Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday, March 20, 2017, that he feels good about getting federal funding for the winter storms. Christopher Cadelago The Sacramento Bee
Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday, March 20, 2017, that he feels good about getting federal funding for the winter storms. Christopher Cadelago The Sacramento Bee

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Capitol Alert

Trump approves funds for California relief, including $274 million for Oroville Dam

By Christopher Cadelago and Jim Miller

ccadelago@sacbee.com

April 02, 2017 12:20 PM

President Donald Trump announced Sunday more than a half-billion dollars would be coming to California to help cover the damage from the winter storms, including $274 million for repairs to the Oroville Dam spillway.

The fulfillment of the fourth presidential declaration for damage from the winter storms totals an estimated $540 million.

Gov. Jerry Brown appealed for financial assistance last month in Washington. Brown met with Robert Fenton, acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as part of the Democratic governor’s outreach to the new administration and congressional Republicans who control federal spending.

Disaster relief is generally viewed as a dispassionate function of government. But Trump’s repeated rebukes of the state and its policies – from threats to defund “sanctuary cities” that shield unauthorized immigrants to warnings to withdraw federal funding from the University of California, Berkeley, over violent protests there – have inflamed fears that California would be punished for its strong independent streak.

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Even as Brown met to discuss storm damage and transportation and infrastructure projects, he didn’t refrain from criticizing the Republican-led effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

Yet, for all the trepidation, Trump has come through on the storm-damage requests each time the Brown administration has asked him.

The Republican president previously declared a major disaster for California for storm damage from Jan. 18-23, a move that made available federal assistance to state and local agencies as well as some nonprofit groups. The administration also declared a presidential emergency during February’s crisis at Oroville Dam and issued a disaster declaration for damage caused by heavy rains Jan. 3-12.

The latest request carries by far the largest price tag, as Brown noted to reporters after his meeting with Fenton. It delivers federal dollars to supplement the state’s efforts to shore up areas affected by the severe winter storms for a period covering Feb. 1-23.

The $274 million for the Oroville spillway, an estimate provided by the Department of Water Resources, is for emergency response costs from Feb. 7 though the end of May. The money targets stabilizing the emergency and main spillways, as well as debris removal and work on the downed Hyatt Powerplant.

“California has experienced one of the heaviest precipitation years in its recent history, and the impacts of storms that occurred in January and February have been extremely destructive to the state,” Brown said in the March 19 letter to the president accompanying his request.

In February, after successfully appealing to Trump for help with the Oroville Dam emergency, Brown laid out a plan to accelerate state spending to reduce flood risks. He also asked Washington to expedite federal environmental reviews on several projects, including repairs to the dam’s spillway.

Brown’s flood protection proposal combines $50 million in general fund money with $387 million from the $7.5 billion, voter-approved water bond.

Separately, California has tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure needs, and Brown and Democratic leaders are working to wrangle two-thirds votes from both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature to hike fees and taxes on motorists to fund a 10-year, $52-billion road repair program.

Trump’s fourth declaration makes available money for hazard mitigation measures statewide. It covers 42 counties, including Sacramento, Yolo, Amador, Yuba, El Dorado, Merced and San Luis Obispo. The White House said additional designations can be made later if requested by the state and warranted by further damage assessments.

New video shows water coming down Oroville Dam's main spillway on March 21, 2017. The dam’s main spillway fractured Feb. 7, 2017, prompting a temporary shutdown of the structure as a big storm rolled in. On Wednesday, more than a month after a near-catastrophe at Oroville Dam sparked mass evacuations, Butte County’s sheriff Wednesday lifted an evacuation warning that had been in place for thousands of downstream residents. Department of Water Resources

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago