Please join us to say farewell to Burt Wilson @ Husick’s Taphouse in Clarksburg, C. Help us celebrate this wonderful Delta warrior! From Gene Beley:
Lion of the Delta departs with a roar
• Burt Wilson heads to New York
• “I think the people are without honest leadership in this state. Everybody’s out for money”
Activist, jazz musician and author Burt Wilson is packing up and leaving the California Delta region after decades of fighting Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. and his plans to divert fresh water away from the Delta.
Mr. Wilson, 82, is six years older than the governor, whom he suggests is getting dotty in his old age.
“He showed back in 2012 that he was faltering quite a bit when he went to make public speeches,” says Mr.Wilson. “He’s getting too old to be in office. Everybody thinks his wife runs the government now.”
Mr. Wilson has been a thorn in the side of the Brown family dynasty since the 1970s when he was with the Campaign Against Utility Service Exploitation and helped reveal the Brown family’s connections to the ousted Indonesian dictator Suharto, the Indonesian government-controlled oil company Pertamina and California’s decision that only Indonesian oil would be good enough to meet new standards for use by power companies to fire their boilers.
“We did a news conference in the Senator Hotel with graphs and arrows pointing to the cross-references which linked the Brown Family to Suharto and Pertamina and Perta, the major holding company,” Mr.Wilson wrote in 2010 in response to an opinion column by Anthony Pignataro. “The then Sacramento Union was the only paper to print our expose.”
The current governor Brown has repeatedly denied taking payments from the Indonesian oil sources and, Mr. Wilson says, the Brown family has divested itself of its oil holdings.
But Mr. Wilson is perhaps better known for his work in helping voters defeat the Peripheral Canal referendum in 1982. That was a proposal by Edmund Brown Jr., then in his first terms as governor, to divert fresh water from the Sacramento River into a canal around the California Delta, dumping it into the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project systems.
[He recounts the convoluted history of how politicians and moneyed interests have tried to bend the Delta to their demands in a lengthy treatise published in 2013. See link below.]
Mr. Wilson has seen Mr. Brown change his political stripes over the years.
“He has abandoned what he used to be in his first two terms and has become part of the business establishment,” he says. “Jerry Brown is no longer a liberal Democrat. He’s more of a moderate Republican. He has changed.”
While crushed at the polls, the canal idea apparently never left the governor’s brain. It resurfaced in the 21st Century as the “twin tunnels” plan, which has gone by several innocuous marketing names, the most recent of which is the “California Water Fix.”
Mr. Wilson sees no difference in whether it’s a canal on the surface or its equivalent buried 150 feet below the surface.
“He wants his legacy,” Mr. Wilson says of Mr. Brown. “He wants something equal to his father’s State Water Project.”
Mr. Wilson has repeatedly said that the “fix is in” and that the twin tunnels scheme will be approved by boards controlled by Mr. Brown. The five members of the State Water Resources Control Board, for example, are appointed by whoever is governor. Mr. Brown has appointed four of the five.
“This whole thing has been greased,” Mr. Wilson says.
The project is now to be financed by “revenue bonds,” which are supposed to be paid for from the revenue from a specific project. They’re often used for projects such as toll bridges. The tunnels will not be paid for by “general obligation bonds,” which are repaid by taxpayers. It’s not just a matter of words – a general obligation bond would require a vote by Californians; a revenue bond does not.
“It shows you to what lengths the state will go to keep the citizens out of the process,” Mr. Wilson says.
However, those obligated to buy the water carried by the multi-billion dollar tunnels might have to pass along the high costs to their customers: farmers and everyday urban users such as households and businesses.
“They are still having trouble with financing. Nobody wants to finance it,” Mr. Wilson says. “What it might eventually come down to is ‘we’ll tax the people.’ Water rates will go up and our taxes will go up to pay for the tunnels.”
How much might be pried out of Californians has been examined in depth by one independent economist.
“The tunnels will cost some irrigation districts hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and there are individual farming operations that could be on the hook for a million or more each year,” writes economist Jeffrey Michael, an associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific in Valley Economy [see link below].
“The word pittance best describes the tunnels’ contribution to the state’s water supply, and its cost is best described as by far the most expensive and risky water supply investment in the state’s history,” writes Mr. Michael.
While Mr. Wilson says he has long thought that the tunnels scheme would collapse of its own weight, he is putting his faith in attorneys.
“Pretty soon, you’ll end up amending the Delta Plan in order to accept the ‘California Water Fix,’” he says. “How’re you going to fight that? From then on, it’s going to be in hands of the attorneys.”
He predicts there will be dozens of lawsuits against the tunnels to try to stop the project. One area for litigation will be the air pollution caused by construction involving scores of diesel-powered trucks, tunneling machines and more, he says.
“Once a permit to build is issued, if it ever gets that far, you will have a dozen lawsuits filed … and that’ll set it off by a good year,” Mr. Wilson says.
For now, though, this Delta native (“I was born in Stockton. I played in the Delta as a youth”) is moving to Binghamton, N.Y., where he will work for Citizen Action of New York, which says it works for guaranteed, affordable health care, racial justice, better education and other progressive causes.
He leaves the Delta with deep worries for its future and the future of his California.
“What frustrates me is we have these supposedly honest politicians on the Delta Stewardship Council, and the Department of Water Resources, and the state Legislature, the Senate – and they all do these underhanded things,” Mr. Wilson says. ”I think the people are without honest leadership in this state. Everybody’s out for money.”
Watch an interview with Burt Wilson here. The videographer and video editor was Gene Beley.
“Delta tunnels activist Burt Wilson says that government has locked the people out of democracy nationwide.”
To read Mr. Wilson’s history of the Delta and politics, click here.