Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins recently met with The Sacramento Bee's editorial board to discuss the water bond being negotiated by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown. After a vote on a $10 billion water bond in Senate fell short of a two-thirds majority, the governor proposed a $6billion bond. Last week, the negotiations produced an $8.25billion alternative, but it faltered in an Assembly committee. Among the points of contention are the size of the bond, new dams and reservoirs, and funding for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta restoration. In edited remarks, Atkins addresses those issues and others pertaining to the water bond.
Are you going to solve the water issue?
The great thing about water is it's not a partisan issue; it's a geographic issue. I'm from San Diego. Now people tend to think that I'm from Southern California so we're in lock step with Los Angeles. That's not true. My folks have some concerns about the tunnels, but they also care about ecosystems and the Delta. So it makes for interesting politics.
The framework is this: We have to agree upon an amount. We have to deal with various geographical issues. Storage is an issue and so is how you deal with the Delta.
People are on board with fixing the levees. But the other money designated for the Delta - restoration or mitigation - that means something to people in the Delta. And you've got to deal with groundwater issues in Los Angeles.
And people are going to be looking to see if you agree to this amount on storage. And they'll say, 'What do I get for my issue?' The need and the issue are important, but people are comparing those kinds of things to see where they end up.
Do you agree with Gov. Jerry Brown that the bond has to be "tunnel neutral"?
We've got to solve a lot of those issues from south to north. Everyone has to have real skin in this game if we are to be successful to get this bond passed.
Would you talk about restoration vs. mitigation? Where are people lining up on those issues?
Seems to me the Delta folks want to make sure we're not doing what they call mitigation, which has become a buzzword for support of the tunnels. Restoration has become the phrase for doing things to help the ecosystem, natural resources and the environment in the Delta. But mitigation has become the bad word in the Delta. The distinction is really important to them.
Here's what will be the litmus test: yes, we want money for levees, if you're from the Delta. But then how much on top of that goes for the other category of, whether you call it, mitigation or restoration? And if it's too much, folks in the Delta are going to look at that with an eye for concern, and they're going to want to know what's the governance for how that money gets spent and who controls it. And that's a policy language issue for them. It's not an amount, it's a language issue.
Is there a discussion of who will handle that money or who handles the projects, whether it is the Delta Conservancy or the Department of Fish and Wildlife?
Those are live discussions and will be part of where we end up. I see the governor on one hand, and the Assembly and Senate still debating it.
Which side is the governor on?
Fish and Game. But he has agreed to be tunnel neutral.
How specific are the talks on storage?
It depends on the amount we land on. It depends on where we land between the governor's $6 billion and how much it goes up from there.
What do we lose when we go from an $11 billion bond now on the November ballot to $6 billion?
There are multiple categories that have been taken out from each category. It's not an approach of: OK, we're going to do a certain percentage cut of each one. We're looking at each area. There are categories of clean water, safe drinking water, groundwater, recharging, conservancies and watersheds. Some will depend on shovel-ready projects.
Are there any storage projects that have been taken off the table?
As we look at each category and the amount of money for each, it does have those kinds of implications. But I'm focused on the big number for each category. Those details are being discussed right now.