Poseidon Town: Labor leaders push ocean desal project on workers' backs
Trade union leaders' water-is-a-right homage inspires incredulity
For the past 20 years Poseidon Water has sold its $1.4 billion Huntington Beach ocean desalination project to trade unions as a job creator—it would provide about 3,000 (non concurrent) temporary jobs during construction and 21 permanent jobs after completion, according to Poseidon officials.
Trade union leaders pack Poseidon’s permit hearings with workers who read scripted comments emphasizing job creation, but ignore the project’s high costs and environmental issues.
In contrast, Poseidon’s opponents emphasize cheaper alternatives and violations of environmental justice, referring to the disproportionately high price of desalinated water to be paid by lower income ratepayers, especially people of color.
Poseidon has allowed union leaders like Ernesto Medrano of the Building and Construction Trades Council to show union members that they are providing jobs, but that’s only part of the story.
A 2019 UCLA study concluded that the only “plausible impact” of the Poseidon project “on disadvantaged households in Orange County will be a decrease in the affordability [of water] due to higher system rates.”
The latest example was a video shown at Poseidon’s April 23 discharge-permit hearing before the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board. The presenter was a “new coalition of Latino community leaders” with links to the recall Gavin Newsom campaign, which is ironic because the Governor has always acted as Poseidon’s bully-boy.
The video was presented by Luis Andres Perez, the political director for the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union in Orange County. It blasts Poseidon opponents for denying Latinx people the human right to water and implies that they are racist.
“Water is not a privilege,” declares Zeke Hernandez of LULAC, holding a glass of water. “Water is a right.”
“For generations,” the narrator says, water has allowed California to grow food and boost the state’s economy.
“Now that it’s our turn, we’re being told to shut off the tap,” says one young Latinx man, to which Medrano adds that Latinx are being told “That our jobs are not important enough.”
“[That] our future is not important enough,” another says.
A curious website
The group’s website, waterisaright.org, is hurried, amateurish, and contains misleading information.
For example, it highlights an out-of-context quote from Heather Cooley, a scientist at the Pacific Institute, a water-issues think tank that takes a skeptical view on ocean desalination projects. But the quote implies ideological compatibility.
The website was apparently posted last November along with the group’s Facebook page, which contains pro Poseidon links and compares the campaign for the Poseidon project with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Curiously, the waterisaright website shared a phone number with the anti-Newsom website, Open Cal Now, which prominently features Orange County Supervisor/COVID-19 demagogue Don Wagner, who also supported fully reopening the state early on and who supports the Newsom recall. Also, a phone number for media inquiries for Open Cal led directly to Wagner’s supervisor office.
By cunningly pandering to the county’s “plandemic” cult, Wagner arguably helped kill thousands of working class Latinx (not to mention their jobs and water drinking rights) who are at higher risk for COVID-19.
Local trade unions under Medrano’s leadership also supported lifting COVID-19 restrictions early on during the pandemic.
The phone number shared with waterisaright as well as the phone link to Wagner’s office were scrubbed from opencalnow shortly after I made inquiries to Perez and Wagner’s office.
Also removed from the Open Cal website was a statement that it is sponsored by “The Committee that Cares,” a non-profit led by attorney Steven Baric, the former CAGOP vice chair.
Baric sued on behalf of Orange County businesses and churches over Newsom’s COVID-19 emergency rules. He sits with Wagner as an honorary chair of the Lincoln Club, which also supports the recall-Newsom campaign.
Why are labor leaders collaborating with anti-union Republicans who want to recall the the pro-union, pro-Poseidon, Democratic governor? I’m not going to answer that now, but it has nothing to do with advocating environmental justice.
Contacted by phone, Perez refused to answer any questions about the coalition. And Wager’s office did not respond to my phone inquiry.