Incoming: heat wave
Another big heat wave is set to blanket California this weekend — bringing with it gusty winds, increased fire risk, unhealthy air quality and potential power shutoffs even as Californians reel from what is already the worst fire season in recorded history.
Temperatures could spike to 10 to 20 degrees above normal throughout the state, and much of Northern California will remain under a fire weather watch through Monday due to strong winds and low humidity, state fire officials said Thursday. Meanwhile, PG&E warned it may shut off power to customers in the northern Sierras and Sacramento Valley region to reduce fire risk.
The early-autumn heat wave follows a summer defined by two record-breaking heat waves, the first rolling power outages in nearly two decades, and powerful winds that exacerbated historic fires and caused more power shutoffs. It also comes as more than 18,200 firefighters are stretched thin across 26 major wildfires — including five of the six largest in California history.
- Climatologist Bill Patzert: “There are another two months of drama ahead. If you think the season is bad now, just wait.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has doubled down on climate change. On Thursday, he signed a suite of environmental protection bills — including one that mandates CRV plastic bottles be made with 50% recycled materials by 2030 — and launched a new program called the California Climate Action Corps. On Wednesday, he directed state officials to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars starting in 2035 and asked lawmakers to ban new fracking permits by 2024. Several plan to introduce a bill to do so next session.
About three in four Californians say wildfires pose a greater threat than ever before, with 90% percent of Democrats saying climate change is a major factor, compared to 19% of Republicans, according to a Thursday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.
- Newsom on Wednesday: “I heard a pundit the other day describe California in the last month as a nature hike through the Book of Revelations (sic). And that’s self-evident to anyone living out here. … Unfortunately, it’s become a partisan issue. We have people that are in denial about science, denial about facts.”
In his latest “big, hairy, audacious” move, Newsom wants to ban the sale of gas-powered cars in California. Will President Trump use this to bash California and the Biden-Harris ticket? He’s almost certain to try, writes CalMatters’ Ben Christopher.
Other stories you should know
1. Feinstein in the spotlight
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is in the hot seat. She will lead the Democrats’ attempt to block Republicans from appointing President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, despite concerns that she may be incapable of doing so due to her age. And on Thursday, her husband, Richard Blum, was identified as the regent who helped an unqualified student gain admission to UC Berkeley following a scathing state audit into unfair admissions practices at the University of California. Blum sent an “inappropriate letter of support” to the UC Berkeley chancellor in support of a student with a 26% chance of getting off the waitlist, who was later admitted, the state auditor said.
- Blum, who has been a UC Regent since 2002: “I did it a bunch of times. … Usually friends. My cousin’s brother wanted to get into Davis. They’d send me a letter and tell me why it’s a good kid, and I’ll send it on to the chancellor. Been doing it forever. … I’m not convinced I’ve done anything wrong. It all sounds kinda boring to me.”
- UC Regents Chair John Pérez: “The UC Board of Regents takes these matters very seriously and any violations will be promptly and appropriately addressed.”
2. Breonna Taylor protests sweep across California
Protests swept across California Wednesday and Thursday nights following a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to charge any police officer directly in the March killing of Breonna Taylor. Protests in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and other California cities followed a summer of demonstrations against police brutality and racism galvanized by the May death of George Floyd, federal agents’ July intervention in Portland, Ore. protests, and the August shooting of Jacob Blake, among others. Although both Newsom and state lawmakers promised to enact ambitious police reforms in the wake of the protests, many stalled in the final days of the legislative session in August.
3. Few public elementary schools applying to reopen
As elementary schools across California apply for waivers to resume in-person learning, a picture of disparity is emerging: More than 500 private schools have had waivers approved, representing at least 25% of the state’s K-6 private-school enrollment. But only around 120 public-school campuses have reopened, accounting for about 1.6% of K-6 public-school enrollment, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. The reopening requirements generally pose less challenges for private schools, many of which don’t have teachers unions and only have to get buy-in from smaller subsets of the community. The imbalance between private and public schools could begin to shift as more counties move into less restrictive tiers, though some districts remain hesitant to return to in-person instruction.
- Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County’s public health officer: “The bottom line is education is an important part of public health, and if we’re educating kids in private schools and not educating kids in public schools, then what’s going to come of that is an education and class difference, ultimately.”
4. Tombstone remains without clean water
Tombstone Territory, a small rural community in Fresno County, doesn’t have drinkable water — despite the fact that Newsom visited Tombstone more than a year ago to establish a fund of $1.4 billion over 10 years to tackle the state’s clean water crisis, the Fresno Bee reports. The situation underscores the convoluted and lengthy process of bringing clean water to a community, including tangled local politics, the rigamarole of government approval and funding challenges. Though Tombstone submitted a funding application to the state in June, the review process is expected to last another six months — meaning the project is unlikely to reach completion before 2023.
- Jovita Torres-Romo, a Tombstone resident: “What I don’t understand is, if he (Newsom) already came and became aware of the issue, signed the bill and allocated the funds … where is the action? We are fighting against the clock here.”
- Laurel Firestone of the State Water Resources Control Board: “The reality is, there are barriers. Constructing a whole new drinking water system doesn’t happen overnight.” But “it shouldn’t take nine months (for the state) to process an application.”