Gov. Brown’s Attack on Prop. 218 Threatens to Hike Water Rates

Water Drought SprinklerGovernor Brown has foolishly decided to poke a hornets’ nest with his signing of Assembly Bill 401. While AB401 itself isn’t particularly controversial, as it merely authorizes a couple of state agencies to devise a plan by 2018 to assist low-income individuals with paying their water bills, the problem is what Brown wrote in the letter approving the bill.

Although not common, governors occasionally issue a statement when they approve a bill passed by the Legislature. In signing AB401, Governor Brown exposed his disdain for the taxpayer and ratepayer protections set forth in Proposition 218, a Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association initiative approved by voters in 1996. Brown stated that, “Proposition 218 … serves as an obstacle to thoughtful, sustainable water conservation pricing and necessary flood and stormwater system improvements.”

The governor could not be more wrong. Proposition 218 mandates that water rates be based on “cost of service” principles. Simply stated, “cost of service” means that you should not pay more for water, sewer or refuse collection than it costs to provide you with that service. The reason voters approved Proposition 218 in the first place is because politicians and bureaucrats had cleverly bypassed the property tax limits of Proposition 13 by imposing a myriad of fees, charges, assessments and other exactions to get money from taxpayers’ wallets.

Brown seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth in his letter approving AB401. In blaming Prop. 218 as a major impediment to water conservation efforts, he ignores the fact that “cost of service” water rates actually encourage conservation. Conversely, water subsidies, which he expressly supports, are a disincentive to conservation.

What this means is that Brown believes water needs to be more expensive for the middle class in order to encourage conservation, as well as more expensive for wealth redistribution. And while he suggests that low-income people pay less than their fair share, he does not speak of conservation goals as they apply to these ratepayers. The kicker is that he wants the middle and upper classes to fund water service and to bear the burden of the majority of resource conservation. This isn’t fair at all and is precisely why voters enacted Proposition 218.

To those who believe that taxpayers are over-stating their case, consider this: Governor Brown wants to engage in the same sort of social engineering with water rates that he has with energy costs in California. It is painfully obvious that the results of these policies have been a disaster for California, particularly the middle class.

Let’s not let politicians like Brown force higher water rates on California’s ever shrinking number of working taxpayers and homeowners. Water rates should be based solely on the cost of providing that service without engaging in ill-fated social experimentation dreamed up by bureaucrats unhinged from the real world.

Originally published by HTJA.org

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Marijuana Farmers Stuck in Middle of Increased Scrutiny and Cooperation

marijuana-leafCalifornia’s protracted drought has upended business as usual for many of the Golden State’s marijuana farmers, who now face both increased scrutiny and increased cooperation from regulators.

An uneasy partnership

With the prospect of a big ballot initiative on recreational marijuana coming next year, attention in Sacramento has resulted in new regulations and designated regulators. “Amid the state’s prolonged drought, Gov. Jerry Brown last year approved $3 million in funding to dispatch oversight officers and environmental scientists to identify and inspect water-thirsty pot gardens in sensitive natural settings,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “Officials from the State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife so far have visited 150 sites with growers’ approval. They have issued instructions on water conservation and filed 50 notices of environmental violations.”

The changes inaugurated a new compliance program that draws together officials from the state water board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to the Bee. “Under pending legislation, the program stands to be expanded statewide,” although its reach is restricted to private farmers, not “outlaw growers surreptitiously using public lands[.]” Those illicit growers have come under fire in recent months for their very high rates of water consumption.

Trial by fire

Other drought-related circumstances have helped push the pot industry and state officials into closer company. Wildfires, for instance, have extended the threat of economic destruction to growers, who face their own particular problems as gray-market producers. “Marijuana farms suffer the same risks as other farmers in California — facing the potential loss of their crop, on top of the strain of the drought,” according to Alternet.

“The profitable Napa wine industry, too, is threatened by wildfires, with winemakers concerned that smoke-infused grape skins will alter the flavor of the wines. But some of those impacts are exacerbated for marijuana growers, who won’t get subsidies from the state if their crop is lost, and whose value per plant is much higher than that of many other plants.”

In from the shadows

At the same time, some California officials have set about trying to incorporate marijuana farms into a system of standardized water regulations. “California’s four-year drought has prompted authorities to broaden their approach to regulating cannabis cultivation with the aim of protecting sensitive watersheds,” the Bee noted. “In addition to the environmental compliance program, the state has begun issuing marijuana water permits and ramped up efforts to target environmental offenders through civil lawsuits.”

This month, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board overwhelmingly voted in fresh rules requiring farms in excess of 2,000 square feet either to register with itself or approved third-party agency or organization, the Guardianreported. “A number of issues including erosion control, water and wetlands buffers, irrigation runoff, chemical contamination and waste will be regulated under the new rules.”

Although the rules announced another substantial regulatory advance into marijuana farming, which has long operated under the radar, they also reflected the state’s increasingly accommodating attitude toward the once-illegal crop. “Those who don’t register but are discovered to qualify will be notified with 30 days to enroll before enforcement actions, including financial penalties, are pursued, board personnel said,” according to The Press Democrat.

Although some growers welcomed the opportunity to come out from the regulatory shadows at the state level, others cautioned that the apparent liberalization could have more dangerous consequences. “A major concern is that due to marijuana being illegal on the federal level, those farms prepared to comply and register could expose their activities to criminal charges on a federal level,” added the Guardian.

Notably, the regulations do not distinguish medical from recreational marijuana. Expectations have already arisen that the North Coast pilot program will “serve as a model for other regions, beginning with the neighboring Central Valley, whose board takes the matter up next month,” The Press Democrat noted.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Long Road Ahead With Feinstein’s Drought Relief Bill

With the latest numbers showing a drop in California water consumption, attention has turned to a new drought relief bill introduced by Golden State U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

water spigotThe figures eclipsed earlier embarrassments faced by water districts where consumption actually spiked, sometimes for unknown reasons. “California’s urban water districts cut consumption by 27.3 percent in June,” the Wall Street Journal observed, “exceeding a tough new state mandate to reduce their combined use by 25 percent amid a prolonged drought. The savings compared with the same month in 2013 came despite June being the hottest month on record in the Golden State, officials from the State Water Resources Control Board reported Thursday.”

Partisan jockeying

In a statement, Feinstein tried to tempter expectations behind her renewed push for relief. Some analysts expect Republican opposition over its high cost and environmental protections. “I’ve introduced a lot of bills over the years, and this one may be the most difficult, and a warming climate will only make things worse,” she said. “I’m hopeful the bill we’re introducing today will serve as a template for the kinds of short-term and long-term solutions California needs to address this devastating drought.”

But some Democrats have become concerned that Feinstein’s effort cedes excessive ground on environmental regulations, hewing too closely to previous relief plans that wound up losing Boxer’s support. Feinstein had determined that the drought crisis was severe enough to justify negotiating with House Republicans — a maneuver that undermined her support within her own party, causing her to abandon the push.

This time around, revealing Boxer’s support for the rejiggered bill “surprised some stakeholders who saw the negotiations fall apart late last year over proposed changes to endangered species protections,” according to E&E Daily. Although Boxer said she was “pleased to be sponsoring” Feinstein’s new bill “because of the enormity of this crisis,” other Democrats, such as Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., warned they were “very concerned about some provisions included in the bill that are similar to the House Republican water legislation” that drove Boxer away to begin with.

A long road

That legislation was H.R. 2898, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif. As the Sacramento Bee recounted, the bill would have supplied farmers south of the Delta with more water and sped up the federal approvals process, where stringent environmental rules can sometimes grind water and infrastructure plans to a virtual halt. Hurried along late last year during the lame-duck session of Congress, it sailed through the House with staunch Republican support, but provoked president Obama to threaten a veto, and drew strong criticism from California’s delegation of Democrats in both houses of Congress.

Feinstein herself finally caved. “There are several other provisions that would waive environmental protections that need to be changed before I could support them,” she explained, according to the Bee. “I have said all along that I will not support a bill that would waive these protections, and that remains true today.”

Now, her aim has been to replace “some provisions disliked by environmental groups” with “some of their priorities, such as a greater focus on recycling,” according to the Associated Press. “Feinstein said the shift changes the emphasis of the bill from a short-term effort to a long-term one. She said her bill would cost an estimated $1.3 billion over 10 years.”

But even assuming Feinstein could placate environmentalists and other Democrats, she recognized that the bill’s fate could well hinge on a single Republican colleague. In the machinations of Senate lawmaking, Feinstein’s objective has been to package her bill inside of planned legislation to be introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “That Murkowski bill is likely to serve as a vehicle for several state-specific drought relief measures, as well as overarching federal policy changes,” E&E Daily confirmed.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

DWP Rate Hike Plan Makes Customers Mad as Hell

Today I’m opening the mailbag to share comments from Valley residents about the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and its proposed five-year rate hike of 25-30 percent:

“The DWP needs to tighten their belts before they ask us for more money.”

“Cutbacks on the least important actions or redundancies should come first before asking for more money. That is how any true business would work.”

“The 8 percent of its gross revenues going to L.A. city treasury boggles the mind.”

“I find this so offensive. … It feels as though DWP is punishing me by increasing the rates because I am using less water. Why can’t the DWP employees take a 5 or 10 percent pay decrease in their salaries or be furloughed for 1 day per 2 week schedule, or maybe lay off a few employees — at least until the drought is over. This is not the time for DWP or the City Council or unions to be greedy at the expense of consumers/constituents.”

“We just celebrated our 50th anniversary and have lived in our Porter Ranch home for over 41 years. Our home is one-story, under 1,500 square feet, no pool and a now-brown lawn because of the drought. We try to avoid using the air conditioning or leave it at no lower than 78 degrees — sometimes 80. However, our DWP bills range from $350 to $400 in the winter to over $850 in the summer. We simply cannot afford those bills now and would be devastated if they were to go even higher. We don’t want to have to choose between turning off the air conditioner to afford our mortgage and medical bills or losing our home where we raised our family.”

“Prior to the installation of the 2nd meter, my domestic water usage was calculated and averaged more than 5 times my true usage. I’m certain that anyone who has not installed a 2nd meter is being inaccurately (almost fraudulently) charged more than 5 times what they are responsible for.”

“It seems like the DWP pays a far greater salary than the private sector and gets better retirement benefits, too. Something is wrong here.”

“The DWP should be run like a corporation, not a cozy club.”

“The DWP should be replaced with a new organization that places great value on keeping spending tight, watching everyone’s overtime, and eliminate waste and fraud. So far, the DWP has proven that it lacks leadership that responds to ratepayers, yet has policies that empower the employees.”

“Roll back all senior level DWP management salaries 10%. Appoint an independent auditing committee to oversee exactly what some of these positions are within the DWP structure and do away with the vast majority of them.”

“For the past four years, I have taken many measures in cutting back on my water usage but I continue to have extremely high bills. I have called DWP 3 times asking for an inspection and have been told that they don’t have time.”

“The DWP replaced our water meter, and the next bill was for $3,277.93!”

“NO matter what the citizens are doing to ‘save the planet,’ the more we do, the more we are punished for our complying with the requests.”

“That there is about $230 million of overcharging being sent to the City is a travesty. Of course, we get to pay a 10% City tax on that overcharging, so it is only compounded. Our DWP should not be a taxing authority!”

“I have been so upset with the excessive spending and loss of funds that have happened with the DWP, and now for them to have the nerve to say they must raise our bills. Why can’t they eliminate some of their unnecessary “management analysts” or reduce some of their outlandish salaries?”

“Giving money to the city of Los Angeles is outrageous … how did this happen??”

“We have lost two pine trees because of not watering in this drought. No rewards for conservation! Higher ‘taxes’ instead. Private business would tighten belt, but our government is increasing salaries!”

“The accumulated effects of continued cost increases and tax hikes are forcing me to leave the state.”

“In my opinion, DWP is nothing but a bloated, redundant, multilayered bureaucracy with little accountability.”

“I am sick & tired of additional fees, taxes, costs, gouging, etc.”

“Could you interview the DWP ‘Ratepayer Advocate,’ Fred Pickel? The public would like to know what he has been doing.”

Email your comments to me at the address below — everyone’s voice should be heard.

Susan Shelley is a San Fernando Valley author, a former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. Reach her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

Feds give California funds for drought aid, restoration

As reported by the Associated Press:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> Federal officials said Wednesday another $150 million would be provided to aid California drought aid programs.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the funding continues efforts to relieve the nation’s top agriculture producing state during its fourth dry year.

The funding includes:

• $130 million to support conservation and restoration along the Sierra Nevada and its surrounding forests. The snow on the mountains usually provides a third of California’s water, though it’s virtually gone this year. …

Click here to read the full article

 

CA Water Board Prioritizes Fish Over People

As severe drought conditions in California continue to worsen, state officials have started to roll out with new regulations to prioritize various water interests.

On Wednesday, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted new emergency regulations to protect endangered and threatened fish. Low flows in four tributaries of the Russian River cause “high temperatures, low oxygen levels and isolated pools of water that can kill fish,” such as the coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Starting July 3, roughly 13,000 properties in the watersheds of Dutch Bill Creek, Green Valley Creek, Mark West Creek and Mill Creek will be subject to “enhanced conservation measures” in addition to the existing statewide water restrictions. As reported by the Press Democrat, residents are subject to the following rural water rules:

  • “No watering lawns, washing driveways and sidewalks, washing motor vehicles, filling or refilling decorative ponds and fountains, and no use of water in a fountain or water feature not part of a recirculating system.
  • “No watering of landscapes (trees and plants, including edible plants) that causes runoff onto adjacent property or non-irrigated areas or within 48 hours after measurable rainfall.
  • “Limits landscape watering to two days per week and only from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
  • “Sets no limit on use of graywater — from bathtubs, showers, bathroom washbasins, clothes washing machines and laundry tubs as well as captured rainwater — for lawn and landscape irrigation, washing motor vehicles and use in decorative ponds, fountains and other water features, except for prohibition of irrigation runoff or application within 48 hours after measurable rainfall.”

“This is a very extreme situation,” said Corinne Gray, a senior environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There are already fish dying in the streams.” Gray told the SWRCB that the fish merely required a “trickle of water” between pools on the four creeks.

Farm representatives attending the meeting claimed parts of the measure were regulatory overreach. Text in the emergency measure enforces these new regulations “regardless of water seniority.”

This kind of enforcement has led to lawsuits against SWRCB. Just this week, the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District challengedwater restrictions imposed by the state board, the first of potentially many more suits to come.

It remains to be seen whether the state board has the right to overrule century-old rights to water.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

White House (sort of) defends Obama golfing during drought

As reported by The Desert Sun:

On his way to Los Angeles Thursday, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz took a wide array of questions from reporters. Topics ranged from Wednesday night’s terrorist attack in South Carolina to free trade, the Pope — and golf in the Coachella Valley.

According to a White House press pool report, Schultz was asked “whether it was appropriate for the President to be playing golf at an exclusive resort in the desert amid a drought.”

He responded, “This administration’s commitment to helping those affected by the drought is second to none,” and added: “I know that many courses have taken water mitigation steps aimed at water conservation.”

Click here to read the full article

VIDEO: CA drought a result of environmentalist priorities

“Taxifornia” author James V. Lacy explains to Fox’s Stuart Varney that CA’s water scarcity is a result of misplaced environmental priorities.

 

CA Senior Water Rights Under Fire

WaterAfter floating the possibility for months, authorities followed through on threatened curtailments on California’s most senior water rights holders.

“The action by the State Water Resources Control Board, after weeks of warnings, affects 114 different water-rights holders in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds, as well as the Delta region,” the Sacramento Bee reported. Not since 1977 have restrictions dug so deep into the state’s so-called riparian rights system.

Only the beginning

State officials told the New York Times that further restrictions are all but a foregone conclusion, with reassessments to be conducted on a weekly basis.

“The reductions announced Friday apply to more than 100 water right holders in the San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds and delta whose claims to water came after 1903,” reported the Times. “While the cuts will fall primarily on farmers, some will affect small city and municipal agencies, as well as state agencies that supply water for agricultural and environmental use. Water can still be used for hydropower production, as long as the water is returned to rivers.”

FarmDespite the blanket expansion of cuts, some rights holders fared better than others. San Francisco, where rights date to 1901, avoided the strictures for now. Meanwhile, in the state’s agricultural heartland, the pain was sharply felt. According to the Bee, residents drawing water from the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project “have lost about one-third of their water this year. The University of California, Davis, estimates that more than 560,000 acres of farmland will sit idle.”

A different future

Deep into the most serious and protracted challenge of his time in office, Gov. Jerry Brown has tightened the taps with a methodical urgency and a quintessentially Californian sort of spirituality. In recent remarks for the Los Angeles Times, Brown took a cosmic view of California’s future, weaving conservationism and futurism together in an extended metaphor of “spaceship Earth.”

“We are altering this planet with this incredible power of science, technology and economic advance. If California is going to have 50 million people, they’re not going to live the same way the native people lived, much less the way people do today,” said Brown. “You have to find a more elegant way of relating to material things. You have to use them with greater sensitivity and sophistication.”

But Brown affirmed that residents will have to pay for their enlightened approach to growth. “A lot of heavy lifting will be done by local water districts, and that will show up in your water bill,” he told the Times.

To the courts

Not all Californians, of course, share Brown’s vision, or that of the Water Resources Control Board. The result, analysts predicted, would be a flood of litigation. “Within hours of the board’s announcement,” the Los Angeles Times recounted, “officials of the Oakdale Irrigation District in the San Joaquin Valley issued a statement saying that they were ready to seek a court injunction to put a hold on the curtailment.”

Their case appeared to hinge on claims that the WRCB used inadequate information on water use to overstep its regulatory authority. Oakdale Irrigation District chief Steve Knell suggested to the Times that California “doesn’t have the authority to manage pre-1914 rights, nor does the board have accurate data on diversions by junior rights holders.”

But the board blamed the cuts’ rough consequences on the state’s inflexible rights regime. “Those ordered to stop diverting from rivers and streams have other options, including tapping groundwater, buying water at rising costs, using previously stored water or leaving fields unplanted,” officials said, according to the Associated Press. WRCB executive director Thomas Howard was blunt: “It’s going to be different story for each one of them, and a struggle for all of them.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California’s Drought is a Communications and Policy Issue

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

In the face of California’s crippling drought, public agencies will have to employ wide-ranging strategies and tactics to educate, motivate, enforce, and reinforce messages about drastic water cutbacks.

Their success or failure hinges on how they communicate to diverse audiences about managing water, a precious natural resource. In their dilemma, there are also communications lessons.

On Tuesday, California’s State Water Resources Board said residents used 13.5 percent less water against an April 2013 benchmark. This is a significant improvement over previous months, but it also shows a major gap in achieving the mandatory average 25 percent reduction in urban water use ordered by California Governor Jerry Brown. 

The drought has generated thousands of media stories and an unending stream of tweets and posts and sparked intense debate on what needs to be done. Water agencies, city managers, and other local elected officials will have to make major decisions, large and small, about how to urge residents to use much less, and conserve much more, water.

In this highly charged atmosphere, carefully developed communication strategies will be essential to get the public informed and accepting of the solutions required. Organizations will have to engage from the top down at the state level to coordinate messages and from the bottom up at the local level to make relevant, persuasive arguments.

State-level authorities must consistently communicate the need for cooperation through a coordinated, systematic and statewide approach.  Local water interests must develop their own communication programs that appeal to the residents and water users in the jurisdictions. Authorities overseeing water reduction must speak with culturally appropriate voices to residents from diverse backgrounds. Finally, local water interests will succeed from a grassroots approach that aims to be informative rather than punitive.

Eventually the rain and snow will fall. California will experience relief from this prolonged and painful drought. In the meantime, the drought is all but certain to result in future water policy, lifestyle, and societal changes. To what extent California’s lawmakers rewrite future rules hinges on how the state’s water users change behavior and habits now.

As California has done on other issues such as energy, healthcare, and education, the state has the opportunity to model a progressive problem-solving strategy. Impactful communications, thoughtfully implemented, will play a critical role in the success of that strategy. Lessons abound for PR professionals everywhere.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

irector at KP Public Affairs, a PR and lobbying firm based in California