Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Los Angeles Times
Welcome to California water wars’: State’s congressional delegation debates water plans on the House floor
Sarah D. Wire
House Republicans are making another push for a bill addressing California’s drought, adding the text of a measure by Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) to two pieces of legislation headed to the Senate.
The House passed Valadao’s bill almost a year ago, but the Senate has refused to take it up. His legislation focuses on funneling more water to San Joaquin Valley growers by reducing the amount used to support endangered fish populations.
The Senate is reviewing a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as part of a broad package of water bills for Western states.
Including the text of Valadao’s bill in either measure would force the two chambers to reconcile the versions of the bill.
On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats from Caifornia’s 53-member House delegation lined up to debate the inclusion of Valadao’s measure in the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal 2017.
The White House signaled this week that Valadao’s water legislation would prompt a veto of the appropriations bill if it reached his desk.
The House also will vote to include the language in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016.
Here are some highlights from Tuesday’s back and forth among some California lawmakers.
Valadao held up a photo of tarp-covered homes in his district along arid dirt he called a shantytown.
“This is not in a Third World country. This is in the United States of America, this is right here in California, and this is something that’s happening in these communities because of this water being wasted,” he said.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) argued that House Republicans have repeatedly met privately with Democrats to craft legislation the whole delegation can live with, but have been publicly stymied.
“There were more Democrats than there were Republicans and we stayed months in there talking. And we came to a lot of agreements. Maybe some people that were in the room won’t say that on the outside, but on the inside they agreed to a lot of pieces of the legislation,” he said.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) sponsored an amendment to pull the Valadao text out of the bill. A vote on the amendment wasn’t held Tuesday night.
“These provisions would undermine 40 years of progress,” the Democrat said. “The provisions in the bill will weaken the Endangered Species Act and set a precedent of putting aside environmental protections.”
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) said that gutting the Endangered Species Act and ignoring the Clean Water Act to just turn on the pumps would be the “death knell of the delta.”
Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno was the only Democrat to speak in support of including Valadao’s measure, saying that at least it would provide some relief.
“In the absence of getting a comprehensive water bill passed into law, which I have not given up hope for and my colleagues on both sides are still working on [on] a bipartisan basis with Sen. Feinstein, I hope my colleagues in the meantime will join me in supporting the provisions in this bill that Congressman Valadao has been able to provide that will in fact contain relief to the people of California who we represent and who have been most impacted by this drought,” he said.
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
GMO ban headed to voters in Sonoma County
By Angela Hart
Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday advanced a highly disputed initiative to ban genetically modified crops and seeds in Sonoma County, while also voicing strong opposition to the proposed ordinance submitted by a group of citizens concerned about the spread of GMOs.
The measure will be placed before voters in November, when they will be asked for the second time in 11 years whether to ban GMO crops and seeds in unincorporated areas of the county.
Supervisors said the proposed ordinance was significantly flawed, with some arguing that it is “based on fear, not science.”
“I’m against fear-based ballot box measures,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “This ill-advised proposed ordinance is so broad, it could easily prevent our county’s agriculture and other industries from taking advantage of future technologies. The way it’s written makes me very concerned about unintended consequences down the road.”
Zane’s comments came at the heels of a county-commissioned report by the University of California Cooperative Extension, which found the proposed ordinance is vague and its findings are not valid.
“Growers and producers would not know what is prohibited and what is not,” said Stephanie Larson, the organization’s director.
Supervisors conceded, however, that they had limited options because proponents of a ban have collected enough signatures — roughly 10,000 more than are needed to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot — to take the measure to voters. The board could have adopted the ordinance outright on Tuesday, but it decided unanimously to place the proposed ordinance before voters, a move supported by the 3,000-member Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
The measure would “prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of genetically engineered organisms in the unincorporated county, with certain narrow exceptions.” It would not prevent the sale or purchase of genetically engineered food or seed, or forbid medical treatment for humans or animals using altered vaccines or medication. It also wouldn’t prevent research into GMOs within the county, as long as it was conducted in secure labs.
Supervisor Efren Carrillo, the board chairman, joined Zane and Supervisor David Rabbitt in voicing concerns about the long-term impacts the measure could have on the county’s powerful agricultural industry.
Carrillo said the county could not support the proposal, but he would not say whether supervisors would actively campaign against it.
“If the Board of Supervisors were comfortable with the language, we would have adopted it today,” Carrillo said.
Carrillo’s remarks followed nearly three hours of public comment from people on both sides of the issue, including a group who wore anti-GMO shirts and several members of the Farm Bureau.
Supporters of the ban said they were concerned about health risks from consuming genetically modified foods and unwanted crop-contamination, while opponents said a ban could restrict local farmers from adapting to future technologies that could assist in the eradication of harmful plant- and vine-killing diseases and even reduce the use of pesticides.
Supporters of the ban appeared deflated after Tuesday’s decision but Karen Hudson, a spokeswoman for the initiative, said she was not deterred. Although a similar local proposal failed at the ballot box in 2005, Hudson argued that the current initiative has strong support. Hudson mentioned the amount of signatures she and others were able to gather — more than 24,000 — as well as growing momentum in support of bans against genetically modified seeds and crops. Mendocino and Marin counties have such bans in place.
“It’s going to pass,” said Hudson, who represents the Rohnert Park-based Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families, which is taking the lead on the initiative.
The federal government, many scientists and food producers argue that genetically modified foods are safe, while critics contend the crops pose health risks, citing research purportedly showing that GMOs can cause problems ranging from allergies to cancer.
Jane Nielson, a local environmental activist, urged supervisors to immediately adopt the ordinance. Without a ban, Nielson and others said, local farmers will be exposed to the unintended spread of genetically modified seeds and pollens, such as by the wind.
“I’m a rural resident … and I also own part of a piece of a farm in Kansas and we grow GMO soybeans and corn. If we did not, they would become GMO by drift pollen,” Nielson said. “We really have very little choice.”
Local farmers also argued that the county’s economy, and its agricultural industry itself, is at risk by the spread of genetically modified plants and crops.
“Sonoma County is a brand — I guarantee you that the people who want to buy sustainable food want to buy food that has no GMOs in it,” said Evan Wiig, executive director of The Farmers Guild, a local nonprofit that represents farmers and ranchers.
“These modified plants are showing up in our food system,” said Albert Straus, an organic farmer who owns Straus Family Creamery based in Petaluma.
“GMOs are not being contained. I found GMOs in my certified organic corn in 2005.”
Those who oppose a ban on genetically modified plants and seeds, however, said enacting such an ordinance could harm local businesses and prevent those in agriculture from adapting their farming practices to prevent the spread of diseases.
Tito Sasaki, a Sonoma-based grape grower who is active with the Farm Bureau, and others mentioned scientific advances underway that could help grape-growers prevent Pierce’s disease and other vineyard problems like powdery mildew growing on grapes.
“We cannot afford to shut ourselves out of new technologies and sciences that in the future could help us,” Sasaki said. “This could affect all of agriculture.”
Larson said in the UC report that genetically engineered crops are more strictly regulated than any other agricultural or food product, and there is no scientific evidence that consuming genetically modified foods pose a greater health risk than conventionally grown foods.
Larson also said the ordinance would not prevent cross-contamination or cross-pollination because 97 percent of agricultural activity falls within a five mile radius of incorporated areas, where the proposed ban would not apply.
“This ordinance would not provide 100 percent protection and therefore the prevention of cross pollination cannot be guaranteed,” Larson said.
Hudson said she and other proponents of the ban are ready to take their fight to the ballot box.
“We initially wanted it to go on the ballot,” Hudson said. “We were just hoping that they’d enact it into law today to make it easier. It would save Sonoma County money.”
The cost to place the measure on the ballot is estimated at $367,000 to $489,000, according to William Rousseau, the county’s Registrar of Voters.
You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.
Editor’s note: All Sonoma County voters will be allowed to vote on an initiative headed to voters this November that would ban genetically modified seeds and crops in unincorporated areas. An article on A1 Wednesday misstated this fact due to wrong information initially from the Sonoma County Counsel’s office.
Class-action suit advances over Gerawan’s payment of farmworkers
By Robert Rodriguez
A federal judge in Fresno is allowing a class-action lawsuit to move forward against Gerawan Farming, one of Fresno County’s largest agriculture companies.
The lawsuit, filed in 2014, alleges that Gerawan has violated state and federal laws, including failing to pay minimum wages, failing to compensate employees for breaks, and failing to pay wages owed.
Gerawan’s attorney, David Schwarz, said the company had not broken the law.
“Class certification motions are often granted, seldom denied, and have nothing to do with the merits of the case,” Schwarz said. “Gerawan’s history of paying the industry’s highest wages is undeniable. Nothing in the allegations disproves nor even alleges otherwise.”
The May 20 decision by federal Judge Dale A. Drozd means the case can proceed as a class action on behalf of the thousands of workers employed by Gerawan from Feb. 3, 2010, to the present.
The number of current or former Gerawan workers who could benefit could be in the thousands.
Drozd appointed the Encino law firm Kingsley & Kingsley and the Bakersfield firm Martı́nez, Aguilasocho & Lynch as co-class counsel to represent the workers.
The decision comes at a time when Gerawan Farming and the United Farm Workers union continue to battle over labor issues. Mario Martinez, a co-counsel in the class-action lawsuit, also represents the UFW in other legal matters.
Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob, firstname.lastname@example.org
Imperial Valley Press
IID approves new service rate for Agricultural Large Commercial customers
By Edwin Delgado
On Tuesday the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors voted to approve the creation of a new customer class for large agricultural commercial customers who were disproportionately affected by the demand rate increase, which was the result of the rate increase starting in 2015.
The subcategory of customers affected is made of 47 customers in the Imperial Valley and 30 more from the Coachella Valley.
IID previously held two public hearings on the proposed change to the customer class in El Centro on May 10 and in La Quinta on May 17.
Executive Director of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association Executive Director Kay Day Pricola, who had submitted questions in writing, asked during the meeting about the number of customers affected by the change and how it would impact IID’s revenue.
“This issue was brought to the attention of the board and staff as early as September of 2015,” Pricola said. “This is one of those unintended consequences, where the demand charge really has significant impact on the users.”
General Manager Kevin Kelley said that the class would see a rate decrease and Chief Financial Officer Belen Valenzuela said that the change would mean a $250,000 loss in revenue annually for IID.
President of El Toro Export Bill Plourd also spoke to the board about the unique situation his business was in. He said that they have three large commercial accounts with IID, which are backed up with solar power.
He asked the board and staff to take a closer look at their business to identify the best way to help them.
“We have a unique setup with our solar power systems. They don’t particularly help nearly to the same degree those of us that have solar backing, that is the concern I have today,” Plourd said.
Division 2 Director Bruce Kuhn asked if there was a way to grandfather customers in a similar situation such as Plourd into the proposal they were about to vote on. President of the board Norma Sierra Galindo clarified that that would have to be handled as a separate action item to be scheduled at a later date.
Pricola also asked the board to consider rolling back the proposed rate schedule from July 1 to at least Jan. 1, 2016, or to Jan. 1, 2015, if possible.
“We certainly are appreciative of the effort and hopefully the approval of moving this to a unique class to address that,” Pricola said. “I would however say that it has been a tedious process through probably no one’s fault at all other than changes, but the folks who had been paying this additional charge shouldn’t be penalized because you had some reorganizational structures.”
Valenzuela said that rolling back the date to Jan. 1 would result in an additional $125,000 loss in revenue for IID.
The board voted 4-0 in favor of the new rate changes for the sub category of customers which demand charge will go down to $6.75 per kilowatt starting on July 1. Division 4 Director Stephen Benson abstained from the voting since he could be one of the customers affected by the decision.
Staff Writer Edwin Delgado can be reached at email@example.com or 760-337-3440.
Feds announce $10 million for wildfire projects in 12 states
By Keith Ridler
MARSING, Idaho (AP) — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Tuesday toured a massive wildfire rehabilitation effort in southwest Idaho that’s part of the federal government’s new wildfire strategy and then announced $10 million for projects in 12 states to reduce wildfire threats.
“It’s easy for folks to think we can’t respond quickly, but we can respond quickly,” Jewell told about 30 federal land managers gathered in the small town of Marsing before heading out to an area where a wildfire last year scorched 436 square miles in Idaho and Oregon.
Jewell issued a secretarial order last year calling for a “science-based” approach to safeguard greater sage grouse while contending with fires that have been especially destructive in the Great Basin. The order also calls for rehabilitating burned areas, and her visit to Idaho gave her a chance to check up on the work.
“One of the things that is very gratifying about what is going on here is that it’s putting the secretarial order into action,” she said, standing on the side of a hill overlooking thousands of acres that have undergone rehabilitation.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to see which rehabilitation efforts work best. Some 2,000 sample monitoring plots are being tracked to measure results of techniques that could become templates for future wildfire rehabilitation efforts.
“They’re looking at doing the research necessary to understand what’s happening on this landscape to apply in the future,” Jewell said. “That’s not something that would have happened before this focus on rangelands and this understating of this sagebrush habitat and its importance.”
Experts say trying to get in desirable plants to prevent non-native invasive species, particularly fire-prone cheatgrass, from coming back is a key part of the rehab plan.
“We have to put in a functioning ecosystem,” Cindy Fritz, a natural resource specialist with the Boise District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told Jewell.
Sagebrush steppe supports cattle grazing and some 350 species of wildlife, including sage grouse. The bird didn’t receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act last fall, but various efforts to protect sage grouse habitat have been put in place.
Those efforts continued Tuesday when Jewell, following her tour of the rehabilitation area, announced in Boise the $10 million worth of projects mostly aimed at preventing sage grouse habitat from burning.
The money is part of the Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program intended to restore public lands.
—Southern Utah, which will receive $3.5 million to improve habitat for greater sage grouse.
—Nevada and California, which will receive about $1 million to protect habitat for Bi-State sage grouse on the border.
—Colorado and Utah, which will receive $1 million to improve Gunnison sage grouse habitat.
—The Santa Clara Pueblo area in New Mexico, which will receive $800,000 to protect cliff dwellings and other cultural sites.
—Idaho, which will receive $500,000 to remove conifers in greater sage grouse habitat.
—Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, which will receive nearly $1 million to restore resiliency in the fire-adapted Longleaf Pine ecosystem.
Dan Buckley, a member of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise that deploys the nation’s wildfire fighting resources, said Jewell’s order has caused a change in how sagebrush steppe is viewed.
“Now that it’s elevated as a secretarial priority it’s become more important to the larger firefighting community,” he said.
Los Angeles Times
Farmworkers are treated unfairly in California. Sacramento has a chance to right that wrong
The workers in California’s sprawling agricultural fields perform some of the most arduous labor in the state, often in intense heat in the summertime, and often six days a week. Yet for bizarre historical reasons, their overtime protections differ from those of other hourly workers. They don’t get extra pay until they’ve put in 10 hours in a day, or 60 hours in a week. That’s patently unfair, and California legislators are in a position to do something about it.
Farm workers are among the least politically powerful employees in the nation. Mostly immigrants (and many living in the United States illegally), they are easily exploited, yet their work — growing and harvesting the food upon which the rest of us depend — is vital to the economy and to our national well-being. It’s unconscionable that they’ve been nickled-and-dimed for so long.
The problem can be traced back to the Great Depression and to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a federal minimum wage and defined overtime. But President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to exempt farm workers from those protections to secure the Southern votes he needed to get his broader New Deal legislation through Congress. The argument then was framed by race and regionalism — most field workers were African American and working in the South — and by the nature of the work itself. Farm workers often had room and board (of varying quality) provided as part of their compensation, and working hours varied widely with the growing season, making it difficult for employers to set regular schedules. Also, since most produce was sold locally, some argued that the federal government didn’t have the authority under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate local farm wages.
It’s a different agricultural world now, with national food distribution the norm. And despite technological advances, the industry remains labor-intensive. In fact, despite the drought, farm jobs increased in California last year to 441,000, up 36,000 jobs from 2013. Field and livestock workers average $11.89 an hour, according to the 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Labor Survey, though farm workers typically have jobs only about three quarters of the year.
And while California state law requires that time-and-a-half be paid after 10 hours worked in one day or 60 hours in a week, that’s far above the eight-hour/40-hour threshold for other hourly workers.
A bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) would change that. AB 2757 calls for phasing in overtime protections for agricultural workers beginning next year with a new threshold of 9½ hours a day or 55 hours in a week, then dropping it annually until it reaches eight hours a day or 40 hours a week in 2020. Also beginning in 2020, workers would get double-time pay when they labored in excess of 12 hours in one day. Discussions are under way to amend the bill to delay the calendar by two extra years for small farms, defined as having 25 or fewer workers. While it’s frustrating that it would take so long to fix such a clear inequity, it makes sense to phase the change in over time to lessen any potential shock to the industry.
Opposition to the legislation comes primarily from farmers and their lobbyists, who argue that farming is fickle, subject to weather and seasons, and thus requires longer working hours at particular times of year and more flexibility in scheduling than other industries. They also say that if the new overtime standard is approved, employers would probably assign each worker fewer hours while hiring more workers overall. Proponents are skeptical, saying it’s unlikely the growers would do the training and paperwork necessary to call in extra shifts merely to avoid paying a little more in overtime. But if they do, that means more people getting work rather than taking more hours of a farm worker’s day without proper compensation. And if the cost to the public of fair treatment is a few more cents for a package of strawberries, then so be it.
It’s notable, too, that variations of the same arguments emerged decades ago during the fight for the eight-hour day and 40-hour work week. The right call was made then and the economy didn’t crumble. The Legislature should make the right call now. Gonzalez’s measure is expected to move out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee by the end of the week. The full Assembly should approve the measure and send it on to the Senate, and eventually to the governor, who ought to sign it into law. The current standard is a relic of an unfair past, and needs to be fixed.
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