CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND: The State of the Wealthy Class in California


The State is Sinking, and Its Wealthy Class Is Full of Hypocrites

Editor’s note: We thank Victor Davis Hanson for his contribution to California Ag Today’ CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND.

By Victor Davis Hanson

There was more of the same-old, same-old California news recently. Some 62 percent of state roads have been rated poor or mediocre. There were more predications of huge cost overruns and yearly losses on high-speed rail—before the first mile of track has been laid. One-third of Bay Area residents were polled as hoping to leave the area soon.

Such pessimism is daily fare, and for good reason.

The basket of California state taxes—sales, income, and gasoline—rate among the highest in the U.S. Yet California roads and K-12 education rank near the bottom.

After years of drought, California has not built a single new reservoir. Instead, scarce fresh aqueduct water is still being diverted to sea. Thousands of rural central-California homes, in Dust Bowl fashion, have been abandoned because of a sinking aquifer and dry wells.

One in three American welfare recipients resides in California. Almost a quarter of the state population lives below or near the poverty line. Yet the state’s gas and electricity prices are among the nation’s highest.

Finally by Victor Davis Hanson
– Victor Davis Hanson

One in four state residents was not born in the U.S. Current state-funded pension programs are not sustainable.

California depends on a tiny elite class for about half of its income-tax revenue. Yet many of these wealthy taxpayers are fleeing the 40-million-person state, angry over paying 12 percent of their income for lousy public services.

Public-health costs have soared as one-third of California residents admitted to state hospitals for any causes suffer from diabetes, a sometimes-lethal disease often predicated on poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive weight.

Nearly half of all traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area are classified as hit-and-run collisions.

Grass-roots voter pushbacks are seen as pointless. Progressive state and federal courts have overturned a multitude of reform measures of the last 20 years that had passed with ample majorities.

In impoverished central-California towns such as Mendota, where thousands of acres were idled due to water cutoffs, once-busy farmworkers live in shacks. But even in opulent San Francisco, the sidewalks full of homeless people do not look much different.

What caused the California paradise to squander its rich natural inheritance?

Excessive state regulations and expanding government, massive illegal immigration from impoverished nations, and the rise of unimaginable wealth in the tech industry and coastal retirement communities created two antithetical Californias.

One is an elite, out-of-touch caste along the fashionable Pacific Ocean corridor that runs the state and has the money to escape the real-life consequences of its own unworkable agendas.

The other is a huge underclass in central, rural, and foothill California that cannot flee to the coast and suffers the bulk of the fallout from Byzantine state regulations, poor schools, and the failure to assimilate recent immigrants from some of the poorest areas in the world.

The result is Connecticut and Alabama combined in one state. A house in Menlo Park may sell for more than $1,000 a square foot. In Madera, three hours away, the cost is about one-tenth of that.

In response, state government practices escapism, haggling over transgender-restroom and locker-room issues and the aquatic environment of a three-inch baitfish rather than dealing with a sinking state.

What could save California?

Blue-ribbon committees for years have offered bipartisan plans to simplify and reduce the state tax code, prune burdensome regulations, reform schools, encourage assimilation and unity of culture, and offer incentives to build reasonably priced housing.

Instead, hypocrisy abounds in the two Californias.

If Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg wants to continue lecturing Californians about their xenophobia, he at least should stop turning his estates into sanctuaries with walls and security patrols. And if faculty economists at the University of California at Berkeley keep hectoring the state about fixing income inequality, they might first acknowledge that the state pays them more than $300,000 per year — putting them among the top 2 percent of the university’s salaried employees.

Immigrants to a diverse state where there is no ethnic majority should welcome assimilation into a culture and a political matrix that is usually the direct opposite of what they fled from.

More unity and integration would help. So why not encourage liberal Google to move some of its operations inland to needy Fresno, or lobby the wealthy Silicon Valley to encourage affordable housing in the near-wide-open spaces along the nearby I-280 corridor north to San Francisco?

Finally, state bureaucrats should remember that even cool Californians cannot drink Facebook, eat Google, drive on Oracle, or live in Apple. The distant people who make and grow things still matter. 

Elites need to go back and restudy the state’s can-do confidence of the 1950s and 1960s to rediscover good state government — at least if everyday Californians are ever again to have affordable gas, electricity, and homes; safe roads; and competitive schools.

Victor Davis Hanson, as described on his website, is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.

He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the Bradley Prize in 2008, as well as the William F. Buckley Prize (2015), the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award (2006), and the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002).

Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various participants on do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints or official policies of the California Ag Today, Inc.

Drone Technology Benefits Agriculture

Drone Technology Useful for Calif. Ranchers and Growers

by Laurie Greene, Editor

Fifth-generation Parkfield rancher in southern Monterey County and 2016 Vice President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef AssociationKevin Kester, was introduced to the viability of potentially beneficial uses of owning and using a drone on his ranch for agricultural purposes.

Yamaha Drone

As owner and operator of Bear Valley Ranch & Vineyards, the family’s cattle and winegrape operations, Kester anticipated the biggest benefits of drone ownership would be the capability to check on cattle and ensure their safety from a bird’s eye view, and to determine water levels in reservoirs—a task that in the past could be completed only on foot or by vehicle. Cattle safety is especially important for ranchers, according to Kester, as the cattle industry has been experiencing stagnation in production.

Kester said having a drone would also helpful for security issues. He wants to detect human intrusion on his land, a problem that he experienced recently. “There have been some hunter-related trespass issues and people coming onto the ranch,” he said. “We’ve actually had cattle and horses shot.”

Kester, who is also a member of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and the Central Coast Vineyard Team, will purchase a commercial drone package and believes this modern technology will give not only cattlemen, but growers in California, a new way of assessing safety, production and maintenance.

Ryan Jacobsen on 5 Percent Water Allocation

Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO on Water Allocation

 By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

California Ag Today staff interviewed Ryan Jacobsen, CEO and executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau moments after the Bureau of Reclamation announced only 5 percent of contracted water would be allocated to Federal surface water users south of the Sacramento Delta during this El Niño year.

California Ag Today: Forget how you feel about the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial 5 percent allocation for Federal water users. How many times can we say, “Frustrated?” 

Jacobsen: Absolutely just despicablethe announcement we heard earlier today. The frustration is that we’ve continually been told over the last couple of years with zero percent water allocations that it’s been Mother Nature.

Even though it’s not necessarily the big bang year we were hoping for in northern California, Mother Nature provided. We’ve seen the reservoirs overflowing. We’ve seen the reservoirs flood-releasing, and here we are with a five percent allocation. We saw outflows in the delta this winter that exceeded the 300,000 acre/feet a day, and yet we weren’t doing anything to capture it. So, it’s just frustration, frustration, frustration that here we aremore of the sameand what does this mean long-term for California agriculture? We can’t be viable without a surface water supply, and when Mother Nature provides, unfortunately the federal government’s not trying to collect it.

California Ag Today: What is going on? Why are they doing this? Do you have any theories?

Jacobsen: Obviously, it has so much to do with the environmental side and the belief that the federal government is doing all they can to protect these species up there. We have seen that it’s doing no good; the fish species are seeing no recovery; it’s actually going in the opposite direction. It is plain mismanagement. The unfortunate part is sound science isn’t even going into this right now; it is purely the emotional side of whoever decides to pull the trigger on the federal side. And here we are on the resulting end, losing millions and millions of dollars in our economy, idling more farmlandthe most productive farmland in the countryin the worldand losing the jobs that are associated with it.

San Luis Reservoir -Empty, California Farm Water Coalition
San Luis Reservoir Suffering the 2015 Drought is now barely half filled even after the El Nino rain, runoff and massive flood releases from Shasta an Oroville

California Ag Today: You speak brilliantly on this whole situation. Way more water has flowed out to the ocean than needed for the protection of any of the species or the environment, so who are they listening to?

Jacobsen: Right now, this is simply the administration’s decision. Reclamation falls under the federal side of things, so obviously, ultimately, it lays on the President’s desk. If we talk about resolution: by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, we could see a resolution to this whole issue. If Congress would get their act together and pass some kind of bill, get it on the President’s desk and get it signed, we could see some resolution.

Unfortunately, here we are, April 1:  a good portion of the precipitation season is now behind us, the high flows through the delta are pretty much over. We still have healthy reservoirs up North, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean anything for us down here because we can’t convey it through the Delta to get here. That lack of  and the lack of ability on the federal side to make the decisions that would allow us to pump that water makes this just another year of doom and gloom. Again, how much more of this can we take? I think the long-term outlook for those farmers with permanent crops who have tried to scrape by, has to be, “Is this even viable for us to continue to do this anymore?” ‘Because Mother Nature provided, and yet we don’t see the water.

California Ag Today: Very bleak. Ninety-five percent of normal snowfall, too.

Jacobsen: The percentages in northern California, while good, weren’t the El Niño banner year we were expecting. The season looked bright, like it was going to be good. Yet, the fact of the matter is that during the months of January, February and March, when these just incredible numbers of high water flows were going through the Delta, pumps were pumping in single digits. And that’s not even close, or anywhere near where they should have been.

I think the misconception is when we talk about the water that is taken from the Delta, it’s such a small percentage, particularly during those high-flow times; it would have meant no difference to water species. It’s just a frustration that we continue to be bombarded by these environmental restrictions that are having no good effect on the long-term viability of these species they are trying to protect.

California Ag Today:  What is the economic impact of these water cutbacks on the Central Valley?

Jacobsen: Well, when you look at the five percent allocation, we are ground zero. Fresno County, right in the heartland of the Central Valley, is ground zero. We are going to see probably in excess of 200,000-250,000 acres of land continue to be fallowed and the loss of the tens of thousands of jobs associated with that, and millions, tens of millions of dollars. It’s obviously a very dire situation when it comes to long-term viability here in the Valley.

California Ag Today: Because they are going to hear a lot of outrage from us, do you think the Bureau of Reclamation would go to a 20 percent water allocation? Farmers must be thinking, “We got to get the seeds ordered today for the crops.” Is there any hope for an increase in water, or do you think farmers just can’t bank on it?

Jacobsen: It’s already too late. For this season, it’s already too late. It is April 1 already, and, unfortunately, this is not a joke. This decision is about one month-and-a-half late. I think the Bureau of Reclamation was hoping the numbers would improve magically. They didn’t.

The five percent allocation, while said not to be our final allocation, is likely to be close. It won’t go up to 20; it won’t go up to 15. Maybe if we pray enough, it may go up to ten, but that would be on the high side. Right now, it looks very realistic that five percent is where we end up, where we are going to stand for the year.

California Ag Today: Okay, I know growers who have planted tomatoes in Fresno County, thinking, “Hey, we gotta get water.” They’re not getting it.

Jacobsen: They’re not getting it, no.  And lack of surface water supply continues to make a huge dent in our groundwater supply, so this just can’t continue the way it is going. Plus, upcoming implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), combined with the lack of federal surface supplies, will absolutely hammer farms here in the Valley.

California Farm Bureau’s Paul Wenger Addresses 96th Annual Meeting

California Farm Bureau President reflects on membership triumphs & challenges in 2014 and his hopes for 2015

By Kyle Buchoff, CalAgToday Reporter

Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) welcomed attendees to the 96th Annual CFBF Meeting by introducing the conference’s theme, ‘California Agriculture Caught in the Crosshairs.’

“The only way to be a target is to be standing still. I can guarantee we are not going to stay standing still, but from time to time, I think we have stood still. It is interesting; people say this is provocative, but it is also spot-on, California agriculture has adapted and improved, and continued to adapt and improve, and continues to provide food and fiber. We have become a victim of our own success, and because many times we would just as soon as sit back and hope the world would pass us by while we do nothing short of miracles by producing more and more food and fiber with basically the same resources we have had for years, all of a sudden, we’ve become victims of our own success.”Farm Bureaus Meeting Theme

“After two wet years when our reservoirs were brimming to capacity, our farmgate value in 2011 rose to a record of $43.5 billion. Now that’s farmgate, and you will hear other states say how they have a $100 billion farm economy, but this is just the farmgate, and we are not even talking about what our multiplier effect is.”

Wenger explained that California agriculture slipped by $1 billion in 2012, and “we have yet to see what the final report for 2013 will be. But, if it is any indication by what we have been witnessing  through the county ag commissioners in their reports for food and fiber production, it will likely set a new level.”

“And ladies and gentlemen, as bad as 2014 was for water, the fact that we had 4, 5 or 6 hundred thousand acres out of production, the fact that we had 17,000 jobs lost, what the University of California said was a $2.2 billion dollar farmgate loss due to lost production; I would estimate (and we won’t know until 2015), that 2014 will probably set a record year for farmgate value and income.”

“And we will have our detractors and others who say, ‘what is wrong on the farm?’ Agriculture continues to increase and produce even though we have challenges. The underlying number 1 challenge of the statistical health of California agriculture is water. Today’s presentation though is going to be forward-looking.”

Wenger’s presentation included a “Working for You” document handed out to each member that detailed the organization’s policies, and the duties of its staff, officers, and board of directors. Wenger recognized the efforts of Rich Matteis, CFBF administrator and staff to prepare the document and solve issues for the California Ag industry. Wenger explained, given the challenges over the last few years, and especially with the Affordable Care Act, “Rich Matteis has been doing nothing short of miracles, orchestrating our staff to be able to do more with less.” Wenger urged Farm Bureau members to carefully review the document to understand how the organization is endeavoring to work on their behalf.

Though the document did not include contributions from the 53 county farm bureaus, Wenger recognized the farm commissioners and the work product from their bureaus, led by volunteer staff who have to transition around new leadership every few years. “They have to keep air in the tires, and the bearings greased so everything works in our county farm bureaus. As a grassroots organization, it’s those folks and the folks we have at CFBF and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) that really help those of us who are farmers and ranchers to accomplish what we do.”

Wenger considers 2014 a very interesting year and expects the same in 2015. “It’s all about water, folks. Think back not too long ago to August when we had all the mechanizations around the water bond: ‘is it going to be a $6.5 billion bond? Is it going to be $6 billion bond?” There were questions about water storage and how much funding would be allocated for water storage.

“We finally got it done with a near unanimous vote to get the water bond on the ballot for $7.5 billion with $2.7 billion continuously appropriated for water storage. We don’t know what will happen, but we are glad it got on the ballot.”

Continuing, Wenger said that shortly afterwards, all the attention turned to groundwater. “The two groundwater bills working their way through the legislature were signed by the governor in September.” Later, one of the authors, former Democratic California State Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, wrote, “The Governor signs historic groundwater legislation. California’s water future is secure.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Wenger, attributing Dickinson’s recent defeat at the polls to the funding and efforts of the California Farm Bureau Fund to Protect the Family Farm (FARM PAC).

“Let’s not lose focus on what happened in November. For the first time in four decades, the electorate decided to do something about our water infrastructure.” Their message to Sacramento, well beyond the water bond, was, “We need to do something about our water infrastructure, not only for our environment, not only for municipal and industrial, but most of all for agriculture because we are feeding the world.”

“And so what happened is nothing short of phenomenal,” he continued, congratulating the board for stepping up and spending the funds to be able to get over the threshold and have a win.”

Returning to the theme of the conference and its positive outlook in his closing, Wenger stated, “A lot of folks will say that ‘Caught in the Crosshairs’ is a picture of despair. I actually say, ‘no, it’s hope.’”

Wenger said there’s hope for what the industry can do if given a little bit of water. “Some folks will say that with the clouds, it is doom and gloom; but remember, we need to have rain clouds to have water in our reservoirs and streams. Really this is a picture of opportunity and of what can be and will be if we work together and really take an aim on advocacy.”

“As we take an aim at advocacy, everybody gives the example of a three-legged stool: one leg is not any good without the others. “That’s absolutely true; I couldn’t do what I do without Kenny Watkins (First Vice President) and Jamie Johansson (Second Vice President). As we look to the future, we have to educate; we have to engage; and, we have to be advocates.”

Turlock Irrigation District Will Rehab Reservoir

Source: John Holland

The board of the Turlock Irrigation District voted 5-0 Tuesday to fix up a small, abandoned reservoir near Hilmar to conserve canal water.

The $2.34 million project will catch water from the Highline Canal that now is released into the Merced River when flows are unexpectedly high. The water will go into Laterals 7 and 8, which serve farmland near the south end of TID’s territory.

A staff report said the project will save an average of 2,550 acre-feet of water per year, and a future expansion could boost that to about 9,000. TID delivers close to 360,000 acre-feet in a normal year throughout its service area, but the drought has cut 2014 supplies roughly in half.

The district, which gets its water from the Tuolumne River and wells, also faces a long-term reduction in the river supply because of state and federal efforts to protect fish.

The project is scheduled to be completed by the start of the 2015 irrigation season. The board also approved spending $960,000 on automated gates that will make flows on Lateral 8 more consistent.

The reservoir site is owned by the Hilmar County Water District, which provides water and sewer service to the town of Hilmar. The TID board appointed General Manager Casey Hashimoto to negotiate the purchase of the property.

Modesto Irrigation District, which also draws from the Tuolumne, also has been looking at building small reservoirs to catch canal water that now ends up in natural streams.