As explained in a previous blog post, the Delta Independent Science Board (Delta ISB) was defunded in Fiscal Year 2020-21. In June of 2020 the Delta Stewardship Council staff discontinued contracts paying the Delta ISB members at professional scientific rates. The Delta ISB members then served without compensation until November of 2020, when the contracts were replaced by $100 per diem salaried positions, effective retroactive to July 1, 2020. The compensation change has crippled the work of the Delta ISB.
The legislature has decided not to address the Delta ISB funding issue through the state budget, but through Senate Bill 821, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: Delta Independent Science Board. SB 821 was introduced by the California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on March 9, 2021. The bill was amended on April 5, 2021 to add language mandating that Delta ISB members “shall not be employees of the Delta Stewardship Council.”
The Delta ISB Chair put a briefing on the bill on the May 4, 2021 Delta ISB meeting agenda. Senate Committee Consultant Dennis O’Connor spoke to the Delta ISB members during the public comment period, explaining the purpose of the new language:
… the Legislative Counsel believes that the language in the bill is sufficient to return the compensation and such of the Delta Independent Science Board members to the way it was before when they were contracted for. Clearly, that’s our attorney and our committee’s perspective. The Delta Stewardship Council and the Assembly and the administration may have different ideas. And so our expectation is that presuming the bill makes it to the Assembly, that we will then have a grand confab and get all of the critical parties together and try and work out language that gets us all to the same place.
SB 821 then passed out of the Senate and was amended in the Assembly Water Parks and Wildlife Committee on June 8, 2021. The June 8 amendment adds language mandating that the Delta Stewardship Council issue contracts to pay the Delta Independent Science Board:
(b) The council shall contract for the services of the members of the Delta Independent Science Board established pursuant to Section 85280, at an hourly rate equivalent to that of a Research Specialist V (Class Code 7858) as described in the Department of Human Resources Pay Scale document.
According to the California Human Resources Department pay scale, Research Specialist V is one of the higher pay classifications for scientists in the California Civil Service. See https://www.calhr.ca.gov › PS_Sec_15. However, at the June 17, 2021 Delta ISB meeting, the Chair expressed concern that contracts typically pay more than equivalent salaried positions because contract workers have no vacation, sick leave, health benefits or retirement benefits. Since most Delta ISB members serve on the board for ten years, it is a significant part of their career.
At the June 24, 2021 Delta Stewardship Council meeting, the Council’s Chief Deputy Executive Officer, Ryan Stanbra, gave a briefing on SB 821, explaining that that the language is still under negotiation:
… it is very possible and maybe even potentially likely that the bill will be amended at least one more time. I know I’m aware of discussions ongoing around the compensation issue, and it’s something that obviously staff are continuing to track closely…
Council member Maria Mehranian asked about the council’s official position on the bill, stating:
…I was wondering and I know our efforts of about this, but then is there anywhere that we could go on the record, loud and clear that we all are for this of the Council, or have we already done it or is there a mode of communication, a vehicle that we can do that through that?
Council Chair Susan Tatayon said
Well, at this time, .. the staff of the legislature are asking questions. They’re interacting with Ryan Stranbra and Jessica Pearson and I, and I’m anticipating that our interactions answering their questions, we’ll be useful in getting a productive legislative language. So, yes, we have a vehicle, right?
Council member Maria Mehranian responded
Because we hear all the public comments and everybody should know that more than anybody, it’s us that really are in need of this info and to do the right thing, to make the right decision. So you answered my questions to make sure that we are loud and clear that we’re for it.
Council Chair Susan Tatayon responded
Yes. Yes. Maria, I think that everyone appreciates that this Council deeply values the Delta Independent Science Board and yeah, any vehicle that will help address these compensation and employment structure issues, we are definitely in support of.
Deirdre Des Jardins, Director of California Water Research, expressed a concern that Senate Bill 821 does not have an urgency clause, stating
We have an advocacy team that is following the legislation closely. The legislation would not take effect until January 2022. It’s a regular bill. And so it wouldn’t authorize you to even start to issue contracts until January 2022. And that’s a concern. We did try to get this in to the budget, possibly as a trailer bill, but it’s not being handled that way. And we’re very concerned about the delay. The new members have been working, were promised in a national search that they would get a part time salary and they’ve stayed on at a rate of one hundred dollars per diem. I don’t know any other state employees who would have stayed on in those kind of conditions. And I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to do that, and particularly not without additional staff.
Council member Christy Smith, a former Assembly member, stated
I’m very hopeful that an urgency clause can be added in Assembly policy committee because I think it’s warranted in the case. But, you know, to reiterate again, this is a matter of great importance to the council. And so I appreciate everyone’s diligence … staff in particular with moving the bill through and, you know, remain optimistic that it will will get through and be implemented sooner rather than later. Thank you.
Council member Daniel Zingale stated
I want to just reiterate that we appreciate the urgency, the critical role of the independent Science Board and the urgency of this issue, and I am really confident everything is being done that is appropriate to us or that we’re able to do to address this. And we obviously have a keen eye on the legislature and their role in this. So I wanted to thank folks for speaking up and offer some reassurance that we get it. Thank you.
There were also public comments in support of restoring funding for the Delta ISB by Dr. Lisa Thompson, Chief Scientist of the Sacramento Regional Sanitation District, and Deirdre Des Jardins, Director of California Water Research.