LAO 2004-05 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2004-05 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2004

Delta Protection Commission (3840)

The Delta Protection Commission (DPC) was created by statute in 1992 to develop a long-term resources management plan for land uses within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This plan is implemented by local governments in their land use planning processes. Broadly speaking, the main goal of the commission is to protect and enhance the overall quality of the Delta environment for agriculture, wildlife habitat, and recreational activities.

The budget proposes expenditures of $301,000 for DPC in 2004-05, of which $163,000 is from the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund (HWRF) and $138,000 is from the Environmental License Plate Fund (ELPF). This expenditure level is the same as estimated expenditures in the current year.

The Future of the Commission

At legislative hearings on the current-year budget, concerns were raised about the potential for overlap and duplication between activities carried out by DPC and other state agencies, particularly the California Bay-Delta Authority (CBDA). In addition, the Legislature expressed interest in examining the future role for the commission, in light of findings that the commission has fulfilled many of its statutory mandates. As a result, the Legislature, in the Supplemental Report of the 2003-04 Budget Act, directed the Resources Agency to report to the Legislature on various issues, including the commission's accomplishments to date, suggestions regarding its future mission, membership, funding, and ways to facilitate coordination between DPC and other state and local agencies with resources-related responsibilities in the Delta region.

The Legislature also considered the commission's future at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Delta Resources and Development in November 2003. In developing this analysis, we reviewed the Resources Agency's supplemental report response as well as the testimony presented at the November policy hearing, among various other sources of information.

Creation, Program Responsibilities, and Budget of the Commission

The Delta Protection Commission oversees the local implementation of a regional land use plan for a large part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The budget proposes $301,000 for the commission in 2004-05, all from special funds.

Creation of Commission. The DPC was created by the Johnston-Baker-Andal-Boatwright Delta Protection Act of 1992 (Chapter 898, Statutes of 1992), and was made permanent in 2000 (Chapter 505, Statutes of 2000 [AB 2930, Torlakson]). The commission's jurisdiction includes portions of five counties—Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Contra Costa—and is referred to as the "Primary Zone" of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The commission consists of 19 members including six state agency representatives, five local county supervisors, three city representatives, and five reclamation district representatives. The commission meets once per month and commissioners are not paid per diem. Policy subcommittees meet at least once per month between regular monthly meetings.

The commission employs three full-time staff—an Executive Director, an environmental scientist, and a staff services analyst.

Statutory Role of Commission. The Delta Protection Act of 1992 established as state priorities the protection and preservation of the resources of the Delta. The goals of the legislation were: (1) to protect, maintain, enhance, and restore the overall quality of the Delta environment for agriculture, wildlife habitat, and recreational activities; (2) to balance conservation and development of Delta land resources; and (3) to improve flood protection to increase public health and safety.

To further these goals, the act required DPC to take several actions. First, DPC was required to complete a regional land use plan for the Delta. The purpose of the regional plan is to provide local planners with guidelines to use in considering the cumulative impacts of individual land-use decisions on resources (such as agricultural viability, fisheries, and water quality) in the Delta region. Second, the DPC was given a review and appeal authority should local decisions contradict the adopted plan. During an appeal (which must be made by a party other than the commission), the commission may halt a project while it reviews the individual appeal. The commission then works with the local land use agency to either amend the existing project or propose an alternative plan for the project.

Commission Wholly Funded by Special Funds. Historically, three special funds have supported DPC. These are ELPF, HWRF, and the Delta Flood Protection Fund. In the last several years, the ELPF and HWRF have been the sole source of support for the commission, with the latter fund providing the larger share of support.

The commission's funding has increased over the past 11 years from $250,000 to its current level of $301,000. This is an average annual increase of roughly 2 percent.

The Commission's Current Roles, Focus, and Benefits

We find that the Delta Protection Commission has achieved much of its original statutory mandate and that many of its broad goals have been assumed by, or are also being carried out by, other state agencies. Currently, the commission's activities are focused largely on monitoring both local compliance with the regional land use plan and meetings and actions of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program. Delta constituents consider the commission's role as a public forum to protect and balance land uses in the Delta as one of its benefits.

In the sections that follow, we discuss the extent to which the commission has fulfilled its statutory requirements and met its statutory goals. We also discuss the current focus of the commission's activities as well as some of the benefits of the commission from the perspective of Delta constituents.

Delta Regional Planning Document Completed. In 1995, the DPC completed the statutorily required planning document entitled Land Use and Resource Management Plan for the Primary Zone of the Delta. This document was subsequently incorporated into the general plans of all affected local planning agencies as well as state regulations. With this requirement completed, the DPC turned its focus to monitoring the activities of the local planning agencies, as well as state and federal compliance with the plan.

Since the completion of the regional resource management plan, only one local planning decision has been appealed to the commission on the basis that it contradicted the regional plan.

Overlap With Other State Agencies. Our review finds a number of examples of overlap between the activities of DPC and those of other state agencies, particularly CBDA and the CALFED Bay-Delta Program (CALFED).

The CALFED program was established in 1994 with the signing of a state-federal accord to coordinate resource management activities in the Bay-Delta region among local, federal, and state agencies. Subsequently, the Legislature enacted Chapter 812, Statutes of 2002 (SB 1653, Costa), that created CBDA as the state oversight agency for the CALFED program and adopted a framework for the program. Although DPC is a CALFED member agency, it does not have a seat on CBDA. While the Delta region has been represented in part by DPC during this process, other Delta interests have also been at the table, as well as varied interests from other regions. (For an in-depth analysis of the CALFED program, please see our write-up in the "Crosscutting Issues" section of this chapter.)

Though the scope of the CALFED program and the new CBDA are broader than that of the commission, we have found a number of examples of overlap between the activities of DPC and those of CBDA and the CALFED program. For example, both the commission and CALFED/CBDA review plans for Delta levees and monitor major changes in land use in the Delta. Both DPC and the CALFED entities participate in multiagency groups to support protection and enhancement of Delta ecological areas, including the Delta In-Channel Islands.

For the most part, the commission's goal related to the protection of wildlife habitat in the Delta is being carried out by CBDA and the CALFED Bay-Delta Program's ecosystem restoration program, as well as by other Resources Agency departments, including the Wildlife Conservation Board and the Department of Fish and Game. The commission's goal related to Delta recreation is also being carried out by CBDA and the CALFED Bay-Delta Program, as well as by several departments under the Resources Agency, including the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Boating and Waterways. Finally, the commission's goal related to flood protection is largely being carried out by CBDA and the CALFED program, as well as by the Department of Water Resources and the State Board of Reclamation.

Focus of Commission's Current Efforts. Given the completion of the regional plan, we find that the commission's current activities are focused on two sets of activities: (1) monitoring local planning processes for consistency with the regional plan and (2) monitoring CALFED/CBDA planning and implementation activities. In fact, commission staff reported that about one-half of staff time (for nonadministrative functions) in recent years has been spent monitoring CALFED program activities.

However, our review also finds that one of DPC's current major roles—that of representing Delta interests in the CALFED process—has also been at least partially assumed by a statutorily approved public advisory committee. Specifically, the Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee provides a forum for various local and industry-based stakeholders to communicate their perspectives to the CALFED policymakers. For example, this public advisory committee includes a subcommittee on agriculture that focuses on the needs of farmers in the Delta and those downstream.

Benefits of the Commission. A number of witnesses at the November policy hearing on DPC were of the view that DPC continues to serve an important function as a "public forum" to speak for, and help balance, the interests of a broad range of Delta constituencies, including agriculture, wildlife habitat, and recreational interests. The DPC is seen as the entity that knows "what is going on" (development wise) in the Delta's Primary Zone and surrounding areas. The commission's existence was considered a motivating factor for local governments to take an appropriately regional perspective in their planning decisions. Many parties testified that it was uncertain whether another entity would assume the commission's regional planning function if DPC were eliminated. This was stated to be the case given the failure of a voluntary planning council formed in the 1970s to create and maintain a comprehensive land use plan for the Delta. Finally, a number of parties testified that DPC provides an important link between CBDA and the Delta region's local governments and landowners.

Recommendations and Issues for Legislative Consideration

We recommend the adoption of budget bill language to shift the Delta Protection Commission's funding support from state funds to locally funded reimbursements. In addition, given development pressures near, but outside of, the area of the Primary Zone of the Delta, the Legislature may wish to reevaluate the scope of the commission's geographic jurisdiction.

We find that there are two issues regarding DPC that the Legislature should consider. These relate to how the commission is funded and its area of geographic jurisdiction. We discuss these issues in the sections that follow.

Funding of the Commission. Our findings indicate that DPC has completed its required regional planning document, and several of its functions and goals are currently carried out by CBDA and other Resources Agency departments. The current focus of the commission—monitoring local planning and CALFED activities and serving as a local public forum to speak for and balance Delta interests—appears to be more appropriately funded by the local interests that the commission serves, rather than by state funds. Therefore, we recommend that the Legislature shift the commission's funding support from state funds to reimbursements from Delta local governments, including cities, counties, and regional reclamation districts. In order to facilitate this, we recommend that the Legislature direct the commission to submit a plan for assessing local governments to fully cover its budgeted expenditures. We also recommend that the Legislature adopt the following budget bill language under Items 3840-001-0140 and 3840-001-0516 to require reimbursement of the special funds proposed to support DPC from the assessments on local governments:

It is the intent of the Legislature that funds appropriated in this item will be fully reimbursed by revenues from an assessment levied by the Delta Protection Commission on local governments benefiting from its activities.

For the 2005-06 and future budget years, we recommend that DPC be funded fully from these reimbursements.

Jurisdiction of the Commission. Finally, a number of witnesses at the November policy hearing noted the significant development pressures occurring in the Delta's "Secondary Zone"—that is, the portion of the Delta that surrounds, but is beyond DPC's area of geographic jurisdiction. The concern is that while these development pressures will, over time, cumulatively affect the resources of the Primary Zone, DPC currently has no authority to take action with respect to land use issues in the Secondary Zone. We think that the scope of the commission's geographic jurisdiction raises important policy issues that would warrant an in-depth analysis by the legislative policy committees before enacting changes. Should the Legislature choose to expand the commission's geographic scope, we would recommend that any accompanying program expenditure augmentations be funded fully by reimbursements from local beneficiaries of DPC's efforts as described above.

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