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Lila Littlejohn: Two days in the Capitol

SCV Voices

Posted: March 27, 2010 8:20 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
It was a lobbying experience. It was a networking opportunity. It was a fact-finding tour.

And in a lot of ways, it was just plain fun.

Monday and Tuesday last week, about 75 Santa Clarita Valley community, government, business and media leaders boarded a bus or caught a plane to Sacramento for an intensive two-day session with legislators and other government officials.

It was the fifth annual such trip to Sacramento organized by Jeri Seratti Goldman and Carl Goldman, owners of KHTS AM-1220.
Other sponsors included Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, AT&T, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

We learned and we lobbied about water issues, K-12 and community-college education problems, government gridlock, mandates and budget constraints. Some of us lobbied each other.

And, of course, we learned about California politics.

I arrived with the expectation of finding nothing but partisan bickering and ineffectiveness.

I was surprised to encounter high energy, cross-party cooperation, enthusiasm, even optimism.

That's not to say there was denial of the dire state of the state. Plummeting revenue, massive unemployment and a Legislature deadlocked over budget issues remain the norm at the capital.

But there was a hopefulness that things could be made better, that bipartisan cooperation hasn't necessarily gone the way of the pterodactyl.

This series of columns will explore some of the issues discussed during the trip.

Chloride in the river
Perhaps the most effective lobbyist in our group was City Council member Marsha McLean. When an aide to Assemblywoman Anna Caballero - a member of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and an author of 2009's water overhaul legislation - opened up a session for questions, McLean wasted no time raising the issue of chloride in Santa Clarita Valley water.

The city finds itself in a Catch-22 on the issue. Water provided through the State Water Project has a relatively high level of salt in it.

As we learned on the tour, clean Sacramento River water mixes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta with sea water from San Francisco Bay, as well as relatively polluted water from the San Joaquin River.

That water is then drawn from the Delta into the California Aqueduct to make its way south to thirsty Southern California.
After it's filtered and disinfected by Castaic Lake Water Agency treatment plants, it is mixed in varying degrees with local groundwater, used, cleaned up and discharged into the Santa Clara River.

But its relative salty state remains, and Ventura County growers downstream from Santa Clarita say that salt is ruining their crops.
Santa Clarita residents agreed to get rid of their salt-based water softeners to compensate for the problem, but that wasn't enough.
Saltiness in the State Water Project water - which is deemed suitable for human consumption by the state Department of Public Health - is too much for avocados and strawberries, according to the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

That board says the salt must be removed. Local residents could wind up paying the tab for that cleanup, a tab that could run several hundred dollars per household - all because one state agency says the water is too salty for fruit and vegetable, while although another state agency says it's good enough for people to drink.

McLean pointed out to Caballero aide Aracely Campa that Santa Clarita and some 480 other cities find themselves caught in this impossible dilemma.

Campa hadn't heard of the problem before.

"I think it's a good thing to educate us," Campa told McLean and the rest of the group. "What I can do is follow up with some people."

As soon as the session was over, McLean was huddled with Campa to bring home her message. And she delivered it again, at a later session with Ron Davis of the Association of California Water Agencies.

"Nobody up there (in Sacramento) seems to know anything about this," she said Friday.

Education funding
A number of the trip's participants were school board members or otherwise involved in education.

"In all my 37 years as a trustee, I've never seen education in the Santa Clarita Valley cut like this," College of the Canyons trustee Joan MacGregor said during the bus ride to the capital.

COC has a list of 9,000 students who can't get classes because of state budget cuts. Elementary school districts in the SCV are slashing millions of dollars from their budgets for the same reason.

"Education has taken by far the biggest hit," said Robert Nolet, superintendent of the Sulphur Springs School District. "This coming year, (we'll be) cutting an additional $250 per student."

But if educators wanted to hear a "We'll restore your funding" message in Sacramento, they were disappointed.

Instead, the message was: Cut your spending. Cut your salaries. Things may never again be as they once were.

"We can't expect the private sector to continue to fund the public sector," Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, told the group.
Responding to a question from Joan Oxman, chairwoman of the Santa Clarita Valley Teachers Association, Runner said teacher furloughs were a "flawed" concept.

"I believe we go directly to salary reductions - salary reductions at every level," he said. "Public employees have got to realize that they're in this, too."

Runner said educational institutions - and other government institutions, as well - have gotten used to doing everything at high cost.

"If you've been involved in the school-administration process, you've got to step back into the entrepreneurial process," said the legislator, who serves on the board of a private school in the Antelope Valley. "It's hard," but it has to be done, he said.
"If we think we can never renegotiate with a public employee, we're doomed."

Next installment: unfunded mandates and a challenge to get involved.

Lila Littlejohn is executive editor of The Signal. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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