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Phil Isenberg's Business Ties to the Irvine Ranch Water District


by Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

January 5, 2010 -- Restore the Delta has recently learned that Phil Isenberg, former Sacramento Mayor, California Assembly Member, Chair of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, and presently Chair of the Delta Vision Foundation, has represented the Irvine Ranch Water District in a lobbing capacity over the last two years.  His lobbying firm, Isenberg/O'Hara Government Relations, has received more than $224,000 in payments for services rendered from the Irvine Ranch Water District during 2008 and 2009.  Specifically, his firm received payments while he served as the Chair of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force - which Mr. Isenberg has repeatedly held up in public testimony as a truly independent commission.  (Click here to see the lobbying report filed by Isenberg/O'Hara with the Secretary of State.)
The Delta Vision Foundation, which defines its mission as "restoring the Delta ecosystem and creating a more reliable water supply," backed the November 4, 2009 water package.  In an on-line statement, the Delta Vision Foundation expresses its pleasure that "all seven goals of the Delta Vision Strategic Plan are incorporated into the Delta/water policy bills enacted by the Legislature on November 4, 2009."  The Delta Vision Foundation also states that its vision for the Delta includes building "facilities to improve the existing water conveyance system and expand statewide storage and operate both to achieve the co-equal goal."  In other words, they tout the peripheral canal as the solution for restoring the Delta and meeting Southern California's water needs.  (Click here to read the Delta Vision Foundation Statement.)
 Indeed, the water package will pave the way for a more reliable Delta water supply for the Irvine Water Ranch District, but it will fail to protect the Delta's ecosystem and/or Delta communities as it does not contain enforceable standards for water quality or inflows into the Delta.  The Irvine Water Ranch District, which according to its website covers 179 square miles in Orange County, claims that it supports the co-equal goals of the Delta Vision Task Force of Delta restoration and water supply reliability.  (Click here to learn more about the Irvine Ranch Water District.) 
What is equally disturbing is that during this recent Legislative battle, the cry from the Delta for adequate representation on the Delta Stewardship Council was ignored.  In the end, the majority of Legislators favored a Delta Stewardship Council with a supposed statewide perspective and only a token of Delta representation on the Delta Stewardship Council, with the Chairperson of the Delta Protection Commission serving as one member.  Evidently, this lack of adequate local representation was not a problem for Mr. Isenberg.
What will be interesting to see is if Governor Schwarzenegger and the State Senate consider appropriate appointments for the Delta Stewardship Council.  Will they recommend appointees who truly champion a statewide perspective which includes Delta communities?  Or will they appoint representatives like Mr. Isenberg who have financial ties to special water interests like the Irvine Ranch Water District?  And will they continue to appoint so-called independent thinkers who fail to disclose in public testimony before the Legislature and the State Water Resources Control Board that they are also paid representatives for those in our state who favor new conveyance and continued dependence on Delta water exports?