March 29, 2016

California Majority Report: Reality Check: “Dam Rail Initiative” Has Been Derailed

Proponents of the ballot measure that would rewrite the state’s water laws under the guise of an attack on high speed rail are in a dark, un-spinnable place. Sadly, that has not stopped them from trying to alter political reality.

Witness their memo to reporters yesterday saying they are “on track for the ballot” when, in fact, their measure has been derailed. The memo can only be seen as an effort to mollify donors who have seen their contributions wasted on an ineffective, poorly-managed effort.

    • Here are the facts: Backers of the measure, a handful of San Joaquin Valley agricultural interests, have raised less than $500,000, including less than $200,000 in the past month. This is far short of the $2 million that they told the Los Angeles Times in mid-February they would have on hand to qualify the initiative for the 2016 ballot.
    • If we take them at their word of having 300,000 signatures on hand, that’s about one-third of the 585,407 necessary signatures they will need to qualify the measure – not half of what they need.
    • They claim they “reserve the right” to qualify for the 2016 election and say they may do so with volunteer efforts by April 26, 2016. However, no ballot measure has qualified with volunteer efforts since 1988. “California Water 4 All” is not a membership organization and has no organized statewide support to sustain a volunteer signature gathering effort.
    • The campaign’s signature gathering firm, Arno Petition Consultants, has a record of failing to qualify ballot measures (think the well-funded “Six Californias and a hospital funding measure). The company had more than three months to gather the signatures for this measure. It fell far short.
    • The ballot measure has until July 25, 2016 to qualify for the 2018 ballot. Again, the climb is steep. Skyrocketing costs for signatures, combined with empty campaign coffers and no statewide organizing presence, makes a last-ditch effort for signatures highly unlikely.
    • Oddly, the campaign has failed to file any reports with the Secretary of State for its 2016 expenditures (including signature gathering, social media, PR, organizing, and consulting).

The truth: this water grab measure is circling the drain. It is yet another example of a special interest manipulation of the California initiative system that failed.

March 25, 2016

The Sacramento Bee: Proponents put brakes on California proposal to divert high-speed rail money

Proponents of a proposed initiative to divert high-speed rail funding to water projects said Friday that they are pulling their petitions from the street and instead will pursue a place on the 2018 ballot.

The campaign, led by Republican Bob Huff, the former Senate minority leader, and GOP Board of Equalization member George Runner, budgeted for $2.65 a signature, spokesman Hector Barajas said.

This week, amid soaring signature-gathering costs, the price rocketed to about $5 a signature. Rather than pay the spiraling rate, proponents are pulling back and targeting 2018, a non-presidential year where fewer Democratic voters, and presumably less supporters of high-speed rail, turn out to the polls.

“With 300,000 collected signatures we are continuing our qualification efforts, but in a swollen field of potential 2016 ballot initiatives that are daily bidding up the cost of signature acquisition to astronomical levels, the committee is looking at its option of qualifying the measure for the 2018 cycle,” Aubrey Bettencourt, the committee chair, said in a statement. “If we have all the signatures ready by the April 26 deadline for the 2016 ballot, we will submit.”

Proponents have raised about $484,000 through mid-week, state filings show.

A poll this week found support for rail at just above 50 percent among adults (similar to findings since the question was first asked in March 2012). Among people most likely to vote this year, it registered 44 percent support, the Public Policy Institute of California found.

The proposal seeks to redirect about $8 billion in bond money from the state’s high-speed rail project, estimated to cost $64 billion, to build water storage.

Critics, including farmers, fishermen and conservationists, said the decision to wait two years reflects a lack of support for the proposal.

“The proponents underestimated the ability of California voters to see through their poorly-crafted measure to rewrite California’s water laws to benefit a few special interest users,” said Tim Johnson, an opponent. “Nobody was fooled that this initiative is a Trojan Horse that has nothing to do with high speed rail and everything to do with a massive water grab that poses risk to agriculture, water users, and the environment.”

March 25, 2016

“Dam Train” Ballot Measure Derailed – For Now

Opponents of a ballot measure to rewrite the state’s water laws today celebrated the failure of the initiative’s backers to qualify for the 2016 ballot, and vowed to continue battling an effort to put the initiative before voters in 2018.

Tim Johnson, chairman of Stop the Special Interest Water Grab, the coalition of farmers, fishermen, conservationists and water users opposing the measure, says the decision reflects a lack of support for the proposal among Californians.

“The proponents underestimated the ability of California voters to see through their poorly-crafted measure to rewrite California’s water laws to benefit a few special interest users,” said Johnson. “Nobody was fooled that this initiative is a Trojan Horse that has nothing to do with high speed rail and everything to do with a massive water grab that poses risk to agriculture, water users, and the environment.”

Proponents have 180 days from the date they received the title and summary from the Attorney General to submit the required petitions to the state. That date is July 25, 2016.

“We will continue to be vigilant to ensure that this measure does not appear before California voters, whether it’s 2016 or 2018,” notes David Guy of the Northern California Water Association. “Voters should continue not to sign these petitions.”

March 24, 2016

The Sacramento Bee: High-speed rail support hovers above majority, but possible detours loom

There’s been little positive buzz of late about California’s high-speed rail system.

Gov. Jerry Brown, among its biggest boosters, seldom brings up the ambitious and expensive infrastructure project. And the first declared candidate running to succeed Brown in 2018, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, said two years ago he favors redirecting voter-approved rail money toward other, more pressing undertakings.

Still, the train lurches ahead, with momentum from a recent court victory in which a Sacramento judge rejected claims that plans for the system violate state law.

Now, a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows support for rail hovering just above 50 percent among adults (similar to findings since the question was first asked in March 2012). It’s not as popular among those most likely to vote this year, registering at 44 percent support.

Then the poll measured how the project, now estimated to cost $64 billion, would fare if it were less expensive. Support swelled to 66 percent with adults and 59 percent with likely voters. A third of adults and a quarter of likely voters said rail is very important to the future quality of life and economic vitality of California.

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March 10, 2016

California Majority Report: Farmers, Lawmakers, Conservationists, Fishermen Launch Effort to Derail “Dam Train” Initiative

Calling it a “Trojan horse” that will imperil billions of dollars in projects designed to ease the impact of the drought, a broad coalition of farmers, fishermen, water organizations, conservationists and lawmakers from throughout California today launched an effort to derail a ballot measure that may appear on the November ballot that calls from shifting funds from the state’s high speed rail project to water projects.

State Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) and Assemblymember James Gallagher (R-Plumas Lake) were joined by Tim Johnson of the California Rice Industry Association, David Guy of the Northern California Water Association, Jay Ziegler of The Nature Conservancy, Nicole VanVleck of Montna Farms, and Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League of Fresno in announcing the “Stop the Special Interest Water Grab” campaign to keep the measure off the ballot.

“If this Trojan horse gets onto the ballot and wins, it will derail everything we’ve worked for with the water bond, threatening billions of dollars of projects essential to address the drought,” says Guy. “It blows up the plan that two-thirds of Californians supported to build new water supplies and improve water efficiency for everyone’s benefit.”

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March 10, 2016

San Jose Mercury News: Kill high-speed rail and spend the money on reservoirs? Proposed California ballot measure sparks debate

Supporters of a proposed ballot initiative to kill California’s high-speed rail project and use the money to build new reservoirs are racing to gather enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

But the campaign, which is being bankrolled by San Joaquin Valley farmers, is already drawing fire from fellow farmers and environmentalists, who call it a “Trojan horse.”

Backers say the proposal is a common-sense idea, given the state’s drought and growing water needs for farms and cities. They say it will cut through red tape and finally halt the highly controversial bullet train project to focus on higher-priority, long-stalled water projects. Those include Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River near Sequoia-Kings National Park and raising the height of Shasta Dam near Redding and San Luis Dam near Los Banos.

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March 10, 2016

Capital Public Radio: Proposed California Ballot Initiative Would Divert High Speed Rail and Water Bond Money

A proposed California ballot initiative would reallocate more than $10 billion from the High Speed Rail project and the 2014 water bond to instead fund water storage projects.

But opponents say it could do much more than that. Some Republican lawmakers who have long fought for water storage projects, environmentalists, and some farmers say the measure is an attempt to misguide voters.

“It is a classic case where people really have to understand, this is not about High Speed Rail,” says Jay Ziegler with the Nature Conservancy. “It’s about fundamentally reordering water law and water rights in California.”

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March 9, 2016

Water Deeply: Groups Move to Oppose Rail-Water Proposition

A proposed November ballot measure that would shift high-speed rail funding to water storage projects has attracted opposition from several Northern California water interests. They’ve formed a campaign committee in the hope of defeating the proposition

A formal opposition group has emerged to fight a proposed ballot measure that would take money from California’s high-speed rail project and shift it to water storage projects.

Called Stop the Special Interest Water Grab, supporters of the new opposition committee include the California Rice Commission and the Northern California Water Association. They oppose the ballot measure because it includes several little-noticed provisions that would amend the state constitution to change several established provisions of water law.

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March 1, 2016

The Porterville Recorder Editorial: Study new water initiative closely


The proposed ballot initiative being pushed by the California Water Alliance has some merit, but it also raises some serious questions.

On its surface, taking money from the High Speed Rail project, which is increasingly losing support, and putting that money into more water projects, sounds like a good idea. But, forming a new state agency to oversee water issues sounds like creating an entirely new bureaucracy that could only end up costing taxpayers.

The Alliance is collecting signatures now in hopes of getting the measure on the November general election ballot. While it seems to have support, some farm groups have come out against it, warning it would divert $2.7 billion in water-storage money which was approved by voters when they approved Proposition 1. They say that action would further delay projects such as Sites Dam near Sacramento and Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River above Fresno.

There is probably a lot of support for diverting money from the High Speed Rail project which seems to be having trouble getting out of the station. That project is already expected to cost a lot more than promised, not run as fast as promised and fares appear will be much higher than promised. Little has been done since voters approved the $9.9 billion ballot measure in 2008 and it will be years before any trains are moving, if at all. Lawsuits have been filed to block it, support by lawmakers is cooling and no federal or private funds are expected.

However, the supporters of the water bill will need to convince ag groups that the bill will not upset what progress has been made to develop more water storage in the state. And, they will have to convince voters it will not divert money from Prop. 1 to unintended projects.

We expect the measure to pass simply because of the growing unhappiness with the High Speed Rail project, but voters will have to study the new initiative to ensure it does more good than harm.

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February 22, 2016

Water Deeply: Farmers Come Out Against Rail-Water Initiative

FRESNO BEE: Opposition is mounting against a ballot initiative to move funding from high-speed rail toward water projects. Those opposing the initiative believe it would harm efforts to build new dams through money to be allocated from Proposition 1, passed in 2014

A group of central San Joaquin Valley agriculture, government and Latino leaders is raising an alarm about a proposed ballot initiative to take money away from high-speed rail and use it instead for water-storage projects in California.

Their opposition to the initiative – which is now being circulated for signatures to qualify for the November ballot – is rooted not in support for the controversial bullet-train project, but because the measure would also divert $2.7 billion in water-storage money from Proposition 1, a water bond act approved by more than two-thirds of California voters in 2014.

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