MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 And The Facts — November 19, 2018

These facts are clear:

* I authored a bill in 2016, SB 1463, to address wildfires caused by sparking electrical lines in order to protect my constituents.

* The constituents who had been dealing with the CPUC and CalFire all disagreed that these two agencies were doing their job well or as quickly as they could. Thus, the reason for SB 1463.

* SB 1463 passed through a half-dozen committees, along with their thorough consultants and committee chairs, and passed three times on the Legislative Floors, receiving no votes in opposition during the process.

* SB 1463 was as bipartisan as any bill can get, including having prominent Democrats as co-authors.

* Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it, stating the bureaucracies he oversees were managing the situation and the bill was unnecessary.

* The 2017 Santa Rosa fire was caused by sparking electric lines last year, killing some 44 individuals.

* The current 2018 Camp Fire conflagration was also started by electric lines.

* A journalist makes note of the veto, something that also occurred last year, but this time it goes viral (for an example from 2017, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Conflagration Legacy — October 12, 2017).

* Snopes swoops in to protect the Governor (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Snopes is Fired Up — November 14, 2018).

Governor Brown relied on his bureaucracy. And he’s relied on a weak excuse, saying the real issue is climate change.

A good manager would not just trust, but verify his departments. A good manager would be proactive, demanding that due to climate change this dry and Santa Ana Winds state needs to harden electric lines and now! And, a good manager, when he or she falls short, apologizes, and does not act like the issue is trivial or beyond his or her control. (If you want to be a hero to your young children, if you have them, fess up and tell them you’re sorry when you screw up, as this goes a long way in building a solid relationship.)

This year, Governor Brown mentioned a $2.9 billion budget overrun for his High Speed Rail Authority in his annual State of the State Address. He laughed it off, literally, saying budget overruns happen. But, the state of Florida built an entire high-speed rail project, Brightline, for less than this California budget blip. This is no laughing matter. This is poor management.

Now we get a scathing audit report on California’s HSR from the State Auditor’s office, titled “Its Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction” (see https://www.auditor.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2018-108.pdf). This is poor management and nothing suggests that it will get any better.

The Governor does not like to manage. The Department of Motor Vehicles is another example from this year. What was the solution? An emergency bill giving the DMV as much money as it needed to improve customer service. An open checkbook!! This is poor management.

Californians are now on the hook for the high cost of fighting wildfires around the state. But, our non-manager Governor vetoed SB 1463, a bill that tried to prevent them and the resulting greenhouse gases.

It’s time for the Governor to tap out and apologize.

Instead, we get more apologists trying to defend the Governor’s veto. What a joke. What a testimony to prove the claim that there is fake news. Those self-proclaimed media members who are claiming to get to the truth should do so and challenge failures of a sitting Governor. Not serve as members of the palace guard.

The first piece below picks up on the theme first addressed by Snopes. It is a by a reporter from PolitiFact who showed his lack of critical thinking last year on an op-ed we submitted regarding the status of crime in California (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Taken to Task — August 23, 2017).

Should it be hard for someone to comprehend when Gov. Brown pushed for AB 109, which released inmates from State Prisons, personal property crime statistics would go up? Please, ask any police officer that you bump into how things are going. Or, better yet, ask a retailer or someone who lost the laptop they left in their car overnight. But, I digress.

It’s a little difficult to determine what the point of the PolitiFact piece is supposed to be. But, it is amazing what one critical piece by Katy Grimes can do to stir up defenders of the craziness going on. It went so viral, it gave me numerous interviews on top-tier radio talk shows last week (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Prevention Not Embraced — November 13, 2018).

The second piece was a reaction to the same brouhaha and is found in The Washington Free Beacon. Fortunately, the reporter did a little more digging than just taking the CPUC’s paperwork as the answer. In fact, she finds that work didn’t really begin until August 2017, long after the Governor vetoed SB 1463. Poor management, once again.

With all of this excuse making and covering up, I decided to provide a lengthy, but thorough rebuttal. Fox and Hounds was willing to print this treatise and it is the third piece below.

The bottom line? The Governor should have signed SB 1463. It would have shown that he is managing departments that were dragging their feet. It would have shown he was concerned about really reducing greenhouse gases. And, most importantly, it would have allowed him to state he was working on preventing wildfires caused by electrical lines long before the Santa Rosa and Camp Fire conflagrations occurred.

This is a tragic way for Governor Brown to depart from Sacramento. Instead of blaming something he was a self-acclaimed warrior against, he should simply show some remorse and state he could have done more.

The fourth piece below is from Legal Insurrection. This piece covers another aspect of the causes of the fires and closes with my published reaction to the Governor’s veto back in 2016. It’s worth a second mention here:

“One of the paramount responsibilities of government is to provide for public safety. The consequences of wildfires include loss of life, property damage, impacts on ecosystems, etc. Communities in my district, particularly Laguna Beach, are rightfully very concerned about fire safety.

“SB 1463 would have not only safeguarded Laguna and other high fire-risk communities in Orange County, but would have helped other vulnerable communities throughout the state that are often threatened by wildfires caused by sparks from shorted or fallen utility lines. The Governor’s veto impedes the necessity to more urgently address the California Public Utilities Commission’s focus on identifying high risk areas that should be prioritized for appropriate mitigation measures.”

Examining Jerry Brown’s veto of California wildfire legislation and the criticism of it

By Chris Nichols

https://www.politifact.com/california/article/2018/nov/16/examining-jerry-browns-veto-2016-wildfire-legislat/

As deadly wildfires burned across California this week, a flurry of social media and blog posts called into question Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of a wildfire management bill two years ago. The posts suggested the legislation could have reduced or even prevented the recent infernos a contention strongly refuted by the Brown administration.

With so much attention on the fires, we decided to examine these claims, though we did not place any Truth-O-Meter ratings on them.

Here’s what we found:

In September 2016, Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1463, which aimed to reduce the risk of power lines sparking fires in brush-covered and wooded areas, saying in his veto letter that the bill duplicated existing efforts. SB 1463 had been unanimously approved by the state Legislature.

Here’s what the governor said in rejecting the bill:

“This bill requires the Public Utilities Commission to prioritize areas that have increased fire hazard associated with overhead utility facilities. Since May of last year, the Commission and CalFire have been doing just that through the existing proceeding on fire-threat maps and fire-safety regulations. This deliberative process should continue and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum.”

Many of the posts criticizing Brown circulated an August 2018 blog at Flashreport.org, a conservative-leaning website. Some described it as evidence the governor had neglected to keep the state safe.

The blog describes Brown as “jetting around the world spouting climate change propaganda” as fires burned last year in California. It said his veto was “political.”

Had Brown approved the measure, lives could have been saved last year in the Santa Rosa fires, the bill’s author, state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, claimed in an interview this week on the Lars Larson radio show.

“Why the governor vetoed that, I don’t know. CPUC and CalFire have been working on it for eight years, can’t seem to get their act together,” Moorlach said. “But if we could have hardened some lines, especially in Santa Rosa last year at this time, we might have prevented the loss of 44 lives.”

Moorlach’s spokesman said the state senator was not available on Thursday for an interview.

Brown administration’s response

But instead of speeding up fire prevention, the Brown administration argued Moorlach’s bill would have slowed down existing work. The state utilities commission and CalFire, the state’s forestry and fire prevention agency, had been at work since 2013 mapping areas at risk of fires due to utility equipment.

Asked about the criticism leveled this week at Brown, Evan Westrup, the governor’s spokesman, said it was “absolutely shameful to exploit this tragedy – with fires still burning – to try to score cheap political points.”

Westrup added that the Brown administration has taken numerous steps to prevent fires in recent years, citing several efforts here:

— September 21, 2018: Governor Brown Signs Legislation to Strengthen Wildfire Prevention and Recovery

— August 7, 2018: CAL FIRE Awards $170 million to Reduce Fire Threat and Improve Forest Health

— May 10, 2018: Governor Brown Issues Executive Order to Protect Communities from Wildfire, Climate Impacts

— Oct. 30, 2015: Governor Brown Takes Action to Protect Communities Against Unprecedented Tree Die-Off

Terrie Prosper, a spokesperson for the utilities commission, wrote in an email that the bill “would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because CAL FIRE was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate.”

That process produced a statewide Fire-Threat Map in January, one month after the commission voted to strengthen regulations for utilities that have facilities in areas where thick vegetation and strong winds make fires more dangerous, according to a KQED news article.

‘Shot across the bow’

Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley, reviewed the bill and Brown’s veto message. He said in an email, “I do not think it would have made much of a difference, as the amount of funds was not that great ($582,000 that may have just led to some hiring of consultants and a lot interaction with the communities) and, more importantly, no new advances would have been made.”

Stewart, however, went on to describe the legislation as “a good shot across the bow to the (Brown) administration to do more. This area of risk assessment and mitigation has been woefully underfunded for decades.”

In the end, we found the recent blog and social media posts glossed over the governor’s reasons for rejecting the bill in question. They dismissed existing efforts to map high-risk fire areas that the Brown administration said would have been slowed down by the bill. Because the bill was vetoed, it’s impossible to know for sure whether it would have sped up or slowed down the process. But, as Stewart said, the bill could have served as a warning to get moving on existing efforts.

Trump to visit California

On Saturday, President Trump is scheduled to visit California “to meet with individuals impacted by the wildfires,” said Lindsay Walters, his deputy press secretary.

We’ve fact-checked the president and his recent erroneous claims about the fires.

Earlier this week, we rated False Trump’s recent claim “there is no reason” for California’s deadly fires except for poor forest management. The president ignored other key causes such as urban sprawl and climate change.

In August, we rated False his assertion that firefighters couldn’t access water due to California’s environmental policies. We found the president conflated the state’s real water controversy between farmers and environmentalists with the unrelated issue of firefighting.

The fires in Northern and Southern California which started last week left dozens dead in their wake, prompted the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed thousands of homes.

At least 63 people were killed in and nearby the Northern California town of Paradise, two people were killed by the Southern California fire, and a third death in that fire zone is under investigation as possibly linked to the fire.

Authorities said on Thursday there are 631 people still unaccounted for near the Northern California fire.

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California Gov. Brown’s Veto of Wildfire Bill Faces Scrutiny

Despite pushback, GOP state Sen. Moorlach says his measure could have lessened fire devastation

By Susan Crabtree

https://freebeacon.com/issues/california-gov-browns-veto-wildfire-bill-faces-scrutiny/

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2016 veto of wildfire-related bill is facing new scrutiny in the wake of the deadliest, most destructive week of fires in state history.

The measure would have required the state government’s public utility commission to work with municipalities to ensure that energy companies do all they can to prevent fires in high-risk areas.

When he vetoed the bill, Brown dismissed it as unnecessary and redundant to efforts the utility commission had already begun, arguing that it would gum up the process already underway.

The governor’s critics disagree, especially now that a power line is suspected to have caused the Camp Fire, which wiped out the small town of Paradise, Calif. in the worst fire in state history.

The Camp Fire that swept through Paradise has produced startling numbers: 77 dead, 1,276 listed as missing, 150,000 acres burned and 10,000 homes destroyed as of Sunday night.

President Trump visited wildfire-ravaged Paradise and Malibu on Saturday to witness the desolation and hear from victims.

Trump’s trip revived last weekend’s heated debate between himself and Brown over the root cause of the fires—whether lack of forest management or climate change is the root cause.

Brown at a press conference last Sunday called the fires the “new abnormal, and this new abnormal will continue in the next 10, 15, 20 years.”

“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” he said.

Reacting to the outbreak of the recent spate of fires more than a week ago, Trump blamed environmentalists in the state, tweeting in part, “so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”

Some community leaders and legislators, as well as many fire victims, see other culprits: the public utilities and those in state government who they believe haven’t done enough to protect against power lines snapping and igniting the blazes.

Residents in the city of Paradise filed suit against PG&E in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday, alleging that the utility company’s negligence and faulty equipment generated the deadly Camp Fire. The plaintiff’s attorneys claimed that a high-voltage transmission line failed, igniting surrounding vegetation.

The cause has not been officially determined, but PG&E disclosed in a regulatory filing Tuesday that it “experienced an outage” on a transmitter line in Butte County at 6:15 a.m. on Nov. 8, minutes before the Camp Fire was reported.

Additionally, Cal Fire, the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire protection, has concluded that PG&E equipment sparked a series of destructive fires in 2017.

John Moorlach, a GOP state senator who authored the 2016 bill Brown vetoed, thinks it could have prevented at least some of blazes over the last two years and the havoc they wreaked on so many lives.

The measure, SB 1463, passed the Democrat-dominated legislature unanimously, 75-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate in 2016.

The unanimous votes were preceded by a lengthy committee process involving several hearings and testimony from community leaders across the state worried that utilities weren’t doing enough to “harden” their lines in fire-prone areas.

“We did the bill at the request of the cities in my district, and we got it through the legislature, it went through three committees in the Senate, and we didn’t have one vote of opposition so it was sort of a shock that it was vetoed,” Moorlach told the Washington Free Beacon Thursday. “It was supposed to prevent fires in wildfire zones, and it’s also a way to reduce greenhouse gases so we were surprised when the governor vetoed this bill.”

Moorlach said he expected Brown and Democrats focused on climate change to embrace his bill because some of the worst wildfires in the state produce as much greenhouse gases “as all the cars driving in California for a year.”

“It just seems like someone as committed to that cause as Jerry Brown would say, ‘Get it done tomorrow. It should have been done six years ago when I got here,'” Moorlach said.

Asked about the veto, Brown’s spokesman reiterated his veto message and referred the Free Beacon’s questions to the CPUC.

In that 2016 veto message, Brown said the bill was redundant because the CPUC was already prioritizing areas that have increased fire hazard associated with “overhead utility facilities.”

“This deliberative process should continue, and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum,” Brown said.

The CPUC said a fire-threat map the 2016 measure called for was approved in January 2018 and argued that the Moorlach measure would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of “certain entities, which was unnecessary because Cal Fire was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate.”

It also said that the CPUC and Cal Fire were already “deeply engaged” in ongoing fire safety rulemaking processes at the time Brown vetoed the legislation.

Phase 1 of this effort began in 2013 and was completed in 2015. Phase 2 implemented new fire-safety regulations in high-priority areas of the state as called for in the vetoed legislation, “thus making the bill redundant.”

In addition, the CPUC spokeswoman said the CPUC and Cal Fire signed a Memorandum of Understanding in August 2017 that increased information sharing and investigative resources between the two organizations.

Despite the progress the CPUC cited,  Moorlach sill questions whether the commission has followed through on its efforts quickly and thoroughly enough.

“In California, you have to manage the state through legislation—you have to tell the departments how and when to do their job or it can just get lost in the bureaucracy” and take years longer than necessary, he said.

The measure, he said, aimed to give local governments more say in fire-prevention efforts through the CPUC proceeding making maps of fire-hazard areas around utility lines and taking steps to harden those lines and reduce vegetation around the above-ground power lines.

The cities in his district and elsewhere in the state obviously still thought it was necessary, he said. After all the map-making process had yet to be completed in 2016 when the bill passed the legislature unanimously.

“Some deliberative process. What a sad joke. No maps. More greenhouse gases. More innocent lives lost, all because a governor who despises managing a bureaucracy, relied on that same bureaucracy and received what? Nothing?” Moorlach wrote in a blog post this week.

“Now we have the Camp Fire,” he added.

The bill also received media attention after the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, the second-most destructive wildfire in California history after the Camp Fire.

Cal Fire found that the Tubbs Fire, as well as five other fires in a total of six counties, were caused by PG&E’s “electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.”

Laguna Beach, an upscale city in Moorlach’s district, experienced four fires sparked by utility lines in the last 10 years and at least 441 homes were lost to fire, the senator said. The all-Democrat city council is still concerned about the area’s vulnerability to utility-sparked fires.

The small beachside city is nestled along the Orange County coastline and only has three entry points, two of them being the North and South entrances via the Pacific Coast highway and another through a long road through a hilly, dry canyon lined with wooden utility poles.

Moorlach says 58 or 59 or those poles have been hit in recent years, and when they are hit, the poles fall down blocking the roads for hours until they can be removed safely.

“If one of those poles falls down and the electric line snaps, it’s a huge fire hazard,” he said.

The bill also tried to give cities in fire-prone areas the opportunity to work with CPUC to place utilities underground in certain areas and help develop updated fire maps highlighting the communities at the highest risk.

This fall Laguna Beach tried to pass a ballot measure that would have imposed a 1 percent sales tax increase intended to pay for placing utility lines underground along Laguna Canyon road plus other fire-safety projects. It failed on a 53.8 percent to 46.2 vote.

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Fact-Checking Snopes and PolitiFact on California Wildfires  and SB 1463

By John Moorlach

State Senator representing the 37th Senate District

http://www.foxandhoundsdaily.com/2018/11/fact-checking-snopes-politifact-california-wildfires-sb-1463/

The fact-checking sites Snopes and PolitiFact have called into question my Senate Bill 1463 from 2016. I am going to fact-check their fact-checking.

Snopes wrote: “Claim: Jerry Brown vetoed a wildfire management bill in 2016, contributing to the prevalence and risk of wildfires in the ensuing two years.” So, Snopes itself is claiming two “claims” here: the prevalence and risk of wildfires.

Snopes found “What’s True”: That Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1463, “a bill in the California legislature which would have required the California Public Utilities Commission to prioritize areas at increased risk from overhead wires in their management of wildfires.”

Snopes added in “What’s False”: “There is no evidence that Brown’s veto contributed to or exacerbated the risk or prevalence of wildfires in California, and the California Public Utilities Commission provided details showing that it had already been engaged in work similar to the proposals contained in SB 1463.”

The Two Claims

Let’s first look at the two claims:

Claim 1. The veto of SB 1463 contributed to the “prevalence” of wildfires from 2017-18. Here are the exact words of SB 1463:

SECTION 1.

“Section 761.2 is added to the Public Utilities Code, to read:

“761.2.

(a) In determining areas in which to require enhanced mitigation measures for wildfire hazards posed by overhead electrical lines and equipment, the commission, in consultation with the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, shall prioritize areas in which communities are subject to conditions that increase fire hazards associated with overhead utility facilities generally and at specific locations. Consistent with Section 321.1, the commission shall develop a definition of “enhanced mitigation measures” for purposes of this subdivision in Rulemaking 15-05-006 (Filed May 7, 2015), Order Instituting Rulemaking to Develop and Adopt Fire-Threat Maps and Fire-Safety Regulations, or in another appropriate proceeding.

“(b) Any findings supporting a decision to approve the boundaries for areas described in subdivision (a) shall describe how the commission incorporated the concerns of local governments, fire departments, or both in determining those boundaries.”

Doesn’t it seem obvious that “to prioritize” areas with “conditions that increase fire hazards” with “enhanced mitigation efforts” might reduce fires? The key word is “might,” because, as with auto or homeowners insurance, we can’t know exactly where disaster might strike, and where it might be avoided. At a minimum, studies would be needed to indicate which of the 2017-18 fires might have been mitigated by SB 1463. Snopes should have waited for such studies, or conducted them on its own.

Meanwhile, on just one day, November 13, 2018, the media ran four stories fingering overhead power line failures for the new fires:

  1. Utility emailed woman about problems 1 day before fire

AP, Nov. 13, 2018

“A day before a deadly blaze destroyed a California town, the giant utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. got in touch with Betsy Ann Cowley, saying they needed access to her property because their power lines were causing sparks.”

  1. Fires put pressure on California utilities despite new law

AP, Nov. 13, 2018

“California utilities again are facing severe financial pressures from the possibility that their equipment sparked catastrophic wildfires, including two that are now burning at either end of the state. The pressure comes even though Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in September giving utilities some relief beginning next year.”

  1. State regulators investigating PG&E, SoCal Edison for roles in deadly Camp, Woolsey fires

San Jose Mercury, Nov. 13, 2018

“State regulators have launched investigations into California’s two largest utility companies after both PG&E and Southern California Edison Company reported that their electrical infrastructure suffered malfunctions near ground zero of two deadly blazes raging across the north and south of the state.”

  1. Edison reported a disturbance with a circuit near Woolsey fire two minutes before fire sparked

Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 2018

“Southern California Edison said one of its circuits went out two minutes before the Woolsey fire began.”

Claim 2: The veto of SB 1463 contributed to the “risk” of wildfires from 2017-18. Risk is different from prevalence. Risk is an actuarial estimate of the future occurrence of something. Thus, the question is: Would SB 1463 have reduced the actual number and extent of wildfires, not just in 2017-18, but in the future?

I have no idea how much my legislation might have reduced the risk of wildfires, but what I do know is the CPUC and CalFire were moving at a snail’s pace on an issue that presented an existential threat to many Californians. There is also a risk in inaction and the governor chose that route.

Moreover, given the sclerotic nature of government agencies, especially the scandal-plagued CPUC (see below), SB 1463 might not even have been implemented yet, its benefits arriving only in future years after eventual CPUC compliance.

Trust the CPUC?

Next, let’s look at this Snopes statement under “What’s False” (supposedly):

“[T]he California Public Utilities Commission provided details showing that it had already been engaged in work similar to the proposals contained in SB 1463.”

And:

“In response to our questions, a spokesperson for Brown directed us to a spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission, who outlined in further detail the risk mitigation efforts undertaken as part of the agency’s initiative with CalFire (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) and said that the bill Brown vetoed would actually have slowed down that progress:

“ ‘Senate Bill 1463 would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because CAL FIRE was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate.’”

Well, it’s odd that a supposed fact-checking organization would take the word of a government bureaucracy, the CPUC, itself known to be one of the worst managed agencies in the state. It’s virtually a regulatory DMV.

The June 28, 2016 San Francisco Chronicle headlined: “A scandal-plagued state agency gets a shake up at last.” The story:

“Calling the state Public Utilities Commission scandal-plagued is almost an understatement. Yes, it failed to spot faulty gas lines while its leaders dickered in private with power companies over consumer rates. But the stodgy agency is also falling short in monitoring California’s fast-changing economy.

“These pressures to mend past practices and anticipate the future lie behind changes that Sacramento is mapping out for the PUC. Pressure was building in the Legislature in an unstoppable wave that moved a reluctant Gov. Jerry Brown to agree to a makeover plan.

“For the Bay Area, there is no bigger explanation than the San Bruno explosion in 2010 that killed eight and leveled a neighborhood. A shoddy pipeline neglected by Pacific Gas & Electric should have caught the agency’s notice. An inquiry led to another troubling problem: Utility executives had back-channel access to agency commissioners who set rates for millions of consumers. The PUC was anything but a watchdog regulator.”

The ineptness of the CPUC is well known. But, working on simple fire maps for more than eight years and not broadcasting their effort to the Legislature? It could be done by someone with a laptop in two days.

Anxious cities wanted the fire maps. Accordingly, the Legislature tells the bureaucracy what to do, not the other way around. SB 1463 would have accelerated the critical prioritization. It’s done with so many proposed arenas and football stadiums. But the governor didn’t ask for such authority or guidance. He relied on a troubled agency, only now to find the project was buried in the bureaucracy, stating the bill could possibly complicate this drawn out process.

This assertion is proved, as SB 1436 was reviewed by six legislative committees. If the CPUC and CalFire were legitimately performing the work they claimed to be doing, shouldn’t they have informed at least one of the committee chairs?

Laguna Beach

Snopes also quoted from an August 8, 2018 article in “Flash Report” – real name, Flashreport – by the excellent journalist Katy Grimes:

“At the request of the City Council of Laguna Beach, Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) authored SB 1463 in 2016, a bipartisan bill which would have given local governments more say in fire-prevention efforts through the Public Utilities Commission proceeding making maps of fire hazard areas around utility lines.

“Laguna Beach went through four fires sparked by utility lines in the last ten years, and has done as much in the way of prevention as they could afford. The bill would have allowed cities to work with utilities to underground utility lines, and work with the Public Utilities Commission to develop updated fire maps by requiring the PUC to take into consideration areas in which communities are at risk from the consequences of wildfire — not just those areas where certain environmental hazards are present …

“Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1463, despite being passed by the Legislature, 75-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate. That tells you this was political. The Governor’s veto message did not properly address why he vetoed the bill. Brown claimed that the [Public Utilities Commission] and CalFire have already been doing what Moorlach’s bill sought to accomplish. How on earth could Brown kill this bill when the state was burning down?”

Laguna Beach is part of my 37th District in the California Senate, so I want to take care of my constituents. I still remember the horror in 1993 when large sections of the beautiful city burned down from wildfires, which I could see from my home in Costa Mesa. They lost 441 homes. Even three years later, only about one-half of the homes had been rebuilt. Today, the average value of homes in Laguna Beach is more than $2 million. Another devastating fire would destroy many tens of millions of dollars of property, along with the potential loss of life.

There are only three roads into Laguna Beach. Two are PCH, North and South. The third is State Route 133, Laguna Canyon Road. Whenever I drive down this scenic road, I see how easy it is for someone to hit one of the wooden power poles, causing snapped electrical wires to ignite fires. In recent years, some 58 of these poles have been hit. Downed poles were blamed for fires there in 197020122015 and other years. We’re lucky more fires haven’t been started.

No wonder Laguna Beach officials and residents have been trying to “underground” their power lines. As the Orange County Register reported on August 31, 2016:

“[Councilman Bob] Whalen thanked Moorlach for his efforts to push the bill [SB 1436] in Sacramento.

“ ‘It was an uphill battle with the electric utilities, the cable TV operators and their lobbyists watching our every move,’ he said. ‘We didn’t get everything we wanted in this bill, but it is an important first step and will strengthen our hand as we do battle at the CPUC to make sure that Laguna Beach is recognized as an area for enhanced measures to prevent fires caused by overhead utilities.’

“City officials called for citywide ‘undergrounding’ of utilities following a 15-acre wildfire in July 2015 that started when trees fell into utility wires, causing a power surge that sparked flames. Whalen said the city ‘dodged a bullet’ with that fire thanks to favorable winds and firefighters’ efforts. He said he immediately contacted Southern California Edison and urged the utility company to partner with the city to reduce imminent threat of fire.

“Whalen and other city officials met with SCE several times. But [City Manager] John Pietig said the city chose the legislative route once it became obvious that city officials were not getting ‘meaningful assistance’ from SCE to bury the power lines.

“ ‘We can no longer risk the public safety of Laguna Beach by allowing above-ground utilities,’ Whalen said then. ‘A major fire disaster caused by power lines is only a matter of time.’”

Measure P

Laguna Beach residents even put Measure P on the November 6, 2018 ballot to pay for the undergrounding. It was defeated, with 54 percent voting “No”; a two-thirds “Yes” vote was needed for passage. Opponents contended it would have been the second city sales tax increase in two years, and, “Historically individual neighborhoods have paid for their own undergrounding,” among other arguments.

In my ballot recommendations, I also recommended a “No” vote because Californians everywhere already are taxed too much. As I noted in my October 22 Update, there are other funding sources. It’s best to find non-tax solutions to this and other problems.

In reference to Snopes, the point is at least 43 percent of voters in Laguna Beach even are willing to raise their own taxes to pay for undergrounding. Presumably a majority would favor undergrounding with other ways to pay for it.

Going beyond the Snopes inquiry, I also proposed a different SB 1463 in 2018, which would have dedicated 25 percent of state cap-and-trade funds to wildfire mitigation efforts. That bill failed. But parts of its concept were incorporated into SB 901, which did pass, and uses $200 million a year of cap-and-trade funds over five years for wildfire mitigation.

The connection with cap-and-trade is crucial. Cap-and-trade is intended to fund the reduction of greenhouse gases. Yet a few days of wildfires may generate a volume of greenhouse gases as great as every vehicle in the state operating for a whole year (in addition to the other toxic emissions and co-pollutants, not counting the immense loss of life and property).

Don’t even get me started on the amount of cap-and-trade money that is going to the high-speed rail boondoggle. Perhaps we should divert every last cent to our fire-prone areas and abandon the not-so-bullet train? Especially since it will be electric-powered?

If SB 901 – or either version of SB 1463 – can prevent even one wildfire, then it would more than pay for its cost.

PolitiFact Mangles the Facts Again

After the Snopes piece came out, PolitiFact produced a similar analysis by Chris Nichols, “Examining Jerry Brown’s veto of California wildfire legislation and the criticism of it.”

Back in August 2017, I refuted a piece by Nichols on California’s worsening crime problem. Writing this time, he is more cautious, “With so much attention on the fires, we decided to examine these claims, though we did not place any Truth-O-Meter ratings on them.”

In the new piece, Nichols rehashes similar material to that of Snopes, including the same CPUC excuses. And he quotes Evan Westrup, Gov. Brown’s spokesman, who said it was “absolutely shameful to exploit this tragedy – with fires still burning – to try to score cheap political points.” It’s not clear from the Nichols piece if Westrup is criticizing my efforts and comments, or something else. But for the record: In democracies, it’s just such discussions by which we solve our most pressing problems.

Nichols continued, “Westrup added that the Brown administration has taken numerous steps to prevent fires in recent years, citing several efforts here.” Listed are four positive steps, such as “September 21, 2018: Governor Brown Signs Legislation to Strengthen Wildfire Prevention and Recovery.” Not mentioned by Nichols: the legislation was SB 901, and that I supported it.

Of course, Gov. Brown is to be commended for taking this and other steps. But the issue at hand is SB 1463 from 2016.

Nichols also cites the familiar excuses by the CPUC, not noting its scandalous operations. The CPUC/Calfire “process produced a statewide Fire-Threat Map in January [2018], one month after the commission voted to strengthen regulations for utilities that have facilities in areas where thick vegetation and strong winds make fires more dangerous, according to a KQED news article.”

Well, perhaps that process might have begun a year earlier if SB 1463 had been signed into law in the fall of 2016. And Nichols does not cite this part from that very same KQED article:

“Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission have been working for years to make maps of the highest-risk areas in California. Those maps, once finished, could be used to hold utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to higher fire safety standards.

“After last month’s [October 2017] deadly Northern California wildfires, some state lawmakers are saying the process of making the maps is moving too slowly, putting people’s lives at risk….

“State Sen. John M. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown this week asking him for details about what exactly the agencies have been doing.

“ ‘This mapping exercise has been going on for a decade, while over the last few years, dozens of lives and hundreds of thousands of acres have been lost in wildfires resulting from fires started by utility wires,’ Moorlach wrote in the letter.

“The effort to create this set of maps started about a decade ago after deadly wildfires burned through Southern California.”

Nichols’ article quotes Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley, who said, “I do not think it [SB 1463] would have made much of a difference, as the amount of funds was not that great ($582,000 that may have just led to some hiring of consultants and a lot interaction with the communities) and, more importantly, no new advances would have been made.” (Parentheses in original.) But it was “a good shot across the bow to the (Brown) administration to do more. This area of risk assessment and mitigation has been woefully underfunded for decades.”

That’s contradictory. Isn’t “a good shot across the bow” more than not making “much of a difference”? And Stewart actually is talking about Brown’s vetoing of the bill, not what would have happened if it actually had been signed into law – which I contend would have produced better results.

Nichols’ conclusion: “Because the bill was vetoed, it’s impossible to know for sure whether it would have sped up or slowed down the process.” So he actually concedes it might have “sped up … the process.”

As in their August 2017 article, Nichols and PolitiFact are confused about the facts.

We Can Fight Wildfires

It is such realistic solutions as my bills that are needed to fight California fires. In January, I am considering introducing new legislation along the lines of the 2018 version of SB 1463. With new members of the Legislature and a new governor, new approaches should receive new consideration.

Meanwhile, Snopes needs to “Snopes” its own investigations and PolitiFact needs to fact-check itself.

John M.W. Moorlach represents the 37th District in the California Senate

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President Trump will travel to California to meet with wildfire victims

Posted by Leslie Eastman

https://legalinsurrection.com/2018/11/president-trump-will-travel-to-california-to-meet-with-wildfire-victims/

President Donald Trump will travel to California this Saturday to meet with victims of several deadly wildfires currently burning in the region that have already claimed the lives of over 70 people.

The state is currently fighting two fires, one outside of Los Angeles and another far more deadly fire north of Sacramento. As of Thursday afternoon, authorities had confirmed 56 deaths in the northern California fire known as the Camp Fire, and another three deaths in the southern fire, known as the Woolsey fire.

It was unclear Thursday precisely which area of the state Trump planned to visit. The White House said more information would be released in the coming days.

The President will have a lot of devastation to view. Drone footage of the City of Paradise shows that that a gorgeous, small town is little more than ash and soot.

The death toll is expected to climb over the next few days, having already reached 71 as of Saturday morning.  There are also more than 1,000 missing people, and that list is expected to expand as well.

It appears that a temporary truce has been called between Trump and the political leaders of the #Resistance from California.

Trump has visited California once since taking office — to view border wall prototypes along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president tweeted on Wednesday that he had spoken with Gov. Jerry Brown “to let him know that we are with him, and the people of California, all the way!”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is glad to see the president come to California.

“I welcome the president’s visit to see the extent of the damage from these ongoing wildfires and look forward to working with his administration to ensure California receives all the federal support possible in the response and recovery,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the quest for the origins of this year’s fires, especially the Camp Fire that incinerated Paradise and the Woolsey fire that destroyed numerous celebrity homes and 83% of the cherished Santa Monica National Recreation Area. The park had been the site used for filming many TV shows and movies.

There are many theories being offered about why these fires began.

An electrical cause is certainly on the table, [James Engel, the deputy chief of law enforcement and fire prevention at the northern division of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection] said, from a power line that could have fallen in the wind, or some other malfunctioning electrical equipment.

Other causes will also be considered, from a tossed cigarette to a power-mower blade sparking a rock to a hot vehicle tailpipe. Many investors in Pacific Gas and Electric, one of California’s largest utility companies, have already placed their bets and reduced their risk, with the company’s share price plummeting in a wave of selling in fear that the company will be held liable.

It should be noted that in 2016, the state’s electric utility was poised to be the center of bipartisan legislation from both state houses, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill. California investigative reporter Katy Grimes recently offered this background:

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bipartisan wildfire management bill in 2016, despite unanimous passage by the Legislature, 75-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate. SB 1463 would have given local governments more say in fire-prevention efforts through the Public Utilities Commission proceeding making maps of fire hazard areas around utility lines. In a gross display of politics, this is especially pertinent given that Cal Fire and the state’s media are now blaming the largest utility in the state for the latest wildfires.

In his explanation of the veto, Brown indicated that map-making and threat-assessment was already occurring between the utilities commission and Cal Fire.

After Brown’s veto California Senator John Moorlach predicted:

“One of the paramount responsibilities of government is to provide for public safety. The consequences of wildfires include loss of life, property damage, impacts on ecosystems, etc. Communities in my district, particularly Laguna Beach, are rightfully very concerned about fire safety.

“SB 1463 would have not only safeguarded Laguna and other high fire-risk communities in Orange County, but would have helped other vulnerable communities throughout the state that are often threatened by wildfires caused by sparks from shorted or fallen utility lines. The Governor’s veto impedes the necessity to more urgently address the California Public Utilities Commission’s focus on identifying high risk areas that should be prioritized for appropriate mitigation measures.”

If it turns out the a powerline is responsible for these blazes,  Moorlach  would have been tragically prescient.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Snopes is Fired Up — November 14, 2018

Well, well, well. It’s a rare day when one of my UPDATEs gets media attention. But, when a Governor who flies all over the globe, leaving a large carbon footprint in the process, to preach against global warming, vetoes a bill that addresses the reduction of greenhouse gases, I do get fired up (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Prevention Not Embraced — November 13, 2018). Politico did it in their “California Playbook” column. Instead of including the entire column, I’m just providing the brief mention in the first piece below.

The Daily Caller weighs in on the subject in the second piece below. It baffles me that a Governor so consumed with addressing global warming would veto a bill that attempted to reduce wildfires, a major creator or greenhouse gases.

But, would SB 1463 have saved lives if Gov. Brown had signed it? Who’s to know. The answer is an obvious “maybe.” But, if the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases, why not put a little more pressure on the California Public Utilities Commission and CalFire to expedite the process?

In California, Sacramento is managed through legislation. The CPUC and CalFire had more than 8 years to get the job done. I have a community in my District that is in a wildfire zone and lost 441 homes 25 years ago. For the Governor to assume that these two bureaucracies would move at a faster clip is, in my opinion, a serious error in judgment.

What if Malibu would have been ranked as a high-risk area? Or Paradise? Perhaps some form of mitigation may have been pursued by the utility companies. But for an apostle espousing the impacts of climate change to do nothing makes no sense on several levels.

Getting to the bottom of this concern is none other than Snopes. They weigh in with a mixed review in the third piece below. Snopes evaluates a piece by Katy Grimes of the Flashreport back in August of this year (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Spewing Carbon Into The Air — August 8, 2018).

This is the first time I’ve been mentioned in a Snopes piece. It’s unfortunate that they did not contact me or my office in doing their independent research. One wonders if quoting a government bureaucracy that is covering its tracks is a valid refutation. And using terms like “prevalence” and “risk” certainly begs for a longer rebuttal on my part, which may come in a future UPDATE.

If only Governor Brown would have made hardening electrical lines as big a priority as building his high speed rail over the past eight years, just maybe this veto would not have occurred and generated so much social media attention.

California Playbook

POLITICO

California Playbook

Carla Marinucci and Jeremy B. White’s must-read briefing on politics and government in the Golden State

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/california-playbook/2018/11/14/blue-wave-grows-harder-beats-denham-katie-porter-pulls-ahead-of-mimi-walters-thurmonds-lead-over-tuck-grows-former-assembly-gop-leader-gop-is-dead-in-ca-zinke-to-join-brown-in-fire-zone-tour-345853

— FIRED UP: Republican state Sen. John Moorlach, in a blog post, argues that Gov. Jerry Brown had a big chance to push for fire prevention in his bill, SB1463 — and vetoed it. “I thought the adventure with my bill to address electric line-caused conflagrations in wildfire zones with SB 1463 (2016) had run its course.” Read it here.

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As California Burns, Jerry Brown Takes Heat For Voting Down 2016 Wildfire Mitigation Bill

by Michael Bastasch

https://www.conservativedailynews.com/2018/11/as-california-burns-jerry-brown-takes-heat-for-voting-down-2016-wildfire-mitigation-bill/

  • Critics are attacking California Gov. Jerry Brown for vetoing a 2016 bill aimed at mitigating fire risks from utility equipment.
  • “He has done nothing to harden those assets,” said GOP state Sen. John Moorlach.
  • Wildfires have consumed more than 221,000 acres since Thursday, killing at least 44 people.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to veto a 2016 bipartisan bill aimed at mitigating wildfire risks from power lines and utility equipment has become the focus of critics as fires rage across the state.

Wildfires have scorched more than 221,000 acres across California since Thursday, and Brown’s critics are pointing to the two-year-old veto as news reports suggest power lines may have sparked the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.

“He has done nothing to harden those assets,” state Sen. John Moorlach, a Republican, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Moorlach sponsored the 2016 bill, called SB 1463, which would have given local governments a bigger role in putting together fire risk maps with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency.

The bill also required the CPUC to work with utilities to mitigate wildfire risks, including putting transmission lines underground if necessary. The bill passed through both state legislative chambers, but Brown vetoed the bill in September 2016. Brown said state officials “have been doing just that through the existing proceeding on re-threat maps and re-safety regulations.”

Two years later, Moorlach said the state agencies and utilities have made little progress in mitigating the risk of wildfires faced by communities across the state.

“Well they’ve been working on it for like eight years and they haven’t gotten it done. This is really simple stuff,” Moorlach said. “Utilities are just sort of hanging onto the money.”

Journalist Katy Grimes also criticized Brown’s veto. The conservative journalist tweeted that “Brown had many chances to address CA’s increasing wildfires since his election in 2011, but instead chose to play politics.”

Brown, however, did sign legislation in September that would dedicate some funds raised through California’s cap-and-trade program to forest management. Moorlach support the bill, but said Brown should have acted sooner to mitigate wildfire risks.

Brown has largely framed wildfires as the product of man-made global warming. On Sunday, Brown said “those who deny” global warming contributed to the fires.

Moorlach said Brown’s concern about the climate was “inconsistent” with his 2016 veto.

“Not addressing wildfires has reversed all the work we’ve done to reduce greenhouse gases,” Moorlach told TheDCNF. “It’s inconsistent.”

“It’s sort of become his religion,” Moorlach said of Brown’s global warming fervor.

The 135,000-acre Camp Fire destroyed thousands of structures, including engulfing the entire northern California town of Paradise. The Campre Fire resulted in at least 42 deaths, making it the deadliest blaze in state history.

It’s not clear what exactly caused the fire, but local media reports suggest PG&E power lines may be to blame for the deadly fire.

PG&E said it had problems with a power line minutes before the Camp Fire started. Landowner Betsy Ann Cowley said PG&E needed to access to her property in Pulga because “they were having problems with sparks.” The fire started on Cowley’s land.

Cal Fire also blamed PG&E power lines and equipment for deadly wildfires that ravaged northern California last year. Those 16 fires killed at least 44 people and destroyed hundreds of structures.

In southern California, the 96,000-acre Woolsey Fire killed at least two people as it made its way to the iconic beach city of Malibu. Utility SoCal Edison said “a circuit relayed out of the Chatsworth Substation about two minutes before the blaze broke out,” CNN reported.

SoCal Edison reported to state officials that “at this point we have no indication from fire agency personnel that SCE utility facilities may have been involved in the start of the fire.”

Brown’s office did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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Did California Governor Jerry Brown Veto a Wildfire Management Bill, Increasing the Risk of Wildfires?

BY DAN MACGUILL

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/jerry-brown-veto-wildfire-bill/

Claim

Jerry Brown vetoed a wildfire management bill in 2016, contributing to the prevalence and risk of wildfires in the ensuing two years.

Rating

Mixture

What’s True

In September 2016, Governor Brown vetoed SB 1463, a bill in the California legislature which would have required the California Public Utilities Commission to prioritize areas at increased risk from overhead wires in their management of wildfires.

What’s False

There is no evidence that Brown’s veto contributed to or exacerbated the risk or prevalence of wildfires in California, and the California Public Utilities Commission provided details showing that it had already been engaged in work similar to the proposals contained in SB 1463.

Origin

In November 2018, after the Camp Fire broke out in Northern California, killing more than 40 people and destroying thousands of homes, social media users began sharing a three-month-old article that placed a share of the blame for California’s 2018 wildfire season, already one of the most destructive in living memory, at the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.

On 8 August, the “Flash Report” web site, which covers California politics from a conservative-leaning point of view, reported on a piece of legislation from 2016 which was intended to address one aspect of the state’s perennial wildfire problem but was vetoed by Governor Brown, a Democrat. The article carried the headline “CA Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoed Bipartisan Wildfire Management Bill in 2016” and read:

At the request of the City Council of Laguna Beach, Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), authored SB 1463 in 2016, a bipartisan bill which would have given local governments more say in fire-prevention efforts through the Public Utilities Commission proceeding making maps of fire hazard areas around utility lines.

Laguna Beach went through four fires sparked by utility lines in the last ten years, and has done as much in the way of prevention as they could afford. The bill would have allowed cities to work with utilities to underground utility lines, and work with the Public Utilities Commission to develop updated fire maps by requiring the PUC to take into consideration areas in which communities are at risk from the consequences of wildfire — not just those areas where certain environmental hazards are present …

Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1463, despite being passed by the Legislature, 75-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate. That tells you this was political. The Governor’s veto message did not properly address why he vetoed the bill. Brown claimed that the [Public Utilities Commission] and CalFire have already been doing what Moorlach’s bill sought to accomplish. How on earth could Brown kill this bill when the state was burning down?

In the context of the Camp Fire in November, Facebook users  shared the Flash Report article widely, with many observers citing it as evidence that Brown bore some of the blame for the many similar wildfires which cost lives and caused massive destruction to property in the intervening two years.

As Flash Report indicated in their August article, Governor Brown did indeed veto Senate Bill 1463 in September 2016, after it had been passed by both houses of the California legislature without a single vote in opposition. That legislation would have had imposed the following requirement:

SECTION 1.

Section 761.2 is added to the Public Utilities Code, to read:

“In determining areas in which to require enhanced mitigation measures for wildfire hazards posed by overhead electrical lines and equipment, the [Public Utilities Commission], in consultation with the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, shall prioritize areas in which communities are subject to conditions that increase fire hazards associated with overhead utility facilities generally and at specific locations…”

Flash Report was somewhat self-contradictory in their characterization of this veto. On the one hand, the article claimed that Brown “did not properly address” his rationale for refusing to sign the bill, but it also accurately wrote that Brown had said, roughly speaking, he regarded the provisions of the legislation as redundant due to an initiative that was already under way. In his veto message, Brown wrote:

This bill requires the Public Utilities Commission to prioritize areas that have increased fire hazard associated with overhead utility facilities. Since May of last year, the Commission and CalFire have been doing just that through the existing proceeding on fire-threat maps and fire-safety regulations. This deliberative process should continue and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum.

The author of the Flash Report article, Katy Grimes, claimed a link between the prevalence of destructive fires in California in recent years and Brown’s decision to veto SB 1463, referencing one of her earlier articles:

Today, as California burns once again under torrential wildfires, many Californians have been asking why the dramatic increase in wildfires in the last five years … that is everyone except Governor Jerry Brown. Governor Brown claims that year-round, devastating fires are the “new normal” we must accept.

Megan Barth and I reported:

“Supporting Obama-era regulations have resulted in the new normal: an endless and devastating fire season. Obama-era regulations introduced excessive layers of bureaucracy that blocked proper forest management and increased environmentalist litigation and costs– a result of far too many radical environmentalists, bureaucrats, Leftist politicians and judicial activists who would rather let forests burn, than let anyone thin out overgrown trees or let professional loggers harvest usable timber left from beetle infestation, or selectively cut timber.”

Mismanaged, overcrowded forests provide fuel to historic California wildfires, experts say. The 129 million dead trees throughout California’s forests are serving as matchsticks and kindling. Jerry Brown, busy mulling ways to prevent the end of the world, took the Clinton and Obama-era gross regulations a step even further when he vetoed a bipartisan wildfire management bill in 2016.

Despite drawing this connection, Grimes’ article did not contain any specific evidence to support the notion that Brown’s vetoing SB 1463 contributed to or exacerbated California’s wildfire problem.

In response to our questions, a spokesperson for Brown directed us to a spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission, who outlined in further detail the risk mitigation efforts undertaken as part of the agency’s initiative with CalFire (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) and said that the bill Brown vetoed would actually have slowed down that progress:

Senate Bill 1463 would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because CAL FIRE was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate.

In fact, [at] the time the vetoed legislation was introduced, the CPUC and CAL FIRE were already deeply engaged in an ongoing fire safety rulemaking process (R.15-05-006, Rulemaking to Develop and Adopt Fire-Threat Maps and Fire-Safety Regulations). Phase 1 of this effort began in 2013 and was completed in 2015. Phase 2 implemented new fire safety regulations in high priority areas of the state as called for in the vetoed legislation, thus making the bill redundant. In January 2018, the Statewide Fire-Threat Map was approved.

Further, the CPUC and CAL FIRE signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in August 2017 that further bolstered our relationship. The MOU increased information sharing and investigative resources between the two organizations.

CAL FIRE, as first responders, provides findings and immediate facts to the CPUC. The CPUC follows after the event to conduct in-depth investigations if utility involvement is suspected. Key points of the MOU include: Developing consistent approaches to forest management, wildfire prevention, public safety, and energy programs; Assist one another in preparing for, responding to, and mitigating the effects of wildfires; Deepening awareness of the requirements and goals of each other’s programs; and Creation of Interagency Fire Safety Working Group to vet ideas and develop programmatic solutions to shared goals in the interest of fire safety and resource protection.

Sources

·       Grinberg, Emanuella and Holly Yan.   “44 Dead in California Fires as the Camp Fire Becomes the Deadliest in State History.”
CNN.   13 November 2018.

·       Grimes, Katy.   “CA Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoed Bipartisan Wildfire Management Bill in 2016.”
FlashReport.org.   8 August 2018.

·       California Legislature.   “SB 1463 — Electrical Lines: Mitigation of Wildfire Risks.”
29 August 2016.

·       Barth, Megan and Katy Grimes.   “California Burns: the ‘New Normal’ Thanks to Obama Era Environmental Regulations.”
FlashReport.org.   6 August 2018.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 Epilogue — October 4, 2018

With Senate Bill 656 being only the second bill I have had vetoed over my entire public service career, it provides an opportunity to share that I do not react well to vetoes. By this, I mean that I may come back with a different or improved iteration in a subsequent Session. I hint at it in my release on SB 656’s veto, which is provided by the Orange County Breeze in the second piece below.

Allow me to further explain what I mean. I authored Senate Bill 1463 in 2016. It is the first bill of mine that Governor Brown vetoed. It tried to prevent wildfires caused by disrupted or broken electric power lines. Tragically, in the two subsequent years after the Governor’s veto, numerous innocent and mostly elderly people have died as a result of wildfires from electric transformers and lines sparking in high gust weather conditions.

SB 1463 (2016) would have, at the minimum, accelerated the fire prevention efforts at the California Public Utilities Commission and CalFire so the electric utilities could have had the validation to expedite their processes of hardening the infrastructure that causes fires.

Sadly, the Governor’s veto message essentially said, “The bureaucrats are doing their jobs and I prefer to look the other way and let them finish . . . sometime . . . someday . . . in the future.”

Not that SB 1463 would have stopped all of the fires we’ve seen. But, can you imagine what may have transpired if Gov. Brown had taken this bill seriously? Perhaps there could have been one or two fewer fires. Some mitigation efforts to strengthen lines or transistors could have been easily done.

When Sen. Bill Dodd (D – Napa) introduced SB 901, I immediately asked to be a coauthor. I do not coauthor many bills. But, it was focused in the same vein as my redux of SB 1463 in 2018. I used the same bill number as two years prior, but added the use of Cap and Trade revenues to fund hardening the utility lines around the state. That funding would have brought upwards of $600 million annually to address California’s problematic and ostensibly, reduce GHGs caused by wildfires. My bill was killed in the first Senate committee hearing. This bill had no formal opposition. I can only assume the Committee members who voted against it were more concerned about their pet AB 32 projects than about actually reducing GHG emissions. But, SB 901 became the vehicle for a massive wildfire reform package.

For my Senate colleagues in the impacted areas, it created a Conference Committee near the conclusion of this year’s Session to address dealing with utility caused wildfires. And, why not? I stood up on the Senate Floor on many occasions to point out the massive loophole in AB 32’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases because it did not include those generated by wildfires. So much so, that a few days of wildfires generate more GHGs than all of California’s cars driving for an entire year!

When asked by the Sonoma Valley Sun, for the first piece below, why I voted for a bill that would cost PG&E ratepayers a lot of money, I had two responses. The first is that I have very few PG&E ratepayers in my District. A calloused answer, I know. But, if you live in areas with a higher fire danger, there is an increased cost for addressing this risk.

The second answer was that SB 901 took my recommendation to use Cap and Trade revenues, to the tune of $200 million per year over five years. This is an appropriate use of this unique tax in addressing the generation of GHGs by reducing wildfires.

Not all of my bills will be signed by the Governor. But, when a core piece from one of my bills shows up in another bill, thereby having my fingerprints, then I just may be on board. I even stated the same in behalf of SB 901 on the Senate Floor during the waning hours of this year’s Session (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rEQ9uM7P-o).

For additional history on this matter, here is the journey I’ve had on this topic:

Introduction of SB 1463 in 2016

MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 — March 25, 2016

After numerous committee hearings and three Floor votes, SB 1463 headed to Governor’s Desk

MOORLACH UPDATE — Moving Down the Line — August 31, 2016

Strong editorial in support of reducing wildfires

MOORLACH UPDATE — First Veto — September 24, 2016

Governor’s Veto

MOORLACH UPDATE — First Veto — September 24, 2016

MOORLACH UPDATE — Rejection/Disappointment — September 27, 2016

MOORLACH UPDATE — Thank you, Vin Scully — September 28, 2016

After the Santa Rosa fire, the media noticed my previous efforts

MOORLACH UPDATE — Conflagration Legacy — October 12, 2017

MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017

MOORLACH UPDATE — Burning Year End Issues — December 15, 2017

Bay Area disappointment in Brown’s veto and the tragic fire

MOORLACH UPDATE — Bonuses and Bogusness — October 21, 2017

Local frustrations over vetoed bill

MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Safety Concerns — October 27, 2017

RCRC acknowledgement

MOORLACH UPDATE — Haven for Hope — January 19, 2018

SB 1463 Redux, with Cap and Trade funding introduced

MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 Redux — March 30, 2018

Second SB 1463 killed in committee with my reactions

MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1297 – COO — April 19, 2018

My editorial submission to use Cap and Trade

MOORLACH UPDATE — Reducing Wildfires — July 31, 2018

Efforts to use Cap and Trade funding acknowledged as a potential solution

MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Tornado Funding — August 2, 2018

Other commentators lamenting the lost opportunities with both SB 1463s

MOORLACH UPDATE — Spewing Carbon Into The Air — August 8, 2018

All to show that my office is providing a full portfolio on critical issues facing California, besides pension liabilities and unrestricted net positions. There is so much to do. And, sometimes, the Legislature picks up on an idea that, I believe, makes sense.

How the state — and you —will help PG&E pay for the fires

PGE_WildFire-Work_ENRready

By Dan de la Torre

http://sonomasun.com/2018/10/04/how-the-state-and-you-will-help-pge-pay-for-the-fires/

At the one-year anniversary of the fires which burned nearly 200,000 acres and claimed the lives of over 40 people in Sonoma and Napa counties, the cost of rebuilding is beginning to take shape — as is PG&E’s ultimate responsibility to pay for it.

The bills are still coming in, and lawsuits against the utility pending. But State Senator Bill Dodd, whose district was ravaged by the fires, thinks the figure is about $10 billion. His SB 901, signed into law by Jerry Brown, authorizes that much in bonds.

To back those bonds, every PG&E ratepayer, even those outside the fire area, will now see $50 added to the monthly bill — for at least 20 years. The other $5 billion will come from PG&E itself.

In the immediate aftermath of the fires, blame seemed to be focused solely on PG&E, and the company began a defense on multiple fronts. Because of a legal doctrine known as Inverse Condemnation, PG&E knew that it couldn’t fight any legal battles in court because of the way the language is structured in that particular law.

The law in essence says that even if PG&E did everything it was supposed to regarding maintenance and equipment, as mandated by the state-run California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), it would be liable — no matter what.

With this in mind PG&E began a media campaign to improve its image. It ran ads profiling how the company interacts with the community. It also ran commercials on how much money it spends on overall maintenance, its equipment, and its program to trim tree branches from around power lines. PG&E said it spends $1 billion annually cutting down dead trees and dry brush.

wildfire_powerline

PG&E also blamed climate change as one of the main factors in last year’s fires, something that Governor Jerry Brown has also strongly advocated.

In Sacramento, PG&E lobbied legislators to find a compromise that would allow the company to continue without facing bankruptcy. The legislature and the governor went back and forth with a number or proposals before settling on SB 901. The chief architect of this bill was state Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa).

The Sun recently interviewed both Dodd and Senator John Moorlach (R- Orange County) to get an overview of the bill.

According to both Senators, the 100-plus-page bill addresses the issue on several fronts. A) It makes it easier for PG&E to engage in forest management including tree cutting and disposal of dead wood and dry brush caused by the recent drought. B) Working alongside the CPUC, PG&E will begin the preliminary process of designing underground power lines. C) A financial “stress test” will be conducted to determine how much PG&E can pay without causing it to go into bankruptcy and cause its stockholders, many which are elderly and depend on a limited return from these stocks, to continue to invest.

Senator Dodd suggested that SB 901 will allocate approximately $10 billion in the form of bonds that will immediately be available to plaintiffs suing PG&E. For their part, ratepayers will be assessed that $50 monthly surcharge.

With over 200 individual lawsuits and virtually every city, county and municipality affected by the fires engaging in their own lawsuits, the assumption from Senator Dodd is that $10 billion will be enough to cover all costs.

But it does not address overruns, and it is far from exact.

One of the cities suing PG&E is Santa Rosa. “Honesty I don’t know, as the city is still assessing how much damage the fires caused so at this point there is no price tag,” Assistant City Attorney Adam Abel told The Sun.

To complicate state budget matters, SB 901 does not address claims in connection with lasts year’s devastating fires in Southern California. Or more recent fires in Redding and beyond.

As noted, all PG&E customers will chip in with that monthly $50 fee — no matter where they live.

Diana and Doug Gill, visiting Sonoma from Livermore recently, say the situation is frustrating. They understand that someone has to pay for the overall costs but are demanding more answers. Diana questioned not just the cost of the fire but the cause, as she doesn’t believe that a fire could have spread as rapidly as it did. Like many, she questions if there is a missing element that hasn’t been made public.

SB 901 was signed into law on Friday, September 21. Brown, whose term is ending this year, has said that long, epic fire seasons will be the new normal in California. How to pay for them remains the question.

A plausible possibility is a bill that didn’t pass, but could come back in the next session. AB 33, introduced by East Bay Assemblyman Dr. Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), would have also issued a series of bonds to expedite payments, but had no ceiling price cap. The bill would authorize as many bonds as needed — $50 billion or more was a number mentioned by Quirk’s office.

That figure may have been too high for an election year, but the 2019 legislature might reconsider such an option when the costs of fighting more recent fire disasters come due.

 

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Governor Brown vetoes Moorlach Judicial Pension Reform SB 656

http://www.oc-breeze.com/2018/10/01/128123_governor-brown-vetoes-moorlach-judicial-pension-reform-sb-656/

I am disappointed that Gov. Jerry Brown today vetoed Senate Bill 656, which I authored. At a minimal cost, it would have made key changes to the retirement system of the pensions of California judges, encouraging our best lawyers to seek these positions, and our best judges to stay in them. More than 800 California Superior Court Judges signed on in support of SB 656, as comparable retirement incentives for all state employees was a fair and just modification to make. And providing the appropriate benefits ensures judicial quality and integrity, which are essential to our democracy.

Specifically, SB 656 would have authorized a judge, who is not otherwise eligible to retire with a monthly allowance, to retire and receive the annuity at a later date upon reaching the prescribed retirement age. It would have permitted those judges who face difficult personal circumstances in their later years, such as caring for an ailing spouse, to leave office with the promise of later taking the retirement they worked so hard to achieve.

That means the current system is retained. Under it, if a judge must leave office early, he or she must take a lump sum payment instead of retirement annuity, a reduction in benefits that discourages the best from seeking and accepting these posts.

I want to thank my staff, who worked on this bill for two years, for all of their hard work. I also want to thank the staff at the California Public Employees Retirement System for their assistance in drafting the language. Most importantly, I want to thank the majority of California’s Superior Court judges who took the time to encourage us in this endeavor.

This year Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law two of my three bills that reached his desk. I want to thank him for those he signed. But, I believe that SB 656 is so critical to the morale of our judicial colleagues, that I am considering reintroducing this necessary solution again next year under the next governor.

This article was released by the Office of Senator John Moorlach.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017

With the super-majority party in control, the public employee unions have felt more empowered to sponsor legislation that gives them more power over management. Their emboldedness was so bad during this year’s Session, I started asking “who’s your Daddy?” with a number of these over-reaching bills (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Who’s Your Daddy? — July 1, 2017 , MOORLACH UPDATE — Bonuses and Bogusness — October 21, 2017 , MOORLACH UPDATE — Devastating Legacy — October 11, 2017 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Who Do You Answer To? — October 1, 2017).

I believe that bargaining unit negotiations should be public. Then you would see the nonsensical proposals that are offered to elected officials behind closed doors. Two thoughts. While a County Supervisor I championed the adoption of COIN (Civic Openness in Negotiations) (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Minting New COIN — June 25, 2014 ). And this year I proposed SB 371, which made it a conflict of interest to negotiate for wage increases and benefit improvements if the negotiator was benefiting directly or indirectly from the adoption of the bargaining unit agreement (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pursuing Reforms — August 11, 2017). The statewide public employee unions came in full force and squashed both of these efforts. They are the “Daddy” and want full control. Which is probably why California is as fiscally screwed up as it is.

But, the Capitol is not immune to union bullying. Keep an eye on the city of Santa Paula. Let’s see how long it takes before they have to raise its sales tax, again! Or, when they will be hiring a Chapter 9 bankruptcy attorney. Of course, holding the current city council accountable then is a joke. They’ll probably be long gone or serving in Sacramento, thanks to the unions funding their campaigns. It’s that sick. And the Ventura County Star seems to be getting it in the first piece below.

The Governor’s veto of SB 1463 continues to garner media attention. KQED covers the specifics of the bill in greater detail in the second piece below. The feet-dragging and excuses drive me batty, as the death toll is now up to 43 in Sonoma and Napa Counties (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Safety Concerns — October 27, 2017).

Ironically, Governor Brown is travelling outside of the country to continue his efforts to reduce greenhouse gases around the world. Regretfully, two-and-one-half days of California wild fires produce the same amount of greenhouse gases as all of the cars in California combined do in an entire year (see https://www.livescience.com/1981-wildfires-release-cars.html). Can you say “hypocrisy?”

You’ve got to love the massive disconnect! Did you know that greenhouse gas reduction goals do not apply to wild fires? They should, especially since they happen in California and much of the strategy of the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is predicated on reducing these threats.

Rather than raising money for silly trains and political projects that will do zero to mitigate global warming, shouldn’t the Governor focus on preventing devastating fires in the future? One gets the impression that globetrotting on vacuous platitudes is more fun and fulfilling for our current state leaders. How does one lecture the world when you’re failing at home? Talk about an emperor that wears no clothes!

Behind closed doors, cities and unions strike potentially expensive deals

amartinez

http://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/communities/santa-paula/2017/11/03/behind-closed-doors-cities-and-unions-strike-potentially-expensive-deals/819497001/

Minutes before Santa Paula’s elected officials approved six new contracts awarding nearly every city employee a substantial pay hike, the public first learned of the long-term costs.

“By year three, the cost of the raises is $2.2 million,” Mayor Jenny Crosswhite said at the City Council meeting Oct. 16. “That was not in the staff report.”

What was in the staff report — released four days earlier — was what each contract would cost for the roughly last eight months of the 2017-18 fiscal year. Those costs ranged from $6,291 to $224,455.

Until Crosswhite put a price tag on it, taxpayers could only guess what the three-year agreements would ultimately cost them.

Each city in California handles contract negotiations slightly differently, but most have one thing in common: The negotiations are done largely behind closed doors. Often, elected officials helping to craft the contracts are at the negotiating table with the same unions that spent time and money helping seat them.

The door to those negotiations just got shut a little tighter with a new law that adds another public records exemption to contract negotiations between local public agencies and their employees.

LITTLE PUBLIC SCRUTINY

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, voted against Assembly Bill 1455, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October.

“I’m a person who believes that the whole process should be public,” said Moorlach, who while on the Orange County Board of Supervisors helped develop one of the most transparent negotiating ordinances in the state. “I thought AB 1455 was sort of the Las Vegas thing. What happens in closed session stays in closed session. I believe the public has the right to know what’s really going on and what’s really being asked and what’s really being pressured.”

The way the process is set up now is the “biggest conflict of interest in government,” he said.

Assembly member Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando Valley, through his spokesperson declined to comment on why he introduced the bill and what problems it sought to fix.

Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, D- Thousand Oaks, said the bill wasn’t controversial and it extended to local agencies the same set of laws that have governed state agencies for years. Disclosing strategies and other information related to employee contracts would have hurt the process, said Irwin, who served on the Thousand Oaks City Council for 10 years.

“We knew budget-wise what our bottom line was. To be giving that sort of negotiating information out to the public, to me it’s detrimental to the taxpayers,” Irwin said.

Irwin said regardless of who contributed to a campaign, the council has a responsibility to balance fair treatment of employees with what the city can afford.

“If I would vote for an increase in employee benefits and the city doesn’t end up with a balanced budget I’m probably not going to get re-elected,” she said.

The bill had the support of 18 unions/labor groups and one opposed, the city of West Covina.

Without the legislation, proposals and strategies were “vulnerable to mandated disclosure under current law, thus threatening the ability of local unions and public agencies to engage in candid and fully-informed collective bargaining, with potential disruptive effects,” the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees wrote.

The union referred calls to AFSCME District 36, which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties. Spokesperson Erica Zeitlin said budget hearings were done out in the open. “Everybody gets to have a say,” she said.

That doesn’t include contract negotiations, and Zeitlin didn’t return questions seeking further comment on why the organization supported the bill or what the legislation sought to remedy.

West Covina City Manager Chris Freeland said the city opposed the bill because residents have been asking for more transparency in labor negotiations and the city has been trying to provide that. It’s been helpful to let the public know how it is trying to address pension reform and other concerns, he said.

“The city will continue to try and find ways to share the information with the public while meeting the requirements of the law,” Freeland said.

OPENING UP THE PROCESS

In 2013, Simi Valley adopted a policy aimed at allowing more public input on contract negotiations.

“It was to create more transparency in the labor negotiations but to stay consistent with the law,” City Manager Eric Levitt said.

A contract is introduced at one council meeting but not approved until the next time the council meets.

Cities and agencies use a variety of ways to let the public know what is in proposed contracts, according to the staff report prepared for Simi Valley in 2013.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District stipulates that contracts be publicized and made available at least 15 days before adoption. Fresno policy gives the public 10 days to study the terms, which should be “costed out over time.” Palo Alto states the city should have the ability to fund any compensation agreements in the short- and long-term.

According to the analysis of AB 1455, a request by an Orange County blogger exposed a shortcoming in current public records analysis. In that case, Jon Fleischman requested contract negotiations between the county and the Orange County sheriff’s deputies. After the union representing the deputies was unsuccessful in blocking it, the county released information.

That case exposed a gap in protection for local agencies. Bocanegra’s bill closed it.

Attorney Craig Alexander, who represented Fleischman in the case, said two wrongs don’t make a right. “What’s the public policy here? Is it to keep average citizens and taxpayers who have to pay for these items in the dark?”

The trouble with the standard 72-hour notice is the public has very little time to digest the information and contact their elected officials with questions, Alexander said.

A LAST-MINUTE REVEAL IN SANTA PAULA

On the night Santa Paula approved the new contracts, City Manager Michael Rock noted the expensive proposition before the council. The contracts included pay raises but also increased tuition reimbursement, bilingual pay and the number of vacation hours the city would “buy back,” among other benefits.

“There is an overall cost to the city that is significant, and there is also significant revenue that has been generated through Measure T and other sources as well,” he said.

Measure T is a one-cent sales tax approved in November 2016 that is expected to raise $2.1 million annually. Rock said the money will also come from sources including the general fund and the newly passed gas tax, which was approved by the state Legislature to provide more money for road and bridge improvements.

Rock said that even with the raises city pay lagged that in other cities.

The two speakers on the item were from the Ventura County Taxpayers Association. One warned of the problems with using short-term money for long-term obligations, while the other questioned the lack of public input.

“When we have negotiations that are largely behind closed doors and the final approval is through a consent agenda item, and only because I believe the paper reported on it the other day are we discussing how much this is going to cost in future years, that’s not transparency,” said the association’s David Grau.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the contracts, with Crosswhite opposed.

Lawmaker: Why Is It Taking Years to Map Fire Hazards From Utilities?

By Lisa Pickoff-White and Marisa Lagos

https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/11/03/lawmaker-why-is-it-taking-years-to-map-fire-hazards-from-utilities/

The risk from wildfires in California means everyone living here should be prepared for one. Some more than others.

That obviously depends on where you live. But who’s in charge of telling us how risky any one place is?

Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission have been working for years to make maps of the highest-risk areas in California. Those maps, once finished, could be used to hold utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company to higher fire-safety standards.

After last month’s deadly Northern California wildfires, some state lawmakers are saying the process of making the maps is moving too slowly, putting people’s lives at risk.

State Senator John M. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown this week asking him for details about what exactly the agencies have been doing.

“This mapping exercise has been going on for a decade, while over the last few years, dozens of lives and hundreds of thousands of acres have been lost in wildfires resulting from fires started by utility wires,” Moorlach wrote in the letter.

The effort to create this set of maps started about a decade ago after deadly wildfires burned through Southern California.

State investigators found some of those fires were ignited by overhead power lines and, to a lesser degree, by telecommunications equipment. After that, the CPUC adopted dozens of new regulations, some of which rely on maps to designate especially hazardous areas.

The CPUC decided in 2012 to create new maps specifically to highlight areas at higher risk from power lines and other utility equipment. A team of experts, including Cal Fire specialists, is working on the maps. One risk those maps aim to highlight is places with high wind speeds, which appear to be a factor in the rapid spread of the fires last month. Another is the types of vegetation in an area.

The CPUC published an early version of the maps last summer, and the commission expects that the final maps will be released this winter. If the final maps determine that power lines or other equipment are in hazardous areas, utilities could be held to higher safety standards.

Moorlach says the whole process is taking too long.

“We’ve got bureaucrats that are doing this and they’re dragging their feet, and you’ve got utilities that know what the outcome is going to be and and they’re going to delay it as much as they can,” he told KQED.

Last year, the governor vetoed SB 1463, a bill Moorlach sponsored that would have required the CPUC and Cal Fire to prioritize the maps and to work more closely with local governments and fire departments to create the maps.

Brown wrote in his veto message that the agencies were already addressing Moorlach’s concerns, saying, “This deliberative process should continue and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum.”

CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said Moorlach’s bill would have actually slowed down the work.

“SB 1463 would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because Cal Fire was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate,” she wrote in an email to KQED.

Cal Fire already has hazard maps and, based on those maps, people who live in high-risk zones face tougher construction standards. Those maps were spurred by previous legislation. Fire building codes only apply to “very high” hazard areas within city boundaries. However, in areas where Cal Fire has jurisdiction, anything in “moderate” and “high” risk areas must meet their standards.

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