“The governor should back off”

Posted on | October 8, 2009 | No Comments

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Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

WHILE the post-Zell Los Angeles Times news side has had only spotty coverage of the most important water legislation in a quarter of a century moving through the state legislature this year, the paper’s editorial pages have followed it diligently. (For an account of rolling news coverage across the press, click here).

The subject at the heart of the legislation is the future of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, source of water for two out of three Californians and the largest estuary on the Pacific coast of North America.

Today’s editorial in the Times gives credit to the much maligned legislature and looks at arguments over how to pay for an estimated $12bn worth of water infrastructure upgrades.

Their bottom line: “The governor should back off and allow lawmakers the additional week or two to craft a package that will work.” To read it, click here.

Over in the San Francisco Chronicle editorial pages, the impression is much the same. “Governor, you’re making yourself look petty, petulant, even irrelevant. It’s time to drop the veiled threat to veto the 700 bills on your desk unless legislators meet your midnight Friday deadline to upgrade the state’s water system.”

Meanwhile the LA Times’ veteran political columnist George Skelton disagrees. “The governor demands a deal by Friday night. Or he’ll grab the veto pen, he strongly hints and his advisors tell reporters. Sunday night is the deadline for signing or vetoing more than 700 bills. Is that threat risky? Somewhat. He’s swinging a sledgehammer and could wind up dropping it on his foot.” But to Skelton, “it’s an available political tool that the governor would be derelict not to use when an issue as critical as water is at stake.”

Elsewhere in the piece, Skelton says, “Schwarzenegger apparently doesn’t much care what the legislature decides. He just wants it to compromise and send him a bill.”

If what the governor himself has said is true, (click here for Schwarzenegger’s own press release), then Skelton is wrong in this. The governor has repeatedly threatened the legislature that he will veto any bill that does not contain controversial dam projects.

Conspicuously absent from the discussion of how Southern California might pitch in to preserve the Delta has been Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Given his chops in Sacramento as former speaker of the California Assembly, and given the dependence of Los Angeles on Delta water, one might have expected Villaraigosa to support the Metropolitan Water District’s indefatigable campaigning for the Delta bills in legislature. Metropolitan is Southern California’s largest water wholesaler and handles northern Californian water deliveries to the City of Los Angeles.

Rather, Villaraigosa gave Metropolitan’s drive to support Sacramento legislators only tepid support, while instead playing out a stalking game to oust Los Angeles Department of Water and Power General Manager David Nahai and replace him with his deputy mayor S. David Freeman.

This happened last Friday. LADWP is a member agency of Metropolitan,  but Freeman does not support the current Delta legislation and would like to see more concessions from agriculture before committing southern Californian urban water users to more conservation efforts. According to Freeman, Villaraigosa would like to head a coalition of urban mayors on water issues.

So, as it seems to this water-watcher, while the California legislature struggles to come up with a package of bills urgently needed to restore the crucial Northern Californian Delta infrastructure that supplies 30% of  Southern California’s water, the would-be leader of Southern California’s urban mayors has been looking for backdoors to usurp Metropolitan’s authority.

For a full round-up of reports on the stand-off between the governor and legislature, go to Aquafornia.

This post has been updated.


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