SACRAMENTO—Today, after an intense period of discussion, debate and negotiation, the Conference Committee passed its report responding to the many issues posed by the recent devastating wildfires. “We’ve lost 58 people to wildfires in the past two years and thousands of homes,” said Wood. “This is not a situation where we can celebrate a win. Lives were lost and homes were destroyed. These wildfires were a wake-up call that demanded our full commitment and attention to protect the victims and minimize the impact future fires can and will have on our communities.”
The report protects fire victims, supports firefighters, obtains significant funding for vegetation management and provides a process for future fires that balances the need to stabilize the utility market while at the same time forcing the utilities to “harden” their infrastructure to new standards, develop wildfire prevention and response plans, and double the fines if they do not comply.
Along with the Republican Assembly Leader Brian Dahle, Wood fought hard for the budget allocations needed to fund long-term vegetation management and funding to support firefighters. This report specifically allocates $1 billion for vegetation management over a period of 5 years – a significant improvement from the year-after-year battles that have been fought previously. Some of these funds will go to local governments and to assist private landowners to better manage vegetation. In addition, this report allocates funding for “pre-positioning,” a process by which firefighters can better anticipate where fires may break out, allowing them to align their equipment and personnel to fight and contain the fires sooner.
Proper wildland management includes thinning forests and removing dead trees, but maintaining a canopy of live, old-growth trees that have proven resistant to fire and disease is equally important. “Better vegetation management doesn’t mean simply clear-cutting forests. I’m proud of my environmental credentials and I will continue to protect our wildlands,” said Wood.
To address the issue of utility liability, this report provides a framework for the PUC to determine, for future wildfires, whether a utility has acted reasonably and has done all it can to prevent wildfires in this “new normal.”
The principle of “inverse condemnation” was not changed ensuring that victims are protected. For the wildfires that occurred before this year, this report requires that, where utilities are found responsible, they submit to stress tests that will protect ratepayers and victims from lengthy legal battles by ensuring that utility company shareholders pay the maximum amount possible while ensuring that utilities remain solvent.
“This report now becomes amendments to SB 901 and the bill will be voted on by both houses this Friday,” said Wood. “I believe that I accomplished what I intended which was making sure that the committee put people first and made prevention a priority.”
Since 2014, Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) has represented the 2nd Assembly District, which includes all of Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, plus northern and coastal Sonoma County, including the northern half of Santa Rosa.