Who’s running the Delta Stewardship Council?

Who’s running the Delta Stewardship Council?

By KATY GRIMES

With the five major component bills of the 2009 water package representing a massive undertaking for the State of California, it appears that the Delta Stewardship Council — which will oversee the whole deal — has become operational despite the fact that no councilmembers have yet been appointed.

The Legislative Analysts Office (LAO) walloped the Joint Oversight Committee members with their review of the 2009 Delta Legislation funding and implementation. The LAO usually provides a reasonable assessment of the facts and circumstances, and they did not disappoint in this week’s oversight hearing on the progress and future of Delta water management and delivery to the state.

LAO Analyst Catherine Freeman asked legislators how they will pay for the Delta Stewardship Council, since an $11.1 billion water bond measure slated for the November 2010 ballot provides only partial funding. “The bond was not designed to be a financing mechanism for the whole package,” Freeman said.

But what really seemed to irk Assembly member Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, was the appearance that the Delta Stewardship Council is already “off and running” despite the fact that it lacks actual council members. Huffman said that it was premature for the council to move on anything without members even being seated.

Huffman asked Freeman who was making the decisions for the council and who the stakeholders were. Freeman referred to the agencies listed in the Governor’s Budget Proposal to implement the new legislative package: Delta Stewardship Council (not yet created), Department of Water Resources, Wildlife Conservation Board, State Water Resources Control Board, Delta Protection Commission, Delta Conservancy and Department of Fish and Game. The governor’s proposal recommends $117.8 million in increased expenditures to these agencies, through bond funds.

The Governor’s proposal has $49 million allocated to the Delta Stewardship Council from existing bond funds and reimbursements from other state agencies. But an apparent surprise is that the funding would also continue CALFED activities (California Bay Delta Program) – a failed project, committee members Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, did not hesitate to point out. What’s more, CALFED staff members seem to be running the Detal Council show.

Governor Gray Davis created CALFED in 2000 to resove conflicts between various water agencies. But in 2006, the LAO reported that CALFED failed to develop a viable long-term finance plan, as required by the Legislature, as well as exhibited a “lack of focus and priorities” and “lack of a performance orientation.” The analysts claimed that CALFED had strayed from its mission and instead expanded into a fully-operational state agency that needlessly overlapped the already existing Department of Water Resources. The LAO recommended an overhaul of CALFED with more defined as well as limited responsibilities.

Given that, simply transferring CALFED staff over to the new Delta Stewardship Council wasn’t what Wolk or Cogdill had in mind. And yet Requests for Qualifications (RFQ’s) have apparently already been authorized and written on behalf of the council — a council that doesn’ t yet exist.

Wolk asked Freeman how this could be. “Administration staff performed this,” Freeman said.

Joe Grindstaff is the Acting Executive Officer for the Delta Stewardship Council. He’s also the CALFED Director. Several legislators on the committee grilled Grindstaff on why CALFED was leading the project when the water project bills called for an entirely new department to replace CALFED. Using CALFED employees to staff the Delta Stewardship Council seemed to defeat the purpose and intent of the whole project, they said.

Grindstaff insisted that the Delta Stewardship Council (which as yet lacks a single member, if you recall) was “in fact, in charge of what happens.” Grindstaff also said he only transferred 27 CALFED staffers to the Delta council, which has 58 positions.

Grindstaff explained that the council is operating under a tight deadline and managing the RFQ helped the council. Grindstaff also said that there are no contracts unless the council is involved. This just made legislators more perplexed.

Lester A. Snow, appointed California Secretary for Resources by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in February, appeared with Grindstaff and defended the decision to use CALFED staff for the Delta Stewardship Council.

Snow said that his — and Grindstaff’s — interpretation of the bill was to move funding and people from CALFED to the Delta Stewardship Council and have Grindstaff work as acting director. Snow said that had he and Grindstaff not acted, nothing would have happened concerning the Delta council before September of this year. But he insisted that the ultimate authority still lies with the council, which by the time you read this likely still will not be seated.

“As soon as they are seated,” Snow said, “they can decide to accept what’s been done to help them, or not.”

“You put the council in a difficult position,” Wolk told him. “You already set the table for them.”

As for when exactly the council will get seated, no one could say.

2 comments

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  1. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 10 March, 2010, 17:18

    Bureaucrats making policy decisions outside their authority. What a surprise! But then I guess they are driven by the twin whips of self-preservation and ideology and, besides, they thought they could get away with it.

    Reply this comment
  2. Anon
    Anon 23 March, 2010, 15:41

    Did anyone read the Legislation? It went into effect on February 3, 2010 and all positions and resources from the former CALFED were transfered to the new Council by operations of law! The Delta Legislation REQUIRED it. So were the people in these positions, presumably including Mr. Grindstaff, supposed to a) be fired because the Council wasn’t seated before it even existed b) keep their paycheck as new employees of the Council but not actually do anything or c) do some actual work to prepare for what needs to happen when the Council is actually seated? Perhaps the Legislature should actually think through the on the ground practicalities of their Legislation before they enact it. Or maybe they should have made their appointments to the council on February 3 – at least then they wouldn’t look like as ridiculous — they are upset there are no appointments but they have the power to make at least some of the appointments – does this seem a bit strange to anyone else?

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