A rare event worthy of notice played out in the Capitol on Wednesday night. Gov. Jerry Brown achieved bipartisan agreement on that most contentious of issues — water.
By votes of 37-0 in the Senate and 77-2 in the Assembly, the Legislature agreed to allow a statewide vote this Nov. 4 on a $7.5 billion bond intended to pay for numerous improvements to California's water system.
The deal reached before dawn on Wednesday and voted on later that night was the culmination of negotiations that began in 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor and lawmakers agreed to an $11.1 billion bond.
As Brown and many others saw it, that 2009 bond was bloated. It's not as if $7.5 billion is a pittance. It is a boatload of money. Slimmed down though it is, the new bond includes plenty of money to go around, just not as much as was in the 2009 version. It is in keeping with claims by the governor and Legislature that they are trying not to overspend as the economy recovers.
Among supporters are business and farm interests including the California Chamber of Commerce, Western Growers and California Farm Bureau, organized labor and environmentalist organizations such as Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nature Conservancy, a coalition that itself is rare.
Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, the lead author of the Senate version of the bill, SB 866, had insisted that the bond include no money that could be perceived as helping construct the massive twin tunnel project that Brown supports. Wolk succeeded, although the Sierra Club and some delta interests are not perfectly satisfied.
Brown had sought to keep the bond below $7 billion. Legislators proposed bonds of $10 billion and almost $9 billion. The final $7.5 billion bond includes $400 million unspent from past water bonds, so indebtedness incurred if voters approve the measure this November would be roughly $7.1 billion.
The bond would include $2.7 billion for new water storage, a bump up of $200 million from an earlier proposal. That money could be spent on dams and reservoirs, or on storage in aquifers.
Republicans had sought $3 billion, but settled on the lesser number, as did representatives of farm interests who view more storage as vital to their economic survival.
Democrats received an additional $150 million for their priorities as part of the final deal, including more money to restore coastal watersheds and beaches, to attract support from lawmakers who represent the Central Coast.
There will be money to restore urban rivers in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, and for water recycling, which is important to San Diego, and to clean polluted groundwater in the Los Angeles area.
The final deal did not include money for everything all lawmakers wanted. But it included enough. For one night, Republican and Democratic legislators agreed on a fundamental tenet, that California cannot progress without an updated water system. That is worthy of note.