Flood package proposed
Rivers have receded after last month's storms, but legislators are flooding Sacramento with flood-control legislation.
The state Capitol was brimming with ideas Wednesday when Assembly Democrats presented a package of bills, while Assembly Republicans proposed an alternative to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to borrow $68 billion for levee improvements and other public works projects.
“We all know that we need more money for flood protection. However, money is only one piece of the puzzle,” said Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis.
Wolk said that money has to be well-spent, something she feels the Democrats' package could accomplish.
Wolk and three other Democrats presented five bills that would utilize up to $6 billion in bonds and property owner fees to pay for levee improvements and maintenance.
Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, said there are more proposals to come.
Wolk's AB 802, which addresses land-use policy and will go before the full Assembly today, calls for local governments to incorporate flood planning into their general plans just as they must do with earthquake and fire hazards.
Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico, frowned on proposals that could block some development in flood-prone areas.
“The fact is we already have houses there. We need to keep the focus on the real issue and that's fixing state levees,” Keene said.
Keene said some Democrats are using flood protection to push an anti-development agenda.
“Some have jumped on the bandwagon to be anti-housing,” he added.
Keene said Republican legislators are working on their own flood-control legislation.
“I think we can come to some common ground,” he said.
Republicans want to speed levee maintenance by, among other things, easing laws that they say require environmental protection mitigation.
Democrats presented their flood-protection package a day after Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, spoke about the governor's $3 billion water bond bill during a Senate hearing.
“The governor and I both agree that the funding in this bond should be directed at real, tangible projects, such as the construction of new levees and new water storage,” Aanestad said.
The bond would fund improvements up to about $1 billion.
“It's time to start spending taxpayer dollars on bulldozers and concrete that will result in the completion of real projects that will benefit Californians for decades to come,” he added.
Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, proposed an alternative to the bond bill Wednesday. McCarthy wants to earmark part of the annual state budget for flood control projects, university facilities, and highway and transit construction.
He said it could generate at least $35.8 billion in the next 10 years and reduce the need for the state to borrow - and pay interest - by selling bonds to cover infrastructure improvements.
“When you look at it in a nutshell, you will build more, you will build now and you will pay less,” he said.
While legislators talked flood control at the Capitol, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Schwarzenegger asked President Bush to set aside $92.4 million in his 2007 budget for flood control in Sacramento and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
“A major levee breach could imperil hundreds of thousands of people and endanger most of the state's water supply,” Feinstein said in a statement. “We believe that the best course of action is to proceed expeditiously on the projects that will provide the most protection to population centers and infrastructure.”
In their letter to the president, Feinstein and Schwarzenegger wrote: “The recent Northern California storms are one more signal that action is needed now. While California avoided a Hurricane Katrina-type disaster, its levees and flood-control systems must be strengthened in order to adequately protect lives, property and the state's vibrant economy.”
Among the projects mentioned in the letter is $1.5 million for the Yuba River Basin. The state's share is $600,000, which has been appropriated, according to the letter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Eve Hightower can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.