Apartments and homes in San Pedro flooded with two feet of water. Cars on Long Beach streets nearly submerged as an urban kayaker paddles by. Residents in La Crescenta living in perpetual fear of losing everything due to debris flows as a consequence of the Station Fire. The end result of this week’s L.A. storms will be millions of dollars in property losses.
And what is anyone doing about it? The news documents the heroic efforts of first responders to minimize impacts, but these efforts provide small-scale solutions. They don’t address the large-scale flood control infrastructure improvements needed to protect property throughout the state. Local government officials are doing what they can, but thanks to Proposition 218 their hands are tied. They can’t do much more unless two-thirds of the voters support a stormwater fee increase.
Two thirds — that’s the super-majority needed to protect life and property. There is something horribly wrong with that calculus. Ask the hundreds of people evacuated near the Station Fire or the victims of flooding in Long Beach or San Pedro. Government is there to protect life and property, except from flooding thanks to the narrow wording of 218.
So whom can we turn to for relief? The dysfunctional state legislature and the lame-duck Schwarzenegger administration? There have been multiple failed attempts over the last decade to fix 218 to cover flood control and stormwater pollution from two different legislators, one a Republican (Harman) and another a Democrat (Torlakson).
Because a constitutional amendment is needed to change 218, the legislature needs a two-thirds vote to pass the amendment and get it on the ballot. The irony is painful. A super majority of the legislature is needed to pass the amendment to allow the public to vote on exempting flood control and stormwater pollution from the super-majority requirement of 218. Surely this is a definition of insanity.
How many homes must be severely damaged before the local governments rise up and demand the right to protect the lives and property of people that live in these affected cities and counties? Where is the outrage? The League of Cities supports 218 reform, but its leaders certainly have not made it a priority.
Mayors Villaraigosa, Foster, Newsom, Sanders, Reed, Johnson and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors need to band together and make 218 reform an urgent priority for this legislative session. They need to let the governor and legislature know in no uncertain terms that it is unacceptable for the tragic, avoidable loss of property to continue.
In this economy, the state isn’t going to provide financial support for flood control infrastructure enhancement, which includes green infrastructure like Low Impact Development, and green streets and alleys that reduce flood risks. But it can at least allow local governments to govern and provide public safety services to their own residents. Allowing democracy to work at the local level through majority-rules revenue increases isn’t too much to ask.