Brown enters hostile territory to push controversial water plan
COLUSA – Gov. Jerry Brown knew the room was against him when he showed up for a farm show here Wednesday.
But Brown has a controversial water project to promote and is trying to make inroads in rural California. He put on a flannel shirt and opened with a joke.
"I checked out the voting history of Colusa County," Brown said.
Not only has the county opposed the Democratic governor every time he has been on a ballot, Brown said, but it overwhelmingly voted against a similar, unsuccessful, water plan Brown championed when he was governor before, in 1982.
"The vote in Colusa County was 3.6 percent 'yes,' Brown said in a breakfast address. "So, guys, I've got some work to do."
Later – after Brown had toured the farm show, sat on a tractor and announced that he will build a house on family land nearby – even his second cousin's reaction suggested how difficult it may be for Brown to find support among area farmers for his $14 billion plan. Brown is proposing to build two tunnels to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south.
"The tunnels, I don't know," said the relative, Walt Seaver, a Brown appointee to the local fair board. "I think everybody's waiting to see what the final version's really going to be."
Brown's effort is a massive and uncertain undertaking. Yet the Democratic governor is in a politically favorable position following passage of his November ballot initiative to raise taxes. Jack Citrin, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, said he appears to have "a lot of confidence in his persuasive powers right now."
Appearing at a farm show in a rural, relatively tiny county is indicative of how significant the project is to the governor.
Brown said there are deep divisions "between north and south, between farmers and environmentalists, between people living in the Delta and people living ... further down south. But I intend to meet with all the groups, conduct a very intensive, prolonged and complete effort of involvement and listening and taking into account what people suggest."
Brown said he will be "coming back a lot to make sure that any concerns and objections can be handled."
The governor and other supporters of the project say a Delta conveyance is needed to improve the reliability of a water supply used by some 25 million Californians, while critics say it will harm the Delta ecosystem and the area's farm economy.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, was a major opponent of the peripheral canal that Brown proposed when he was governor before. Nielsen said sentiment in his district, which includes Colusa, has not changed.
"You cannot sell folks in Northern California on either the peripheral canal or peripheral tunnels, even by offering assurances that their water will be protected," Nielsen said...