October 13, 2017

The raging wildfires throughout California have resulted in dozens of fatalities, hundreds missing, and thousands of homes destroyed. Thousands of state employees and others are involved in fighting the blazes, while others have been evacuated from their homes.

The Governor has declared a state of emergency for Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, and Orange Counties. When that occurs, state employees who work or reside in one of those counties can be authorized up to five days of Administrative Time Off (ATO) if their normal place of business is temporarily closed; they can’t get to the workplace; there is immediate and grave peril to themselves, their family, or principal residence; or they are involved in protecting the general public or need time to apply for disaster assistance. For more specifics, click here.

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The status of the fires and the impact on Californians in general and department employees in particular was a major topic at the monthly PECG/Caltrans meeting earlier this week. Director Dougherty provided an update on the acceleration of projects into the current fiscal year due to the additional funding from Senate Bill 1 and the hiring effort to provide the staff to deliver those projects, now and in the future. Other subjects included offering salaries above the minimum to new hires; use of cash overtime; opening up the Senior Transportation Engineer exam to those outside state service (which PECG opposes); the salary lag for Senior Telecommunications Engineers and Party Chiefs; and a potential expansion of the effort by PECG and Caltrans to assist teachers in presenting engineering curriculum.

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PECG also met this week with Eileen Sobeck, the new State Water Resources Control Board Executive Director. Topics at this meeting included the impact of the wildfires on Water Board employees, office space, the Santa Ana Division of Drinking Water office move, classification and salary differential issues, and the status of the proposed Principal Engineering Geologist classification.

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Blue Shield Access+ has included an Away From Home Care program. That feature will no longer be available in 2018. CalPERS has sent a letter to all members who either have used the program or switched to Blue Shield during the recent open enrollment period. For those who may wish to change to another plan, the open enrollment period is extended to November 9. To see the letters from Blue Shield and CalPERS addressing the issue and who to contact for more information or to make a change, click here.

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Last week we reported that the proposal to build tunnels under the Delta encountered new financial hurdles when the Westlands Water District, the largest water agency in the Central Valley, voted not to financially participate, putting a multi-billion dollar hole in the $17 billion project.

This week, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), southern California’s largest water agency, voted to approve $4.3 billion for the project, which represents 26% of the estimated cost, consistent with MWD’s water usage. Yesterday, nearly half of the members of the Kern County Water Agency tentatively endorsed contributing nearly $1 billion to the project. These are encouraging signs for supporters of the project. However, if the Westlands Water District doesn’t reconsider its earlier vote, it appears that other sources of funding will have to be developed or the twin tunnels project may need to be scaled back in order to proceed.