30 Mar 2009

California Is a Third World Country

via someone nice, I received copies of letters between Jean Sagouspe and Senator Dianne Feinstein. Sagouspe has donated over $90,000 to various political figures in the past decade -- according to public records.

(Interestingly, shehe has worked as "farmer, realtor, self-employed, homemaker, housewife [sic], Triple J Partners, Sagouspe Enterprises, Harris Ranch, JP Properties, developer, and owner-grower.)

What did he get for his money? Some attention, it appears...

In a June 28, 1999 letter [PDF], Sen. Diane Feinstein asks Sec. Interior Babbit to look into the increase in prices and drop in reliability on the west side of the San Joaquin valley. She says:
I think that this situation is untenable if we are to provide fairness and certainty, which should be a basic commitment of federal water policy.
In a July 12, 1999 letter [PDF] to Feinstein, Sagouspe says
I recognize that there are legitimate environmental issues that must be dealt with and resolved. However, it is virtually impossible to continue to do this on the backs of the federal export water users. There are broader implications associated with such a course of action than most people realize. An entire segment of California's economy is at risk here.


There are several issues that will surface in the immediate future that can produce a crisis and you can expect to see these shortly. These include but are not limited to the issue of contract renewals, makeup water for delta smelt pump restrictions, B2 policy, and Trinity River fish flow increases.
Note the Delta smelt comment. That was ten years ago!

In a September 9, 1999 reply [PDF], Feinstein says "thank you for taking the time to contact me" -- and not much else.

10 years later, Sagouspe tells Feinstein [PDF] that California and the country are experiencing "a colossal failure of political leadership." He goes on to say:
It is true that we are experiencing a drought in California, but this is only the final nail in the coffin for California water users... there is absolute no excuse for today's abandonment of common sense for political expediency that is so pervasive in today's political environment. Our current political system has bankrupted this once great state by allowing runaway environmental regulations along with a failure to invest in water system infrastructure to completely destroy California's economic engine.


You now have a situation where millions of acres of prime farmland are out of water costing billions in economic value and huge job losses. You are about to see an additional 23 million people in Southern California face a similar situation, and your hometown will be there soon. All of this was predicted and preventable, had there only been some leadership.


The president and governor must declare a state of emergency for California. Water must start flowing again immediately or you will lose those additional 40,000 jobs from the Agricultural sector over the next few months. You will also lose many more thousands of jobs from other California businesses if this situation is not corrected immediately. You also see a dramatic loss in domestic food production capabilities, requiring the nation to become still further dependent on foreign food sources, which raises the issue beyond just the economy to one of national security. There is simply no time to waste.


Many of us will not survive this disaster. The infrastructure that made us great is in shambles. California was once considered the bread basket of the world and the greatest state in the union. Tomorrow, California will be little more than a third world country. Businesses are leaving as fast as they can and there is little wonder why. I have already moved half of my assets out of California, and if I could move my almond orchards out of state I would.


In closing I would like to thank you for reading this. You may not be hearing from me much longer, as I may be one of the ones that do not survive. Just remember that inaction is no longer an option. Tough choices need to be made and they need to be made now or the social fabric of our being and our way of life will be gone. We don't need or want a bailout. What we do want is the freedom to make a living without unreasonable government interference. Please keep in mind that agriculture is about the only sector of the economy not looking for handouts; we are simply looking for a chance to succeed at what we do best, providing jobs, and abundant quality food at affordable prices for everyone to share in.

Diane, only someone like you can accomplish this major task. I just hope that you do not wait too long to forcefully weigh in. What a legacy it would be for you to lead the effort that puts California back on a path towards prosperity. It was not that long ago when California led the nation in education, innovation, infrastructure, and prosperity. With your leadership, greatness is once again attainable.
I added the emphasis to the text above, and you can guess how I would comment on each carefully-wrought phrase.

The one phrase that I do want to expand on is "What we do want is the freedom to make a living without unreasonable government interference." Excuse me, but Westlands would NOT exist if not for the massive government projects that bring water to a VERY dry area.

Bottom Line: He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.


Philip said...

Where we *do* need leadership on the State and Federal level is in redefining "beneficial use" so that farmers can freely sell or transfer water without fear of ending up with no water and no money. Without that reassurance, they will fight tooth and nail, and use hyperbole to defend their livelihoods. Who wouldn't?
You are right to point out the irony of complaints about government interference. Folks need to remember Westlands, and projects like it, was a product of the JFK/Eisenhower era. Bright, well-educated and ambitious young people conceived grandiose plans for making government work to improve our lives. These turned out to be poorly conceived, as well as economically and environmentally unsustainable. Sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

I can see you have zero sympathy for the Westside guys.

I'm not that single-minded on the subject. In retrospect, maybe I would not have watered that part of the San Joaquin Valley. But we did. So the policy question now is how do we fix it.

My answer would NOT be, well, what the hell, what the government giveth the government can taketh away. Reasonable investment-backed expectations, to use the words of the U.S. Supreme Court in a very germane line of caselaw, are developed. And the solution, moving forward, has to give at least a minimal nod in that direction.

What I'm talking about, specifically, is the question of livelihoods collapsing on the Westside. It's happening right now. I heard that on Friday, more than 1000 people were lined up in Mendota for 500 boxes of food. Those ain't your "water barons", those are people that live pretty close to the edge.

So yeah, we're brilliant as hell in retrospect, and what were those dummies thinking back then, but drill it back to the people who are really feeling it.

Philip said...

Westlands has some of the finest soil, and some of the most sophisticated growers and irrigation systems in the world. A *portion* of the district has drainage problems, largely because the government reneged on its promise to build a drainage system. The growers there should be allowed to purchase water supplies from elsewhere, and other districts should be allowed to sell that water to them. The place does not deserve to return to a desert, and the people who have invested their lives there do not deserve to be wiped out for a negligible environmental gain.

WaterSource said...

Dare I ask, ... who needs water and how much ? So far no entity in Ca has been willing to answer that basic question ... not one city, county or farmer !

David Zetland said...

@CF/Philip -- I have sympathy for markets for Westlands. The gov't did indeed screw up (and, yes, it was predictable based on the gov't's history of screw ups on big projects), but the solution is NOT to turn off the ESA (per Radonovich and Nunes). As you say, the solution is markets, and some rump of Westlands (the good soil part) would indeed survive and thrive -- now that the infrastruture is built.

As I have said before, Westlands does NOT have an entitlement to an absolute amount of AF. When/if the water falls short, they may claim damages on contracts the gov't was dumb enough to offer, but not by overthrowing other laws or political decisions. (Gee, I wish there had been more economists involved in this process! Note that they criticized the SWP in the 1950s, but we still "got it" -- in the you-know-where...)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I don't know what "overthrowing" a law is. That verb hints that you think it is unreasonable to amend or repeal the ESA. I say if it was fair game for Congress to pass the ESA, it is fair game for Congress to change it. And if there is enough hue and cry for it, I would say that the democratic system is functioning absolutely correctly if the ESA is in fact modified to get the pumps back on. The ESA, after all, is just another ongoing policy choice.

And the market - yeah, I'll take a market solution too. But to me, that means the water goes where the dollars send it. No longer do you get to say there's a "good part" of Westlands and a "bad part" - if you have faith in markets, have faith in markets. The market will tell us what's good and bad.

Speaking of that, if you have faith in markets, you also have to be open to a peripheral canal. From what I hear, the water agencies down south are willing to pay for the canal, no government subsidy involved. That must mean it pencils out. How can you stand in the way of that, as a free-market water guy?

David Zetland said...

@CF -- (1) let's see what happens with the ESA in congress...

(2) Yes, markets will determine what's "good" and "bad" @ Westlands.

(3) The PC is NOT a market decision. Just because I am willing to pay the cost of driving a car through your house doesn't mean that I should be able to. In other words, property rights still matter...

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