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Good morning, California. This is Shawn Hubler, CALmatters deputy editor, filling in for Dan Morain while he enjoys a long Thanksgiving holiday.

“There is only one story in California, and that is the fires. What are we going to do about the fires?”—Buzzfeed San Francisco Bureau Chief Mat Honan  

Confronting the 'new abnormal'

An aerial view of the destruction in Paradise.

With the Camp Fire two-thirds contained, the Woolsey Fire all but extinguished and a sky-cleansing rain, with possible flash floods, forecast for Northern California today or tomorrow, Californians are now facing a grim reality: these staggering catastrophes are becoming routine.

Mercury News environmental writer Paul Rogers: “Scientists say as temperatures continue to warm, drying out brush, grasses and trees into explosively flammable fuel by late summer and autumn, catastrophic fires and the unhealthy smoke they spew hundreds of miles away will almost certainly become more frequent in California and across the West in the coming years.”

Environmentalist Bill McKibben in The New Yorker: “California is no longer a green oasis. A hundred million trees died in the record drought that gripped the Golden State for much of this decade. The dead limbs helped spread the waves of fire, as scientists earlier this year warned that they could.”

  • By the century’s end, simultaneous disasters—three or more at once—could in fact be California’s norm, unless aggressive measures are taken, according to a major paper published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. The multidisciplinary report by 23 authors includes an interactive map for modeling climate hazards geographically.
  • What measures will work, if any? The tough, continuous-improvement kind, the web site Vox says, citing San Francisco-based energy and environmental policy analyst Hal Harvey. He’s developed an eye-opening simulator for comparing the economic and environmental impact of carbon taxes, methane capture, forest set-asides, renewable energy subsidies and a host of other climate policies.


Strategic. Persuasive. Effective. Working at the intersection of business, politics and policy.

New thinking on prevention

Shasta County after the 2018 Carr Fire.

So what’s to be done about climate-fueled disasters? Maybe a hard line—housing crisis or not—on rebuilding in California’s expanding fire zones.
UC Santa Barbara extension wildlife specialist Max Moritz, via The Los Angeles Times: “It’s not a land management and wildland fire management problem. It’s an urban planning problem. It’s an issue of where and how we build, and how do you get people out in time.”
CALMatters’ Ben Christopher reports on implications for zoning, evacuation, and efforts to make houses more fireproof.  
  • California already has some of the nation’s most fire-minded building codes, he writes, but aestimated 45 percent of all new housing units built in the state between 1990 and 2010 were constructed in the wildland-urban interface.

Sen. Scott Wiener, whose San Francisco district is downwind from the Camp Fire: “Historically, we have allowed local communities almost complete autonomy in making housing-related decisions, whether that decision is not to allow new housing, whether that decision is to ban apartment buildings, or whether that decision is to allow a lot of housing in very fire-prone areas.”

Translation: Time, perhaps, for that state-level indulgence to end.

Another potential hard line? Making utilities fireproof their spark-prone equipment, which has been linked to one in 10 California wildfires.

  • But CALmatters’ Julie Cart writes that such mitigation—aggressive brush clearance, swapping wooden power poles for metal, remote cameras—doesn’t come cheaply. In September, Southern California Edison estimated that making its equipment more fire resistant will cost $670 million in the next three years.

The L.A. Times’ Capitol columnist George Skelton writes that Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom “should make wildfires his No. 1 priority—higher than homelessness, universal healthcare, anything” in the next legislative session.

Skelton: “That will be in January. Hopefully lawmakers will show up with creative ideas. But by then it could be flood season. Attention spans are short.”


It's time to make behavioral health solutions a top priority in California.

More blue-wave analysis

Outgoing Republican Congressman Jeff Denham.

Two of California’s most prominent nonpartisan pollsters on Monday blamed President Donald Trump for the shellacking the California GOP took in the November elections.

  • Mark DiCamillo and Mark Baldassare of, respectively, the UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies and Public Policy Institute of California, echoed the Republican political consultant Dave Gilliard’s remarks to What Matters earlier this week.

DiCamillo: “As one of the most polarizing figures in modern U.S. politics, Trump really did set the table for the potential blue wave that eventually swept the state. He gave Democrats and the Democratic Party here an historic opportunity and they exploited it to the fullest.”

Baldassare: “Almost any time that Donald Trump talks about immigration he’s offending a large number of people in California.”

Less damning was Congressman Jeff Denham’s take, as reported by McClatchyDC. The Turlock Republican, who lost to Democrat Josh Harder, downplayed Trump’s remarks about migrant caravans—an obvious turn-off for Latino voters in his district—and blamed the tsunami of Democratic money and turnout.

Denham: “I’ve been through a number of tough elections, but this was the toughest.”

McClatchyDC’s Kate Irby: “Denham said his own race, as well as those of other Republicans, [was] faced with trouble this year from a Democratic operation well-positioned to turn out voters, unprecedented Democratic fundraising and new California voter laws designed to register more younger voters.”

  • Democrats flipped six of seven targeted California congressional seats held by Republicans, including every GOP seat in Orange County. On Monday, Republican Congressman David Valadao’s lead over T.J. Cox in Kern County was down to less than 1,000 votes in updated tallies.
  • Democrats now hold all but eight of the state’s 53 House seats and almost uniformly own the affluent coast, as University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket writes in Pacific Standard.
  • Denham didn’t rule out running again, but said he plans to leave the public sector to focus on his plastics business. “We’re moving on,” he said.


Commentaries at CALmatters

Chad Mayes, Republican Assemblyman and former Assembly Republican Leader: Donald Trump’s statements on immigration, gender equality, and the environment damaged the Republican brand in California. While many of us continued to work on solution- and people-oriented policies, a vocal minority of the Republican Party viewed Trump’s election as a reason to double down on his rhetoric

Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento mayor: Proposition 2 passed with more votes than any proposition on the statewide ballot. The outcome underscores the extent to which people across this state recognize homelessness as a crisis that is tearing at the fabric of our communities.

Marta Cabral, Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the UC San Francisco: New research finds a troubling disconnect between community college students’ desire to avoid pregnancy and how they act when it comes to preventing it. Students do not consider themselves to be at risk of pregnancy, nor do they express worry about getting pregnant, despite not wanting to have a child while in school.

The future of California higher ed

CALmatters’ Felicia Mello will moderate a panel discussion about college access with California Community Colleges chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the directors of the film “Unlikely,” and other higher education advocates tonight at Sacramento’s Crest Theatre. It follows a screening of the film, which traces the journeys of five low-income students as they struggle to get into, and through, college. For details, click here. 

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