August 14, 2022

Frenemies reunited: Newsom names former LA mayor to new post   – Associated Press
California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week appointed one-time political nemesis Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles mayor, to a new post intended to steer a gusher of federal dollars to road, port and transit projects.  Newsom announced that Villaraigosa would assume the post of “infrastructure czar,” an advisory position in which he will pursue billions of federal dollars and help pair it with needs in the state.  Technically, Villaraigosa will not be a state employee.  His position is funded through a partnership with California Forward, a nonprofit that seeks to promote job growth and cost-effective government.

Federal Transportation Department is losing top auto safety regulator after a few months on the job – CNBC
Steven Cliff, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is departing next month to run the California Air Resources Board, the state’s climate agency announced on Friday

Deadline looms for drought-stricken states to cut water use – ABC News
Seven states in the U.S. West, including California, are facing a deadline from the federal government to come up with a plan to use substantially less Colorado River water in 2023.

August 8, 2022

Caltrans project to prevent wrong-way drivers begins on I-8 – KFMB (San Diego)
Crews began wrong-way-driver-prevention upgrades along a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 8 in East County on Sunday. Special reflective markers are being installed on I-8 ramps from East Willows Road to Ink-Ko-Pah Park Road. The reflectors appear red to drivers headed in the wrong direction. The project comes after three local high-profile wrong-way crashes, including one on I-5 last year that killed three people, including two San Diego police detectives who were married. CHP investigators said the driver was going 90 miles per hour, heading the wrong way near Dairy Mart Road when the crash happened.

In dry California, salty water creeps into key waterways – Associated Press
In dry winters like the one California just had, less freshwater flows down from the mountains into the Sacramento River, the state’s largest. That allows saltier water from Pacific Ocean tides to push further into the state’s main water hub, known as the Delta. It helps supply water to two-thirds of the state’s 39 million people and farms that grow fruits and vegetables for the whole nation, playing a key but sometimes underappreciated role in the state’s economy. Scientists say a drought part of the U.S. West’s driest period in 1,200 years, plus sea level rise is exposing the fragility of that system, forcing state water managers, cities, and farmers to look for new ways to stabilize their supply of fresh water. The Delta’s challenges offer a harbinger of the risks for critical water supplies elsewhere in the nation amid a changing climate.

August 4, 2022

New oil and gas drilling in Central CA temporarily blocked under settlement –ABC 7 / Associated Press
Leasing for new oil and gas drilling on federal land in central California is temporarily blocked under a settlement announced Monday between the state and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The deal, which still needs court approval, centers on more than 2,500 square miles of land and subsurface mineral rights owned by the federal government in California’s Central Valley, a hub for oil and gas activity. It prohibits the federal government from leasing any of the land for drilling until it completes a fresh review of environmental harms that may be caused by fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas from rock.

California receives $631.4M to support extreme weather resilience – Transportation Today
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration recently awarded California $631.4 million over the next five years through the new Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) formula program. The funding will pay for addressing at-risk highway infrastructure, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and resilience planning.

Media Briefing Archive

August 2022

August 1, 2022

SANDAG explores toll alternatives on SR 125 – The Star-News
Eleven years ago, the San Diego Association of Governments purchased the State Route 125 toll road from its private owner, Southbay Expressway, LP, to reduce soaring toll rates and quell congestion on parallel roads that drivers were taking instead. Under SANDAG ownership, toll rates were reduced in June 2012. Since then, traffic and revenue growth have surpassed expectations leading to a cash reserve forecast to be $107 million by FY 2027 – the first year remaining bond debt (a projected $143 million) may be retired. SANDAG officials hope to close that $36 million gap to eliminate toll operations by then and hand over the highway’s management to Caltrans.

Will this be the year the LV-LA high-speed train leaves the station? – The Las Vegas Review-Journal
For years there’s been talk about a high-speed train between Las Vegas and Southern California, but that train has yet to leave the station. A few scheduled groundbreaking dates have come and gone with no action, with the most recent one spoiled by the pandemic in 2020. Now the company behind the project, Brightline West, is targeting the end of this year to get construction started and finally get tracks laid for what is hoped to be a transportation revolution between Southern Nevada and California.

Can Newsom finally win long Delta water conflict?– CalMatters
Will the fifth time be the charm for California’s decades-long effort to replumb the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta so that more Northern California water can be transported to Southern California?

July 2022

July 28, 2022

Amid roiled market, public pension funds’ declines not unexpected – Capitol Weekly Op-Ed from Californians for Retirement Security
California’s two public employee pension funds, the nation’s largest, have reported a decline in their investments for the fiscal year just ended. To anyone who’s even casually followed recent economic news, the results should not be surprising. It’s been a down year on Wall Street.

To the critics who periodically predict – always following downward swings in the stock market – that the pension funds will someday not be able to meet their obligations: Do not be alarmist.

That there will be years of negative returns is a fact of life for pension investment funds. The assumption is built into the system. There is no cause for panic when such a year arrives, just as last year there was no cause for celebration when CalPERS registered a 21 percent positive return and CalSTRS recorded a record-breaking 27 percent gain.

These funds are built for the long term, and their investment horizon spans decades.

During those difficult years of the Great Recession, it became politically popular for some to stir fear and resentment about public employee pensions. They called for radical changes, such as moving away from the defined benefit model of retirement security and replacing it with a 401(k)-type system for those who educate our children, care for our sick and respond to our emergencies.

Perhaps some will try to seize on this latest one-year snapshot to reprise those calls. Their proposals were faulty then and would be even more so now. The Center for Retirement Security estimates that 401(k) losses so far this year amount to about $1.2 trillion – a hit that puts financial security at risk for those who have recently retired or are approaching retirement.

The promise of retirement security is an inducement to attract a new generation into public service just when those workers are desperately needed. Don’t let the headlines about one-year losses cause alarm. These retirement plans are secure – for those who rely on them now, and for those who will rely on them 30 years from now. They’re built to withstand such ups and downs.

In shift, California state departments keep employees in office during COVID-19 outbreaks – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Several California state departments have been insisting for months that employees come to the office at least once a week, aiming to wind down full-time telework and establish permanent hybrid models even as COVID-19 variants circulate.

Among the departments requiring in-person work, a new point of friction has emerged between managers and employees: what to do when there’s an outbreak in the office.

After decades of failure, California dusts off controversial Delta tunnel water project – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration revived the Delta tunnel project Wednesday, unveiling a downsized version of the controversial, multibillion-dollar plan to re-engineer the fragile estuary on Sacramento’s doorstep that serves as the hub of California’s over-stressed water-delivery network.

After three years with little to no public activity, the state released an environmental blueprint for what’s now called the Delta Conveyance — a 45-mile tunnel that would divert water from the Sacramento River and route it under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta so that it can be shipped to farms and cities hundreds of miles away. The blueprint, a 3,000-page draft version of an environmental impact report, is a necessary initial step in securing approvals for the project.

Department of Water Resources talks Oroville Dam following 4.2 earthquake – Action News Now
A recent earthquake in the Oroville area has many wondering how stable the Oroville Dam is. The Department of Water Resources told Action News Now the Dam is in good condition and was not damaged by the 4.2 earthquakes.

Many people in Oroville said they’ve experienced several earthquakes but are always on alert when a fire or earthquake happens, especially after the Oroville Spillway Crisis in 2017. The crisis pushed nearly 190,0000 people to evacuate but the DWR said the Dam can withstand a lot and is constantly being evaluated in case an emergency breaks out.

July 25, 2022

Our View: Money to stop oil well leaks brings promise of new jobs – The Bakersfield Californian
It can be a scary. Thousands of oil and gas wells across the U.S. have been left idled and abandoned. Some are leaking methane. Others may be polluting water supplies and emitting toxic fumes.

California state and local officials have identified about 40 leaking oil wells in Bakersfield since mid-May. Recently, activists picketed at a Bakersfield intersection demanding increased inspection of local wells.

Among nine of the most recently discovered leaking wells in Bakersfield, all were found to be releasing gas in concentrations of at least 50,000 parts per million, which was the maximum that could be measured by the instruments brought to the site, according to the Californian Geologic Energy Management Division, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry.

Here’s how low California’s reservoirs are and what to expect in the future – The Mercury News
Here’s a look at the status of California’s reservoirs during another drought:

There has not been much good news about California’s water supply lately, but there could be some relief on the way. The North-of-Delta Offstream Storage project, often referred to as the planned Sites Reservoir, was authorized by Congress in 2003. The long delayed project got a financial boost in March when the federal government signaled its intent to loan the project nearly $2.2 billion — about half of the cost to design, plan and build it.

The proposal would flood what’s left of the town of Sites, which has just a handful of residents in a valley of the coastal range mountains in rural Colusa County. The new reservoir could increase Northern California’s water storage capacity by up to 15% and would hold enough water to supply about 1.5 million to 3 million households for one year — although much of the water would be for agricultural purposes.

Newsom calls for more aggressive climate action – CalMatters
As the largest wildfire of the year rages across California, Gov. Gavin Newsom is doubling down on an aggressive strategy to combat climate change — one that also appears to involve boosting his national profile.

Newsom on Saturday proclaimed a state of emergency in Mariposa County due to the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park, which since igniting on Friday has burned through more than 15,600 acres of bone-dry fuel and was 0% contained as of Sunday night, according to Cal Fire.

In a Friday letter to Liane Randolph, who leads the powerful California Air Resources Board, Newsom outlined goals he said would add teeth to the state’s sweeping climate strategy, which regulators are set to consider formally adopting this fall. In so doing, he appeared to agree with activists who said the plan doesn’t go far or quickly enough in transitioning California away from fossil fuels. However, some of the strategies Newsom proposed, such as carbon capture, are unlikely to be embraced by many environmentalists.

July 21, 2022

CalGEM: Idle oil wells leaking methane near Bakersfield neighborhoods repairs – KERO 23
California Geologic Energy Management Division officials announced that as of Tuesday, 38 wells previously found to have methane leaks or high-pressure build-up near several Bakersfield neighborhoods have now been repaired. CalGEM says they are continuing to work with Griffin Resources, LLC to properly fix one well that was found to be leaking methane after initial repair work.

Caltrans’ Plan for Making Complete Streets a Priority – Streetsblog Cal
Last December, Caltrans released a new Director’s Policy establishing an organization-wide priority to encourage and increase walking, bike, transit, and passenger rail modes in California, in keeping with state and departmental sustainability, climate, and resilient community goals. There were many questions raised about how that might be done, as it would be such a huge cultural shift within the department and past similar directives have had seemingly little effect. This week the department released its Complete Streets Action plan, which is basically a list of specific actions to be taken by Caltrans to encourage this shift towards equitable and safer transportation.

Man sentenced in killing of Caltrans worker along Interstate 80 in Vacaville – KCRA
A man pleaded guilty to the death of a California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, worker along the freeway in Vacaville, officials said in a release Wednesday. Taje Holliman admitted to hitting and killing Quanda McGadney on June 3 while traveling westbound on Interstate 80 near Lagoon Valley Road, according to a release by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. At the time of the crash, Holliman was a felon who had a firearm, ammunition and multiple syringes containing heroin.

July 18, 2022

California Bullet Train Gets $4.2 Billion Green Light For First Phase While Bigger Challenges Loom – Forbes (tiered subscription)
In a breakthrough for the country’s most expensive public infrastructure project, California’s bullet train finally appears to have the money and the legal approval to complete its first leg. What remains a challenge is how to link that initial 171-mile route through the state’s Central Valley agricultural heartland to population centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose — and how its designers will overcome California’s mountainous terrain and seismic risks.

State legislators agreed last month to release $4.2 billion earmarked for the train’s first phase, between midsize cities Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced. The project may also benefit from more than $2 billion of federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds set aside for passenger rail. Extending service to the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles would boost the amount of track to 500 miles and the train’s total price tag to as much as $105 billion. That’s far above an initial estimate of about $40 billion when California voters approved a $10 billion bond measure to help build it in 2008.

Two tidal habitat restoration projects in Solano County support Delta smelt survival – Dredging Today
California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has just announced that state, federal, and local agencies gathered last week to celebrate two tidal habitat restoration projects in Solano County that support the survival of Delta smelt and other fish species as part of the long-term operation of the State Water Project.

Bradmoor Island and Arnold Slough, two neighboring projects in the Suisun Marsh, are designed to provide high-quality habitat and food sources for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

This event celebrated the completed Arnold Slough project and the start of construction at Bradmoor Island.

July 14, 2022

California state attorneys, scientists seek raises of 30% and more in contract talks – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
California state employee unions representing scientists and attorneys are making the biggest demands for raises in contract negotiations this year. The attorneys want 30%. The scientists, citing inequities dating to 2005, are asking for up to 43% for some job classifications.

The proposed increases would be among the largest in the history of organized labor in California state government. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration in recent years has signed off on annual raises of around 2% to 3%, with some bigger bumps for select positions that have encountered recruitment and retention issues.

The scientists and attorneys are two of six state worker unions bargaining over pay. Contracts for all six expired by the end of June. Most of the groups would like to reach new agreements before the end of August, the last chance to secure approvals from the Legislature before the finish of its current session, rather than waiting until lawmakers reconvene in December.


Ted Toppin, the executive director of the Professional Engineers in California Government, declined to share specifics about the union’s bargaining objectives.

But Toppin noted that the recently passed federal infrastructure bill will intensify competition for engineers across the country, making it all the more important for California to stay competitive on pay.

Additionally, the recently passed state budget creates 1,000 new jobs for engineers and employees with similar roles, Toppin said. “Prices are up 8%; employees feel it,” Toppin said. “And employers, including the state, have to account for it. If you don’t, they’ll lose employees to employers who will account for inflation. So it’s certainly a big deal.”

California’s Department of Water Resources plans for future drought with salinity barrier study – KCRA
On Monday, California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) released a draft Environmental Impacts Report, which looked into the benefits and potential negative impacts of repeated use of a temporary drought salinity barrier in the delta.

This drought barrier is in the West False River. It is a wall of earth that helps to keep salt water from the Bay Area from infiltrating into the freshwater delta system during times of severe drought.

During non-drought conditions, runoff from rainfall and snowmelt combined with regular freshwater releases from major reservoirs keep that saltwater well away from the delta. But as water supplies dwindle, water releases must be limited to ensure that other water needs can be met.

DWR enters first phase of hoist replacements at Oroville Dam – Chico Enterprise-Record
The California Department of Water Resources has begun its nine-year project to replace the spillway gate hoists at the Oroville Dam.

Workers began the process of reverse-engineering the hoists Tuesday to open the door for replacing one per year in a project expected to be complete in 2031.

Sporadic Monitoring of Emissions in California Oil Country Adds to Air Pollution Concerns – Capital & Main
Just outside the small oil town of McKittrick, five large steam generators resembling a row of chimneys and operated by Sentinel Peak Resources rise over the chaparral at the edge of California’s Cymric Oil Field. The gas-hungry facilities heat large volumes of water into steam so companies can “sweep” thick, molasses-like crude out of the ground.

This part of San Joaquin Valley — home to oil and gas production, industrial agriculture and massive dairy operations — is an epicenter of planet-warming emissions in a state that is otherwise known for its leadership on climate policy. But many of the worst emissions are invisible without specialized equipment.

New technology is revealing the true extent of pollution across the valley’s major oil and gas fields and underscoring the need for regulatory reform. These revelations are thanks in large part to the work of Riley Duren, an engineering fellow at NASA who is leading a project that uses aircraft with remote sensing to conduct “wall to wall” surveys to detect emissions missed by cameras or handheld detection. The work is exceptionally important because some oil fields in the San Joaquin Valley rank among the top greenhouse gas-emitting oil fields in the world, due to the energy required to extract their super thick oil reserves, according to the Oil-Climate Index.

July 11, 2022

California high-speed railway reaches milestone at Wasco – Global Construction Review
The California High-Speed Rail Authority celebrated a milestone last week as the final pre-cast girders were placed on Construction Package 4 of the state’s planned high-speed rail project.

With the placement, all structures along Package 4, which is the 22-mile stretch between just north of the Tulare/Kern county line and Poplar Avenue south of the city of Wasco, are now in construction.

SANDAG declares support for clearing debt to eliminate State Route 125 toll – San Diego Union-Tribune
Chula Vista’s efforts to turn State Route 125 from a toll road into a free highway received unanimous support Friday from the county’s lead transportation planning agency.

Board members of the San Diego Association of Governments approved a resolution declaring support for eliminating the toll and prioritizing a plan to pay off debt the agency owes by 2027.

The South Bay Expressway, which opened in 2007, is the 10-mile stretch of State Route 125 that runs from State Route 905 in Otay Mesa to State Route 54 in Spring Valley and sees about 54,000 drivers daily. Tolls range from 50 cents to $3.50.

SANDAG has operated the road since it acquired it in 2011 for $341.5 million, about one-third of what a private consortium spent to build it, according to the agency. They still owe about $180 million in bond payments and the debt must be paid off by 2042.

Tracking the California Drought – Los Angeles Times
Californians are living in the state’s driest period on record. Officials have urged people to conserve as reservoirs run low and demand exceeds a supply stressed by climate change.

A large share of the state’s water is used for agriculture, and growers have seen water deliveries slashed during the drought. State regulators track water use in cities and towns across the state, collecting monthly data from more than 400 urban suppliers that serve about 37.2 million Californians.

Discovery of methane leaks in California community is just ‘the tip of the iceberg,’ advocates worry – PBS News Hour
At least 30 wells belonging to five different companies were found to have been leaking the gas in recent weeks, according to the Geologic Energy Management Division of the California Department of Conservation, known as CalGEM. The wells closest to the Bradford home belong to Sunray Petroleum, Inc.

The state agency did not disclose data from their readings, but initial reports of the leak said some wells were releasing methane at a concentration of 50,000 parts per million – a level that can be explosive, environmental groups say. In an emailed statement, the agency added that it “has previously engaged or taken enforcement action against” all of the companies with leaky wells.

July 7, 2022

Will a new oversight position help California’s high speed rail plans get on track? – CalMatters
After a decade of cost, schedule, technical, regulatory, personnel and legal problems, the California high speed rail project will be getting an inspector general soon as part of a deal between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature.

The new investigative position is intended to intensify oversight and improve performance of the $105 billion railroad project. Enthusiasm for the change is high, but whether it will fix everything is uncertain, even among state leaders.

California Governor Gavin Newsom Signs New Budget Creating Nation’s First Tax Credit For Union Dues – Forbes
In the the most populous state in the U.S., California, leading politicians often talk about equality, and their efforts to achieve both. Yet a tax break included in the new California state budget signed by Governor Gavin Newsom (D) on June 27 will exacerbate existing inequality in state taxation, critics contend.

The new budget passed by lawmakers in mid-June and signed by Governor Newsom two weeks later will take California’s existing tax deduction for union dues payments and turn it into a tax credit capped at 33% of dues paid. Changing the deduction to a credit makes the union tax break more generous and benefits those who don’t itemize or have a tax liability.

California allocates more than $3 billion for transportation infrastructure – Orange County Breeze
The California Transportation Commission (CTC) allocated more than $3 billion to repair and improve transportation infrastructure throughout the state, including $1.3 billion in funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to support local projects and to protect local roads and bridges from extreme weather and natural disasters. Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, accounts for more than $930 million of the total funding.

Calif. invests $2M in urgent drought relief projects – WaterWorld
California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced financial support to four urgent drought relief projects in Humboldt, Los Angeles, Modoc, Shasta, and Siskiyou counties through the Small Community Drought Relief Program.
In coordination with the State Water Resources Control Board, DWR awarded $2 million in funding to support four projects that will improve drought resilience and address local water needs.

July 5, 2022

California climate rules won’t be undercut by Supreme Court’s ruling, experts say – CalMatters
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to drastically limit the power of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate planet-warming emissions upsets environmentalists, but experts say it doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to California’s ability to maintain its own stringent greenhouse gas reduction rules.

Several experts say the ruling would not cripple the state’s efforts. Still, California’s efforts alone can’t solve a global problem, said attorney Sean Donahue, whose firm Donahue, Goldberg & Littleton wrote a brief in the case.

“California has its own state laws that are regulating carbon dioxide emissions so in that respect, it matters less to California directly,” Donahue said. “However, we’re all affected by climate change. California is doing a lot to try to reduce its own emissions, but we won’t have a safe climate unless everybody pitches in and the federal government’s efforts are really important there.”

California’s drought is dire. But there’s a surprising bright spot that may make this year better than last – San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
The outlook for California’s drought is grim.

The first five months of the year have been the driest on record. Snowpack in the mountains, at its usual April 1 peak, was the smallest it’s been in seven years. Reservoirs are hovering near historic lows for the season, including Lake Shasta, the state’s largest.

But there’s one, albeit small, bright spot: spring runoff. The water that pours from the mountains to rivers and streams, one of the most important barometers of state water supplies, is up substantially from over a year ago — though still far below normal.

Tunnel vision: What’s next for the governor’s plan to replumb the delta? – San Francisco Chronicle (tiered subscription)
The outlook for California’s drought is grim.

The first five months of the year have been the driest on record. Snowpack in the mountains, at its usual April 1 peak, was the smallest it’s been in seven years. Reservoirs are hovering near historic lows for the season, including Lake Shasta, the state’s largest.

But there’s one, albeit small, bright spot: spring runoff. The water that pours from the mountains to rivers and streams, one of the most important barometers of state water supplies, is up substantially from over a year ago — though still far below normal.

June 2022

June 30, 2022

Newsom, California legislators reach $4.2B deal to continue high-speed rail construction – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A budget deal forged over the weekend between Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders includes an agreement to release $4.2 billion in high-speed rail bond money to continue construction in the central San Joaquin Valley. In addition to a multi-year program of transportation spending amounting to $14.8 billion for transit, freight, active transportation and other needs, the budget package “establishes an independent Office of Inspector General for the high-speed rail project and appropriates the remaining $4.2 billion of Proposition 1A high-speed rail funds with legislative direction to priorities construction of a Merced-Bakersfield segment.”

California may rescue its last nuclear power plant – and give PG&E millions to do it – CalMatters
State lawmakers approved funding that could save California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, in a in bid to avoid power shortages.

California’s ‘broken’ water supply forecast to be audited – ABC 10
Officials announced Monday that there will be an audit of California’s water supply forecast after the state overestimated and prematurely released 700,000 acre-feet of water last year.

June 27, 2022

Finally, a deal on tax rebates – CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature’s Democratic leaders have struck a budget deal — just in the nick of time. After months of haggling, Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Sunday night unveiled their joint $300 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Friday. The centerpiece is a $17 billion inflation relief package that includes direct payments of as much as $1,050 to an estimated 23 million Californians. And while California will spend $439 million to suspend a portion of the diesel sales tax, lowering prices by about 23 cents per gallon, the excise gas tax — which is set to increase by nearly 3 cents per gallon on Friday — will remain in place.

How idle oil wells leaked explosive levels of methane in Bakersfield – Capital Public Radio
Cesar Aguirre first became aware of a potential methane leak in Bakersfield about a month ago. He says that he heard the news from a resident who reported hearing a “hissing” sound coming from an oil well near their home. And sure enough, after investigation, the California Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM, confirmed the report.

June 23, 2022

Tunnel vision: What’s next for the governor’s plan to replumb the Delta? – CalMatters
The scaled-down tunnel — which would bypass the Delta and funnel more water south — still has to clear a gauntlet of reviews, would cost at least $16 billion and could take 20 years.

California pension funds won’t be forced to divest from oil, gas after bill withdrawn – Insurance NewsNet
A bill that would have forced California’s public pension systems to sell their oil and gas holdings was dropped from a state Assembly committee’s agenda, signaling that the measure won’t move forward this year. Senate Bill 1173 would have required the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) to sell a combined $11.5 billion worth of publicly traded securities by 2030.

Inflation taking bite of new infrastructure projects – Associated Press
The price of a foot of water pipe in Tucson, Arizona: up 19%. The cost of a ton of asphalt in a small Massachusetts town: up 37%. The estimate to build a new airport terminal in Des Moines, Iowa: 69% higher, with a several-year delay. Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects across the U.S., driving up costs so much that state and local officials are postponing projects, scaling back others and reprioritizing their needs.

Biden’s Push on Gas Tax Relief Will Likely Fall to States – Route Fifty
The price of a foot of water pipe in Tucson, Arizona: up 19%. The cost of a ton of asphalt in a small Massachusetts town: up 37%. The estimate to build a new airport terminal in Des Moines, Iowa: 69% higher, with a several-year delay. Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects across the U.S., driving up costs so much that state and local officials are postponing projects, scaling back others and reprioritizing their needs.

June 20, 2022

Governor Newsom Appoints New Caltrans Director – Office of the Governor (press release)
Governor Gavin Newsom today announced the appointment of Tony Tavares as Director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), where he currently serves as District 7 Director.

The new ways California is working to change where and how we store water – ABC News 10
With a changing climate, water storage is becoming one of the biggest challenges facing California. The system set up throughout the state is a complex myriad of above and below-ground storage, but what worked decades ago is no longer serving our water needs. This has many water managers rethinking how, when, and where we can store water. In some cases, it’s developing new oversight and in others, it’s adjusting long-standing rules to try and keep up with water needs.

Gas tax holiday? Biden says a decision could come by the end of the week – Associated Press / National Public Radio
President Joe Biden said Monday that he’s considering a federal holiday on the gasoline tax, possibly saving Americans as much as 18.4 cents a gallon. The administration is increasingly looking for ways to spare Americans from higher prices at the pump, which began to climb last year and surged after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Gas prices nationwide are averaging just under $5 a gallon, according to AAA.

June 16, 2022

California budget: Big surplus, big differences – CalMatters
Beating a Wednesday deadline, Democratic legislators pushed through a plan to spend the record California budget surplus, but key negotiations remain with Gov. Newsom. There are major differences on gas tax relief, education, climate change and more. Republicans, meanwhile, complained about the process.

Price hikes continue for CalPERS health insurance under plan to avoid “death spiral” – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Premiums are projected to grow an average of about 7% for CalPERS health insurance policyholders next year, with two popular PPOs spiking by more than 14%, according to preliminary prices posted online Tuesday by the retirement system. PERS Gold, covering about 124,000, is projected to increase in price by 17.8%, reaching $766 per month for an individual starting Jan. 1. PERS Platinum, covering about 153,000, is projected to go up 14.5%, to $1,084 per month next year. The most popular plan by far that CalPERS offers is a Kaiser Permanente HMO that covers about 556,000 people. The Kaiser HMO is slated to go up about 6% next year, reaching about $853 per month.

Two years ago, the CalPERS board approved a new rate-setting methodology on the recommendation of its health insurance experts, who said the system needed to make changes to save three of its best plans. Those plans — Anthem Traditional HMO, Blue Shield Access+ and a plan formerly known as PERS Care — attract people who spend the most on medical treatment. Insurers kept raising their premiums to cover large bills, driving healthy people away and prompting more price hikes. So the board adopted a structure that, in oversimplified terms, essentially shifts money from plans with lower health risk to those with higher risk. As a result, the prices for the Anthem and Blue Shield plans are projected to go down by nearly 7% each next year, in a second year of price drops.

State now flush with cash after depths of pandemic – The Hill
Dismal headlines about the state of the planet may permeate news feeds, but actions taken by states thus far in 2022 illustrate widespread efforts to tackle climate change head on, albeit on smaller geographical scales.

June 13, 2022

US DOT Launches Competition for $2.4B in New IIJA Bridge Grants – Engineering News-Record (tiered subscription)
The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has started accepting applications for what will likely be one of the highest-profile programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—new discretionary grants for bridge projects ranging from small to large.

Calif. opens $193M to water infrastructure proposals – WaterWorld
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has released the Grant Program Guidelines and Proposal Solicitation Package for approximately $193 million in grant funding to help local agencies advance water infrastructure and resilience projects.

Steven Cliff Confirmed as NHTSA Administrator – Homeland Security
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced Dr. Steven Cliff’s confirmation as the 16th Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA sets vehicle safety standards, identifies safety defects and manages recalls, and educates Americans to help them drive, ride, and walk safely. Dr. Cliff’s public service resume includes deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), an organization he first joined in 2008 as an air pollution specialist. He held various positions there before overseeing CARB’s climate program. From 2014 to 2016, Dr. Cliff joined Caltrans as the assistant director for sustainability, then returned to CARB in 2016 when then-Governor Jerry Brown appointed him senior advisor to CARB’s board chair.

Opinion: Dams, a key part of state infrastructure, must be kept safe – Capitol Weekly
Dedicating a small fraction of California’s budget surplus dollars for safety and climate resilience projects at existing dams would be a prudent step for the governor and Legislature.

June 9, 2022

Juneteenth bill would give California state workers 12th paid holiday, cost up to $20 million – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A proposal to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for California state workers has passed the Assembly and moved to the Senate. The measure, introduced earlier this year by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, would make June 19 a paid holiday starting next year for civil service employees and those working for California State University and California Community Colleges. If approved by the Senate and Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Bill 1655 would create the 12th paid holiday for state employees and the first new one since Cesar Chavez Day in 2000.

Automakers back U.S. restoring California emissions authority – Reuters
Five automakers, including Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, and Honda Motor Co., on Tuesday backed efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration to restore California’s ability to set its own strict tailpipe and zero-emission vehicle standards. Joined by BMW AG and Volvo Cars, the automakers, in a court filing, backed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to restore the authority withdrawn under former President Donald Trump. Last month, a group of 17 states challenged the EPA decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. California and 19 other U.S. states and the District of Columbia have backed the waiver reinstatement.

California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Encourages Counties, Communities to be ‘Well Prepared’ to Support Dry Drinking Water Wells – Sierra Sun-Times
As California continues to experience climate-driven severe drought conditions, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) is providing tools and resources to help communities, and domestic well owners prepare for potential well outages and other drought impacts.

June 6, 2022

Arrest After Caltrans Worker Killed in Highway Hit-And-Run – Associated Press / U.S. News & World Report
A motorist was arrested after a state Department of Transportation employee was killed in a hit-and-run crash along a Northern California highway, authorities said. Quanda McGadney, a Caltrans landscape maintenance worker, died at the scene of the crash Friday on westbound Interstate 80 near Vacaville, the department said. The driver of the car that hit her drove away after the collision and was arrested later in the day on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, according to the California Highway Patrol. He was identified as a 31-year-old resident of San Francisco.

Calif. dilemma: Fight climate change and keep on the lights – Energy & Environment News
California sees itself as a global leader in the fight against climate change. But keeping on the lights over the next five summers is likely to increase the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, energy experts said.

What is (and isn’t) in the latest CA budget plan – Politico California
Leaders in the Senate and Assembly this week unveiled their draft budget, laying out plans to send nearly $10 billion back to Californians and shore up the state’s reserves against an apparently inevitable fiscal downturn in years to come. Here’s what’s included (and left out) of their plan.

June 2, 2022

CA Groups Angle for Billions in Federal Funds to Build Wildlife Crossings – Public News Service
Billions in federal funding to build or improve wildlife crossings are up for grabs, and California nonprofits, government agencies, and tribes are working to secure those funds.

California drought resurrects decades-old plan for controversial Sites Reservoir –
A long-dead proposal to flood a bucolic valley north of Sacramento and create a massive reservoir for thirsty Southern California is finding new life—and opposition—amid the effects of climate change and worsening drought.

At San Joaquin Valley dairies, methane digesters face scrutiny even as they fight climate change – KVPR
Digesters that capture methane from manure have been shown to be one of the state’s most cost-effective tools for fighting climate change, but community advocates warn the emissions savings don’t make up for the harm that dairies pose to nearby communities. A coalition of environmental justice, animal rights, and community organizations petitioned the California Air Resources Board to ban the devices, but the board denied the request and instead agreed to hold workshops to discuss the issue.

May 2022

May 31, 2022

COVID-19 spikes in California state offices, forcing departments to revisit reopening plans – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The latest COVID-19 surge has hit California state offices, forcing department leaders to decide whether to stick to in-person work or allow employees to go back to working from home. Many of the largest departments called employees back to offices over the last three months as cases dwindled, typically requiring them to work in the buildings one to three days a week.

How San diego secured its water supply, at a cost – Associated Press
As a worsening drought forces millions of Californians to face mandatory water restrictions, one corner of Southern California has largely shielded itself from supply-related woes: San Diego County. For Western water planners, the path it took to get there serves either as a blueprint or a cautionary tale.

710 Freeway expansion dropped after decades of planning, marking a milestone for L.A. – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
A $6 billion plan to widen the traffic-clogged, port-serving 710 Freeway in Los Angeles County has been abandoned as transportation officials express openness to finding other solutions. The authority’s decision to move on from the decades-old plan comes as state lawmakers consider a pioneering bill to bar freeway expansions in areas with high rates of pollution and poverty.

May 26, 2022

California High-Speed Rail Authority pursues first major award of new federal infrastructure funds – RT&S
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has submitted two applications totaling nearly $1.3 billion in federal grant funding for the nation’s first high-speed rail project.

Tech Helps Map and Manage Groundwater in California – Government Technology
The California Department of Water Resources is using technology to map groundwater throughout the state, enabling better basin management from local water managers by providing access to more thorough data.

Report reveals more than 2,100 violations of Lehigh quarry – Los Altos Town Crier
Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. has amassed more than 2,100 violations from local, state and federal agencies over a 10-year period, a Santa Clara County report released last week revealed. The county’s report reviewed records from 15 agencies, as well as the record of pending and past litigation, between Jan. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2021. Specific regulatory state authorities included in the report are the California Air Resources Board, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and the California Division of Mine Reclamation.

May 23, 2022

Nonprofit Warns Water Shortages Will Lead to Fresh Food Shortages – Progressive Grocer
The California Farm Water Coalition says the number of acres devoted to growing much of the nation’s food is diminishing.

High-speed rail from Southern California to Las Vegas will likely be constructed in 2023 –
Brightline Holdings says construction on its high-speed rail line between Southern California and Las Vegas will begin in early 2023 and be completed in 2026.

Mullissa Willette Wins CalPERS Board Seat – The Winner Represents Public Agency Members – Mondo Visione
Mullissa Willette, a tax exemption investigator with the County of Santa Clara, has been declared the unofficial election winner for the Public Agency seat on the CalPERS Board of Administration. Election results are considered unofficial until formal certification by the California Secretary of State, which is expected to occur in or around June. Ms. Willette received 7,972 votes, which represents 62.15% of the votes cast during the voting period of April 15 through May 16, 2022. Her opponent, Richard Fuentes, received 4,855 votes, or 37.85%.

In related news, CalPERS recently announced that it had canceled the August election for the State member seat on its Board of Administration because the deadline to file candidacy petitions passed and incumbent Theresa Taylor was unopposed. CalPERS will also forego a vote for the open School seat because only one candidate, Kevin Palkki, filed papers. However, three candidates will vie for the vacant Retiree representative seat: Tim Behrens, Randall Cheek, and Yvonne Walker. Ballots for the Retiree seat election will be mailed on August 26. The deadline for voting is September 26. Only eligible retired CalPERS members (excluding survivors and beneficiaries) will be able to vote online, by phone, or by mail in that election.

May 19, 2022

EPA sued for reinstating California’s car emissions authority – Automotive News
Several state attorneys general, led by Ohio’s Dave Yost, allege California’s Clean Air Act waiver violates the Constitution’s equal sovereignty doctrine.

‘We’re worried’: California officials warn extreme heat could bring blackouts this summer – KESQ TV
California energy officials are warning the state will likely have an energy shortage that could result in rolling blackouts this summer.

Caltrans begins express lane project on I-80 between Vacaville and Fairfield – ABC News 10
On Monday, Caltrans and the Solano Transportation Authority started a project to add toll express lanes on Interstate 80 between Fairfield and Vacaville in hopes of alleviating traffic. The three-year project will involve building new express lanes and converting existing carpool lanes into express lanes. Over half of the $244 million needed to fund the expansion will be coming from money set aside by Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.

May 16, 2022

California Gov. Newsom unveils historic $9.75 billion budget surplus – NBC News
California is entering the next budget year with a nearly $100 billion record-smashing surplus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday. Newsom unveiled a revised budget plan of just over $300 billion for the next fiscal year, the highest in state history and fueled by surging tax revenues. The state has collected $55 billion more in taxes than officials expected in January, leaving it with an estimated $97.5 billion surplus.

Newsom’s California Budget Seeks $8 Billion More for Energy Push – Bloomberg
California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed spending an additional $8 billion over five years to ensure the lights stay on and help consumers pay for rising electric bills. As part of that spending, the governor wants the state to invest $5.2 billion to create a “strategic electric reliability reserve” that could be called on when the electric grid is stressed, according to a budget revision released Friday.

$2.7 billion settlement in CalPERS long-term care insurance lawsuit is canceled – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
An agreement in which CalPERS would have paid up to $2.7 billion to settle a lawsuit over the cost of its long-term care coverage has been scrapped, creating new uncertainty for tens of thousands of policyholders. A group of policyholders sued the California Public Employees’ Retirement System over an 85% rate hike announced in 2013. The settlement in the class-action lawsuit reached last July gave policyholders a choice: give up their plans for a refund of all premiums they had paid — up to about $50,000 — or opt-out of the settlement and keep their coverage, which got even more expensive last year. The agreement included the caveat that CalPERS could exit the deal if more than 10% of policyholders chose to keep their plans. Last month, attorneys representing the plaintiffs announced that 30% had decided to stay, and both sides had agreed the settlement was off.

Attorneys for CalPERS and policyholders have resumed negotiations. If they don’t reach a new agreement, the case will go to a jury trial, likely not before next year. CalPERS representatives have said that any money it has to pay due to the lawsuit would come from the long-term care insurance fund, not from the system’s pension fund, recently valued at $446 billion.

May 12, 2022

California court shorterns probation periods for state workers – Human Resources Director
In a recent decision from California’s Court of Appeals, the probation periods for state workers have effectively been shortened due to a case filed by an employee over a promotion dispute. In March, the third appellate district ruled that a former employee’s appointment started the day she accepted her position, rather than her start date. The recent ruling would mean California state managers will have a little less time to fire or demote employees in new jobs.

Amid drought, California desalination project at crossroads– Associated Press
For more than two decades, California’s Orange County has debated whether to build a seaside plant to convert the Pacific Ocean’s salt water into drinking water to buffer against droughts like the one now gripping the nation’s most populous state. Now, the $1.4 billion proposal by Poseidon Water faces a critical review Thursday by the California Coastal Commission, which is tasked with protecting California’s scenic shores.

Sick of Long Commutes? These Cities Have the Worst Traffic– Fox 11
San Francisco and San Jose join traffic-congestion leader Los Angeles to account for three of the five cities with the highway traffic in the nation, according to a new report.

Newsom to release his revised budget on Friday– Santa Barbara News-Press
On Friday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom will release his revised 2022-2023 state budget. His proposal will focus on “building on the state’s ongoing work to confront California’s greatest existential threats, bolster our economic growth and make historic investments in California’s future,” his office said. The revised budget proposal will be shared at approximately 10 a.m. and live streamed on the governor’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

May 9, 2022

Remembering 189 Caltrans workers killed on state roads: Roadshow – Mercury News (free read)
Here’s a somber reminder of the importance of safe highway work zones: When I started out as a newspaper reporter, just of college in the 1980s, I was assigned to the “cop beat,” covering crime, fires, disasters and all other mayhem in the Los Angeles area. Often, when I interviewed family and friends of victims, it was not lost on me that I was probably talking to them during the worst day of their lives. I joined Caltrans as a public information officer in 1991 and thought I had left that unpleasant duty behind. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Governor, legislators won’t budge in high-speed rail dispute – CalMatters
California Democrats are locked in one of the most consequential disputes in modern state history over the future of the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail project after a decade of troubled construction.

California’s water conservation has been a bust so far. Will drought restrictions work? – Los Angeles Times
Almost a year after Gov. Gavin Newsom pleaded with Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15% amid a worsening drought, water conservation figures are still nowhere near that mark.

May 5, 2022

Officials worry Southern California won’t have enough water to get through summer without unprecedented cuts – CNN
As Southern Californians brace for unprecedented water restrictions, officials worry some communities won’t have enough water to get through the summer — at least not without residents and businesses significantly cutting back on their usage. The state’s top natural resources officer told CNN that California’s water emergency clearly shows the climate crisis in action. Some would consider this a wake-up call. I disagree,” Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, told CNN. “The alarm’s already gone off.”

Caltrans spotlights top six pollutants degrading California’s water quality– Lake County News
As part of its “Let’s Change This to That” public education campaign, Caltrans is sharing the top sources of stormwater pollution and ways to prevent them from contaminating California’s waterways.

May 2, 2022

Caltrans honors 189 fallen highway workers at memorial – Lake County News
Caltrans dignitaries, employees, families, and friends gathered solemnly on the west steps of the State Capitol on Thursday for the department’s 32nd annual Workers Memorial to honor the 189 public servants who have died since 1921 while building and maintaining California’s transportation system.

Feds, State to Spend Hundreds of Millions to Plug ‘Orphan’ Oil Wells – Public News Service
Big money is on the way to supercharge California’s efforts to plug so-called ‘orphan’ oil wells, which pollute the environment but have no legal owner.

High-Speed Rail Between San Jose, Central Valley Receives Final EIR Certification – KPIX
High-speed rail between San Jose and the Central Valley took a step closer to becoming reality after the final environmental impact report was certified Thursday. In a unanimous vote, the Authority’s Board of Directors approved the 90-mile section stretching from Diridon Station in San Jose to Merced.

No snow for final Sierra snow survey– KALW
The volatile water year of 2022 ended with a bust.