The angry attack on a community water advocate by Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chairman Buddy Mendes on April 12 was unprofessional and unbefitting someone who is supposed to represent all constituents.
In case you missed it, here’s the condensed version:
Mendes raised his voice and said the advocate, Janaki Jagannath, who appeared in chambers on behalf of El Porvenir residents, was being dishonest because she compared much lower Fresno area water rates to rates in farmworker communities.
“The answer to the question is, your leftist buddies in Northern California won’t let them run the pumps,” Mendes thundered at Jagannath, referring to pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that move water south to the Valley. “That’s why that water is so expensive.” Mendes later told Jagannath to “sit down.”
What likely triggered Mendes’ tantrum?
In addition, Westlands’ farmers have received a scant 5 percent water allocation despite the El Niño winter and spring. And then there’s the fact the Westlands recently agreed to pay $125,000 to settle Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges that it misled investors about its financial health.
Whatever the reason for Mendes’ unprofessional conduct, he crossed numerous lines during his red-faced temper tantrum.
For starters, we suggest that he read the 10 “Guiding Principles for Civic Transformation” that the board adopted in 2007. The seventh principle: “We respect all persons and recognize that there are diverse viewpoints. Positional power will not determine a strategy or preferred outcome, merit will. Viewpoints from diverse constituencies will be proactively sought to ensure the best possible outcomes for the community.”
Also troubling is the fact that Mendes appeared more concerned about defending the reputation of Westlands Water District than he did about trying to improve the water situation for impoverished El Porvenir residents.
The 54 households there face a $5 rate increase on their monthly water bills, which exceed $100 per month. Despite being treated after being shipped from the Delta, the water has contaminant levels exceeding state standards.
Instead of blasting Jagannath – a Fresno resident who is trying to help people in of El Porvenir get safe, clean, affordable water – Mendes should be teaming with her to obtain state and federal aid.
Unfortunately, there is a long and sad history of supervisors treating advocates for the poor as enemies instead of enlisting their support and skills to improve conditions in Fresno County. This has happened time and again with supervisors representing rural areas standing up for powerful ag interests at the expense of the people who pick crops, prune vines and perform other jobs on farms.
There is hope on this front, however. After Mendes exploded, the board voted to have him write a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to ask if it could offer a price break on water that serves residents in rural communities.
Mendes also needs to bone up on his history. Neither the “leftists” nor the environmentalists control the pumps at the Delta. Those pumps are operated in accordance with biological opinions that carry out the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The act was passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, a Republican who has never been confused with a leftist.
Furthermore, it was Supreme Court Justice Warren E. Burger, a Republican nominated by Nixon, who wrote the majority opinion in Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill providing the basis for rules that restrict Delta pumping in an effort to save the 3-inch Delta smelt, the majestic salmon and the mighty steelhead trout.
Burger said that it was the “plain intent of Congress in enacting this statute to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.”
For Valley farmers and rural communities, the costs have been excruciating during California’s periodic droughts. Land has been fallowed. Trees and vines have been yanked out. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost.
The frustration and anger felt by Mendes and other farmers should be expressed to those in a position to provide relief, Congress specifically – not at community advocates.
Finally, we commend Jagannath for her calm, professional response to Mendes’ volcanic buffoonery.