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The Abundance Choice (part 6) – Biased, Hostile Media

You can say this for Michael Hiltzik, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times columnist for the Los Angeles Times: He doesn’t conceal his biases. When we talked in late November, his skepticism concerning our initiative felt overt. And while that may only have been my subjective impression of our conversation, Hiltzik’s column, published as a “Perspective” piece by the Times on December 2, removed all doubt.

Hiltzik’s column was called “This proposed ballot measure would make you pay for the ag industry’s water inefficiency,” and featured on page two of the print edition’s front section. Hiltzik fired an 1,800-word salvo at our campaign, making assertions, starting with the title, that were designed from beginning to end to convince readers that we were pushing a terrible idea.

In one of the opening paragraphs, Hiltzik wrote “In California, water is for scamming. The newest example is a majestically cynical ploy being foisted on taxpayers by some of the state’s premier water hogs, in the guise of a proposed ballot measure titled the ‘Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022’—or, as its promoters call it, the More Water Now initiative.” Nothing subtle there.

Hiltzik’s hits came one after another. He called the initiative “costly and dishonest,” claiming it would “wreak permanent damage to the state budget,” and “force taxpayers to pay for ecologically destructive and grossly uneconomical dams, reservoirs, and desalination plants.”

But Hiltzik’s bias against “wasteful and overly costly projects” may violate his own principles.

In an irony that ought not be […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 5) – The Fractured Farmers

“We cannot support your initiative if you include the Delta Tunnel as an eligible project. And to be clear, we also cannot support your initiative if you do not include the Delta Tunnel as an eligible project.”

This statement, which I heard with my own ears sometime in early September 2021, was made by someone painfully aware of the paradox it expressed. It epitomizes how California’s farmers confront the existential threat of not enough water to irrigate their crops. They are bitterly divided over what solutions to support. If your farm is located north of the California Delta, you don’t want Southern Californians to build a giant straw that will suck the Northern Central Valley dry. And if your farm is south of the Delta, escalating restrictions on pumping water into southbound aqueducts from fragile Delta ecosystems makes a tunnel an elegant solution.

Disagreement over how to transport water through, around, or under the Delta is just one of many causes of gridlock in California over water policy, but the scale of the project and the effect it would have make it central to discussions over state water priorities. Taking an unequivocal stand on the Delta Tunnel—for or against—will immediately either alienate or attract about half of California’s farming community, along with every water agency, urban or rural, northern or southern, that is affected by it.

Not only are farmers in the Sacramento Valley to the north generally set against constructing the tunnel, while farmers in the San Joaquin Valley […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 4) – Crafting a Water Initiative

To be fair, Assemblyman Devon Mathis didn’t come up with the idea of allocating a percentage of the state budget to accomplish a policy priority. He got that idea from the California Teachers Association, which in 1988 convinced voters to approve a constitutional amendment that required a minimum of 40 percent of California’s general fund to be spent on K-14 education. But Mathis did have the temerity to be one of the first legislators to emulate the concept when, in 2019, he introduced to the state assembly the “Clean Water for All Act,” which would have given voters a chance to allocate another slice of the general fund to a specific purpose, in this case, funding water infrastructure.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3 died in committee, but the precedent was set. Ballot box budgeting was back in play. When I talked with Mathis about our initiative in July 2021, it was clear that water was still a top priority for this moderate Republican from the San Joaquin Valley. And as soon as he brought up the “two percent solution,” I knew we had something we could run with.

Up to that point, we had been on the right track with our focus on getting funding for projects that would increase the supply of water to Californians, but we had been planning for the initiative to rely on bond financing. The problem with this approach was that the amount we estimated California needs to spend on water infrastructure starts […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 3) – The Mechanics of Ballot Initiatives

By the spring of 2021, it was obvious the state legislature was not going to change its inadequate approach to water policy. As the state faced another year of drought, restricting water use was the only solution being taken seriously in Sacramento. And at the same time as cities were being told to prepare to ration water, farmers faced new regulations restricting not only how much water they could divert from rivers, but also how much groundwater they could pump.

For this reason, and after talking with people all over California whose businesses and jobs depended on a reliable water supply, I decided to form a group of volunteers to promote a ballot initiative that would focus on funding projects to increase California’s supply of water. The tentative name for our campaign, which we eventually adopted, was More Water Now.

The potential for initiatives to fundamentally change the political landscape in California is well documented. The now legendary Prop. 13, approved by voters in 1978, is the classic example. Prop. 13 limited property tax reassessments to two percent per year. And thanks to Prop. 13, if you own your home long enough, eventually property taxes become a manageable burden, instead of an inevitable eviction notice. California is one of 15 U.S. states that allow citizens to gather signatures from registered voters and qualify both statutes and amendments for their state ballot. But to say this is not easy is an understatement.

In California, petitions proposing initiative statutes […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 2) – The Problems With Indoor Water Rationing

Perhaps the biggest example of misguided water policy in California are the escalating restrictions on indoor water consumption. As will be seen, the savings these restrictions amount to are trivial in the context of California’s total water consumption, yet are imposed at tremendous cost both in quality of life and in the required economic sacrifice. Despite alternatives that are objectively more cost-effective, California’s water policy continues to go down the path of rationing indoor water use.

In 2018 the California Legislature enacted laws to restrict residential water consumption, in the form of Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668. For urban water districts, the laws “establish a standard of 55 gallons per person per day until January 2025, and then to 50 gallons per person per day in 2030.”

It is fair to point out that some of the more alarmist reactions to these mandates are unfounded. For example, the laws will only measure aggregate use within a water district, which means that how individual users are treated if they exceed the per person indoor water limits is left up to the local utilities. That’s hardly reassuring, but at least it leaves some wiggle room. On the other hand, it creates a powerful disincentive for water agencies to invest in developing an increased, more resilient water supply, because with aggregate maximums limiting how much water the agencies can sell, they’ll think twice before adding capacity. One of the dangerous consequences of this, yet again, is a system […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 1) – California’s Failing Water Policies

In October, and then again in December 2021, as the third severe drought this century was entering its third year, not one but two atmospheric rivers struck California. Dumping torrents of rain with historic intensity, from just these two storm systems over 100 million acre feet of water poured out of the skies, into the rivers, and out to sea. Almost none of it was captured by reservoirs or diverted into aquifers. Since December, not one big storm has hit the state. After a completely dry winter, a few minor storms in April and May were too little too late. California’s reservoirs are at critical lows, allocations to farmers are in many cases down to zero, and urban water districts are tapping their last reserves. In some areas of Southern California, water agencies are now penalizing residential “water wasters” by coming onto their property and installing flow restrictors.

Back in 2014, a supermajority of California voters, 67%, approved Prop. 1 to fund water storage projects. As of the spring of 2022 not one project has begun construction, eight years later. Meanwhile, in Southern California, a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach that could produce 60,000 acre feet per year of fresh water from the ocean has been held up by a mostly hostile bureaucracy and endless litigation for over twenty years. As you read this, the project faces another major hurdle – on May 12, the California Coastal Commission Board might defy the […] Read More

How Unions Can Help ALL Workers

Last month on January 5, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez resigned from the legislature to join the California Labor Federation. Gonzalez is likely to succeed the current Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski when he retires this summer. What will this mean for the labor movement in California?

Gonzalez has earned a controversial reputation in the State Assembly, partly by virtue of the legislation she’s sponsored, and partly by her Trumpian penchant for lobbing polarizing Tweets at her political opponents. But when Gonzalez takes the helm of the most powerful labor organization in California, as is expected, will the weight of the job moderate her political priorities?

It’s common for right-of-center politicians to criticize unions, and it’s worth repeating some of these criticisms. Public sector unions have an agenda that is inherently in conflict with the public interest, since the interests of their membership – more jobs, better pay and benefits – may be served regardless of whether or not public services are operated efficiently and effectively. They divert public funds out of public employee paychecks to wage campaigns to elect the politicians with whom they supposedly then “negotiate” labor agreements. The agencies they represent don’t have to compete for customers or make a profit, they can just raise taxes. Civil service laws offer ample protection to public employees, and voluntary associations that don’t engage in collective bargaining would still provide plenty of political leverage for public employees. Public sector unions should probably be illegal.

As for private sector unions, on the […] Read More

Proposed ballot measure would create water infrastructure

Silicon Valley is known for its startup culture where so-called angel investors provide financing to launch companies that aspire to change the world.

Innovations spawned in Silicon Valley have indeed changed the world, and in the process, made the San Francisco Bay Area home to thousands of near-billionaires and billionaires.

With wealth like that comes social responsibility and political power, and many of the individuals wielding this wealth have stepped up. Powerful individuals from Silicon Valley are changing the destiny of the world.

Might not the world’s destiny be improved if there was abundant water, everywhere? Shouldn’t California set an example to the world, instead of accepting a future of water scarcity and rationing?

The More Water Now campaign was formed to qualify the Water Infrastructure Funding Act to appear as a state ballot initiative in November. Nearly every expert in California agrees that more water infrastructure is necessary; that conservation alone will not protect Californians from the impact of climate change. Projects to capture storm runoff and recycle urban wastewater are urgently needed, and this initiative provides the funding to get it done.

Nonetheless, the campaign finds itself in the inexplicable position of having a solution everyone wants, but nobody wants to pay to qualify it for the ballot.

Private sector construction unions, who could enlist hundreds of thousands of their members to sign petitions, are hesitant to take on the environmentalist lobby. Construction contractors have deep pockets, but don’t want to see environmental activists target them […] Read More

Here is a plan to create more water for California

Former Congressman Tom Campbell’s recent commentary “Why the delay on critical water storage projects,” published on these pages on January 3, criticized the California Water Commission’s ongoing failure to build the water storage projects that were approved by voters in 2014. There is an answer to the concerns raised by Campbell: The Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022, a constitutional initiative proposed for the November 2022 state ballot.

This initiative, currently being circulated for signatures, requires two percent of the state’s general fund be used to construct new water supply projects, and it doesn’t sunset until new projects add five million acre feet per year to the state’s water supply. Two million acre feet per year can come from waste water recycling, another 1 million from conservation programs, and the rest from runoff capture into off-stream reservoirs and aquifers. And to ensure projects are environmentally responsible, it still gives the California Water Commission the final authority over what projects to fund.

Instead of identifying specific projects for funding, this initiative carefully defines eligible projects to include everything that would produce more water, from conservation and water recycling, aquifer recharge, new reservoirs and aqueduct restoration to runoff capture and brackish/ocean water desalination. It also funds remediation projects, such as replacing the pipes in public schools in Los Angeles.

The initiative is attracting broad based and bipartisan support. The centerpiece of the proposed initiative is the requirement to set aside two percent of the state general fund until 5 million […] Read More

California Needs an Angel to Promote New Infrastructure to Harvest the Rain

It’s raining again in California. In fact, it’s pouring. But nearly all that water, tens of millions of acre-feet, is running into the ocean. California has a water system built for 20 million people. Neglected and failing and strained to the brink, it nonetheless now serves a state of nearly 40 million people.

The conventional wisdom in California impels politicians to build nothing, attribute water scarcity to climate change, and limit household water consumption to 50 gallons per person per day. It impels them to redefine “infrastructure” as redistribution of wealth in order to achieve “equity,” while castigating actual infrastructure as an unwarranted consumer of planet-destroying energy and a stain on sacred ecosystems.

This is a scam. Saving the planet may be the supposed moral imperative behind policies that create scarcity, but the true motivation is power and greed. In reality, imposing scarcity is a convenient way to consolidate political power and economic resources in the hands of existing elites, who hope and expect the multitudes will assuage their downward mobility with online Soma.

Genuine infrastructure creates opportunities for everyone. Neglecting public infrastructure—the real kind, i.e., water, energy, and transportation assets—is itself regressive. The wealthy don’t care if their water bills or their electricity bills triple. Corporate monopolists benefit when basic utility inputs triple in price, because it kills the emerging competition which increases their market share. This is an elemental truth that everyone from John Steinbeck to Ayn Rand warned us about. But the progressives in California ignore it, […] Read More