Good morning, California.
“Suddenly, it was up to Cecilia, who is undocumented, to care for her 14-year-old brother, who is also undocumented, and her 11-year-old sister, a U.S. citizen who has Down Syndrome.”—Desert Sun, reporting on the deportation of Cecilia’s mom, a Riverside housekeeper named Isabela.
State: People must reduce water use to save fish
Delta smelt are all but gone from the wild.
Hoping to save California’s remaining fisheries, the State Water Resources Control Board on Friday proposed dedicating much more river water to the environment and less to farms, industry and individuals.
Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus: “Simply put, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is no longer a healthy place for many species and the people who rely on them.”
The board, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, has been working on the plan since 2009, before he took office. The board intends to vote on the plan in August. Litigation, no doubt, will ensue, given the economic interests at stake and the passions stirred in California over water.
Chinook salmon runs are imperiled, and Delta smelt, three-inch-long fish that smell like a cucumber, are all but gone from the wild, although they are bred in tanks near Tracy, in the hope they can be reintroduced if the ecosystem can be stabilized.
Implications: San Francisco and other Bay Area cities that depend on water from Hetch Hetchy will need to cut use. Any decrease in Northern California supply will ripple to Southern California. Farmers expect “devastating impacts,” The Modesto Bee reports.
Crops consume 40 percent of the state’s water, compared with 10 percent for urban users, and the rest flows to the Pacific, the Public Policy Institute of California reports.
Bottom line: Reductions in water use are inevitable as long as California has an endangered-species act and Californians consider the environment important. The key will be to store water in wet years to keep rivers flowing in dry years.
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The politics of gas taxes and freeways
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Republican Congressmen Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes are leaders in the campaign to repeal California’s gasoline-tax hike for road projects. But the Bakersfield politician who gave them their breaks, retired Congressman Bill Thomas, isn’t on board.
Remind me: Thomas represented Bakersfield in the House of Representatives for two decades ending in 2006. As he built California’s most influential GOP political operation, Thomas hired McCarthy, who replaced him in Congress, and mentored Nunes.
A week ago, the California Transportation Commission allocated $25 million for an ambitious freeway project named after Thomas to better connect Bakersfield to the rest of the state.
Thomas lamented hometown opposition to the 2017 legislation that raised gas taxes for road and bridge repairs, and said the $25 million would give him ammunition to use in defense of the tax:
“I’m going to be able to use the argument: ‘What in the world is the matter with you people? We have got a good thing going. The feds are helping us. And the rest of the state of California is helping us build this freeway.’ ”
Money matters: Led by McCarthy’s $300,000 and Nunes’ $100,000, congressional Republicans including outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan spent $1 million to qualify Proposition 6, the November initiative to repeal the 12-cent-per-gallon tax increase.
National implications: McCarthy believes Proposition 6 will juice voter turnout and help Republicans win in November. McCarthy could become speaker if Republicans hold control of the House.
P.S. At the end of his congressional career, Thomas, a master at bringing home pork, secured $630 million for the Thomas Road Improvement Project. The California Transportation Commission allocated $93 million for the project earlier this year, plus the $25 million at the end of June. McCarthy added $50 million in federal money last month.
Voter turnout ticked up in June
More than 7.1 million Californians voted in last month’s primary, a record for a non-presidential primary, though more than 19 million voters are registered, also a record.
With all ballots counted, 37 percent of registered voters turned out in the June primary, CALmatters’ Ben Christopher reports. That’s a jump from 25 percent in the last gubernatorial primary, in 2014. June turnout was the highest since 1998, when there was a hotly contested gubernatorial primary.
Sonoma State political scientist David McCuan attributed the increase to President Donald Trump: “The reason for the higher turnout is because of what’s going on in Washington D.C., not what’s happening in California.”
Colleague Byrhonda Lyons writes that an experiment intended to boost turnout in five counties produced inconclusive results.
Lawmakers decided to try something new: Mail ballots to every registered voter and replace neighborhood polling places with a few large centers where people could vote if they didn’t drop their ballots in the mail. It worked well in San Mateo County. Madera County, however, lagged behind the rest of the state. Expect the experiment to spread to your county soon.
As fires rage, Legislature looks at tough liability questions
The declarations came as a fire smoldered in Yolo and Napa Counties, having consumed more than 80,000 acres.
As they were leaving Sacramento for a month-long summer recess last week, legislative leaders, prodded by Brown, announced they were forming a two-house conference committee to focus on fire.
What’s ahead: Expect the committee to address legislation to alter the liability faced by utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric when their wires contribute to wildfires.
Walters: Lodi tries something unique—leveling with voters
CALmatters commentator Dan Walters concludes local officials are blowing smoke when they pitch ballot measures to raise local taxes and fail to point out that the revenue will pay retiree costs. One city, however, is leveling with its voters as it seeks a half-cent sales-tax hike. Lodi City Manager Steve Schwabauer has argued that cities such as his will face insolvency unless they get relief from pension costs or persuade voters to raise taxes.
Walters: “Such candor may not make it easier to persuade voters, but it’s the right thing to do.”
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