Bravo, Rose Burroughs

When, in the wake of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the state Reclamation Board began to take a hard look at building on flood plains along the Sacramento River and the Delta, as it has the authority to do, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fired them all in September 2005.

Nearly a quarter of the governor's campaign financing, about $17.25 million, had come from developers by the time the board began to act to protect the levees and residents alongside them.

Judging from the odd comment by out-going board members, developers have big plans for the levees. One example was this from Jeffrey F. Mount, fired board member and chairman of the UC Davis department of geology.

In an interview several months ago, Mount said, "We need regional land use planning so we don't continue to build behind these agricultural levees."

Also, he said, a mechanism is needed to pay for strengthening existing levees, and flood insurance should be mandatory.

"Everything I'm saying, of course," Mount said, "will be violently resisted by the building industry."

The violence building industry lobbyists and spokespeople do to the truth of the destruction they are causing to public resources, public health and to the environment was brought home yesterday at a round table where a BIA official from Bakersfield insisted air quality is better there now than it was 20 years ago. The statement echoed one made by a Fresno BIA flak last summer, claiming there was no speculation going on in the Valley housing market.

These people will lie to the public -- and they are paid well to lie -- whenever their greedy interests and desire to exploit the environment are challenged in whatever forum. Many of them, we imagine, have never had an experience of earning an honest living and in their hearts lying and earning are inextricably combined.

This week the new, all-Hun board, approved

a developer's plan to build luxury homes atop a massive new levee in San Joaquin County.

The vote by the California Reclamation Board allows the River Islands project in Lathrop to move ahead with the first phase of a development that will eventually include 11,000 homes on Stewart Tract, an island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The developer is British, the Cambay Group, so presumably the atop-new-levee estates will be suitably classy for whatever elite-of-the-week the Bay Area is creating when they go on sale.

Putting aside the environmental and aesthetic destruction of this project, it is another example of colonization of the San Joaquin Valley by global capital groups. Other examples, just in Merced County, include a German aggregate-mining corporation and a Canadian development corporation, alongside all the national home-building corporations, WalMart distribution centers in the nation's top or second worst air pollution basin and the NASCAR track proposed for Atwater.

Let them breathe diesel! say the Walton heiresses.

What made life bearable for generations of low-wage workers in the San Joaquin Valley was access to nature, to the "country." The Bay Area has extruded gated pods of rich, "active seniors" to settle on what was once fairly open, accessible land for recreation in the huge, greedy rush to privatize everything, seal it off, patrol and protect it, warping the life of the older community around it.

Developers have the state over a barrel in California as the result of a court decision that charged the state for damages caused by a levee break several years ago. So the main concern of the board seemed to be how to make sure the new, British-built levee won't break, conveniently forgetting that this folly could depend on what might break well above the new "super levee" adorned with chateaux de silicon. But, before levees are strengthened along the Delta, Cambay and its bankers must build their project, or the global economic system will doubtless crumble.

Federal water runs between state levees, without which Cambay could not build their super levee in the first place. Our Hun, in thrall to developers as every politician in California, fires a board for questioning the wisdom of building on flood plains behind state levees channeling federal water. Then, after the dramatic spring floodwaters recede, here comes the project again. It arrives and is approved as if to remind us that California is now so over-built, over-crowded, its population so beyond the carrying capacity of its resources that coal-fired power plants pollute the Arizona and New Mexico to power California desert air conditioners, and its politicians and courts are so completely in development's pockets that when a levee breaks and floods houses on flood plains behind it, the state pays for the damage.

But -- Sell it and ruin it, it's only the Valley! is the battle cry of our hard-right decision-makers. Their political leader in San Joaquin County is Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and scion on the Pombo Real Estate Farms clan. They call it the "courage" to stand against reason, ethics, economic sanity, environmental law and regulation, and the future possibilities of agriculture in the richest, most productive agricultural valley in the world. Their kind of courage is to sell off the Public Trust, subsidize the damage and endanger public health, approve subdivisions on farmland, then enthusiastically support University of California plans for a research medical school at Merced. According to some statistics, the Valley is short of physicians. UC hopes to attract research physicians specializing in pediatric and geriatric respiratory diseases to this evolving research bonanza of gasping victims of the San Joaquin Valley slurbocracy, which features all the pollution of Los Angeles plus pesticides, along with a derelict levee system.

But the board was not unanimous. Merced County's Rose Burroughs opposed the decision.

"We humans need to respect the power of Mother Nature and realize dirt levees will eventually give out," she said.

Bravo, Rose! May many elected and appointed officials follow her lead and vote their conscience, common sense and environmental awareness.

Bill Hatch



Homes approved near river with 'superlevee' protection
State board satisfied with barrier guarding San Joaquin project
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer
June 27, 2006

State flood-control officials gave a green light Monday to a developer's plan to build luxury homes atop a massive new levee in San Joaquin County.
The vote by the California Reclamation Board allows the River Islands project in Lathrop to move ahead with the first phase of a development that will eventually include 11,000 homes on Stewart Tract, an island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The developer, British-owned Cambay Group, plans to build 224 of those homes on top of a new 300-foot-wide "superlevee" overlooking the San Joaquin River.

The Reclamation Board approved an encroachment permit that determines where private structures can be built on the levee. It reserves 60 feet of space inland from the San Joaquin River for levee maintenance.
But critics said it could open the door to more development in the Delta and expose thousands more people to flood risk.

"I believe they have insulted the public, and I believe they have permitted projects that are injurious to the public," said Tom Foley, president of Concerned Citizens for Responsible Growth, a Marysville-based group that opposes the project.

Susan Dell'Osso, River Islands project director, said the levee gives her project some of the highest flood protection in California.

"We think the proposal before you today treats us the same as other applicants," she told the board. "In fact, it's a little harsher on us, yet it's something we can live with."

The board voted 4-1 to approve the permit. RoseMarie Burroughs cast the only "no" vote.

"We humans need to respect the power of Mother Nature and realize dirt levees will eventually give out," she said. "Building homes on levees makes the hair stand up on my back with fear."

River Islands has already received approval from the city of Lathrop to build the homes on Stewart Tract.

The city also granted a grading permit that allowed River Islands to build a new private ring levee inside part of the existing federal levees on Stewart Tract. About 2,400 homes will be built inside this new levee during the first phase of construction.

The Reclamation Board has the right to review any levee alterations on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers systems.

On June 16, the Reclamation Board gave the Cambay Group approval to fill in the space between the new and old levees on Stewart Tract to create the new levee.

Monday's vote determined how much of that levee must be left accessible for maintenance and repairs.

The Reclamation Board effectively decided that only the old federal levee needs to be accessed for long-term maintenance, even though it will be partially buried by the new levee.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed with that conclusion.

As a result, Monday's action excludes private development extending 60 feet back from the San Joaquin River's edge. The rest of the levee will be open to construction of private homes, swimming pools and outbuildings.

The Reclamation Board also reserved an "excavation easement" over an additional sliver of private land up to 25 feet wide. This allows the state to access backyards to dig a trench down to the original federal levee in case repairs are required.

It will have no legal right to access the rest of the massive levee.

Les Harder, deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources, said it is unlikely levee problems would develop farther back on the levee, such as underneath new homes.

He also said that since it is likely housing will be built on Stewart Tract regardless of any Reclamation Board actions, a "superlevee" may be a good idea.

"It's my sense that this superlevee would be far better protection than anything else you have in the valley," he said.

The permit also allows River Islands to make public improvements for a recreational parkway in the 60-foot easement, subject to staff approval. This could include planting trees and building public structures like restrooms.

Board member Butch Hodgkins said this would help ensure that private structures are not eventually built across the levee, which would impede access for flood control.

"There is a common interest between flood control and public use and open space," Hodgkins said.

Schwarzenegger fires flood control panel
The state Reclamation Board had begun resisting development along vulnerable levees

Nancy Vogel
The Los Angeles Times
September 28, 2005

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday fired all six members of the state Reclamation Board, an agency that oversees flood control along California's two biggest rivers and had recently become more aggressive about slowing development on flood plains.

The Republican governor replaced the members — who serve indefinite terms at the governor's pleasure — with seven of his own appointees, most with ties to agriculture and the engineering profession. One board seat had been vacant since spring.

Five of the fired members had been appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, and one had first been appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, then reappointed by Davis.

Fired board member Jeffrey F. Mount, chairman of the UC Davis geology department, said he was given no explanation for his dismissal. It was not completely unexpected, he said.

"It's perfectly reasonable for a governor to want to have his own people who represent his policies on flood control," Mount said. He added, "All I know is, we made a lot of people unhappy."

When Hurricane Katrina breached levees and flooded New Orleans a month ago, the board voted to review all urban development plans proposed for Central Valley flood plains — a power it has long held but only occasionally used.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said the appointments had been in the works for "quite some time to ensure the most qualified individuals were chosen."

"The appointees are representative of the valley and experts in engineering and water issues," she said.

In a prepared statement earlier Tuesday, the governor made no mention of the former board members but praised their replacements.

"California faces significant flood challenges," Schwarzenegger said. "To protect our communities, economy and keep Californians safe we need a comprehensive and ongoing effort to reduce these risks with better planning, new investments and improved flood infrastructure." He added that "each one of these individuals shares my commitment to ensuring these lifesaving efforts are not ignored or postponed."

State law gives the Reclamation Board substantial power to review development in the extensive flood plains along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries. The board can make recommendations that local governments cannot ignore without legal findings that justify their plans. Until the last few years, that power was rarely used.

The board had recently begun to challenge local governments' development plans. Along the Feather River south of Marysville, for example, the board balked at Yuba County's plans to build subdivisions in an area that had been flooded by a 1997 break in a levee the state was responsible for.

The state recently agreed to pay more than 600 victims $45 million as a result of that flood.

The Reclamation Board eventually reached an agreement with Yuba County to limit construction to 800 homes in the area this year. The county also agreed to waive the state's liability for future flood damages in the area, known as Arboga.

Mount and other members of the fired board have argued for tougher restrictions on home building near levees. Many stretches of Central Valley levees were built decades ago to protect farmland; they are now aging and weakening at the same time they are being expected to protect thousands of new homes.

In an interview several months ago, Mount said, "We need regional land use planning so we don't continue to build behind these agricultural levees."

Also, he said, a mechanism is needed to pay for strengthening existing levees, and flood insurance should be mandatory.

"Everything I'm saying, of course," Mount said, "will be violently resisted by the building industry."

Outgoing board members said Tuesday they had heard rumors that Schwarzenegger was contemplating changes and understood that he has a right to make his own appointments. But they were surprised that he removed an experienced board when the state faces important decisions about the safety of its levees.

"It is not a good time for a change," said fired member Anthony J. Cusenza, a retired dentist from Modesto. "There is so much going on right now with these issues."

One of the biggest challenges for the new board, he said, is reviewing flood plain development. "We were pretty tough on developers," he said. "We are not in the land use [business.] Our concern was levees. The heat we were getting was — we were adamant about not putting people in harm's way."

Outgoing board President Betsy A. Marchand, a former Yolo County supervisor, said the timing of the board's replacement "does surprise me because this board was very active…. I guess I was thinking that perhaps they were going to let us continue with our program of bringing these issues to the forefront."

Former Sacramento city manager and board member William H. Edgar said the board was also very concerned about home building where levees had not been upgraded. He said it would be difficult for the new board to catch up and address such issues now, "but we wish them well."

In the recently ended Legislative session, the Schwarzenegger administration sponsored a bill that would have created a new Central Valley authority to assess property owners for better flood control. The bill was amended to require simply a study of levee strength and repair priorities, but it still failed, in part for lack of GOP support.

Schwarzenegger's budget this year boosted levee maintenance by $26 million, reversing cuts made in the last several years. This month, he called on California's congressional delegation to seek more than $90 million to pay for strengthening Central Valley levees.

But the governor also has strong ties to the building industry. A Times analysis of Schwarzenegger's donors shows that at least 23% of the $75 million he has raised since 2002 has come from businesses or individuals involved in residential or industrial construction, development and real estate.

The California Building Industry Assn., which represents home builders, and its members are among his biggest donors. The trade group has given the governor's campaigns $180,000.

The others terminated Tuesday are retired Stockton school administrator Floyd H. Weaver and former Tehama County supervisor Burton Bundy.

The new members are Cheryl Bly-Chester, owner of a Roseville engineering firm; Rose Burroughs, owner of a livestock company in Denair; Benjamin Carter, a Colusa farmer; Maureen Doherty, a Maxwell rancher; Francis "Butch" Hodgkins, former executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency; Emma Suarez, a Folsom attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation; and Teri Rie, a Contra Costa County civil engineer.