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California Editorial Rdp

June 26, 2019

June 26

Mercury News & East Bay Times on California governor’s wildfire plan:

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $24 billion plan to address the threat of future wildfires is a solid proposal that merits support from Californians.

With one caveat — and it’s huge.

The plan must have sufficient safeguards to ensure PG&E complies with strict safety standards. That has to be the Legislature’s focus as it reviews Newsom’s plan. Anything less than an ironclad agreement is unacceptable.

We have zero trust in PG&E as the leading provider of gas and electricity for Northern and Central California and have urged the governor to break up or replace the utility. For us, CalFire’s confirmation that PG&E caused the Camp Fire — the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history — was the last straw. A utility that has been directly responsible for 111 deaths in the last decade doesn’t deserve another chance.

But Newsom believes it’s possible to protect ratepayers and hold PG&E accountable.

The governor’s plan creates a $21 billion fund to pay for future wildfire costs. The costs would be shared by ratepayers and shareholders of the state’s three major utilities — PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. In order to be eligible for the fund, the utilities would also be required to spend $3 billion on safety measures to reduce the threat of wildfires.

Ratepayers’ share of $10.5 billion would come from extending a $2.50 monthly charge to ratepayers that was enacted to raise money in the wake of PG&E’s bankruptcy during the 2001 energy crisis. The charge was set to expire in 2020. Consumer groups argue that ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for PG&E’s failures. But it is impossible to raise enough money to deal with future wildfire costs without involving ratepayers in some fashion. Newsom’s proposal is reasonable in that it won’t add to ratepayers’ current monthly bills.

The governor is offering the utilities an alternative — a $10.5 billion fund financed by the monthly charge to ratepayers. The utilities could only tap the fund if they agree to reimburse it at a later date. The reimbursement would be paid by shareholders if the utility was found to have not taken prudent safety measures. Ratepayers could be billed only if the utility took reasonable safety precautions.

The governor’s proposal carries considerable protections for ratepayers. The deal only goes into effect if the judge dealing with PG&E’s bankruptcy approves a reorganization plan no later than June 30, 2020. The reorganization plan must also include a settlement at shareholders expense for all wildfire claims against PG&E before 2018. Finally, PG&E would be required to establish an executive pay plan tied to the utility’s safety performance, create a safety committee on the PG&E board and present an annual report on the utility’s safety culture.

Enforcement is the key. PG&E has a long history of delaying or not complying with basic safety expectations. And the state regulator charged with holding the utility accountable — the California Public Utilities Commission — has an equally dismal record on compliance issues.

Newsom has demanded that lawmakers act on his proposal by July 12, the final day before the Legislature’s monthlong summer recess. But this deal must not be rushed through. It’s imperative that the governor and the Legislature hold PG&E accountable, even if it takes more time to complete the deal.

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June 25

The San Diego Union-Tribune on the California State University system’s reserve find:

The revelation by state Auditor Elaine M. Howle that the California State University system hid or at least obscured the fact that CSU has accumulated $1.5 billion-plus in fiscal reserves since 2008 is outrageous. During this period, CSU nearly doubled tuition and lobbied the Legislature for higher appropriations. Nothing is more crucial to the proper functioning of government than fiscal transparency.

Yet just as University of California President Janet Napolitano did in 2017 when a Howle audit said Napolitano’s office hid $175 million in reserves, CSU Chancellor Timothy White pushed back strongly against Howle’s findings. He said the report was misleading and that CSU shouldn’t be faulted for honoring its “fiduciary responsibilities to manage the university and ensure continued operation in the face of economic uncertainty.”

White’s assertion is what’s misleading because that’s not what the audit faulted at all. It faulted CSU’s deceptiveness. One specific example the audit cited demolishes any claim by White to hold the high ground. It noted that in a three-year budget planning document that CSU officials circulated in 2016, CSU indicated it would come up short in funding if tuition were not increased or if the Legislature reduced funding. At the time, CSU had a $1.4 billion surplus. The explanation from CSU — that the document complied with what state law then required — has a dog-ate-my-homework quality.

CSU, which has millions of graduates and nearly a half-million students at its 23 campuses, is one of the Golden State’s great institutions. But as a first step toward weathering this storm, CSU trustees need to respond in a way that distances themselves from White’s excuse-making. What Howle found can’t be excused.

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June 21

The Sacramento Bee on the California’s apology for the genocide of Native Americans:

Guns, gold and genocide.

Politicians like to flatter Californians by speaking of our state as the land of boundless opportunity, but these were the grim pillars upon which early California was built. We goldwash our history with tales of brave exceptionalism, but California’s tragic past is bathed in the blood of innocent California Native Americans.

The conquering of this land of dreams transformed it into a hellscape of nightmares for those who lived here for thousands of years before the miners, settlers and dreamers arrived.

Political leaders normally gloss over this ugly part of our history, but not Gov. Gavin Newsom. This week, the fifth-generation Californian issued a formal apology to the native people of California for the genocide that marked the birth of the state.

“It’s called a genocide,” said Newsom. “That’s what it was. A genocide. No other way to describe it and that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books. And so I’m here to say the following: I’m sorry on behalf of the state of California.”

The apology was long overdue, yet it likely took many Californians by surprise. While many of us learned about Native Americans in elementary school and probably know the name of a local tribe, we generally don’t learn about the systematic massacres that unfolded on the ground beneath our feet.

“Many people believe that when the Gold Rush happened, it was an empty landscape,” said Shelly Covert, spokesperson for the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan. “And it’s not true. California was heavily populated with many, many autonomous different tribes, with their own languages and their own cultures and very old and sophisticated societies . and that was almost completely erased.”

In the 20 years following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, 80% of California’s Native American population had been wiped out. Disease and displacement killed many, but state militias, the U.S. Army and vigilante groups murdered up to 16,000 California Indians in cold blood. Men, women, children — it didn’t really matter.

Consider this scene, the massacre of a Nisenan village along the American River witnessed by a Mexican miner named Antonio Coronel near Sacramento in 1849 and recounted in “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe” by UCLA historian Benjamin Madley:

“At first light they surrounded the village and opened fire. What followed was a scene of utter horror. Out came old men, women, children, everyone . running in every direction, even throwing themselves in the river. They were all rounded up and shot down.”

Prospector Theodore T. Johnson, who was “heading east across the broad Sacramento River Valley in 1849,” described the official policy of the time: “The late emigrants across the mountains, and some Oregon trappers and mountaineers, had commenced a war of extermination upon them, shooting them down like wolves, men, women and children, wherever they could find them.”

“War of extermination” was the term preferred by John Sutter, who enslaved hundreds of Native Americans and participated in massacres. Today, we honor his memory with schools, streets and a popular tourist attraction.

Peter Burnett, who served as California’s first governor from 1849-1851, made killing California Native Americans the state’s official policy, saying “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected.”

“It is not an exaggeration to say that California legislators also established a state-sponsored killing machine. California governors called out or authorized no fewer than 24 state militia expeditions between 1850 and 1861, which killed at least 1,340 California Indians,” wrote Madley in an essay for the Los Angeles Times. “State legislators also passed three bills in the 1850s that raised up to $1.51 million to fund these operations — a great deal of money at the time — for past and future anti-Indian militia operations.”

Madley estimates that California’s Indian population fell from 150,000 to 30,000 between 1846 and 1870.

Nothing can change this bloody history, but Gov. Newsom’s apology — delivered in the form of an executive order — is an important first step toward healing the trauma of this genocide.

Newsom’s executive order acknowledges the “historical wrongs” carried out against California Native Americans by the state and commends them for “carrying on cultural and linguistic traditions, and stewarding and protecting this land that we now share.” It formally apologizes for these wrongs and establishes a Truth and Healing Council to “clarify the historical record ... in the spirit of truth and healing.”

What difference can such a late apology make?

“To hear our governor come out and make an apology was very significant,” said Covert. “It was significant because it felt like the government itself was taking accountability. And we have record of our first California Governor calling for the extinction of the ‘red race,’ and a lot of Indians grow up with that history being part of their identity.”

“It says a lot to me personally, and a lot to my mom. I showed her a clip on Facebook last night and she actually teared up,” she added.

Covert said it remains to be seen whether the apology becomes an empty gesture, or whether it will be backed up with actions to make amends for the past. Madley suggested that some form of reparations may be in order to restore the devastating losses suffered by California Native Americans.

Until then, there are other steps California can take to set the record straight.

For one, we can teach our children about what happened.

“Will the genocide against California Indians join the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust in California’s public school curriculum?” asks Madley.

Then there’s the issue of names like Sutter, Burnett, Fremont, Stanford, Hastings and Carson. These men directly engaged in, or supported, genocide against California Native Americans. We don’t have many Confederate statues in California, yet the names of genocidal killers adorn our streets, schools and cherished institutions.

It’s time to cancel these purveyors of genocide. Sacramento can lead the way by stripping the shameful Sutter and Burnett names from its public places. We can replace them with names that honor those whose lives and land were stolen to make this place our home.

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