Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 18, 2015

Dan Bacher 'Documents reveal state plans for seizure of Delta farms to build tunnels'

Photo of the Sacramento River near Clarksburg by Dan Bacher
Documents reveal state plans for seizure of Delta farms to build tunnels/Big Oil spent $6.2 million lobbying California officials in year's first six months

by Dan Bacher
Censored News
Governor Jerry Brown's Delta tunnels plan hasn't been approved yet by the permitting agencies, but documents obtained from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California reveal that the state and tunnels proponents have identified 300 parcels in the Delta they intend to take through eminent domain.

The newly released documents obtained through Public Records actions demonstrate that water exporters and the "Delta Design Construction Enterprise," housed within the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), have already developed plans to “acquire” family farms and "right of way" in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through eminent domain, according to a joint statement from Restore the Delta, Delta landowners and the Southern California Watershed Alliance.

I challenge anybody who doesn't believe that the "fix is in" on the Delta Tunnels plan to review the two “Acquisition Management Plan" documents, obtained from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The process to "acquire" Delta land is spelled out in minute detail, showing that the Brown administration and supporting agencies believe the approval of construction of the two massive tunnels under the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas is a foregone conclusion.

You can read the documents by going here:

Delta family farmers, who for more than six years have successfully litigated against DWR on eminent domain issues, said they are "shaken" by the 160—page property acquisition plan.

“It is wrong and premature that the Department of Water Resources has a unit creating a secret land acquisition plan to take 150 year-old farms, like ours, through condemnation,” said Richard Elliot, whose family has farmed pears, cherries and other food crops in Courtland for more than 150 years and has never sold any of their land in the Delta.

Elliot pointed out how some of the most fertile land in the West, Delta farmland, is being condemned in order to keep irrigating toxic, drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, land that many believe should have never been irrigated.

“Now it is going to be condemned by thirsty water agencies working with DWR," Elliot said. "It does not make good policy sense to forsake prime Delta farmland with access to water and moderate weather conditions to farm in a dry desert that is filled with salt and selenium in its soils and that is not sustainable. The entire plan doesn’t make for sustainable food policies, smart land use practices, or even common sense."

The documents include maps of targeted farm parcels in the Delta - and envision groundbreaking ceremonies for the controversial tunnels as early as July 2016.

“While Delta and good-government activists are busy mobilizing comments in a democratic process, we discover state agencies view public oversight as simply a distraction,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “These documents arrogantly envision groundbreaking ceremonies as early as July 2016.

“Bulldozers and cement trucks are ready to roll! Red ribbons are budgeted! All for a $60 billion boondoggle without even one permit. Clearly, water officials under the Brown Administration view the Delta as a colony," she emphasized.

Officials from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), one of the districts that has been promoting the construction of the tunnels, defended the targeting of Delta farmers as part of a "normal planning process."

"Planning for right-of-way needs, that is the key part of your normal planning process," said Roger Patterson, assistant general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, told the Associated Press.

In addition to identification of 300 parcels to be "acquired" through eminent domain, the tunnels opponents also noted that released documents reveal that DWR and the tunnel promoters will "cease all outreach to the Delta as a cost saving measure while issuing multi-million dollar no-bid contracts to oversee the construction of a project that will dewater the estuary."

In an apparent attempt to avoid public comment and scrutiny, the property plan states: “All transactions are conducted, reviewed and approved internally by DCE staff and managers to maintain control and avoid unnecessary delays to schedule. DCE shall seek to minimize external review and approval requirements."

“The most disturbing aspect of the documents are that the Brown Administration and water exporters don’t trust Californians,” said Conner Everts with the Southern California Watershed Alliance. “Why do they feel the need to “fool” Californians? To advance their deeply flawed multi-billion-dollar tunneling experimental export plan.”

“Plus, Metropolitan Water District this coming Monday is once again moving forward with a continuing parcel tax to burden property tax payers. What will these new taxes be used for--this massive tunneling experiment?” Everts asked.

A letter from the San Diego County Water Authority to the Metropolitan Water District discussing this parcel tax can be found here:

Attorney Thomas H. Keeling, who has represented landowners in this litigation, said this confidential draft "confirms my concerns about the magnitude of the assault on private property interests in the Delta and disruption to Delta life as a result of the proposed project."

“Like every other aspect of the tunnels scheme, taxpayers, landowners, and Delta communities in general will pay the heavy price for a project that will line the pockets of a few private interests south of the Delta without delivering anything of value to California,” stated Keeling.

Recent documents received in a separate Public Records Act request also shed a light on Delta Design Construction Enterprise (DCE) created by DWR. The agency awarded an $11.4 million no-bid contract to the Hallmark Group, headed by Chuck Gardner, to direct the DCE that was signed in 2013, according to the tunnels opponents.

The DCE is housed within the Department. “Claiming, but not specifying the loophole through which they awarded the contract, DWR gave this contract to a contractor who heads a small water policy firm, rather than an engineering firm, with no listed experience in managing large water construction contracts or large experimental tunneling projects specifically," said Barrigan-Parrilla.

She said the Hallmark Group, under the banner of the DCE, is now the group “creating, planning and executing this secret land acquisition plan in the Delta.”

According to the Hallmark Group website, "Mr. Gardner has over 30 years of program management, organizational leadership and strategic planning experience. As a project turnaround specialist, Mr. Gardner has been brought in to direct capital projects struggling with funding, scheduling, and leadership challenges. His projects include a wide range of complex and politically sensitive programs that require creative collaboration with local and national government entities including influential public stakeholders.

Mr. Gardner’s most recent project is the Delta Habitat Conservation Conveyance Program; a program to provide a more reliable water supply to over 25 million California residents and restore vast areas of natural habitat located in the California Delta.” (

Barrigan-Parrilla commented, "This is the second largest public works project in California history and yet Gardner is not an engineer. There seems to be a real lackof qualifications in the private contractors that are embedded with the Department of Water Resources on this project."

She noted that DWR's mission is: "to manage the water resources of California in cooperation with other agencies, to benefit the State's people, and to protect, restore, and enhance the natural and human environments."

"These 'confidential' documents' reveal that DWR is not fulfilling the mission of the agency - they are working solely for the interests of the water contractors,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

In the big picture, these documents expose the complete capture of the regulatory apparatus - DWR - by the regulated - corporate agribusiness, MWD and the water contractors. This regulatory capture is precisely what has led to the dramatic of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish species in recent years, due to massive water exports from the Delta and declining water quality.

For the complete news release with links to the documents, go to: 

Big Oil spent $6.2 million lobbying CA officials in year's first six months

by Dan Bacher

The oil industry spent $6.2 million to lobby legislators and other state officials in the first six months of 2015, according to a report just released by the California Secretary of State's Office.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, alone spent a total of $1,388,203 in the first quarter of the 2015-2016 session and $1,141,037 in the second quarter of the session. That’s a total of $2,529,240 spent on lobbying in six months. (

Last year WSPA spent a record $8.9 million on lobbying, double what it spent in the previous year. WSPA spent $4.67 million in 2013. ( 

Big Oil is currently spending over $1 million per month to fight legislation and regulations to prevent future oil spills, to protect our drinking water supplies from contamination by fracking waste water, from cleaning up the air, and from protecting marine protected areas from offshore oil drilling.

Oil companies funnel most of their California lobbying money through WSPA, the industry’s trade association, but they also spend money through their own lobbyists. In addition to their WSPA contributions, Chevron spent $1.5 million lobbying for influence over California laws in 2015's first six month, according to Sarah Rose, Chief Executive Officer of the California League of Conservation Voters, in a letter to supporters. 

“That means two spots on California's top-five list for big-spending lobbyists belong to Big Oil,” noted Rose.

Besides lobbying state officials, the oil industry also spends millions every year on political campaigns. 2014 was a record year for Big Oil spending on lobbying and campaigns. The oil industry spent a combined total of $38,653,186 for lobbying and campaigns in 2014. That is a 129 percent increase from the 2013 total of $16,915,226. 

Last year, the oil industry spent $7.6 million to defeate a measure calling for a fracking ban in Santa Barbara County and nearly $2 million into an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a measure banning fracking in San Benito County during the November 2014 election. Chevron spent $3 million to elect their selected candidates to the Richmond City Council, but they were defeated by a grassroots coalition. 

Big Oil also exerts its influence by setting up Astroturf groups to promote its agenda. Last week, WSPA launched a campaign against climate change bills in the Legislature, according to Rose. Under the thinly-disguised mask of their Astroturf group "California Driver's Alliance," WSPA's ads attacking the legislation are now running on television, internet, and radio in several key legislative districts throughout the state.

In addition, the oil industry is very effective at getting its lobbyists and friends on regulatory panels. In a glaring conflict of interest, Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, who is now fighting bills protecting the ocean from offshore oil drilling and oil spills, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Froce to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California. She also served on the MLPA Initiative task forces that developed “marine protected areas” on the North Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast. (
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) has jointly authored with Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) Senate Bill 788, which would ban new offshore oil drilling in state waters off Tranquillon Ridge, located in a "Marine Protected Area" off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base created under the MLPA Initiative. SB 788 is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and is expected to be up for a vote in the State Assembly as the Legislature enters its last month of the legislative session, according to Senator Jackson’s office.

And guess who opposes this legislation? Yes, "marine guardian" Reheis Boyd’s WSPA is leading the charge to defeat the bill.
WSPA is also opposing two bills sponsored by Senator Jackson that were spurred by the recent Santa Barbara Oil Spill that fouled many miles of coastline on May 19 after a badly corroded oil pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline burst off Refugio State Beach. 

Senate Bill 295 requires annual oil pipeline inspections and would reestablish the State Fire Marshal’s role in inspecting federally regulated pipelines. Senate Bill 414, the Rapid Oil Spill Response Act, would help make oil spill response faster, more effective, and more environmentally friendly. 

You can expect Big Oil to continue dumping millions of dollars in an attempt to defeat these and other environmental bills in the California Legislature, as the industry has done over the past decade. 

Documents reveal state plans for seizure of Delta farms to build tunnels
Big Oil spent a total of $266 million influencing California politics from 2005 to 2014, according to an analysis of California Secretary of State data by, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to “mislead and confuse Californians.”  The industry spent $112 million of this money on lobbying and the other $154 million on political campaigns. (

Big Oil is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, and as we have discussed, wields its influence by spending its money on lobbying and election campaigns, creating Astroturf groups and getting its officials and friends on state regulatory panels. 

In California environmental politics now, there is no bigger issue than than the capture of the regulatory apparatus by the regulated, including Big Oil, agribusiness, developers, the timber industry and other corporate interests. This is why fishermen, Tribal leaders, family farmers, environmentalists and grassroots Californians must relentlessly expose and fight this regulatory capture in order to restore our rivers, oceans, fisheries and the public trust - and support state and national campaigns including 99Rise and Move to Amend to take the corporate money out of politics. 

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