Over the weekend, and through yesterday, I looked through the newspapers expecting to find profiles of the two new commissioners -- Adam Werbach and Robin Chiang --- stealthily sworn in by Mayor-for-a-Moment Chris Daly as members of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Since I found nothing in either of the dailies, I decided to do a little research of my own. I didn’t discover much one way or another about Chiang, an architect. But on Werbach, I found a lot. And it’s scary. So while I hate to go on day after day about politics, it’s time to take a look at this fellow. If Werbach had been nominated in a normal fashion, all of what follows here would certainly have been brought out in public debate. But he was sworn in without benefit of notice to the public, without benefit of scrutiny by the public. Big Irony there, considering he was national president of the Sierra Club, a group that quite correctly has insisted on plenty of sunshine when govt. makes public policy..
But when you see some of the question marks that even a day’s inquiry into Werbach’s past raises, you’ll see that perhaps his sponsors thought it best that he be snuck into office. And, frankly, so bizarre is his record, I suspect as well that Werbach has hidden some of his past from his sponsor, Supervisor Daly, a supervisor who represents a district with a large immigrant population. In this caper, Daly – if in fact he is the original author of this nomination, and not just a dupe -- may be the trickster, tricked. And perhaps Matt Gonzalez, who described Werbach the other day as “exceptionally qualified” may not have known that Werbach was exceptionally weasel-worded when it came time for the Sierra Club, of which Werbach was then national president, to quash immigrant bashing. There many questions about this backroom appointment.
First at hand, though, is Hetch Hetchy, the massive and decaying San Francisco and Bay Area waterworks that the Sierra Club has opposed for nearly a century. The other day in the Chron, Werbach answered a question about the issues facing Hetch Hetchy by saying, “I don’t want to talk to it yet. … I know the Sierra well, I know Hetch Hetchy well and I also know the valuable role that resource plays for San Francisco residents in terms of our water supply.”
I looked into the record to see if Werbach has ever been more specific on Hetch Hetchy and water projects. While the new commissioner for Hetch Hetchy apparently has never addressed the subject before, there are in the public prints some revealing comments from him about water projects in general.
In an August 31, 1997 interview published in the LA Times, when Werbach was national president of the Sierra Club he was asked about a dam on Malibu Creek. His answer – his complete answer to a question about a specific project – was this breathtaking diktat: “Dams will be remembered as a quirky 20th-century monument to ourselves—things that people often built because of ego rather than good sense.” I’m not sure I want anyone sitting on the commission that governs the future of Hetch Hetchy -- which even the Bay Guardian regards as a “civil treasure” – who likely regards Hetch Hetchy as a monument to ego rather than a civic improvement.
He may well want to destroy, rather than re-build Hetch Hetchy. Consider his behavior on the question of Lake Powell, the 186-mile-long man-made lake created by the construction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River near the Utah- Arizona border. (Ironically, Glen Canyon Dam was built with the political cooperation of the Sierra Club, but that’s another story).
In the autumn of 1996, Werbach, acting for the Sierra Club, began demanding that Lake Powell be drained. (His later testimony before Congress is loaded with platitudes, and short on history. In calling for the return of the area to its wilderness condition, he conveniently omitted the fact that nature itself had once filled Glen Canyon with an even larger lake called Prospect Lake by geologists. Arguably when Glen Canyon Dam was constructed in 1956, it was just doing the work that nature would have done. … Hetch Hetchy, indeed, was also once under water before. You could say the current situation is a replication of the original natural condition of the valley).
Point is, we don’t know where Werbach stands on Hetch Hetchy. Does he want to drain the valley? Does he want to blow up the dam? His record indicates that he is for the destruction of man-made water projects. Yet, we’ve been deprived of the chance to examine him on his views before he took office. That, and the manner in which he took office, are a scandal squared.
But there’s an even greater question mark in Werbach’s past. One that really makes you concerned as to whether or not he is fit to serve on a public body in a city, especially a city like ours. It’s his quisling behavior in the face of a move by the Sierra Club’s membership to curb even legal immigration … on the ground that immigrants and emigration are responsible for degradation of the environment.
The club’s members were asked to vote in April, 1998 whether the club should “adopt a comprehensive population policy for the United States that [advocates] an end to U.S. population growth … through reduction in net immigration.”
Behind the ballot question are elitist, fantastic beliefs, some of which voiced by Werbach himself in his 1997 book, “Act Now, Apologize Later,” an offensive argument against cities and in favor of a world of idealized peasant villages. And yet he wants to be on the commission that supplies water to a cosmopolitan city? Werbach, in his book, never attacks immigrants, though.
So when the attack specifically on immigration was put forth by its advocates in the club, what did National President Werbach do?
Well, to his credit, he said he was against it. But as Sara Catania wrote in “Nature Boy,” a February 5 1998 LA Weekly profile, “During an interview in November, he emphatically declared that he would not force-feed the club membership his own views on immigration. ‘I won’t use my position that way,’ he said then. ‘It would be horrible. It would send the wrong message to the membership, that anytime the president didn’t like something, he could just throw money at it and make it go away.’” A month later, he changed course, and did work to oppose the venal proposition.
But what did he call for? Did Werbach call for a repudiation of the proposition? Did he call for the Sierra Club to stand up for immigrants? No. He called for a policy of -- dig this! -- neutrality. In the end, when the election was held, that’s what the Sierra Club voted to be: neutral on immigration.
To be neutral on immigration is to collaborate with immigrant-bashers. Yet this double-talker is sworn in to serve a city of immigrants by District Six’s Supervisor Daly, and is praised as “exceptionally qualified” by a Board president named Gonzalez. Is Gonzalez, who is running for mayor, out of his mind?
There’s much more to say about this squalid story. And in later posts, we’ll get to some of the other curious facts about how this coup happened.
Curious, ain’t it? That the guys who call for clean air, clean water, clean power only can get their compromised candidates into office through dirty power – dirty power politics. …