Earlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders reached a compromise deal on a $7 billion bond measure for the November election. The proposal would replace an $11 billion measure that is already on the ballot and is unpopular with voters because it's bloated with pork-barrel projects. But while the smaller bond measure represents an improvement over the larger one, lawmakers should reject it nonetheless. And if they don't, voters should turn it down in November.
The primary reason to oppose the $7 billion bond is that it likely would pave the way for Brown's plan to build two giant water tunnels underneath the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The tunnels are an extraordinarily bad idea: They threaten to destroy the delta and make it inhospitable to fish, and probably will turn out to be a financial boondoggle. Moreover, a main purpose of the tunnels is to send more freshwater to the arid western side of the San Joaquin Valley so that Big Ag can keep planting water-intensive crops, such as almonds and pistachios, in the desert.
Although the $7 billion bond measure itself would not include any money to build the water tunnels, it would earmark funds that the state could use to pay for an accompanying project that is essential for the water tunnels plan to move forward. Known as the Bay Delta Restoration Plan, the project is designed to offset the substantial environmental damage that the tunnels would cause.
As we noted in our two-part series on the tunnels last year, the goal of the 120,000-acre restoration plan is to create more shallow tidal wetlands that would increase the amount of habitat for endangered fish (see "Tunnel Vision Part One: Delta in Peril," 6/12/2013). The Brown administration has acknowledged that if the multibillion-dollar restoration plan is not funded, building the tunnels will be impossible. The reason is that the tunnels cannot meet state and federal environmental standards without the accompanying restoration plan. Without the restoration, the tunnels would be considered too destructive.
Moreover, the restoration plan likely won't work, and so the bond measure would waste a substantial amount of taxpayer money. The respected Bay Institute concluded in a comprehensive report earlier this month that, even with the restoration plan, the tunnels would cause the extinction of winter-run Chinook salmon. The report also found that the governor's plan would devastate dozens of other species in the delta and ruin water quality in San Francisco Bay.
Why? The tunnels would suck massive amounts of freshwater out of the Sacramento River before it reaches the delta, thereby leaving the estuary too salty for fish to survive. Currently, the state pumps freshwater water out of the delta itself, after the water has already created habitat for fish. And there's no evidence that increasing the amount of tidal wetlands in what would become a too-salty estuary would alleviate the environmental problems caused by the tunnels. "This project would be a major step in the wrong direction," Gary Bobker, policy analyst for the Bay Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Diverting more water from the delta is exactly what we need to stop doing if we're going to have a sustainable ecosystem."
Yet despite the fact the environmental groups strongly oppose the tunnels, GOP lawmakers offer the best hope this week for defeating the $7 billion water bond measure. The reason is that the compromise plan includes less money for building and expanding reservoirs than Republicans want: $2.5 billion rather than $3 billion.
In truth, however, $2.5 billion is way too much money for reservoir-building, an environmentally destructive practice from the 20th century that destroys rivers and other waterways. Republicans and moderate Democrats argue that the state needs more "water storage" — i.e. reservoirs — especially during a drought. But taking freshwater out of our rivers and putting it behind giant dams in reservoirs just means there will be less of it for fish and wildlife.
In reality, we don't need to build or expand reservoirs and ruin more rivers. And we certainly don't need two 35-mile-long water tunnels. Instead, we need to start using less water — and put an end to absurd practices like shipping water to the desert to grow almonds.
Kill Switch Bill Gets Greenlight
On Monday, the legislature sent a bill to the governor that would require smartphone manufacturers to install kill switches that render phones inoperable when stolen. The legislation — SB 962, authored by state Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco — is designed to stem the robbery epidemic in California and throughout the nation. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who sponsored the bill, has said that more than 65 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involve a mobile device. Oakland police said last year that 75 percent of robberies in the city involved a cellphone.
Smartphone theft is the leading property crime in the nation. According to a Consumer Reports survey, more than 3.1 million people in the United States had their smartphones stolen last year. Leno's bill is backed by numerous law enforcement and consumer advocacy groups. Oakland political leaders, including Councilmember Dan Kalb and Mayor Jean Quan, also strongly support SB 962. It would make kill switches a default selection and would require consumers to turn them off if they don't want to use them.
Smartphone manufactures, which reap billions in profits each year from consumers who must buy new phones to replace their stolen ones, originally opposed the bill. But after they received a significant amount of negative press coverage, some companies, including Apple and Microsoft, withdrew their opposition.
Brown has not said whether he will sign the bill. Let's hope he does.
Correction: The original version of this story contained a typo: The old water bond measure was $11 billion -- not $11 million.