Good morning, California. It’s Monday, October 26.
Wind, wind, wind
Brace yourself for the most dangerous fire weather of the season — and prepare to light a lot of candles.
Nearly 1 million Californians will spend the day without power after PG&E initiated its largest shutoffs of the year Sunday to mitigate fire risk as bone-dry winds reaching 70 miles per hour pummel Northern California. Meanwhile, Santa Ana winds of up to 80 miles per hour are slamming Southern California, prompting Southern California Edison to warn 71,000 customers could lose power.
- Duane Dykema, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey: “It’s definitely the strongest wind event of this fire season and probably the lowest humidity as well. … So overall, these are the most dangerous and critical conditions we’ve seen this fire season.”
It’s the latest superlative in a fire season that has already set record books ablaze. Wildfires have burned over 4.1 million acres this year — more than double California’s previous record — and August and September spawned five of the six largest fires in state history. Meanwhile, at least seven new fires ignited in Shasta County over the weekend, and officials expressed concern that gusty winds could exacerbate the 20 major wildfires still raging across the state.
- Scott Strenfel, PG&E’s head of meteorology and fire science: “We’re seeing four extremes … extremely high winds, extremely low humidity, extreme dry fuels due to the hottest average temperatures over the last six months according to records that go back 126 years, and extreme drought across the territory given lack of rainfall.”
Today, PG&E will provide a federal judge with more information about the role its equipment may have played in sparking the deadly Zogg Fire. A lot is on the line for the utility, which recently pled guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire and emerged from bankruptcy incurred by billions of dollars in wildfire-related liability costs.
A report released last week by PG&E’s court-appointed investigator found that the utility’s vegetation-management policies — intended to prevent trees from crashing into power lines and sparking fires — have regressed since 2019.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 898,029 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17,345 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.
Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other stories you should know
1. California’s early turnout heavily Democratic
California Democrats are voting early at much higher rates than Republicans or independents, inverting voting patterns seen in past elections, CalMatters’ Dylan Svoboda reports. As of Sunday, 35% of Democrat voters had turned in their ballots, compared to 26% of Republicans and 24% of independents, according to Political Data Inc. Election experts attribute the change to President Donald Trump casting aspersions on voting by mail, which has long been a mainstay of Republican turnout. As a result, California campaigns counting on GOP votes are embarking on a longer outreach effort than usual.
- Matt Rexroad, a Republican campaign consultant: “Usually, the Republicans vote early and then the Democrats trickle in. … This time … we have much longer lists of Republicans that we are calling to encourage them to make sure they know where and how to vote on Election Day.”
2. Next stage of Exide cleanup
How effectively has California overseen the cleanup of Exide’s shuttered battery-recycling plant in Los Angeles, the site of the largest toxic contamination in state history? We’ll know more Tuesday, when the state auditor releases a report analyzing the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s efforts. The department announced Friday that it had agreed — against its wishes — to allow a court-approved trustee to take over the contaminated site. A federal judge last week gave Exide the green light to abandon the site on Oct. 30. The trustee will handle cleanup efforts and selling or leasing the land, though DTSC will maintain an oversight role, the Los Angeles Daily News reports. Although cleanup costs could reach $100 million, only $30 million is available for the trust — raising questions about who will shoulder the remaining cost. Taxpayers have already spent $270 million on remediation efforts.
3. Newsom ousts water board member ahead of controversial vote
When a regional water board votes on a controversial seawater desalination plant later this year, one of the project’s most outspoken critics won’t be there to weigh in. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he was replacing William von Blasingame on the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board with Tustin City Councilmember Letitia Clark — raising concerns among environmentalists that the governor did so at the behest of Poseidon Water, the company proposing the Orange County desalination project. Poseidon has spent $614,500 this year lobbying Sacramento on water policy, the Voice of OC reports. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Opponents of the desalination project say it will quintuple water rates, harm marine life and cause environmental damage to nearby neighborhoods, which are predominantly working-class and Latino. Proponents say it will help local communities avoid a water shortage while creating new jobs. The desalination debate is ongoing across the state — last month, a water company withdrew its application for a plant in the Monterey Bay town of Marina amid concerns about its impact on underserved communities.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California has a new financial regulatory regime with broad powers — but its reach remains vague.
Forgotten nonprofits: California must establish pandemic policies for nonprofits, including contract flexibility, relief programs and access to COVID-19 funding, argues Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits.
Helping renters: Berkeley and Oakland are working on a first-in-the-state policy to preserve affordable housing, write Hewot Shankute and Seema Rupani of the East Bay Community Law Center.
Local challenges: The success of a state groundwater bill depends entirely on local implementation, argues Burnell Blanchard of Searles Valley Minerals.
Other things worth your time
UCSD graduate Kate Robbins votes from space station. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Snippy over Trump-Biden, California voters unload in hair salons, barbershops. // Mercury News
Resistance to Newsom’s lockdown orders reach new high in California’s ‘State of Jefferson.’ // Sacramento Bee
How San Francisco became California’s first urban center to enter the least restrictive reopening tier. // Los Angeles Times
‘Money was made fast and furiously’: The FBI probe into Borrego Health in Riverside County. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Behind the battle for the future of California’s oil. // KQED
How Los Angeles’ coast became a DDT dumping ground. // Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles expecting another record year for hate crimes. // Crosstown LA
CSU graduation rates show steady improvement amid pandemic. // EdSource
Thousands of Fresno students chronically absent as schools weigh return to classrooms. // Fresno Bee
See you tomorrow.
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