California Flooding, Katrina-Style


California's Capitol is virtually shut down for the year, freeing up Sacramento leaders to shift their attention, for now, from the state's fiscal crisis to another type of threat: flooding.

While the first rains of the season visited California, the top Democrat in the state Senate, Darrell Steinberg, is on a taxpayer-paid trip, along with other political and business leaders, to New Orleans this week.   

They toured the city's Ninth Ward, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, on Tuesday.

"The Ninth Ward looks very desolate," Steinberg tells Prop Zero, even though much of the city has been rebuilt.

Like New Orleans, Sacramento was built in a flood zone and is heavily dependent on an aging system of levees. 

Water experts consider Sacramento to be  the most vulnerable to flooding damage of any major city in the nation.  A major levee break along the American River could leave the Capitol building and much of downtown underwater.

Steinberg says Katrina was a "wake-up call" for California.   He is distressed by the inability of Washington to agree on new dollars for flood protection.

"Hundreds of millions need to be spent to ensure rapid levee improvements, and that may save taxpayers billons of dollars, much less lives and property," Steinberg said.

The California delegation hopes to learn what worked, and what didn't, when it came to emergency response. But the focus is also on how New Orleans has charted a recovery path.

California's stumbling economy already has enough problems, independent of a natural disaster.  Much of the conversation in New Orleans will focus on how that city has encouraged entrepreneurship.

"One of the things we need to know is what they're doing to put people back to work," Steinberg said.

Given the grumbling about California's jobs climate, those are lessons, business leaders hope, that Sacramento politicians can use.   

Flood or no flood.

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