Speaking out Against Changes to Utility Liability
Wildfire Survivors, Supervisors Attend Press Conference
Supervisors from Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties joined CSAC and wildfire survivors Wednesday to respond to the establishment of a Legislative Conference Committee on wildfire preparedness and liability and put a spotlight on potential legislative changes to utility liability laws currently being considered at the State Capitol in Sacramento. The press conference took place curbside next to the home of survivor Brad Sherwood. His home was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire last October – just one of thousands of residences to be devastated by utility caused wildfires across California during the past year.
CSAC organized the event to strongly oppose any potential changes to the state laws that govern how utility companies are held liable for fire damages caused by their operations. Last week, Legislative leaders and the Brown Administration announced the convening of a Legislative Conference Committee to discuss potential changes to laws related to wildfire preparedness, response and wildfire liability. SB 901 (Dodd) will be the bill that the Committee amends to reflect any proposed changes to state law.
CSAC, along with a coalition of local government associations, sent a letter to the Governor, legislative leaders, and conference committee members expressing “collective concern about potential efforts to revise constitutional protections under ‘inverse condemnation’ laws and long-standing liability statutes related to the causes of wildfires.” Inverse Condemnation is a legal concept that entitles property owners to just compensation if their property is damaged by a public use. For a more detailed explanation of inverse condemnation law and its impact on counties and local communities click here.
CSAC is very concerned about any changes to inverse condemnation because it could prevent timely compensation for wildfire survivors and potentially take away incentives for utility companies to invest in safety. At the press conference, Supervisors and survivors said that potential changes to the law could erase key constitutional liability protections for fire victims by making it easier for utilities to delay compensation decisions via lengthy and expensive legal action. Concern was also expressed that changes to inverse condemnation could damage the ability for local governments, utilities and the state to partner in preventing future catastrophic fires, by reducing incentives for utility companies to pursue fire-preventive operational or policy changes.
CSAC Executive Director Graham Knaus and county supervisors in attendance, including Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, Mendocino County Supervisor Georgeanne Croskey and Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, voiced their desire to be at the table to work with the Governor and Legislative Leaders to focus on areas where we can work together to strengthen fire prevention activities, our emergency response and our collective resiliency.
Click here to watch a video of the entire press conference. To review samples of coverage by the many media outlets in attendance, click on the following links: Santa Rosa Press Democrat, San Francisco Chronicle and KTVU.