A California official says the federal government has failed to pay the state $18 million for fighting wildfires on federal lands last year. Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said in a sharply worded letter to the U.S. Forest Service chief this week that failure to pay may force the state to stop responding to fires in national forests. The letter says the Forest Service owes the money under longstanding commitments that coordinate and reimburse local firefighters. Ghilarducci said the agency is illogically relying on a "sudden interpretation" of a 1955 law that prevents the government from paying volunteer firefighters. The letter says a third of the state firefighting force is volunteers who deserve to be paid when called into action far from home.
Despite having one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in California, Tulare County officials have voted to reopen more businesses before meeting the health criteria set by the state. Tulare joins several rural communities in rebelling against Gov. Gavin Newsom's plans for reopening the economy based on various health benchmarks designed to prevent new outbreaks of the coronavirus. Most of the counties to defy Newsom so far have been in remote areas with relatively few confirmed infections. But Tulare is one of California's hardest-hit counties. In all, it had confirmed 1,552 coronavirus infections and 73 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.
Welcome to Essential Politics, our in-the-moment look at California political and government news. Gov. Jerry Brown plans to upgrade California's emergency alert system Gov. Jerry Brown is considering upgrading the state's emergency alert system in the wake of this fall's devastating wildfires across Northern California, the governor's emergency services director told legislators on Monday. "This is something that we've been working on closely," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, at an informational legislative hearing about the state's response to the wildfires. Emergency alerting systems received widespread complaints for not notifying residents as wildfires ripped through Napa and Sonoma Counties in October.
Nearly half of the inmates at the federal prison at Terminal Island in San Pedro have tested positive for the coronavirus in what has become the nation's worst outbreak in a federal penitentiary. As of Tuesday, 443 of the prison's 1,055 inmates have the virus, along with 10 staff members. Two inmates have already died of complications related to COVID-19, according to the Bureau of Prisons. In a week, the outbreak at FCI Terminal Island has quickly escalated as prison officials ramped up testing. Dozens of inmates have been moved into tents in an effort to create social distancing, according to sources.
A failed deal in which California had to claw back $457 million from a newly created and politically connected firm selling protective masks prompted new vetting procedures, advisors to Gov. Gavin Newsom told lawmakers on Monday. But in a lengthy public hearing in Sacramento, they defended the administration's overall record in purchasing equipment worth approximately $2.2 billion. Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, told lawmakers that amid the frenzy to buy life-saving supplies through nearly 200 deals, the state has had to cancel contracts or seek reimbursement in only a handful of cases. No taxpayer money has been lost, he said. "The market was beyond volatile," Ghilarducci said.