Poll: Voters Give Newsom Lukewarm Reviews for Policies on Wildfires, PG&E Bankruptcy

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 (David McNew/Getty Images)

A new poll says an overwhelming majority of Californians — 78% — are worried that they might have to bear some of the costs for recent wildfires caused by downed utility lines. At the same time, many likely voters are giving Gov. Gavin Newsom a very mixed review for his handling of the PG&E bankruptcy and its aftermath.

The poll from the Public Policy Institute of California also finds a growing number of Californians suffering financial strain due to housing costs, and also finds support for legislative measures to address the state's shortage of affordable shelter.

On the subject of wildfires, the PPIC survey found that 41% of likely voters approve of Newsom's overall handling of wildfire prevention and response, with 27% disapproving and 32% saying they don't know.

At the same time, just 28% of likely voters approve of Newsom's handling of the PG&E bankruptcy, with 35% disapproving and 37% saying they're not sure.

Since the governor took office in January, addressing the financial toll of last year's wildfires and the subsequent bankruptcy of California's largest utility has been a high priority for the Newsom administration. In his first budget, Newsom included $213 million in fuel reduction measures to mitigate wildfires, as well as funds for 13 new year-round fire engines for Cal Fire and $10 million for remote-sensing technology to aid in early detection of wildfires.

The governor also recently released a plan to fight wildfires driven by climate change.

Unlike his predecessor, Jerry Brown, the new governor has been very critical of PG&E. Last month his office submitted a court filing in the company's bankruptcy case that blasted the utility's request for extra time to submit a reorganization plan.

Newsom's response said PG&E's request “reflects no sense of urgency in addressing the serious problems and issues confronting" the company.

"All should be mindful of PG&E’s history of over two decades of mismanagement, misconduct and failed efforts to improve a woeful safety culture,” the filing said.

And Newsom's office says that in the coming weeks the governor will outline additional steps to hold the state’s utilities accountable for fires their equipment starts while also addressing the energy needs of customers and the economy.

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There's better news for Newsom in other parts of the survey.

Overall, 47% of likely voters in the poll said they approve of the way Newsom is handling his job as governor, while 56% support his budget plan and 68% favor his plan to spend $1 billion to address homelessness, while just 28% oppose it.

More Feeling the Pain of Housing Costs

On the subject of housing, the PPIC poll found 52% of respondents said the cost of housing is placing a strain on their households. That's up from 47% two years ago, the PPIC said.

The pain is especially acute for people with families and renters: 61% of survey respondents who have children at home and 67% of renters said housing costs are a financial strain.

The poll also found strong support for two proposals that have been floated in Sacramento to try to spur the state's cities and towns to approve more housing development.

Pacific Gas and Electric: Wildfire Aftermath

The PPIC said 61% of respondents said they'd support Newsom's suggestion to require local governments to approve new housing before receiving state transportation funding. And 62% backed an idea embodied in the now-stalled SB 50, a bill by San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener, to require denser development near transit and job centers.

The PPIC poll also asked about the hot-button issue of vaccinations. The United States is now facing its worst measles outbreak in more than 20 years. According to the survey, 79% of Californians are very or somewhat concerned the outbreak will get worse. And 73% think parents should be required to vaccinate their children.

The state Senate recently passed SB 276 to tighten California's already strict immunization laws with closer oversight of medical exemptions. The bill is now in the Assembly, although Newsom recently expressed doubts about having the California Department of Public Health oversee medical exemptions, as called for in SB 276.

"I’m a parent, I don’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family," Newsom said at an impromptu press conference at the Democratic convention Saturday. It's unclear, however, whether he would sign or veto the bill.