Two of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s major initiatives that he’s trying to jam through the Legislature are facing blowback this week. And as environmentalists and children’s advocates rally against his proposals, legislators are trying to wrap up budget negotiations with the governor before the new fiscal year starts July 1.
First: Disagreements over the proposed Delta tunnel — which bubbled up last week when the Legislature passed its spending proposal for 2023-24 — resurfaced once again, highlighting its outsized role in this year’s budget negotiations.
As CalMatters’ environmental reporter Rachel Becker explains, several lawmakers on Tuesday penned a letter urging Newsom and legislative leaders to delay his package of infrastructure bills (which were introduced in May and are trailer bills to the budget) “for as long as the Delta Conveyance Project remains a part of the proposal.”
The tunnel is an ambitious project to send water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta south to 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland. According to the latest estimates from 2020, it’s expected to cost $16 billion.
Newsom’s CEQA Reform Push Draws Strong Opposition
To streamline state approval for such an endeavor, Newsom unveiled an executive order and a series of measures that would prevent major infrastructure projects, including the Delta tunnel, from being tied up in court under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
This is a red flag for environmentalists, local communities surrounding the Delta, and some legislators. They argue that without the guardrails held in place by CEQA, development of the tunnel will continue unchecked, disrupting residents’ way of life, threatening sensitive ecosystems, and harming endangered species.
And because the governor’s measures are budget trailer bills, they could bypass the typical policy committee process, giving lawmakers less opportunity for scrutiny.
- The letter: “Rather than taking up a few blocks like a stadium, the tunnel would span multiple counties and impose water and air quality concerns throughout the region.”
But proponents of Gov. Newsom’s infrastructure package argue that it will enable major projects, which have been historically stalled for years, to proceed, and make the state more competitive for federal funding.
- Alex Stack, Newsom spokesperson: “To delay these projects is to delay climate action, clean energy, safe drinking water and put millions more Californians at risk of devastating climate impacts.”
Though the governor’s proposal could be enacted after officials pass the budget, it could be used as a bargaining chip as negotiations continue.
Youth Advocates Fight Newsom’s Mental Health Overhaul
In March, Newsom proposed to divert about $1 billion of the law’s funds to housing homeless individuals with severe mental illness. His office released more information on Tuesday about the changes, including details on money for services and clinical treatments, as well as eliminating funds for programs that support minority and LGBTQ+ communities.
The details do little to assuage the fears of children’s mental health advocates, who argue that Gov. Newsom’s proposal still fails to address their earlier concerns about cuts to youth services, LGBTQ+ programs, school-based suicide prevention programs, and mental health consultations.
- Lishaun Francis, senior director of behavioral health at Children Now: “We want to support our unhoused population, but we don’t want to do that at the expense of our youth.”
A reminder: The debate centers around a reallocation of revenue from the act, which levies a 1% tax on millionaires and is separate from the state’s general fund budget. If legislators go along, voters will decide next March whether to pass Newsom’s reforms, including a $4.7 billion bond measure to add treatment beds.
About the Author
Lynn La is the WhatMatters newsletter writer. Prior to joining CalMatters, she developed thought leadership at an ed-tech company and was a senior editor at CNET. She also covered public health at The Sacramento Bee as a Kaiser media fellow and was an intern reporter at Capitol Weekly. She’s a graduate of UC Davis and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.