Laura Capps Announces Campaign

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   August 29, 2019

At a gathering at the Mission Rose Garden on Tuesday afternoon, School Board member – and daughter of Walter and Lois Capps Laura Capps formally announced her bid for First District Supervisor, challenging incumbent Das Williams in the March 3 primary election. 

Laura Capps announced her campaign for First District Supervisor on Tuesday

Capps, surrounded by school children, including her son Oscar, her supporters, and her mother, Lois, said her mission in office will be to combat homelessness and hunger in schools, as well as take on climate change and the increasing weather-related events that the County faces. “My North Star will be the kids of the county, and the future that they deserve,” she said. 

Capps was born and raised in Santa Barbara and is an alumna of local public schools – Roosevelt Elementary, Santa Barbara Jr. High, Santa Barbara High School – before earning degrees from UC Berkeley and the London School of Economics. Her work has been based in providing opportunities for working families, fighting for immigration reform, forging a more environmentally sustainable future, and supporting the rights of all people. 

She serves as the Vice President of the Santa Barbara Unified School Board and is on the board and past president of the Community Environmental Council. Previously she volunteered on the Board of Directors of the Parenthood Action Fund and Interfaith Initiative, and was appointed by then Supervisor Salud Carbajal to the Santa Barbara County Women’s Commission where she served as chair. 

Capps began her career in government and public service in the Clinton White House, working first as an aide to White House Senior Advisor George Stephanopoulos and then as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. She was Senator Ted Kennedy’s Communications Director in the U.S. Senate, serving as his primary spokesperson and developing strategic communications plans on a wide range of issues. Laura was also a senior aide to John Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign.

For over a decade, Laura has worked with national non-profit organizations, building a reputation as a respected advocate for environmental conservation and climate issues through senior positions at Ocean Conservancy, the climate non-profit founded and chaired by Vice President Al Gore. Recently she has devoted much of her work to ending poverty in California with advocacy and outreach on the Earned Income Tax Credit, and for several years she has worked with No Kid Hungry and local partners to ensure that more kids in Santa Barbara County have the food they need in the summer. 

Preparing for Public Safety Power Shutoffs

At a hearing on Tuesday, August 27, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard presentations from PG&E and Southern California Edison (SCE) regarding recently developed plans to shut down power during critical fire weather in order to reduce the risk of wildfires. Dubbed the “Public Safety Power Shutoff” (PSPS), the action could lead to multi-day power outages in many areas during periods of extremely hot, dry and/or windy weather. “As you all know there is a new normal,” said Eric Daniels with PG&E, adding that both his company and SCE have taken unprecedented action to mitigate future risk of wildfire, including implementing a PSPS when necessary. 

Southern California Edison’s Rondi Guthrie explained that SCE has laid out an extensive wildfire mitigation plan to harden the electrical system and improve resiliency. The strategies are based on fire science, and serve to eliminate any side of the “fire triangle.” This includes weather conditions (winds and/or low humidity), energy from the electrical infrastructure, and fuel (vegetation and structures near power lines). In addition to enhanced vegetation management, SCE has put additional safety measures in place including enhanced overhead inspections as well as undergrounding power lines where appropriate. The de-energization of the lines would occur to prevent ignitions from power lines, which are estimated to cause 10% of California wildfires. According to Daniels, the PSPS is a preventative action that is widely used in the utility industry. 

In order to implement a PSPS, a number of factors have to be at play including a red flag warning, low humidity levels, forecasted sustained winds generally above 25 MPH and wind gusts in excess of 45MPH, a high concentration of dry fuel, and on the ground, real-time observations. “When we have all of these factors going on at once, the company can then determine that the conditions surrounding that equipment could be considered so dangerous that we need to disengage that piece of equipment in order to ensure public safety,” Daniels said. PSPS would primarily impact circuits in high fire areas, but other circuits in non-high fire risk areas may be impacted if transmission lines are de-energized. “Everyone in our community needs to be ready to be on their own for 72 hours,” Guthrie said. The County’s Office of Emergency Management extended that further, urging residents that they need to be prepared to endure a power outage lasting 3-7 days.

 The companies discussed how a PSPS would be implemented: 4-7 days ahead of a forecasted event, weather and fire conditions would be closely monitored. Three days ahead, SCE and PG&E would begin notifying local governments and first responders; customers and small businesses would be notified about 48 hours ahead of the electricity shut-off. Power would be restored once weather is improved, and the lines have been physically inspected. 

The Supervisors and members of the public voiced concern over the impact such an action would have on those members of the community who are dependent on an electrically powered life-saving device. Individuals dependent on a life-saving device that requires electricity need to enroll in their electricity provider’s Medical Baseline Program. This will not only result in a discount on your electricity bill in the amount that it costs to keep your life-saving device going, but enrollment in the program is how SCE will identify those dependent on electricity; those people will be the first to be contacted in preparation for a PSPS. Other issues include food waste during an extended outage, and disruption in livelihood for those who require electricity to conduct work. 

First District Supervisor Das Williams asked several questions of the utility representatives and newly installed Director of Emergency Management Kelly Hubbard, who also spoke at the hearing. Hubbard outlined a number of issues with a PSPS, including the lack of emergency shelters – American Red Cross will not set up emergency shelters or receptions centers during such events; limited or overwhelmed cellular/internet services, which creates challenges for the public to receive emergency alerts; the potential for food-borne illness from contamination of spoiled food; and potential life-threatening situations for those medically dependent on electricity. 

The Board asked that the Office of Emergency Management and the utility companies come back to the Board at a later date to flush out more details about the program, including public outreach. We’ll have much more on this issue as the PSPS program is implemented over the next several months. 


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