Disaster Relief

The State of California, in the last part of 2007 and into 2008, faced some major disasters such as wildfires, rainstorms, windstorms, drought, and oil spills. These include the following:

• Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties wildfires in September and October 2007.

• Riverside County windstorm in October 2007.

• San Francisco Bay oil spill of November 2007.

• Humboldt County wildfire of May 2008.

• Butte, Kern, Mariposa, Mendocino, Monterey, Plumas, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, and Trinity Counties wildfires of May and June 2008 which there were 2,000 that had to be put out.

• Santa Barbara County wildfire of July 2008.

• Inyo County rainstorm of July 2008.

• Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino Counties wildfires of October 2008.

• Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara, and Riverside Counties wildfires of November 2008.

• Drought of 2007-08.

In response to the 2007 and 2008 wildfires and rainstorms that occurred from July 2007 until Summer 2008, SB 1064 (Hollingsworth) was chaptered into law providing tax relief for residents of the counties affected and for state reimbursement of local property tax losses; SB 1537 (Kehoe) added the wildfires that occurred in southern California, commencing on or about 10/20/07, to the list of disasters eligible for full state reimbursement of local agency costs under the California Disaster Assistance Act. The Governor signed the bill but vetoed SB 1764 (Kehoe), a companion bill, which could only have made SB 1537 law.

To strengthen and streamline the state’s emergency response capabilities, AB 38 (Nava) was signed into law which combines the Office of Emergency Services and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security into a new cabinet-level California Emergency Management Agency.

Other disaster relief-related legislation chaptered into law included: SB 1213 (Ducheny) eliminating the 15-day notification requirement for a licensee of a mobile health care unit to report to the Department of Public Health and local authorities the location that it will be providing health care services, prior to its first time arrival. Instead, allowing a mobile health care unit to move to a new location and require notification to the department at least 24 hours prior to operation. Allowing the notification requirement to be waived in the event of an emergency, as defined; SB 1227 (Hollingsworth) re-authorizing, until 1/1/14, the Disaster Response Emergency Operations Account a special account that funds state agencies for disaster response operations costs; SB 1308 (Cox) including the Angora Fire which occurred in the Lake Tahoe Basin in June 2007, to the list of disasters eligible for full state reimbursement of local agency costs under the California Disaster Assistance Act (tax relief was given to residents through AB 62 [Nava] of 2007); SB 1595 (Kehoe) updating existing fuel management laws by amending defensible space requirements that separate structures from surrounding vegetation and other potential wildfire fuels. The purpose is to reduce the amount of embers, which are often carried by strong winds up to one mile ahead of the flames and rapidly spread wildfires. Controlling the number of airborne embers can significantly reduce the risk of igniting nearby homes; SB 1668 (Migden) requiring the State Fire Marshal to prepare and adopt regulations establishing minimum requirements for the protection of life and property against fire and panic, for a laboratory or research and development facility that stores, handles or uses regulated hazardous materials; AB 2327 (Caballero) requiring entities that provide assistance during an emergency or disaster to strive to ensure that all victims receive the assistance they need and for which they are eligible. Public employees are required to assist evacuees and other individuals in securing disaster-related assistance and services without asking for information or documents that are not strictly necessary to determine eligibility under state or federal laws. Nonprofit organizations would be encouraged to comply with the same guidelines; AB 2742 (Furutani) adding leased or rented firefighting equipment to the list of eligible equipment for which the Department of Motor Vehicles may issue a restricted driver’s license to a firefighter; AB 2796 (Nava) permitting the Office of Emergency Services to establish a statewide registry of private businesses and nonprofit organizations that are interested in donating services, goods, labor, equipment, resources, or other facilities in times of emergency; AB 2859 (Gaines) expanding the authority for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to thin green trees and other vegetation to promote healthy forests in areas with disease or insect infestations; and AB 3075 (Assembly Governmental Organization Committee) requiring the Office of Emergency Services to give first priority for the sale of new or used firefighting apparatus and equipment to a local agency that serves a rural area and to give second priority to any local agency.

Vetoed disaster relief legislation included SB 1764 (Kehoe) requiring a local agency to obtain an annual certification by the State Fire Marshal, commencing 1/1/10, in order to be eligible to receive a percentage for a state share of disaster assistance in excess of 75%; AB 1107 (Arambula) increasing the allowable maximum earnings from $25 (or 25% of wages) to $200 per week that a person eligible for unemployment compensation may keep as a result of a loss of work from the 2008 drought; and AB 2996 (De La Torre) requiring the Department of Public Health and local public health departments, when conducting emergency or disaster preparedness exercises related to an infectious disease outbreak, to establish a process for identifying deficiencies in preparedness plans and procedures and tracking the implementation of corrective measures to ensure that desired improvements are made to those preparedness plans.

As mentioned in the Environment section, on 11/8/07, an oil spill occurred in the San Francisco Bay when the container ship Cosco Busan struck the fender surrounding a footing of the western span of the Bay Bridge. In response to this disaster, the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law, a comprehensive package of legislation improving oil spill prevention and response including SB 1217 (Yee), SB 1627 (Wiggins), SB 1739 (Simitian), AB 1960 (Nava), AB 2031 (Hancock), AB 2911 (Wolk), and AB 2935 (Huffman).

The one issue which is an ongoing problem that the 2009 Legislature will be facing is the two-year drought that California has been in since 2007. The drought has come about because of below-average rainfall in 2007 and 2008, very low snowmelt runoff and a court-ordered water transfer. The Governor, on 6/4/08, proclaimed a statewide drought and issued an executive order which directed the Department of Water Resources to (1) facilitate water transfers to respond to emergency shortages across the state, (2) work with local water districts and agencies to improve local coordination, (3) help local water districts and agencies improve water efficiency and conservation, (4) coordinate with other state and federal agencies and departments to assist water suppliers, identify risks to water supply and help farmers suffering losses, and (5) expedite existing grant programs to help local water districts and agencies conserve. The Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, SB 2X (Perata) appropriating $842 million in funding from Propositions 84 and 1E which were approved by the voters in 2006, as a first step to address the current drought.