This story appeared on Calmatters
California has two seemingly contradictory and potentially devastating problems:
More atmospheric rivers are due to wash over us this weekend. These are the same kind of state-spanning bands of wet air responsible for dropping 32 trillion gallons of water on the state in January.
But in a bit of irony that Alanis Morissette might appreciate, the coming rain could actually complicate things in drought-plagued California by melting its snowpack too early.
This latest plume is now forecast to hit the northern and central regions of the state late Thursday. And unlike some prior storms, this one — a subtropical “Pineapple Express” — is expected to be fairly warm.
That’s good news for those of us still recovering from our astronomically higher January natural gas bills, sent skyward in part by the unusually cold weather.
But it could be bad news for those counting on California’s nearly unprecedented Sierra snowpack — or for those living downstream.
There could be even more rain in California’s long-term forecast. New estimates from the World Meteorological Organization put good odds on the Pacific Ocean breaking from its three-year La Niña pattern and ushering the return of El Niño. In California, that generally means more rain and accompanying landslides, floods and coastal erosion.
Shored up? If coastal erosion in the face of rising seas is a public policy concern, you wouldn’t know it from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s draft budget. As CalMatters’ environment reporter Julie Cart explains, the governor proposes to cut funding for coastal resilience projects by 43% in the face of a more-than-$20 billion deficit.
For all the talk of rain and flood, Californians are still battling over who has claim to the water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
From CalMatters’ water reporter Alastair Bland:
Environmental groups on Monday asked state water regulators to rescind their controversial decision to weaken Delta flow rules to increase storage in California’s reservoirs.
The petition to the State Water Resources Control Board was submitted by 10 environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Save California Salmon and San Francisco Baykeeper.
The controversy centers on last month’s decision to waive basic flow standards for the Delta. The groups in their petition said the waiver would cause “irreparable environmental harm and loss of fish,” including Chinook salmon and tiny Delta smelt.
What’s at stake?
Water that’s delivered to growers in the Central Valley and to cities, mostly in Southern California. Newsom and the water agencies have been under pressure to capture more water during storms instead of letting it flow into the ocean via San Francisco Bay. Growers and many Central Valley elected officials call this “wasted water.” But the state’s rules require a certain amount of water to flow into the bay to assist fish, such as migrating salmon.
Water agency officials told CalMatters they are reviewing the petition, as well as other comments and current conditions, to see if any changes are warranted.
The water board’s executive director, Eileen Sobeck, has acknowledged the waiver could harm threatened and endangered species of fish, but said the potential for a dry winter and spring, and the importance of boosting reservoir storage, justified the move. Those concerns could be water under the bridge as another powerful storm system threatens to dump so much water that reservoirs, which were at barely a quarter of their capacity in November, fill.
Tracking California’s water: Our data team built a dashboard that explores California drought and water issues, including reservoir levels, water shortages, restrictions and more. It’s refreshed whenever new numbers are available, so you can stay up-to-date on the state’s critical water metrics.
Remember in 2019, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that there wasn’t a path forward for the full high-speed rail project — claiming that a San Francisco to Los Angeles project “would cost too much and take too long” — and instead ordered the state to prioritize a 171-mile span between Merced and Bakersfield?
It turns out the scaled-down version isn’t going all that well either.
CalMatters contributor Ralph Vartabedian has pored over a new report from California’s High-Speed Rail Authority. It’s heavy on the sticker shock:
Republican legislators, who never miss an opportunity to hammer on a “boondoggle,” used the report as another opportunity to call for high-speed rail’s unceremonious end. Democratic lawmakers, who have been divided on the issue, mostly declined to speak to Ralph for this story.
Analysts outside the halls of power say that even the abbreviated Central Valley leg is doomed without an additional inflow of cash. The big question is: from where?
The Political Reform Act of 1974 — passed by California voters — requires that the Franchise Tax Board audit a randomly selected quarter of disclosures from lobbying firms and those who employ them every two years. That’s in order to root out potential conflicts of interest and to make sure lobbyists are upfront about who is paying them to hawk legislation.
But, for at least the past decade, the tax board has fallen far below that 25% quota. That was the subject of a Senate elections committee hearing Tuesday chaired by Glazer, a Democrat from Walnut Creek.
Of the approximately 300 lobbyist firms and lobbyist employers passed on to the board for examination for every two-year period since 2013, no more than 3% have been audited.
Jeanne Harriman, chief financial officer of the Franchise Tax Board, contended the agency lacks the staff to keep pace with demand.
She said the board has asked the Finance Department for the money to double the unit’s staff, but hasn’t yet received approval — nor has the board sought more funding from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
Robert Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies who helped write the Political Reform Act, recommended transferring the job to someone else — the Fair Political Practices Commission, perhaps — or raising the threshold that triggers audits. But he also pushed for pressure on the Franchise Tax Board to make the audits a priority.
From CalMatters’ justice reporter Nigel Duara:
Matthew M., a boy who turned 12 in foster care during the pandemic, was rightfully ordered to be vaccinated against COVID-19 over his mother’s religious- and health-related objections, a California state appeals court has ruled.
The ruling, issued Monday in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, upheld a juvenile court’s finding that Mattew’s mother could not intervene and stop the vaccination.
When he turned 12 in November 2021, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services ordered that Matthew be vaccinated. His mother objected, citing her religion’s opposition to the use of fetal cells in vaccine development, and called a minister as her witness. Vaccines actually are developed using fetal cell lines grown in a laboratory.
For the record: A recent Census Household Pulse Survey found that more than one in three Californians who fell behind on rent think it’s at least somewhat likely that they will have to leave their home in the next two months due to an eviction. Yesterday’s newsletter attributed the concern to a third of all Californians, based on a Public Policy Institute of California blog post that has since been corrected.
Plane talk: Government subsidies for the dirty aviation industry need to be paired with accountability measures that protect communities harmed most by pollution, writes David Huerta, President of SEIU United Service Workers West.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The immense amounts of rain and snow California is experiencing this winter could morph into devastating floods.
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New study shows Bay Area is more affordable for renters. Really // San Francisco Chronicle
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Sam Bankman-Fried hearing set, but he can stay on West Coast // CBS Bay Area
Despite initial fears, complaints are down near San José’s temporary housing sites // KQED
Los Angeles is a fantastic walking city. No, really. // New York Times