Senators Steinberg, Wolk, Pavley and DeLeon discuss the newly revised water bond and the tunnels


senators 1Today, Senators Steinberg, Wolk, Pavley, and De Leon met with the press to talk about the water bonds and the tunnels. Here’s what they had to say:

Senator Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg:

I’m joined by President Pro Tem elect Kevin De Leon, Senators Wolk and Pavley, who have been the two Senate leaders in putting together a water bond. As you know, neither house was able to muster the necessary two-thirds supermajority to get a water bond done now, but we intend to come back in August and do our very best to get this done. Senators Wolk and Pavley have now put forward an amended bond from the $10.5 billion bond that we presented last week. It is a $7.5 billion bond, it is certainly close to the price point that the Governor put out as what he would like to see.

Most important, it maintains the essential elements contained in the previous bond and our message to the water stakeholders and the members, especially on the Republican side is this: Take us up on our offer to get responsible water bond done as soon as possible when we return in August. We are ready to go. In the water world, you can’t always get everything you want, but there’s a whole lot in this bond that California needs, and we look forward to talking to anybody from the other side of the aisle, or the stakeholders over the summer recess to finalize this and get this done when we come back.

Senator Steinberg then invited his colleagues to speak.

Senator Lois Wolk:

As primary author of 848, I just wanted to say that the basic principles that we started out with continue and that is we want to focus on the regional projects, the critical projects, that are needed throughout the state, and we want to make certain that each community that has a drinking water, water quality problem, or other things that they want taken care of will have the state’s assistance in doing that. That, after all, is what a bond is all about. We also maintain what you’ve heard to be – tunnel neutrality. This is a bond that harms no part of the state, but in fact does a great deal of good throughout the state. And it will be in print tomorrow; it is across the desk, and I would invite the public, as we have from the very beginning, to take a look at this, and we’d like to get this done. It’s important to the state.

Senator Fran Pavley:

I just wanted to thank Senator Wolk for her leadership and of course Senator Steinberg and Senator De Leon. Senator Wolk is absolutely right; we took the bond, we responded to the Governor by dropping the cost of the bond by $3 billion. Essentially, to put it in simple terms, the same categories are contained in the bond; it took proportional cuts to reduce the measure per the Governor’s suggestion. I think it’s a very sellable bond to the community. It’s not just about what we think in the legislature, but what does the public think. When I go home, and I’m from Los Angeles and Ventura County, people want to see an investment in groundwater cleanup; that’s what’s in this bond – about $900 million. They want to see investment in stormwater capture and reuse. They really support regional solutions for increasing water supply and water quality. This bond is good for the whole state; we desperately need it in a drought situation. It includes monies that can roll out the door sooner than later. I think it’s a very attractive bond and I know all regions of the state will benefit from it. I think it passes on the ballot and look forward to working with the Governor and members of the Republican party in getting this passed. We have till about August …

Senator Steinberg:

We have until the first week of August when return to get this done because that will give us enough time to take the old bond off the ballot and its description out of the voter pamphlet. There is some flexibility in dates, but the sooner the better.

Senator Kevin De Leon:

I just want to recognize and I want to thank Senators Lois Wolk and Fran Pavley for their outstanding job, and for the hard work that both of you and your staffs have invested in actually hammering out what we believe is an acceptable bond measure for the state of California for the voters. I want to give a special recognition, a much deserved recognition for our Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for being the glue in bringing everyone together.

The reality is a water bond is very difficult and very complex, but this water bond as crafted today, is a reflection of all the interests in the state of California – whether you’re coastal residents, whether you’re urban, rural, suburban, central, southern, or northern California, everyone gets something, neither one gets everything that they want. But the reality is living in a very complex and diverse state like California, the good thing is that we believe there’s a lot of good stuff in this bond measure that many Californians, regardless of what region that you’re from, will like and very much so.

We think the number in terms of the actual dollar will be palatable to the voters of the state of California, so I’m just very thrilled and happy to be with my colleagues Senators Lois Wolk and Fran Pavley, and especially with my good friend Senator Darrell Steinberg for helping stay keyed on what is a very difficult issue, so thank you.

Question: What do you think about the tunnels. Are the tunnels going to happen? Everyone is saying ‘tunnel neutrality’. That is making me think no one really wants …

Senator Steinberg:

The point is the tunnels are going to have their own pathway, so to speak, process wise. In other words, the tunnels really are about a permit process with the state and federal government, and all we are saying is don’t mix the bond together with the controversy over the tunnels. Californians are reasonable people and can agree and disagree on the tunnel issue, but don’t make the bond about the tunnels because our polling has been very clear. When you make it a north-south fight, when you make it about the tunnels, the bond goes from about 60% to just over 40%. We want to pass a bond because California needs it, so keep the debate separate.

Senator Wolk:

There’s no reason to have the fight about the tunnels in this bond and at this time. The tunnel project, or whatever it is, the BDCP, whatever it turns out to be, is not yet approved and it won’t be probably for another year. However, what this bond is about is short-term and medium-term water needs that currently exist now, so why don’t we just figure what we all agree on that harms no part of the state but helps everyone and get that done.

Question: You talk about (indistringuishable), you talk about permitting, there are people saying, well if this bond gives money to projects that are needed as part of that approval process, the restoration, than it’s not really ‘tunnel neutral’, that it’s pro-tunnel.

Senator Steinberg:

That’s exactly the problem. Look it, there are a lot of stakeholders here that want it all. Well, we all want it all. I’d like everything in that chamber to be done my way all the time; it just doesn’t usually work out that way. It requires compromise and the compromise is an investment in storage, surface storage, which a lot of environmental groups and Democrats aren’t thrilled about, but we give that in exchange for tunnel neutrality, and then oh by the way, we spend billions of dollars on a whole host of things that everybody agrees on, and that we need.

Look it, a lot of stakeholders are betting that they can pass the existing $11.1 billion bond from 2009. If that’s the strategy, that’s a heck of a risk to take on behalf of the millions of Californians who are depending upon additional water investment in this state. If that’s what’s going on, hopefully the Governor will weigh in in a major way in August and help us come together and get the two-thirds that is necessary.

Question: How much is in the new bond for storage?

Senator Wolk: $2 billion.

Question: Senator, you’re putting this out the day that the legislature is breaking for recess. Can you tell me why you are releasing this now and what kind of work you intend to do during this month long recess? Since we won’t’ have everyone in the building …

Senator Steinberg:

We wanted to leave before the recess making it clear that we’re willing to come down from our $10.5 billion bond – that’s number one, and you know, we’ll be working during the summer. The idea is to come back in August with a clear course and to be able to get this done. It’s going to take the Governor, too, really weighing in big time here, both on the size but also on the content.

Question: What do you see as the drop dead date without creating a disruptive process for voters having pamphlets that give them information about measures that aren’t on the ballot and putting a supplemental ballot out, all of those expensive and confusing things?

Senator Steinberg:

There are two dates. One date is when the ballot descriptions in the voter pamphlet can be moved. That’s in relatively early August. I believe the 11th. To actually take the measure off of the ballot, it’s later in August. But obviously, we don’t want to have to wait until the end of August to have a description of the old bond in the voter pamphlet while the measure is off the ballot; that would be confusing to people, but the absolute drop dead date is the end of August. The practical drop dead is about the 11th or 12th.

Question: How much for Delta restoration?

Senator Wolk:

For Delta restoration, there is $500 million and there is $350 million for levees.

Question: In going back to the question I had asked before, is in your mind, Delta restoration money, is that a neutral aspect of the tunnel or is this argument restoration = helping the tunnels, therefore pro-tunnels. What is your take on that?

Senator Wolk:

What is key for the Delta counties and the Delta region is that the Delta be at the table when the decisions are made about where and how restoration is done. That’s what happens all over the country and that’s what happens frankly all over the state. The local communities are involved. That’s why the money for the restoration would go through the Delta Conservancy, which is a state agency like any other conservancy, but in fact, they are not a majority, but there are five members out of the eleven who are members of the Delta community. They are members of the boards of supervisors. In addition, we require that any restoration projects have a local partner and cannot be done by eminent domain. These are not new things to any restoration project in California, but they are reiterated and made very strong in the section on the Delta, and the Delta counties support that.

Question: Have you gotten any feedback from Republicans on this bond?

Senator Steinberg:

No, but in general, I know what they want. They want $3 billion worth of storage, and they want the bond to not be tunnel neutral – that they’ve been very clear. So that is not only does that not give us the two-thirds to get an amended bond through the legislature, it’s also a recipe for failure at the ballot. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid. Now if storage is the most important thing, we think we can accommodate that. We were willing to with the $10.5 billion bond which the Governor said was too large. We’re willing to do the storage.

The tunnel neutrality is not just a matter of philosophy; it’s also a matter of practicality and political success, because again the polling shows us very clearly that if this becomes a north-south referendum, a bond is doomed to fail. And nobody, by the way, has rebutted the polling that we’ve put out publicly, nobody’s come forward with a different version and said well, you could do it differently make it pro-tunnel and still pass a bond. Let’s get done what we can get done, that’s the art of politics and that’s how you make progress.

Question: This proposal you have put out, you have not gotten any feedback on that $2 billion in storage from Republicans?

Senator Steinberg:

I know they’ve said very directly to me they want $3 billion. OK, well then we’re going to have to talk to the Governor about upping the size of the bond. We’re willing to go higher because we think we already did, so this is why I say that it’s going to be important that the Governor really get involved in this in a major way, and we’ll figure out the price point, how much storage you can accommodate as a fair proportion of that price point, and make sure that the Delta, and I think Senator Wolk – we get caught up in the conservancy, but it’s really the principle I think that she stated, which is that the Delta stakeholders must have a voice in how the Delta money is spent.

Question: And just to be clear, you are not interested to take the Governor’s number, a $6 billion bond where half of it is for storage – is that something you’re skeptical about?

Senator Steinberg:

He said $2 billion, but we think $6 billion is too low. We think $7.5 billion is just right.

Senator Wolk:

If you go down to $6 billion and you set aside $2 billion for storage, which was largely Central Valley storage, that only leaves $4 billion for the rest of the state, and the amount of need and interest in groundwater clean up and management and recycling and there are so many other needs – safe drinking water for the million people in the state of California who don’t have access to clean drinking water. It’s really hard at that point to be fair to the rest of the state. Again, we look forward to the leadership of the Governor, we’re glad he spoke on the $6 billion and $2 billion guardrails; we appreciate that and we welcome his engagement further.


You can watch the press conference on YouTube by clicking here.


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