As grim conditions for fire season loom, wildfire victims lose a key advocate

Lobbyist expelled from PG&E Fire Victim Trust after sexual harassment allegations

By Emily Hoeven

CalMatters

All roads lead to Sacramento.

That’s one takeaway from the convoluted series of events that led to tens of thousands of PG&E wildfire victims losing one of their top advocates in the state Capitol this week — just one day after veteran lobbyist Patrick McCallum pitched Gov. Gavin Newsom’s staff on the idea of a $1.5 billion loan to ensure survivors are fully compensated.

The PG&E Fire Victim Trust announced Wednesday that it and McCallum had “agreed to part ways, effective immediately, in light of certain recent publicly disclosed developments.”

Those developments could pose problems not only for the already beleaguered Fire Victim Trust — which a KQED investigation found has been slow to pay victims and quick to rack up big bills for lawyers and consultants — but also for the California State University system. Here’s why:

  • McCallum, who is married to Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki, allegedly sexually harassed several women at a party at his house. The women reported the incidents to then-provost Lisa Vollendorf, who in turn reported them to CSU officials, prompting retaliation from Sakaki, according to a claim Vollendorf lodged against CSU and which the system paid $600,000 this year to settle, according to investigations from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Los Angeles Times. McCallum denies the allegations.
  • Sakaki, who denies retaliating against Vollendorf, initially defended her husband but announced Monday that she is separating from McCallum. She’s now facing challenges of her own: The executive committee of Sonoma State’s academic senate voted Thursday to advance a vote of no confidence in her leadership, and Democratic state Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa said her response “deserves close scrutiny by the CSU chancellor and board of trustees as to how the interests of students and employees can be best served going forward.”
  • It’s the latest scandal to embroil CSU, whose chancellor resigned in February amid accusations that he mishandled sexual harassment complaints against a high-ranking colleague while president of Fresno State. The system has since launched multiple independent investigations into its own policies.

But let’s pivot back to PG&E — and run through a rapid round of Thursday environmental news:

  • PG&E, which has already raised customer rates twice this year, is seeking state approval to hike them yet again to help pay for a variety of projects, the Mercury News reports.
  • Even as rain and snow soaked Northern California, lawmakers took a key step toward lowering the state’s standard for residential indoor water use — a move that could lead to higher rates despite lower consumption. Next week, the Bay Area’s largest water agency is also set to consider capping household water use.
  • Newsom administration officials said California may need as much as $30 billion over three decades to protect the Central Valley from floods.
  • A scathing report from the California state auditor found that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — the state’s largest, supplying water to 19 million residents — “must fundamentally change the way it approaches many personnel and ethics issues.”
  • An American Lung Association report found that California is home to most of the U.S. cities with the worst year-round particle pollution, short-term particle pollution and ozone pollution.
  • But another study, from nonprofit Environment America and research firm Frontier Group, found that California is home to five of the country’s top 20 cities with the most solar power per person.
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