What BoxCo Does Best
by Will Parrish, April 17, 2011
For most of the past 150 years, the California North Coast has had a clearly defined role in the state's political economy. The region was blessed with vast, nearly impenetrable forests of huge redwood trees and accompanying great stands of douglas fir. As Ray Raphael noted in his 1974 book on regional history, An Everyday History of Somewhere, an early historian of the Redwood Empire wrote with regard to timber's economic importance, all the way back in the 1870s, that “at every available point for shipment stands a saw mill turning trees to lumber, furnishing employment for labor and investment for capital.”
For close to eight decades, one of the regional lynchpins of the pervasive timber trade was a spur of the Southern Pacific rail line called the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. Beginning in 1914, freights ran up and down the line with remarkable consistency – remarkable because they had to traverse the choppy mountains collectively known as the Coast Range. The line originated at a point just outside Eureka and bustled along on stops down to the San Francisco Bay Area. Though the railroad provided commuter service for most of these years, its greatest function was as a ready route to San Francisco's markets, which have ACTED for upwards of a century as commercial hubs on behalf of much of the United States and many nations across the Pacific. At any given point, timber made up roughly 80 percent of the cargo on the Northwestern Pacific line; in many years, greater than 90 percent.
The present economic period – call it “neo-liberal globalization,” or simply “the offshoring of the US economy,” if you prefer a more parochial framing – brought about wrenching changes on the North Coast. During the 1980s and '90s, the process of converting California's forests from biologically diverse old-growth wilderness, into second-and third-growth tree farms or cut-over stands to be sold off to vineyard developers, rapidly accelerated. Though vast areas that once teemed with life fell mute and hundreds of people were cast out of work, the balance sheets of the dominant multi-national timber firms, Louisiana Pacific, Georgia Pacific, and Maxxam, burgeoned as they practiced forest liquidation logging across massive swaths of Redwood Empire terrain.
One of the great enablers of these changes was a young Democrat from Sebastopol, elected to Congress in 1982, named Doug Bosco, who quietly sang a welcoming refrain to the timber interests throughout his four terms in office, exactly as they were stealing away with what remained of the once-massive stands of forest. Bosco was at the leading edge of a new generation of North Coast Democrats. In local parlance, many of them became known as “Bosco Democrats," later the “Bosco Old Boys,” or merely the “Bosco Boys.” Essentially, they are “blue dogs” with liberal social views and pro-corporate, fiscal conservative economic policies: an extractive corporation's best friend.
Ironically, the very changes in the regional power structure that Bosco helped to bring on, by way of his support for the rapacious timber companies, have ensured that he will never again regain his former Congressional post. Now that the legions of deep-pocketed vanity vinters and billion-dollar-plus corporate wineries have displaced timber as the area's most powerful economic bloc, by far, Mike Thompson, that favored son of St. Helena, has a long-term lock on Bosco's former post. While Bosco sometimes serves as a wine industry lawyer, his connections with the the wine industry are a drop in the proverbial Gallo of Sonoma oil refinery-sized wine storage cask compared to Thompson's.
Bosco, however, has not settled for being a bit actor in the regional political economy. In recent years, he has been arguably the central player in a developers' bid to ramp up extractive enterprise across a wide expanse of the North Coast. The patchwork of efforts Bosco is helping to spearhead include the expansion of gravel mining in the Russian River and other major water courses (with attendant destruction of fish habitat, or at least what is left of it). It also encompasses a bid to increase asphalt production near Petaluma, a concerted effort to keep Santa Rosa's suburban growth machine humming at full tilt in spite of the housing bubble's demise, and a campaign to carry out the largest forest-to-vineyard conversion in the history of Wine Country – the notorious “Preservation Ranch.”
Ironically, the orgy of resource extraction the Bosco Boys – BoxCo for even shorter – are attempting to pull off centers on re-establishment, or at least proposed reestablishment (this is where the story gets tricky) of the old Northwestern Pacific rail line, which has been defunct for all intents and purposes since the demise of its main cash cow, the timber industry. In keeping with the crony capitalism that has been the dominant theme of his career, Bosco has already been greatly personally enriched by these efforts, as have a great number of his friends. More important, though, are the ecological and social consequences should their plans proceed – not, at this point, a sure thing.
To put these efforts into perspective, it's necessary to examine the course of Bosco's career following his exit from Congress in 1991. As I noted in these pages three weeks ago, Bosco went on to the pay roll of Maxxam – perhaps the most egregious clear-cutter in his Congressional district – once out of office, at a reported salary of $15,000 per month as of 1995. As late as 2000, when the timber companies were just about finished with mopping up the region's remaining merchantable timber stands, he remained in the corporation's employ.
As I also detailed in the March 22nd edition of the AVA, Bosco is close friends with Governor Jerry Brown. Just as he is likely to dictate many appointments Brown makes to regional regulatory agencies, Bosco also sharply influenced the policies and regulatory appointments of California's previous Democratic governor, Gray Davis, who held the office from 1998 to 2003.
Davis was beholden to the timber industry to begin with, which bestowed him with ample campaign donations in both of his election campaigns. Acting in in his capacity as a hired Maxxam flunky, however, Bosco was perhaps Davis' greatest liaison to the timber multi-nationals.
For starters, Davis selected as his policy director a man named Tal Finney, who was an aide to Bosco during the latter's Congressional rein. Davis also appointed Bosco's former legislative director, Jason Liles, to one of five seats on the all-important North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB). The NCRWQCB is one of the most consequential state agencies in regard to implementation of conservation policies – no small matter to region's dominant extractive interests, viz. timber and wine.
(As I'll explore more next week, Liles links up with another project Bosco is involved with, this one also involving the felling a vast number of trees: “Preservation Ranch,” the proposed clear-cut of roughly 1,700 acres of redwood forest in the Gualala River watershed to plant monocrop grapes. This past January, Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire appointed Liles to a vacant seat on the Sonoma County Planning Commission. Liles acknowledged in press statements that one of his main priorities is to craft a regulatory ruling on the Preservation Ranch proposal – no doubt, a favorable one).
Bosco's law partner at the time of Davis' gubernatorial stint, Daniel Crowley, was also a Davis appointee to the NCRWQCB. According to files from the Shasta County assessor's office, Bosco and Crowley even currently own investments in land together, right in the heart of one of the most intensively logged regions of California. It is one of numerous properties owned by Bosco and/or his wife, Gayle, both in NorCal and beyond.
Specifically, Regional Water Boards have direct authority over logging practices by virtue of the waste discharge reporting requirements in the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act. Persons with extremely close relationships with Bosco occupied at least two of the five seats on the board under Davis.
The extent of interference Crowley ran for on behalf of timber industry during his tenure on the Board, in particular, is staggering. Acting as chairman of the NCRWQB at the time, Crowley almost single-handedly derailed an effort brought by the Humboldt Watershed Council to revoke a waiver for Pacific Lumber's logging waste discharges. The Watershed Council had earlier brought a petition attempting to disqualify Crowley from considering their appeal for a waver. The Board formed a two-person subcommittee to rule on the waiver, with Crowley himself occupying one of those seats. He ruled that he did not need to recuse himself.
During Davis' term in office, Bosco further acted as Maxxam's representative in negotiations with the Sierra Club concerning the latter's efforts to compel restrictions on logging. In 1999, according to an article at the time in the San Francisco Chronicle, after the State Board of Forestry proposed modestly tightening regulations on logging practices, PL dispatched Bosco to take part in a meeting at the Redding headquarters of California's largest timber company (and largest landowner of any kind), Sierra Pacific Industries, for the apparent purpose of crafting a political response. The next day, Davis held a private fundraiser in the same venue, with numerous timber executives and their allies – including Bosco – in attendance.
All in all, the Davis administration's tenure was a disaster for California's forest land, turning a blind eye not only to the North Coast timber firms but to companies like Sierra Pacific, which conducted more clear-cut logging under Davis than it had under his predecessor, Pete Wilson. After Davis made his ignominious exit from public office, Bosco's statewide influence declined. By that point, the big multi-national timber companies had either already cashed out of the North Coast or were on the verge of doing so.
Bosco, for his part, had installed himself at various large law firms in the North Bay region that serve as sub-sets of regional corporate power in general. He had also received two state-level political appointments from Davis: member of the Industrial Relations Board and chair of the California Coastal Conservancy. He remained a major player in regional politics in particular, especially in his home area of Sonoma County.
He also had considerable private wealth to play around with – both that which he gained via his own entrepreneurial exploits and also the private wealth wielded by his wife, Sonoma County Superior Court judge Gayle Guynup. In 2003, Bosco's father-in-law, Victor Guynup, passed away, leaving a considerable portion of his estate to his daughter. The holdings includes timber land in Humboldt County, which has been logged, as well as substantial gravel mining, ranching, and real estate interests throughout California. Gayle Guynup – through her inheritance – is invested in a shopping center in Columbus, MS, known as the Gateway Shopping Center. The landholdings of Bosco and Guynup are thriving, in Sonoma County and also in the aforementioned Shasta County, if not in other areas.
More than anything, Bosco has been focused on ramming through the new proposals for gravel mining, asphalt production, and other extractive activities under the pretense that they will provide cargo for the new freight trains that the North Coast Rail Authority envisions will one day rumble up and down the old Northwestern Pacific line (an extremely far-fetched idea, it should again be noted). In the third and final installment of this series on the Bosco Boys' undue political influence on the North Coast, I'll examine the political economy of these activities and what they say about the corruption of the Democratic Party across the North Coast.
Contact Will Parrish at firstname.lastname@example.org.