Gavin Newsom pledged on Friday to speed up hundreds of billions in construction projects across the state. This includes a pair of large, water-related projects that have been stalled for years due to delays with permits and opposition by environmental groups.
California officials have been pursuing water projects for the past decade in the drought-prone State. One project would be to build a giant tunnel that would carry large amounts of water under the natural channels of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and into the drier, more populous Southern California.
The other would be an enormous new reservoir near Sites, a tiny community in Northern California. This reservoir could store more water for farmers during floods -- such as the atmospheric rivers that flooded the state earlier this summer.
Despite promises made by multiple governors and legislators, neither project has yet to be built. Environmental groups have sued the project to stop it, claiming that it would decimate threatened fish species, including salmon and Delta smelt. The Sites Reservoir still needs to obtain permits before construction can begin.
Newsom wants to make a number of changes that will help these projects get the permits and approvals they need much more quickly. Other projects that may be eligible are solar, wind, and battery power storage projects; transit and regional railway; road maintenance and bridges; semiconductor plants; as well as wildlife crossings along Interstate 15. His efforts to accelerate projects would not apply to the construction of more housing.
One of the key proposals is to limit the time required to resolve environmental suits to nine months. Newsom said that his administration "is not looking to roll anyone over," including those he called "fierce advocates" of environmental stewardship.
Some environmental groups were furious. Barbara Barrigan Parrilla, executive director of the advocacy organization Restore the Delta said Newsom "wants the standard environmental protections to be removed to build the Delta Tunnel."
She said, "We have never felt more disappointed with a California Governor than we do with Governor Newsom. How can environmental injustice, which is harmful to public and environmental health be any different from red state governors who perpetuate social injustice in their own states, as Governor Newsom loves to criticize so vigorously?"
Newsom says California will have hundreds of billions to spend on infrastructure over the next decade. This is the result of voter-approved bonds, budget surpluses from the pandemic, and federal cash from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.
He said that the state often takes too long to approve these projects and that federal money "goes to other states who are moving more quickly." Newsom said that his proposals could reduce the time it takes to complete projects by over three years.
His office said that the legislation would enable various state agencies, such as the Department of Transportation to approve projects and issue licenses more quickly. Newsom signed an executive order Friday to create what he called a "strike team for infrastructure" in order to identify projects that can be fast-tracked.
Jerry Brown, executive Director of the Sites Project Authority, which is overseeing the construction of the new reservoir, believes that Newsom's proposal could allow for construction to begin a year earlier, saving approximately $100 million.
Newsom wants to include the legislation in the state budget, which has to be approved before the end of June.
Toni Atkins is a Democrat and leader of the California Senate. She said, "The climate crisis requires us to move faster to build critical infrastructure." She added that lawmakers would "ensure that we can do this responsibly and in line with California’s commitment to high-road jobs and environmental protection."
Some Republicans praised Newsom's plan, with Republican Senate leader Brian Jones saying that the governor "finally took action." Others were less enthusiastic, with Assembly Republican Leadership James Gallagher saying Democrats are the biggest obstacles to Newsom’s proposals.
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