[env-trinity] Standing Up to Big Water’s Astroturf Groups

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Fri Nov 27 14:04:11 PST 2009




1125delta1.jpg

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  
distributing http://www.friendsofthedelta.org/images/Complete% 
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  
92660,
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  
collateral material.

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  
participate."

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  
populations.

"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  
of JoinArnold.com.

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/ 
Donor'sList-i-14-14.html

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:// 
www.alternet.org/water/144020/ 
how_limousine_liberals,_water_oligarchs_and_even_sean_hannity_are_hijack 
ing_our_water_supply? 
utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=alternet).

"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/ 
lookup.php?committee=1292824).

"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  
Government Code.

"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  
agribusiness interests.

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  
article: http://www.lloydgcarter.com/content/091101321_san-joaquin- 
poverty-and-industrial-agribusiness-law-review-article-lloyd-carter.

For more information about Restore the Delta, contact Barbara  
Barrigan-Parrilla, (209) 479-2053, Barbara [at] restorethedelta.org,  
http://www.restorethedelta.org.



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