Will Brown Take Position on Water Bond, Peripheral Canal?

Democrat Jerry Brown, the California attorney general and former two-term governor, and Republican Meg Whitman will face off this November in what is expected to be one of the most contentious and expensive elections for governor in California history.

Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, set the tone for the gubernatorial race when he said that the results of last night’s primaries “set in motion a battle for the soul of California.”

“It’s Main Street vs. Wall Street, with the winner having an opportunity to shape California’s future for decades to come,” said Pulaski. “After months of obscene campaign spending, billionaire CEO Meg Whitman will use her seemingly unlimited fortune to try to stage a hostile takeover of our state. She’s made it clear that, if elected, she plans to bring a Wall Street agenda to California.”

Pulaski then contrasted Whitman’s “Wall Street” orientation with the “Main Street” values of Brown.

“The contrast between the candidates couldn’t be starker,” said Pulaski. “Jerry Brown shares the Main Street values that built this state’s economy into a global powerhouse and expanded our middle class. Brown has a spent a lifetime fighting for working families. He presided over the creation of nearly 2 million jobs as governor.

Whitman has spent $71 million for her primary campaign, while Jerry Brown has spent a little over $27.5 million, according to campaign expense reports released on May 28.

Although Brown and Whitman have taken contrasting positions on an array of issues, it is unclear where Brown stands on the $11.14 million water bond on the November 2 ballot, and the campaign by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, corporate agribusiness and southern California water agencies to build a peripheral canal and new dams.

The water bond, known as the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010 by its supporters, was part of the controversial water package that emerged from the special legislative session called by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last fall.

On his website, in his press releases and public appearances, Brown has to date taken no position on the water bond or peripheral canal. My attempts as a reporter to find out what Brown’s position is on this controversial water battle have been met with silence by his campaign office.

Brown signed the original legislation that authorized the original peripheral canal bond in 1982, but voters overwhelmingly defeated the canal at the ballot box that November.

On the other hand, Meg Whitman has adopted a strong position in support of the water bond and peripheral canal, even though she conceded at a speech in San Diego in February that “there is probably $2 to $3 billion in unnecessary expenses in that bill.”

“If we don’t pass this water bill and we go back to the drawing board on negotiations, we will be having the same conversation five years from now, 10 years from now,” Whitman told the San Diego Union-Tribune on February 26. “The farmers won’t be better off, and we will not have a stable water supply for L.A. County, San Diego, Orange County.”

Whitman’s website, reporting on her visit to Fresno on May 29, 2009, proclaimed, “As governor, she said she would stick with her conviction that saving jobs takes precedence and would use emergency powers to order more pumping from the Delta. In the longer term, she supports more above- and below-ground storage facilities and the construction of a peripheral canal in addition to conservation efforts.”

Whitman also sided completely with corporate agribusiness on May 26, 2010, in praising Federal Court Judge Oliver Wanger’s decision to temporarily lift the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumping restrictions protecting endangered salmon Central Valley populations.

“I am encouraged by the Federal Court’s decision earlier this week that ruled to temporarily lift the pumping restrictions in order to increase water deliveries to the Central Valley,” said Whitman. “This is just a start. We need a comprehensive solution and strong leadership to really fix California’s water crisis.”

Laura Wells, who won the Green Party’s primary for governor, does not specifically advocate for or against the peripheral canal and the water bond in her water policy platform. Instead, she said, “The legislature should re-work the 2010 Water Bond and improve it by revising the priorities, re-considering regional impacts, stripping out the special interests, and then re-submit it for public approval.”

She also emphasized, “Planning for a sustainable water future for California requires that all interested parties have a seat at the table and come to a consensus as to what priorities will prevail and how they will be administered. Legislating solutions for the Delta water without involving those who live and work there will never accomplish this.”

Political leaders from diverse political perspectives and a broad coalition of fishing, environmental justice, conservation and labor groups have rallied in opposition to the water bond.

“This is a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle with 19th century solutions for 21st century problems,” said Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) at a press conference of water bond opponents in May. “It would be fiscal madness to approve the largest water bond in California history at the same time that California is in the midst of a financial crisis.”

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) criticized the bond as spending billions on projects with “little or no connection to California’s water supply.” DeVore said that while California needs to increase its water supply, this bond spends more on nonessential projects than it does on water supply and the Delta combined.

“If the state urgently needs to increase our water supply and fix the Delta, why is it that less than half of the $11 billion bond will be used for those purposes?” DeVore asked. “In the last days of bond negotiations, pork projects were added at a rate of $100 million an hour. Tax dollars spent by this bond could go towards a golf course in Los Angeles, water taxis and bike trails in Lake Tahoe and horse trails along the San Joaquin River.”

Public support is clearly against the water bond and canal. A poll released by the “No on the Water Bond” campaign in February showed voter opposition to the bond at high levels.

Fifty-five percent of registered and likely voters said they’d vote “No” when read the title and summary of the measure written by the Legislature. Only 34 percent in the survey conducted by Tulchin Research statewide supported the controversial bond.

With such broad opposition to the water bond and peripheral canal building across the state, many believe that it’s time for Jerry Brown to take a stand against the bond and canal – and in support of restoration of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations. Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish populations have declined to record low levels under the Schwarzenegger administration, the result of a number of factors led by record water exports out of the Delta.

Some fish advocates fear that Stewart Resnick, the Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoon who owns 115,000 acres of farmland in Kern County, may exert pressure on Brown to support the water bond and peripheral canal, and oppose the federal biological opinions protecting imperiled salmon and smelt. On November 11, 2009, Resnick and his wife, Lynda, the co-owner of the giant Paramount Farms and Roll Corporation, wrote four checks totaling $50,000 for the Brown campaign.

For more information about opposing the water bond, go here.