Proposition 3 mostly benefits billionaire investors

What you need to know about Proposition 3: Bonds for water projects

What is Proposition 3? Here's a deeper look at the dam and water project initiative on California's November ballot that would authorize bonds for water projects.
Up Next
What is Proposition 3? Here's a deeper look at the dam and water project initiative on California's November ballot that would authorize bonds for water projects.

When Californians consider Proposition 3, a $8.9 billion water bond on the November ballot, they should be aware that it began with a bad process, it is full of bad spending items and -- if passed -- Californians will be responsible for paying back this bad bond for more than a generation.

In short, it’s a bad water deal.

The authors of Proposition 3 wrote the bond behind closed doors with well-funded special interests that agreed to pay for the expensive signature-gathering process and for the campaign to promote the measure. The proponents have created a pay to play structure to attract supporters. The bond ensures that funders receive more than they invested.

Taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for projects that will benefit billionaires. If this sounds a lot like Robin Hood in reverse, that’s because it is.


Proposition 3 is an irresponsible strategy that will not solve California’s water crisis. By keeping key items in the measure vague, accountability is also vague at best.

However, we do know that the measure contains incentives for projects that are bad for the environment, including dams that are ill-conceived, uneconomical and won’t provide new water. It also raids the greenhouse gas reduction fund to pay for water conservation that water agencies already must provide, diverting money needed to reduce climate pollution and improve public health. This bond would also divert investments from the habitat conservation fund toward water acquisition.

A fundamental principle of California water law states that those who receive water are strictly responsible for their water projects. Proposition 3 turns this water policy on its head by robbing billions of dollars of taxpayer money to cover repairs that would normally be financed by specific water agencies.

Eric Parfrey pic.JPG
Eric Parfrey

For instance, the Friant-Kern Canal was damaged from nearby land subsidence by over-pumping groundwater. Under beneficiary pays, the Friant Water Authority or those who caused the over-pumping should cover their repairs. Proposition 3 undercuts this rule and hands $750 million from taxpayers all over the state to Friant for repairs, reconstruction and enlargement of its canals.

Most natural resources bonds are written so the funding must be approved annually by the Legislature. However, the funding for Proposition 3 would be continuously appropriated, even if there is a dramatic economic decline that affects the state’s ability to repay the bonds.

While the proponents of Proposition 3 advertise that the bond will give people in need access to clean water, only 10 percent will go directly to disadvantaged communities and a far larger share towards wealthy private interests.

Proposition 3 will add $430 million each year for 40 years to the state’s debt to be paid by the general fund. California cannot afford this corporate giveaway, which won’t even benefit most Californians.

Eric Parfrey is chairman of the executive committee of Sierra Club California, the state advocacy arm of the Sierra Club. He can be contacted at


The Sacramento Bee editorial board tackles the day’s biggest issues seven days a week, 365 days a year to keep you informed about California policy and politics.
We're a one-stop shop for timely, relevant viewpoints from elected officials and advocates on water, healthcare and housing and more.
Want to stay in the conversation? Support this forum for voices from across the state with a digital subscription to The Sacramento Bee.