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Flames burn near power lines in Montecito in December 2017.
Flames burn near power lines in Montecito in December 2017. (Mike Eliason / Associated Press)

With negotiations intensifying over how California’s electric utilities should help pay to fight wildfires, a prominent Republican lawmaker says the companies should contribute to a new multibillion-dollar fund that would help mitigate those expenses.

The proposal by Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) would create the California Wildfire Insurance Fund, a pool of money collected from utility companies that could be used to cover some of the “extraordinary costs arising from wildfires,” according to the draft legislation.

The plan would help utilities that act prudently, while reducing the impact from future fires on utility ratepayers, Mayes said.

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  • Ballot measures
The fountain inside the Grove mall in Los Angeles lights up in June.
The fountain inside the Grove mall in Los Angeles lights up in June. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

A big battle over property taxes in California is shaping up for the 2020 ballot.

Supporters of a bid to increase taxes on commercial land announced Tuesday they’ve collected more than 860,000 signatures to force a vote on the issue in two years.

“This is a defining moment for California,” Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, said in a statement. “Closing the commercial property tax loopholes is important to our state.”

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  • California Legislature
A river controlled by the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy
A river controlled by the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy (Los Angeles Times)

State lawmakers agreed Monday to pay $321,000 to settle a discrimination complaint from the executive secretary of a state conservancy agency in Los Angeles County.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the settlement with Valerie Thompson, a 57-year-old African American woman who sued the conservancy, alleging she was mistreated by the staff of the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, including executive director Mark Stanley.

Thompson’s lawsuit alleged that Stanley, who is also African American, spoke to her in a “demeaning and derogatory tone,” denied her promotional opportunities and time-off requests, failed to accommodate a disability, and sought to downgrade her job to a part-time position. The lawsuit also alleged that Stanley brought his ex-wife, who is Latina, to the office, and afterward favored Latina staff members over Thompson.

  • Ballot measures
California cities are objecting to changes in the state's rules on marijuana that they say undermine local control.
California cities are objecting to changes in the state's rules on marijuana that they say undermine local control. (Mathew Sumner / Associated Press)

California cities on Monday objected to a state proposal that would allow marijuana delivery to homes in areas where storefront pot sales have been banned locally.

The changes, which are being considered by the state Bureau of Cannabis Control, “will undermine a city’s ability to effectively regulate cannabis at the local level,” said Charles Harvey, a legislative representative for the League of California Cities, in a letter to the bureau.

The cities group, which represents the state’s 482 municipalities, supports other changes to clarify the rules of Proposition 64, which was approved by voters in 2016 and allows the growing and sale of marijuana for recreational use.

Vanessa Delgado is sworn into office.
Vanessa Delgado is sworn into office. (Mini Racker)

Six months after Tony Mendoza resigned his state Senate seat following allegations of sexual harassment, the seat will be filled by another Democrat — for the next three months.

In a special election held last Tuesday for Senate District 32, Montebello Mayor Vanessa Delgado, a Democrat, beat Republican attorney Rita Topalian with 52.4% of the vote.

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  • Politics podcast

With fires burning across California and smoke lingering on the skyline of the state’s capital city, it’s no surprise that wildfire prevention is on the minds of lawmakers in the Legislature’s final month of session.

But no topic seems to loom larger than the liability rules that apply to electric utility companies whose equipment plays a role in starting a blaze.

On this week’s podcast, we discuss the complicated politics surrounding efforts to rethink those liability rules. We also discuss the sharp criticism being leveled by lawmakers against the state Department of Motor Vehicles, after complaints of long lines in field offices across California.

A house is listed for sale in Lake Forest.
A house is listed for sale in Lake Forest. (Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg)

In November, Californians will vote on four housing-related ballot measures. One of them, Proposition 5, is sponsored by the California Assn. of Realtors, and it gives homeowners 55 and older the ability to take part of their lower property tax base with them when they move to a new home.

On this episode of Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast, we debate the pros and cons of the statewide measure. It will provide incentives for older Californians to move out of larger, family-friendly homes into smaller places for empty nesters. At the same time, it gives even more state subsidies to a generation of homeowners who already have benefited from California’s property tax rules favoring those who have lived in their homes a long time. 

Also, don’t miss our explanation of Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that set up the state’s property tax structure. 

Firefighters at the Mendocino Complex.
Firefighters at the Mendocino Complex. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Thursday to expedite recovery efforts in areas hardest hit by California’s wildfires.

Assisting fire-ravaged communities in Lake, Siskiyou, Shasta, Mendocino and Napa counties, the order suspends regulations on clearing fire-related debris and eliminates limits on the number of hours emergency personnel can work. More than 13,000 firefighters are battling blazes across the state.

The order also suspends planning and zoning requirements and waives state fees for manufactured homes and mobile home parks, extends a state ban on price gouging during emergencies, and allows accelerated hiring of additional personnel for emergency and recovery operations.

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Former State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) says he is considering a run for his old senate seat in the 2020 election.
Former State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) says he is considering a run for his old senate seat in the 2020 election. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

A few months after state Sen. Josh Newman was recalled from office by voters, the Fullerton Democrat has scheduled a political fundraiser to collect money for a possible 2020 campaign to reclaim the seat.

In an invitation posted on a new website, bringbacknewman.com, the ousted senator invites supporters to an Aug. 22 fundraiser at the Sacramento Masonic Temple.

“Josh Newman, everybody’s favorite recently recalled Senator, may be out — for now —  but he’s not down,” the invitation reads. “Got a little extra dough to help retire the Recall debt and pave the way for 2020? We’ll take it!”

Migrant families wait for immigration processing at a bus station in McAllen, Texas.
Migrant families wait for immigration processing at a bus station in McAllen, Texas. (Larry W. Smith / EPA/Shutterstock)

California officials asked the Trump administration on Wednesday to release documents indicating whether officials considered the potential psychological impact of the federal “zero tolerance” policy on children separated from their immigrant parents after crossing the border.

State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments requesting all records involving the agencies’ consideration of the separation policy’s effects on the mental and physical state of children.

Becerra said he took the action in response to information, detailed at a congressional hearing last week, indicating administration officials were made aware that the separation policy could traumatize children.