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Prop. 84 addresses water quality

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Aired 4/19/09

Proposition 84 on the California ballot asks voters to allow the state to borrow money to fund a variety of water quality and conservation projects. The measure has been endorsed by state agencies and environmental organizations. But some anti-tax groups say the proposition is too expensive. KPBS Reporter Ed Joyce has more.

Proposition 84 provides $5.4 billion dollars to maintain clean, safe drinking water. The formal title is the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006. If the title seems endless, so is the list of projects the bond measure would pay for. There’s money for coastal restoration, forest and wildlife conservation, for state parks and money for urban projects that reduce energy consumption and conserve water. However, former state legislator Bill Leonard says it won’t add water to state supplies: Leonard: “Part of the ballot title is water supply and other than some projects to clean up dirty water there’s really no new supply: there’s no dams, there’s no reservoirs, there’s no water conveyances to move water, it’s not a water supply bond and I fear that’s misleading the voters unless they read through every item of the package.”

The Secretary of State’s office says the measure would cost the state about $10-billion to repay the bonds over 30-years. They also say other costs include reduced local property tax revenues and unknown state and local operations maintenance costs.

Leonard says Prop. 84 is just one of many multi-billion-dollar bond measures on the ballot.

Leonard: “I have several beefs with Proposition 84, one is whether it fits into all the other bonds on the ballot, whether California can afford all of them and I – my answer is I don’t think we can, so we’re going to have to choose.”

Adrian Moore is with The Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank promoting public/private partnerships. Moore says the bond allows state bureaucrats to spend billions of dollars with little accountability.

Moore: “It’s also fairly well pork-laden – there’s a lot of ancillary projects that get these funds and it’s not the urgent needs that we all know is the levies that are really threatening the water system and the land that they protect.” 

San Diego County Water Authority spokesman Bill Jacoby says nearly half of the money goes to programs that would benefit the environment and water quality.

Jacoby: " I think as a voter you have to look at this as an investment in our water resources and our water quality in California and decide if this is the right way to invest that money.”

Millions of dollars would also go to several state agencies. The agencies would provide money to communities in the form of loans and grants. Projects related to protection and improvement of water quality, water treatment and habitat restoration would have the best shot at getting a piece of the fund pie. San Diego County’s slice is $91-million. The money would be available as grants given out on a competitive basis.

Aceti: "So we’re at San Elijo Lagoon in Cardiff."

Steve Aceti is with the California Coastal Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for improved water quality and coastal restoration.

Aceti: “There’s a $135-million in the bond measure for the state coastal conservancy and that’s the agency that’s responsible for maintaining and restoring the wetlands in our region.”

Aceti says the measure provides $27-million for the protection of San Diego Bay and money for watershed protection, including Lake Hodges. San Diegans are used to beach closures and warnings due to runoff from storm drains. Aceti says money in Prop.84 would fund projects to reduce the pollution that contaminates coastal waters.

Aceti: “And this beach here, like a lot of the beaches in Solana Beach and Encinitas, is in pretty bad shape because of the way the sediment’s been blocked by the railroad tracks and Highway 101, so bond money could be used to help restore the beach here or other beaches in San Diego County.”

The measure also provides $275-million for projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area to bolster levies and improve water quality. Nearly half of San Diego’s water comes from the Delta. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, numerous civic groups, elected officials and environmental organizations back Prop. 84.  Datamar, an El Cajon-based survey firm, says its recent poll shows the measure has a 10-point lead among likely voters. The initiative needs 50-percent to pass. Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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