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A lot of money is being thrown around in a short amount of time as the special election for the 79th District Assembly race draws close.
A lot of money is being thrown around in a short amount of time as the special election for the 79th District Assembly race draws close. The primary is Tuesday, and the top two vote-getters will advance to a June runoff.
Shirley Weber, whose appointment as secretary of state triggered the race, never faced an especially challenging election for the seat and raised just over $220,000 for her 2020 campaign in the course of that entire year. In a much shorter timeframe, her daughter, La Mesa Councilwoman Akilah Weber, a Democrat, has raised more than $305,000 for this race, and another $129,000 for a 2022 campaign.
Republican Marco Contreras has raised about $130,000 through the end of March, and Democrat Leticia Munguia raised $51,000.
Democrats Shane Parmely and Aeramique Glass-Blake have raised significantly less: about $22,000 and $6,000 respectively.
Weber, Contreras and Munguia have also benefited from independent expenditure groups spending on their behalf – in some cases, significantly.
Here’s a snapshot of who’s donating in the race.
Weber has received donations from venture capitalist Steve Westly, and Lyft VP Susan Kennedy.
San Diego Peeps
Come autumn in San Diego, when strong Santa Ana winds form in the desert and blow west over the mountains, San Diego Gas and Electric prepares to shut the power down to prevent equipment from sparking wildfires.
The so-called “public safety power shutoffs” are obviously unpopular but necessary, California’s investor-owned utilities told their regulators, the Public Utilities Commission, during a workshop this week over their future plans to reduce them.
“It’s contradictory to our fiber to shut off the power, but I would tell you … we believe it’s important to maintain [public safety power shutoffs] as a safety mitigation tool,” said Bruce Folkmann, president and chief financial officer for SDG&E.
But the Santa Ana winds seem to be getting stronger as the years go by, extending the wildfire season well beyond what has traditionally lasted from October through November. In fact, the biggest high-wind event, what utilities called “red flag warning” days, was Dec. 2-4, when SDG&E’s weather stations recorded average wind gust at 71 miles per hour.
“That’s an extremely strong event,” said John Jenkins, vice president of SDG&E operations. “Our weather stations have been around for a decade and records broke for 20 percent of them.”
It’s not entirely clear why the winds are coming faster and last longer. All SDG&E knows is its equipment has to withstand them, and when it’s too risky – that equipment might spark a fire – the power has to go down for certain areas of its system.
The utilities submitted drafts of their 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plans to the CPUC in February. In the last version, SDG&E budgeted to spend $1.3 billion by 2022 on wildfire mitigation. That includes things like trimming trees (even though that part of the plan faced serious criticism from utility watchdogs) or replacing wood electric poles with steel ones.
Jenkins said the updated plan will place a higher focus on undergrounding, an expensive task of burying electric lines underground, and a “ramp down” of hardening the infrastructure above it (like replacing those poles, for instance).
“At the end of the day, we believe (undergrounding) to achieve nearly 100 percent confidence we’ve eliminated the risk of wildfire,” Jenkins said.
The cost of preventing wildfires is growing. In 2019, SDG&E charged customers $1.32 a month to cover the costs of all the work in the plan. In 2020, ratepayers were charged $2.26 a month.
The cost of the 2021 plan update’s increased focus on undergrounding was not immediately clear in SDG&E’s plan. SDG&E did not respond to a question about this.
In response to CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen’s question about whether SDG&E has had to fundamentally change how it plans for fire risk, Folkmann said the company is “trying to accommodate a reasonable balance between the cost of these improvements and the benefits.”
“It’s more of an art than a science frankly on how far we go here,” Folkmann said.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Ben Kelso. He is former president of the San Diego chapter of the National Black Police Association.