News

Flood legislation returns without builder-opposed provision

Senate leader Don Perata has revived a flood-control package that he
declared dead only a week ago. But a central proposal vehemently opposed by
the building industry–which last week donated $500,000 to a
Perata-controlled committee, and another $500,000 to a committee run by a
close Perata associate–remains off the table.

On Tuesday, exactly one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans,
Perata said he was folding several provisions from the shelved eight-bill
flood package into new, yet-to-be introduced legislation.

“[The] state’s first obligation is to fix the levees. These bills won’t fix
levees,” said Perata, D-Oakland. “But as long as people now think that they
have to have something, the Legislature going to give them something. There
will be a bill [this year].”

The new bill, as of publication mid-Wednesday, was still being written. It
would require shared financial liability for the state, cities and counties
in flood-prone areas, and new mapping of potential flood zones along the
Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The bill must pass out of both the
Assembly and Senate before the Legislature adjourns on Thursday.

But the new legislation will not include the contents of AB 1899, authored
by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, which would require new developments
with at least 25 units to have 100-year flood protection, and plans to
upgrade to 200-year protection.

It is Wolk’s bill that has drawn the ire and opposition of the California
Building Industry Association (CBIA), which made the two $500,000 donations.

The half-million dollar donation is the single largest that a Perata
committee has directly received since he became Senate leader in 2004. On
the same day, the CBIA donated another $500,000 to Let’s Rebuild California,
a campaign committee that is not controlled by Perata, but for which he is
actively raising money. Top Perata confidant Sandra Polka is the chief
strategist for Let’s Rebuild California.

“The senator makes his decisions about legislation on the merits and nothing
else,” said Paul Hefner, a spokesman for both committees and Polka
associate, who notes that he CBIA has contributed more than $2.5 million to
various bond campaigns in the last four years. “It doesn’t take a rocket
scientist to figure out why the Building Industry Association would be in
favor of an infrastructure plan.”

But Ned Wigglesworth, policy advocate for California Common Cause, said
Perata “got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.”

“Once some light was shined on his action and the money he got from the
interest group that directly benefited from that action, he scurried to
manage what was turning into a PR nightmare,” says Wigglesworth.

Perata spokeswoman Alicia Trost says the Senate leader’s shifting course
over flood legislation is guided by policy considerations, not political
contributions.

“We also shelved the one bill that is the Building Industry priority, AB
3022,” said Trost, referring to flood legislation authored by Assemblyman
Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana. “If this was an exercise to appease the builders,
why would we have done that?”

Umberg and Perata have been feuding since Umberg lost a June Senate primary
to a Perata-recruited candidate, Lou Correa. Recently, the Senate removed
Umberg’s name from several bills he had authored.

Umberg calls Perata’s characterization that shelving AB 3022 as policy
decision “laughable.”

Wolk did not wish to comment on the influence of the builders’ donations,
but did acknowledge that the CBIA has “tremendous power” and has made it a
priority to sink her legislation. The CBIA has argued that Wolk’s bill is
too restrictive, saying it was “disguised as flood protection” and that it
“would shut down new construction.”

Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, also has opposed Wolk’s bill, saying it would
leave existing developments at risk of flooding. Machado, along with Senate
staffer Kip Lipper, has taken the lead in rewriting the new package.

Perata has cited Machado’s criticism, along with amendments suggested by
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that he claimed would weaken the legislation, as
the roots of his opposition.

“Sen. Machado, who represents the same area and twice as many constituents
as Assembly member Wolk, feels provisions in Wolk’s AB 1899 could jeopardize
already existing levees and already existing construction,” said Perata.

Some critics say Perata’s political donations and legislative actions
converged again this week, as he is co-authoring the recently negotiated
deal to expand gaming between the Pechanga Band of Luise


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