Actions to mitigate wildfires remain high priority

Gov. Gavin Newsom is recommending utility ratepayers contribute to a fund that would stabilize the financial condition of California’s major electric utilities. 

This and other proposals, as well as a summary of actions to thwart wildfire damages taken since he took office, were part of his progress report released Friday, June 21.

Other media reports indicate Newsom is considering a $10.5 billion fund to ensure fair compensation for wildfire victims and protect ratepayers from massive rate spikes.

To access these funds, the big three utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison — would have to invest at least $3 billion in safety.

“Part of our wildfire response is making sure that Californians maintain access to affordable and reliable power, and that power companies are held to the highest standards of safety and accountability as we work toward our clean energy goals,” Newsom said in the report. “Financially unstable electric utilities will put wildfire victims in jeopardy and cause California families’ electrical bills to skyrocket.”

This and several other legislative proposals Newsom hopes to negotiate with the Legislature by July 12.

Other recommendations in the original Strike Force report included upgrading the state’s 911 system. This will happen with new tax on phone bills just approved in the current budget legislation for fiscal year 2019-20, passed last week.

He also recommended changes at the California Public Utilities Commission. A new Wildfire Safety Division and accompanying Advisory Board will be created. This also involves a change in the CPUC decision-making process, placing more emphasis on efficiency and transparency.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is working with local governments to limit future development in fire-prone areas and to help draft zoning ordinances to restrict new development in fire-prone areas.

Cal Fire has a priority and several hundred million dollars to invest in improving defensible space and reducing hazardous fuels.