A brand new day in California: state parks lose out, but climate change law intact and other green election news
Election Day brought in some bright stars and some stormy clouds over the environment.
On the downside, a national climate change bill is no doubt dead for the foreseeable future now that Republican skeptics are in control of the House. And Nancy Pelosi’s loss of leadership could spell some important losses in infrastructure spending here in the Bay Area, including federal funding to get the high-speed rail project on track.
California voters also turned down — by 58 percent – an $18 increase in vehicle registration fees to fund ailing state parks. Regardless of whether the fee was the appropriate fundraising mechanism, the reality is 60 parks are still partially closed and another 90 are suffering from service reductions.
The parks needed that $500 million to keep gates open, bathrooms clean, and to remain safe from crime and other illegal activity. Deferred maintenance in the parks now totals $1.2 billion, and the number of state park employees is the same today — around 3,000 — as it was 20 years ago, despite some 80 million people who now visit the parks annually. Where the money will come from — if anywhere — to fund the state’s 278 parks is an open question, now that this solution has been nixed by voters?
The Bay Area has no fewer than 30 state parks, including Big Basin, Angel Island, Tomales Bay, Mount Tamalpais, and Mount Diable, to name a few popular spots.
And California’s approval of a ballot measure that makes it harder to pass regulatory fees will certainly undermine some environmental causes. Prop 26 — the lesser known cousin of Prop 23 — requires a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature, instead of a simple majority, to raise fees on things like state park users or pesticides (that normally go towards funding state regulatory agencies).
On the happy side, California voters overwhelmingly turned down — by more than 60 percent — the initiative that would have gutted the state’s climate change law. Environmentalists and the green industry were on pins over the possibility that California’s enormous momentum on moving towards a clean energy economy would be suddenly trounced, and set a bad trend for the rest of the states on how easily climate change legislation can be weakened.
Apparently the “Stop Texas Oil” messaging worked. After all what Californian wants to be at the mercy of Texas? Especially after a World Series win? Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger sent out a stream of tweets throughout the night egging on the issue.”We beat Texas last night and now we’re here getting pumped up to beat Texas on Prop 23 tonight,” he tweet at precisely 8:43 pm on election night.
And in his typical Hollywood humor, the Terminator linked to a James Cameron ad that, on top of a cinematic score, told the voting public to “tell your friends, family, cyborgs, and avatars to vote no on 23 before it’s too late.” Panning over to Schwartzenegger, the Gubernator, holding a metal claw hand asks, “Now why do you keep calling me a cyborg?”
In local measures, Marin voters gave the go-head for the water district to continue studying the possibility of building a ocean desalinization plant. In what must be the most contested water board election ever, they also voted back in the incumbents who had launched the desal process. But as part of the initiative that passed, voters will have the final word on whether a desal plant is every built. In the meantime, as the study continues expect more infighting between water supply advocates and environmentalists over the future of Marin’s water.
In an unrelated measure, Marin voters also approved a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees to fund $2 million a year in transportation projects in the county, 35 percent of which will go towards public transit and another 25 percent for climate change and pollution related projects. No doubt Marin voters weren’t the obstacle on the state parks initiative.
Finally, San Francisco is getting a new mayor, now that Gavin Newsom is headed for the lt. governor’s seat. Newsome tweeted last night that he’s looking forward to “jump starting California’s green economy” — whatever that means for an office that somewhat limited and largely ceremonial. But the outgoing lt. governor has sat on a smorgasbord of commissions, including the Ocean Protection Council, charged with protecting California’s coastal ecosystem, and the State Lands Commission and the Commission for Economic Development. Maybe Newsom will find something there for him to sink his teeth into.
The more pressing issue for San Franciscans is, who replaces Newsome on the mayoral throne? Newsom has led some progressive changes to city business, including a robust green purchasing program for city agencies, the highest waste diversion rate in the country at 74 percent, mandatory composting, and a huge expansion in the city’s bike lanes, just to name a few. Newsome’s replacement could be a long process, since there’s discussion of an interim mayor until November 2011 elections. There are plenty of possibilities floating around, and not all with an eco-bent.
And then there’s MUNI. Who can argue that the city’s transit service isn’t in ruins? Proposition G — which passed by a landslide — is probably not the silver bullet in solving MUNI’s woes. Although apparently most of San Francisco thought curbing the labor union’s powers would bring it somewhere. To the extent that Prop G does help improve the system and make public transit a pleasant alternative to driving a car, it could be the most important local environmental initiative enacted.