By Dan Walters | Jan. 29, 2018 | Commentary
During his second governorship, Jerry Brown has frequently touted big public-works projects as the mark of a great society—a marked change from his first stint four decades ago, when “small is beautiful” and “lower your expectations” were his oft-voiced themes.
He did it again last week, effusively plugging two major public works, twin water tunnels and a high-speed rail network, during his final State of the State address.
One might conclude that Brown 2.0 has been channeling his father, Pat Brown, who as governor in the 1960s was also a big booster of public works, including highways, universities and, most of all, a massive water project.
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As he nears the end of his gubernatorial career, however, he must contend with the near-failure of the centerpiece of his father’s cherished water system, Oroville Dam, and the conclusions of an expert panel that it was poorly designed, poorly constructed and poorly maintained.
Hundreds of millions of dollars that otherwise might have been spent on improving the system now must be spent to repair Oroville’s collapsed spillways.
Moreover, the two big projects that Jerry Brown has pushed are foundering.
With the exception of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, other major beneficiaries of the tunnels, which would supposedly improve reliability of the system, are shying away from committing to many billions of dollars in cost.
The defection has become so serious that Brown’s Department of Water Resources is now contemplating reduction to a single tunnel, hoping that its less expensive cost would bring the straying sponsors back.
However, even that strategy is fraught with political and financial peril, and it’s not at all certain that anything will happen before Brown departs a year hence.
The bullet train is also running into trouble.
Construction has begun on 119 miles of track in the San Joaquin Valley, from Madera to near Bakersfield, that originally was supposed to cost $6 billion, financed from a federal grant and state bonds.
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