It wasn't a news flash. I noticed, while reading the Livermore Indeoendent yesterday that the number of articles and Letters to the Editor concerning the election of new city councils and other offices of regional concern was increasing. We in Livermore have had a recent track record I hope we continue. In two succesive elections over the last six years, the good people of Livermore managed to raise enough concern about proposed sprawl development north of town that the two different proposals were placed on the ballot. The first one, a huge spread of 12,500 new homes on traditionally agricultural land, was soundly defeated despite an endless barrage of promises couched in glossy mailers that seemed to arrive by the hour. The second, a more modest 2,450 home project just east of where the other had been thwarted two years earlier, was sneakier - you'll have a new high school, they told us, and a new firehouse and other amenities and services. But neither could they convince the people of Livermore that the promises and mantra of "new schools, larger tax base" was a sound idea. It was defeated by a 70% to 30% margin.
OK, where am I going with this bit of congratulatory back - patting? It begins with the state of our State on many levels. Let me mention just a few of my concerns, in the interest of brevity.
Every new development that is built on property that was formerly agricultural (see San Joaquin / Sacramento Valleys) permanently removes that land from the production of food, fibers (cotton, wool) and the ability to grow green plants to help cleanse our air. Huge pieces of ag land have been developed to turn the quiet agricultural towns of my youth - Manteca, Vacaville, Ripon, Escalon, Salida to name a few - into suburban bedroom communities. People commute 100 - 150 miles a day into the Bay Area to jobs in what was formerly a booming tech industry. A developer has no stake in caring about how much your food will cost or where it comes from. They will simply gresase the palms of local politicos, build their mess without regard to land use or traffic issues (unless it suits their purpose) and move on, back to their homes in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles.
The second and most important issue is and will continue to be water. California's water delivery maze is a mass of canals stretching over hundreds of miles so people who live in deserts can have nice green lawns and wash their cars every week. In its natural condition, California is beyond the point of being able to support its population by claiming delivery contracts ("water rights" in the old days) and jerking the water from the Delta as if there is no end to the capacity. Well, friends, you'd better hope we have a plentiful rainfall this winter, or we are in deep stuff. Reservoirs are running below 50% of capacity currently, with only one or two exceptions. Some are as low as the 20% range. There is nothing with which to refill them as we speak - so all those delivery contracts won't be worth the paper they're written on if we don't get pummeled with rain soon. Have you seen the San Joaquin River lately around Chowchilla and Los Banos? California's 2nd longest river? It's dry....the riverbed is dusty, and its flow isn't restored until the Tuolomne and Merced make their way down from the mountains to meet the mighty San Joaquin's riverbed, near Merced. So by the time it reaches the Delta, it's flow is composed mostly of the Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus Rivers. Farmers and communities bursting at the seams have overtaxed this once mighty flow. And because a new agreement between farming businesses and the State, the flow is to be restored once again - diminishing the available water for new development. A recent court decision has also cut back significantly on the amount of water sent down to Southern California via the Aqueduct. This was a brave, extraordinary court decision, which may facilitate the recovery of endangered fish in the Delta. But back to the original premise of this entry - we can elect local representatives who'll have the guts to say "no, thanks" to the mega developers. I don't know how simple the equation must be before we Californians get the message - just wait, if this winter's dry. Next summer will be a mess unlike any in my lifetime. Since the last significant drought here, our state's population has grown by almost a third. And yet we keep electing city councils who promote development in some kind of town - to - town pissing contest to see who's the biggest kid on the block.
I know there is one councilmember in Livermore I'll be working to unseat this year. She's gone as far as to appear in the developer's TV commercials during the 2,450 - home proposal's fight. By promoting sprawl development and failing to take in the bigger picture - that of trying to find enough water for a static population, much less an exploding one - she's completely outof touch with anything except her own little vision of paradise.
My view of Presidential elections is that their significance to our daily quality of life is about 10% that of our local, state and federal representatives. These are the people who approve the developments, who fight (or not) to at least maintain our quality of life, and who have a stake in our contentment. Make it your mission to ensure you are represented by the best people you can find to represent your interests and ideas in your city or town. See you at the polls next month!