At the September 25 meeting of the Delta Protection Commission, the commissioners discussed whether or not they should take a position on Proposition 1, the water bond. Executive Officer Eric Vink began with a brief presentation on the four provisions in Proposition 1 that are relevant to the Delta in order to set up the discussion.
“The first provision provides $50 million in funding to the Delta Conservancy for multi-benefit water quality, water supply, and watershed protection and restoration projects for the watersheds,” he said, noting that the staff report includes additional subtext and restrictions, such as no eminent domain. “The Conservancy shall coordinate and consult with the city or county in which a grant is proposed to be expended and with the Delta Protection Commission, so we would expect there would be a process where this Commission would provide some input into the grant making process that the Conservancy will move forward with. There’s more detailed language about what some of these grants or this amount could be used for, including assisting in water-related agricultural sustainability projects. A lot of this is very general language; it probably will be better defined if Prop 1 is successful and the bond does proceed and these amounts are expended.”
The second provision is $87.5 million of funding for California Department of Fish and Wildlife for restoration projects in the Delta. “That has some subtext to it as well in terms of consulting with cities and counties in which they propose to spend their money, but not the Commission. There is some additional language indicating priorities of spending the money,” he said, noting that there is more information in the staff report.
The third provision in Prop 1 is $295 million to the DWR and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board for Delta levees funding which is specific to a handful of programs that those two entities administer, including local assistance for Delta subventions and special flood protection projects, both funding categories that are well-known to Delta levee interests, Mr. Vink said. “There’s some subtext language that says that the Department shall make its best efforts to coordinate this funding with proceeds from Prop 84 and 1E; I’m not sure what that means,” he said. “If someone has a better sense of what that means, it would be great to know. I know there were unexpended monies from both Prop 84 and 1E that are being reallocated under this existing bond. I tried to look into that in more detail; I saw where the amounts are. It’s not really clear to me where they come from in Props 84 and 1E. … “
The final provision is what is referred to as ‘BDCP neutrality’. “There is very explicit language that there is no funding in the water bond for the design, construction, operation, mitigation or maintenance of the Delta conveyance facilities,” said Mr. Vink, noting that the code section is referenced in the staff report.
“It’s worth noting that there is opposition to Prop 1, including from some Delta interests,” said Mr. Vink. “To paraphrase, I think their concerns are that Proposition 1 still does further the goals of BDCP, maybe in indirect rather than direct ways, and specifically through the funding for fish flows and the lack of further restrictive language on habitat funding; that’s for both the funding for the Conservancy and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and even insufficient restriction on Delta levee funding, such that Delta levee funding could be prioritized for habitat improvements rather than actually improving levees to reduce flood risks. I’ll let those interests speak for themselves, but it’s worth noting that those concerns and the opposition is out there. I wanted to bring that to the attention of the Commission.”
Mr. Vink said that the Commission can take a position on a state ballot measure, but is prohibited from spending any public monies or staff resources to advocate for that position. Commission legal counsel Jessica Tucker-Mohl provided further clarification. “There are no terribly clear, bright rules so I’m happy to consult on a going-forward basis if people have any specific questions, but Eric articulated the general position on expending public funds to advocate. The distinction is really that advocating on the one hand is an impermissible campaign activity, but education and informing are permissible activities. There may be gray areas between what’s educating and informing and what’s advocacy, and I’m happy to consult going forward. But public funds as everyone knows – that’s staff resources, use of email, use of equipment, those are all public funds and prohibited.”
The question before the Commission is do they want to take a position, and if so, what position would that be? The commissioners discuss.
“I would like to explain that both the South Delta Water Agency and the Central Delta Water Agency oppose the bond,” said Commissioner Dante Nomellini, who represents Central Delta reclamation districts on the commission. “There are some good things in the bond, but in connection with BDCP, it isn’t just the mitigation or habitat associated with the tunnels and construction of the tunnels. The real issue is that in order to get a 50 year take permit, they have to add conservation measures to the already existing obligations. Existing obligations are things like the CVPIA that requires the federal project to restore fish to a certain level; they have priorities for refuge water in the CVPIA and this bond act allows for purchased of water and habitat that could address the indirect issues I’m talking about. In other words, they’re going to pick up their obligations that don’t fall within the language. The language isn’t absolutely clear; it’s ambiguous.”
“We believe knowing where Met and Westlands were on the proposition, that they wanted that in the old bond act – they had $2.125 billion that would have gone clearly to BDCP indirectly,” Mr. Nomellini continued. “Not the tunnels, not the mitigation for the tunnels, but those prior obligations that have to be met in order to have the new conservation measures additive to them, so perhaps we’re too close to the innards of the water process, but that’s where the maneuver is. We tried to get clear language through our representatives to make sure that that wouldn’t be done, and the fact that they didn’t give clear language is an indication to us that they are going to shove quite a bit of the money over in that direction, so on principle we oppose it.”
“I would urge that we go against the bond, but maybe a neutral position given various people voted in favor of it,” acknowledged Mr. Nomellini. “I have no problem with that, given the knowledge of the legislative process of what can and cannot be done. So that’s my position. “
“One of the things that was very clear that we don’t anticipate that the BDCP will be a process,” said ex-officio Commission member Assemblyman Jim Frazier. “Our Assembly budget staff had found monies that had not been utilized in 1E in the correct fashion, kind of reminiscent of State Parks … so we actually tailored down the levee money because of what was in 84 & 1E, so we were looking at that aspect.”
“One of the things about Prop 1, basically from my objective is that there is no way you can clearly not show a benefit to another project if you improve the watershed,” Mr. Frazier continued. “That’s a clear benefit to any kind of conveyance project, no matter what. We were clearly trying to be tunnel neutral for the aspect but it actually was detrimental to the funding of the Delta because we were so careful and trying to be thoughtful to the process that we were not trying to be a segue to that project … we did, in my office, actually in Chapter 6, and its section 79738 #2, of the $87 million and change that’s going to DFW for habitat restoration, conservation, enhancement projects to improve the condition of special status, at risk, endangered or threatened species in the Delta, and the Delta counties, including projects to eradicate invasive species, the weeds and what not, and projects that support the beneficial use of dredge material for habitat restoration and levee improvements. We were trying to make sure that we have a huge problem with funding on invasive species … We were trying to get another crack at helping the weeds and species, so it was 117 individuals voted in favor of this Prop 1 to go forward.”
“I have to commend Assemblymember Eggman for getting the eminent domain installed in there, and a lot of those facets through her process also, but if the BDCP wasn’t a component of this, it would have been a completely different funding, and I think the Delta suffered because of that,” concluded Mr. Frazier.
The floor was then opened up for public comment.
First to speak was farmer and longtime Delta resident Herbert Hunn. “I love the Delta. I’ve lived in the Delta for 70 years. We’ve got to protect the Delta. And how we protect the Delta is we vote against the water bond. I want to strengthen your backbone. We cannot stand the water bond! We cannot stand the tunnels! By voting against the water bond, you defeat the tunnels! Don’t you get it? I can’t be more straight about it. I look around here and I see all of you who have benefitted from this Delta. My cup runneth over because the Delta has given me benefits and my family beyond measure. I can’t understand … you voted against the tunnels, but now you’ve got to vote against the water bond. I’ll get down on my knees and beg as it’s so important. You’ve got a gift that God gave you here, protect it!”
Next to the podium was Clarksburg resident Barbara Daly. “The water bond is too risky for the taxpayers and the people of California’s best interests. It takes money from other things; it’s paid from the state’s general fund, and I feel water plans for California should be paid for with regional water rates, instead of subsidizing large water agencies even more. For example, funding for safe drinking water in the San Joaquin Valley is a relatively small part of the bond, and it should have been done either by other bonds long ago or by the water agencies where these people live if they were to do the right thing. Again, long ago, with other water bonds and other money that they’ve already been given.”
“A continuous appropriation for small water yields for surface storage projects with great evaporation are passé, unless you want to talk about restoring Tulare Lake basin,” Ms. Daly continued. “Again, that’s regional, which I would be highly in favor of. I believe we should look into the risks and benefits of doing that, but it’s not in this water bond. I feel that we really need to stop recreating a bad wheel, look at 21st century viable alternatives to California’s water situation, and work together … so I say vote no on this water bond. Habitat restoration has never worked, and I’ve seen where in November, Prop 84 spent $18,000 an acre to buy a dairy farm in Modesto …. “
Last to speak was Anna Swenson from North Delta CARES. “I feel like the water bond leaves out room for projects that are really needed in the 21st century. We need new ideas, we need new strategies, we need new techniques, the same old same of sticking our straw north isn’t working. I feel like this water bond just promotes the same type of thinking and the same type of actions. It’s time for us to do something different. We have to.”
“I feel very concerned that the bond money that was spent when I was 8 years old still hasn’t been spent, and I still don’t have any accounting of where it went, and I have no way of knowing what ever happened to it,” continued Ms. Swenson. “I feel very concerned that this water bond will go through and my children, who are now 8, will say what happened to it? And I’ll say I was deeply involved and yet I have no idea, and I feel very concerned about that. We’re not just spending our money; we’re spending the money of the future, and we have to take extra diligence and extra time, and I feel like a bond that was thrown together so quickly cannot possible have that kind of forethought or that kind of introspect to be able to cover the future that far in.”
“We need to figure out how to measure the water; we need to figure out why we’re allocating five times as much water as we have in existence, that’s what we have to figure out,” said Ms. Swenson. “There are some basic tenets that are not addressed in the water bond and without those fixes, there’s no way we’re ever going to catch the tail of the tiger. I support alternative 21st century ideas and concepts that will create new water. This bond creates no new water, and that’s really concerning. We have to shift our focus away from Mulholland. He was a wonderful man, but he wasn’t right. It’s time for us all to stand up and say, that’s okay, he still has roads named after him and that’s great, but it’s time to stop that mistake. It’s time to end that and move forward.”
And that concluded the public comments.
“Contra Costa County is in favor of the bond, we do see that it actually does create water and we do see and gained as much BDCP neutrality language as we could; we are comfortable supporting it as written,” said Vice-Chair Mary Piepho, Contra Costa County Supervisor. “It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, but we did feel it was the best we could get, and it funded the Delta Conservancy which was part of the original 2009 legislative implementation that is being criticized for not doing anything because we don’t’ have funding, and yet we’re being criticized for not doing, and I wish we had been able to secure funding for the Delta Protection Commission but we weren’t able to get that far, but for the record Contra Costa County is in support.”
She then asked the other commissioners if they had any comments on which direction the Commission should take on this.
Commissioner Cabaldon, the mayor of the city of West Sacramento and the Commission’s representative for cities in Sacramento and Yolo counties, said, “My city has not taken a position but a couple of cities I represent have. I appreciate the concern about the relationship, much diminished as it might be to the BDCP, that has been expressed, and the sense that if you were to stop the water bond, it would cut some toe of the foot of the BDCP, but the challenge for me is that it applies to lots of things. If we decided not to pass a state budget at all so that DWR didn’t have any money to pursue BDCP any longer, we would effectively hobble the BDCP while also shutting down all the health clinics and all the schools and everything else.”
“There’s consequences that have to be weighed against that objective – I appreciate Dante’s point, but relative to what is needed out of the water bond for the drought, for communities that are running out of water entirely, for cities and communities like mine in the Delta that are substantially at risk because of inadequate levees, for the exploration of new water sources, for dams and groundwater – these things need to happen and they cannot be held hostage over what are really, thanks to Jim and so many other folks in the capital that did this, really tangential issues around the BDCP,” Mr. Cabaldon said.
“I get it, but I’ve worked on a lot of school bonds, too, and there’s certainly a lot of things I’d like to do to reform school construction,” Mr. Cabaldon continued. “We could do a much better job. They could be much more efficient, but we cannot not build any schools while I am working to try to get it to be perfect, and I think the same thing is perfect with the water bond. This was the revision of the last water bond that was supposed to be on the ballot in a lot of ways before the BDCP became a hot topic, and it was just as needed then as it is now and in fact, now more so. I do get it, but I think this is an important step, and thanks to the delegation of members who used to be on this Commission who are now in the legislature, I think we got a pretty good arrangement to protect the bond from being abused to advance the BDCP, but it’s certainly is desperately needed in our communities and the Delta as a whole.”
Commissioner Piepho then asks for a straw vote. She asks if anyone on the Commission believes they should take a position from the DPC on Prop 1? “Not taking a position would essentially mean we’re neutral … is there anybody that thinks we should take a position either in favor or in opposition? I’m seeing none so I believe that means we are staying neutral on Proposition 1,” concluded Ms. Piepho.
Other notes from the Delta Protection Commission meeting …
- Delta Heritage Area Initiative: The first phase of the Delta Awareness Campaign, a joint project between the Delta Protection Commission and the Delta Conservancy is almost complete. The team has selected a final logo and tag line. A variation of the logo will be developed for the Great California Delta Trail. The tag line ‘Heart of California’ was selected. The next step is for Conservancy to release proposal for 5 year marketing campaign, which is due out in the coming weeks. Mr. Vink should have something to report at November meeting.
- Delta Waterways Clean Up: Another joint project with the Delta Conservancy. As part of the event, the Delta Protection Commission captained four sites in the Delta, one in each of four counties. The Conservancy also hosted a thank you luncheon afterwards. Mr. Vink said there were good feelings all around and that it was a successful effort.
- Delta Protection Commission Land Use comments: The Executive Director’s report now contains a table which shows the comments letter provided on land-use projects both within the primary and the secondary zone of the Delta. Staff will continue to provide this to the Commissioners in the future. “As a reminder, land use projects in the primary zone of the Delta must be consistent with the Commission’s Land Use and Resource Management Plan,” said Mr. Vink. “That’s our bible, and the land use planning comment letters is really the bread and butter of what we do at the Delta Protection Commission.” He also noted that the Land Use Plan is soon to be updated.
- Delta Flood Risk Management Assessment District, or levee assessment district: The Delta Protection Commission is the lead on this effort; it is funded by DWR. The Commission released the RFPs last week; the proposals will be received by Oct 10, then the proposals will be evaluated and a consultant selected. Commission staff expect to bring a consultant contract for Commission approval at the November 20 meeting. They will present more information on how the process will proceed at that time. If approved at November meeting, the plan is to start work Dec 1. Timeline for project goes out to March of 2016, a 15-month project. Mr. Vink said there would be much more information to be given at November meeting.
- Delta Protection Commission Budget Proposals: Mr. Vink said that the budget proposals submitted for 2015-2016 have been denied. One in particular was funding in particular to update the Economic Sustainability Plan, which is a legislative mandate. “We don’t have the resources available with current staffing and budget, so we hopefully will get that turned around,” Mr. Vink said, noting that he will approach supporters in legislature if they are not successful in getting this into the Governor’s proposed budget. There will be more to come. It’s certainly not a done deal at this point, but we will want to make sure that funding is provided to uphold our statutory mandate to update the ESP in 2016, he said.
- Delta Flood Preparedness Week: October 20-25 is Delta Flood Preparedness week. On October 25th, The Delta Protection Commission is hosting a Flood Preparedness Fair at the Delta Farmers Market in Isleton, at the junction of Hwy 12 & Hwy 160. The Delta Flood Preparedness calendar and the notice of the fair is being distributed to Delta primary zone residents.
- Delta Protection Advisory Committee (DPAC) Report: DPAC chair Mark Pruner was not present, so Mr. Vink gave the report. The first meeting of newly reconstituted committee was held on September 4 with 13 of 14 members present. Group reviewed the charter and selected Mark Pruner as chairman. Mark Pruner represents North Delta CARES. The Committee also reviewed the most recent at the time Strategic Plan initiative and goals document. Their comments are provided in the report.
- Delta Protection Commission’s Strategic Plan: Jim Nelson presented the draft Strategic Plan Initiatives and Goals document. Commissioners gave comments as well as members of the public. Commission voted unanimously to approve staff’s recommendation to create a subcommittee of Commissioners Piepho, Ferguson, and Ferrara to work collectively and provide a revised presentation at the November 20 meeting.