Photograph by Curtis Cartier
TALK OF THE BAY: How to save the Bay Delta ecosystem without starving farmers of water was one of the thorniest environmental issues state lawmakers tackled this year. A bill co-authored by state Sen. Simitian was signed by the governor in November.
The Green Party
A Sierra Club report finds Santa Cruz pols among the greenest in Sacramento
By Jessica Lussenhop
IN THESE closing days of 2009, Sierra Club California director Bill Magavern is pretty happy with Santa Cruz's taste in politicians.
"[Assemblymember] Bill Monning has been a star in his freshman year," he says. "He has an absolutely stellar record." Monning took home perfect marks from the club's California Legislative 2009 Report Card, which tracks how closely state lawmakers' votes matched the club's position on a slate of 15 environmental bills. Monning batted a perfect 15, one of only two assemblymembers to do so.
"I think it's reflective of consistent principles between Sierra Club and my view of how I represent our coastal interests," says Monning.
State Sen. Joe Simitian, who represents the district encompassing Santa Cruz and Palo Alto, didn't do so badly either, scoring 13 out of 15. The two demerits stem from disagreement over the Bay Delta governance bill, which Simitian wrote, and its corresponding $11.1 billion water bond. Simitian stands by his record.
"We just couldn't wait any longer to attack the environmental degradation of the area and the risk of the system crashing in terms of water supply for two-thirds of the state," says Simitian. "I felt good about the environmental protections that I authored in the bill. The club wasn't ready to move forward. And fair enough."
Magavern says that although he faults the bills for having weak habitat and water quality protections for the Delta, and for allowing future dams to be built, the issue is not one that will change his opinion of Simitian as an environmentally minded legislator. "We respect the fact that Sen. Simitian has worked hard on that issue. Ultimately, we had different views," he says.
While Monning and Simitian may be teacher's pets—both scored 100 percent on a similar report card put out by the California League of Conservation Voters—overall, 2009 was a terrible year for environmental legislation in the Sierra Club's opinion. Thirteen of the 15 bills made it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk to be either vetoed or approved, and only two of those decisions went Sierra Club's way—the passage of solar and wind energy bill A.B. 920 and a water conservation law concerning metered billing, A.B. 975.
Among the fallen bills was S.B. 797, which banned the use of a potentially harmful chemical called bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups. Other casualties were A.B. 64 and S.B. 14, which together would have increased the state Renewables Portfolio Standard to 33 percent by 2020, building on the goal of sourcing 20 percent of California's energy from renewables by 2010, as stipulated in 2006 legislation. Simitian helped author S.B. 14 and A.B. 64.
"I was really disappointed with the veto I got from the governor," he says. "I don't think he wants to go far enough fast enough. It's my job to keep pushing him in the right direction."
Although Schwarzenegger later wrote an executive order for alternative energy usage to rise to 33 percent, Simitian says he will try to put this language into law—noting Executive Orders would be subject to change by an incoming governor—again next year.
Monning says he was also concerned by the passage of A.B. X3 81, which allowed a free pass from California Environmental Quality Act provisions for a football stadium being built in the City of Industry in Los Angeles County, a potentially precedent-setting loophole, but was pleased to have put the brakes on A.B. X4 23, which would have approved new offshore drilling in Santa Barbara.
But he says there's still trouble on the horizon in the person of state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R–Santa Maria), the current favorite for lieutenant governor.
"Should he be confirmed, he could become a second vote in favor of offshore drilling on the California State Lands Commission," Monning says. "We're going to have to continue to be vigilant." Outgoing Lt. Gov. John Garamendi voted against drilling in February.
As for Maldonado's own record, he scored a dismal three out 15 on the report card. District 28 Assemblymember Anna Caballero, who represents Watsonville and Salinas, had a mixed review with her score of eight.
With only five legislators scoring 100 percent in 2009, compared to 42 in 2008, it's clear that this was a disappointing year in the Sierra Club's view.
"I think that the budget crisis did block us from making the progress we need to make, and I would also say that there was some damage done by rollbacks, weakening of quality standards exemptions in the California Environmental Quality Act, some of the policy errors that were made in the water package—all of those took us in the wrong direction," says Magavern.
Monning adds that the blame falls on the governor as well.
"The proof is in the pudding. His votes speak for themselves," he says. "He'll have some work to do to maintain the mantle of the 'green governor.' I don't know if that's deserved at this point."
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