Stern Goes Seven for Seven with Final 3 bills signed by Newsom on Wildlife Corridors, Mental Health in Jails and Oil and Gas Reform

October 11, 2021

SACRAMENTO –  In the past week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 790, SB 406 and SB 317  by Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) into law. Governor Newsom had previously signed all 4 other Stern bills passed to his desk. Stern's new laws aim to improve conditions for nursing home patients, help those in need of mental health assistance, promote wildlife corridors, and tackle wildfire prevention, power shut offs, and oil pollution to the Governor’s desk. 

Wildlife Corridors

Signed Friday, October 8, SB 790, the Keep California Wild Act, ensures that as we build more transportation and housing, and as climate change threatens biodiversity, we keep California’s wildlife thriving with habitat connectivity projects like the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor.  Stern has partnered up with the National Wildlife Federation and is on the verge of the final planning stage to begin construction on this land bridge over the 101 freeway in Los Angeles County, the largest wildlife passage ever proposed.

“We have failed to account for wildlife and the habitat they need to roam as we built our freeways and housing in the Los Angeles region,” said Stern.  “The Southern California mountain lion will go extinct in our lifetime if we don’t start planning and building visionary projects right now.”

It is widely believed that “green infrastructure” projects such as this one are what can save mountain lions from otherwise likely extinction, while improving genetic diversity.   In one research paper, “modeling predicted a 99.7 percent chance of extinction within 50 years, with a median time to extinction of just 15 years” for a mountain lion population similar to the one in Florida—now being compared to the local population in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Mountain lions in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica Mountains face a 99% chance of extinction within the next 50 years, and genetic isolation is to blame.

Since 2018, there have been about 7,000 vehicle crashes a year in California involving large wildlife, costing drivers and government more than $1 billion over the last three years.  To learn more about this issue, see this recent article published in CalMatters.  

The supporters of the bill had this to say:

“The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority is thrilled that SB 790 is now law," said Marc Landgraf, External Affairs Manager at the Authority. "Preserving and improving linkages for wildlife to move and adapt to climate change is critically important, especially in areas such as Coyote Valley immediately to the south of Silicon Valley. We extend our deepest gratitude to Senators Stern and Cortese for their leadership on this landmark legislation.”

“One of the challenges in furthering Midpen’s mission of land conservation and natural resource protection is the extent of habitat fragmentation across the landscape that is impacting safe wildlife movement for forage, breeding, and refuge,” Midpen General Manager Ana Ruiz said. “The Highway 17 Crossings Project near Lexington Reservoir is an example of how we can overcome this connectivity challenge across highways and roadways.  By creating a passageway for animals to safely travel across the highway and connect to more than 30,000 acres of open space lands, we can sustain the health of our mountain lion and native wildlife populations while improving highway safety through reduced wildlife collisions."

“MRCA is excited to strengthen our long-standing relationship with Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect and enhance wildlife corridors that are impacted by our regional road and highway system," says Chad Christensen, Deputy Chief for Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority's Natural Resources and Planning Division. "Maintaining functional habitat connectivity between the Santa Monica Mountains north to the Santa Susana Mountains and east to the San Gabriel Mountains is crucial to support viable, long-term populations of mountain lion, mule deer, bobcat, grey fox, American badgers, ring-tailed cats, and long-tailed weasels. SB 790 increases the capacity of state entities to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, expands the mitigation credit program to include impacts from existing barriers, and will improve wildlife corridor connectivity with future projects. We are thrilled that Senator Stern and his staff expertly shepherded this into California law.”

Oil & Gas Reform

The Governor also signed Friday, October 8, SB 406, The Oil & Gas Well Data Transparency Act, by Senator Stern (D-Los Angeles).  The law seeks to make it easier for people to get information on oil and gas wells in their neighborhood by requiring the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (CalGEM) to make data more readily available and easily searchable on their website.

“We are grateful that Governor Newsom, in signing SB 406 into law, has chosen to address the important issue of improving data management and transparency for the state’s oil and gas wells,” said Stern.  “When accurate well information is not available and easily accessible, it has the potential to impede oversight and negatively impact the health of surrounding communities,” continued Stern.

Oil and gas wells, particularly those located near population centers or wildlife areas, pose significant health risks to people and the environment. Shortcomings in data transparency about whether a well is active or idle, whether it has been properly capped and maintained, and if there have been notices of violations has exacerbated the health risks communities are exposed to by impeding effective oversight and regulation.

A 2019 analysis of peer-reviewed literature for the Los Angeles Petroleum Administrator confirmed that the health consequences stemming from oil and gas wells are directly correlated to well density and distance to sensitive receptors. In California, nearly 5.5 million people live within one mile of an oil and gas well according to the Natural Resources Defense Council; a number that includes nearly 4 million people of color. This combination of factors underscores the critical need for community members to be able to easily access information about wells and know what is happening in their neighborhoods.

“Having accurate and accessible well information is crucial for effective oversight,” added Stern. “Community members and organizations have a right to know what has or has not been done to oil and gas wells in their neighborhoods to ensure their own safety.”

SB 406 was supported by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, California League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Working Group, PSR-LA, 350 Coalition, and The Climate Reality Project.  The law will go into effect January 1, 2022.

Mental Health

Last week, Governor Newsom signed SB 317 which allows all misdemeanor defendants to earn equal credits for time served, so those deemed “incompetent to stand trial” can earn credit while involuntarily held in a hospital. The law also provides more options for appropriate mental health treatment for these defendants. Instead of sitting on a waiting list for months, these defendants could be placed in a mental health diversion program or collaborative court where there are resources available to help them.

“We need a treatment approach that’s tailored to a defendant’s needs,” said Stern. “Rather than being shackled to the problems which all but debilitate the current system, this will allow defendants to get the treatment they need to avoid furthering the cycle of incarceration.”

The California Public Defenders Association and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors were among the measure’s sponsors. Speaking on behalf of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia said, “We applaud the passage of Senator Stern’s SB 317, which addresses long-standing inequities in the justice system by ensuring that Californians living with mental disorders will be connected to treatment more quickly and will not serve longer sentences simply because of their disorder.”

The California Public District Attorneys share the enthusiasm and excitement for the bill signing. “CPDA is proud to have co-sponsored SB 317 and thanks Senator Stern for his leadership.  SB 317 will help connect some of our most vulnerable clients to mental health services.  Jail time for those suffering from mental illness is not the answer and often does more harm than good.  SB 317 is a sensible and humane approach to this difficult issue.” Peter Vanoosting, Deputy Public Defender, Alameda County.

These changes in law are essential. SB 317’s extension of good conduct to people in state hospitals helps enact a recommendation from the new Committee on Revision of the Penal Code. Michael Romano, Chair of the Committee, said “I am deeply grateful to Senator Stern for authoring and Governor Newsom for signing SB 317. The Committee on Revision of the Penal Code is committed to improving public safety for all Californians while reducing unnecessary incarceration and inequity in the criminal legal system. SB 317 is an important step towards those goals.”

Extreme Heat, Power Shutoffs, Grid Reliability and Wildfires

Senate Bill 533 the Power Shutoff Prevention & Disclosure Act and Senate Bill 423 the Grid Reliability through Clean Energy Act, both authored by Stern, were signed into law as part of Governor Newsom’s $15 billion climate resiliency package.  Stern also played a significant role in securing funding to allocate over $800 million over the next two years to address wildfire, extreme heat and resilience, including funding for low income weatherization, community resilience and urban cooling and forestry projects. 

SB 533 requires utilities to disclose in their wildfire mitigation plans the energy circuits prone to public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events and their plans to reduce the risks and impacts of PSPS events that severely impact communities, small businesses, schools and local governments.  

“Public safety power shutoffs are supposed to serve as a ‘last resort’ option to avoid a catastrophic wildfire,” said Stern.  “What we’ve seen is the same energy circuits getting shut off over and over again resulting in loss of power to the same tens of thousands of energy customers.  These events riddle people with frustration, anxiety and anger. SB 533 adds much needed transparency and accountability on how utilities move forward with these events,” continued Stern.

“SB 533 adds transparency and accountability for those areas hit hardest by PSPS power outages. Understanding what steps SCE and other electric utilities are taking to reduce the frequency of outages is good for local government and the public,” said Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks.

“Communities like Moorpark have been hammered by PSPS outages.  Investor owned utilities must be held accountable and use PSPS events responsibly.  SB 533 will ensure investor-owned utilities are transparent in identifying PSPS prone zones and what steps they are taking to reduce outages in these specific areas,” said Mayor Janice Parvin of Moorpark

SB 423 requires California’s top energy agencies (the Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, Air Resources Board, and the Independent System Operator) to examine and assess which zero carbon energy resources and combinations of those resources will maintain energy resiliency against the effects of climate change while successfully moving the state away from using harmful fossil fuels.   The law also requires the California Energy Commission to incorporate firm zero carbon resources into its integrated resources plans.

“Diversity is resilience, and green is the only way to prevent a blacked out future,” said Senator Stern, of SB 423. 

“Senator Stern has given statutory direction to California’s energy agencies to step up their efforts to develop and commercialize advanced zero carbon technologies, such as long duration and seasonal energy storage, geothermal, offshore wind, and green electrolytic hydrogen. These technologies can together reduce dependence on fossil gas, while also reducing electric rates." said V. John White, Executive Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies (CEERT).

SB 423 directs top energy agencies to work to lower ratepayer costs through existing and emerging technologies. By incentivizing the development of existing and emerging clean energy resources, these technologies will more rapidly achieve economies of scale and bring down costs associated with meeting the state’s clean energy goals.

Stern’s SB 423 addresses the growing risk of extreme heat and wildfire on the grid, requiring the state’s energy agencies to provide a more flexible mix of zero carbon power, like offshore wind combined with geothermal, solar and long duration storage to replace less reliable fossil fuel plants that have shut down during recent heat waves

SB 63, The Wildfire Resilience through Community and Ecology Act, will establish a Fire Resiliency Corps at the state and neighborhood level designed to link with the President’s Civilian Climate Corps proposal. SB 63 also requires the state to identify moderate and high severity fire zones which the Building Standards Commission will use to identify modified ignition-resistant building standards for the new zones. SB 63 also makes important clarifications in defensible space and vegetation management law to ensure all ecological systems are treated appropriately.

“Climate change isn’t one dimensional and the fires, ecology, and development patterns we have in southern California present unique challenges compared to northern California.  That’s why I’ve been fighting for the past three years in the budget and through SB 63 this year to make sure our regional needs are funded appropriately,:” continued Stern.  “That work is bearing fruit in this budget, with tens of millions of dollars going to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, L.A. County Fire, local cities, resource conservation districts, fire safe councils, and many others to pay for fire prevention and wildfire resilience work.”

Transparency in Elder Care

SB 650, The Corporate Transparency in Elder Care Act of 2021, requires skilled nursing facilities to provide consolidated financial reports and documentation of the corporate structure to the public and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

“Many large, for-profit skilled nursing facility (SNF) chains use complex ownership structures to increase their profitability by making it appear they can’t do anything to control their costs, when in reality they’re keeping the money all in the dark recesses of the corporate family,” said Stern.  “This shines the bright light of day on this practice by requiring nursing home chains to place consolidated financial reports on each individual facility’s website.”