Sunday, May 12, 2013

Water legislation according to the dodo principle: 'Every legislator has won, and all must have prizes'

Even as California voters and taxpayers are staring down the barrel of a controversial $11 billion water bond scheduled to appear on the 2014 ballot, legislators gathered May 10 to discuss the possibility of pushing for yet another water bond.

State Senator Fran Pavley led a Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee hearing on the campus of Pepperdine University to discuss what the Malibu Times called "a number of regional water solutions and a possible statewide water bond."

We have to ask what the senator and other legislators are thinking in trying to get the public to support even more borrowing while they've kept slapping away the hand of the public on the $11 billion bond. (The legislature has postponed putting the bond before the people a number of times since 2009.)

What does the public get for its money with these bonds? That perhaps is the wrong question. The better question is what legislators get for their votes in support of them. 

In 2009, the Los Angeles Times' Patrick McGreevy reported that of the $11 billion in borrowing for that bond, "more than $1 billion of the money is earmarked for projects that have little or nothing to do with quenching the state's thirst.

"The bond proposal includes funding for bike paths, museums, visitor centers, tree planting, economic development and the purchase of property from land speculators and oil companies -- all in the districts of lawmakers whose key votes helped it pass the Legislature."

One legislator who voted against the bond said that "so many pet projects were put in that it has just created a Christmas tree out of this bond, and most of them don't produce one drop of water."

What those pet projects sometimes do is threaten or destroy the very resources the public is told will be protected through these bonds.

It's water bond money that the RMC and the Discovery Center Authority have been gulping down in their effort to build their nature-destroying "Discovery Center" in the Whittier Narrows Natural Area.

It was water bond money that State Parks used to demolish Malibu Lagoon and completely remake it--nature as man intended.

In the end it seems that the point isn't good governance, it's chalking up a legislative win.  And to do that it takes the wisdom of the dodo in Alice in Wonderland. Legislators must be convinced that "everybody has won, and all must have prizes."

That our state, its resources and its people might all come out losers seems to be beside the point.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Friends in the community--an evolving mission

Jim Odling is the president and chair of the Friends of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area. He recently sat down with RFTC to talk about the organization, its current activities, and what the future holds.

The Friends and its mission have evolved over time, Jim said. The organization was started specifically as a community response to the problematic nature of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center water museum project--destructive of the very thing it was supposedly intended to showcase, driven by agency agendas rather than community needs. But since then, Jim continued, the mission has evolved to prioritize also the public's access to outdoor recreation and to protecting the public's money from wasteful spending. 

Many on the group's board and among its supporters are longtime volunteers at the Whittier Narrows Natural Area and Nature Center, or simply enthusiastic visitors. Yet much of the group's work has extended to uncovering and bringing to the attention of government officials the more troubling details of the project that its proponents, perhaps out of their own enthusiasm or perhaps at times from more cynical motives, have glossed over.

For example, the Friends alerted State Parks officials to the grave inaccuracies in the Discovery Center Authority's application for $10 million in bond money for nature education projects--which would have thrown away on the ill-conceived water museum. Jim and others believe that it was the Friends' communication with State Parks--in combination with the Friends' lawsuit at the time--that convinced State Parks to reject the application and send the money to other, more worthy and promising projects.

Today, because of the efforts of the Friends, as well as others,the public still enjoys free access to the natural area and to the cherished nature center. The wildlife sanctuary, recognized by groups like Audubon and the county as a rich and important biological resource, is, as Jim says, "close and free, and the trails available to the public as long as the gates are open."

It's important for people, especially kids, "to get dirty, to see things that are not repeatable," Jim says. Judging by the numbers of student groups--including even preschoolers--that have been visiting the natural area and nature center recently, the community may be experiencing just those things.

As for the future, Jim said that the group is continuing its efforts to protect the natural area. A proposal made by the volunteer docents association for a renovation of the existing nature center or a new center of the same size was well received by county recreation department officials, he said. And the group continues to communicate with local and state officials about the problems with the current Discovery Center proposal.

And the group is also engaged in the processes surrounding other proposals tied to nature and outdoor recreation that could have significant impacts on the local community. These include the Emerald Necklace trails project and the National Park Service's San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Resource Study.

Involvement on the part of the Friends in such conversation is the common thread that ties the organization and its priorities to the community and its well being.