Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

December 13, 2013
President awards Rim Fire aid after California appeal


President Barack Obama declared this summer's Rim Fire a major disaster Friday, reversing an earlier denial of aid following an appeal by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Friday's declaration of a presidential major disaster frees up federal funding for the state, Tuolumne County and other local governments, and certain nonprofit groups. The money will pay for emergency work and the repair or replacement of roads and other structures damaged by the Rim Fire.

The blaze burned from Aug. 17 through Oct. 24, scorching more than 257,000 acres and is the third-largest wildfire in state history. It devastated the region's Yosemite-based tourism industry and caused $54 million in damage, according to the latest estimates.

Last month, though, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Brown's Oct. 8 request for a major disaster declaration, saying the fire's severity and magnitude did not justify it.

Brown appealed to Obama earlier this month and FEMA reversed itself Friday.

"This is welcome news for those impacted by this devastating wildfire, and I'm thankful for FEMA's careful reconsideration of the governor's request," Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement. "Even though the fire is out, the impacts to the local economy, environment and region haven't gone away. We look forward to FEMA's assistance in the important recovery work that has been underway since October."

Obama's order releases public-assistance money for Tuolumne County to pay for emergency work and the repair or replacement of fire-damaged roads and other facilities.

In addition, all counties can apply for hazard-mitigation money to prevent long-term risks to life and property.

PHOTO: Inmate firefighters walked along Highway 120 during the Rim Fire in August. Associated Press/Jae C. Hong

December 13, 2013
Federal court reopens Calaveras County tribe challenge

MC_MEWUK_TRIBE_04.JPGA bitter and long-running fight over a small Calaveras County tribe has now taken a new turn, as a Washington, D.C.-based federal judge has ordered Interior Department officials to take another look at its past decisions.

In a 23-page decision, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein sided with Yakima Dixie and his allies with the California Miwok Indian Tribe. Dixie has been competing with Silvia Burley for tribal control of what was once called the Sheep Ranch Me-Wuk.

"Both Yakima and Burley laid claim to the role of 'Chairperson' of the Tribe and attempted to organize the Tribe... by submitting multiple competing constitutions that purportedly had been adopted by the tribal membership," Rothstein noted.

Money, among other things, is at stake; as Rothstein noted, "the California Gambling Control Commission notified the Tribe that it would withhold distributions from the California Revenue Sharing Trust Fund until the tribal leadership was established."

In 2011, the Obama administration effectively sided with Burley. On Friday, though, Rothstein concluded that it was "unreasonable" for the administration to declare that the tribe consisted solely of Yakima, Burley, Burley's two daughters, and Burley's granddaughter.

Rothstein remanded the case to the Interior Department for reconsideration.

PHOTO: Silvia Burley, who claims she's the official chairwoman of the California Miwok tribe, inside her Stockton mansion, which she says is tribal headquarters, on March 30, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 13, 2013
Center-right battle shaping up among Republicans challenging Ami Bera


Congressional challenger Igor Birman continued his rightward assault on fellow Republican Doug Ose on Friday, urging the former congressman to publicly sever ties with a centrist organization that accepted money from organized labor.

"If Doug wants to have any credibility whatsoever with Republicans, he needs to denounce the Main Street Partnership and pledge not to take any support from them," said Birman, a former aide to conservative GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, in a prepared release.

Ose has been a member of the Main Street Partnership and served on its board.

"With less than 10 donors from within the district, Birman's campaign is solely dependent on Washington-based interest groups," said Marko Mlikotin, a spokesperson for Ose. "Rather than attack fellow Republicans, Birman should be more concerned with creating jobs and repealing Obamacare."

The Main Street Partnership is led by former GOP Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio. LaTourette has been critical of the GOP's close relationship with gun-rights groups, and reportedly plans to spend millions of dollars in the upcoming midterm elections in support of what it calls "the governing wing of the GOP."

Birman's request comes as a new poll shows support for labor unions - typically allied with Democratic candidates and causes - has taken a big hit even in blue California. Some 45 percent of voters believe unions do more harm compared with 40 percent who say they do more good, according to the Field Poll.

Birman and Ose are part of a Republican trio including Elizabeth Emken taking on Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove. While all three have begun criticizing the freshman congressman for his support of the federal health care overhaul, among other issues, the dynamic between Birman and Ose seems to mirror the growing number of election battles shaping up nationwide that pit establishment Republicans against tea party challengers.

December 13, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Californians have mixed feelings about life in the state

Poll numbers are on the upswing, but enthusiasm for California living is still soft, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 13, 2013
AM Alert: Support for labor unions plummets in California

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for union_protest.JPGWith heated controversy in recent years surrounding public pensions, municipal bankruptcies and political campaigns, public support for labor unions has plunged in California. For the first time, more voters say these organizations do more harm than good.

A new Field Poll reveals a dramatic 16 percentage point swing in public opinion from two years ago. Forty-five percent of registered voters now believe that unions do more harm than good, compared to 40 percent who say they do more good.

This summer's Bay Area Rapid Transit system drama has also raised the question of whether public transit workers should be allowed to strike. In September, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, introduced a bill to strip them of that right.

Though a slight plurality of Californians - 47 percent - still believe public transit workers should be able to strike, a majority of the usually liberal San Francisco Bay Area - 52 percent - is now opposed.

Reporter David Siders has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers Californians' views on the U.S. Congress. Our story will be available early, tonight at 8 p.m., on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app.

VIDEO: Californians have mixed feelings about life in the state, says Dan Walters.

TRIPLE CROWN: The three leaders of California's public college systems are in San Francisco today for a panel on rebuilding public higher education in the state. University of California President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris will discuss governance, affordability and technology, among other topics, 8 a.m. at the Parc 55 Hotel.

TUNNEL VISION: As the public comment period opens on the proposed Delta water tunnels plan, opponents of the controversial project are making their displeasure known. A rally against the tunnels is set for north steps of the State Capitol at noon. Representatives from environmental, fishing, farming and anti-tax groups are expected to attend.

PHOTO: Edward West, 72, of Sacramento stands with union workers in a union-backed protest outside a Walmart in Roseville. The demonstration was part of a nationwide campaign protesting wages at Walmart on Black Friday, November 29, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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