By Katy Grimes
First there was the bullet train to nowhere.
Now there are the tunnels to nowhere.
Gov. Jerry Brown seems hell-bent on creating a legacy. Unfortunately, it also appears that most of California’s legislators make decisions based on legacy as well.
Lawmaking by legacy rarely bodes well.
Brown announced Wednesday that the state intends to build two large tunnels to move water from Northern California to Southern California under the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Where is Jake Gittes when you need him?
Gittes was the hard-boiled private investigator in “Chinatown,” the 1974 movie centered around California’s never-ending battle over water. Set in Los Angeles in 1937, “Chinatown” was inspired by the actual — sometimes bloody — disputes over land and water rights that raged in Southern California during the 1910s and 1920s.
Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, discovers that water is illegally being diverted and that agents of the water department have been demolishing farmers’ water tanks and poisoning their wells.
“Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water,” says Noah Cross, played by John Huston. Cross is the movie’s villain and tries to gain control of all the water in Los Angeles.
Like a character out of the movie, Brown has reignited California’s North-vs.-South battle over fresh water.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the Democratic governor recently held a Sacramento news conference at the California Natural Resources Agency to announce a massive, multibillion-dollar water diversion plan, which many are saying is merely a warmed over version of the Peripheral Canal plan – backed by then Gov. Brown – and rejected by voters in 1982.
Brown is acting like a woman scorned.
“Analysis paralysis is not why I came back 30 years later to handle some of the same issues,” Brown said. “At this stage, as I see many of my friends dying… I want to get s— done.”
Brown called the plan “a big idea for a big state.”
But the plan to funnel water from the Sacramento River to pumps that supply water to Southern California, the Central Valley and the Bay Area, has many worried that Northern California will end up facing shortages.
Farmers, fishermen and environmentalists oppose the plan for various reasons. They rallied at the Capitol. Diverting Northern California water would be the deathblow to the already deteriorating Delta ecosystem, they say.
Brown’s proposal comes three years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered major cutbacks in water deliveries from the California Aqueduct to the state’s Central Valley breadbasket, based on arbitrary concerns that the giant pumps are responsible for the sharp decline in the population of the Delta Smelt, a tiny fish not even indigenous to the Delta. The Fish and Wildlife Service ordered 81 billion gallons of water, enough to put 85,000 acres of farmland back into production, to flow out to the ocean each year, instead of feeding California’s Central Valley farms.
Instead of fighting to bolster California’s crops and farm families by enhancing the state’s agricultural lifeblood, Brown has endorsed another public works project to feed unions and high-cost union jobs.
This is the second giant public works project deal Brown has sealed this month. Just two weeks ago, he signed bills to authorize spending to begin on an at least $68 billion high-speed rail project that will tear up valuable Central Valley farmland.
Brown’s need for a legacy is apparently more important than the real needs of the 37 million residents of the state.
The truth is, for better or worse, Brown already has created an extensive political legacy for himself and, if only through longevity, gained a certain respectability.
As Noah Cross famously said:
“Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”
Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist. She has written columns for The Sacramento Union, The Washington Examiner, The San Francisco Examiner, The Business Journal, and The Sacramento Bee. Grimes has been an political blogger since 2004 and currently blogs at Townhall.com and The Flash Report. This piece first appeared in CalWatchDog.