Newsom Vows to ‘Face Climate Change Head On’

Good morning.

First, here’s an update on the wildfires burning across the state:

After another weekend plagued by compounding disasters in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday pointed to his burning state as clear evidence that climate change — and its most extreme manifestations — is a major driver of the fires’ scale and severity.

And even as the Trump administration has pushed to roll back regulations, Mr. Newsom said the state would push ahead with its efforts.

“In the absence of federal leadership, California will continue to lead,” he said. “The more we push into this space, more partners will be forthcoming.”

[Read more about how California’s “demonized” winds shape wildfire season.]

Still, the picture he laid out of millions of burned acres, thousands of homes and buildings destroyed, all with the looming threat of dangerous Santa Ana and Diablo winds in coming days, wasn’t encouraging.

Mr. Newsom said that 7,606 fires have burned 2.3 million acres in California this year. That’s a record in modern history.

Although last year’s was a less active fire season — it followed a rainy winter — the governor noted that by this time last year, just 118,000 acres had burned in 4,927 fires.

[Read the latest updates on the fires.]

And that’s just in California; wildfires were burning across the West. And that’s just the early part of what is likely to be a highly active and dangerous fire season.

As of Tuesday, Mr. Newsom said firefighters from not just the United States but other countries were battling major fires, including the Creek Fire, which prompted a dramatic rescue of hundreds of campers.

[Read about the rescue here.]

While he noted that a vast majority of the state’s fires had been sparked by people — on purpose or inadvertently — Mr. Newsom said the weekend’s extraordinary heat made fighting fires and preventing new ones especially difficult.

“Never have I felt more of a sense of obligation and a sense of purpose to maintain California’s leadership not only nationally but internationally to face climate change head on,” he said.

Pacific Gas & Electric on Monday started cutting power to 170,000 customers in an effort to prevent its equipment from sparking additional blazes.

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The governor on Tuesday announced the first handful of counties to move from the most restrictive of the state’s new reopening tiers into a tier that allows more businesses to operate indoors at reduced capacity, including restaurants, gyms and houses of worship.

[Read about the new, color-coded tier system.]

The counties that were moved to the less restrictive red tier from the purple included Amador, Orange, Placer, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz.

Although the news was encouraging, it seemed to depart from Mr. Newsom’s emphasis a little more than a week ago when he unveiled the new system that counties would be required to spend at least three weeks in each tier before being allowed to further ease restrictions.

Now, as millions of kids around the country return to school — virtually and not — my colleague Marie Tae McDermott looked into a question about school pods.

Buffy Kinstle, a reader in San Francisco, asked us: “I’ve noticed a surge in local families seeking to create micro schools and pandemic mini pods, in some cases with plans to hire private teachers to manage their kids’ educational and child care needs. What are school districts doing to protect public access to free education for all, support working families who cannot afford private small-group education, and retain qualified educators?”

My colleague Abby Goodnough wrote about how small-group education is on the rise across the country. While many wealthy families are hiring private educators to teach their children, some families are priced out of pods and virtual learning alternatives, leading to a widening education gap for students.

The solution, some say, is for school districts to provide small-group learning to families for free. Alpine Union School District, a small community in eastern San Diego County, was one of the first in the state to offer families this option, according to the district’s superintendent, Richard Newman.

[Read all of our coverage of schools reopening.]

Alpine’s learning pods started a little over two weeks ago. Parents take turns supervising a fixed cohort of 12 students. The students receive virtual instruction from their teachers, and one teacher assigned to the pod provides face-to-face support. The district provides the physical location, technology, curriculum and facilitates safety protocols.

The California Department of Public Health released a set of health guidelines for facilitating groups of students, which Dr. Newman said his learning pods met. Alpine is also relatively small, with only 1,700 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

On a larger scale, San Francisco is transforming recreation facilities, libraries and community centers into learning hubs, where some 6,000 students will be able to go daily to complete their online schoolwork and engage in programming and outdoor play.

In light of the state’s new reopening rules, Mayor London Breed said in a news conference that the learning hubs would open as planned in mid-September and that enrollment was nearly full.

“Even when we provided them with devices and internet service, they are still falling further behind,” Ms. Breed said. “It is so important we opened these learning hubs, and we are almost at capacity.”

Still, Liana Chavarín, a single parent and director of the Berkeley Forest School, expressed frustration over the lack of options currently available to families. Her school district in Berkeley has a program that offers families a more flexible schedule, but the program is already full.

“If a single parent like myself doesn’t have the option to work from home and my family doesn’t have the option to enroll in the district’s independent study program, that leaves me with no choice but to unenroll my child,” she said.

Ms. Chavarín decided to incorporate the Roots & Waters Collective, a cohort of elementary school-age children, into her school. Many of her students come from low-income households or are children of essential workers, she said. Because students and teachers at her forest school spend their days outdoors in small groups, they are able to learn and explore at a safe distance from one another. The school offers tuition on a sliding scale.

In Alpine, Dr. Newman said he planned on welcoming students back to campus in the coming weeks in a hybrid learning model that combines virtual and in-person classes. However, because students will be attending campus only on certain days, the learning pods will stay in place.

Dr. Newman said that single parents, parents of children with special needs and families with means have all signed on to use the pods.

“I think this is a good example of how we might change education down the road.” he said. The question now is: “How do we provide more opportunities for students to learn, parents to be engaged and use the resources of a school district?”

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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