Is Gavin Newsom Just a Slicker Version of Jerry Brown on the Environment?

Shasta Dam. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday reappointed three of Governor Jerry Brown’s most controversial, least popular and most environmentally questionable appointees – Karla Nemeth, Cindy Messer and Chuck Bonham – after in February refusing to reappoint Brown’s best appointee, Felicia Marcus, as Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

He reappointed these three officials in spite of growing opposition to their reappointment by fishermen, conservationists and environmental justice advocates. He reappointed Nemeth as Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director, Messer as DWR Chief Deputy Director and Bonham as California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director.

The Governor’s Office stated, “Governor Gavin Newsom today announced several appointments, including the reappointment of several of the state’s top water policy officials at the California Department of Water Resources and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which are critical to build the Administration’s water resilience portfolio in the coming months, as directed by the Governor’s executive order, and to advance Voluntary Agreements regarding water management for the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.”

Fishermen, Tribal leaders, conservationists and environmental justice advocates must wake up and see what Newsom is really doing. I have been a voice in the wilderness on Newsom’s questionable appointments and actions to date – and other people must pull the blinders off their eyes and understand that Newsom is just a slicker version of Governor Jerry Brown.

Under Newson, Nemeth, Messer and Bonham, the environmentally destructive Delta Tunnel is still on the table as part of Newsom’s “water portfolio.” It is only the twin tunnels that the Governor has abandoned.

Newsom is promoting the “voluntary agreements” on the San Joaquin River that will result in much less water than the increased flows that would be provided for salmon, steelhead and other fish by the State Water Resources Control Board’s decision in December 2018.

And the Delta smelt continues to move closer and closer to extinction, with zero smelt reported in the CDFW’s fall 2018 midwater trawl survey, This is the first time this has ever happened in the history of the survey, not a good sign for the future of the smelt, an indicator species that is only found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River

In addition, the expansion of oil and gas drilling in California continues under Newsom. And California continues to promote oil industry-written cap-and-trade (carbon trading) policies that attack Indigenous Communities and ravage the earth.

We need change, not more of the same old Big Oil, Big Ag and Big “Green” environmental policies of Jerry Brown.

The reappointment of Nemeth, Messer and Bonham takes place in an administration that has gone to great lengths to appease corporate agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. On February 12, California Governor Gavin Newson announced the appointment of William Lyons, 68, of Modesto, to serve in a new position — the Agriculture Liaison in the Office of the Governor.

Lyons, a San Joaquin Valley grower who has opposed increased San Joaquin River flows, has been chief executive officer of Lyons Investments Management, LLC since 1976. He previously served as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 1999 to 2004.

It is no surprise that Big Ag was a major contributor to Newsom’s 2018 campaign. Newsom received a total of $637,398 in campaign contributions from agribusiness, including a total of $116,800 from Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoons Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the largest orchard fruit growers in the world and owners of The Wonderful Company.

Could those contributions have influenced Newsom’s decisions to not reappoint Felicia Marcus as Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, to appoint Mike Lyons as the new “Agricultural Liaison” to the Governor’s Office, to reappoint the agribusiness-controlled Nemeth, Messer and Bonham, to go ahead with a one Delta Tunnel plan and to back the voluntary agreements promoted by Lyons and other agribusiness leaders? For more information, go here.

With the latest appointments, it’s clear that nothing has really changed under Newsom. As The Who said so well, “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.” I evaluate politicians on their actual policies and actions – and the corporate money behind them – not the pretty words that they tell the media and the gullible public.

If people want Newsom to do the right thing, they need to start confronting and challenging him, like the courageous María Xiomára Dorsey of Idle No More SF Bay did last weekend in questioning his support of environmentally unjust carbon trading policies while Newsom was walking to and from a conference in San Francisco. We need more people like Maria to show courage – and far less NGO representatives collaborating with the Governor and his staff so they can get a “seat at the table.”

You can get a “seat at the table” and still be on the menu in the corrupt world of California politics.

Here are the bios of Nemeth, Messer and Bonham:

Karla Nemeth, 48, of Sacramento, has been reappointed director of the California Department of Water Resources, where she has served since 2018. Nemeth was deputy secretary for water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency from 2014 to 2018. She was Bay Delta Conservation Plan program manager at the California Natural Resources Agency from 2009 to 2014, environmental and public affairs director for Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Zone 7 from 2005 to 2009 and was community affairs manager at Jones & Stokes from 2003 to 2005.

Nemeth was a legislative assistant at AESOP Enterprise from 2001 to 2003 and legislative assistant and program manager for Kings County from 1998 to 2000. Nemeth earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington. Nemeth was confirmed by the California State Senate as director of the Department of Water Resources in 2018 and the compensation is $202,384. Nemeth is a Democrat.

Cindy Messer, 50, of Sacramento, has been reappointed chief deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources, where she has served since 2017. Messer was assistant chief deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources from 2016 to 2017, deputy executive officer of planning at the Delta Stewardship Council from 2012 to 2016 and assistant executive officer of the San Joaquin Delta Conservancy in Sacramento from 2010 to 2012.

Messer was senior environmental scientist and specialist for the Division of Environmental Services at the California Department of Water Resources from 2009 to 2010 and an environmental program manager from 2008 to 2009. She was senior environmental scientist and supervisor at the Department of Water Resources from 2005 to 2008 and Range A-C environmental scientist for the Water Resources Department from 1999 to 2005. Messer earned a Master of Science degree in conservation biology from California State University, Sacramento. This position does not require Senate confirmation and compensation is $176,244. Messer is a Democrat.

Charlton “Chuck” Bonham, 51, of Berkeley, has been reappointed director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, where he has served since 2011. Bonham was the California director and senior attorney for Trout Unlimited from 2000 to 2010, governing board member of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy from 2010 to 2011 and an instructor at the Nantahala Outdoor Center from 1994 to 1997.

He served as small business development agent in Senegal for the U.S. Peace Corps from 1991 to 1993. Bonham earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College. Bonham was confirmed by the California State Senate as director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2012 and the compensation is $189,090. Bonham is registered without party preference.

Valerie Termini, 43, of Davis, has also been appointed chief deputy director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Termini has been executive director of the California Fish and Game Commission since 2016 and acting chief deputy director at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife since 2018. She was fisheries policy director for the California Ocean Protection Council from 2007 to 2016.

Termini earned a Master of Arts degree in international environmental policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $151,608. Termini is a Democrat.


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Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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