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July 2017, Volume 23, Number 3

California: Water, Sanctuary

The California Department of Water Resources reported in April 2017 that 90 inches of precipitation fell in the northern Sierra mountains, breaking the previous record set in 1982-83. California has one of the most variable climates in North America.

Most precipitation occurs during the winter months, and melting snow is moved from mountains in the north to farmers and urban consumers in the center and southern parts of the state via a system of dams and canals. The Sierra Nevada snowpack usually provides a third of the state's water supply.

Governor Jerry Brown proposed to move water around the environmentally sensitive Delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers empty into the San Francisco Bay by building twin tunnels expected to cost $16 billion. The California WaterFix is controversial, generally opposed by Delta residents and farmers. The water agencies south of the Delta are expected to decide by September 2017 whether they will help to pay for the project to move water around the Delta to pumps near Tracy.

Cadiz Inc owns about 50 square miles of land above a major aquifer in the Cadiz Valley, and wants to sell the water to southern California cities. The Mojave Desert Land Trust and most environmentalists oppose the project, but the Trump administration appears to favor allowing Cadiz to pump 50,000 acre feet of water a year from the aquifer.

California's fire season began in July 2017, with major fires around the state burning the grasses and shrubs that resulted from the record rainfall of 2016-17.

Sanctuary. There are almost three million unauthorized foreigners in California, and the state Senate in June 2017 approved the California Values Act (SB 54) to prohibit state and local police from cooperating with ICE. SB 54 would prohibit local jails from responding to ICE requests for information and stop allowing ICE agents to interview prisoners in state and county jails. SB 54 requires public schools, public libraries and courthouses to develop policies that make them immigration "safe zones."

Sheriffs oppose SB 54, arguing that barring ICE agents from jails would force ICE to make arrests in communities, where there is more potential for violence and more opportunities for "innocent foreigners" to be encountered and arrested.

About half of the foreigners deported from the interior of the US are removed as they exit state prisons and local jails after arrests and convictions. The California Trust Act of 2013 prohibits local jails from honoring ICE detainers or requests to hold unauthorized foreigners who committed minor crimes, but ICE agents routinely visit prisons and jails so they know who is deportable on release. Texas and many other states are considering or enacting laws that require their state and local police to cooperate with ICE.

California has 130,000 inmates, and housing them costs an average $75,600 a year, more than tuition and housing for a Harvard student; New York spends $69,000 per prisoner per year. California's cost per prisoner has doubled since 2005, reflecting rising salaries and benefits for guards. The $11.4 billion California corrections department has one employee for every two inmates.

Jobs. California has 12 percent of the US population and 12 percent of US jobs. California suffered more than other states during and after the 2008-09 recession, but is now growing faster than most other states due to the "the three Ts" driving its economy: technology, trade and tourism.

California added 421,500 nonfarm jobs in 2016, including 73,000 in health care services, 55,000 in accommodation and food services, and 52,000 in government. Construction added 42,000 jobs. The state's unemployment rate was five percent in early 2017, slightly more than the US rate of 4.7 percent.

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley generates over half of California's farm sales, and also has some of the state's poorest communities. In San Joaquin, a city of 4,000 in Fresno county 11 miles from Kerman, over half of residents are poor.

Many San Joaquin Valley cities are hoping that distribution centers can provide nonfarm jobs. Most warehouses offer starting wages of $12 to $14 an hour, and many children of farm workers prefer year-round warehouse jobs to seasonal farm jobs. Cities such as Tracy with many warehouse jobs often have residents who commute elsewhere for better jobs; three-fourths of Tracy residents commute to Bay Area jobs.

The Los Angeles Times on April 22, 2017 concluded that the demise of unions in southern California construction was associated with declining average hourly earnings. In 1973, US construction workers earned an average $32 an hour in 2016 dollars, compared to $26 in 2016. The share of US construction workers in unions fell from 40 percent to 14 percent over these years, as the share who are Hispanics rose from a quarter to over half.

California has six of the seven least affordable metro areas in the US: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Riverside and Sacramento. Most projections expect the gap between average salaries and rents to widen, making it more difficult for middle-class residents.

Budget. California will have a $183 billion budget for 2017-18, including $74 billion for K-12 schools; the General Fund budget is $125 billion.

California has provided free health care to low-income unauthorized children under 19 since 2016; a bill pending in the Legislature would extend coverage to low-income youth to age 26. Unauthorized foreigners with DACA status are eligible for Medi-Cal, meaning that the federal government covers some of the cost of their care.

California enacted a cap-and-trade program in 2006 that requires greenhouse gas emitters to buy permits to release carbon dioxide. The program must be renewed in 2017, and environmental groups hoped for higher permit costs after a 2016 law promised to reduce the state's emissions by 2030. However, unions and refiners teamed up to prevent local regulation of greenhouse gas emissions if the source is covered by the cap-and-trade program, a blow to environmentalists who wanted to require oil refineries to install new equipment to reduce emissions of what they call "toxic air."