Maywood is one of California’s tiniest and most troubled cities, a plot of scarcely 750 acres southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Its official population, nearly all Latino, is about 30,000 persons, not counting an untold number of illegal immigrants. Its Police Department has been singled out by the state Department of Justice for brutality.
Maywood’s drinking water, supplied by three private companies, “on any given day … can be shades of brown and emit a foul odor,” according to an observer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Many residents suspect contamination from industrial waste disposal.
Given that, one might justify an $8 million earmark to upgrade Maywood’s drinking water supply in the $11.1 billion bond issue that the Legislature approved last week as the centerpiece of its water supply package and that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Monday.
Schwarzenegger did not go to Maywood to conduct his bill-signing ceremony, however. Rather, he did it at a dam near Fresno to tout designated financing for highly controversial new reservoirs, saying, “I would not sign it without water storage.”
Schwarzenegger’s effusive words notwithstanding, there’s much to question about the bond issue, beginning with its size. In enacting it, the governor and the Legislature completely ignored state Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s warning that the state, by borrowing money for so many purposes, could quickly become overextended.
Debt service, now nearly 7 percent of the state budget, could hit 10 percent by the middle of the next decade, Lockyer said, calling for a multiyear master plan for financing infrastructure rather than the current election-by-election game. Repaying water bonds will cost as much as $800 million a year.
The second big question: Will voters go along with it? Asking visibly angry voters to authorize more borrowing in this very bleak economy is dicey, especially since there’s considerable opposition, including some environmental groups and perhaps public employee unions that see less program money available if more is spent on bond service.
The bond’s political pork would be ammunition for an opposition campaign. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg may have been compelled to remove the $10 million earmark for his pet “unity center” that had nothing to do with water, but the $30 million blanket appropriation for “watershed education facilities” remains, for example.
There’s another $250 million to partially pay for removing dams on the Klamath River that have nothing to do with California’s water supply – a benefit to PacifiCorp, the dams’ operator, which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, Schwarzenegger’s old pal. And there’s another $20 million for “economic development” in Siskiyou County, where the dams are located.
If the bonds are rejected, the entire water package collapses.
This is going to be interesting.