California U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein ventured to the heart of the Delta at former Assembly member Rusty Areias’ historic home off Highway 160 to field questions from constituents and give a speech about the current state of California, the nation and most of all, water issues.
Discover the Delta Founder and President Ken Scheidegger first spoke with Feinstein about Discover the Delta and the information center that is scheduled to be erected next year in June.
“I took on the challenge of creating a center in the middle of the Delta to help people better understand it,” said Scheidegger.
Feinstein agreed to work with Scheidegger on the Discover the Delta project and get her team on board. Scheidegger spoke about the proposed National Heritage Area and Feinstein’s support for that project and that Discover the Delta is being done on a grassroots level.
“My desire is to give Delta counties something which is tangible and an improvement in terms of making this a kind of refuge that can serve and help the people who live here. That’s what this is about,” said Feinstein.
As Feinstein moved from one group to the next, eventually the crowd gathered in the backyard for a speech to be made by the senator, but first she was introduced by former Congressman Pete McCloskey.
“45 years ago when I got into politics, she was one of the gutsiest young women in America,” said McCloskey.
Feinstein thanked McCloskey and noted that he is a man with great courage and great integrity.
“It’s really great to be up here, I sense the feistiness in people,” said Feinstein. “I walked in the door and almost had an argument with Dr. Abrams over marijuana, then I went to the next group and almost had an argument over the Delta.”
Feinstein talked about the amendment to a bill that she passed in the Senate back in 1993, banning assault weapons sales. That lasted for 10 years, but had a sunset on it. Over those 10 years, she saw the number of assault weapons decline, but the NRA went to work and defeated Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Jack Brooks and Speaker of the House Tom Foley. Then in ’94 with the Gingrich revolution, she discussed how things began to change.
She spoke this year how Senator Harry Reid indicated what the priorities of the Democratic Party were going to be during the session. She said watching circuit TV from her office that Senator McConnell stood up and said that “the number one legislative priority is to defeat this president.”
“Then it began,” she said. “82 cloture votes. Any bill with any element or controversy required 60 votes to go to the floor of the Senate. Virtually every cabinet secretary got held up where a cloture vote was required. Even at this point, Obama has not been able to fill all the vacancies he’s entitled to. It is wrong. It is a killer for our form of government.”
Feinstein discussed her close relationship with the Constitution, and that the two party system depends on compromise to get anything done at all.
“Today, there is no compromise,” she said.
Feinstein looked back about a year ago when the government nearly shut down, and President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner sat down to work out a deal, and did. Boehner took it to the house, and the Tea Party said no.
“We came within a hair of the entire government shutting down, with everything that means, and they didn’t care. I as a Democrat, sit down with a Republican and work out a compromise and we move ahead. Otherwise we have stasis, and that’s where we are today. Everything is a struggle. My hope is that somewhere across this great United States – that this election will see the defeat of certain Tea Party members which will hopefully send a signal and we may be able to go back to the days of bipartisanship and problem solving for the United States.”
Feinstein spoke about if reelected, that her first move will be to introduce revised legislation on assault weapons – citing that there have been seven incidents already since Aurora.
“Weapons of war are not necessary for hunters or home protection, and we oughta do something about it,” she said.
She moved on to discuss being able to encourage manufacturing in California, and currently having big high tech industries with trillions of dollars sheltered abroad. She stated that companies don’t want to bring manufacturing back at a 35-36 percent tax rate, so they don’t. She proposed passing legislation to drop taxes to 15 percent for any company with a patent that is manufactured in the United States. She is also determined to vote against the “Defense of Marriage Act” which essentially withdrew 1,100 federal rights (social security, spousal benefits, estate tax benefits, etc.) from same sex couples.
“We are determined to remove that sanction,” she said. “Family law is the preserve of the state, not the federal government. It’s the states that pass divorce law, marriage law and adoption laws. In order to prevent same sex marriages, they took away all federal rights.”
Feinstein moved from those issues to talking about water, since most folks in attendance had a major stake in the Delta and what will become of the Pacific Coast’s largest estuary.
“Climate change is real, it is happening. The climate is warming, and California is no exception. The waters are warming. We are shy of water storage in this state. Pat Brown built the California Water Project. We were 16 million people in the mid-60’s when that project was completed. We are now double that, with the same water infrastructure. I have become more convinced than ever that we cannot adequately store water from wet years to hold it for dry years. Trying to work out problems has been a major focus.”
“The state can’t progress if we don’t have adequate water,” she said.
Feinstein relayed that it is not easy to represent the entire state, and that part of what has to happen is fairness and balance.
“Decisions have to be made,” she said. “We have to bite the bullet. The Bay Delta Conservation Commission has been going for six years. What I want is a decision made. I haven’t participated- it’s not up to me. It’s a federal/state combination with a commission appointed to come up with some recommendations and a process to follow. I think that’s an important thing to have happen, and I’m supportive of that process. We could take another 20-30 years and it may well be too late.”
Feinstein spoke of the possibility of earthquakes and her familiarity with levees and if there is a loss of many levees, the Delta area would be hurt substantially. She emphasized shoring up levees and getting a decent water policy by seeing that it is fair.
She talked about her experience as Chair of the Senate Committee on Intelligence and how intelligence is streamlined now and that she feels the U.S. is safer today than it was 10 years ago.
“20 arrests were made this past year of people in the process of trying to attack the homeland,” she said. “The intelligence was good enough that they were caught and they were all convicted and in prison today. I believe that the apex of change was the Abbottabod takedown of Osama Bin-Laden.”
She feels that it is hard to talk about justice when it involves taking someone out, but that the killing of 3,000 Americans cannot go without justice. Feinstein also serves as chair on the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water, and in that capacity she has become very involved in nuclear weapons. She feels that there are far too many nuclear weapons on the globe.
She compared the bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the strength of nuclear weapons today and the fact that there doesn’t need to be these many bombs. She discussed that there is no place for nuclear waste. She informed the crowd of her appropriations bill to set up a pilot repository for commercial nuclear waste.
When asked about solutions for better water storage and supply for the state, this was the senator’s response:
“A bond is long overdue, I am a supporter of high speed rail, but if you ask what is more vital - the economy and growth of California, it would have to be the ability to store water in the wet years to use in dry years. I have no doubt about that, the way the climate is going.”
Vickie Baumann asked about desalinization plants and what that the possibility of creating those were, and what would happen if tunnels were built, sucking the majority of freshwater out of the Delta.
“That’s a big thought,” said Feinstein. “The Metropolitan Water District, the biggest in the state has looked at it. The problem is to get the cost low enough so it’s commercially viable. What I’ve been told, and maybe this changes, is around $600 an acre foot. I’m for all of this. I’m for groundwater recharge.”
Feinstein relayed that the water companies would have to build these plants because the federal government doesn’t have the money to pay for it.
“If there are tunnels, the tunnels are going to be paid for with agriculture,” she said.
Host of the event Rusty Areias spoke about when he was getting into politics and Feinstein was thrust into being Mayor of San Francisco after Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk were assassinated.
“Supervisor Feinstein stepped up and led that City and became mayor - what a fabulous career. The way you took that City over at maybe the most difficult time in its existence,“ he said before Feinstein spoke.
“It was the hardest year - bar none, of my life,” she said. “Because for the first time, I had to deal with real, visceral hate. You have to realize, the mayor and the first openly gay public official in America was assassinated by a colleague who was a former police officer and firefighter. You can imagine what happened. And then, in the trial, got manslaughter and a four year sentence. So, the town was just ripped apart.”
She reminisced that it took event after event to bring people back together.
“That was the most challenging and most amazing thing, and put you on the map at the national forefront - but I’ve also watched you position yourself in the timber wars in northern California and bring competing sides together and find common ground,” said Areias. “I’ve watched you do this over and over again, bringing sides together – there is some of that needed out here in the Delta.”
That of course being the water issue and the twin tunnels.
“We need to call on you one more time,” said Areias. “There are a few people here that feel they’ve been left out of the process, and there’s a few people here that don’t feel like they’ve got enough water and it’s being wasted – we need your wisdom, guidance and leadership. Thank you for your service.”