Assemblyman calls for oversight hearing after CapRadio investigation shows Newsom misled public on wildfire prevention

California

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The California Professional Firefighters, the group that hosted Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Anti-Recall kickoff event, is defending the administration’s wildfire prevention program.

“Like wildfires themselves, prevention is complex. It is not about the number of acres treated but number of people, communities and properties that are protected. Gov. Newsom has proven throughout his time in office that solving California’s wildfire problem in the short and long term is the highest priority.”


Original story below:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Improving the state’s wildfire prevention has been one of Governor Gavin Newsom’s key promises but an investigation from Capital Public Radio shows he misled the public on the state’s wildfire prevention projects.

“We’ve got to step our game, dare I say it, get our act together,” Newsom said in March of 2019 as he launched 35 high-priority forest management projects meant to protect hundreds of communities in fire-prone parts of California.

In the numerous press conferences that followed, Newsom touted the program and since early 2020 has claimed those projects are finished with 90,000 acres managed.

But CapRadio’s investigation released Wednesday showed the governor misled the public on that figure, with only 13% of those 90,000 acres actually managed.

The report also showed in 2020, Cal Fire’s fuel reduction numbers dropped by half as the administration cut $150 million from the agency’s wildfire prevention budget.

In the report, Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter took the blame for the inaccurate number of acres burned, saying Cal Fire had neither “done our job educating the public nor the governor’s office” about its wildfire prevention efforts.  

Governor Newsom has yet to respond to the findings, though the California Natural Resources Agency says Porter spoke on his behalf:

CalFire Chief Thom Porter spoke to Cap Radio on behalf of the administration to talk about the state’s wildfire prevention efforts.

The actions CalFire has taken to date on the 35 priority projects have collectively protected 90,000 acres near some of the most wildfire-vulnerable communities in California.

Acreage tracking for fuels reductions projects is complex, and we think the Cap Radio story did not explain some important distinctions. There is a fundamental difference between fuel breaks like the 35 priority projects and other landscape-level fuel treatment. Fuel breaks are strategically designed to protect larger areas than the actual footprint of the fuel break by slowing fires, creating space for firefighters to take a stand, protecting escape routes and creating safe havens for shelter. The 35 priority projects benefitted a total area of 90,000 acres – even though not every single acre within that was actually treated by boots on the ground.

In terms of the difference in treatment work from 2019 to 2020, please note the pandemic, an unprecedented wildfire season and COVID-related budget impacts all affected CalFire’s ability to do the work in 2020. The state continues to drive toward progress in increasing the pace and scale of the work.

Lisa Lien-Mager, deputy secretary for communications, California Natural Resources Agency

In a statement released Wednesday, Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong, vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, called for an oversight hearing into Newsom’s administration in response to CapRadio’s findings.

The Governor’s blatant dishonesty and lack of action could not have come at a worse time. Last year, Californians endured the most catastrophic wildfire season on record. Today, Californians across the state are facing extreme drought conditions. My colleagues and I have called on the Governor to enact immediate, proactive wildfire mitigation efforts for months—and he answered with disinvestment and dormancy.

Action—not performative press conferences—needs to be taken now to prevent another devastating wildfire season.

The state must allocate ample funding to support wildfire prevention efforts, substantially increase the pace and scale of prescribed burns, and immediately remove the senseless red tape that limits forest resilience and puts lives, livelihoods, and communities at fatal risk. The Governor owes Californians and the Legislature an explanation for his exaggerated numbers and egregious inaction.

Assemblyman Vince Fong, Assembly Budget Vice Chair

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, is among the state lawmakers disturbed by the report.

“The buck stops here. It is not Porter’s fault, it isn’t the firefighters’ fault,” he said. “He said a bunch of things that turned out to be exaggerations, misrepresentations, if not outright deception.”

The findings come as Governor Newsom faces a recall election later this year.

Former San Diego mayor and Republican candidate Kevin Faulconer weighed in on the issue during a stop Wednesday at the State Capitol.

“You have to be upfront. You have to be open and honest with the public, and I think on an issue that is particularly so important to all of us in terms of wildfire prevention,” Faulconer said.

Democratic legislative leaders and other Democratic lawmakers have yet to respond to the report. 

Newsom proposed more than $1 billion in funds for wildfire prevention this year, but experts and some of his critics have noted that actually tackling this issue will require ongoing money.

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