Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown, speaking at the Association of California Water Agencies conference last week, made clear that in his fourth and final term, he intends to build twin tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. | Rich Pedroncelli/The Associated Press

Dan Morain

Dan Morain
Editorial page editor, political affairs columnist and editorial writer
May 9, 2015

Jerry Brown was sounding a little like an eccentric uncle-governor the other day as he muttered about Spaceship Earth, how he got the Moonbeam moniker, and, yes, the need to recycle human waste into water.

Wearing a sweater and no tie, the governor was at ease among the 1,000 or so Association of California Water Agencies conventioneers at the Sheraton last week as he gave one of his most direct pitches yet for his Delta plan. That’s the one that includes two 40-foot-wide, 35-mile-long tunnels, which will cost $17 billion, give or take.

Citing the research and engineering that has gone into the plan, the governor, his unscripted tongue in his cheek, sort of, said: “Until you put a million hours into it, shut up.” The comment elicited laughs and huzzahs from the audience, though his critics used the opportunity to issue huffy statements expressing their dismay.

Coming in a week when his appointees on the State Water Resources Control Board ordered deep cuts in residential water usage, Brown made clear that in his fourth and final term, he intends to get stuff done, specifically, the tunnel project. He believes it’s the only reliable way of moving water around the Delta to the farms and cities to the south.

“You have to build some things. We have got to get water to people,” Brown said.

It was no coincidence that a well-financed political group called Californians for Water Security unveiled a slick ad and lobbying campaign last week. Californians for Water Security includes organized labor, the building trades, business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce, and the state’s largest farming interests.

“We must act urgently to protect the water supply for California’s homes, farms and businesses, while restoring the environment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” the group said in a letter signed by representatives of nearly 50 unions, business groups and water agencies.

Its spokespeople won’t say how much is being spent in the first ad buy. “We’re certainly not done yet,” Democratic consultant Robin Swanson said. Assume the well is deep. They’ll need it.

Wealthy Stockton-area farmer Dean Cortopassi, who like Brown is a septuagenarian, and his wife, Joan, have spent $2 million to qualify an initiative for the 2016 ballot that would require a statewide vote on any state projects costing $2 billion or more that rely on revenue bonds. Read: Delta tunnels and high-speed rail.

“This measure puts the brakes on our state’s public debt crisis by giving the voters a say in all major state bond debt proposals that must be repaid through specific revenue streams or charges imposed directly on Californians like taxes, fees, rates, tolls or rents,” says the initiative, which was written by attorneys at the political law firm Nielsen Merksamer.

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