Capitol Alert AM Newsletter

Lara’s calendars will be released + Oversight of desert water project + Reporting toxic water

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, accompanied by members of the California Nurses Association, discusses his single-payer health care bill at a Capitol news conference, Wednesday, May 31, 2017, in Sacramento.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, accompanied by members of the California Nurses Association, discusses his single-payer health care bill at a Capitol news conference, Wednesday, May 31, 2017, in Sacramento. AP

Happy Monday, California! Thanks for starting your week with the Capitol Alert team.

DELAYED DISCLOSURE

After nearly two months since Consumer Watchdog filed a Public Records Act request seeking Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s calendars, the department said it plans to release the documents by Aug. 31.

Consumer Watchdog filed a request demanding “appointment schedules, calendars, meeting logs, phone call logs, mobile phone records, and any other records relating to any meetings or phone calls” with industry executives.

The Sacramento Bee also filed a similar request, and can expect the records by the same deadline, per an email from the department.

Not good enough — Consumer Watchdog said it wasn’t satisfied with the deadline. The group’s litigation director wrote to the department that the team is “very disappointed and concerned that the department is delaying production.”

“Please explain why the department proposes another month of delay until any responsive documents are produced,” Jerry Flanagan wrote, continuing that it was “fundamentally unfair” for the department to propose another four-week lag.

The records will hopefully clear up whether the California insurance commissioner ever met with industry executives who donated more than $54,000 to his reelection campaign. Lara’s office originally denied Consumer Watchdog’s request for the calendars, but backtracked after news broke about the contributions in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Flanagan also wrote a letter in July with threats of a lawsuit should the commissioner’s records not be made public.

Since then, KQED and The Bee reported that Lara met with the CEO of a company that has multiple complaints against it in cases before his department.

Lara said he met with CEO Steven M. Menzies, who heads Applied Underwriters, a workers’ compensation agency that the department formerly settled with for “bait and switch” marketing tactics in 2017. Berkshire Hathaway is in the process of selling the company, a sale Lara must approve.

During his 2018 election campaign, Lara said he would not take political money from insurers.

The insurance commissioner has since pledged to return the contributions, and campaign finance reports indicate that he has. He also said he’d appoint a new person to fill his role as his own campaign treasurer.

“My pledge was to not take money from insurers, so when I found out, I immediately returned the money,” Lara said. “I put a third party person to make sure we review all checks that come in and I also recused myself from having any decisions regarding this insurance company.”

OVERSIGHT OF WATER PROJECT

Gov. Gavin Newsom dissed President Donald Trump’s administration once again last week when he signed legislation to increase supervision of a controversial water project in the Mojave Desert.

The Cadiz Water Project has been a point of contention for years, and has drawn the ire of environmentalists who say the plan to pump groundwater to create a new water supply will harm the natural and cultural resources of the desert.

The United States Bureau of Land Management blocked the project in 2015 because it would not earn federal approval under the National Environmental Policy Act.

But Trump’s administration determined that Cadiz Inc. could continue with its plans to ”create a new water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people a year.”

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has been a vocal opponent against the project, and alleged that Cadiz is avoiding federal permitting to “rob” the Mojave Desert of water.

The new law requires the State Lands Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Water Resources determine whether the transfer of water will harm the Mojave Desert’s natural environment.

“We cannot afford to get this wrong,” said state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside. “It is critical to allow independent scientists to review the scientific evidence in order to resolve the conflict.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon also applauded Newsom’s signature in a press release calling the legislation “appropriate oversight of a proposed water project that has the potential for causing long-lasting environmental damage.”

“We need to provide safe drinking water for all Californians, but we cannot do it at the expense of our state’s environmental future,” Rendon said. “If the project is shown to be safe, it can proceed, but we cannot, and I will not, stand by and allow short-term profits to be the driving force of policy.”

Cadiz’s CEO Scott Slater called the legislation a “troubling precedent for infrastructure development,” but said the new law would not stop the water project from moving forward.

“We stand ready to comply with SB 307, just as we have complied with all of California’s stringent environmental laws,” he said. “We believe a fact-based evaluation of the project conducted under the governor’s watchful eye will undoubtedly conclude we can sustainably contribute to this effort.”

IN OTHER WATER NEWS

On the heels of legislation signed to create a fund that would support clean water initiatives in California, Newsom also signed a bill that requires California water systems to report dangerous levels of cancer-linked chemicals.

Assembly Bill 756 requires the state’s water systems to notify residents if they detect levels of chemicals called polyfluoroakyl substance.

The chemicals are used in everyday items such as non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers and pizza boxes, according to a press release announcing the signing from the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.

California has the highest levels of the chemicals in drinking water relative to other states in the US, according to the release. These chemicals have been linked to cancer and birth defects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Given California’s abundance of industrial production, particularly in my district of South East Los Angeles, it’s past time we’re monitoring these substances in our water supplies,” Garcia said. “We’re being poisoned at the tap.”

Via Elizabeth Shwe

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.
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