Voters Misled on 2014 Water Bond’s Public Benefits
As the third year of a record-breaking drought bore down in 2014, California’s citizens suffering under mandatory water rationing and rising water bills watched as the midterm general election neared.
California’s airwaves and cable channels broadcast non-stop advertisements directly from Governor Jerry Brown, some environmental groups, urban water agencies, and some farm operators. All promoted a long-term fix to the state’s unreliable, unsafe and shaky water supply system: “Vote Yes on Proposition 1” they said.
Passage, they implied, meant California’s environment and water supply would be both protected and enhanced.
No longer would the state’s many wildlife refuges lack water to keep waterfowl and shore birds alive. Farmers would soon be able to till their fallowed land and resume growing crops or raising animals to feed and clothe our state, nation and world.
Landscapes and lawns in our cities, while never again to be watered profligately, would at least return to green and city trees would stop dying only to be cut down into stumps. The state’s 36-year-long moratorium on building new water storage infrastructure would end.
Proposition 1’s water bond promised $7.5 billion in funding to be applied to reverse the state’s course and provide water to California’s population, which had nearly doubled since the state built its last major dam. Of that total, backers on TV commercials said, $2.7 was appropriated to new water storage projects.
The measure passed resoundingly that November. Californians were tired of skipping toilet flushes, driving dirty cars, and feeling once-lush lawns crunch under their feet as brown reminders of the past.
Now, over three years later, a governor-appointed California Water Commission announces that, of 11 water-storage projects submitted to it for funding, none meet the necessary public benefit requirements of Proposition 1. Unless further proof of those benefits is demonstrated, all will be rejected.
The Water Commission anticipated that it would award Proposition 1 funds in six months, nearly four years after the measure passed. Instead, they are giving applicants just two weeks to amend their proposals.
Officials and bureaucrats point out that none of the qualifying “public benefits” under Proposition 1 were for people — for water to drink, flush, with which to cook or bathe — but, rather, were for environment, recreation, wildlife and fish.
Nothing in Gov. Brown’s Proposition 1 campaign commercials revealed that important detail.
Commissioners and spokespersons further scold that applicants didn’t ‘show their work’ on the public benefits they claimed their projects would produce, including providing numbers and valuations for each fish saved, recreational days envisioned, or amount and economic benefit of water quality improved.
It’s safe to say that none of the advertisements voters saw mentioned that the language of Proposition 1 was written in concert with environmental groups and the California Legislature under Gov. Brown’s watchful eye, or that it contained this hidden Catch-22 in its fine print.
It’s also not hyperbole to mention that the voters and other stakeholders were intentionally misled and defrauded of promised funding for vital projects that would keep our state’s residents — including large disadvantaged communities of citizens — healthy and able to afford the safe and reliable water supply they need to live.
Proposition 1 was, and is, a continuing fraud on the public and California’s voters of massive proportions, but not the first and certainly not the last.
Shame on those who are responsible and engineered the deception.
Shame on those who contributed over $70 million to pass Proposition 1 on the basis of fraudulent and misleading claims.
Shame on the Water Commission’s members and staff for rigging the process of evaluating projects so that few sponsors will have the time necessary to provide information not publicly disclosed months or years ahead of the due date as a requirement for approval of project funding.
And shame on those who negotiated in good faith with bad faith actors and told their constituencies and memberships that the Proposition 1 deal was solid and no alternatives need be considered. Voters relied on your representations, but they have nothing to show for it except your apologies.
What will become of the $2.7 billion in unauthorized bonds? The legislature will ultimately decide. Their process will be conducted behind closed doors and will award funds for projects that may not help California’s water supply. The legislature may even divert the billions to non-water-storage uses.
All of this is by way of a cautionary note to the voting public and stakeholders that foolishly place too much trust in political promises and elected individuals dependent on outside special-interest funding. The Attorney General’s title and summary of ballot measures too often distort and omit key features of the real language of the measures upon which we citizens vote.
The voters will face new initiatives and legislative ballot propositions this June and November, perhaps dozens of them.
They should keep the lessons of Proposition 1 in mind as they review this year’s voter’s pamphlet describing the measures.
The lesson of outright lies deceptively and forcefully promoted by Gov. Jerry Brown should be fresh in their minds as they consider whether to vote “yes,” or “no,” on each.
Also fresh in mind should be thoughts of their skyrocketing water and sewer bills, along with reviews of news articles they read describing how California wants to make drought-water-conservation measures and water for the environment permanent in our state.
Both water bills and news articles should make them cautious to place even more trust and debt in the hands of these particular public servants with a proven pattern of deception.
Californians, they lied to us once. Having succeeded, what’s to stop them from lying to us again and again?