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City Of Fresno Supports Safe Drinking Water Fund – With A Catch

Kerry Klein
Valley Public Radio
Veronica Garibay, co-director and co-founder of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, spoke during a press conference in support of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund at Fresno's Gaston Middle School on June 7, 2019.

Two Fresno City Councilmembers made an atypical move at a press conference today by throwing in their support for a clean water drinking fund—as long as it doesn’t involve a tax.

At Gaston Middle School in South Fresno, community members and advocates met to urge lawmakers to support the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, a pot of money the legislature is considering creating in order to provide drinking water cleanup in disadvantaged communities.

Councilmembers Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria attended the conference, though they didn’t speak, and Arias said in an interview later that a drinking water fund should be a non-partisan issue. “We absolutely support it, because it would give us a source to be able to replenish our drinking wells over the next few years,” he said.

Last year, however, when an earlier Senate Bill proposed a statewide water tax as a funding source, the City of Fresno opposed the fund. But this year, a non-tax option has been put forward, which the City of Fresno supported earlier this week by signing onto a letter from the Association of California Water Agencies to the State Senate Conference Committee on the Budget.

Should a water tax again become the leading funding source, Arias said the city would need to “have another discussion” about it.

Right now, three options exist to supply roughly $150 million a year: In his state budget, Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a tax on water users, as well as some agriculture and fertilizer producers, and the competing Assembly Bill 217 would establish a lower tax. Senate Bill 200, however, calls for no tax, but to simply draw the money out of the state’s general fund.

Veronica Garibay of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, the main speaker at the event, says these competing bills show that drinking water is becoming more of a priority. “That gives us hope, that gives us a sense that there is deep commitment by leadership on all sides to do something, and that momentum has not been there before,” she said.

Garibay says surveys have shown Californians are willing to pay a water tax, but she says her organization will support other funding options if they ensure a handful of provisions, including sustainability of the fund over the long term.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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