Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini farms 1200 acres of prime farmland near the city of Patterson. Much of his land is bordered by the Tuolumne River. Supervisor DeMartini led the way to formation of Stanislaus County’s pioneering agricultural element, which features mitigation for loss of farmland. He has also worked with the Audubon Society to restore native riparian vegetation and wildlife habitat on his property.
The Valley Citizen: You finance your own political campaigns. Is there a reason you do this?
Jim DeMartini: The main reason is I don’t like to ask anybody for money. I just don’t like it. I don’t have a big campaign. I walk door-to-door. That doesn’t cost anything. I receive a few donations, and put up a few signs, but mostly I just walk.
The Valley Citizen: After you were elected the first time, there was a rumor that you visited every county office and department before you took office. Is that rumor true?
Jim DeMartini: Yes. I visited every department and tried to meet with every department head. That way I got to know everyone. I just felt I needed to do this in order to learn the job. I needed that knowledge. I also had [former supervisor] Nick Blom help me a lot.
“Man is the only creature who degrades his own environment”
The Valley Citizen: What do you consider the chief responsibilities of a county supervisor?
Jim DeMartini: We take care of policy decisions, budgeting, and land use. We deal with workplace issues for county employees. Land use is probably the biggest part. Man is the only creature who degrades his own environment. We have to learn not to do that. My land is better than when I bought it. I changed the slope on my property next to the river and planted native fescue grass to stop erosion. Now I have no erosion. I have 120 acres of wildlife habitat. There are a lot of things you can do to make improvements.
“The Building Industry Association sued us”
The Valley Citizen: You were the primary force behind the county’s agriculture element. What motivated you to push so hard for the ag element?
Jim DeMartini: We had an ag element but it was out of date. I wanted to have something that preserved agricultural land. I worked with the ag advisory board. We added mitigation for loss of farmland. That was the thing that was most controversial. The Building Industry Association sued us. We won a published decision at the Appellate Court and still the Building Association tried to take it to the state Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court threw it out. The ag element I felt was a good one, but it actually failed to pass with the other supervisors the first time I brought it forward. I brought it back and then it passed.
The Valley Citizen: The State of California has just made it mandatory for local authorities to achieve groundwater sustainability. What does this requirement mean to you? How do you define sustainability?
Jim DeMartini: Sustainability means whatever goes out equals what comes in. The key to groundwater is you don’t draw out more than is going in.
The Valley Citizen: The Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee has been in existence for almost a year. You were its first chairman, but resigned almost immediately. Why did you resign?
Jim DeMartini: I just felt this committee wasn’t serious about getting anything done about overdrafting groundwater. The committee is too large. There are too many conflicts of interest. There are members who don’t want anything to change. If you don’t even want to admit to a problem, there’s no hope to solve the problem. I would rather use my time to get something done than waste it doing nothing.
“They are going to degrade the environment tremendously”
The Valley Citizen: How much advice has the Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee (WAC) provided to the supervisors?
Jim DeMartini: As far as I know it hasn’t provided any. What we’ve been trying to do recently is get them to vote on the new Stanislaus County Groundwater Ordinance.
At the last (WAC) meeting I went to I realized they not only didn’t write it, they hadn’t even read it. County staff wrote the Ordinance. I went to that meeting and they had nothing on the agenda. How are they going to get anything done?
If they had done anything by now they should have admitted relying solely on groundwater is unwise. They [those relying on groundwater] are going to degrade the environment tremendously. I’m in a water district and my allotment was cut 50% this year, but they can continue pumping as much as they want. We have to learn you don’t degrade your own environment this way.
We’ve put ourselves in a position where the WAC needs to advise us so something can get done. The Board of Supervisors doesn’t need them to pass this. I called the county geologist and they haven’t even been talking to him. Here’s our county geologist, quite capable of getting this done, and they haven’t even talked to him. We don’t need them to tell us what’s appropriate. The more urgent the situation gets the slower they are.
“…and after they’re gone we’ll have to deal with it”
The Valley Citizen: Do you see any value in preserving rangeland?
Jim DeMartini: There’s lots of value in rangeland. It’s good for grazing cattle and it has high wildlife value. I’ve tried hard to convince them (the Board of Supervisors) to stop allowing conversion of rangeland to permanent crops, but I can’t even do that.
The Valley Citizen: Do you think it’s possible to achieve groundwater sustainability in the foothills of eastern Stanislaus County with tens of thousands of acres of almond orchards pumping only groundwater?
Jim DeMartini: No I don’t. You would have to take a lot of land out of production. Almonds are a very high water user and they don’t tolerate dry conditions. I’m sure they will drain the aquifer and after they’re gone we’ll have to deal with it.
The Valley Citizen: Thank you Jim.