Clean Water, Murky Politics

Photo by James BunoanOnly in California would a $6.9 billion bond issue paying off the biggest developers up and down the state sport the name "Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002."

The giant November election bond measure ostensibly ensures clean water but would actually spend billions buying land from developers across the state.

"It has so little to do with clean water it's incredible," says Tom Rogers, a San Juan Capistrano resident and former head of the Orange County Republican Party who is spearheading the anti-Proposition 50 fight. "It's all about land acquisition. The special interests have totally controlled getting it onto the ballot."

The pro-Prop. 50 campaign would have voters believe they're approving projects to keep our precious water supply safe from dangerous terrorists. "Many of California's reservoirs, dams and pumping stations are protected by little more than a chainlink fence," says the official pro-Prop. 50 ballot statement. "Proposition 50 protects local water-delivery systems from terrorist threats and intentional contamination by funding early warning systems, alarms, fences, security systems, testing equipment and upgraded communications systems."

In fact, of the $3.44 billion raised by bond sales under the initiative (another $3.46 billion would go to interest payments over 30 years), a paltry $50 million is set aside for "Water Security." According to the state legislative analyst, more than half of Prop. 50 would pay for land acquisition and Bay Area watershed cleaning.

Prop. 50 sports a huge list of pro-environmental endorsements, including Heal the Bay, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Audubon Society and Surfrider Foundation. This support, based on the measure's ostensible clean-water emphasis, plays a high-profile role in the pro-Prop. 50 campaign.

But more illustrative of the reality behind Prop. 50 is the mammoth list of developer contributors. Not only is there a standard Yes on 50 campaign, but two PACs are also feeding money into the battle: the shrewdly named California Conservation Campaign and the Conservation Action Fund. Together, these PACs have already brought in about $3 million in campaign contributions from big developers. They include:

•Signal Landmark, which owns the controversial Bolsa Chica mesa, donated half a million to the various pro-Prop. 50 campaigns. In court for decades over a plan to cover the mesa with more than a thousand homes, Signal Landmark would benefit heartily from ballot language setting aside "not less than $300 million" in projects in the LA area with "priority" given "to the acquisition of not less than 100 acres" of the Bolsa Chica area.

•Playa Capital Co., which has been trying to develop the Ballona Wetlands in West LA since 1998, has donated a whopping $830,000 to the pro-Prop. 50 fight. Prop. 50 will buy up land and protect coastal wetlands throughout the LA area.

•Cargill, the huge agribusiness conglomerate that recently paid out $1 million to clean up its mess on the Missouri River, has donated $100,000 to the Conservation Action Fund. It owns salt ponds in San Francisco Bay and will benefit heavily from Prop. 50's $825 million in appropriations for the bay.

•The Irvine Co. dropped $140,000 in six increments to the three pro-Prop. 50 groups.

•The San Juan Co., the developer building the massive Ladera residential areas in South County that never lifted a finger during the El Toro Airport fight, gave $50,000 to Yes on 50.


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