Gov. Brown Legislating by Legacy and Vanity

First there was the bullet train to nowhere. Now there are the tunnels to nowhere.

Gov. Jerry Brown is hell-bent on creating a legacy. Unfortunately, it also appears that most of California’s legislators make decisions based on legacy as well.

But lawmaking by legacy rarely bodes well.

Water wars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey, flickr

Brown announced Wednesday that the state intends to build two large tunnels to move water under the very fragile Delta, from Northern California to Southern California.

Where is Jake Gittes when you need him?

Gittes was the hard-boiled private investigator in “Chinatown,” the 1974 movie about the historical California battle over water. Set in Los Angeles in 1937, “Chinatown” was inspired by the California Water Wars, the historical 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 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,” Noah Cross says, played by John Houston. Cross was the movie’s villain, and tried to gain control of all the water in Los Angeles.

It appears that like a character out of the movie, Gov. Jerry Brown has reignited California’s North-vs.-South battle over fresh water.

Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar  and Brown 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 only another version of the peripheral canal plan that voters rejected in 1982, 30 years ago, during Brown’s last run as governor.

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.”

How eloquent.

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 parts of Southern California, the Central Valley and the Bay Area, has many worried that Northern California will be faced with shortages.

Farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists, oppose the plan, and rallied at the Capitol. They say diverting Northern California water would be the final death blow to the fragile Delta.

Water Politics

Devastating environmental litigation resulted in cutbacks on one third of all water deliveries to California’s Central Valley, causing agricultural production losses, thousands of jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars in crops.

Three years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered major pumping cutbacks into the California Aqueduct that delivers water to the state’s farms, based on arbitrary concerns that the giant water pumps killed 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 feed California’s crops and farm families, and to repair the state’s agricultural lifeblood, Brown has created another public works project to feed unions and high-cost union jobs.

This is the second giant public works project deal this month that Brown has sealed.  Just two weeks ago, he signed bills to authorize spending to begin on the phony high-speed rail project, which will tear up valuable Central Valley farmland.

Brown’s political vanity is taking precedence over reforms; his need for a legacy is apparently more important than the 37 million residents of the state. Brown should have done the right thing instead.  Because as Chinatown’s Noah Cross is also famous for saying,”Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

(Katy Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist, and CalWatchdog’s news reporter. Originally posted on CalWatchdog.)