Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, said “choices are the hinges of destiny.” Are state lawmakers making good or bad policy choices as we enter the forth year of the worst drought in California history? What kind of future are they building for us?
On April 27, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee heard AB 311 (Gallagher), which would have created a streamlined, 370-day procedure under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to address any public concerns related to the design and construction of water storage projects funded by Proposition 1 of 2014. Proposition 1 authorized spending of $2.7 billion in bond funding to construct more water storage facilities around the state. Assemblyman Gallagher modeled his bill on SB 292 (Padilla) of 2011 and SB 743 (Steinberg) of 2013, which streamlined the CEQA process to build a football stadium in Los Angeles and an arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball team respectfully.
In 2011 and 2013, billionaire professional sports team owners argued that taxpayer subsidized stadiums and arenas are “economic engines” and that CEQA, which was originally intended to ensure the right of the public to comment on proposed projects and to mitigate any potential environmental damage caused by the project has too often morphed into a litigious, costly and time-consuming process misused by businesses, labor unions and unincorporated associations that hide their fat cat donor lists. These interest groups misuse CEQA and the courts to use last minute “document dumping” and other legal tactics to delay or halt projects or to extract lucrative concessions to line their own pockets while doing nothing to protect the environment. As seen in the enactment of these two bills to streamline CEQA for a particular proposed football stadium and basketball arena, the same legislators who refuse to enact comprehensive CEQA reform, which would benefit all Californians, robotically respond when billionaire professional sport team owners to tell California lawmakers to jump, they ask “how high?”
Assemblyman Gallagher’s AB 311 and his effort to moderately streamline CEQA – 370 days is more than enough time for high-paid lawyers, bureaucrats and consultants to do their paperwork analyses – for much needed water storage projects represents a defining test as to whether a majority of state lawmakers are gripped by frivolity or are paying serious attention to the basic food, water and employment needs of Californians.
This issue is urgent. A report issued on June 2 by UC Davis, found that the drought will dry up $2.7 billion in revenue and kill another 18,600 farm worker jobs, as farmers will, on average, experience a 33 percent cut in water supplies and are forced to increase groundwater pumping and fallow 560,000 acres. The Central Valley has a dust-bowl unemployment average of 17 percent. In 2014, 530,794 acres burned in California and our firefighters are going to have an increasingly difficult time this year in scooping up water from rivers, lakes and reservoirs to put out life-threating and toxic wild land fires.
Statesmen would put an end to the state’s encrusted laws that result in “paralysis by analysis.” For instance, if the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties was operating two years ago, 900,000 acre feet of new water would have been captured even during drought conditions, enough water to fall the Sacramento Kings arena 950 times. While desalination provides 50 percent of Israel’s water, it’s taking over 10 years for a company to run the state and federal permit maze and battle 14 lawsuits to build a desalination plant in Carlsbad, San Diego. When President Eisenhower signed legislation funding the construction of the national highway system, the first highway project was underway in three weeks. Now our policymakers have made the term “shovel ready” a pejorative joke.
But this is no joke. On April 27, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee voted AB 311 (Gallagher) down 3 to 6. Perhaps next year, some of the legislators who voted against common sense reform to cost-effectively increase our food and water supply and jobs will be invited by the fat cat team owners to sit in the luxury seats at the Sacramento Kings new area a few blocks from the State Capitol building. “Choices are the hinges of destiny,” and voters should fire these legislators at the next election. This great state deserves better.
Kevin Hanley is the CEO of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. His views are his own. Published in the Auburn Journal on June 5, 2015.