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Governor Newsom Promising Safe, Affordable, Reliable & Clean Power

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Governor Newsom Outlines State Efforts to Fight Wildfires, Protect Vulnerable Californians and Ensure That Going Forward, All Californians Have Safe, Affordable, Reliable and Clean Power

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today redoubled his call for fundamental change to PG&E and laid out a path forward to ensure the overly broad application of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) will never happen again.

After spending eight days on the road talking to Californians during the blackouts and wildfires and deploying state resources to help those impacted, the Governor outlined the state’s efforts to fight wildfires, protect vulnerable Californians and ensure that going forward, Californians have safe, affordable, reliable, and clean power.

In a Medium post and in taking questions at the Capitol from media, the Governor laid out the steps the parties in the PG&E bankruptcy must take to ensure safety investments and fundamental transformations can be made before the next fire season. His office also released a roadmap of how a transformed PG&E should operate.

To help the state game out every option and be prepared to intervene, the Governor is tapping his Cabinet Secretary Ana Matosantos to serve as Energy Czar along a with a dedicated team of advisors. Matosantos will continue to serve as Cabinet Secretary and play a leadership role in the budget process.

The Governor’s Medium post in full below:

This week, Californians stepped up and met the moment. In the face of fires and unprecedented blackouts, our state banded together – everyday Californians, local leaders, private businesses, philanthropy, unions and state government – to make sure that no Californian was left behind.  

California’s incredible firefighting and emergency response personnel showed why our state is world-class when it comes to wildfire preparation and firefighting expertise. Faced with historic winds and extreme fire danger, CAL FIRE quickly extinguished more than 2,000 wildfires this week and contained a number of fast-moving blazes, like the Kincade and Tick fires, without widespread loss of life.

The latest predictive technologies, prepositioned fire crews, new equipment, expedited vegetation management, and increased staffing all worked to keep Californians safe and minimize property damage. With our wildfire mitigation efforts that stopped wildfires before they started, and this immediate response to quickly put out the fires, thus far California has experienced a fire season that is below the average in the last five years in the number and severity of wildfires and the resulting damage. 

While this week showed how California is leading the world in wildfire prevention and response, PG&E presented the opposite portrait. Long and widespread blackouts highlighted their culture of ineptitude – a behemoth that was slow to act and resistant to change.

For decades, PG&E failed to prioritize public safety. Their lack of safety investments left PG&E – and nearly half of Californians – with an antiquated electrical system that is vulnerable to weather events and not at all prepared for the more extreme weather associated with the climate change that has been predicted for the past several decades and is now here.

This outdated infrastructure, lack of preparation and a failure to lead and be accountable to their customers and communities led PG&E to today’s overreliance on, and botched implementation of power shutoffs – failing customers and the state. Millions of Californians lost power for days at a time. Far too many households and businesses were without power for seven days straight.

This cannot – and will not – be the new normal. California demands better. PG&E customers deserve a utility that leads the nation – just like our state’s fire and emergency response personnel. California utilities must reflect our values by prioritizing public safety, affordability, renewable energy innovation, and climate change adaptation. Some of California’s utilities are leading the way. However, PG&E must fundamentally change – starting with a total transformation of its culture and governance. Most importantly, those changes must begin now, ahead of next year’s fire season.

The major wildfire safety bill that I signed into law earlier this year – AB 1054 – requires PG&E to make these fundamental changes. It forces PG&E to make massive investments in safety, ties executive compensation to the utility’s safety record and demands that every year the utility earn a safety certification from the state. And earlier this week, a newly energized California Public Utilities Commission took strong action by opening a major investigation into PG&E’s use of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), and vowing a total reform of the rules and regulations governing power shutoffs.

But achieving a permanently transformed utility requires PG&E to exit bankruptcy as quickly as possible. The State of California is developing the blueprint for a transformed utility. Consistent with AB 1054, PG&E must incorporate that blueprint into its bankruptcy plan.

To expedite the exit from bankruptcy and facilitate implementation of this transformation, I am convening current executives and shareholders of PG&E, wildfire victims, and PG&E’s other creditors in Sacramento next week in an effort to accelerate a consensual resolution to the bankruptcy cases that creates a new entity – one that better reflects our California values and will advance massive safety transformations beginning before next fire season.

Let me be clear – the creativity that so many people desire for PG&E to be a new company that prioritizes safety, understands the communities it serves, and is responsive to the needs of customers can only happen if we first get out of bankruptcy court.

It is my hope that the stakeholders in PG&E will put parochial interests aside and reach a negotiated resolution so that we can create this new company and forever put the old PG&E behind us.

If the parties fail to reach an agreement quickly to begin this process of transformation, the state will not hesitate to step in and restructure the utility.

To that end, I have tapped my Cabinet Secretary, Ana Matosantos, to serve as the state’s Energy Czar to lead a dedicated energy team with Ann Patterson, our lead attorney on the matter, Alice Reynolds, our lead energy and environmental policy expert, and Rachel Wagoner, our senior legislative strategist, spearheading the Administration’s energy efforts.

They will work closely with other senior leadership in my office, outside legal, financial and energy advisors, and leadership across state government to game out every option and prepare a plan should the state need to intervene. All options are on the table.

Californians deserve world-class utilities that prioritize safety and affordability, entities that will lead the world in green innovation and zero-carbon growth. That will continue to be the priority of our state and my Administration.     

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California

LA County Eliminates Criminal Fees. Will California Follow?

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by Jackie Botts for CalMatters

LOS ANGELES — The county will stop collecting fees that often amount to thousands of dollars per person. Los Angeles County will stop billing people millions of dollars a year for the costs of their incarceration in an effort to lighten the financial burden on former inmates.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to eliminate all criminal administrative fees over which the county has discretion after hearing testimony from dozens of formerly incarcerated residents.

The county is the fourth in California to eliminate the fees. If a bill introduced in the state Senate is approved, the rest of California could soon follow.

“Most of the people who have contact with the criminal justice system are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-wrote the measure. “It’s most definitely not the purpose of the justice system to punish poor people for their poverty.”

Among the fees that Los Angeles will no longer collect are a monthly $155 charge for probation supervision, $769 for a pre-sentence report, $50 for alcohol testing and legal counsel fees that can reach hundreds of dollars, according to a November report from a coalition of criminal justice reform advocacy groups.

“It’s just never-ending. It’s a revolving door of fees and stipulations,” Cynthia Blake told the supervisors. A mother of seven, Blake said she was homeless when she was assessed more than $5,000 in probation fees nearly a decade ago. Unable to pay, she “ducked and dodged” the probation department, ultimately ending up in prison.

The vote followed a December report from the county’s Chief Executive Office finding that the county assessed an average of $121 million in fines and fees each year since 2014, but collected about $11.4 million annually, or 9%.

Including all fees, fines and restitution, Los Angeles still has over $1.8 billion in outstanding debt on the books, dating back 50 years. The measure doesn’t touch restitution or fees and fines required by state law, however.

The county’s 2019-2020 budget for public protection — which includes the sheriff’s department, which operates county jails, probation and the courts — is $8.9 billion. 

Los Angeles follows the lead of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which have passed similar measures in the past two years. More than 30% of California’s nearly 73,000 jailed inmates and 356,000 probationers reside in the four counties that have eliminated fees, according to data from the Board of State and Community Corrections and Chief Probation Officers of California. Another 127,000 inmates are in state prisons and 45,000 are on state-run parole.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis (right) authored the measure to eliminate the fees. Photo by Jackie Botts

The supervisors also resolved to write Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators in support of SB 144, which would eliminate several of the most common and costly criminal administrative fees charged by counties and the state prison system.

“We are further hampering an already fragile family or community economically,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who authored the bill.

The bill is opposed by counties and law enforcement groups, which say that eliminating fees would leave gaping funding holes.

“One of the problems is that the legislature passes laws that have to be paid for… When they didn’t want to use general funds, they allowed it to be done as a fine or fee,” said Darby Kernan, deputy executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “That’s what holds the system together, and minus those dollars, the system will collapse.”

Kernan pointed to a 2016 state law that required people convicted of driving under the influence to install in their cars an interlock device — a breathalyzer that must be passed to turn on the ignition — and pay an administrative fee to cover the cost.

But Mitchell urged the governor to recognize that criminal fees are a “self-defeating, anemic source of revenue,” in a statement Tuesday.

“If LA can afford it, California can to,” Mitchell said.

Los Angeles’ move may bode well for Mitchell’s bill, if history is an indication. The county was a trendsetter when it stopped charging fees to parents for their kids’ time in the juvenile justice system in 2009. Three Bay Area counties followed, Mitchell introduced a bill to do so statewide and in 2018, California became the first state in the nation to abolish juvenile fees.

But that law didn’t do away with pre-existing debt from the juvenile fees. While most counties, including Los Angeles, stopped collecting the old fees from parents, 22 counties haven’t.

Both the Los Angeles ordinance and MItchell’s proposal make old administrative fees uncollectible.

Marquies Nunez has struggled to pay off his county criminal justice fees. Photo by Jackie Botts

That could make a big difference for Marquies Nunez. When the 28-year-old finished a 13-year sentence four months ago, he received a new bill for $1,000 from Los Angeles County. That was on top of the $12,000 he already owed in restitution fees, $2,000 of which he had paid off by working for 30 to 60 cents per hour while imprisoned.

“I was actually devastated and hurt… knowing that I worked so hard while I was in jail to pay off my restitution and now here it is, I got bumped up an extra $1,000,” said Nunez.

After Los Angeles’ vote, Nunez is optimistic about spreading the wave of reform to the rest of the state.

‘We’re going in the right direction. We got a good governor, we got good people outside here voting for these laws, good people in the Senate,” Nunez said. “We’ve got a bright future ahead of us.”


Jackie Botts is a reporter with CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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California

Impeachment Role Makes Schiff a Top Prospect for Senate

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CALIFORNIA (Ukiah Daily Journal) –It’s been clear for several years, that U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff would love to run for the U.S. Senate. So would California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, best known as a constant irritant for President Trump, and several others.

But Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the chief prosecutor in Trump’s impeachment trial, has a big leg up on his competition because of his months in the national limelight managing the effort to oust a president for the first time ever.

If running an impeachment effort should propel Schiff into the Senate, it would be a ironic sign of the massive changes California politics has seen over the last 25 years.

The congressman would likely have run for the Senate two years ago if veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then 84, […]

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California

Low Income Buyers Don’t Have Credit Cards – and Some Stores Don’t Accept Cash

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by Jackie Botts for CalMatters

CALIFORNIA — One state lawmaker says cash-free stores are discriminating against low-income customers, who often don’t have bank accounts.

Last May, Burger Patch first opened its doors in midtown Sacramento with a sign that said, “No Cash Accepted.” The owners of the organic and vegan burger joint were worried that a cash register might invite theft.

But customers kept showing up with only cash. Sometimes the cashiers would accept it, working around the digital system; other times, they’d simply give the customer a free meal. About a month in, Burger Patch changed course, deciding to install a cash register after all.

“We want to be able to have everyone come and eat here no matter what,” said Zia Simmons, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened.

“We want to be able to have everyone come and eat here no matter what,” said Zia Simmons, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened. “We don’t want to ever have to be like, well if you don’t have a card, you can’t eat here.”

A small, but growing number of businesses are no longer accepting cash. Owners say that accepting only credit cards, debit cards or digital wallets like Apple Pay is more efficient and lowers the risk of being robbed. Electronic forms of payments are gaining popularity with consumers.

But the cash-free trend has raised concerns that such shops exclude customers who rely exclusively on cash. Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo, says this amounts to discrimination against people without credit cards or bank accounts, who tend to be low-income. 

“I don’t think it’s intentionally discrimination. But that’s in fact what they’re doing,” Hill said. Cashless stores “may be the thing of the future, (but) it’s not there yet.”

That’s why Hill introduced a bill last week to require that all brick-and-mortar businesses in California accept cash. 
If passed, California would become the third state, after Massachusetts and New Jersey, to ban cashless businesses before they become widespread. San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City passed similar ordinances in the past year, and Washington, D.C., is currently considering a ban.

A customer pays with a credit card at Burger Patch, a vegan burger joint in Sacramento. Photo by Jackie Botts for CalMatters

California residents with limited resources are far more likely to use cash. While 7.4% of California households do not have banks, the rate among households earning less than $15,000 per year is 27.3%, according to a 2017 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

People of color, immigrants and disabled people are also more likely to be excluded by a cashless economy. In California, 20.5% of black households and 14.5% of Hispanic households do not use banks, according to the survey data. The rate is 24.8% among households that speak only Spanish at home and 20.7% among adults with disabilities. Single mothers lack access to bank accounts at a rate more than twice that of single fathers.

“When retailers don’t accept cash, they’re effectively locking out workers in low-wage jobs, communities of color and our homeless neighbors,” Andrea Zinder, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, which has endorsed the bill, said in a statement. 

People between the ages of 25 and 44 pay with cash less often than people who are older or younger — about one-fifth of the time, compared with one-third, according to a 2019 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Under the proposed law, cashless transactions would be legal, but if a business turns away a customer who only has cash, it could face a civil penalty between $25 and $500. Online retailers would be excluded, as would car rental businesses.

No groups have filed opposition against the bill yet, but Hill expects that retailers may put up a fight. Around 10% of the nearly 100,000 businesses that use Square, a financial check-out service, are cashless, according to a recent national study from the company.

California Retailers Association has not yet taken a position on the bill, said President and CEO Rachel Michelin. An uptick in retail theft has spurred some smaller retailers to turn towards electronic payments to avoid keeping cash behind the counter. She said the bill might be “premature” given that she hasn’t observed a widespread trend in stores going cashless, other than in more techy areas like Silicon Valley.

Sen. Jerry Hill speaks in support of his bill SB 38, which would support volunteer firefighters if passed
Sen. Jerry Hill speaks in the capitol. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Hill said the issue came on his radar when he walked into a restaurant in San Mateo last year.

“I saw there’s a sign there that said ‘we don’t accept cash.’ That kind of shocked me and surprised me,” Hill said. “That seemed almost like they were discriminating against those who did not have the ability to pay an electronic transaction, and for me that raised a flag.” 

The store was Sweetgreen, a build-your-own salad eatery with a sleek tech aesthetic, where a typical bowl costs upwards of $10. The chain phased out cash transactions in 2017 but reversed course last year.

“Going cashless… had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay or can only pay with cash,” the company explained in a blog post last April. “To accomplish our mission, everyone in the community needs to have access to real food.”

Amazon’s cashier-less automated convenience store, called Amazon Go, also decided to phase in the ability to take cash after facing backlash.

To Hill, that’s evidence that companies can transition back “without great difficulty.” 

“I don’t know if (this bill) is as big of a deal for (retailers) as those who are now discriminated against because they cannot pay with cash,” Hill said.

Jackie Botts is a reporter at CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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