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IN THIS ISSUE – Reading the California Election Tea Leaves
- California’s Election Day – Strong Themes Emerge
- Voters Send Mixed Message: Liberal, “But We’re Not All on the Same Page”
- Initiatives Escalate As Business Confronts “A Legislature That Tends to Go Too Far”
- Court Tells Governor to Slow His Roll On Executive Orders (50+ And Counting)
- Union Membership Declines for State Workers
- Pandemic Devastates Downtown Sacramento – “We Are Losing Control”
- Delta Conveyance Necessary for California’s Water Future
Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests. Please feel free to forward.
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FOR THE WEEK ENDING NOV 6, 2020
With a turnout that smashed all records, millions of votes remain to be counted in California, but tallies so far are providing some strong themes, to wit:
—The disdain of President Donald Trump as Californians gave challenger Joe Biden a victory in the state of historic proportions. Voters favored Biden by a 2-1 margin.
—Democrats retained their overwhelming control of the Legislature and the state’s 53-member congressional delegation. A few seats are changing partisan hands, but not enough to make any practical difference in either venue.
—With most of the human contests pre-ordained, the big action in California this year was in the 12 statewide ballot measures and spending for and against them approached a billion dollars, easily a record.
—Although labor unions dominate the Democratic Party, which dominates the state’s politics, they didn’t fare particularly well in high-dollar battles with corporate interests.
—Labor’s most spectacular loss was passage of Proposition 22, an effort by Uber, Lyft and other app-based transportation services to exempt themselves from a new law that tightens up the definition of employment and makes contract work more difficult.
The corporations spent more than $200 million to pass the measure, arguing that their drivers preferred independence and sweetening the deal with some income guarantees and fringe benefits. Although Proposition 22 was narrowly focused, its passage indicates that the debate over the nature of 21st century employment will continue — and perhaps become even more intense with the advent of widespread at-home work due to COVID-19.
—Unions are on the verge of losing another big battle, this one on Proposition 15, which would make a big change in Proposition 13, California’s iconic property tax limit approved by voters 42 years ago. It would, if passed, require more frequent reassessment of commercial property for tax purposes and raise millions of dollars for schools and local governments.
Public employee unions have yearned for decades to alter Proposition 13 despite its continuing popularity and believed that changing the rules on commercial property was their best bet. Pre-election polling indicated a close outcome and the official vote-counting confirmed that scenario, but the “no” side is leading in initial tallies.
—The failure of Proposition 23 by a very wide margin is still another setback for organized labor. The union-backed measure would have imposed new operating requirements on dialysis clinics in an effort to persuade their owners to accept unionization of their employees. It was the second such effort but the clinics spent heavily to persuade voters that passage would adversely affect patients.
—If the losses by unions implied that there is a limit to the leftward drift of California’s voters, the defeat of Proposition 16 drives home the point. The Legislature’s supermajority Democrats placed the measure on the ballot, believing that 2020 was the right moment to ask voters to repeal the state’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions, government hiring and contracting.
The measure was endorsed by virtually every major Democratic political figure, had a slanted official ballot title and enjoyed lavish financing from liberal organizations and individuals, but was trailing by more than 10 percentage points today, as pre-election polling indicated it would.
—Finally, the criminal justice reform movement won on two measures and lost on one. They won when voters rejected Proposition 20, which would have increased penalties for some offenses, and passed Proposition 17, restoring voting rights for ex-felons. But they lost on Proposition 25, which would have endorsed the Legislature’s elimination of cash bail for criminal defendants.
The message that California voters sent in the presidential election was unequivocal: With almost two-thirds of ballots counted so far going for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the nation’s most populous state put up mammoth numbers for the Democrats. But dig a little deeper into the results and a more complex picture of the Golden State voter emerges, of strong libertarian impulses and resistance to some quintessentially liberal ideas.
In a series of referendums, voters in California rejected affirmative action, decisively shot down an expansion of rent control and eviscerated a law that gives greater labor protections for ride-share and delivery drivers, a measure that had the strong backing of labor unions. A measure that would have raised taxes on commercial landlords to raise billions for a state that sorely needs revenue also seemed on track for defeat.
The full force of the election results provided something of a gut check for liberals in a state that plays a big role in the Democratic Party and often offers insights into where the rest of the nation might be headed.
“The results in California show the Democrats that you can go too far,” said Bob Shrum, a former Democratic strategist and the director of the Dornsife Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California. “California is a very liberal state that is now resistant to higher taxes and welcoming to the new gig economy, which is where the industry was created.”
That is not to say California is lurching rightward. The state is unwaveringly Democratic up and down the ranks of its government. Democrats have a supermajority in the Legislature, and the governor and lieutenant governor are Democrats. Even the state’s chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, quit the Republican Party two years ago and became an independent.
Pockets of unambiguous liberalism stayed strong on Tuesday with San Francisco voters saying yes to liberal priorities including affordable housing, police oversight and new taxes on companies whose highest-paid manager makes more than 100 times the level paid to its local workers.
And on many ballot measures, California voters validated the state’s liberal reputation. They rejected an expansion of penalties for some crimes and restored voting rights for felons who are on parole, securing the state’s position as a national leader in reducing mass incarceration and reforming its criminal justice system.
This year’s mixed results, however, were not an anomaly. California has always had competing impulses. The state that is home to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, also produced icons of conservatism including Ronald Reagan. Some of the most prominent conservative voices during the Trump presidency hail from California, including Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader; Devin Nunes, the outspoken congressman and staunch Trump ally; and Stephen Miller, the hard-line anti-immigration White House adviser.
This has put California on the front lines of many political battles. The affirmative action measure on the ballot this year, for example, dated to 1996. That year, 55 percent of the state’s electorate voted to ban the use of race, ethnicity, national origin or gender in public hiring, contracting and university admissions.
The proposition that California voted on this time would have repealed the ban and was supported by a who’s who of the Democratic Party in the state, including Kamala Harris, the senator and vice-presidential candidate. But it was defeated by almost the same margin with which it had passed originally.
Analysts saw a reflection of the state’s demographic complexity in the vote.
“It’s always difficult to do proposition campaigns in a state of 40 million people,” said Anthony Rendon, a Democrat and the speaker of the California Assembly. “But our racial and ethnic groups are more complicated and divided than they used to be, in a bunch of different ways.”
Since 2014, no one racial or ethnic group has constituted a majority of California’s population. Thirty-nine percent of California residents are Latino, 37 percent are white, 15 percent are Asian-American, 6 percent are Black and fewer than 1 percent are Native American or Pacific Islander, according to the 2018 American Community Survey.
Against that backdrop, Mr. Rendon said, affirmative action is difficult to define, with different meanings to different generations, ethnic groups and income brackets. In most of the state’s working-class, inland counties, Californians voted to keep it banned. Only wealthier, left-leaning urban areas such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area supported bringing racial and ethnic preferences back into the public sector.
And in statewide polls, Latino voters expressed ambivalence — one survey done shortly before the election showed that only 40 percent of the state’s Latinos supported the proposition. Many white and Asian-American Californians opposed the measure, fearing that higher admissions for underrepresented minorities might mean less room for their own children in the University of California system. Some young voters did not even understand the concept, Mr. Rendon said.
That complexity extends to the state’s Democratic majority, Mr. Rendon added. “When the left is united in California,” he said, “we win.” But on issues from bail reform to rent control, he said, the party’s factions — progressive, moderate, coastal, inland — “were not all on the same page” this election year.
The way voters approached taxes was also nuanced. Local ballot initiatives were set to generate at least $15 billion in new bond authorizations, according to the California Local Government Finance Almanac. But the biggest tax question of the election — whether to raise property taxes on corporations and other large landowners — looked headed for defeat.
For all their liberal leanings on issues like the environment, California voters have long been less welcoming to new taxes than their reputation would suggest. For 40 years the pillar of local finance has been Proposition 13, the 1978 measure that limited local property taxes and has been considered politically untouchable ever since.
Expecting a Democratic wave, a coalition of public employees’ unions and progressive groups targeted 2020 as a moment to peel back part of the law. Their measure, Proposition 15, would have removed the Proposition 13 tax limits on commercial properties like office buildings and industrial parks, continuing to shield homeowners while raising an estimated $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion a year for public schools and local governments. The measure was trailing on Thursday, suggesting that, even if it wins, close to half of voters remain fiercely protective of Proposition 13.
California is unique in its reliance on direct democracy to decide some of the most crucial issues of the day. Ballots bulge with so many initiatives they might be better described as booklets. And it is not just ideology or the zeitgeist that can determine the outcome. Corporate interests, wealthy donors and advocacy organizations spend what amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars on initiatives every election.
The proposition that repealed the labor protections for ride-share and delivery drivers saw more than $200 million in campaign spending, breaking national records for a ballot initiative.
More than $100 million was also spent on another hot-button measure, rent control. Polls showed that the housing crisis was the No. 1 concern for state voters, and Gov. Gavin Newsom dedicated the bulk of his State of the State speech to the state’s worst-in-the-nation homeless problem. And yet voters up and down the state resoundingly rejected efforts to expand tenants’ rights and rent control.
The most prominent example was the failure of Proposition 21, a ballot initiative that would have given local governments more leeway to cap rental rates but was decisively defeated, according to The Associated Press. That marked the second time in two years California voters have rejected rent control by wide margins, and for the most part local attempts have not fared any better: On Tuesday, voters in Sacramento and Burbank also rejected rent control proposals.
“I keep thinking of this house I saw in a pretty affluent neighborhood that had a ‘Biden Harris’ sign and ‘No on 21’ sign,” said Tony Roshan Samara, program director of land use and housing at Urban Habitat, a Bay Area policy and advocacy organization. “That captures it. People will vote Democratic but when it comes to these issues of land and property, they vote in the interest of landowners.”
Californians are sometimes described as moderate on fiscal matters but liberal on social ones. That seemed mainly consistent with the passage of a number of criminal justice measures, perhaps most importantly the rejection of an initiative that would have made it harder for people convicted of certain felonies to be considered for early release from prison.
Jerry Brown, the state’s former governor, called the vote a “decisive repudiation” of punitive sentences and a “milestone” in California’s evolution from the 1980s and 1990s, when the state, amid crime waves and the crack epidemic, led the way on mass incarceration.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in this field, but California is showing the way in a very positive and I think creative way,” Mr. Brown said.
Mr. Brown spent $1 million left over from his campaign funds to defeat the measure, which was supported by police unions and get-tough-on-crime politicians and would have reimposed restrictions on early releases and toughen sentences for certain crimes.
What do voters think about voting for Democrats and at the same time not supporting Democratic-led initiatives? José Legaspi, a Los Angeles resident who runs shopping centers in Latino communities across the country, said he hardly saw a contradiction. He voted for Mr. Biden and did not think twice about opposing the measure that would raise taxes on commercial properties.
“I truly believe in paying taxes,” he said. “However there is a point at which one should limit how much more in taxes one should personally pay.”
Jeff Clayton remembers the day, two years ago, when California passed a law that would put his industry out of business in the state. The ban on money bail — which Democrats advanced saying it would bring more fairness in the criminal justice system — would devastate companies in the American Bail Coalition that Clayton heads.
He phoned a political consultant in Sacramento, who told him: “You guys are the plastic bag guys now,” Clayton recalled.
Translation: If you want your industry to survive in California, do what plastic companies did after the state outlawed single-use plastic bags. Put up millions of dollars to ask voters to overturn the law on the ballot.
So bail companies spent $11 million on a campaign to overturn California’s ban on cash bail — a gamble that paid off this week when voters defeated Proposition 25.
“The California Legislature tends to go too far at times,” Clayton said. “As long as that stands, I think many businesses will be put in a position to have to do something like this.”
Asking voters to repeal or overhaul a law passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature is becoming a common strategy for corporations financially threatened by progressive policies coming out of Sacramento. Ride-hailing companies succeeded at it this week, too, convincing voters to pass Proposition 22 and exempt Uber and Lyft from state labor law.
Another one is already in-the-works: Tobacco companies have launched a referendum drive asking voters to overturn the state’s ban on flavored cigarettes and vaping products within days of Gov. Gavin Newsom signing it into law in August.
The repeal efforts aren’t always successful. Voters upheld the plastic bag ban in 2016, and it’s too soon to know if the tobacco measure will qualify for the 2022 ballot. But companies can gain even when they lose, because once a referendum to overturn new laws qualifies for the ballot, they are put on hold. That can buy a targeted industry another two years to operate in California.
Historically it was uncommon for special interests to try to repeal a law by going to the ballot. (A repeal is known officially as a “referendum,” while the term “initiative” refers to proposals to change a law or pass a new one.) Over more than a century from 1912 to 2016, California voters faced only 50 referenda, compared with 376 initiatives.
But it could become more common, given the bail industry’s success at the ballot, said Democratic political consultant Gale Kaufman.
“My guess is you’ll see more and more of that as a result,” she said. “That will be the new trick.”
Kaufman worked on the opposite sides from the bail industry and the gig companies in this election, running campaigns for Prop. 25 to maintain the ban on cash bail, and against Prop. 22 to stop gig companies from exempting themselves from a law that requires most businesses treat their workers as employees rather than independent contractors.
Labor unions largely funded the No on 22 campaign, to the tune of about $20 million. But they were outgunned by five app-based companies — Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Instacart and Postmates — that poured more than $200 million into passing Prop. 22, making it the most expensive ballot measure in state history.
“They are writing their own law and spending what it takes to win,” Kaufman said.
Businesses see it differently. From their perspective, spending at the ballot keeps their businesses alive and allows Californians to serve as a check on labor unions and other progressive interests that hold too much sway in the Legislature. Democrats now have such a huge majority that they can completely sideline Republicans, and sometimes the more moderate members of their own party. That power has led Democrats to overreach, said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable.
“As the Legislature’s makeup is getting much more progressive it’s getting much more out of step with Californians when it comes to business and jobs,” he said.
“And you’re going to see business defend itself, unequivocally, whether they have to do it in court, or whether they have to do it at the ballot box. If this is the way it’s going to go, then there will be more use of that in the future.”
Politico, Sacramento Bee & CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom overstepped his executive authority when he issued an executive order in June specifying how counties should carry out a mostly vote-by-mail election, a Sutter County judge said in a preliminary decision on Monday.
The ruling will not affect the 2020 election, although it invalidates the election process executive order.
The ruling is a check on a governor who’s issued more than 50 executive orders amid the pandemic. It’s also a victory for Republican Assemblymembers James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley, who filed the suit against Newsom.
Judge Sarah Heckman wrote Newsom exceeded his authority and violated the separation of powers between the three branches of government when he issued Executive Order N-67-20 directing county election officials to take certain steps leading up to the general election. Newsom’s order cited the coronavirus outbreak as an emergency that warranted additional election protocol.
His order specified how many polling places and ballot drop boxes counties must have. An earlier executive order, N-64-20, required counties to send mail ballots to all registered voters.
Shortly after he issued the election orders, the Legislature passed two bills that effectively put his directives into law.
Newsom is almost certain to appeal the decision, foreshadowing a battle that could wind up in front of the state Supreme Court.
The issues at stake go beyond Newsom’s elections order to what Heckman called “the controversy of whether or not the CESA allows the Governor to amend statutory law or create new statutory law.” She wrote that “the parties’ positions are diametrically opposed and the controversy is one of widespread public interest which deserves the consideration of the Judicial Branch.”
Heckman’s conclusion — that there is a bright line between governors suspending some laws and making laws by executive order — could fuel more legal challenges, particularly if a protracted pandemic increases lawmakers’ desire to rebalance the scales of power and confront the governor.
The governor’s attorneys argued that the executive order was within the bounds of the California Emergency Services Act, which gives the governor broad authority in a state of emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
But Heckman on Tuesday said the act only gives the governor power to issue orders and regulations and to suspend certain statutes — not create new ones.
“The governor does not have the power or authority to assume the Legislature’s role of creating legislative policy and enactments,” Heckman wrote in her opinion.
Judge Heckman wrote that Newsom had gone beyond the limits of his powers by amending, rather than suspending, elements of the Elections Code. She wrote, “The doctrine of the separation of powers prohibits any of the three branches of government exercising the complete power constitutionally vested in another or exercising power in a way which undermines the authority and independence of another.”
The court also prohibited Newsom from further exercising any power under the act which amends, alters or changes existing statutory law, or makes new statutory law or legislative policy.
The suit has received widespread public attention, especially from those who feel Newsom has acted unfairly and unilaterally in restricting economic activity during the pandemic. The hearing, conducted via live stream on Oct. 21, received thousands of views on Facebook.
Lawmakers of both parties have chafed this year at what they see as Newsom’s excessive governing by executive mandate. Newsom has issued numerous orders during the pandemic on matters from election maintenance to health care.
Kiley and Gallagher applauded the court’s decision.
“We have been arguing that the California Emergency Services Act does not provide for one-man rule. Today, the court agreed with us,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “This is a victory for separation of powers. The governor has continued to create and change state law without public input and without the deliberative process provided by the Legislature. Today the judicial branch again gave him the check that was needed and that the Constitution requires.”
Jesse Melgar, press secretary to the governor, said in a statement that the ruling makes clear that Newsom’s statutory emergency authority is broad and constitutional, and that he has the authority in emergencies to suspend statutes and issue orders to protect Californians.
“Additionally, this ruling has absolutely no effect whatsoever on the current election,” Melgar said. “We strongly disagree with specific limitations the ruling places on the exercise of the governor’s emergency authority and are evaluating next steps.”
Union membership among California state workers declined slightly this year as recruitment has gone remote due to the coronavirus, according to state data and interviews with union leaders.
In August, the most recent month for which data is available, 67% of state workers were dues-paying union members, according to State Controller’s Office data. That’s down 2% from February, the month before the virus began to spread in California.
The slight decline came amid pay cuts for state workers and momentous changes in working conditions, including risks of COVID-19 infection and rapid shifts to remote work.
The pay cuts, which the unions negotiated with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration over the summer, left some workers feeling dissatisfied with their representation, according to a survey of state workers by The Sacramento Bee. But union representatives also have been more present in many workplaces, filing grievances, demanding protective equipment and meeting with managers to negotiate changes to working conditions.
The biggest factor in the slight decline appears to stem from a reduced rate of new employee sign-ups.
Downtown Sacramento, abandoned in March by thousands of office workers when the coronavirus pandemic struck, is like a world turned inside out.
Work from home orders that emptied office buildings have helped lay bare just how bad Sacramento’s homeless problem is and how little the city, state and social service organizations have succeeded – despite a decade of attempts to address one of Sacramento’s most vexing social issues.
Alarmed by what they say are more encampments and some “aggressive behavior,” 60 members of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership business and property owner group sent Mayor Darrell Steinberg a letter last month saying they believe the homeless issue is putting downtown’s economic future in jeopardy.
Letter signers included representatives of the Sacramento Kings, Sacramento Republic FC soccer team, the Hyatt Regency and Kimpton hotels, Paragary restaurants and Dignity Health.
They call on local officials, including the city, the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney, to step in to create “a safe, clean and welcoming physical environment” downtown for office workers when they return post-pandemic. The business group points out that downtown is the economic engine for the city, where in normal times about 40% of the city workforce is located and where hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue is generated.
“We are losing control of a downtown we have invested in for 20 years to build,” said Michael Ault, head of the partnership. “Something needs to be done when we reopen downtown to welcome employees back.”
Among those hoping for change is Anna Rodriguez, owner of Odd Cookie Bakery, Cafe & Bar on Ninth Street next to Jazz Alley. She has a bell on the counter that she rings to alert the male kitchen chef to come to her aid when a disoriented or upset person comes in the door.
“My alley,” she says, “has become literally a homeless shelter.”
But with all shelters typically full on any given night, including the often-touted hotel rooms that the government set up to protect the homeless from the coronavirus, many homeless have nowhere to go.
Bob Erlenbusch of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness called the partnership’s letter a “veiled blaming of people experiencing homelessness for the failure of a turnaround in the downtown area.”
“Quite frankly it’s not surprising but it’s still unconscionable,” Erlenbusch said.
Several men in their 20s, sitting on the ground amid backpacks and sleeping bags at 12th and K streets last weekend, said they previously lived by the river, but came downtown because police are being less aggressive.
There are strong consequences if the city violates the order. The Sacramento Homeless Union sued the city earlier this year alleging the city was clearing encampments from public property near Roseville Road. In July, a judge found the city had indeed cleared camps, and issued a court order to the city requiring it to comply in the future. The case is still active, and Anthony Prince, an attorney for the Homeless Union, says they are gathering evidence and preparing additional legal action against the city.
The Homeless Union is concerned the letter from the business community could cause the city to go back to clearing more encampments, Prince said.
This year has been a surreal turn of events downtown. Four years after the opening of Golden 1 Center, downtown continues to make progress toward becoming a regional gathering point. A number of apartment buildings are under construction,and expansions of the downtown convention center and Community Center Theater are nearing completion – all pointing toward an eventual economic recovery downtown.
But an estimated 80% of the downtown workforce is currently gone, Downtown Partnership officials said, and about 30% of central core businesses have closed, some temporarily, some permanently.
Sharif Jewelers, a cornerstone downtown business at 10th and K streets, remains empty. Like dozens of downtown storefronts, some of its windows are boarded up. On G Street, the District Attorney’s office is both boarded up and fenced in.
Liezet Arnold, of Bloem Decor, is a 10th Street florist who has provided large bouquets and displays for the Citizen Hotel, the Hyatt Hotel and numerous governors. Previously, if a homeless person slept in her store front, she could address them by name in the morning, telling them it was time to move along. Last week, a man she’d never seen before had claimed her front alcove, and when she tried to ask him to leave so she could get in her shop, he launched into a profane rant, she said.
“I’ve had to wait 30 minutes for the person to move,” Arnold said. “All you can do is sit there and wait. It gets tiring.”
Among those who camp out on the sidewalk is David Denton, 39. He just got out of jail on what he says is a graffiti offense and went back to the streets where he once lived. He sleeps outside City Hall along with other homeless. During the day, he panhandles outside a downtown 7-11 convenience store or Rite Aid.
He talks about getting his mom in Australia to buy him a ticket home, but laments the logistical steps to make that happen, starting with obtaining an identification card. He says he’s not inclined to seek help. “You mean getting into a social services program kind of thing?” Denton said. “For some, it might work. Others, they don’t want to go through the rigmarole. You deserve to be a free spirit if you choose.”
Adam Green is back in Sacramento after a stint in prison, where he served time for check fraud. He has family here, but no one has offered to take him in and he hasn’t wanted to ask. So the 38-year-old sleeps on a friend’s couch when he can and worries about what comes next.
Standing in line in Cesar Chavez Plaza among a few dozen homeless individuals at a makeshift soup kitchen set up by a church group, Green says he even checked into a psychiatric ward recently, just for some relief from the streets. He says he is optimistic that if he can get some help, he will find a direction.
In the spring, state and local officials talked hopefully about using the COVID-19 crisis as a catalyst toward creating more permanent housing for homeless. But several large shelters have closed in recent weeks and more are set to close by the end of the year.
The Capitol Park Hotel on Ninth Street downtown, which at its peak sheltered about 115 homeless people downtown, closed Oct. 1. Officials say that the shelter was always planned to be temporary and that it was successful in helping move 149 homeless people into permanent housing.
But, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the hotel reduced occupancy.
When the virus struck, Gov. Gavin Newsom launched a program called Project Roomkey, which moved homeless people into motels to protect them from the virus. In Sacramento, four hotels opened under that program. But one in North Sacramento’s Woodlake neighborhood with 140 units closed at the end of September.
Two more hotels, the La Quinta and Vagabond Inn in the River District, just north of downtown, where the homeless crisis is dire, were sheltering 315 people as of last week. It’s possible both could close at the end of the year.
At least one of the four Roomkey motels received state funding to stay open through March, county spokeswoman Janna Haynes said. It’s not yet determined if that will be one of the downtown hotels, or one in Rancho Cordova.
City officials do plan to transform the Hawthorne Hotel in the River District into permanent homeless housing. But it will not open this year. Meanwhile, a developer who is planning to build luxury apartments across the street has filed suit.
CalMatters commentary from State Water Contractors
The Delta Conveyance Project is a necessary investment to secure California’s water future. Let’s face it, our climate is changing rapidly and becoming more unpredictable – wildfires are larger and more frequent, the seas are rising, droughts are lasting longer and storms are fiercer. The need for this project has never been clearer.
Delta conveyance is the movement of water through the network of waterways in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub of the State Water Project – California’s most critical water delivery infrastructure. Two-thirds of California’s water begins its journey as snowmelt from high in the Sierra Nevada, eventually flowing into the Delta where the State Water Project infrastructure conveys the water to 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland from Silicon Valley down to San Diego.
But the State Water Project’s 1960-era infrastructure is aging and needs to be upgraded to meet the challenges ahead. As we’ve seen in recent years, the state’s precipitation is increasingly coming in the form of big storms in-between extended dry periods. The State Water Project infrastructure must be improved to be more resilient to climate change and more flexible in its ability to take advantage of big storms by moving water when it’s wet for use when it’s not.
The Delta Conveyance Project would add new conveyance facilities in the Delta, including two new intakes located farther north, away from sensitive fish habitat and 20 feet above sea level. The project also includes a state-of-the-art single tunnel underneath the Delta to safely convey water from the new intakes to the existing State Water Project facilities in the south Delta.
Not only would this help ensure the continued delivery of affordable, clean water to millions of residents throughout the state, it would minimize impacts to threatened and endangered fish species and is compatible with ecosystem restoration projects already underway.
In addition to the increased water security and environmental benefits the Delta Conveyance Project would provide, it would also help maintain California’s $5 trillion economy – the fifth largest in the world – and is particularly important for the approximately 1,500 disadvantaged communities throughout the state that rely on the State Water Project for affordable, clean water.
The proposed project is a crucial part of the governor’s portfolio approach to water management and will help California water agencies develop their local water supply projects and reduce future reliance on imported supplies. That’s because the consistent delivery of State Water Project water allows public water agencies to blend high-quality water with local sources to meet or exceed drinking water standards, making the most of our state’s limited water resources. State Water Project water is also used to replenish groundwater basins, fill Southern California reservoirs and support recycled water projects.
California depends on the State Water Project. Without it, California would need to replace about 3 million acre-feet of high-quality water annually to meet state demand. That is enough water to serve approximately 6 million households per year.
California water agencies, policymakers and think-tanks have been studying the need for this project for more than a decade. All that work points to the same conclusion: we need a Delta conveyance solution that will reinforce State Water Project infrastructure with modern, flexible operations.
We must address what we have all known for decades: the risk of a devastating statewide water shortage is unacceptable, and time is of the essence. The Delta Conveyance Project is a game-changing modernization of California’s aging water delivery infrastructure that will be paid for by the participating public water agencies that receive water from the State Water Project – not taxpayers. It will ensure we can continue to efficiently move water statewide to keep taps flowing for generations to come.
We fully support the Newsom administration as it moves forward with the Delta Conveyance Project planning process and the public water agencies who are currently considering their ongoing participation in the project. The cost of doing nothing is far too high.
By Jennifer Pierre, general manager, State Water Contractors