Bustamante says Central Valley flood response slow

Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante’s office has accused Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger of playing politics with last week’s flooding in the Central
Valley by not being in touch with him while the governor was outside the
state. The governor’s office has said that there was nothing unusual about
the response or the level of contact.

Six days passed between the day Merced County lawmakers first called on the
governor to declare parts of Merced County a disaster area and the
governor’s actual declaration of a state of emergency on Monday. The
governor was out of the state from Wednesday night through Sunday morning.
The governor’s press office refused to say where the governor was over the

Stephen Green, Bustamante’s press secretary, said that the governor’s office
did not contact them at all while the governor was out of state. This was a
breach of the normal protocols that had been in place during previous
emergencies when the governor was out of state, Green said. He attributed
this to politics, saying the governor intentionally waited until he could
come back to the state and make the declaration himself. The event was
heavily covered in newspapers across the state.

“They are willing to make Merced County wait six days so the governor can
get a photo op.”

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Katherine McLane discounted Green’s accusations
and said there was nothing out of the ordinary about Schwarzenegger not
contacting Bustamante.

A spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES), Eric
Lamoureux, said that staff were on the ground Tuesday, assessing the level
of damage and ongoing threat. Seven counties were covered by Monday’s
declaration: Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, San Mateo and

“We didn’t complete the damage assessment until Friday and were pulling the
information together through the weekend,” Lamoureux said. “There wasn’t any
work occurring or not occurring as a result of the state of emergency not
being in place.”

A state of emergency cannot be declared unless a county asks for it, as
Merced did on Tuesday. Elaine Post, a spokeswoman for Merced County, said
that OES informed them that one of their forms was incorrectly filled out
and needed to be re-filed.

Also on Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, and Merced County Sheriff Mark
Pazin hand delivered a letter to the governor’s office asking for the
declaration of a state of emergency. Similar requests were issued by the
Merced County Board of Supervisors, Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy,
and Rep Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.

Central Valley lawmakers have indicated that they are happy with the
response from the governor’s office. “They very quickly put people on the
ground to evaluate the situation,” said John Bray, a spokesman for Cardoza.
“We’ve been pleased with how they proceeded.”

Green said that the people from the governor’s staff were in constant
contact with Bustamante’s office in 2003 when an earthquake hit the Central
Coast while Schwarzenegger was outside the state. This was also the case
during the floods in the northern Central Valley this past Christmas, Green
said. However, there was a similar lag-time in between the beginning of that
flooding, on December 19, and declaration of emergency across seven counties
on January 2.

In February, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for the state’s
levee system. This made $103 million available to repair two dozen problem
areas in that system.

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