In case you were wondering what Kings County leaders want to accomplish, the supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday laid out a list of lobbying goals in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.: Kill high-speed rail, find a way to get more water and/or funding for water projects and try to money to fix crumbling roads.
Those are the instructions likely to go out next week to the lobbying firms Kings County pays to push supervisors’ agenda at the state and federal level.
First, the state priorities.
Topping county hopes in Sacramento are throwing a monkey wrench into the state’s high-speed rail project, which is getting closer to the start of construction on the Fresno-to-Bakersfield segment that runs through Kings County.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is in the middle of the contentious process of trying to buy or condemn hundreds of parcels it needs to build the line, both north and south of Fresno.
County leaders say construction would foul up Kings County commerce and transportation for years, damaging the economy by slicing across fields, wells and dairies.
Supervisors verbally signed on to a platform that opposes the use of cap-and-trade money for the project and seeks to reverse the commitment of $3.3 billion in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds.
The $3.3 billion is a conditional federal grant to the authority that must be spend by September 2017.
County leaders consider water issues to be as high a priority as stopping high-speed rail.
Supervisors have continually renewed a local drought emergency declaration since 2012 in the hopes of remaining eligible for federal relief for drought-affected farmers. Lobbyists for Kings County are also expected to seek more funding for groundwater projects and continued funding support for the still-not-finished Kettleman City water treatment plant project.
But it was Gov. Jerry Brown’s statewide drought emergency declaration in January 2014 that provided money for rent/utility/food assistance to farm-sector workers unemployed by drought.
Officials at Kings Community Action Organization and other local aid distribution officials have spent nearly all the funds allocated in 2014. They are hoping for more this year as they brace for another tough Kings County summer of drought-related effects.
Water issues were the most-discussed topic on Tuesday.
Newly installed District 4 supervisor Craig Pedersen expressed concern that the California Water Commission — the body that will decide how to spend $2.7 billion in water bond funds set aside for storage — will direct the money away from new dams toward other, smaller water projects that may not achieve the increased surface water storage capability Kings County is seeking.
“That’s unacceptable,” Pedersen said.
Supervisor Joe Neves suggested that county administrators figure out a way to get reimbursed from lost property taxes stemming from the increasing amount of farmland retired due to drought and environmentally-related pumping limitations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta.
After water and high-speed rail, county documents listed a laundry list of lobbying goals that are not prioritized.
When asked what her choice of a third-highest priority might be, County Counsel Colleen Carlson cited roads.
Kings has hundreds of miles of crumbling rural roads, not to mention two-lane bottlenecks remaining on dozens of miles of Highways 198, 43 and 41.
One example of the needs discussed Tuesday is the spot where Sixth Avenue doglegs into 5 ½ Avenue south of Kingsburg. Westbound Benicia Avenue intersects with one of the curves in the dogleg at weird angles, leading a number of near accidents.
County public works employees are proposing improvements to make it safer. The price tag? About $127,000 — which would come out of the county’s underfunded road maintenance budget.
Kings County supervisors expressed skepticism, with Supervisor Doug Verboon voting against the project. Pedersen, Neves and Supervisor Richard Fagundes voted to move forward, but asked for design changes.
Supervisors said nothing about the possibility of a sales tax increase dedicated to roads, similar to what Fresno County adopted in the 1980s and Tulare County passed in 2006. Having the roads sales tax in place makes it easier for those counties to draw down state and federals funds for road and highway projects.
County leaders said they will seek more funding for 250 miles of so-called “farm-to-market” roadway. One of those stretches is Highway 198 between Naval Air Station Lemoore and Interstate 5. That section remains one lane in each direction despite the recent expansion of Highway 198 to four lanes between NASL and Visalia.
Pedersen said bad roads in Kings County are going to be an increasing problem for both trucks and cars.
“Road conditions are important to everyone in the community,” he said.
Verboon suggested using the Navy’s decision to base the West Coast fleet of F-35C fighter jets at NASL — and the new personnel to go with them — as an argument for expanding Highway 198 to four lanes all the way to Interstate 5.
Other county lobbying objectives include:
• Pushing for more state funding to handle new inmates in county custody due to realignment, the state policy change starting in 2011 that redirects low-level offenders away from state prisons and into the jurisdiction of county sheriff/probation departments.
• Pushing to reduce the voter approval requirement for bond measures from 66.6 percent down to 55 percent. County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes mentioned that Kings County voters rejected two bond measures to fund jail expansion, once with 65 percent of the vote — just shy of the required two-thirds. Spikes thinks it’s virtually impossible to reach two-thirds approval in today’s society.
• Restoring the Williamson Act, the farmland property tax break program that netted the county $2.8 million a year in reimbursements until the state cut the program in 2011. Since then, Kings has received reimbursements in the $500,000 to $600,000 range. County officials say the lost revenue is a significant loss for a small rural county like Kings.