Gavin has strong words for PG&E (but evasive words for Elon Musk’s defiance) as wildfire season is underway in the age of coronavirus.
You’d be forgiven for not noticing we’ve had substantially more wildfires this year as compared to the same point last year, and today Governor Gavin Newsom predicted “tens of thousands” more at his daily coronavirus press briefing.
The small amount of rain we’ve had the last couple days has helped, as 10 California counties move into Phase 2 of reopening (San Francisco being definitely not among them). But as we will now inevitably confront wildfire season overlapping with COVID-19, Newsom tore into what he diplomatically calls “investor-owned utilities” — and you know exactly who he means. Today he announced a new PUC Wildfire Safety Division that he said “will 24-7 oversee all the activities of our investor-owned utilities.”
From January to May 10 last year we had 675 wildfires.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 13, 2020
From January to May 10 this year we’ve had 1,130 wildfires.
A 60% increase.
As we continue to fight #COVID19 we can’t pull back on priorities that keep us safe. We will continue invest, prepare & fight wildfires across CA.
“I am not naive that these utilities are where they need to be. Quite the contrary,” Newsom said Wednesday. “PG&E is still in bankruptcy. They have an opportunity to come out of bankruptcy by June 30. But the predicate to all that is fulfilling the requirements of these plans,” adding that PG&E has put in weather stations and HD surveillance cameras intended to catch wildfires early.
“I don’t hold my breath in any of these categories. We’ve been sobered by the reality of PG&E in particular over the last number of years,” he continued. “I hope [they] can allow people to rest, well, maybe not with both eyes closed, but with one eye open.” Damn, Gavin!
Newsom said the state would shell out $127 million more this year to the Office of Emergency Services to deal with not only fires under COVID-19, but also earthquakes and blackouts. He added that the blackouts will likely coincide with November's election season: “We want to secure the election as well.” He said the state was buying 26 additional fire engines, building new incident command units, and adding about a dozen Blackhawk helicopters to its fleet.
They also plan to scrap the old gymnasium and fairground shelters used during fires, and increase the use of hotels for sheltering this year as crowded situations create more danger of viral spread.
#WildfirePreparednessWeek is ending but getting prepared for you and your family should not. Having a go bag or emergency supply kit will ensure you have necessary items ready for a quick evacuation. Learn more at https://t.co/M15yLZhv6z pic.twitter.com/di4GdxldUl— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) May 9, 2020
Cal Fire chief Tom Porter also made an appearance today, hyping their new website ReadyForWildfire.org that offers advice on preparing your home and yourself for wildfire prevention and response. “You’ll be seeing plenty, I think sadly, of Tom Porter over the coming weeks and months as is the case every fire season in this state, Newsom said. “The hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier, and the wets are getting wetter. There’s a new reality.”
“It’s a tired cliche, but you gotta walk and chew gum at the same time. We’re focused on C-19, we’re focused on coronavirus mitigation and trying to do our best to suppress the spread. At the same time, we’ve got to mitigate and suppress these fires as we move into fire season,” Newsom said, showing stirring leadership. “We are not going to step back despite the economic headwinds.”
But the leadership was far less stirring when a reporter asked about Elon Musk’s complete flouting of Alameda County in reopening his Tesla plant in Fremont against county shelter-in-place orders. That's when Newsom turned back into the TEDx Talk-y, billionaire-friendly Gavin that we remember from his time as mayor.
“In the state of California, we are allowing manufacturing logistics and warehouse operations to resume,” he said, clearly dodging the topic. “Alameda County has different rules and different regulations.
“They’ve worked with Tesla and they’ve put together a process where they will reopen,” he added. “Progress has been made in that space. Anytime there’s friction, we hope to make progress.”
“We seek not to be punitive,” he further triangulated. “It sounds like, based upon the progress that’s been made public with the county and Tesla, they were able to resolve their issue in fairly short order.”
Image: Gov. Gavin Newsom daily press briefing