January 8, 2019 / 11:54 PM / 10 months ago

California to spend millions more on disaster response

COLFAX, Calif. (Reuters) - California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday proposed spending $305 million to improve California’s planning and response to wildfires, mudslides and earthquakes, focusing the state’s efforts on evacuating elderly and disabled residents who became trapped in recent disasters.

FILE PHOTO: Statues are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

Newsom’s plan would also involve efforts to speed up California’s ability to buy firefighting equipment and other emergency response tools.

Newsom’s announcement on his first full day on the job continues a broader effort to hit the ground running to deal with problems facing the most populous U.S. state of 40 million people.

“We are stepping up our game,” Newsom told officials and reporters in the northern California community of Colfax, one of many places in the Sierra Nevada foothills at high risk for wildfire. “The last two years have been devastating. We’ve lost 167 lives in fires and floods.”

Democrat Newsom was sworn in as California’s 40th governor on Monday, and immediately girded for battle with President Donald Trump, a Republican, while flying the banner of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.

Hours into his new job on Monday, Newsom signed an executive order that will dramatically reshape the way California buys prescription drugs.

On Tuesday, he signed two more executive orders, one directing emergency planners to consider the location of at-risk residents along with the possible places that fires, floods and other disasters could take place. The other set up a process to speed up the state’s procurement ability.

California’s wildfire season, always dangerous and frequently deadly, has extended nearly year-round amid warming temperatures and extended dry spells.

Last year, the deadliest wildfire in state history ravaged the town of Paradise north of Sacramento, destroying nearly all of the housing stock and killing more than 80 people.

Californians have increasingly built homes and communities in fire-prone areas, in part for the scenic beauty and in part because the state has a dire need for new housing.

Newsom is expected to release additional details of his proposed budget for the state this week.

Newsom also on Monday joined the governors of Oregon and Washington to send a letter to Trump asking the administration to increase funding for fire prevention efforts in forests managed by the federal government.

He declined to address question of whether the state should step in to help the investor-owned utility PG&E Corp avoid bankruptcy if it is determined that the company’s equipment caused the Camp Fire last November, which destroyed Paradise.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker

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