Proposition that threatened Delta Tunnels defeated by a narrow margin

By Dan Bacher | November 25, 2016 |   On November 22, the California Secretary of State’s Office announced that the voters narr...

By Dan Bacher | November 25, 2016 |  

On November 22, the California Secretary of State’s Office announced that the voters narrowly defeated Proposition 53, an initiative requiring voter approval of revenue bonds over $2 billion, by a narrow margin of 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent.

Governor Jerry Brown and his staff are celebrating the victory because it would have required a public vote on his two controversial “legacy” projects, the Delta Tunnels and High Speed Rail.

“The defeat of Prop 53 is good news for CA and our future,” proclaimed Governor Jerry Brown in a tweet. “It means one less roadblock in solving our water and transportation problems.”

However, about 90 percent of the anglers, grassroots environmentalists and Tribal leaders that I discussed Proposition 53 with voted “Yes” on the measure because it would require a vote on the Delta Tunnels and other huge projects that pose significant threats to the environment.

For example, Kevin Wolf of Davis, a long time environmental activist, campaign organizer and advocate for openness and transparency in government, advised voting Yes on 53 in his Recommendations for the November 2016 Election.

“This would force the state to let voters decide if there would be a new Delta Twin Tunnels project or other large project funded by state revenue bonds,” said Wolf. “This could harm some good things in the future, but if it is a good enough idea, it should get passed as a proposition.”

While the votes were still being tallied, Dean Cortopassi, proponent of Proposition 53, who describes himself as a “libertarian Democrat,” issued a statement regarding the election results for the measure on November 9. Among other things, he said the “No on 53 campaign seemed analogous to German Panzer Divisions waging ‘Blitzkrieg on Poland in 1939” and described the measure's opponents as “Sacramento Gang Politicians and Porkers” in his statement:

"The closeness of the Prop 53 vote (currently 51% - 49%) means the final outcome will be delayed until 100% of all votes cast are reported.

In the interim, my personal congratulations to each and every one voting Yes on 53 (currently 4+ million Californians)! Funded by Sacramento Gang Politicians and Porkers, the No on 53 campaign threw everything at you that $20+ million could buy! Opposition included: hundreds of grant-hungry local entities; major funding from Special Interests who feed at the Public Trough; newspaper Editorial negativity; a barrage of blatantly false TV ads; and over the past three weeks, Governor Brown bombarding you with Robo calls and emails; statewide Press Conferences; and increasingly snide attacks on Prop 53 and me personally.

Taken as a whole, the No on 53 campaign seemed analogous to German Panzer Divisions waging “Blitzkrieg” on Poland in 1939. In the meantime, the Yes on 53 campaign relied on me providing personal interviews to journalists willing to consider Prop 53 on its merits; and two newspaper ads in major newspapers. That’s it! Of the total funds my wife and I contributed, 80% was spent on qualifying Prop 53 and less than 20% ($1 million) on promoting its merits.

Think about the disparity of $20 million to $1 million campaigns plus the additional political clout of the Governor’s Sacramento Gang?! By normal measurements, Yes on 53 should have been crushed by the No on 53 onslaught – but it wasn’t! And the reason is every one of you who voted Yes figured out the truth about the Debt Dragon that threatens Californians today and tomorrow!

I’m proud of each Yes on 53 voter and I hope we are in the majority when 100% of votes cast are counted. If we are not in the majority, don’t despair because the truth torches we lit together cannot be extinguished, and the Sacramento Gang’s Debt Dragon will be leashed! Whether Prop 53 ends up at 51% or at 49%, We have Won – Thank You!"

Proposition 53 would require statewide voter approval for state revenue bond projects costing more than $2 billion, closing a loophole that allows politicians to issue massive new debt for multi-billion dollar projects without voter approval. For more information, visit:

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the Executive Director of Restore the Delta, noted that Prop 53 was “never a Delta Tunnels-only proposition. It was a proposition focused on revenue bond debt for large state projects, including High Speed Rail. That is why Restore the Delta, the largest Delta environmental organization, never took a position on Proposition 53.”

With the results now in, she issued the following statement:

“Despite the defeat of Prop. 53, the funding for the proposed Delta Tunnels is still highly questionable. There is no finance plan available for public review because it simply doesn’t exist. Westlands Water District, one of the major beneficiaries of the project, recently had its credit rating downgraded by Fitch credit rating service, and an independent economic analysis shows that even with a Federal and State tax subsidy, the project still does not pencil out for the big agricultural districts. Even if Proposition 53 is not approved, the long-term plan for the project will remain controversial,’ according to Fitch Credit Rating services.

Meanwhile, Southern California citizens will end up paying for the project four ways: property taxes; higher water rates; Federal and State taxes. Metropolitan Water District’s claim that all it will cost is $5 monthly per household is simply not true. Just look at how the Seattle Tunnel Project, a two-mile tunnel, is coming in at double the price, over $1.5 billion per mile. The twin Delta tunnels are actually a total of 70 tunnel-miles, and the State is only budgeting $500 million per mile.

“This is why presentations were made by Metropolitan Water District and Department of Water Resources employees at the Cutting Edge 2016, International Tunneling Conference, during the last several days of the election news cycle, are significant. Restore the Delta attendees learned that the State wants tunnel construction contractors to assume the risk of owning the tunnel boring machines and needed replacement parts as a strategy to keep costs down. But international tunneling firms will not want to assume this kind of risk.

This was part of CA WaterFix’s sales pitch to international contractors to buy into the project — a project that is still not permitted by the State or Federal government, a project that cannot meet Clean Water Act standards for the Delta, a project that will wipe out fishery economies up and down the west coast, a project that will leave hundreds of thousands of people with polluted drinking water, a project in which those who are supposed to repay the debt for the project can’t — a project presently being audited by State and Federal officials – a project that still has only 10% of the geotechnical data needed for tunnel contractors to begin construction.

Restore the Delta will continue unmasking the true financial and environmental costs to Californians of the Delta tunnels project and fighting its implementation through administrative processes, education and outreach, and litigation if necessary. We will prevail because the majority of Californians disapprove of the Delta Tunnels and backers have not proven the proposal makes economic or environmental sense.”

The results of the Proposition 53 vote are disappointing for those who care about salmon, the Delta and the public trust. However, there is no doubt that if an initiative solely requiring a public vote on the Delta Tunnels had been on the ballot, it would have been decisively approved by the voters.

Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown and the California legislative "leadership," while falsely portraying themselves as "environmentalists," for several years have failed to support legislation requiring a public vote on the tunnels, the most environmentally devastating public works project in California history. That's because Brown and his legislative allies know that the voters would overwhelmingly reject the Delta Tunnels, just like they defeated the Peripheral Canal in November 1982, if the project went to a public vote.

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