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CP&DR News Briefs, July 22, 2015: Brown Pushes Delta Water Tunnels; Army Corps Approves L.A. River Plan; New National Monument; and More

Matthew Hose on
Jul 20, 2015

The state Department of Water Resources sharpened plans for the construction of two 30-mile-long tunnels on the Sacramento River, releasing hundreds of pages of documents in its environmental impact statement detailing the project's changes from the original 2006 plan worth $15 billion. Among changes, the new details show that the plan will eliminate pumping plants on the east bank of the Sacramento River in favor of a gravity-fed system into the tunnels. The details also present a scaled-back version of the plan, with Gov. Jerry Brown only calling for 15,600 acres for habitat restoration of offset the effect of the tunnels -only one-sixth of the amount of the governor's original proposal - and dropping efforts to obtain a 50-year permit for the project, raising anxiety among water agencies that are expecting more reliability in their water deliveries. Opposition to the project arose following the release of the documents. Stockton-area farmer Dean Cortopassi is circulating an initiative that would force public work projects costing over $2 billion to receive voter approval before issuing revenue bonds, a potential hitch in Brown's plan to avoid a public vote by raising funds from water agencies in exchange for reliable water deliveries. Environmentalists and Delta residents still say that pushing huge volumes of fresh water into the tunnels would greatly decrease drinking water quality for the East Bay and northern San Joaquin Valley and continue to degrade fish habitats, even though the Brown administration is proposing to restore 30,000 acres of habitat in the Delta.

Army Corps Approves L.A. River Plan
The Civil Works Review Board of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unanimously approved a plan, over a decade in the making, to restore 719 acres of the Los Angeles River, marking a key victory in the long-anticipated plans to reestablish riparian strand, freshwater marsh, and aquatic habitat while maintaining flood risk management on the river. The Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration project proposes restoration measures in and along an 11-mile stretch of the river to reestablish scarce riparian strand, freshwater marsh, and aquatic habitat, while maintaining existing levels of flood risk management. The city and the Corps are expected to share the $1.3 billion cost, but financial commitments have yet to be worked out.  "The vote today validated that the recommended plan is technically feasible, environmentally acceptable, and economically justified," said Los Angeles District Commander Col. Kim Colloton. "Our partnership with the City of Los Angeles is as strong as it was in 1898 when we were working on the breakwater for the Port of Los Angeles, and it has been providing benefits and functioning well for over 80 years. It's now time to make room for the river." In order for the Corps and the City to begin construction, Congress now must authorize the project under the  Water Resources Development Act and appropriate funds for it.

Obama Designates Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
President Obama declared the Berryessa Snow Mountain a national monument in an effort to better coordinate management of the area and raise its visibility for additional tourism and economic growth. The 331,000-acre wild land area covering Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Solano and Yolo counties is home to bald eagles, tule elk, and rare plants found nowhere else on Earth. It hosts historic Indian cultural sites from tribes that have inhabited the area for at least 11,000 years. Berryessa had been under mixed jurisdiction, with the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service governing various tracts. Officials believe that the new designation will better coordinate management of the area, possibly generating as much as $26 million in economic activity over five years under the joint management of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. "After years of tireless work by countless numbers of people, the Berryessa Snow Mountain region is finally getting the permanent protection it deserves," U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and the driving force behind the designation, said in a press release. "This national monument designation will provide a boost to our local economy, enhance recreational opportunities for tens of thousands of people, and protect important wildlife."

Judge Rules in Favor of Four Rural Water Districts
Potentially hindering the state's efforts to enforce curtailments of 1.2 million acre-feet of water diversion for senior rights holders in the Central Valley, a state judge ruled that the State Water Resources Control Board cannot impose broad curtailments of water usage to four Central Valley irrigation districts without giving each one an individual chance to defend itself. Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled that the SWRCB cannot issue mass notices that property owners holding senior riparian rights must stop diverting water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys "without any sort of pre-deprivation hearing." Experts told the Sacramento Bee that the ruling could affect the authority from an executive order intended to streamline the curtailment process quickly in the fourth year of drought. "The court is sending the state board a message that the water users have been trying to send for a few months," Jennifer Spaletta, a lawyer for the Central Delta Agency, told the Sacramento Bee. "Water rights are complicated. They cannot send out these broad orders." The curtailments marked the first time since 1977 that the state has affected senior rights, and the state had curtailed the rights to more than 1.2 million acre-feet of water leading up to the ruling.

Orange County Streetcar Moves Forward
The Orange County Transportation Authority agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the city of Santa Ana for the $250 million OC Streetcar Project, outlining the roles and responsibilities, development, operations, and maintenance of the project. Under the new agreement, the OCTA is responsible for the design, construction, and operations, along with securing the funding, while the OCTA and the city of Santa Ana must both develop and participate in a public outreach program for the project. With construction expected to begin in 2017 and operations beginning in 2019, the route will stop at 12 stations from the Santa Ana train station, through downtown Santa Ana, and connecting to a new multimodal transit hub at Harbor Boulevard and Westminster Avenue in Garden Grove.

L.A. County May Ban Utility-Scale Wind Turbines
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took preliminary steps to ban utility-scale wind turbines in the county's unincorporated areas, voting unanimously on a draft Renewable Energy Ordinance that would update the county's permitting and regulations on those projects along with small-scale wind and solar projects. After hearing complaints from residents of Antelope Valley that the large wind projects - originally planned to have a height limit of 500 feet- created fugitive dust and contributed to health concerns like valley fever, Supervisor Michael Antonovich proposed the ban in favor of regulations that would incentivize construction of small-scale projects mounted on roofs by streamlining the permitting process for those smaller projects. The county's Department of Regional Planning staff had recommended that the large wind farms, which typically generate electricity for off-site use and are contracted through a power-purchase agreement with a utility, be allowed but regulated.

Oakland Considers Proposal to Keep Raiders
Oakland City council members met in a closed session to discuss a proposal by San Diego developer Floyd Kephart in which Oakland and Alameda Counties would finance $100-140 million in infrastructure improvements before submitting plans to finance the $1 billion Oakland Raiders "Coliseum City" project he is heading. While activists rallied to decry the project, saying that Kephart should guarantee local jobs, affordable housing, and public services, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan defended Kephart's request to be freed from obligations to improve infrastructure. "Even if all the sports teams and Floyd Kephart disappear, we should still develop that site," Kaplan told the San Francisco Chronicle. She added that transit-oriented development - such as a massive sports complex, convention center, or shopping mall near the Coliseum BART station - will create jobs, boost the economy and encourage people to use public transportation.

Judge to Deliberate on Sacramento Arena Following Final Arguments
A lawsuit over a public subsidy given to fund a new downtown stadium for the Sacramento Kings will go to a judge following final arguments in which plaintiffs argued that the city committed fraud by hiding the full value of its investment. Specifically, they argued that rights to 3,700 parking spaces at the former Downtown Plaza and entitlements to build six digital signboards near freeways amounts to a secret subsidy given by the city without any public disclosure. Attorneys for the city said that the plaintiffs were tossing unproven theories in hopes that one would stick. "They failed to really produce any evidence that there was a collusion or conspiracy among city staff, city officials, the city council to defraud the public," Assistant City Attorney Matt Ruyak said at the hearing, according to Capitol Public Radio.

Expedited Review Environmental Approved for Potential S.D. Football Stadium
The San Diego City Council voted, 6-3, to approve a $2.1 million expedited environmental review for a new Chargers stadium, hoping to convince the NFL to force the non-complicit Chargers -- currently pursuing a joint venture in Carson with the Oakland Raiders -- back to the bargaining table, . Officials hope that the vote will show the NFL that San Diego is serious about building a new stadium in the wake of a looming visit of NFL executives to San Diego in July and a meeting of NFL owners in Chicago on August 10, along with Mayor Kevin Faulconer's hopes to put a stadium proposal on the ballot in December or January. The proposal would build a new stadium at the Chargers' existing site at Qualcomm Stadium, though the Chargers were in favor of a downtown site. The council members in opposition called the spending an improper use of taxpayer money. "Without a financing plan for this project, we are simply not being serious," as Councilman David Alvarez said at the meeting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

U.S., Mexico Move Towards Tijuana River Agreement
The U.S. and Mexico are preparing to sign a binding formal agreement to regulate pollution that has plagued the Tijuana River watershed on both sides of the border. The agreement, known as a "minute" and expected to be completed before the end of the summer, would set up a bilateral framework composed of government agencies and the nonprofit sector to address the watershed's three major issues: sediment control, solid waste management, and water quality. The Tijuana River Watershed covers 1,735 miles of Baja California and San Diego County, and pollution from discarded tires in Tijuana, sediment erosion from Mexican canyons, and other pollution have affected water quality on both sides of the border for the past three decades.

Judge Throws Up Roadblock for Uber Ride-Hailing Service
A California judge dealt a blow to ride-hailing service Uber, recommending that the Silicon Valley-based company be fined $7.3 million and be suspended from operating in California for evading a 2013 state law designed to ensure that drivers are doling out rides fairly to all passengers. In the ruling, Karen V. Clopton, chief administrative law judge of the California Public Utilities Commission, said that Uber's annual report concerning data about rides provided through the app did not include hard numbers on customers who requested cars to accommodate service animals or wheelchairs, or raw numbers on requests tabulated by ZIP Codes.  While a $7.3 million fine would be just a drop in the bucket for the company backed by $5.9 billion in venture capital, the suspension of Uber's services in its own backyard would be a major symbolic blow as it faces litigation in other cities in the U.S. along with countries throughout Europe.  "It's not a market they would want to jeopardize their existence in over not handing over some spreadsheets," Juan Matute, the associate director of the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, told the LA Times.