Seriously, Will Governor Sign A Bill Benefitting Just One Developer And His Sister?

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Every day, we have been scanning Governor Jerry Brown’s legislative updates. So far, he hasn’t signed SB 634, a bill with the innocuous, sleepy-sounding name of “Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency.” 

The bill is anything but innocuous and sleepy. 

We thought the days of bills benefitting just one company were over. They aren’t, and this one benefits not just developer Five Point Holdings, but Kathleen Brown, Jerry’s little sister.

Kathleen Brown was paid $122,667 by Five Point for her services in the board in 2016, according to a company SEC filing made this summer. 

The bill is crafted to ensure that the developer planning to build Newhall Ranch, a community to rise from scratch in northern LA County on a thirsty patch of desert, has access to water.

The controversial Newhall Ranch development will provide 21,500 houses and more than 11 million square feet of commercial space house, as well as golf courses, schools and recreational centers along the Santa Clara River. 

The project has raised questions about where water will come from to feed such a dense community, and the additional pollution and urban sprawl that it will create far away from regional job centers. 

SB 634 merges the Newhall County Water District with the much-larger Castaic Lake Water Agency to create the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency to feed surface, ground, and recycled water to Newhall Ranch.

The legislation abolishes the right of taxpayers to vote on any such dissolution or merger of the Newhall County Water District, which residents have protested.

The Newhall Ranch development will also be one more source of revenue to feed Brown’s massive, pet Twin Tunnels project routing Sacramento River water under the San Francisco Bay Delta to the South. The tunnels will endanger the environment, cost billions more than necessary to shore up infrastructure, and bring no additional water to Los Angeles.

SB 634 specifically authorizes the reconstituted agency to “acquire water and water rights, including water from the State Water Project…” which is supposed to pick up 55 percent of the tunnels’ cost.

Kathleen Brown’s presence on the board, and the fact that she is a partner in the powerful lobbying and legal firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, may have been one reason that the legislation has made it to the Governor’s desk.

After all, this isn’t the first time that Kathleen Brown’s presence on a company board appears to get something done for a company.

Kathleen Brown joined the board of Sempra Energy, owner of Southern California Gas and of San Diego Gas & Electric, in 2013 and has been paid $1 million for her work. 

Brown’s regulators at the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources approved the reopening of SoCalGas’s Aliso Canyon natural gas reserve before revealing what caused the biggest methane well blowout in US history or who was responsible. Brown’s PUC concurred in that decision though the well is not needed for energy reliability and residents who live near the damaged well continue to report illnesses.

Sempra Energy is also pushing for Southern California ratepayers to pay more than $2 billion to bankroll a giant natural gas pipeline from Riverside County to Mexico to export liquid natural gas abroad when no need exists for the pipeline to meet core customer demand in the San Diego area.

If Brown signs that legislation, it will be proof positive that the public’s business is really more about corporate business at public expense.

Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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