Two local legislators voted no on a public resources trailer bill that included five-year commitment of $200 million annually for healthy forest and fire prevention grants.
District 3 Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, voted no due to “detrimental provisions” in the bill, according to a joint news release put out by Gallagher, and Assembly members Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, and Megan Dahle, R-Bieber.
On Thursday, the State Senate and Assembly passed the bill, which now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
“We’re acutely aware of the threat of catastrophic wildfire in the Yuba River watershed and the urgent need to fast-track restoration to protect our communities and water supply,” said Willie Whittlesey, general manager of the Yuba Water Agency in an email. “The state’s commitment of secure funding for forest health and wildfire prevention over the next seven years will bolster many of the efforts Yuba Water is involved in, such as the North Yuba Forest Partnership, a diverse group of nine organizations working to restore more than 275,000 acres of land spanning Yuba and Sierra counties and parts of the Tahoe National Forest.”
Gallagher spoke on the Assembly floor on Thursday and thanked his colleagues for including the continuous appropriation of funding for wildfire prevention projects. He said the $200 million is just a baseline.
“So we need to really ensure that this money is going to get spent and get down to projects,” Gallagher said.
He said last year, 35 streamlined projects led to 11,000 acres of wildfire prevention work. He said those streamlines, that speed up the environmental review of a project, will not be available this year for wildfire relief projects.
“We need to be doing 500,000 acres a year,” Gallagher said. “That’s what the experts say we need to do to get back on top of this issue.”
He asked that the issue be treated with the urgency it deserves and voiced frustration over dam removal projects and native fish habitat restoration projects that have the ability to be streamlined.
“We don’t get included, nobody talks to us, we get a bill at the end,” Gallagher said of the legislative process. “There’s some stuff we like and there’s a whole lot of stuff that we don’t like.”
Gallagher also criticized the bill for increasing the salary of Public Utilities Commission (PUC) members by five percent annually over the next three years on top of automatic pay increases.
“Raises for the PUC commissioners, really? They’ve been doing their job overseeing PG&E?” Gallagher said. “You want me to vote for that?”
Gallagher and the two other lawmakers said AB 155 was unsupportable because it did not provide additional funding for water storage, it provides no regulatory relief to build water storage projects, and it provides no funding for clean energy projects that will further incentivize the removal of deadly fuel loads, according to the release.
District 4 State Senator Jim Nielsen, R-Red Bluff, spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday in opposition to the bill before voting no.
He said Friday that Democrats put good provisions into bills that are overall not supportable. He said he weighs the good provisions with the bad ones when determining his vote.
“This governor has shown that you really can’t trust him,” Nielsen said.
He cited money not being fully spent on wildfire relief projects in the past as well as the finance department having to review whether money was needed to spend on wildfire prevention projects. Nielsen also took issue with other types of projects being allowed to move quicker through environmental review while wildfire projects are not able to.
“These projects should move quickly,” Nielsen said.