Proposition 3 would allocate millions for Santa Monica Bay and Ballona Creek, but many local conservation groups aren’t supporting it

By Gary Walker

The Santa Monica Bay and Ballona Creek Watershed stand to gain $90 million in funding if voters approve Proposition 3, a nearly $9-billion state water bond on the Nov. 6 ballot with wide-ranging goals for water infrastructure, stormwater runoff diversion and water quality improvements — goals that most environmental organizations rally around.

But many local organizations that consistently put their muscle behind scientific and policy goals for cleaner water and beaches have declined to publicly support the Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative, which pits supporters such as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the California Labor Foundation against opponents such as the Sierra Club of California and League of Women Voters of California.

The problem, some opponents suggest, is that it tries to do so much it won’t actually accomplish anything specific for all that money.

Connor Everts, a facilitator for the Santa Monica-based conservation network Environmental Water Caucus, has backed virtually every water measure except for a 2014 water
bond that funded some controversial projects. But he won’t be supporting Proposition 3.

“This measure is like an upside down, overladen Christmas tree with something for almost everyone but not enough to fix anything,” said Everts. “If it were only a clean drinking water proposition, I would support it wholeheartedly.”

Proposition 3 would, according to its text, allocate $30 million for “the protection and restoration of the Baldwin Hills and Ballona Creek Watershed,” which stretches from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica to Playa del Rey. And the watershed could definitely use some cleaning up — the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation considers it severely degraded by urban runoff.

The bond would also set aside $60 million for the “protection and restoration” of Santa Monica Bay watersheds, which also struggle with runoff.

However, locally based organizations Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Waterkeeper and Ballona Creek Renaissance have decided not to take an official position on Proposition 3. The Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Santa Monica, has also been silent. And Playa del Rey-based Friends of the Ballona Wetlands won’t take a position either because its board won’t meet again until after the election, Executive Director Scott Culbertson said.

Gerald Meral, the proposition’s sponsor, noted that the public has been supportive of most water bond initiatives for decades. He thinks five years of drought that finally ended last year resonated with the vast majority of Californians.

“There have been 24 water measures on the ballot since 1972 and 23 have passed. People seem to get it that water is critical to our survival,” said Meral, director of the California Water Program at the San Francisco-based Natural Heritage Institute and a former deputy secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency. “People were very sensitized during the drought, and it really raised their consciousness.”

Another selling point: $750 million would be earmarked for grants and loans to help provide “clean, safe and reliable drinking water to all California,” the measure states. And in light of the continuing scandal of lead pollution in the public water supply of Flint, Mich., Meral thinks clean drinking water should be a leading issue throughout the state.

“We have a lot of people in California who don’t have safe drinking water,” Meral said. “We have schools in California that have high levels of lead contamination because they’ve never been upgraded, and this measure will help upgrade them.”

He also notes support for the bond from conservation organizations in other parts of the state as well as TreePeople, headed by Venice environmental advocate Andy Lipkis.

“Proposition 3 will benefit individual water users, the environment, and agriculture,” TreePeople states on its website, describing it as a “balanced water bond measure resulting in improved water supplies for every part of the state” that “provides some of the much-needed investment in California’s sustainable water future.”

Everts says he’ll instead support the much more narrowly focused Los Angeles County Measure W, which would fund stormwater pollution prevention infrastructure through a county parcel tax.

“For a long time Santa Monica has had local fees for stormwater [the Clean Beaches and Oceans Tax Act and the Stormwater User fee]. That’s how these things should be paid for,” Everts said.