On his first full day as governor, Gavin Newsom on Tuesday named a number of key emergency personnel, pledged to funnel tens of millions of dollars into fire prevention and response, and issued a public plea for the federal government to double its investment in managing its forest lands in California.
Standing at a Cal Fire station in Colfax — in the heavily wooded Sierra foothills, an area particularly vulnerable to fire — Newsom's announcement just on the heels of his inauguration underscored how the wildfire crisis he's inherited could dominate his first months as governor.
In addition to putting more money into fire prevention and suppression, Newsom said he intends to harness technology, with the help of the National Guard, to modernize the way that California plans for and fights fires.
"I am happy to be back here on my first day at work to make a symbolic and substantive point. I place no greater emphasis and energy and sense of urgency than on the issue of public safety ... and in particular on issues of emergency preparedness," Newsom said. "In broad strokes we are stepping up our game. I hear you, I get it, we need to do more and better. The last two years have been devastating."
In the past two years, California has experienced its worst blazes in recorded state history, including November's Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures in and around the Butte County town of Paradise.
In a pair of executive orders, Newsom announced that in addition to the $1 billion the state has already promised to spend on forest management over the next five years, he will propose budget enhancements later this week that include more year-round fire crews and investments in technology and equipment to help prevent and fight wildfires.
In addition to the $200 million already authorized by lawmakers for forest management spending next fiscal year, Newsom said he will propose another $105 million for a slew of fire-related investments.
That will include five new Conservation Corps crews, which help clear brush and do other land management, and 13 new fire engines that will be pre-deployed across the state. It also includes investing in more helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, $25 million to help local governments prepare better for battling fires and $25 million over the next two years to help modernize the 911 system.
Newsom also pledged to prioritize communities that are most "socially vulnerable" to fires because of issues such as poverty, disabilities and language barriers — and he ordered Cal Fire, within 45 days, to provide a report with recommendations on how to best prevent and mitigate wildfires "with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and protection of public health."
"We want to use science in a way we haven't, and address social mobility in a way we haven't," Newsom said, adding that the state needs to not just look at fire risk but also community vulnerability and "begin to overlay those things."