Sacramento: Day Two - 2008
The work continues.
As Tuesday morning dawned on Sacramento, I met up with the 55 community members who came up to Sacramento to fight for three major issues. Those issues centered around budget funding for our three levels of education here in Santa Clarita, future water availability, and the I-5’s congestion problems through the Newhall Pass.
Day one had been spent traveling, learning the issues, and meeting with Caltrans Director Will Kempton and State Superintendent Jack O’Connell.
Day two had an even busier schedule, with most of the day set aside for legislator and advisor meetings.
First up was a chance to talk to our State Senator George Runner, who briefed us on some bills he’s carrying, and the Safe Neighborhoods Act. He also took time to address some education questions, and he told the group that he would vote for some public transportation money to be diverted for school transportation. That has been a large expense of the school districts, and it serves as one potential way they could receive some help.
Next on the agenda was a lengthy meeting with Ron Davis, who is the Legislative Director for the California Association of Water Districts. He underlined many of the reasons why water has become such a pressing issue for the Southland and Santa Clarita.
A large amount of our water comes from Northern California. All that precious water moves through a sophisticated conveyance system that brings it from north to south, and at the center of this system lies the intersection of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers; this area is called the Delta.
When the system to transport water form the north to the south was created, the environment was not considered. Now, many years later, the Delta Smelt fish and other ecological components are on in the midst of collapse. “The Delta is crashing,” Davis told our group.
With the Delta Smelt being a protected species, the government is doing all it can to save the fish before it is gone forever. A recent court ruling has allowed for the Delta to be shut down from December of this year to June in an effort to allow for some new breeding.
That closure will greatly reduce the amount of water available to the southland this coming year. Luckily for Santa Clarita, the Castaic Lake Water agency assured KHTS that they have more than enough water stored in the southland to compensate during this impending emergency.
But the shut down of the Delta is not a permanent fix. The entire system will have to at some point in the near future be fixed to prevent this problem.
California State Assembly’s minority leader Mike Villines spoke to our group next and he provided a broad overview of how Assembly Republicans are going to attack legislation and reform in the near future. Villines said that they would like to look into creating a two year budget, which would allow for one year to deal with legislation, and the other to deal with budgetary concerns. That time would also allow schools, who are often forced to budget before the state tells them how much money they will be receiving, to better plan their years.
Other ideas for reform include privatizing the lottery, redistricting, and putting a hard cap on spending. All of those options require a 2/3 majority vote in both houses, so much negotiation will need to occur.
Education committee member Martin Garrick was next to meet with the group, and he fielded questions primarily on education. Flexibility was a key topic, as schools are held to strict standards regarding class size. So even in tough years, school districts have to pay for enough teachers to keep class sizes at the exact prescribed numbers or lower. Flexibility would allow class sizes to fluctuate by a small number.
To break up the day, our group then took a VIP tour of the Capitol and had lunch.
But then it was right back to work, meeting with water advisor to the Assembly Alf Brandt. He echoed the urgency described by others with regard to the Delta. He also addressed the levees, which keep a 220 mile long stretch of the central coast from flooding every year. Those are in need of extensive repair.
Turning the group’s attention to education again, Susan Stuart, who lobbies for educational institutions, explained some of the challenges schools face in Sacramento. Revenue is decreasing, and she believes more revenue needs to be added to get education on the right track.
The final speaker was Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, who addressed issues with how the state spends money, and why she believes much reform is needed.
Assemblyman Cameron Smyth wrapped up the trip by thanking the participants for traveling up to Sacramento. His office was a co-sponsor of the trip along with KHTS.
After a quick walk to the bus, we were headed back home. It was a whirlwind trip, jam-packed with information. The bus held people from all corners of Santa Clarita.
And as the sun set over the flat farmland along the I-5, I couldn’t help but sit back and wonder how much I had learned about our town. I knew water availability was an issue, but I didn’t know that it was the number one issue in state
politics. I knew education in Santa Clarita needed money, but I didn’t know that the issue is not just about dollars and cents. It’s about procedures, mandates and rules… some of which are out of date, others just absurd. But either way, it has created a political dance that schools must play year after year, until major reform occurs. Lastly, I knew that putting truck lanes through the Newhall Pass is a good idea. I didn’t know that everyone else thought that was a good idea. Having Caltrans Director Will Kempton tell you that he can’t imagine the project not getting funded eventually, is a good sign.
It was a successful trip. We made our voices heard in a constructive way. And after two tough days, we have set the stage to really roll up our sleeves and get to work.