Robert Rivas speaks at a news conference following his June swearing-in as speaker of the California Assembly.
(Christopher Neely / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas’s bill could speed Pajaro River levee repairs by skipping state environmental rules

With long-promised repairs to the Pajaro River levee in danger of being slowed by California Environmental Quality Act requirements, Speaker Robert Rivas — whose district includes the Pajaro Valley — is overhauling a bill before the State Assembly with the aim of getting the project started sooner.

Emergency repairs to Pajaro River have begun, but questions still remain around the long-sought replacement of the levee.

Many of those questions revolve around the regulatory landscape — local officials say if the state government can give the project a pass on thorny environmental permitting, the replacement project could begin a year early in 2024, and take less time overall.

Well, that relief might be on its way, and through a shrewd political maneuver. California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, whose district includes the Pajaro Valley, originally proposed Assembly Bill 876 in February focused on record-keeping related to certain child fatalities. On Tuesday, with the end of the session less than three weeks away and the Feb. 17 deadline to submit new bills long passed, Rivas completely overhauled AB 876 to focus on expediting the Pajaro River levee repairs.

The bill would allow the project to skip the California Environmental Quality Act requirements, a notoriously weedy permitting process that can often add years to a project.

When I spoke to Mark Strudley, executive director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, a couple weeks ago, he said the ability to get a pass on the state’s environmental permitting requirements plays a central role in starting the project in 2024.

Rivas’s revamped AB 876 still needs to win enough votes in both houses. This is where his ascent to Assembly speaker — the second-most-powerful political post in Sacramento — will likely come in handy.

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