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$10 Billion Bond to Fund Environmental Resilience and Drinking Water Improvements Makes Ballot

A woman wearing a headscarf is writing something on a clipboard sitting on a table with little U.S. flags on it. Also lined up at the table are a black woman, white man, black man and an Asian woman with gray hair. A large U.S. flag is on the wall behind them

By Thomas Hughes
Bay City News

A $10 billion statewide bond measure that would fund a range of environmental resilience and other projects will appear on the November ballot after the passage last week of a bill to place it before voters.

Major projects funded by the bond revenue would include drinking water infrastructure and wildfire prevention.

Passed as Senate Bill 867 on Wednesday, it was numbered by the end of the day by Secretary of State Shirley Weber as Proposition 4. It was one of 10 propositions numbered for the statewide ballot in November, including a separate bond measure for K-12 school infrastructure.

Prop. 4, formally titled the “Safe Drinking Water, Wildfire Prevention, Drought Preparedness, and Clean Air Bond Act of 2024,” would raise $3.8 billion for drinking water, drought, flood and water resiliency.

The bill was introduced by multiple legislators and supported by scores of environmental groups, including a coalition called Climate Bond Now that was formed to advocate for its passage. The coalition includes the nonprofits Environmental Defense Fund, Community Water Center, Sonoma Land Trust, and others.

One of the bill’s co-authors, state Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, said if the state doesn’t invest in climate resilience now, it will end up costing more in the future.

As Climate Change Worsens, ‘We Have No Future’

Extreme heat waves have cost the state over $7.7 billion in the past decade, and future costs will be tenfold annually if we don’t act now,” Becker said, citing a report from the state’s insurance commissioner.

“This bond creates a new and stable source of funding for investments in climate resilience, coastal protection, and wildfire prevention and will help our communities avoid and recover from the impacts of wildfire, flood, and drought,” he said.

It would earmark $1.5 billion for wildfire resiliency and fire prevention technology. Another $1.14 billion would go toward coastal resiliency projects, including in the form of local grants that would be given by the state’s Water Resources Control Board. The measure would direct $870 million to protect biodiversity in the state and another $850 million to renewable energy.

Another $765 million would be invested in coastal resiliency projects, while $450 million would go to local communities to reduce heat through urban greening and other programs, and reserve $300 million to be used for farms, ranches, and other land production.

The $10 billion in general obligation bonds would cost $19.3 billion to pay off over 30 years, at an annual interest rate of 5%, according to the state Assembly’s analysis. That includes the $10 billion principal and $9.3 billion in interest.

The measure requires at least 40% of the total $10 billion to be used to benefit underserved communities, according to state Senate analysis.

Opponents of the measure include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The Assembly’s analysis said the organization maintained that the cost of infrastructure projects often doubles when paying for them with bond revenue. The group faulted the assumption that interest rates would not rise, and predicted the measure could cost as much as $32 billion if they did.

But backers said the investments would pay off as the state is faced with rising climate-related costs. A recent study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that investing $1 in climate resiliency can save $6 in disaster-related costs over time.

Another report from the California Natural Resources Agency, part of the governor’s office, estimated that annual climate-related costs could rise to $113 billion by 2050.

One of the proposition’s backers and Climate Bond Now member, Katelyn Roedner Sutter, who is also the California State Director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the stakes of inaction have never been higher.

“We can’t afford to wait because we are already paying a steep price for growing but preventable risks from wildfires, pollution, extreme heat, drought, and flooding,” Roedner said.

The measure needs a majority to pass in November after it achieved two-thirds of the votes in each legislative chamber.

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