July 20, 2006 - From the July, 2006 issue

Proposition 84 Parks & Water Bond Measure Joins the November Ballot

Many Californians might think that the governor's $37 billion bond package provides more than enough money for California's infrastructure, but it intentionally left out a crucial component: parks and water. Placed on the November ballot by a signature-gathering campaign, Prop 84 was approved before the infrastructure package was finalized, and it offers voters the chance to invest $5.4 billion in water supply, water quality, parks, and open space. Infrastructure expert and former Assembly member Richard Katz has served as a consultant to the Prop 84 effort, and MIR was pleased to speak with him about what Prop 84 can do for California.

Richard Katz

The governor and Legislature have placed on the November state ballot a package of four infrastructure bonds (plus a provision to protect Prop 42 funds). A fifth bond-to fund clean water and park projects -is also on the ballot as a result of a signature gathering campaign. How does Prop 84, a $5.4 billion bond, complement and differ from the other infrastructure bonds on the ballot?

It actually rounds out the package. When the Department of Water Resources put together its list of projects and the Legislature put the bond on the ballot, it did not fund everything on that list, and Prop 84 helps close that gap. Prop 84 is a water quality, water protection, and levee repair bond that is much broader than the bond dealing with just levees, and, in fact, it complements it nicely. We think that the fact that this addresses coastal water, clean beaches, storm water cleanup, urban infill incentives, parks, etc., balances and greens the entire infrastructure package.

Prop 84 didn't get on the ballot by action of the Legislature and governor. How did it get there?

Prop 84 started as legislation, and when the Legislature failed last year to agree on a bond package, The Nature Conservancy and other organizations collected signatures to put it on the ballot. The bond contains a combination of the legislative efforts, discussions with the governor's office, the legislative leadership, environmental organizations up and down the state, and the Association of California Water Agencies, which convened an infrastructure task force that MWD and others sat on.

That task force made recommendations as far as categories and funding, all of which made its way into this bond. So signatures were collected, and by the time the Legislature finally but the bond package together, this had already qualified for the ballot, so the Legislature decided to fund levees but not duplicate Prop 84.

The Conservation Strategy Group has helped put this, and other similar efforts, together. Can you give us some insight into their talents and role?

Joe Caves and Leslie Freeman-Johnson are partners in Conservation Strategy Group, which is a Sacramento lobbying and environmental advocacy firm, and they have a long history of supporting and advocating environmental issues-coastal protection, clean water-and of putting together bonds that contain things that didn't go through the legislative process but rather came about through grassroots efforts. And they've been very successful over the last ten or so years.

Several months ago in MIR's sister publication, The Planning Report, Rachel Dinno and Larry Kaplan of the Trust for Public Land described the enormous need in the state for money to simply maintain existing parks. How will this bond address maintenance, versus the creation of new wilderness and urban parks?

Prop 84 includes $400 million for state parks, $400 million for local parks, and a lot of that money will be used to supplement what's needed in parks from a maintenance standpoint and bring everything up to date. It's been a long time since the state parks system has had an infusion of cash. Governor Davis increased funding for parks and reduced fees, but when the state ran out of money, parks were among the hardest hit, and we have a huge backlog of need up and down the state.

What other line items does the bond include?

For Los Angeles, it includes $72 million for restoration of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, for which extensive local planning processes are already underway. There is $45 million for Santa Monica Bay watersheds, which includes the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, San Gabriel Mountains and Lower Los Angeles River conservancies. It includes $215 for the L.A. integrated regional water management.

This is the first bond that specifically identifies money watershed by watershed throughout California, so every part of the state is guaranteed a minimum amount of funding through this bond. On top of the dollars that I mentioned, there are hundreds of millions of dollars for which L.A. will be eligible to compete for in a grant process, most of which will come through the DWR and some through the State Water Resources Control Board.

In addition, about $100 million is dedicated to museums, aquariums and other nature-education centers. In L.A. eligible recipients include the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Children's Museum, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, the L.A. Conservation Corps.

The voters passed a $2.6 billion state parks bond in 2002. Why another parks bond four years later?

A good hunk of the money in the state parks bond and water bonds like Prop 50, Prop 13, and Prop 12 have already been expended. Some of the programs that the State Water Board manages having to do with coastal protection and beach cleanups will run out of money later this year. There is a huge unmet need, and without a new infusion of money, many of those programs, which have been very successful, will stop functioning.


There's a common perception over the last half-decade that bond money is free. But it isn't, so how does this translate to a cost to the citizens of California?

This bond does not raise taxes; it is paid for out of the general fund. And even if this bond and the other $40 billion in the governor's infrastructure all pass, our bonded indebtedness is still less than 6 percent of the general fund, which is considered the prudent level.

Not all of these bonds are doing equally well in early polling. Give us your sense of how this package will move through the process to the November election.

I think right now the water bond polls in the upper-60s; most of the governor's bond package polls in the mid-50s or higher. I think, as we get closer to November, when the governor and the Republican and Democratic leadership campaign around the state and put forward an image of bipartisan commitment to the future, it will help the bonds.

But there are so many variables. With the Middle East on the verge of exploding, people being concerned about the economy, with the war in Iraq bogged down; there is great potential for people to become skittish about spending money. We have an obligation to make the case to the public that investments like this will pay off over the next 20-30 years for them, their kids, and their grandkids- whether it is the improved transportation systems from the transportation bond, levee protection from the levee bond, or water quality improvements from Prop 84.

The levee bond polls well and is part of the package, but some voters are anxious about the levee repair bond because it vague about how money will be spent and instead asks for a "leap of faith." First of all, fixing the levees isn't a long-term solution to securing the flow of water from north to south, but what about this leap of faith?

It is asking voters to take a leap of faith, because voters don't have a lot of faith in government at this point. I think as part of the bond campaign, people need to know exactly where this money is going to be spend, and DWR needs to explain to people-particularly people in Southern California who say, "there are no levees around here; why should we care?"-that if the levee system in the Delta collapses, that impacts on the drinking water for everybody south of San Francisco.

We have a short-term and a long-term objective. In the short term, we need to shore up those levees. In the long term, we need a better solution for the Delta. All of the State Water Project water comes through the Delta. Los Angeles is taking an increasing share of water through MWD, which gets much its water through the Delta. So we all depend on that fragile ecosystem the Bay-Delta. The money in these bonds that protects those levees is very important. But we need to look at alternatives for dealing with fresh water movement from Northern to Southern California.

The one thing I was disappointed in, and I hope the Legislature addresses this in August, was that if we're going to pay for levee repair, local government in that area needs to take responsibility so that they're not siting housing projects too close to those levees. Or the homeowners in those areas need to get flood insurance so that the taxpayer isn't always on the hook.

The L.A. Chamber recently endorsed Prop 84, as did Metropolitan Water District, and the League of Women Voters.

You're also working on the city of L.A.'s affordable housing bond, which the mayor is promoting. That requires a two-thirds vote – what are the challenges and benefits?

The challenge is explaining to voters that a small increase in property tax, which the chief legislative analyst has estimated at $14 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, can be used to help first-time homebuyers, to get some homeless off the street, and to maintain apartments and build new apartments in Los Angeles. One of the biggest complaints I hear in Los Angeles-and I know MIR hears it all the time-is that businesses would love to locate here, but one of the big drawbacks is the inability of their employees to afford housing. It's one of the reasons why the 91 Freeway and the I-10 are so jammed -people who work in L.A. can't afford to live there.

This bond allocates $1 billion over ten years, and it's designed to try to help people get back into the market. It will work with the nonprofit community to create housing that is affordable for L.A.'s workforce. $250 million will be targeted for first-time homebuyer assistance. It's also designed to help stabilize the rental market; we believe that if we can help create more housing stock we can slow down the conversion of rental units to condominiums. A lot of this is just creating the opportunities for people to build and encourage the kind of infill we need so people aren't driving 100 miles to go to work. A unique coalition is forming to promote this bond, and it includes the nonprofit community, the activist community, like One L.A., as well as the development community. They all believe it's an important investment in the future of Los Angeles.



© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.