Trump headed to California as fires rage

Sep 14, 2020 | Cal Matters

Good morning, California. It’s Monday, September 14.

“A climate damn emergency”

U. S. President Donald J. Trump landed at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California and boarded a helicopter to visit Butte County on Saturday, November 17, 2018. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Elect Gavin Newsom joined Trump on the helicopter. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)U. S. President Donald J. Trump landed at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California and boarded a helicopter to visit Butte County on Saturday, November 17, 2018. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Elect Gavin Newsom joined Trump on the helicopter. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)
President Donald Trump landed at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California on Nov. 17, 2018. Photo by LiPo Ching, Bay Area News Group

President Donald Trump will visit California today for a wildfire briefing with Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials, just a few days after Newsom declared “a climate damn emergency” and slammed the federal government for its rollback of certain environmental protections.

The visit marks the latest iteration of Newsom and Trump’s back-and-forth on wildfires. Last month, Trump threatened to withhold federal fire aid, arguing Newsom hadn’t followed his advice to clean flammable dead trees and leaves from forests. Newsom clapped back in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, only to tout the next day his “very effective relationship” with Trump, noting “there’s not one phone call that I have made to the President where he hasn’t quickly responded.”

The meeting comes as nearly 17,000 firefighters battle 29 major fires, including five of the 20 largest in state history. Fires this year have burned more than 3.3 million acres — an area larger than Connecticut — killing 22 and destroying more than 4,100 structures. Amid a dearth of firefighters, Newsom on Friday signed into law a bill to help inmate firefighters get hired after release by expunging their criminal records.

Though progress was made on containing the fires over the weekend, gusty winds are forecasted to sweep through Northern California starting today, potentially exacerbating spread.

  • Daniel Swain, UCLA climate scientist, on Twitter: “This wind shift on Monday will probably (and mercifully!) help with ongoing ‘smokestorm’ conditions by improving airflow & vertical ventilation. Unfortunately, this will also increase activity on fires themselves.”

Most of California was choked with terrible air quality last week, with ash-filled orange skies looming over Northern California and Los Angeles notching its worst smog reading in nearly 30 years.

  • Newsom: “Mother Nature is physics, biology and chemistry. She bats last and she bats 1,000. That’s the reality. The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 754,923 confirmed coronavirus cases and 14,329 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.


The Republican lawyer taking on Newsom

Assemblymember Kevin Kiley leaves the California Capitol on Aug. 28, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Welcome to the next installment of Insiders.

Assemblymember Kevin Kiley, a 35-year-old Rocklin Republican with degrees from Harvard and Yale, left a promising law career to run for a state Legislature so heavily dominated by Democrats as to render Republican votes almost meaningless. 

“I would do it all over again if I had the opportunity,” Kiley, who was elected in 2016, told me recently. 

In recent months, Kiley has become one of Newsom’s chief antagonists in the Legislature. 

He keeps a running list of the more than 400 laws and regulations affected by the 52 executive orders Newsom has issued since declaring a state of emergency for the pandemic. He introduced a resolution to end Newsom’s emergency power and he sued Newsom over the constitutionality of a vote-by-mail executive order.

But Kiley’s transition from lawyer to lawmaker has come with sacrifices.

“I don’t have a family yet, so I live on my own, which you … wouldn’t have necessarily thought would be the case when you’re in your mid-thirties, but sometimes life doesn’t turn out as you planned,” Kiley said. 

For more on Kiley — including his appearance on Nickelodeon as a high school freshman — check out my interview here.


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The next installment of the Post It, from CalMatters’ Ben Christopher: The California GOP used to dominate the suburbs. Their collapse in the era of Trump, visualized.


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Other stories you should know

1. Newsom reveals stance on ballot measures

Newsom at the CalFire/Cameron Park Fire Station on May 13, 2020. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo/Pool

Newsom on Friday took a stance on five propositions on California’s November ballot, about three weeks after he showed his cards on four others. But the governor remained conspicuously silent on one of the most high-profile and controversial measures, Prop. 22, which recently became the most expensive campaign in state history with over $186 million in funding. If passed, Prop. 22 would exempt gig-economy companies like Uber and Lyft from a state law requiring them to treat workers as employees. (Newsom also didn’t weigh in on Props. 23 and 24.)

Newsom endorsed:

  • Prop. 14, which would borrow billions to continue funding stem cell research.
  • Prop. 15, which would hike taxes on large commercial properties and funnel billions to local governments and schools.
  • Prop. 18, which would allow some 17-year-olds to vote in certain elections.
  • Prop. 19, which would give older Californians a property tax break when buying a new home.

Newsom opposed:

  • Prop. 21, which would allow cities to pass rent control measures on almost all rental housing over 15 years old.

2. Newsom signs sex offender registry bill

Sen. Scott Wiener, the author of SB 145, speaks during a Senate hearing on Nov. 18, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Newsom on Friday signed into law a bill aimed at ending LGBTQ discrimination in California’s sex offender registry law. Under current law, if an adult is convicted of having vaginal intercourse with a minor between the ages of 14 and 17 and the adult is up to 10 years older, a judge has discretion over whether to place the adult on the sex offender registry. But if the intercourse is oral or anal, the judge is required to place the adult on the sex offender registry. The bill Newsom signed gives judges discretion in cases of those types of intercourse as well. Though the bill is supported by law enforcement groups including the California Police Chiefs Association and the California District Attorneys Association and does not change the age of consent in California, it has come under a national firestorm of controversy. It’s sure to come up on the national campaign trail, with Donald Trump Jr. recently tweeting, “Why are Joe Biden Democrats working in California to pander to the wishes of pedophiles and child rapists?”

  • State Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat who authored the bill: “(Senate Bill) 145 simply ends (LGBTQ) discrimination by treating LGBTQ young people the exact same way that straight young people have been treated since 1944.”

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, suggested that the entire sex offender registry law should be reevaluated.

  • Gonzalez: “I cannot in my mind, as a mother, understand how sex between a 24-year-old and a 14-year-old could ever be consensual, how could it ever not be a registerable offense.”

3. Will feds audit California?

Image via iStock

The seven Republicans representing California in the U.S. Congress called on the federal government Friday to audit California’s distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds, the Wall Street Journal reports. The request comes as rural counties complain that Newsom is withholding federal aid to force compliance with state public health guidelines, as he did with two small Central Valley cities in July. Last week, Placer County officials voted to end the local state of emergency, indicating their desire to set their own reopening standards.

  • Placer County Supervisor Kirk Uhler: “The governor has made it clear that those of us who might seek our own path — other than kowtowing to his ever-changing whims when it comes to the coronavirus — we run the risk of not getting our share of the federal dollars. It is just extortion.”
  • Newsom spokesman Jesse Melgar: “California has followed all relevant federal laws since the beginning of this pandemic and has dedicated the lion’s share of CARES Act funds to support local governments. We are appropriately requiring that jurisdictions be in compliance with necessary public health orders and policies.”

4. CSU to hold spring 2021 semester online

Image via iStock; modifications by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

The California State University system on Thursday became the first in the state to announce an almost entirely online spring 2021 semester in a move affecting nearly 500,000 students and staff, EdSource reports. The news comes as two CSU campuses — San Diego State and Chico State — halted in-person classes due to coronavirus outbreaks, highlighting large disparities in testing policies and access among California colleges and universities. With a potential “twindemic” of coronavirus and seasonal flu looming, CSU Chancellor Tim White said “this decision is the only responsible one available to us at this time.” The UC system and California community college system haven’t yet announced plans for the spring semester, though Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley has indicated plans to hold most classes online through the spring.


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CalMatters events

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Lawmakers continue to exempt favored projects from the California Environmental Quality Act while ducking comprehensive CEQA reform.

Yes on Prop. 15: It will help rebuild California’s economy, generating up to $12 billion a year for local governments and schools, argues California State Controller Betty Yee.

No on Prop. 15: Higher commercial property taxes will get passed on to small business tenants, who rent. These businesses, in turn, will pass higher costs on to consumers, argues Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles.

Bold climate action: Many state lawmakers are falling under the thrall of oil and gas industry lobbying dollars, but Newsom can jumpstart policies that will protect Californians, write Dr. Venise Curry and Ellie Cohen of the Climate Center.

Approve desalination project: For the sake of our environment, our economy and our water supply, the Coastal Commission needs to allow the Monterey Peninsula water desalination project to move forward, writes Jeff Davi, a former California Real Estate Commissioner.


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Other things worth your time

Two Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies shot in ambush attack recovering after surgery. // Los Angeles Times

CalMatters reporter Julie Cart on why this year’s wildfires are different. // Slate

Inside the mission to rescue hundreds from the Creek Fire. // San Francisco Chronicle

California farmworkers say they didn’t get masks during fires. // CalMatters

CalMatters investigation, COVID cases spur bill requiring employers disclose workplace outbreaks. // CalMatters

San Diego tourism industry: ‘We’re in a deep depression.’ // San Diego Union-Tribune

How California lawmakers flouted pandemic safety practices. // California Healthline

Plastic waste cuts probably headed to California ballot as advocates give up on Legislature. // San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

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