Editorial: ‘Yes’ on anti-flood Proposition 1E

Especially now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented destructiveness, Californians tend to be dismayed when they first learn about the state’s flood control levees. Many of them — particularly those around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — are more than 100 years old and made from compacted earth.

Before last year’s catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, it was considerably easier to shunt aside California flood control spending proposals. The politicians deemed them low-priority expenses that could easily be delayed until far into the future. Now we know better.

Proposition 1E is one of the four infrastructure bonds in the final version of the $37 billion public works package negotiated by Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature. It would bring $4.1 billion to repair levees and improve flood control, primarily in the Central Valley, where the main water supply for 23 million people and the state’s agricultural heartland is located.

Even the most ardent supporters of Prop. 1E do not claim it would make every levee in the state flood-proof. Water officials estimate the cost of a complete California flood-proofing at $13 billion.

The state measure can best be seen as a necessary down payment on repairs that must be commenced without delay, in the interests of public safety and as insurance against major disruptions of the state economy. We endorse this bond initiative along with the rest of the infrastructure package.

Although residents of San Francisco and San Mateo counties generally do not need to worry about suffering flood damage directly caused by levee failure, the Bay Area certainly would not want to experience the disastrous economic fallout from a major failure of the Central Valley’s agricultural irrigation or destruction of the primary drinking water aqueducts into Southern California.

California’s widespread recognition of the pressing need to begin long-overdue repairs of the levee system can be seen by the fact that Prop. IE is endorsed by both the state Chamber of Commerce and the California State Employees Association. Polls have shown 1E with approval ratings in the mid-50s, running ahead of even the highway improvement bonds.

It’s also worth mentioning that a court decision in 2003 left the state government much more vulnerable to litigation for flood-related losses to private property — another good reason to invest in lessening the likelihood of flood liability.

The Examiner doesn’t claim Prop. 1E is a perfect flood-control financing measure. It’s expensive and ultimately will cost $8 billion to repay the $4.1 billion bond over 30 years. Exact details of which levees and other projects to spend the money on will be worked out later in what could be a nasty political tug-of-war.

However, nobody wants another New Orleans Superdome fiasco in California, or wants to figure out who will pay for repairing miles upon miles of flood-demolished homes. The levees must be made safe without delay and Prop. 1E offers an acceptable start.

Part of The San Francisco Examiner's 2006 election coverage.

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