With all that’s been going on in California during the pandemic, it’s been difficult at times to keep track of the latest state-sponsored debacles.
You’d need a scorecard, a good set of reading glasses and a special prosecutor to stay on top of it all.
The botched vaccine rollout, mixed messaging and delivery inequities are enough to keep anyone busy. And when the state introduced the My Turn vaccination scheduling system, which was supposed to straighten things out, nobody was surprised to learn that it’s full of bugs, or that people of means managed to get vaccinations intended for low-income communities hardest hit by COVID-19.
On top of that, we’ve had one of the greatest boondoggles in state history, with billions of dollars scammed from the Employment Development Department by prison inmates and others, while needy, out-of-work people were left penniless and waiting for months to get hold of anyone in Sacramento who might help.
And so it was easy to miss a development that flew under the radar in recent months, until my colleague Bettina Boxall laid out the details of a desalination plant project that stinks all the way from Huntington Beach to the French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley to the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
If you haven’t already done so, please acquaint yourself with how politics work in California by reading Boxall’s Feb. 23 story, which carried a headline that neatly sums things up: “Newsom pushes private seawater desalting plant over local and environmental opposition.”
Let me begin by saying that desalination may have a role to play in addressing California’s long-running water shortage issues. After all, we’ve got a 1,100-mile coastline in a drought-stricken state, and it’s only natural to think: Hey, let’s just stick a straw in the ocean, and our rabid thirst will be quenched once and for all.
But desalination comes with many costs, including big hits to the environment and ratepayer pocketbooks. And as Susan Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network, puts it, we need to temper our lust for what seems an easy fix.
“Desalination is the last place you want to go,” said Jordan. “Conservation, recycling — those are better alternatives. Rainwater capture. There are many things that should come before desalination, because it has the worst impacts on the atmosphere and on the ocean.”
And yet the administration of Newsom, who sells himself as an environmentalist and conservationist, seems hell-bent on promoting the Huntington Beach desalination plant — carrying water, so to speak, for well-connected corporate power player Poseidon Water.
Remember the big flap over Newsom attending that French Laundry birthday party without wearing a mask, while his message to all of us was to mask up and stay home?
The bigger story, laid out with surgical skill by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boxall, was that the birthday boy was a Poseidon Water lobbyist.