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Sacramento Report: How Jerry Brown Helped Get the Tunnels Deal Across the Finish Line

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a San Diego employer forum. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Before some members of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted this week to spend $11 billion on a new water project [1], several of them got a call from Gov. Jerry Brown urging them to support the project.

For decades, Brown has been working to improve the north-south water delivery system created by his late father, Gov. Pat Brown. His solution is a pair of underground tunnels to help move water.

Brett Barbre, a Metropolitan board member from Orange County who whipped votes in favor of the project, said it had support from about 52 percent of the board going into the weekend. That was enough to pass, but barely.

“What we were lacking was cushion and the elusive 60 percent,” he said in an email.

The governor made calls before Tuesday’s vote and helped get that number up to 61 percent.

But Brown didn’t persuade the city of Los Angeles and the San Diego County Water Authority, which both opposed the project. He doesn’t even seemed to have tried to win over San Diego, which has been skeptical of the project for years [2].

Now, though, water officials from San Diego and Los Angeles are thinking about teaming up to try to stop the tunnels project, or at least scale back Metropolitan’s participation in it. This is an unusual and potently potent alliance between California’s two largest cities. For years, the two have not seen eye to eye on many water issues.

On Thursday, Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton said Los Angeles is “very unhappy” with the Metropolitan decision.

“Now, we’re sitting here, what do we want to do about that?” she told members of the Water Authority’s board.

It was unclear what approach they might take, though is seems likely to be some combination of legal and political opposition.

The Water Authority also sent material to San Diego lawmakers this week arguing that the tunnels could cost local water customers over $20 more a month under some scenarios. Metropolitan, which says costs will be no more than $5 a month, disputes those figures.

— Ry Rivard

Faulconer Hits Sacramento to Talk Housing

The Big 11 is not the nickname of USC’s starting defense but a group of California mayors of the state’s largest cities – a group that includes San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Faulconer was in Sacramento this week as the Big 11 tried to drum up support for AB 3171, a bill that would devote $1.5 billion in matching funds to cities [3] to help address homelessness. The bill is a bipartisan effort – it’s written by Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting and co-authors include three members of the San Diego delegation, Assemblymen Todd Gloria and Brian Maienschein and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.

Last month, the mayor’s office told KPBS that Faulconer is open [4] to the most high-profile housing bill of the session, SB 827, which would limit local control over certain developments near public transit.

“We have been in contact with Senator Wiener’s office to share our ideas, and we look forward to working with him on SB 827 as it moves through the legislative process,” a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said at the time.

I asked the mayor’s office this week whether Faulconer would be meeting with Weiner on the trip and whether he supports any other housing-related bills in the Legislature. Spokesman Greg Block said the trip was focused only on AB 3171.

Meanwhile, Liam Dillon writes that though SB 827 has been making all the headlines, another bill by Weiner could also have a big impact on the housing crisis [5].

Weber Takes Another Shot at Reforming School Funding

San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber unveiled a bill this week to reform the way the state funds schools.

Weber’s bill, AB 2635 [6], seeks to secure additional funding for black students through the Local Control Funding Formula.

In 2013, the state started to give more money to school districts – particularly those with higher numbers of impoverished students, English-learners and homeless and foster youth – to help close California’s achievement gap. It also gave local districts more flexibility on how to spend the money.

But Weber and other proponents of the bill say the formula has a glitch. Many black students, even those who are not considered low-income, still struggle in school, and they remain the lowest-performing group.

Weber’s bill would require the state to identify the lowest-performing student group annually based on state test scores so that, for example, black students who are underperforming but are not low-income will still get more resources. The bill would also require that school districts give greater attention to those students identified in their Local Control Accountability Plans – which lay out how schools will use the funding to meet their goals.

Right now the lowest performing subgroup is black students, but in any given year it could change and the additional funds and attention would be shifted to whichever group of students was struggling most statewide.

This isn’t Weber’s first attempt to fix issues with the school funding formula. Last year, she introduced a bill that would increase transparency in how schools were spending the money. Under the current system, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether money that’s intended to boost vulnerable students is actually being used to help those students. We found that’s true in San Diego [7], and CALmatters found it to be true across the state [8]. That bill died [9].

Maya Srikrishnan

California’s Intense Police Protections

CALmatters breaks down the ways in which California protects police officers from public scrutiny [10] more than other, less progressive states.

One piece of this story that caught my eye: San Diego’s Brian Marvel, who’s head of Peace Officers Research Association of California, had an interesting admonishment of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to limit when police can legally use deadly force [11]:

“It would be a colossal hindrance to law enforcement in this state,” said Marvel. “It would take away our ability to react efficiently and effectively. Officers will be thinking, ‘Should I really be doing this? Should I run away?’”

Marvel’s assessment – that the bill might force officers to stop and consider their actions, or possibly retreat – could just as easily be used by proponents of the measure as an argument in its favor.

Immigration Policy Tensions Still High

The clash over California’s immigration policies isn’t quieting down anytime soon.

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown reluctantly acquiesced to President Donald Trump’s request for National Guard troops to guard the U.S.-Mexico border.

He included a caveat in his letter [12] to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Defense Secretary James Mattis: “But let’s be crystal clear on the scope of this mission. This will not be a mission to build a new wall. It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

State Sen. Ben Hueso, who represents the border, also used Brown’s move as an opportunity to chastise the president: “Although Trump is positing this move as a critical security measure to combat a spike in illegal border crossings, the fact of the matter is that border crossings are lower today than they have been for the past four-plus decades,” he said in a statement. “As Governor Brown said, ‘there is no massive wave of migrants pouring into California.’”

The issue Brown raised of National Guard troops conducting immigration enforcement is also at play in the ongoing tensions over the Trump administration’s lawsuit against California for state laws limiting police cooperation with federal immigration officers.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will meet in closed session next week to decide whether to join the lawsuit on Trump’s side. Sen. Joel Anderson, who represents eastern San Diego County, urged County Supervisor Dianne Jacob in a letter [13] to join the suit challenging three state laws.

“We must not return dangerous criminals who would otherwise be deported back to our streets to victimize citizens and non-citizens alike,” he wrote.

Golden State News