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Phil Isenberg Receives Grantland Johnson Intergovernmental Cooperation Award

May and June 2015
Phil Isenberg

In May, 2015 Delta Stewardship Council Vice-Chair Phil Isenberg was honored for his 40-plus-year career of public service by the Sacramento Chapter of the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA). During an evening ceremony in Sacramento, Vice-Chair Isenberg was presented with the 2015 Grantland Johnson Intergovernmental Cooperation Award, which the ASPA says is given to an individual who has developed and delivered a program or policy between different levels of government resulting in greater effectiveness.

“I am certainly pleased with this tribute,” said Isenberg. “I feel privileged to be recognized for the work I’ve felt was accomplished for the betterment of our community.”

Isenberg’s public service career includes service as a Sacramento City Council member from 1971 to 1974, Mayor of Sacramento from 1975 to 1982 and as a member of the California State Assembly representing portions of Sacramento, Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties from 1982 to 1996.

Isenberg spent 13 years as a legislative advocate for a host of clients. In addition, he also served as chair of the California Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force from 2004 to 2006 and as chairman of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force from 2007 to 2008.

Recommendations from the Delta Vision Task Force provided much of the structure of the major water/Delta policy changes adopted by the Legislature in 2009 (Delta Reform Act) and signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He was subsequently appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to a six-year term on the Delta Stewardship Council, and was initially elected to a four-year term as Chair of the Council by his colleagues at the Council's inception in 2010. At the conclusion of his term as Chair in 2014, he was then elected Vice-Chair.

During his tenure on the Council, Isenberg has been front-row-center in the development, and now implementation, of the Delta Plan – a comprehensive, long-term management plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Plan creates new rules and recommendations to further the achievement of the State’s coequal goals for the Delta, namely improving statewide water supply reliability and protecting and restoring a vibrant and healthy Delta ecosystem, all in a manner that preserves, protects and enhances the unique agricultural, cultural, and recreational characteristics of the Delta.

Along with his Council colleagues, Isenberg shepherded eights drafts of the Plan, which included receiving hundreds of hours of public meetings and thousands of public comments.

His deep institutional knowledge of the issues at hand and his understanding of how to get things done in the rough-and-tumble world of politics have been valuable attributes for Isenberg’s successes.

“The state has a population of 38 million people, an economy worth over $2 trillion every year, and a lot of people, farms and businesses who demand water,” he said. “Unfortunately, our water supply is static, and our weather patterns are increasingly erratic.”

“Good public policy means we cannot promise water to everyone without regard to the amount actually available. Today, the fantasy of an endless supply of water supply bumps up against a growing population and economy, and recognition that water development has substantially damaged the Delta ecosystem.”

“There is no magic solution,” Isenberg said. “But we should start by acknowledging that all of us, in every part of California, have contributed to the problems we face. All of us have a duty to help solve the problems.”

Coincidentally, the award Vice-Chair Isenberg received was named after his long-time friend and colleague, Grantland Johnson, who passed away last year.

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)