Ballot Measure Threatens Jerry Brown’s Tunnels

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

A measure set for inclusion on California’s 2016 ballot could imperil a plan backed by Gov. Jerry Brown to build a pair of underground tunnels to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The California Public Vote on Bonds Initiative, also known as the “No Blank Checks Initiative,” qualified for inclusion on the 2016 ballot after supporters turned in the 585,407 signatures required, the Secretary of State’s office announced Monday. The measure collected at least 643,948 projected valid signatures.

The measure would require statewide voter approval for any state infrastructure project financed by bond revenue, provided the project’s cost exceeds $2 billion. The proposal would also prevent agencies from dividing projects into smaller units to avoid the statewide approval process.

The measure’s inclusion on the 2016 ballot could derail a plan backed by Brown to build a pair of underground water tunnels to move water from Northern California south by diverting it around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, at a cost of $15 billion. Brown plans to use bond revenue to finance the project.

Brown has long advocated for the construction of the tunnels, arguing that they would stabilize the water supply for millions of farmers and residents south of the Delta. At a news conference earlier this year, Brown called the tunnel project an “imperative” that “must move forward.”

Shortly after that news conference, Brown sharply rebuked environmentalist critics of the tunnels, who claim the project is not environmentally sustainable. Environmentalists fired back; in a defiant statement, Restore the Delta executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parilla said that Brown had “his fingers in his ears and will not listen” to criticism of the project.

In a statement on Tuesday, Barrigan-Parilla said Restore the Delta was not consulted about the ballot measure and had not taken a position on it.

However, in August, the group published documents revealing that state water exporters and the Delta Design Construction Enterprise (DCE) division of the Department of Water Resources are planning to use eminent domain law to acquire 300 pieces of land from Delta farms to ensure right of way for the tunnels.

“Clearly, water officials under the Brown Administration view the Delta as a colony,” Barrigan-Parilla said in publishing the documents.

Others have said the new ballot measure would endanger not just the water tunnels, but critical infrastructure projects statewide. The California Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to oppose the ballot measure on Monday, calling it “dangerous for our economy and the safety of our citizens.”

“The ‘No Blank Checks’ initiative would stop or delay vital public works construction projects in California, including those involving water security and highway improvements,” the Board said in a statement. “The gap between our current capacity and our infrastructure needs is large and growing. This measure would make it much harder to close that gap.”

Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the nonprofit California Water Alliance, said her organization had not yet taken a position on the water tunnels or the ballot measure.

However, she warned that the measure could threaten not just infrastructure projects, but also the budgets for the University of California school system, if the budgets exceed the $2 billion threshold included in the measure.

“The question is, what’s out there that’s over a $2 billion price tag that this will affect?” Bettencourt told Breitbart News.

A period for public review and comment of the proposed water tunnels closed on October 30. State agencies are in the process of preparing a final Environmental Impact Review/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) for the project as mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act.