New­som wants to in­crease spend­ing on fire safety

Merced Sun-Star - - Front Page - BY DALE KASLER [email protected]

Gov. Gavin New­som called for $105 mil­lion in in­creased wild­fire safety fund­ing Tues­day, say­ing the state needs to make preven­tion a higher pri­or­ity in the wake of the dev­as­tat­ing Camp Fire and the wine coun­try fires of

2017.

Ap­pear­ing on his first full day in of­fice at a Cal Fire sta­tion a few miles from the Ta­hoe Na­tional For­est, New­som said the new fund­ing would come on top of $200 mil­lion al­ready ear­marked for forestry man­age­ment by the Leg­is­la­ture last fall, bring­ing the to­tal to $305 mil­lion in new spend­ing.

New­som, flanked by Cal Fire em­ploy­ees and emer­gency ser­vices of­fi­cials, said he’ll ask the Leg­is­la­ture for funds to cover a wide va­ri­ety of fire safety needs. He wants more he­li­copters, about 100 re­mote in­frared cam­eras that can help de­tect fires, bet­ter alert sys­tems and new tech­nolo­gies for tap­ping satel­lite images.

He also wants fund­ing for men­tal health ser­vices for first re­spon­ders, and money to hire more Cal Fire fire­fight­ers.

“Broad strokes, we are step­ping up our game. I hear you, I get it, we have to do more,” New­som said.

He gen­tly scolded Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion for re­duc­ing fed­eral fire-safety bud­gets by $2 bil­lion but also reached out to Trump.

New­som co-signed a let­ter, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Ore­gon Gov. Kate Brown, ap­peal­ing to Trump to work with the states on for­est man­age­ment. He said he wants the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments to co­op­er­ate “rather than talk­ing past each other, talk­ing down to each other.”

New­som also de­fended

Trump’s much ridiculed state­ment, made dur­ing the Camp Fire dev­as­ta­tion in Par­adise in Novem­ber, in which the pres­i­dent praised Fin­land for rak­ing up its forests to re­duce fire risks. “I think what he was talk­ing about was de­fen­si­ble spa­ces,” New­som said, re­fer­ring to the prac­tice of cleaning up brush around homes and other build­ings.

Trump has blamed Cal­i­for­nia for its wild­fires, say­ing the state hadn’t done enough to clean up its forests — ig­nor­ing the fact that about 60 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s forests are on fed­eral lands. The pres­i­dent struck a more con­cil­ia­tory tone while vis­it­ing Par­adise, promis­ing to work with New­som.

State and fed­eral of­fi­cials broadly agree that forests must be man­aged more ag­gres­sively, although some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists warn that wild­fires are be­ing used as an ex­cuse to clear cut forests.

As part of his ini­tia­tive, New­som said he wants to spend $10 mil­lion this year and $50 mil­lion next year on over­haul­ing the state’s 911 sys­tem, but even­tu­ally wants the ex­penses to be cov­ered by Cal­i­for­ni­ans through a fee on their monthly phone bills. He said the fee, which would re­quire a two-thirds vote of the Leg­is­la­ture, would be “rel­a­tively mod­est” and he thinks would gain sup­port from both par­ties.

“This one crosses Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike,” he said. A 911 fee was pro­posed in the Leg­is­la­ture last year but went nowhere.

New­som de­clined to speak about the im­pli­ca­tions of PG&E fil­ing for bank­ruptcy, which util­ity CEO Geisha Wil­liams first raised last sum­mer and has taken on greater ur­gency as the po­ten­tial li­a­bil­i­ties from the Camp Fire climb into the bil­lions.

“I’m very sen­si­tive to things gov­er­nors say, par­tic­u­larly as it re­lates to the mar­kets,” he said.

New­som is ex­pected to re­lease his first state bud­get pro­posal Thurs­day.

PAUL KITAGAKI JR. pkita­[email protected]

Gen. David Bald­win, CalFire Chief Thom Porter and OES Di­rec­tor Mark Ghi­lar­ducci lis­ten to Gov. Gavin New­som an­nounce plans to im­prove fire safety dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Col­fax Cal Fire Sta­tion on Tues­day.

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