Governor’s Placer visit spotlights wildfire threat

Newsom pitches ’$305 million in ‘new money’
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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COLFAX - Newly minted Gov. Gavin Newsom traveled from Sacramento to Colfax today to outline new executive actions to address wildfire safety.

Twelve hours after being sworn in as the leader of a state with the world’s fifth largest economy, Newsom journeyed up Interstate 80 into the foothills on the edge of the Sierra to an area that is not only close to the Capitol but also close to his heart.

Newsom - whose family's roots stretch into the nearby Placer County communities of Dutch Flat and Auburn - mentioned his father, William Newsom, near the start of a media conference at Cal Fire’s Colfax station.

William Newsom served as a Placer County Superior Court judge in Auburn during the late 1970s and split his time after that between a home in Dutch Flat and one in San Francisco.

The elder Newsom would see his son elected governor in November but die in early December.

Sworn in Monday, Newsom’s first trip away from Sacramento was to a community 10 miles from Dutch Flat perched on the edge of the north fork American River canyon and facing fire threats similar to Paradise and many other California towns.

Newsom outlined steps he is taking in the infancy of his term in office to reshape California’s response to the fire threat. He said he had already signed a letter to President Donald Trump co-signed by Oregon and Washington governors that will attempt to show solidarity for federal action, noting that much of California is covered in federally owned lands.

In the Colfax area, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management have responsibility for vast areas, including the Auburn State Recreation Area between Auburn and Colfax.

“The hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier, the wets are getting wetter,” Newsom said. “You may call it climate change. You may call it global warming. Someone called it global weirding to me the other day.”

Newsom said that someone at the Monte Vista Inn in Dutch Flat had told him recently when they were playing liar’s dice that ‘‘I don’t know what you call it, something ain’t right.’”

“The fact is, the climate changed and we need to change with it,” Newsom said.

Flanked by Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter, Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci and other state officials, Newsom said his blueprint for that change includes $213.6 million more for forest fuel reduction efforts, $64.4 million for “surge capacity” to increase resources, including adding five more California Conservation Corps crews and 13 more fire engines, and devoting $15 million to bolster communications strategies as local governments attempt to put in place greater emergency preparedness and more concise evacuation plans.

2018 is being described by state government as the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season in California history. On Tuesday, a German insurance company named the Camp Fire that decimated Paradise as the world’s worst single natural disaster of the past year.

"We will place a historic investment in our emergency planning and our emergency response in this state,” Newsom said. “We will invest in pre-positioning in ways we haven’t in the past.”

Newsom said that he will also be emphasizing working with local government to develop strategies specific to their areas.

“We are at a point where everybody has had enough and we need to, I think, ensure that we are prepared more than ever for the next few months as we enter into the height of our fire season,” he said.

Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose district stretches from Auburn to the shore of Lake Tahoe, provided Newsom with a welcoming hug before he stepped up to talk to the media. She said the new governor has the knowledge, background and education to understand the challenges of wildfire preparedness throughout the state.

“I think he’s going to represent us well,” Montgomery said.

The visit to a county that leans to the right in elections and against the grain of much of the Democratic Party’s agenda didn’t go unnoticed by Newsom - or Auburn Mayor Cheryl Maki, a Republican.

Maki said that Newsom mentioned to her during a brief conversation that he realized Placer County didn’t vote for him.

“I said ‘Jenn did,” Maki said with a smile.

Maki said she’s hopeful that the budget will provide funding to aid the Auburn area and is grateful that Newsom chose to visit Placer County on Day 2 of his term as governor.

“It indicates that he recognizes one of the greatest needs in our area,” she said.