Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Levee Politics Heat Up, Part Three

A good analysis of the struggles the legislature is having around levee and flood related funding, and reveals the main reason we have waited (and probably will continue to wait) decades for good infrastructure leadership from the state.

Here is an excerpt.

Article published Jun 21, 2006
Hurdles for flood repair funding
Reception chilly for new legislation

SACRAMENTO - Try as they might, legislators have yet to find a way to fund Central Valley flood repairs without every interest group in the region raising the alarm.

But momentum is building to break the deadlock before the Legislature adjourns at the end of August.

Well before Hurricane Katrina, California Department of Water Resources officials and a cadre of interested lawmakers began looking at creating a long-term source of levee-repair funds, spreading legal liability for flood control among state and local governments and giving the moribund state Reclamation Board some teeth.

Legislation to do just that is still alive in these final two months of the Legislative session, and leaders in both the Assembly and the state Senate are monitoring the issue.

But if the reception one bill received Tuesday was any indication, reform's bumpy road could become impassable.

A week ago, the Department of Water Resources revised AB1665 for the sixth time; the measure covered liability, Reclamation Board reform, a "flood fee" to be assessed on Central Valley landowners, and provisions to remap the region's flood plains and inform homeowners living behind levees of their potential danger.

But the Department of Water Resources never vetted its proposal with Central Valley lawmakers, and the Senate Natural Resources Committee tore it to pieces Tuesday during a 40-minute hearing.

"I think the direction of this bill is a worthy one, but this bill is suggesting too much change in a short time in the shadow of a session - without the consultation of those who are affected," said state Sen. Michael Machado, D-Linden.

"This is really not yet cooked," added Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley.

San Joaquin County, the Farm Bureau Federation, a raft of local water agencies and the California Chamber of Commerce oppose the bill.

As a stopgap measure, the committee stripped out a provision distributing liability among state and local governments as well as the Reclamation Board provision. Those issues are expected to be debated in other bills next week.

Another flood-control bill is expected to receive a hot reception: legislation by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, that would require local governments to certify that levees protecting new subdivisions will provide enough protection to reduce flood risk to a 1-in-100 chance per year and that they have a plan to upgrade that protection within a decade to a 1-in-200 chance per year.

Most San Joaquin County developments have so-called 100-year protection, and a few new projects around Stockton will have 200-year protection.

Wolk's bill passed the Assembly with the minimum 41 votes and is virulently opposed by the building industry and local governments.

Wolk's measure and its cousins are all trying to get at a paradox: Thanks to a recent lawsuit, state taxpayers are on the hook for any damage done when any levee repaired by the state fails.
That leaves local governments free to allow builders to erect subdivisions behind those levees without fear of future flood-related lawsuits.