CALIPATRIA — Acknowledging the state’s mistakes in the past and lack of action as it pertains to the Salton Sea, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged to make the local health and environmental challenge a priority during his visit to the Imperial Valley Thursday morning.
As part of his tour of the area, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate visited the Red Hill Bay marina at the southeastern end of the Salton Sea to absorb the magnitude of the challenge at hand.
He also visited a nearby geothermal plant to discuss opportunities the energy sector can bring to the region.
“We’re down here because you matter, because we care, and we need to step up our game as a state,” Newsom told the media during his visit.
“I, as lieutenant governor feel a sense of obligation and debt to this community to do more and address the issues, the crisis that is looming and has persisted over the course of the last decade. It hasn’t been the priority in Sacramento that it can be and should be and, I commit, will be.”
In his remarks, Newsom didn’t mince words and recognized the state has failed to step up to the plate to adequately handle the problem.
Although Gov. Jerry Brown began to pay closer attention to the issue at the start of 2016, Newsom said the current efforts haven’t been enough and the state needs to have a radically different approach.
“I’m not going to excuse the past because it’s been inadequate. I imagine you guys are frustrated because the state has not done enough, and you’re right, and that’s got to change, and if there is anything that I want to communicate, it is to hold me accountable, hold us accountable to doing more, doing better,” Newsom said.
“We live in the richest state in America, and for this poverty and disproportionalities as it relates to health outcomes to persist — in this, the richest state — is inexcusable, and it has happened in our watch, and we own that. Everyone in Sacramento owns that, and it means we need to step up our game, and we have to be held more accountable.”
In his initial stop, the gubernatorial frontrunner got the opportunity to hear from Imperial Irrigation District Water Manager Tina Shields and Board President Jim Hanks about the specific issues and challenges recession of the lake has brought to the region.
Hanks said after the tour that Newsom was very interested in learning more details about the 10-year plan the Natural Resources Agency unveiled last year. He also asked about the financing mechanism, including the upcoming $4.1 billion park bond, which, if passed, will allocate $200 million for the Salton Sea.
He said he was also very interested in learning more about the potential benefit geothermal can bring to the region and the state as California continues to move away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy resources.
“I think for him it was an eye-opener about the potential available in the region,” Hanks said. “We’ve been always known as the county with the highest unemployment. Today, he had a chance here now to see what the potential is and how much benefit it can bring to the state.”
Hanks said it’s always good to have officials from Sacramento come to the Imperial Valley. “It is reassuring to have someone come and recognize the problems that we face and make a commitment to us,” he said.
While at the Red Hill Bay Marina Newsom had the opportunity to witness in person how quickly the lake is receding, as made evident by a boat ramp that used to be in the edge of the water about 12 years ago and now is a few hundred feet from it.
“It just hits you, and it’s a wake-up call to the fact of the real sense of urgency that requires a different resolve. We have an opportunity to turn that page,” Newsom said.
For the second portion of the visit, Newsom listened to a presentation made by EnergySource President Eric Spomer regarding the geothermal process and potential economic opportunities that could open up in the future if mineral extraction becomes a tangible operation.
Newsom who is supportive of the state’s efforts to move into clean energy sources was intrigued by the potential the industry has to accomplish multiple goals such as job creation and advancing the state’s green energy goals.
“You are a big part of that solution; you’re a big part of that opportunity. We need to encourage that investment, encourage that exploration, encourage that conversation. I think it has to be front and center in terms of the work Sacramento is doing,” Newsom said. “This county has consistently had the biggest unemployment rates in California, and that is inexcusable because the opportunities are limitless, particularly in the area that is a point of pride in California, which is low carbon and green growth.”
Newsom also recognized that the tools to make strides are in reach with bond measures in June and November that can fully fund the 10-year plan to cover nearly 30,000 acres of exposed playa.
“We are at a tipping point of sorts. We are at a point in which we can turn the page with more vigor and more energy literally and figuratively to get things done down here and improve economic and health conditions,” he said.