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Enviros gather at PCL legislative symposium

The Planning and Conservation League’s annual legislative symposium in Sacramento on January 28 brought together several hundred people for break out sessions on a variety of topics.  Bruce Reznik, the new Executive Director, said in the morning keynote that the influence of environmentalism is very low in “the building” (the State Capitol); environmentalists need to be able to make the case that what is good for the environment doesn’t have to be bad for the economy.  Luncheon keynote speaker State Controller John Chiang raised the issue of how we pay for environmental initiatives in the current economy (without, however, offering any memorable solutions).

In accepting a Legislator of the Year award, Senator Kevin de León, who represents East LA, the most diverse district in the state, said that environmentalists need to reach out to disadvantaged communities and focus more on common interests.  And at a workshop on “The Role of Food in California’s Environmental Future,” David Runsten of the Community Alliance of Family Farmers explored some of the reasons for farmers’ distrust of environmentalists.  Environmentalists, he said, don’t always understand farming.

Of particular interest to Restore the Delta was a session on the Water Bond.  Panelist Joe Caves of the Conservation Strategy Group, who was heavily involved in writing the bond, doesn’t think the bond will survive this year.  He suggested taking it off the ballot and making it smaller, but panelists agreed that there’s no agreement on what the pork is, so it is hard to know what to take out.

Panelist Jim Earp of the California Alliance for Jobs thinks the water bond is not in such bad shape and wants to find a way to make it better, so people can go to work building infrastructure.  But Caves suggested that it might be possible to remove the $3 billion in surface storage (dams) from the bond because most of those who fought for it are no longer in the legislature.  Restore the Delta notes that there are jobs to be created by local infrastructure and conservation projects as well, and they last longer than jobs building dams or a canal.

Panelist Jonas Minton of the Planning and Conservation League called the bond “very confusing,” with a lot of good things in it but with elements that PCL ultimately couldn’t support.  Changing the bond would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature; moving it to 2014 might be done with a simple majority.  Minton noted that $1.5 billion in the bond was intended for Delta ecosystem restoration, for which money must be in place before BDCP exporters can get the 50-year incidental take permits they need (a point also made by Meral, above).  If upfront money doesn’t come from the bond, it will probably have to come from the exporters.

Moderating the panel discussion was Assembly member Jared Huffman, who has followed the progress of the water bond and the 2009 water legislation from his position as chair of the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee.  Huffman predicted that

the Governor will not allow a large water bond to interfere with his tax initiative.  The legislative route for fixing the bond may not be possible, in which case there will need to be an initiative.

Someone is probably gearing up for that alternative right now.

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