Governor signs legislation to bolster state’s wildfire preparedness and response efforts, protect high-risk communities

In the midst of the most destructive wildfire season in California history, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he has signed a series of bills to improve the state’s emergency preparedness and response efforts, support wildfire survivors and safeguard communities in high fire hazard areas.

“You only have to see what’s happening in California this wildfire season to understand climate change is real,” said Newsom. “As our climate warms, catastrophic wildfires will increase. That’s why I am proud to sign these important bills to strengthen our state’s fire preparedness and mitigation efforts, as well as help victims of wildfire get back on their feet.”

To better protect communities in high fire hazard areas, the governor signed AB 2968 by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, which requires the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to establish best practices for counties in developing and updating their emergency plans. AB 2386 by Assemblymember Frank Bigelow requires CalOES to review a minimum of 10 local emergency plans, prioritizing areas at high risk of wildfire, each year for alignment with Federal Emergency Management Agency recommendations.

The governor previously signed AB 2213 by Assemblymember Monique Limόn requiring CalOES to develop guidance for identifying volunteer and donation management resources that could assist disaster response and recovery, leveraging the efforts of nonprofit, community-based, faith-based and private sector organizations.

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The Governor also signed AB 3267 by Assemblymember Christy Smith, which requires CalOES to work with the access and functional needs community when updating the State Emergency Plan and AB 2730 by Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, which permits counties to partner with neighboring jurisdictions to borrow emergency management and transportation services to evacuate individuals with access and functional needs during an emergency. Additionally, SB 909 by Senator Bill Dodd authorizes the use of “hi-lo” sirens to alert the public of the need to evacuate.

To protect residents during Public Safety Power Shutoffs, the governor signed AB 2421 by Assemblymember Bill Quirk, which requires expedited permitting of emergency standby generators for macro cell towers, enabling consumers in impacted areas to receive public safety communications and maintain access to 911. AB 3074 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman adds the need for an ember-resistant zone within five feet of a structure as part of the defensible space requirements for structures located in high fire hazard areas.

The governor took action on several bills to expand consumer protections related to wildfire. AB 2756 by Limόn requires insurers to ensure that when renewing, their policyholders are aware of any reductions in coverage or elimination of the peril of fire from their homeowners’ insurance policy. SB 872 by Senator Bill Dodd broadens the definition of additional living expenses that homeowners insurance must provide to homeowners for a loss during a state of emergency and gives them more time to collect the replacement value of their property. AB 3012 by Assemblymember Jim Wood improves wildfire insurance policyholder rights by requiring that insurers provide a policyholder seeking to rebuild their home in a new location the measure of damages that would have been recoverable had they rebuilt in the original location, without deduction for the land value of the alternate location. It also extends a policyholder’s coverage for additional living expenses if their home is not inhabitable due to insufficient infrastructure.

With another dangerous wildfire season underway amid the ongoing pandemic, the state is hiring 858 more firefighters and six California Conservation Corps crews to bolster firefighting support. California has taken major action and made critical investments to fortify wildfire preparedness and response capabilities since the governor took office. CalFire completed the last of its 35 emergency fuels management projects in May, making 90,000 acres safer ahead of wildfire season and protecting 200 vulnerable communities.

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Major investments include augmenting the CalFire air fleet with new Firehawk S-70i helicopters and C-130 airplanes, and bolstering firefighting surge capacity and pre-positioning capabilities. The state also launched an Innovation Procurement Sprint to develop early warning technologies and place fire detection cameras across the state. This year’s budget included $85.6 million in new, ongoing dollars to fund permanent firefighting positions, and continues the funding for CalFire to procure innovative technology that allows us to model fire behavior.

Ahead of wildfire season, the state won critical safety victories from PG&E to make the utility more accountable to the state and ensure wildfire safety and reliability are top priorities. The state gained new oversight authority over wildfire and public safety power shutoffs and increased safety expertise inside the company. The governor also signed SB 350, which enacted real consequences if the company doesn’t act safely. The state bolstered requirements for all of the state’s investor-owned utilities’ wildfire prevention operational plans and requires utilities to invest $5 billion in infrastructure. All three large IOUs have taken steps to reduce the size and scope of public safety power shutoffs by hardening infrastructure, reducing hazards through vegetation management, sectionalizing the grid so that smaller areas can be taken offline, and improving weather monitoring technology and modeling.