Was reading through this story on the oversight hearings for the new Delta Stewardship Council. Sounds like it was fairly exciting, as committee hearings go. Reading it, I am prepared to agree on some things up front:
1. I am perfectly happy to believe that Gov. Schwarzenegger and Sec. Snow are trying to stack this council, push through documents and hire consultants in service of building a Peripheral Canal.
2. I have no love for former CALFED, which I think went off track way back in the beginning when it believed its own talk about win-win solutions. Then it got weird for interpersonal reasons, which were an additional burden and hastened the end. (This is from rumor and distant observation, mind you. I wasn’t close and can’t absolutely vouch for that.)
3. I agree that presenting an incoming council with a whole bunch of nearly completed work is an extremely powerful way to set their agenda and narrow the field of potential outcomes. I do wonder at the issue of near-simultaneous deadlines, but can’t be bothered to sort through whether they’re really a problem. If the Legislature is bugged by the conflict, they can give clear direction. Mostly, though, I hope that when the full Delta Stewardship Council is seated and faced with pre-made decisions (as looks inevitable), they will keep the doctrine of sunk costs in mind.
So if you’re looking for proof of conspiracy that there’s an AGENDA, I’ll grant you all of those. But I do want to object to this one:
Joe Grindstaff is the Acting Executive Officer for the Delta Stewardship Council. He’s also the CALFED Director. Several legislators on the committee grilled Grindstaff on why CALFED was leading the project when the water project bills called for an entirely new department to replace CALFED. Using CALFED employees to staff the Delta Stewardship Council seemed to defeat the purpose and intent of the whole project, they said.
Grindstaff insisted that the Delta Stewardship Council (which as yet lacks a single member, if you recall) was “in fact, in charge of what happens.” Grindstaff also said he only transferred 27 CALFED staffers to the Delta council, which has 58 positions.
Look, y’all. The man has about a year to create a workplace of 60 people. Do you know how small the qualified, local, professional community is? There are probably, say, a couple hundred people like that in town, and a bunch of them are already working in interesting jobs for one agency or another. They may not feel like doing Delta stuff this decade, since they’ve gotten intrigued by salts or meadow restoration or something. In fact, the ones who really love the Delta and haven’t run screaming from the politics (I mean, I won’t go near it, for exactly that reason. I spectate and snipe from the sidelines.), are already working on it. Like, from the corpse of CALFED.
Second, do you have any idea how hard it is to hire people into the state? They have to pass a test to get on a list, and that test is offered years apart and you can’t hire anyone who isn’t on that list. If there is no list for the positions that the Delta Stewardship Council needs, you have zero external hiring pool. You would have to write the test, convince the Department of Personnel Administration to administer it, advertise it and grade it, and then you could start to hire. That would take a year, at the very fastest. Then you have to convince highly qualified people that they want to come work for a nascent agency, with no funding the following year, in an extremely contentious political environment where half of everyone will always hate you for something. Sometimes the half that loves you and the half that hates you switch sides.
Instead, this manager dude is going to look at his staff of thirty qualified people, who already have extensive expertise, and don’t need to be hired from outside. Of course he is going to move them over.
I want to address the other point, that this is a conspiracy to advance a Peripheral Canal. See, here’s the thing. Yes. That is the Schwarzenegger administration’s policy choice. That is what he directs the agencies to do, and what he’s going to try to rig any way he can in his last year in office. He thinks the state would be better for it, and he’s trying to make it happen. It is perfectly legitimate to disagree with that, and to point out and oppose his machinations. Sure, fine. But this isn’t, like, a secret mysterious agenda or even an inappropriate thing for an administration to do. He is pushing his preferred policy, because he wants it to happen, even though there is unresolved opposition. Yes. It may or may not work, but the presence of opposition doesn’t de-legitimize his actions*.
*For example, in the last year of the Obama administration, I hope he stacks the books with as many policies as he can push through. I am starting to get real interested in how a new governor will run the agencies. I think that whether future Gov. Brown keeps Sec. Snow in place will tell us everything we need to know.
*Remember, I don’t think opposition is evidence of illegitimate policy options because I believe that we’re entering the realm of win-lose policy solutions. Even good policies that move us to a better position overall may create pools of people who lose out. I’d expect those people to oppose the policy. But I’d still want us to do it.