On October 26, 2006, a major wildfire took place in Riverside County, due to an arsonist, which became known as the Esperanza Fire. It burned 34 homes, 20 outbuildings and destroyed land and wildlife. Five firefighters also died in the fire (four as a result of a burn-over and the fifth later died due to the severity of his burns). The estimated cost of this fire was $9.9 million. In January 2007, a major freeze took place which affected the counties of El Dorado, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings Madera, Merced, Monterey, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tulare Ventura, and Yuba. The Governor responded by providing about $4.2 million in aid to food banks in order to meet the emergency food needs of the people affected by the freeze and authorized $3.25 million in emergency funding to help victims make rent, mortgage and utility payments. States of emergency were declared in Ventura County, in September 2006, due to the Day Fire; El Dorado County, in June 2007, due to the Lake Tahoe Basin Fire; and Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, in July-August 2007, due to the Zaca Fire.
The Legislature enacted and the Governor signed into law the following legislation providing disaster relief for the above disasters: SB 38 (Battin) providing assistance to Riverside County and tax relief to residents affected by wildfires that occurred in October 2006; SB 41 (Battin) enacting the California Fallen Firefighters' Assistance Tax Act of 2006 to permit a tax exempt organization to make payments to family members of the five firefighters who died in the Esperanza Fire; SB 114 (Florez) providing financial assistance to the counties and tax relief to residents affected by the severe cold weather and freezing in January 2007; SB 116 (Maldonado) 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 2007 winter freeze; AB 62 (Nava) providing financial assistance to the counties of Ventura, El Dorado and Santa Barbara, and tax relief to residents affected by the wildfires that occurred in those counties during 2006 and 2007.
At the time of this writing, the Governor had to declare a state of emergency on October 21 due to 16 wildfires burning in the Counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. These fires are considered to be the worst to ever occur in the state and some were started by arsonists. The 2008 portion of the 2007-08 legislative session will probably provide financial assistance to those affected by these fires. The Governor has called upon the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission, that was established in November 2003, to assess the steps necessary to evaluate the role that greater cross-agency training and resources, local planning, defensible space, building standards, Fire Safe Councils, public education and other public policies shall play in preventing and fighting fires.
Other significant legislation which became law affecting disasters included: SB 166 (Negrete McLeod) requiring the Chancellor's Office of the California Community Colleges to develop emergency preparedness standards and guidelines, as specified, to assist community college districts and campuses in the event of a natural disaster, hazardous conditions, or terrorist activity on or around campus; SB 296 (Dutton) enhancing the ability of the Office of Emergency Services to carry out the intent of SB 546 (Dutton) of 2005 encouraging the private sector's involvement in all areas of emergency management; SB 430 (Machado) creating a new assessment authority for the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) to replace an assessment authority that is sunsetting, clarifying the power of the CEA Board of Directors to impose conditions on insurance companies applying to become participating insurers, and redefining the term "available capital" for purposes of the CEA law; SB 548 (Hollingsworth) reestablishing the Disaster Response-Emergency Operations Account in the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties until January 1, 2009; SB 976 (Torlakson) establishing the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority; AB 292 (Blakeslee) extending the sunset on the California Emergency Services Act until 2019 and revising funding levels payable from the Nuclear Planning Assessment Special Account; AB 903 (Houston) allowing certain private nonprofit organizations to be reimbursed by the state for the cost of supplies or other emergency assistance provided during an emergency; AB 1104 (Aghazarian) extending the authority of the California Small Business Expansion Fund through a financial development corporation to make small business loan guarantees in an area affected by a state of emergency with the state and declared a disaster by the President of the United States, or by the Administrator of the United States Small Business Administration, or by the United States Secretary of Agriculture; AB 1287 (Jeffries) providing county elections officials with great flexibility to establish or move early voting locations with less than 14 days notice is situations where there is a declared emergency or disaster in a county; AB 1564 (Nava) extending to January 2013 the operations of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact; and AB 1645 (La Malfa) prohibiting the seizure or confiscation of any firearm or ammunition from any individual who is lawfully carrying or possessing them during a state of war or state of emergency, as specified.
The Governor did veto a bill--AB 319 (Nava), which would have established a statewide tsunami hazard preparedness and mitigation program to assist local governments in preparing for, responding to, and mitigating the effects of tsunamis.