Investigating the CA Delta

by John Seiler | July 31, 2013 11:32 am

Stop the Tunnels[1]Before attending an event for the Pacific Research Institute,’s parent think tank, earlier this month I drove around two areas of California I had not been to: the Delta and Silicon Valley. California is such a vast state that even the late Huell Howser [2]only scratched the surface in his hundreds of documentaries on the Golden State. But I wanted to see first hand these two areas that we often write about.

OneĀ  shocking thing about Northern California is how horrible the roads are. Not just the back roads, but the main freeways and state arteries: I-80, I-680, I-580, I-880, I-280, I-5, 101, 82, 84, 1 and numerous others. All are crumbling.

That’s the same as in Southern California. I often drive on the roads in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and all are uniformly bad.

This is a scandal for a state as wealthy as California. And it’s a contrast to when I was in the U.S. Army and was posted to California in 1978 to learn Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. I was amazed at how great the roads were, uniformly smooth with reflector lights across the white and yellow stripes in the middle. It contrasted with the roads in my native Michigan, which have to be rebuilt every spring after the assault of the harsh winters. For several years after the 1974 Depression that damaged the state, and sent the auto industry into its long decline, the repairs had not been adequate.

The California roads of 1987, when I came here to write for the Orange County Register, were not as sparkling as those of 1978. Yet they still were in fairly good condition. But today the state’s roads are those of the Third World.

The culprit was Gov. Jerry Brown during his first stint as governor, 1975-1983. He declared an “era of limits” and sharply cut back on road construction. He was wrong. The state’s population has risen from 20 million in 1970[3] to 38 million today — nearly doubling. So we have a state infrastructure built for 20 million people but which carries 38 million.

Now he wants to “solve” the problem by building the $68 billion (probably much more) California High-Speed Rail[4]. How many of these rickety roads could be fixed for that money?

The Delta

My friend Steven Greenhut, now the UT-San Diego’s new California columnist[5], lives near Sacramento and drove me around the Delta. The Delta is made up of thousands of levees built in the late 19th Century largely by immigrant Chinese laborers. Some of their descendants still live in the area. But as with most Americans, most Chinese have moved on to larger cities.

The area now largely is know for its farming, irrigated by the levees. I saw vast farms of corn and pears.

The old buildings in the towns there now are being transformed into quaint boutiques. We had lunch at Al’s Place [6]in the city of Locke. It looks like a “hole in the wall place” but now is fairly famous, and serves great steak.

Brown Caltrans Web site[7]The area’s roads, typically crumbling, are dotted with “Stop the Tunnels” signs. They reference Brown’s plan to build tunnels [8]under the Delta at a cost of $23 billion. Supposedly this would solve the “problem” of the Delta now producing the wrong mix of inland water from the mountains and saltwater from the Pacific Ocean.

As my colleague Wayne Lusvardi has written on[9], the tunnels would be another expensive, wasteful, unneeded Brown boondoggle. They would destroy the current Delta ecosystem and uproot the lives of the farmers and others whom I saw in the Delta.

Caltrans reportedly has been ripping up[10] the anti-tunnels signs people are posting on their front lawns next to state roads. Do you think they will rip down Brown’s campaign signs during his expected 2014 re-election bid? His picture now appears in the top left corner of their Web site.[11] He’s their boss.

  1. [Image]:
  2. the late Huell Howser :
  3. 20 million in 1970:
  4. California High-Speed Rail:
  5. UT-San Diego’s new California columnist:
  6. Al’s Place :
  7. [Image]:
  8. plan to build tunnels :
  9. written on
  10. reportedly has been ripping up:
  11. top left corner of their Web site.:

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