Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown, Dianne Feinstein suffer rare defeat

Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State speech earlier this year.
Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State speech earlier this year. TNS

In a rare legislative defeat for Gov. Jerry Brown, Democratic lawmakers Friday killed a bill he backed to block a controversial water-pumping project in the Mojave Desert.

Assembly Bill 1000, the California Desert Protection Act, was supported by the likes of Brown, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a slew of environmental groups.

It would have stalled a project by Cadiz Inc., a prolific campaign contributor which has sought the help of powerful politicians for decades. Cadiz this year celebrated the Trump administration’s reversal of two Obama-era directives that would have prevented it from using a federal railroad right-of-way to build a pipeline. Still, the threat of the state legislation caused its stock to plunge.

As the lobbying on the state legislation intensified – the company lists Mercury Public Affairs, led by former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, among its advocacy firms – Brown took the rare step late Thursday of writing legislative leaders to recommend passage. A spokesman for the governor said he did not have anything to add following its defeat.

The bill’s detractors argued the project had already been submitted to significant scrutiny and legal wrangling under the California Environmental Quality Act. “That process should be allowed to play out,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that killed the bill.

Lara noted in his statement that Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2011, adding that, “making an exception for one particular case will create precedent for the Legislature to block other controversial projects.”

Feinstein, in a statement of her own, said she was deeply disappointed that the Democratic-dominated Legislature blocked a bill to prevent Cadiz – derided by her as “one of the Trump administration’s pet projects” – “from destroying the Mojave Desert.”

Feinstein added: “Blocking Cadiz is one concrete way to stop the Trump administration from hurting California. I hope our state leaders reconsider this bill and move it forward.”

Cadiz’s stock was up more than 31 percent in after-hours trading following the Legislature’s action.

“We are grateful the state Senate has taken this action and look forward to delivering reliable water, nearly 6,000 good-paying jobs and almost $1 billion in economic growth to Southern California through this environmentally responsible project as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Courtney Degener said.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago