[env-trinity] Legislative panel OKs audit of huge Delta tunnels

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Thu Aug 11 09:30:38 PDT 2016

Legislative panel OKs audit of huge Delta tunnels By Don ThompsonAssociated PressSACRAMENTO — Critics of Gov. Jerry Brown’s nearly $16 billion plan to bore two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta won a state audit of its ongoing costs on Wednesday, though state officials don’t expect the audit to delay theproject. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee also voted to have California’s state auditor investigate prison suicides, University of California spending and certain charter schools that were the subject of a recent investigativeseries by theBay Area News Group.The twin 40-foot tunnels, each 35 miles long, would funnel Sacramento River water south to dry farmland and millions of residents, but are opposed by Deltaarea lawmakers and others who say it will further harm the environment while siphoning water from Northern California.“This is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever that the state of California is going to be undertaking,” said Democratic state Sen. Lois Wolk, of Davis. Yet the long-term costs remain unclear, said Wolk and eight other lawmakersof both political parties who sought the audit.The cost is supposed to be covered by water agencies that will benefit and not directly by taxpayers, but Wolk and David Wolfe of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association both predicted that the growing price tag will increase pressure to use public funds.Department of Water Resources chief counsel Spencer Kenner did not object and said the audit, which lawmakers approved on a 9-2 vote, won’t slow the project.Meanwhile, a recent spike in suicides at the California InstitutionforWomen prompted lawmakers toapprove a system-wide audit of suicide prevention policies and practices in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.Democratic state Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino cited two reported suicides this year at the prison east of Los Angeles, while the rate was eight times the national average for female prisoners in an 18-month period in 2014-15, when The Associated Press first wrote about the spike. There were four suicides and at least 35 attempts during that period.Diana Toche, the department’s undersecretary for health care services, did not object to the unanimouslyapproved audit, but noted the department has already made changes at the prison.Officials said they increased mental health treatment and suicide prevention efforts. And the wardens at both of California’s major women’s prisons retired last month after correctional officials said a change in leadership was needed.State auditors will also examine school districts that are authorizing charter schools outside their boundaries. Democratic Sen. Carol Liu, of La Canada Flintridge, said the districts appeared to authorize the charters to raisemoney through “oversight fees” and that the charter schools they authorized have student performance scores dramatically below state and county averages. Those problems were highlighted in April’s two-part series by the Bay Area News Group. The series revealed that school districts tasked with overseeing online schools by K12 Inc., a Virginia company, have a strong financial incentive to turn a blind eye to poor academic performance because the districts receive a cut of K12 revenue in exchange for the oversight. The audit was approved on an 8-1 vote.

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