Feds clear farmer to plow, then slap him with millions in fines

By Paige Gilliard

November 27, 2019

Following government rules is often a tough enough task. But when federal agencies secretly move their own rules’ goalposts and then threaten millions of dollars in fines for noncompliance, it can be devastating.

Ask Jack LaPant. In 2011, the rural farmer in Tehama County, Calif., planted 900 acres of winter wheat on his property. Before he ever put a plow to the soil in his field, he sought the official views of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Both agencies assured him that since growing wheat would be consistent with past use of the land, he could legally proceed as planned.

With approval from those two federal agencies, LaPant thought he was in the clear and set about planting his wheat. More than a year later, however, he was shocked when a third federal agency came knocking on his door. LaPant had never considered consulting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, not with the go-ahead from two other farm-governing bodies. The Army Corps, nonetheless, informed him that under the Clean Water Act (CWA), he needed a permit to farm his property.

Read more at The Hill.

‘It’s very disruptive.’ Parents, schools frustrated by PG&E outage that didn’t happen


November 20, 2019

Thousands of parents across Northern California rearranged their lives early Wednesday morning in anticipation of yet another round of canceled classes because of a massive intentional PG&E power outage.

They scrambled to find child care. They stayed home from work to care for their children.

Yet the lights stayed on in most of the north state, as PG&E significantly dialed back power outages Wednesday.

In anticipation of gusty winds and dry conditions that could spark another devastating fire, PG&E announced earlier this week it was planning its the fourth major power shut down since October. The utility originally estimated more than 300,000 customers would be without power, before deciding on a final projection of about 150,000 customers across 18 Northern California counties.

Read more at the Sacramento Bee.

PG&E wants to seize private vineyard property for liquid natural gas plant in Calistoga

CALISTOGA — PG&E is taking Calistoga vineyard owner Terry Gard to court, to seize a portion of his land for a liquid natural gas plant.

Since the beginning of the year, the utility has tried to reach an agreement with Gard, who steadfastly refuses to cede any of the property his family has farmed for generations.

PG&E has now claimed eminent domain to forcibly secure a permanent easement of 1.4 acres on the corner of Highway 29 and Dunaweal Lane, across from Twomey Cellars.

According to PG&E, the property is needed for a project that will upgrade the current Upvalley pipeline to meet the region’s growing demand for natural gas, and to meet state and federal requirements.

Read more at the Napa Valley Register.

Apple will donate $2.5 billion to fight ‘unsustainable’ California housing crisis

Apple has pledged $2.5 billion in donations to help combat California’s current crisis of rising home costs, CEO Tim Cook announced Monday.

The tech giant’s contributions have been earmarked to help jumpstart home building, assist first-time home buyers and reduce homelessness in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Affordable housing means stability and dignity, opportunity and pride. When these things fall out of reach for too many, we know the course we are on is unsustainable, and Apple is committed to being part of the solution,” Cook said in the announcement.

Apple’s move follows earlier action by Google, which in June pledged to invest $1 billion in building affordable housing, and Facebook’s October commitment of $1 billion toward fighting the housing crisis.

Read more at USA Today

Do California power shutoffs work? Hard to know, experts say

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Millions of Californians spent part of the week in the dark in an unprecedented effort by the state’s large electrical utilities to prevent another devastating wildfire. It was the fifth time Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has preemptively cut the power but by far the largest to date in the utility’s effort to prevent a deadly wildfire sparked by its power lines.

But do the power shut-offs actually prevent fires?

Experts say it’s hard to know what might have happened had the power stayed on, or if the utility’s proactive shutoffs are to thank for California’s mild fire season this year.

“It’s like trying to prove a negative,” said Alan Scheller-Wolf, professor of operations management and an energy expert at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “They can’t prove they prevented a disaster because there’s no alternative universe where they didn’t try this.”

The winds that prompted the mass outage that affected about 2 million people in northern and central parts of the state shifted southward by Thursday, where a wind-driven wildfire led officials to order the evacuation of 100,000 people from their homes in foothills of the San Fernando Valley.

Read more at the Associated Press.

PG&E CEO Apologizes To Customers: ‘We Were Not Adequately Prepared’

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson admitted during a Thursday evening press conference that the utility thoroughly botched its Public Safety Power Shutoff, apologizing to customers.

The press conference at the utility’s San Francisco headquarters marked the first time the company’s head had publicly addressed the shutdown.

“We faced a choice between hardship on everyone or safety and we chose safety,” said Johnson. “And I do apologize for the hardship this has caused, but I think we made the right call on safety.”

Johnson also apologized for all the technical problems with the PG&E website and promised to get them right next time.

“Our website crashed several times. Our maps are inconsistent and maybe incorrect. Our call centers were overloaded,” said Johnson. “To put it simply, we were not adequately prepared to support the operational event.”

Read more at CBS SF BayArea


The new face of Sacramento’s affordable housing crisis: College students forced to drop out

After classes at Sacramento State, when others had gone home, Alvin Prasad would spend the night sleeping in his Honda. He couldn’t afford an apartment and was too tired to drive to his parents’ Modesto home. “In winter, you have a blanket, sometimes it’s not warm enough.”

Criminal justice major Jayda Preyer chose Sacramento for college because rents here were lower than San Francisco. Then the rents here soared. Without family help, she’s in 30-day emergency housing on campus, not knowing what happens next. “I believe in God. I’ll be OK. But it’s very nerve-wracking.”

Alexandra Lopez is more fortunate. She has an apartment and job, but a recent pay increase disqualified her for a CalFresh food subsidy. She’s among many California students who queue for free food at their campus pantry. “I had to use the money I made to keep a roof over my head. This is hard to experience.”

Read more at The Sacramento Bee.

PG&E Starts to Cut Power for Nearly 800,000 California Customers on Wildfire Risk

PG&E Corp. PCG +0.92% has begun to shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people in California as it seeks to prevent its electric lines from sparking more deadly wildfires, in what is believed to be the largest such pre-emptive blackout ever.

The outages are poised to hit areas across the northern and central parts of the state, including the famous wine country region, the rural Sierra Nevada foothills and portions of Oakland and San Jose. The utility is implementing the shut-offs as strong, dry winds are expected to hit the region, increasing the risk that its equipment could start fires.

PG&E said early Wednesday the shut-offs will occur in three phases, the first of which began affecting about 513,000 customers from around midnight local time. These outages will be spread across 22 counties, the utility said, including Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma in the wine country region.

Read more at WSJ.

First Hand Testimony: How the Homeless Crisis is Changing the Safest Communities in California

‘We need our neighborhood back. We need public safety reforms and more police presence in our community, and higher numbers of law enforcement overall.’

In our last article we featured the issues affecting the historic Sacramento neighborhood of Land Park, which has been considered the safest community in Sacramento for decades. But residents and business owners say that is no longer the case, citing the transient population as the cause for rampant drug activity, serial theft and violence.

Jennifer Mann, who lives in Land Park and works in downtown Sacramento in the hospitality industry, says she hears from her clients about cities they will no longer take their business to for fear of their attendees’ safety. “There are comments that Sacramento is looking like one of those cities, which is sad, as we have really moved in an exciting direction with development and energy in the downtown core. But even more disturbing to me, and what impacts my daily life and the lives of my children, are the transients that in recent years have been pushed out of downtown to live under the freeways, and into these beautiful, historic neighborhoods. It saddens me that I no longer feel safe to let my children walk to school or go to the park. I have neighbors who have found needles near the play structures, have found people sleeping or sneaking into their backyards, and a few that have had dangerous interactions with these individuals.”

Read more at The California Globe

San Francisco residents use rocks to block homeless camping

by Olga R. Rodriguez October 1, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A group of San Francisco neighbors said they had to do something to make their street safe. Their answer? Some giant rocks.

Fed up with what they see as the city’s failure to combat homelessness and rampant drug use, the neighbors had boulders delivered to their sidewalk to block people from pitching tents on their street.

That started a fight that shows the frustration with an unprecedented homelessness crisis in California. Cities are struggling to address the lack of affordable housing and a growing number of homeless encampments that are popping up on city streets, sometimes in neighborhoods.

Read more at the Associated Press