The water gangsters in the San Joaquin Valley act greedier by the year, the public falls silent, and the media constantly repeats the propaganda of special interests and their bought politicians. The environment for man, woman, child and all the flora and fauna of the valley deteriorates at accelerating speed. Maybe University of California scientists are developing a special mathematical derivative to plot that acceleration toward extinction of wildlife and another for increases in respiratory illnesses from asthma to lung cancer in the worst air-pollution region in the nation.
Agribusiness, its profits rendered inviolable by the last Farm Bill, now has Trump as president, the president of all the corporations. Westlands Water District lobbyists have a member of their team leads Trump's Interior Department transition team. This leads to the comic vision of Sarah Palin as Secretary of Interior attempting to understand the California water delivery system.
The age-old question will be raised anew: was a decision deliberately corrupt, just plain stupid or a blend of the grades of mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance? Unless not unduly suffering the same debilitations, inspectors general will be busy a few years into the Trump Regime.
All in all, the transition to Trump gives anyone who cares to look at it a view of massive, destructive liquid octopus as it grabs politicians, the press, the soil, the farmers, and all other creatures within the grasp of its tentacles. And don't think this monster has stopped growing.
Another step in long march toward California water deal in Congress
A key House committee on Wednesday approved a big irrigation drainage deal with California’s politically potent Westlands Water District, opening another front in the state’s ongoing conflict over water, money and power.
Watched over by a handful of lobbyists and activists, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the controversial Westlands deal by a mostly party line 27-to-12 vote following an occasionally testy markup. Fresno-area Rep. Jim Costa was one of only three Democrats on the committee to support the legislation.
“It resolves a long-festering challenge that we’ve had,” Costa said during the hour-long session.
The irrigation drainage deal will likely next win party-line approval in the Republican-controlled House as well, but its long-term future remains unclear. Neither of California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and the retiring Barbara Boxer, have endorsed the deal that’s embodied in the House legislation introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.
Feinstein, in particular, has insisted that her first priority is to complete broader California water legislation that’s been bouncing around for the past several years.
Valadao’s bill would forgive a roughly $375 million debt owed by Westlands and secure for the Rhode Island-sized district in the San Joaquin Valley favorable new water contracts. In return, the district would retire 100,000 of its 600,000 acres and relieve the federal government of its obligation to build a potentially multibillion-dollar irrigation drainage system.
The end-game, in the closing weeks of the 114th Congress, will be complicated. The deal was negotiated by the Obama administration’s Justice Department but remains toxic to a number of California Democrats and environmentalists who’ve long fought Westlands.
“This is a bad deal for the environment and other water users in California,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, adding that the bill is a “taxpayer giveaway.”
The debate between Huffman and Costa grew heated at times, with Huffman at one point threatening to demand that Costa’s words be “taken down,” as a parliamentary slap. Following some gavel-banging and calming words by the committee chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the conversation cooled down considerably.
Substantively, Huffman further underscored the enduring conflicts with a series of three failed but signal-sending amendments. Pointedly, one amendment defeated by voice vote would have blocked any federal official who previously worked or lobbied for Westlands in the past 10 years from overseeing implementation of the drainage deal.
“Former employees of the Westlands Water District will be marching through that revolving door,” Huffman predicted.
One former Montana congressman who now lobbies for Westlands, Denny Rehberg, observed the proceedings Wednesday morning in the half-filled, third-floor committee room in the Longworth House Office Building. David Bernhardt of the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, another one of Westlands’ deep bench of D.C.-based lobbyists, has been heading the Interior Department transition team for the incoming Trump administration.
On Wednesday, without offering specifics, the Trump transition team announced it would tighten restrictions governing the use of lobbyists.
The irrigation drainage deal was negotiated over the past several years with the Obama administration, under pressure from a federal court ruling that imposed an unpalatable alternative of providing the irrigation drainage. The drainage was promised beginning with the 1960 legislation authorizing the Central Valley Project’s San Luis Unit, but only about 82 of the planned 188 miles were built before the drain terminated prematurely at Kesterson Reservoir in Merced County.
Without drainage, otherwise fertile soil becomes poisoned by a build-up of salty water. The accumulation of selenium-tainted groundwater at Kesterson killed and deformed thousands of birds in the mid-1980s.
As part of the deal, Westlands would assume responsibility for managing the irrigation drainage.
“You’ve got to take a win when it’s right in front of you,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale.
Separate legislation, authored by Costa includes the smaller San Luis, Panoche and Pacheco water districts located north of Westlands in western Merced and Fresno counties in a similar irrigation drainage settlement. That settlement has not yet been finalized, and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., noted Wednesday that the “FBI is involved” with a previously disclosed Interior Department Office of Inspector General investigation somehow touching on one or more of the northerly districts.
No details of the investigation have been made public.
A Costa-authored amendment approved as part of the Westlands bill on Wednesday would direct the administration to reach a settlement with the three northerly districts.
Conflicts swirl around San Joaquin Valley irrigation drainage plan
Deal unites Westlands Water District and the Obama administration
Feds relieved of duty to provide drainage, districts relieved of their debt
Northern California Democrats and some Delta-area water districts are skeptical
A proposal to solve a long-running San Joaquin Valley irrigation drainage dispute between the Westlands Water District and the federal government is roiling a Congress already hung up on other California water fights.
The further complications surfaced Tuesday at a House of Representatives hearing that illuminated how the drainage proposal pits one California region against another even as, for a change, it unites Westlands with the Obama administration.
“We need to solve this problem,” Westlands Water District General Manager Thomas Birmingham told lawmakers. “It is a problem that has festered for more than 35 years.”
Skeptics, though, blast the irrigation drainage proposal as unbalanced and unwise.
“There are red flags and smoking guns all over this subject matter,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. “The interests of the Westlands Water District are being elevated above the interests of taxpayers, the interests of the environment and the interests of other water users.”
Underscoring the difficulties ahead, Interior Department senior adviser John C. Bezdek revealed that the agency’s Office of Inspector General is “currently involved in an investigation” that touches somehow on three other smaller water districts north of Westlands.
Bezdek provided no additional details of the investigation, other than to add that it does not involve Westlands. But he said that as a result the Obama administration was not yet taking a position on related irrigation-drainage legislation affecting the so-called “northerly districts.”
The proposals in question involve the federal government’s responsibility to build facilities for removing drainage water from irrigated San Joaquin Valley croplands. Only about 82 of the planned 188 miles were built before the drain terminated prematurely at Kesterson Reservoir.
The main legislative proposal by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, shoulders the 600,000-acre Westlands district with responsibility for its own drainage. Westlands also agreed to retire at least 100,000 acres of farmland, about one-third of which has already been taken out of production.
In turn, Westlands would be forgiven its capital cost debt owed for the construction of Central Valley Project irrigation facilities, estimated at about $295 million. The government would no longer be responsible for constructing drainage, saving an estimated $3.8 billion.
“It helps ensure the land in the Westlands Water District can continue to remain productive, while protecting the environment and letting the federal government off the hook for potentially billions of dollars,” Valadao said of his bill.
A companion bill has not been introduced in the Senate, where Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has stressed that she’s focusing on broader California water legislation before turning to the irrigation drainage dispute. One Republican, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, said Tuesday that “legitimate questions” about cost must be answered before the bill advances.
Other questions, Contra Costa Water District General Manager Jerry Brown told the water and power subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, include precisely how Westlands will handle the drainage, whether sufficient land is being retired and how Westlands’ modified water claims will affect other CVP customers.
“We just don’t think this is the best deal, or even a good deal, for taxpayers,” said Steve Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Following the hearing, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, added his own “strong opposition” to the Westlands bill.
A separate, but related, bill authored by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, covers the San Luis, Panoche and Pacheco water districts, which are north of Westlands. The three northerly districts serve a total of about 102,000 acres in western Merced and Fresno counties.
The new legislation, introduced by Costa earlier this month, includes $70 million for anti-salinity efforts undertaken by the San Luis, Panoche and Pacheco districts. It also relieves them of their debt owed for the construction of irrigation facilities and delivers title to the facilities to the districts.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation, as with the Westlands deal, is in turn freed of its obligation to build a drainage system.
“The benefits to the United States are significant,” Costa said.
1.the acquisition of money, gain, or advantage bydishonest, unfair, or illegal means, especiallythrough the abuse of one's position or influence inpolitics, business, etc...
A powerful California water agency provided an executive a $1.4 million loan to buy a home
SAN FRANCISCO — A California public water district that earned a rare federal penalty over what it described as "a little Enron accounting" loaned one of its executives $1.4 million to buy a riverfront home, and the loan remains unpaid nine years later although the official has left the agency, according to records and interviews.
Westlands Water District says its 2007 loan to deputy general manager Jason Peltier — now at $1.57 million with a 0.84 percent annual interest rate — is allowed under agency rules on salary.
But experts in governance say the deal raises red flags, not just over the unpaid loan and its generous terms but over whether Peltier and Westlands complied with laws mandating disclosure of the use of public funds.
"Show me the statute that allows this," said Peter Detwiler, long the top consultant, now retired, to the California Senate on local government finance.
"Where else could you borrow $1.6 million dollars for 0.84 percent?" Detwiler asked. "Who wouldn't want a real-estate deal like that? Sweet."
Westlands, which sells water to big farmers and other landowners in the country's largest public irrigation district, came under scrutiny in March, when federal regulators levied a $125,000 penalty against it over bookkeeping that a Westlands' general manager had described as "a little Enron accounting."
The Securities and Exchange Commission had concluded Westlands misled bond investors about its financial condition.
A heavyweight in California water politics, Westlands currently is negotiating two multi-billion-dollar deals with local, state and federal agencies that would reshape water distribution in California, the country's agriculture leader.
Peltier described the loan from Westland's reserve funds as a good deal for the water agency and for him.
"It was what was attractive to me, and I guess it worked for them relative to where their reserves were," said Peltier, who has since bought an additional house at the California golf-resort town of Pebble Beach while his loan to Westlands for his home on "Millionaires Row" along the Sacramento River has remained unpaid.
Governance experts say public agencies sometimes provide home loans to help recruit executives, but say Peltier's appears unusual because it was extended for years at a fraction of the interest rates of commercial mortgages, the district's various actions on the loan were not disclosed publicly although Peltier is a public official, and the loan will continue for years after he stopped working at Westlands.
"Each of the individual features is a bit unusual. Taken together these features are very unusual," Fred Whittlesey, a consultant on employee compensation based in Washington state, said of the circumstances of the loan.
"Free money is usually a great deal," Whittlesey said. "But it may not be appropriate in an employment arrangement."
The story on the loan is this, according to Peltier and records from Westlands and the U.S. Interior Department, where he worked before Westlands:
In March 2007, Peltier, whose Interior job included overseeing California water issues, notified the department he was looking for a job elsewhere. Two months later, he signed a $1.4 million purchase agreement for his home with a new, "state of the art" $115,000 boat dock and a $100,000 swimming pool.
Peltier said he had already signed the paperwork before getting the Westlands job offer. Westlands hired Peltier June 25, 2007, as chief deputy general manager, and a short time later loaned him the full $1.4 million home price, agency records show.
Terms initially required Peltier to repay the money within a year, when he sold his old house in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. But Peltier said the home didn't move after the 2007 housing crash, and records show he signed repeated one-year loan extensions.
In 2012, he and Westlands revamped their agreement giving him until 2021 to pay off the loan, with a final payment of more than $1 million, according to district records. Peltier made monthly payments of about $5,000 from January 2013 to February 2015.
Peltier, whose salary was about $200,000 according to state records, finally sold the house back East in February 2014, and left Westlands for a job at an affiliated water agency in summer 2015, with the Westlands loan still unpaid.
Current Westlands Deputy General Manager Johnny Amaral defended the transaction.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Peltier, like millions of other Americans, was unable to sell his property in Virginia because of the collapse of the housing market and the bridge loan was converted to a long-term loan," Amaral said in an email.
Westlands officials declined interviews.
The Associated Press had asked Westlands under open records laws to provide all documents on the loan, including any showing whether the district disclosed the deal publicly.
In response to written questions, Chief Operating Officer Dan Pope said the home loan was allowed under a district rule that gives officials the authority to set salaries. There was no public record of the district board's loan decision, Pope wrote, because it was made in a closed session.
The AP could find public mention of the loan only on the website of a federal agency that oversees municipal bonds. Posted there were Westlands' annual audits, which from 2010 on reported a $1.4 million loan to an unidentified management-level employee.
Peter Scheer, head of the California-based non-profit First Amendment Coalition, said Westlands as a public agency should have disclosed all of its actions on Peltier's loan, noting that the public has a right to know those details. Scheer's group has been supported by donations from some news organizations, including the AP.
California law requires public officials like Peltier to file annual financial disclosure forms, which includes reporting some loans.
Peltier said he had begun reporting the loan in his most recent annual disclosures. However, his reports through 2015, obtained from the state, make no mention of an outstanding loan from Westlands.
Asked about the apparent discrepancy, Peltier said he thought he had included the information.
Asked whether the loan from a public agency would require disclosure, Jay Wierenga, spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said, "Someone probably has to have a pretty good reason to not report a loan that's outside of the realm of what's normal and available to the public at large."
New York Times
For Thirsty Farmers, Old Friends at Interior Dept.
FRESNO, Calif. — For more than 10 years, Jason Peltier was a paid advocate for the irrigation-dependent farmers here in the Central Valley of California, several hundred landowners who each year consume more water than the city of Los Angeles does.
Now Mr. Peltier works for the Bush administration, and he helps oversee the awarding of new water contracts for the people he used to represent as head of the Central Valley Project Water Users Association. The federal contracts, tying up water for a quarter-century or more from the world's largest irrigation project, have the potential to bring the farmers a huge windfall if they turn around and sell the water on the open market.
At the same time Mr. Peltier — as the deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Interior Department — is involved with reviewing a request by the water association to stop paying up to $11.5 million a year into an environmental restoration fund, as required by a 1992 law.
Mr. Peltier's role influencing decisions that could have a direct financial impact on his former employer is part of a pattern at the Interior Department over the last five years, critics say, with a revolving door between managers on the government side, and the people who buy or lease federal water, land or forests on the other side.
At the Interior Department, at least six high political positions have been occupied by people associated with businesses or trade associations tied to public lands or resources. One of those appointees, J. Steven Griles, a deputy secretary, continued to receive $284,000 a year from his old lobbying firm while working for the government. Mr. Griles stepped down last year, saying he had not done anything to violate ethics rules at the department.
Mr. Peltier, in an interview, said that when he first came to the Bush administration in 2001, he recused himself from some decisions involving the landowners he used to represent, but he said he was granted an exemption because of his expertise in California water issues.
"I was given dispensation early on because of my knowledge of these issues," he said.
He added, "I have not had the strict bar of separation on certain issues, but I've been very mindful of the appearance of a conflict and operated accordingly."
Interior Department officials said Mr. Peltier, who is the chief policy adviser on California water issues, had cleared his activities with the ethics office.
Mark Limbaugh, the assistant secretary for water and science and Mr. Peltier's immediate supervisor, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Peltier's role was only advisory on water issues that involve his former employer.
"He provides background, insight and advice," Mr. Limbaugh said. "He is not in a position to make the ultimate decisions."
But others say the arrangement is inappropriate, and they point to contract terms that could give farmers in the Central Valley, including the ones Mr. Peltier once represented, far more federally subsidized water under their new contracts than they could ever use. And because the water will be provided at a fraction of the price it would cost on the open market, the farmers could act as brokers to resell unneeded water at a huge markup, making them some of the most powerful players in Western water politics for well into the middle part of this century.
Some of the farmers will pay about $40 per acre foot of water (roughly 326,000 gallons) under the new contracts for water that could fetch up to $200 an acre foot on the open market in dry years, according to groups that monitor the Central Valley Project.
"They're basically locking up the last available water in California for 50 years, which they could then sell at big profit made on the back of taxpayers," said Tom Stokely, a water policy and planning official with Trinity County, in Northern California, which has been at odds with water users in the Central Valley for decades.
The biggest pool of water at stake under Mr. Peltier's watch involves the Westlands Water District, a group of San Joaquin Valley landowners and the largest and most prominent member of the trade association that Mr. Peltier used to represent.
The new contract for Westlands, stuffed with arcane and obscure language, would give the landowners water from the government-financed Central Valley Project for 25 years, with an option for another 25 years.
Asked about his role in the Westlands contract negotiations, Mr. Peltier said, "I've tried to steer away from the nuts and bolts" of the contract because of his prior job.
He also said, "There are a lot of layers of management beneath me — plenty of horsepower in there" to represent the government side.
But critics in Congress like Representative George Miller, a Democrat from California who has long advocated loosening agriculture's grip on federal water supplies, said Mr. Peltier should have nothing to do with the contract. Mr. Miller also said far too much water was being offered to the Westlands farmers, violating the spirit of the 1992 environmental restoration law that tried to give competing interests in California equal access to water.
"This is a clear conflict of interest and has been since his appointment," Mr. Miller said.
Bush administration officials, including Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, have said that top political positions in the Interior Department have always been filled by people who are more responsive to the party in power. They note that President Bill Clinton filled his Interior Department with former leaders of environmental groups that have long lobbied the government.
But the difference, critics say, is that some of the current appointees came from groups that stand to benefit financially from the decisions made at the Interior Department about how much businesses will have to pay for public water, grazing land, timber and minerals.
The appointees, both former and current, include William G. Myers III, who was the department's solicitor from 2001 through 2003 after working as a lawyer for ranching interests which rely on public grazing land; Bennett W. Raley, who was assistant secretary for water and science from 2001 to 2004 after working at a law firm whose clients had clashed with the federal government over the use of public water; Rebecca W. Watson, assistant secretary for land and minerals management, who is a lawyer who represented mining, logging, oil and gas interests; and Kit Kimball, director of external and intragovernmental affairs, who was a lobbyist on behalf of mining, oil and gas companies doing business on public lands.
"It is one thing to have someone with a certain ideological bent fill a political position, but it's another to have somebody who is so identified with a special interest that they cannot be expected to make fair decisions," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that monitors how money and politics intersect.
Interior Department officials say the Westlands and other contracts do not show favor to one group or the other and do not noticeably depart from the approach taken by the Clinton administration in dividing the water supplies.
John Leshy, the department's solicitor general under Mr. Clinton, disputed that, saying the Clinton administration had tried harder to balance water deliveries between environmental needs and agriculture, as required by the 1992 law.
In the case of the Westlands contract, the Bush administration officials said they had recently started to negotiate provisions so that excess water will not be hoarded to be sold by the farmers.
The terms under consideration would let Westlands receive up to 1.15 million acre-feet of water a year, about the same as it has been entitled to in the past — equivalent to the amount needed to supply roughly 2.5 million urban families for a year. But because at least 90,000 acres and maybe as much as 200,000 acres of the 580,000 acres of farmland used by Westlands may no longer be suited to growing because of its heavy mineral content, critics question why the district should continue to get such a large amount of water.
A Westlands official, Thaddeus Bettner, the deputy general manager, said the district had no intention of selling any of the water at a markup. "Everyone talks about this reselling, but it's not even discussed by us," Mr. Bettner said. "We have a real need for the water."
He said Mr. Peltier had not helped Westlands beyond his steering the contract to an orderly conclusion. He said he expected the new contract to be signed in the spring. The old one expires next year.
Separately, the water users' association wrote a letter in December to the Interior Department requesting that the financial burdens on them from the 1992 environmental restoration law be revisited. It is first time the federal government has considered a review of the payments, and environmentalists say there is no evidence that significant improvements have been made to justify reducing payments.
Mr. Peltier said, "I would not anticipate that we're going to end up reducing the amount, but we're willing to talk about it."
At the time the law passed, Mr. Peltier, then serving as a manager of the trade association, indicated that the irrigators might resist complying.
"We'll do anything and everything to keep from being harmed," he told The San Francisco Chronicle then. "If that means obstructing implementation, so be it."
Mr. Peltier says his views have changed now that he is on the other side, representing government.
"I was younger and brasher then," he said.
Correction: Mar. 11, 2006, Saturday:
A front-page article on March 3 about an Interior Department official who helps oversee water contracts referred imprecisely to a denial by a former Interior official, J. Steven Griles, that he had violated ethics rules. Mr. Griles was investigated by the department's inspector general, who issued a report in March 2004 that was critical of him but did not find he had violated ethics rules. It was during the course of the inquiry that Mr. Griles said he had not violated rules, not when he stepped down from the department a year ago.
Kern County and other San Joaquin Valley farmers should feel they can get a fair shake on vital issues thanks to one of their own playing a key role in the Washington, D.C., bureaucracy.
One of the top advisers in the U.S. Interior Department is Jason Peltier, who was born in Buttonwillow and grew up on a family farm near Weedpatch.
He was recently named deputy assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. He reports to Assistant Secretary Bennett Raley in the department headed by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.
A 1973 graduate of Arvin High School, one of Peltier's earliest jobs after going to Chico State university was as a legislative assistant to former Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, R-Calif., former president of San Francisco State University during the height of the 1960s students' protests.
Peltier distinguished himself on important tasks when he lived in California. And he managed the critical Central Valley Project Water Association from 1998 to 2001.
Peltier developed a reputation as a knowledgeable and fiery manager of the association, which is composed of local agencies that purchase water from the federal Central Valley project. This includes three major irrigation districts on the east side of Kern County.
The Kern native ended up in Washington, D.C., after his wife, Jean-Marie, took a high-level position in the Environmental Protection Agency.
Peltier now has emerged in a position where he is a major player in key policy decisions that have wide impact.
For instance, he was heavily involved in negotiations that led to last year's historic agreement for Southern California agencies to reduce the amount of water they take from the overused Colorado River.
Besides advising Assistant Secretary Raley, Peltier also represents the Interior Department on the California Bay-Delta Authority, which oversees CalFed, a consortium of federal and state agencies working on major water and environmental problems.
California officials hope that he will be able to vote as a member of the Authority's board. But first Congress must officially authorize federal participation in the CalFed program.
Until it does, it is difficult to get federal funding for CalFed projects that are supposed to be shared equally between state and federal agencies.
This is a key issue since California has underwritten most of the CalFed program -- an estimated $8 billion for the past decade.
The Bush administration solidly backs CalFed, but disagreements within the California congressional delegation, along with resistance from other states to spending money on California, have blocked full federal participation.
A bill that would clear the way for full federal participation in CalFed has been introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside. However, the legislation is lingering in committees.
Peltier said that the Bush administration "has urged both the House and Senate to authorize CalFed."
Members of the California congressional should quit their bickering and get behind efforts to pass the Feinstein-Calvert legislation. It would be for the good of the state.
News from Congressman Costa
On Monday, the House and Senate reconvened for legislative business for the first time since September 30th. Between then and now, the American people have experienced an extremely divisive campaign season and elected the 45th President of the United States.
Our country needs to heal and come together. President-elect Donald Trump has called for unity among the American people, and it is my sincere hope that as President, he brings people together. Let’s focus on ending the divisive rhetoric, so we can move forward as a united, strong country that provides economic and social opportunity for all Americans and delivers on the dreams and values on which this country was founded.
Please know that I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to solve problems that face our nation and Valley.
Protecting Valley Ag Land
In the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee this week, we passed the San Luis Unit Drainage Resolution Act, with the inclusion of an amendment that I offered. The legislation helps ensure that lands within Merced, Fresno and Kings Counties (the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project) will be able to continue their long-standing history of agricultural productivity, while eliminating a $2.8 billion dollar liability to U.S. taxpayers. Enactment of this legislation would finally resolve the decades long fight over drainage that began in the 1960’s by shifting the responsibilities for drainage service for these lands to local control while maintaining environmental protections for downstream landowners.
My successfully adopted amendment would direct the United States to enter into agreements with the San Luis Unit northerly districts or to follow through with the promise to implement a drainage solution for these 200,000 acres in Merced and Fresno Counties. The amendment would also authorize the Secretary of Interior to develop a plan for the future use of the San Luis Drain, ensuring that this federal investment does not go to waste, nor compromise the vast and beautiful wetlands of the San Joaquin Valley, which are so critical to the continued vibrancy of the Pacific flyway.
The San Luis Unit Drainage Resolution Act will finally put an end to a decades old dispute and will ensure that agriculture land remains productive.
Taking Care of U.S. Service Members
This week, I joined Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28) and California Representatives in introducing the National Guard Bonus Repayment and Financial Relief Act. The legislation would halt the Army from recouping funds from members of the Army National Guard who, in good faith, received bonuses and education benefits that they were not eligible to receive. In October, I pledged to take legislative action on this issue when Congress reconvened.
Ensuring that the California National Guard servicemen and women who are victims of the bonus claw back are protected is priority number one. While Secretary Carter has ordered the suspension of all efforts to collect repayments, Congress should pass this bill to guarantee that in fact happens. American service members and their families sacrifice everything for this country.Enacting this legislation would right the wrong committed by bad actors within the Department of Defense and prevent any further harm to our service members and their families.
In October, Secretary Ash Carter ordered the suspension of all efforts to collect repayments from affected soldiers and committed to establishing a streamlined, centralized process by January 1st for service members to seek relief from repayment. Secretary Carter committed to completing the decision-making process on these cases no later than July 1.
In addition to halting the recoupment of funds, this legislation would reimburse, with interest, soldiers who have already repaid the government.
Learning from the Past
Also, this week, I had the opportunity to co-host a Congressional briefing on Preventing Genocide in the 21st Century. It was a powerful and insightful discussion on how world leaders can work to prevent mass atrocities. Many of us in California’s San Joaquin Valley learned about the genocide in Armenia, what is widely referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century, from our neighbors and friends.
In 1915, the Ottoman Empire orchestrated a murderous campaign that resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children, and forced hundreds of thousands into exile, a dark period of history known to us now as the Armenian Genocide. Despite overwhelming documentation by historians and wide-spread condemnation by the international community, the genocide has still not been appropriately recognized by the U.S. government. Photos chronicling the Armenian Genocide look terrifyingly similar to photos from the Holocaust. The human toll was immense, and the suffering real. And the effects are still felt to this day in the diaspora community throughout the world. While this may have been the first genocide of the twentieth century, it was sadly not the last and man’s inhumanity to mankind continues with atrocities today.
Another community I am proud to represent that has suffered oppression as a religious minority are members of the Sikh religion. The first Sikhs moved to California at the beginning of the 20thcentury and have found great success as farmers, medical professionals, business owners and are valued members of our community. Unfortunately they too have suffered the indignity of oppression and violence due to their beliefs. In 1984, thousands of Sikhs were killed in violent uprisings. And on our own shores Sikhs all too often are the target of racial and ignorant attacks because of their beliefs and appearance.
Achieving peace today requires recognizing the dark parts of our history and moving forward to find a place of understanding and cooperation. I sincerely hope that our conversation helped bring more people together with the goal of preventing future genocide and violence.
I look forward to being home in CA-16 for the next several days. As always, please contact me or my staff if we can ever be of assistance. If you have not already subscribed to my e-newsletter, please click here to sign-up.
Member of Congress