The Barbed Wire - June 4, 2021

June 4, 2021
Bill of the Week: SB 37 (Cortese) – Restrictions on Use of CEQA’s “Common Sense” Categorical Exemption
Hometown California – From Rural California to the State Assembly, A Conversation with Assembly Member Jim Wood
Environmental Protection Agency to Revise State Water Rule
State Air Board Launches Smoke Spotter App
Biden Directs $1 Billion to States for Severe Weather Preparedness
Public Lands Act

Bill of the Week: SB 37 (Cortese) – Restrictions on Use of CEQA’s “Common Sense” Categorical Exemption

This week, RCRC expressed opposition to Senate Bill 37, authored by Senator Dave Cortese (D-Santa Clara), which will add significant costs and procedural delays for many types of minor projects that will have no significant impact on the environment. 

Specifically, SB 37 prohibits use of the California Environmental Quality Act’s (CEQA) “common sense” exemption for projects on sites listed on the state’s Cortese List.  The Cortese List is a compendium of over 40,000 contaminated sites across the state.

While the author has indicated his goal is to prevent local governments from using the “common sense exemption” for projects that may expose workers and future tenants to hazardous wastes, the bill is far broader in scope.

Hundreds of state and local government properties throughout the state are impacted, many of which include corporation yards, equipment repair facilities, municipal airports (often in rural areas), fire stations, municipal administration buildings, courthouses, correctional facilities, highway patrol stations, state parks, closed landfills, etc.  Most of these sites are listed because they previously had a leaking underground storage tank that has since been remediated.

By prohibiting use of the “common sense exemption,” SB 37 will require state and local agencies to perform an initial assessment and issue a negative declaration before commencing a wide variety of projects that will have no significant impact on the environment. These projects could include roof replacement, paving maintenance and repair, installation of security equipment and fencing, installation of solar or energy storage projects, maintenance or replacement of existing structures, interior alterations, etc.

Private projects will also be impacted by SB 37, since it would preclude local government use of the “common sense exemption” for extensions of previously approved use permits or site approvals, continuation of existing leases, and minor zoning changes for Cortese List properties.

SB 37 is expected to be referred to the Assembly Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials and Natural Resources Committees.  RCRC will work with Senator Cortese and the Assembly to substantially narrow SB 37 to ensure that it does not create the unintended consequences that will result from the current version of the bill. RCRC’s letter of opposition may be viewed here. For additional information, contact John Kennedy by email or call 916-447-4806.

Hometown California – From Rural California to the State Assembly, A Conversation with Assembly Member Jim Wood

In the latest episode of Hometown California, our host, Paul A. Smith, sits down for a conversation with California State Assembly Member Jim Wood. Learn about his path to politics-- from dentistry to the State Assembly— and how his experiences in rural California have influenced his priorities in the Legislature. Listen as Assembly Member Wood discusses healthcare, cannabis, vegetation management, wildfire, and so much more. Listen now

Need to get caught up? Find every episode of Hometown California right here.

Environmental Protection Agency to Revise State Water Rule

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would revise a rule implemented by the Trump Administration that rolled back a state’s power to limit or reject projects that may pollute its lakes, rivers, and other navigable waters. Specifically, the previous administration’s guidance would limit the role of states in implementing water quality standards under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, arguing that too many states had been using clean water laws to prevent projects from going forward.  In July 2020, California and 20 other states filed a lawsuit challenging the rule.  Under last week’s reversal from the Biden Administrations’ EPA, the agency said that it intended to “strengthen the authority of states and Tribes to protect their vital water resources” while also “retaining elements that support efficient and effective implementation of Section 401.”  Any changes that the EPA makes to the rule will have to go through a public comment period before being finalized.

State Air Board Launches Smoke Spotter App

Last week, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) launched the Smoke Spotter app, a new, first-of-its-kind application to help California residents know when a prescribed fire is happening in their area so that they can prepare for the associated smoke impacts. The app provides information to help educate the public on prescribed fire, its positive impacts on forest resilience and how to prepare for the related smoke, including:

  • Location, size, and burn status;

  • 24-hour statewide smoke forecasts;

  • Personalized alerts that notify users when a prescribed fire will be burning nearby (notifications can be set for multiple locations);

  • Current Air Quality Index (AQI) data to help users make health-based decisions; and,

  • Additional information on prescribed fire, its benefits, and how users can protect themselves from smoke.

The app is part of the state’s overall strategy to improve the health and resilience of California’s forests and wildlands, and will be integrated with the work of the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force to encourage increased use of prescribed fire to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The app is available for download in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. For more information, see CARB’s announcement here.

Biden Directs $1 Billion to States for Severe Weather Preparedness

Last week, President Biden announced his administration will provide $1 billion in funding this year to state, local, and tribal governments to prevent damage from floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters.  The money will come from funding already allocated for 2021 and will be distributed through the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program.

Public Lands Act

Last week, 19 House Members including Representatives Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), and Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel), sent a letter to Senate leadership calling on them to pass the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (HR 803). The bill, which already passed the House in February, would protect public lands in California while also establishing restoration lands to protect Northern California communities from wildfire, among other innovative efforts. 


Announcements regarding hearings, grants, and public comment notices of importance to California's rural counties.


California Opportunity Zone Site Updates

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) released a comprehensive update to the California Opportunity Zone site.  The new site features a multitude of funding opportunities, resources, best practices, and tools to support economic and business development in economically-distressed communities. For a list of site updates, see here.


Alpine County Seeks Assistant Auditor-Controller

The County of Alpine is seeking an Assistant Auditor-Controller.  The position is open until filled. To apply or for additional information, visit the Alpine County website here.


Forest Stewardship Workshop

The University of California Cooperative Extension is offering training opportunities to help landowners develop sustainable plans to improve and protect their forest lands.

  • Online every Tuesday, (6-7:30pm) starting June 1, 2021 through July 27, 2021, and in-person, Saturday, June 26th in Sonoma County

For more information, see here.


State Water Board Awarding O&M Grants To Disadvantaged Public Drinking Water Systems

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is soliciting letters of interest from public agencies, public water systems or nonprofit organizations to award a total of $27.5 million from uncommitted Proposition 68 funds for disadvantaged communities (DACs) treatment of contaminated groundwater. Specifically, operations and maintenance (O&M) costs are eligible for DAC water systems over a period of three to five years, including (but not limited to) permitting, monitoring and reporting, chemicals, and/or plant operator labor. Letters of interest are due to the SWRCB’s Division of Financial Assistance by July 12, 2021. For more information, see here.


Access the State Grants Portal for a Multitude of Funding Opportunities

Billions of dollars are up for grabs to public agencies and other entities, including tribes and businesses. Grant seekers can access a centralized portal of grant and loan opportunities here, or sign up to receive new grant opportunities delivered straight to your inbox. 


Announcements regarding key staffing changes of importance to California's rural counties.


Jennifer “Jen” Benedet, 38, of Anderson, has been appointed Assistant Deputy Director for Communications, Education and Outreach at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, where she has served as a Statewide R3 Coordinator and Marketing Specialist since 2018. Benedet was a Consultant at the Lake Siskiyou Trout Restoration Project from 2017 to 2018, Advisor at One Conservation Network from 2016 to 2017 and California State Director/Western U.S. Outreach Coordinator at Sportsmen’s Alliance from 2015 to 2016. She was a Library Technician and History Room Specialist for the City of Carlsbad from 2013 to 2015, Community Organizer at the Alliance for African Assistance from 2009 to 2010, Case Manager at Team Coordinating Agency Inc. from 2007 to 2008 and Respite Worker at Humboldt Child Care Council from 2002 to 2005. She earned a Master of Arts degree in social and cultural anthropology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and a Master of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of New Hampshire. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $117,000. Benedet is registered without party preference. 

Lisa Silverman, 54, of Pilot Hill, has been reappointed Executive Officer for the Office of Public School Construction at the Department of General Services, where she served in that position since 2012. Silverman was Deputy Executive Officer at the Office of Public Instruction from 2010 to 2012. Silverman served as Senior Management Auditor and Chief of Fiscal Services at the Office of Public School Construction from 2006 to 2010 and was a Business Tax Specialist and Associate Tax Auditor for the Board of Equalization from 1997 to 2006. She was an Associate Tax Auditor and Hearing Officer for the Franchise Tax Board from 1984 to 1997. Silverman is treasurer for Latino Sports Outreach and a parent volunteer for the Oak Ridge High School Soccer Program. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $141,432. Silverman is a Democrat.



Resource pages, deadline extensions, and available programs to assist communities impacted by COVID-19.


Coronavirus Relief Available from the Small Business Administration

The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering several coronavirus relief options to help alleviate the financial hardships resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19). The programs have received an overwhelming number of applications from businesses, so be sure to check the SBA website for the latest updates on the status of these programs.

  • The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provides loan forgiveness for retaining employees by temporarily expanding the traditional SBA 7(a) loan program. After initial funding was quickly depleted, the program received an infusion of an additional $310 billion, allowing the SBA to resume the program on April 27, 2020. Be sure to check the SBA website for the most recent information on the application process and availability of funds.
  • The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Emergency Advance provides up to $10,000 of economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing temporary difficulties.
  • SBA Express Bridge Loans can be used to bridge the gap for businesses while applying for a direct SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan; small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 quickly.
  • SBA Debt Relief provides a financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are interested in programs for other disasters, the SBA Disaster Loan Assistance portal is available here.


Economic Development Resources for Communities and Businesses Impacted by the Coronavirus

The California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED) has assembled resources for communities and business impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19). The page will be continually evolving as new resources become available. To go directly to the CALED resources, click here.


Use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds for Infectious Disease Response

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds may be used for a range of eligible activities that prevent and respond to the spread of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Check out the Quick Guide to CDBG Eligible Activities to Support Infectious Disease Response for guidance and additional information.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) County Resource Page Available

The California State Association of Counties (CSAC), RCRC’s local government partner, continues to provide excellent up-to-date state and federal information to counties on this ever-changing pandemic event.  We encourage visiting CSAC’s COVID-19 resource page, which contains vital links to all CSAC COVID-19 advocacy letters and resources.  CSAC’s staff continues to work around the clock to update activities so that all of California’s counties can remain properly informed.


Information related to the current status of legislation and regulations impacting California’s rural counties.