There may be a dearth of water in California, but stories about water are in full flood. So gather 'round....
It's not easy to figure out who's using large amounts of water, even in a drought, and that's no accident. It turns out that the state law that guarantees the public's access to government information, the California Public Records Act, specifically exempts water bills. And Silicon Valey played a big roll in it.
From Katharine Mieszkowski and Lance Williams at the Center for Investigative Reporting: "For the source of this legislation, look no further than Silicon Valley, where the city of Palo Alto decided it needed to do more to protect the privacy of the tech elite."
“Palo Alto, even then, was home to a number of very high-profile tech-related residents,” said Ariel Calonne, who was the city attorney at the time. “We had fairly extensive databases that covered a lot of sensitive information for a lot of noteworthy people, and that became a concern for our utility managers.”
"In the name of privacy and security, the city of Palo Alto backed legislation sponsored by Byron Sher, the local state senator. It allowed utilities to keep secret their customers’ “utility usage data” – that is, how much water and power they were using."
The governor's unprecedented order that communities cut their water use by 25 percent has really got some people up in arms, especially those -- no suprise -- that use a lot of water, as the Chronicle's Kurt Alexander reports.
"Southern California enclaves such as Beverly Hills and Newport Beach that have done little to conserve — and as a result are targeted, alongside a few heavy-using Bay Area communities, for the deepest water cuts of 35 percent — are calling the proposal way too demanding."
"Others say the pain isn’t being spread fairly, or that the plan is going to be bad for business. Still others complain it doesn’t go far enough..."
"Under the plan, California’s 400 water agencies will be required to reduce their water use by 10 to 35 percent, compared with their consumption in 2013. It will be left to each agency to figure out how their customers can meet the target — be it with new regulations or by pressing harder for voluntary action."
The governor, meawhile, is getting deluged with complaints about his order to slash water use.
From Jessica Calefati in the Contra Costa Times: "Most of the objections detailed came from Southern California water agencies serving places such as Palm Springs, Beverly Hills and Coachella Valley, while many Northern California agencies that wrote to the board did so to express their approval of the proposed rules."
"Cities such as Santa Cruz and San Francisco, whose residents on average use the least amount of water and have already been conserving water, received 10 percent conservation targets. Those with high per capita use, such as Hillsborough, Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, are facing 35 percent cuts."
"Failure to meet targets could result in fines of as much as $10,000 a day from the state board."
Republicans in the Assembly are pushing a package of bills to expedite water project construction by loosening environmental reviews, including those required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
Dakota Smith in the Los Angeles Daily News tells the tale: "Both AB 311 and AB 641, a similar bill announced Thursday to speed up the environmental review process for housing projects, target the California Environmental Quality Act, a state statute that requires the environmental impacts of a project be studied."
"AB 311 and AB 641 are similar to bills written for the Sacramento Kings stadium and the now-defunct Farmers Field football stadium in downtown Los Angeles, an Olsen spokeswoman said. Both those projects got CEQA exemptions intended to stave off lawsuits that could slow down construction"
"Environmentalists credit CEQA with protecting California from overdevelopment, while business groups say opponents file frivolous CEQA-related lawsuits to kill or slow down projects."
Almond growers have come in for criticism during the drought because almond trees use a lot of water. The growers' reponse? Plant more trees, notes the Sacramento Bee's Dale Kasler.
"Representatives of the state’s almond farmers defended the decision to expand California’s orchards, saying growers with adequate water supplies are making rational economic decisions based on the price they can get for their crop."
“That’s the American economic system,” said Richard Waycott, chief executive of the Almond Board of California, in a conference call Thursday with reporters.
“It’s basically 6,500 farmers making these decisions,” he added. “Nobody’s telling them to do that.”
Down in the LA Basin, people are getting rid of their thirsty lawns and replacing them with drought-tolerant plants and landscaping, due in part to the incentives and rebates of $1.75 to $2 per square foot offered by local water agencies. By the way, if you're interested, here's a tool provided by the MWD to calculate the rebates.
From the LAT's Taylor Goldenstein: "About 2,600 Los Angeles residents have ripped out their lawns, along with nearly 60 companies."
"Demand is really high," said Sandra Giarde, executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Assn. "Now that we have the drought, it's no longer 'Gee, it'd be really great if we could do something about this landscaping.' Now, it's 'We need to do something about it.' "
We could go on -- and on -- about the drought, but it's Friday and time to let you know who had a bad week. Our pick: The city of Guadalupe, a small coastal town in Santa Barbara County plagued by fiscal woes, that the Grand Jury said should no longer be a city. The LAT's Matt Hamilton tells us what's going on.
"In a report titled "Guadalupe Shell Game Must End," the grand jury concluded that more than a decade of financial mismanagement, a declining tax base and increasing debt obligations have all but ensured the doom of the 1.3-square-mile working-class town that was first established in 1840
"According to the grand jurors, well-intentioned but incompetent bureaucrats "inappropriately" transferred about $7.6 million from restricted funds to cover budget shortfalls and ignored the recommendations of city audits and prior grand jury reports to trim expenses. With costs expected to outpace revenue, the report urged the city to pull the plug."
"By "moving money from one account to another to keep the city afloat," Guadalupe has engaged in a "shell game" that must come to an end with disincorporation, the jury said."
Have a good weekend....