'Why Aren't We Prepared?': California Republicans Slam Newsom for Prioritizing Climate Change Over Flood Preparedness

January 13, 2023

California Republicans on Thursday blasted Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) and the state’s Democratic leaders for failing to prepare for massive rainfall while pouring money into efforts to fight climate change.

"Instead of capturing rainfall and harnessing it, we are now underwater," Assemblyman Juan Alanis (R.) told reporters at a press conference following a series of storms that have killed 19 people, including young children. The Republicans slammed Democrats for neglecting the state’s water infrastructure. They specifically pointed to California’s failure to implement a $7.545 billion water storage project mandated by voters in 2014 on a ballot bond initiative, the completion of which would have alleviated the present flooding and helped with storage for dry seasons. The last dam built in the state was completed in 1980.

Flooding is particularly intense when heavy rains follow a period of intense drought. With more heavy rains on the way, the Republicans questioned why state Democrats—who control all three branches of the state government and hold a supermajority in the legislature—hadn’t done more to prepare.

"We know this cycle occurs with regularity," said Assemblywoman Diane Dixon (R.), referencing California’s history of cycling between droughts and floods. "Why aren’t we prepared?"

California Democrats have seized on the storm damage to discuss climate change. Newsom said the "whiplash" from drought to rain was "proof that the climate crisis is real." Rep. Katie Porter (D., Calif.), who has caught flak for announcing her insurgent Senate campaign while her state grapples with natural disaster, said the flooding showed the "urgency of addressing climate change." Climatologists say it’s too soon to tell whether the storms were caused by climate change or merely another instance of California’s erratic weather patterns.

 In the budget proposal he unveiled this week, Newsom cut money to programs that could help with flood mitigation and water conservation. He did, however, propose keeping $20 million to help businesses buy environmentally friendly refrigerants, $2.1 billion for building vehicle charging stations in low-income neighborhoods, and $65 million for the "decarbonization" of food production. Newsom also touted the state’s $738 million investment in flood management and dam safety, although 25 percent of that money has not yet been spent.

The Republicans noted that Democrats in the legislature have worked with them to push flood control and infrastructure projects but that executive leadership and regulatory red tape have stymied progress.

"The governor talks about his big ideas and how California is leading the nation and big ideas," Dixon said. "This is a simple, big idea that he can execute and implement and short-circuit and get these reservoirs built. It's not rocket science."

A spokesman for Newsom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.