Delta Stewardship Council members call for resolution of Delta Independent Science Board funding crisis

Delta Stewardship Council meeting 5-21

At the Delta Stewardship Council’s May 21, 2021 meeting, the Delta Independent Science Board Chair, Stephen Brandt gave a presentation on the Independent Science Board’s Invasive Species report.  The presentation concluded with a plea for restoration of compensation for the Independent Science Board so they could continue their work.

Councilmember Frank Damrell asked about Senate Bill 821, which was proposed to restore compensation for the Delta Independent Science Board. 

During public comment, the San Joaquin Audubon Society called for fair pay for the scientists on the Independent Science Board, and a legislative investigation of the reduction in funding. California Water Research stated that the Council could not delegate the authority to reduce the funding for the Delta Independent Science Board below what was needed to fulfill their statutory duties, and called for the compensation issue to be brought before the full Council for consideration. Local Agencies of the North Delta (LAND) asked that the Council direct staff  to come back with a solution  LAND also called for the compensation issue to be an item on the next Council agenda.

Councilmember Don Nottoli then said that he would like the Council to be part of the solution in their leadership role, stating that  “I don’t think it all falls to the Executive Director, very frankly.”

The Executive Director, Jessica Pearson, stated that a salary established by the legislature for the Independent Science Board would be one way to address the problem going forward, and that “if legislation were in place that set a statutory salary for the independent Science Board that was in line with what they’ve historically been paid, we would have that funding available.”

Excerpts from the discussion are below.

Delta ISB Chair Stephen Brandt  I think it’s important to bring up that we are currently what some would say is facing a crisis. Last July, there was, as I think many of you know, that was significant change in the structure of our appointments and our compensation levels. Individual contracts were eliminated and our compensation was seriously reduced. This really has a significant reduction in our ability to meet our statutory requirements . . . We’re looking right now over the next three months of how we might restructure, how we do our business, possibly narrower topics. It’s very challenging to do narrower topics, given the fact that everything we talk about in the Delta is highly interconnected and complex.

Delta ISB Past Chair Jay Lund Our ability to be a functioning Independent Science Board has been fundamentally crippled by the changes of appointment. I think it’s really evident that that’s the case from our tremendous reduction in amount of effort. Essentially, most of us have put in time on this or putting in that time in mostly as as volunteers. And to get the kind of serious professional look at the science in this very complex system requires much more than what is able to be done with the current system of appointments. There is currently a bill in the Assembly has already passed the Senate to look at some of this issue, it needs some serious work, I think, and engagement and clarification of. But it is a serious matter. I think that the Council really should be very much aware of and give some serious consideration to it.

Councilmember Frank Damrell What’s this bill comprised of, by the way, that passed the Assembly is now in the Senate? [Referring to SB 821]

Delta ISB Past Chair Jay Lund The current version of the bill basically is one line essentially that says that the members of the Delta Independent Science Board cannot be employees of the state, employed by any of the agencies. The intent, as I understand it. is to eliminate that option and therefore force us to go back to having contracts as we had before. Both to guarantee our independence and to allow a significant compensation for the efforts of the board members. The interpretation, as I understand it, of the Legislative Counsel is that the current per diem, one hundred dollars per per diem, compensation for the board members is not necessary and the contracts are an allowed form of compensation. But I think there are some uncertainty about that certainly in many parts or some parts at least, and so hopefully there will be some discussions between different levels of the administration and the legislature to work this out so that this problem can we can hopefully we come to look at this as a bureaucratic snafu in the rearview mirror. So well, we can obviously, without an ISB, we’re paddling upstream without a paddle. I mean, it’s very difficult. Our task is impossible. So I think we need the times infinite size forward. And I hope that this legislation will resolve.

Brandon Chapin So really quickly, there is a letter that’s been asked to be read into the record. So this is from David Fries with the San Joaquin Audubon Society. It has come to the attention of the San Joaquin Audubon Society that the compensation status of the Delta ISB has been changed from contract workers to state employees. Under the new classification, ISB members are to receive a pay of only one hundred dollars per day. The Council is required to apply the Best Available Science and making decisions on any project that is proposed in the Delta. The application of Best Available Science requires review by a board of highly qualified and knowledgeable scientists whose members are independent of the Council. The ISB has filled this role since its creation by the Delta Reform Act of 2009 and is mandated by law to continue that role. The problem is, no highly qualified scientist will or should be expected to work for a per diem of one hundred dollars per day. I can state this as a fact as a retired scientist myself, the Council should be aware that each hour that a scientist spends in formal meetings or in writing an expert review takes many hours of independent reading and preparation. . . .  It troubles us that the Council does not appear to be doing anything to rectify this problem. The members have been compensated fairly for more than a decade and surely there is a way to continue a fair compensation.. . . Does the Council really want to use the Best Available Science in making its decisions? Is the Council more interested in pleasing the Department of Water Resources and the Metropolitan Water District? Or making fair and independent decisions on projects in the Delta? We request that there be a legislative investigation. What’s going on here? And the results remain made available to the public.

Deirdre Des Jardins You cannot delegate to your Executive Director the authority to reduce the funding of the Delta Independent Science Board’s work below what’s needed to do their duty. So we’re very concerned that this decision would seem to have been made in secrecy. It was never brought for consideration before the full Council. And if there was a major change in compensation, we believe it should have been noticed to the Council, to the public, to the Independent Science Board members. And it should have been done in an orderly way. They shouldn’t have had months where there were no contracts and they had no idea what their compensation should be. We request that you put reconsideration of this item on the agenda for the next meeting and you request that the Delta Stewardship Council Executive Director provide the legal basis that she made the decision to rescind the contracts and what that legal basis was. … We did receive a letter that CalHR had guidelines that suggest that they should be employees. But when we looked closely and my attorney looked very closely at it, there is no statutory basis for the hundred dollar per diem. …. There is very specific language that dates back to 2010, authorizing them to be paid by contract….The other thing that’s a very serious issue is it’s our understanding that two of the outgoing members whose contracts were up for extension never got paid for July or August. And it was because their contracts were rescinded, and I don’t think the Delta Stewardship Council should let that happen. And I also request that you put that on the meeting agenda for the next meeting.

Osha Meserve I just want to add in my support on behalf of Local Agencies of the North Delta and other Delta interests I represent just how important it is to resolve this issue with the Delta Independent Science Board promptly. . . . It it cannot be true that there is not a way to pay these scientists what they need in order to do the job that they are legally required to do, going back to CALFED and then on through the Delta Reform Act of 2009. So I would I think having it as an agenda item is a good idea. I think this board should, the Council should direct staff today to come back with a solution and maybe it involves the bill in the legislature or maybe it doesn’t. But the big picture item is this needs to go into I think the Delta Stewardship Council’s budget and something that that the Stewardship Council is the host of independent science, the way that the statutes are set up right now. And I would just ask that the Council make sure that happen. We’re all relying on you. Thanks.

Councilmember Don Nottoli Yes, I’m recognizing there are some moving parts to all this. Is there a clear pathway to resolution? Is it that it has to be resolved legislatively or are there other pathways here? … Is there, maybe there’s been a previous report to get even prior to my being seated on the Council that laid out the pathways, because I don’t think it all falls to the Executive Director, very frankly. That’s my assessment of it. And I may have less knowledge about that than others on the Council, but I would like to see us be part of the solution in our leadership role, recognizing where we fit into the process and appropriately so. So I kind of pose as a question, not just you Chair Tatayon, but maybe to our legal counsel, obviously legal interpretations here as such. But I guess I’d like to know what the pathways are slowly legislatively that I guess that’s work that’s done outside of obviously our deliberations here at the dias virtually. But at any rate, I can propose that in the spirit of trying to, you know, help be a part of the solution. It seems there are some solutions sets here.

Councilmember Frank Damrell Have we taken a position on this legislation?

Chair Susan Tatayon We have not, Judge.

Councilmember Frank Damrell We will have a chance to discuss to with the legislative agenda comes up?

Chair Susan Tatayon I believe so, and we do have our process and protocols for when the Council does take positions on legislation. At this point, Jessica Pearson, do you want to offer anything or shall we just take all of this under advisement?

Executive Director Jessica Pearson Thank you, Chair. Yes, I I mean, I think we’re all concerned about the capacity limitations on the Independent Science Board and unfortunately, the Council does not have legal discretion to employ them as contractors going forward. So I am glad that there’s interest by the legislature to resolve the problem. I, I do believe that if there was a salary that was established by the legislature for the Independent Science Board, that that would be one way to address the problem going forward. And so we are available to answer questions from legislative staff on that issue. We’ve already been contacted to provide technical guidance, and so we’re very hopeful that there can be a resolution. I just want to clarify that the Council’s budget has not been reduced related to Independent Science Board compensation. And in fact, we’ve been working with the Independent Science Board to provide at least what may be interim relief and support in the form of staff and postdoctoral scholars. And we will be using funding that’s typically set aside for the Independent Science Board to support that. So I do want to clarify that our budget has not been reduced. And if legislation were in place that set a statutory salary for the independent Science Board that was in line with what they’ve historically been paid, we would have that funding available.


One thought on “Delta Stewardship Council members call for resolution of Delta Independent Science Board funding crisis

  1. I think the Delta Independent Science Board Members should be paid the amount that they have been paid historically and as soon as possible! We are in a critically dry year and endangered species are going extinct already!

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