The following article, "Thirsty down in Nobama County", was published in the August 2009 issue of the Fresno Community Alliance Newspaper. It is the second part of a two-part series examining the California Latino Water Coalition, its key players, and the major international public relations firm guiding the Coalition. If you have not read Part One, click here.

Editor’s note:  In part one  of this two-part series, Lloyd Carter looked at the notorious international public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller,  which is providing advice and guidance to the California Latino Water Coalition,  headed by comedian Paul Rodriguez and a handful of local Latino leaders in the San Joaquin Valley. Part II examines the roles of the Coalition’s prominent personalities.

By Lloyd G. Carter

Act One of the California Latino Water Coalition – six months of marches, rallies, lobbying of state and federal officials, an effort to halt traffic on Interstate 5, and a physical encounter by the Coalition leader with a dairy farmer spokesman caught on TV cameras  - is over.

Act Two of the Coalition’s drive to suspend the Endangered Species Act, drain the Delta, and obtain $20 billion in publicly-funded water infrastructure for San Joaquin Valley agriculture is now underway and will focus, say Coalition leaders, on comedy.  That’s right, comedy.  Fortunately, the group is headed by comedian  and actor Paul Rodriguez, who owns some farmland near Orange Cove and was recruited into the 200-member Coalition more than two years ago by Orange Cove Mayor Victor P. Lopez.  Coalition leaders admit Act One was a failure and contend they are now broke. But they are fired up for Act Two.

Now I personally find Rodriguez to be a very funny guy – hilarious in stand-up - but he’s been stretching the truth a lot when he speaks out on water issues.  Whether he is doing this deliberately or is being fed bad information by the people orchestrating the water campaign is not clear.

Here is an example.  On Fox Network’s Sean Hannity TV Show which aired nationally on June 19, the following exchange occurred between Hannity and Rodriguez.  The exchange followed a biased Fox news report implying water was being shut off to the entire San Joaquin Valley:

RODRIGUEZ:  You know, we’re not going to be farmers any longer.  We’re going to be selling fire wood because our trees won’t last another six months without water.  It’s really a sad situation that those of us who choose to farm, my mother and my family in the central San Joaquin, perhaps the most fertile soil in the world, are now just sitting there ready to go on welfare or some other kind of support because we can’t farm.

HANNITY:  Paul, this is so serious, and it's almost mind numbing that this could happen. All right. So we showed the little delta smelt, this little minnow fish that is now on the endangered species list. Now, they literally have shut down — you are getting and farmers are getting zero percent water. Their trees and their farms are dying. Is that right?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes . . .   (Italics added.)  (,2933,528113,00.html.)

Now that’s a touching story but it’s erroneous.  Rodriguez’s  40 acres of oranges, lemons, persimmons and olives near Orange Cove and Dinuba on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley is definitely not going dry. Farmers in his neighborhood get their water from the San Joaquin River via the Friant-Kern Canal, or from the Kings River, with groundwater as a backup supply.  He had plenty of water available this year (about 90 percent of normal according to federal officials.)

Harvey Bailey, chairman of the Orange Cove Irrigation District and chairman of the Friant Water Users Authority, proudly said at the July 1 Fresno City Hall water rally that Rodriguez gets his irrigation supply from the Orange Cove District.  In any event, Rodriguez’s property  is on the opposite side of the Valley from where the major cutbacks in Delta water deliveries were occurring, i.e. the Westlands Water District, which is many miles away. And only about a quarter  of the Valley’s farmland is suffering the significant water cutbacks, a fact Rodriguez always ignores.  Normal pumping from the Delta to the West Side resumed July 1.  If Rodriguez has acreage in Westlands he hasn’t told anyone about it.  He did say in a 1998 interview with the Los Angeles Times that (at that time) he owned about 800 acres.  Rodriguez also developed a shopping center in Orange Cove and owns non-farm land in the area.

 Rodriguez’s orchards are not dying, according to a drive-by inspection last month.   Not surprisingly, Rodriguez has not invited news crews to his farm to see his “dying” trees.  Surprisingly, no Valley newspaper reporters or TV news crews, to my knowledge, have even asked to see his orchards.   If he’s trying to create the impression that his own farm has suffered drastic cutbacks in water, he’s not being candid.   Strangely, at the July 5 Fresno meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Rodriguez indicated he had to buy store nectarines for those attending the meeting because his own nectarine trees were not producing, inferably because of  water cutbacks. He never mentioned nectarines on the July 15 KMJ radio Ray Appleton show when Appleton asked him what crops he farms.

 Rodriguez also joked on the Hannity show that he had never seen a killer whale on the freeway.  Recent government reports have reported plummeting populations of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and killer whales as a result of the ecological crisis in the Delta, caused in part by massive exports of fresh water from the fragile estuary.  Not everyone thinks the disappearance of killer whales or salmon is funny.  Especially  the thousands of people in the commercial salmon industry who have been out of work for two years.

Rodriguez was on Appleton’s noon hour show July 10 to explain why the Latino Coalition is going to try the new comedy tactic.  Rodriguez and Appleton admitted that Act One of the  two-year-old Coalition’s campaign, including the April 14-17 March for Water from Mendota to the San Luis Reservoir, and the July 1 Rally For Water at Fresno City Hall (that cost the cash-strapped city $10,000 in lost parking revenues), has failed to attract the national attention they feel they need to force state and congressional lawmakers to; (1) suspend the Endangered Species Act, (2) resume full water deliveries to the western San Joaquin Valley despite the concerns of Northern California, and (3) spend billions of taxpayer dollars on new water storage reservoirs and a highly controversial Peripheral Canal (also called a “conveyance facility”) around the beleaguered Bay-Delta Estuary.

Rodriguez’s new comedy tactic, enthusiastically endorsed by Appleton, is to gather 50,000 or 100,000 signatures demanding that Fresno County be renamed “Nobama County”, which, he believes, will generate so much national publicity it will force President Obama to visit the Valley and order the exports of water from the Delta be returned to maximum historic levels, apparently even if it causes the ecological crash of the Delta estuary.  Rodriguez said the nation needed to be reminded that “Nobama County” is where “farming is illegal.”  I suspect this tactic will be about as effective as the boycott of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the UC Merced graduation by the Valley’s five congressmen, Democrats and Republicans.   Apparently the collective thinking there was that If you want something from the President it’s a good idea to insult his wife.  The Nobama County name change is equally feckless if they think the President will respond positively to personal insults.  There is another reason the Coalition is changing tactics. “We’re broke,” admitted Appleton on his July 15 radio show. He then asked listeners for more donations.

Rodriguez also told Appleton on the air, “I don’t know if people want to be led by a fool.  I’m no leader.”  But he added that God intended the San Joaquin Valley to be farmed.  Appleton agreed, saying “We can’t depend on the politicians anymore.  We’ve got to drop the serious stuff.  We’ve got to go silly for awhile.”  Rodriguez added the news media was only interested in “novelty and shock” and said he thought it would also be a great publicity stunt to get 5,000 people to lie on the ground and spell out the word “help.”  Predicted  Appleton, “The national media will jump on it.” 

KMJ callers then began offering their own possible slogans:  “Barack-as-field” instead of Bakersfield,  said one.  Another caller suggested that the camel be named the Fresno County mascot.  Another suggested  “Merdead County” instead of Merced County, even though much of water-rich Merced County farmland received near normal irrigation supplies this year.  One caller suggested Rodriguez do a “Nobama Comedy Tour” to raise awareness of the issue.  One suggested bumper stickers that read “Where ever [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi goes, nothing grows.”  Then, as it frequently does on Appleton’s show, the comments from Appleton’s conservative listeners  turned into trashing of Rep. Jim Costa, Democrats in general, liberals, and “radical” environmentalists.  Democratic members of the Coalition must be uneasy with this.

There is a certain naive Children’s Crusade character to the Latino Coalition campaign which is supposed to be bipartisan.  Appleton’s recent target has been  Rep. Jim Costa (who represents Westlands Water District and has been targeted by the Republican National Committee in next year’s elections).  Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia, who has screamed loud and long in Congress that the Endangered Species Act must be suspended and that “radical” environmentalists have taken over the Democratic Party, must be gleeful about the attacks on Costa, although he claims to be Costa’s friend.  Costa and Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza, representing the Northern Valley, struck back in a July 15 Fresno Bee article accusing Rep. Nunes of “grandstanding”  in trying repeatedly in various House committees to introduce amendments to various bills to suspend the Endangered Species Act.

“This is baloney, to be doing this sort of thing,” Cardoza told the Bee.  “I have had a number of colleagues tell me they are fed up with it.”  Appleton responded, on air, that Cardoza’s statement was “one of the most foolish statements I’ve ever heard.”  Appleton added, “the sniping has begun”  ignoring his own persistent sniping at Costa.

 The most vicious attacks, of course, are reserved for “radical” environmentalists (is there any other kind in the eyes of growers?).   Former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, who clearly misses the spotlight, went even further at the July 1 water rally and branded the Endangered Species Act as terrorism (and, inferably, environmentalists as terrorists).

Other than Mario Santoyo, the long-time employee of the Friant Water Users Authority, who is clearly knowledgeable on water issues, the Coalition is essentially composed of front men Rodriguez and Appleton, some Latino business owners in Los Angeles, water and irrigation districts, and a handful of Latino mayors or council members from small towns in the San Joaquin Valley.  It is overwhelmingly male.

While the “human face” of the coalition (this is the astroturfing tactic proposed by the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller which was discussed in Part One)  is supposed to be the downtrodden farmworkers, the actual field hands participating in the marches and rallies are often either paid or threatened with job loss if they don’t participate.  The Associated Press reported on the July 1 Fresno City Hall rally that one female farm worker admitted being paid to attend and another was told if she didn’t attend she would lose her job.

It seems to matter little to Rodriguez and Appleton that Obama cannot unilaterally void a federal court order, restructure the California water rights priority list, and suspend the Endangered Species Act.  Nor do they ever discuss the plight of Delta farmers who are farming 500,000 acres, Trinity River Indians, commercial and recreational salmon fishermen, or the fact the water they want restored to the Western San Joaquin Valley must come from the people of Northern California.  They stick to the simple-minded slogan ” Fish versus People.”

It is useful to take a brief look at the major characters in Act Two of the Latino Coalition.

Paul Rodriguez

 Rodriguez, son of immigrant farmworkers, who went on to fame and fortune as a stand-up comedian and actor, calls himself the “poster boy” of the California Latino Water Coalition, an ethnic  group funded by agribusiness groups in the San Joaquin Valley.  As chairman of the coalition, he is not entirely comfortable with the role and he freely admits his shortcomings in the Byzantine manuevering  of California water politics.

Rodriguez was born in Sinaloa, Culiacan, Mexico in January of 1955, the youngest of 10 children, and came to America with his family in 1957, he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1998 interview.  They were migrant farmworkers, picking cotton in Texas, sugar beets in Minnesota, apples in Washington and grapes in the San Joaquin Valley.  In the mid 1960s, Rodriguez’s father broke his back in a tractor accident and the family moved to San Pedro.   Rodriguez said his mother cleaned fish at Terminal Island but later lost her job because of phlebitis. They then moved in with an aunt in Compton and Paul attended Dominguez High School in Compton, graduating about 1973. (In a posting on the Coalition website, , Rodriguez said he grew up in Orange Cove.)

He attended community college near his home, enrolled at Cal State University, Long Beach, and then joined the Air Force.  In 1979, he became a doorman at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles and got to fill in on stage when a comedian called in sick or failed to show up.  He quickly became popular and by 1984 had his own network sitcom “A.K.A Pablo”, the first TV show in America about a Mexican-American family,  which lasted six episodes.

He has done a lot of charity and benefit shows, from USO tours with Bob Hope to performances at San Quentin Prison.  He has done lots of fund-raisers for many Democrats who he feels have turned their backs on him when he needed their help.  He says former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez rebuffed him and  told him to keep his day job when Rodriguez asked for help on the water issue.

 In the 1998 LA Times interview, Rodriguez admitted he voted for a controversial statewide ballot initiative that year to prohibit bilingual education in California, angering some of his Latino friends.  He said his parents influenced his decision to vote for the measure, which many considered anti-immigrant.

“My father actually took the time to go to the school and insist that none of his children have bilingual education, which is not a popular view among Hispanics,” Rodriguez told the Times.  “My father said, ‘You're not going to get a job in this country because you know Spanish.  You're going to get a job because you know English.’ From my point of view, the hearts of Hispanic leaders are in the right place, but in terms of practicality, bilingual education does not work.”

This independent streak extends to the Latino Coalition.  In one of his first appearances on Ray Appleton’s radio show he said he was uncomfortable with the word Latino  in the Coalition name and thought it should be just the California Water Coalition.  He also has refused to permit Mexican flags or symbols in any of the Coalition events he has participated in.

Rodriguez, although a lifelong Democrat, has been flirting with the idea of becoming a Republican.   In a May 3 speech before the Bakersfield convention of the California Republican Assembly, a very conservative GOP organization, he said he was thinking about switching parties.   The audience was almost entirely white and when Rodriguez saw a Latina waitress in the room he joked that he felt he should be working the tables too.

Regarding the delicate question of why there should even be a race-based water lobbying group, Rodriguez told the Republican conservatives gathered in Bakersfield:

“When I say Latino Water Coalition a lot of you automatically say, ‘Why Latino?  Doesn't everyone need water, Paul? Why just you Latinos and as a Caucasian person I take offense to that, why does everything have to be segregated?’  I don't know. I don't know but we're using this.  We're using this race card in a positive manner, a cloak. You know everybody's welcome to this.  The reason why  we call it the Latino Water Coalition [is] because it gives them a pause.  ‘Better not attack these Latinos, we don't know.’  If we call it the Caucasian Coalition, you bet they would already be attacking us.  Because Caucasians, sadly to say, who is defending you?  I am.  You know, just to put that to rest, there's no division. “

In his speech to the Republicans, Rodriguez said he had been friends with Cesar Chavez, and had hosted the labor leader on his Spanish-language television show, which was, Rodriguez said, later cancelled when grocery chains complained about Chavez’s appearance.  Rodriguez added he had been very disappointed that the United Farm Workers Union had not joined the Coalition to help the growers get more water.

“When I was a young man I was indoctrinated with the belief of the evil, incarnate evil white farmer who mistreated his workers and cared more about his John Deere than Juan,” Rodriguez told the Bakersfield crowd.  “Although I never met that person, although if we ever received kindness it was from a farmer, who treated us decently with respect.  That's what I can remember.  I never heard my father complain.  I'm not defending or kissing up or becoming a coconut or whatever label you want to put [on] me.  I'm simply telling you as I, and what happened to me.  I'm not speaking for the other forty people in my house [crowd laughs]. “

He closed his remarks to the Republicans (without revealing whether he had joined the GOP; Ray Appleton says he’s still a Democrat) by saying:  “I don't know what I'm going to do next.  I'm going to do something because I'm not going to sit there and see a canal with plenty of water go right by my property and my property has no water.  I'm not gonna sit there and see my family suffer needlessly.  And if it's illegal for me to take a backhoe and open up and make a canal, then I've already been accused of being illegal once before. “

Again, Rodriguez doesn’t need to worry about a canal carrying water by his farm while his trees die.  The current problem involves the West Side of the Valley, not the East Side where his farm is.  It was a good story but not true.   

Ray Appleton

Appleton, in addition to being on the air from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., is the host of a two-hour weekday show from noon to 2 p.m. on KMJ, Fresno’s most popular AM radio station.  KMJ General Manager Patty Hixson farms several hundred acres in Fresno County and is clearly sympathetic to growers.  In addition, KMJ is flooded with pesticide commercials during Appleton’s morning and noon shows so there is also an economic reason to champion the cause of the West Side growers.

The KMJ website section on Appleton shows pictures of him taken earlier this year purportedly sneaking into the Delta export pumps and turning them on.   While no doubt  intended as a humorous stunt, if Appleton actually did this it would be a criminal act, probably a felony.  Some of his grower callers are threatening civil disobedience.

His erratic behavior on the show, raging one day, confident and predicting victory the next, is typified by a July 10 posting on his blog at the website:  “Many of you ask me how I can handle all the pressure from the Water War.  I get this all the time.  I’m surprised that many of you feel that I am pressured.  Yes, I know I’ve have had my moments on the air where I have been a bit out of control. Yeah, that’s always a lovely ‘bit’ for live radio when it’s real and I assure you this, for me, has never been more real. “

Here is a sampling of Appleton’s inflammatory comments on the air in recent weeks:

On  July 7, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Nunes to suspend the Endangered Species Act and restore water exports from the Delta at “historic maximum levels.”   Appleton, on his show the next day, excoriated the Democrats on the committee and said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Monterey, was “a weasel.” He has called Rep. Costa a “traitor” on the air. He told listeners that Congress was “terrified” of Rodriguez and that, as Act Two gets underway, “we are now deferring everything to him [Rodriguez].  From now on he’s going to be calling all the shots [for the Coalition].”

Appleton has called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “the Antichrist” and slandered Rep. George Miller of Contra Costa County in similar terms.   Appleton claimed that “law enforcement” had estimated the July 1 city hall water rally crowd at 11,000 people, without naming which law enforcement agency or officer had made this alleged estimate.  In contrast, the Fresno Bee and the local TV stations said Fresno police had estimated the crowd at 4,000.

Appleton has called the United Farm Workers Union the “enemy” of farmworkers and claimed if Cesar Chavez were alive he would be in the radio booth with Appleton advocating for more water for growers.

Appleton continues to claim that Delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) is not indigenous to the Delta, that it is only on the Endangered Species Act Threatened List, and that smelt are plentiful throughout much of  America.  He is right that the Delta Smelt is only on the Threatened List but wrong about it occurring elsewhere in the United States.  Delta Smelt are members of the Osmeridae family (smelts) and, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Delta Smelt is found only from Suisan Bay upstream through the Delta in several counties.  Once abundant, their numbers have plunged in recent years, in large part due to reductions in freshwater outflow (i.e., water exports), and being ground up (“entrained”) at the massive Delta export pumps near Tracy.  Other causes in the population decline include pollutants, competition and predation from non-native fish.  There are other species of smelt in the Osmeridae family in other parts of America (some grow to eight inches in length) but they are not Delta smelt.  Using Appleton’s logic here, the analogy would be that it is okay if Polar bears go extinct because there are eight species of bear (black and brown bears for starters) in the Bear Family (Ursidae) and because if you’ve seen one bear you’ve seen them all, right?

Appleton takes considerable pride in being the “new best friend” of Paul Rodriguez and loves to entice his listeners with tidbits about Rodriguez but says he cannot say everything he knows.  He told listeners recently Rodriguez had recently been fired from the movie “Family Wedding” starring America Ferrara, even after Rodriguez had completed shooting for his part, but said he couldn’t talk about it on advice of both Rodriguez’s lawyers and KMJ lawyers.  The inference was that Rodriguez was fired because of his political activism for the Coalition.  When Rodriguez came on Appleton’s show a few days later Appleton never asked him if he was fired from the movie.  If Rodriguez was, in fact, fired for exercising his free speech rights, that was wrong.

He told listeners on July 7 that Rodriguez had become so disheartened over the Fourth of July weekend he was thinking of quitting the coalition but later changed his mind.   Appleton also told listeners Rodriguez was feuding with his agents.  “Well, Paul is having a little bit of a crisis with his agent right now, so he’s got that on his back as well because the agents are having a cow because he’s not fulfilling some of his commitments,” Appleton said.  “Paul is getting it from all sides, and I’m trying to be protective of him.”

 Appleton appears unconcerned that blabbing to listeners that Rodriguez is  not keeping his business commitments might be a bad idea.  Appleton later told listeners Rodriguez had fired his agents and retained new representation.  When Rodriguez was next on the show, Appleton never mentioned any of this.

Mario Santoyo

Mario Santoyo is the Assistant General Manager of the Friant Water Users Authority and one of the highest ranking Latinos in California’s water world.  He is probably more responsible for the creation of the California Latino Water Coalition than anyone else.  According to a February 27, 2009 article in the Fresno Bee, the Coalition was formed in 2006 after Santoyo and other Valley Latino leaders met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and asked what they could do to help increase agriculture’s water supply.   Santoyo said the Governor “encouraged us to put together a coalition and spread the word” focusing on pleading their case to the Legislature’s Latino members.  

The incorporation papers for the non-profit Latino Water Coalition were filed on December 29, 2008 (two years after the organization was formed) by Sacramento lobbyist and attorney George H. Soares, who owns a dairy farm in Hanford.  Ruben Guerra of Rosemead, head of the Los Angeles-based Latin Business Association is listed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition and spoke at the July 1 city hall rally.  Curiously, Paul Rodriguez and Mario Santoyo are not listed as officers or named anywhere in the incorporation documents.

Santoyo admitted in the February 27 Bee article that there are few Latinos in positions of California’s water world, either in government or agribusiness, lamenting “the water world has not been a world where there’s been a great diversity of people.  There’s only a few Latinos in that world.  I always felt kind of lonely.”

However, the United Farm Workers and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, among others, have complained the Coalition has focused on getting irrigation water for agriculture while ignoring the campaign for clean drinking water and decent housing for farmworkers, who are the poorest working people in America.  The Coalition has yet to speak out on farmworker health, safety and drinking water issues.

Orange Cove Mayor Victor P. Lopez

Lopez is credited with luring Paul Rodriguez to head the Latino Water Coalition two years ago.  He had brought Rodriguez to Orange Cove in 1990 to help raise funds because of a freeze which damaged much of the citrus crop and threw the town’s predominantly farmworker population out of work.

Lopez has been a controversial figure in the small farm town of Orange Cove, 40 miles southeast of Fresno, for more than three decades.  When he was elected to a fifth four-year term as mayor in 2006, his opponents claimed he had disgraced the city by hiring relatives and travelling the world on city funds, ostensibly on “official business.” 

A November 8, 2006 Fresno Bee article said Lopez’s critics and opponents accused him of squandering $174,000 in city funds on travel to China, South Korea, Mexico and elsewhere in the  five years previous to the 2006 election.  Lopez brushed off his critics by claiming they were merely jealous of him and noted he had brought tens of millions of dollars of state and federal grant money to Orange Cove.

Fifteen years ago, Lopez called a community meeting to discuss graffiti, vandalism and gang problems.  “It's a major issue,” Lopez told the Fresno Bee in a January 27, 1994 article. “We have complaints about gang activity, graffiti, vandalism, and we have to deal with it.”  Lopez said then that there were four gangs in Orange Cove, and officials wanted to find the root of the problem.   'We will do whatever has to be done to remedy the situation,” Lopez predicted.

The 66-year-old Lopez is still mired in controversy.  On May 24 of this year, the Fresno Bee ran a front page story saying a BMX bike park in Orange Cove, which was supposed to be financed by a $490,000 state grant from the California State Parks Department, had run into serious financial problems.   The grant application listed gang problems as one of the reasons a bike park was needed.

State auditors say the city spent lavishly for the park but funds were unaccounted for.  The Bee investigation discovered the city had put Lopez’s son in charge of overseeing the project in a no bid contract even though the son had no engineering experience.  A Lopez grandson was given a security guard job at the bike park.  Odilon Ortiz, the city’s former finance manager who challenged Lopez for the mayor’s job in the 2006 election, said Lopez wanted the project completed before the election and classified the project as an emergency and instructed staff to ignore normal contract bidding rules. 

Lopez is also the only mayor in Fresno County paid by the county Economic Opportunities Commission.  Since 1971, he has drawn a $43,000 a year salary from the EOC as a “rural development specialist.”

State Parks officials say Orange Cove, with a meager budget of $1.7 million, may be forced to cover the bike park construction costs if the $490,000 state grant is withheld.   Local officials also admit the bike park is rarely used.  Lopez told the Bee, “I have been here for 30 years and can hold my head high.  We’ve done nothing wrong.”

In what may be a coincidence, the Fresno County Council of Governments (COG), comprised of Fresno City and 15 smaller cities in the county, approved a May 21 letter to the governor on an emergency basis (the item had not been on the agenda) recommending that Mario Santoyo be appointed to the State Parks and Recreation Commission, which sets policy for the state Parks Department.   The letter identified Santoyo as the founder and president  of the Latino Coalition.  Santoyo and Lopez have worked closely together in the Latino Water Coalition.  Lopez sits on the COG board.

Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson

Larson is the 75-year-old Fresno County supervisor who represents the Westlands area.  He is a former pesticide/fertilizer salesman, farmer and former head of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.   After he spoke at the July 1 Fresno City Hall water rally and was leaving the podium, Paul Rodriguez, acting as MC, wisecracked, “there goes a walking sex scandal.” After Victor Lopez gave a near-shouted speech in Spanish, Rodriguez joked he should run for president of Honduras. Like I said, Paul Rodriguez is a funny guy.

Larson has offered his county office and secretarial services to the Latino Coalition, a private non-profit group, raising questions about the appropriateness of the use of his office as a fund-raising mechanism for the private organization.

Larson frequently states in TV interviews that the avowed purpose of environmentalists is to end farming in the San Joaquin Valley. Of course, he never names a single environmentalist who actually holds this view.  It is clear, however, that he’s looking out for the interests of the big growers as well as the small family farms.

On March 1 of this year, there was a special session of the Fresno City Council called by member Cynthia Sterling.  Visiting Fresno was California Rep. Adam Schiff, who is considered to have clout in Congress about where federal economic revitalization funds might be spent.  Stirling was hoping some of that federal stimulus money will flow to Fresno.  According to Stephen Smith, a member of the Fresno County Democratic Party Central Committee, who attended the special session and took notes, Supervisor Larson showed up and wanted to know if the Obama Administration’s announced intention to limit farm subsidies to farms or farm companies producing under $500,000 worth of crops a year  was set in stone.  Larson said he had a friend and a nephew who both easily exceeded the $500,000 figure in gross annual farm receipts, which Larson considered a low figure.  In essence, Smith said, Larson was asking Schiff to go back to Washington and lobby for more subsidy money for big farms.  Rep. Schiff made no commitment to do so.  Smith said he was astounded by Larson’s comments.

KMJ commentator Inga Barks

Barks, who hosts a daytime radio talk show in Bakersfield and a similar evening show on KMJ radio in Fresno, is a conservative who loves to bash Democrats, liberals and environmentalists, who she labels as “humaphobes” a term she coined for me, according to her blog on the KMJ website.  She knows little about water issues but that doesn’t stop her from blathering the agribusiness party line of the moment, oblivious to the fact Big Ag is awash in subsidy programs that, as a conservative, she should despise.

She doesn’t have anything to do with the Latino Water Coalition as far as I can tell.  However she has viciously attacked me on the air several times (as a typical environmentalist) and thus I include her here.  Shortly after my controversial televised remarks about the pathology of farmworker culture in early February she posted the following comment, in part, on the Internet:  “I am convinced that Mr. Carter is not a racist, but an elitist. He doesn’t care about the laborer because he doesn’t care about the farmer.  He doesn’t care about the farmer because he believes the bread basket of the world (Central California Valley) should be a desert where the blunt[-]nosed leopard lizard runs free.  Regardless [of] race, he hates you, your car, your farm and your water faucet.”

Come now Inga, I hate water faucets?  And stop calling the Valley a breadbasket because grains, which is what bread is made from, are mostly grown in the Midwest.  You can call the San Joaquin Valley the Fruit Basket of the Nation, or the Lettuce Bowl of the Nation, but not the bread basket.

But, hey, it’s right wing talk radio, right?

As Mrs. Barks herself put it in an April column in the Bakersfield Californian:  “Talk radio also gives a voice to people who actually believe in God without harassing them like they are some kind of uneducated, back-water, snake-handling, NASCAR-watching, country music-listening, intermarrying, group of bumpkins/possible terrorists. We have a groundswell of populism every day on my show.”  How about a groundswell of accurate facts?

Others in the Latino Water Coalition or supporting the cause

Although  Paul Rodriguez is listed as the chair of the Latino Water Coalition, the organization, according to its website,  includes three co-chairs including Orange Cove Mayor Victor P. Lopez, Ruben Guerra of the Latin Business Association and Tony Estremera, a director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.  Lopez and Guerra have spoken at Latino Coalition events along with Piedad Ayala, a farm labor contractor, who has provided farmworkers to West Side agribusiness for nearly 20 years and was reportedly in charge of busing in paid and unpaid farmworkers to Coalition events.  

Last of all is the congressional point man of the Coalition is clearly Rep.  Nunes.  Nunes has taken to posting videos on YouTube of his regular diatribes on the floor of Congress, a  popular astroturfing tactic employed by the big public relations firms.  He is likely the person who connected the Friant Water Users and/or the Latino Coalition with Burson-Marsteller.  After Part One of my article was printed, a B-M official told a Fresno television station it was advising  the Coalition but insisted the firm was donating its services.  Please note, however, that Burson-Marsteller has not said no one is paying the high-priced firm.  They have been advising the Friant Unit  growers for three years and they are surely being paid consulting fees for that.

In the final analysis the biggest problem the Latino Coalition may face in the next year is not finances, or a coherent message that resonates nationally, or being pulled apart by partisan political bickering.  An El Nino weather pattern is forming in the Pacific Ocean and forecasters are predicting we may be heading into a wet winter. It’s hard to cry drought, even regulatory drought, when California’s rivers are running full.   Rodriguez better come up with some good jokes for that scenario.


Lloyd Carter has been writing about Valley water issues for 40 years. His website is