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Corporate Farmer Calls Upon Sen. Feinstein to Influence Environmental Dispute

Posted on Dec 6, 2009

Stewart and Lynda Resnick

By Lance Williams, California Watch

Wealthy corporate farmer Stewart Resnick has written check after check to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s political campaigns. He’s hosted a party in her honor at his Beverly Hills mansion, and he’s entertained her at his second home in Aspen.

And in September, when Resnick asked Feinstein to weigh in on the side of agribusiness in a drought-fueled environmental dispute over the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, this wealthy grower and political donor got quick results, documents show.

On Sept. 4, Resnick wrote to Feinstein, complaining that the latest federal plan to rescue the delta’s endangered salmon and shad fisheries was “exacerbating the state’s severe drought” because it cut back on water available to irrigate crops. “Sloppy science” by federal wildlife agencies had led to “regulatory-induced water shortages,” he claimed.

“I really appreciate your involvement in this issue,” he wrote to Feinstein.

One week later, Feinstein forwarded Resnick’s letter to two U.S. Cabinet secretaries. In her own letter, she urged the administration to spend $750,000 for a sweeping re-examination of the science behind the entire delta environmental protection plan.

The Obama administration quickly agreed, authorizing another review of whether restrictions on pumping irrigation water were necessary to save the delta’s fish. The results could delay or change the course of the protection effort.

To environmentalists concerned with protecting the delta, it was a dispiriting display of the political clout wielded by Resnick, who is among California’s biggest growers and among its biggest political donors. 

Click here to view an interactive graphic and documents related to this story.

Resnick’s Paramount Farms owns 118,000 acres of heavily irrigated California orchards. And since he began buying farmland 25 years ago, Resnick, his wife and executives of his companies have donated $3.97 million to candidates and political committees, mostly in the Golden State, a California Watch review of public records shows.
They have given $29,000 to Feinstein and $246,000 more to Democratic political committees during years when she has sought re-election.

“It is very disappointing that one person can make this kind of request, and all of a sudden he has a senator on the phone, calling up [U.S. Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar,” says Jim Metropulos, senior advocate for the Sierra Club.

Feinstein’s letter was “based on what she believes to be the best policy for California and the nation,” Feinstein spokesman Gil Duran said in a statement. “No other factors play a role in her decisions.”

With the California Central Valley’s economy battered by recession and drought, Feinstein believed it was important to reconsider the restrictions on pumping delta water for irrigation, he said. Many farmers have urged such a review, he added.

In an interview, Resnick said he didn’t leverage his relationship with Feinstein to persuade her to intervene.

“Honestly, I’m not saying we could not have done that, but I don’t think that’s the way it happened,” he said. Feinstein long has had an interest in water issues, and “she just wanted to get to the bottom of this,” Resnick said.

A Troubled Estuary

The delta provides drinking water for 20 million people and irrigation for the state’s vast agriculture industry. But after decades of water diversions, delta fish populations are in catastrophic decline, scientists say.

Prodded by lawsuits from environmentalists, federal wildlife agencies commissioned scientific studies of the delta’s ecological crisis. Based on the studies, the agencies launched a restoration program that curtailed pumping for irrigation and increased water flows for migrating fish.

Meanwhile, three years of drought have forced big cuts in water allotments for farmers, and swaths of valley farmland lie fallow.  The recession pushed the unemployment rate in some towns in the valley to 40 percent. 

As a result, the restrictions on pumping delta water became the target of a series of noisy protests that played out over the summer. Farmers and politicians blamed “radical environmentalists”—and the Obama administration—for ignoring the drought’s impact on the valley’s economy. “The government decided that the farmers come second and the delta smelt come first,” as Sean Hannity of Fox News put it on a visit to Fresno.

Farm groups filed 13 different lawsuits to overturn the restoration plans, arguing that climate change, urbanization and discharges from sewers and factories are causing the delta’s problems. One suit was filed in August by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a nonprofit founded by three executives of Resnick’s Paramount Farms. Resnick said he is “on the periphery” of the nonprofit.

People familiar with Resnick’s political operation say Feinstein’s letter is a reminder of the power he can wield on water issues.

“Paramount Farms is a huge player,” says Gerald Meral, former director of the Planning and Conservation League environmental lobby.

“They are just way different from the average farmer—far more strategic” in their thinking, Meral says.

Wealth and Philanthropy

In Los Angeles, Resnick, 72, is known as one of the city’s wealthiest men and among its most generous philanthropists. He’s given $55 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, millions more for a psychiatric hospital at UCLA and an energy institute at Cal Tech.

His wife and business partner, Lynda Resnick, is an entrepreneur, socialite and writer. Her 2008 marketing book, “Rubies in the Orchard,” attracted blurbs from Martha Stewart and Rupert Murdoch, and her “Ruby Tuesday” blog is sometimes featured on The couple live in a Beverly Hills mansion that writer Amy Wilentz called “Little Versailles.” It’s the scene of parties for celebrities, charities and politicians—governors, senators and presidential candidates.

Resnick said he worked his way through UCLA “washing windows,” and made his first million running a burglar alarm service. Since then, the couple’s Roll International holding company has profitably operated a long list of businesses: Teleflora florist wire service; POM Wonderful pomegranate juice; Franklin Mint, a mail-order collectibles firm; and FIJI bottled water, imported from the South Seas. 


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By ardee, December 9, 2009 at 11:51 am Link to this comment

Rice addendum:
According to estimates for the 2006 crop year, rice production in the U.S. is valued at $1.88 billion, approximately half of which is expected to be exported. The U.S. provides about 12% of world rice trade.[24] The majority of domestic utilization of U.S. rice is direct food use (58%), while 16 percent is used in processed foods and beer respectively. The remaining 10 percent is found in pet food.[24]
source: good old Wiki

The problems with both rice and wheat crops, from the standpoint of an avid fisherman, is that when the fields are flooded for rice, or watered for wheat and alfalfa the salmon eggs and the striped bass young are the most vulnerable. The pumps destroy striped bass and the lowered water levels warm the water and leave the eggs vulnerable to rot.

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By cabdriver, December 9, 2009 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rice is also a big water user in California- I think it’s the crop that uses the second largest amount.

But rice has some ameliorating factors going for it. For one thing, it’s a food crop. Also, an increasing acreage is devoted to organic rice farming. Additionally, in the case of rice the water floods the fields, after the fashion of paddies- and subsequently, much of it runs back off into the watershed of the rivers. The rice fields are in close proximity to riparian areas, which means that to some extent the water isn’t so much soaked up as it is borrowed. It helps to sustain a healthy waterfowl habitat, for instance, working as what might be termed a domesticated wetland.

Obviously, the rice fields and nut groves of the Sacramento Valley aren’t nearly as verdant and productive to widlife as the original bottomlands and wetlands of the Delta, which used to resemble an American Serengeti. But the Sacramento Valley ecosystem did need to be tamed, in order to allow for permanent human settlement. The rivers are hemmed in fairly effectively by levees, these days. And there’s still a healthy wildlife habitat coexisting with the farm fields and the rice paddies. The Yolo Causeway area is a fantastic bird refuge, both for waterfowl, cranes, and herons, and for raptors- hawks, falcons, owls. The fish habitat could be healthier, but the dewatering problems are largely due to the excessive demands from other crops besides rice or orchard crops, along with some other problems- hangovers from having spawning beds churned up by gold mining operations, and tributary habitat that’s been upset by deforestation.

Possibly there’s an argument to be made that California presently raises too much rice- 500,000 acres- for its semiarid climate region, as compared to a state like Louisiana, which used to be the primary rice bowl state. But as far as its effects on the California ecosystem- I think it’s a good thing that the state raises a healthy crop here. The wetland effect of the rice crop is pretty beneficient.

Meanwhile, Louisiana has ecological problems of its own- too much use of the coastline for ship channels and oil operations, with resulting salt water intrusion. That state is losing a huge amount of habitat, for both wildlife and humans. Read the last section of the book Game Wars, by Marc Reisner. It’s a very succinct summary of the problem. Unlike California, Louisiana doesn’t appear to have had any forethought or protections put in place to manage sustainable development. Politically, Louisiana is in the pocket of Big Oil and Petro-Ag, and those particular PTBs don’t even seem to want to get a clue, much less having one.

And that’s a terrible shame, because the Mississippi Delta is a fish, shellfish, waterfowl, and wildlife treasure trove that’s right up there with the Chesapeake Bay. A natural protein factory.

Like the Sacramento Delta, and the San Joaquin and Sacramento-American-Feather-Yuba River network, for that matter. There’s no need to squander these things. It just takes some effort and planning, and some give-back. Allow a generous margin for the riparian areas, and they’ll do the nursery and growing work for you. All that needs to be done is the harvesting.

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By Leefeller, December 9, 2009 at 7:39 am Link to this comment

Cabdriver’s post provides insight into what has become the problem, my question is, what of other crops besides alfalfa and cotton, rice for instance?

Not really being aware of the water issue, most people may want to keep up on it for in the future it will be much more important.

Regulations vs non regulations and politics the eternal monkey wrench!

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By drklassen, December 9, 2009 at 3:48 am Link to this comment

I’m not sure I see “the problem” here.  This doesn’t read like a corporation or corporate industry group pumping loads and loads of money towards a candidate.  This sounds more like what what election funding ought to be: individuals making their full, individual, contributions.  That they have bundled them together to make a point on their issues, doesn’t bother me.

Doing the math, $3.97M over 25 years is just under $160k per year.  The article fails to tell us how many “executives” are in this pool, but based on FEC papers for 20009-10 the limits any one person can contribute to campaigns is $115.5k (split up into limits to individuals per election, national and local parties, etc.).  If we assume that, on average, these folks are only giving 25% of the maximum, this means we’re talking about *four* people.

Granted, this assumes the high values for this year held for 25 years, but even if we assume the average over those years is 1/4 the current value, that means we’re still only talking about *sixteen* people.

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By FreeWill, December 8, 2009 at 11:33 am Link to this comment

TAO Walker is right.

Just more evidence that our Corporate-Capitalist system is totally corrupt and dysfunctional when it comes to representing “we the People”. It’s obvious that voting for either Democratic or Republican Candidates only exacerbates and accelerates the destruction of the planet and favors consolidation of its resources and wealth to the top 1%.

Hanging on to the belief that us common folk, have any real say or influence on the greed driven political system, is an illusion that fixes us to be enslaved by it. We urgently need new model for the structuring and organizing of our society with the preservation of the environment and the equitable distribution of it’s resources as a priority. 

Those now in control will not give up that control easily or willingly and will hang on until our environment is totally depleted and life itself is unsupportable. They have lost all connection to mother earth believing that their wealth insulates them from all harm. But nature is not just another politician that can be bribed and that, unlike our government, is something we can count on.

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By thebeerdoctor, December 8, 2009 at 5:28 am Link to this comment

Samson said it best, it is time to quit electing people who have a second home in Aspen.

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By cabdriver, December 8, 2009 at 4:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Beyond the whole influence-buying part of it:

I don’t get how it is that this guy feels so obligated to make common cause with the real water wastrels of California agriculture- the alfalfa/dairy/cattle and cotton industries- against the entire rest of the State of California? 

I like the crops being grown by Resnick- citrus, pomegranate, almonds, pistachios. They’re good candidates for irrigation and semiraid climate.

But with 80% of the water in California going to agriculture, the #1 and #2 crops are- alfalfa and cotton!

Resnick presently appears to be bent on following in the autocratic, eco-ignorant steps of the Boswell dynasty, who have done so much to skew water policy in California in the direction of Money and Power rather than Logic and Sustainability.

The dairy industry of California presently receives $1 billion in Federal subsidies every year- so they can buy California desert-raised alfalfa, and undercut the industries of states where a huge dairy industry makes sense and has more history, like Wisconsin and Oregon. Alfalfa alone drinks more water than the entire population of Southern California- the California water crisis is an artificial crisis!

Resnick has a terrific opportunity here to be a hero, by making common cause with the California fishing industry and the people of northern California- using his undeniable power and massive fortune to help turn California away from the crises that are mounting SOLELY due to the inappropriate allotment of water from the rivers of the north state and the Delta, to crops that do not belong in the arid/semiarid bio-regions of California!

Instead, it seems that he’s just another eco-ignoramus, bent on throwing the State into crisis and catastrophe.

Many if not most Californians are still viewing the water crisis as something pitting the human populations of the north and south state against each other- that’s bullshit! Literally! It’s about all of those huge factory dairy farms in the San Joaquin valley! It’s about a hugely thirsty cotton crop being grown in California, to undercut the Egyptian cotton from places like the Nile Delta!

Man’s power to terraform the Earth has rarely been more abused, than by the introduction and establishment of the alfalfa and cotton crops into California- crops that suck up more water than any human food crop, or or the demand from the human population of the state.

Will no one talk sense? Will no one in the California Legislature put the truth out there to the power of Big Ag?

It would be a real help to have someone like Resnick working toward acting as a responsible steward of the resources of the state, in concert with the “interests” of those who don’t want to see California fated to drink its rivers dry and drain the Delta into a state of ecological impoverishment. For that matter, I’d like to see Boswell- or whoever the inheritors of those holding are- on board to act to save this state from water wars that are completely unnecessary, and that could be settled simply by a newfound commitment to growing only appropriate food crops, while investing to modernize the irrigation methods used on California fields. They’re nowhere near up to par in terms of maximum efficiency of water use.

But the first priority is to highlight the fact that the long-standing crises in California water allocation is about shortsightedness, stubbornness, and stupidity- NOT “food production” versus “the Delta smelt”, or “California’s largest industry (agriculture, in aggregate)” versus “environmentalist wackos”.

California deserves a thriving agricultural sector. But that should not mean that anything goes!

Alfalfa! Cotton! My God, central California is a desert! What are people thinking?

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By Donald Nygaard, December 7, 2009 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment

Fast forward 20 years to when water resources in the central valley are even more depleted than today, perhaps even non-existent.

What will the Senator and her vested interest financier expect then? Will Mr. Resnick write to the Senator with a fast-track command to the political system to make it rain? Really, I’m quite sick of the short-sighted exploitation of finite resources without thoughtful consideration and accounting of obvious, measurable, detrimental side-effects.

The slavish pursuit of short-term profit with utter disregard of future consequences is utterly and morally bankrupt. Please, everyone support EPA regulation on behalf of the entire planet, not just market forces. Do it for the fish! Do it for your kids!

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By rollzone, December 7, 2009 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

hello. water is a thirsty issue in Calleyphonia. political power could be cut, with a swift undercurrent from ocean water; filtered by emf technology (like they use in Egypt). locals need to change the regulations, put down the bong, and go sit-in at Sacramental: until they are less dependent upon snow melt from the mountains. usually giant agribusiness are the biggest environmental polluters, so Paramount is a candidate to finance the projects.

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By Samson, December 7, 2009 at 7:01 pm Link to this comment

The thing to learn is to quit electing people who have ‘a second home in Aspen’ and expecting them to represent ordinary people.

The funny part of this is that many of the environmentalists who are opposing this project were probably stupid enough to vote for Feinstein.

People have to learn not to vote Democrat. 

Remember the old Kennedy family slogan ...
“Don’t get mad, get even.”  Its time for environmentalists and the rest of the left to exact retribution upon the Democrats in 2010.  Organize independent races that take back our votes from the Democrats. 

Don’t get mad, get even!  Organize!

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By JimBob, December 7, 2009 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment

We’re never going to get money out of politics short of a revolution.  Once it’s in there this far, it’s like an inoperable cancer that feeds on the very body it’s killing. 
Sad.  We all believed this time the human race just maybe got it right.

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By TAO Walker, December 7, 2009 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

In any privateering pyramid scheme it is the nature of the shit it generates to roll downhill, sickening and suffocating the unfortunates (in their “....huddled masses”) in the bottom layers.  It is, on the other hand, in the very nature of “money” to percolate up to the exalted levels of the elite….and if that process sometimes proves too slow to satisfy artificially enhanced (and ever-growing) appetites, then wells will be drilled, “power”-ful pumps installed, and “wealth” sucked ruthlessly from the pockets of the “commoners” into the coffers of the rich. 

This is what the “civilization” CONtraption was put-in-place here to do.  This is all it does or has ever done or will ever do.  The “privileged” clip coupons and primp for paparazzi….while the rest buy lottery tickets or pimp their selfs’ out in desperate hopes of cashing-in on “15 minutes of fame.”

It is a testimony to the effectiveness of the propagandists for theallamericandreammachine that most of its inmates still believe its supposed “malfunctions” are blamable on the perfidy of mere “individuals,” rather than simply the inevitable CONsequence of the damned thing’s basic operations.  So some still get upset by such reports as this one here, and look for some remedial response CONsistent, however, with the presumed requirements of keeping the rapacious processes of the monstrosity itself essentially undisturbed.

The reason “It just doesn’t get any better than this!” for beer-soaked boobs at the bottom of the abyss, is because the “global” feedlot system guarantees it can only get worse….except, possibly for those with enough of their wits still left to find and together escape-through the one big hole in the command-and-CONtrol regime to which they’ve unfortunately become too accustomed to being CONfined.  Yes, this old Indian is referring to what some of us free wild survivors call The Tiyoshpaye Way.

The deafening din of inequity, in this worldwide den-of-iniquity its captives mistake for the actual Living Arrangement of our Mother Earth, is “music” to your tormentors’ virtual “ears,” Tame Sisters and Brothers.  You’ll be so much better-off back with us and All Our Relations in the real Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself. 


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By Mary Ann McNeely, December 7, 2009 at 10:42 am Link to this comment

What?!  Dianne Feinstein is corrupt?!  Where’s my Prozac?!

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By Michele Horaney, December 7, 2009 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Would definitely like to see a link to this article
and site from the SFGate site. Seems a shame
to go to all this work, craft this great alliance,
and have this make the front page of the Sunday
physical paper and then it just - poof! - disappears
and cannot be found over at the newspaper site.

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By LostHills, December 7, 2009 at 8:27 am Link to this comment

A case study of the demise of democracy in America.

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By Leefeller, December 7, 2009 at 6:50 am Link to this comment

Business as usual greased palms with coconut oil, one can vision a slathering away of each others backs and other body parts!

In the end one pays for what they want. Good old boys and girls, it is winking and everything is just fine (stine), what is the problem?

We may only be seeing the tit of the iceberg! Are people like Feinstein becoming sloppy or do they just not give a damn? Is it just possible integrity has become to mean;  what we are seeing is what we should expect and (bend over everyone) going to get? 

As for accountability, this is as good as it can be, money exchanges hands and things get done! What is the problem? Maybe not fast enough in execution.

Feinstein may need to work on speeding things up. She is being so busy having both hands out and at the same time is supposed to be getting things done, like sending out important letters,  seems such hard work, maybe she needs some help or something?

How does she do it?

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By Bronwen Rowlands, December 7, 2009 at 5:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An excellent piece from Berkeley’s Center for Investigative Reporting.  I was happy and surprised to see it as the lead story in the hard-copy SF Chronicle yesterday. It was pulled from the paper’s online presence, though, or else it never appeared there.

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By glider, December 7, 2009 at 5:00 am Link to this comment

Feinstein is an elite corrupt corporate whore, as is Obama.  I hope people have enough wisdom to vote her and her ilk out next round.  I am saddened but not surprised to see that a system of political favors are what determine policy with both these dishonest politicians. Feinstein’s elitist parties are legend.  Vomit yet again.

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By cabdriver, December 7, 2009 at 3:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Quite often, “business as usual” is still newsworthy.

And water policy is perhaps the most important issue in the future of California.

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By ardee, December 7, 2009 at 2:59 am Link to this comment

Why single out one individual and treat this incident as if it were not business as usual. I think this article is third rate and naive.

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By Ouroborus, December 7, 2009 at 2:40 am Link to this comment

Gee, how about that. Who’d a thunk. wink

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By Ralph Kramden, December 7, 2009 at 1:32 am Link to this comment

Come on you guys, I never liked Feinstein, never voted for her even as she ran for supervisor in San Francisco. Still, even though I never donated a penny on her behalf, she always acceded to my demands: I requested she ignore my complaints and she did.
I heard she is the wealthiest member in all of Congress, even when Kennedy was alive. What do you expect her to do? You surely don’t expect her to be like us stupid, brainwashed working-class who vote against our financial interests, do you?

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By ChaoticGood, December 6, 2009 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment

I am shocked…
Imagine that.  A rich corporate pirate makes a phone call to his “purchased” politician and things change in his favor.
Things like this are not supposed to happen in America.
How do we explain this type of thing to Hamid Karzai?

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