By Wayne Lusvardi
The saying “all roads lead to Rome” was literally true in the old Roman Empire, where all roads were built to the capital city. Culturally, the phrase means all paths or activities lead to the center of things. And the political center of imported water in California has historically been the City of Pasadena, located some 400 miles distant from the Sacramento Delta and the Colorado River.
In California, not all man-made rivers or aqueducts lead through the Sacramento Delta. The Colorado River and Los Angeles Aqueducts and the All-American and Coachella Canals don’t flow through the Delta. But every attempt to bring water to Southern California whether via the Colorado River Aqueduct or the long-planned Peripheral Canal to convey water around the Sacramento Delta has somehow involved the elites in the City of Pasadena.
In 1928, the City of Pasadena took the lead to form the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California with initial meetings in the historical Green Hotel in 1924. Thereafter, Pasadena built Morris Dam in San Gabriel Canyon, which was the template for Hoover Dam which brought hydropower to Los Angeles. In 1927, the governor of California signed the Metropolitan Water District Act and thereafter the Colorado River Aqueduct was built by MWD.
As documented in the book The River Stops Here by Ted Simon, it was former Pasadenan Richard Wilson, a rancher in Round Valley in northern California, who in 1969 stopped the state’s plan to dam the valley and send the water to Southern California. Part of that plan may have involved linking the Klamath and Trinity Rivers to the California Central Valley. A Republican environmentalist and property rights advocate, Wilson later was appointed as Director of the Department of Forestry.
In 1982, California voters rejected the proposal to build the Peripheral Canal around the Sacramento Delta to divert Water to Southern California. The major opponent to the project at that time was none other than Pasadena environmentalist Tim Brick, as reported in Robert Gottlieb’s book A Life of It’s Own: The Politics and Power of Water in California. Brick later was appointed as Pasadena’s representative on the MWD Board of Directors and rose to become the Chairman of the Board in 2008. As Chairman, Brick has paradoxically been active in championing the proposed $11 billion water bond for California that was removed from the 2010 state ballot and deferred until 2012.
The water bond essentially proposes to do all the pre-mitigation for a future Peripheral Canal that would likely be built in a second phase of the Water Bond. Northern California would apparently get all its restored estuaries, preserved farmland, fresh water fishing habitats, flood protected dikes, and recreational amenities upfront. The tacit implication is that this would eventually give MWD permission to build out the Peripheral Canal in the future.
In previous years, a quid pro quo existed whereby northern California would get levees to protect from floods in the Sacramento Delta in return for allowing Southern California to get a share of northern California water from the Delta. But Southern Californians were apparently smarter then because they made sure to codify such reciprocation (flood levees for water) in the State Constitution to ensure that northern California couldn't renege the deal. There are apparently no such assurances in the proposed 2012 water bond.
Pasadena is a city that no matter the political party, Republican or Democrat, has been ruled by elite politics. Pasadena elites overturned a 60% vote of the electorate in favor of building out the Long Beach Freeway through Pasadena.
And in 2001, the Pasadena City Council defied a court order and the will of 60% of its voters for Measure B, which would have prohibited city officials from taking gifts, political donations or jobs reflecting a conflict of interest. The message: Pasadena elites, not the people, run Pasadena, and with it often statewide water politics.
When historians look back at what caused the corruption in the City of Bell they might look at the City of Pasadena’s refusal to comply with a court order or the will of the electorate (Measure B) to put a limit on corruption, which was so institutionalized in Pasadena with its 1,000 non-profits all dependent on city and school district outlays, that it was deemed impossible to roll back by its elites. This sent a message that corruption was now institutionalized and part of the social and political culture, and hence, was acceptable. No longer was corruption shameful or embarrassing or even newsworthy.
The people of California better first check in with the elites in Pasadena to see if they can build out freeways, prohibit corruption, or build massive man-made rivers.
For all political rivers in California still flow through Pasadena.