Gov says drought is over – rates rise in celebration.

Governor: Drought is over.

What a great headline on the front page of our daily newspaper today. Accompanied by a photo of two goofs standing out in the snow with some 15′ long stick suspended from a ski pole measuring how heavy snow is. I don’t know – I guess it was meant to convince us the Gov. knows scientific stuff.

But the message was clear, our state reservoirs have reached such high levels after two years of rainy winters and plenty of snow up high that the drought declared in 2008 no longer exists. WhooHoo! The biggest reservoir in the system, Oroville Dam, is at 104% of its historical average, Shasta is at 111% of historical, our current snowpack is at 165% of normal. Even the Colorado River basins, Lake Mead,  Diamond Valley and others are filling up fast.

But wait – they remind us that conservation remains necessary because of the precarious condition of the Sacramento River Delta. Even though they’ve got all that water, a lot of it up north, doesn’t mean they will be releasing any more for us down south because it would still kill the little Delta Smelt – that 3 inch long good-for-nothing fish that gets sucked into pumps because it’s too stupid to swim away. Yeah, we still got that.

But even Southern California reserves are up – plenty of water for now. That means the 50%+ increases in price they’ve jacked onto us the past two years will stabilize? Maybe even drop a little since water is now plentiful? After all, the increases were to encourage conservation during the tough times and reduce our dependence on imported water.

And we’ve done that right?

Usage in San Diego County is down 20%, other areas are averaging between 15% and 43% reductions over the past 2 years. I mean, they beat us over the head with this. Gotta conserve. Low flow toilets, desert landscape, 5 minute showers,  if it’s yellow it’s mellow, if it’s brown flush it down, you name it, we’ve done it.  Heck I’m even drinking my whiskey neat because I don’t want to waste the water for mix or for ice.

We get that: Conservation = good. No conservation = expensive.

So now we get a break, right?

Yeah, I got your break right here, Pal. This is the part where you just have to appreciate the humor of the situation or you’re likely to go on a rampage with multiple dangerous weapons and a bad attitude. According to one water department spokehole, “all that water is a blessing and a bane.” A what? A bane you ignorant savages! Because now they have all this water but guess what? They’re not selling enough to cover their asses – I mean expenses. Honest to Jesus H, we’ll now be paying higher water bills because we’re not using enough. I believe judicious use of the ‘F’ word might be appropriate here.

Sounds like the oil companies. “Hey, they’re using too much gas, lets jack up the price to get them to conserve. Hey they’re not driving enough, we need to jack up the price to boost our profit. Hey, there’s a crisis in Libya, let’s jack up our price because we can. Hey, we don’t even need a good reason anymore, lets just jack up our price because….. Jackholes!

So we’ve got water flowing out the kazoo but we’re still scheduled for another 12.5% in rate hikes by 2012. It would appear that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If anybody can suggest a scenario out of this wherein the consumer actually wins a little, please feel free to suggest it.

Aw what the hell. It’s just California. Grab a little medicinal weed, go to the beach and forget about it.


Property Rights – California’s Newest Endangered Species

‘Property rights are rapidly becoming the newest endangered species in Ventura County’, according to a recent article in the Pacific Coast Business Times. A new fight is brewing for builders at a time when our decimated building industry can scarcely afford the battle. This one is being waged in LA and Ventura County over new storm water regulations.  According to  another article in the PCBT, while ‘the new regulations were approved last May, officials are just now trying to figure out how to implement them.’

Well how California is that? Let’s pass this mother and then figure out what we did and how to enforce it. Ready, fire, aim.

According to representatives of the Building Industry as well as private and public sector agencies, the regulatins as written would add million of dollars to the cost of projects on everything from housing to roads, schools, hospitals – you name it.In many cases these costs would produce very little, if any, tangible public benefit.

The reg’s would require anywhere from 75% to 90% of rainwater run-off to be captured on-site either through catch-basins or cisterns, on-site treatment facilities or having enough green space to allow for full evaporation with no run-off. If property owners can’t meet those requirements they would either pay a fee (ala cap & trade) or have to do similar work off-site. Builders, including many operating in the public sector, say these reg’s are simply another ‘nail in the coffin’ for developers.

To make matters worse, although the ordinance has been passed in Ventura for nearly a year, regulators are just now putting together a ‘guidance manual’ for builders. This has left builders in limbo since last May trying to figure out what the reg says and how to comply. As one builder put it, “I’ve simply had to stop all my projects for 6 months or more until they figure this out so I don’t risk being out of compliance.” Another, a builder of public roadways puts it more simply. “The notion that I could be fined if so much as a single Dixie cup of water gets into the harbor from the miles of roadways and ditches I build is very scary.”

Yes it is. But unfortunately not out of character for the talking heads in Sacramento who authored the legislation that allows local authorities to implement their own rules and mandates without benefit of oversight. As a BIA rep put it, ‘there’s a lot of unknowns for factories or anything with a big footprint that might have impervious surfaces like roofs or parking lots. Auto dealers, schools, even public utilities run the risk of being unable to comply without some potentially cost prohibitive measures. In today’s world of development, there is no margin so it doesn’t take much for something to become infeasible – so projects, including some much needed and long planned projects, will simply die.’

Well isn’t that the agenda? They’ve succeeded in shutting off the water tap to Southern California to benefit the Delta Smelt. We have chased our once-thriving furniture manufacturing industry to neighboring states – there’s only one left here today. Our last automobile manufacturer is pulling up stakes. Our industrial employers are decamping for greener pastures – literally greener pastures with fewer onerous regulations. Our high tech industries are moving to neighboring states that don’t boast about being the highest tax states in the country. And now what’s left of our building industry and development community that hasn’t already been laid to waste by the economy or unemployment are being targeted by additional shortsighted environmental regulation.

Did I mention they’re also threatening to fine us or put us in jail for simply having under-inflated tires? Yeah, I just wrote about that.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum – or in this case, the liberals have taken over the state. Same difference.

Of course that’s just my opinon. I could be wrong.

Stop the RCWD Building Moratorium

In  a recent Community Forum for The Californian, Jack Hoagland, a Director with the Rancho California Water District, posted a piece entitled “What part of ‘water crisis’ escapes understanding?’ In his post, Hoagland details his proposal for Rancho Water to ‘temporarily stop issuing water supply letters (necessary in the approval process for new development) and to stop installing water meters.’

Translation: BUILDING MORATORIUM.

I’m not sure if Hoagland actually believes the specious arguments he puts forward or if the whole scheme is his attempt to shock the community into a response. As he summarizes, “We need action from our development community to pressure the Legislature to resolve the state water issues.”

Perhaps he believes his plan to hold the community hostage is what it will take. Perhaps he hasn’t been aware of, or participated in, the numerous efforts by local businesses (including developers), municipalities and Rancho Water District customers to effect comprehensive change with the legislature through numerous letter writing campaigns and personal visits.

Or perhaps he truly is that out of touch with the community he purports to serve. The ‘if we don’t build it, they won’t come’ philosophy went out of favor during Jerry Brown’s last term.

What we do not need is an attempt by Rancho Water or any other group to stifle legitimate development in this economic climate. While Hoagland alludes to ‘vacant malls and commercial centers’ and the high residential foreclosure rate, he doesn’t seem to grasp that these have already had a severe dampening effect on development. Considering that demand for new resources is at a virtual standstill due to the housing and commercial meltdown, this call for a moratorium accomplishes no positive purpose. It’s only apparent purpose is to heap insult onto an already severely injured party – namely the citizens, businesses, municipalities and ratepayers of RCWD.

Yet with our residential housing market carrying an active inventory of just over 1 month, the need for additional housing stock will become apparent before long. Similarly with the lack of funding mechanisms currently available for commercial development, only well conceived and funded projects are going forward, the rest are waiting until the current glut of available space is reduced. At a time when everybody from our President to our Governor to our city leaders understand the need to create job opportunities to return our economy to a more robust footing, Rancho Water is proposing to literally turn off the spigot on the cities efforts to attract new jobs to our region.  This is counter-productive at best, idiotically negligent at worst.

We are joined in our efforts by the Cities of Temecula and Murrieta, by our County Supervisor, the Southwest California Legislative Council, The Murrieta Temecula Group, the Building Industry Association and other business and advocacy groups throughout Southwest California.

If you agree that the last slap our community needs right now is a building moratorium, please join me at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on November 9th at the Rancho Water District board room at 42135 Winchester Ave in Temecula (Winchester West of Diaz). Hoagland claims he would like to ‘hear our ideas and views’. Let’s make sure he does – politely and concise.

In addition to our SRCAR email campaign, our partners at the Southwest California Legislative Council have also instituted a letter writing campaign which you can participate in by clicking below.

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Update on State Water Policy Issues

Want an update on where the state is on water policy? Nowhere – as usual. And why we can’t get anywhere is pretty well summarized here.

Capitol Weekly recaps the week that was in water policy , and looks at the new bond proposals put forward Wednesday.

Water Resources director Lester Snowsaid Wednesday the state already has the authority to build the peripheral canal.

“We clearly have the authority to do that,” he said. “That’s not something that’s a mystery to us.”

Of course, some enviros don’t see it quite that way, but we can have that fight after a water bill is signed by the governor…

“In addition to the intricate policy details, politics has complicated the water talks throughout this months-long process. With the state’s budget facing what Assembly GOP leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said could be a $20 billion deficit next year, taking on more debt to pay for water storage and upgrades may be a tough sell to voters.

“Republicans are aware of those political realities, and want to ensure that the changes to state water policy – which do not need to go before voter, and can be passed through the Legislature on a majority vote – are still good for the state, with or without a water bond.”

“It’s just real tough to find the right mix of water policy changes and financing that wins enough votes to pass the Senate and Assembly.

Lobbyists who have done the math say so. And water negotiations have progressed to the point where vote counting has begun.

“Here’s the problem in a nutshell: The top demand for liberal Democrats is a strong policy bill that wins the support of environmetnalists on changes such as new conservation laws and giving the State Water Resources Control Board new powers to enforce water rights laws. The GOP’s goal is a new bond to pay for dams and other water projects.

“But at the moment, Republicans aren’t totally satisfied with the policy changes. They, for instance, think the water board gains too much power and could levy expensive fees unfairly for alleged illegal diversions of water. Democrats counter that the powers are needed to capture more water savings.

Republican votes aren’t needed for the policy changes (it’s a majority vote bill). But the GOP says it won’t put up the votes for a bond — which requires a supermajority — until their policy demands are met. But if the policy bill changes much at all, environmentalits have threatened to walk away. And that will cost Democratic votes.”

There you have it, boys and girls. Water politics, 101.

To read the full Roundup, click here: http://www.capitolbasement.com/?1&_c=ydj48szq0n1dx8&_ce=1256836060.20e1c75f232e71b51c768aa6412bede1

Water & Power. California politics at its depressing best.

When you start your day attending two meetings where the speakers apologize for being depressing, the rest of your day can only improve.  That was my day today.

I started with an early morning meeting of the Southwest California Economic Development Corporation where we were treated to remarks by John Rossi, General Manager of Western Municipal Water District. Apologizing for depressing us, John presented a factual summary of where our state is waterwise and how the water districts are dealing with our current situation. Having toured the Northern end of our state water supply system last year from Oroville Dam to LA, and having written about the issue on numerous occasions, I believe that rather than being depressed we should see this as a call to action. As Rossi did when he encouraged us not only to use our resources wisely but to engage our legislators in recognizing the complexity of the issue and dealing with it comprehensively.

With over 70% of SoCal water deriving from the north, another 25% from the Colorado River and about 5% from ground water & desalinization,  it’s clear where the answer lies. Prayer. But in addition to prayer, the water department is also working legislatively through the current ‘special session’ to address both conservation and infrastructure issues. Until and if those solutions ever bear fruit, they will also continue to squeeze their customers. Oh, by the way, if those solutions do bear fruit, they will still continue to squeeze their customers. Why? Because they can. And any fix – even the inadequate Democrat proposals, will come with a big price tag that somebody has to pay for.

Here’s a fun factoid. During the past year our primary wholesale supplier of water, Metropolitan Water District, has instituted rate increases of nearly 40%. These increases were designed to encourage conservation – a very admirable goal and one that will certainly help us deal with the problem. There’s another 20% increase due in a month or two. Why? Because our conservation efforts have been so successful at reducing water consumption that Metropolitan has less revenue coming in to service their bond debt and fixed expenses. So they need to raise rates again because the first rate increases were so successful at changing our consumption habits. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Is there a win-win in here anywhere?

Think our bills will go down anytime soon? The you should have been to the EWDC luncheon featuring Senator John Benoit and Assemblymembers Brian Nestande and Kevin Jeffries. The operative words here were also ‘depressing’ and/or ‘frustrating’ by turns, for the state’s economic outlook, any chance for real reform and for the water picture.

Assemblymember Jeffries, who was appointed to the state special commission on water, remains hopeful that some compromise solution will be reached soon, possibly as early as this coming week. He bemoaned the fact that water has become so politicized that true progress remains elusive. While the party in power in Sacramento thinks the problem can be solved by merely conserving more and restoring the Delta, the minority view prefers conservation coupled with additional infrastructure to provide long-term solutions. Capturing and storing rainfall and snowpack for future use, channeling current water resources without adversely impacting the Delta Estuary, new dams, an alternative conveyance AND continued conservation are all part of a comprehensive solution.

Our current drought is caused in equal parts by nature and regulation. Our dams truly are down by 1/2 to 2/3rds as a result of rainfall & snowpack the past few years. It is regulatory by virtue of the fact that judicial decree has determined the rights of the Delta Smelt take precedence over 18 million water users, farmers and food producers throughout the central and southern parts of the state. There are also complex water rights issues with people at the watershed source and with environmental groups concerned about preservation of the Delta. It wouldn’t be an easy fix even on a level playing field – given the way our legislature operates it’s a wonder anything happens at all.

All panelists agreed that jobs are the answer for our state. “Not bigger government, not more taxes, more jobs”, according to Senator Benoit.  “Taxes up, jobs down, legislature ineffective”, according to Jeffries.’450,000 jobs lost this year at an average $68,000 per, 150,000 jobs created at an average of $52,000 per – not good’ according to Nestande.

Jeffries also pointed out that the party in power, regardless of which party, has shown they will do darn near anything to perpetuate that power. There was some disagreement as to whether term limits have been effective at making our state more governable but all agreed that term limits have resulted in shifting power from the people who should be accountable, (our legislators), to people who are not accountable, (staff and lobbyists). The people who make the decisions aren’t around long enough to have to deal with the consequences of their actions so what’s their motivation to work for the long-term good? (Please keep in mind that all legislators are not altruistic by nature. Some just love the power, some just love the perks, and some just want to have a lobbyist mistress who wears a thong).

Agreeing that reform must occur if California is to turn itself around in any meaningful and sustainable way, they admit that if the legislature is not prepared to reform itself then the public will have to do it for them. When asked about the prospect of that occurring through Constitutional Convention, Jeffries voiced some concern about what could result from opening that can of worms while Nestande opined that any result probably couldn’t be much worse than the status quo.

Depressed yet? You shouldn’t be. This is California politics at its best. The more you know, the better prepared you are to deal with it. If you’re not at the table, you’ll surely be on the menu. Sometimes you might be anyway. Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Temecula Valley Legislative Summit – Follow the Water.

leg dayOn a day when, ironically, the Obama administration summoned state officials and interest groups to a lecture from the Colorado Cowboy Hat about California water issues, the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce presented its  comprehensive ‘2009 Legislative Summit’. If the giant water spigot overshadowing everything was too subtle for you, the fact that the only two speakers this year were Tim Quinn, Executive Director of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA); and Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, who was recently appointed to the (bi)-partisan, joint committee charged with producing a workable bill to resolve the states current water crisis should have tipped you to the subject.

Moderated once again by the Sacramento Bee‘s longtime political columnist Dan Walters, the event brought out the areas business and civic leaders for some discussion of water, infrastructure, taxation and other issues affecting our state. Walters led off the panel referring to this years motto for the event, California, Looking Forward. He applauded the decision to look forward – because looking back is ‘just too depressing’. He noted California’s Boom & Bust history saying it’s almost like ‘we’re addicted to it’.

They were in general consensus that something will be done legislatively to address the issue, maybe soon. They’re just not sure what it will look like. One segment of our legislature believes we should continue to address the issue through conservation measures and higher user fees while another segment agrees with conservation but insists on infrastructure improvements for long term reliability. Guess which side’s in the minority.

I’ve written on the Delta Region (Follow the Water Tour) and followed the water trail from the Oroville Dam to my spigot in Murrieta courtesy of the MWD. A recurring but new theme is emerging – the concept of an ‘alternative conveyance’. Defeated as a solution in 1982, the recent actual drought, coupled with severe regulatory drought has brought the system to it’s knee and the despised ‘peripheral canal’ has morphed into the ‘alternative conveyance’. But as Quinn said “It’s a very different political climate than it was in 1982.” In Sacramento ‘money is the lubricant for true water change. Every interest group comes with a price tag.‘ And they say lobbyists day are numbered! .

dan waltersThe ‘alternative conveyance’ could take the form of a 44 mile long river around the Delta, a hardened canal through the Delta or a tunnel under the Delta. Each alternative has it’s pro’s & con’s, but they’re all better than what we have today. Whichever it turns out to be will come with a high price tag – some of which will certainly be borne by ratepayers (you & me). The reward for this is a reliable supply of water to the breadbasket farmers of the Central Valley and enough to keep the deserts of Southern California Green (you & me).  Arguing that water is not so much a partisan issue as a regional issue, they nevertheless succumbed to the reality of politics. Central Valley Farmers (current unemployment rate – 40+%) represented by Democratic Legislators are being increasingly vocal and it’s got some Democrats scrambling to save their seats.

kevin jeffriesSimilarly, some environmental groups are coming on board as they understand the need to preserve the Delta. The 100 year old hand made peat-moss dykes keeping the region arable are in critical condition. Susceptible to earthquake, fire, flood and sabotage, the Delta is a fragile and unnatural ecosystem. It will require a major effort to preserve and will likely still involve some ‘loss’ of land to the estuarial condition that existed until a century and a half ago when the levee & dyke system was introduced to the region. First developed as subsistence farming for small communities, the region is not considered to be a high-producing agricultural mecca – it costs the state more to keep it farm-able than the farms actually produce every year.

Still more strange bedfellows involves a schism between the dwindling ranks of trade unions (workers) and groups like the SEIU, CTA and Prison Workers Unions (public employees unions). The public unions don’t really care one way or the other on the water issue. They are following the money. They know that if California launches the kind of effort necessary to truly address the matter, it will take potential bond money out of the same general fund they’re trying to tap.Besides having 70% of the earmarks already in the budget, they want access to more and infrastructure will compete for the few funds that are available in the shrinking pit that is our state economy.

tim quinnThe best hoped for outcome in the water wars, it appears, would be for the legislature to get out of they way and allow the state to proceed with the recommendation of the Bay Area Conservation Committee. This group has been meeting for the past 3 years or so and has formulated a series of, what appear to be, pretty sound proposals.Certainly better than the proposals considered by the (bi) partisan Joint Water Committee, currently meeting in Sac.

Why is it so many real solutions to problems begin with the words – ‘Well, if we could just get the legislature out of the way…’

Moving on to other areas, Walters bragged about what a real success it has been to go from a quarterly annual budget meltdown to one that will probably at least last until the first of the year before it unravels. “Only in Sacramento is that considered a success”.  He also related a recent meeting with the Governor of Montana during his (Walters) recent vacation tour of the west. With all the major issues confronting us, the governors first comment was ‘Boy, what about that Mike Duval.’ Kind of keeps our perception in perspective.

The panel also talked about other aging infrastructure like the state’s highway system , our tax system and Nancy Pelosi. Our roads are rated 2nd worst in the nation (only New Jersey scores lower). We haven’t invested significantly in our roadways & bridges since the late 70’s, when Jerry Brown decided if we don’t build it, they won’t come. As our population soars past 38 million heading toward 50 million by 2030, that theory doesn’t seeem to be holding much credence these days. We have twice as many cars on the road today as we did in 1982 but we still take in the same amount in gas tax. Why is this? Because cars are so much more fuel efficient today that we have twice as many on the road to produce the same revenue for repairs. Yet another unintended consequence of well-intentioned legislation.

Assemblyman Jeffries had the last word admitting that “we are in a mess. The only way we can sustain a recovery is to put people back to work.” He noted that the legislature ‘has either failed to prioritize its expenditures or has prioritized badly handing out money to every interest group with it’s hand out. US! We continue to reward our politicians who consistently bring home the pork for us by re-electing them, while criticizing the pork laden coffers of others.’ “The only way we can take control back is for each of us to get engaged.” He was preaching to the choir.


Sen. Hollingsworth Asks Legislators to Question Before They Vote. Good Luck With That.

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“Our budget problems in California are a symptom of the problems in California created by years of over-regulation and years and years of bills going through this house and the other house across the other side of this building that destroy jobs.” Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R – Murrieta)

Anybody who has witnessed the madhouse that our state legislature becomes at the end of session or during cross-over, will have a heightened appreciation for the latest call to action from Senate Hollingsworth. In a speech before the Senate last week, Hollingsworth said that the goal of the Legislature should be ‘to restore California’s job climate and economy’ and asked Legislators to ask themselves 5 questions before every bill they vote on.

  1. Does this legislation include an analysis that proves that the bill actually improves the economic conditions in California?
  2. Does this legislation improve the employment opportunities for struggling Californians impacted by this recession and state government-imposed burdens?
  3. Does the legislation or the regulation make compliance easier for businesses to create jobs, or make it tougher to create jobs?
  4. Does the legislation or the regulation make California a more attractive place to live and do business?
  5. Does the legislation or the regulation encourage investment in jobs at all levels of the employment scale?

Sounds simple enough but given the performance of our Legislature over the past several years (decades), it’s no easy task.

Seems there’s always somebody hell-bent on doing just the opposite, giving in to every special interest, public union, green, enviro, fringe element to further alienate jobs, housing and economic growth. Tell me that’s not so?

If you have the fortitude to watch the final 2 days of this session, you’ll see Legislators voting on literally hundreds of bills, most of them totally worthless and self-serving (the bills &/or the Legislators). They’ll do this without having read the bills, without a moments debate and with no thought to the costs or consequences of their votes. I’d venture 80% of the bills will be passed on a straight party line vote and neither you nor they will have the slightest idea what they just voted on.

Senator Hollingsworth’s goals are right in line with the California Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Agenda for Economic Recovery’, as detailed in this article. Now if we could only find a few Democrats in Sacramento who have actually held private sector jobs and understood the economy we might have a shot at accomplishing what needs to be done.

Awwww, that’s just silly talk. What am I thinking? If you need any more proof, just look at what they’re doing to the water bills in the face of that imminent crisis.  Well, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Another California Crisis – RivCo Water Symposium

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Today marked the 6th Annual Riverside County Water Symposium. The event featured a series of panels and speakers discussing the water challenges facing our state today. The keynote was delivered by Michael Chrisman, California Secretary for Natural Resources.

Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley set the tone by stating that we are literally playing Russian Roulette with the Sacramento Delta. One little mis-hap, a flood, an earthquake, terrorist threat or an angry gopher could disrupt the water supply to 25 million Californians and dramatically impact the economy of this state for decades. As he noted, we’d be up a creek all right but it would be a dry creek. We can’t conserve our way out of this mess – we must address and resolve some of the fundamental problems with our systems starting with the Sacramento Delta. When the Delta fails – not if but when, it will make Katrina and Andrew look like childs play in terms of damage to the area, the ecosystem and the state’s economy.

I don’t think it comes as a big surprise that our water systems, much of it built 30 – 50 years ago, was never designed or intended to meet today’s demand. And while environmental concerns have acted to restrict the flow of existing water (see Delta Smelt), those same concerns have prevented us from developing new resources or re-working other solutions (peripheral canal). In the past 100 years we’ve relied on big projects, big technological developments and throwing big money at it. That’s not viable in the 21st Century where we face higher demand with fewer resources and less money.

One thing they all agreed on, we’ve witnessed the end of the era of cheap water. You are no longer assured of getting all the water you want – rather they’ll be working hard just to get you all the water you  need, and at a price you can still afford. After all, Western Municipal, which provides most of  Southern California’s water to our local providers, is implementing a 19.7% increase this September followed by another 21% jump in 2011.  Tiered pricing will become the norm with conservation being rewarded while profligate use will be penalized. After all, upwards of 80% of domestic water use is OUTSIDE the home with as much as 50% of that is wasted in run-off, over-spray, etc.  If homeowners worked their land like farmers, we could dramatically decrease water usage. But even reduced usage will eventually result in higher bills as infrastructure improvements are required.

Some positive notes – from John Rossi, GM of Western Municipal – ‘In every crisis is an opportunity’.  This may be the best time in 25 years to actually fund and implement some real solutions in the Delta in spite of California’s economy. But the timing is critical and they are forming coalitions to get active on this NOW. They are encouraged to be working with some of the groups that have been adversaries in the past but have a new view of what can and should happen to the Delta going forward. They are asking Sacramento to stop politicizing the issue. The resource is neither a Democratic nor a Republican resource and the resolution to the issue will be derived by working together. They also wish Sacramento would focus on getting it’s own act together and quit issuing new and/or redundant requirements and compliance reports about issues they have no clue. Well, good luck on that one.

They are further encouraged by the possibility of obtaining some bail-out funds for critical projects. However, as one noted, the structure of the bail-out rewards the inept. If you’ve managed your business right, you probably don’t qualify. (Hmmmm, where have we seen that before?) For example, one of the requirements to qualify for Federal funds is to have ‘shovel-ready’ projects – yet few associations or water departments can afford to plan and implement a project to a shovel-ready state without having had the funding mechanism for the project in place from the out-set. It’s one of those catch 22’s – you can’t develop a project unless you have money but you can’t have money until your project’s developed. Duhhhh.

Secretary Chrisman noted that we have recently had two prominent California water experts placed in high Federal office, which bodes well for some of our projects. The new Director of the Department of Water Resources has mandated that human costs be factored into consideration along with the customary environmental impact and structural costs. They’re also evaluating California Water Law, which currently ranks as the most complex water law in the country. Our combination of old British Water Law, adopted in the 1850’s, usufructuary, riparian and appropriative water rights creates quite a challenging environment to work in. He also noted that the Endangered Species Act has been used at times as a very blunt instrument to craft laws and they are petitioning for reconsideration of the Delta Smelt and other ‘endangered’ species.

As with so many issues facing California today, we are at a crossroads in our water supply. As Mark Twain opined, “Whiskey is for drinkin’, water is for fightin’ over.” It looks like we’re coming into the fightin’ season for California water right now and, as with all our endeavors, we as Realtors had better be at the table with them – or we’ll sure as hell be on the menu.


The First POS POS Bill.

So it’s started. If you read my Government Affairs update post last month, you know that the California Association of Realtors is expecting as many as 6 or more point-of-sale (POS) bills to make their way through the legislature this year. Our track record in defeating these bills is excellent to the point where most legislators (and their handlers) don’t even bother to introduce a bill with point-of-sale attached because they know it’ll go nowhere. We’ve seen on average of one a year for the past 20 years and have slapped down almost all of those.

So why the big increase this year? Two reasons – first, as discussed before, there is overwhelming drive for anything GREEN this year. The science behind, or the cost of the associated project is almost irrelevant in the crush to implement anything GREEN. This is the type of group-think mentality that pervades our government from the top down these days and will be responsible for significantly increasing the costs of all our goods and services until this greensanity is brought under control.

The second reason we’re seeing an influx of POS bills is that there is a perception among some of the lobbying groups that Realtors are suffering from diminished influence these days. With increased union/liberal/Democrat control of Sacramento, the lobby for reason, for fiscal responsibility and private property rights is fighting the battle against longer odds. Second, they feel that with our membership numbers in decline that we are less prepared both numerically and monetarily to wage our battles.

The vanguard bill will likely come out of an effort by the State Water Department to inflict a POS bill on homeowners. The verbiage is being finalized and they will start a series of statewide public hearings on the matter within 30 days. Based on the information they collect from the public, they intend to modify the State Water Code to require property owners to retrofit ‘existing outdated, high water use plumbing fixtures upon resale’ with ‘water conserving plumbing fixtures’ and mandates that the seller and/or agent disclose compliance.

Existing plumbing fixtures defined as the following:

  • any toilet that uses more than 1.6 gallons per flush
  • any urinal using more that 1 gallon per flush
  • any showerhead with a flow capacity more than 2.5 gallons per minute
  • any interior faucet that emits more than 2.2 gallons per minute

Water conserving plumbing fixtures are defined as ‘any fixture that uses less water than the existing fixture.

So what’s wrong with this POS POS bill? Where t start.

First of all, POS bills NEVER accomplish what the authors claim they will. In this case the water department is under pressure to comply with the recently adopted ACWA standard mandating a 20% reduction in water use by 2020. Let’s put aside the argument that there really is no water shortage in the state but simply a politically motivated transmission problem (Delta Smelt, peripheral canal, etc). So the goal is to conserve water – an admirable goal. Does this POS bill accomplish that?

Not even close. Even the water department will tell you that household domestic water usage only accounts for about 20% of gross water usage and only a small percentage of that is considered waste. That leaves 80% of our domestic water usage outside the home – watering our lawns, washing our cars, cleaning our driveways, etc. Not only is the majority of water used outside our homes but the percentage of wastewater generated is significant – over spray, run-off, etc. So this bill doesn’t even address the largest are of water waste in domestic consumption. It addresses a small percentage of a small percentage of our usage – hardly likely to produce the desired 20% cut in usage. And don’t even ask about non-domestic water consumption. But it is a great excuse to jack our water rates through the roof.

Further, POS is a notoriously ineffective way to accomplish even this limited goal. On average statewide between 2% and 3% of homes change hands every year. Given that degree of penetration, you do the math on how many years it will take to reach enough homes in the state to register any statistical impact.

So the water department is going after a small percentage of a small percentage of water users in the least effective way possible. Yet they might succeed because the stated purpose of the regulation is to ‘conserve water’ a very GREEN goal. In the meanwhile, it will increase the cost of buying or selling a home in the state by anywhere from a few hundred (just for the inspection) to a few thousand – depending on the age of the home and the number of fixtures that need to be replaced.

In typical fashion the deparment hasn’t addressed the issue of inspection – who will do it, what will they charge, and how pervasive will their powers be to enter and cite homeowners for other violation they may observe (electrical, structural or other plumbing issues not in compliance). Anytime you increase the cost of buying or selling a home, you decrease the affordability of that property and while that may not seem an issue at current pricing levels, the bottom line is that every $100 increase to the price of a home eliminates nearly 1,000 potential buyers for that home across all levels of home from first-timers right on up the ladder.

So we’re looking at a proposed bill that doesn’t address the biggest issue of water usage at the home, inflicts unknown costs on homeowners to meet these specious goals, and doesn’t even mandate a degree of compliance – just that the new fixtures use less water than the existing fixtures.

Of course if the water depsrtment is correct then most of you won’t even read about this. And if you do, you won’t do anything about it until the bill has passed and it’s too late to do anything but bitch about it. I’m hoping the water department is wrong on this because if they’re not, we’ll be seeing more and more incursions into our business by people that wouldn’t have dared take us on a year ago. And your business and your customers will be on the losing end.

Looking for Land Use Problems YOU Have.

There are times I’ve been critical of some NAR positions and pronouncements. But when they do it right it’s a thing of beauty. I’m proud to be a Member of the Land Use, Property Rights and Environment Committee. Between national meetings the group usually has a Webinar or 2, as we did today preparatory to our meetings in Washington DC in May.

This Committee deals with a fascinating range of problems related to federal land use legislation. I’ve posted info on some issues like the checkerboard land use issue, water rights, coastal and riparian issues. As you might imagine, in this great land – from sea to shining sea, there is a wide variety of issues. But some consistently emerge at the top of the list, things like water rights, land grants/transfers, the gamut of ‘green’ issues and zoning/domain issues, to name a few.

In DC the committee will hold a Forum on Tuesday, 5/12, in the Omni. It’s an open forum to bring your own state, regional or local concerns to the committee. If you have local concerns, make sure your state/NAR Directors are aware of them. I will also be happy to pass along any comments made to this post.

Water is a pre-eminent issue across the country. From California to Maine, from Texas to Minnesota – water is king. And where there are water issues there are often collateral issues like endangered species, anything green, land use & water rights.

This also morphs into a second major concern right now, that of the checkerboard land use problem. Over the years land trusts have built up to manage these ‘public’ lands. In the absence of strong federal policy, they have pushed their own agenda’s, often to the detriment of adjacent property owners and communities. Stories were shared of these landowners doing land swaps of 100 acres for 600 acres, or swapping land rights but keeping water rights – minor annoyances like that.

Anyway, if you’re going to be in DC in May, stop by the Omni on Tuesday morning at 9. Or, if you don’t want to be up that early, just leave a comment here and I’ll let them know it’s from the ActiveRain Land Use Group.

Gene, the biggest land use issue where I’m from is:


Senator Hollingsworth Calls Out the GOD Squad

I am often reminded just how fortunate we are to have the legislators we do working on our behalf in Sacramento. This is especially true when I see the yabos some of my counterparts are forced work with to attain reasoned discourse and successful programs.

Some time back I wrote about the sorry state of our water system as I had gleaned from visiting many of the facilities starting at the headwaters of the Oroville Dam and ending up at my own tap. (Water Tour Day 1, Water Tour Day 2, Water Tour Day 3) Recent statistics have indicated that our two main reservoirs in Northern California are at just over 30% capacity due to the prolonged drought conditions.

While that in itself has resulted in 30%+ reductions to the amount of water shipped south for our consumption, last year that amount was further reduced by almost 85% due to emergency rulings in favor of environmental concerns about the Delta Smelt, a tiny fish found in profusion in the Sacramento Delta system.

The theory is that these smelt occasionally congregate around water intakes, get sucked into the pumps and die. Water providers have had to install expensive nets and strainers to keep the fishies safe but even those extensive and expensive measures don’t please the enviro’s.

So water bound for Southern California and our millions of citizens is shut off so the smelt can copulate and frolic without fear of demise at the hands of us vicious water consumers.

While Senate Democrats wrestle valiantly with ways to enhance state revenues (i.e. raise your taxes), Republicans are attempting to deal with some of the real issues we face – like the very real possibility of severe water shortages this summer if this issue is not resolved. When you see the Senator, be sure and thank him for his efforts on our behalf in the face of overwhelming negativity from the enviro’s and the GREENS.

senator hollingsworth

Hollingsworth, Republicans Urge Governor to Call for Convention of “God Squad”

Federal Ruling on ESA Water Restrictions Devastating to State

Senator Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) and 27 Republicans have sent a letter (see below) to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging him to call upon the President and the Secretary of the Interior to convene the Endangered Species Committee, or “God Squad.” The- letter requests an appeal of water restrictions on California as mandated by federal court rulings to protect the Delta smelt.

“Every drop of water is a valuable commodity in California and it is crucial that we protect what little we have,” stated Senator Hollingsworth. “We are not only facing a natural drought, but one that is court-imposed, which will only worsen our current economic situation and impact many California communities and farmers who are already facing severe water restrictions.”

Under the provisions of a 1978 amendment of The Endangered Species Act (ESA), a committee comprised of seven Cabinet level members called the Endangered Species Committee (nicknamed “the God Squad”) can be convened to hear exemptions from the ESA’s stringent provisions. The plea to lift the water restrictions complies with the exemption requirements, in that there is no reasonable alternative to the agencies’ action and that the action is of extraordinary regional importance. The Governor is the only non-federal official who can request the Committee be convened to relax the regulations.

Following two years of drought and the current dismal snowpack, California’s water reserves have become dangerously low and the court-ordered water delivery restrictions have diminished supplies from the state’s two largest water systems by almost 30 percent.

“The Governor has wisely directed state agencies and departments to take immediate action to address the serious drought conditions that exist in California,” concluded Hollingsworth. “Republicans in the Legislature are hopeful he will take further action and request that the federal government intervene on our behalf as well.”

Dennis Hollingsworth represents the 36th Senate District. The district includes Southwest Riverside County, North and East San Diego County, and portions of the City of San Diego.


February 5, 2009

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

As you are keenly aware, California is in the midst of the most grave water crisis in its history. Following two years of drought and the current dismal snowpack, water reserves have become dangerously low. Further, the court-ordered restrictions on water deliveries from the Delta due to the listing of endangered species, have diminished supplies from the state’s two largest water systems by almost 30 percent.

While we are deeply concerned with the effects both the natural drought and the court- imposed drought will have on the many California communities who are already facing severe water restrictions, it is imperative that we address the economic devastation to our state as well.

Every drop of water is a valuable commodity in California and it is crucial that we protect what little we have. Approximately two-thirds of all Californians – an estimated 23 million people – obtain at least a portion of their water from the Delta, which firmly establishes that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the single largest source of California’s water. Without question, we have been devastated by the federal ruling which ordered protective measures for the smelt and cut water exports by a third.

Thus, we are asking that you submit a formal petition to the United States Department of the Interior and request the Endangered Species Committee (or “God Squad”) be convened to address our appeal to lift the water restrictions on California as mandated by federal court rulings to protect the Delta smelt. As per the 1978 amendment to the Endangered Species Act, we believe this conforms to the exemption request requirements, in that there is no reasonable alternative to the agencies’ action and most importantly, the action is of extraordinary regional importance.

Governor, you have wisely directed state agencies and departments to take immediate action to address the serious drought conditions and water delivery reductions that exist in California. Although an uncommon request, we nonetheless urge you to take further action and request that the federal government intervene on our behalf as well.

Thank you for your consideration of this timely and urgent request.

Sincerely,

DENNIS HOLLINGSWORTH
Senator, 36th District