Capitol Alert

Measure that imperils Delta tunnels plan qualifies for 2016 ballot

A 2008 aerial view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A ballot measure eligible for the November 2016 ballot would give voters a say on the twin tunnels project and other public works projects funded by revenue bonds.
A 2008 aerial view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A ballot measure eligible for the November 2016 ballot would give voters a say on the twin tunnels project and other public works projects funded by revenue bonds. The Sacramento Bee

A constitutional amendment that would erect a significant political hurdle for Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans to build twin tunnels to carry water south around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is poised to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

The secretary of state’s office Monday is scheduled to release final results from the random sampling of the nearly 933,000 voter signatures turned by the measure’s backers. But as of earlier Monday, proponents were only 49,000 valid voter signatures short of qualifying for the ballot without a full signature count, with several counties still to report their sampling of more than 120,000 voter signatures.

Among those is San Bernardino County, where the campaign turned in almost 73,000 signatures. About 56,000 of those signatures are projected to be valid, based on numbers provided by the county elections office Monday. That would be more than enough to qualify the measure.

Wealthy Stockton-area farmer and food processor Dean Cortopassi and his wife, Joan, have bankrolled the No Blank Checks Initiative ballot effort, pumping $4 million million into the petition drive, consultants and other expenses since March.

Under his proposed ballot measure, any revenue bonds for public works involving the state would have to go to a public vote. That would complicate Brown’s planned strategy to pay for the twin tunnels, which rests on water users financing bonds to help fund the $15 billion project.

“It would be very problematic for creating a secure water supply in California,” Robin Swanson, a consultant working with the pro-tunnels Californians for Water Security, said Monday.

The measure also poses problems for other public-works projects, with critics saying it would block repairs to roads and bridges and force statewide votes on many types of local borrowing proposals. Construction unions and business groups created Citizens to Protect California Infrastructure, which last week reported that it had raised $122,000 during the summer and had $73,000 on hand as of Sept. 30.

“This measure worsens an already grave situation, and threatens our economy and job-creation,” Robbie Hunter, president of the California State Building and Construction Trades Council, said in a statement, adding that opponents will “mount an aggressive campaign to defeat this misleading initiative.”

A spokesman for the Cortopassi measure was not immediately available for comment Monday.

“I have served as a catalyst to get this thing where it should be in the public eye,” Cortopassi said in 2008, criticizing Delta conveyance proposals. “I will fight to the death to protect the Delta, because I love it.”

Four other measures already are currently eligible or qualified for next fall’s ballot, including a referendum on the state’s law banning single-use plastic bags. Cortopassi would have until June 30, 2016 to decide to withdraw his amendment.

Dozens of other proposals, meanwhile, are in various stages of signature collection and verification.

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