Newsom: Statewide water restrictions possible

Newsom: Statewide water restrictions possible

Californians could soon face mandatory statewide water restrictions — but likely not until the end of September, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.

The timing suggests the governor may be trying to avoid unpopular mandates before the Sept. 14 recall election — but California’s devastating drought and ever-expanding fire season have their own schedules.

Around 51,000 Californians could wake up this morning without power — a scenario Newsom undoubtedly would like to avoid as recall ballots hit voters’ mailboxes. Still, PG&E’s decision to start preemptively cutting power as humidity plummets and fierce winds buffet Northern California could help Newsom avoid an even worse situation — another massive wildfire igniting.

The governor already has plenty of crises on his hands: On Tuesday, he declared a state of emergency in El Dorado County in response to the Caldor Fire, which has surged past 30,000 acres. The blaze, which was 0% contained, has seriously injured at least two residents, who were airlifted to hospitals. It also forced thousands of evacuations and destroyed an elementary school, a church, a post office and numerous other buildings, the Sacramento Bee reports.

The images — a burned playground structure is all that remains of the elementary school — evoke the destruction of Greenville, a town leveled by the monstrous Dixie Fire. Already the second-largest blaze in state history, the Dixie Fire continues to grow, surpassing 600,000 acres Monday night. With much of the Bay Area under a red flag warning through Wednesday due to high winds, PG&E expanded its projected blackouts from 39,000 customers in 16 counties to 51,000 customers in 18 counties.

Despite the raging fires, state lawmakers canceled an oversight hearing today into wildfire prevention — and apparently have no plans to reschedule it before the legislative session ends on Sept. 10, according to Courthouse News reporter Nick Cahill. The hearing was scheduled after a blockbuster CapRadio report found Newsom overstated by 690% the amount of land treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns to prevent wildfires from harming California’s most vulnerable communities.

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1. Ose ends recall campaign

When some of Newsom’s leading Republican opponents gathered in Sacramento on Tuesday night for the second major gubernatorial debate, Doug Ose was not among them. The former Sacramento-area U.S. representative announced Tuesday that he was ending his campaign for governor after suffering a heart attack Sunday evening. 

  • Ose“It has become clear that I must now focus my attention on rehabilitation and healing. Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do. It is what it is: my campaign for governor is over.” 

However, an unexpected guest showed up to Tuesday’s debate: A private investigator who served businessman John Cox with a subpoena related to consulting fees from his unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial run. Cox told reporters later that he was being harassed over a “garbage” claim that he won’t pay.

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder also made an appearance — in name only, with former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer bashing Elder’s positions as “indefensible” and calling claims made in a 2000 Capitalist Magazine column “bulls–t.” That’s a significant change from the last debate, when candidates largely avoided mentioning Elder, the current frontrunner in the polls.

Ose’s withdrawal brings the total number of Newsom’s challengers down to 45. Check out CalMatters’ breakdown of the major candidates here and our guide to the recall election here. And if you’re still confused about how to cast your vote, make sure to check out this 2-minute video explainer from CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons.

2. California’s groundwater crisis

Speaking of California’s drought, Matt Angell no longer describes it as “unprecedented.” Instead, the Madera County almond and grape grower — who also drills and repairs wells — uses the term “biblical.” That’s the only word, he told The Atlantic, that does justice to the scope of the problem: the earth literally sinking under Californians’ feet as farmers and homes, cut off from dwindling rivers and reservoirs, desperately pump groundwater to keep their crops and families alive. State lawmakers tried to get a handle on the issue in 2014, when they passed a spate of laws intended to stop the over-pumping — but local water agencies don’t have to reach sustainability until 2040 at the earliest, meaning solutions will likely come far too late, Rachel Becker reports in the latest installment of CalMatters’ “Lessons Learned? Drought Then and Now” series. As it stands, nearly 3,000 wells across the state are projected to go dry this year.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — one of the nation’s largest water distributors — on Tuesday issued a supply alert asking residents to conserve water. The warning — the first in seven years — came a day after federal officials said a Colorado River reservoir on which Southern California heavily depends had fallen to record lows.

3. State OK’s clearing more encampments

The Newsom administration paved the way for more homeless encampments to be cleared from state property on Monday, when the California Department of Transportation revised its policy to allow local governments to address moderate- and lower-priority encampments, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Previously, Caltrans had only allowed local governments to clear high-priority encampments, citing pandemic guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said doing so could help limit the spread of COVID-19. The change comes about a week after Newsom called large encampments “unacceptable” — a remarkable shift in tone for a governor who had previously focused on the positive results of Project Homekey, his multibillion-dollar effort to house homeless Californians in hotels.

While the revised Caltrans policy only allows encampments to be swept if there is a shelter bed available for each homeless person, that may not always be true in practice. Several former residents of a Berkeley homeless encampment Newsom and Caltrans officials cleared out last week said they were never offered alternative housing and are now searching for a new place to live.

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