Only a few years ago, he was mugged and left for dead by the Powers that Bee, but Sunday night former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino was back in his element as he hosted a victory celebration for the many players who somehow managed the defeat of the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) water sale to San Francisco.
“We’re not spiking the football and we’re not dancing in the end zone,” said Sabatino. “We’re just giving thanks for our land and our water.”
The “we” included around a hundred attendees who gathered at Sabatino’s Mediterranean Market and Grill to celebrate a victory that only a few weeks ago seemed against all political odds.
Nursery owner John Duarte and agricultural consultant Reed Smith joined forces to gather facts and garner public support for their arguments against the MID proposal, and both said the unprecedented public turnout at MID Board meetings was a major factor in the defeat of the water sale.
“It [the victory] was simply because we got our facts together,” said Duarte. “There were people with a lot at stake in favor of the water sale, but their narrative couldn’t hold against the facts.”
Smith emphasized the value of water used locally for crops, which he said has a multiplier factor that reverberates through the local economy. “When we have such high unemployment, we can’t overlook the value of agriculture to get us through hard times,” said Smith.
Recently elected MID Director Larry Byrd, who only a few short weeks ago was the lone vote against the water sale, was both humble and elated about the 5-0 rejection of San Francisco’s insistence on a long-term contract with first rights of refusal.
“As a former MID employee, I felt things were going in the wrong direction,” said Byrd. “Water is about all of us.”
Duarte emphasized the need to make a distinction between a commodity and a natural resource. “Water is a natural resource,” he said. “We don’t have a commodity, we have a natural resource. When we monetize it and sell it, we sell out our community.”
Modesto City Councilman John Gunderson said that his opposition to the sale came after he read a 2005 agreement between the City and the MID. “It seemed clear after I read the contract that the agreement with San Francisco was a violation,” said Gunderson.
Clearly enjoying the proceedings, Sabatino nonetheless found time to keep working on yet another stream of invective against the Powers that Bee. Notorious for his relentless attacks on almost anyone in a position of power or authority, Sabatino was not about to let a little celebration get in the way of his next broadside.