Kudos to Schwarzenegger for Signing All Flood Bills and to Five Persistent Legislators
Governor Schwarzenegger signing bills as Senator Machado and Assemblymembers Jones, Wolk, and Laird look on
Yesterday history was made to protect Californians lives, their homes and dreams, and the state treasury from the ravages of floods when Governor Schwarzenegger signed all five flood bills passed by the legislature at the end of this year’s session.
It took persistence from five dogged legislators, who in last year’s session saw earlier iterations of these bills either fail to pass or vetoed. They worked hard on the details and amended their bills while retaining the integrity of them, always recalling what happened to Louisiana with in Katrina and what has happened in California going back to our earliest days as a state.
Last year, we saw voter approval for levee repairs and other investment in infrastructure placed on the ballot by the legislature. But this package of legislation arguably much more important-and at the very least will make the levee and other flood control work more effective. The pressures from those who wanted to continue California’s practice of building in flood plain areas and making decisions as usual was intense and had to be overcome. This affects billions of dollars of financial interests, not to mention life, limb, and cherished personal possessions of those in danger.
“This is truly an important day for the future of our region,” said Assemblymember Wolk. “The Governor’s signature on these bills sets California on a new course toward protecting its citizens from flood disasters, especially those in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region. This package is the 21st Century solution to the 21st Century challenges facing this state. It is balanced, and puts responsible planning principles at the forefront, while still allowing for new housing when adequate flood protection is in place.”
Governor Schwarzenegger said at the early morning ceremony in signing these bills: “California’s Central Valley has thousands of miles of levees protecting millions of residents and we expect millions more in the coming decades. We want to make sure the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina do not happen here if there is an earthquake or other natural disaster. That is why we will establish 200-year flood protection as the standard for urban developments in the Central Valley so our growth will be safe growth.”
Perhaps the key to the package is SB5 by Senator Mike Machado, who represents the Stockton area and hails from the tiny community of Linden (population 1,103 in 2000) that establishes a comprehensive set of policies that coordinate state and local efforts to connect land-use decisions and flood management planning. It was similar to AB 5 by Wolk, who began working on this legislation 3 years ago, introducing the first bill to restrict development in the floodplain. She worked closely with Machado.
SB5 represents a major policy shift for the state. It:
• Requires the state to develop a plan for flood protection by 2012;
• Once the state plan takes effect, prohibits cities and counties in the Central Valley from entering into development agreements, approving permits, entitlements or subdivision maps in a flood zone unless there is an appropriate level of flood protection or the local flood management agency has determined that adequate progress towards that flood protection has been made;
• Once the plan takes effect, requires 200-year flood protection for proposed projects in urban and urbanizing areas (10,000 residents or more);
• Authorizes cities and counties to develop and adopt local plans of flood protection that include a strategy to meet 200-year level of flood protection, an emergency response plan, and a long-term funding strategy for improvement, maintenance and operation of flood protection facilities; and
• Requires Department of Water Resources (DWR) to provide cities and counties within the Central Valley with preliminary floodplain maps by 2008.
The second land-use bill in the package is Wolk’s AB 162, which requires cities and counties in California to incorporate flood hazards in their general plans in order to minimize risk in flood-prone areas, just as local governments are required under current law to consider the risk posed in areas prone to fire and earthquake.
The third, SB 17 by Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter), will increase the level of accountability and professional expertise on the board charged with maintaining the state’s levee system.
Prior to the passage of SB 17, all seven members of the state’s Reclamation Board were appointed by and served at the pleasure of the Governor. This arrangement raised concerns in late 2005 when, less than a month after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans, the entire board was replaced by Schwarzenegger as they began to take a more critical look at the rate of development behind our state’s aging levees.
Under SB 17, the Board will be renamed the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, and its membership will increase from seven to nine. Seven members will still be appointed by the Governor, but their appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. The additional two public members will be appointed by the Senate Rules Committee and the Speaker of the Assembly. Four members of the Board must now have expertise in the areas of flood control, engineering, and either hydrology or geology.
The package of flood protection bills also includes AB 156 by Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), which directs the Department of Water Resources and the State Reclamation Board to perform a number of duties integral to the state flood protection plan under SB 5. Among those responsibilities: AB 156 requires the state to develop and maintain floodplain maps, inspect state project levees, and notify landowners if their property is determined to be at risk of flooding.
Another bill in the package, AB 70 by Assemblymember Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), provides a fair means of distributing responsibility for flood control damage among state and local entities. Specifically, the bill requires local governments to contribute their fair share to a flood’s price tag when—and only when—they make unreasonable development decisions. It will have a big impact on local governments willy nilly caving in to the pressures of developers and others to build in areas that should not be built in.
Immediately after being sworn in as a new AssemblymemberJones worked very hard on the predecessor to AB 70 in 1995 and 1996, only to see it fail in the final days of that year’s session. Despite his efforts to accommodate the objections of many to the bill throughout this three year process, it was heavily lobbied by the opposition and Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature was not certain until yesterday.
AB 70 was the last of these bills to pass and will lessen the state’s liability for what are usually local decisions on where to build. It will save the California state treasury big time in the event of a major catastrophe.
At the signing, Wolk said: “We worked diligently with the administration to produce this package, bringing environmentalists and builders together to stand behind these reforms. Everyone came to realize that the status quo was unacceptable. Business as usual wasn’t working—and delaying action was no longer an option. This package moves us forward.” She complimented the Governor, his Director of Water Resources, Lester Snow, as well as his Deputy Les Harder, and her fellow legislators.
Finally, AB 5 by Wolk prevented a train wreck in the parts of the package passed within hours and day of each other at the end of the session. It synchronized all of these bills so that they would not repeal provisions of other bills in the package and makes clarifying and technical changes to keep all in order.
All of these bills were authored by Democratic legislators. They were passed with few votes from Republican legislators, receiving a handful of Republican votes, sometimes only one in each house, and in the case of AB 70 by Jones, receiving not a single Republican vote in the Assembly.
The 30 out of 32 Republican Assemblymembers who voted against AB 5 were basically voting to doom the entire package because it was needed to make them work together. AB 5 passed without a vote to spare in the Senate, 21 to 15, and he same goes for the 14 Republican State Senators and Democrat Lou Correa from Orange County who voted against it.
Just think about a few facts when considering the magnitude of what has been accomplished. Sacramento’s risk is ranked first, ahead of all other metropolitan areas in the country for risk of flooding. There is about a one in four chance of a home within the 100 year floodplain being flooded within the term of a 30 year mortgage. There are 2600 miles of levees in the Central Valley–1600 miles of them state levees for which the state and California taxpayers are financially liable for any failures and flooding. In 2005, taxpayers paid half a billion dollars due to a levee failure in rural Northern California.
This is big and my hat is off to all involved. Call or hug the legislators who voted for these bills and the Governor for signing them. Celebrate their courage in doing what is right. Remember the others, but don’t let that spoil your day–It’s one to be proud of being a Californian involved in politics and good public policy.