April 15, 2021

State workers passed over for promotions would get 1 year to file challenges under new rule – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state employees who believe they were improperly passed over for a promotion would have a year to challenge their departments’ decisions under a proposed new rule.  As it stands, there’s no statewide deadline by which employees must file merit issue complaints with their departments, according to background information posted with the new proposal on the State Personnel Board website.

California raised fuel taxes 4 years ago, and it’s still short on money for road repairs – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California’s ambitious road repair program faces financial trouble—a projected $6.1 billion annual shortfall— four years after the state adopted the highest fuel tax in the nation in a plan to fix its battered highways.  The new estimates reflect an unexpected decline in fuel tax revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic and a mix of new assumptions about how California roadways might deteriorate as climate change accelerates.

Biden Wants Infrastructure Deal, but GOP Doubts Persist – U.S. News and World Report / Associated Press
President Joe Biden met Monday afternoon with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and tried to assure them that the Oval Office gathering was not “window dressing.”  The meeting came as the White House released state-by-state breakdowns Monday that show the dire shape of roads, bridges, the power grid, and housing affordability, among other issues.  Please click here to view what the administration’s “American Jobs Plan” proposes for California.

April 12, 2021

Biden to nominate Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker to lead OSHA – Safety and Health Magazine
President Joe Biden intends to nominate Doug Parker as the head of OSHA, according to a White House press release issued April 9.  Parker leads the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, a position he has served in since September 2019.  He also was a member of Biden’s transition team, focusing on occupational safety and health issues.

California Highway 1 to reopen by April 30, agency says – Associated Press
Highway 1 along Big Sur is expected to reopen by April 30 because work to repair a huge piece of roadway that crumbled during a storm is nearly two months ahead of schedule, the California Department of Transportation announced Thursday.  Crews began to fill the canyon below with compacted dirt in early March.  They are expected to establish the base of a new road on top of the fill, then pave and stripe it by the end of the month thanks to favorable weather conditions, Caltrans said.

Do High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes Reduce Traffic or Add to it? – Spectrum News Los Angeles
If you build it, will they come? That’s the question California is trying to answer about high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which are expected to make up the majority of new highway investments in the state for the next two decades.  HOV lanes, intended to inspire carpooling, are designed to alleviate traffic congestion by maximizing the people-carrying capacity of California highways, according to the state’s Department of Transportation, but they could have the opposite effect.

Caltrans and Others Fight Against Sea Level Rise on the Central Coast – Atascadero News
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), The Nature Conservancy, the Association of Monterey Bay Area of Governments (AMBAG) and Virtual Planet Technologies recently announced the release of an innovative virtual reality app, Sea Level Rise Explorer, that is playing a key role in addressing sea-level rise on Highway 1 along Elkhorn Slough.

PECG Media Briefing Archive

April 2021

April 8, 2021

California state workers told to continue working from home as Newsome signals reopening – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
State employees should keep working from home even as California reopens from its yearlong coronavirus restrictions, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration directed Tuesday.  Newsom told reporters in the morning that the state will fully reopen June 15 if it still has enough vaccines to meet demand and hospitalizations are low.  That would include a return to office work for private employers.  Eraina Ortega, the state’s Human Resources Department director, sent out an email around the same time with guidance for state department directors that reiterated the state government’s commitment to telecommuting.  One of state workers’ most common questions — whether the state will reimburse their phone and internet expenses for remote work — remains unanswered.  The email says the administration is negotiating with unions over the costs and anticipates reaching agreements “later this spring.”

Third-driest year reported in California – The Hill
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has marked 2021 as the third-driest water year on record for the Golden State, potentially setting up another deadly wildfire season after last year’s record-setting blazes.  The department’s annual snow survey released this month recorded precipitation levels at 50 percent of the water year’s yearly average.

California to install 1.7GW of battery storage in 2021 to boost grid supply – Renew Economy
To stave off a repeat of 2020’s summer blackouts, California is planning to install 1.7GW worth of new battery storage by August, according to new figures published this week by BloombergNEF.  The projects will bring more storage online than forecasters estimate China will install this summer and position the United States as a world leader in the quickly expanding sector.

Minnesota a step closer to California rules – Today’s Motor Vehicles
The Land of 10,000 Lakes could be the next state to follow California’s strict emissions rules for cars and trucks.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has begun accepting comments on final rules to adopt California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) stricter-than-federal standards on vehicle emissions and goals for putting electric vehicles on the road.

April 5, 2021

California fell short on COVID-19 contact tracing amid warnings of new wave, audit reveals – KTLA
Despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s promises to build an “army” of contact tracers to contain the coronavirus pandemic, a new audit says California mustered less than half of the number promised.  Contact tracing was central to California’s strategy early in the pandemic. The Department of Public Health estimated the state needed 31,400 contact tracers. Newsom pledged to train 10,000 state workers and deploy them to help local public health departments meet that goal.  But by January, California had just 12,100 contact tracers, including 2,262 state workers.

Newsom asked for a fracking ban. He may get more than he bargained for with ambitious plan – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
When Gov. Gavin Newsom voiced his support last year for a hydraulic fracturing ban – an idea opposed by oil and gas companies and industry trade unions – he gave Democrats the green light to send him legislation.  But the crackdown on oil and gas production under consideration by the California Legislature is much broader in scope than the plan requested by the governor.

Drought is back. But Southern California faces less pain than Northern California – Phys.org
Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north, leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty.  But this latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very differently across this vast state.

Last Chance Grade now on 2-hour delay, long-term solution in the works – KIEM News
Motorists should anticipate two-hour delays, between 9 a.m. to p.m. Monday through Friday, and 30-minute delays outside those hours, at Last Chance Grade just south of Crescent City.  That stretch of Highway 101 between Klamath and Crescent City is susceptible to landslides and is need constant maintenance and fixes subject to change without notice.  Recent slides caused the roadway to shut down and prompted a multi-million-dollar response.

Will Biden’s infrastructure plan save California’s high-speed rail project? – Railway Track & Structures
A massive dose of federal funding in the coming years could save California’s high-speed rail line.  However, that injection has not been made available yet, and may never get congressional approval.

April 1, 2021

New sick leave is available for California state workers.  Here are the details – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A new allotment of paid leave is available for California state workers affected by the coronavirus, including those with children whose schools or child care centers are closed, the state’s Human Resources Department announced this week.  The department issued guidelines for state employees to use up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave under Senate Bill 95, a piece of legislation from Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, that makes the leave available to most private and public employees.  (Please click here for information for PECG members about this important benefit.)

Biden announces huge infrastructure plan to ‘win the future’ – Associated Press
President Joe Biden outlined a vast $2.3 trillion plan Wednesday to re-engineer the nation’s infrastructure in what he billed as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America” that would undo his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement — giant tax cuts for corporations — in the process.

Editorial: CalPERS’ broken promises mislead and shortchange California state worker retirees – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
What CalPERS did to former school psychologist Marla Moura should never happen again to any state retiree.  Moura worked first as a mental health worker for El Dorado County.  After a two-year hiatus, she returned to work as a psychologist for the Galt school district.  CalPERS financial advisers told her on three separate occasions that her monthly pension after retirement would be over $5,000 per month.  Based on that information, Moura sold her house in California and made an offer on another home in South Carolina, expecting a comfortable $60,000 annual income.  Moura got $2,842 per month, far below the $5,000 she expected based on what CalPERS told her.  CalPERS incorrectly gave Moura the wrong pension estimate because it failed to account for a pension law that applied a lower benefit formula to her Galt salary.  Moura had to cancel retirement and take another job to augment her now-meager pension.  CalPERS Chief Executive Officer Marcie Frost said the state agency is doing “millions of transactions a year, and our error rate is very low.”  The error rate for something this important needs to be zero.

Study Suggests There Is No Imminent Public Pension Crisis – Chief Investment Officer
Contrary to popular belief, a recent research paper from the Brookings Institution argues there is no imminent crisis for most public pension plans.

March 2021

March 29, 2021

States Adopt California Car Rules Amid National Standards Debate – Bloomberg
States across the country are plowing ahead with their own low- and zero-emission vehicle mandates, putting the squeeze on tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions while national car regulations remain in flux at the White House.  Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nevada are working to implement clean car standards on the local level in line with California’s more-stringent tailpipe emission and electric vehicle requirements.

‘Gas tax’ helps fuel latest round of California transportation projects – KCRA News
The California Transportation Commission last week allocated $491 million for a new round of state and local transportation projects, including $273 million generated from Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

California Power Grid Operators Try To Avert Blackout Replay – Associated Press / KPBS
California’s primary power grid manager approved plans Wednesday aimed at averting a repeat of the blackouts that rolled across parts of the state in August during a punishing heat wave.  The California Independent System Operator’s board approved several policies to provide financial incentives to import power, have producers procure other energy sources to compensate for plant maintenance shutdowns and require storage facilities to keep batteries charged when supplies get tight.

High Speed Rail Explores ‘Single Track’ Plan for 2029 Service Start in Valley – GVWire.com
California’s High-Speed Rail Authority voted Thursday to send a business plan to the state legislature calling for an initial operating segment between Merced and Bakersfield, with the possibility of opening that segment in 2029 as a single-track service.  Current plans call for a two-track railroad, but the authority’s chief of rail operations, Frank Vaca, outlined the single-track alternative aimed at cutting costs and speeding construction of the first segment.  He said a single-track railroad could save $1 billion in initial costs because it would delay laying 150 miles of rail.

Transportation chief Buttigieg pitches ‘once in a generation’ infrastructure fix – Associated Press
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called for a once in a generation infrastructure investment Thursday that would address a massive backlog in needed improvements for the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems, while also tackling climate change.  Buttigieg avoided specifics on how it would be paid for, but said that the current level of investment poses “a threat to our collective future.”

March 25, 2021

Biden plan helps employers expand family leave. Will California offer it to state workers? – The Sacramento Bee  (tiered subscription)
A paid federal family-leave expansion that helped many California state workers manage coronavirus disruptions last year remains in limbo this year under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.  When Congress approved the first coronavirus relief package a year ago, it required most employers, including the State of California, to offer 10 weeks of family and medical leave at two-thirds pay, up to a maximum of $10,000, for parents with children at home due to the virus.  Congress allowed the mandatory leave to expire, but offered tax credits to employers who wanted to continue a new, expanded version of the program.  The state doesn’t pay federal taxes, so it doesn’t have the same incentive a private employer would to offer the program.  Last year the state used federal coronavirus funds to pay the mandatory benefits.  This year California will receive $26 billion in federal stimulus money, but it is not clear if it could be used to cover expanded family leave benefits.

U.S. Justice Department in talks with California to settle high-speed rail suite – Reuters / Yahoo! Finance
The U.S. Justice Department said on Monday it is in settlement talks with California to resolve a 2019 lawsuit filed by the state after the Trump administration canceled a nearly $1 billion federal grant for a high-speed rail project hobbled by extensive delays.

Study look at covering California’s canals with solar panels – Wired / High Country News
Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership.  Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year and provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually – about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

March 22, 2021

‘Bad taste.’ CalPERS board regrets pensions, but votes to deny retiree appeals – The Sacramento Bee  (tiered subscription)
Leaders of California’s $445 billion public employee pension system were uncomfortable last week after they rejected a batch of appeals from retirees who believed they were owed more money than they’re getting every month.  Members of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System Board of Administration turned down nine of the 10 requests they considered.  Still, they said they wanted to prevent mistakes in estimates that can cost retirees thousands of dollars a month.  Board member David Miller said that the decisions left a “bad taste” among board members even though they were supported by California pension law.  “I think we really deserve, our members really deserve us to take a deeper dive because all too often we make decisions that are in line with our fiduciary responsibility, but that do not feel fair or just to our members,” Miller said.

Are California Oil Companies Complying With the Law? Even Regulators Often Don’t Know. – ProRepublica
While California has long sought to maximize oil and gas production, it has recently tried to pair that goal with environmental stewardship.  But an investigation by The Desert Sun and ProPublica has found that enforcement is still lax, and in many cases, the state doesn’t know if companies are complying.  In response to questions, California Geologic Energy Management head Uduak-Joe Ntuk and spokespeople defended the agency’s performance, saying the top priority is protecting the public and the environment.  But its own budget requests state that the agency does not have enough employees to “prosecute enforcement actions in a timely manner” or to “adequately protect the health and safety of the citizens of the state.”

Buttigieg: Biden plan will usher in a new transportation – Associated Press
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said last week that an infrastructure plan expected soon from President Joe Biden will offer a “once in a century” opportunity to remake transportation in the United States, where cars and highways are no longer king.  He said the U.S. can no longer follow a 1950s mentality of building roads and communities based on moving as many cars as possible, but must adapt to the reality of climate change and ensure the safety of growing numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians on the streets.

Community shows support for Asian-owned gelato shop after vandalism – KCRA (Sacramento)
He’s only on screen for a few seconds, but someone proudly wearing a PECG face mask made an appearance in a Sacramento newscast over the weekend.  The story detailed local support for an Asian-owned gelato shop that had been repeatedly vandalized.  You can view the 2-minute report by clicking here.

March 18, 2021

State workers are still taking pay cuts as California rakes in tax revenue, stimulus – The Sacramento Bee  (tiered subscription)
The $26 billion that California’s state government will receive from the latest round of federal coronavirus assistance doesn’t change the timeline for discussions about restoring state workers’ pay, according to the state Finance Department.  Gov. Gavin Newsom raised the prospect in January that the pay cuts state workers took last summer could be restored as early as July, a year ahead of schedule.  When asked whether the federal infusion might speed up that timeline, Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer offered the following response in an email Friday:  “Our assessment on this issue, like many others, will be part of the decision-making process for the May revision.”  That means the Newsom administration is sticking to the timeline it raised in January.

6 GW a year of new carbon-free resources? California faces a massive build-out – PV Magazine
If California hopes to hit its goal of having a carbon-free electricity system by 2045, then the state will need to add up to 6 GW of new renewable and energy storage systems every year and roughly triple its current grid capacity, according to new joint report by California’s Energy Commission, Air Resources Board, and Public Utilities Commission.

Premature or precautionary? California is first to tackle microplastics in drinking water – CalMatters
California is about to set the world’s first health guidelines for microplastics in drinking water.  Yet no one agrees how to test water for the tiny bits of plastic, or how dangerous they are.

California receives federal money for road-funding study – KVML
The federal government announced this week that it is awarding Caltrans a $2.15-million grant to research alternatives to the gas tax for funding road and highway maintenance, and their impact on California’s rural and tribal regions.  A related study was launched about five years ago that focused on the state’s urban areas.

March 15, 2021

New state office tower is tallest built in Sacramento in over 10 years. Get a look inside – The Sacramento Bee  (tiered subscription)
The newest addition to downtown Sacramento’s skyline is a $520 million, 21-story glass tower that, when it opens this summer, will provide enough office space to house thousands of state workers.  But when those workers will start to fill their cubicles at the California Natural Resources Agency’s new P Street headquarters is another matter.  Originally designed for about 3,200 workers, the building has been organized to allow employees to share space so workers can rotate between staying home and coming into the office.

Auto Industry Pitches Emissions Plan – Associated Press
A coalition of automakers has told the White House it would agree to raise mileage standards to reduce tailpipe emissions but with tradeoffs and at rates lower than those brokered by California with five other car manufacturers.  A spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, which regulates pollution, wouldn’t comment on the automakers’ proposal but said the agency “continues to advocate for the most rigorous vehicle standards possible.”

A By-the-Mile Tax on Driving Gains Steam as a Way to Fund U.S. Roads – Bloomberg
Transportation is expected to be a big part of — but not all of — the likely infrastructure plan and mileage fees are being raised as a way to pay for some or all of that in a way that accommodates the rise of electric vehicles that Biden also hopes to see.

March 11, 2021

California’s robust budget will get another $26 billion from new COVID-19 stimulus – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
California’s state budget will receive an additional cash infusion of $26 billion under the COVID-19 relief bill that President Biden plans to sign this week.  The outcome of state budget negotiations between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature will determine which programs receive the federal funds.

Is the Pandemic Forcing An Evolution in P3 Work? – Engineering News-Record
As the nation reopens, transportation departments in California and other states project it will be years before their revenues return to pre-pandemic levels.  Faced with revenue shortfalls and the potential of even tighter budgets, could governments expand their use of P3s?

With Covid relief passed, Biden moves on to infrastructure – CNBC
With President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 stimulus package just a signature away from becoming law, the White House now turns its attention to assembling and passing a once-in-a-generation infrastructure bill.  It’s not clear what the legislation will include. Yet the new president has all but guaranteed a spectacular infrastructure overhaul as his next policy priority.

U.S. judge approves Daimler’s $1.5 billion diesel emissions settlement – Reuters
A federal judge on Tuesday approved Daimler AG’s $1.5 billion settlement to resolve a U.S. government probe into the German automaker’s use of undisclosed software that allowed excess diesel pollution to be emitted by 250,000 of its vehicles in the United States.  The settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and California Air Resources Board includes a $285.6 million payment to the state, an $875 million civil penalty levied under the Clean Air Act, $70 million in additional penalties, and $546 million to fix the polluting vehicles and offset excess emissions.

March 8, 2021

California’s Pacific Coast Highway is falling into the ocean. Is this the end of the road for one of America’s most scenic drives? – US Today
Given the road’s location, it is no surprise that Highway 1 is frequently damaged.   For decades this highway at the edge of the continent has struggled to make it through a calendar year without some misfortune forcing it to close.  Usually, that’s because damage occurs due to a combination of weather and geological activity.  But what is changing, experts say, is the frequency and severity of that damage.

Chevron to build California carbon capture plant with Microsoft, Schlumberger – Reuters
Chevron Corp is partnering with Microsoft Corp, oilfield services firm Schlumberger NV and privately held Clean Energy Systems to build a carbon capture plant in California, as the U.S. oil major expands investments in renewable technology.  The venture adds weight to plans outlined by California’s Air Resources Control Board last month to start phasing out all agricultural waste burning in the valley by 2025.

Highway 17 construction completed, Santa Cruz-California – Construction Review
Renovations of Highway 17 in Santa Cruz, California, have been completed by Caltrans.  The $19 million in overhauls upgrade the safety of over 6-miles of tarmac on the road.  Senate Bill 1, a funding source for state highway systems and local roads, contributed $2 million to the project.

March 4, 2021

Will Gov. Newsom end state worker pay cuts with tax revenue soaring> Here’s what he said – The Sacramento Bee / msn.com
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that he will continue to work through the collective bargaining process to restore state workers’ pay after the Finance Department reported tax revenue is running $10 billion above projections.  Speaking at an Elk Grove news conference, Newsom credited state employee unions with “stepping up” by agreeing to accept pay cuts last year when California projected a $54 billion state budget deficit.  “We’re going to work with them in a collaborative spirit, great respect and admiration” on restoring workers’ pay, Newsom said.

Caltrans unveils three-decade vision for future of transportation – Roads & Bridges
Agricultural burning is a practice that began in 1859 but will come to an end on January 1, 2025, after a unanimous decision by the California Air Resources Board last week.

US infrastructure gets C- from engineers as roads stagnate – Associated Press
America’s infrastructure has scored near-failing grades for its deteriorating roads, public transit and storm water systems due to years of inaction from the federal government, the American Society of Civil Engineers reports.  Its overall grade: a mediocre C-.  In its “Infrastructure Report Card” released Wednesday, the group called for “big and bold” relief, estimating it would cost $5.9 trillion over the next decade to bring roads, bridges and airports to a safe and sustainable level.  That’s about $2.6 trillion more than what government and the private sector already spend.

A ‘megadrought’ in California – BBC
This year is likely to be critically dry for California.  Winter storms that dumped heavy snow and rain across the state are not expected to be substantial enough to counterbalance drought conditions.  Meanwhile, scientists forecast the planet will see more extreme environmental conditions and weather: Episodes of flooding and droughts will increase.  Lake Oroville, which plays a key water-delivery role in California, has been a perfect illustration of how these extremes can threaten existing infrastructure.

March 1, 2021

More states follow California’s lead on vehicle emissions standards – The Hill
An increasing number of states are looking to follow California’s precedent and adopt stricter vehicle emissions standards as the Biden administration appears poised to green-light those efforts.

No More Ag Burning After 2025 Says Air Board in Unanimous Vote – GV Wire
Agricultural burning is a practice that began in 1859 but will come to an end on January 1, 2025, after a unanimous decision by the California Air Resources Board last week.

Danger posed by earthquake fault will lead to tighter San Diego building restrictions – The San Diego Union-Tribune
The California Geological Survey is creating regulatory areas in the San Diego area where developers may be required to show that their projects are a safe distance from active fault zones.

Caltrans estimates Hwy 1 near Big Sur could reopen this summer – KSBY
Caltrans crews will conduct emergency repairs to Highway 1 at Rat Creek starting Monday, March 1.  Officials estimate the road will reopen early this summer.

February 2021

February 25, 2021

State Auditor Says California Air Regulator Overstated Emission Reductions – KQED

The California Air Resources Board overstated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from its electric vehicle incentive program and other initiatives, according to State Auditor Elaine Howle, and the state is in danger of failing to meet its 2030 goal of reducing greenhouse gases to 40% below 1990 levels.

Once ‘Low Cost’ Bullet Train Plan Will Now Cost $800M Extra – Los Angeles Times / Governing
California awarded the contract for a 65-mile segment of the bullet train route to a company that promised $300M in savings.  Now, the cost-saving designs have been changed and the project will run $800M over budget.

Texas blackouts spotlight why Washington must go big on infrastructure – In the Public Interest
All the recent energy and water problems across Texas—including where I live in Austin—are just the latest sign that America’s infrastructure is at its breaking point.  That’s why this week’s reintroduction of federal legislation to invest in clean, safe, and affordable drinking water is such great news.

Top Bottlenecks Less Congested Last Year, but Infrastructure Needs Persist – Transport Topics
Trucks moved more swiftly last year through sections of road that historically are congested, as the coronavirus pandemic kept vehicles off highways for easier movement of freight, the American Transportation Research Institute reports.  However, researchers expect traffic will return to notoriously clogged conditions along the nation’s 10 slowest commercial corridors –  including I-10/I-15 in San Bernardino – as pandemic restrictions lift and more vehicles return to the highways.

February 22, 2021

‘Like a bomb went off.’ How a perfect storm sent Big Sur’s Highway 1 crumbling into the sea –  The San Luis Obispo Tribune

In Big Sur, mother nature is hard at work healing from the Dolan Fire.  In many places, it’s a peaceful transition. Fresh, green growth covers fire-blackened hillsides, hiding the remains of the massive blaze that scorched the region and shut down one of the world’s most scenic routes last summer.  But in other areas — such as Rat Creek, just north of the community of Lucia — the burn scar fought back.

Up in smoke: Burns in San Joaquin Valley vineyards, orchards may finally end – CalMatters

California’s air board will vote this week on stopping burns that spew plumes of smoke that can trigger asthma attacks.  The move is long in coming — it was supposed to end a decade ago under state law.

Caltrans issues RFP for data management – ITS International

California is looking for a new “primary information system” to help manage highway data with a view to making state roads safer.

Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities – The New York Times (tiered subscription)

Power failures have cast a spotlight on whether energy companies and regulators are doing enough to prepare for climate change and natural disasters.

February 18, 2021

California state worker retirements jumped 15% in year of pay cuts, coronavirus – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

State employee retirements increased 15% last year in California amid pay cuts and changes to working conditions brought on by the coronavirus, according to California Public Employees’ Retirement System data.  While state workers headed for the exits, retirements among local government employees — who generally avoided pay cuts and even received scheduled raises last year — decreased 7% compared to 2019, according to preliminary figures from CalPERS.

“No one likes to take a pay cut, so it’s understandable that some employees would choose to retire rather than accept less money for their work,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of the Professional Engineers in California Government.  Retirements were up 25% among the approximately 11,000 employees PECG represents, Toppin said.  “They’re losing a huge asset,” he said.  “The state needs engineers and related professionals to deliver infrastructure projects.  And when folks retire, that’s not accessible to them.”

State employees’ pensions are calculated based primarily on their highest pay in state service combined with their age and years of service. Those earning the highest pay of their careers as they approach retirement stand to increase their pensions by continuing to work and increase their pay. Without a raise on the horizon, there’s less incentive to stay.  Working during the coronavirus added another variable to retirement decisions last year, particularly since retirement-age people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than younger people.

Auto Industry, Former Government Officials Warn of Disruption if Supreme Court Skips VW Case – Bloomberg Law

The U.S. Supreme Court should consider and reverse a “bombshell” appellate decision against Volkswagen Group of America Inc. “that threatens fundamentally to alter the regulatory environment faced by global automakers,” international auto industry associations told the court.  Four former officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board, and the Department of Justice also urged the court to take the case.  At issue is a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, allowing lawsuits by two counties against VW over post-sale software updates allegedly connected to diesel-emissions cheating.  By taking away the environmental agencies’ exclusive authority, the former government officials said in their court filing, “the Ninth Circuit’s decision hampers, if not eliminates, EPA, CARB, and DOJ’s ability to remedy violations of emissions standards through settlements with vehicle manufacturers.”

Why do Big Sur Highway 1 cliffs slip, causing closures? Mudslide triggers memories – The San Luis Obispo Tribune

When part of the pavement near Rat Creek, 30 miles north of the line between Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties, gave way Jan. 28 under the onslaught of about a dozen inches of rain in one day, I wasn’t surprised.  For those of us who’ve lived for longer than a year or so anywhere around here, that closure of the scenic highway is another of those “here we go again” moments.  The heavy rain that caused the Rat Creek closure, and most of the others, turned the coastal Franciscan mélange soil matrix into extraordinarily slippery mud.

As the mud yields to the force of gravity, it slides, often carrying boulders, trees, even structures down steep hillsides, cliffs and bluffs.  The geological movement often blankets the highway with many tons of goo.  And sometimes, the roadway’s now soggy foundation slides out from underneath the pavement.  At Rat Creek, the onslaught created a deep chasm through the pavement — one that will take expert engineering, hard work and time to repair.

EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond – Associated Press

The power outages tormenting Texas in uncharacteristically Arctic temperatures are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when the weather’s seasonal shifts were more consistent and predictable — conditions that most experts believe no longer exist.  Beyond Texas, utilities from Minnesota to Mississippi have imposed rolling blackouts to ease the strain on electrical grids buckling under high demand during the past few freezing days. And power outages have become a rite of summer and autumn in California, partly to reduce the chances of deadly wildfires. But the fact more than 3 million bone-chilled Texans have lost their electricity in a state that takes pride in its energy independence underscores the gravity of a problem that is occurring in the U.S. with increasing frequency.

February 16, 2021

State fines Kaiser $499K for COVID-19 worker safety violations –  CalMatters

California officials gave a nod to Kaiser Permanente’s reputation for efficiency when they recently selected it to help speed vaccine rollout.  But a review of worker safety citations shows Kaiser has had its own pandemic troubles, failing to adequately protect its employees early on.  Kaiser Permanente has on multiple occasions failed to provide hospital employees the gear or training needed to protect them from COVID-19, according to 12 citations issued by California’s enforcer of workplace safety laws, Cal/OSHA.

Response team investigates wildfire damage to buried drinking water infrastructure – Civil Engineering Source

In early 2019, a response team composed of experts in various engineering disciplines across the country investigated the damage done to the Paradise Irrigation District’s drinking water infrastructure by the devastating Camp Fire.  Normally, regulatory compliance for safe drinking water is enforced at the point of entry to the distribution system (in other words, at the treatment plant), but wildfire contamination originates in and travels through the distribution system.  The Camp Fire researchers had many questions to answer to facilitate recovery: the type of contamination, its origin, and its movements as well as how it was detected.  Here are their surprising findings.

Proposal replaces vehicle lane with permanent bike lane on Bay Bridge – KCBS Radio

The Bay Bridge, like most of regional bridges and highways, has been operating with far fewer motorists during the coronavirus pandemic.  Given lighter vehicle load on Bay Area roads, there’s a plan to turn one lane of the bridge from San Francisco to Oakland over to bicyclists.  The idea, explained Ben Kaufman with Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, could take just one year and $10 million.

Biden administration talks infrastructure — but not a price tag – Politico

President Joe Biden met in the Oval Office Thursday morning with senators and others who will be key to moving his climate and infrastructure goals through Congress, but after the meeting officials made clear that they still are figuring out just how big to go with any eventual legislative package, illustrating the challenges ahead.  Biden campaigned on a $2 trillion package that married infrastructure investments with sweeping climate change goals and other items such as broadband deployment.  But now that policymakers are beginning talks on how to turn that into reality, they are confronted with the same set of obstacles that have dogged prior attempts, chief among them how to pay for everything they want to do.

February 11, 2021

California’s aging dams face new perils, 50 years after Sylmar quake crisis – Los Angeles Times / Yahoo! News

It was 50 years ago this week the San Fernando, or Sylmar, quake struck before dawn and nearly collapsed the Lower Van Norman Dam in Granada Hills.  While earthquakes still loom as the greatest threat to California’s massive collection of dams, a new hazard has emerged: “whiplashing shifts” in extreme weather due to climate change.  “The biggest issue facing dam safety in California is aging infrastructure and lack of money to fund repairs and retrofits of dams,” said Sharon K. Tapia, who leads the Division of Safety of Dams at the California Department of Water Resources.  “Many older dams were built using construction methods considered outdated by today’s standards.”

California bullet train project will seek $4.1 billion to complete Central Valley construction – Los Angeles Times / KTLA

The California bullet train authority will seek a $4.1-billion appropriation to complete construction in the Central Valley, as costs and schedules continue to grow.  The massive appropriation, which would come out of a 2008 bond fund that voters approved, would provide enough money to complete Gov. Gavin Newsom’s starter system from Merced to Bakersfield, the authority said in newly released documents.  The 171-mile rail link would not connect to Los Angeles for more than a decade and not until tens of billions of dollars can be obtained for tunneling through mountains.

CARB Steers Clean Miles Standard Toward Formal Rulemaking –  Lexology

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is developing the Clean Miles Standard and Incentive Program (Clean Miles Standard), a first-of-its kind regulation designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ride-sharing vehicles and increase the use of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs).

February 8, 2021

EPA Races to Draft Interim Vehicle Standards for CO2 – Scientific American

President Biden’s EPA is expected to draft interim auto emissions standards based on an agreement last year between California and five car companies, according to sources following the matter.  EPA is poised to unveil the interim standards and notify the auto industry by April 1.  The development, which was first reported by The New York Times, signals that California is influencing the Biden administration’s climate and clean transportation policy in the near term.

California pushes back high-speed rail construction deadline again – Associated Press / KTVU

California is again pushing back the deadline and raising the cost for its high-speed rail project, this time asking the Biden administration for a one-year extension on completing construction on a section of track in the Central Valley.  Brian Kelly, the project’s chief executive officer, detailed delays and cost changes to the project in a letter released Friday alongside the project’s updated business plan.  He’ll discuss it Tuesday at a meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors.

Ford says U.S. Justice Department, California end probe into emissions issue – Reuters

Ford Motor Co confirmed on Friday the U.S. Justice Department and California Air Resources Board have closed a lengthy investigation into the No. 2 U.S. automaker’s emissions certification process without taking any action.  Ford said in a securities filing that reviews by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment and Climate Change Canada remain open.

Near Coasts, Rising Seas Could Also Push Up Long-Buried Toxic Contamination – National Public Radio

For many Bay Area residents who live near the water’s edge, little-publicized research indicates groundwater rising beneath their feet could start to manifest in 10-15 years, particularly in low-lying communities like Oakland.  And that could resurface toxic substances that have lingered for years underground.

February 4, 2021

Automakers withdraw from litigation over California vehicle emissions standard – The Hill

A group representing several automakers including Toyota, Hyundai, and Fiat Chrysler is exiting a legal fight over whether California can set its own vehicle emissions standards, the group said Tuesday.  The move comes just one day after the Biden administration requested a pause in the litigation, in which the automakers had intervened to support the federal government’s move to block California from setting tighter standards.  The administration had identified the Trump administration’s move as one it would seek to review and potentially reverse.

When Hwy 1 collapses by Big Sur, Caltrans engineers face unique challenges – KRON TV

The last time a colossal landslide happened on Highway 1 south of Big Sur, the famously-scenic stretch of highway snaking along the Pacific Ocean was closed for more than a year.  Following last week’s powerful January storm, Big Sur is again cut off on the south side, this time at Rat Creek.  A big question for Big Sur is, how will Caltrans engineers repair Highway 1 before the summer tourism season arrives?

DWR secures additional $300M for Oroville Dam Spillway repairs – KRCR TV

The California Department of Water Resources has secured $308 million in funding to pay for completed reconstruction and repair work on the Oroville Dam’s spillways.  The funds released by FEMA are in addition to the $260 million that the agency provided for repairs on the lower portion of the dam’s main spillway.  Repair work on the damaged emergency and main spillways has been ongoing for nearly four years following February 2017’s spillway crisis.

‘Major, major problem.’ California failing to track workplace COVID infections, deaths – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

A year after the first COVID-19 case hit California, the state agency in charge of policing warehouses, offices, factories, and other workplaces is woefully understaffed and significantly undercounting the number of employees who have fallen seriously ill or died as a result of the coronavirus.  California employers reported only 1,600 serious worker illnesses or deaths to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, from the start of the pandemic through mid-December, according to data obtained by The Sacramento Bee through a Public Records Act request.  While state inspectors have responded to thousands of complaints and levied fines against some workplaces that failed to report serious cases, a long-existing staffing shortage has hindered that process.  There were 107 job openings posted for the department as of Friday.

February 1, 2021

A huge piece of California’s Highway 1 near Big Sur collapsed into the ocean – CNN

A huge piece of California’s Highway 1 was washed out last week by a winter storm that brought heavy rain and snow.  California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) officials said in a statement Friday a debris flow from the hillside above the roadway “overwhelmed drainage infrastructure, flowed across the highway, and eroded the road resulting in the complete loss of a segment of Highway 1” at Rat Creek, about 15 miles south of Big Sur, a mountainous stretch of the state’s central coast.  (Includes video of the slide zone.)

State releases new information on water contamination after North Complex Fire – CBS News 10 (Medford, Ore.)

The California State Water Board released new information about water contamination testing after the North Complex fire devastated parts of Butte County and Plumas County during the summer of 2020.  Testing of surface waters throughout the burn scar has revealed contaminant levels are elevated, but lower than anticipated.  The State Water Board said the good news is they are not impacting drinking water treatment facilities or the quality of drinking water they deliver to their customers.

Despite Rainfall, State Still Aiming for 55 Gallon Per Person Water Conservation Target – gvwire.com

Fresh off a week filled with rain and snow due to an atmospheric river, water conservation may not be top of mind for everyday Californians.  While the recent precipitation may make the 2011-2017 California drought seem like a distant memory, a couple of laws passed by the legislature at that time are set to rain down policy on water agencies throughout the state.

January 2021

January 28, 2021

California bill would require corporations to report and cut down carbon emissions – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Large California corporations would be required to publicly disclose their carbon footprint and take active steps to reduce emissions, under a proposed law announced Wednesday morning.  The bill, Senate Bill 260, would apply to any business that reports more than $1 billion in gross annual revenue.  It would give the California Air Resources Board power to track and enforce compliance, including instituting penalties.

California Department of Water Resources on Water Year 2021: How Are We Doing? – Sierra Sun Times

We are now past the halfway mark in California’s normally wettest winter months, and the wet season to date has been anything but.  Most of the state has received less than half of its average annual precipitation to date. Coming after a very dry Water Year 2020 these conditions are concerning.  More precipitation will certainly occur in February and March, but will it be enough to erase the state’s large deficit?

January 25, 2020

Family leave for California state workers could be restored in Biden’s COVID-19 proposal – The Sacramento Bee

President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief proposal would give workers 14 weeks of paid sick and family leave, according to an outline of the $1.9 trillion spending package his administration provided.  Many California state workers relied last year on a similar leave program Congress approved in the spring, known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. That program, which provided two weeks of paid sick leave and 10 weeks of partially paid family leave for people affected by COVID-19, expired on Dec. 31.  In December, Congress said employers could extend last year’s benefits through March if they wanted to and could receive tax credits to cover costs. California state government didn’t immediately commit to extending the benefits for state workers. Biden’s proposal would create a similar program for this year – and make the benefits mandatory.

California Oil, Gas Drilling Hits Historic Lows in 2020 – Natural Gas Intelligence

New oil and natural gas drilling hit historic lows in California last year while a renewed emphasis on abandoned wells turned up a record-high number of permanently sealed wells, the state Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) reported last week.

“The Horse Whisperer of Oil and Gas” – University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering

USC alumnus Uduak-Joe Ntuk (M.S. PE ’11), California’s 17th State Oil and Gas Supervisor, answers seven questions about his job, his time at USC, and his legacy.

Buttigieg says he’ll bring ‘bottom-up’ perspective to transportation policy as secretary – The Detroit News

Pete Buttigieg, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation, told a Senate panel considering his appointment Thursday that the country must invest in strengthening transportation infrastructure nationwide.  The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor pitched himself as leader rooted in “the Industrial Midwest” who will “bring a bottom-up perspective” on transportation projects and funding solutions, and someone who will work with stakeholders in industries, communities, and Congress to craft policy.  Buttigieg is expected to be among several appointees who will play a central role in helping the U.S. auto industry, the state’s highway systems, and the energy grid transition to a future with fewer greenhouse gas emissions and more electric vehicles.

January 21, 2021

CalPERS records 12.4% return in 2020 – Pensions & Investments

CalPERS earned a net return of 12.4% for the year that ended Dec. 31, CEO Marcie Frost said at the fund’s Tuesday board meeting.  Average returns over the last three, five, and 10 years ranged from 8.4% to 10%.  Separately, the board re-elected Henry Jones as president and Theresa Taylor as vice president.

California households owe $1 billion in water bills as affordability crisis worsens – The Guardian

The magnitude of America’s water affordability crisis has been laid bare by shocking new data from California, where the debt owed on water bills has hit $1 billion, and one in every eight households is currently in arrears.  A survey by the state water board found at least 1.6 million households are behind on water bill payments. The average debt is $500, but 155,000 or so homes are in real trouble, owing more than $1,000 each and accounting for half the total debt.

California ranks second-worst for driving – Roads & Bridges

Financial-resource website WalletHub this week released its annual list for the best and worst states for driving in the U.S. – and California came in at No. 49 of 50.  The index compares 31 indicators of commute quality, from average gas prices and weather conditions to rush-hour traffic congestion and road quality.  Rankings for traffic and infrastructure (46) combined with the cost of vehicle ownership and maintenance (second highest in the nation), contributed to the Golden State’s poor showing between 48th-place Washington and cellar-dweller Hawaii.  Please click here to see the survey’s details and methodology.

January 19, 2020

New details on Newsom’s state worker proposal — what happens to raises, health deductions?  – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Gov. Gavin Newsom tentatively offered state employees some good news last week when he said his administration might undo the pay cuts the workers absorbed last summer.  Newsom provided few specifics, citing uncertainty surrounding the state’s financial forecast despite projections of a surplus.  The Finance Department later posted more specific budget documents that, while still not final, show the administration anticipates restoring pay in July while continuing to withhold raises many workers were scheduled to receive last summer.

Several union leaders said the employees they represent should get those raises or similar increases.

“This pandemic has hurt a lot of people, but it did not have the severe budget implications that it was assumed to have last year, so let’s start undoing the cuts that state employees had to bear to be part of the solution,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of the union Professional Engineers in California Government.

The proposed budget would end the personal leave program that reduced most state workers’ pay by 9.23%.  Should the program end, employees also would resume contributing to their retirement health care.  The contributions, which range from 1.4% to 4.6% of state workers’ pay, were suspended to soften the hit from the cuts.  The state also suspended until July 2022 most of the raises it had agreed to give workers in union contracts.  Department-level budget documents don’t reflect any general salary increases in the fiscal year to come, suggesting those raises will remain suspended.

However, “the level of available federal aid or stimulus funding available could be part of the determination in May as to whether the state’s fiscal condition permits proposing to end the (personal leave) program early,” Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said in an email.

California closing state offices in downtown Sacramento over inauguration unrest fears – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has told California state department leaders to keep as many state employees as possible out of downtown Sacramento offices through Thursday over unrest concerns.

Vegas-to-SoCal rail line could get spring construction start – Las Vegas Review-Journal

After missing its planned 2020 construction start date, the company behind the high-speed rail project between Las Vegas and Southern California is hopeful work could begin this year.

January 14, 2021

California’s high-speed rail delays are ‘beyond comprehension’ – Associated Press

A major contractor’s letter blames the state for delays in building California’s bullet train, contradicting claims that the line’s construction pace is on target and warning the project could miss a key 2022 federal deadline. The 36-page letter from Tutor Perini to the contracting chief at the state rail authority alleges the project’s problems include continuing delays in obtaining land for the line and the state’s failure to finalize deals with outside parties such as utilities and freight railroads.

CalPERS doesn’t have to release names of retirees with disability pensions after ruling – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

An appellate court issued a decision this week that will keep individual information on CalPERS disability pensions private, barring an overriding ruling by the state Supreme Court.  Transparent California, a website that publishes public salaries and pension information, plans another pass at making pension statuses public following Monday’s dismissal by the Third District Court of Appeal.

Impacts of climate change on our water and energy systems: it’s complicated – Science Daily

As the planet continues to warm, the twin challenges of diminishing water supply and growing energy demand are intensifying. But because water and energy are linked, adapting to one challenge – say, by getting more water via desalination or water recycling – may worsen the other challenge by choosing energy-intensive processes.  Researchers in California recently developed a science-based analytic framework to evaluate the complex connections between water, energy, and options for adaptations in response to an evolving climate.

January 11, 2020

Pay cuts for California state workers could be lifted by July under Newsom proposal – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration could restore state workers’ pay, at least partially, as early as July, according to a budget proposal released Friday.  A better-than-expected financial outlook, including a projected $15 billion surplus, means the state can consider modifying the pay cuts that took effect in July of last year for the state’s roughly 230,000 employees, according to the budget proposal.  The state’s Human Resources Department “anticipates inviting” state unions to renegotiate the pay cut agreements for the fiscal year starting July 1, according to Friday’s budget summary.

“Given the updated revenue projections and the scope of the budget, employee compensation reductions may not be necessary during the 2021-2022 fiscal year,” the proposal states.  When Newsom introduced the pay cut, the state faced a projected deficit of $54 billion over two years.  The cuts save about $2.4 billion per year.  “We are in a different position,” Newsom said during a news conference Friday.

Newsom’s budget takes hits from both sides of oil debate – Bakersfield Californian

Climate change priorities spelled out in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new budget plan have drawn criticism he’s still not doing enough — and conversely, that he’s again doing too much — to restrain California oil production.  The 2021-22 state budget he introduced Friday proposes $4.8 million to hire 26 oil regulators as part of a drive to tighten oversight and complement the state’s drive toward a lower-carbon economy.

California’s most senior oil regulator, Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, placed the $4.8 million proposal — the budget’s only oil-related item — in the context of efforts to modernize the California Geologic Energy Management Division, which would receive the new positions.  “I think we recognize that we’re driving a transition to a low-carbon economy with less reliance on fossil fuels,” he told reporters in a conference call Friday.  “Our goal is to strengthen regulatory oversight.”

Paramount Renewable Diesel Producer Settles with Air Resources Board – MyNewsLA.com

A Paramount-based renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel producer paid $132,500 to settle with the California Air Resources Board over reporting violations under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the board announced Thursday.

I-70 construction problems lead to extra ‘$100 to $150 million’ cost in Colorado – Colorado Spring Gazette

The massive Interstate 70 construction design-build project in central Denver is not only going to take almost a year longer than planned to complete, Colorado’s state highway agency has now indicated that it’s also going to end up costing between $100 million and $150 million dollars more than the originally-planned $1.2 billion price tag.  Department of Transportation officials refuse to provide the precise cost of the refinancing.  In response to public records requests for documents about the refinancing, agency officials redacted the refinancing specifics from records submitted to the federal government.

January 7, 2021

Race, gender would factor in promotions for California state workers under proposed law – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

A new proposal in the California State Legislature would force state departments to factor race and gender into decisions about who gets promoted.  Assembly Bill 105 — introduced after California voters recently rejected a ballot initiative that would have brought back affirmative action — aims to give women and minority candidates a better shot at navigating a civil service system that the bill’s sponsor described as overly complicated and often biased.

California Is Closing the Door to Gas in New Homes – Scientific American

California’s top energy bosses soon will decide when to snuff out natural gas flames in new homes.  The seismic move toward omitting some gas appliances comes as the California Energy Commission retools state building codes for energy-efficient homes.  It’s an expansion of the state’s first-in-the-nation mandates requiring solar panels on all new homes starting last year.

California HSR is Peachy – Streetsblog

California’s high-speed rail project is now poised to receive some $20 billion in federal funding, thanks to the results of two senate seat runoff elections in Georgia. “I think this will be great news for CAHSR,” said Andy Kunz, President & CEO of the US HSR association. He added that between Joe Biden’s support for rail and the expected stimulus bill that will come out of the White House, coupled with a Democrat-controlled legislature, California’s rail project in particular stands to gain.

January 4, 2020

‘Surprise’ medical bills will end next year for people with CalPERS health insurance – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

About 270,000 CalPERS health insurance policyholders who aren’t protected from “surprise” medical bills will be protected from the bills starting in 2022.  The bills come after patients unknowingly or unexpectedly receive treatment from doctors or hospitals that aren’t in their insurance plans’ networks. Out-of-network treatment is much more expensive than in-network treatment.  The COVID-19 relief package and budget legislation Congress recently approved includes protections against surprise medical charges that most commonly occur when patients are taken to out-of-network hospitals in emergencies or visit in-network facilities only to find out later that a particular doctor or specialist wasn’t in their insurance plan’s network.

California law already protected most people from the practice of surprise billing, including those with CalPERS HMO plans. Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans have their own limits and protections against surprise billing, also known as “balance billing.”  But some health insurance plans that are regulated by the federal government, including CalPERS’ PPO plans, aren’t subject to California’s protections.  Under the new law, patients won’t be billed more in those situations than what they would normally pay. The change applies to the PERS Choice, PERS Select and PERS Care plans.  The law covers emergency flights but, in a big exception, it doesn’t cover ambulance bills.

Iconic Mt. Vernon Bridge in San Bernardino closes to make way for replacement – San Bernardino Sun

The iconic Mt. Vernon Bridge in San Bernardino has closed to the public and will remain so through at least late 2023 as the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, BNSF and CalTrans disassemble it and build a new one.  The long-awaited $230 million project will culminate in a new structurally-sound bridge with widened travel lanes and sidewalks, a center median and new bike lanes.  Construction is expected to conclude in March 2024.

December 2020

December 31, 2020

Water Content of California’s Early Winter Snowpack Lagging – NBC Bay Area

The amount of water in California’s mountain snowpack is only about half of the average for early winter, the state Department of Water Resources said Wednesday.   An automated sensor network on 260 snow courses statewide found the snow-water content to be 52% of average to date, although the annual Phillips Station snowpack manual measurement came in at 93% of average.

Caltrans Charts Ambitious $155M Plan for Eureka’s Broadway – North Coast Journal

Broadway has long been an integral-yet-neglected part of Eureka.  As a road that serves both as a state highway and as the city’s “Main Street,” it fills neither role satisfactorily.  Caltrans has been studying possible improvements to Broadway for decades, starting with a proposed bypass in the 1960s.  Now the city and the state are considering a new idea: A $155 million multimodal corridor that makes Broadway’s narrowest stretches a one-way northbound passage.  Southbound traffic would be diverted off the road in two distinct locations onto “one-way couplets.”

Public Pensions Aren’t Causing State And Local Budget Gaps—The Pandemic Is – Forbes

In the drama over federal Covid-19 relief legislation, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected state and local budget aid because, he said, the bailout would reward poorly managed states, including their public employee pension systems.  But an examination of the roughly 6,000 public-sector retirement systems that exist in the U.S. reveals the employer’s economic health is the most important variable determining whether a pension system is adequately funded.  After all, the size of a mortgage doesn’t determine household financial health — it’s the ratio of the mortgage payments to total income.  Similarly, a pension sponsor’s fiscal health determines whether the costs of funding its pension plan create budgetary stress for the state.  And there isn’t much sign the stress is severe.

December 28, 2020

$900 Billion Federal Stimulus Will Help California’s Struggling Amid COVID – CalMatters / Times of San Diego

The federal stimulus package that President Trump signed Sunday is “very encouraging news” according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who outlined how much of the $900 billion federal package is likely to flow to the Golden State.  The package did not include aid for state and local governments for which Newsom spent months lobbying, and to which he has tied restoring full hours and pay for state employees.  However, he said Congress “will need to do more in the future.”

California’s electric grid needs an overhaul – CalMatters

The culprits of California’s power problems are an antiquated grid and archaic market constructs that are holdovers from a less efficient era, when power moved in one direction: from power plant to consumer.  Today, we have far greater and far more complex energy needs – yet we’re still working with a set of tools and rules developed generations ago.

California Office of Emergency Services launches earthquake warning system  –  Santa Barbara News-Press

The Earthquake Warning California app launches on January 1.  The system uses ground-motion sensors to detect an earthquake that has already started and estimates its size, location, and impact, then issues wireless emergency alerts to devices that have the app.  It was developed through a partnership between the California Office of Emergency Services, the United States Geological Survey, UC Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, and the California Geological Survey.

December 24, 2020

Departments told to be less specific about COVID case numbers among state workers – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Gov. Gavin Newsom directed California state departments to provide less specific information to state workers about COVID-19 outbreaks in their workplaces on Friday, citing confidentiality concerns.  The new directive says departments shouldn’t share specific numbers unless more than 11 employees have tested positive. The notices should instead say “there are fewer than 11 cases,” according to the directive. The directive suggests less-specific notifications will help ensure confidentiality.

This California Law Offers Biden a Tool in the Fight for Environmental Justice – The Nation

The law, AB 617, is overseen by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).  It has established community-based committees to evaluate and remediate local air pollution hot spots. In a departure from nationwide practices, these committees must include not just the usual roster of representatives from industry, labor unions, local government, and regulatory agencies.  They must also bring to the table the residents suffering from the very pollution this Californian experiment in democracy is charged with mitigating.

First snow survey of the 2020-21 season coming December 30 – ABC 10

Next week, the Department of Water Resources will conduct the first of five surveys through May by plunging a long steel tube into the snow.  (Story includes graphics of current and average water levels for Northern California’s major reservoirs.)

December 21, 2020

‘Better than nothing’- the U.S. $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus helps but underwhelms – Reuters

The $900 billion pandemic aid package expected to win Congressional approval on Monday will deliver support to a recession-ravaged economy slowing under a deadly coronavirus surge, and set it up for a stronger recovery next year as vaccines become more widely available, economists said.  But it comes months after the last big fiscal aid package was passed and lacks direct help to struggling states and cities, as millions remain unemployed and businesses suffer anew from fresh restrictions to slow spread of the virus.

Claims against PG&E for California wildfires are piling up again. Here’s the latest tally – San Luis Obispo Tribune

Six months after successfully emerging from bankruptcy — a case driven by massive wildfire damages — PG&E Corp. is wrestling with fire-related claims approaching $1 billion.

California bill would sharply reduce lead leaching from faucets – Smart Water Magazine

California state legislation introduced would set a legally enforceable limit on the amount of lead leaching from drinking water faucets and fixtures, reducing by five times the amount now allowed by a plumbing industry standard. Assembly Bill 100, by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would restrict the amount of lead leaching from faucets and fixtures to no more than 1 microgram.

December 17, 2020

Why California’s lead environmental official, Mary Nichols, will likely not run the EPA – KCRW

Former California Air Resources Board head Mary Nichols, the early favorite to lead President-elect Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency, now appears to be out of the running after dozens of environmental justice groups signed a letter criticizing her “bleak” record on environmental racism. Biden’s transition team is now scrambling to find someone else to lead the EPA.

Buttigieg would bring funding agenda to Department of Transportation – Roll Call

On paper, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg seems an unlikely pick for President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of Transportation.  The 38-year old former mayor oversaw a budget of about $358 million in a city of about 102,000.  At the DOT, he’ll oversee a budget of about $90 billion — including about $22 billion in discretionary dollars — and manage a staff of about 55,000.  But in choosing Buttigieg as his designee to run the Department of Transportation, Biden has picked one of the few former Democratic presidential rivals to outright endorse paying for highways through a “vehicle miles traveled” fee instead of the current gas-tax system.

Error correction means California’s future wetter winters may never come – Science Daily

California and other areas of the U.S. Southwest may see less future winter precipitation than previously projected by climate models.  After probing a persistent error in widely used models, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimate that California will likely experience drier winters in the future than projected by some climate models, meaning residents may see less spring runoff, higher spring temperatures, and an increased risk of wildfire in coming years.

New Long Beach bridge lights up with colorful display – Ports & Terminals

The Port of Long Beach’s beautiful and economically important new cable-stayed bridge lit up in bright colors Monday night, providing a visual reminder of this vital transportation link’s importance to international trade and regional commerce.  Just over two months after the new bridge opened to traffic, the energy-saving LED lights were turned on for the first time to illuminate the two 515-foot-tall towers and 80 cables holding the main span portion of the nearly 2-mile-long bridge. The lights will be pre-programmed to mark holidays, such as Independence Day and Christmas, and special occasions, such as the Olympics and Pride Month.  The bridge is a joint effort of Caltrans and the Port of Long Beach, with additional funding support from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

December 14, 2020

California introduces rules to limit HFC refrigerants Cooling Post

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has introduced new rules to reduce HFC emissions to 40% below 2013 levels by 2030.  The new rules are the first in the US to enact comprehensive measures to ban many HFCs in new equipment, while also tackling existing emissions and venting of refrigerants.  It will affect commercial and industrial, stationary refrigeration units, as well as commercial and residential air conditioning units.

Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violationsSanta Rosa Press Democrat

State water quality regulators have fined the developer of Montage Healdsburg, the ultra-luxury resort set to open Saturday, more than $6.4 million for environmental violations tied to hotel construction during the stormy winter months of late 2018 and early 2019.  The fine — the largest environmental penalty of its kind on the North Coast — was prosecuted by the State Water Resources Control Board and decided Friday by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board after an eight-hour virtual hearing.

Caltrans awards CM/GC contract of Segment 4C of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara Construction Review

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court gave California a green light last week to move forward with a contested highway project through a majestic grove of ancient redwood trees, reversing a lower court ruling that halted construction pending further environmental review.

December 10, 2020

Newsom picks Liane Randolph to lead California Air Resources Board, succeeding Mary NicholsPalm Springs Desert Sun

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced his selection of Liane Randolph, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission, as the new chair of the California Air Resources Board, replacing longtime Chair Mary Nichols.

California sketches plan to wean off fossil fuels during wildfire-related power outages Utility Dive

California regulators have outlined their strategy for transitioning from fossil fuels towards cleaner generation to power communities during wildfire-related public safety power shut-offs for the 2021 wildfire season and beyond.  In a proposal issued Monday, regulators recommended that utilities file applications with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) by June 30, 2021, detailing their plans for switching to clean resources for future shut-offs, as well as how they intend to procure them.

California Commission Approves $2 Billion in Infrastructure Projects Transport Topics

The California Transportation Commission has approved $2 billion for 56 new projects, some of which aim to improve the movement of goods and reduce congestion.  These projects are supported by three programs that were created by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

Water joins gold and oil for first time as traded commodity on Wall Street amid fears of scarcity – Reuters / Financial Post

Water joined gold, oil and other commodities traded on Wall Street, highlighting worries that the life-sustaining natural resource may become scarce across more of the world.  Farmers, hedge funds and municipalities alike are now able to hedge against — or bet on — future water availability in California, the biggest U.S. agriculture market and world’s fifth-largest economy.

December 7, 2020

California state offices will close in response to governor’s stay-at-home order Santa Rosa Press-Democrat (tiered subscription) / The Sacramento Bee

California is closing state government offices in response to the stay-at-home order Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Thursday, according to an email sent to state departments. With some exceptions, state offices will close Monday, Dec. 7, and remain closed for three weeks, according to an email Human Resources Department Director Eraina Ortega sent to state department leaders.

The Professional Engineers in California Government, a state union representing about 11,000 workers, wrote to Ortega Wednesday urging her to minimize in-person work and strengthen state protocols around testing and prevention.

Ted Toppin, the union’s executive director, said the rate at which he has been receiving notices of positive tests at his members’ workplaces has reached 10 to 12 per day. Most of the workers the union represents work at Caltrans, the Department of Water Resources, the Air Resources Board and the Water Resources Control Board.  “I’m happy to hear they’re moving in this direction,” Toppin said. “Cases are surging, and they’re surging in state workplaces too.”

Nissan abandons federal emissions fight with CaliforniaAssociated Press

Nissan said Friday that it will no longer support the Trump administration in its legal fight to end California’s ability to set its own auto-pollution and gas-mileage standards.  The announcement is another sign that a coalition of automakers backing the outgoing administration could fall apart. General Motors ended its support for the Trump administration’s battle with California on emissions standards last week.

Ninth Circuit Clears Path for Contested Highway Project in Ancient Redwood GroveCourthouse News Service

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court gave California a green light last week to move forward with a contested highway project through a majestic grove of ancient redwood trees, reversing a lower court ruling that halted construction pending further environmental review.

December 3, 2020

State government won’t give workers a break on parking passes despite telework The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

The California Department of General Services, which manages 12 state parking facilities in Sacramento, hasn’t reduced monthly parking prices since Gov. Newsom sent state workers home in March.  Meanwhile, many state employees who work from home aren’t using their passes very much, and some wish the state would give them a break.  Yet the demand for the passes has only increased during the pandemic.

Winter’s dry start prompts low California water allocationAssociated Press / The Press Democrat

California’s water managers on Tuesday preliminarily allocated just 10% of requested water supplies to agencies that together serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.  The state Department of Water Resources cited the dry start to the winter rainy season in California’s Mediterranean climate, along with low reservoir levels remaining from last year’s relatively dry winter.

The California Air Quality Guru Who Taught Business to Love the EnvironmentPolitico Magazine

Mary Nichols, a Yale-trained lawyer who first helmed California’s air agency in the 1970s, has made a career of bringing industry on board with groundbreaking environmental policies in ways that others have struggled — and failed — to replicate.  One reason is that she’s better than most at negotiating with industry.  Her familiarity stems in part from her 46-year marriage to her late husband, a trial attorney who represented energy firms; he even defended Exxon after the notorious Exxon Valdez oil spill.

November 2020

November 30, 2020

FHWA Proposes Changes in Design Standards for Highway Repairs, ResurfacingEngineering News-Review (tiered subscription)

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has proposed a regulation that it says will give state departments of transportation more flexibility in setting design standards for resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation (RRR) projects on existing Interstate highways and other key arteries.  The proposal, published in the Federal Register on Nov. 24, would incorporate updated design standards—principally those issued in recent years by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)—and drop older versions of the benchmarks.

California Regulators Didn’t Follow Rules In Approving Hundreds Of New Oil Well Permits, Audit FindsCapital Public Radio

A state audit released the day before Thanksgiving shows that California oil regulators didn’t follow their own rules and in 2019 issued hundreds of inappropriate permits for new wells.  While the Department of Finance audit found the California Geologic Energy Management Division, CalGEM, was “generally” in accordance with its laws, it also found major areas lacking.

Well Water Throughout California Contaminated with ‘Forever Chemicals’CalMatters

Across California, water providers are discovering the same thing: “Forever chemicals” are everywhere.  Used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof coatings, firefighting foams and food packaging, these industrial chemicals — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS — have been linked to kidney cancer and other serious health conditions.  They last forever because they don’t break down.  They’re dangerous.  They’re expensive to get rid of.  And many Californians don’t even know they’re drinking them.  California is now cracking down by implementing new thresholds for the chemicals that will force cities and utilities to shut down their wells, treat the water, or notify their customers about the contamination.

GM Flips to California’s Side in Pollution Fight With TrumpAssociated Press / GV Wire

General Motors is switching sides in the legal fight against California’s right to set its own clean-air standards, abandoning the Trump administration as the president’s term nears its close.  CEO Mary Barra said in a letter Monday to environmental groups that GM will no longer support the Trump administration in its defense against a lawsuit over its efforts against California’s standards.  And GM is urging other automakers to do the same.  The move is a sign that GM and other automakers are anticipating big changes when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.  Already at least one other large automaker, Toyota, said it may join GM in switching to California’s team.

November 30, 2020

FHWA Proposes Changes in Design Standards for Highway Repairs, ResurfacingEngineering News-Review (tiered subscription)

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has proposed a regulation that it says will give state departments of transportation more flexibility in setting design standards for resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation (RRR) projects on existing Interstate highways and other key arteries.  The proposal, published in the Federal Register on Nov. 24, would incorporate updated design standards—principally those issued in recent years by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)—and drop older versions of the benchmarks.

California Regulators Didn’t Follow Rules In Approving Hundreds Of New Oil Well Permits, Audit FindsCapital Public Radio

A state audit released the day before Thanksgiving shows that California oil regulators didn’t follow their own rules and in 2019 issued hundreds of inappropriate permits for new wells.  While the Department of Finance audit found the California Geologic Energy Management Division, CalGEM, was “generally” in accordance with its laws, it also found major areas lacking.

Well Water Throughout California Contaminated with ‘Forever Chemicals’CalMatters

Across California, water providers are discovering the same thing: “Forever chemicals” are everywhere.  Used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof coatings, firefighting foams and food packaging, these industrial chemicals — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS — have been linked to kidney cancer and other serious health conditions.  They last forever because they don’t break down.  They’re dangerous.  They’re expensive to get rid of.  And many Californians don’t even know they’re drinking them.  California is now cracking down by implementing new thresholds for the chemicals that will force cities and utilities to shut down their wells, treat the water, or notify their customers about the contamination.

GM Flips to California’s Side in Pollution Fight With TrumpAssociated Press / GV Wire

General Motors is switching sides in the legal fight against California’s right to set its own clean-air standards, abandoning the Trump administration as the president’s term nears its close.  CEO Mary Barra said in a letter Monday to environmental groups that GM will no longer support the Trump administration in its defense against a lawsuit over its efforts against California’s standards.  And GM is urging other automakers to do the same.  The move is a sign that GM and other automakers are anticipating big changes when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.  Already at least one other large automaker, Toyota, said it may join GM in switching to California’s team.

November 23, 2020

Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin on the Future of TransportationStreetsblog California

In a wide-ranging conversation, Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin addressed some topics that aren’t usually the focus of a state DOT. He touched on the department’s role in climate change and transit, and discussed the new Caltrans Office of Race and Equity. He also talked about speed limit enforcement, congestion pricing, and highway expansion.

California Expands Air Monitoring to Include PFAS, More ToxicsBloomberg Law

A crew aboard a barge off the coast of Summerland has begun capping the abandoned Treadwell oil well, the second such project under a state law aimed at sealing polluting sites that, in many cases, opened during California’s “Oil Rush” in the 1930s.

Governor Seeks ‘Ongoing Increase In Telework’ As State Builds Big New Offices In Downtown SacramentoCBS Sacramento

As billions of dollars in new state buildings go up in Downtown Sacramento, Governor Gavin Newsom is now asking California state agencies to reduce their “physical footprint” and expand “telework.”

In all, four new downtown state buildings are under construction. Three state buildings are under construction on O Street, and a massive campus for the Department of General Services is under construction on Richards Boulevard.

November 19, 2020

Not dire, for now: California expects $26 billion windfall despite pandemic – CalMatters

The recession California officials forecast in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic has not been as dire as predicted, leaving the state with a $26 billion windfall heading into the next fiscal year.  The bad news: California is heading toward a $17 billion deficit in three years because expenses are growing faster than revenue. That leaves lawmakers with two politically unappealing choices: make ongoing spending cuts or raise taxes.  Still, legislative leaders were quick to say they hope to use some of the windfall to restore cuts made in this year’s budget. That could include restoring $602 million to universities, reversing the roughly 10% pay cut state workers took, and canceling plans to delay some payments to schools and suspend some programs for people who are elderly and developmentally disabled. They also suggested using some of it to repay recent borrowing, prepare for emergencies and help people who don’t have homes.

Projects in Golden State Making Significant Progress – Construction Equipment Guide

The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 1) has passed a major timeline milestone, one-fifth of the way through a promised 10-year transformation of California’s transportation network.  A recent progress report presented to the California Transportation Commission shows that Caltrans, to this point, is meeting or making significant strides on key SB 1 performance targets set for pavement, bridges, drainages, its signals, signs and sensors system.  But challenges remain in the pace of improvements to the bridges that Caltrans maintains, although solid progress has been made to that critical part of the State Highway System.

Historic deal revives plan for largest US dam demolition – Associated Press

An agreement announced Tuesday paves the way for the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, a project that promises to reopen hundreds of miles of waterway along the Oregon-California border to salmon that are critical to tribes but have dwindled to almost nothing in recent years.  If approved, the deal would revive plans to remove four massive hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River, creating the foundation for the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history.  The project on California’s second-largest river would be at the vanguard of a trend toward dam demolitions in the U.S. as the structures age and become less economically viable amid growing environmental concerns about the health of native fish.

California Eyeing Resolution to Dozens of Federal Lawsuits – Bloomberg Law

Over the years, California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) has sued federal agencies over immigration, border wall financing, transgender rights, health care, education, and consumer privacy.  But the bulk of the cases—57—have focused on air, water, wildlife, energy, or environmental policy.  Now his office is poring over the lawsuits to see what can be rectified through executive order, by agencies changing course, or by accepting well-established case law.  “With a new administration coming in, we might be able to dial it back to normal, which will mean we don’t have to sue all the time,” Becerra said.

November 16, 2020

California official sees state auto emissions deal as ‘template’ for feds – Reuters

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, who sources say could be the next federal environment chief, said on Thursday her state’s agreement with major automakers for fuel efficiency requirements could serve as a “good template” for federal standards through 2025.  Meanwhile, many automakers are bracing for lengthy court or regulatory fights over tougher standards that they say could cost them billions of dollars.

California coastal oil well capping project launchedSanta Barbara News-Press

A crew aboard a barge off the coast of Summerland has begun capping the abandoned Treadwell oil well, the second such project under a state law aimed at sealing polluting sites that, in many cases, opened during California’s “Oil Rush” in the 1930s.

Ex-consultant for California bullet train project cleared of ethics violationsKTLA / Los Angeles Times

A state ethics investigation into the top consultant working on the California bullet train last year has found he did not violate state law, following allegations that he was among those who approved a contract modification for a company in which he held stock.

November 12, 2020

CalPERS weighs price hikes of up to $270 for cheaper health plans to save its best offerings – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Prices for some of the cheapest health insurance plans California state workers can buy would increase by up to $270 per month under a CalPERS proposal to stabilize rates.  The price hikes for the cheapest plans, typically favored by young and healthy workers, would help save richer plans favored by older workers and retirees from collapse, a CalPERS health insurance official has told the retirement system’s board.  CalPERS posted projected rates online this week ahead of an anticipated decision Tuesday on whether to adopt the stabilization proposal in 2022. Rates for 2021 are not affected.

Report: Oroville Dam safe, but still vulnerable – KRCR TV

The state released a study on Monday that finds no urgent repairs are needed right now on the Oroville Dam. Still, the report by the Department of Water Resource says that several “potential vulnerabilities that require further examination” have been identified. Some of the vulnerabilities are “negligible” but aren’t deemed “unacceptable.”  A list of fixes in the report would cost from $2 million to $2 billion each.  The report is available here.

Caltrans seeks volunteers for road charge research. Participants will receive up to $100  – ABC 7 (Los Angeles)

Caltrans is offering up to $100 to volunteers who can help conduct research on a road user charge as an alternative to the California gas tax.  Researchers are exploring the ways in which drivers could be charged mile-by-mile with a payment system at electric vehicle pumps, or a usage-based insurance approach, Caltrans said.  In future phases, researchers will test payment of rideshare miles and collect data from autonomous vehicles through an app.

November 9, 2020

State Commission approves Highway 1 realignment on Sonoma Coast near Gleason Beach – Santa Rosa Press Democrat

The California Coastal Commission has unanimously granted Caltrans approval to realign Highway 1 on the Sonoma Coast, a $34 million project that will shift the roadway about 400 feet inland and create an 850-foot bridge spanning Scotty Creek, which flows to the ocean at a popular beach between Bodega Bay and Jenner.

California PUC says utilities on track to meet renewable requirements – Daily Energy Insider

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said utilities are on track to meet renewable energy requirements for 2020, according to its annual Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) report.  The state’s RPS requires utilities, electric service providers, and community choice aggregators (CCAs) to procure 33 percent of retail sales per year from renewable sources by 2020 and 60 percent by 2030.  By 2045, the goal is to have a 100 percent carbon free electric grid.

November 5, 2020

Newsom administration to state officials: Find savings from permanent telework  

Telework moved closer to becoming a permanent part of California state employment this week after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration told officials to reconsider building leases and find other permanent savings.

Finance Department Director Keely Bosler sent a letter to agency secretaries and department leaders Tuesday instructing them to submit plans for permanent spending reductions of 5% by Feb. 1.  The letter makes repeated reference to telework, saying departments may find savings by reducing lease space, trimming travel spending and using telework to cut costs such as printing, postage, utilities and transit subsidies.  The letter doesn’t say anything about layoffs, nor does it institute a hiring freeze.

Newsom can put his stamp on California’s world-leading air boardPolitico

Gov. Gavin Newsom has an opportunity to put his stamp on the Golden State’s pioneering environmental policies by appointing the influential chair of California’s leading policymaking body on climate change and air pollution.  Already, potential leaders are jockeying for the position before California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols departs after more than a decade at the helm.  The top candidates, according to sources, are former Democratic legislators who now sit on the board.  Hector De La Torre, a former Democratic Assembly member, South Gate city mayor, and nine-year board member, has Nichols’ support, those sources say, while  former Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat from Bakersfield who’s been on the board for six years, is also receiving consideration.

See the numbers: California state worker union membership dips amid pandemic The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Membership rates for California state unions have dropped slightly amid the pandemic, according to an analysis by The Sacramento Bee of State Controller’s Office data.  The State Worker published a story on the trend Monday.  This follow-up blog post shows membership rates by bargaining unit and state union for three points in time: just after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, just before the coronavirus arrived in California and six months into the pandemic.

November 2, 2020

Union  membership rates drop among California state workers during COVID-19 pandemic The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Union membership among California state workers declined slightly this year as recruitment has gone remote due to the coronavirus, according to state data and interviews with union leaders.  The biggest factor in the slight decline appears to stem from a reduced rate of new employee sign-ups.  In August, the most recent month for which data is available, 67% of state workers were dues-paying union members, according to State Controller’s Office data.  That’s down 2% from February, the month before the virus began to spread in California.

Union leaders said recruitment by computer or by phone just isn’t the same as meeting in person.  “It’s sort of difficult to recruit new members on Zoom; you miss that person to person sort of connection,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government.  In the past, union representatives would be in a room with groups of new workers.  They could answer questions and hand out copies of contracts, business cards and union-branded swag such as calendars, notepads and pint glasses, said Toppin, with the engineers’ union.  The union had an 83% membership rate in August, down 1 percentage point from February.  While the unions can mail those things to new members, first impressions aren’t as strong when made by computer or phone, Toppin said.

Caltrans completes bridge work on Echo SummitTahoe Daily Tribune

Work is complete on a two-season project to replace a bridge that served motorists for more than 80 years with a new structure that meets safety and seismic standards.  The $14.1 million U.S. Highway 50 Echo Summit Sidehill Viaduct Replacement Project removed the existing bridge, which was completed in 1939 at a cost of $25,000 (equal to roughly $376,000 today).  The project includes $5.2 million in funding from Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

California Slammed Over “Blank Check” for Delta Tunnel Project  – Courthouse News Service

Lobbing another hurdle at California’s $16 billion plan to tunnel underneath the West Coast’s largest estuary, environmentalists last week sued to freeze public funding for the megaproject championed by Governor Gavin Newsom.  Led by Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, a familiar coalition of critics of the so-called delta tunnel claim the cash-strapped state is pursuing a “blank check” for a project that isn’t fully cooked.

Las Vegas high speed project postponed because of inability to sell bonds  – Trains News Wire

Just days after launching a website with construction details of the rebranded project, Fortress Investment Group is postponing plans for its Las Vegas-to-Southern California high speed rail project after failing to sell bonds to provide financing.  Bloomberg reports the effort to sell $2.4 billion in debt to be financed through agencies in California and Nevada — reduced from original plans for a $3.2 billion sale – has been “postponed until market liquidity improves,” according to an email from California Treasurer Fiona Ma.  California had given Fortress until Dec. 1 to sell the bonds; the bond capacity will now be returned to the state and used for other projects, such as affordable housing.

October 2020

October 29, 2020

Report: Electricity from renewable sources outpaces coal or nuclear in CA, majority of other states PV Buzz 
Renewable energy sources generated more electricity than either coal or nuclear in nearly 30 states during the first two-thirds of this year, according to an analysis of just-released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).  Notably, renewable energy sources generated more electricity than either coal or nuclear in three of the nation’s four largest states – California, New York, and Texas.  The six New England states have become a nearly coal-free zone while four of the region’s states produced no electricity using nuclear power.  Renewables also generated more electricity in the five Pacific Ocean states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington) than coal and nuclear power combined.

Five years later, has Porter Ranch recovers from Aliso Canyon well blowout? – Los Angeles Daily News
There’s little sign these days that just five years ago an environmental catastrophe and major public health challenge was evolving in the hills north of Porter Ranch as scores of residents were suffering from bloody noses, headaches and nausea.  And yet, beneath the gloss of a trendy new shopping center and inviting new dwellings, there’s a core group of residents for whom pre-blowout “real life” has not returned. In the wake of a 2019 “root-cause” report finding that a local natural-gas well casing had corroded,  and well casing leaks at the site dated back to the 1970s, tension endures for these folks, who fear a recurrence of the crisis of five years ago.

Brightline reveals more details about Vegas-to-LA high-speed rail line – Las Vegas Review-Journal
As the long-discussed high-speed rail system between Las Vegas and Southern California awaits a bond sale that’s slated to pay for the initial phase, the company behind the project, Brightline, released more details on the construction timeline.   Plans revealed on the now-branded Brightline West project’s recently launched website show work on the rail line is expected to begin this year and wrap up in the first half of 2024.

October 26, 2020

Three CalPERS health plans are in a ‘death spiral.’ Saving them could involve price hikes The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)

Three of the best health plans California state workers and retirees can buy are speeding toward collapse, according to CalPERS insurance experts.  The three troubled plans are PERSCare, Anthem Traditional HMO and Blue Shield Access+.  The plans’ benefits have attracted some of the least healthy workers and retirees, who need more medical treatment than healthier members.  When insurers have to pay big medical bills, they raise premiums.  Price hikes in turn push healthier people out of the plans and into cheaper plans.  The most-expensive plans may be salvaged, CalPERS staff said, but a proposed solution likely will involve price increases for cheaper plans as soon as 2022.

Santa Monica Mountains Wildlife Crossing Project unveils new imagesCanyon News

The National Wildlife Federation released new images of the upcoming wildlife crossing project in the Santa Monica Mountains near Liberty Canyon.  The project is on track to begin construction in 2021.  Caltrans and landscape architectural practice company Living Habitats LLC have been collaborating to develop the design of the overpass, which will span over ten lanes of the U.S. 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills.  Construction starts next year, and should be finished by 2023.

California state workers can bank more time off for later under new pay cut policy  – The Sacramento Bee / msn.com

The California Human Resources Department removed caps on state employees’ leave balances Tuesday, a change that ensures workers can store up the days off they’re accruing under state pay cut agreements.

October 22, 2020

A look at the actual dollars each state gets from the highway bill.  (It’s less than you think.) Construction Dive
While the recent FAST Act extension infused $13.6 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, it failed to provide clear-cut visibility that road builders can take to the bank for 2021.  The reason?  Federal budget politics.  The report includes a table of budgeted versus banked highway dollars by state.

Mary  Nichols on Short List to Run EPA – Bloomberg News
If Joe Biden wins the presidency, his EPA chief could be a clean air champion from California who has fought President Donald Trump on automobile pollution, or an environmental justice activist from Mississippi.

Religious California state job applicant lost offer over ‘loyalty oath,’ lawsuit says – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
To keep your state job, do you owe more loyalty to your employer than your God?  That’s a question Brianna Bolden-Hardge wants a federal court to decide in a lawsuit filed in Sacramento this week that claims the State Controller’s Office rescinded a job offer to her because of her religious beliefs.

Alan S. Boyd, nation’s first transportation chief, dies – New York Times / Antelope Valley Press
The first US secretary of transportation, who was named by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 to integrate the nation’s sprawling networks of planes, trains, ships and highways into a new superagency, died Sunday in Seattle.  He was 98.

October 19, 2020

With no federal aid package, California state worker pay cuts are here to stay The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
It’s official: Pay cuts for California state workers are here to stay.  Thursday was the deadline for the federal government to send financial aid that could have undone cuts that took effect in July.  The reductions will remain in place for two years for most of the state’s 230,000 employees.

Emissions Exposure May Increase COVID-19 Mortality – Pew Trusts
Car pollution is making the pandemic worse.  For years, the effort to reduce transportation emissions has largely centered on fighting climate change.  But some advocates say the pandemic underscores the need to focus on human health as well.  The worst effects of air pollution are being borne by low-income communities and people of color — the same groups that have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.  “Some people who are experiencing COVID-19 are more susceptible due to the impacts of air pollution,” said PECG member Michael Benjamin, chief of the Air Quality Planning and Science Division at the California Air Resources Board.  “Disadvantaged communities have a double whammy with that preexisting susceptibility and the greater likelihood that they’re going to get COVID-19 [from serving as essential workers].”

PG&E lacked basic training before California blackouts  – Associated Press
When Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to large swaths of wildfire-prone Northern California last fall, few of the emergency personnel handling the blackouts for the nation’s largest utility had learned the fundamentals of managing an emergency in their home state.  Predictably enough, the October 2019 outages brought chaos from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada, as more than 2 million people lost power.  By many accounts, this year’s shutoffs have been smoother.  That improvement reflects more than just infrastructure upgrades and a year to fine-tune.  Chastened by its failures and required by state regulators, PG&E sought the training it had neglected.

October 15, 2020

California urges automakers to reveal improper emissions software Reuters
California air regulators on Wednesday urged automakers and engine manufacturers to disclose by the end of the year any unapproved hardware or software programs that compromise a vehicle’s emissions control system.  The letter from the California Air Resources Board follows a string of penalties against automakers for using software to evade emissions requirements since 2015, including Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE, Daimler AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.  The board noted it has other pending emissions investigations and said “voluntary disclosure will trigger a reduction in penalties; failure to do so may affect the result of future enforcement actions.”

Highway  Rehab Cruises Into Ninth Circuit – Courthouse News
California officials appeared in front of a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday to argue a highway construction project running through an old-growth grove of magnificent redwood trees would not harm the forest.  The dispute centers on a project to realign and widen Highway 101 as it threads through Richardson State Park, located in Humboldt County in the northern part of the state where some of the largest specimens of redwoods loom over the horizon.  A consortium of environmental groups has sued Caltrans saying their internal approval of the project after several rounds of environmental analysis was incomplete and failed to fully account for the impacts to the old-growth trees.

What No Federal Stimulus Means for California Schools, Unemployment And More  – CalMatters / Capital Public Radio
A state deadline to restore $11 billion in funding for education, housing and state workers looks likely to pass with no more financial help from Washington. Is there still hope for a reprieve, and could deeper state budget cuts follow?

October 12, 2020

California’s Long Game of Tug-of-War With the Auto Industry The Sacramento Bee / Governing
In 1976, Jerry Brown had been California’s governor for two years when he signed rules that would force automakers selling cars in the state to drastically reduce tailpipe emissions.  Carmakers resisted, saying the changes were too costly and would hurt consumers in their pocketbooks.  Rallying to his hometown industry’s defense, a powerful Michigan congressman accused the upstart governor of ignoring economic and scientific practicalities.  California stuck to its plan, and the industry fell in line.  Now another governor in office for two years, Gavin Newsom, has insisted automakers end sales of new fossil-fuel burning cars in California by 2035.   And once again, the car manufacturers are pushing back.  Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said the auto industry routinely opposes the state’s anti-pollution initiatives, only to find a way eventually to make them work.  “There’s definitely a pattern… in which the industry fights against any tightening or any new regulation, and then complies,” said Nichols, who served on the air board during the 1976 controversy.  “We have been through this before.”

Elaine Chao: Long-Term Plan Needed for US InfrastructureTransport Topics
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the nation’s lawmakers must take a long-range view of addressing the country’s pressing infrastructure needs, and do the work needed to craft a funding measure more far-reaching and comprehensive than the one-year highway bill extension that recently advanced.

California unprepared for brutal ‘heat storm’ that caused blackouts, officials tell Newsom  – The Sacramento Bee / msn.com
The managers of California’s electricity network last week blamed a pileup of poor planning and bad luck for the two nights of rolling blackouts in August that plunged hundreds of thousands of residents into darkness during an oppressive heat wave.  Three separate agencies that oversee the state’s troubled power system, in a 121-page “root cause analysis” found no single reason for the blackouts of Aug. 14 and Aug. 15, which affected a total of more than 800,000 homes and businesses.

October 8, 2020

Del Monte Fresh Produce Pays Nearly $2M for Violating California’s Clean Air Laws Fresh Fruit Portal
The California Air Resources Board has announced a settlement with multinational fresh produce company Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc. for $1,990,650 – the largest penalty to date related to clean-air violations for the state’s Ocean-Going Vessel at Berth Regulation.

California Officials Can Make Roads Safer – for Morotists and Wildlife – Pew Trusts
To help make travel in the region safer for wildlife and drivers, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently released the Northeastern California Connectivity Report, which stems from a January 2020 workshop held in Redding. That event brought together experts in the latest scientific research and local stakeholders to share information about wildlife movement and barriers within the region.  The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) also played a key role in the workshop.

Newsom calls for California to conserve land, coasts to capture carbon and fight climate change  – San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
California will enlist its natural resources in the state’s fight against climate change by establishing new land conservation and carbon sequestration goals over the next decade.  Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday setting a target to conserve 30% of the state’s land and coastal water by 2030 – joining dozens of nations in a global pact to preserve biodiversity and prevent species loss.

California governor vetoes road bond bill – Land Line
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a measure, SB 1351, that would have sold $5 billion in bonds over two years to boost the state’s road work program.  In his veto message, the Governor said the bonds are unnecessary.

October 5, 2020

Completion of Iconic New Bridge Celebrated in Long Beach American Journal of Transportation
A sparkling parade of green trucks, a dramatic vintage aircraft flyover and fireboat sprays christened today’s ceremonial opening of the new bridge at the Port of Long Beach, reaffirming the region’s importance to international shipping and heralding in an iconic structure that dramatically shifts the Southern California skyline.

Officials move to add South L.A. to list of communities disproportionately affected by poor air quality – KTLA
Local regulators voted Friday to add South Los Angeles to California’s list of communities disproportionately affected by air pollution, paving the way for state funding to address the issue.  The region received more than 120 of 130 community nominations to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.  The agency plans to forward the recommendation to the California Air Resources Board for consideration in December.

DWR: The Water Year Ended Below Average and Further Demonstrated the Impact of Climate Change – Sierra Sun Times
California’s Water Year 2020 has come to a close and while Northern California was mostly dry, parts of Southern California experienced above average precipitation.  The water year ended below average and further demonstrated the impact of climate change on the state’s water supply.

Caltrans tries again to tame the roller coaster ride that is San Diego’s Route 52 – San Diego Union-Tribune
Built over a landfill, a section of State Route 52 in Kearny Mesa is a perennial maintenance problem.  Will grout succeed where asphalt has failed?

October 1, 2020

Measuring What Matters: How California Government is Measuring Its Shift to Remote Work All Work
California’s Department of General Services (DGS) has been internally tracking the impact of telework since the pandemic required the shift for many of their employees in March of 2020.  The department recently released a public dashboard with key telework metrics including the number of employees teleworking, changes in commutes for those employees, as well as the estimated savings associated with these changes.

Newsom vetoes Friant-Kern Canal fix bill – East County Today
California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have provided funding to fix the ever-sinking Friant-Kern Canal.  SB 559 would have required the Department of Water Resources to report to the legislature by March 31, 2021, on federal funding approved by the federal government for the Friant Water Authority or any other government agency to restore the capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal.  Newsom’s veto said the measure was too narrow: “(W)e need to evaluate, develop and identify solutions and funding that provides water supply and conveyance for the entirety of the state, not one project at a time.”

Fiat Chrysler fined $9.5M for ‘misleading disclosures’ on diesel emissions – Compliance Week
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle allegations by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it made “misleading disclosures” regarding an internal audit of emission control systems for diesel vehicles it sold in the United States.  “At the time FCA made these statements, engineers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had raised concerns to FCA about the emissions systems in certain of its diesel vehicles,” the SEC said in a press release.

With new California border crossing in the works, connecting highway also  takes shape – Fox 5 San Diego
Officially, it will be known as California State Route 11.  Unofficially, it will be seen as an easier way to cruise into Southern California from Mexico.  The new highway will connect the new Otay Mesa East Port of Entry, scheduled to break ground in late 2022, to the freeway system in San Diego.  Most of the $850 million for the crossing and State Route 11 is coming from Caltrans and SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments.

Federal stimulus impasse endangers California budget relief – Politico
A new infusion of federal aid looks increasingly unlikely to materialize in the coming weeks, dimming hopes that California will restore billions of dollars state leaders trimmed from the budget as part of an agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom.  On the list of potential restorations is $150 million for the courts; nearly $1 billion for public higher education; and $1.9 billion in compensation for state workers, many of whom have taken furlough days beginning July 1 as part of collective bargaining agreements.