By Graham Knaus.
As longtime advocates on behalf of California’s 58 counties, CSAC has built its reputation on being solution-oriented. We do not take quick positions without suggesting alternatives or being willing to work together to find solutions to complex issues. That’s the core of our DNA.
While we oppose the Governor’s proposal regarding wildfire liability laws, we are also very supportive of the ongoing work by the Administration and Legislature surrounding wildfire prevention and forest-management issues. And we pledge our partnership in developing viable, effective solutions to the risk of wildfires.
Working to minimize the risk from wildfires is a top priority for the state – and rightfully so. More than 600,000 acres have burned in just over a month from just a handful of wildfires. Ten lives have been lost and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Yet so much of the discussion at the State Capitol has focused on not reducing the risk of wildfire, but minimizing the potential financial risk borne by utilities. With just weeks left in the legislative session, this narrow focus is a lost opportunity to focus on critically needed improvements to reduce the threat and severity of fires in the state.
Our opposition to any changes in the wildfire liability law – called inverse condemnation – is no secret. We have discussed the issue at length with the Governor’s staff and legislative Conference Committee members, as well as listened to arguments from the utilities. Beyond the fact that our legal counsel has concluded that the proposed changes to inverse condemnation are unconstitutional, we also believe these changes do not offer an effective solution to the challenges our state faces as a result of utility-caused wildfires.
And so we urge all parties to begin solely focusing on real solutions to this growing problem.
For example, in conjunction with our local government partners, we also strongly support the need to strengthen our fire prevention activities and become more resilient as a state to the increased threat of wildfire. Yes, climate change is a significant factor in the increased devastation caused by wildfires — but so is the fuel-loading of our landscape. As local government leaders, we stand ready to work with the Legislature and Administration to address the need to improve forest management.
We have also heard the concerns expressed over the immense costs associated with wildfires. That’s why we support the concept of a shared risk pool to spread the costs of non-negligent debt between ratepayers, shareholders and the state. Protecting ratepayers is extremely important. And, no one wins if utility companies go bankrupt; in that light, looking at debt management for utilities and the securitization of their past non-negligent debt is an important part of the solution. We believe this concept has significant merit and warrants additional attention from the joint Conference Committee.
As local government leaders, we do not want to play defense; we do not want to debate and oppose our traditional partners. Unfortunately, that is the position we have found ourselves in over the past few months. But this can change. In the final weeks of the session, we need to all turn our attention to working together to come up with a comprehensive wildfire safety plan.
We all want to achieve the same goal: develop solutions to minimize the risks posed by wildfires in order to protect our communities. Let’s partner on developing solutions that will have a lasting effect. The frequency and severity of wildfires is upon us and calls for us to work together on a comprehensive solution that focuses on increasing prevention and implementing effective tools to minimize financial risk. Together, we can better protect our communities from the top challenge currently facing California.