation.

Cano cites the example of Heather Williams, a piano teacher. She has 30 years of teaching experience but no credential. Under the proposal, teachers like her wouldn’t be able to teach in charter schools.

  • What’s next: O’Donnell’s Assembly Bill 1505 is set to be heard Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.
  • P.S.: California isn’t the only place rethinking the charter movement, as the New York Times reports.

Commentary at CALmatters

Joel Fox, Fox & Hounds: The debates over paying college athletes and paying consumers for their data have their own sets of special circumstances. Yet there is a similarity in both discussions based on the core principle of individuality.

Fritz Durst and Douglas Headrick, Sites Joint Powers Agreement board: Sites Reservoir, proposed to be built west of the Sacramento River, would significantly improve the state’s existing water-management system in drier years and restore much-needed flexibility in the water grid.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Is California, as Gov. Gavin Newsom contends, a nation-state proving that economic prosperity, multiculturism and social progress can advance together? Or is it, as Hoover Institute historian Victor Davis Hanson indirectly responded in a Fox News interview, “America’s first third-world state.”

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