avin Newsom speaks during election night event on November 6, 2018 in Los Angeles.

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Newsom Signs Bill Creating Fund To Pay For Wildfire Damage

Doug Sovern
July 12, 2019 - 2:04 pm

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law his sweeping plan to change how California pays for wildfire damage and regulates utilities, while also revealing his pick to be the state's top utility watchdog. 

The legislation, AB1054, went from a proposal to a signed law in just three weeks. Newsom defends the quick process, denying this was a rush job and insisting it was critical to get it done before the legislature took its summer break.

“We are on a recess and we are in the middle of our wildfire season,” Newsom told reporters. 

The bill creates a fire recovery fund of at least $21 billion. Half of that is paid by utility customers, in the form of a $2.50 per month surcharge that was supposed to expire. The rest is covered by the three big public utilities, including PG&E. They, in turn, will have to take new safety measures, certified by the California Public Utilities Commission.

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“There’s a lot in here. Dozens and dozens of prescriptive things that we need to do in real time,” Newsom said. “In closing, I want you to know we’ll have a new CPUC president to help us do that.” 

The governor's choice to take the helm of the CPUC is Marybel Batjer, who is currently the Secretary of California Government Operations Agency. 

Newsom said she is a specialist in reorganization, who will oversee this new era of utility regulation, while the administration moves forward with further measures to prevent and recover from future wildfires.

“Marybel’s deep experience in government administration and sound judgment make her uniquely qualified to take on this important role,” said Newsom in a statement. “I am confident she will protect the best interest of all Californians by challenging utilities to embrace reform while providing safe, reliable and affordable service.”