Wayang* on the Delta

* Javanese shadow-puppet theatre

"It's just money," people say. But reading this article, one recalls that money talks.

Multi-layered escape from responsibility

Somewhere in an arid state to the east someone is figuring out the odds on a levee break in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And the latest move by the US Army Corps of Engineers reported below may alter the morning line on the Great Delta Collapse.

The Army Corps, somewhat less controlled by the Obama Peripheral Tunnel Axis than is the Department of Interior, which contains both the Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, declared yesterday that "the city of  Sacramento and 15 other areas of the Central Valley ... have failed federal maintenance criteria.

"As a result, they are no longer eligible for federal rebuilding funds in the event of a levee breach," the Sacramento Bee reported.

As the Corps looks once again at how Sacramento permits building in places subject to frequent flooding even without levee breaks, it is as if it recalls what an officer from an earlier era, Lt. Col. William Tecumseh Sherman said about Sacramento's leaders in 1853: "At Sutterville, tghe plateau of the Sacramento approached quite near the river, and it would have made a better site for a town than the low, submerged land where the natural advantages are disregarded wherever once business chooses a location. Old Sutter's embarcadero became Sacramento City, simply because it was the first point used for unloading boats for Sutter's Fort..." (Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman) Sherman's critique of Sacramento planning didn't stop him from making a good profit quickly on two plots.

The Gold Rush mentality is alive and well. This attitude is filtered through several layers of bureaucracy to diffuse responsibility in case something happens before the Grand Democratic Party plan for the Delta is effectuated. "These tunnels
would divert up to 67,500 gallons of water per second from the Delta," says the Sierra Club, enough to turn the Delta into a slough, salting up drinking and irrigation water, ruining farming on the richest soil in California. The reason the depth of the proposed tunnels changes between press releases is that the geniuses in charge are not sure how deep the peat moss goes along the proposed route, in part because land owners are refusing to allow state workers on their land to dig test holes. 

But, not to worry. According to the Governor-from-another-Galaxy, Jerry Brown, has come to us ... again, to build the peripheral tunnels. Never mind that one of the great arguments for the Delta, that five earthquake faults transect it, turns
out to be a bogus argument. The earthquake danger lies in the San Luis Reservoir, not on the Delta. (Badlands Journal Aug. 26, "Biological whores caught...")

But, maybe we can find a coherent thread in thinking about the Delta, once we discount the lie that government planning about the Delta has anything to do with public safety. It may not. But it has a great deal to do with insuring public safety, in other words, the financial corporations that write flood insurance policies and pay the media conglomerants for the time to show the campaign commercials for candidates that will vote for the special interests of the -- you guessed it -- the corporations that write flood insurance policies.

That's where FEMA comes in, because FEMA creates their famous flood-plain maps, the government-certified map of who has to pay flood insurance to get a mortgage to buy a home.

There is no finer example of the reason why Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE) are treated as one special interest by people like those who run OpenSecrets.org, the on-line location for looking up how much your congressman gets from whom.

Finance/Insurance/Real Estate

The financial sector is far and away the largest source of campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties, with insurance companies, securities and investment firms, real estate interests and commercial banks providing the bulk of that money.


Finance/Insurance/Real Estate

The sector contributes generous sums to both parties, with Republicans traditionally collecting more than Democrats. Yet in the past two election cycles, bankers have suddenly shifted their cash toward Democrats. The sector gave at least 55 percent of their contributions to the GOP from 1996 to 2004, but actually gave a slight majority of their donations to Democrats in the 2008 cycle. This reversal may suggest an effort to remain influential as a Democratic-controlled White House and Congress consider new market regulations in response to the specter of economic decline.

Top Contributors, 2011-2012
Contributor    Amount
Goldman Sachs      $5,448,003
Bain Capital      $4,663,378
National Assn of Realtors      $4,069,474
Clarium Capital Management      $3,787,200
Crow Holdings      $3,697,600
Jw Childs Assoc      $2,792,700
Friess Assoc      $2,598,889
Bank of America      $2,529,637
JPMorgan Chase & Co      $2,393,832
Citadel Investment Group      $2,370,075
Renaissance Technologies      $2,345,650
Blackstone Group      $2,345,303
Elliott Assoc      $2,331,140
Deloitte LLP      $2,248,049
Morgan Stanley      $2,246,324
Wells Fargo      $2,052,917
New York Life Insurance      $2,022,876
Euclidean Capital      $2,022,500
Credit Union National Assn      $1,938,700
PricewaterhouseCoopers      $1,933,030

So, keeping in mind that special interests largely decide matters affecting the public good, let us ask what would be the best of all possible worlds for the insurance corporations in the Delta situation?

Observing how easily FEMA have been manipulated, the flood maps deciding who must and who needn't buy flood insurance, the best of all possible worlds for the insurance corporations would be a Delta from which had been taken a great deal of the force of the two rivers that feed it in the north by peripheral tunnels, while keeping and perhaps even extending FEMA flood

maps. In other words, the insurance industry gets to keep its zones of mandated policies whsile reducing the risk of floods. FIRE of course also pays for the shadow puppetry at the state Capitol. Currently showing is a version of the Oedipus Myth called "Getting shit done is the Lord's Work."

Badlands Journal editorial board

Sacramento Bee

Sacramento levees' failure of federal standards declared

Levees protecting most of the city of Sacramento and 15 other areas of the Central Valley were declared today to have failed federal maintenance criteria. As a result, they are no longer eligible for federal rebuilding funds in the event of a levee breach.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the declaration today. It did so after concluding that a new state plan to improve Central Valley levees does not provide enough detail to ensure maintenance problems -- such as erosion and intrusion by structures -- will be fixed.

The affected levee systems include 40 miles of levees wrapping most of the city of Sacramento on the American and Sacramento rivers. This system of levees, known on flood-control maps as "Maintenance Area 9," includes the south bank of the American River from about Bradshaw Road downstream to the confluence with the Sacramento River, then downstream from there nearly to Courtland.

The problems in this system of levees, according to the Army Corps, include many encroachment problems. The poster-child for this problem is Sacramento's Pocket neighborhood, where many homes and swimming pools are built against the base of the levee, leaving no room for a 15-foot-wide maintenance corridor required by the Corps.

This is a longstanding problem, and it would be difficult and expensive to fix.

"We understand this costs money, and money is a fiscal challenge for local governments," said Col. William Leady, commander of the Sacramento district of the Army Corps. " Levee safety standards need to be as uncompromising as floodwaters are.

That's the rationale behind why we're kinda being hardlined."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency uses Army Corps data to decide whether a community should be stripped of its 100-year flood certification. If that were to happen as a result of Thursday's announcement, thousands of Sacramento homeowners could be required to buy flood insurance at a cost of $1,200 or more every year.

But FEMA district engineer Kathleen Schaefer said her agency does not plan to begin a remapping effort in Sacramento until 2014, as part of a broader regional mapping program. This potentially gives the city time to address the problems identified by the Corps.

One way Sacramento could do that is by "self-certifying" its levees, said Tim Washburn, planning director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency. Rather than relying on the Army Corps to certify its levees, as it has in the past, the city would hire its own engineer to decide if the levees meet FEMA criteria, which are different from those set by the Army Corps.

The SAFCA board of directors set this process in motion in July, Washburn said, and it could be complete a year from now.

"I'm not expecting that levee accreditation would say you need a wholesale change in the relationship between the residential properties and the levees that has existed over these many years," Washburn said.

The Army Corps announcement Thursday is not the result of new levee inspections. The Corps is relying on inspections done between 2009 and 2011. Instead, it results from expiration of a treaty of sorts with the state.

Badlands Journal

FEMA floodplain maps redux

On June 1, the Lathrop Sun-Post reported that Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced paid the Lathrop City Council a visit on May 29 to warn Lathropians that the Federal Emergency Management Agency "is in the process of redrawing flood-plain maps and casting more stringent levee requirements in a post-Hurricane Katrina, climate-changing world ..."

Alarming them with pictures of immanent catastrophe, Cardoza urged the council to participate in a "regional approach" to ensure flood protection.

The Sun-Post goes on to mention that former Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy just signed a $100,000 contract with

Stockton to lobby for state and federal flood-protection funds.When we hear about the "regional approach," our minds instantly turn to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. This "regional" commission, appointed two years ago by the governor, is co-chaired by Fritz Grupe, Stockton's premiere developer. Several months before Grupe was appointed to lead this regional planning effort, he hosted a fund-raising luncheon for Pombo and Cardoza. The two split about $50,000 in developer contributions and launched their next assault on the Endangered Species Act before the end of that year. They also earned the name "Pomboza" to connote their "aggressivbipartisanship on the House Resources Committee. Since the Democratic Party took over Congress last year, the committee's earlier title, Natural Resources, has been restored.

However, another part of the mysterious political movements of the Pomboza and the regional Mr. Grupe was the successful July 2006 move by Pombo and Cardoza to block the new FEMA flood plain maps on the Delta area, at least until after the November 2006 election.

Sacramento Bee

Reality bites…Editorial…7-2-06

Delaying release of FEMA maps would help politicians, not communities at risk. Egged onby developers and local politicians seeking re-election, several Central Valley congressmen are urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay the release of updated maps that will provide homeowners and businesses a more accurate picture of flood risks. FEMA should resist this pressure. The government hasn’t updated most of these maps for 20 years, despite several damaging — and revealing — floods during that period.

The problem is that new maps frighten local officials… Given the money at stake, it’s highly suspicious that U.S. Reps.

Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and other lawmakers are urging FEMA to delay the release of preliminary maps. As Cardoza notes, these FEMA maps are preliminary. The reason for releasing them is so communities can review them, debate them and understand how they might affect insurance and land-use plans before any final versions are approved. FEMA recently bowed to pressure in remapping flood plains in New Orleans, putting thousands at risk. It shouldn’t do the same here — especially not for a handful of politicians who would rather enhance their re-election chances than face the realities of floods.

Lurching back to the present, Grupe Investments, AG Spanos Construction and the Delta Building Industry Association are suing the City of Stockton, claiming that the city is discriminating against developers by demanding they pay fees to preserve farm land at a 1:1 mitigation ratio. This reminds us that the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley is really simply a partnership between developers and politicians for more irresponsible urban development in the Valley.

To wrap it up, Cardoza, acting on behalf of Pombo, Grupe, Spanos and other developers in San Joaquin County, scares the bejeezuz out of the Lathrop City Council about those dreaded FEMA floodplain maps that cannot fail to discourage more development on the Delta. (At least Lathrop is in Cardoza's district, which we misreported as being in McNerney's yesterday.)Meanwhile, McNerney jumped to Rep. Ellen Tauscher's district to talk up a VA hospital in Livermore.

None of these Congress persons are saying a word in opposition to the biowarfare lab that UC/Bechtel et al/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to build on Site 300, the bomb-testing range outside Tracy. Perhaps, when the proposal makes the short list this month, the Pomboza, McNerney and Tauscher can all join hands and declare a Valley War Pork Month.

Badlands editorial staff