Hallinan announces for Supervisor
Tom Hallinan, attorney for the City of Ceres and a Ceres resident, has announced he will run for Supervisor in Stanislaus County’s District 5, currently held by Jim DeMartini. Earlier this year, DeMartini announced he would be stepping down and moving out of the area. Hallinan enters the race a strong favorite, especially since Anthony Canella decided not to run. District 1 Supervisor Kristen Olsen is also stepping down, and at least four people will enter the race to replace her, including Modesto City Councilman Bill Zoslocki, Riverbank firefighter Buck Condit, Waterford Mayor Mike Van Winkle, and Oakdale School Board Member Diane Gilbert. Zoslocki should be the favorite in that race.
Marijuana and illegal drugs in Denham-owned building
Police found guns, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and butane hash oil in a building owned by a company in which former congressman Jeff Denham is a partner. Located in an industrial district in Turlock, the building is adjacent to a separate Denham-owned building used for Denham’s plastics business. There were at least 4,000 plants in the building which had apparently been up for sale to a group that planned to use it for a legal marijuana operation. Read the full story here.
Costa faces primary challengers
Conventional wisdom has always said the only way Valley Democrats can win is by leaning conservative. Thus, from Congressional District 9 on down to 23, either Republicans or “Blue Dog” (conservative) Democrats have held sway for years. But recent wins by Josh Harder in District 10 and TJ Cox in 21 may have presaged a transformation in the Valley’s long conservative tradition. Both Harder and Cox upset highly favored Republicans, and both ran as traditional Democrats, emphasizing kitchen-table issues like jobs, health care, education and equal opportunity. Now, in another sign that the times could be changing, Blue Dog Democrat Jim Costa is facing two Democratic challengers, Esmeralda Soria and Kim Williams, both of whom will run as mainstream Democrats in Costa’s 16th District. Soria in particular could present Costa’s most serious challenge in many years; she’s finishing her final term as a Fresno City Councilmember. Read more here.
Nunes sues Fresno Bee, McClatchy
Continuing a rampage of lawsuits, Congressman Devin Nunes has sued the Fresno Bee and its parent company, McClatchy. The suit alleges the Bee pursued a “scheme” to “defame” the congressman and “destroy his reputation.” Nunes has also sued the people who objected to him calling himself a farmer during his campaign for congress; he defeated Andrew Janz by a five percent margin. And just for good measure, he has sued Twitter. Ordinarily, the broad latitude of First Amendment rights protects media’s and private citizens’ rights to free speech, especially in matters of politics and government. But like Donald Trump, Congressman Nunes seems determined undermine those rights however he can. Read more here.
City of Modesto denies Straight Pride event permit
Citing the organization’s lack of liability insurance and safety concerns, the City of Modesto has denied the National Straight Pride Coalition permission to hold a parade and meeting in Modesto’s Graceada Park, site of famed Mancini Bowl and 100 years of summer concerts by the city’s volunteer-staffed MoBand. The application for a permit by the group dedicated to what it calls heterosexual Christian values ignited a firestorm of protests amid details that would strain credulity if featured in a daytime soap drama. Just for openers, one of the promoters’ son, who is gay, was given up for adoption by a member of the Modesto City Council, and, in an obvious rebuke to the Straight Pride Coalition’s attempts to demonize those who don’t fit the organizations strained definitions of “normal,” the famously reticent Gallo corporation issued a pointed announcement of its opposition to “divisiveness, hatred, or hostility.” Dozens of protestors were mobilized almost immediately upon learning of the coalition’s plans, and the city was faced with the problem of upholding First Amendment rights even for an organization that looks to many like a hate group. The City has offered an alternative venue, so the drama continues. Read more here.
Gallo takes the lead on community values
In a bold and unequivocal letter to employees at E&J Gallo, its leaders both repudiated the bogus pretenses of advocates of “Straight Pride,” and reaffirmed the values contained in the national motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” Gallo’s statement is yet one more indicator that no one is fooled by the thin garment of camouflage that supporters of Straight Pride hope will conceal the white supremacist values of an organization that isn’t just nativist and nationalist, but homophobic, bigoted, and hateful. Masterful in its controlled tone and due respect for First Amendment protections of speech, the letter is one of the strongest arguments yet for tolerance and inclusion, not just in the workplace, but in the broader community. The letter can be seen in full here, on the Gallo Facebook page.
Books, drugs, data and more
Sam Quinones’ Dreamland has been out since 2015. It’s still the best overview of the opioid epidemic anywhere—how it got started, how the pharmaceutical companies pushed it, and how gangsters capitalized on it with black tar heroin from Mexico. Now, the rest of the media world is catching up with Quinones and offering more specific detail about the mind-staggering extent of a marketing scheme that the drug pushers—aka Big Pharma—knew was resulting in financial ruin, addiction, and death. One of the more illuminating data sources is at The Washington Post. Readers and researchers can find out how many pills were pushed and by whom in their own states and counties. It’s fascinating stuff. Data for Stanislaus County are here. Other Valley counties and the nation’s entire data base are also available.
Turlock considering allowing homeless tent camp
Turlock city officials are considering allowing a homeless camp for a portion of the city’s estimated 250 homeless people. Though no one thinks allowing homeless people to camp in tents at designated sites is an ideal solution, it’s proving to be an effective interim solution for people who would otherwise be in downtown streets, neighborhood parks, and along our rivers, canals, and freeways. Like most other cities, Turlock is struggling with an order by the 9th Circuit Court, which ordered that people with nowhere else to go can’t be cited for sleeping in public places. Homeless encampments remain controversial, and the Turlock proposal is no exception. Read more here.
Bad as it is, Valley air is getting better
Even though air quality in the San Joaquin Valley ranks among the worst in the nation, it’s better than it used to be. In fact, a recent study argues that the reason the notorious Valley Tule Fog has almost disappeared in the northern part of the Valley is due to improved air quality. UC Berkeley scientists say the correspondence between air quality and fog explains why the fog is worse in the southern San Joaquin than farther north. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says air quality has improved most noticeably over the last 15 years. Though it’s still a hazard to human health, the air does seem to be getting better. Read the Berkeley study here.
Fresno Grizzlies losing sponsors
The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team has lost at least two major sponsors because of an ad featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a group photo with Fidel Castro and Kim Jong Un. The group is described as “enemies of freedom.” Sun Maid, Tecate and Dos Equis have all disavowed the ad and severed ties with the Grizzlies. Tecate and Dos Equis are owned by Heineken. Spokespersons for the Grizzlies have said the ad was aired because of an employee error. Read the full story here.
Bad air costs Valley $6 billion
The southern San Joaquin Valley has the worst winter air particulate levels (PM2.5) and summer ozone levels in the United States. The northern part of the Valley is better, but still hazardous to health. The pollution has punishing effects on Valley residents in the form of high incidences of childhood asthma, heart and lung disease, and a host of other maladies. Over the last ten years, most regions in the U.S. have surpassed the Valley in measures of air quality improvement. Nonetheless, Republican Congressmen in the southern Valley have been trying to weaken Federal Clean Air standards since 2017. For a keen analysis, read Tom Frantz of the Fresno Community Alliance here.
Denham takes lobbying job
Turns out those rumors Jeff Denham would run again for congress in California’s District 10 were ill-founded. Denham has joined the hordes of other “retired” politicians and taken on a job as a lobbyist—the job description won’t be much different than his role as a congressman. Insiders think Denham will continue to work to bring water to wealthy political influencers in the southern San Joaquin Valley and offer advice on how to weaken or eliminate laws protecting wildlife and nature, most especially the Endangered Species Act. Denham will be working for K&L Gates, a global law firm as a “government affairs counselor.” Read more here.
Newsom administration bans popular pesticide
A pesticide used widely throughout the San Joaquin Valley has been banned by the Newsom administration. Chlorpyrifos, used on a range of crops including almonds, is believed to harm brain development in babies. Recently, the Trump administration has sought to lift restrictions on the popular pesticide imposed during the Obama administration, but California will phase it out over the next two years and disallow aerial spraying in the interim. Read more here.
Homeless count keeps growing
Stanislaus County’s “Focus on Prevention” program is five years old now. The program was initiated to prevent and reduce homelessness. The latest “point in time” count, conducted in January, showed 1923 homeless people, a record since the count began. The previous high was 1800. That was in 2009, during the Great Recession. Even though this year’s count has more volunteers and better methodology, insiders are saying it is still too low. Despite what is being touted as an economic boon, homeless numbers keep increasing, despite attempts to reduce them. Read the full story here.
Stapley scorches Modesto Irrigation District
Some of us lamented Garth Stapley’s promotion to Editor of the Modesto Bee’s Editorial page, not because we thought Stapley didn’t deserve the job but because we lamented the loss of the Bee’s best reporter. Turns out Stapley is still on task as a superb investigative reporter. Stapley’s long investigation of the Modesto Irrigation District’s favoritism in billing has another chapter, this time on the Editorial Page. As usual, it’s a fact-filled look at the very questionable billing practices of an agency that should be serving the public interest, but isn’t. Read Garth Stapley’s fine report here.
Denham to run again?
Former California Congressional District 10 Representative Jeff Denham is amassing a war chest and appears prepared to run again against incumbent and Turlock native Josh Harder. Republican Ted Howze, who was eliminated during the primary campaign in 2018, has already announced his candidacy. Both Denham and Howze promoted theories that the general election last November was tainted by illegal votes. After a difficult primary that included a field of powerful Democrats, Harder went on to beat Denham by almost 10,000 votes in the general election. Though he’s already raised more money than any other Democratic representative in the nation, Harder will almost certainly face a well-funded candidate as Republicans are desperate to regain a seat in a region they controlled until Harder and TJ Cox scored upset victories over favored incumbents. Read more here.
Harder slams DeVos for hypocrisy
Newly elected Representative for California’s Congressional District 10 Josh Harder hasn’t wasted any time getting to work. He’s already made more high profile visits to his district than former rep Jeff Denham did over a year’s time, and Harder has also been promoting legislation that would help Valley citizens. He’s fighting hard for the issues he said he would, including education. And in a recent video, he slams Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her hypocrisy while cutting literacy programs. Read more here.
Selling out to Westlands Water District
Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of the Interior is David Bernhardt, former lobbyist for Westlands Water District and dedicated foe of sustainable fishing and farming. The Trump administration’s plan for the San Joaquin Delta and San Joaquin Valley rivers is to ruin them so Westlands corporate farmers can continue growing nuts for export. The plan isn’t just a threat to endangered species, it puts sensitive salmon populations on the fast track to extinction and treats our rivers as little more than irrigation ditches. Read more here.
Naramsen Goriel steps up to power
After many years of suppression and silence, the Valley’s young immigrants and minorities are speaking up. Naramsen Goriel’s recent comments in the Modesto Bee are the latest sign that a new generation of Valley citizens isn’t afraid to speak truth to power. Inspired in part by the Women’s March, Goriel has realized the value of standing strong against the divisive tactics of Donald Trump and his allies. Trump’s fear-mongering grows and gains strength when good citizens fail to oppose it, and it weakens when they challenge it. Read Mr. Goriel’s comments here.
Susan Eggman to run for senate
Susan Talamantes Eggman, current Assembly representative for California’s 13th District, has decided to run for State Senate after all. Only last year she announced she had decided not to run in part because of the poor health of her spouse, who had surgery for a spinal tumor. Current 5th District Senator Cathleen Galgiani terms out next year and has pulled papers to run for state controller in 2022. Eggman has been a very popular Assemblywoman and will be a favorite for Senate out of the gate. Read more here.
Harder hits the right note (again)
Most anyone who followed Josh Harder’s brilliant campaign last year knew he would apply tremendous energy and focus once in congress—he’s one of those people whose cruising speed is several levels above the recommended maximum. But Josh Harder also has a special gift for zeroing in on problems that need fixing and doing his best to fix them. His latest project is an effort to expose the pernicious effects of lobbying on government funding. In a recent OP/ED, Harder vows to make government funding more open and more directed to actually helping people rather than a few narrow interest groups. Read Harder’s note from inside Congress here.
“The threat of climate change is both ominous and abstract”
Congressman Jerry McNerney in California’s 9th District is one of our most-informed leaders on energy and climate. An engineer and former consultant for traditional energy utilities as well as clean power sources, McNerney is well-versed in the science and economics of energy and climate change. While he doesn’t get as much national attention as some proponents of clean energy and aggressive strategies to address climate change, McNerney offers some of the soundest reasoning on the political, scientific, and economic consequences of failure to act now. His recent article in The Humanist is a must-read for anyone who wishes to well-informed and up-to-date on the looming catastrophe of climate change. Read it here.
Harder stands firm
Despite what many believe is a risky position, Josh Harder is standing tall on his campaign promise to support Medicare for All. So-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, including Fresno’s Jim Costa, are still claiming the costs outweigh the benefits. But if Josh Harder understands anything, he understands economics. He’s got a degree from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard. What Harder knows and the Blue Dogs won’t admit is we already pay more for health care than any other industrialized nation. Medicare for All will actually save us money. Read more here.
Time to lose half a million acres of farmland?
While insiders have been saying for years that the realities of water supplies should dictate how much land we farm, public discussion rarely ensued. Now, realistic proposals for fallowing farmland are finally out in the open. The Public Policy Institute of California has released a study arguing that we should fallow 500,000 acres of farmland if we wish to manage water supplies fairly and efficiently. While the proposal to fallow that many acres is certain to be controversial and even inflammatory, it’s long past time to face water realities and address them with sustainable policies. Read more here.
Despite decades of talk and proposals to do something about it, air pollution is still a major threat to public health in the San Joaquin Valley, even in the northern portion, where Modesto and Merced routinely rank in the top ten cities in concentrations of particulate matter. One of the major polluters, Chevron Incorporated, continues to do business with little restraint from penalties and only occasional bad publicity. Severe asthma, high incidences of lung cancer, and shortened life spans apparently aren’t reasons enough to clean up our bad air. Read more here.
Newsom tosses tunnels
In a radical departure from the vision of Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom has rejected the California Water Fix and its plan for Twin Tunnels. Instead, Newsom favors one tunnel and a holistic approach to growing demands for water during a period of climate change and uncertain water supplies. Environmentalists have so far been optimistic about the new approach which represents a blow to southern California water interests as well as to corporate AG in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Read more here.
Harder forwards bi-partisan bill for vets
Despite lip service to veterans, both political parties have failed to provide them adequate compensation for the harm many suffer in service to their country. Mental illness is especially rampant among vets, and too seldom acknowledged as a factor in divorce, bankruptcy and homelessness. Now, in the very first weeks of his term, Congressman Josh Harder has pushed and passed a bill that would provide significant help for mentally ill vets and their families. “The Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act allows veterans and their families to access free childcare when they use VA Medical Centers and Clinics.” Harder’s bill makes it easier for vets to access care and provides timely support for their children as well. Read more here.
Latino vote made a difference
Despite conspiracy theories from the likes of Ted Howze and Donald Trump, November’s surge of Democrat wins is easily explained by one word—turnout. And a key factor in turnout was the Latino vote. For years, and especially in the San Joaquin Valley, insiders have despaired at getting out the Latino vote. Even popular astronaut Jose Hernandez didn’t inspire Latinos in his 2012 run for Congress. But in 2018, Latinos came out in record numbers. Some attribute the turnout to the “Trump Effect,” but Democrats also devoted tremendous effort to getting out the Latino vote, an effort they will need to sustain to stay in office. Read more here.
RIP Dr. Allen
Charles Van Dyn (CV) Allen was one of Modesto’s quietest but most influential movers and shakers for decades. He got less recognition than most because he was modest, operated in a field that for many years got little attention, and preferred moderate progress to radical bombast. Today, health care is on the front burner of attention, but Dr. Allen was a pioneer in realizing decades ago that the San Joaquin Valley didn’t just need good doctors, it needed to find a way to lower health care costs. He did everything he could to address both problems; he was a major force in the establishment of the Memorial Medical Center as a non-profit and he recruited hundreds of doctors to Modesto from all over the United States. Though modest, he was not afraid to take a firm and public stand for truth, and did so as late as last fall, when he called out Congressman Jeff Denham for misleading statements about health care. One of Modesto’s greatest contributors to community welfare, Dr. Allen died on January 19. Read more here.
Bee doubts Berryhill can serve
In a powerful editorial, the Modesto Bee suggests newly-elected Stanislaus County Supervisor Tom Berryhill should step down. Berryhill, who has been absent from public view for most of the last year, recently broke his hip and has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He had a heart transplant in 2006. Berryhill missed well over half the votes over his last couple of years as an Assemblyman in Sacramento. Given the need for a pro-active supervisor in Berryhill’s critical District 4, the Bee has a point. Read more here.
Brown rebukes sheriff’s attack on “sanctuary state”
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson has blamed the killing of Newman Police Officer Ronal Singh on a California law passed in 2017, but on January 6, Governor Jerry Brown offered a strong rebuttal to that theory. Brown said that the killer’s arrest dates preceded the passage of SB 54, the so-called “sanctuary” policy. Critics of Sheriff Christianson have accused him of politicizing a horrible crime during a period of high emotion. Supporters say Christianson is just pointing out the burden law enforcement bears because of bad laws and policies. “I think people now are looking to blame somebody because of the terrible things that happened,” the governor said in the interview, “but it had nothing to do with the law of California.” Read more here.
Will OID double down on dumb?
Just off a big loss to the Oakdale Groundwater Alliance (OGA) in Fresno’s Appellate Court, Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) Board of Directors are apparently eager for another hefty payout to water attorney Tim O’Laughlin, followed by an almost certain defeat. OID Directors are considering suing the state for thwarting OID’s practice of abandoning its water rights so it can sell water to buyers far south of the San Joaquin Delta. The state has warned OID repeatedly that its tactics for water sales are clear violations of the rules, but OID refuses to learn its lesson. Just as was the case in the suit against the OGA, OID is looking at an almost certain loss and another big expense. Read more here.
Inside TJ’s big win
While Republicans from Paul Ryan on down to Jeff Denham and Ted Howze keep insisting there must have been dirty pool involved in the come-from-behind victories of Democrats like Josh Harder and TJ Cox, insiders knew all along that Harder and Cox applied relatively simple tactics to bring about their upset wins. First and foremost, both Harder and Cox were gluttons for work. Second, both had superb ground games, mostly because they inspired hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers to help them get out the vote. Of course, there were other factors as well. For an inside look at TJ’s stirring comeback from way down in the vote, here’s a great story.
Josh Harder close up
The Modesto Bee has two excellent reports on Josh Harder, the recently elected representative for California Congressional District 10. Harder surprised many local political insiders when he upset incumbent Jeff Denham, but in retrospect his combination of high intelligence, drive, and dedication to public service became more and more obvious the longer he campaigned. Garth Stapley’s excellent report offers more than just a glimpse of Harder’s private life, and Harder explains some of his goals for the district in a well-edited Bee video. Read Stapley’s report and watch the video here.
TJ takes the lead
Following a long-established pattern of Democratic Party votes coming in late, the count in California Congressional District 21 now favors challenger TJ Cox over three-term incumbent David Valadao. On election night, Cox was behind by over 4,000 votes. Soon afterwards, most news organizations and pollsters called the race for Valadao. But Cox has gained ground every ensuing update and now leads Valadao by just over 400 votes, with several thousand votes left to count. Ace pollster and statistician Nate Silver thinks the trend favors Cox, but believes the election could be decided by as few as 100 votes or less. Like Jeff Denham, who lost to Democrat Josh Harder, Valadao was a firm supporter of Donald Trump, who now seems to have poisoned the Republican brand in California. Read more here.
Cox trims Valadao’s lead to 447 votes
Though most everyone called the race in California Congressional District 21 well over a week ago, David Valadao’s seemingly insurmountable lead over TJ Cox has dwindled to 447 votes. Shortly after Election Day, Valadao led by almost 5,000 votes and was declared the winner. Every update since then has cut into his lead and the latest updates have cut it significantly. There is still uncertainty over exactly how many votes are left to count, but it’s clear there are thousands. Nate Silver has predicted the vote could be decided by as few as 100 votes. Read more here.
Another drought threatens Valley drinking water
During the drought years of 2012-2016, the state recorded over 2500 failed wells. There were probably more that weren’t reported. A recent report shows that in the event of another drought—a near certainty—wells in the eastern San Joaquin Valley are among those most likely to fail. Domestic wells that provide drinking water for homeowners and small communities are especially threatened as they are typically drilled to much shallower depths than agricultural wells. As is the case with fires, well failures are associated with higher temperatures, which are widely seen as signs of global warming. A new study urges pro-active responses now. Read more here.
Harder versus Denham up for grabs
Supporters of Jeff Denham erupted in cheers and demands for payoffs on election wagers when results were posted for Tuesday’s election. Unfortunately for backers of both Denham and his opponent Josh Harder, the early results represented less than half the vote total and showed Denham with a very narrow lead of 1287 votes. If history is prologue, the vote in California Congressional District 10 could stretch on for weeks. It’s always possible that one candidate could take a significant lead, but as of now, it’s too close to call. See Nate Silver here for a statistician’s view of close races, including CA-10.
More Denham lies
Over the last couple of weeks, supporters of Jeff Denham have gotten ever more desperate. First, there was the appearance of a group of raucous “Proud Boys” at the Josh Harder Ag Roundtable in Hughson. These guys made the category “drunken lout” a step up. Then came a stream of bogus letters to the editor, easily exposed by the Modesto Bee’s Mike Dunbar. But then the letters kept coming, including a bogus letter complaining about Dunbar’s exposure of bogus letters! We’ve known all along that Jeff Denham lies about water and health care. Now it looks like the habit is contagious and has been taken up by his supporters. Read Mike Dunbar’s latest exposure of Denham supporters’ lies here.
Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Endorses Harder
When she announced that the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare had officially endorsed Josh Harder, Catherine Dodd added that Harder had filled out a complicated questionnaire and received an A+. “Jeff Denham received an “F,” she said on October 24. Dodd was in Modesto not just to endorse Harder, but to sound the alarm about the Republican attack on Social Security and Medicare. She said that, “This is the closest we’ve come to losing Social Security and Medicare.” Dodd said that the Republican Party’s attempts to balance tax cuts for the wealthy with cuts to Social Security and Medicare were a serious threat and noted that Jeff Denham votes consistently to slash Medicare funding.
Silver now showing Harder at 72.2% probability
Statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver will be the first to admit that polling isn’t always accurate. That’s one reason he adds what he calls “non-polling factors” into his mix of predictions and probabilities. Silver’s latest prediction for California Congressional District 10 has Josh Harder with a 72.2% probability of winning. Jeff Denham is at 27.8%. While there have been few polls altogether, recent polling suggests Harder is pulling away from Denham. Read Silver’s latest report here.
Senior citizens favor Harder by large margin
One of the most reliable demographics to vote consistently, senior citizens are also among the most informed on current events and issues. And in California’s Congressional District 10, senior citizens favor Turlock native Josh Harder over Republican incumbent Jeff Denham by 17 points, according to a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The survey of 601 respondents showed Harder with 51% and Denham at 34% with the remaining voters unsure or refusing to say. The survey has a margin of error at 4% and is in line with more recent surveys showing Josh Harder pulling ahead of Jeff Denham. See the survey results here.
Josh Harder raising record dollars
Democratic candidates in general are raising record-breaking sums around the nation, but candidate for Congress in California’s Congressional District 10 Josh Harder has entered the stratosphere. Only Kentucky’s Amy McGrath has raised more than Harder. She’s at $3.65 million for last quarter. Harder was right behind her at $3.5 million. Those are numbers more typical of Senate races, and could bode well for Democrats in the upcoming elections in November. But Republicans aren’t likely to let Democrats run away with the election, either. Rumors are that Harder’s opponent, Jeff Denham, will receive a $6 million boost from the Republican Party, in hopes he can hold his seat in congress against the up-and-coming young challenger from Turlock. Read more here.
Jeff Denham largest beneficiary of money from indicted congressman
Even though Congressman Duncan Hunter has been indicted on corruption charges for using campaign money to pay personal expenses, Jeff Denham is still refusing to return the money Hunter donated to his campaign. Hunter is another of the southern California Republicans supporting Denham’s efforts to fast track the Delta Tunnels and make it easier to send northern California water south. Hunter’s PAC, “Peace Through Strength,” donated money to three congressman, with Jeff Denham receiving the largest amount. Read more here.
Is Jeff Denham afraid of Josh Harder?
People who saw first-hand Jeff Denham’s bizarre outbursts of shouting, interruptions, and failures to address questions during the September 22 debate with Josh Harder are wondering whether the candidate from Turlock has Denham unnerved. How else to explain Jeff Denham’s bizarre behavior, which resembled a pre-teen trying to cover for stealing from his mother’s change purse after being caught red-handed? He was very close to a rolling fit. Very early on, Denham’s stage presence went from puzzling to embarrassing. He did not look, act, or sound like a public official. He was undignified, uninformed, and unhinged. Unfortunately for Jeff Denham, it’s all on tape. Watch the video here.
Berryhill owes voters an appearance
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but on the same day Frank Damrell swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco to help raise $50,000 for hydrocephalus research, a Modesto Bee editorial noted that Tom Berryhill hasn’t been seen in public in weeks. Even before he announced his run for supervisor, there were rumors about his health. But now that we’re in the final weeks of the race for supervisor in Stanislaus County’s District 4 between Damrell and Berryhill, Berryhill owes it to voters to at least make an appearance and assure people he’s healthy enough for the job. He hasn’t campaigned at all and there are rumors he’s suffered a broken hip. Berryhill had a heart transplant in 2001, and appeared healthy afterward, but his absence from public view when he should be visible has caused increasing concern. Read the Bee editorial here.
Harder speaks truth on water
It didn’t take Josh Harder long to figure out Jeff Denham’s true loyalties on water. Congressman Denham has been working with his buddies David Valadao and Devin Nunes to send northern California water south for years. Now, the state is trying to take our water to make up for the deficit caused by Big Ag in the southern San Joaquin Valley. We need a congressman who is working for us, not his donors from out of the district. Read Josh Harder’s most recent stand on water here.
Denham votes “yea”
Jeff Denham is still telling people he’s against the Delta tunnels, but on July 19 he voted “yea” on H.R. 6147. That’s the bill with a rider that prevents lawsuits against the tunnels. Oh, and there’s another rider that prevents litigation against water projects in general. If all this sounds confusing, don’t let it. It’s right in line with Denham’s claims to fix immigration. Republicans, after promising to vote on immigration reform before the midterm elections, just decided not to. What does all this tell us? It’s election time for Jeff Denham, that’s what. See Denham’s vote here.
Denham gets called out
July 20, representatives from the Sierra Club, Friends of the River, Indian tribes and Restore the Delta held a press conference outside Jeff Denham’s Modesto office and criticized Denham for his implicit support of the Delta tunnels and attempts to eliminate due process for California water projects. Denham has been telling local constituents he’s against sending water south at the same time he’s supporting Republican friends like David Valadeo in their attempts to bring more water south via Delta tunnels. Read the press release here.
Was Evin Yadegar shot while pulling away?
Steve Ringhoff studies some criminal cases closely and he’s been watching the case of Evin Yadegar’s death by shooting even more closely than most. Yadegar was shot by a Stanislaus County shefiff’s deputy in a Ripon neighborhood during a bipolar episode involving a slow speed chase. Ringhoff, while poring over some of the documents released to the public, discovered commentary on a video of the shooting by the attorney for Hanibal Yadegar, Evin’s husband. The commentary suggests Evin Yadegar was shot while pulling slowly away from law enforcement officers. If true, it is a major turn in the case. Read Steve Ringhoff’s full story here.
OID: wheels of justice grind slow
It’s hard to keep up with all the violations, infractions, and environmental depredations at the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID), in part because the wheels of justice grind slowly. Way back in 2015, charges were brought against incumbent OID Board member Al Bairos for violating campaign funding regulations. Initially, Bairos refused to cooperate with investigators. Now, authorities at Fair Political Practices Commission say Bairos is guilty of failure to disclose campaign contributions and should be fined $16,000. Garth Stapley has the full story here.
Harder’s endorsements soar
Josh Harder’s campaign continues to garner coveted endorsements, with the latest coming from the Modesto Bee and Dr. CV Allen, one of Modesto’s most highly regarded citizens and an early force in the establishment of Modesto’s Memorial Hospital. Dr. Allen has written Bee OP/ED columns critical of our current health care system and was persuaded Josh Harder is the best congressional candidate to work on a fix. The Bee editorial endorsed Harder over several other candidates while ripping Michael Eggman for claiming to be a “local farmer” when he actually sold his farm last year. Read the Bee editorial here.
Stop Westlands’ war on Valley environment now
Westlands Water District’s war on the environment began the day the largest water district in the United States was formed. The really fascinating aspect of the history of Westlands is that it has always had very few water rights. But the lack of water rights hasn’t stopped Westlands from grabbing water from those who do have water rights through political chicanery at the highest levels. Though it’s been convicted of securities fraud and managed to dodge debts owed to taxpayers for decades, The San Luis Drainage Resolution Act (HR 1769) would be the biggest opportunity yet for Westlands to steal water, pollute the environment, and avoid paying what it owes to American taxpayers. Read to the whole story here, and be sure to contact your Senators.
Denham votes against rivers
Jeff Denham’s record on the environment is at least consistent: he’s against it. Last year, he tried to remove “Wild and Scenic” protective status from the Merced River. Early in July, he voted in favor of HR 23, a water grab by farmers south of Denham’s own district. Advocates for fish, wildlife, and the Delta and San Francisco Bay ecosystems, have called HR 23 “one of the most aggressive attempts ever taken by the political allies of farming interests to divert maximum flows of water south from the Delta.” Fortunately, California Senators Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein oppose the bill, which would set river and wetlands restoration efforts back forty years, making the San Joaquin River run dry once again. Read more here.
The real skinny on dams and water
Every time there’s an above-average water year, cries resound for more dams. Among the loudest voices is that of Devin Nunes, a Valley congressman. But are more dams really the answer to our need for storage? Most people who’ve studied them closely realize dams for the most part represent antiquated technology and there are better storage alternatives in the form of wetlands and groundwater recharge. One of the best discussions of dams and their shortcomings is here.
More Enron accounting in water
Hard on the heels of the Westlands Water District financial scandal comes another. California state controller Betty Yee has announced multiple improprieties after a review of the nearby Panoche Water District’s administration. Perks for employees included free housing, tickets to A’s and Raiders’ games, and items from the Ralph Lauren fashion line. The really mind-boggling number is $3 billion dollars in public money was likely involved since January, 2015. Full story here.
Flows are not just about salmon
Too many Valley citizens have bought into the people versus salmon story, where every drop of river water gets dedicated to saving a few fish. The real story is more complicated, but absolutely necessary to understand if we’re to get the most public benefit out of our water. Think it’s only about fish? Think again; we have an entire bay and coastal ecosystem at stake. Read more here.
San Joaquin will flow
For the first time in more than sixty years, the San Joaquin River is expected to flow year-round in 2017. The restored flows are the result of a decades-long lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and part of an effort to restore salmon runs along the river. The San Joaquin spans three-hundred sixty miles and is California’s second longest river. At one time, half a million salmon used the San Joaquin, which was once deep enough to support cargo-filled paddleboats. Read more here.
Is Fresno the new Flint?
In certain sections of town, Fresno homeowners complained for years about the dirty water coming from their taps. Like many Valley residents, they worried about the sporadic discharges of brown and smelly water that came from their faucets and shower heads and were frustrated when public officials were slow to respond. Now that the Public Utilities Department has begun testing the discolored water, technicians are discovering high levels of lead in some of the water. Read the developing story here.
More OID Conflicts?
The closer you look at the Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) reliance on outside water sales, the more you find a tangled web of hidden agendas, outright secrecy, and conflicts of interest. Now it appears OID Director Gary Osmundsen may be involved in another conflict involving the district’s fallowing program. OID is also offering sweetheart loans to a select group of farmers. Seems OID hasn’t learned from its sweetheart deal with Trinitas Partners. See the latest at Protect Oakdale’s Water.
Big win for fisherman
On July 25, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association in litigation about the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to deliver millions of acre feet of water annually to San Joaquin Valley farmers. The court decided the Bureau of Reclamation had violated the National Environmental Policy Act. The decision will have far-reaching implications for agri-business in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Read more here.
Westlands: Enron of water?
Westlands Water District, one of Oakdale Irrigation District’s favorite water buyers, has been fined by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for “misrepresentations and omissions” in a 2012 bond sale. Turns out the country’s largest water district has decided it can’t afford to pay for its share of the Delta tunnels project. The SEC decision says Westlands misled buyers with inaccurate representations of debt ratios. Read more here.
Stapley opens door on water sale
It didn’t take Modesto Bee reporter Garth Stapley long to ferret out a few more details on the Oakdale Irrigation District’s (OID) secret water sale. Stapley also got some reactions and comments from local farmers and political leaders, none of whom were pleased about the water district’s back room deal. Read Garth Stapley’s report here.
Update on OID water sale
The Manteca Bulletin has the most complete story yet available on the Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin water sale. The sale is being touted as a boon to fish and farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley. One issue that is sure to arise is the secrecy of the sale and whether it violated the Brown Act. The article says more water was available than the districts had estimated, but local farmers have insisted they knew OID had the water all the time. More here.
More on Westlands agreement
As expected, the Obama administration approved an agreement with Westlands Water District that forgives a $350 million debt to the people, enables transfers of water to toxic soils, and continues subsidies for corporate agriculture. Congressman Jerry McNerney and others have vowed to fight the agreement. More here.
Worst water giveaway yet?
Westlands Water District has long held special status in the complex water rights hierarchy. No matter how junior its water rights, it somehow manages to acquire massive amounts of water even during droughts. Now the federal government has made yet another deal that amounts to a giveaway of a priceless public resource to private enterprise for even more environmental degradation. Read C-WIN’s summary here.
Gotta read this from OtPR
After reading Vance Kennedy’s method for doing a “water-in minus water-out” accounting (see below), you MUST read the graphic description of how an industrial-sized well is causing subsidence near the California Aqueduct in Fresno County. The story is at On the Public Record, the go-to site for California water insiders. The amount of detail is incredible. Read the story here.
A lesson in paper water
“Paper water” is water that exists on paper only. Usually it’s a figment of a developer’s sales pitch, but it’s also figured in plenty of agricultural fantasies, especially those that involve permanent crops like almonds. Ever since the state required developers to establish sustainable water sources for large projects, paper water has become more important and deceptive than ever. At Drought Math, David Coffin offers a great lesson in how paper water drives development in Los Angeles. Read it here.
Great overview of Delta water issues
The San Joaquin Delta is the focal point for much of the controversy about water in California. Rarely does anyone offer an opportunity to contextualize the partisan debates about who gets Delta water and why, but Erica Goode has provided one of the best recent summaries in an essay that appeared in The New York Times June 24. For anyone wanting a foundational understanding of the Delta’s water history and problems, Goode’s investigation is a good place to begin. Read her story here.
Westlands in secret water deal?
Friends of the River (FoR) has notified the Department of Justice and other federal agencies that it believes Westlands Water District has entered into a secret agreement in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. According to FoR, a new, “water supply to Westlands would be permanent and also arbitrarily receive a much higher water delivery priority.” Is it just a coincidence that Westlands hired Devin Nunes’ longtime Chief of Staff May 1? Do we have yet another case of political chicanery out of Westlands? Wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with San Joaquin Valley water politics. The letter from FoR is scathing and credible. The entire letter is here.
On the Public Record strikes again
One of our favorite sites is On the Public Record. It’s a gathering place for water insiders for a good reason: the writing is trenchant, informative, current, and lively. This is one of those sites where the comments add facets and dimensions to the issues even while they carry them forward. Check out this latest post, including some extended commentary on Trinitas, Stanislaus County’s new ag giant. Read “Turning the tables on almonds” here.
Sinking even faster?
If you’ve got that “sinking feeling” you have a good reason if you live in the San Joaquin Valley. The area from Los Banos to Kettleman City―some fifteen hundred square miles― features the largest known expanse of land subsidence in the world. Portions have sunk almost thirty feet. The culprit? Overdrafting of groundwater. Recently, parts of Merced County were sinking almost a foot a year as farmers pumped groundwater in unprecedented quantities to compensate for the drought. Now comes news we are sinking even faster than ever. Read about it here.
All about the Delta
Chris Austin, better known as “Maven,” may be the most knowledgeable water authority in the state. Her “Maven’s Notebook” aggregates California water news and is read by virtually everyone with an interest in western water issues. Maven has just posted a superb photo essay about the San Joaquin Delta. This is a concise but comprehensive review of one of the most important ecosystems in the west. See Maven’s great work here.
Must read on water and the Delta
No matter how perilous our water situation gets, most people don’t react until the well runs dry. Pat Mulroy has the credentials, the experience, and the authority to communicate just exactly how dire our water crisis really is and how important the Delta is to our water future. Her keynote address at the March 19 Water Policy Conference is a MUST READ. The ever-reliable Maven has the entire text and commentary here.
More demand on groundwater coming?
In December, the Bureau of Reclamation warned Stockton East Water District that it might not receive its full allotment of water this year. As January ends without rain, prospects for Stockton East look even worse. New Melones Reservoir is at 39% capacity, with this year’s rainy season beginning to look much like last year’s. The impending deficit may mean pumping groundwater will be the only resort again this year. Read more here.
Pretty much says it all
In an open letter to Supervisor Jim DeMartini, former City Councilwoman of Hughson Barbara Swier says all that needs to be said about mining water in the foothills of eastern Stanislaus County. While the Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee has spent over a year doing things like parsing the definition of “sustainable,” Stanislaus County Supervisors’ lack of action has gone from puzzling to infuriating. Swier’s not the only one who’s had enough. Read her letter here.
Best report ever on the river?
John Sutter finally completed his 417 mile voyage down the San Joaquin River via kayak, at least where possible. There was a lot of walking because the river dries up for miles at a time. Sutter’s report may be the best effort yet to depict the awful realities of a river exploited to death. This is gripping journalism and a must read for all Valley citizens. Read it here.
It’s official: California is living on “paper water”
For over a quarter century, insiders have referred to “paper water” when talking about the discrepancy between allotments of water from the state and actual water available. Now, a study by UC Davis has made it official: California promises five times more surface water than it can deliver. That’s right. The discrepancy amounts to a factor of five. Read the full study here.
Wanna know why Big Ag headed for the hills?
The pressure has been on corporate farming of almonds for years now as more and more people realize how Big Ag rigged the water game to transform junior water rights into a perpetual revenue stream. With water drying up and their markers called in, the profiteers have headed for the last good aquifers in the foothills, where they plan to drain them dry. For some concise background, read Carolee Krieger’s excellent summary here. Then you’ll know why Big Ag headed for the hills—time’s running out on their long lease on Valley water.
The really big water scandal
Ever hear of the Monterey Amendments? Most people haven’t. But if you really want to know what’s wrong with water allotments in California, the Monterey Amendments are a good place to begin. The people at the California Water Impact Network are doing a series that will explain the covert activities of the biggest players in the water game and how they have fixed the system to serve themselves at public expense. First installment is here.
Bee’s Water Wake-up Call
In a rare display of pointed criticism, a Modesto Bee editorial has chastised Stanislaus County Supervisors for failing to take action on the county’s severe water crisis. Bee editors also issued a strong rebuttal to Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee (SWAC) members who have been making erroneous public statements about groundwater and aquifers. This could be the beginning of the end for SWAC. Read the editorial here.
Judge: Groundwater Affects Surface Water
In a historic ruling that will reverberate around the state and especially in the San Joaquin Valley, a judge has ruled that the Public Trust Doctrine applies to groundwater. Pumping groundwater has demonstrable effects on surface water and thus it affects public water. Now a Superior Court judge has ruled that harm done to a river by pumping groundwater violates the Public Trust Doctrine. Full story here.
Water rights? The state rules
Political opportunists never let a crisis go to waste. That’s why so many San Joaquin Valley politicians are using the drought as an excuse to grandstand about water rights. Probably the most absurd statements are coming from those who claim there’s no data to support the state’s claims of severe shortages. Absurdity aside, there’s never been any doubt that the state has full authority to restrict water use; that’s because water belongs to the people. A California Court of Appeal recently reaffirmed what most everyone should know anyway: The state has full authority over water rights and can define “reasonable use.” Legal Planet has the full story here.
Want well? Got $1,000,000?
It’s hard to know what’s more shocking, the price or the depth. Maybe both are incredible. Down in Fresno County, owners of a new orchard are paying a million bucks for a well that will be 2500 feet deep. The drilling frenzy has gotten even crazier than the last housing frenzy, and we know what happened when that bubble burst. Well drillers are busy twenty-four hours a day, and still can’t keep up. Read about the ultimate craziness here.
Another must read on groundwater
Seems the only people in California not worried about our dire groundwater situation are some local well drillers and Oakdale Irrigation District’s Steve Knell. Despite lack of concern locally, the rest of the state seems ready for intervention in the form of strict restrictions on mining groundwater. There’s nothing like the ground sinking under your feet to spur some action, and that’s what’s happening to the land in the San Joaquin Valley, especially around Los Banos and Madera. The Sacramento Bee has an excellent report here.
Vance Kennedy in the San Jose Mercury News
Lisa Krieger’s exhaustive investigation of the water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley features Modesto’s own Vance Kennedy and a host of other water experts. Titled, “ San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race to tap aquifer,” Krieger’s article documents the severity of our water problems in the San Joaquin Valley. With superb graphics and dramatic photographs, Krieger’s story is a must read. It opens with a Bakersfield farmer probing 1200 feet for water, perhaps an omen of what’s to come closer to home.
NRA Takes a Big Hit
Governor Jerry Brown just signed Assembly Bill 711, a ban on lead shot for any use in California. AB 711 was fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Association, and represents one of the few defeats ever for the politically powerful group. Banning lead shot is especially good news for California raptors and the endangered California Condor. Consumption of lead shot from carcasses has proven to be a major factor in condor mortality. Getting the lead out of our environment is also a major victory for people. The California Audubon Society (Audubon California) played a major role in this historic ban. Check out the website here.
California in violation of Safe Drinking Water Act
Those who track water issues closely have known for a long time that many locales in California lack safe drinking water. These locales include many small towns in the San Joaquin Valley. The residents of these towns are often poor farm workers. It turns out that our state government has been sitting on over $455 million designated for improvement of drinking water systems throughout the state. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has found California in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The state has been given sixty days to address the problem. Let’s hope this will mean safer water for the many residents of the San Joaquin Valley who labor to provide us with safe and nutritious food but who go home to unsafe drinking water. Read more here.
Merced River makes endangered list
American Rivers, one of the world’s leading conservation groups focused on rivers, has placed the Merced River on its endangered list. Number one on the list is the Colorado River, which has been in peril for decades. Things have only gotten worse for the Colorado. The Merced River received special mention for the proposal to raise a dam on the upper Merced. The proposal is supported by Jeff Denham and the Modesto Bee. Read more here. (18 April 2013)
Valley citizens support San Joaquin River in a big way
Anyone who thinks Valley citizens don’t love their rivers needs to check in with Stanislaus Audubon Society. The local chapter of the National Audubon Society participated in a statewide campaign to broaden public support for restoration of the San Joaquin River, which has been so overused that it runs dry for a sixty mile portion of its length. Stanislaus Audubon gathered cards and signatures throughout the second half of 2012 and wound up gathering the most of any Audubon Chapter. Working with Audubon rep Meghan Hertel, Stanislaus Audubon President Sal Salerno led the group in campaign which resulted in over 1000 cards mailed to Senators Boxer and Feinstein. Bravo.
Do fish really need water?
Opponents of increased flows along our rivers, including former Modesto Irrigation District General Manager Allen Short, continue to argue that declines in fish populations can’t be attributed to lack of water. Science says otherwise. Many northern California fish populations recorded all-time low numbers in 2012, and almost every scientist attributes the plunge in fish numbers to lack of water. At least one scientist actually predicted the precipitous drop in numbers. So who do we believe, hired mouthpieces or science? Read more from Dan Bacher here.
They’re back—salmon return to the San Joaquin River
In what will go down as one of the more dramatic chapters of California natural history, salmon have returned to the San Joaquin River. Monty Schmitt, Senior Scientist and San Joaquin River Project Manager, reports that the monumental project to restore salmon runs to the San Joaquin River has begun auspiciously. Once numbering over 50,000 fish, the salmon run disappeared when excess diversion for agriculture literally dried up the river. After almost two decades of litigation, courts ordered the salmon runs restored in 2006. Read Schmitt’s riveting report here.
Westlands Water District pours thousands into anti-Delta campaigns
Think you’ve heard everything about the Westlands Water District? This is the District that is determined to keep draining the San Joaquin Delta so that farms on the arid and alkaline west side of the San Joaquin Valley can keep growing crops that are better grown elsewhere. The Westlands Water District is pouring thousands of dollars into campaigns that would elect politicians committed to peripheral tunnels and Delta destruction. Get the full skinny at the Daily Kos.
Water District in a sleazy ploy to halt film
The Westlands Water District is at it again. According to Restore the Delta, Westlands Water District, in an attempt to stop the showing of a Restore the Delta documentary film, passed itself off as the Tea Party. Restore the Delta has long been an antagonist of Westlands, reminding anyone and everyone just how dependent Westlands is on corporate welfare and how its water demands threaten the health and welfare of millions of Californians. Read the full story here. (10/05/2012)
Want another good reason to go organic?
Hard on the heels of studies that show widespread contamination of groundwater in several Central Valley counties come new rules for farmers. The Central Valley Water Regional Control Board has estimated the cost of implementing the new rules at $100 million. The problems, mostly caused by heavy applications of fertilizers and pesticides, affect farms in four counties: Kern, Fresno, Tulare, and King. The relatively good condition of groundwater in both Merced and Stanislaus Counties should be yet more evidence that these economic wonders deserve preservation from urban encroachment now more than ever. They may be among the last of our regions where conditions remain ideal for farmers. See the full story here.
Poisoned water? You really don’t want to know—
Among the lesser known facts about water in the Great Valley is just how much is unfit to drink. Toxic water is an especially severe problem in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Now, recently released research shows just how bad the water is farther south. A close read of the UC Davis study is enough to put fear into anyone who lives in the Tulare basin, where decades of intense fertilizer and pesticide application have poisoned much of the drinking water. West of the Valley, Salinas County also has severe problems.