Carl Pope is right: this is just bizarre. In the wake of Katrina and Rita, levees and flood control are on everyone’s mind. The California Reclamation Board, which oversees flood control on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers (the state’s two biggest), has been growing increasingly leery of developing in those floodplains without additional protections.

Many stretches of Central Valley levees were built decades ago to protect farmland; they are now aging and weakening at the same time they are being expected to protect thousands of new homes.

In an interview several months ago, [board member Jeffrey F.] Mount said, "We need regional land use planning so we don’t continue to build behind these agricultural levees."

Also, he said, a mechanism is needed to pay for strengthening existing levees, and flood insurance should be mandatory.

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"Everything I’m saying, of course," Mount said, "will be violently resisted by the building industry."

The need for better protection was so severe that a bipartisan group of California Congressfolk sent a letter to Schwarzenegger pleading for funding:

We write to request your assistance in securing funding on a priority basis to increase flood protection in our State. We believe that the probabilities of a levee breach due to a major storm, earthquake, or deterioration remain high. … A major breach in these levees could imperil hundreds of thousands of people and endanger most of the State’s water supply. We believe that the best course of action is to proceed expeditiously on the projects that will provide the most protection to population centers and infrastructure. … In recent weeks, we have seen all too clearly the impact of inadequate flood protection in urbanized areas. The City of Sacramento has the highest risk of flooding of any major city in the country and has suffered serious floods twice in the last ten years.

So what does the Governator do? Tell us, Carl:

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The Governor, who claims to be an independent populist who ran on a platform of freedom from special interests, fires the entire Reclamation Board, without explanation or warning, and puts in its place a new panel, drawn heavily from the very economic interests whose plans the Board is supposed to regulate. What was the Board’s sin? In the words of one fired member, "we were adamant about not putting people in harm’s way."

To all appearances, this is a rather blatant move to endanger Californian citizens in order to benefit industry, conducted in full public view, immediately in the wake of one of the country’s largest ever natural disasters.

I’m no particular Arnold fan, but even I have trouble processing this. His poll numbers are already low and sinking. What could he possibly have been thinking?

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