After axing money for Santa Ana River flood control work from this year's state budget, Gov. George Deukmejian Monday agreed to a proposal for a bond issue that would provide tens of millions of dollars for the project, considered the most urgent of its kind in the West.
More than enough money to pay for the start-up of the Orange County project was included Monday night in a proposal for a $300-million bond package that was worked out during the last week and a half in private meetings between Deukmejian and state Senate and Assembly leaders, including Assembly Minority Leader Ross Johnson (R-La Habra).
The bond issue proposal will now be rushed through the Legislature for Deukmejian's signature today, in time to make the ballot for final determination by California voters in the November general election.
Originally, Deukmejian had proposed spending $32 million for the Santa Ana project for fiscal 1991 as well as another $13 million for other flood control projects in the state. But the governor ended up cutting that $45 million when he made drastic cuts to the spending plan on July 31, leaving Orange County flood officials with deflated hopes.
But Monday's negotiations resulted in earmarking more than twice the vetoed amount--or $90 million--for flood projects statewide, and Orange County watchers say the share for their county should be more than enough to pay for the Santa Ana project.
"The bond package at this juncture looks like it contains $90 million . . . which should fully fund the state's obligation for Santa Ana," said Mark Watts, one of the county government's lobbyists in Sacramento.
Federal engineers have characterized the Orange County flood project--whose total cost is estimated at $1.4 billion--as the most crucial in the Western United States. It is designed to protect more than 1 million people and $14.5 billion worth of property in San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties from the ravages of a 200-year flood along the Santa Ana River. (A 200-year flood is one so severe as to be expected just once every two centuries.)
Most of those who would be endangered by such a disaster live in Orange County, where it is expected that such a flood would engulf more than 250,000 parcels of land ranging in a fan-like configuration from Garden Grove and Anaheim on one end of the river to Seal Beach along the coast. (Damage to southern communities such as Newport Beach is expected to be minimal because of cliffs that would act as a natural levy, flood officials say.)
To guard against such a catastrophe, the Army Corps of Engineers in 1986 determined that the storage capacity of two reservoirs upstream in San Bernardino and Riverside counties should be increased and that the river channel running for more than 30 miles through Orange County to the sea should be deepened. Corps of Engineers crews are expected to begin their work in April to prevent a 200-year flood.
The county's share for the project is $440 million, and the state has already agreed to pay 70% of the amount. But Sacramento has yet to reimburse the Orange County Flood Control District for any of its expenses because the Legislature and Deukmejian have not included the necessary money in state budgets.
Despite the lack of money from the state, Orange County flood district officials have gone ahead with performing their share of the work, project manager Nick Mastrocola said. Mastrocola said Monday that the local flood prevention agency has already submitted $18.2 million in bills to the state.
Mastrocola also said the district expects to spend another $48.5 million this year for projects such as widening and rebuilding traffic bridges near the river mouth and restoring damaged wetlands.
"We've got a fair amount of money put aside, which we've been collecting for 12 years," Mastrocola said. "We can continue on our current schedule for another two years at least.
"At that point in time, if we haven't gotten anything from the state, then we would have to consider . . . a benefit assessment" on property within the flood plain, he said.