Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, November 2.
Blackouts also under scrutiny
California lawmakers and 500 more from around the nation want the federal government to do more to address climate change. The federal government wants to know whether PG&E was responsible for causing the Dixie Fire, the second-largest blaze in California history.
But the federal probe wasn’t the only bomb PG&E dropped Monday: It also projected that it will face a loss of at least $1.15 billion — a figure it acknowledged was “on the lower end of the range” of reasonable estimates — from the Dixie Fire, which destroyed the historic town of Greenville, became the first blaze in state history to burn from one side of the Sierra Nevada to the other, and resulted in at least one death.
PG&E recently told a federal judge that the Dixie Fire likely would have been averted if the utility’s new “Fast Trip” safety initiative — which aims to mitigate wildfires by triggering blackouts whenever power lines come into contact with trees, animals or other objects — had already been in place. But California’s top utility regulator slammed the initiative as “shortsighted” in an Oct. 25 letter to PG&E CEO Patti Poppe, noting that it’s caused more than 560,000 homes and businesses to abruptly lose power since late July.
California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer: “Care and understanding for how the loss of power may affect customers has been overwhelmingly absent.” These problems “are deeply and sincerely concerning, and continue to raise questions about PG&E’s ability to evolve as a company and to internalize and prioritize customer well-being.”
A PG&E spokesperson told the Sacramento Bee: The program has “proven effective at preventing wildfires,” but “our initial customer communications fell short, and reliability on some circuits has been unacceptably poor. We have committed to improving on both.”
Kounalakis, who is leading the California delegation in Newsom’s stead, posted a photo of herself speaking at an event on jobs and climate action alongside three other panelists, including Ali Zaidi, Biden’s deputy national climate advisor. “Our zero carbon future must not only be healthier, cleaner but also more equal,” Kounalakis wrote.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 4,666,938 confirmed cases(+0.4% from previous day) and 71,532 deaths(+0.02% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Monday brought a slew of developments in California’s health care sector. Here are the highlights:
Open enrollment began for Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace that currently serves 1.6 million residents. Californians can sign up for coverage through Jan. 31, 2022 — and 85% of the roughly 1.1 million uninsured residents eligible for financial assistance could get no-cost coverage thanks to expanded federal aid, officials said.
The three people charged with implementing California’s response to the housing crisis are likely officials you’ve never heard of: Lourdes Castro Ramírez, who leads the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency; Gustavo Velasquez, who directs the California Department of Housing & Community Development; and Tiena Johnson Hall, who leads California’s Housing Finance Agency. Yet their agencies exert enormous influence on California’s housing landscape — as they discuss in the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter,” a podcast hosted by CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon. For example, Velasquez is leveraging new authority and resources to investigate the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ recent rejection of a proposal to build a 495-unit apartment complex in a parking lot.
Velasquez: “There will be jurisdictions that will be unwilling” to plan for and build enough housing to meet the state’s regional needs. “But we have now … more capacity to track this work, to monitor this work, and if need be, take enforcement actions as required by state law.”
3.Pandemic hits middle-class Californians hard
How severely was California’s middle class squeezed during the pandemic? Well, since March 2020, the Golden State’s billionaires added more than $551 billion to their net worth, even as the state’s other residents filed more than 25 million unemployment claims. Among them was Maybelle Manio, a 42-year-old commercial real estate agent and San Mateo County school board president who had never before turned to government assistance. But as the bills piled up and work dried up, Manio found herself $70,000 in debt — even after the last-resort measure of emptying her son’s college fund. For CalMatters’ California Divide project, Jesse Bedayn explores what Manio’s experience reveals about the financial, social and existential predicaments many middle-class Californians have experienced amid the pandemic.
Manio: “I’ve always been independent and self-sufficient. … I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I’m falling deep into this financial hole. I have no idea how I’m going to get back, and I have no idea where this is going to lead me.”
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