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 — Taken to Task — August 23, 2017

The first piece below, from the California Policy Center, takes the CalPERS Board to task about its harsh treatment of the city of Loyalton and LA Works in their efforts to exit this multi-employer plan.

I have provided a solution for CalPERS in this regard that is fair and reasonable with Senate Bill 681 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pursuing Reforms — August 11, 2017 august 11, 2017 john moorlach). California cities have been a little slow in providing their support for the idea, but I’m hoping that they will join in the discussion. Public safety officials have been asking me for assistance. If something isn’t done to address these ridiculous exit penalties, I may suggest to municipalities that if their contract gets too onerous with CalPERS, that Loyalton has provided a path out.

In the second piece, from Politifact, I am taken to task for one sentence in a recent editorial submission in the Sacramento Bee that tangentially mentioned an uptick in crime as a reason to be concerned with fuel theft as the tax increases are implemented (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Changing Behaviors — August 4, 2017 august 4, 2017 john moorlach). Ironically, shortly after my editorial was printed, theAP published a story on the fuel black market and associated theft validating my supposition. But Politifact decided that they were going to take one sentence from my piece and scrutinize it and label my claim, “mostly false”.

Good grief! It’s no wonder that the term “fake news” is gaining traction.

As someone who has served as the Chair of the Orange County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee for some seven years, with members that included the Orange County Sheriff, the Chief Probation Officer, the Presiding Judge for the Superior and Juvenile Courts, the Director of the Health Care Agency, the Mental Health Administrator, the director of the Office of Independent Review, and a representative from the District Attorney’s office, their admonishment is a serious charge. Hasn’t crime been rising?

Let me start with a recent graphic from the OC Register (seehttp://www.ocregister.com/2016/04/08/crimes-up-in-orange-county-whats-to-blame/):

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The Politifact piece refers to the most recent reports for 2016 on violent crime increasing, so it’s interesting that I’m judged by it and with it, even though it came out after my piece. For more, see http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article167879952.html, https://calmatters.org/articles/uptick-california-crime-make-political-issue/ and http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/22/walters-californias-uptick-in-crime-has-political-repercussions/.

I won’t give a long lecture here about the impacts of Gov. Brown’s AB 109 on local communities, but it has been dramatic (see my reactions to its passage in MOORLACH UPDATE — AB 109 & CalOptima — December 12, 2011 december 12, 2011 john moorlach). We now have so many former state inmates in Orange County that our homeless population has boomed in the last five years. And, they hang around public spaces, like shopping centers and grocery stores. Look at the higher level of security staff at these venues in recent years. The number of housewives that have told me they are afraid when they go to purchase groceries has been alarming. And we’re talking cities like Costa Mesa and Newport Beach!

The voters were also duped into approving Propositions 47 (2014) and 57 (2016). With former felony crimes being reduced to misdemeanors, I would postulate that our public safety officials are not making as many arrests as they had in previous years. A suspect who will only be charged with a misdemeanor is back on the streets within hours and may even be visited by the same police officer later in the day for committing the same crime. Because of the unintended consequences of so many changes in the classifications of crimes, and the prohibitions and lack of incentives that peace officers have in detaining people for crimes, I believe our crime statistics are not accurate. Don’t trust me on this bold claim, ask the Police Chief of your city. Those that participated in my December hearing on what is happening in the communities in my District as a result of Gov. Brown’s policies certainly argued that crime is getting worse (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Propositions 47 and 57 — December 8, 2016 december 8, 2016 john moorlach).

It looks like Politifact is not even familiar with what is really happening in California. All the same, I’m honored that someone in this country is reading my editorial submissions and I’m happy to include critical pieces in my UPDATEs. It’s too bad they didn’t address the topic of my piece and honed in on one short sentence. It must have been a fun project for the writer. But, twisting some facts and disregarding others makes my piece, in their estimation, “mostly false.” Consequently, as I do not believe I am flippant in my published remarks, I requested a columnist with more than three decades of experience, to provide a more thorough review of Politifact‘s piece and his analysis taking them to task is presented as the conclusion below.

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TAPped out: The method to CalPERS’ madness toward tiny Sierra County city

By Steven Greenhut

http://californiapolicycenter.org/tapped-method-calpers-madness-toward-tiny-sierra-county-city/

Sacramento — Observers have wondered in recent months why the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest state pension fund and one of Wall Street’s most muscular financial players, has taken such a hamfisted approach toward one of California’s tiniest and least-powerful cities. There’s a rational, albeit troubling, reason for its approach.

After the Sierra County city of Loyalton (pop: 862) could no longer afford its monthly payments to CalPERS to pay the pension benefits for its one employee and four retirees, the City Council voted in 2013 to pull out of the pension fund. In response, CalPERS slapped it with a $1.66 million “termination fee” – far more than the city’s annual budget. That means that, as recent news reports reveal, Loyalton’s retirees will soon have their pension benefits slashed by 60 percent, which is a massive hit for a small number of people.

CalPERS is sending a message to other cities that want to leave the fund: agencies will pay dearly if they attempt to loosen CalPERS’ grip on their finances. The pension fund is taking a similarly hard line with some agencies in Southern California.

“The CalPERS Board of Administration in March voted to cut the pensions of close to 200 retirees from the East San Gabriel Valley Human Services Consortium,” reported the Los Angeles Times this month. That agency, known as LA Works, folded in 2014. On July 1, “CalPERS sliced the pension checks for the consortium’s retirees by 63 percent.” The Timesalso pointed to the Niland Sanitary District in Imperial County, which is currently negotiating with CalPERS over exit terms.

Every city’s payment for the “defined benefit” pensions that CalPERS administers is based in part on financial assumptions. The most important of these: the fund’s assumption that it will earn 7 percent on its investments (down from 7.5 percent). It calculates the fees that cities and other agencies have to pay based on benefit formulas and these assumptions about investment earnings.

As soon as an agency decides to leave the pension fund, CalPERS places its investments in what it calls the Terminated Agency Pool, or TAP. For agencies in the TAP, CalPERS assumes a rate of return of around 2 percent.

As I explained last month, this highlights a dirty little secret: The pension fund is bullish about the stock market when the public’s money is at risk, given that any shortfalls in investments ultimately are backed by California taxpayers. But when agencies leave the fund, CalPERS can no longer rely on taxpayers and future returns for those dollars. Its own money is at risk, so it then assumes a minuscule rate of return. That assumption increases dramatically what a local agency owes CalPERS.

CalPERS could have negotiated a deal for Loyalton, says Dan Pellissier, a former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and well-known pension reformer. He points to California law that states the CalPERS “board may negotiate with the governing board of the terminating agency” regarding the “terms and conditions of the termination” from the pension fund.

“CalPERS offered to negotiate payment options under the government code that you cited, but Loyalton said they couldn’t make those payments either,” CalPERS spokesperson Amy Morgan told me. “That is when they were moved into the terminated agency pool.”

But CalPERS also confirmed that “the negotiations were based on what the city could afford on the $1.6 termination liability cost that they owed, not the discount rate.” There’s obviously no way that a city that said it couldn’t afford its modest annual payment (reportedly around $3,500 a month) in the 7.5 percent fund could begin to afford the higher payments based on 2 percent earnings.

This is par for the course for CalPERS “negotiations.” When the city of San Jose tried to extricate its small pension plan for council members from CalPERS and move to a 401(k) system, CalPERS hit back. CalPERS had calculated the city’s liabilities at around $900,000 for that fund, but CalPERS wanted San Jose to pay around $5 million to exit.

“CalPERS does everything it can to keep the rats from leaving the sinking ship,” former Mayor Chuck Reed told me. “And they treat you like rats, too.”

Reed says CalPERS could have come up with a deal to let San Jose pay off the remaining pensions without adding new members. The pension fund has claimed that it isn’t statutorily allowed to do so, but that’s an open question. Moreover, CalPERS itself could push for a legislative change. “They do not want to help,” Reed said. “Clearly, they do not want people to leave.”

The point of the termination pool is to deal with agencies that become defunct. Loyalton still has an annual budget and government-owned assets such as a city hall. It’s a different story with LA Works and those handful of agencies that actually have dissolved. Those sorts of situations are what termination pools were designed to address.

Even when agencies actually go out of business, there’s room for a settlement. CalPERS’ termination pool has a surplus of $111 million, so it’s 200 percent funded. The idea is to have extra funds to cover shortfalls. LA Works would appear to have a good argument that this is an appropriate use of some of those funds.

“Upon termination, CalPERS becomes the guarantor of benefits for all members and beneficiaries whose benefits are paid from the TAP and has no future ability to obtain funds from former contracting employers,” wrote CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost, in a letter last month to the state Senate. She was responding to Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who harshly criticized the disparity between the assumed rates in the two investment pools.

But Frost’s rebuttal bolsters what pension reformers have been arguing. The TAP makes investments in “low-risk, U.S. government-issued securities” as a way to “minimize funding risk” because CalPERS then becomes the guarantor of all benefits. These are the investment assumptions CalPERS uses when it wants to be sure that it doesn’t lose any money.

“If you felt that 2 percent is the interest rate, you should be basing it on that rate the whole time,” Moorlach told me, rather than basing it on 7.5 percent and then lowering it to 2 percent once an agency wants to leave the system. “I’ve paid what you charged me. You’ve undercharged me. That’s your problem,” he added.

The bigger problem, of course, is that if CalPERS tried to move the entire system to a sustainable basis – i.e., one that is priced like a private fund that didn’t rely on public subsidies and future bull markets –it would need to increase dramatically what it charges member cities and agencies. Those public agencies already are slashing services to pay their current, escalating bills.

CalPERS’ “number one strategy is to preserve the defined benefit and get more employees into defined-benefit plans,” Pellissier said. So the fund “absolutely” is making an example of Loyalton to keep other cities from getting the wrong idea.

In the meantime, a reasonable negotiated settlement with Loyalton and other exiting agencies would quietly preserve the relatively small pensions of a handful of employees. However, it could also send the message to other cities and agencies that leaving CalPERS might be a doable alternative. Given its current union tilt, the pension fund certainly can’t allow that idea to gain traction.

Steven Greenhut is a contributing editor to the California Policy Center. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him atsgreenhut.

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Has crime been getting worse in California since Jerry Brown was elected governor?

By Chris Nichols

http://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2017/aug/22/john-moorlach/has-crime-been-getting-worse-jerry-brown-was-elect/

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California State Sen. John Moorlach / Associated Press file photo

Republicans including California State Sen. John Moorlach have railed against Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for signing a gas tax increase earlier this year.

The Orange County lawmaker took his criticism a step further in a recent op-ed in which he predicted the gas tax hike, combined with California’s cap-and-trade extension, would boost gas prices so much that thieves would start siphoning fuel from cars.

Moorlach went on to declare that crime has been on the rise under Brown.

“Crime has been getting worse since Jerry Brown was elected governor,” Moorlach wrote in the Aug. 4 piece in the Sacramento Bee. “The Bee reported, three-quarters of California’s largest cities saw violent crime rise in 2015, with Sacramento’s up 25 percent.”

We’ve fact-checked similar claims about increasing crime rates from other California lawmakers including State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County and Assemblyman Travis Allen, an Orange County Republican running for governor.

There’s been some truth in those claims, but those who made them also ignored key context or distorted the facts.

We wondered how Moorlach’s statement, specifically the portion about crime getting worse since Brown was elected, stacked up.

California crime trends

Before diving into the senator’s claim, here’s some background on California crime trends.

Like the rest of the United States, California has experienced a dramatic long-term reduction in crime over the past several decades.

Between 1980 and 2015, the state’s overall crime rate declined by about 60 percent, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

SOURCE: California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The property crime rate peaked in California at nearly 7,000 crimes per 100,000 population in the early 1980s. Three decades later, it had dropped by more than half.

The violent crime rate saw a similar dramatic drop during this period.

Moorlach’s claim

In his op-ed, Moorlach focuses on crime “since Jerry Brown was elected governor.”

We took that to mean Brown’s current stretch as governor, which started with his election to a third term in 2010 and continued with re-election to a fourth term in 2014.

Brown served his first two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983.

For this current stretch, we looked at crime data from 2010 through 2016, the most current year available. We also considered the period 2010 through 2015 because Moorlach’s spokesman said the senator did not have had access to a California Department of Justice report on crime for 2016, given that it was released two weeks after his op-ed published.

No matter the exact years selected, California’s crime story during over the past half decade is not as simple as Moorlach’s statement implies.

The statewide crime rate, which measures both violent and property crimes, ticked up in 2012 and 2015. It decreased, however, in the other four years during Brown’s current stint.

This overall crime rate includes violent and property crimes. Violent crimes are homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. Examples of property crimes include burglary, theft and vandalism.

Jonathan Peterson, a fiscal and policy analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, cautioned that year-over-year changes can make it look like crime is growing rapidly, “but it could be a blip.”

Peterson said the past six to seven years have been marked by fluctuations in California’s crime rate, not a steady increase or decrease.

Stanford Law School Professor John Donohue, who researches crime trends, said Moorlach’s claim might contain an element of truth but overall is flawed.

“One has to be very cautious about politicians making statements about crime because they will often try to make the numbers say something that isn’t quite representative,” said Donohue. “The broad trend for the last 25 years has been down and very benign. Crime is at a much lower level in practically every place today than it was 25 years ago. But in the last couple years there has been an uptick (in California and nationwide), and that’s a reason for concern.”

Deeper look at crime data

To fact-check Moorlach’s claim about crime getting worse, we examined statistics from the California Department of Justice’s recent report Crime in California 2016. It includes crime rate data from 1966 through 2016.

The data show that from 2010 through 2015, the most recent year from which Moorlach likely drew his conclusions, California’s overall crime rate declined slightly from 3,069 crimes per 100,000 population to 3,047 crimes per 100,000.

This casts doubt on Moorlach’s claim that crime has been getting worse.

Even when examining the violent crime rate alone, the results are mixed. In three of the years since Brown was elected, the violent crime rate notched up, while it dipped in the the other three years.

Had Moorlach narrowed his claim to 2011, Brown’s first year back as governor, through 2015, the crime story would be slightly different. California’s overall crime rate inched up between those years, from 3,007 crimes per 100,000 population to 3,047 per 100,000.

Moorlach’s response

Sen. Moorlach’s spokesman provided us with links to about a half-dozen news articles that detailed crime increases across California. None of the articles, however, showed a sustained increase from 2010 through 2016.

In his op-ed, Moorlach cited a spike in violent crime in 2015. He’s right for that single year for that type of crime: state justice department figures show an 8.4 percent rise in violent crime in 2015 compared with the prior year.

In recent months, politicians such as Assemblyman Allen have pointed to this period as evidence for growing crime concern in California.

Many have cited a PPIC analysis comparing the first half of 2014 to the same period in 2015. It found widespread increases in crime rates in California cities with a population greater than 100,000. Of the 66 California cities that size, 49 saw an increase in violent crime and 48 experienced increases in property crime. Many saw double digit percent increases.

A subsequent report comparing the first half of 2016 with the first half of 2015 showed overall crime decreasing, driven by a drop in property crimes. That report was published by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a policy research group that makes recommendations on alternatives to incarceration.

Two weeks after Moorlach’s op-ed was published, the California Department of Justice released statewide crime statistics for 2016.

That report showed a slight decrease in the total crime rate, driven by a nearly 3 percent decline in the property crime rate. Violent crime, meanwhile, increased about 4 percent in 2016. We won’t use these statistics as a determining factor in our rating for Moorlach’s claim since his spokesman said the senator didn’t have the report.

The 2016 data, however, appear to support the idea that crime has not followed a consistent pattern in California over the past half dozen years.

Our rating

Republican State Sen. John Moorlach recently claimed “crime has been getting worse since Jerry Brown was elected governor.”

His spokesman pointed to news articles that cite an uptick in crime in 2015, when many large cities in California saw double-digit increases in violent crime. But neither those articles nor state crime reports show a sustained increase from the time of Brown was elected governor in 2010 through the current period.

In fact, there was a slight decrease in the state’s overall crime rate from 2010 through 2015, the most recent year Moorlach was likely referring to.

Crime researchers emphasized that California and the nation have experienced a dramatic decrease in crime in recent decades. They say California’s crime rate increases in 2012 and in 2015, however, are reason for concern but are not evidence that crime has gotten worse over the past half dozen years.

We rate Moorlach’s claim Mostly False.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

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Refutation of Politifact Article

 

Politifact misrepresented Sen. John Moorlach’s Aug. 4, 2017 op-ed, and inadvertently affirmed the op-ed’s claims on crime rising under Gov. Jerry Brown.

  1. Misdirection.The body of the Politifactarticle is 1,269 words. Of that, 158 words are spent on crime statistics going way back to 1965.  Another 255 words are spent on statistics from the California Department of Justice report on crime for 2016 which was released on Aug. 17, 2017, almost two weeks after Sen. Moorlach’s Aug. 4, 2017 op-ed.

If a sentence or two had been used to refer to those two time periods, that would have been acceptable. But Politifact’s out-of-time-period  presentation, combined, comes to 403 words, or 33% of the total words of the article. It thus misdirects the reader from the actual period at hand, 2011, when Brown became governor again, to 2015, the last year for which data were available as of Aug. 4, 2017. (See below for the segments and their word tallies.)

  1. Politifact’s own statements. Let’s look at the other statements in the Politifact article. Direct quotes:
  2. “Stanford Law School Professor John Donohue, who researches crime trends, said Moorlach’s claim might contain an element of truth but overall is flawed.

“ ‘One has to be very cautious about politicians making statements about crime because they will often try to make the numbers say something that isn’t quite representative,’ said Donohue. ‘The broad trend for the last 25 years has been down and very benign. Crime is at a much lower level in practically every place today than it was 25 years ago. But in the last couple years there has been an uptick (in California and nationwide), and that’s a reason for concern.’”

Assuming the quote is correct, note: Donohue did not directly mention Moorlach’s name, but, within the quote marks, use a generality about “politicians,” plural. And here’s what Donohue said, within quotes, about the recent period in question: “But in the last couple years there has been an uptick (in California and nationwide), and that’s a reason for concern.”

  1. Politifact again: “Had Moorlach narrowed his claim to 2011, Brown’s first year back as governor, through 2015, the crime story would be slightly different. California’s overall crime rate inched up between those years, from 3,007 crimes per 100,000 population to 3,047 per 100,000.”

And that’s precisely – narrowly – the time period in question: 2011, Brown’s first year back as governor, and 2015, the last year available at the time the op-ed appeared. And crime went up.

  1. “In his op-ed, Moorlach cited a spike in violent crime in 2015. He’s right for that single year for that type of crime: state justice department figures show an 8.4 percent rise in violent crime in 2015 compared with the prior year.”
  2. “Many have cited a PPIC analysiscomparing the first half of 2014 to the same period in 2015. It found widespread increases in crime rates in California cities with a population greater than 100,000. Of the 66 California cities that size, 49 saw an increase in violent crime and 48 experienced increases in property crime. Many saw double digit percent increases.”
  3. Conclusion.Parsed correctly, the Politifact article in fact – or in Politifact– affirms what the op-ed claimed, “Crime has been getting worse since Jerry Brown was elected governor.”
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