Zeke Grader

Another View: Agency obscures facts for twin tunnels project

Published: Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2E

The California fishing community agrees with Bee Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar's assessment that the Department of Water Resources has made a modicum of progress in improving public access to documents ("Public agencies that do it right"; Forum, Feb. 24). On the whole, however, DWR remains disingenuous.

It is hiding relevant material in plain sight, substituting truly meaningful access to public information with a mere data dump. This is especially the case in decisions and funding for the multibillion-dollar twin tunnels project, a pork-laden boondoggle that would starve the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay of the fresh water flows needed to sustain jobs, fish and our economy.

This appearance of access is intended as a sop to critics of the plan for twin tunnels; in reality, the decisions and records established by the project's beneficiaries remain hidden. Additionally, as the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office has pointed out, the "off-budget" nature of the State Water Project obscures the profound water-related problems and sky-high costs to taxpayers. Hidden financing is creating huge leverage and significant benefits for a handful of water contractors who have commandeered the best seats at the decision-making table. Meanwhile, the public's purse gets snatched.

We urge The Bee and the Legislature to demand true transparency regarding the way DWR and the State Water Project spend public money. The billions of dollars in bonds and general fund expenditures squandered on the State Water Project over the past decades remain hidden from view and any legislative oversight. The Legislative Analyst's Office report summarizes DWR's bait-and-switch ploy succinctly:

"DWR has been able to pursue development of SWP projects without expressed legislative consent, later retroactively billing the Legislature and the state's purse for its estimate of the state's share of the costs of those projects. This runs up against, and potentially conflicts with, the Legislature's exclusive constitutional authority to set its expenditure priorities by making appropriations."

Now the governor wants to spend an additional $14 billion to $28 billion on the construction of the twin tunnels project, with an extra expenditure of $14 billion to $25 billion for environmental mitigation. This does not strike us as either good fiscal policy or honest government. We think the governor and the Department of Water Resources need to fully disclose the costs of this ill-conceived project and demand that the beneficiaries, not the public treasury, pay for it.

Finally, we disagree that the Department of Water Resources deserves a gold star for public access. If the agency deserves a gold star for anything, it is for obfuscation and duplicity of a degree that would make Machiavelli blush.

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