Brown duck­ing some big bat­tles

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - GE­ORGE SKEL­TON

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks pas­sion­ately about how hu­mans — Cal­i­for­ni­ans specif­i­cally — must adapt to chang­ing con­di­tions or be­come ex­tinct. Hope­fully he is lis­ten­ing to him­self.

Be­cause, frankly, I haven’t no­ticed the gover­nor adapt­ing much in or­der to con­front Cal­i­for­nia’s mod­ern chal­lenges. His record is spotty at best.

When he preaches adap­ta­tion, the con­text is global warm­ing, in­clud­ing its un­cer­tain po­ten­tial for fre­quent droughts. But there also are other nag­ging, parochial prob­lems that re­quire new at­ti­tudes if this state is to re­store its golden sheen.

Brown gets credit for hold­ing back fel­low Democrats on spend­ing, although he is plow­ing ahead with two mas­sive, ques­tion­able and costly pet projects: the

bul­let train and twin wa­ter tun­nels.

He coaxed vot­ers into rais­ing taxes on the rich — mean­ing mostly not them­selves — to patch a bleed­ing state bud­get.

He pushed through leg­is­la­tion to spend ex­tra money ed­u­cat­ing the poor and non-English speak­ers, although this could short­change mid­dle-class kids strug­gling to pre­pare for an in­creas­ingly tech­ni­cal world.

But on such po­lit­i­cally risky prob­lems as tax re­form and reg­u­la­tory stream­lin­ing — needed to sta­bi­lize state fi­nanc­ing and make Cal­i­for­nia more busi­ness-friendly and pro­duc­tive — Brown has ducked out of sight.

Our once-en­vi­able high­ways are wrecks. We need a 21st cen­tury fund­ing scheme to keep up with wear and tear. But Brown has been parked on a side road.

New schools need to be built and old ones mod­ern­ized. But he’s in re­cess.

And con­cern­ing those le­gacy-build­ing train and tun­nel projects, the gover­nor seems in­flex­i­ble, ig­nor­ing crit­ics and un­will­ing to al­ter his plans in ways that could forge a sup­port­ive con­sen­sus.

All this came to mind last week as I lis­tened to Brown wax po­etic about the ne­ces­sity for hu­mans to adapt. The oc­ca­sion was a tele­vised in­ter­view con­ducted by Los An­ge­les Times Pub- lisher Austin Beut­ner at USC. The Q&A fo­cused on the drought but also veered into global warm­ing.

“Like ev­ery other species,” Brown said, “we have to adapt to what­ever the en­vi­ron­ment is that we’re thrown into. And we adapt or we dis­ap­pear.”

Species “that have suc­cess­fully evolved and are still in the game of life,” Brown con­tin­ued, “they mu­tate them­selves. They don’t try to change the world. They change to get on the side of na­ture.... We will have to change our ways — maybe not how our chro­mo­somes work, but at least how we eat and how we clothe and recre­ate.... We’re go­ing to cre­ate a more el­e­gant way of in­ter­fac­ing with the rest of na­ture.”

He char­ac­ter­ized the drought as “just a tiny, tiny fore­taste of what’s to come.” A dire prog­no­sis. Brown, in fact, is try­ing to change Cal­i­for­nia’s en­ergy-burning habits, although he also ac­knowl­edged last week that “the prob­lem is Cal­i­for­ni­ans can’t do it alone. We’re 1% of the cli­mate pol­lu­tion in the world.”

He has set a 15-year goal of cut­ting Cal­i­for­nia petroleum use in half and re­ly­ing on re­new­able en­ergy for half our elec­tric­ity. That’s good be­cause the State Wa­ter Project is the sin­gle largest en­ergy hog in Cal­i­for­nia.

As for the drought, Brown told Beut­ner that Cal­i­for­ni­ans need to “take wa­ter and use it and use it again and use it again. The metaphor is space­ship Earth. In a space­ship you re­use ev­ery­thing.”

OK, but where’s the state’s crash re­cy­cling pro­gram?

And about all we’ve heard from the gover­nor re­gard­ing adap­ta­tion to less wa­ter use are lec­tures to cut back on lawn sprin­kling, tak­ing shorter showers and not flush­ing as much.

If we stopped all that com­pletely, it would save less than 10% of our de­vel­oped wa­ter. And we’d be pretty cranky.

Agri­cul­ture ac­counts for 80% of hu­man wa­ter use in Cal­i­for­nia while gen­er­at­ing only 2% of the econ­omy. If we re­ally must adapt or per­ish, why isn’t Brown se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing reg­u­lat­ing which thirsty crops can be grown and where?

Nut and fruit or­chards in the semi-arid San Joaquin Val­ley re­quire sig­nif­i­cantly more ir­ri­ga­tion than the same trees in the wet­ter Sacra­mento Val­ley. Some land should be con­verted to so­lar farm­ing.

In much of the San Joaquin, aquifers are be­ing dan­ger­ously over-pumped and, in spots, the land is pre­cip­i­tously sink­ing. Brown signed leg­is­la­tion last year to reg­u­late ground­wa­ter pump­ing. But that won’t kick in for two decades. Why not ex­pe­dite it?

“We’re mov­ing for­ward,” Brown said. “Whether it’s fast enough, ask me in an- other year.”

The two 35-mile, 40-foot wide tun­nels that would carry wa­ter un­der the Sacra­mento-San Joaquin Delta — a $17-bil­lion project paid for on con­sumers’ wa­ter bills — are nec­es­sary, Brown as­serted, be­cause lev­ees could col­lapse in an earth­quake or as the sea rises in global warm­ing. That could draw sea wa­ter into Cal­i­for­nia’s pri­mary fresh wa­ter pool.

Never mind that no earth­quake in his­tory has se­ri­ously harmed a delta levee. But if the lev­ees are that frag­ile, where’s the ur­gent ef­fort to bol­ster them? And if the sea rises that much, it also will wreak havoc with Malibu and New­port Beach, among other coastal com­mu­ni­ties. What are we do­ing about that?

Those tun­nels are just an­other ver­sion of the old Pe­riph­eral Canal that Brown’s fa­ther, Gov. Pat Brown, first pro­posed half a cen­tury ago and Jerry pro­moted when he was gover­nor the first time. Vot­ers re­jected it.

“This is the time, now or never, to get it done,” the gover­nor said. “If we don’t get it this time, it’ll be an­other 40 years.”

Here’s an idea: Try some­thing new that’s smaller, less ex­pen­sive and more ac­cept­able. Adapt.

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

GOV. BROWN speaks about the drought and cli­mate change at USC. “Like ev­ery other species,” he said, “we have to adapt to what­ever the en­vi­ron­ment is.”

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