Ignore the Naysayers, Proposition 13 is Still Working After All These Years

In most of America, one of the worst impacts of high inflation is a sharp rise in property taxes. But that’s not the case in California.

True, housing prices are some of the highest in the nation, due mostly to government policies restricting supply. But existing homeowners are protected by Proposition 13’s cap on annual increases in assessed value of 2%. According to the California Taxpayers Association, Californians would have seen their property taxes increase more than 7 percent this year without Prop. 13.

It is understandable why the political left – which wants all your money – has it in for Proposition 13, but we were surprised when the normally credible Tax Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., fell for some of the same falsehoods advanced by the “tax-and-spend” crowd. The Foundation is advising other states not to adopt Prop. 13-style reforms. We disagree and believe all states currently struggling with out-of-control property taxes should take a good, long look at California’s system based on acquisition value. It is vastly superior to one based on market value.

While the Tax Foundation admits that “Proposition 13 and other property tax assessment limits have done their job, keeping incumbent property owners’ taxes in check,” they assert that those systems result in “hidden costs.”

One clearly false claim is that assessment limits “discourage homeowners from renovating or adding onto their homes, for fear of incurring a dramatic tax increase.” In general, remodeling and repairs that are part of normal maintenance or cosmetic are not considered assessable. New additions that increase the square footage of a home or add new improvements that didn’t exist before are assessable—but that’s true everywhere. The difference is that in California, the reassessment is limited to the value added by the addition, with the rest of the assessment unchanged. So what you would pay under Prop. 13 is still less than what you would have paid in a market-based property tax system.

Next, the Tax Foundation claims that property tax assessment limits “make it less attractive for growing families to move past their starter homes or for empty nesters to downsize.” This isn’t true in California. Older homeowners (age 55 and up) can move and take their Prop. 13 base-year value with them to a new home. For younger homeowners, moving to a larger and more expensive home means higher property taxes — but again, that’s true everywhere. All homeowners benefit from Proposition 13, which capped the tax rate at 1%. Before Prop. 13, the statewide average tax rate was 2.67%, applied annually to the current market value. That means a young family’s property tax bill would be more than double in the first year of homeownership without Prop. 13.

Next, the Foundation states that assessment limits “interfere with efforts to change a property’s use.” That’s a polite way of saying that the land upon which your home rests is being “underutilized.” Does this mean you should be taxed out of it so it can be sold to someone who can build something deemed a better use, like a sales-tax-revenue-producing used car lot? No thanks.

Another myth is that acquisition value systems gradually “shift costs to newer, younger homeowners — the rising generation that [state] lawmakers want to keep in-state.” But under Prop. 13, all homeowners are taxed according to what they voluntarily pay for their property. The worst thing that could happen to a young family is to be taxed out of a home they just purchased because their tax bill is based on the vagaries of the real estate market. Prop. 13 gives new homeowners the predictability of knowing what their tax bill will be years into the future as well as a reasonable 1% rate cap.

And the real surprise of Proposition 13 is how it helps local government. Because Prop. 13 allows increases in assessed value of 2% per year and requires reassessment of property when it changes hands, it provides a stable, predictable and growing source of tax revenue to local governments. Property tax revenue in the Golden State has grown virtually every year since 1978 in percentages that exceed both inflation and population growth. Moreover, Prop. 13 provides a “shock absorber” effect during recessions when market values fall precipitously but assessed values – in the aggregate – fall slightly or not at all.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Interest on the Debt and a Responsible Debt Ceiling

ith the debt ceiling now reached, it is clear we must increase in the amount of money the United States government can legally borrow.

President Joe Biden and most Democrats have taken the position that we should increase the spending limit with no changes, modifications, or reforms.

Republicans—and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin—have said it would be irresponsible to simply extend the government’s ability to run up more debt without curbing spending. Any debt ceiling increase should be done in a responsible way, with serious reforms to the pattern of government spending, that will move us back toward a balanced budget by 2033.

The sheer weight of the interest on our growing national debt should convince anyone concerned about America’s future that the Republicans and Manchin are right.

According to the May 2022 Congressional Budget Office report, the United States is going to add $16 trillion to the national debt between now and 2033 (I’m sure that projection would be much higher now). That additional deficit spending will give the United States a debt as high as 109 percent of gross domestic product in 2027.

If the current uncontrolled spending pattern does not change, by 2030 paying interest on the national debt will cost more than the entire defense budget. By 2033, America will be spending nearly $200 billion more on interest payments than on our national security ($1.19 trillion in interest versus $998 billion in national security).

According to the CBO, all this spending will drive up interest rates—which will of course further drive up interest payments. It currently projects three-month U.S. bonds to jump nearly 400 percent (from 0.6 percent to 2.3 percent) and 10-year U.S. bonds will jump 80 percent (2.1 percent to 3.8 percent) over the next decade. This crushing interest will be borne by taxpayers.

This interaction between the debt and interest rate creates a vicious cycle. The more you borrow, the more pressure there is for inflation. The more inflation, the higher interest rates get. Higher interest rates mean bigger interest payments on the debt.

This cycle of government demanding money to cover its deficits also crowds out capital for the private sector—and ultimately weakens economic growth and job creation. We have watched the European welfare state system for 70 years. It has crowded out economic growth and increased unemployment and underemployment. We’ve seen downward cycles of bigger welfare states transferring more money from taxpayers to those who cannot find work—and thus increasing the number of unemployed. (In some cases, European countries have bailed out their neighbors and only made problems worse.)

I know it is possible to balance the budget because we have done it before. When I was Speaker of the House, we began negotiations with President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, which led to the only four consecutive balanced budgets in our lifetime.

The American people understand that the current deficit-spending machinery of big government is unsustainable. A new Rasmussen poll reports that only 24 percent of Americans favor raising the debt ceiling with no spending cuts.

By contrast, 73 percent believe it is reasonable to cut spending—and 62 percent favor modest cuts in all agencies. There are no sacred cows.

Every dollar we save is a deficit dollar we will not have to pay interest on in perpetuity.

The path forward is clear—and required for our survival.

First, we must get spending under control. Second, we must get to a balanced budget. Third, we must sustain the balance and start paying down the national debt.

Click here to read the full article in Newsweek

California Won’t Require COVID Vaccine to Attend Schools

Children in California won’t have to get the coronavirus vaccine to attend schools, state public health officials confirmed Friday, ending one of the last major restrictions of the pandemic in the nation’s most populous state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom first announced the policy in 2021, saying it would eventually apply to all of California’s 6.7 million public and private schoolchildren.

But since then, the crisis first caused by a mysterious virus in late 2019 has mostly receded from public consciousness. COVID-19 is still widespread, but the availability of multiple vaccines has lessened the viruses’ effects for many — offering relief to what had been an overwhelmed public health system.

Nearly all of the pandemic restrictions put in place by Newsom have been lifted, and he won’t be able to issue any new ones after Feb. 28 when the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration officially ends.

One of the last remaining questions was what would happen to the state’s vaccine mandate for schoolchildren, a policy that came from the California Department of Public Health and was not impacted by the lifting of the emergency declaration.

Friday, the Department of Public Health confirmed it was backing off its original plan.

“CDPH is not currently exploring emergency rulemaking to add COVID-19 to the list of required school vaccinations, but we continue to strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom,” the department said in a statement. “Any changes to required K-12 immunizations are properly addressed through the legislative process.”

The announcement was welcome news for Jonathan Zachreson, a father of three who lives in Roseville. Zachreson founded the group Reopen California Schools to oppose many of the state’s coronavirus policies. His activism led to him being elected to the Roseville City School District board in November.

“This is long overdue. … A lot of families have been stressed from this decision and worried about it for quite some time,” he said. “I wish CDPH would make a bigger statement publicly or Newsom would make a public statement … to let families know and school districts know that this is no longer going to be an issue for them.”

Representatives for Newsom did not respond to an email requesting comment.

California has had lots of influence over the country’s pandemic policies. It was the first state to issue a statewide stay-at-home order — and other states were swift to follow.

But most states did not follow California’s lead when it came to the vaccine mandate for public schools. Officials in Louisiana announced a similar mandate, but later backed off. Schools in the District of Columbia plan to require the COVID-19 vaccine starting in the fall.

Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Kiley, a former member of the state Assembly who challenged Newsom in a failed recall attempt in 2021 over his pandemic policies, published a blog post declaring: “We won. To Gavin Newsom: You lost.”

Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist representing most of the state’s school districts, said he did not think the policy change was the result of political pressure by Republicans, but instead a reflection of the virus’s slowing transmission rates.

Click here to read the full article in the AP News

S.F. Hoped to Mandate Treatment for Up to 100 More Mentally Ill Homeless People. Years Later, No One Is In The Program

New data shows that a program in San Francisco to mandate more homeless people struggling with addiction and mental illness into treatment has largely failed, pointing to the city’s ongoing struggle to help thousands of people suffering on its streets.

Three and a half years ago, San Francisco started a pilot program to compel more people into treatment who met certain strict criteria. Officials estimated the program could help 50 to 100 people get housing and treatment for six months, but only three individuals entered the program and none remain in it today.

The problem is daunting. In 2019, San Francisco identified about 4,000 unhoused people who also struggled with addiction and mental illness. While many of those people could be helped with more voluntary treatment, some may be too sick to accept care. Despite progress in improving some aspects of the city’s mental health system, an unknown number of the 4,000 remain on the streets.

While the program was meant to help more of these people, in particular those impaired by drug addiction who aren’t covered under other forms of conservatorship, the reality is that the requirements were so onerous, few people met the criteria, according to the health department.

Since June 2019, the city has filed only four petitions for what’s called “housing conservatorship,” one of which was not approved. While other kinds of conservatorship exist, they too have strict requirements that limit who is eligible.

Of the three people who entered the new program, two were moved to another kind of conservatorship for people with mental illness, the city’s health department said Friday when it released its annual report on the subject. It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the third person.

The program — which sunsets at the end of the year —requires that someone has a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance use disorder and has been placed on at least eight temporary involuntary mental health holds, called 5150s, which send them to a hospital, within a year. The target population was also homeless. People must repeatedly refuse voluntary treatment first.

A law authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, allowed the city to launch the pilot program.

But Wiener said Friday his original law was hamstrung by a slew of factors. It got watered down by another piece of state legislation the next year, making it more restrictive. Next, the Board of Supervisors added more requirements during a contentious political debate. Logistics and paperwork delayed the implementation, and as soon as it got off the ground, the pandemic slowed progress.

“So not shockingly, not a lot of people have been conserved,” he said.

“It is so frustrating to me and so many San Franciscans when you walk down the street and see someone who’s clearly falling apart and dying, and you see that person every day falling apart a little more, and you wonder why is no one doing anything about this, why is no one saving their life?” he continued.

The report said 27 total notices have been delivered to 14 people informing them they’re on a potential path to housing conservatorship. There are no petitions waiting court approval.

The city’s health department said in a statement Friday that multiple barriers have hindered the program. They said those include limited referrals from partners, extensive documentation requirements and challenges receiving confidential patient records from private hospitals.

The health department said “stronger laws and more resources would make the San Francisco Housing Conservatorship programs a more effective tool” in the city’s system.

Wiener said he had planned to come back to the legislature this year to fix problems with his law, but instead is setting his sights on supporting a package of laws to reform a broader form of conservatorship, called LPS, that state Sen. Susan Eggman is planning to put forward. Wiener said he believes that with new leadership in the legislature, reforms will pass this year and help more people into treatment.

Mayor London Breed, who has lobbied for stronger conservatorship laws for years, supported a similar package of reforms last year.

Breed’s health department runs San Francisco General, which sees many of the patients who might be a fit for the program in its psychiatric emergency room and its inpatient psychiatric unit. People frequently cycle through the units because of a lack of long-term care.

The city also runs numerous street outreach teams – some to respond to people with mental illness and others who have just overdosed – where experts have the power to write mental health holds that would set someone on this path to conservatorship.

Recent data shows that in a majority of interactions with the team responding to mental crises, people in 57% of engagements remained in the community. In only 5% of cases were people placed on holds – a rate that two social workers told the Chronicle they felt didn’t reflect the higher need for hospitalization among their clients.

Critics say mental health holds and conservatorship should be extremely limited because it takes away people’s civil rights.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

California Governor Takes Aim at Concealed Carry, Fresno DA

In response to recent deadly shootings in the state, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new legislation this week that would make obtaining concealed carry permits more difficult. Likewise, he engaged in a war of words with the Fresno County District Attorney over the case of a Central Valley police officer whom a gunman shot and killed on Tuesday.

Newsom announced the introduction of Senate Bill 2, authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino and also backed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. SB 2 would make California’s licensing system for concealed carry permits more stringent; set a minimum age of 21 for obtaining a concealed carry permit; create stiffer training requirements related to handling, loading, unloading and storage of firearms; and establish “safe community places” where concealed firearms would be restricted.

“The mass shooting incidents we have seen over recent weeks bring to light the need for stronger protections for our communities,” Attorney General Bonta said in a statement. “The fact is, individuals who are not law-abiding, responsible citizens simply shouldn’t possess firearms — and they especially shouldn’t be allowed to carry a concealed weapon in public.”

Newsom’s office claims efforts to loosen concealed carry restrictions across the country have resulted in an increased in violent crime. Gun homicides increased by 22% in states that passed permitless carry laws, while violent crimes with a firearm rose by 29%, according to the governor’s office.

Following the killing of Selma Police Officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr. by a gunman with a criminal background, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp criticized Newsom for policies allowing the early release of inmates from prison.

Newsom responded to Smittcamp during a press conference on gun law reform saying, “She should blame herself. I’ve been listening to this for years. She has the prosecutorial discretion. Ask her what she did in terms of prosecuting that case. I’m sick and tired of being lectured by her about public safety.”

Click here to read the full article at CalCoastMatters

In Endorsing Schiff for Senate, Pelosi Rewarded Her Most Valued Trait: Loyalty

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi typically throws out endorsements in high-profile Democrat-on-Democrat races like manhole covers. She sat out Hillary vs. Barack in 2008, didn’t weigh in on Hillary vs. Bernie in 2016 until it didn’t really matter, and held her nod for Joe Biden in 2020 until he was the presumptive nominee.

But one of the main factors that inspired Pelosi to endorse Rep. Adam Schiff in California’s 2024 Senate race over two female House members came down to a quality she holds sacrosanct: loyalty.

“Loyalty is a real big factor with Nancy Pelosi, and friendship is inviolable,” John Lawrence, Pelosi’s former chief of staff, told me. “It’s almost like family.”

In Schiff, Pelosi has long had a loyal lieutenant, someone she has supported since he was elected in 2000. She counted on him to lead the House Intelligence Committee in the early, tumultuous years of the Trump administration when a Trump loyalist, former Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, was his counterpart on the panel and was “providing political cover” to the administration, as Schiff told The Chronicle at the time.

Pelosi chose Schiff as the lead manager for the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump and as a member of the commission investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

What Nancy Pelosi’s Endorsement Means For the California Senate Race

House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi — who rarely weighs in on Democrat-versus-Democrat races — is endorsing Burbank Rep. Adam Schiff for Senate if Sen. Dianne Feinstein declines to run in what will be a fiercely contested, possibly once-in-a-generation contest.

It is the strongest sign yet that Feinstein will not seek re-election in 2024. Feinstein, 89, has said she will announce her intentions by spring. Pelosi delicately nodded to her Pacific Heights neighbor’s timeline in a statement obtained by The Chronicle Thursday: “If Senator Feinstein decides to seek re-election, she has my whole-hearted support.”

If Feinstein doesn’t run, Pelosi said in the statement, “I will be supporting House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, who knows well the nexus between a strong democracy and a strong economy. In his service in the House, he has focused on strengthening our democracy with justice and on building an economy that works for all.” Last month, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy removed Schiff from the House Intelligence Committee where has served since 2008 and chaired from 2019 to 2023.

Pelosi’s endorsement marks a rare occasion in which she is wading into a race with no incumbent and multiple high-profile Democratic House members. It is also a huge boon for Schiff. Pelosi has previously endorsed the two other Democrats seeking the seat in their House races, Rep. Katie Porter, and Rep. Barbara Lee. Porter, D-Irvine, announced her campaign last month, while Lee, D-Oakland, is expected to officially announce her run soon.

Wade Randlett, a national Democratic donor from San Francisco who supports Schiff, said that “an endorsement in any open-seat Democratic primary from the greatest speaker of all time is golden. But to get it this early when there are at least three members of her caucus running is a Willie Wonka ticket.”

Pelosi and Schiff have had a close professional relationship. She tapped him to lead the first impeachment of President Donald Trump and to the panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Trump and his MAGA supporters have relentlessly targeted Pelosi and Schiff for their dogged pursuit of the former president. On Thursday, Pelosi commended Schiff’s strength in withstanding their attacks.

“Ever since I supported Adam in his race for Congress in 2000, I have known his commitment to putting the American Dream in place for everyone,” Pelosi said. “Coming from a family of immigrants, Adam has dedicated his life to public service. Every time I have asked Adam to take on the tough fight against extremist forces, he has responded with integrity, strength and success.”

Schiff said he was “deeply honored and so proud to have the support of Speaker Pelosi, who has been a friend and mentor throughout my time in Congress. She has accomplished so much for Californians, for children and for working families, and deeply understands the challenges to our democracy that lie ahead,” according to a statement obtained by The Chronicle.

Not only is Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House, one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, she is its most prolific fundraiser and could steer donors to Schiff. She has raised more than $1 billion for Democrats since she ascended into party leadership two decades ago.

Schiff’s campaign coffers hold nearly $21 million cash on hand, which could give him an early advantage in what is expected to be an expensive race. Porter has $7.7 million in cash on hand, according to the latest federal campaign finance report. She raised $25 million last year but had to drain much of that in an unexpectedly tough House race in a redrawn, more GOP district. Lee has only $54,940.

It is also notable that Pelosi endorsed Schiff over two women. Porter is a member of the House Progressive Caucus. Lee is a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. Lee plans to make representation a central theme of her campaign.

One of the challenges that Schiff may face in the primary in deep blue California is being a straight white man in a diverse state.

California was represented in the Senate by two women from 1993-2021. Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were the first women elected to the Senate from California in 1992. Kamala Harris replaced Boxer after she retired in 2016 and served until she was sworn in as vice president in early 2021. California’s other senator is Sen. Alex Padilla, who is the first Latino to represent California.

The nod from Pelosi, a pioneering woman in the political world and a role model to many, will help Schiff in that regard.

The endorsement is also unusual since Pelosi has picked her spots in weighing in on top Democrat versus Democrat contests.

She didn’t take sides in the 2008 presidential primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In 2016, she didn’t endorse Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders until the morning of the California primary, when she announced her support of Clinton on ABC’s “The View.”

That’s in contrast to what Pelosi had told reporters in San Francisco five weeks earlier, when she said she was withholding her endorsement so as not to dampen enthusiasm among supporters of either candidate.

“I have a responsibility to elect a Democratic House because whenever we get a new president — whomever she may be — we want that president to have the strongest possible Democratic Congress,” Pelosi said then.

She also has picked incumbents over rising Democratic stars. She endorsed Rep. Mike Honda (twice) and former Rep. Tom Lantos over now-Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, when Khanna challenged the incumbents. And she backed incumbent Rep. Pete Stark over now-Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Livermore, in 2012.

In choosing Schiff, Pelosi said, “America is at a crossroads. We can continue to lift our communities, strengthen our economy and defend our democracy — or let Republicans roll back our progress, threaten our freedoms and give tax breaks to the wealthy special interests. In 2024, the fight for America’s future is on the ballot.”

Click here to read the full article in the San Francisco Chronicle

SF Supervisor Says City’s $1.45B Budget Plan to End Homelessness Won’t Work

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman did not mince words during a sit-down interview with ABC7 News on Wednesday, talking about the city’s housing plan for the homeless.

Earlier in the week, Mandelman called on the Board of Supervisors to have a special meeting to discuss the report issued at the end of last year by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

“We spend a huge amount of money in this city, not solving this problem,” Mandelman said.

The report was meant to be a direct plan of execution after the Board of Supervisors voted in June of 2022 to have the city offer all homeless people in the city a safe place to sleep.

RELATED: SF supervisors vote to create plan offering housing to every homeless person in city

It suggests spending nearly $1.5 billion over the next three years in addition to the money already expected to be spent.

That comes out to about $70,000 per shelter bed per year, according to Mandelman.

“That just seems like way too much to me. It’s more than other communities spend on shelter,” said Mandelman.

Mandelman thinks some of what’s proposed is wasteful and says the city can get rid of encampments for less.

MORE: Homelessness count rises in California despite staying steady nationwide, report finds

And Mandelman certainly isn’t alone. He tells me that quality of life issues such as homelessness are a top concern for both city residents and businesses.

Randy Shaw is the director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

He says he agrees with many of Mandelman’s thoughts and believes the city should cut down on the red tape surrounding the issue.

MORE: SF closes Tenderloin Center. What’s next for 400+ people who received services everyday?

“We have an emergency situation. We don’t have the luxury to say, ‘Well this luxury over 10 years will be a better investment’. We got to get people housed now,” said Shaw.

Mandelman maintains that the city can end unsheltered homelessness on our streets with the right plan and funding.

Click here to read the full article at ABC News

California Central Valley Police Officer Shot and Killed

Selma police officer shot and killed in line of duty. Suspect arrested

A Selma Police officer was shot and killed by a suspect in the line of duty in a residential neighborhood in the Fresno County city on Tuesday. The fatal shooting occurred around 11:45 a.m. in the 2600 block of Pine Street, just west of Highway 99 and south of Rose Avenue. The officer was rushed to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno but died there later, Selma Police Chief Rudy Alcaraz said in an update near the scene around 4:05 p.m. The officer, who was with the Selma Police for two years, was not immediately identified out of a respect for privacy of the family, Alcaraz said.

FATAL SHOOTING INCIDENT Alcaraz said the incident began when a resident noticed the suspect in the front of the house and called police. The officer arrived and found the suspect, who shot him several times before fleeing. “I’m absolutely outraged,” Alcaraz said. “I’m horrified right now. This is the worst-case scenario. “ The officer did not fire his weapon, Zanoni said. FCSO homicide detectives took over the investigation. In addition to FCSO, law enforcement from the surrounding area — including the U.S. Marshals, California Highway Patrol and police from Fresno, Kingsburg and Parlier — swarmed to the scene and established a perimeter around the location for the investigation.

ARRESTED SUSPECT HAD CRIMINAL PAST Around 12:10 p.m., the suspect was detained after a deputy spotted the suspect near Fig and Sequoia, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. The 23-year-old suspect was taken into custody and a gun was later recovered a short distance from where the man was arrested, the FCSO said. The suspect’s identity was not immediately released.

THE LATEST: Suspect named, details emerge But the sheriff’s office said law enforcement is familiar with the suspect and that he has a criminal background, including charges for firearms possession and robbery. The suspect served time in prison and is currently on probation as part of California’s AB 109 law (prison realignment). According to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, the suspect was sentenced in March 2022 to serve 5 years, 4 months in prison. But he was eventually released by September 2022 and placed on Post Release Community Supervision, the DA’s office said. “While we mourn this tragic loss and offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the fallen officer,” Fresno County DA Lisa Smittcamp said in a news release, “we must also focus our energy on demanding that our legislators do more to hold criminals accountable for their actions.”

Click here to read the full article at the Fresno Bee

California Releases Its Own Plan for Colorado River Cuts

California released a plan Tuesday detailing how Western states reliant on the Colorado River should save more water. It came a day after the six other states in the river basin made a competing proposal.

In a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California described how states could conserve between 1 million and nearly 2 million acre feet of water through new cuts based on the elevation of Lake Mead, a key reservoir.

Its plan did not account for water lost to evaporation and during transportation — a move sought by the other states that would mean big cuts for California.

The 1,450-mile river (2,334-kilometer) serves 40 million people across the West and Mexico, generating hydroelectric power for regional markets and irrigating nearly 6 million acres (2,428 hectares) of farmland.

A multi-decade drought in the West worsened by climate change, rising demand and overuse has sent water levels at key reservoirs along the river to unprecedented lows. That has forced federal and state officials to take additional steps to protect the system.

California’s plan and the separate methods outlined by states Monday came in response to Reclamation asking them last year to detail how they would use between 15% and 30% less water. The federal agency operates the major dams in the river system.

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All seven states missed that deadline last August. Six of them regrouped and came to an agreement by the end of January. California was the the lone holdout to that agreement, and responded Tuesday with its own plan.

Unlike the other states’ plan, California’s does not factor the roughly 1.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water lost to evaporation and transportation.

Instead, it proposes reducing water taken out of Lake Mead by 1 million acre feet, with 400,000 acre feet coming from its own users. The state previously outlined that level of cuts in October. Arizona would bear the brunt of bigger cuts — 560,000 acre feet — while Nevada would make up the rest. Those numbers are based on discussions from prior negotiations, California’s letter said.

An acre foot is enough water to supply two to three U.S. households for a year.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources said it was still reviewing California’s proposal and didn’t have an immediate comment.

But Tom Buschatzke, the department’s director, said earlier Tuesday that water managers across the basin couldn’t reach agreement with California on cuts, even at the broader state level.

“The big issues are what does the priority system mean, what does the junior priority mean and how does that attach to that outcome of who takes what cut?” he said. “That was the issue over the summer, that was the issue over the fall, that’s still the issue.”

California has the largest allocation of water among the seven U.S. states that tap the Colorado River. It is also among the last to face water cuts in times of shortage because of its senior water rights.

That has given the state an advantage over others in talks that spanned months over how to cut water use.

California water officials have often repeated that any additional water cuts must be legally defensible and in line with western water law that honors its water rights.

JB Hamby, chairman of the Colorado River Board of California and a board member of the Imperial Irrigation District, indicated California may file a lawsuit if the federal government attempts to count for evaporative losses.

“The best way to avoid conflict and ensure that we can put water in the river right away is through a voluntary approach, not putting proposals that sidestep the Law of the River and ignore California’s senior right and give no respect to that,” he said.

Existing agreements only spell cuts when Lake Mead’s elevation is between 1,090 feet (332 meters) and 1,025 feet (312 meters). If it drops any lower than 1,025 feet, California’s plan proposes even further cuts based on the so-called Law of the River — likely meaning Arizona and Nevada would bear the brunt of them. Those cuts are designed to keep Lake Mead from reaching “dead pool,” when it could no longer pump out water to farms and cities including Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

The reservoir’s current elevation is around 1,045 feet.

In total, California’s plan could save between 1 million and 2 million acre-feet of water based on the elevation levels at Lake Mead, from which Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico draw their share of the river.

Adel Hagekhalil, general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of California, the nation’s largest water supplier, said it was important to protect key reservoirs “without getting mired in lengthy legal battles.”

Hagekhalil and other water managers pointed to numerous efforts the state has made to drastically reduce its water usage by making agricultural and urban water use more efficient.

“California knows how to permanently reduce use of the river — we have done it over the past 20 years, through billions of dollars in investments and hard-earned partnerships,” he said in a statement. “We can help the entire Southwest do it again as we move forward.”

The new proposals do not change states’ water allocations immediately — or disrupt their existing water rights. Instead, they will be folded into a larger proposal Reclamation is working on to revise how it operates Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams — behemoth power producers on the Colorado River.

Despite California’s inability to reach agreement with the other six states so far, the parties said they hope to keep talking.

Click here to read the full article in AP News