Bay Area Headlines: Friday, 5/15/20, AM | KALW

Bay Area Headlines: Friday, 5/15/20, AM

May 15, 2020

 

Budget Revise Overview / Impact On Wildfire Prevention / Stern Grove Festival Cancelled / Scofflaw Business Crackdown / Solar Industry Struggling

Budget Revise Overview

Governor Gavin Newsom presented his revised budget for the next fiscal year, yesterday. It reflects a 54 billion dollar shortfall compared with his original proposal back in January. He said the forecast estimates unemployment to climb to nearly 25 percent and tax revenues will drop by about a quarter.

 

“Remember, no printing press here in the state of California. We are constitutionally obliged to pass a balanced budget, and that is our requirement through the next number of weeks. Has to be done by July 1st of this year.”

The $203 billion budget proposed Thursday is about a 5% decrease from the current year’s. To help cover costs, Newsom plans to tap the state’s $16 billion rainy day fund over the next three years.

He proposed cutting over $6 billion from a variety of programs while trying to prioritize public education, public health and public safety. On schools, Newsom is relying on roughly $4 billion in federal coronavirus funding as one way to bring in more money. Newsom hopes for billions more in federal relief to keep California’s deepest cuts from taking place. The legislature will now look it over.

Impact On Wildfire Prevention

California’s proposed budget update has cuts and reductions across environmental sectors including climate resilience programs to state parks. But perhaps the biggest winner of the May Revise in environmental terms is wildfire prevention and preparedness. Governor Newsom says the proposal would give Cal Fire $90 million for permanent firefighting positions and for wildfire prediction technology.

“We're doing a historic amount of vegetation management, prescribed burns, we talked about that yesterday with 35 high profile projects 34 done, the last one will be done in seven days.”

 

 

The budget also proposes major changes to California State Parks. The pandemic has caused the agency a headache because it's not collecting fines or entrance fees. Barring federal help, the updated budget calls for a $30 million cut beginning the 2021 fiscal year. But it keeps $24.5 million for establishing a new state park, growing parkland, improving facilities and programming.

 

Stern Grove Festival Cancelled

 

The Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco has been cancelled. It is the first cancellation in the summer concert series’ 83-year-history. A virtual video series called “Best of the Fest” will launch next month.

 

Scofflaw Business Crackdown

 

California is allowing restaurants to re-open in a limited capacity, but regulators say some are moving too quickly. Now, the state wants to crack down on scofflaw businesses. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control currently has the power to suspend or revoke liquor licenses. But the process can take months if a business appeals. A proposed rule would allow the department to penalize bars and restaurants immediately, even if they file an appeal.

 

ABC says it would improve public safety against the spread of COVID-19. More counties are expected to let dine-in restaurants re-open, after Governor Newsom announced new guidelines this week. In March, the department began letting restaurants sell alcoholic beverages to-go, in an effort to help distressed businesses stay afloat. Now, it wants to get tough on ones that are skirting the law.

 

Solar Industry Struggling

 

The solar industry in California has been hit hard by the pandemic. Ezra David Romero reports it’s forced businesses to furlough thousands of employees. When the stay-at-home order went into place the California Solar Electric Company took drastic measures, says general manager Lars Ortegren:

 

“Basically everyone was laid off.”

 

After getting financial help through the federal Paycheck Protection Program the company brought back two-thirds of its staff. But he says funds will only last until June. 

 

“We’re in a place of trying to muster as much stamina as we can to kind of get through this time.”

 

The Nevada County company isn’t alone. A new survey of over 200 companies by the California Solar and Storage Association shows that 21 percent of their members furloughed employees — that’s over 15-thousand lost jobs in a month and a half. Bernadette Del Chiaro is the group's executive director:

 

“It did feel like a little bit of a sucker punch. But it matches with the anecdotal experience we were hearing from all of our member companies. We even had a board member lose his job.”

 

The California Energy Commission clarified last week that solar workers are essential. David Hochschild chairs the commission.  

 

“For the market to remain healthy it still requires customers to make the decision to buy.”

 

He says it’s important for people in the energy sector to return to work so they can prepare in case of power shut offs during fire season.