[env-trinity] Standing Up to Big Water’s Astroturf Groups
danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Fri Nov 27 14:04:11 PST 2009
Standing Up to Big Water’s Astroturf Groups
By Dan Bacher
The ruthlessness that corporate agribusiness and southern California
water interests employed, through political bribery and thug-like
tactics, to seize public trust water over the past century is well-
documented in Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert and other books.
However, “big water” in California has refined and added an
increasing sophistication to its strong arm tactics in the computer
age by creating fake “Astroturf” organizations to deceive the
public and promote its goals. The past few years have seen the
creation of four “Astroturf” organizations – Friends of the
Delta, Families Protecting the Valley, the Latino Water Coalition and
Coalition for a Sustainable Delta.
For those not aquainted with the term, “Astroturfing” is “an
English-language euphemism referring to political, advertising, or
public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an
organization, but designed to mask its origins to create the
impression of being spontaneous, popular 'grassroots' behavior. The
term refers to AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to
look like natural grass,” according to Wikipedia.
Although their names are different, these four organizations
represent the same San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness and
southern California water agency interests that are trying to grab
more Delta and northern California water. Their ultimate goals are to
increase water exports from the imperiled Sacramento-San Joaquin
Delta to corporate agribusiness and southern California by building a
peripheral canal and more dams and to strip protections for
Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead Delta
smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other species under the
Endangered Species Act.
Although there is a strong right wing Republican presence in these
“organizations,” they also share their goals with leading
Democratic politicians including Senator Dianne Feinstein,
Representative Jim Costa and Representative Dennis Cardoza on the
federal level and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass on the state level. The bi-partisan
support of the goals of “Big Water” is mostly graphically
illustrated by how Steinberg and Bass collaborated with Republican
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this fall to ram a package through the
legislature that creates a clear path to the construction of the
peripheral canal and more dams.
The corporate media, with a few notable exceptions, has for the most
part quoted representatives of these “Astroturf” groups as if they
are legitimate grassroots organizations with real grassroots members.
Delta Group Asks Astroturf Group to Cease and Desist
Only a brave few have stood up to counter the lies of the
“Astroturf” organizations. Foremost in the battle to expose the
Astroturf organizations for the shams that they are is Barbara
Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta (RTD).
Barrigan-Parrilla on Tuesday, November 24, called on the "Friends of
the Delta," an "Astroturf" group, to stop using RTD materials in
information packets it distributes as part of a campaign to drum up
support for the peripheral canal.
Unlike the incongruously named Friends of the Delta, Restore the
Delta is an actual grassroots organization with a board, advisors and
thousands of members. It is a broad coalition of Delta farmers,
fishermen, environmentalists, the faith communitiy and environmental
justice advocates fighting for the restoration of the West Coast’s
largest estuary and to stop the peripheral canal.
On its website, the Friends of the Delta is described as "a non-
profit organization focused on educating the public on the need for a
comprehensive Delta restoration and an enhanced conveyance system
with the long-term vision of supporting efforts to provide a
sustainable water supply for California."
Barrigan-Parrilla said the group, rather than being an organization
concerned about the restoration of the Delta, is instead a
"disingenuous 'Astroturf' group based out of a public relations firm
in Newport Beach."
"Residents and advocates of the Delta region have a right to know
when they're being hoodwinked," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "The use of
our material to further a cause that is completely counter to our
mission is repugnant and must stop now. With 'Friends of the Delta'
like these, who needs enemies?"
Barrigan Parrilla blasted the so-called Friends of the Delta for
inserting materials from Restore the Delta in a briefing packet it is
20Briefing%20Packet.pdf in "what may be an effort to deceive readers
into believing they share a common goal with Restore the Delta and
other Delta advocates."
My examination of the briefing packet confirms Barrigan-Parrilla's
accusation that "Friends of the Delta" may be trying to portray
themselves as being allied with Restore the Delta, even though the
Astroturf group has been formed to support the Governor's plan to
build the peripheral canal, a government boondoggle that Restore the
Delta is strongly opposing.
The RTD materials are deceptively sandwiched between an August 17
letter by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Senate President Tem Pro
Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass urging them to
support his peripheral canal/dams water package and a Friends of the
Delta draft resolution "in support of government action to restore
the Delta and provide a reliable water supply."
The site displays a Restore the Delta action alert, including photos
of the July 7 rally the group held at the state capitol to oppose the
peripheral canal and to demand the inclusion of Delta communities in
the water legislation process, and a flyer announcing the "Million
Boat Float" against the canal held on August 16-17.
"Based on initial investigation, the phony 'Friends of the Delta'
appears to be headquartered in the offices of the Sheldon Group, a
public relations firm representing Southern California water
interests and developers interested in seeing a peripheral canal
built to divert water from Northern to Southern and Central
California," according to Barrigan-Parrilla.
The contact address and phone number listed on the website are:
Friends of the Delta, 901 Dove Street, Suite 140, Newport Beach, CA
949-777-9400. That is the address of the Sheldon Group, a group that
describes itself as "a unique and public affairs company that
connects our clients with decision makers and communities."
"With over 30 years of combined experience in the fields of politics,
community relations, coalition building, city planning, community
outreach, and media, our industry experts have the strategies and the
tactics necessary to develop winning solutions and effective public
outreach campaigns," the Sheldon Group website proclaims.
The Sheldon Group's website lists its "team" as Stephen Sheldon,
President, David Graham, Director of Public Affairs; and Greg
McCafferty, Director of Planning.
Steve Sheldon is an Orange County lawyer who is the son of Reverend
Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition. He’s also
President of the Orange County Water District. Sheldon is a second
generation player in right wing Orange County politics who has built
a very successful and lucrative lobbying practice.
Restore the Delta is calling on the counterfeit "Friends of the Delta
to “cease and desist” using RTD material in its propaganda. In
addition, RTD calls upon this front-group to reveal their "true
patrons" in the "About Us" section of their website and all
In the "About Us" section, the Astroturf group says, "We are
taxpayers, farmers, business owners, agency experts, and elected
officials dedicated to educating the public and encouraging statewide
participation in creating a sustainable water supply for California."
However, the shadowy group provides no names of its founders, board
members or supporters.
"Your support is essential in finding a solution to California's
water supply," Friends of the Delta proclaims on its website. "Please
contact us at FriendsoftheDelta@ gmail.com to discuss ways you can
Astroturf Group Runs Ad to Deceive Delta Residents
Restore the Delta's call for the Astroturf group to stop using its
materials was issued the day after a four page ad headlined, "The
Great Delta Toilet Bowl," appeared in the Stockton Record. The ad
clearly states it is paid for by Friends of the Delta. The ad
attemptsto enlist Delta residents in a false campaign against water
pollution by local cities and communities in an attempt to divert
attention away from the catastrophic impact of increased water
exports from the Delta on Central Valley salmon and Delta fish
"Friends of the Delta paid for the ad so that in-Delta residents
could become members of Families Protecting the Valley," said
Barrigan Parrilla. "The board of directors for Families Protecting
the Valley includes members like Bob Smittcamp, who is a grower in
the Westlands Water District, lives in Fresno's posh zip code 93711,
many miles away from his industrial farm that exports crops like
almonds to Asia and Europe."
Barrigan-Parrilla said Smittcamp has held fundraisers for Governor
Schwarzenegger, who declared in a recent visit to Stockton that he is
building the peripheral canal around the Delta (regardless of what
the residents want!). Mrs. Smittcamp was also Chief Executive Officer
A survey of the website of Families Protecting the Valley reveals
that it is an organization funded by corporate agribusiness, based
out of Madera, linked with a right wing group, "the Tea Party
Patriots." The donor's list features hundreds of agribusiness
corporations and related businesses on the west side of the San
Joaquin Valley: http://www.familiesprotectingthevalley.com/
The ad quotes "science" provided by the Coalition for a Sustainable
Delta, yet one more in a growing list of Astroturf organizations
campaigning to build the peripheral canal and strip Endangered
Species Act protections for Delta smelt, Sacramento River chinook
salmon and other fish species.
"This Coalition for a Sustainable Delta is housed in Stewart
Resnick's headquarters for Paramount Farms in Kern County," said
Barrigan-Parrilla. "Stewart Resnick is the Beverly Hills Billionaire
who has made tens of millions of dollars annually from buying and
reselling water back to the state for a tidy profit (http://
"The coalition poses as a science-based organization concerned about
pollution in the Delta, when they are actually a propaganda group
spinning facts to promote the Bay Delta Conservation Plan," said
Barrigan-Parrilla." As expected, they never consider the possibility
that water exports from the Delta have an impact on the ecosystem."
Resnick, a "limousine liberal" who supports the Coalition for a
Sustainable Delta, is also a frequent political campaign contributor
to Governor Schwarzenegger's "Dream Team," Senator Diane Feinstein,
and earlier this summer to Senate President pro Tem Darrell
Steinberg, she noted.
"In fact, the Resnick's contributions to Senate President Steinberg
were made shortly before the beginning of the Conference Committee
Process, which left Delta legislators out of the water deal making
process," Barrigan-Parrilla stated. (Click here to see contributions
made recently to Darrell Steinberg: http://www.electiontrack.com/
"So, in summary, what we are beginning to see is an ad campaign
financed by Southern California water interests and San Joaquin
Valley agribusiness to bring residents and supporters of the Delta
into their coalition: a twenty-first-century- twist on what happened
in Owens Valley," she said.
Regarding the content of the ad, Barrigan-Parrilla said, "it is
highly ironic” that the agribusiness industry, which has
successfully lobbied the Schwarzenegger administration and shows up
regularly at state and regional water board hearings to protest any
strengthening of water quality standards for dischargers, is
expressing concern about water pollution in the Delta.
“In fact, water boards and water agencies under the Schwarzenegger
administration have been weaker on enforcing water quality standards
for the Delta than regulatory agencies have any other time in recent
history,” she stated. “They certainly have been lax in enforcing
standards on municipal dischargers."
"Is discharge into the Delta a problem?" she added. "Of course it is.
But it is also a problem that is exacerbated many times over by
excessive exports and reduced inflows into the Delta. Plus, when one
considers that growers on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley are
farming on drainage impaired lands that dump tons of boron, salts and
selenium into the San Joaquin River that flows back into the Delta -
and that these same growers want Northern California's water
delivered to them through new conveyance - well, we couldn't make up
fiction with more ironic twists and turns."
The water boards have faced increasing criticism from environmental
and fishing groups over their refusal to enforce water quality
standards, as well as over conflicts of interests by board members.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) on November 12
filed a precedent-setting complaint with the California Fair
Political Practices Commission and the California Attorney General's
Bureau of State Audits charging Katherine Hart Johns, Vice Chair of
the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, with many
violations of state laws. The 51 page complaint alleges that Hart
Johns has violated numerous sections of the Political Reform Act, the
Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act and the California
"These violations include failures to disclose economic interests,
improper eligibility to serve on the Regional Board, failure to
disclose conflicts of interest, improper recusal from Board
proceedings and failure to disclose ex parte communications," said
Bill Jennings, CSPA executive director. "For example, Katherine Hart
Johns failed to disclose, as mandated by the Political Reform Act,
that her spouse was a registered lobbyist receiving substantial
income from entities regulated under the Porter-Cologne and the
federal Clean Water Act."
The Latino Water Coalition: Schwarzenegger’s Personal Astroturf Lobby.
The disinformation campaigns by big water Astroturf groups are amping
up just after California Legislature's recent passage of a water
policy and water bond package that "clears the path" to the
construction of a peripheral canal and Sites and Temperance Flat
reservoirs. The Legislature completely excluded Delta legislators,
fishermen, family farmers, California Indian Tribes, environmental
justice communities and the vast majority of environmental
organizations from the fast-track process that led to the package's
passage and signing by the Governor.
Key in organizing support for the canal/dams package was the Latino
Water Coalition, whose spokesman Paul Rodriguez, a comedian and San
Joaquin Valley grower, has appeared at numerous rallies and press
conference with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and corporate
Earlier this year, independent investigative journalist Lloyd Carter
and John Howard of the Capitol Weekly exposed the Latino Water
Coalition as an "Astroturf" group formed as a nonprofit and
registered by influential Sacramento lobbyist George Soares, whose A-
list of about three dozen agricultural clients include the California
Rice Commission, the California Cotton Growers and Ginners
Associations, the Friant Water Authority, the Nisei Farmers League
and The Grape and Tree Fruit League, among others.
The group has cynically portrayed itself as the "protector" of the
jobs of Latino farm workers, although Dolores Huerta, co founder of
Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers Union (UFW), and Arturo Rodriguez,
president of the UFW, have denounced it as a front group for
corporate agribusiness. The coalition, whose formation was suggested
by Governor Schwarzenegger in a meeting he held with agribusiness
interests in Fresno, in April organized a "March for Water" through
the San Joaquin Valley in which farmworkers were paid to march to
give a "human face" to corporate agribusiness.
"In reality, this is not a farm worker march,'' Arturo Rodriguez told
the New York Times on April 17. ''This is a farmer march orchestrated
and financed by growers.''
Barrigan-Parrilla warned that ads like the one taken out in Delta
region newspapers by Friends of the Delta and the deceptive campaign
by the Latino Water Coalition are just the beginning of a well-funded
disinformation campaign by big water interests to achieve the goal of
robbing the Delta of more water.
“Take the time to let local media outlets know that you disapprove
of their willingness to accept these advertising dollars,” she
stated. “In addition, we expect these astroturfing groups to charge
forward with an assault on the Endangered Species Aact as a ploy to
increase the amount of water exported from the Delta."
She emphasized that political affiliation has nothing to do with
protecting the Delta. “A number of our state and federal leaders
from both sides of the aisle have been corrupted by the California
water-money trail. Watch how your State and Federal Representatives
vote on Delta legislation and vote accordingly in return at election
time,” she concluded.
To learn more about Westland Water District’s growers and the link
between their practices and institutionalized Central Valley poverty,
click here to read Lloyd Carter’s article's recent law review
For more information about Restore the Delta, contact Barbara
Barrigan-Parrilla, (209) 479-2053, Barbara [at] restorethedelta.org,
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