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IN THIS ISSUE – “Fix This Damn Thing!”
FOR THE WEEK ENDING NOV. 1, 2019
- Newsom to PG&E: “Fix This Damn Thing!”
- You Can’t Judge An Initiative By Official Title
- 2020 Ballot “Titanic Battle” Over Gig Economy
- Newsom’s Special Commission & Labor Secretary Defining “The Future of Work”
- California Economy: Continued Rosy
- Golden State’s Cannabis Crop to Hit New High
Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests. Please feel free to forward.
READ ALL ABOUT IT!!
As California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, battled bankruptcy and prepared for another round of mass power outages across the state, the company’s executive said Californians should expect to see fire-preventing blackouts for the next 10 years.
“I think this is probably a 10-year timeline to get to a point where it’s really ratcheted down significantly,” Chief Executive Bill Johnson told the California Public Utilities Commission during an emergency meeting earlier this month.
In a series of press conferences in recent days, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state won’t bow to the utility’s timeline, calling it “an absurd period of time.”
“This is not the new normal,” Newsom said on Tuesday. “And it doesn’t take a decade to fix this damn thing.”
The new governor has a lot on the line.
While he reminds audiences he’s been in office just nine months, Newsom’s stewardship of the crisis will be a key chapter in his political career. His determination, however, can’t erase the decades of financial and logistical missteps that have driven the utility to a breaking point.
This month alone, PG&E rolled out four mass power shutoffs to millions of Californians. Despite the effort, PG&E could be responsible for sparking the Sonoma County Kincade Fire, which has blazed across 75,000 acres as of Tuesday and threatened the cities of Healdsburg and Windsor.
Company officials say they’re doing the best they can to improve safety in a “multi-year journey,” spending more than $1.6 billion this year to replace aging equipment, trim trees more aggressively and advance other measures.
But they say fixing the problem will take time; the “enhanced vegetation management” campaign could take eight years alone.
PG&E announced with great fanfare a few months ago it will rebuild the electrical grid in Paradise underground – phasing out overhead wires.
The process will take five years, it said.
Johnson also said climate change can be thanked for increasing the percentage of customers in high-fire threat zones. More than half of the company’s service area now sits in burnable areas.
Utility experts say Newsom ultimately could end up disappointed.
“I definitely think that you can do it faster,” said MichaelWara, a Stanford University energy expert who’s been advising the Legislature on wildfire issues. “But it’s not possible to do it in 10 years following the standard utility playbook.”
The Democratic governor, in fact, has promised the utility will be “held to account to do something radically different.”
He has welcomed “as many people bidding for the assets of PG&E as possible.” He’s toyed with the concept of local government control, as hedge funds edge closer to a takeover, and said he hadn’t ruled out the idea that an investor like Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway could swoop in.
Johnson said Tuesday that, regardless of ownership, “these challenges don’t go away. The risk doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get any smaller.”
Shutting down the grid also prevents the 2019 fire season from adding to the company’s already-crippling financial liability from the 2017 and 2018 wildfire season.
The utility filed for bankruptcy at the start of the year, citing those costs as a tipping point.
The grim circumstances have refreshed fears that PG&E can’t actually exit bankruptcy with a viable plan to pay off wildfire claims by a state-mandated deadline of June 30, 2020.
Local governments have since expressed interest in owning pieces of the utility themselves, an idea both Newsom and the Legislature are entertaining.
“San Francisco and San Jose are already pursuing some sort of municipalization,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener. “I intend to introduce legislation to make it easier to make that happen.”
Wiener said he’s still in the early planning for a bill, but he’s already unveiled legislation to increase PG&E’s accountability for the ongoing power shutoffs.
“They’re trying to set up expectations that we’re going to have to go through these horrible blackouts and go through these fires for 10 years, and that’s completely unacceptable,” the San Francisco Democrat said.
But Jared Ellias, a bankruptcy law expert at UC College of Hastings in San Francisco, said siphoning off pieces of the company to local governments isn’t a comprehensive fix. A big company can afford to hire experts, but smaller municipals might lack the funds to do that.
“Would the world be better off if you had 10 little baby PG&E’s that are less capable than the big one?” Ellias asked.
He raised another point.
If San Francisco succeeds in taking over the utility’s assets in the city, it will remove what is probably the most profitable portion of the business. That would make it financially more challenging to harden the grid in an area like Sonoma County. Ellias said he’s doubtful it would work.
Newsom hasn’t shown an appetite for a state takeover of the utility, an idea that holds its own risks.
Should another mega-fire strike California, the Legislature might lack the political will to raise taxes or cut other expenses to pay damages, Ellias said.
PG&E’s timeline is also an acknowledgment that it has failed to upgrade its equipment and advance safety protocol, lawmakers and consumer advocates say.
“(PG&E) can’t keep the lights on for 3 million people and make sure it’s safe to go about daily business because it doesn’t modernize its equipment,” said Jamie Court, president of the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog.
Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, whose district was partially burned when a faulty transmission line sparked the 2018 Camp Fire that killed more than 80 people, said the state has to figure out how dollars already in the system can go toward infrastructure without raising rates for payers.
“New transmission lines, towers, undergrounding where it makes sense. The underlying issue is infrastructure. That’s what is causing these power outages,” Gallagher said.
Though necessary, the modernization will be an expensive effort. It will also require a giant workforce.
In a new law that passed in July, the Legislature created a $21 billion insurance pool, funded equally by utility ratepayers and shareholders, to cover liabilities from new fires.
To access the fund, the state’s largest utilities will have to spend $5 billion on wildfire safety, while company executives’ compensation will be tied to pursuing and installing the initiatives. Newsom cites that as an example of the kind of change that will keep California’s lights on.
On Monday, ahead of another round of power outages that could affect another 596,000 customers starting on Tuesday morning, Newsom said he urged the California Public Utilities Commission to advance an ongoing investigation into PG&E’s rollout of the shutoffs.
“You’re going to see a hell of a lot more being done, and you’re going to see much more accountability,” Newsom said. “And if I don’t see more things take shape, we’re going to get new folks in that can actually do that job.”
Article II Section 10(d) of California’s constitution is brief, to wit:
“Prior to circulation of an initiative or referendum petition for signatures, a copy shall be submitted to the attorney general who shall prepare a title and summary of the measure as provided by law.”
That sounds like a routine ministerial chore and for decades, under attorneys general of both parties, it was just that.
However, in the last years of the 20th century, it began to evolve into another arena for pitched political warfare, when proponents and opponents of high-impact ballot measures realized that the wording of the terse official summary could decisively impact voters.
With Democrats dominating the attorney general’s office, a pattern emerged. Ballot measures sponsored by those on the political left, such as unions, would receive titles and summaries that enhanced chances of passage, while initiatives from the political right, such as anti-tax groups, would be cast in a negative light.
A classic of the genre was last year’s initiative aimed at repealing a multi-billion-dollar increase in gasoline taxes and automotive fees that the Legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown had enacted.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office wrote a summary that said it “Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding. Requires certain fuel taxes and vehicle fees to be approved by the electorate.”
It ignored the measure’s central purpose, repealing the fees and taxes. At the time, polls indicated that voters were opposed to paying more to drive, but the misleading title helped the measure’s foes persuade voters to reject the initiative.
On its merits, the repeal effort was wrongheaded because California had neglected its streets and highways much too long, but the measure’s backers deserved even-handed, accurate treatment by Becerra’s office and were blindsided.
A new example is a very controversial ballot measure to amend Proposition 13’s limits on property taxes by creating a “split roll” that would increase taxes on commercial properties such as office buildings, hotels and warehouses.
The union-backed coalition submitted one version of the measure and even collected signatures to qualify it for the 2020 ballot, but it polled weakly. So proponents set it aside, tweaked the wording a bit and are now collecting signatures on a second version. At their request, Becerra’s office also made major alterations to the official title and summary.
The title of the first version stressed that commercial property would be “taxed on fair-market value” and the new revenues would go to “education and local services.”
However, it polled poorly, so the second version stresses that it “increases funding for public schools, community colleges and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.”
The change of emphasis, downplaying the multi-billion-dollar increase in taxes, is clearly aimed at taking advantage of voters’ oft-demonstrated affection for schools and local government services.
Obviously, Becerra and other attorneys general past, present and future shouldn’t be taking political sides on ballot measures. Obviously, too, they will continue doing so unless the process is changed.
Occasionally, those mistreated by the current process have persuaded judges to intervene and compel fairer versions. But that’s a poor substitute for fundamental reform.
Perhaps the job should be given to a more neutral entity, such as the state auditor or the legislative analyst’s office, which prepares the official estimate of measures’ fiscal impact.
Barring that, Article II Section 10(d) should be repealed and ballot measure proponents should be allowed to summarize their measures themselves. Even that would be fairer than the currently slanted official process.
It would be difficult to name an issue of more fundamental, far-reaching importance than how we earn our livings — and a titanic political battle is about to erupt.
This week, a coalition of companies that use on-call drivers with their own vehicles to transport passengers and goods — Uber and Lyft most famously — filed an initiative ballot measure to overturn a new, union-supported law that would compel their workers to become payroll employees.
That law, Assembly Bill 5, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom just a few weeks ago, was easily one of the most controversial of the 2019 legislative session, implementing the state Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision handed down in 2018.
That decision created a three-factor “ABC test” to determine who could be an independent contractor and who must be considered an employee, thus striking at the heart of the business models Uber, Lyft and other companies use.
AB 5 lodged the ABC test into law, while granting exceptions to “licensed insurance agents, certain licensed health care professionals, registered securities broker-dealers or investment advisers, direct sales salespersons, real estate licensees, commercial fishermen, workers providing licensed barber or cosmetology services…”
The gig companies contend that the Dynamex ruling and AB 5 undercut the desires of their drivers for flexibility. They offered to create a hybrid model under which drivers would still set their own hours but with income guarantees, fringe benefits and other aspects of payroll employment.
Unions countered with “wedriveprogress.org,” a coalition of drivers who want to become employees, and argued that the “misclassification” of workers as contractors is rampant, depriving them of rights and benefits protected by state labor laws.
Rebuffed by the Legislature and Newsom, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, a delivery service for restaurant orders and other consumer items, pledged $30 million each to overturn the new law. Their initiative would embrace the hybrid employment concept they proposed in the Legislature, including minimum income guarantees, health care insurance subsidies and vehicle maintenance stipends.
The sponsors rolled out their measure Tuesday during a Sacramento press conference featuring drivers who like the status quo. One, Jermaine Brown, told reporters he quit a full-time job to drive for Uber and Lyft because he wanted “flexibility to be home with my kids” and called the new proposal “the best of both worlds.”
The California Labor Federation immediately denounced the proposal as “another brazen attempt by some of the richest corporations in California to avoid playing by the same rules as all other law-abiding companies in our state,” and added, “California’s unions will join drivers who want fair wages, better treatment and flexibility to defeat this corporate ploy.”
However, it’s not certain that voters will have the last word because Brandon Castillo, a spokesman for the “Protect Drivers and Services” coalition, made it clear during the news conference that the firms “prefer a legislative path.”
In other words, they would drop the measure, even after spending heavily to qualify it for the November 2020 ballot, if the Legislature and Newsom would agree to a compromise. Otherwise, he said, “we’re going to spend what it takes to win.”
Although the proposal would apply only to drivers using “app-based rideshare and delivery platforms,” its adoption would create a new model that could spread to other industries.
Thus, the stakes, in both human and economic terms, are obviously immense. The “gig worker” model has been growing fast, particularly in California, and the state’s unions, whose membership is declining, are eager to have more payroll workers that they could potentially organize.
Capital & Main
Governor Gavin Newsom appointed a new commission to come up with a blueprint for what the future of work should look like in a complex state that leads in technological innovation yet has a housing crisis. If that sounds daunting, a statement from the commission reassures that “the technology may be different, but we have been here before.”
That reference to the past is a nod to the fact that this is not the first time a California governor has put into a place a commission to grapple with rapid innovations in technology and economic equality. Back in 1964 then-Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown created a commission to study and make recommendations about the future of work.
It was called the California Commission on Manpower, Automation and Technology. “I believe that the promise of the new technology is greater than its peril,” Brown said at the time, adding, “It’s within our power to realize the promise. If we can create the new technology, then we can harness it. We can become its beneficiaries instead of its victims.” In 1964 one of the big concerns was automation causing job loss; today there are worries about workers being replaced by artificial intelligence and robots.
At a second convening of the commission earlier this month at the Stanford Design School, several technology experts tried to dispel frightening visions of robots taking over the world. Commission member Peter Schwartz, Chief Future Officer at Salesforce, chimed in that “We don’t need to worry about Arnold Schwarzenegger coming as the Terminator anytime soon.”
On a more serious note, Schwartz emphasized the importance of a well-rounded education. “I work at a company that hires thousands of coders,” he said. But the futurist explained that what makes someone a good hire isn’t coding skills alone. “It’s the ability to work with other people, because you rarely sit there by yourself, you are part of a big team. So empathy, collaboration — these are the right skills to think about.”
The goal of the endeavor, according to the commission’s website, is “to develop a new social compact for California workers, based on an expansive vision for economic equity.” Over a half-year period 21 commission members from labor, politics and industry will attend seven brainstorming sessions, all with different focuses, with the aim of producing a final report by December 31, 2020.
While there has been discussion among commission members about the implications of artificial intelligence, there has been even more talk about the impact of the gig economy. “The economy right now isn’t working for workers,” Newsom said in an August press release announcing the commission’s membership. “While our state is ground zero for the technological and economic transformations that are shaping the future of work, Californians are facing a crisis of opportunity and affordability.”
Newsom tasked state Labor Secretary Julie Su to help lead the commission. In an interview with Capital & Main conducted shortly before the commission meeting, Su shared her thoughts on the future of work – and offered some pointed views on California’s ongoing battle with the Trump administration.
Capital & Main: You’re one month into figuring out the future of work in California. What can you report so far?
Julie Su: I’m happy about how big-thinking people are willing to be without having answers right away. These are people who are really smart, leading figures from different sectors, and we are asking them not to land on solutions right away, but to really delve into the problems, and to imagine the possibility that some of the solutions— we don’t know what they are yet. It’s really exciting.
With all the more immediate problems that California is facing, why did Gov. Newsom decide that after 55 years it was time for a new future of work commission?
My sense is that this is something that he has long been very interested in. Where is work going? What is it going to mean? What strategic interventions should we take, what policies can we undertake to make a positive impact? Part of Gavin’s brilliance is a desire to tackle tough things and a belief that if you bring together good people in California, anything is possible.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
All the data about inequities in our society is stunning. Over 30 percent of Californians make less than $15 per hour. A lot of these people are African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities. And upwards of 20 percent of those making sub-$15 wages have a college degree or some college [experience].
Then you learn that productivity has increased by several hundred percent over the last 40 years, but wages have only increased by 11 percent. So, it’s not about people not working hard enough, it’s about a deeply unequal distribution of goods.
The other thing that I thought was so interesting that came up is the fact that being a union member is more of an important factor in terms of wages than having a college education. It’s not that a college education isn’t useful. But we do want to look at why, for certain communities, it’s not as beneficial? One of the things it tells us is that having skills is not enough. We have to focus on the quality of jobs that are being created in our economy.
At the first commission meeting – a two-day session in Sacramento — there was a lot of talk about the “gig economy” and whether or not it’s a good thing. That was days before Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5, the so-called Uber bill, which seeks to reign in Uber, Lyft and others in the California economy that are hiring workers as independent contractors, rather than as company employees.
Some of the issues that AB 5 is trying to address include the idea that people are working hard and they are not getting ahead, or that they are working, but they are being misclassified and deliberately being taken out of the protections that employees have fought very hard to have.
We need interventions and policies that are going to address those kind of abuses of the system. What used to be good, long-term jobs where you could support your family, we have seen that deteriorate. One example are long-haul truckers who are being misclassified as contract workers. You have a whole class of people who are struggling day to day, who do not know what they are going to make that day. It’s a kind of day-labor-ification of our economy. But those issues, they did not begin with Uber and Lyft and they are not going to end with Uber and Lyft.
So our fundamental task is to address that, and to figure out, what makes a good job? How do we invest in and promote those kind of jobs? And beyond what’s measurable—wages, salaries and benefits—there are certain intangibles. It’s probably why you and I do our jobs, because of fulfillment and purpose and impact.
But isn’t the creative destruction that new technologies like Uber create a good thing, giving workers more flexibility so they can fit in family needs and supplement income from elsewhere?
I don’t know why technological advancement and protecting working people are in conflict with one another. I think that is something that we reject on the commission. And I think that is something that the governor rejects — that we can only have one at the expense of the other.
One of the more interesting comments I heard was from commission member Saru Jayaraman [an author and leader in advocating for better wages for restaurant workers], who said she rejects the entire notion that caregiving jobs are low-skill-jobs.
I totally agree with that. There is nothing inherent with these jobs that make them low-skill jobs. Low-wage and low-skill: They should not be equated. It’s about power and the balance of power.
Something else that came up at our first commission meeting was the fact that at the turn of the 20th century, manufacturing jobs were considered really poor jobs. These were low-wage jobs, [with] really long hours. They were very dangerous. You had children working them. And because of a slate of changes, which included governmental policies, union organizing and focusing on upgrading those jobs, these became good jobs, respected jobs. If you look back in history and what transformed the manufacturing sector, we need to double down on some of those.
I’m wondering if you have thoughts on what some people are calling President Trump’s war on California and whether or not it is having a negative impact on the future – or at least the present — of jobs? I’m talking about things like trying to eliminate fuel economy standards that auto companies have already bought into, cutting billions of dollars in high speed rail funding, allowing fracking and more oil exploration on federal lands when California is supposed to be all about the green economy?
One of the most wonderful things about being in California is that we are the fifth-largest economy in the world. What we do both matters and can withstand some of the assaults by President Trump and the federal government. The priorities of this governor and what we do have become more important than ever.
Of course what’s really impacting California is the flat-out racism, the anti-immigration policies, the horrific degrading of immigrants outside our borders and inside our country by the Trump administration. It’s not just creating a crisis in our economy, it’s a crisis in our democracy.
Dept. of Finance
The Governor’s Dept. of Finance issued the Economic Analysis for October. Highlights for tax revenue, jobs and housing:
- After finishing Fiscal Year 2018-19 by a revised $874 million above the 2019 Budget Act forecast, preliminary General Fund agency cash for the first three months of the fiscal year 2019-20 was $287 million higher than the forecast of $29.697 billion. Revenues for September were $98 million above the 2019-20 Budget Act forecast of $12.158 billion.
- Personal income tax revenues to the General Fund for the first three months of the fiscal year were $420 million below forecast. Revenues for September were $401 million below the month’s forecast of $8.65 billion. Withholding receipts were $53 million above the forecast of $4.913 billion. Other receipts were $431 million below the forecast of $4.244 billion. Refunds issued in September were $30 million above the expected $352 million. Proposition 63 requires that 1.76 percent of total monthly personal income tax collections be transferred to the Mental Health Services Fund (MHSF). The amount transferred to the MHSF in September was $7 million lower than the forecast of $155 million.
- Sales and use tax receipts for the first three months of the fiscal year were $77 million below forecast. Receipts for September were $52 million above the month’s forecast of $2.098 billion. September represents the second prepayment for third quarter taxable sales.
- Corporation tax revenues for the first three months of the fiscal year were $682 million above forecast.
- Unemployment fell to a new record low of 4.0 percent in September, while labor force participation rate held steady at 62 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent in September, the lowest level since December 1969. Year-to-date, California’s unemployment rate is now averaging 4.2 percent, unchanged from the same period last year. For the U.S., year-to-date average unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, down 0.2 percentage point from last year’s year-to-date of 3.9 percent.
- California housing authorized by building permits in August rose 3.7 percent from July to a total of 116,000 units, with the growth in multi-family units by 14 percent (57,000 units in August) being tempered by a decrease in single-family units by 4.6 percent (59,000 units). This brings total housing units to 4.3 percent above last year’s August level of 112,000 units. For the first eight months of 2019, authorized housing units averaged 108,000, down 14 percent from the 125,000 average in the same period last year.
- Statewide sales of existing single-family homes totaled 406,100 units in August on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, which is down 1.3 percent from July and up 1.6 percent from August 2018. August marks the second consecutive month that home sales increased on a year-over-year basis. California’s median home price increased 1.5 percent in August to $617,410, up 3.6 percent on a year-over-year basis. The 30-year, fixed- mortgage interest rate averaged 3.62 percent in August, compared to 4.55 percent in August 2018.
Despite a series of obstacles and setbacks, California’s legal marijuana market is on track to continue growing in the coming years, according to a new report.
By 2024, cannabis sales growth in the Golden State will account for nearly a quarter of all sales growth in the United States, according to a report, “From Dispensaries to Superstores: Opportunities in U.S. Cannabis Retail,” issued by BDS Analytics and ArcView Market Research.
California voters legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016, with sales becoming legal on Jan. 1, 2018.
The Golden State has had a rocky transition to the legal recreational cannabis market.
State lawmakers and regulators alike have sought to fix shortcomings in the 2016 law, from addressing the need for marijuana companies to access banking to preventing the sudden expiration of licenses for thousands of cannabis growers.
“While that market has faced initial difficulties as the industry and regulators dealt with the headaches of a new, untested regulatory scheme, rigorous new testing requirements, heavy compliance and tax burden and some slow-moving licensing jurisdictions, retailers in the state still managed to generate more than $2.5 billion in sales,” according to the report.
In the next five years, that amount could increase by $4.7 billion, the report forecasts, accounting for nearly a quarter of the predicted $20 billion in additional sales nationwide.
While California will continue to be a lucrative market for cannabis retailers in the near term , it will also be a competitive one, the report says.
With California now allowing cannabis companies to deliver their product anywhere in the state, regardless of local ordinances, the report predicts those local jurisdictions will “get over their qualms in pursuit of tax revenue” and become more likely to approve license applications.
“There will shortly be thousands of retail stores in California,” the report said.
Just 35 percent of Californians 21 and older acknowledged using cannabis products within the last six months, according to the report. That’s compared to 47 percent of adults in Oregon, 41 percent in Colorado and 40 percent in Washington.
While some of that can be attributed to California’s more recent foray into the legal recreational market, the report found that that difference also was “likely due to the lack of retail coverage in many areas of the state.”
The report found that California has the lowest ratio of retail licenses to potential cannabis consumers, with just one retailer for every 34,256 adults 21 and older.
General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and many others in the auto industry are siding with the Trump administration in a lawsuit over whether California has the right to set its own greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards.
The three companies, plus a trade association called the Association of Global Automakers, said Monday they plan to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Fund against the administration, which is planning to roll back national pollution and gas mileage standards enacted under the Obama administration.
In the past, most of the industry had taken the stance that it wanted one standard, and it preferred that California and the Trump administration work out differences to develop it. Negotiations haven’t gone anywhere, and in September, President Donald Trump announced his administration would seek to revoke California’s congressionally granted authority to set standards that are stricter than those issued by federal regulators.
The automakers decided to intervene in the lawsuit over the issue of California’s right to set standards. By intervening, the automakers changed their stance to siding with the Trump administration against the state. The automakers’ group, called the “Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation,” also includes Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Isuzu, Maserati, McLaren, Aston-Martin and Ferrari.
“The certainty of one national program, with reasonable, achievable standards, is the surest way to reduce emissions in the timeliest manner,” said John Bozzella, CEO of Global Automakers and spokesman for the coalition. “With our industry facing the possibility of multiple, overlapping and inconsistent standards that drive up costs and penalize consumers, we had an obligation to intervene.”
The group made the decision to intervene on how the standards should be applied, Bozzella said. That was even though the group wanted more environmentally friendly standards than the only proposal released so far by the Trump administration. “There’s a middle ground that supports year over year increases in fuel economy,” and promotes electric cars and innovation, he said.
Four other major automakers — Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen — reached a deal with California in July to toughen the gas mileage and greenhouse gas emissions standards, bypassing the Trump administration’s push to relax them nationwide.
Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen signed the deal with the California Air Resources Board, the state’s air pollution regulator, which had been at odds with the Trump administration for months.
The Trump administration has proposed freezing the standards at 2021 levels through 2025. A final proposal is expected by the end of the year. Many automakers have said they support increasing the standards, but not as much as those affirmed in the waning days of the Obama administration in 2016.
Under the Obama administration requirements, the fleet of new vehicles would have to average 30 mpg in real-world driving by 2021, rising to 36 mpg in 2025. Currently the standard is 26 mpg.
The Trump administration contends that freezing the fuel economy standards will reduce the average sticker price of new vehicles by about $2,700 by 2025, though that predicted savings is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the EPA estimates from the prior administration. The administration says the freeze would make the roads safer by making newer, safer cars more affordable.
Environmental groups say the figures don’t include money consumers would save at the gas pump if cars got better mileage. A study released by Consumer Reports in August found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels.
California’s authority to set its own, tougher emissions standards goes back to a waiver issued by Congress during passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. In 2007, when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, President George W. Bush’s administration denied California’s bid to place first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars and trucks. But the state asked the EPA to reconsider its decision, and in 2009 — when Democratic President Barack Obama took office — the feds granted California’s request.
California has 35 million registered vehicles, the most of any state. A dozen other states and the District of Columbia also follow California’s fuel economy standards.
Dozens of wildfire reports disappeared from Cal Fire’s website as this year’s fire season began.
Thousands of water science reports vanished from the Department of Water Resources website.
More than 2 million documents, ranging from environmental impact reports to internal human resources guides, went missing from remote corners of Caltrans’ website.
The documents are disappearing from public view as California state departments work to comply with a 2017 law aimed at improving compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The law was meant to ensure all Californians could apply for jobs and find vital information on the state sites. The overhaul has proven costly and labor-intensive, with the result that some departments are choosing to permanently take down documents rather than pay to make them machine-readable or otherwise accessible.
Some researchers say removing the documents diminishes state government transparency.
“You certainly want to have documents being accessible to the disabled and the blind, but if doing that causes these documents to become unavailable for many years or even permanently to the public, I think there’s a tradeoff there that’s pretty large,” said Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis.
State officials say the changes are making it easier for members of the public to find what they want on the sites without having to sort through as much clutter.
In 2015, a state audit found serious accessibility problems on four government websites.
Neither the CalHR website nor the California Community Colleges website were equipped for screen readers that read questions aloud for visually impaired people, so some of them couldn’t take job exams online or apply for college.
People who couldn’t use a computer mouse couldn’t create an account to file taxes on the Franchise Tax Board’s site.
Based on the audit, former Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, proposed a law to revamp the websites.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Baker’s bill into law in October 2017. The law gave departments until July 2019 to bring their sites into compliance under a process that would be set by the California Department of Technology.
Some departments are running late, but Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has made the updates a priority, said Technology Department Director Amy Tong.
Tong said the changes are not just aimed at making the sites ADA-compliant; they’re meant to make the sites more user- and business-friendly.
“The message from the administration has been very clear,” she said. “Transparency in high-interest business items has to be preserved.”
Caltrans, one of the state’s largest departments, has removed nearly 2.5 million documents from its website as part of its accessibility overhaul, according to information provided by spokesman Matt Rocco.
The department is updating about 13,000 documents — containing about 350,000 pages — to ADA standards and plans to repost them, said Mike Nguyen, the department’s chief technology officer.
The department used Google analytics to identify which documents people were looking at. If anyone opened a document from Nov. 1, 2017 through Nov. 30, 2018, the department scheduled it for ADA updates, Nguyen said.
The department also selected documents it is required to post by law and documents that program managers considered essential for operations, he said.
The department made popular features, such as traffic cameras, more front-and-center on the site, Nguyen said.
“We treat this as a very important initiative to make sure we meet the intent of the law, and it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The department has paid about $6 million to contractors to make the documents and thousands of Caltrans web pages accessible under the law, Nguyen said.
In addition to the spending, 700 employees at the department have spent a total of about 75,000 hours on the effort, he said.
“It is a huge undertaking for the large and complex organization that we have,” Nguyen said.
Cal Fire is going through a similar process, said department spokeswoman Alisha Herring.
The department took down historical fire statistics reports, known as red books, dating back to 1943, along with thousands of other documents, Herring said.
The reports for recent years, including those on the wine country fires of 2017, were referred to regularly by reporters during last year’s fire season for historical context.
New York Times
On Oct. 29, 1969, in a windowless room at U.C.L.A. a message was sent to the Stanford Research Center from a very large machine.
It was supposed to be “login,” but only the first two letters transmitted. So, the message was, simply, “lo.”
“We had no idea — we had nothing ready, because all we wanted to do was to log in,” Leonard Kleinrock, one of the men who sent that message, told me last week. “But we couldn’t have asked for a more succinct, more prophetic, more powerful message than, ‘lo.’”
As in, “Lo and behold.”
The message was the first ever sent between two computers. It was transmitted on a network called Arpanet. And from it, the internet was eventually grown. Of course, that’s a vast oversimplification of the momentous technological feat that this was.
On the day that I met Mr. Kleinrock in that same windowless room — which has been largely preserved as a kind of mini-museum documenting the birth of the internet — lawmakers in Washington were grilling Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook allowing hate speech and disinformation to flourish on its platform, which reaches billions of people. Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was there to defend his company’s project developing a kind of digital money.
Mr. Kleinrock, 85, said he first got interested in electrical engineering when, as a child in New York City, he made himself a crystal radio.
When U.C.L.A. offered him a job teaching engineering, he left his position as a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to move out west.
Moving around the room and gesturing to decades-old equipment or diagrams hung on the walls, Mr. Kleinrock was clearly practiced at explaining packet switching and queuing theory. After more than five decades, he’s a comfortable, genial lecturer, even in one-on-one conversation.
But the story of how that message ended up being sent has been told by people who understand computers better than I do. What I wanted to know was how he now sees the world he helped create.
What, if anything, would he change about the way the internet has evolved? Did he have any regrets?
Mr. Kleinrock said his feelings were complicated.
He noted that in a news release issued by U.C.L.A. announcing Arpanet’s deployment, he is quoted as accurately predicting that “we will probably see the spread of ‘computer utilities,’ which, like present electric and telephone utilities, will service individual homes and offices.”
He said he thinks the network will become even more invisible than it is now, which seems likely.
But what he and his researcher colleagues missed, Mr. Kleinrock said, was the social side of the network. And he missed the ways in which that capability would, he wrote in an email later, “impact every aspect of our society.”
A few years ago, as hacking and spam and other undesirable uses of the internet proliferated, he said he often told people that the internet was in its disobedient teenage years, that it would grow out of its immature period.
That hasn’t happened.
“What’s happened is, it’s now more mature and what’s going on?” he said. “We have nation states putting boundaries around their national networks. We have organized crime, pilfering, money laundering and we have extremists shouting things on a network.”
And if everyone’s talking at an equal level, he said, it’s natural that extreme ideas would command the most audience.
Mr. Kleinrock said he blames two things. One, he said he and the internet’s early builders could have headed off if they’d anticipated the need for it: Strong user authentication, as well as strong file verification.
That wasn’t something researchers built in because at the time, he said, they were trying to encourage wider adoption of the network so they could continue their research — not build barriers.
The second, in retrospect, may have been more inevitable: the commercialization of the internet.
He said that in 1994, the first piece of spam reached the network: A pair of lawyers sent a message offering their services in winning a green card lottery.
“They were advertising their services on our research network — how dare they?” Mr. Kleinrock recalled. “So we sent the email back to them and said, ‘Stop, shame on you.’”
But it was too late. Mr. Kleinrock likened it to a kind of fall from grace.
“We didn’t see the dark side emerging because of our culture, which was a bunch of good people working together,” he said. “We didn’t imagine we would reach a point where there would be a profit motive — we didn’t take out any patents, we didn’t try to own the I.P.
“This was an engineering challenge.”
Still, he said, not everything is bad.
He still marvels at the fact that, at one point, his 99-year-old grandmother and his granddaughter could be on the internet at the same time. And they’d be able to use it to talk to each other.
And he said that, at least in terms of privacy and security, it’s possible to make the internet better.
“The citizenry has to get involved, the government has a role,” Mr. Kleinrock said. “And the scientists have a role.”