August 12, 2021

Could California handle another year of drought?  State officials weigh in on current situation – ABC 10
In a multi-agency meeting this week on the state of California’s drought conditions, state officials painted a broader picture on water allocation, lack of available water, and what the Golden State is facing in the months and years to come.

PG&E power line suspected in Dixie fire was set to be buried underground in safety move – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
After Pacific Gas & Electric equipment sparked a massive fire that burned much of Paradise, Calif., and killed 86 people in 2018, the utility vowed a safety campaign to prevent similar disasters.  Among the power lines set for burial was a 10-mile stretch that may have started this year’s destructive Dixie fire, now the second-largest in California history.

Senators Punt on Finding Long-Term Fix for Highway Trust Funding – Bloomberg
Senators allocated more than $100 billion to bail out the Highway Trust Fund in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, pushing off a painful point for lawmakers who have struggled to find a permanent solution of how to pay for highways and mass transit.  The legislation’s provisions and added amendments could set up Congress to address the fund’s solvency five years from now.  Meanwhile, the fund paid out roughly $15 billion more in revenues than it received in 2020 alone, a shortfall projected to grow with each passing year.

August 9, 2021

California shuts down major hydroelectrc plant amid record-low water levels at Lake Oroville – CNBC
As anticipated, California has shut down a major hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville as water levels fell near the minimum necessary to generate electricity.  The loss of power could fuel rolling blackouts as the state struggles with a historic drought and record-breaking heat waves.

State cites technical reasons for denying 42 more fracking applications – Bakersfield California
Less than a month after causing an uproar over discretionary denials of local oilfield permits, the state’s top oil regulator has again rejected a series of fracking applications — this time on technical grounds.

Infrastructure senators brush off criticism from left, right – Associated Press
The often-elusive political center is holding steady in the Senate with a strong coalition of Democrats and Republicans brushing off critics to push the $1 trillion infrastructure package toward passage.  Final votes are expected Tuesday.

Media Briefing Archive

August 2021

August 5, 2021

Raises missing from some California state worker paychecks as new contracts take effect – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Some California state workers are reporting that they did not receive expected salary increases this month, frustrating public employees who were looking forward to their first full paychecks since Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature demanded wage reductions from them a year ago.  The issue appears to be affecting workers represented by Professional Engineers in California Government who did not receive increases that apply to employees with 20 years or more of service.  Ted Toppin, executive director for that union, said some departments failed to key in the employee “longevity pay” increases before the State Controller ran July payroll.  Toppin said that there is “no sense in pointing fingers,” but that the problem with the employee pay is a sign of how old the state’s payroll system is.  “If it were a modern system, these things would be done more efficiently,” he said.

‘Running out of options’: California resorts to water cutoffs as drought worsens – Los Angeles Times (free read)
California water regulators took unprecedented action this week, passing an emergency regulation that will bar thousands of Californians from diverting stream and river water as the drought worsens.  The State Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously Tuesday to pass the “emergency curtailment” order for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.

Historically low water levels at Oroville Dam could cause loss of hydroelectric power – Fox 40
A hydroelectric plant at the Oroville Dam is on track to stop generating electricity soon, and it’s already reached a concerning milestone due to drought conditions plaguing bodies of water statewide.  The Oroville Dam is at its lowest level ever, about 642.5 feet.

California slaps trucking company with $2.38 million settlement after accusations of faking emissions compliance – CDL Life
A trucking company has been ordered to pay millions of dollars for allegedly obtaining state funds by falsifying compliance with California emission standards.  While Complete Logistics Company, LLC, is accused of improperly obtaining the funds, authorities noted that the money was actually used to purchase cleaner trucks for the firm’s fleet.

August 2, 2021

‘A very big deal’: What the Biden-Senate infrastructure plan would do for California – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
While no state figures are included in the Senate-White House proposal, an estimate from the National Asphalt Pavement Association, based on Senate committee legislation cited in a bill summary, put the California share at about $5.8 billion in additional money over five years.  That’s on top of the $3 billion to $4 billion California usually receives for the programs every year.

Newsom offers cash to conserve energy – CalMatters
In a sign that California is at dire risk of rolling blackouts this summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed an emergency proclamation that orders the state to reimburse utilities for payments made to energy-thirsty industrial customers who agree to reduce their use when the grid is strained.  The directive authorizes payments of up to $2 per kilowatt-hour — well above the 14-cent average paid by industrial customers.

Drought Is Pushing More Saltwater Into The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  California Built A Wall To Keep It Out – Capitol Public Radio
Drought conditions have prompted the building of a 750-foot wide rock barrier to prevent saltwater intrusion into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  The California Department of Water Resources constructed the temporary barrier with 110,000 cubic yards of rock off West False River in Contra Costa County.  Principal engineer Jacob McQuirk said that without the barrier, saltwater would endanger freshwater supplies in the Delta and water exports to the south.

July 2021

July 22, 2021

Big year for CalPERS means higher pension costs for some public employees – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Some local government employees in California likely will have to pay more toward their pensions as an indirect result of CalPERS’ good year on investment returns.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System reported a 21.3% preliminary return on its investments for the fiscal year that ended in June.  The big return — triple its 7% target — improves the retirement system’s long-term outlook and shields local governments from new debt payments.

But CalPERS’ policy imposes fiscal prudence when it experiences strong returns, with consequences for local governments and employees.  CalPERS adopted the policy, known as risk mitigation, in 2015 as it worked to pull itself out of a funding hole after the Great Recession.  Now the system must use short-term gains to protect against future downturns by reducing its annual earnings target and shifting money to safer investments.

The policy also requires CalPERS to assume it will earn less on investments, so it is dropping the projected rate to 6.8% from 7%.  That in turn requires the system has to turn elsewhere for money to cover the retirement benefits of its two million members, so it charges public employers more.  And under the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, local government workers hired after 2013 have to pitch in when pension costs go up, so many of them will pay more too.

“This (policy) does generally mean a higher cost to employers and employees, but there’s a balance here,” said Ted Toppin, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a group representing public employee unions and retirees.  “The risk mitigation policy exists to cut that risk in future years, to pocket your high returns and then seek to rebalance your portfolio in a way that doesn’t expose you to such significant drops that we saw in the Great Recession.”

However, the contribution-splitting works differently under the law for state and local employees.  Local employees pay the increases directly, while the state folds increased costs into contract negotiations with state employee unions.

Plummeting reservoir levels could soon force California plant offline – Los Angeles Times / Finger Lakes Times
According to state water officials, the Edward Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville could go offline as soon as August or September — a time frame that would coincide with a feared power crunch this summer.  The plant, which opened in the late 1960s, has never been forced offline by low lake levels before.

PG&E will spend billions to bury power lines in bid to reduce wildfire risk – NPR / Associated Press
Pacific Gas & Electric plans to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines in an effort to prevent its fraying grid from sparking wildfires when electrical equipment collides with millions of trees and other vegetation across drought-stricken California.  The daunting project announced Wednesday aims to bury about 10% of PG&E’s distribution and transmission lines at a projected cost of up to $30 billion.

Beyond Masks: L.A. court faces CAL/OSHA fine for COVID-19 safety violations The San Diego Union-Tribune
Earlier this month, Cal/OSHA notified the Los Angeles Superior Court of an intended $25,250 fine for workplace COVID-19 safety violations.  A court spokeswoman told online legal publication Law 360 that the court disputes Cal/OSHA’s findings and will appeal.  However the matter is resolved, the case serves as an important reminder that the pandemic is not yet over and that employers face serious consequences for failing to follow the workplace safety rules still in place, both general regulations and COVID-19-specific regulations.

July 19, 2021

CalPERS announces health plan premiums for 2022 – Orange County Breeze
The CalPERS Board of Administration has approved health plan premiums for calendar year 2022, at an overall premium increase of 4.86%.

Building infrastructure to stop sea-level rise can have an unfortunate consequence – Fast Company
As the world heats up and sea levels rise, communities in the U.S. could spend more than $400 billion on seawalls to try to hold the ocean back over the next couple of decades.  But there’s a catch, according to a new study that looks at the San Francisco Bay Area: Building a seawall in one place can often mean that flooding gets even worse in another neighborhood or city nearby.

Drought-Stricken California Hasn’t Mandated Statewide Water Restrictions.  Here’s Why – KQED
After two consecutive dry winters and a series of early summer heatwaves, the vast majority of California is gripped by drought.  Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked for a 15% voluntary statewide water reduction, noting California isn’t what he called a “nanny state.”  His predecessor, Jerry Brown, mandated a 25% cut in water use during the last drought.  So why hasn’t this governor followed the same path?

Democrats look to crush states’ highway habit Politico
House Democrats are trying to use a massive climate and infrastructure bill to change how Americans get around — by breaking states’ decades-old fondness for building highways.  The proposed changes are riling up opposition from state transportation departments and the road-building lobby.

July 15, 2021

CalPERS banks 21% investment return, tripling its target for funding California pensions – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Riding a stock market surge, CalPERS on Monday reported a 21.3% return on its investments over the last fiscal year, reaching a record high value of $469 billion.  Altogether, CalPERS’ portfolio gained $80 billion over the past 12 months, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System announced in a news release.

“It is obviously very good news, and we congratulate CalPERS and its investment staff on a very good year,” said Ted Toppin, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security and executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government.  “But for us, it’s important not to get too excited in good years or too down in years with losses or lower returns.  It’s very important to remember that CalPERS is a long-term investor.  Their performance horizon is measured in decades, not single years.”

Safety inspectors keep leaving Cal-OSHA.  Now it has a mandate to hire dozens more – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health is down more than a quarter of its inspector staff, with the number of vacancies going up nearly every month since the start of the pandemic.  Now the department stands to gain a $14 million boost in the new state budget, allowing it to add up to 70 positions to stem a staffing drain over the last year that has occurred despite department leadership’s public commitment in November to fill nearly 120 vacancies.

How an Oregon wildfire almost derailed California’s power grid – The san Diego Union-Tribune / Los Angeles Times
Here’s the harrowing behind-the-scenes story of 28 hours last week when California’s power grid nearly collapsed and what it reveals about the challenge the industry faces to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

CalPERS agrees to $2.7 billion long-term are settlement Associated Press
The nation’s largest public pension fund has agreed to pay up to $2.7 billion to refund policyholders hit with massive hikes in their premiums, it was announced Tuesday.  The California Public Employees’ Retirement System has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit over fee hikes imposed on nearly 80,000 people who paid for private policies to cover the long-term costs of nursing care.  However, the money for the settlement won’t come from CalPERS’ assets, which cover pensions, but rather from a separate long-term care fund of nearly $5.5 billion, according to the news release.

July 12, 2021

California oil regulators deny new fracking permits – Associated Press
California denied 21 oil drilling permits last week in the latest move toward ending fracking in a state that makes millions from the petroleum industry but is seeing widespread drought and more dangerous fire seasons linked to climate change.

During ‘Jaw-Dropping’ California Drought, Governor Asks State to Limit Water Use – KQED / Associated Press
Gov. Gavin Newsom last week asked people and businesses in the state to voluntarily cut how much water they use by 15% as the Western United States weathers a drought that is rapidly emptying reservoirs relied on for agriculture, drinking water and fish habitat.  California’s most important reservoirs are already at dangerously low levels and will likely reach historic lows later this year.  Lake Oroville in Northern California is at 30% capacity, and state officials worry water levels could get so low they might have to shut down a hydroelectric plant later this year.  Along the Russian River, officials fear Lake Mendocino could empty later this year.

California Spending $61 Million on New Highway Crossings to Keep Wildlife Safe – Times of San Diego
The state budget Gov. Gavin Newsom signed includes $7 million to help build a massive wild animal overpass above Highway 101 — and another $54.5 million for similar projects in other parts of the state.

Smoke from structures burned in Camp Fire posed health threat – KCRA
A new California Air Resources Board report sheds light on what was in the thick smoke that blanketed much of Northern California for over two weeks during the 2018 Camp Fire.  Air-quality monitors recorded fine particulate matter – about 3% of the diameter of a hair – were three times higher than normal during the fire, along with elevated concentrations of lead and zinc.  Those and other metals from the fire that devastated the town of Paradise traveled more than 150 miles and were detected as far away as San Jose and Modesto.

July 8, 2021

California Transportation Commission Invests $1.18 Billion in Infrastructure Projects – Transport Topics
The California Transportation Commission has allocated $1.18 billion for state infrastructure projects, with more than half coming from Senate Bill 1, also known as the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.  Headline projects include $7.8 million for truck crossing improvements at the Calexico East Port of Entry, $200 million for constructing a truck climbing lane along Interstate 10, and $20 million to support upgrades to a freight rail corridor that links the Port of Stockton to markets throughout California.

No, California’s gas tax is not to blame for this summer’s spike in gas prices – ABC News 10
A gas tax increase went into effect on July 1, but it was only for about a half-cent.  Experts say there are other issues more noticeably driving up the price.

Drought-Stricken Western Districts Plan New Ways to Store Water – Bloomberg
Water managers say that existing surface and groundwater storage infrastructure in California is inadequate for future weather conditions, and the water distribution rules and usage patterns established in the mid-20th Century need to be updated for a hotter, drier climate.

California Capitol reinstates statehouse mask mandate after COVID outbreak San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
California has reinstated a mask mandate for all lawmakers and employees at the state Capitol, regardless of vaccination status, following an outbreak of nine coronavirus cases there.  All nine people who contracted the coronavirus are legislative staffers, four of whom were fully vaccinated.

July 6, 2021

California lawmakers discuss vaccinations for all public employees, but no plans for legal mandate – KRON
Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol Monday amid a coronavirus outbreak that has infected those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, but state lawmakers say there are no plans to push legislation mandating public employees get vaccinated.

California to vote on Sept. 14 whether to recall Governor Newsom – Reuters
A Republican-led drive to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, will go to a special vote on Sept. 14, the lieutenant governor declared after the state’s top election official certified the recall petition last week.

Miami Building Collapse Could Profoundly Change Engineering – Scientific American (tiered subscription)
The deadly collapse of a 12-story oceanfront condominium in a small town on the same barrier island as Miami Beach, Fla., is raising concerns among structural engineers and designers about how to prevent future building failures.  To learn more about the long-term significance of the Champlain Towers South disaster for the industry, Scientific American interviewed structural engineer Benjamin W. Schafer, a civil and systems engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Why roads in the Pacific Northwest buckled under extreme heat The Verge
The heat dome that recently sat over the Northwest provided a brutal stress test of its roadways, some of which couldn’t withstand multiple days of record-breaking temperatures.  It also illustrates a growing infrastructure engineering question: Are we prepared to deal with a future that looks nothing like the past?

July 1, 2021

Pay cuts ends today for California state workers.  When will raises show up on checks? – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state workers are earning full pay today after a year earning less.  End-of-the-month paychecks will reflect workers’ restored salaries, along with new raises and other miscellaneous pay adjustments state employee unions negotiated with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration over the last six weeks, State Controller’s Office spokeswoman Jennifer Hanson said in an email.  Restoring pay for 230,000 state workers across roughly 150 departments and 21 employee groups is a complex task.  When mistakes are made or pay changes aren’t finalized in time, the office makes retroactive corrections.

California Town Completely Without Running Water as Drought, Heat Wave Intensifies – Newsweek
An entire town in California is without running water as the state suffers a drought and a heat wave pushes temperatures into the triple digits.  Teviston, a rural community in the San Joaquin Valley’s Tulare County, has been struggling since early June when the only functioning well stopped working.  Since then, the more than 700 residents there have been without running water.

San Diego group proposes ‘freeway lids’ to create open space, reconnect neighborhoods – Los Angeles Times
San Diego Commons, a nonprofit group led by architects and urban planners, is proposing that the city build bridge decks, often called freeway lids, above the 5 Freeway to reconnect several central San Diego neighborhoods that years ago were sheared apart when the interstates were built.  Representatives from the California Department of Transportation and the San Diego Assn. of Governments were given a presentation on the freeway lids by San Diego Commons in May.  Officials said the ideas are in their early stages.

Drivers used to pay for roads.  Washington is killing that idea  Politico
For almost a century, one principle has governed Washington’s approach to transportation funding: The people who drive on roads should pay for them.  But that tenet has been withering for nearly 30 years.  And the huge infrastructure packages emerging from Congress and the Biden White House are poised to strangle it.

June 2021

June 28, 2021

Here’s What’s Included In The Infrastructure Deal That Biden Struck With Senators –
After weeks of negotiations, President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators last week announced a deal on infrastructure spending.  The $1.2 trillion, eight-year agreement includes more than $500 billion in new spending.  It focuses on investments in roads, railways, bridges and broadband internet.

California oil regulators delay health, safety rules again – Associated Press
It’s been a year and a half since California Gov. Gavin Newsom directed oil regulators to consider new health and safety measures to protect people living near oil and gas drilling sites.  The California Geologic Energy Management Division, known as CalGEM, missed another deadline last week for releasing the rules, which Newsom originally mandated to be issued last December.  Regulators delayed, but said they would come out in the spring.  No new deadline has been announced.

Managed retreat: A must in the war against climate change? – Eureka Alert
A new academic paper by University of Delaware disaster researchers says it’s time consider “managed retreat” – the purposeful movement of people, buildings and other assets from areas vulnerable to hazards – to cope with rising sea levels, flooding and other climate change effects in combination with other infrastructure-planning measures.

June 24, 2021

LA traffic behavior is changing.  Is post-pandemic gridlock inevitable? – Los Angles Times / Bakersfield Californian
As Los Angeles reopens after enduring more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, those seemingly unbelievable ribbons of green on your phone’s freeway traffic app are rapidly returning to red.  But while congestion is rapidly approaching pre-pandemic levels, traffic flows have changed, according to data reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

California’s historic drought is causing drinking water to taste like dirt.  Just ‘add lemon,’ officials say – CNN
Something is off about Sacramento’s water.  It smells and tastes a little “earthy,” residents are saying — an effect of compounding climate change crises: extreme heat, little to no precipitation and a historic drought that has gripped the region for the better part of a decade.  It might not taste great, city officials say, but it’s still safe to drink.

Kern County Board of Supervisors vote to oppose California’s fracking ban 23 ABC News
The Kern County Board of Supervisors went on record and officially opposed a draft rule from the state’s oil regulators that would ban fracking by January of 2024.  In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom called on California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), the state’s oil regulator, to stop issuing fracking permits by January 2024.  That same day he turned to the California Air Resources Board to come up with ways to end all in-state oil production as part of the state’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.  Kern County’s Planning Department director called the proposed ban an attack on the industry that would set a dangerous precedent.

June 21, 2021

Will Juneteenth become a paid state holiday?  It’s not California lawmakers’ top priority – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday, but California state workers aren’t likely to get it as a paid day off anytime soon.  Doing so would be meaningful, but other priorities should be addressed first, said state Sen. Sydney Kamlager, Legislative Black Caucus vice-chair.  And Gov. Gavin Newsom did not mention support for a paid holiday in a statement on Thursday.

Satellite images show extreme drought drying up California reservoirs – CNN
As severe drought continues to choke the southwest, new satellite images show the significant effect it’s having on California’s reservoirs — many have critically low water levels.  Eleven of the state’s twelve major reservoirs are below their historical average, according to California’s Department of Water Resources.

Buttigieg Pushes Transportation Budget Amid Infrastructure Talks – Transport Topics
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last week called on senators to fund big-ticket transportation programs as congressional leaders continue to craft comprehensive infrastructure policy measures and prepare to consider a multi-year highway bill.

America Almost Made a New Route 66 With 22 Nuclear Bombs – The Drive
Nearly two million people in the San Francisco Bay Area have been placed under a water shortage emergency Wednesday as the state grapples with worsening drought conditions.

June 17, 2021

Three more California unions strike deals to end worker pay cuts, restore wages – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California will lift pandemic-era pay cuts for state engineers, psychiatric technicians, and health and social services professionals under three new contract agreements reached this month.  Like most of the rest of the state workforce, the more than 25,000 employees represented in the three contracts took a 9.23% pay cut last July, when Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration projected a $54 billion budget deficit that did not materialize.  The state will also eliminate the two days of leave per month employees were forced to take while the cuts were in effect.

The PECG-represented employees’ agreement includes a 3% general salary increase that was moved up from its originally scheduled date of July 2022, and a new 2.5% increase along with a .08% increase to account for the compounding of pay missed when the state suspended wage increases that were supposed to take effect a year ago.  Ted Toppin, executive director for PECG, said state engineers were understanding of the state’s financial situation last year, but are looking forward to fuller paychecks.  “Nobody likes to take a pay cut, that’s for sure,” he said.  “But state engineers…. they sort of understood it and made the best of it.  Now it’s time to undo it.”

Cheapest CalPERS health insurance plans will cost 23% more next year, projections show – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Prices are going up 23% next year for California public employees enrolled in some of CalPERS’ cheapest health insurance plans, according to preliminary rates published Tuesday.  The increase amounts to $120 per month more for a single person, the largest of several hikes projected for CalPERS’ cheaper offerings in 2022.  Its more expensive plans, on the other hand, will drop in price by up to 15% under the new rate-setting program.  On average, prices are projected to increase 5.68% for all the insurance plans CalPERS offers, with premiums going up more for PPOs.  The cost for CalPERS’ most popular plan, a Kaiser HMO, will increase 2.68%.  CalPERS Board is on schedule to approve next year’s healthcare rates in July.

The catastrophic drought that’s gripping the U.S. West is claiming a new victim: the hydropower dam that much of the region depends on for electricity supplies – Bloomberg
The catastrophic drought that’s gripping the U.S. West is claiming a new victim: the hydropower dams that much of the region depends on for electricity supplies.

Highway 99 in Sacramento reopens ahead of schedule –KCRA (Sacramento)
Highway 99 reopened Tuesday evening, hours ahead of schedule.  The freeway had been closed from 47th Avenue to Highway 50 in Sacramento since Friday night so crews could replace a bridge deck.  Caltrans completed its work ahead of schedule and lanes reopened to traffic before 11 p.m. Tuesday.  The original expected reopening time had been 4 a.m. Wednesday.

June 14, 2021

Caltrans fired an employee over a marijuana pee test.  Here’s why that won’t happen again – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The State Personnel Board recently issued a “precedential decision” in a case filed by a state highway maintenance worker contesting his employer’s move to dismiss him over a urine test that was positive for marijuana.  The ruling says that merely testing positive for past marijuana use should not be grounds for discipline or dismissal for most public employees.

US will restore $1B for California’s troubled bullet train – Associated Press
The federal government has agreed to restore nearly $1 billion in funding for California’s troubled bullet train, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced.

The Problem With One-Size-Fits-All ‘Universal Licensing’ – Governing
As states move toward reopening and more Americans are vaccinated, policymakers across the country are prioritizing a quick economic recovery.  The latest trend among state lawmakers looking to solve economic challenges is occupational licensing reform, often in the form of so-called “universal licensing” — requiring states to grant a license to a license holder from any state across all occupations and professions.  But poorly conceived, one-size-fits-all licensing reform for professionals in architecture, certified public accounting, engineering, landscape architecture, and surveying creates a new set of problems.  As a result, lawmakers are working against the interests of their constituents by scaling back regulations and established accountability models that have protected the public for decades.

California state scientists to receive nearly 8% raise in deal ending pay cuts – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state scientists will receive a 7.63% raise in an agreement their union reached with the state to end the furlough-like personal leave program under which they’ve worked for the last year.  The California Association of Professional Scientists agreement restores employees’ pay and eliminates the two days of leave per month they received while the cuts were in effect.  Employees will have to resume contributions to their retirement health insurance, which amounts to 2.1% of scientists’ pay.  The agreement includes a 5% raise suspended when the pay cuts were implemented and a 2.5% raise for the fiscal year starting July 1, along with an additional .13%.

June 10, 2021

Gavin Newsom’s opponents say his actions are driven by the recall.  Are they right? – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The idea that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s actions are motivated by the upcoming recall election is a common refrain among the Democratic governor’s critics.  From his proposed rebate checks for taxpayers to his decision to reopen the state June 15, at every turn recall proponents claim credit for his policies and press conferences, insisting Newsom wouldn’t take those steps without a recall election on the horizon.

Republican strategist Rob Stutzman, who helped Arnold Schwarzenegger win the governorship in California’s 2003 recall, said this time the recall is more likely to sway gubernatorial decisions that affect potential deep-pocketed campaign donors.  For a Democrat like Newsom, that’s typically labor unions.  “There’s greater incentive for a governor under recall to pander to special interests that he or she would be most reliant on to defend them,” Stutzman said.

He noted that the first union to donate money to Newsom’s defense, the Professional Engineers in California Government, would see its membership grow under Newsom’s May budget proposal to hire hundreds of more workers to build and repair roads.  The union gave $250,000 to Newsom’s campaign in April.  “Whether it’s justified or not… it raises questions as to what may be behind this growth in the budget,” Stutzman said.

Some California state workers could see double-digit raises in contract for blue collar union – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents a group of about 11,000 employees ranging from groundskeepers and painters to divers and ferryboat masters, recently reached a contract agreement that starts July 1 and runs through June 2023.  The tentative two-year deal includes a 5.06% raise for all represented workers in the first pay period after union members ratify it, and another raise of 2.25% in July 2022.  Roughly 7,000 employees in 52 different jobs will receive special pay bumps of 4% to 7% on top of general raises as early as July under the tentative agreement, which also provides a number of special pay perks for employees in high-cost counties, and retention bonuses for workers committing to assignments in certain state prisons.

California prison guards to get $5,000 bonus, raises in deal with Newsom administration – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state correctional officers will receive nearly $5,000 in nonpensionable pandemic bonuses plus extra paid time off in a new contract agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.  The California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s tentative contract would restore a 3% raise for officers that was suspended last year, when Newsom and the Legislature cut state workers’ pay in anticipation of a budget deficit.  It also would give officers an additional 2.58% raise in fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1, and another 2.5% raise in 2022, according to a summary of the agreement obtained by The Sacramento Bee.  The agreement runs through June 2023.

Nearly 2 Million NorCal Residents Are Already Under A Water Shortage Emergency – CBS 13 (Sacramento)
Nearly two million people in the San Francisco Bay Area have been placed under a water shortage emergency Wednesday as the state grapples with worsening drought conditions.

June 7, 2021

Raises are restored for California state workers in new SEIU Local 1000 deal.  Here’s how much – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state employees represented by SEIU Local 1000 will receive a 4.55% raise when their full pay is restored next month, under an agreement finalized Friday.  The new agreement restores previously negotiated raises that employees were scheduled to receive before Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature imposed pay cuts on them last year, when the state was expecting a budget deficit due to the coronavirus.  The agreement restores a 2.5% raise employees were scheduled to receive last July and a 2% raise they were scheduled to receive this July, plus another .05%, according to two people familiar with the agreement who shared details on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so.

Calif. governor seems unlikely to lift worker mask mandate – Associated Press
California Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared disinclined Friday to insert himself into the regulatory process for workplaces after a state safety board upset business groups by approving new rules that require all workers to wear masks unless everyone around them is vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Weaken Public-Sector Labor Unions – Bloomberg
The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a bid to weaken the power of public-sector unions, refusing to reconsider a 1984 ruling that lets them serve as the exclusive bargaining agent for workers.

California Department of Water Resources Releases Groundwater Sustainability Plan Assessments – Sierra Sun Times
The California Department of Water Resources on Thursday released its first assessments of groundwater sustainability plans developed by local agencies to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

June 3, 2021

California, with backing from other governors, wants EPA to let the state set car-emissions standard – Associated Press / Market Watch
Officials from California, New York, and other states urged the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to allow California to set its own automobile tailpipe pollution standards, an action that would reverse a Trump administration policy and could help usher in stricter emissions standards for new passenger vehicles nationwide.

California’s Epic Drought Is Parching Reservoirs and Worrying Farmers – Bloomberg
There is dry, and then there is desiccated.  As any movie fan knows from the classic film Chinatown, California is an infamously thirsty place.  But this year, even by its own standards, the state is shockingly, scarily parched.  So far in 2021, the state has received half of its expected precipitation; that makes it the third driest year on record, according to California’s Department of Water Resources.

A disadvantaged California Valley town will see millions in investment, with high-speed rail agreement – Mass Transit
For years, residents in the small town of Fairmead in Madera County fretted about the prospect of their community being split by California’s planned high-speed rail route.  Now, a new agreement between community advocates and the California High-Speed Rail Authority calls for the state to commit millions of dollars toward investments in the unincorporated town to help make up for the future effects of the bullet-train line as it slices across the northern end of the community.

June 1, 2021

Public pensions don’t have to be fully funded to be sustainable, paper finds – MarketWatch
It’s a well-known fact: municipal pension funding is in crisis, leaving workers and retirees at risk of running out of money in old age, even as “legacy” commitments eat into city budgets, leaving little money for taxpayer services.  But what if it’s not true?  The way state and local governments have always accounted for their pension costs is backwards, suggests a new working paper, and its proposal for reversing that represents a sea change for public finance.

California considers timing on easing workers’ virus rules – Associated Press / The State
California workforce regulators recommended Friday that the state stick with a July 31 deadline for updating certain employer pandemic safety rules instead of adopting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mid-June lifting of mask and physical distancing requirements in most social settings.  Revised rules to be considered Thursday by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board have relatively few changes from an earlier proposal that drew extensive criticism from business and agricultural groups.

California Plans ‘Massive Scale-up’ of Grid for 90% Electric Vehicles By 2035 – Newsweek
To meet California’s goal to phase out gas vehicle sales by 2035, the lead commissioner on clean transportation at the California Energy Commission (CEC), Patty Monahan, estimated 8 million electric cars and passenger trucks will be needed by 2030, as well as about 1.2 million chargers to fuel them.  “That really is going to entail a massive scale-up,” Monahan told Newsweek.  California currently has about 70,000 chargers and funding for another 120,000, Monahan said, but big investments in electric vehicle infrastructure will still be needed in order to meet the state’s goals.

South LA oil producer fined $1.5 million after Desert Sun, ProPublica probe – The Palm Springs Desert Sun
A south Los Angeles oil producer has been ordered by California’s top oil regulator to pay $1.5 million in fines for nearly 600 violations of state regulations, including  continuing to operate aging, dangerous wells for nearly a year after losing approvals.

May 2021

May 27, 2021

Caltrans and high-speed rail would hire hundreds of workers in Gov. Newsom’s budget – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is gearing up for a hiring spree in the state’s transportation departments, advancing plans to add hundreds of positions for highways, roads and high-speed rail.  He outlined the plans in the $268 billion budget proposal he submitted earlier this month.  Caltrans would add 548 full-time-equivalent positions, with the majority going toward state highway projects.  Meanwhile, the High-Speed Rail Authority would add 56 positions to address findings from a 2018 audit that criticized runaway spending on contractors.  Public employee unions representing Caltrans and High-Speed Rail Authority employees called the hiring spree “absolutely necessary.”

“Building projects now spurs the economy, creates jobs, gets a lot of people back on their feet, and solves the problems we have in terms of poor pavement condition, bridges that are not safe and a high-speed rail program that needs to get going,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of the Professional Engineers in California Government.

In a major shakeup, No. 2 exec at California bullet train agency leaves following investigation – KTLA
California’s high-speed rail project lost a top leader this week without a replacement on tap, injecting fresh uncertainty into a project constantly in flux.  Joe Hedges, the project’s chief operating officer, left his job Monday, said rail spokesman Melissa Figueroa.  She gave no details on his departure, saying the agency doesn’t discuss personnel matters.  Hedges couldn’t be reached for comment.  His departure came the same day that rail board Chairman Tom Richards announced the conclusion of an investigation into personnel matters and allegations of fraud, though he said no fraud was found.  The board formed a special investigative committee in response to anonymous complaints about business practices and personnel, Richards said in brief remarks after the special committee’s closed meeting ended.

Caltrans overpaid thousands of workers $1.5 million and didn’t recoup the money, audit says – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The California Department of Transportation cost taxpayers $1.5 million by overpaying retiring and departing workers, then failed to recover the erroneous payments it made, according to a state audit released Tuesday.  Caltrans could have lost up to $2.9 million had the auditor not intervened, the report found.  The money went out to employees preparing to separate from state civil service, either through retirement or for another job.  As of 2020, Caltrans needed to collect $5 million, but the agency could not recoup nearly a third of the money because it failed to notify its former workers within the three-year statute of limitations to act on the overpayments.

State water board issues mandatory water restrictions for upper Russian River basin – KTVU
The State Water Resources Control Board on Wednesday restricted water diversions in the Upper Russian River basin to protect fish habitat and drinking water supplies during the current drought.  The restrictions affect 930 “junior” water rights holders whose rights date from after 1914 and come in the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s April drought emergency declaration for 41 counties, including Sonoma and Mendocino.

California and U.S. agree to allow big offshore wind farms – Associated Press
California and the U.S. government announced an agreement Tuesday to open up areas off the state’s central and northern ocean shorelines to the first commercial wind energy farms on the Pacific Coast.  The pact that would float hundreds of turbines off the coast of Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay was touted as a breakthrough to eventually power 1.6 million homes and help the state and federal government reach ambitious climate change goals through clean energy production.  Gov. Gavin Newsom said he included $20 million in his revised budget proposal this month that would help expedite environmental review of the projects.

May 24, 2021

California pension plans would get an ‘unprecedented’ boost in Newsom’s budget. Here’s how – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that his budget would put $11 billion toward California’s retirement debts, a sum he called “unprecedented.”  That’s true.  But California voters deserve much of the credit for this portion of fiscal prudence in the governor’s budget.

California’s highest-in-the-nation gas taxes are rising. But promised repairs are lagging – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
Four years after the Legislature boosted the gas tax to fix California’s crumbling roads and bridges, the state has spent billions and made some progress in repairs, but officials now say the funding is sufficient only to complete less than half of the work needed.  And, with the gas tax set to increase again July 1, the campaign to fix roads and bridges is drawing criticism from some lawmakers who say repairs have been too slow and the effort has lagged behind other states in maintaining and improving transportation systems.

California regulator adopts EV mandate for Uber, Lyft ride-hail fleets – Reuters
California’s clean air regulator on Thursday adopted rules to mandate that nearly all trips on Uber’s and Lyft’s ride-hailing platforms have to be in electric vehicles over the next few years, the first such regulation by a U.S. state.  The rules, adopted through a unanimous vote by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), mandate that EVs account for 90% of ride-hailing vehicle miles traveled by 2030.

California’s top oil regulator moves to ban fracking by 2024 – Palm Springs Desert Sun
California’s top oil regulator issued a draft regulation on Friday that would ban all new fracking and other well stimulation permits starting in 2024.

A Look at California’s Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Gaps – Public Policy Institute of California
The State Water Board recently completed a multi-year needs assessment of the state’s safe drinking water challenges.  One big takeaway: more money is needed.  The study identified a funding gap of $4.6 billion to resolve safe drinking water problems over the next five years.  PPIC talked to Greg Pierce—the study’s lead researcher and associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation—about the findings.

May 20, 2021

CalPERS considering pension contribution hikes for workers, agencies, as investment outlook dims – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
CalPERS is considering an investment policy change that would raise costs for local governments and some public employees as part of an effort to help stabilize the retirement system.  Long-running financial trends are making it harder for the system, recently valued at $459 billion, to earn enough money on its investments to keep up with its growing liabilities.  As a result, CalPERS must either raise rates or put more money into riskier investments, CalPERS officials said in a recent meeting with The Sacramento Bee editorial board.  Cities, counties, schools and the state — already paying bigger bills under a 2016 change to payment schedules — would pay more if the system raises rates.  Local government employees hired after 2013 could be required to chip in, too, depending on the size of the increase.  State employees likely would face pressure in labor contract negotiations to pay more toward their pensions.

California Transportation Commission allocates $924 million to improve transportation – Orange County Breeze
This week, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) allocated more than $924 million for projects to improve critical transportation infrastructure throughout the state.  Nearly half of this major investment – $458 million – comes from Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

Inflated job numbers prop up bullet train – CalMatters
Inflated job creation numbers help keep California’s bullet train project alive despite lack of justification.

May 17, 2021

Pay cuts ending for 130,000 California state workers.  Others must negotiate – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Pay will be restored automatically for about 130,000 California state workers represented by two union while the rest of the workforce must wait for their unions to bargain new agreements over wage reductions all employees took last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday.  The governor’s comments, combined with a written summary of his budget proposal and the unions’ contract language, suggest salaries for about 100,000 employees represented by SEIU Local 1000 and roughly 28,000 people covered by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association will be restored for the pay period that begins July 1.

Newsom: Some State Workers Will Not Return To Downtown Sacramento Offices – CBS13
In a one-on-one interview with CBS13, Gov. Gavin Newsom forecast a new post-COVID look for Downtown Sacramento with fewer state workers than before the pandemic struck.  The state telework policy is still in negotiations with unions.  Newsom did say he will be setting aside money so many state employees can set up home offices.

Newsom proposes $2 billion to fix roads, bridges – Fox 40
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed state budget revision on Friday, including a $2 billion allocation for crumbling roads and bridges.

Newsom proposes record climate spending, casts doubt on 2022 bonds – Politico
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday proposed record state spending on environmental programs and suggested that California might not need to use voter-approved bonds next year because of its massive budget surplus.  On the back of a $75.7 billion budget surplus, Newsom earlier this week unveiled the biggest piece of his environmental budget: $5.1 billion over four years for water projects, with the most significant portion — $1.3 billion — going to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and smaller amounts for groundwater management and cleanup, water recycling, wildlife habitat, irrigation efficiency, flood-risk reduction, and water supply forecasting.

May 14, 2021

California expands drought emergency to large swath of state – Associated Press
On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded a drought emergency to a large swath of the nation’s most populous state while seeking more than $6 billion in multiyear water spending.  His announcement came as one of the warmest, driest springs on record threatens another severe wildfire season across the American West.

Head of Caltrans Says Time to Pause Current 710 Freeway Expansion – Streetsblog LA
At this week’s meeting of the California Transportation Commission, the head of Caltrans, Toks Omishakin, said it was time for his agency to “put an absolute pause” on the agency’s current plans to widen the 710 Freeway.  For decades, Metro and Caltrans have been planning their I-710 Corridor Project to widen about 19 miles of the 710 through southeast L.A. County.  In 2018, Metro approved a $6 billion expansion plan that would add two more lanes.  This year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency rejected Metro’s 710 plans because they didn’t comply with air pollution laws.

Getting hotter: More blackouts on the way? – CalMatters
The president of California’s electric grid operator expressed “guarded optimism” recently that blackouts won’t be necessary, but he also acknowledged the Golden State could face a power crunch if a heatwave blankets the entire West Coast as it did last summer, contributing to a shortage of both energy and firefighters.

For government employees, remote work is here to stay –
Government is not typically looked to as a leader in cutting-edge innovation or fast transformation.  Still, the coronavirus pandemic has opened up conversations about how government employees work and how to permanently implement some remote-work policies made in response to the crisis.  In California, where a large portion of the state’s 230,000 employees can work from home, the state administration recently reiterated its commitment to a long-term telework strategy, even after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.

May 10, 2021

California scores staggering $75B budget surplus – The Hill
California’s budget is in the black — by a staggering amount.  A state that expected perhaps the most severe budget crunch in American history instead has a more than $75 billion budget surplus, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Monday, after a booming stock market and better-than-anticipated tax revenues over the pandemic-plagued year.

California aims to cut gas use in homes, stops short of ban – Energy & Environment News
California’s energy bosses want to make it tougher to put gas appliances in new homes, but they aren’t planning to snuff out natural gas use.  A proposed California Energy Commission rewrite of the state’s building code adds new mandates with financial incentives for installing electric options for home heating and hot water.  The new standards would create the strictest energy-efficiency standards in the nation and take effect in 2023.

Entire Bay Area has gone from ‘severe’ to ‘extreme’ drought levels in just 2 weeks – San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
The Bay Area’s drought condition has officially gone from bad to worse.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire region is now in the “extreme” drought category, along with nearly three-quarters of California.

High-Speed Las Vegas Rail Project May Be Back on Track – Los Angeles Business Journal
A planned high-speed rail project between Las Vegas and Southern California that stalled out last fall amid the pandemic now appears to be back on track.  But it may face some competition.

May 6, 2021

Report: California leads nation in public transportation funding increases – Roads & Bridges
From 2018 to 2019, California far and away led all states in public transportation funding increases, according to a new report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).  California increased its funding by $886.9 million—a 33.7% increase—while New York increased funding by $307.6 million, a 5.9% increase. In sum, 27 states plus D.C. saw public transportation funding rise to slightly less than $1.8 billion for FY 2019, but California and New York accounted for about two-thirds of the nationwide gains.

Why California Is Planning to Ban Fracking – The New York Times (tiered subscription)
A little more than a week ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that not only would California effectively ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by 2024, but the state also would work to phase out oil extraction entirely by 2045.  This Q&A follows up on those plans with Jared Blumenfeld, who heads California’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Wade Crowfoot, who oversees the California Natural Resources Agency.

California’s Latest Drought in 4 Charts – Public Policy Institute of California
California is grappling with drought again, facing many of the same conditions and challenges that were features of the 2012–16 drought—including stressed ecosystems, depleted reservoirs, hard-hit farms, and rural communities, threats to urban water supplies, and the potential for extensive wildfires. Knowing what’s different and what’s similar to our last major drought can help us better prepare the most vulnerable sectors for ongoing dry times.

As Someone Who Has Two Active Lawsuits Against Caltrans, Let Me Say That Caltrans is Doing a Great Job With Last Chance Grade – Lost Coast Outpost
As the executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center and someone currently suing Caltrans — twice — for projects on Highway 197/199 and at Richardson Grove, I can’t believe I am writing this: Caltrans is doing an impressive job with the Last Chance Grade Project.  By listening early on to the community’s concerns, Caltrans has knocked off years from the project’s timeline, slashed the bill by millions of dollars, and has likely threaded the needle to produce something with which all sides can live.

May 3, 2021

California state worker union backs Newsom anti-recall effort in sign of labor’s support – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A California state union’s big donation to defend Gov. Gavin Newsom from recall likely heralds a coming show of support from organized labor, according to union representatives and experts.  The Professional Engineers in California Government, which represents about 11,000 state engineers, recently contributed $250,000 to the main campaign committee supporting Newsom.  Last week, the Secretary of State’s Office announced the recall campaign had submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, a milestone that is expected to usher in more money from Democratic-leaning groups supporting the governor.

The donation from the engineers’ union was the second-largest so far to the anti-recall effort, behind only the California Democratic Party, which has contributed about $613,000, according to campaign committee totals.  Ted Toppin, the engineers’ union’s executive director, said the decision to support Newsom was an easy one.  “Gov. Newsom has committed to invest in state infrastructure, address climate change and ensure Californians have clean air and water,” Toppin said.  “That is the critical work of state engineers, and his administration supports those goals.  And on the other hand, the candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring, these folks are largely anti-government, anti-public employees and against investing in infrastructure and environmental solutions.”

Newsom has had his disagreements with prominent unions, some brought on by the pandemic, since he was elected with broad support from them in 2018.  He has butted heads with teachers’ unions on school reopenings over the past year, and he cut state workers’ wages to prepare for a budget crisis that never fully materialized.  The pay cuts remain in place.  “That is not at play here,” Toppin said.  “We will resolve that at the bargaining table where it belongs.  This is simply reaffirming our support for the governor of California.  We supported him in 2018 and that does not change in 2021.”

Big Highway 12 project underway to end Jameson Canyon backups for Napa motorists – Napa Valley Register
Here’s a sight for congestion-weary eyes — orange-vested construction workers driving piles, bulldozing dirt, and building bridges where Highway 12 meets Interstate 80.  Caltrans is building what is supposed to be the $77 million solution to eastbound, mile-long evening Highway 12 backups in Jameson Canyon, the main link between Napa County and the Central Valley.

States now flush with cash after depths of pandemic – The Hill
Last year when California shut down, a terrifying sense of deja vu gripped state lawmakers who still had vivid memories of a decade earlier when the Great Recession forced California’s government to cut services and spending to the bone.  Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office at the time projected a $54 billion deficit in the year ahead, a sum equivalent to about a quarter of the entire state budget.  Now, two weeks before Newsom rolls out a mid-year budget revision, California’s fiscal picture has almost completely reversed.

April 2021

April 29, 2021

Bay Area freeway traffic has rebounded, but congestion has not.  Is this the new normal? – San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
Data provided by Caltrans to The Chronicle show average weekday traffic in the Bay Area has nearly rebounded or actually increased during some points of the day.  However, congestion levels on most counties’ freeways — as measured by “vehicle hours of delay” — remain significantly below what they were before shelter in place orders.  The data provides snapshots in time, and experts say many variables contribute to traffic and congestion, such as highway construction and whether schools are open.  But the comparisons illustrate how the domino effect of remote work for large swaths of the region’s white-collar workers has changed behavior patterns on Bay Area highways.

California to use satellites to find greenhouse gas ‘super emitters’ – Spectrum News
In the fight against climate change, California has plans to launch not one but two satellites into orbit to sniff out and track planet-warming “super emitters” — to keep global warming from reaching catastrophic levels.  The partnership behind the program includes the California Air Resources Board and NASA.

Problem Solvers Caucus says gas tax increase possible infrastructure funding option – The Hill
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers endorsed a report that includes raising the gasoline tax as a possible way to pay for infrastructure spending, lending support to a measure that both Republican and Democratic proposals have avoided in the debate about how to cover the cost of an infrastructure package.  The report released by the 58-member “Problem Solvers Caucus” advocates indexing  gasoline and diesel taxes to a number of factors, including highway construction costs, inflation and fuel economy standards.  The report also suggests instituting a vehicle-mile -traveled tax to collect revenue from electric vehicle drivers.

California Is Awash in Cash, Thanks to a Booming Market – The New York Times (tiered subscription)
In a single year, the state government’s financial outlook has gone from surplus to deficit to surplus as capital gains tax collections have risen amid a soaring stock market and I.P.O. boom.

April 26, 2021

Newsom orders ban on new oil fracking by 2024 – CalMatters
California will stop approving new oil fracking by 2024 under an executive order that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday with little fanfare following months of confusing mixed messages.

Highway 1 in Big Sur reopens after 3-month closure – KTVU
Scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur finally reopened after a three-month closure.  Caltrans crews worked non-stop to repair a 150-foot section of the roadway that crumbled during a storm.  Gov. Gavin Newsom was on hand for the reopening ceremony on Friday to see the finished project.

What can help us get through this drought – Palm Springs Desert Sun
With very little water available, ongoing and added investments in our state’s water delivery systems — making sure they’re modernized and capable of handling California’s needs — coupled with conservation, storage, reuse and reservoir forecasting are critical to getting through this drought.

April 22, 2021

Editorial: You can soon take that Big Sur road trip.  Bravo, Caltrans! – The Sacramento Bee / The San Luis Obispo Tribune (tiered subscription)
Let’s hear it for the engineers.  While we’re at it, congratulations to the geologists, the surveyors, the heavy equipment operators, the laborers, the inspectors, and all the other workers — both from Caltrans and Papich Construction Co. out of Arroyo Grande — who had a hand in making a rapid repair along one of the most iconic stretches of highway on the West Coast.  After a portion of Highway 1 washed away in January, it is scheduled to reopen on April 23, a week ahead of the most recent estimate and two months earlier than the original target date.

For automakers, California emissions standards play a key regulatory role –Marketplace
As soon as this week, the Biden administration will likely drop a lawsuit against California over its authority to regulate auto emissions.

Over 4 of 10 Americans breath polluted air, report says.  And people of color are 61% more likely to be affected – USA Today /
The air we breathe continues to be unhealthy for many Americans, according to a new report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association.  More than 4 out of 10 Americans live where the air is polluted, the report states. In addition, the report found that people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than white people.  California once again had the nation’s most polluted cities, primarily because of its geography and weather.  Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Visalia topped the list for smog; Bakersfield, Fresno and Visalia led the way for soot pollution.

Clock’s running out on climate change.  California says it’s time for giant carbon vacuums  Los Angeles Times /
Solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars will go far in helping California and the Biden administration meet their aggressive climate goals—but not far enough.  As the deadline to avert climate catastrophe barrels nearer, the Biden administration is making new technologies prominent in its plans.  Meanwhile, California is scrambling to figure out how to put them to use, including industrial-scale carbon removal systems that would suck emissions from the atmosphere and store them underground.  State regulators are drafting blueprints using the technology for what could be one of the larger infrastructure undertakings in California history.

April 19, 2021

CalPERS ahead of earnings goal with absence at top.  When will investment chief vacancy hurt? – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A key player in the C-suite, a chief investment officer keeps watch over CalPERS’s money-making strategy.  Ideally, the financial leader is equal parts daring and wise when making weighty investment decisions, ensuring pension promises are fulfilled to 2 million California public employees and retirees.  California’s largest public pension fund has not yet found those rare qualities in a candidate since its last CIO abruptly resigned eight months ago.  A worldwide search was suspended in March.  But when will this absence at the top matter?  And will it affect the investment arm’s bottom line?

Dan Bienvenue, a deputy investment chief who has been with CalPERS since 2004, stepped into the role of interim CIO.  CalPERS Chief Executive Officer Marcie Frost previously said the search will resume in the early summer as the restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic are expected to be lifted.

“I can certainly see how people would not — given the circumstances — be ready to pack up and move into the spot based on Zoom interviews,” said Ted Toppin, chairman of the union-supported group Californians for Retirement Security.  He’s also executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government.  “This position is big and important and the people who were being considered, and will be considered in the future are making a major decision in their lives.  I can see why they wouldn’t want to make it on Zoom.”

Meanwhile, CalPERS officials say the fund is on track to reach its goals, raking in a 12.4% return at the end of the 2020 calendar year.  There is no guarantee where its value will land on June 30, which is the end of its fiscal year and when the pension fund determines whether it hit its investment target.

My Turn: CalPERS review of its investment strategy and actuarial assumptions – CalMatters
Michael Cohen, chief financial officer of CalPERS, writes: Managing pension liabilities has become increasingly challenging for governments across the country.  Rising costs are due to a variety of factors, including longer lifespans, financial market uncertainty and low inflation.  Without a regular review of investment strategies and actuarial assumptions, pension systems run the risk of liabilities not being matched with assets.  At CalPERS, we do this review every four years to have solid analytical assumptions underlying our pension system so that we can meet our commitment to workers who spent their careers serving the people of California.  Here are some key decisions on the horizon.

Bill to Fix and Build California’s Roads Using Surplus Plastic Waste Advances in State Senate – The Coronado Times
The California State Senate Committee on Transportation last week unanimously approved Senate Bill 580 by Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) that would the task the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) with conducting a study assessing the feasibility, cost-effectiveness and lifecycle environmental benefits of including recycled plastics in asphalt used for the construction and repair of a state highway or road.  The idea for SB 580 was brought to Hueso by students from Bonita Vista High School in Chula Vista.

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.

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 –
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 –
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 /
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 –

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.