GOV. Jerry Brown likes to quote the Bible.In his state of the state speech Thursday, he cautioned spend-happy legislators citing the Egyptian Pharaoh’s nightmare of over-fed cows being devoured by the starving cows. The Book of Genesis story demonstrates how quickly famine can follow plenty.
When I heard that, I immediately thought of a New Testament principle, one that says old things become new with faith. It’s a metaphor for Jerry Brown, himself approaching the end of his political career yet a man possessed with leaving a legacy.
But it is also about the projects as much as the man. He’s pushing two old ideas to cleanse the air of emissions and boost the Golden State’s economy.
First and foremost, the new/old Brown wants the state water agencies (the ratepayers, that’s us) and the taxpayers (that’s us, too) to pay for a $14 billion twin-tunnels project in and around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that sounds very similar to his father Pat Brown’s old Peripheral Canal idea defeated by voters in 1982.
The new/old idea will bring a reliable supply of water from Northern California to thirsty L.A. and San Diego and also to the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire cities that don’t have wells or need imported water to supplement well water.
It’s costly, but an idea that water agencies love. There’s nothing more satisfying to water managers than a reliable water supply. It means they can sleep at night.
second project on a list of investments in California infrastructure is the much maligned high-speed rail, a super-fast train that would whisk passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours 40 minutes. A 432-mile electrical alternative to emissions-spewing automobiles that would cost about $68 billion.Brown wants to make old things new. There’s nothing older than the fight over water in the Golden State. It precedes the skirmishes over gold. Add to that the viewpoint from a typical Northern Californian that goes something like “take our water and give it to people in Los Angeles and San Diego over my dead body” and you know what I’m talking about.
Even the reasons for the new project, something the big folks at Metropolitan Water District support and call the Bay Delta Plan, are old: to ensure a reliable water supply in the event of a major earthquake and to protect the species swimming in the Delta. Oh, let’s not leave out the No. 1 reason for all of this canal talk: Water for California’s $27 billion agribusiness.
Was it serendipitous or good timing on Brown’s part that while he gave his speech, an obscure panel appointed by the Legislature to iron out California’s water problems was meeting that same day, a few miles away.
Brown, the Democratically-controlled Legislature and the Delta Stewardship Council will be working together on rules and plans for this project, for water conservation and environmental stewardship. Look for the Council’s final Delta Plan to be released sometime in the spring.
Meanwhile, his other old idea – a train – has been around ever since the Golden Spike connected the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 in Utah and industrialized the West.
Even their high-speed, electrified cousins have been around in Japan and Europe for decades. Now, one is being built in Morocco.
California, the land of innovation, is behind the times. It’s been a slow march for commuter trains and light-rail trolleys (read: less-polluting electric ones) to reach suburbia, where our single-car commuters pollute the air from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday.
I’m for the future, so I’m for both a fast train to `Frisco and a more reliable water supply. Maybe we can sell these ideas to Hollywood as a kind of “Back to the Future” theme.
The only question is whether the rest of the state will buy into it.
That would take a New Testament kind of change of heart that would come from each Californian to support new infrastructure and invest in new job-creating projects like Californians did in the 1950s and 1960s.
The answer, as the Bible says, lies within.
Steve Scauzillo covers the environment and transportation. He’s the current recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz/twitter.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.