Bill Killed That Would Have Stopped Peripheral Canal without Legislative Vote

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CA_delta.jpgA motion to approve AB 1594 by Assembly Member Alyson Huber died in committee for lack of a second.  Senator Lois Wolk and Assemblymember Mariko Yamada joined a press conference Monday in support of Assemblymember Alyson Huber’s bill, AB 1594, that would prohibit construction of a peripheral canal through the Delta without a full fiscal analysis and vote of the state legislature.

AB 1594 prohibits the construction of a peripheral canal unless expressly authorized by the Legislature. It further requires the Legislative Analyst’s Office to complete an economic feasibility analysis prior to the enactment of a statute authorizing the construction of a peripheral canal.

The bill would also require that the construction and operation of a peripheral canal not diminish or negatively affect the water supplies, water rights, or quality of water for water users within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.

According to one source, Committee Chair Senator Jared Huffman said he sympathized with concerns raised by the bill’s proponents, but said he would prefer to rely on existing law and the Legislature’s ability to exercise oversight if a canal proposal emerges that is too different from conveyance elements included in the original State Water Plan.

Said Assemblymember Huber, the bill’s author,  “We should not have an infrastructure project of this size without legislative oversight. The Legislature should do its job and give it an up-or-down vote once the full details and fiscal impact to residents of the state are penciled out.”

Mariko Yamada who represents much of Yolo County and the eastern portion of Solano County issued a statement on Tuesday:

“I commend Assemblymember Huber for her courage and competence in continuing her advocacy on this important issue.  As the only member of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee who represents the Delta Primary Zone, I am not surprised that this bill did not pass out of our policy committee.  However, without the bill even being given the courtesy of a ‘second’ motion, the committee did not have to go on record with a yes-or-no vote. 

“Today’s critics testified that AB 1594 would re-open last year’s difficult and painful water negotiations.  The bill would have simply provided transparency and accountability to those residents who will be most affected by the changes to the Delta. Without a single Delta legislator as an author of any part of the five-bill policy and bond package, there is little confidence in the middle-of-the-night water deals now chaptered into law.  This bill would have allowed Delta residents to use the legislative process as a means to express their concerns about a peripheral canal.  Without that, their voices continue to be left on the sidelines.”

According to Assemblymember Huber, “This bill adds much-needed oversight to the existing process, specifically the actions of a group of unelected appointees many believe are likely to rubber stamp plans for a canal as suggested by the Governor and others.”

A recent joint hearing of State Assembly and Senate committees on the funding and implementation of the 2009 legislative package on water raised many concerns about the Delta Stewardship Council and its ability to exercise its independent authority to develop the Delta Plan, in light of decisions being made by the Department of Water Resources and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Other supporters of AB 1594 include Senator Mark DeSaulnier, and Assemblymembers Wes Chesbro, Paul Fong, Ted Gaines, and Tom Torlakson, all of them represent districts around the Delta.

The Vanguard reported in January that Senator Wolk had been stripped of some of her committee seats due to her outspoken opposition to the destruction of the Delta.

In March, Senator Wolk strongly criticized Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  “It is business as usual, and discouraging,” she said.  “My worst fears were confirmed today. The train has left the station and is not stopping for anything, including the Delta Stewardship Council.”

“The whole thrust of this Delta reform legislation was to ensure that the Delta would have a true steward with independent and transparent decision-making authority to craft a plan for the Delta,” said Wolk. “Unfortunately, the testimony given today shows that the Department of Water Resources and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan are moving full speed ahead, executing contracts and making decisions even before the Delta Stewardship Council is appointed. This is a 50-year plan, so it needs to be done right, not rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline.”

“Before the ink has even dried on this legislation, which was supposed to change everything, we are seeing not only a lack of transparency, but a lack of collaboration with the legislature, local government, and the people on the ground,” added Wolk. “On its current trajectory, the Delta Stewardship Council, once appointed, will have little ability to exercise its independent authority to develop the Delta Plan. They are being put into a position of doing little more than rubber stamping decisions made by other agencies.”

Unfortunately, the residents of the Delta and those trying to protect it, will not get to see a democratic process.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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