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Gov. Newsom Green Lights PG&E’s ‘License To Burn’

Quick Water & Weather Report

Why did flows increase out of Lake Mendocino this month? 

According to this press release from the Sonoma Water Agency, (and believe it or not) “Lake Mendocino’s watershed is in a “normal” water supply condition and hence we have to meet increased minimum flow requirements in the Russian River – that means we have to increase flows out of Lake Mendocino. We beg to differ with our water rights permits, and thus in mid-November petitioned the State Water Resources Control Board to change that so we can save water in Lake Mendocino during this continuing drought. The State Water Board approved our petition and beginning on February 1, the water supply condition will almost certainly change to “dry” unless a big storm comes our way before then – which is not forecasted to happen. So, long story short, Sonoma Water acted proactively late last year to save water in Lake Mendocino based on our water rights permits and we will continue to proactively work with our regulatory colleagues to save the water for our community in our reservoirs!”

Currently, Lake Mendocino has 43,232 acre feet behind the dam with an overall capacity of 118,000 acre feet, which means it’s about 37% “full.”

It appears the next possibility of rain is mid-February when it might snow also.

Our current rainfall for the year is 36.90 inches compared to the historical average of 38.60 inches this time of year. The historical, annual precipitation for Laytonville is 67 inches. On this date last year during the historic drought, we had 19.55 inches of precipitation, and ended up with a total rainfall of just 29 inches, the lowest on record. Previously we knew that our aquifer would recharge if we received half, or approximately 32 inches to 33 inches, of our historical average of 67 inches of precipitation. Last year it recharged at 29 inches, which is new data and also good news because we already have nearly 37 inches,

Bookworm Tax Proposal

I recently reported that Mendocino County library supporters informed me of their intention to circulate petitions to place a tax measure on the November 2022 ballot that would add a one-quarter cent (0.25%) sales tax to fund libraries in Mendocino County. Nearly every town in this county has a “Friends of the Library” group that work, organize and fund-raise to establish brick-and-mortar libraries throughout the county. My daughter is a founding member of the Laytonville library group.

Two weeks ago that item caused a number of readers to respond expressing their concerns about the proposed voter initiative.

Last week after a follow report on the library issue, more comments came in, including one from Linda Bailey who originally opposed the tax proposal but now supports it.

As I’ve pointed out the proposed measure has a lockbox provision that specifies:

• The imposition of a permanent one-quarter cent (0.25%) sales tax for the specific purpose of maintaining and improving library services in Mendocino County; and 

• The creation of a special fund for these tax proceeds to be used exclusively for maintaining and improving library services. At least forty percent (40%) are reserved for capital investments, such as building improvements. 

Here’s the new responses.

Linda Bailey (Jan. 24, 2022): I was an activist for increased tax support for the County Library, both the failed parcel tax and successful Measure A. However, I will not support this tax proposal unless and until the library is structured in accordance with the governing statute for County Free Libraries. It currently is treated as a County department for command and control by the CEO and as a special district, which it legally is, for the financial accounting.. This hybrid model deprives the County Librarian of the ability to purchase equipment according to his/her professional judgment; for example, three designs for the new circulation desk in Ukiah were submitted before the CEO gave her approval. Importantly, this arrangement also empowers the CEO to siphon off library funds for county personnel through A87 charges–check out the last budget. Requiring equipment purchases to be made through GSA (in the CEO’s office) not only prevents the librarian from possible economies but also enables charging the library for any time that any county employee spends processing the purchase.

Linda Bailey (January 29, 2022): RETRACTION: Contrary to my previous comments, I will support and promote a permanent 1/2% sales tax for the county library.

Happily, I woke up this morning saner. The sales tax is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL for the survival of our county libraries. The dedicated property tax is simply not enough to keep the doors open.

An institution with some bureaucratic warts is way better than no institution at all. We would have to wait a long time for perfection. Shutting our libraries would be a grievous loss for all county residents.

I urge all to support this sales tax.

Tom Hine (AKA Tommy Wayne Kramer): Teenagers have more information in their phone than all the libraries and librarians in Mendocino County put together, times 1000. There is no more pressing need for libraries today than for Sears & Roebuck outlets, Beta Max videos or Newsweek Magazine. All died of natural causes. 

To keep the local library system on life support prolongs the inevitable with tax dollars better off in our own bank accounts. We could spend the money on vacations to Cleveland, tires for the car and lots of new books on Kindle. 

A Kindle has more to read at the click of a button than you’ve ever read in your life, and more inside a 5 x 7 slab than all the books County libraries have ever handled. The collected works of Edgar Allan Poe for a penny, everything by Shakespeare, 99 cents. Bestsellers at a discount. Lots of books free or under a dollar, and anybody who self-publishes can sell it on Amazon Books. 

George Dorner: I dislike opposing fellow library lovers, but I maintain my position. Dedicated funding that does not make it to the library is exactly as useful to the library as no funding whatsoever. And, given past history, there is little likelihood any increased funding won’t be used on cannabis control, or outsourced legal opinions, or whatever. I say whatever, because no one is about to confide where the funds actually go in such a case.

Lazarus: Another add-on tax, all one has to do is look to the Measure B squander. Millions got blown on a five mil house, which is worth maybe one mil. Now 20 mil+ on a Psychiatric Health Facility in the sky. The problem with these tax measures is the people spending the money are not money people. Most are institutionalized long-time government employees. That will make more in retirement than they currently do. With that coming in their future, who cares what stuff costs. Its only money is the philosophy and it cost what it cost. Libraries were once a much-needed facility. But in today’s internet-crazed world, libraries are the dinosaurs of knowledge. As long as the internet exists, there is no need for the masses. Granted for the poor, in developing third world type places, the need is there. But in today’s modern society, not so much. Keep them open, but do it another way. Remove a few bucks from the overpaid government do-gooders and others who would rather spend/squander your money than theirs. Until it’s proven government has earned my trust to spend wisely, I’m voting NO on all so-called Tax Measures. Thank you, Measure B, for the painful education. 

John McCowen: “The Grand Jury report mentioned here is from 2015. After it was issued Supervisor Gjerde and I were appointed to an ad hoc committee to investigate and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. We determined that the Grand Jury was correct and that A-87 costs were mistakenly being applied to Library fixed assets that were funded by grants, donations or dedicated library funds. The charges that were mistakenly applied amounted to about $100,000 over several years and were repaid in full and with interest. The small amount of property tax increment dedicated to the library is not enough to fund the current level of operations. Renewing the current 1/8 cent sales tax (and ideally increasing it by 1/8 cent) is essential if we want our libraries to be centers for community education and involvement. The proposed 1/8 cent increase will be more than offset when the Measure B sales tax reduces from 1/2 cent to 1/8 of a cent early next year. The library tax is a Special Tax, requiring a 2/3rds vote and by law can only be spent for library services and operations. “

Gov. Newsom Green Lights PG&E’s “License To Burn”

Shortly after my column appeared last week on PG&E’s 5-year probation coming to an end, I received an email report from Pete Woiwode, of Reclaim Our Power, a grass roots organization that is working to restructure California’s energy system so that it can actually better serve ratepayers, something that the California Public Utilities Commission has failed to do for the past three decades.

Here’s Woiwode’s report, it’s very informative and I thank him for sending it my way.

On Jan. 31, Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration issued utility giant PG&E’s “safety certificate,” which fire survivors and advocates are calling a “license to burn.” Granting the safety certificate means PG&E customers, including PG&E fire survivors, are on the hook to bail out the utility financially if it causes further wildfires. Today wildfire survivors, energy experts and environmental justice leaders publicly urged the governor to deny PG&E’s request for the “license to burn,” but learned during their press event from journalists that the Governor had granted the certificate hours before. 

“It’s no coincidence that hours before we were going public with our demands, days before meeting with the people who have been terrorized by PG&E, the Newsom administration quietly handed a License to Burn back to the most murderous corporation in history,” said Mari Rose Taruc, coordinator of the Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign. “This process has been opaque from the beginning, and Newsom’s decision today continues the legacy of protecting shareholder profits while our communities pay the price.” 

“We’ve demanded transparency and leadership for years- and today was the opposite.” Taruc continued “He still has the chance to intervene in PG&E’s deadly ways. Today’s decision was a staggering failure by the Newsom administration - but these failures have deadly consequences. The people of California can’t afford any more.” 

“What a colossal failure of leadership. Today’s decision is a doubling down on the energy system that got us in this mess- not the 21st century utility that we were promised. What we need is a safe, reliable, renewable energy system, controlled by the workers and communities that need power to live. Fire survivors, not corporate executives, should decide our energy future.” said Gabriela Orantes, from the North Bay Organizing Project. “Our vision for a future is possible, and we’re building it every day- but it is incompatible with PG&E and their License to Burn. Governor Newsom, we need you to lead, or step out of the way.” 

“Governor Gavin Newsom is guilty of aiding and abetting a convicted serial killer by granting them a License to Burn. This means more lives lost and destruction to communities throughout California and higher utility bills with every bailout we’re forced to pay,” said Jessica Tovar, Local Clean Energy Alliance. “We’re done with PG&E, and Governor Newsom should be too.”

“Now that Newsom’s given PG&E a License to Burn, who’s going to pay for PG&E’s murderous failures?” asked Mary Kay Beson, fire survivor advocate and Butte county resident. “People in Butte county who live every day knowing the fires will come back, people with disabilities who know that a corporation who’s willing to shut off their breathing machines to make a profit, people who have to choose between paying rent, feeding their kids, or keeping the power on because their PG&E bill is going up to cover executive salaries. Does that seem “safe” to you, Governor Newsom?”

PG&E fire survivors and environmental justice leaders call the “safety certificate” a license to burn because with a new safety certificate in hand, the utility will be eligible to tap into a $21 billion “wildfire fund” to pay itself back for the damages it causes if it sparks yet another fire. Incredibly, the state wildfire fund is funded by utility customers through monthly utility bill surcharges and ratepayer revenues. 

Fire survivors, people with disabilities, environmental justice groups and energy experts from the Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign were scheduled to meet with Governor Newsom next week to discuss the safety certificate. They demand that PG&E - not fire survivors and ratepayers - be financially responsible for PG&E’s fires, and the Newsom administration works to take the energy of California out of the hands of Wall St., and put it in the hands of the people. 

 “Governor Newsom needs to trust us - the people of California, the people closest to the ground, the people who have suffered from PG&E’s reign of terror,” said Margarita Garcia, a lead organizer in Sonoma County working with farm workers and fire survivors. “In the farm fields, in our homes, in our communities - our lives, lungs and livelihoods have been sacrificed for PG&E’s profits. We’re fighting for control of our future, and we need Governor Newsom on our side.” Garcia is a leader of North Bay Jobs with Justice working for environmental, language, health and safety justice in the wine fields. 

California’s “wildfire fund” was established in 2019 via the Newsom administration-drafted AB 1054. The law, which was pushed through the legislature in just five days, allows PG&E and the state’s other investor-owned utilities, San Diego Gas & Electric Co., and Southern California Edison, to tap into a $21 billion “wildfire fund” when they cause destructive and deadly fires. The fund is paid for by utility customers via surcharges on utility bills, plus utility revenues created by ratepayers. To qualify for access to the fund, utilities must acquire a yearly “safety certificate” from the state’s Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety.

Advocates and ratepayers aren’t the only ones sounding the alarm against PG&E. Recently, U.S. District Judge Willam Alsup, who oversaw the company’s probation over the past five years, called the utility a “menace to California.” He added “PG&E has gone on a crime spree” during its probation period noting that “while on probation, PG&E has set at least 31 wildfires, burned nearly one and one-half million acres, burned 23,956 structures, and killed 113 Californians.” 

Investigators confirm the utility giant is responsible for several of the most devastating fires in California’s history including the 2021 Dixie Fire, the 2020 Zogg Fire, the 2019 Kincade Fire, and the 2018 Camp Fire. In addition, PG&E was convicted of multiple safety violations stemming from the 2010 deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion. And, a Nevada jury found PG&E guilty of 739 counts of criminal negligence for starting the 1994 Sierra Blaze for failing to trim trees near its power lines.

In order to secure a “safety certificate” from Gov. Newsom, PG&E does not have to stop leveling communities nor does it have to provide reliable or safe electricity. The company doesn’t even have to stop killing people with fires. All PG&E has to do to earn its new “safety certificate” is create and get a rubber stamp on a “wildfire mitigation plan,” agree to implement the findings of a safety assessment, establish a safety committee made up of PG&E’s own board members and say that the company is tying executive compensation to safety. 

 “Thirty-percent of Butte County’s homeless are wildfire survivors, many of whom have not received one penny from PG&E’s settlement for the Camp Fire survivors. Why should PG&E be paid before fire survivors?” said Mary Kay Benson, advocate for fire survivors and Butte County homeless organizer. 

PG&E fire survivors and environmental justice leaders see a better path forward for Californians. A safe, efficient, equitable, clean energy future for California would include smaller, locally-based, independent and self-sufficient, clean power systems made up of a combination of solar panels, wind turbines, combined heat & power, batteries as well as public utilities that answer to the people who live in California. Microgrids powered by safe, clean energy plus storage are a reality today - they keep the power on when PG&E’s grid fails or when the utility shuts it down. Examples include UC San Diego’s microgrid, Sonoma County’s Stone Edge Farm, multiple fire stations in the City of Fremont, residential neighborhoods, and small business complexes.

“PG&E’s negligence is unprecedented, our response needs to be transformative,”said Taruc. “Governor Newsom is putting PG&E profits before our lives.”

Proposed Law To Fix Congested Ports, Crippling The Supply Chain

California farmers lost an estimated $2.1 billion in export sales between May and September last year due to port congestions, according to a study by the University of California, Davis. Farmers across the state are experiencing fallout from congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, threatening the state’s economic viability.

California’s agricultural production and processing industries generate nearly $50 billion for the state’s economy, ranked 5th in the world. This vital part of the economy may be in jeopardy.

Assembly Bill 1679 proposes to attempt to fix this problem

Assembly Bill 1679 creates a high-level advisor to advocate, expedite and swiftly remove hurdles in the supply chain to ensure efficiency and address choke points. This individual will be tasked to make sure that long term solutions are implemented. The fact that there is not a supply chain advisor with expertise has allowed supply chain problems to intensify and worsen.

According to the bill’s sponsors, the deteriorating infrastructure and dated technology, the ports and the connecting entities of the supply chain cannot handle the increased demand of their services, and without additional investment and regulatory changes, farmers will lose businesses resulting in lost jobs for residents.

Growers have not been able to ship their products overseas as they have in the past.

Over 400,000 Californians are employed by agriculture, and the agriculture value chain accounts for nearly three million jobs in the state. The state’s production of fruits, vegetables, dairy and every product in between are not being exported at their typical rate. In fact, California farmers are seeing an estimated 20% reduction in their export opportunities due to a lack of reliability of ships and bottleneck traffic at the ports.

Since the bill has just been intorduced, I want to study it a bit more, but on its face it appears to be a potential solution to this huge problem. 

I’ll get back to you on it.

Winegrape Glut

The California Farm Bureau is reporting that new vineyard planting is leveling off after winegrape market glut.

California winegrape growers are expected to plant 15,000 to 18,000 acres of new vineyards in 2022. That number is about the same as what is expected to be removed from the state’s more than 500,000 acres of winegrapes. California produced more than 4 million tons of winegrapes a year between 2016 and 2019. That caused a glut in the market. Now Allied Grape Growers president Jeff Bitter characterizes the market as “stable with a chance of oversupply.” 

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