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Dear Luisa

In the Saturday edition of the Record-Bee there's a letter to the editor from Luisa Acosta, a Finley resident who shares her concerns about the effects of the recent vineyard developments on Lake county. Well Luisa, I doubt anyone down at the Record-Bee is willing to take a stab at answering your questions, but I'm going to try. For those not familiar with Luisa's work, she worries that the natural environment has been diminished, that our beautiful county is being bought-up by outsiders, and that even with all the “positive economic activity,” the campesinos toiling among the vines aren't sharing the rewards of their efforts.

Luisa is absolutely right about all of her concerns, starting with the environment. The worst of the new vineyards are the ones carved from previously untilled soil, and are typically found on the hillsides throughout Lake County. Every imaginable crime against nature has been committed, from destroying thousands of acres of habit for our native wildlife, to literally sucking the wells of their neighbors dry. If the onslaught of vineyard developments hadn't coincided with the demise of the local pear industry our water situation would be even more critical than it is, but for now the main damage to the water supply has affected the people surrounding the vineyards who don't have access to city water services. Rest assured that if the pear industry hadn't lost nearly two-thirds of its acreage county-wide some ugly fights would be certain to break out in the summer of the first below normal year of rainfall. One of the most annoying aspects of water use by the grape people is the practice of storing water in frost protection ponds that are filled to the brim year-round, an obscene waste of an invaluable resource, since much of the pond's contents are lost to evaporation. The growers could use organically approved, low-cost and very effective spray materials to do the same job, but that would require a change of habits, which is always a slow process in the business community unless they're forced to speed things up by legislation or market forces.

But the worst may be yet to come; Congressman Mike Thompson has recently and publicly made some noises about the government being involved in the construction of several “off stream storage facilities” to be located on the three main rivers that feed Clearlake, and just happen to be in the same neighborhood of much of the new grape plantings. That's right folks, Mike's going to try to get uncle Sam to pay for a scheme to give Lake County water to mostly out-of-county millionaire corporate farmers, which will insure that the last bits of unclaimed water goes to people who couldn't care less about you, me, or any other living things around here. But what do expect from a guy who has built his political career using the cash of the corporate alcohol industry? But you don't have to go the Washington to find politicians who are happy to turn a blind eye to the wine industry's downsides in exchange for fat campaign contributions, because we have them right here on our own board of supervisors. Both Ed Robey's failed 2002 assembly campaign and Gary Lewis's successful bid to hang on to his seat on the board were largely fueled by dollars supplied the wine industry, and they sure got what they paid for. Ed and Gary have spent the last five years or more with their heads in a bucket, completely oblivious to the massive amounts of carnage done at more than a half dozen sites until it was far too late to do anything about it, other than make helpful statements like, “I felt bad about it.”

So the point is Luisa, don't turn to your pretend-environmentalist cadre of elected sellouts and dimwits for help, since about the only thing these guys were able to deduce is where the biggest source of bribes were holed-up. And remember this now famous quote from supervisor Robey speaking to the winegrape commission rep at a BOS meeting “You people have brought Lake County nothing but good.” That's right, Luisa, you've just imagined all that bad stuff, that is unless you'd care to try to out bid billionaires like Jess Jackson, who've paid plenty of cold hard cash for that governmental tunnel vision. And while we're talking about sellouts, lets not forget some of the local alleged environmental groups, who's silence comes from being bought off by taking big contributions from the winegrape commission and it's members, or by the fact that many of these operations are actually branches of the Democratic party. Other than the HEAL group and the local Green party, the rest of the green-gangs in Lake County take their marching orders from Mike Thompson and the rest of the phony enviros in the Democratic party who hold themselves out as the only alternative to the slash -and-burn Republicans.

Well Luisa, that brings us to your people, about the only ones in the grape business who aren't getting rich. As you know, roughly 100 million dollars of vineyard developments have been inflicted upon Lake County in the last few years, but not one single unit of farm labor housing has been built to accommodate the workforce needed to tend the approximately 9,000 acres of winegrapes now growing around the county. Unlike the family-farmed pear industry, the corporate grape growers have been totally negligent in seeing to it that their employees aren't forced to sleep in cars or in some other kind of over-crowded or otherwise sub-standard dwelling. What the hell, if no one says you have to, and won't say you have to since you've paid them handsomely not to, why would you care if your disposable workforce is enjoying a basic level of human comfort? And of course they won't complain about it, just like they don't publicly squawk about being exposed to pesticides, getting cheated by labor contractors, and generally ending up with the short end of the stick every time. Because if they do complain, they risk being replaced or deported, and the industry has plenty of replacements. So get used to living in hovels, having no union (the dirtiest word among vintners), and endless toiling at a low-paying back-breaking, dangerous job producing the second most destructive drug in America.

That's right Luisa, it's not even agriculture, it's just recreational drug production for well-heeled white people in the Bay Area and other places where status is attained through proper selection of vintage. I guess the good news is that since their product is priced out-of-reach of most Lake County residents the addicts are mostly being enrolled out-of-county, but that's not much comfort to me and my family, since my own Silicon Valley-based father is one of their victims. At 75 years, Pops is rather late in the game to be spending his days with the heroin addicts and crack heads at the rehab center, but after doing a stretch in the county pokey it seemed to be a better alternative. I just wish it had come to pass before my mother needed him to get her to the hospital in time to save her life, or before we had so many family occasions ruined with some kind of ugly, drunken exchange between various members of the clan and our soused patriarch. Yes Luisa, I'm a little bitter about the unrepairable damage done to my family unit by the booze-grape people and their product, who have the unbelievable gall to claim that their product has health benefits (provided your liver holds up, you don't center-punch an oak tree with your car, or neglect your family members’ health needs).

Better get used to it, since the whole picture is bound to get darker as the industry crushes the small-time local growers, and the already-almost-imperceptible conscience of the viticulturists goes the way of other relics like democracy or compassion. Welcome to the age of winner-takes-all free-market capitalism or, as it used to be called, fascism.

One Comment

  1. Betsy Cawn November 22, 2020

    I will never forget my first conversation with Ed Robey, back in the late 90s, early 2000s — I had just driven around the lake and passed by the hundreds of acres of rolling hills south of Highway 29 that were completely stripped bare of vegetation, the rust red soil ready for planting, and was curious about it. In the county courthouse, Ed came strolling out of his office when I asked if there was someone who could explain to me where, if indeed these expanses of expectant acres were to be planted with grapevines, the water for their irrigation would come from. “Oh,” said he, “grapes don’t take much water.”

    Not only is that untrue, but that is not the question I asked. He instantly deflected my question without realizing that I had considerable knowledge about viticulture practices from living in the Livermore-Amador Valley, where the Wente family converted similar landscapes to 50 acre “estates” with 45 acres “managed” by the Wente corporation and privately constructed McMansions with equestrian facilities for executives and their fine families — eventually closing the open space gaps between Pleasanton and Lawrence Livermore Labs, as the propitious intersection of Highways 680 and 580 metastasized from the East Bay’s first shopping center and business park to the eventual housing tracts dependent on “Zone 7” water from the soon-to-be (now long done) Los Vaqueros Reservoir, stretching from the Altamont Pass to Tracy and Stockton and Modesto.

    I would venture to say that Mr. Robey has been one of the principle architects of Lake County’s conversion from bucolic agrarianism to two-bit whoredom, and the exploitation of precious natural resources (ill-defended by the faux Sierra Club) at the expense of irreplaceable oak woodlands is just one example of his avarice. He still sits on the “board of directors” of the Public, Education, and Government cable channel (appointed annually by the Board of Supervisors) and the Local Agency Formation Commission (“elected” by that perverted body of deal-makers to represent “the public”), having first accomplished the incorporation of the City of Clearlake — enabling the County of Lake to divest itself of responsibility for the destruction of fragile Burns Valley Creek and Molesworth Creek watersheds and any responsibility for the considerable pollution of Clearlake (all blamed on the Kelsey, Scotts, and Middle Creek stormwater inflows). Not to mention the wholly inadequate Lake County Groundwater Management ordinance, obscene Grading Ordinance, and the “blow me” 2008 County General Plan. What a guy.

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