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Panel Rejects Bill Tying Growth, Water Supply : Government: Unusual alliance of farmers and environmentalists backed measure. Builders opposed it.


SACRAMENTO — A controversial measure that would have forced cities to consider water supply before approving new growth went down to defeat in a Senate committee Monday under the weight of pressure from the building industry.

The measure died without a final vote as Senate Rules Committee members agreed among themselves that the legislation did not deserve a rule waiver that would have allowed it to be heard in the last, hurried weeks of this year's session.

Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) said the committee was not judging the merits of the measure, but had concluded that to consider it would take up too much of the limited time remaining to the Legislature. The two houses adjourn Aug. 31.

"The idea of having more hearings at this point would be unwise," he said.

Just minutes before, witnesses who had come to testify formed a line that snaked from the front to the back of the committee's hearing room.

In support of the bill were farmers and environmentalists who had forged a rare alliance to promote a measure they saw as a way to ensure that in the arena of competing water demands, existing interests would come first.

Arrayed against them were powerful building and real estate forces who complained that the bill was a thinly disguised effort to slow down growth in California and dilute the power of local governments to deal with it.

The legislation, authored by Assemblyman Dominic L. Cortese (D-San Jose), chairman of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, would have required that before new suburbs were created, the local government would have to identify the source and availability of water to supply new residents.

Cortese, who had hoped the measure would at least get a hearing in the Senate, said the struggle is far from over.

"The Building Industry Assn. and the real estate interests won out over the farmers and the environmentalists," he said. "But I think they are shooting themselves in the foot. In the future, my guess is we'll see some real entrenched warfare among residential, industrial and agricultural users, many of whom have come together here."

Both sides acknowledged Monday that the issue is not likely to go away.

"What we need is to form a consensus on growth and water, and this bill did not take a consensus approach," said building industry lobbyist Richard Lyon.

Randele Kanouse, a legislative manager for the East Bay Municipal Utility District who helped draft the bill, said the proposal might have a better chance in a non-election year, when interests would not be contributing so heavily to political campaigns.

"Time is on our side," he said. "This is just phase one. We'll be back. If the water supply is sinking at the same time that growth and population are rising, we have a problem that we'll have to deal with right around the corner."

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