Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 25, 2014
Governor's bond plan seeks tunnel neutrality


Water bond politics look poised to dominate the remainder of California's legislative session, with Senate leadership and Gov. Jerry Brown billions of dollars apart on the size of a revised water bond for the November 2014 ballot.

But they agree on one thing: the bond can't be about the tunnels.

Earlier this week, the Senate failed to pass a $10.5 billion water bond to replace the $11.1 billion offering approved in 2009 but postponed twice.

In meetings with legislative leaders yesterday, Brown put out his preferences: a bond worth around $6 billion, with about $2 billion for storage (both lower than the leading legislative proposals).

A draft of Brown's blueprint obtained by The Bee also suggests $1.5 billion for water supply and water reliability, encompassing areas like safe drinking water and groundwater cleanup; $1.5 billion for watershed protection; $500 million for flood control; and $500 million for the Delta.

Those numbers likely represent only starting points for negotiations. The document also states a general rule shared by Senate leaders: the bond must be "Bay Delta Conservation Plan neutral."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, made the case Monday that any bond perceived to advance the conservation plan is destined to fail. The BDCP requires money to bolster the Delta's ecosystem, and opponents of a proposed pair of Delta tunnels fear that a bond with Delta habitat money would therefore help lay the groundwork for the massive tunnels.

Ensuring that there is not a connection between a bond and the BDCP would be in the governor's interest, since it could help prevent a water bond vote from becoming a referendum on the tunnels he strongly supports. Developments in recent days, though, suggest that as the Legislature debates a water bond, the BDCP will hover in the background.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, watches as the votes are posted for a measure he supported that would overhaul an $11.1 billion water bond on the November ballot, at the Capitol in Sacramento Calif., Monday, June 23, 2014. Associated Press Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

June 18, 2014
Anti-Delta tunnel groups gear up to oppose water bonds


California lawmakers haven't finished maneuvering to get a new water bond on the ballot in November, but opponents have already begun mobilizing.

Critics of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to build massive water conveyance tunnels under the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta are launching a political action committee to battle any water bond that could facilitate the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Their goal is to raise at least $1 million for the effort.

"If there's backdoor BDCP funding, we're going after it," said Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman for the anti-tunnel group Restore the Delta.

The water bond proposals flowing through the Legislature explicitly forbid any money going to the tunnels themselves, and the lawmakers pushing their bond measures have taken pains to disentangle the push for a new water bond from the deeply contentious Delta tunnels debate.

But the key water bond bills all include money for safeguarding and replenishing the Delta's ecosystem. For the BDCP to pass muster with regulators it must satisfy the so-called "co-equal goals" of water supply reliability and habitat restoration.

"Legally they cannot build the tunnels unless they fund the mitigation of it, and this is the mitigation," said Hopcraft. "The water exporters are paying for the construction and then they're sticking the taxpayers with the bill for all the mitigation of the damage."

Aiding the effort will be former state senator Mike Machado, a Linden Democrat, and Tom Zuckerman, an attorney for the Central Delta Water Agency and vocal Delta advocate.

If the Legislature does not act, Californians entering voting booths in November will have before them an $11.1 billion bond measure that was initially passed in 2009 but has since been pushed back twice. Advocates of a new bond say the 2009 measure is too costly and unwieldy to win approval.

PHOTO: Aerial photo of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes in the Courtland area on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

May 16, 2014
VIDEO: Jerry Brown builds case for fourth term as governor

Gov. Jerry Brown stopped by The Sacramento Bee's Editorial Board on Thursday. He touched on subjects ranging from education and water to why voters should give him another four years.

March 26, 2014
Poll: Tim Donnelly leads all Republicans in race for governor

donnellyscrum.jpgTim Donnelly leads the field of Republicans bidding to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown early in this year's gubernatorial race, according to a new poll.

Donnelly, with 10 percent support among likely voters, outpolls his closest GOP competitors by 8 percentage points, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday.

Neel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official and the best-funded Republican in the race, was supported by 2 percent of likely voters, as was Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount.

All Republicans trail Brown by an enormous margin. The third-term Democrat is supported by 47 percent of likely voters, while 36 percent of likely voters remain undecided, according to the poll.

March 19, 2014
VIDEO: Jerry Brown talks drought at agriculture event


Gov. Jerry Brown touched on California's worsening water shortage Wednesday in brief remarks to representatives from the state's agriculture community.

"We're doing everything we can to respond to the drought," Brown said outside the state Capitol as the California Department of Food and Agriculture hosted its annual Ag Day. "We've got to emphasize water conservation, and water recycling and managing the water."

But the governor avoided a reporter's question about new proposals to boost water storage.

On Wednesday, Reps. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, trumpeted legislation to construct a massive reservoir in Northern California. In Fresno, the House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing about the drought.

Several storage-related proposals are being weighed by state and federal lawmakers.

Brown on Wednesday did not address the prospects for a water bond on the ballot this November. Instead, he again framed the issue as part of a broader effort to reduce greenhouse gasses and combat global climate change.

"Whether it's in agriculture, or our homes, or businesses, or in how we travel, we've got a lot of big challenges," he said.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the annual Ag Day at the state capitol, March 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago

March 12, 2014
Report: Taxes, fees needed to close California water funding gap


California will need to find billions of dollars annually to improve its water system, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California report.

Lawmakers are currently debating several water bond proposals for the 2014 ballot, but the report cautions that the state cannot rely on uncertain bond money to improve water management. It advocates a "broader mix of funding sources" that includes new taxes and fees.

"Although this is a fixable problem," the report says, "it will not happen without a bold, concerted effort on the part of California's state and local leaders, who must convince California's residents to support the necessary changes with their votes and their pocketbooks."

Aging infrastructure and climate change represent pressing issues, the report says, while water agencies are constrained by constitutional restrictions on how much money they can reap from ratepayers. Bond money requires fickle voter approval and crowds out General Fund dollars for education and health care.

Despite those funding obstacles, the report estimates that California needs $2 billion to $3 billion annually, breaking that up into five distinct areas: furnishing small communities with safe drinking water; flood protection; stormwater management; nurturing ecosystems and the endangered species that live there; and integrated water management.

The report's authors are generally optimistic about local entities that perform such services as providing drinking water and managing wastewater or stormwater. User fees generate much more money than what comes from the state or federal sources.

But because local fees and taxes generate the bulk of water funding, the report warns, tax-related ballot initiatives like Propositions 13, Proposition 218 (1996) and Proposition 26 (2010) have made it hard to keep up with maintenance costs.

Higher water-quality standards present a looming cost, as does the need to treat water when chemicals like arsenic and nitrate seep in — a problem that "will get worse before it gets better, because the accumulated chemicals in the soil are slowly moving through the state's aquifers," the report says.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to construct two massive water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could also bring higher costs as users pay back the cost of construction, the report says. The expense will be less for urban users than for farms where "this price increase could be prohibitive for many agricultural activities," the report said.

Farms will also face issues like scarce groundwater, a symptom of overpumping, and increasingly salty soil.

"Because of these problems," the report says, "we expect a continued decline in agricultural water use and irrigated acreage and a rise in the share of higher-income farming activities that can support higher water costs."

PHOTO: A Folsom woman examines a drip irrigation emitter at her home on Friday, March 7, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

February 25, 2014
California analyst suggests drought solutions


Saying Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal "includes little to address the effects of the current drought," a new report by the Legislature's nonpartisan fiscal analyst suggests anti-drought and conservation steps that lawmakers could take.

Friday's review of the resources portion of Brown's January spending plan came two days after Brown and legislative unveiled a $687.4 million package of drought relief measures, some of which seem to mirror parts of what the LAO suggests.

The legislation, which emerged Monday, is expected to be considered later this week.

In its report, the LAO wades into the contentious issue of water conservation.

The governor's January budget included $621 million to carry out the first phase of its recently released "water action plan." The plan lists water conservation as one of its 10 objectives, but the governor's proposed budget "includes few specific proposals to achieve that goal," the LAO said.

For example, the LAO said, the state could change how water is priced. The Legislature could require water agencies to charge more in drought years. Lawmakers also could make agencies charge lower per-gallon rates for essential water use, but higher rates for water uses deemed less important, such as landscaping.

In addition, lawmakers could change the system of water rights. The objective would be to reflect the potential to save water in "the definition of reasonable use."

And the Legislature could encourage farms to save more water by setting goals for the agricultural industry or helping them pay for water-efficiency equipment. Last week's legislation proposes to give $10 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to invest in water-efficient irrigation and pumping systems.

PHOTO: Skip Sagouspe walks by bulldozed almond trees in an orchard at Sagoupse Enterprises in western Fresno County on Jan. 16, 2014. The third generation farmer said he had to pull out 160 older almond trees, or about 10 percent of the family's crop, to try and reduce his demand for irrigation during this time of drastic water shortage. The Fresno Bee/Craig Kohlruss

February 20, 2014
California chamber appeals ruling on cap-and-trade fees

California_Greenhouse_Gases.jpgThe California Chamber of Commerce is appealing a local judge's ruling that California's "cap-and-trade" fees on business to curb greenhouse gas emissions are legal.

The business organization maintains that when the Air Resources Board adopted the fee program, which is expected to raise billions of dollars, it violated a constitutional provision, passed in 1978 as part of Proposition 13, that requires two-thirds legislative vote on new taxes.

It maintains that fee revenue in excess of that needed to administer the state's greenhouse gas reduction program are illegal taxes and is taking that contention to the 3rd District Court of Appeal in response to Sacramento County Judge Timothy Frawley's ruling in November. He declared that Assembly Bill 32, California's anti-greenhouse gas law, was sufficient authority for the fees.

"We stand by our belief that the Legislature in passing AB 32 did not authorize the ARB to raise revenue for the state beyond those costs necessary to administer the program," said Allan Zaremberg, the chamber's president, said in a statement. "We also believe the ARB's auction violates Proposition 13, because it imposes a new tax that did not receive two-thirds approval by the Legislature."

Gov. Jerry Brown is counting on the fees for variety of spending, including drought relief and a proposed bullet train system linking the northern and southern halves of the state.

"We believe that the judge inappropriately created a new category of regulatory fees," said Zaremberg, "in order to avoid ruling that the revenues came from an illegal tax -- not approved by two-thirds of the Legislature. The judge himself called this a close question.'"

February 19, 2014
Jerry Brown, legislative leaders to announce drought aid


Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on Wednesday will unveil plans to spend roughly $680 million on efforts to alleviate the impacts of California's drought.

The proposal elaborates on a plan Senate leader Darrell Steinberg had been working on to expedite approval of water recycling and stormwater reuse projects by adding emergency food and housing assistance to farmworkers who will be out of work due to the drought, according to sources familiar with the legislation.

Today's announcement -- set for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services at Mather Field -- comes five days after Brown joined President Barack Obama on a visit to Fresno to talk to farmers about the drought and tout federal assistance including money for livestock losses, watershed protection and summer food programs.

The plan being announced today would direct roughly $475 million toward local governments that are ready to build drought alleviation projects. The money would come from Proposition 84, a water bond voters approved in 2006.

The bill also calls for spending roughly $50 million -- largely from a housing bond voters approved in 2006 -- to provide emergency food and shelter to people who are out of work because the farms they normally work on are fallow due to drought.

Another roughly $40 million from cap-and-trade funds would be spent on water efficiency projects that save energy, while roughly $80 million from a 2006 flood bond would be available for projects that prevent flooding while making more water available for dry times, such as infrastructure to capture storm water.

PHOTO: Farmer Tom Muller walks out to a fallow field at his farm in Woodland on February 13, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:55 a.m. to delete a reference to a specific bill number.

February 3, 2014
Jerry Brown blasts bill as 'divisive intrusion' in drought

brownfresnopresser.jpgGov. Jerry Brown lashed out Monday against a water bill moving quickly through the Republican-controlled House, calling it "an unwelcome and divisive intrusion" into California's effort to manage the state's drought.

In a letter to the ranking members of the House Natural Resources Committee, the Democratic governor amplified opposition already registered by his administration to the bill, which has pitted irrigation interests in the Valley against environmental concerns.

"H.R. 3964 is an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California's efforts to manage this severe crisis," Brown wrote. "It would override state laws and protections, and mandate that certain water interests come out ahead of others. It falsely suggests the promise of water relief when that is simply not possible given the scarcity of water supplies."

Brown said the bill would also "re-open old water wounds undermining years of progress toward reaching a collaborative long-term solution to our water needs."

Republicans have said the bill, which would undo a San Joaquin River restoration program, would improve water access for Valley farms.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses the media at Fresno City Hall on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. The Fresno Bee/Eric Paul Zamora

January 31, 2014
California water deliveries dropped to zero


State and federal water officials announced Friday that deliveries of state water to agricultural and municipal users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which had been slashed to 5 percent earlier, will drop further to zero due to the state's severe drought.

It will be the first time that the state has taken such drastic action.

"There's not enough water to go around," state Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said at a news conference. He also said that releases from severely depleted state and federal reservoirs would be dropped to the minimum necessary to prevent salt water intrusion into the Delta.

The reduction is one of a series of steps that water authorities are taking to curtail use because the state is in the third and worst year of drought, despite a light rainstorm that hit the northern part of the state this week.

Agricultural production accounts for most of the state's water use and is expected to be hit the hardest by the reduction. Municipal users in Southern California will fare better because the Metropolitan Water District that serves the area has reported fairly heavy reserves.

PHOTO: Cattle hoof prints mark the dry reservoir bed that normally stretches to Ione road in the east at the Van Vleck Ranch at Wednesday January 22, 2014 in Sacramento County, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

January 29, 2014
Barack Obama calls Jerry Brown for drought update

OBAMA.jpgPresident Barack Obama called Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday to discuss California's drought, as the governor prepares to meet Thursday with water officials in Los Angeles.

The White House said in a release that Obama called Brown "to receive an update on the situation in California and express his concern for the citizens impacted by the historic drought conditions facing the state - conditions that are likely to have significant impacts on the state's communities, economy and environment in the coming months."

Brown's office said the governor will meet privately "with more than a dozen water leaders from across Southern California" on Thursday. The Democratic governor announced a state of emergency earlier this month and urged Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent.

California is suffering through dry conditions for a third straight year, depleting reservoirs and leaving streams and rivers running low.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated parts of California as primary natural disaster areas due to the drought. The designation makes certain farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans to cover losses.

Among other measures, the White House said Wednesday that the Department of Agriculture is working with farmers and ranchers to "increase their irrigation water efficiency, protect vulnerable soils from erosion, and improve the health of pasture and range lands."

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

January 21, 2014
Former California Sierra Club lobbyist John Zierold dies at 88


John Zierold, who ran legislative strategy in Sacramento for the Sierra Club during the 1970s and 1980s, as environmentalism became a powerful social and political movement, has died.

Former colleagues in Sacramento learned over the weekend that Zierold, who had retired to Kentucky, had died on Dec. 26 in Louisville at age 88. He had been preceded in death by his wife, Mary.

Zierold, who had worked in Europe as a U.S. intelligence operative during the immediate post-World War II era, began representing the Sierra Club at the Capitol in 1969, during the infancy of the environmental movement.

Zierold played pivotal roles in legislative battles for almost two decades over such issues as coastal protection, the California Environmental Quality Act, creation of the state Energy Commission, regulation of logging, and legislation designating "wild and scenic rivers" on which dams would be prohibited.

He also clashed with Jerry Brown during his first stint as governor over Brown's advocacy of a liquefied natural has terminal near Santa Barbara and a "peripheral canal" to carry Sacramento River water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — battles that Brown lost.

"He saved the Coastal Commission from defeat," Norbert Dall, a Sacramento environmental consultant who worked for Zierold during the period, said Tuesday, recounting Zierold's skills at working the legislative system. Dall also said that Zierold played a major role in rounding up key votes to elect Leo McCarthy as speaker of the state Assembly in 1974.

Zierold's survivors include a stepson, Marc Allaman, in Folsom.

PHOTO: Protesters hold signs during a July 19, 2012 rally sponsored by the Sierra Club to make their point regarding limits on levels of deadly soot pollution. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

January 17, 2014
Jerry Brown declares drought emergency, urges residents to reduce water use by 20 percent

brownfresnopresser.jpgSAN FRANCISCO - Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency Friday and urged residents to reduce water consumption by 20 percent statewide.

"Today I'm declaring a drought emergency in the state of California," Brown told reporters here, "because we're facing perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago."

The declaration come as the state suffers through dry conditions for a third straight year. It follows weeks of consideration by the Democratic governor amid pressure from lawmakers and water officials to act.

Brown had suggested for days that he was close to declaring the emergency, a formal act considered useful for raising public awareness and focusing the attention of federal officials who can accelerate some relief efforts.

In declaring an emergency, Brown directed state agencies to hire more seasonal firefighters, use less water and prepare a water conservation public awareness campaign.

Brown's appeal for conservation is voluntary, but he suggested the state could impose mandatory reduction measures if the drought lasts.

"As we go down the road - you know, January, February, March - we will keep our eye on the ball and intensify, even to the point of mandatory conservation," he said. "But we're not going to do that quite yet."

California is entering one of the driest winters on record after two dry years have already parched the state, depleted reservoirs and left streams and rivers running low. American River flows are at their lowest level in two decades, while Folsom Lake has receded so dramatically a Gold Rush-era mining town, long submerged, has been exposed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday designated parts of 11 states, including California, as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. The designation, which includes Sacramento, Fresno and San Luis Obispo counties, makes certain farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans to cover losses.

Meanwhile, water districts and local governments throughout the state have enacted conservation measures, including a water rationing order by city officials this week in Sacramento.

The last drought emergency in California was declared by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and lifted by Brown in 2011.

Last year, with the state becoming drier once again, Brown issued an executive order directing the State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Water Resources to expedite their processing of voluntary water transfers.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 10:44 a.m. to include additional remarks by Brown.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses the media at Fresno City Hall on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. The Fresno Bee/Eric Paul Zamora

January 16, 2014
Jerry Brown to declare drought on Friday in San Francisco

browntwo.JPGGov. Jerry Brown will declare a drought emergency Friday, sources said, after weeks of intensifying pressure on him to take action.

The declaration, which Brown is scheduled to announce at 10 a.m. in San Francisco, comes during one of the driest winters on record in California, following two dry years that already have left many reservoirs depleted.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno and several state lawmakers began urging Brown last month to declare a drought emergency. Brown appointed a committee to review conditions on the ground.

A formal declaration is considered significant as a public relations tool, increasing awareness of residents and, perhaps, federal officials who could accelerate some relief efforts.

Brown's office said Thursday that Brown would "make a major announcement" in an appearance Friday in San Francisco. The administration declined to disclose the nature of the announcement.

But a declaration has been expected, with Brown indicating repeatedly in recent days that he was close to declaring the emergency. Facing calls for a drought declaration while on a two-day swing through inland California this week, Brown said "nobody should discount the seriousness of what we're facing."

Still, Brown has suggested the significance of a formal declaration may be overstated.

"I'm trying to understand what physically we can do in the face of this drought, and then legally what steps can I take," the Democratic governor told reporters in Bakersfield on Tuesday.

Brown said a drought declaration could be helpful, "but at the end of the day, if it doesn't rain, California's in for real trouble. And the governor, through a declaration, can't make it rain."

Brown managed a drought in the late 1970s, when he was governor before. At the time he called for a 25 percent reduction in personal water use statewide and lobbied Washington for federal aid.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses the media at Fresno City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The Fresno Bee/Eric Paul Zamora

January 16, 2014
Pass a bond measure for water, California lawmakers urge at rally


Lawmakers representing drought-stricken districts joined with hundreds of their constituents at the state Capitol on Thursday to press for a new water bond measure and the declaration of a drought emergency.

"I see farmers, I see farmworkers; I see people from urban communities and from rural communities, all here today to send one message: that we need water," said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno.

A procession of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, most representing the Central Valley, took the podium to issue similar pleas. Many called for money to ensure clean drinking water and for more storage capacity, saying it would offset dry years by allowing the state to capture more during years of plentiful rain.

"Additional storage is the key," said Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte. "This year's drought simply underscores how critical the situation has become."

A sea of blue signs reading "sin agua=no ay futuro" (no water, no future) or some variation backdropped the speakers, highlighting the California Latino Water Coalition's role in organizing the rally.

"2014 is going to be one of California's worst water supply years in recent history," said Mario Santoyo, director of the coalition. He called the shortfall an issue not just for reduced food production, "but more importantly for those that are here, the issue is that when there is no water, there's no jobs."

January 15, 2014
Steinberg urges water bond for 2014 California ballot


With California into a third year of dry weather and several cities imposing restrictions on water use, the time has come for state leaders to "seriously consider" putting another water bond on the ballot, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said today.

"I think what's going on now creates an urgency to seriously consider putting a bond on the ballot in 2014, and not later," Steinberg said.

The Legislature has twice deferred putting a water bond on the ballot since lawmakers approved doing so in 2009. Gov. Jerry Brown has been noncommittal about whether he thinks voters should be asked this year to approve bond spending on new water projects.

Steinberg said lawmakers need to work on re-writing a water bond for 2014 as well as spending money from prior bonds to address immediate needs.

"When it comes to giving our regions and our local governments the resources necessary to increase water supply, we need to look at those bonds," he said.

"And we ought to consider early in the session working together to appropriate whatever resources are necessary to help California through this particularly difficult time when it comes to water."

The Sacramento Democrat also said state leaders should re-think how they approach the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would create two massive tunnels for moving water from north to south. He urged a focus first on measuring how much water could be saved through conservation, recycling and other means.

"That might help us define how much water needs to be ultimately available through an alternative facility around the Delta," Steinberg said.

Sacramento council votes to enact severe water restrictions

PHOTO: The American River as it flows through Sacramento is at its lowest flows since 1993. Shown here on January 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton
January 2, 2014
Jerry Meral will keep pushing water project, but from outside

delta_aerial.JPGJerry Meral, the chief steward of Gov. Jerry Brown's $25 billion water project while deputy secretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency, is going to work for an environmental group supporting the controversial plan.

The San Francisco-based Natural Heritage Institute said Meral, who retired from the state at the end of December, will direct its California water program, including work on Brown's plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.

Meral said Thursday he will volunteer his time for work specifically on the project, but it is possible the institute will pay him for work in other areas.

"That's developing," he said.

The distinction is significant because of the state's "revolving door" rules for government officials. The institute said in a prepared statement that "in order to comply with state law regarding 'revolving door' issues, he will not be compensated for his time working on BDCP."

The nonprofit said Meral, a former NHI board member, will also represent the Natural Heritage Institute on habitat, groundwater and other water issues.

Meral said non-government entities, including NHI, are likely to have a significant role in the project as it develops and that his position at the group "seemed like a good way to stay involved."

PHOTO: Aerial view of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes in the Courtland area on April 10, 2013. Highway 160 and Randall Island Road are seen near the top of the frame. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

December 14, 2013
Jerry Brown's top water official Jerry Meral to retire

delta_aerial.JPGJerry Meral, Gov. Jerry Brown's top water official and a major figure in the controversial, $25 billion water project proposed by the governor, will retire at the end of the month, the Brown administration confirmed Saturday.

Meral, deputy secretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency, told Brown of his retirement in a letter Monday - the same day the Brown administration released its latest environmental analysis of a plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.

"While additional permits will be required," Meral said in the letter, "it is virtually certain that the plan will be implemented."

Meral, who is widely regarded as one of California's most accomplished preservationists, worked for Brown as a water adviser when Brown was governor before, from 1975 to 1983. He was one of several high-profile advisers brought back by the Democratic governor when Brown took office in 2011.

Meral became a source of controversy when, earlier this year, five members of Congress called for his resignation after Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst with the California Water Impact Network and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, said Meral told Stokely the Bay Delta Conservation Plan "is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved."

The Brown administration defended Meral at the time and said his remarks were taken out of context.

Meral did not give a reason for his retirement in his letter.

Richard Stapler, a Natural Resources Agency spokesman, said in an email Saturday that "while we've reluctantly accepted Dr. Meral's decision to retire for a second time, his contribution to achieving the state's dual goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration is incalculable."

PHOTO: Aerial view of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes in the Courtland area on April 10, 2013. Highway 160 and Randall Island Road are seen near the top of the frame. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

July 2, 2013
2014 water bond talks begin with 'proposed principles'

KLAMATH_DAMS.jpgPublic discussions of a revised state water bond for the 2014 ballot were launched Tuesday with release of "proposed principles" by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.

An $11.1 billion bond issue was approved by the Legislature at the behest of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, coincident with approval of a process that resulted in a proposed twin tunnel project to carry water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

While the tunnel project would be financed by water users south of the Delta, the bond would pay for a number of ancillary projects, including the beginning of work on two new reservoirs, and thus is a battleground for proponents and opponents of the tunnels.

The bond issue was to go on the 2010 ballot but was postponed first to 2012 and then again to 2014 as legislative leaders and Schwarzenegger's successor, Jerry Brown, concluded that it would likely fail. They say the bond issue should be made smaller and eliminate some specific projects that critics termed "pork."

The committee staged a brief discussion of the one-page outline that hinted at the political conflict over how large the bond should be and how the funds should be allocated.

One principle would "prohibit earmarks to specific water projects," which would appear to bar the specific allocations for the two water storage projects that Republicans, backed by farm groups, had insisted on including in the 2009 version, as well as some of the local projects that were placed in the bond for political purposes.

The latter included removal of two power dams on the Klamath River and a parks project in the district of Rep. Karen Bass, who was speaker of the Assembly when the bond was being written.

PHOTO: Water flows back into the Klamath River on Aug. 21, 2009, outside Keno, Ore., after being diverted by J.C. Boyle Dam upstream and running through the powerhouse shown here to make electricity. PacifiCorp announced Sept. 30, 2009 the terms for giving up four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath so they can be removed by the government to help struggling salmon runs. Associated Press/ Jeff Barnard

March 20, 2013
PPIC poll shows division over high-speed rail, water bond

brownrail.jpgCalifornians remain sharply divided about California's $68 billion high-speed rail project, even as officials prepare to start construction in the Central Valley this year, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released tonight.

Forty-eight percent of adults favor the project, while 50 percent oppose it, according to the poll. Opposition is even greater among likely voters, 54 percent to 43 percent.

In addition to division over high-speed rail, a majority of likely voters -- 51 percent -- oppose an $11.1 billion water bond scheduled for the November 2014 ballot. The bond, tied politically to Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to build two water-diverting tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, includes funding for dams, wastewater treatment and other water infrastructure projects.

July 2, 2012
Senate committee votes to shift California water bond to 2014

Legislation that would shift an $11 billion water bond from the November ballot to 2014 cleared the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee Monday on a bipartisan, 5-0 vote.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1422 by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, won support from virtually every stakeholder in the state's notoriously fractious water issue.

If passed, it would be the second time that the measure had been delayed and would indirectly help Gov. Jerry Brown win voter approval of his sales and income tax measure in November. Brown has called for delay and changes in the water bond, fearing that its size would make voters less likely to approve taxes.

Brown has already signed legislation that would move his measure, a constitutional amendment, to near the top of November's ballot, just behind bond issues, and if AB 1422 is enacted, the tax measure then would top the ballot. However, Molly Munger, who's sponsoring a rival income tax measure, has sued, claiming that legislators and Brown are manipulating the election process. A Sacramento judge last week issued an order to temporarily block the numbering of ballot measures pending further hearings.

December 13, 2011
Lungren seeks probe of SF's use of Hetch Hetchy water

BP hetch hetchy mountain.JPGRep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, is asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to investigate San Francisco's "water practices" as they relate to famed Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

In a three-page letter dated Dec. 7, Lungren asserts that San Francisco is violating federal law by failing to exhaust its local water sources before tapping the Tuolumne River. Lungren specifically cites an alleged failure by the city to take advantage of recycling, groundwater and rainwater harvesting. Lungren further asserts these failings, combined with the city's use of Tuolumne River water stored at Hetch Hetchy, violate the Raker Act, the 1913 law that authorized construction of the Hetch Hetchy water system.

Lungren has for several years talked up the idea of removing the reservoir and restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley as a part of Yosemite National Park. With the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former mayor, now Sen. Dianne Feinstein looking out for San Francisco's interests, this latest effort may not go far.

PHOTO CREDIT: Norman Rickson, a superintendent of maintenance and repair for Hetch Hetchy, makes his way by boat through the valley floor covered by water, on July 21, 2004. Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick

October 24, 2011
Northern California Dems blast Obama team on water plans

The Obama administration is struggling to keep its head above water in the never-ending fight over Bay-Delta protections.

Often, it is California farmers who denounce the administration for not delivering enough irrigation water. On Monday, though, five California Democratic members of Congress rebuked the administration over a recent agreement signed with water agencies. The three-page letter signed by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and others complains that the Interior Department is giving water agencies "unprecedented influence" and "long-term guarantees" that may be to the detriment of the environment.

Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove and Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, joined the missive.

August 25, 2011
Attempt to keep Cogdill, Kelley on water panel blocked in Senate

HA_cogdill.JPGGov. Jerry Brown's decision to remove two GOP appointees to the California Water Commission sparked a partisan dispute under the dome this morning as Senate Republicans sought to approve the appointees despite Brown's plans to replace them.

Brown said last week that he plans to replace former Republican Sen. Dave Cogdill and former Sonoma County Water Agency Director Paul Kelley on the nine-member panel, but has yet to formally withdraw either appointment, both of which were made by former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Instead, Brown asked Democratic leaders to let the appointments lapse at year's end by not approving them by their confirmation deadline.

Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton today introduced a motion to bypass the Senate Rules Committee, which has not yet considered the nominations, and immediately hold a floor vote on confirming both members.

August 19, 2011
Jerry Brown removing GOP appointees from key water panel

In his latest move to reverse GOP appointments, Gov. Jerry Brown will replace former Sen. Dave Cogdill and water agency leader Paul Kelley on a key panel that will shape decisions on water storage and a possible Delta canal, the governor's spokesman confirmed Friday.

Cogdill was the chief GOP legislative negotiator on the historic 2009 water deal that placed an $11 billion bond on a future statewide ballot and reconstituted the California Water Commission. His subsequent appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the nine-member commission was considered part of the bipartisan deal struck that year by lawmakers and the former Republican governor.

Kelley is a former Sonoma County supervisor and former director of the Sonoma County Water Agency. A Republican, he serves as president of the Association of California Water Agencies, a key player in the 2009 water talks.

Brown and Republican lawmakers have been at odds, particularly since talks broke down over a state budget deal in June. Republicans have accused Brown of rescinding past promises made by Democrats in bipartisan agreements and see the Cogdill move as the latest example.

Brown press secretary Gil Duran said the governor deserves to have his own representation on the water commission.

"A new administration typically reserves the right to make a new choice," Duran said. "It just seems reasonable that the governor should have his own appointees on such an important board and not be without his chosen appointees until 2014."

Cogdill and Kelley are not the only Republicans on the water panel, but they are the only two that Brown can replace because their appointments were delayed until after they left public office in December and January. Other appointees joined the commission in May 2010 and have since been confirmed. Water commissioners receive $100 per diem during board meetings, but no salary.

The Senate must confirm Cogdill by Dec. 13 and Kelley by Jan. 1 for them to remain on the commission, but Brown has asked Senate Democrats to prevent that from happening. The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to consider several natural resources appointees on Wednesday, and Cogdill and Kelley are not among them.

Brown recently asked the Senate not to confirm former Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, assuring that the former Senate Republican leader will leave the $128,000-a-year post after one year.

Update (6:15 p.m.): The Senate has agreed not to confirm Cogdill, but Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg nonetheless said in a statement, "I would have voted to confirm Dave Cogdill because he is brave enough to put the state ahead of his own political considerations."

Cogdill was ousted as Senate Republican Leader in 2009 when he agreed to temporary taxes and spending cuts as the state's finances were in free fall. Cogdill, Steinberg and their Assembly counterparts were named "John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage" award winners for that budget deal.

If the Senate Rules Committee had agreed to confirm Cogdill, the governor could have rescinded the appointment before it reached the Senate floor, according to Steinberg spokesman Nathan Barankin.

June 14, 2011
Sacramento gains flood control funds: Round 1

Several Sacramento-area flood control projects gain funding, under a preliminary spending bill approved by a key House panel.

The largest chunk, some $23.1 million, would go to American River projects, including design of levee improvements in Natomas. An additional $19 million would go toward construction of an auxiliary spillway at Folsom Dam. South Sacramento flood protection would gain $4.5 million and plans to raise Folsom Dam would gain $906,000.

The money would be part of the Fiscal 2012 energy and water appropriations bill, which must still survive both the full House and Senate.

"Even in this austere budget environment, it is critical that Sacramento's basic flood protection needs are met," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.

February 23, 2011
PPIC takes a crack at California's water stalemate

WATERPOLITICS.JPGAs California's perennial debate over water heats up again, the Public Policy Institute of California has weighed in with a massive, book-length analysis of the state's management of water supplies, proposing a "rebalancing of water management objectives and approaches."

The main points of "Managing California's Water: From Conflict to Resolution" mirror those of other authorities that have examined the water dilemma -- creating more balance among competing uses, promoting more conservation, making transfers from agriculture to non-farm users easier, and repairing the environmentally troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

It appears to provide more ammunition to advocates of a peripheral canal or some other way of bypassing the Delta as water moves from northern California to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California -- a highly controversial proposal that's been debated for the past half-century. An alternate conveyance, the authors told a press briefing Wednesday, offers the best hope of maintaining water supplies while repairing the Delta's ecosystem.

"Today's system of water management, developed in previous times for past conditions, is leading the state down a path of environmental and economic deterioration. We're waiting for the next drought, flood, or lawsuit to bring catastrophe," co-author Ellen Hanak, senior fellow at PPIC, said in a statement. "But if we take bold steps now, we can move from an era of conflict to one of reconciliation, where water is managed more flexibly and comprehensively, to benefit both the economy and the environment."

"Some of these reforms will require changes in laws and institutions, while many build on existing efforts and can begin to be implemented now," co-author Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and adjunct fellow at PPIC, added. "California can't afford not to take bold steps now. By the time a crisis strikes, the best solutions may be unavailable or far more costly, and political positions too entrenched to overcome."

While proposing a restructuring of water management, however, the report does not reveal how the political impediments to change can be resolved. The contending forces -- primarily farmers, municipal users and environmentalists, but with many sub-factions -- have battled to a draw.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger persuaded the Legislature to create a new mechanism for debating and, presumably, resolving the conflicts and pursuing the so-called "co-equal goal" of fixing the Delta and enhancing water supply reliability, but the fundamental differences remain intact. An alternate conveyance remains the most controversial issue.

The PPIC study, which is about 500 pages long in download form, can be found here.

PHOTO CREDIT: An aerial view shows one of California's aqueducts snaking its way through the San Joaquin Valley past orchards and fields, with I-5, pictured at right, March 1, 2006. Jim Wilson /The New York Times

August 18, 2010
Three Delta council appointees win Senate Rules OK

The Senate Rules Committee unanimously voted today to confirm three appointees to the new Delta Stewardship Council, which is charged with reconciling competing demands for water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The seven-member council was created as part of a package of water bills passed by the Legislature last year -- a package that included an $11.1 billion bond issue to finance water projects. The bond issue was to have appeared on the Nov. 2 ballot but, worried about its chances, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislators have shifted it to the 2012 ballot.

The three Schwarzenegger appointees -- former Assemblyman Phil Isenberg, San Joaquin Valley farmer and water leader Randy Fiorini and San Diego business executive Hank Nordhoff -- won wide support from water lobbyists during the brief hearing. A fourth Schwarzenegger appointee, Felicia Marcus of Emeryville, has not yet had a confirmation hearing.

August 10, 2010
See who voted to delay the water bond to 2012 ballot

The original vote to put the $11.1 billion water bond on the ballot cleared the Legislature by one vote. Last night's vote to move the bond to 2012 was even closer.

The bill, AB 1265, got the bare minimum two-thirds vote for passage in both houses.

The Senate approved AB 1265 27-7, with four members not voting.

In the Assembly, where lobbying for votes stretched into the night, the final vote was 54-22. Four members did not record a vote in the lower house.

Click on the links above to see which members voted for and against the measure. For reference, here are the Senate and Assembly votes on the measure to put the bond on the 2010 ballot.

August 9, 2010
Senate votes to delay water bond two years

The state Senate voted late today to delay an $11.1 billion water bond, scheduled for a vote in November, for two years.

The Assembly was scheduled to take up the delay, sought by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other bond advocates, later. The governor and other supporters fear that with the state's economy still in recession and voters in an anti-politician mood, Proposition 18 could be defeated.

The delay bill, Assembly Bill 1265, cleared the Senate on a 27-7 vote, the bare minimum needed, sending it to the Assembly, whose leaders were still trying to line up 54 votes for immediate passage. State election officials urged rapid action because they must soon begin printing November ballots.

August 6, 2010
Legislation takes shape to delay water bond to 2012 ballot

JV OROVILLE DAM 016.JPGLawmakers are set to vote next week on a set of bills that would move the $11.1 billion water bond to the 2012 general election ballot.

Two bills were amended Thursday in the Senate to push Proposition 18, currently slated for the Nov. 2 election, to the election on Nov. 6, 2012.

Assembly Bill 1265, by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, and Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, delays the water bond vote. A second bill, AB 1260, by Assemblywoman Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, would delay the terms for appointees to the California Water Commission, the body tasked with allocating some of the bond's funds.

The "Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010," placed on the ballot by legislators as part of the 2009 package of water policy bills, would fund water projects across the state, including water storage, recycling and drought relief.

But with a crowded ballot and a down economy jeopardizing its passage, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other key water bond supporters called in June to delay the vote.

July 21, 2010
LAO: California bond debt costs rising steeply, likely to grow

BB SCHWARZENEGGER H20 0168.JPGAs California's tax revenues and state spending have dropped in recent years, the amount of money the state must spend to service bond debt has remained fixed.

The result, according to a new analysis of state debt by the Legislative Analyst's Office, is that the percentage of state spending devoted to repayment has been climbing and is likely to keep growing as more bonds are issued.

Debt service is now about 6 percent of the state's $86 billion general fund budget, more than twice what it was a decade ago, thanks both to more borrowing and either stagnant or declining spending during the decade. Since 2000, voters have authorized nearly $97 billion in new bond issues, although not all of them have been sold.

Borrowing, coupled with stagnation in spending due to a stubborn recession, could push the portion of the budget devoted to bond service past 8 percent by mid-decade, the analysis says.

The analysis was prepared by the Legislative Analyst's Office to accompany its voter guide explanation of a new $11.1 billion water bond issue, Proposition 18, on the November ballot. But it may be moot: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders, fearing its rejection, want to delay placing the bond before voters until 2012.

The full bond debt overview can be accessed here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at a rally in support of his water bond proposal at the state Capitol on Aug. 13, 2008. Sacramento Bee file photo/ Brian Baer.

July 20, 2010
NRDC: Water shortages looming by mid-century in California

DRY FIELD 86003639DM004_CALIFORNIA_S_.JPGVirtually all of California faces the prospect of serious water shortages by mid-century due to climate change, the National Resources Defense Council declared today in a national report on water supply.

The NRDC report, prepared by Tetra Tech, says that water shortages loom for more than 1,100 counties, a third of all those in the 48 adjacent states. California is one of 14 states that face extreme or high risk of water shortages.

Dan Lashof, director of the NRDC climate center, said, "This analysis shows climate change will take a serious toll on water supplies throughout the country in the coming decades, with over one out of three U.S. counties facing greater risks of water shortages. Water shortages can strangle economic development and agricultural production and affected communities. As a result, cities and states will bear real and significant costs if Congress fails to take the steps necessary to slow down and reverse the warming trend."

A new state water plan, enacted last year, is aimed in part at offsetting changes in water supply from climate change, but the centerpiece of the plan, an $11.1 billion bond issue, may be removed from the November ballot. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders are concerned that it may be rejected due to significant opposition, especially from environmental groups, and voter angst as the state's recession continues.

The full NRDC report, which includes access to a map of California counties at risk, may be found here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dust billows as a farmer plows a dry field April 16, 2009, near Buttonwillow. (Photo by David McNew/ Getty Images)

July 8, 2010
Rex Babin: Water bond on the ballot


Rex Babin is the political cartoonist for The Bee. You can see a collection of his work here.

July 2, 2010
Schwarzenegger pick for Delta panel withdraws nomination

As momentum builds for moving the $11.1 billion water bond to the 2012 ballot, one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointees to the panel tasked with creating a plan to address management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has withdrawn his name from the confirmation process.

Fresno Bee colleague E.J. Schultz reports:

One of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointees to the Delta Stewardship Council resigned today in the face of opposition from some environmental groups that said he had a conflict of interest.

Richard Roos-Collins, an attorney for the Natural Heritage Institute, said "it has become clear that the political controversy related to Senate confirmation of my appointment will affect the council's capacity to timely implement the Delta Reform Act," according to his resignation letter obtained by The Bee.

Roos-Collins' confirmation vote was bumped from a Senate Rules Committee hearing agenda last month. Read Schultz's full story and the resignation letter here.

June 29, 2010
Schwarzenegger backs delaying water bond vote until 2012

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today he will work to postpone the vote on the $11.1 billion water bond, now on the November ballot, to 2012 to "avoid jeopardizing its passage."

"After reviewing the agenda for this year, I believe our focus should be on the budget -- solving the deficit, reforming out of control pension costs and fixing our broken budget system," he said in a statement. "It's critical that the water bond pass, as it will improve California's economic growth, environmental sustainability and water supply for future generations."

The statement from Schwarzenegger, one of the primary backers of the measure, comes as lawmakers are reportedly considering putting up a vote to bump the bond off the November ballot. Lawmakers approved the bond as part of last year's package of water policy and infrastructure bills.

UPDATE 3:42 p.m.: The campaign backing the water bond has issued a statement in support of the delay:

"The water bond represents a truly comprehensive solution to fix the problems in the Delta, increase conservation and recycling, and expand the availability and quality of water supplies in every region of the state," Jim Earp, co-chair of the coalition backing the bond, said in a statement. "We're confident that when presented to voters, they will approve the measure. However, in light of the economic situation, we agree with the governor and legislative leaders that the best timing for the water bond is in 2012. We support postponing the bond to 2012."

UPDATE 4:15 p.m.: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg also supports pushing back the bond.

"Given the challenges currently facing California, I agree with the Governor the water bond should be postponed," he said in a statement.

June 29, 2010
Lawmakers in talks to pull water bond from November ballot

State lawmakers are considering pulling the $11.14 billion water bond from the November ballot, instead putting the measure on the 2012 ballot.

Fresno Bee colleague E.J. Schultz reports:

The concern among some bond supporters is that, with the state already mired in a $19.1 billion budget deficit, voters aren't in the mood to assume more debt. Assembly Member Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, confirmed that "unofficial discussions are occurring" and said he would support a delay.

However, some lawmakers who have spent years seeking to get the measure before voters might be reluctant to approve a delay.

"Those of us that worked on it wouldn't want to wait," said Assembly Member Mike Villines, R-Clovis. "It is time to go forward."

Click here to read the full story.

May 13, 2010
'War is on' for water bond

With the statewide primary fast approaching, all eyes have been on candidates and measures going before voters June 8.

But with the general election still more than 170 days away, the battle over the $11.14 billion water bond that legislators placed on the November ballot has already begun.

"The war is on," said Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, after a Capitol press conference today to kick off the campaign opposing the bond.

A bipartisan group of legislators slammed the legislation as flawed policy that will throw California deeper in debt without providing a real fix to the state's water woes.

"This is a multibillion dollar boondoggle with 19th-century solutions for a 21st-century problem," said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, a vocal opponent of the bond. "It just won't work."

May 5, 2010
Are legislators 'dropping' support of water bond?

Are legislators pulling their support of the $11 billion water bond they placed on the ballot?

That's what the campaign opposing the bond suggested in a press release distributed earlier this week.

"The list of supporters of the $11.14 billion water bond is shorter now by 5 legislators than it was last month," the release reads.

The release went on to say that three Democratic legislators, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, Assemblyman Ira Ruskin and Sen. Fran Pavley, had been "dropped" from the campaign's list of supporters. Two former legislators, GOP Sen. John Benoit and Democratic Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, had also disappeared from the list, though both have since said they still support the bond.

But Ruskin never endorsed the water bond.

"He wants the voters to decide," said Communications Director Karen Zamel.

Neither did Pavley.

"They never asked," Pavley Chief of Staff Liz Fenton said.

Huffman also hasn't decided whether to back the measure.

So what gives?

The list of supporters, which you can see here, initially included all legislators who voted for the bond last November, including the three listed above, spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks said.

"Obviously they recognized that California has a water crisis. We're in dire need, we need to address it now, we need to address it in November," Fairbanks said. "They raised their hand, they pressed the button, 'yes.' "

When several "supporters" contacted the campaign to point out that they had not formally endorsed the measure, the campaign complied in removing their name from the list, though Fairbanks said she thinks "support" was an appropriate characterization.

"They had already staked their flag in the ground, saying, 'Yes we support the bond. We voted for it,'" she said.

This post was updated to reflect that Benoit and Krekorian were added back to the list.

April 29, 2010
California Farm Bureau Federation endorses Meg Whitman

97756064JS001_CALIFORNIA_GU.jpgThe state's biggest farm organization, the California Farm Bureau Federation, announced its unanimous endorsement this morning of Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

Federation President Paul Wenger said in a statement released by the Whitman campaign, "Meg Whitman will curb regulations that are straining agriculture, update the state's workplace laws to benefit both employees and employers, and address California's water problems."

The federation represents 53 county farm bureaus with 85,000 members throughout the state.

Whitman proposes creating a tax credit for agricultural companies to encourage investments in water-conservation technologies and supports the $11 billion water bond that will go to voters this year. She has also criticized a federal judge's decision to lower water supplies to some of the state's farms for environmental reasons.

March 19, 2010
Schwarzenegger, Steinberg announce Delta Council picks

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today announced their much-anticipated appointments to the Delta Stewardship Council.

The 7-member panel, established as part of the water policy package approved by the Legislature last fall, is charged with crafting and implementing a plan for the future management of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Its dual goals are to address water supply issues and ensure conservation of the estuary's fragile ecosystem.

The legislation splits the responsibility of naming six of the council's members between the governor and legislative leaders. Delta Protection Commission Chairman Don Nottoli is appointed by law as the council's chair.

Schwarzenegger picked two Republicans and two Democrats for his four appointments.

They are: rancher and former Association of California Water Agencies president Randy Fiorini, retired biotech industry executive Hank Nordhoff, lobbyist and former Democratic Assemblyman Philip Isenbergand Natural Heritage Institute director of legal services Richard Roos-Collins.

Steinberg appointed former Democratic state Sen. Patrick Johnston, who currently serves as president of the California Association of Health Plans.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has appointed West Basin Municipal Water District member Gloria Gray.

All six positions require Senate confirmation. Excerpts from the statements by Schwarzenegger and Steinberg, including appointee bios, are posted after the jump.

February 22, 2010
Babin: Feinstein's water flow


Rex Babin is the political cartoonist for The Bee. You can see a collection of his work here.

February 19, 2010
Poll shows water bond will sink, opponents say

Opponents of the $11.2 billion water bond slated for the November ballot are touting the results of a poll showing 55 percent of Californians voters would vote no on the measure.

About a third of the 600 likely California voters polled said they support the measure, with 11 percent saying they were still undecided on the bond, which was part of the legislative water package passed last fall. The results showed similar trends among voters in various demographic and regional groups, the pollsters said.

"Voters recognize this bond as bad water policy and bad fiscal policy at a time when California is drowning in red ink," the Sierra Club California's Jim Metropulos, who is involved in the campaign to oppose the bond, said in a statement. "We need clean water and we need a better water policy, but this bond is not going to get us there."

The poll was quickly criticized by a coalition of business and environmental groups that has formed in support of the bond.

"The poll results quoted by opponents in their press release are based on one question from a longer poll, with no information about prior questions which could have tainted the results," said Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs and co-chair of the Alliance for Clean Water and Jobs, two groups supporting the measure.

February 18, 2010
Schwarzenegger says water bond will be 'very challenging'

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says that persuading voters to approve an $11.2 billion water bond issue this year will be "very challenging" but he hopes that they "know the difference between spending money and investing in the future."

Schwarzenegger made his comments Thursday in Salem, Ore., as he took part in a lavish ceremony with representatives of Oregon, Washington, local governments, the Obama administration and Indian tribes to sign a compact aimed at removing dams from the Klamath River.

One section of the pending water bond issue would contribute money to the dam removal project. The dams are owned by PacificCorp, the utility serving much of the Pacific Northwest, as well as a portion of California, that is part of the Berkshire Hathaway empire, controlled by Schwarzenegger's friend, billionaire Warren Buffett.

The bond issue is a key component of the complex water plan that Schwarzenegger and state legislators enacted last year, and were it to fail at the polls in November, it would be interpreted as a rejection of the entire plan.

Bond advocates are worried that the state's continuing recession, its chronic budget crisis and the unpopularity of Schwarzenegger and legislators might make passage difficult, and there's been some quiet discussion of postponing it until conditions improve. Schwarzenegger and legislators decreed that kind of postponement for a long-pending bond issue for high-speed rail service.

Passing the water measure is one of the governor's highest priorities during his final year in office and he's been shifting money from his campaign accounts into the water bond campaign.

December 28, 2009
Schwarzenegger talks water on '60 Minutes'

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sat down with CBS' Lesley Stahl to talk about the water fights that have dominated California politics for decades.

The interview aired last night as part of a "60 Minutes" segment called "California: Running Dry."

Here's the video:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Update: Fresno Bee colleague E.J. Schultz rounded up the not-so-rave reviews environmental groups had for the segment. Click here to read that post.

November 10, 2009
WATCH: Schwarzenegger at The Fresno Bee

In case you missed it, here's the video of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking with the editorial board of The Fresno Bee after yesterday's water bill signing. The governor will be whipping out his pen again later this morning to sign another piece of the package in San Jose. Click here to watch the 11:45 webcast of that signing ceremony.


  • Fresno Bee editorial writer Jim Boren picks up on a cinematic reference the governor made while touting his water plans.

  • Bee colleague Kevin Yamamura has a recap of the governor's remarks.

November 10, 2009
Rex Babin: Refreshments flowing


Rex Babin is the political cartoonist for The Bee. You can see a collection of his work here.

Related: Columnist Dan Walters writes in today's Bee that political "pork" could hurt efforts to pass the $11 billion bond proposal that's headed to the ballot. Read that piece here.

November 9, 2009
Huber continues to champion anti-canal cause

Assemblywoman Alyson Huber made a bulk delivery to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this morning.

The Democrat from El Dorado Hills dropped off 2,000 postcards from Californians who oppose the governor's plan to build a peripheral canal to route water around the Delta to other parts of the state.

The mass mailing was prompted by a stop in Stockton at which the governor touted the freshly passed water package, saying the state was going to "fix the Delta and to build a canal around the Delta."

That remark didn't go over so well with attendees and local officials, seeing as the event was located in what the Stockton Record describes as "the heart of anti-canal country."

"It's a little like wearing a Dodgers' jersey at a Giants game," Huber quipped this morning, repeating a line she's used in several statements on issue.

The water package doesn't explicitly call for the construction of a canal --an undertaking already authorized by state law -- but the 7-member Delta Stewardship Council tasked with proposing fixes for the Delta's needs could include a canal in its plans. Huber attempted to counter claims that the water package will streamline the process by introducing legislation that would require legislative approval of any plans to construct such a canal, but the bill failed to make it up for a vote.

Championing the anti-canal cause makes sense for Huber, who's expected to face a tough re-election battle in the 10th Assembly District. Huber, who won the seat by less than 500 votes, trailed her 2008 Republican opponent (and potential 2010 challenger) Jack Sieglock by 3,600 votes in San Joaquin County, which encompasses Stockton and the rest of "the heart of anti-canal country."

By the way, Huber isn't the only lawmaker who's been using baseball team analogies to describe what they see as the governor's faux-pas when it comes to knowing his audience.

Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano compared Schwarzenegger's October drop-by at a San Francisco Democratic fundraiser to "if Tommy Lasorda had showed up at a Giants event." (Yes, that would be the same fundraiser at which Ammiano reportedly greeted the governor with, "You lie!" and "Kiss my gay ass!")

Bee colleague Jim Sanders profiles Ammiano, a "saucy-spouting jester with a no-nonsense political agenda" known for speaking his mind, in today's Bee. Read that piece here.

November 6, 2009
AM Alert: Eyeing a run

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to sign into law two of the water bills passed early Wednesday morning.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass is also scheduled to attend the 10 a.m. signing ceremony at the Tujunga Wellfield Groundwater Recovery Project in Los Angeles.

News that Republican Sen. John Benoit was appointed to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors set political circles buzzing about who might run for his seat.

Republican Assemblyman Bill Emmerson has already said he's in.

The assemblyman, who had been raising cash for a 2012 bid for the 31st Senate District, told the Press-Enterprise yesterday that he plans to move from his current home in Redlands to Hemet so he will be eligible to run for Benoit's seat.

Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, also appears to be eying a run.

"I'm taking a very serious look at the Senate seat," he said in a statement. "I believe that my conservative voting record combined with having served a big chunk of the district for more than a decade now make me a very strong candidate."

One person who doesn't have plans to jump in anytime soon? Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore.

"Congratulations to Supervisor Benoit! And yes, I'm still NOT running in the special election for his vacant Senate seat," he tweeted yesterday.

The Desert Sun has a roundup this morning that includes some additional candidates, including two Democrats: Palm Springs unified school board member Justin Blake and Arthur Bravo Guerrero, who lost to Benoit in 2008.

Once Benoit steps down, the governor will have 14 days to call a special election, meaning a primary election is likely to fall sometime in mid- to late-January.

GOV2010: GOP guv-hopeful Steve Poizner is holding a small business roundtable in Walnut with the Tri-Counties Association of Realtors. Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, and Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, are also scheduled to attend.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Benoit's successor will serve his remaining term and be eligible to serve two additional terms. The Bee regrets the error. This post was also updated to include a link to the Desert Sun piece.

November 4, 2009
Rapid response roundup: Water deal

After another all-night marathon of debating, waiting and arm-twisting, lawmakers approved the five-bill water package early this morning.

The Bee's Jim Sanders and Steve Wiegand wrap up the final hours of action in a story on

The five-bill package, including an $11 billion bond measure, ended months of tense negotiations involving scores of interest groups over how to bolster supply, improve delivery and solve environmental problems plaguing the water system.

"This vote will be remembered years from now," Assembly Republican leader Sam Blakeslee said after an all-night session that ended shortly before 6 a.m. today.

"This Legislature has been able to accomplish something that no Legislature has been able to accomplish in decades," (Senate President Pro Tem) Steinberg said. "We all know that people ask, 'Can this Legislature actually take on the biggest, most intractable problems, and find solutions?' The answer is yes."

A nearly 90-minute impasse in the Assembly, with the proposed $11 billion bond measure lacking a handful of votes for approval, ended minutes after Steinberg agreed to drop from the bill a $10 million earmark for a nonprofit tolerance center in Sacramento.

After the jump, read what lawmakers have to say about the passage of the plan. We'll be updating the response roundup throughout the day. You can send your statement to

November 3, 2009
WATCH: Steinberg on water legislation progress

The Senate reconvened earlier this afternoon, taking up two budget bills and moved on to the remaining pieces of the water legislation members failed to approve last night. The entire package will then move to meet its fate in the Assembly, which is expected to convene for votes after a 3:30 p.m. Democratic Caucus wraps up.

Watch what Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had to say about the process and prospects for approving the plan. And in case you missed yesterday's action, click here to read Steve Wiegand's wrap up of last night's events.

Video by The Bee's Hector Amezcua,

November 3, 2009
Schwarzenegger "very happy" with progress on water

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday morning that he was "very happy" that the state Senate passed water bonds Monday night and appeared pleased with the progress legislators were making on water legislation.

Schwarzenegger was speaking to a breakfast hosted by political veteran Willie Brown in San Francisco and attended by Republican gubernatorial candidates Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell and undeclared Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Jerry Brown.

Schwarzenegger used the phrase "very happy" three times as he applauded legislators in their efforts to pass water legislation.

He brought up the water issue in the middle of his speech, saying, "I'm very happy to say that they are working together now, Democrats and Republicans, in Sacramento and it's very encouraging the development that's going on."

He later said, "I'm very happy to say that last night the Senate passed the infrastructure bond part of this whole package" and added about the whole legislative package, "If that all works out, which I think it will, this will be an historic accomplishment in the Legislature."

He summed it up with "I'm very happy now that they're getting the water done." The governor also said Republicans and Democrats would criss-cross the state to try and convince voters to pass water infrastructure bonds.

November 2, 2009
AM Alert: Navigating water

The Legislature could cast votes on water policy and bond bills as early as today.

The plan to address the state's water storage and supply needs and make fixes to the environmentally damaged Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been split into two parts -- a policy bill that requires a majority vote and a $9.4 billion water bond proposal that must be approved by a two-thirds vote.

There are now several competing versions of the package floating around both houses. No surprise there, given the differing demands of Republicans and Democrats. Dems want a policy bill palatable to environmentalists, and Reeps want assurance that the bond money will go to dams and other storage projects. Add the competing interests of the home turfs of lawmakers hailing from different regions of the state, and then things really get complicated.

Both houses have scheduled floor sessions at noon, meaning the action will likely start sometime mid-afternoon.

Here was the game plan for the Senate side as outlined Friday by a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg:

The Senate plans to convene at noon and refer the bond proposal authored by Republican Sen. Dave Cogdill to the Senate Budget Committee.

That committee will then route the bill to the Budget Sub-Committee 2 on Resources, which will vote on the bill then send it back to the Budget Committee for another vote. If it survives that round, it will move to the Senate floor.

If the bond bill makes it to the floor for a vote, the Senate will likely take up an amended version of the policy bill Steinberg introduced last week.

Steinberg said Friday he's hoping to see the votes come through today or tomorrow. But of course, both houses must approve anything that makes it through the legislative obstacle course, so it could be a long day of action, or inaction.

One thing's for sure, we'll keep you posted.

On another special session watch: The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. to vote on two education reform bills. The measures, authored by Education Committee Chair Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, are among the proposals that supporters say would help California qualify for federal "Race to the Top" stimulus money.

Click here and here to read the education measures.

October 30, 2009
Bill to require legislative OK of peripheral canal introduced

Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills, introduced a bill last night that would require legislative approval of any future plans to construct a peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The bill, AB 13 7X, would also require that the Legislative Analyst's Office conduct a full fiscal analysis of the project.

Language in the water bills currently under negotiation does not explicitly call for the construction of a canal to carry water from the Delta to other parts of the state. But a proposed delta council could incorporate the canal into its plans -- if it meets environmental standards. Several large water agencies that favor the canal and promise to pay for it have signed off on the plan. Key environmentalists are also on board, saying the council will provide checks and balances to canal planning. Delta residents fear the plan will pave the way for a canal.

Click here to download a PDF of the Huber bill.

October 29, 2009
Rex Babin: Water fight


Bee political cartoonist Rex Babin offers his take on how those behind-closed-doors water negotiations are playing out.

When it comes to crafting a package that is palatable enough to pass both houses, lawmakers might as well go to battle armed with "Whack-a-mole" mallets, as Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz pointed out in breaking down the challenges of crafting a passable pair of policy and financing proposals. Read his post on adding up the votes here.

Rex Babin is the political cartoonist for The Bee. You can see a collection of his work here.

October 28, 2009
Water bond bills introduced

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee are set to meet at 1 p.m. today for an informational hearing on the draft language of two water bond proposals introduced last night.

Read the bill authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg here. Click here to read the version introduced by Republican Sen. Dave Cogdill.

October 27, 2009
Assembly Republicans introduce second water bill

With more "Big 5" talks on water expected to take place throughout the day, Assembly Republicans have added their own version of a water bill into the mix.

Read the text of the bill, authored by Assemblymembers Jean Fuller, Jim Nielsen
and Kevin Jeffries here.

My colleague E.J. Schultz writes in today's fiber Bee about some of the concerns Republicans have expressed about the draft Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg introduced over the weekend.

"GOP leaders said they still have issues with the conservation and groundwater rules.

'After weeks and weeks and weeks of discussion, to find that our concerns evidently were not taken seriously is disappointing,' said Assembly Republican leader Sam Blakeslee. Republicans have 'grave concerns whether or not this actually solves the water problem,' he said.

One GOP fear is that new conservation requirements would lead to lawsuits against urban water agencies that don't meet the targets."

Click here to read the full story.

An update on the status of water talks was added to this post at 1:06 p.m. Looks like not all legislative leaders will be attending in person if a set "Big 5" talk does occur. "On plane ready to go back to LAX," Democratic Assemblyman Tony Mendoza tweeted moments ago. "Today, I get to fly back with our Speaker, Karen Bass."

October 26, 2009
Read the water bill language

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee are continuing to hear testimony on the water bill that was unveiled over the weekend.

Click here to download a PDF of the bill, SBX7-1. You can watch a video feed of the hearing here.

A Big 5 meeting on a big piece of the puzzle -- how to finance the plan -- was also scheduled for late this morning.

October 20, 2009
Hope you're not thirsty...

Those who doubt that A) Progress is in the eye of the beholder; or B) Lawmaking is an exceedingly confusing process, should peruse the following missives this afternoon from the offices of Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate Prez Darrell Steinberg, respectively:

"Speaker Bass has let Assembly members know that progress on water is continuing as language advances through the drafting process. In order to ensure an appropriate review of the language that emerges, the Assembly Water Parks and Wildlife Committee will hold the informational hearing that had been scheduled for tomorrow early next week. The Speaker and Republican Leader will update members of their caucuses as the language becomes available. We'll send out the updated hearing information as soon as it's set."

"Senator Steinberg had productive conversations on water today and will continue to work towards an agreement on a package this week. Once an agreement is reached language will be drafted and put into print and made public. The senate will then schedule a hearing to take place early next week to review the agreement with a possible floor session and vote later that week. There will not be a hearing tomorrow."

So, as near as we can understand it, they are progressing toward agreement on draft language that will be heard as soon as agreement is reached on an informational hearing to draft the language, which could come as soon as tomorrow or next week or the first Tuesday after Boxing Day, unless it rains really hard, in which case all bets are off.

Stay tuned.

October 16, 2009
NorCal agencies aren't happy with water bills in the works

Seventeen Northern California agencies, including Sacramento city and county, have signed on to letter to lawmakers slamming the water legislation currently under negotiation.

My colleague E.J. Schultz has the full scoop over the Fresno Bee's news blog. Here's an excerpt from the letter, which was sent yesterday:

"We ask that the Legislature withhold and oppose any vote on a water package until, in addition to addressing the need for a reliable water supply for the entire state, it assures that there are no redirected impacts to the Delta and Northern California and sufficient protections are in place to protect Northern California's and the Delta's water supplies," the letter reads.

The Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee is scheduled to hold an informational hearing on the bills in the works Wednesday at 10 a.m. The Senate is also expected to hold hearings next week, and both houses could reconvene to vote on a deal as early as Monday, Oct. 26.

October 14, 2009
Irvine volleyball team caught in partisan crossfire

Time to add another group to the growing list of constituencies caught up in California's water wars: The U.C. Irvine men's volleyball team.

The Beltway gossip buffs at Roll Call newspaper's Heard on the Hill column reported yesterday that a resolution to honor the Anteaters' recent national championship win was pulled from the floor earlier this week as part of a partisan spat between two California lawmakers: Democratic Rep. George Miller and Republican Rep. John Campbell.

"The California Democrat was peeved that Campbell had, a few days earlier, organized a vote against Miller's measure to fund six water-recycling projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. So Miller used his influence to squash the volleyball resolution.

"I go up to George on the floor, and I said, 'George, what was the problem?'" Campbell recalled to a Roll Call reporter. "And he says, 'You voted against my water bill. ... There has to be a penalty for that, and this is the penalty. And I said, 'Well, OK, George, so is this dead?' And he says, 'We'll see.'"... "

The measure at the center of the fray is a water-recycling bill that a Miller spokeswoman told the paper would typically pass through the chamber "pretty easily," but Campbell said he voted to spike the bill because it would send water to San Francisco instead of the Central Valley.

No word on what the Anteaters think of their accolade getting caught up in the partisan rancor.

October 14, 2009
Water hearings planned for next week

The water bills that are being hammered out in closed-door talks between legislative leaders will get a public airing next week, when leaders say they'll hold a hearings on the bills in the works.

Matt Weiser lays out some of the issues still in play in today's Bee.

Major differences continue to block a bipartisan package:

� Democrats want monitoring and regulation of groundwater resources. California is unique in that it does not require this. Republicans are wary of imposing this on farmers suffering from drought.

� Republicans want billions of dollars included in a proposed bond measure to build dams, saying only new surface storage can resolve shortages. Democrats say aggressive conservation and groundwater storage can do the job.

� Both sides want the price of a bond measure whittled down. At one point it stood at $12 billion.

� Northern California water agencies want assurances they won't have to give up water for a controversial canal proposed to divert Sacramento River water across the Delta.

� The five Delta counties are concerned about how the canal will be approved, how thousands of acres of proposed restoration lands will be managed, and whether they'll have an adequate role in both.

Click here to read the full story.

October 12, 2009
Leaders say water talks are moving

With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto threat in the rear-view mirror, Democratic legislative leaders tried to sound positive Monday about the state of water negotiations and laid out a framework for a potential package.

The key word is "framework," since all sides know that the multitude of water interest groups care about even the smallest of details, any of which could be enough to scuttle a deal.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said they are "on the verge" of a deal. According to them, the working plan contains the following:

-- A $9.4 billion bond on a 2010 ballot, with restrictions on how much the state can borrow at any given time
-- A statewide goal to reduce water consumption 20 percent by 2020
-- Mandatory groundwater monitoring
-- Stricter water rights enforcement
-- A Delta Stewardship Council with the ability to authorize spending

Steinberg offered a football analogy to suggest how close leaders are to a deal: "It's first and 10 at the five-yard line, and we're neither the 49ers nor the Raiders." (To those who don't follow football, that's 95 percent of the way there with a high likelihood of closing. But don't overlook the Legislature's gift for incurring false start penalties and turning the ball over to special interests.)

Assembly Republican Leader Sam Blakeslee later said that water talks are closer than ever before -- a phrase oft-used in Capitol negotiations -- although that does not mean the Legislature should rush into a deal.

While Steinberg said earlier that "we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good - or great," Blakeslee offered something of a rejoinder, saying that the Legislature should not rush into passing flawed legislation that would be litigated for years to come.

Blakeslee said Republicans are waiting for Democrats to respond to concerns in four areas of the package: water conservation, water rights and enforcement, groundwater monitoring and governance of water issues. So far, he said, Democrats have offered counterproposals that only deal with the first two of the issues.

"Some of the responses in those two areas are, frankly, quite narrow and don't speak to our underlying concerns," Blakeslee said.

He said that the "Big Five" process of meetings between the governor and four legislative leaders is largely unnecessary, and that the deal must now be struck in the Legislature, with leaders searching for the right deal that will win enough votes to pass.

Without the threat of mass vetoes, the end of the legislative session or some other deadline artifice, it's not clear what in the next few weeks will force closure of a water deal that has been elusive for years.

Update 5:15: Here's a video of Democratic leaders talking to reporters about the status of the negotiations.

Video by The Bee's Hector Amezcua.

October 12, 2009
AM Alert: Case of the Mondays

Feeling well rested and ready to start the week after a weekend of watching for a water deal and waiting anxiously to see how your favorite bills emerged from the governor's desk?

We didn't think so.

As expected, the water talks droned on throughout the weekend and more than 700 bills got dealt with by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the final hours leading up to his midnight deadline for acting on end-of-session legislation.

Despite a weekend-long marathon of negotiations, the clock ticked closer to 12 with no deal in sight before the midnight end of the bill signing period. At about 9:30 p.m., Schwarzenegger pulled back from his threat to veto legislation unrelated to water unless leaders "get the job done," saying enough progress was made to a special session on the issue.

"Over the past few days we have made enough progress in our negotiations that I am calling a special session on water. While we still have a few remaining issues to work out, I commend the legislative leaders for their focus and commitment to solving this crisis and I will weigh all the bills on their merits," he said in a statement.

Jim Sanders has the scoop on what went down in today's Bee. Click here for a list of legislation that Schwarzenegger acted on Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of those vetoes (and the threats behind them), Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico has plans to introduce a bill today that would define the governor's threat to veto "a lot" of bills if a water deal wasn't sealed -- and similar actions by legislators -- as extortion.

Torrico wasn't amused by Attorney General Jerry Brown's "doilies and tea" response to requests to weigh in on whether the threats could be considered criminal, so he decided to take clarifying the law into his own hands.

Good luck finding a governor to sign that bill.

It's a good thing Capitol denizens can take the Columbus Day holiday as a brief respite to help lower their blood pressure after a weekend of waiting, watching and nail biting.

Oh wait, they can't.

The annual paid day off was axed for state workers as part of the February budget fix, and the Legislature altered its holiday schedule so it would be in line with the state workers' calendar.

The lost holiday has ignited a showdown between SEIU Local 1000 and the administration, with the union urging members to skip work and take the day as a paid holiday. As The State Worker columnist Jon Ortiz wrote last week, whether members go to work will be a test of how much power the union holds.

As for what's on tap today: the Senate Revenue and Taxation committee is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. for an informational hearing on the tax commission's recommendations.

Have two cents (or more) on the matter?

What should be done to fix California's tax system is up for debate at the reader forum. Click here to join in on the debate, which is moderated by The Bee's Daniel Weintraub.

October 11, 2009
Schwarzenegger to call special session on water

There's still no water deal, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has backed away from a threat to veto "a lot" of bills unrelated to water if there's no agreement by midnight, saying that enough progress has been made in the negotiations to call a special session on water.

"Over the past few days we have made enough progress in our negotiations that I am calling a special session on water. While we still have a few remaining issues to work out, I commend the legislative leaders for their focus and commitment to solving this crisis and I will weigh all the bills on their merits," he said in a statement issued less than three hours before his deadline for acting on the 300 or so bills still on his desk.

Click here to see a list of bills Schwarzenegger has signed and vetoed.

October 11, 2009
Bill watch: see which measures Schwarzenegger signed, vetoed

Update 9:33 a.m.: Here is the fourth and final list of bills signed and vetoed by the governor last night.

Update: Click here to see a list of the third round of action.

Update 8:35 p.m.: Schwarzenegger's office says the governor has signed 79 more bills and vetoed another 89, leaving the fate of more than 300 bills in the balance as leaders resume water talks. Click here for a list of the bills he signed and vetoed.

As legislative leaders continue talks on a package of water bills, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office released word of the fate of 183 bills.

The governor, who threatened to veto "a lot" of bills if leaders can't strike a water deal, has until midnight to act on the more than 500 bills remaining on his desk.

See the governor's office's list of the 89 bills he signed and the 94 bills struck down with the veto pen after the jump.

October 11, 2009
Rex Babin: Guv's water goal


Rex Babin is the political cartoonist for The Bee. You can see a collection of his work here.

October 9, 2009
Delta counties press Steinberg on water

Sen. Darrell Steinberg has more than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger bearing down on him when it comes to California water.

Supervisors of the five Delta-region counties have been meeting with the senate president pro tem to air worries, and firing off missives that outline their concerns that the Delta will get the short end of a deal now being negotiated at the Capitol.

The governor has threatened to veto many bills if a deal isn't hatched this weekend.

On Thursday, the Delta supervisors sent a letter to Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, collectively complaining that water proposals on the table have "serious gaps" in policy and financial protection for the counties.

The letter, which you can read here, was signed by the supes of Sacramento, Solano, Yolo, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties. It praises Steinberg's "clear sensitivity" and dedication to the interests of the Delta region.

But Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho told The Bee she questions whether Steinberg can effectively defend the Delta's interests while he's trying to broker a deal with other legislative leaders.

"He does not have his sole focus on the Delta," Piepho said. "He's representing everybody. And that's his role as a leader."

Piepho wondered whether Sen. Lois Wolk, the Democrat of Yolo County, couldn't be let in on the negotiating action at this point.

Steinberg didn't appoint Wolk to the joint conference committee that hashed over water bills. That disappointed her, Wolk said.

But Steinberg has spent a lot of time meeting this week with Delta reps, including Wolk, his office said. And he's a Delta leader, too, his staff members point out.

"From the beginning of his leadership of the Senate, Senator Steinberg has made protection of the Delta a top priority in any larger water discussions, as evidenced by including a Delta representative in eight months of intense water work groups," Steinberg spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.

"As the only Northern California representative in the Big 5 meeting in water," Trost said, "Senator Steinberg has fought for, and won, major concessions that will enhance and protect the Delta's environment and economy while ensuring Californians will have access to a reliable water supply."

October 9, 2009
Water deal? Not likely today, GOP leader says

Don't expect a water deal today, Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth said Friday before resuming negotiations with legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Just about every large issue is still open," the Murrieta Republican told the media before the morning session.

Asked if a deal within the next 24 hours is doubtful, Hollingsworth replied, "That's a correct assumption. I think it's going to be a tall order to finish today."

More than two hours later, Hollingsworth emerged from the meeting and said prospects had not changed. He said he supports meeting throughout the weekend, if necessary, to strike a deal .

"We have some issues that we have to finish," he said. "They are very important issues, but as we've been saying for the last several weeks, we think there is light at the end of the tunnel -- and we can get there."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, interviewed separately, was less pessimistic.

Responding to Hollingsworth's contention that every major issue remains on the table, Steinberg said:

"We haven't closed an entire agreement, but the way this works is that it's an entire package, so while we really have, in my view, conceptual agreements on a number of pieces, until you have all the pieces agreed upon or resolved, you don't have a comprehensive agreement."

Steinberg described negotiations as constructive and said he has not given up hope that the framework for agreement can be reached tonight.

"I think it's possible," Steinberg said. "But I also am not making big weekend plans outside the Capitol."

One key issue in water talks Friday was conservation. Comments by Steinberg and GOP leaders suggested significant disagreement.

October 9, 2009
AM Alert: Dead heat for DeVore, Fiorina

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer holds a strong edge over possible Republican challengers seeking to unseat her in the 2010 election, according to a new Field Poll of registered voters.

The poll, conducted via telephone between Sept. 18 and Oct. 6, showed Boxer holding a double-digit lead over two GOP hopefuls, declared candidate Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, and former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina, who has not declared her candidacy but has formed an exploratory committee.

Boxer beat Fiorina 49 percent to 35 percent, and DeVore 50 percent to 33 percent.

The poll indicated that much of Boxer's lead could stem from low name recognition for both Fiorina and DeVore.

While 87 percent of those surveyed held an opinion about the Democratic senator (48 percent favorable, 39 percent unfavorable), 72 percent of voters have no opinion of Fiorina and 82 percent have no opinion of DeVore.

With eight months until the GOP primary election, the poll results put DeVore and Fiorina in a dead heat. DeVore, who trailed Fiorina by 12 points in a March Field Poll, came in with 20 percent support among Republican primary voters in the latest poll, just one point behind Fiorina's 21 percent.

Amy Chance has more on the poll and what it means in today's Bee. Click here to check out statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

Legislative leaders met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last night to continue negotiations on a package of water bills, but no deal was met. They're scheduled to meet again at 10 a.m. today.

The governor, who has until Sunday to act on more than 700 bills sent to his desk, has threatened to veto a large chunk of the legislation unless leaders work out the complicated plan.

Also on the water front, Schwarzenegger is scheduled to attend a 2:30 p.m. rally staged by the Latino Water Coalition. The governor was instrumental in creating the coalition, according to a Capitol Weekly report.

Today's day two of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee's hearings on the tax commission's proposals for overhauling the state's revenue structure. Click here to see the hearing agenda and a list of speakers.

Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui is holding her first in-person town hall forum on health care this weekend. As Rob Hotakainen reported in August, the lawmaker took heat for failing to talk face-to-face with constituents about the hot-button issue.

The forum is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at the multipurpose room of Sutter Middle School in Sacramento.

And, just because it's Friday:

San Francisco Weekly has declared today "Comb Your Hair Like Gavin Newsom Day" in honor of the Democratic guv-hopeful's 42nd birthday (which falls tomorrow). Pics of participants' slick 'do's can be uploaded to the mag's Flickr feed.

October 8, 2009
VIDEO: Legislative leaders dish before 'Big Five' water talks

The "Big Five" water talks broke for a spell this afternoon and were set to resume around 4 p.m. Here's a video of legislative leaders talking to reporters before the midday round of negotiations.

Video by The Bee's Hector Amezcua.

October 8, 2009
Schwarzenegger says he'll veto bills without water deal

Updated at 1:16 p.m.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today affirmed a looming threat to veto a large bulk of the bills that have been sent to his desk unless lawmakers can strike a deal on a package of water bills.

"I made it very clear to the legislators and to the leaders that if this does not get done then I will veto a lot of their legislation, a lot of their bills, so that should inspire them to go and get the job done," he said at the end of remarks to the Association of Community College Trustees' Leadership Congress, which is meeting in San Francisco today.

Legislative leaders are scheduled to meet with the governor at 11:30 today to continue to work toward a self-imposed Friday deadline for reaching an agreement on the bills. Schwarzenegger, who has until Sunday to act on more than 700 bills that were sent to his desk at the end of the session, has been withholding action on the bills during the ongoing water talks.

The Bee's Matt Weiser has more on the bills and what is at stake in the negotiations here.

October 7, 2009
VIDEO: Steinberg, Blakeslee on "Big Five" water talks

October 7, 2009
Leaders to resume water talks Thursday

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders met in the governor's office for about two and a half hours Wednesday to hash out a water deal, but they said several outstanding issues remain, including the size and characteristics of a multibillion-dollar bond.

They plan to meet again Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Leaders have set Friday as a goal for producing some semblance of an agreement as the governor continues to withhold action on 703 bills that face a Sunday deadline. They said they did not discuss the bill situation Wednesday.

Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, said leaders were focusing on a bond smaller than the $12 billion one previously discussed. He said Republicans are looking at one between $8 billion to $10 billion.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the size of the bond remains a concern after the state went through a historic budget crisis. He said leaders are discussing how much of the bonds should be paid for by all taxpayers as opposed to water users, as well as conservation requirements and environmental concerns.

On a side note, Hollingsworth met earlier Wednesday with Steinberg in the pro tem's office to ease tensions after the two feuded during Tuesday's "Big Five" meeting.

October 7, 2009
Water talks continue at the Capitol

With just four days left for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the 700-plus bills awaiting his yea or nay, legislative leaders are trying to hammer out a water deal and avoid the possible blanket veto Schwarzenegger is threatening.

My colleague E.J. Schultz has the details of the latest developments at the Fresno Bee's news blog:

The latest development: Assembly Republicans are seeking to trim several billion dollars from a proposed $12 billion water bond, yet still keep $3 billion for water storage, including dams. That would likely mean less money for upgrades in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"There was an awful lot of environmental pork in there, we thought," said Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto.

Yet those changes aren't likely to sit well with Democrats. They have sought a smaller bond, but members with ties to environmentalists aren't likely to go along with a bond with such a high percentage reserved for dams.

Read E.J.'s entire post here.

October 6, 2009
Drought of goodwill during final bill-signing week

Egos are clashing in the Capitol during this final week of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's bill-signing period.

The Republican governor has signed only three of the 706 bills that lawmakers sent him last month as he still demands a water deal from the Legislature. After a "Big Five" meeting today, leaders said they now see Friday as the latest deadline to reach a water accord, and it is likely that Schwarzenegger will wait until this weekend to act on the remaining bills.

The governor is trying to use what leverage he has -- his signature -- as a means to keep water talks alive.

"We'll consider all the bills on their merits, but right now we're focused on pushing the Legislature toward an agreement on water," said Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear.

"Merit" is a vague enough word that could still translate into a blanket veto. Schwarzenegger set precedent last year by rejecting 35 percent of the bills on his desk and using a boilerplate message for 136 of his 415 vetoes blaming the state's budget delay rather than any specifics of the proposals. In September, the governor vetoed a bill and threatened to do the same to 72 others in an attempt to force lawmakers to act on prisons, renewable energy and water.

Majority Democrats in both houses, who have authored most of the bills on Schwarzenegger's desk, are grumbling over the governor's tactics. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, acknowledged today that Schwarzenegger previously broached the idea of having the Legislature again withdraw its bills until a water deal is reached. But the governor has not made a direct request, and Steinberg dismissed the idea as a nonstarter and "silly."

In the Assembly, Democrats are employing tactics that seem designed to pressure the governor into signing bills. Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, sent a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown asking him to investigate whether the governor's strategy is illegal. He cited a part of the state constitution that says it is a felony to seek to influence a legislative vote by means of "bribery, promise of reward, intimidation or other dishonest means."

"While politicians are certainly allowed to express their disagreements in any way they find productive, they are not allowed to refuse to perform their sworn duties in order to force the legislature to accept policy positions," Torrico wrote. "And public officials are specifically prohibited from the kind of direct 'horse trading' in which a government official agrees to take, or not take, a certain action in exchange for a specific vote."

Assembly sources said some Assembly Democrats even suggested on a conference call last week that the lower house should impeach the governor if he imposes a mass veto. The constitution says the Assembly has the "sole power of impeachment" and that it can pursue it on a majority vote for unspecified "misconduct in office." The Senate would then conduct a trial.

The idea seems to crop up every time lawmakers are frustrated with the governor, said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. It appears to be mostly talk for now.

"I know some members have mentioned the possibility of impeaching the governor," Torrico said, adding, "There's certainly a growing number of members who consider the governor's extortion tactics to be illegal and a dereliction of duty. But (impeachment) has not been discussed formally in the caucus as an option."

In a non-response response, McLear said, "We're not responding to rumors or political hype. We're focused on pushing the Legislature to close on water."

Meanwhile, an ongoing clash between Steinberg and Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth continued in today's "Big Five" meeting. Hollingsworth previously accused Steinberg of reneging on a deal to kill a free tax preparation program, tweak a tax change for businesses and make a GOP senator the lead author on a homebuyers' bill. Steinberg has contended he never committed to making those changes.

Tensions between the two leaders erupted again today, and Steinberg left the meeting early, sources said. They will return Wednesday to resume talks.

September 30, 2009
Water wars: Stewart vs. Hannity

"The Daily Show" funnyman Jon Stewart took some time last night to poke fun at Fox News host Sean Hannity's recent special on California's water woes.

Here's the clip:

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Hat tip: Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz.

September 22, 2009
Governor to sign veterans bill despite little progress after threat

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to sign a bill Friday establishing March 30 as "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day" despite vetoing an identical proposal two weeks ago because he said lawmakers hadn't delivered major deals on water, prisons and renewable energy nor confirmed his priority appointments.

"This bill does nothing to address any of these issues," Schwarzenegger said in his Sept. 8 veto message. "I look forward to considering this measure when these other major issues are addressed."

Two weeks later and with the end of regular session behind us, lawmakers haven't delivered the major deals on water, prisons and renewable energy that the governor wanted. And the Senate hasn't confirmed some of his priority appointments.

But Schwarzenegger now plans to sign the new version of the bill by Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, in a ceremony at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms on Friday, spokesman Aaron McLear announced today. Cook is a Vietnam veteran and a retired Marine Corps colonel whose actions earned him a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He lobbied heavily and met with Schwarzenegger to ensure his bill would not die this year.

Asked numerous times Tuesday what has changed in two weeks, McLear said simply, "He thinks it's worth signing."

McLear was coy about the governor's treatment of several hundred other bills he must consider by Oct. 11. Schwarzenegger may still use them as leverage in ongoing negotiations.

"There's hundreds of other bills he has not taken action on," McLear said. "Right now he believes the Legislature ought to be focused on solving the water crisis."

Friday's event on the Vietnam veterans bill provides a fine segue into his evening appearance at the California Republican Party convention.

Schwarzenegger also held a signing ceremony today in the Capitol to restore Healthy Families low-cost medical insurance for 670,000 children. The program was threatened when the governor cut Healthy Families spending in the July budget revision as a way to build up the state's reserve. Schwarzenegger at the time suggested he had no choice because lawmakers fell short in passing all components of the state budget deal.

That makes two Schwarzenegger signing ceremonies this week to celebrate reversing two of Schwarzenegger's own vetoes.

September 18, 2009
Schwarzenegger talks water on Fox News' 'Hannity'

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told Fox News' Sean Hannity last night that the federal government and the courts have "absolutely screwed up in the worst way" by not lifting restrictions on pumping water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

He criticized the regulations, which were issued to protect several species of fish.

"There are federal judges for the salmon, federal judges for the smelt, where is the federal judge for the farmers?" he told Hannity, who was in the Central Valley taping a show on California's water crisis.

Update 10:58 a.m.: The Department of the Interior updated yesterday its "reality check" memo addressing claims made in the debate over the drought and other water issues (h/t The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz).

In it, the department notes among other things that temporary pumping restrictions required under the Endangered Species Act were lifted June 30.

This post was updated to clarify the nature of the pumping restrictions referenced in the Department of Interior memo.

September 14, 2009
Water wars to wage on

Efforts to pass a plan to ramp up California's water conveyance and storage systems fell apart in the final hours of this year's session.

While California water wars have been raging for decades, The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schutlz puts his finger on oneculprit that led to the deal's collapse.

Lawmakers immediately asked for a special session to continue to work toward a water agreement, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not said yet whether he will call one.

The national spotlight will continue to shine on the issue this Thursday, when Fox News host Sean Hannity returns to the Central Valley to tape an episode of his show, "Hannity."

The Latino Water Coalition's Paul Rodriguez and California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes are scheduled to join the conservative TV and radio host.

The show, which will focus on the drought and other issues affecting the Valley, will be taped at a fallowed tomato field in Fresno County, according to an e-mail sent out by Nunes' office. Hannity taped a segment from the Valley last month. See that clip here.

September 11, 2009
Last-minute rush to reach water deal under way

With seven hours left in this year's legislative session, lawmakers are scurrying to finalize negotiations on a water package.

The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz has an update on the efforts here.

September 10, 2009
Rough waters for water plan passage

The water conference committee signed off last night on a five-bill package to address Delta conservation and water supply issues.

The conference report got the eight signatures needed to pass out of the committee in time for a floor vote, but none of the Republicans on the panel were on board with the plan.

Sen. Dave Cogdill, the lead Republican in the negotiations, called the conference report "an unbalanced package of bills that ignores the need for a reliable water supply and only caters to the interests of extreme environmentalists."

"These bills will guarantee that we never improve the failing condition of California's water system. We had hoped that the Democrats had listened to the numerous hours of public testimony before drafting their conference report but it appears they haven't heard the cries of farmers, farm workers, businesses and residents throughout the state," he said in a statement.

The package is also missing one crucial component: a plan for paying for water projects. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will only sign a water package that includes a water bond to finance the proposals.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg issued a statement last night vowing to push ahead with a water package in the final 48 hours of the session.

"This package represents crucial advancements in resource infrastructure for the state, but it is incomplete without a financing plan to go with it," he said in a statement. "I will continue to work with members and the stakeholders in the coming days to make sure California can pay for the important improvements that this water package offers the Delta ecosystem and California's water delivery system."

September 8, 2009
Water panel balks at funding

The legislative conference committee on water has decided not to include a water bond.

See The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz's item here.

September 4, 2009
Committee considering how to pay for water projects

The water wars wage on today as the water conference committee meets to discuss options for financing projects to restore the Delta and bolster water supply.

The committee is working to meet a Tuesday deadline for sending conference committee reports to the floor for a vote before the end of the session.

The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz has a story on the main issues lingering as legislators try to reach a deal here.

Columnist Dan Walters writes about the issues with financing the construction of water-related infrastructure in today's fiber copy of The Bee. Read that piece here.

September 3, 2009
Schwarzenegger wants answer from feds on water

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has sent a letter to the heads of two federal agencies asking them to reopen talks on federal water pumping restrictions meant to protect fish.

Schwarzenegger wants a response to letters he sent earlier this year asking agencies to reconsider federal regulations restricting water pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Critics of the restrictions, which are intended to protect different species of endangered fish, say they have exacerbated the impact drought conditions have on farming and the state economy.

"I am concerned that the catastrophic impacts of the current crisis on our economy and environment could take decades to reverse and significantly hamper any long-term solutions," the letter states.

Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow said Wednesday that the department wants to address flaws it has identified in two separate biological opinions, one to protect the Delta Smelt and one to protect salmon and sturgeon. He said the opinions, issued by different agencies, are also conflicting on some levels.

"We have two aggressive opinions that don't quite match up with each other," he said.

A spokesman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the AP that the agency is reviewing the letter, which you can read after the jump.

In other water news flowing through the Capitol: The joint legislative water panel met for the first time. The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz has more on that meeting

We posted the names of the legislators tapped for the committee here.

September 1, 2009
Bass names Assembly picks for water panel

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, announced this afternoon the names of Assembly members who will serve on the 14-member joint water conference committee. The Assembly picks are:

  • Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles.
  • Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.
  • Assemblywoman Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield.
  • Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
  • Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore.
  • Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber.
  • Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced his picks earlier today. The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schutlz has that list and more on the committee's goals here.

September 1, 2009
Steinberg names water panel

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg named upper house members to a water conference committee this morning. E.J. Schultz has more here.

September 1, 2009
Leaders expected to name joint committee on water today

Legislative leaders are expected to announce today the picks for a 14-member joint committee tasked with crafting a water plan that will go up for a floor vote in the final days of the session.

The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz has more on the main points of contention as lawmakers try to close a deal on a plan that can pass both houses before the Sept. 11 end of session deadline.

Democrats, who will control the conference committee, are pushing for an independent council to oversee the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the source of farm and drinking water for much of the state.

Republicans are skeptical about creating such a council, which they fear would block a proposed canal that would pump water around the delta southward. Delta residents, who strongly oppose the canal, look at the council very differently -- they worry its sole mission would be to build a canal.

So negotiations will likely center on the council's makeup and powers.

August 28, 2009
Small fish for a big... appetite?

Brandon Shoemaker, a Republican running for the 31st Assembly District seat in 2010, is offering a Delta delicacy of sorts for supporters at an upcoming fundraiser.

An invite for the Oct. 3 event promises that Delta smelt appetizers will be served (Yes, we're serious!), alongside a robust meal of BBQ beef, rice pilaf, green beans and rolls.

We asked earlier how the campaign intended to cook the bite-sized fish, which were added to an endangered species list by the California Fish and Game Commission earlier this year.

Shoemaker responded this afternoon with a clarification that he doesn't intend to cook the endangered breed -- smelt fished in other locales is available for sale at his local grocer.

The store-bought smelt will be grilled or deep fried whole and served with a variety of dipping sauces, he said.

"It may not be appealing for some people to eat a fish, eyes, bones and gills and all, so there will be another decent appetizer for those people,' he added.

The inclusion of smelt on the menu is a reference to federal water pumping restrictions meant to protect the rare fish. Conservative groups have rallied against the limits, saying the feds have chosen fish over farmers.

"When we say fish are more important than the survival of human beings, that's a problem," Shoemaker said.

The event's tagline: "Sometimes the fish eats you, but in the end you get to eat the fish."

Thanks to our colleague Matt Weiser for pointing out the invite.

This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. with Shoemaker's response.
Photo credit: Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee.

August 20, 2009
Rex Babin: Pumping policies


Rex Babin is the political cartoonist for The Bee. You can see a collection of his work here.

August 19, 2009
Group wants 'God Squad' intervention on water

Thumbnail image for Denham.JPG

Proponents of lifting pumping restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta aimed at protecting Delta smelt convened at the Capitol today to call for the so-called "God Squad" to intervene in the fight over the water needs of fish, farmers and others.

State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, (pictured above at microphone) and Republican Rep. George Radanovich joined Rob Rivett, president of the conservative legal group Pacific Legal Foundation, at a press conference this morning where they said the economic impact of the drought should compel President Barack Obama to convene the Endangered Species Committee (a.k.a. "The God Squad") to consider overruling water-pumping restrictions in the Delta.

The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz has more on the press conference and the impact the pumps and the drought have had on water supply here.

Photo credit: Torey Van Oot

August 19, 2009
Central Valley communities fight for clean drinking water

Susan Ferriss reports in today's Bee on the tainted drinking water plaguing some Central Valley communities. Watch a video by The Bee's Hector Amezcua or read Susan's story here.

August 18, 2009
Steinberg touts top issues for end of session

steinbergpic0818.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg met with reporters today to talk about his top priorities as the Legislature makes its final push to the end of the session. Water, prison cuts, restoring the recent round of budget cuts to health and welfare services and reforms dominated the conversation. After the jump, see what Steinberg had to say on several key issues.

August 12, 2009
Rep. Devin Nunes discusses water issues on Fox

U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes and California Water Resources Director Lester Snow hosted a public meeting on water issues and the Delta earlier this afternoon.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, got a head start on the conversation last night. He and actor Paul Rodriguez, a member of the Latino Water Coalition, joined Fox News' Sean Hannity to talk about the state's water woes.

The Latino Water Coalition claims that environmental pumping restrictions have resulted in a loss of jobs in the San Joaquin Valley. The Fresno Bee's E.J. Schultz has more on that angle here.

April 6, 2009
Babin on the drought

Here's Bee cartoonist Rex Babin's take on California's water drought:


March 2, 2009
Water bonds back atop the agenda

FolsomDam.jpgWith the budget passed, the water wars are back.

Focus is returning to California's seemingly perennial struggle to find a solution to its water woes. On Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a formal drought proclamation, a move to raise awareness of the state's water shortage.

Last Thursday, Sen. Dave Cogdill, a Modesto Republican, introduced a water bond bill (SB 371) after similar efforts stalled last year. Sen. Dean Florez, the No. 2 Democrat in the house, introduced a counter measure (SB 301).

Even the federal government is getting involved. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack created the Federal Drought Action Team to work with the state last week.

"This is very encouraging news," Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement of the task force. "California is in the grip of one of the worst drought emergencies on record."

Interest groups are mobilizing, as well. The business lobby is already backing Cogdill's plan, saying the state's current water system is "faltering." The Florez measure totals $15 billion in bonds, while the Cogdill measure is worth nearly $10 billion.

"We must pass a comprehensive plan this year that will increase storage, improve conveyance, provide important environmental protections and conserve resources," said Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce.

The battle lines in the water storage fight are well drawn: Agricultural interests (and usually Republicans) favor building more reservoirs, while environmentalists (and usually Democrats) don't. There's also the issue of who should pay, as in whether the costs for new storage should be borne by those who use the water or by the state as a whole.

And, of course, there is the question of whether or not a peripheral canal should be included to divert water from the Delta.

Compounding the urgency of the situation is California's current water shortage, with reservoirs between 35 percent and 45 percent of capacity following what's been a three-year drought.

"Our water crisis underscores the urgent need to update California's water infrastructure," Schwarzenegger said in a statement welcoming Cogdill's water bond proposal.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who chaired the Natural Resources Committee in the Senate last session, has said a water deal is a priority.

"Let's get a water infrastructure bond done," he said in his first speech as leader. "It's ready to be closed."

The Visalia-Times Delta has reported other water bond plans will surface in the Assembly. But any water deal is widely expected to begin in the upper house, where Cogdill, until recently the GOP leader, has carved out both an expertise and a relationship with the governor. Steinberg is familiar with the issues, both policy-wise and political, as well.

While the recent rainstorms may dampen the public's perception of the severity of the drought, water shortages in the coming months remain likely.

"It's just a drop in the bucket when compared to the epic drought the state is currently facing," said Cogdill in a statement.

(Updated: Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, also has introduced a $9.8 billion water bond, SB 456.)

Here's a breakdown of what's in the Cogdill and Florez legislation, from E.J. Schultz at the Fresno Bee:


Capitol Alert Staff

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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