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Comments of Public Citizen California on the California Performance Review Report

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September 30, 2004

    Public Citizen is a national non-profit membership organization based in Washington, D.C. with over 30,000 members in California. Since its founding in 1971, Public Citizen has fought for corporate and governmental accountability in order to guarantee the individual’s right to safe products, a health environment and workplace, fair trade, and clean and safe energy sources.  Public Citizen is active in every public forum: Congress, state legislatures, the courts, government agencies, and the news media. Our California office, opened in 2001, works for safe and sustainable agriculture,  democratic control and protection of public water resources, and just and fair trade policies that preserve the integrity of state and local democracy. 

    The Report of the California Performance Review assumes a central task of democratic government: self-evaluation. California governance faces unique challenges among the states of the Union in safeguarding a vast expanse of invaluable territory, a booming and diverse population, and the fifth largest economy in the world. In facing these challenges, California has often been at the vanguard of creating accountable and accessible laws and institutions that cultivate a rich tradition of civic participation in public policy. It has also evolved in places to protect “special interests;” that is, those with motives to formulate public policy for private or commercial gain.

Governor Schwarzenegger assembled the California Performance Review with the aim of reforming California’s state government to make it more efficient and more responsive to its citizens. Unfortunately, we find that the Report lacks the detail, the analysis, and—importantly—the balance in consideration of positions to successfully navigate the maze of California government and meaningfully evaluate its many entities.

It would seem as if the Review Team first sought to rearrange the boxes in a state government organizational diagram into a cleaner picture before actually studying the performance records of the various entities to be eliminated. The responsibilities of the boards and commissions slated for elimination, it would then appear, were then conveniently tucked into top-down departments under the authority of single individuals serving at the pleasure of the Governor. As a result, the overall impression of the organizational diagram is one of a simpler, cleaner picture, while that of the Report is one of a mass consolidation of power within the executive branch, regardless of the performance histories of the 117 boards and commissions erased from the flow-chart.

    The following comments will elaborate on what we feel to be the systemic errors in the Report’s construction and conclusions.

I. The Report was researched and written without meaningful public participation.

The Review Team did not conduct public hearings during its review and drafting phases. They did however, carry out significant outreach to advocates for industry perspectives, including full-time lobbyists and corporate executives as well as agency representatives known for their strong industry advocacy. The imbalance in perspectives that results in the Report is clearly evident in its source materials. Throughout we have found that the documents and interviews cited in the Report present a review effort that was heavily tilted towards industry concerns. In the chapters dealing with water policy, for example, not a single environmental organization, university research department or environmental justice advocate is cited, as compared to numerous citations to interviews with agency representatives known for public advocacy of industry perspectives.   Not surprisingly, the Report fails to even acknowledge environmental and environmental justice concerns in making their recommendations.

The irony of the Review Team’s granting exclusive access to industry representatives while drafting a proposal to restructure California government to root out special interests and make government more accessible should not be lost. The lack of access in the research and drafting phase should be redressed in a substantial public review phase.

II. The Review process has not adequately incorporated public comment.

The seven meetings held throughout California between early August and late September of this year did not meet the expectation of meaningful public participation. The Review period did not allow sufficient time to thoroughly consider the Report’s recommendations. The meetings themselves were packed with scheduled panelists and Power Point presentations by the Review Team with little or no open public comment.

Public Citizen staff and ally organizations attended four of the seven statewide meetings, filling out comment cards and waiting nine hours at each meeting to make comments. We were unable, however, to give meaningful comment due to time restrictions. At the September 27 meeting in Davis, after the public comment period was pushed back to seven minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the meeting and most of the Commissioners and audience had left, Public Citizen staff and other members of the public waiting to make comment were told to limit comments to “two sentences.” Given the enormity of the changes to state government proposed in the 2,700-page document, having comment limited to two sentences is highly insufficient.

When confronted with complaints from environmental justice advocates at the meeting, the Commission Co-Chair responded that the Commission was “doing the best it can” to accommodate public comment. We respectfully disagree. The Commission can do better than initiating public comment seven minutes before the scheduled close of the meeting and then limiting people to “two sentences.” The Commission should hold statewide public hearings that are entirely dedicated to receiving public comment and should take pride that so many citizens want to take part in evaluating state government. The Commission should not marginalize public comment by tacking it on at the end of an expert panel when over half of the Commission has already departed. Such actions leave the impression that the Commission would like to say that it has carried out a public review without actually doing so.

If the Commission truly wants to meaningfully engage public participation, it should begin by extending the period for submitting written public comment and scheduling a second round of public review exclusively geared toward taking public comment. These hearings should be held at a time and place that make it convenient for working Californians to attend. The Commission should invest in outreach to ensure the broadest possible community attendance at these hearings and encourage community radio stations to broadcast them.  

III. The Report’s recommendations would significantly reduce the accessibility and accountability of Californiastate government.

The Report recommends eliminating 117 boards and commissions and shifting their responsibilities to newly reorganized, overarching departments to be led by officials appointed by the Governor. In most cases, we find that this will go against the stated objectives of the Performance Review. 

Boards and commissions are subject to the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act (Government Code section 11120 et seq.) and must thus hold all meetings and make all decisions in public and open to public participation. Eliminating this format and replacing it with large departments will eliminate a substantial amount of public participation in and scrutiny of public policy decision making. Moreover, removing regional boards and concentrating their responsibilities in Sacramento will shift potential policy influence significantly toward the industry lobbyists based full-time in Sacramento who are able to cultivate relationships with department staff in private meetings. 

As historian Kevin Starr testified at the September 27 Davis hearing on Government Restructuring, California’s boards and commissions were created during the Progressive Era as an intermediary between politicians and private interests. The Progressives hoped to help break the disproportionate influence of large corporations such as the Southern Pacific Railroad. The new boards and commissions bolstered civic involvement in statewide public policy by providing an open forum for public comment and close scrutiny of decision-making.

The most significant element in forming a successful intermediary through the boards and commissions was the incorporation of expertise into their leadership. That the expertise was not tied to gubernatorial administrations also provided for the cultivation of institutional memory between administrations. To do away with the board and commission format would unnecessarily reduce the efficiency of government by purging it of expertise and institutional memory, while at the same time reducing accessibility for the public by eliminating the intermediary between politicians and special interests. Consolidation for consolidation’s sake will place disparate policy issues affecting diverse stakeholders and industries together and dilute the specific knowledge and expertise necessary to make informed decisions.

IV. The Report’s advocacy of a “strong water policy” ignores environmental and environmental justice concerns and violates the state’s historic public trust doctrine.

Public Citizen’s Water for All campaigns to protect universal access to safe and affordable water by keeping it in public hands. Public Citizen California does not believe that citizens benefit from privatization of their water and wastewater systems and that the sale of public works to private companies can foster corruption and result in higher rates, inadequate service and a loss of local control and accountability. Our California office is an active participant in the debates surrounding the issues taken up in the Report’s water policy recommendations. The Report vastly oversimplifies these issues by completely ignoring alternate positions within the debates and failing to support its own position—one of increasing water supply and private corporate influence in water policy—with analysis.

The State Water Project should remain under state stewardship.

The Report recommends eliminating the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and moving some of its responsibilities to the newly created Department of Infrastructure which would house everything from highway construction to energy conservation, school facility approval to flood disaster avoidance. In the course of the move, the Report also recommends stripping DWR of the state project that it was established to build and operate, the State Water Project (SWP). The SWP, the Report encourages, should be placed under the Resources Agency, or its successor in the new Department of Infrastructure, and then contracted out to the State Water Contractors.

Turning over the operation and maintenance of the SWP as well as the authority to acquire water and water rights through the project to the Contractors would undercut the state’s public trust stewardship of the SWP. The most powerful Contractors with the SWP represent some of the largest landowners in the state and have consistently pushed for water supply increases that have been widely opposed by environmentalists in the courts and California voters at the polls. For example, the Report mentions that the Peripheral Canal project was defeated in a statewide referendum in 1982, but then describes this voter initiative as one of several “failures of the state to move forward on water supply and infrastructure issues” (INF09, p.2).

The Report recommends that the state “take immediate actions to remove the impediments affecting the State Water Project, while maintaining environmental protections and standards” (INF07, p.1). The recommended action—relinquishing state oversight of the project—however, is universally opposed by environmental organizations, none of which are cited in the endnotes alongside the Contractor agencies that were interviewed.  

The Report also endorses the controversial South Delta Improvement Program (SDIP) which seeks to increase pumping from the Delta and to integrate operations of the SWP and the federal Central Valley Project. The SDIP was first discussed in a closed meeting between state and federal agencies and representatives of the most powerful Contractors. The meeting, which took place in Napa in July 2003, was widely criticized by the state legislature, the media and environmental organizations for shutting out the public and circumventing the CALFED process, the joint federal-state effort to resolve longstanding conflicts involving the San Francisco Bay-Delta. The SDIP is opposed by over twenty statewide environmental organizations that participate in the Environmental Water Caucus, including Public Citizen California, and has been the subject of state legislation seeking to stop any pumping increases until Delta water quality obligations have been met. The Report contains none of this information. The Report does not cite a single environmental organization. Instead, the Report cites those agency representatives who were present at the closed-door meeting in Napa and concludes that CALFED has been successful in implementing environmental restoration while failing to meet water supply objectives. The lack of balance and analysis completely undermines the credibility of the Report’s endorsements.

Interagency conflicts are not a justification for consolidating power within the executive branch.

The Report states that various agencies are in conflict with each other and thus inefficient. It cites as an example of this the “current policy controversy among state agencies… whether to allow private water companies to compete for state water bond funds” (INF09). The Report does not engage the policy debate around the controversy.

Public Citizen California has worked for over a year with a broad coalition to oppose legislation that would open up all Californiageneral obligation bond funds to private companies. Two private companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying the state legislature on this issue. The Report does not acknowledge the existence of the policy debate. Public Citizen believes that scarce public bond funds should be invested in public water utilities and projects that guarantee the greatest level of public accountability, not to investor-owned utilities whose accountability lies with their shareholders.

As another example of inefficient interagency conflicts, the Report cites the California Coastal Commission’s discouragement of desalination facilities along the California coastline. Rather than weighing the Coastal Commission’s analysis the Report simply sides with Schwarzenegger appointee Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman who “urges… a role for public and private development of desalination projects.”  This serves as the basis for stripping the Coastal Commission of its independence and relocating its responsibilities under the appointee controlled new Department of Natural Resources.  

V. The Report conflates the role of citizen and consumer to the detriment of state democracy.

The Report discusses state government and its consumers. Perhaps this is why so many recommendations lead to the dissolution of public participation and the privatization of state responsibilities. The Report does not view Californians as citizens with rights, but rather as consumers with needs and desires. This is a profoundly dangerous misconception lying at the heart of the Report’s restructuring effort. State government is not a business. Democracy is not driven by a profit motive or beholden to share holders. Democracy is driven by public participation in providing for the general welfare of the entire community and of future generations.  

    Public Citizen appreciates this opportunity to submit public comments, though we would like to reiterate our hope that the comment period will be extended and that another round of statewide review will enable more Californians to participate in this important effort.

Contacts:

Anna Blackshaw
Director, Public Citizen California Office
(510) 663-0888 ext. 102

John Gibler
Researcher, Public Citizen, Water for All Campaign
(510) 663-0888 ext. 105

    » california | water | cpr


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