It could happen.

Most people probably don’t realize how long the Californian executive branch has been Republican. Look here, for example. With a twofive-year break for Gray Davis around 2000, the Californian agencies have been under the control of Secretaries and Directors since Jerry Brown himself was last governor in 1983. People have spent nearly their whole careers in the agencies without seeing a radical change under a new administration, because the administrations have gone from Republican to Republican. So they probably don’t think of what a genuinely Democratic water administration could look like. If we’d had alterating administrations, people would be more used to shifts in departmental emphasis. The names of the department branches don’t have to change, and no one has to get fired. But, for example, a new Resources Secretary could tell DWR’s Infrastructure Investigations branch that they should stop designing and planning for Sites Reservoir, and instead start cataloguing the infrastructure that will have to be moved for a two-foot sea level rise. That would be a legitimate use of a bunch of Californian water engineers, but no one can fathom it because we haven’t seen a Democratic executive branch in more than a generation.

We had two five years under Gray Davis, and that was enough to make changes that have resonated. Under Gray Davis, Jonas Minton was a Deputy Director at DWR. Mr. Minton turned the California Water Plan into a genuinely public process (and let enough confusion, conflict and collaboration into the process to delay the 2003 plan for two years). Now that process is the default for the Water Plan, and the stuff that crept into the Water Plan, like the famous water efficiency yields chart on page 16, became the basis for the 2009 water legislation.

The agencies haven’t been completely conservative; this is nevertheless California. I’m sure that the Farm Bureau would argue that the regulating agencies have been over-enthusiastic (although they always seem to get their waivers and delays). The Air Board has been a favorite of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s and an environmental bright spot; I don’t know how much more aggressive it could have been. But the Water Board had been starved of enforcement until that was corrected by the legislature last year. Dept. of Fish and Game has been neglected and kicked around for years. CalTRANS has an unfortunate “Build it and they will drive” mentality. It’d be wonderful if they got a Director who believed that CalTrans’ mission was transportation, not driving. And, on the water side, the default mentality has been that water planning means assuring an ever-growing supply, with whatever environmental caretaking we can do that doesn’t interfere with that. It’ll be exciting if we get a new Resources Secretary that tells us that water planning means figuring out how to live within our predicted (smaller) supply. It’d be fun if environmental stewardship were the focus, with supply as the co-equal token, for eight years. That would seem radical from where we sit at the beginning of a Democratic administration. In eight years, though, it might feel natural and obvious. The sad thing is that at the end of those eight years, the agencies would still have had an environmental focus for only ten years of the past forty.


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2 responses to “It could happen.

  1. elizabeth

    Wow – Cowin is SO ahead of you:… Brown’s got nothing on him!

  2. dfb

    Caltrans has a driving mentality because that’s how the legislature intended it. It only really focuses on roads. For example, the legislature created the High Speed Rail Authority to build bullet trains rather than CalTrans. The commuter rail lines are operated by counties and county transportation authorities without Caltrans involvement. And airports and ports are operated by other local agencies as well.