■ Thomas D. Elias / Contributed
The farther four-term Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown gets from the state Capitol’s “horseshoe” office suite, the less anyone in power has seems to care about completing either of his two “legacy” projects.
For one, the fate of the high speed rail “bullet train” project authorized under a 2008 ballot proposition just became more clear. New Gov. Gavin Newsom has decided the state should keep and use bridges and viaducts already built in the Central Valley. But not as part of a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train. Rather, he sees a high speed rail project of a different scope, confined to running between Bakersfield and Merced.
Not exactly the same vision Californians voted for, as they figured on eventually whisking from one metropolis to the other in about two hours.
“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first state of the state speech. “The project as currently planned would cost too much and take too long.” So he’ll shorten it, while not wasting work that’s already done.
The shortened high-speed route, he predicted, will “unlock the enormous potential of the Central Valley.”
Newsom, who predicted last year that the bullet train could help solve housing affordability problems by linking the Central Valley and its lower-priced homes to high-priced, high-salary areas of both the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas, has concluded that won’t happen.
Newsom never made any such hopeful prediction about Brown’s other big plan, the so-called “Twin Tunnels” water project to bring more reliability to supplies of Northern California river water flowing toward urban Southern California and farms in the San Joaquin Valley.
The Twin Tunnels, planned to run beneath the Delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers to the point near Tracy where giant pumps now send millions of gallons southward, now won’t happen as designed. Instead, Newsom indicated he’ll try for a single tunnel because, as he put it, “The status quo is not an option. We need to protect our water supply from earthquakes and rising sea levels, preserve Delta fisheries and meet the needs of cities and farms.”
The two-tunnel notion earlier suffered a huge setback midway between Newsom’s election and his inauguration, when the state Department of Water Resources withdrew certification of the plan.
This essentially sent the tunnels back to the drawing board just as Brown left office.
Newsom had little to say about the tunnels plan during his campaign and remained noncommittal when Brown, Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Bakersfield Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP leader, agreed in late 2018 to try to extend a federal law aiming to deliver more Northern California water south over environmental objections.
They backed an extension beyond 2021 of key provisions in the 2016 federal Water Infrastructure for Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act via a year-end federal spending bill.
This will make almost $1 billion in federal funds available for new California water storage, both surface and below ground, and lets the federal Central Valley Project provide some water to the state project to increase southward water deliveries. The one-tunnel approach will be cheaper than two and provide most of the same benefits, Newsom seemed to say.
Whether or not that’s correct, statements by lawyers for outfits like the Natural Resources Defense Council make it seem certain that the WIIN funding won’t come for years while legal infighting persists in both federal and state courts.
Newsom sees the single tunnel as a way to improve drinking water quality in much of the Central Valley, while also stabilizing water supplies and fishing, goals not nearly as ambitious as Brown had for the plan.
But unlike Brown, whose father Gov. Pat Brown pushed through the state Water Project in the 1960s, Newsom has no family legacy at stake here. This might make it easier for him to take a cool, clearheaded look at Brown’s ambitious plans.
Which means that no matter how unhappy it might make Brown in his Colusa County retirement, neither of his largest plans will proceed in anything like the form he envisioned.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.