In summary

Fed proposal aims to increase water deliveries to Central Valley. State debuts anti-vaping ads. Lawsuit targets U.S. Postal Service over knock-off cigarettes.

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Feds offer a water fix

Once-plentiful Delta smelt are all but extinct.

In a proposal that cuts to the core of California’s economy and environment, the Trump administration on Tuesday proposed significant changes to the state water system’s operation intended to boost water deliveries from the Delta to farms and cities.

Operators of the federal Central Valley Project would gain flexibility to turn on massive pumps near Tracy when water flows are highest, and provide environmental protections by restricting pumping when fish are near.

Career officials from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Association and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the plan.

Earnest though they were, Trump’s record and rhetoric constitute an obstacle.

In a 2016 campaign stop in Fresno, Trump promised more water for farms, and derided environmentalists for “trying to protect a certain kind of 3-inch fish.” Once plentiful, Delta smelt are all but extinct, reflecting a general environmental decline in the Delta.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has butted heads with Trump over the environment, was noncommittal, telling reporters Tuesday:

  • “We will have a statement after we review the many hundreds and hundreds of pages. … We’ll make a determination of what’s the best approach, how to respond. Is it litigation? What the other strategies may be.”

The announcement will complicate Newsom’s efforts to forge voluntary agreements among water users, fishing interests and environmentalists.

Newsom has sought to accommodate San Joaquin Valley agriculture and urban water users, while maintaining his environmentalist cred. He proposes to scale back Jerry Brown’s plan for twin tunnels to transport Sacramento River water 30 miles south to the Tracy pumps. Newsom says a single tunnel would suffice.

What they’re saying

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta slough near Clarksburg, 2019

The L.A. Times’ Bettina Boxall: “The rollback … rewards Central Valley agribusiness interests that are some of the president’s strongest California supporters.” 

  • Jeffrey Kightlinger of the Metropolitan Water District, in The Times: “While this creates some uncertainty about our future supplies, it is without question a better approach.”

The Sacramento Bee’s Dale Kasler: Trump has been adamant about his desire to help the Valley, a Republican stronghold that is chronically scrambling for water. 

  • Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition, in The Bee: “This is the dawn of a new science-based approach to water and ecosystem management.”

The New York Times: The proposal “might intensify ethics questions about Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who was the lobbyist for those farmers until just months before he joined the Trump administration.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and California’s other six congressional Republicans: The water plan would “help ensure our constituents receive the water they are entitled to or contract and pay for.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “We are examining the new biological opinions to ensure they incorporate the adaptive management and real-time monitoring needed to properly manage the Central Valley Project for the benefit of all Californians. … We look forward to the State of California’s thoughtful analysis of the biological opinions.”

  • Kim Delfino, of Defenders of Wildlife: “These new opinions will be devastating for the Bay-Delta, its tributaries and the fish that rely upon the Delta for their survival.”

Strong anti-vaping ads set to air

California Department of Public Health is preparing to air anti-vaping ads.

California Department of Public Health officials are preparing to launch at least five anti-vaping ads aimed at dissuading young people from using any kind of vaping device by warning them of life-threatening lung disease.

The ads also seek to inform parents of warning signs, and drive people to a website, vapeoutbreak.org.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last month directed $20 million for the campaign. 

Officials have not formally announced the campaign but have circulated the spots among anti-vaping advocates, including UC San Francisco Medical School professor Stanton Glantz, a longtime tobacco researcher. Glantz called the campaign “stunning.”

The latest count of the vaping-related disease: 136 Californians hospitalized. The exact cause remains unknown.

Suit over old-fashioned cigarettes

Smokers looking to save on the cost of cigarettes turn to mail-order outlets. California contends the U.S. Postal Service is enabling the practice.

In his latest suit against the federal government, Attorney General Xavier Becerra has joined with New York City alleging that the postal service is failing to stop delivery of knock-off tax-free cigarettes, costing the state millions in lost tobacco tax revenue.

Counterfeit smokes often arrive at JFK Airport in New York from Vietnam, China and Israel, with lesser amounts from Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.

The suit alleges 40,850 cartons of cigarettes bound for California were discovered during one audit, representing a tax loss of $1.17 million, at the current tax of $2.87 per pack.

The suit seeks “damages equal to the amount of unpaid taxes on tobacco products,” and demands that the postal office comply with laws requiring that it intercept cigarettes sent through the mail.

One way to cut housing costs

A Factory OS building in West Oakland

Entrepreneurs say they’ve got a partial fix for the housing shortage: pre-fab apartments, CalMatters housing reporter Matt Levin reports.

California has five of the top 10 priciest rental markets in the country. A contractor shortage and the cost of material make construction more expensive.

Inside a former World War II submarine facility in Vallejo, Factory OS is creating a 156-unit modular building for a development near Oakland. The company says it can whip up three- to five-story apartment buildings 40% faster and 20% cheaper than traditional construction.

  • Factory OS co-founder Larry Pace: “It literally becomes a plug-and-play. We have become very proficient at what we do, and it will revolutionize the construction industry from what we’ve seen in the past. It already has.”

America’s been here before: Factory-built housing has a checkered history, from the Sears catalog to the Nixon administration’s Operation Breakthrough, one of which still houses tenants in Sacramento.

Levin’s story is the latest installment of CalMatters’ California Dream collaboration.

Take a number: 23,000

California Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla

Arcadia businessman Imaad Zuberi was the sort of campaign donor who liked winners, giving to Hillary Clinton when she looked like a sure bet, then switching sides and giving $900,000 to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.

Zuber was indicted Tuesday and agreed to plead guilty to charges of failing to register as a foreign agent, tax evasion, and making illegal campaign contributions.

  • The L.A. Times’ Joel Rubin: “Zuberi collected millions of dollars for consulting fees, erstwhile investments and campaign contributions, but simply pocketed much of the money, prosecutors said.”

Zuberi’s name has surfaced in connection with a separate federal investigation into Trump’s inaugural committee.  

Zuberi regularly gave to state politicians, too, though he wasn’t a very good handicapper. He and his wife gave $46,000 to Democrat Asif Mahmood for his failed run for insurance commissioner last year, and $11,000 to Dave Jones for his unsuccessful candidacy for attorney general.

One winner: By my count, Zuberi and his wife donated $23,000 to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, in 2014.

  • Padilla spokesman David Beltran said in an email last night: “He’s going to donate an equal amount to a non-profit (yet to be determined).”

Commentary at CalMatters

Daniel Barad, Sierra Club: Instead of continuing to create policies that use our money to pay the logging industry to incinerate its trash, the state must ban pile burning and demand that logging companies help develop a sustainable, clean biomass utilization plan.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom seems to have a problem dealing with the politics  of transportation.

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Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, dmorain@calmatters.org, 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.