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California Smears Green Lipstick on Another Boondoggle

Not content with the high-speed rail pipe dream, California Governor Jerry Brown is pushing another multi-billion dollar infrastructure project under the “environmentally friendly” banner. In its way, it’s an ingenious solution to some perennial California problems, but at the end of the day it reveals that the imaginations of many California politicians are firmly stuck in the 1960s. Reuters reports:

California Governor Jerry Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday unveiled a multibillion-dollar plan for two giant tunnels that would dramatically reconfigure the state’s water delivery system.

The nearly $24 billion project aims to help restore the habitat of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and improve the reliability of water supplies to the arid central and southern parts of the state.

The state already has two massive aqueducts that move water from the north to the south, but the way in which the water is transferred has severely damaged fish populations and degraded their habitat in the delta.

The planned project is similar to one Brown approved three decades ago when he was first governor. Voters rejected that project amid vociferous opposition from northern California residents. A similar political battle will be fought this time around.

Note the similarities to the high-speed rail project: Both are huge construction projects  on a scale California hasn’t attempted for decades which will employ a generation of union workers and create enormous debt—but look, they’re green! It’s more than likely that overstated benefits and understated costs will turn the tunnel project into a huge white elephant. It’s also NIMBY bait that will be tied up in court for years, and will likely feature lawsuits from supposed green beneficiaries (already, green opposition to the idea is mounting).

“I want to get [stuff] done,” Governor Brown told a news conference. And perhaps he does. But futuristic-looking ideas as the future looked in 1965 are unlikely to help California much now. Big multibillion dollar projects make the unions and the construction companies happy, and putting some green lipstick on them helps divide the deadly opposition of California’s powerful and wealthy Stop the World green lobby, but the odds are that the state will spend money and time it doesn’t have on projects it won’t be able to finish.

California needs the creative destruction of excessive regulations and burdensome taxes more than it needs big new project. California does have serious infrastructure needs—Governor Brown is not entirely wrong about that—but its infostructure is what really needs fixing. The state’s government and its regulatory and administrative systems are unsustainably inefficient, unconscionably slow and obstructive, and the combination of of high tax and high debt will ruin the state long before any of the Governor’s big projects come on line.

A great governor would bring 21st century solutions to bear: He or she would transform the state higher ed system so that every Californian who wanted one could get a $10,000 BA—and make vocational education and credential and certificate programs even cheaper and more user friendly. He or she would address California’s transportation gridlock using the state’s greatest resource of IT so that telecommuting and teleconferencing cut the clutter on the roads and in the skies—for much, much less than the infrastructure he wants to build. He or she would develop a permitting process that allowed businesses to get virtually every possible permit by filling out online forms and providing results about as fast as consumers can get credit checks—again, he would use California’s great IT capacities to overcome its liabilities. He or she would move aggressively to help California’s dysfunctional school systems escape the straightjacket of big box, big union, big admin districts and offer better, more individualized education at a lower cost—and with greater teacher autonomy and satisfaction.

I think Jerry Brown really does care about California, and really does understand many of the forces that interfere with the state’s well being. But the rabbits he pulls out of his hat are too retro: These are the engineering dreams of the 2oth century, and they won’t put California back out front where it belongs.

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  • Kris

    “green opposition to the idea is mounting”

    Well duh.

    “Cure for Cancer Found! Greens Object.”
    “Jesus Rises! Greens Object.”
    “Arab-Israel Peace Agreement! Greens Object.”

  • Greg in Denver

    And yet, the one thing that would actually be revenue generating, middle class oriented, tangible and bring prosperity across the widest spectrum of manufacturing, regions and is on the balance safe – it is not to be spoke of per the Unicorns, fracking. Decades of potential success for both private & public sector under the progressive brand of “don’t even go there”.

    File under, how the smart become mendacious.

  • vanderleun

    The fly in the ointment is the concept behind “which will employ a generation of union workers.”

    What makes anyone think that union workers or even workers with the skill set to do most of the jobs required by a project of this kind still reside in California?

    Construction on this level with the kinds of experience required does not just come into existence ex nihilo. Perhaps — if they are crazy enough to fund this sump-pump project a goodly number of people can be persuaded to move into California…. but where…. and at what cost in current housing costs.

    Likely to do little to solve California’s employment woes.

  • Eurydice

    How come nobody ever unveils something that only costs a couple of thousand dollars?

  • John Stephens

    Since the project will never be built, it doesn’t really matter whether the skilled workers exist. The Permit Raj and it’s allies will find ways to spend that $24 billion without turning a single shovelload of dirt.

  • John Barker

    I thought they had outlawed non-medical pot in California.

  • Richard Treitel

    If I didn’t know how far Meade Manor was from the Golden State, this would confirm it. California’s community colleges did offer reasonably priced vocational courses as of the last time I looked, and the only two state agencies I have to deal with year in year out (DMV, FTB) are reasonably well webbled. The big problems are the environmental Gestapo, plus some other absurd regulations, and the high taxes. They are indeed as bad as you say.

  • Jim.

    @Richard Treitel:

    California’s community colleges are taking their share of hits, though, and social mobility is suffering as a result.

    Calculus courses are among the first to be cut, because “not enough students pass”. Clue, guys, Calc is hard, and most a large share of the kids who end up at community college aren’t up to that level where math is concerned, for a variety of reasons.

    However, if you’re one of those poor kids who are talented enough to hack it, and you need to take advantage of the low expense of community college plus the fact you can stay close to home and help out with your family for two years’ (or however long your schedule requires) worth of classes, it’s your best ticket to a UC Engineering school.

    And they’re shutting that down in too many cases, in favor of payouts to administrators and enforcement of a new regimen of blaming math and science teachers for kids who just don’t pay enough attention in class to learn the material.

  • Glen

    Neither California nor the Nation’s skies are “cluttered” with airplanes.

    Please contact me on your next visit to the Bay Area so that you can personally fly our open skies.

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