Who’s worse for wildfire mitigation, Gov. Newsom or the PUC’s Johnson?
By John Stalcup
Governor Newsom et al.,
I blame you, the Legislature, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, and PG&E for the loss of our family home in the 2017 Nuns wildfire and for the continued threat of wildfires that we face in Sonoma County. You and the legislature, for years of doing-nothing complacency politics about California’s climate-fire mitigation. Your last couple weeks of 11th hour drive-by grand-standing politics halts monumental progress made by federal bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali and all stakeholders to resolve wildfire losses and provide funds for wildfire management.
Why? Because you want to take the spotlight and credit for Judge Montali’s successes. It’s maddening that you prolong victims’ suffering and wildfire mitigation for perhaps months and years while you cozy up to your new set of campaign financiers.
The County Board of Supervisors deserve their fair share of blame for developing over a hundred go-nowhere ideas and fire mitigation plans more than two-plus years since the 2017 wildfires, all of which remain stuck in their endless political machinations. And, get this - the first tangible thing the Supervisors decide to do is place fines on County homeowners to clean their properties of fire brush to distract from the fact that the County has done literally nothing for decades to mitigate brush from our main thoroughfares and open spaces.
The County and city governments’ claim to fame is that they displaced hundreds of thousands of residents during the 2019 Kincade fire without nearly enough temporary centers in place, sending families scrambling across the state, most unnecessarily. Then they claim how successful their ill-informed roundup of residents was, when in fact it cost the residents and businesses tens of millions of dollars in lost income and business revenue, not to mention unnecessary pain and suffering. Is the County going to reimburse those costs to the residents and businesses or continue to fund their exorbitant salaries, pensions and benefits? I still find it unconscionable that the Sonoma County Supervisors’ compensation is over $200,000 per year (the highest in the nation per population), while U.S. Senators Feinstein and Harris’ salaries are $174,000 per year and they are each responsible for almost 39 million residents versus 100,000 residents for each of our five Supervisors.
And, yes, PG&E and the Governor’s self-appointed Public Utilities Commission (PUC) who regulate PG&E are to blame for decades of infrastructure neglect, which have clearly fanned the fires. And his five handpicked PUC Board lets PG&E select Bill Johnson as their new CEO, a slash-and-burn East Coast power pirate hired April 2019 to throw shade on the infrastructure neglect. Johnson has stoked public fear by first declaring that wildfire management will take ten years – now he’s estimating five years of third-world power service and ongoing wildfires. Get used to it, says Johnson. And, your handpicked PUC chairperson, Marybell Batjer and her fellow Commissioners allow PG&E to give Johnson a $110 million stock bonus performance package – Really??? That $110 million could go a long way toward fire mitigation in Sonoma County.
And, now, after a year of thoroughly knowledgeable judges and experts reaching resolutions for victims, insurers, ratepayer groups, and all county and city governments, you declare PG&E’s management isn’t up to snuff – which is true but they were approved by you and your regulating hands.
Judge Montali had it right when he said recently and pointedly that he has more information than you, Governor, about these matters. So, why don’t you go have a sit down meeting with Judge Montali and perhaps learn something from him before you spout off nonsense? Governor, get your hands dirty and do some heavy lifting before taking political potshots at the PG&E bankruptcy re-organization progress. First, you reward PG&E (who gave you and your wife $700,000 in campaign and consulting fees) with a $21 billion wildfire bailout “carrot” (AB 1054) to be paid for by state taxpayer funds. Then you whack-a-mole their management (that you essentially picked) with a “stick” because you and your staff haven’t engaged enough in the wildfire resolution and regulation processes, all while stakeholders continue to suffer.
Judge Montali by all accounts has expertly balanced the interests of all stakeholders in the PG&E bankruptcy, including requiring PG&E to fund $1.7 billion for wildfire infrastructure improvements, which will not be paid for by ratepayers. For decades, he has successfully guided mega-bankruptcies into successful post-bankruptcy solvency. Let him do it again without your interference.
Governor Newsom, you would do well to sit back and watch Judge Montali work his magic and learn something about how to manage one of the most difficult bankruptcy processes in history. Needless to say, you’ve got your hands full with the next set of catastrophes facing California and your administration. Why not concentrate on homelessness, the biggest problem other than wildfire mitigation that California will face this decade? I think you’re going to need more than the $1 billion you’re suggesting we spend on this problem and your last minute drive-by politically inspired tactics aren’t going to work here either. This problem requires a real, detailed plan, and this problem is personal for you – an unsuccessful solution could lead to your homelessness from the Governor’s mansion.
As has been said – “Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often and for the same reason.”
John Stalcup is a Glen Ellen resident.
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