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IN THIS ISSUE – “I Can’t Fathom Anyone Thinking That’s Reality”
FOR THE WEEK ENDING OCT. 2, 2020
- Re-Opening California Economy Opens Rift in Newsom Administration
- Rents Drop, Home Prices Rise, Office Vacancies Soar
- Governor’s Gas Engine Ban Creates Concerns in Rural & Low-Income Areas
- Old School Energy Jobs Will Be Hard to Replace
LAND & WATER USE
- State Quietly Issues Stringent Local Housing Requirements
- Groundwater Management Roils San Joaquin Valley: Who Gets Left High & Dry?
- Water Year 2020 Ends on a Very Dry Note
- New Assembly Ag Committee Chair Comes from Farmworker Heritage
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.
READ ALL ABOUT IT!!
Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger quit Gov. Gavin Newsom’s economic recovery task force, a Disney spokesperson confirmed Thursday evening.
The spokesperson would not say why or precisely when Iger left the task force, but the news comes as the Newsom administration is preparing to release guidance on theme park reopening that the industry is criticizing.
In a Thursday afternoon statement, the California Attractions and Parks Association urged the governor not to finalize a draft of the reopening guidance that the association saw earlier that day.
“While we are aligned on many of the protocols and health and safety requirements, there are many others that need to be modified if they are to lead to a responsible and reasonable amusement park reopening plan,” the association wrote. “We ask the Governor not to finalize guidance for amusement parks before engaging the industry in a more earnest manner, listening to park operators’ expertise, and collaborating with the industry on a plan that will allow for amusement parks to reopen responsibly while still keeping the health and safety of park employees and guests a top priority.”
Disney official Liz Jaeger said the company had repeatedly shared with the governor’s office health and safety measures that are working at other parks it has opened.
Theme parks have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s economic shutdown. On Tuesday, Disney announced it would lay off 28,000 workers in California and Florida. According to the Associated Press, the company employs more than 30,000 workers at Disneyland in California and about 77,000 employees at Disney World in Florida.
The Newsom administration plans to release new guidance on theme parks Friday, spokesman Nathan Click said.
When asked Thursday if his administration was bowing to political pressure from Disney to allow parks to reopen, Newsom said “unequivocally no.”
“We are not putting the health and safety of people visiting this state or recreating in this state at theme parks at risk,” Newsom said during a press conference in an area burned by the Glass Fire.
Newsom announced the economic task force in April. At the time, he touted the long list of successful business people, labor advocates and political leaders who would participate. Iger was among the most prominent business representatives on the task force, along with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Rents Drop, Home Prices Rise, Office Vacancies Soar
The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, the nation’s most expensive city, fell to $2,830 in September — a 20.3% drop from last year and one of the largest yearly decreases ever recorded by Zumper, according to a Thursday report from the online rental marketplace. It was also the first time the city notched a one-bedroom median rent below $3,000 in Zumper’s database. Median rents also fell in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego, all of which are in the top 10 most expensive cities in the nation.
The news comes as San Francisco hit its highest office vacancy in nearly a decade at 14.1%. Only 384,667 square feet of new leases were signed in the third quarter — the lowest ever recorded by brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield. As remote work fuels an exodus from California’s most expensive cities, home prices and sales are skyrocketing. The median home price shot up to a record $706,900 in August as sales reached their highest level in more than a decade.
It’s a long drive to just about anywhere Gary Wright needs to go. A rancher in the far northeastern corner of California, he sometimes has to drive nearly 100 miles, one-way, to get to where his cattle graze. It’s 36 miles to Klamath Falls, Ore., for a significant errand run.
There are only a few gas stations along the routes through the forests and high deserts in Modoc County — let alone electric vehicle charging stations. There are none near the rangeland where Wright’s cattle graze.
So he was baffled when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that California would require all new passenger cars and trucks to be electric or “zero-emission” by 2035 to combat climate change.
Newsom’s directive signaled the governor was moving more aggressively on climate change during one of the hottest years in California, and with wildfires consuming nearly 4 million acres — the most in modern history. But his order comes with significant challenges for rural California and the Central Valley, where many people drive all day for work, not just to commute, and traveling long distances is a necessity.
Electric vehicle companies say battery technology is improving, but as it stands, the best electric car batteries currently on the market have a range of no more than 250 miles. There are few options for electric pickups like the ones Wright would need to haul equipment and livestock trailers over long distances.
“It’s not practical at all,” Wright said. “It’s almost a joke to me. I just can’t fathom anybody thinking that’s a reality.”
Newsom’s executive order expanded on a 2018 mandate by then-Gov. Jerry Brown calling for 5 million zero-emission cars by 2030. Brown also established a goal of 250,000 charging stations, including 10,000 direct-current fast chargers, and 200 hydrogen fueling facilities in the state by 2025.
“It shall be a goal of the State that 100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero-emission by 2035,” Newsom’s order reads. “It shall be a further goal of the State that 100 percent of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the State be zero-emission by 2045 for all operations where feasible and by 2035 for drayage trucks. It shall be further a goal of the State to transition to 100 percent zero-emission off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 where feasible.”
“Drayage” trucks are on-road, diesel-fueled, heavy-duty trucks that typically haul freight short distances to and from ports and rail yards.
State officials and environmental groups say the 15-year runway in Newsom’s executive order gives the state plenty of time to make it work for everyone. They say more options for pickups are coming on the market, battery technology is rapidly improving, and the vehicles are growing cheaper as demand increases. Power companies and electric car manufacturers also are already working aggressively to install charging stations across the state, even in its remote corners.
“We’re going to start seeing charging infrastructure everywhere,” said Kathryn Phillips, the director of Sierra Club California.
But concerns about low income and rural areas not having access to charging infrastructure are well-founded, a Sacramento Bee analysis of state data shows. The state will need to make a significant investment if rural or low-income Californians will be able to make the switch to zero-emission vehicles by 2035.
The number of electric vehicle charging stations is multiplying in California, but areas without a high concentration of wealth continue to lag behind the rest of the state, including the vast rural stretches of Northeastern California and much of the Central Valley.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the number of charging stations open to the public in California grew from fewer than 6,100 in 2014 to more than 27,700 today. Another 35,000 charging stations are private but shared by others at workplaces, apartment complexes or other non-public gathering spots, state datashow.
There is a significant correlation between income and the prevalence of fully public charging stations in a community, according to a Bee analysis of Department of Energy and census data.
In ZIP Codes where the median household income is above $100,000, there are about 115 public charging stations per 100,000 residents. That’s much higher than the 55 charging stations per 100,000 residents in cities where median household incomes are between $50,000 and $74,999.
The large and mid-size cities with the most public charging stations per capita are in wealthy parts of the Bay Area or Southern California: Menlo Park, Santa Clara, Los Altos, and Santa Monica, federal data show.
Several counties with the lowest number of public charging stations per capita are in the rural Central Valley, including Yuba, Stanislaus, Kern, Tulare, Sutter, San Joaquin, and Merced.
Some rural counties have a relatively high prevalence of public charging stations. Still, they tend to be tourist destinations such as Mono County or along thoroughfares like Interstate 5, which bisects rural Siskiyou County.
Other rural counties such as Lassen, Lake, Modoc and Calaveras have next to none.
Tesla has no rapid charging stations in the entire northeastern corner of California, east of Interstate 5 from Chico, and north of Lake Tahoe, to the Oregon and Nevada borders. The company’s map of its rapid charging locations does show four of them coming online soon in a few far-flung towns in the area.
The lack of charging stations is reflected in the number of people currently driving zero-emission vehicles in those areas. According to state data, Modoc County has 9,570 residents, but just two zero-emission vehicles are now on the road. Lassen County, population 28,833, has 13.
Newsom’s press office didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Sacramento Bee on Friday. But advocates for his plan say the ongoing expansion of electrical charging stations will only increase the demand for the vehicles in rural areas.
Southern California Edison, the largest power utility in that region, received regulatory approval last month for a $442 million electric vehicle infrastructure program that will create up to 30,000 new charging stations across Southern California over the next four years.
Northern California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., plans to install about 4,500 chargers at workplaces, apartments and condos.
Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen created in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, plans to invest $2 million to install solar-powered chargers in rural communities, expanding upon its 130 charging stations open to the public in the state.
“Electrify America is investing in rural California areas and smaller cities through major investments in small communities along regional routes, focused investment in smaller metro areas and new investment in rural and disadvantaged communities,” Mike Moran, a spokesman for Electrify America & Electrify Canada, said in an email.
“We also strive to ensure that 35 percent of our investments are in disadvantaged and low-income communities across urban, suburban and rural areas.”
But rural transportation advocates say it’s already challenging to get the state to fund traditional road improvements like new interchanges and passing lanes on rural highways, and they fear they’ll be left behind in the same way as the state expands charging access.
For instance, El Dorado County has been advocating for decades without success to get a rest area on Highway 50 between Placerville and South Lake Tahoe, said Woodrow Deloria, the executive director of the El Dorado County Transportation Commission.
“Having to shift gears toward focusing on infrastructure that will support zero-carbon vehicles for charging stations and things of that nature is going to be challenging,” Deloria said. “We have very limited funds.”
Under Newsom’s executive order, the California Energy Commission must perform an analysis on where charging shortfalls are so the state can begin work to “ensure everybody has access to electric transportation,” said Patty Monahan, one of the commissioners.
He asks: How will they be able to keep their batteries charged when their vehicles are off the electrical grid for days at a time?
Bohn said he suspects the state will end up having to grant waivers for new gasoline or diesel vehicles for those professions.
After this summer’s blackouts, and utilities over the last two years shutting down power to prevent catastrophic wildfires, critics of Newsom’s plan say it’s inevitable someone will have to evacuate from a wildfire, but their car’s battery won’t have the juice to get them out. Some battery-powered vehicles take several hours to fully charge.
“Our state simply does not have the grid capacity to charge the vehicles of millions of Californians,” U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said in a Facebook post. “Should a (power shutoff) occur during wildfire season and your electric vehicle is not charged, you may not be able to leave your home. This is an extreme public safety concern.”
Newsom insists the state’s green-energy grid will be able to handle the demand by 2035, and carbon-spewing gas and diesel vehicles are contributing to California’s wildlife problem. Cars and trucks are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases,responsible for about 40% of emissions in California.
“Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air,” Newsom said in a statement. “Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”
Others say Newsom’s order envisioned cars crammed on urban highways — and not pickups rumbling down lonely rural roads, hauling livestock trailers, farm equipment, boats and recreational vehicles.
Right now, electric car companies don’t have many options for pickups. Tesla unveiled last year its Cybertruck, which looks more like a NASA moon rover than a traditional truck. Prices range from $39,000 to $69,000. GM and Ford have announced they’re working on full-sized electric pickups. Lesser known electric vehicle companies, Nikola, Lordstown, Rivian and Bollinger, also have electric pickups in the works.
The California Air Resources Board says there are more than 70 different models of zero-emission vans, trucks and buses that already are commercially available from several manufacturers, though it notes most are ideal for trips of less than 100 miles.
Monahan, the state energy commissioner, said more pickup models suited for longer trips in rural areas are coming online every day.
“In the next year or two, especially in the next five years, there will be a lot of options,” she said.
Electric vehicle advocates say battery technology is improving so quickly that most of the concerns rural residents have will be addressed by 2035. Monahan said electric vehicles will become as affordable as those powered by fossil fuels; they’re also cheaper to maintain over the long run.
“Over the next five years,” she said, “we should see cost parity with most electric vehicles.”
For tens of thousands of Californians, a job in the oil and gas industry has been a ticket to a middle-class life.
The work can be dangerous. It can be unhealthy. Still, the industry has been among the few willing to employ Californians without a college degree and pay them well above average.
But as the state seeks to wind down its gas and oil industry — made even clearer last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to scale back fracking and ban the sale of gas-powered cars in the state by 2035 — those jobs are at risk.
“Can we immediately start talking about jobs? We can hate on oil, but the truth is our refinery jobs are really good middle class jobs,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, tweeted Sept. 24 after Newsom’s announcement. “Jobs can’t be an afterthought to any climate change legislation.”
Even as the number of clean energy jobs rises in California, the quality of those positions vary wildly, from rooftop solar installers making just above minimum wage to those working in utilities making $50 an hour. Environmental and labor advocates say it’s up to the state to ensure those clean energy jobs are as good as the jobs in the oil and gas industry they will replace.
The oil and gas industry directly employs 152,000 people in California, said Cathy Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the industry in six western states, including California.
Those workers make $80,500 a year on average. Nearly two-thirds of those workers don’t have a bachelor’s degree, according to a 2019 report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
“It’s one of the few industries left in California for people who are not college graduates, or for second chancers who have a criminal record,” said Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association.
The industry is among the biggest employer in Kern County, with tens of thousands hired to drill wells. But the oil and gas jobs are everywhere in California, from those in the refineries in the Bay Area to others building oil and gas pipelines.
Those jobs are just not comparable in quality to those in the green energy sector, Zierman argued.
“Those green energy jobs just don’t pay the way oil and gas industry pay,” Zierman said. “You have a higher pay and upward mobility in the oil and gas industry than in green jobs.”
The fear of job loss propelled the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California to oppose Assembly Bill 345, which would have prohibited oil drilling near schools and homes. The bill eventually died in committee in August.
“AB 345 risked killing jobs without any plan to avoid the inevitable economic harm that befalls the Central Valley,” Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, who voted against the bill, wrote in an Aug. 24 Fresno Bee op-ed.
Ron Miller, executive secretary of Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, said many of his 140,000 members already work in solar fields, windmills and other green energy facilities. The council has been working with environmentalists to achieve carbon neutrality in California by 2045, he said. But still, he said the gas and oil industry still employs thousands in the region.
Miller recalled Southern California’s manufacturing heydays — a car plant in South Gate 7 miles south of Los Angeles, tire manufacturers all over the region, a Boeing facility in Long Beach. Many of those places and industries have gone, but not the oil and gas industry.
“The oil and gas industry is one of the last large industry left here,” Miller said. “We can’t afford to push them out before their time.”
Unless workers in the gas and oil industry see a future for themselves in a low-carbon economy, their first priority is to “save their own livelihoods,” said Carol Zabin, director of Green Energy Program at UC Berkeley Labor Center. For the state to truly achieve its goals fighting climate change, Zabin said, it needs to invest in helping its gas and oil workforce transition.
“Union members are fed this line that there are more jobs in the clean energy economy, and you can get a job as a solar installer,” Zabin said. “And they are going, ‘We know those are pretty crappy jobs’.”
In her report released earlier this year, Zabin said the state should go beyond offering workers a few thousand dollars and having them navigate through a complex job market. The state should offer apprenticeship and training programs through institutions such as community colleges and secure commitment from employers that the programs’ graduates will be placed in a good job, she said.
Zabin also said the state and its counties and cities can mandate certain workplace conditions through a project labor agreement. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for instance, signed an agreement with BYD Motors for all-electric buses in 2013 that stipulated those buses need to be assembled locally.
Zabin said Assembly Bill 841 in the Legislature this year is another example: Those building an electric vehicle charging infrastructure funded or authorized by the state must have at least one electrician who holds a certain certification.
‘”There’s a set of policy tools to encourage good employers and screen out bad employers” she said.
As this much-troubled year began, the twin crises of homelessness and a broader housing shortage were, by common consent, California’s most pressing political issues.
Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted almost all of his State of the State address to them in February and legislators introduced dozens of housing bills.
Within a few weeks, however, housing and homelessness took a back seat as two new twin crises slammed into the state — the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe recession triggered by an anti-virus economic shutdown.
Meanwhile, ambitious housing bills languished in a pandemic-truncated legislative session wracked by internal discord. Most spectacularly, Senate Bill 1120, which would have more or less erased single-family zoning to spur construction of multi-family projects, died in the final three minutes of the session despite being carried by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins.
It, like many other failed bills, sought to give housing advocates more clout to deal with local governments and neighborhood preservation advocates who shun high-density projects.
Although legislative efforts faltered and Newsom concentrated on other, more immediate crises — including horrendous wildfires that destroyed hundreds of houses — a state agency, without fanfare, issued new housing quotas aimed directly at officials who resist development.
Ostensibly they are just routine updates of “regional housing needs assessments” that the Department of Housing and Community Development issues every eight years. However, driven by a recent state law, the new housing goals for the 2022-30 period are much higher than previous versions and contain some enforcement that was previously lacking.
Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, carried the new law, Senate Bill 828, with the support of the Bay Area Council, a prominent business group that has advocated sharply increasing housing production.
The new decrees hit major metropolitan areas, where housing shortages are most acute, particularly hard. Overall, state goals in the four largest areas call for more than two million new units in the 2022-30 period to ease current shortages, deal with new population growth and offset losses of housing to old age and fire. That is more than twice the 2013-22 quotas.
In the six counties of the Southern California Association of Governments, which contain nearly half of the state’s population, the state agency’s goal more than tripled from just over 400,000 units to 1.3 million in the 2022-30 period, largely because of a new adjustment for too much overcrowded housing.
The nine-county Association of Bay Area Governments, including San Francisco, was told that its new construction goal would increase from 187,990 units to 441,176. Increases in the other two major metropolitan areas, Sacramento and San Diego, are modest because they are producing much of their needed housing.
Having received their new goals, regional planning agencies are required to mete out specific numbers to their city and county governments, but in the weeks since the new quotas were issued, resistance has developed among affected local governments and officials are mulling whether to challenge them in court.
Opposition is strongest in the affluent Bay Area suburbs and critics have new ammunition in a study by the Palo Alto-based Embarcadero Institute, an ally of local governments and high-density housing opponents.
The study contends that in the state’s four major metropolitan areas, SB 828’s methodology and calculations by the Department of Housing and Community Development “unwittingly” resulted in goals nearly twice what’s actually needed.
The difference between the state and Embarcadero Institute is more than 900,000 units and the study clearly sets the stage for a legal and political showdown on how far the state can go in forcing reluctant local officials to generate more housing construction than they want.
The land east of Madera has changed in the 25 years since Rochelle and Michael Noblett built their home, four doors down from Rochelle’s parents, in River Road Estates.
There are more houses, more acres of irrigated agriculture and less grazing land. There’s also been a significant decline in water availability, as the level of groundwater drops below what some residents’ domestic wells can reach.
That’s why the couple was shocked when the county allowed a new irrigation well and almond orchard “as far as the eye could see” to be installed on what was grazing land in the midst of the most recent drought, even as private wells were going dry and residents were actively conserving water.
“I’m very pro-ag,” Rochelle Noblett told The Fresno Bee. “It’s just these super-large companies that don’t care about their neighbors. They’re just here to make their millions and pull out and leave us high and dry… and nobody is watching this.”
Groundwater problems didn’t end when rain came and severe drought ended. After dropping their pump several times, the Nobletts — like other Madera County residents — had to drill a new well with a lower pump this summer, after the old one sucked sand.
The water level had dropped 200 feet in 25 years, the Nobletts said. A new well cost $27,900.
Yet even as groundwater basins have been in decline, land use continues to change to more water-intensive activities, contributing to over-tapped water basins and threatening farms and residents who rely on relatively shallow well pumps for their water.
That trend is expected to continue for decades, but could be tapered by county management activities like water allocations that may influence land use decisions.
The state doesn’t regulate private wells, but state agencies also have a role to play, said Laurel Firestone, State Water Resources Control Board member.
“Together, we need to look squarely at the challenges that we are facing — increasing and more severe droughts due to climate change, water supply demands, water contamination, economic and housing crises — and work to prevent problems before they happen in the future.
That way, the state can focus on assisting communities that are already facing issues,” Firestone said.
Hundreds of people who rely on private wells in Madera County and thousands across the central San Joaquin Valley are expected to lose their water in the next 10 or 20 years, despite new regulations intended to ensure sustainable management of the groundwater basin, according to proposed plans and an analysis of those plans commissioned by Water Foundation.
The central San Joaquin Valley lives on groundwater.
Underground aquifers are the primary water source for agricultural, municipal, domestic and industrial uses in the region. The demand on groundwater has outpaced the natural supply, according to state regulators who say groundwater basins in the region are in severe overdraft.
Water users in the Madera Subbasin, for example, extract groundwater faster than the basin can replenish. With current land use, it is estimated that water users pump out 54 billion gallons more than the amount of water that goes into the basin every year, according to an analysis prepared for the Madera Subbasin Coordination Committee.
California became the last state in the nation to regulate groundwater when legislators passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, with the intent to force better regional management of groundwater use.
Water agencies across the state submitted plans for how they intend to manage groundwater in the future. Those plans are under review, but full implementation isn’t required until 2040, and some agencies plan to delay action to prevent economic loss.
It’s written into the proposed plans that domestic wells will be dewatered, meaning the water level will drop below the level of the well pump.
A cost analysis performed for the Madera Subbasin, for example, determined the total cost of drilling new domestic wells is less than the amount of money the agriculture industry would lose by implementing management strategies too quickly, before it is legally required to do so in 2040.
“Immediate implementation of demand reduction to avoid further lowering of groundwater levels would cause direct farm revenue losses of $182 million per year and require fallowing an average of 40,000 acres per year within the Subbasin,” and would result in job loss, the plan says.
It also says the analysis anticipated 85 wells have already gone dry between 2015 and 2019. There is no easy way to confirm whether that happened, because domestic wells are generally only tracked when new wells are drilled.
The cost to replace another 200 domestic wells that are expected to be detwatered is around $3.39 million, the plan says.
The Madera Subbasin Coordination Committee plans to create a domestic well mitigation program to offset the costs associated with wells going dry – a program only included in the plan after drinking water advocates like Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability asked for it.
Who will pay for that program hasn’t yet been codified.
So far, the costs are borne by residents who own the wells, or public funds through the California Office of Emergency Services or State Water Resources Control Board.
Madera County intends to implement a rate structure for water users to help cover the costs of the program, according to Stephanie Anagnoson, director of the county Water and Natural Resources Department. Domestic well users may be required to pay in.
When Michael Noblett grandfather’s family grew grapes in the Madera area in the 1930s, he said, “they were all able to hand dig their well.”
He thinks about how that compares to irrigation wells drilled these days.
“When we first moved in, it was empty, open grazing land. Years after that, the big farming industrial people came and put in thousands of acres of figs, pistachios and almonds,” Noblett said. “Their wells are between 1,000 feet and 1,500 feet and they’re pumping much more than the households.”
He has kept receipts of what well maintenance has cost him. Some of the expenses may be normal maintenance, but the groundwater levels likely contributed to the total cost that’s reached over $30,000 in the last 10 years.
The water level of their original domestic well drilled in 1995 was 160 feet. The pump was lowered to 273 feet at a cost of $4,312 in 2010. In the midst of the drought in 2016, they lowered the pump again to 306 feet for $1,500, Noblett said.
In August, they had a new well drilled to 550 feet. The water level was measured at 358 feet, and the pump was set at 455 feet, according to Noblett’s records.
Rochelle Noblett said their neighbors in every direction have had similar experiences, and she blames unregulated industrial-sized agriculture.
“They need to stop that. As much as I love farmers, there comes a time when enough is enough,” she said. “Your millions are becoming billions, and it’s on the backs of everyone else. These are not the family farms we envisioned back in the day.”
That’s one reason Noblett ran for county supervisor in 2014, campaigning on the platform that development should be examined carefully and the “availability of water should be at the center of that discussion.”
She lost to Brett Frazier, who said during the campaign that supervisors need to ensure there are “legally binding assurances” from developers that they will provide adequate water needs.
An analysis of land use activities in the Madera Subbasin confirms what the Norbetts say they saw: Land use activities with relatively low water use decreased significantly between 1989 and 2015 in the area, while high water-use activities increased in the same time period, according to the groundwater sustainability plan.
Idle land decreased from 32,783 acres to 4,198 acres and pasture or alfalfa acreage decreased from 30,069 to 7,581 acres, while the amount of land used for orchards more than doubled, from 46,219 to 108,407, and a quarter of that growth happened during the drought.
What activities occur on land can affect both water quantity and quality, which is why decisions about what crops are grown or how land is developed matters to existing neighboring homes.
“Land use has a critical role to play in ensuring folks have access to safe drinking water,” said Michael Clairborne, an attorney with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
Crop selection matters, he said, because the demand for water increases when fields are converted from annual crops to orchards, for example. And annual crops give farmers the flexibility to manage water use based on drought conditions, by choosing whether to plant a crop one year or the next, for example.
“It also matters where development occurs,” he said. “When you develop natural lands and pave over them, you prevent natural groundwater recharge.”
He promotes the concept of in-filling, or building homes on undeveloped lots or increasing housing density in existing urban areas.
Firestone said some counties are proactively reducing reliance on private wells for vulnerable communities, by requiring all new housing developments to connect into existing water systems, for example.
“Others require private wells to regularly test for contaminants that are common in the area. Other local agencies are even providing well testing services themselves,” Firestone said. “The state provides statewide analysis of water quality risk to private wells and some limited funding to address existing challenges in the most impacted communities. Local groundwater agencies are tasked with managing supply.”
Madera County does have a policy requiring developers of new subdivisions to have a net neutral effect on water supplies, meaning new homes cannot draw down groundwater further without recharging the basin, for example.
The county, which acts as a groundwater sustainability agency, is also working to develop a water allocation system that supervisors intend to vote on and adopt by the end of the year.
Farmers would be granted an allocation of groundwater amount, and then would pay a penalty or fine if they pumped more. Existing wells are not generally metered, however. So to measure water use, the county hired a vendor to collect satellite evaporation data.
That doesn’t directly regulate land use, but it may influence land use decisions by landowners about crop selection, for example, according to Anagnoson. The county also has a grant to consider whether to create an incentive structure for land owners to take land out of production.
“There are options out there that use less water. Olives that make olive oil seem to use a remarkable low amount of water,” Anagnoson said. “But, you know, none of this moves quickly.”
Dept. of Water Resources
California’s Water Year 2020 has come to a close and while Northern California was mostly dry, parts of Southern California experienced above average precipitation. The water year ended below average and further demonstrated the impact of climate change on the state’s water supply.
“California is experiencing the impacts of climate change with devastating wildfires, record temperatures, variability in precipitation, and a smaller snowpack,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We must continue to invest in our infrastructure to prepare the state to cope with more extreme weather for the state’s needs today and in the future.”
For Water Year 2020, a lack of precipitation resulted in a snowpack of just 50 percent of average on April 1, as measured by the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program, making it the 10th smallest snowpack in California since 1950. California’s reservoirs received just a third of the water runoff from precipitation and snowmelt that they did during the same time period a year ago.
The impacts of dry conditions were tempered, however, because of good reservoir storage from a wet 2019. Statewide reservoir storage through the end of September 2020 is projected to be 93 percent of average or 21.5 million-acre feet.
DWR’s annual water year recap, “Water Year 2020: Summary Information” highlights additional key details of the water year which runs from October 1 to September 30.
Focused on tangible actions to help build a climate-resilient water system, the state recently finalized the California Water Resilience Portfolio outlining almost 150 actions to better prepare our state for long-term water resilience. The continued water year variability is also a reminder to all Californians that we need to be prepared for dry periods. For more information visit: California’s Most Significant Droughts: Comparing Historical and Recent Conditions.
Inside Climate News
Robert Rivas was talking as fast as he could, which is really quite fast. The California Assemblyman (D-Hollister) had spent 80 percent of his day fielding calls and at 4 p.m. he was still at it.
“I’m very excited,” Rivas, a statehouse freshman, gushed. “Very, very excited. We have this amazing opportunity to just do so much and there’s so much to do.”
Rivas, 40, was raised in farmworker housing in the Central Coast district he represents. Now, he is the new chair of the California Assembly Agriculture Committee. The position puts him in a position to influence policies for the state’s $50 billion agricultural economy, an engine that helps power the fifth largest economy in the world.
What happens in California does not stay in California, which grows two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and over a third of its vegetables. It is also the number one dairy state. Not to mention it also helps feed the world.
Rivas plans a statewide tour of farm country next month that will help set legislative priorities. He will need to consider the local, national and global implications of agricultural policies during one of the most challenging times in modern history given the pandemic and its ongoing lockdowns, looming recession and increasing weather disasters.
It’s a big step for a Sacramento newbie with months to go in his second year in office and a giant leap for a first-generation Mexican-American raised by a single mother and maternal grandparents on the grounds of a vineyard.
“It’s humbling,” Rivas said. “I always say I’m the least likely person to have become an official in Sacramento.”
Rivas, who is skating toward his first reelection, was appointed committee chair by California’s Assembly Speaker, Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), in part because he knows farm country so well. Rendon noted Rivas’s background and passion for championing farm workers—and farmers—as a decisive factor in his appointment.
“Assemblymember Rivas has a track record of fighting for farmworkers and working closely with their employers,” Rendon said. “From his youth in farmworker housing to the present, he has been prepared to be chair of this committee.”
Rivas spent his childhood in worker housing for Almaden Vineyards (the state’s first winery), in unincorporated Paicines, with his brother and others. His grandfather supported up to nine or 10 people at any given time in a two-bedroom house on a farmworker’s salary.
One of Rivas’s grandfather’s paycheck stubs hangs on his office wall. He says it’s to remind himself of his beginnings. In the 1980s, his grandfather, a leader in the United Farm Workers union, was making $6.33 an hour.
“We grew up in poverty,” Rivas said of himself and his brother, Rick. “We just didn’t know it at the time.”
If poverty wasn’t enough of a stumbling block to future success, Rivas had what he calls a “debilitating disability.”
“I stuttered really bad,” he said. The impediment left him unable to talk at times and took years of speech therapy to overcome. He can joke and say he is in good company now that Joe Biden mentions his own struggles with the affliction on the Democratic Presidential campaign trail.
Rivas, who has a master’s degree in public administration from San Jose State University, worked his way up the political ladder the old-fashioned way, as a political aide, and then as a supervisor for eight years in San Benito County, which abuts Silicon Valley. He has also worked as an EMT and firefighter, as a high school dean and a history instructor at Gavilan College, a two-year college in unincorporated Santa Clara county. He is married and is raising a 4-year-old daughter.
He hit the ground running when he joined the statehouse representing the 30th Assembly District, which includes the Salinas Valley, one of the richest agricultural regions in the country.
“We introduced over 20 bills,” he said. “We had all this momentum and then…” he trailed before uttering the phrase of the year, “the pandemic hit.”
Rivas said the biggest challenge in Sacramento is the financial crisis the pandemic has caused, which created a deficit of up to $52 million that will force hard cuts in the coming year
His most high-profile legislation was inspired by his first-hand knowledge of the farmworkers’ life. Rivas and two colleagues, Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who chairs the Latino Legislative Caucus, and Eduardo Garica (D-Coachella) authored what they say is first-of-its-kind legislation, “The Farmorker Covid-19 Relief Package.” Its three bills would ensure farm workers receive adequate work protections against Covid-19, including sick leave and pay.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in July announced some protections for farmworkers similar to the set of bills proposed by Rivas and his colleagues in April. Their legislation, which passed last month with wide bipartisan support, is awaiting the governor’s signature.
One of his toughest losses was a climate bill. A.B. 2954 would have required the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and other state agencies to set a goal for carbon and greenhouse gas emission reductions from natural and working lands—and identify possible practice and policies to reach the goal—by Jan. 1, 2023.
Applauded by climate groups, it was opposed by Republicans and even fellow Democrats for being too broad and having a carbon sequestration goal too big for the resources board —which would give too much regulatory power to one agency.
Rivas seems undeterred. The climate crisis is a major issue, he said. “We’ve got our work cut out to fix it.”