Draw your own conclusions

I decided to post this directly to the blog instead of in the comments section of a previous post as the most effective and public way to respond to questions raised by Delta resident Chris Gulick. Surprisingly to me, that post has been viewed more than any other post I have done here by a long shot, and has elicited some strong reactions, too.

Chris questions the fairness of that post. As I understand it, Chris thinks that it is not enough to criticize Stuart and Lynda Resnick, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Birmingham, Devin Nunes, et al, and their diverse pro-water export efforts as individuals that are Westside landowners and representatives of constituencies. That if I am to call out Mr Cortopassi and Mr Spanos and their pro-Delta work (which is their obvious right, of course - further I believe that I owe them both an apology about the tone, if not the content, of my previous post, which will be forthcoming), then I should also cite (more) individuals involved in Peripheral Canal/Tunnel project crowd.

One of the key problems that differentiates identifying individuals who support pro-Delta, RTD efforts and those who support the water export constituencies is the scale of their coalitions. The latter is vast, in resources, number and geography. Its funding is mostly accumulated through deep-pocketed institutions managed by well-heeled and -connected people. The former is by comparison mostly a regional constituency, with Northern California Native groups, marine fisheries interests, and what CSPA’s Bill Jennings calls “principled environmentalists” like the Sierra Club. Nevertheless, it is a coalition, just like their opponents’ coalition. But not as large or powerful a coalition.

Since I believe that for many reasons the Delta’s and California’s current situation is unsustainable, my work explores how the interests of both powerful and regional coalitions can find common ground and solutions to their common problem, water. I do this as someone sympathetic to the Delta as a place that I believe is worth protecting, but that must change, too.

So, through staying abreast of Dan Bacher’s work, I am familiar with the several foundations and companies that he has referenced as supporting what he believes is PPIC greenwashing. My sense is that the people involved at PPIC are people of integrity. Bacher is particularly exercised about Bechtel funding the PPIC’s work on the peripheral canal. Given their history and global influence, I would agree with him that it is certainly questionable on the part of the PPIC to accept Bechtel’s financial support. He has often written about this connection, as Chris is aware of no doubt.

Mr Bacher covers Bechtel very exhaustively. In my opinion, they, like Nunes, are low-hanging fruit. I don’t want to get into Bechtel’s history since Mr Bacher does such a good job of it. But the others are much less low hanging, and diverse in their agendas.

In an indybay.org article of recent vintage, Mr Bacher also lists the Packard Foundation, Pisces Foundation, Resources Legacy Fund, and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority as funders of what he calls a “PPIC Peripheral Canal Greenwashing Event,” and calls these foundations “some of the worst corporate greenwashers on the planet,” among other things.

So, who are these groups, since they are the funders of some of the PPIC work? Pretty clearly, they are all relatively conservative foundations that direct their resources at big, complicated problems - problems like the future of California water. They are also highly pragmatic, results-oriented ones. It’s very noticeable that many of the people involved in these foundations have significant connections to Stanford. I’ve recently been critical of one such connection to Stanford, including criticism of an individual named Victor Davis Hanson. Draw your own conclusions.

I list some of the particulars of each group below in ascending order of conspiracy theory potential:

The Los Altos-based Packard Foundation is very large, and their website is very accessible. Packard’s values, according to the website, include Integrity, Respect for All People, Belief in Individual Leadership, Commitment to Effectiveness, and Capacity to Think Big. That last one may give pro-Delta folks pause. Their Board is full of smart, accomplished people. Civil litigation lawyer, biologist, energy start up and Silicone Valley entrepreneurs, etc.

Unlike Packard, the San Francisco-based Pisces Foundation has a website that is opaque, but it does list several of its recent grants. They fund a variety of projects and institutions, ranging from public education reform, clean energy, collaboration among environmental groups (a pausable moment), and climate change research. 

The Sacramento-based Resources Legacy Fund also has a reasonably accessible website. The Fund’s board chair, “Buzz” Thompson, is a law professor at Stanford, and once clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of Chief Justice Rehnquist, but draw your own conclusions. I pause there. RLF funds five major programs: Northern Rockies Loan Fund, Marine Protection Fund, Western Conservation, Sustainable Fisheries Fund, and the California Water Foundation.

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority is based in Southern California. Its member agencies include the Eastern Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Orange County Water District, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, and the Western Municipal Water District. Their commission is made up of lots of SoCal water folks. Yes, they probably have an agenda.

So, what to make of this bit of information? Is there a vast conspiracy of Stanford-based influence-makers dead set on turning the Delta into a vast brackish marsh?  I don’t think that is their objective. I think their objective is to work through what the best options are for managing a resource with the inevitable specter of scarcity already in play. But draw your own conclusions.

Here in British Columbia, I work with two Native communities in a variety of ways. One of these ways has to do with what are called “specific claims” land repatriation processes. I have produced work that has become part of one community’s litigation efforts to have land illegally converted into private property back in the 1860s given back to that community.

Like the work I’ve done to locate Delta sloughs that were filled in. I use maps and old photos to reconstruct measured drawings of development and settlement from that period. It would be interesting, but of course impossible, to revisit the reclamation era of the Delta, and apply the same methods and questions.

Ultimately, I would have to say that that little story about what I do is what is at the heart of my objection to the name “Restore the Delta.” But we can’t go back, can we? To my way of seeing things, RTD is every bit as rhetorical a name for an interest group as is California Latino Water Coalition. RTD would more accurately be called “Freeze Today’s Delta.” If I am insufficiently pure or “principled” in my affiliations and criticisms, I can live with that.

Posted by John Bass on 16 Aug 2011 | Comments (1)


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