Review of the January draft of the Delta Plan – at the general level.

Well, I’m intrigued.  True, they haven’t come to big decisions yet, and we all want to know whether we can start squabbling over some piece of it.  But they’re laying out the groundwork for something, that’s clear.  I like how heavily it relies on and quotes law.  I hadn’t realized how aggressive the legislature was in 2009, but the law definitely settles some points, so it is convenient to have that right in the text. I also like the “findings of fact” approach.  If this were a mediation, this would be where the people in conflict start to build trust by working together on the parts they can agree.  It isn’t a mediation, though, so instead I guess this is the public’s chance to object.  I can only imagine that the next step is for the Council to say that those findings lead to conclusions.  If you want to change those conclusions, now’s the time to speak up on the findings.

Oh yeah.  The whole plan is readable, in precise English words that make meaning clear.  That’s real nice, and wasn’t necessarily a given.  Someone should be proud of that.

Overall thoughts:

  • The Council is not shy about the reach of this plan.  They mention several times that it is legally enforceable and covers everywhere that feeds into or gets water from the Delta. “Power grab” is a cliche that doesn’t usually mean much, and one did not “grab” power if it was shoved into one’s hands by the legislature.  But they were given broad authority and they mean to exercise it throughout the state.  Good.  I’m more used to elected officials ducking authority and possible consequences.  This is a refreshing change from people who manifestly are not scared of the ballot box.
  • That said, I think they are on a collision course with another arm of the state.  They write that once their umbrella plan is written, every other plan in the Delta (or plan that covers an area served with Delta water or upstream of the Delta) must conform to the Delta Plan.  By my shaky understanding, this could well conflict with the Regional Housing Needs Assessment that is also dictated by state law. What is a county to do if the Delta Plan says “no more development without pricey new levees” and the RHNA says “Your General Plan must include tens of thousands of new units.”?  I don’t know this stuff well, but I think this needs to be sorted at the state level before the Delta Plan is done.   At the least, DSC staff should find out if I’m wrong, which is entirely possible.
  • Joe Grindstaff’s memo called out the findings that he thought were crucial, but I think the plan has missed the most important piece altogether.  The big thing that readers care about is: what does this mean for me?  The elemental finding is that the California dream (bungalow, yard with two fruit trees, cheap food) cannot be sustained at our population levels.  I think there should be a call for a new California dream, perhaps of a high quality of life, with access to a thriving environment and working landscapes and stable complex towns.  But not the Californian dream of suburban retreat to a personal castle.  Without a new dream, people will strive for the old one only to find that it wasn’t worth the trade-offs.
  • I have long thought that the entire co-equal goals (and Delta conversation) is being kept afloat by ambiguity.  When people say “Delta” it isn’t clear whether they mean the location, the communities, the current way of life there, or the islands themselves.  “Reliable water supply” has always been vague.  Does it mean “making our current supplies reliable” or “only using the reliable portion of our annual run-off”, which might be the first half or two-thirds.  Is the “Delta environment” the old tidal marsh?  The new farmed landscape?  When I talk ominously about collapse, do I mean collapse of the levee?  Of the farming economy?  Of fish populations?  Of course, I mean whichever is most convenient to my argument at the time.  But as these meanings become clearer, people aren’t going to be able to sign on to the vague broad goals.  The plan gets closer, generally on the strength of their enabling legislation.  But broad support will narrow as the words come to mean something.

I’ll get more specific later today.  If any of you have read the plan (you should!  While it is still short.), I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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