Vote no on Proposition 1

Proposition 1 is a mirage that won’t solve our water woes

Elizabeth Klingen/Staff

Californians find ourselves thirsty and strapped for cash as we struggle with one of the worst droughts in our state’s history and grapple with more than $777 billion in debt. The debt is an ongoing burden that today’s students will pay, so adding to it adds to future tax bills. In January, Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency, triggering agencies and individuals throughout California to take various measures to conserve our precious water supply. Lawns turned brown, showers got shorter, but reservoirs continued to drain due to lack of rainfall.

No one expects our leaders to make it rain, but Californians are entitled to expect our elected officials to invest taxpayer dollars wisely in programs that provide immediate and lasting relief to California’s water problems. Instead, Gov. Brown and Sacramento lawmakers offer Proposition 1, which would cost California taxpayers $7.5 billion plus interest, amounting to a staggering $14.4 billion of new debt. Financing this debt would cost our state taxpayers $360 million each year for 40 years. History has shown that Californians are not afraid to tax ourselves to fund programs and infrastructure that bring benefits to the people who live here. But that’s not what this bond will do: Proposition 1 is an unconscionable money-grab that protects water-sucking corporate agriculture at the expense of California taxpayers to the detriment of all of our state’s 38 million residents — especially those who are most threatened by the drought.

Proposition 1 prioritizes $2.7 billion of taxpayer money to build dams to secure more water for corporate agribusiness interests in the western Central Valley. Specifically, these interests — Westlands Water District and Kern County Water Agency — are itching to build a new dam north of Sacramento called Sites Reservoir to take and store water from the Sacramento River for themselves. The water would then be pumped hundreds of miles south to flush and irrigate toxic soil to grow water-intensive crops — many of which are exported overseas.

Proposition 1 deems this $2.7 billion as “continuously appropriated.” That means these funds — more than one-third of the total bond —would be spent without oversight by the Legislature. In contrast, all other funds allocated by Proposition 1 would need to be approved for programming by the Legislature.

These dams aren’t the only subsidy Proposition 1 delivers to big agriculture. Agribusinesses such as Paramount Farms, owned by Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick, grow water-intensive crops in desert-like conditions — and then export the lion’s share of the harvest to China. While individuals and local communities struggle to conserve water, these special agricultural interests live large; in fact, they are making record profits during the drought by exporting more almonds than ever before. In addition, big oil companies in Kern County, thirsty to use and pollute more water using extreme drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, are also in line to benefit from these water subsidies.

Proposition 1’s authors attempt to sell these funds as being intended for projects that help the environment, but don’t be fooled. They could be spent on acquiring water to funnel to corporate agriculture and big oil companies. It is unconscionable for Brown and legislators to make taxpayers foot the bill for new dams and excessive water intended to benefit corporate interests, especially in the midst of a severe drought.

Our leaders should be focused on making California’s water use more efficient, preventing the ongoing depletion of groundwater and helping cities fix their aging, leaking water and sewer systems. Federal and state agencies estimate that California needs to spend more than $80 billion to replace its aging water and sewer systems. These are the real problems that affect Californians today, and they are a particular concern for those in low-income, urban communities. But Proposition 1’s authors have provided no funding to address this clear and pressing need. Moreover, Proposition 1 provides woefully inadequate funding for water recycling, groundwater cleanup and local projects that create the real benefit for our communities, unlike the dams that this measure guarantees.

Proposition 1 adds $7.1 billion in new borrowing, putting taxpayers on the hook for $360 million a year over 40 years for a staggering total of $14.4 billion in new debt. That’s money that will compete with and make it more difficult to fund vital public services, like higher education. For perspective, $360 million could be used to pay for:

  • Restoring some of the hundreds of millions of dollars cut from the UC budget in recent years.
  • One year of school for more than 39,000 California K-12 public school students
  • Salaries for more than 5,600 California teachers

Don’t be fooled. Proposition 1 is a corporate money-grab aimed at bankrolling special interests with taxpayer dollars while providing tragically inadequate funding for projects that provide safe, clean water for the people of California. Proposition 1 is the wrong investment for California. Vote no on Proposition 1.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla is a field director for Adam Scow is the director of California Campaigns’ Food & Water Watch.

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