Community

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Rain to Cause Rising Rivers; Localized Flooding, Slides Possible

Posted By on Thu, Oct 21, 2021 at 5:22 AM

rain_rivers.jpg
One storm down and three more to go.

 Humboldt County is expected to be rainy through the weekend with the heaviest of the events arriving on Sunday, according to the Eureka office of the National Weather Service.

There is also a wind advisory for today, with southerly wind gusts up to 45 to 55 mph expected one mountain passes and coastal headlands, which the NWS cautions could  make driving difficult, especially for high profile vehicles.

All the incoming rain will mean rising rivers.

“Several rounds of heavy rain will cause rivers across northwest California to rise anywhere from 1 foot to 5 feet during Friday, the NWS states. “Secure any objects that might be swept downstream by rising river waters.”

The next storm is expected to hit today, with the heaviest rain coming at night before tapering off during Friday until another hits that night and continue into Saturday.

“The wettest storm is expected to arrive on Sunday, with heavy rain and possible strong winds into Sunday night,” the NWS reports. “Localized flooding and rock and/or mud slides will be possible as we head into the latter portion of the weekend and early next week.”

For details on your location visit www.weather.gov/eka.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Newsom Declares Drought Emergency Across California

Posted By on Wed, Oct 20, 2021 at 9:44 AM

A U.S. Department of Agriculture field manager walks along the parched ground in a pomegranate orchard at Wolfskill Experimental Orchards near Davis. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
  • A U.S. Department of Agriculture field manager walks along the parched ground in a pomegranate orchard at Wolfskill Experimental Orchards near Davis.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California, as conservation efforts continue to fall far short of state targets.

Newsom also authorized California’s water regulators to ban wasteful water use, such as spraying down public sidewalks, and directed his Office of Emergency Services to fund drinking water as needed. But he stopped short of issuing any statewide conservation mandates.

“As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it’s critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible,” Newsom said in a statement.

The announcement extends drought emergencies, already declared in 50 counties, to the eight remaining counties where conditions had thus far not been deemed severe enough: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, San Francisco and Ventura.

The emergency declarations are aimed at easing responses to the deepening drought — such as emergency bottled water purchases or construction to bolster water supplies — by reducing environmental and other regulations. Under the proclamation, local water suppliers must begin preparing for the possibility of a dry year ahead.

“We think we’ll be able to manage through this year,” said David Pettijohn, director of water resources at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Next year is the issue. And we don’t know what the water year is going to look like. Nobody can predict the weather.”

But California’s water watchers say that without a conservation mandate, California is losing time, and water. “We know mandates are more effective than voluntary calls,” said Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. “It takes time to ramp up, and because of the delay in asking Californians to save water this spring, we are further behind than we should be.”

Conservation improving, but still short of goals

New data released today by the State Water Resources Control Board reveals that Californians cut their water use at home by 5 percent in August compared to August 2020, an improvement over the reductions of less than 2 percent in July but still far short of the voluntary 15 percent cuts Newsom urged in July.

The hard-hit North Coast, where the state’s first drought emergencies were declared in April, continued to show the biggest drops in household water use — with an 18.3 percent decrease compared to August of last year. Conservation numbers tapered off moving south, with the San Francisco Bay Area conserving nearly 10 percent more water than last August.

The South Coast region — which includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura counties — showed an improvement over July, when water use was roughly even with last year. In August, residents used about 3.1 percent less water than they did in August 2020.

“Those numbers are a little bit misleading, frankly,” said Pettijohn, pointing to existing conservation measures including mandatory outdoor watering restrictions. “Looking at one month, in one year, compared to the same exact month in the current year, it’s really not a true measure of what the efforts in the city have been.”

The current reductions in water use are on top of conservation that has continued since the last drought. In 2020, Californians were already using about 16% less water in their homes and businesses statewide compared to 2013, according to water board data analyst Marielle Pinheiro.

This August was both the hottest and driest on record, according to the governor’s office. And the increased conservation, even during an exceptionally dry month, “is especially significant,” Pinheiro said at the water board meeting today.

“Once you’ve learned to save water, why turn the water on when you’re brushing your teeth?” said former water board chairperson Felicia Marcus, who led the response during the last drought under former Gov. Jerry Brown. “The glass half full view of that is that messaging is starting to take hold.”

Still, Newsha Ajami, director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford University, was surprised that Newsom didn’t declare a statewide water conservation mandate today.

“We really need to reduce per capita water use significantly in some areas of the state,” she said. “If this drought lingers longer and we end up having a few more dry years we are going to have a lot more communities experiencing water scarcity and water access issues.”

An unknown water year ahead

Newsom’s announcement comes at a pivotal moment for California’s water.

The state just closed out its second-driest water year on record, with nearly 88 percent of California now in the clutches of extreme drought, or worse. By the end of September, statewide reservoir storage had hit 60 percent of average, with Lake Oroville setting a new record low.

“It’s amazing that in the second dry year, we’re in as scary a position if not scarier than what we faced in that last drought. It’s almost beyond comprehension,” Marcus said. “It’s a stunning challenge.”

State officials have warned water providers south of the Delta relying on state water allocations that they might be cut off completely next year.

“We’re starting with record low (reservoir) storage,” Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources, said last month. “We would have to have north of 140 percent of (average) precipitation to generate average runoff into the reservoirs that would begin filling that hole.”

“It’s amazing that in the second dry year, we’re in as scary a position if not scarier than what we faced in that last drought. It’s almost beyond comprehension.”

Felicia Marcus, former chairperson, State Water Resources Control Board

Now, California is on the cusp of its rainy season, from November to April, when it receives almost all of its yearly precipitation.

A series of storms are expected to reach Northern California this week, with another that could unleash some rain over Southern California as soon as this weekend, according to Chad Hecht, a meteorology staff researcher with the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Precipitation forecasts range from eight inches in the Sierras over the next seven days, to less than half an inch in Southern California, said Julie Kalansky, the center’s deputy director.

While the rain is unlikely to substantially refill empty reservoirs, it could help prepare thirsty soils for more rains to come.

For these storms, “the runoff from them may not be very high, but they’ll help moisten the soils. So if we get more, hopefully you get more runoff that you know can go into reservoirs or streams and ecosystems,” Kalansky said.

But the water year ahead remains murky: Cooler than average temperatures in the tropical Pacific herald the arrival of La Niña conditions, which the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center reports have an 87 percent chance of continuing between December and February.

La Niña can stir up storm tracks, changing how much precipitation falls on California. But the results vary — especially for Northern California — making it difficult to predict what this means for rain and snowfall in the northern two-thirds of the state, Kalansky said.

For Southern California, on the other hand, La Niña tends to foretell a drier year. “It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily going to have a really dry year, but we typically don’t get really wet years when it’s a La Niña,” she said.

Overall, Kalansky said, “it’s still yet to be decided on whether or not this year is going to be wet or dry and what this means for drought. We just don’t have those answers yet.”

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Two Storms Heading This Way

Posted By on Tue, Oct 19, 2021 at 10:05 AM

weatherstory1_8_.png
Another round of rain is headed this way, with the first in a one-two punch of storms expected to hit this evening, followed by a stronger front later in the week.

The heaviest showers are forecast to hit over night in both cases, with most areas in the region seeing a half inch to 1 inch of rain from storm No. 1 while the second will bring around 1 inch to 1.5 inches, although areas around Garberville could see double that amount, according to the Eureka office of the National Weather Service.

A wind advisory is slated to go into effect at 5 p.m. today, running until 2 a.m. Wednesday, for the Del Norte County coast and interior as well as Humboldt County. The winds from the southeast are expected to hit 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph expected.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Here Comes the Rain ... and Snow

Posted By on Sun, Oct 17, 2021 at 11:07 AM

weatherstory_rain_snow.png
A cold front is ushering in a taste of winter this afternoon, with moderate rainfall possible and even snow at higher elevations, according to the Eureka office of the National Weather Service.

The rest of the week is also expected to be wet.

Highs for today are forecast to be 10 to 20 degrees cooler than Saturday and 1 to 3 inches of snow is expected this eventing above 4,500 to 5,000 feet. There is, according to the NWS, a "30 percent chance for 2 inches of snow around Scott Mountain Pass on (State Route) 3 this evening."
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Friday, October 15, 2021

Hospitals Brace for Strikes as California Workers Protest Staff Shortages

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2021 at 3:43 PM

Hospital staffers and union organizers waved signs and banners in protest over staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021. - PHOTO BY FRED GREAVES FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters
  • Hospital staffers and union organizers waved signs and banners in protest over staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021.

As weary health care workers across California enter the 19th month of the pandemic, thousands are walking off the job and onto the picket line, demanding more staffing.

The strikes and rallies threaten to cripple hospital operations that have been inundated by the COVID-19 Delta surge as well as patients seeking long-delayed care.

More than two dozen hospitals across the state — including some Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health facilities and USC Keck Medicine — have experienced strikes by engineers, janitorial staff, respiratory therapists, nurses, midwives, physical therapists and technicians over the past four months.

This week, nearly a third of all California hospitals reported “critical staffing shortages” to the federal government, with more predicting shortages in the coming week. Hospitals are unable to meet the state’s required staff-to-patient ratios for nurses or schedule adequate numbers of other critical personnel.

In the Central Valley, the region hit hardest by the Delta surge, National Guard medics have been deployed since September to assist area hospitals.

The reason for the shortages? Record patient volumes at the same time that many workers have been driven away from the bedside by burnout, early retirement and the seemingly unending stress of the pandemic.

Flourish logoA Flourish chart

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West estimates that about 10 percent of its members — close to 10,000 people — have retired, left the profession, or taken extended leaves of absence during the pandemic.

“What’s really important is that 10 percent doesn’t turn into 15 percent, does not turn into 20 percent. There’s not enough temporary staff out there to fix what’s going on,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW.

The shortages are an untenable scenario, unions say — one that has persisted for many years brought to a boiling point by the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, union grievances with hospitals are increasingly about inadequate staffing, although bargaining over pay remains a key issue.

Money matters when it comes to holding onto workers, they say, especially because temporary staff brought on for pandemic response often make more than regular employees. In some instances, traveling nurses have been paid $10,000 per week at California hospitals with severe staffing needs.

“You’re paying exorbitant amounts for travelers while the existing workforce makes exactly the same amount (as before the pandemic),” Regan said.

Striking to “stop the bleeding”

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced efforts to expand the health care workforce through a volunteer health corps. Although tens of thousands signed up, most people didn’t have the necessary medical skills, and only 14 volunteers worked out.

The California Department of Public Health also signed a $500 million contract to help hospitals pay for emergency health care workers like traveling nurses. That contract expired in June.

Unions say those efforts are a Band-aid on a larger problem. Instead, they say policymakers should get hospitals to try harder to retain their current employees.

“Right now, hospitals, the health industry, the state of California, you need to do a lot more so that it doesn’t get worse,” Regan said. “We’re doing very little as a state to support this workforce that has been under a really unique set of pressures.”

In an early attempt to stop the churn, SEIU-UHW sponsored a bill that would have provided hazard pay retention bonuses to health workers. Opposed by the hospital association. the bill died after a third reading in the Assembly and did not make it to the Senate.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance who introduced the bill, said the hospitals’ claims that they couldn’t afford hazard pay were unfounded since they received billions in federal pandemic funds, some “specifically earmarked for hazard pay and bonuses for frontline workers.”

“The state made a decision that they were not going to provide financial incentives to recognize and retain healthcare workers, and we think that’s shortsighted,” Regan said.

Over the summer, hundreds of nurses at hospitals, including USC’s Keck Medicine, San Francisco’s Chinese Hospital and Riverside Community Hospital, staged strikes over inadequate staffing and safety concerns.

Now more than 700 hospital engineers employed by Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California have been striking for four weeks, demanding higher wages.

In Antioch, more than 350 workers at Sutter Delta ended a week-long strike over inadequate staffing Friday but have yet to reach a contract agreement with their employer.

In the Victor Valley and Roseville, hundreds of workers staged recent rallies and vigils to highlight what they’re calling a “worker crisis.” Advocates say their upcoming schedules are packed with pickets planned in solidarity with other unions.

“We’re doing very little as a state to support this workforce that has been under a really unique set of pressures.”

Dave Regan, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West

And perhaps the strongest flexing of union muscle has come in Southern California, where members of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, or UNAC/UHCP, voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike against Kaiser Permanente if negotiations remain at a standstill. Should a strike materialize in the coming weeks, more than 24,000 members would walk out of the health care giant’s medical centers and clinics in more than a dozen cities.

Although the dollars and cents of bargaining vary from union to union, the common thread is clear: They want employers to “stop the bleeding” of health care workers fleeing the profession and invest more in recruiting and retaining staff.

The union found 72 percent of its members — which includes nurses, occupational and physical therapists, midwives and other medical staff — were struggling with anxiety and burnout, and between 42 to 45 percent reported depression and insomnia. About 74 percent said staffing was a primary concern.

How hospitals are responding to shortages

Hospitals say it is not as easy as hiring more employees. With so many people leaving the workforce, there aren’t enough candidates to fill the gap. Even support staff like janitors, cafeteria workers, clerks and assistants are in short supply.

“There is no question there is a shortage of health care workforce. We have far fewer people in the workforce today than we did when the pandemic started,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association.

Many hospitals have offered employees shift bonuses, child care subsidies and temporary housing to keep them from spreading the virus to family members while keeping them at patients’ bedside. But it hasn’t been enough.

“I don’t know that it’s anybody’s first choice, but we are in a situation where we have to rely on the travelers (traveling nurses),” Emerson-Shea said. “Hospitals would much rather have their permanent staff, but in this situation, with as long as it has been and the workforce dynamics so complex, we need both.”

“We have far fewer people in the workforce today than we did when the pandemic started.”

Jan Emerson-Shea, California Hospital Association

The state hospital association has asked state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly to assist hospitals with workforce concerns in part by reinstating funding for traveling workers and making it easier for hospitals to get exemptions from the state’s strict nurse-to-patient ratios. In a written response, Ghaly said the state would continue helping designated surge hospitals pay for extra staff and was working to expedite nursing ratio waivers for heavily impacted regions.

“There’s no resolution yet, but the conversations are occurring, which is important because we are not through the pandemic,” Emerson-Shea said.

Like many industries, hospitals rely on historic averages to predict the need for employees. The average number of patients in a given time period determines how many employees will be scheduled each day. The problem, workers say, is that using the average means frequently they are working with minimal staff.

“There needs to be a massive paradigm shift of how hospitals treat clinicians, and that’s less just-in-time staffing and less just-in-time supplies,” said Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice at the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United.

Sibilia Espinoza, a registered nurse, stands in the ICU of Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center wearing full protective equipment. Her union, UNAC/UHCP, voted overwhelmingly to strike in part because of staffing conditions during the pandemic.

Peter Sidhu, a former intensive care nurse at the Kaiser Woodland Hills Medical Center, said the union has filed staffing grievances each year for the past seven years. During the pandemic, the strain has gotten worse. Woodland Hills Medical Center is one of the facilities that may be affected by a strike.

“Between the first surge and second surge, we had several months where there was zero planning. There were no new grad programs, there was no new hiring,” Sidhu said.

“So going into that second surge, which was really bad here in California, we knew we were in trouble,” Sidhu said. With adequate staffing prior to the pandemic and efforts to increase staff levels in between surges, workers would not have burned out so rapidly, he contends.

Bargaining over salaries and benefits between Kaiser and Alliance of Health Care Unions, which includes the Southern California group UNAC/UHCP, stalled at the end of September after five months. The strike authorization is the first of its kind for UNAC/UHCP in the past 26 years, and members say long-standing staffing issues and burnout contributed to employee dissatisfaction.

“The vote to authorize a strike by union members is disappointing, especially because our members and communities are continuing to face the challenges of the ongoing pandemic,” Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser’s senior vice president of human resources, said in a statement. “In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.”

‘Burnout can only be getting worse’

In a recent study by the UC San Francisco Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care, the number of nurses aged 55 to 64 planning on quitting or retiring in the next two years jumped nearly 14 percent between 2018 and 2020, setting up the field for a five-year shortage.

Joanne Spetz, the center’s associate director of research and lead study author, said new graduates before the pandemic sometimes struggled to find employment while employers frequently complained about not being able to find enough experienced nurses to hire. But the overall number of nurses in the workforce was enough then.

Now, with nurses reducing their hours or quitting, the state is in a more tenuous position. About 7% fewer nurses reported working full-time in 2020 compared to 2018, and sharp declines in employment were seen among nurses 55 years and older, according to the study.

“We’re looking at having a shortage in the short term,” she said. “The wild card is, with the pandemic lasting this long, burnout can only be getting worse. What if we have a bunch of 30 to 35 year-old nurses who say ‘screw this,’ then we’re losing a lot of years of working life from these nurses.”

“One day you walk in and your unit is full, and two days later you walk in and a large portion of those patients have passed away.”

Peter Sidhu, former intensive care nurse

Sidhu is one of those experienced nurses who found himself reeling from the dual forces of COVID-19’s brutal emotional toll and short staffing.

He had volunteered to work with the first COVID-19 patient that arrived at his ICU in March 2020. That first patient quickly turned into dozens each day, with many dying.

“One day you walk in and your unit is full, and two days later you walk in and a large portion of those patients have passed away. You’re double-stacking body bags,” Sidhu said.

He struggled with anxiety, anger and insomnia before his shifts, knowing there would be more patients than nurses could care for, and that they would have no time for breaks. He said he was told that under the state’s temporary emergency waiver of nurse-to-patient ratios he would have to take on more patients.

A year into the pandemic, Sidhu called it quits and now works as the union’s treasurer. Of the eight members in his original ICU nursing team, only two remain working, he said.

“I’m 42, and I was planning on working at the bedside until I turn 60,” Sidhu said. “And then after COVID, I said ‘I am done.’ I was super-done.”

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Humboldt Residents Could See a Change in Representation Under Draft Redistricting Maps

Posted By on Thu, Oct 14, 2021 at 4:02 PM

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • wikimedia commons
Humboldt County residents’ representation on the board of supervisors, in Congress and in the state Legislature is on the line as two commissions look at redrawing boundaries of those districts.

The process happens ever 10 years after the federal government publishes census data to ensure the populations of the districts are evenly distributed.

The last go-around on the Congressional side placed Humboldt out of longtime Representative Mike Thompson’s turf and Jared Huffman, then a termed-out member of the state Assembly, easily won the election for the redrawn Second District, which includes Humboldt, Mendocino and Marin counties, which he has represented to date.

Now the California Citizens Redistricting Committee is once again looking at shaking things up when it comes to who speaks for Humboldt on the state and federal levels.

At its meeting tomorrow, the commission is slated to discuss and review boundary opinions, some of which move the county out of Huffman’s district, as well as those of state Sen. Mike McGuire and state Assemblymember Jim Wood by connecting Humboldt with counties to its east rather than those south along the coast.

View tomorrow’s agenda — the meeting runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. — the proposals and find feedback forms here.

Meanwhile, the county's Redistricting Advisory Commission is doing to same type of work, in this case looking at where the boundaries for the five supervisorial districts will fall.

It also has a meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. to look at making recommendations for the final-round of draft maps. Find the meeting agenda here and more info on draft maps and how to give feedback here
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

How Much Do Wildfires Really Cost California’s Economy?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 2021 at 9:31 AM

Cook Martha Garcia preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. - SALGU WISSMATH FOR CALMATTERS
  • Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters
  • Cook Martha Garcia preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation.
Not a single structure burned down in the city of South Lake Tahoe. And yet, the threat of the fast approaching Caldor Fire cost surrounding El Dorado County tens of millions of dollars, if not more.

In South Lake Tahoe, Domi ​​Chavarria, co-owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, felt the devastation of the Caldor Fire even before the city was evacuated in August. Smoke had blanketed the city, and the tourists had mostly left. When the evacuation orders came down, Verde was stocked with food, almost all of which went bad during the more than two weeks the restaurant ultimately remained closed. Produce wilted; proteins went bad; prepared sauces couldn’t be used.

“All that stuff, none of that’s made to last weeks — it’s all made the last days,” says Chavarria. He estimates the lost inventory was worth between $10,000 and $13,000. None of it was covered by his insurance.

Losses like Chavarria’s add up — to at least $50.3 million in lost economic activity for El Dorado County, according to an initial estimate shared with CalMatters.

Food inventory from the Verde Mexican Rotisserie restaurant had to be discarded after a 2 week evacuation order due to the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. Photo courtesy of Domi Chavarria.
Food inventory from the Verde Mexican Rotisserie restaurant had to be discarded after a two-week evacuation order due to the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe. Photo courtesy of Domi Chavarria.

Knowing the true cost of wildfires could spur more ambitious action from both government and the private sector, experts say. For instance, tracking the costs systematically over several years could help policymakers figure out which fire prevention and mitigation strategies are most cost effective.

But right now, California has an incomplete understanding of how much wildfires cost the state each year.

The costs of business disruption, the cost of damage to uninsured homes, the cost of ecosystem damage, and the cost of secondary health impacts — such as those caused by wildfire smoke — aren’t being tracked.

Right now, we don’t have a comprehensive picture of the economic harm wildfires cause each year, according to Teresa Feo, senior science officer at the California Council on Science and Technology and lead author of a 2020 report from the council on the cost of wildfires in California.

“There isn’t a statewide systematic tracking effort to figure out these costs,” says Feo. She said it took only about a month of digging into the question to realize: ”Oh no, you can’t come up with a number, this is actually impossible with the existing data.”

The state does not track or estimate the cost of wildfires in a way that accounts for public health costs or ecological damage on a regular basis, confirmed Heather Williams, communications director for California Natural Resources Agency. “Those would always be a moving target since health impacts can occur years later. But with more research being funded, this may be more feasible to help the state better understand the economic and ecological impacts so we can continue to make science-based informed policy decisions,” Williams wrote in an email.

The different costs of wildfires

The initial analysis of the Caldor Fire’s economic impact was prepared by Tom Harris, an economist at the University of Nevada, Reno, for the Tahoe Prosperity Center, an economic development organization for the Lake Tahoe Basin. It estimates the combined losses of El Dorado and Nevada’s Douglas County at $93 million. And, says Harris, that preliminary estimate is low: It doesn’t include the losses in sectors like rental homes or recreation businesses. Nor does it include the lost economic activity caused by residents evacuating, and it doesn’t take into account the healthcare costs associated with wildfire smoke exposure.

Some costs are more immediate — the cost of Chavarria’s rotted food, for instance, and the fact that the fire took place over Labor Day weekend.

Domi Chavarria poses for a portrait at his restaurant Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters
Domi Chavarria poses for a portrait at his restaurant Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters

“That’s not a slow weekend in Tahoe,” says Chavarria. Tourism is about 63 percent of the Tahoe basin’s economy, according to a 2018 report from Tahoe Prosperity Center.

Between the slowdown in business due to smoke and the evacuation, Verde lost several weeks of revenue. Chavarria says that a month of sales for the restaurant is more than $100,000. Verde’s employees also went without paychecks for the two weeks the restaurant was shut down.

Nicole Smith, co-founder and taproom manager of South Lake Brewing Company, said her business fared better than many, partially because none of the beer went bad. But between the loss of sales in the company’s own taproom and the beer it sells to other local businesses, the brewery lost somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 of revenue during the evacuation, estimates Smith.

In addition to lost business, some figures are easier to pin down, like the amount Cal Fire spends on fire suppression.

But the state, for example, does not systematically track deaths and health conditions linked to wildfire smoke exposure. The costs associated with smoke may be the largest costs we’re missing, says Feo. One study produced by public health department researchers and academics tracked the use of Medi-Cal services during San Diego’s 2007 fall fire season. It found that during the peak fire period, emergency room visits for respiratory conditions increased by 34 percent and visits for asthma increased by 113 percent. Especially concerning was a 136 percent increase in ER visits for children four and younger for asthma. That finding, the authors wrote, “is cause for particular concern because of the potential for long-term harm to children’s lung development.”

A systematic effort to track wildfire smoke effects would be especially profound, says Feo, because it reaches so far beyond the location of the fire. In 2018, for example, smoke from the Camp Fire clogged San Francisco, a city more than a 100 miles away. If you can put figures on the impact of smoke across the whole state, “who’s impacted by the fire suddenly changes very dramatically, and therefore who benefits from the prevention and mitigation changes,” she said.

Different approaches to wildfire data

The current approach to assessing the aftermath of wildfires is a hodgepodge of research looking into different aspects that is not led by any one agency.

A smattering of data collection efforts includes:

  • The California Air Resources Board is funding a study of the health impact of wildfire smoke statewide for 2017, 2018 and 2020, which will be ready in three or four years;
  • The board is also funding a study of lost work days due to wildfire smoke, which will be ready in a couple of years;
  • Cal Fire is also increasing funding for research into forest health;
  • The Department of Insurance tabulates the damage to insured homes for some major wildfires, but does not track damage from all wildfires each year;
  • And a variety of academic studies.

Academic research on the cost of wildfires tends to come out several years later, and different studies focus on different fires using different methodologies. That makes it difficult to compare the findings, or track the costs over time.

These studies are also conducted based on the interests of the particular researcher, says Louise Comfort, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a faculty affiliate at UC Berkeley’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society Policy Lab. “That doesn’t give us a comprehensive view,” Comfort says. She credits an UC-system wide effort to study the impacts of wildfires as a step in the right direction, but says the results are still not coming in in a standardized way.

The state may be in the best position to lead the effort on tracking the economic impact of wildfires. “The only thing that would give us a comprehensive view is if the state really said, ‘We want this kind of information,” says Comfort. But the state agencies shouldn’t go it alone, she says, they should engage experts in the university system.

Cook Isaura Martinez preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters
Cook Isaura Martinez preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters

Without statewide, systematically published numbers, it’s more difficult to compare how different regions are suffering from wildfires, or to assess the cost effectiveness of different wildfire prevention strategies. And it may be more challenging to justify spending on expensive, but nonetheless cost-effective, mitigation or prevention programs.

That’s a question that comes up when talking about spending taxpayer dollars, Feo said.

While wildfire costs aren’t tracked, there are some academic studies that attempt to estimate those costs and produce mind boggling figures. In 2020, for example, a team of researchers studied the nationwide impact of California’s 2018 wildfire season, and estimated that its economic damage totaled $148.5 billion.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability, captured direct capital costs, such as buildings burning down; health costs, including those related to air pollution exposure; and indirect losses such as the economic disruption of lost hours working, as well as disruption to regional and national supply chains.

The costs identified in that study exceed that of any disaster in the U.S. between the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, other than Hurricane Katrina, says Adam Rose, a research professor at University of Southern California and an expert in energy and environmental economics.

Rose said that a standardized methodology for assessing the total cost of wildfires should be established and applied on a regular basis — and it needs to be one that can be implemented relatively rapidly, as opposed to several years after a fire. That would allow a whole field of researchers to help track these costs, and would make their findings comparable. In addition to helping make the political case for government-led fire-prevention efforts, those numbers might spur private sector action on fire prevention efforts.

But not all experts said that measuring the costs associated with each wildfire season is important. William Siembieda, a professor emeritus at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and senior member of a Cal Poly team that prepared several of the state’s annual hazard mitigation plans, says he doesn’t know how policymakers would make use of those numbers.

What would be useful, Siembieda says, is for cities to model the economic impact of different levels of fire damage. What would be the cost if 5 percent of the city burned? What if 10 percent or 20 percent burned?

With those estimates, local officials could decide whether they’re prepared to eat that loss, insure against the risk, or pursue other strategies.

What’s next for victims?

For a couple weeks now, South Lake Tahoe residents and business owners have been reopening their restaurants, shops, and adventure outfits, taking stock of what happened. When Lisa Schafer, co-owner of Wildwood Makers Market, returned to the city and drove to her shop for the first time, she felt waves of different emotions. There was the fear she’d been holding on to — that her hometown, her house, and her business would all burn to a crisp. There was the gratitude she felt for the fact that they had all been spared.

“I cried the whole drive,” she said.

Her shop, which sells jewelry, wall decor, embroidery kits and other gifts, smelled smoky for her first few days back. It wasn’t a pleasant campfire smell; “it smelled like beef jerky.”

Business didn’t return to normal immediately; tourists didn’t rush back to the area. All told, Shafer lost about 60 percent of sales in September. Her insurance won’t cover that loss of business.

It’s clear, she says, that these fires are not going away. She said she wishes there were some sort of automatic aid for businesses and individuals impacted by the fire.

Ultimately, Wildwood Makers Market will bounce back from loss of business, Schafer said. But if something happens in the winter that disrupts the holiday shopping season, that could be “catastrophic,” she says. “One more hit would not be good for us.”

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

770 New Laws Coming to California

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2021 at 2:27 PM

You’d be forgiven for not knowing Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the largest expansion of California’s college financial aid system in a generation — he did so during the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants’ first playoff game Friday night.

Hours later, it was all over: Newsom signed his final bills on Saturday, a day ahead of the Oct. 10 deadline to act on the 836 proposals state lawmakers sent to his desk. Of those, he signed 770 (92 percent) and vetoed 66 (7.9 percent), according to Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli.

Here’s a look at the significant new laws coming to the Golden State — as well as ideas Newsom prevented from becoming law.

Signed into law:

Vetoed:

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, October 11, 2021

Public Health Confirms Three Hospitalizations and 99 New Cases

Posted By on Mon, Oct 11, 2021 at 4:08 PM

Humboldt County Public Health reported 99 new COVID-19 cases with three new hospitalizations, including one person in their 60s and two people in their 70s.

The new cases come after laboratories processed 581 samples with a test-positivity rate of 13.01 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September, far outpacing state (2.5 percent) and national (6.3 percent) rates.

A state database shows 21 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

Public Health offered new data Friday on so-called breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated individuals, noting that one of the five deaths and two of the 14 hospitalizations recorded over the previous week were in fully vaccinated people.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ethnic Studies Becomes Graduation Requirement for California Students

Posted By on Mon, Oct 11, 2021 at 5:06 AM

Students at Piner High School in Santa Rosa listen to their instructor on the first day of AP European History on August 14, 2019. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
  • Students at Piner High School in Santa Rosa listen to their instructor on the first day of AP European History on August 14, 2019.
After a years-long battle reignited in recent months by controversies over misunderstandings of critical race theory, California students will soon be required to take ethnic studies to graduate high school.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 101 into law on Friday afternoon, requiring California high school students to take ethnic studies to graduate, starting with the class of 2030. Educators and recent studies attest to the benefits of students learning the histories and cultures of marginalized communities, but a few parents still worry the requirement could create more tensions between students.

“The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue,” said Assemblymember Jose Medina, a Democrat from Riverside who authored AB 101. “Students cannot have a full understanding of the history of our state and nation without the inclusion of the contributions and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans.”

Last year, Newsom vetoed a similar bill, also authored by Medina, citing the need for revision in the model curriculum.

The previous versions of the curriculum were widely criticized for being anti-semitic, too politically correct and filled with jargon. It used terms like “cisheteropatriarchy” and “hxrstory,” while describing capitalism as a system that exploits native people and other communities of color.

But the newest version of the model curriculum, approved by the State Board of Education in March, has garnered support from some of those who opposed the initial drafts. Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, the vice-chair of the Legislative Jewish Caucus, was one of the legislators won over by the changes.

“The curriculum would not be teaching anti-semitism or any form of hate,” he said before the Senate’s floor vote on Sept. 9. “The final adopted version was a dramatic improvement and something that we have all rallied around and defended.”

The latest version of the curriculum contains more neutral descriptions of capitalism, and addressed various concerns from the Jewish Caucus.

Thirty-three sample lessons are organized into broader subsections of “General Ethnic Studies,” “African American Studies,” “Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x Studies,” “Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies” and “Native American Studies.” Lessons on antisemitism, Jewish American identity, Arab American Studies and Armenian migration are included in a separate section titled “Seeking Models of Interethnic Bridge-Building.

“Those in power have always had an advantage over those who don’t have power. That’s the bottom line.”

Carlos Castillo, assistant superintendent, Fresno Unified School District

Specific lessons include “Migration Stories and Oral History,” “#BlackLivesMatter and Social Change,” “Afrofuturism: Reimagining Black Futures and Science Fiction,” “US Undocumented Immigrants from Mexico and Beyond,” “The Immigration Experience of Lao Americans” and “This is Indian Land: The Purpose, Politics, and Practice of Land Acknowledgment.”

So far, San Francisco, Fresno and San Diego Unified school districts already require their students to take ethnic studies to graduate. Fresno Unified started offering the class six years ago and will make it a graduation requirement for the graduating class of 2026.

“I think a lot of what we’re getting is they really love being able to have a class like this for the first time in their school careers where their class content is matching their own upbringing,” said Carlos Castillo, who oversees curriculum and instruction at the district. “It’s nice to hear that, but it’s also heartbreaking to hear that from students in 11th grade.”

Castillo said he hasn’t heard much criticism about the district teaching ethnic studies, but he’s sure the critics are out there. He said he’s confident that in the long term, the course will help students build empathy toward their peers while understanding how those in power have marginalized other groups.

“I think there will be more understanding,” he said. “Those in power have always had an advantage over those who don’t have power. That’s the bottom line.”

The editorial board at the Los Angeles Times opposed the bill because it provides too much flexibility for local districts to design their own curricula that could deviate from the state’s own model curriculum. Thousands from California’s Jewish community signed a petition opposing the bill because it would allow districts to use a previous draft of the model curriculum that has been criticized for containing anti-Semitic content.

Victoria Samper, a parent volunteer for Latinx for Quality Education, said she and her organization opposed the requirement because, she said, these conversations about oppression cultivates a “victim mentality” for students. Samper said ethnic studies should focus primarily on the historical figures who overcame adversity.

“There are lots of people, important historical figures who are positive role models,” she said. “You have a lot of musicians and athletes who are good role models. Teaching students that they are oppressed is not the way to go.”

But the model curriculum both highlights achievements and teaches the often violent histories of marginalized and oppressed communities.

A recent study found that teaching ethnic studies has had widespread benefits for students at San Francisco Unified. Researchers found that GPAs increased among students enrolled in ethnic studies. Students’ attendance improved as well. Students with GPAs near 2.o saw some of the greatest benefits, increasing their chances of graduating high school.

“Being a high school graduate has so many long-term economic benefits: more civic engagement, better health outcomes, less criminal activity,” said Thomas Dee, an education professor at Stanford University and one of the authors of the study. “It’s an engine for positive social outcomes.”

Dee said this study was “the most surprising of my entire career.” He said he expected little to no measurable outcomes for students. But he warned that school leaders must train their teachers before they’re required to teach ethnic studies so their students can get the most out of the course.

“I think it’s important for districts to use the time AB 101 provides to step back from the controversy over the model curriculum and properly prepare their teachers,” Dee said. “Imagine taking an unprepared teacher into the classroom. It can go sideways.”

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Recent Comments

Care2 Take Action?

socialize

Facebook | Twitter

© 2021 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation