Thursday, May 12, 2016
Ag overtime hurts workers
By Barry Bedwell
For the third time in less than a decade, legislators in Sacramento are again attempting to change the rules for when agricultural workers would be paid overtime. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has introduced AB 2757 which would remove the current provisions whereby agricultural workers are paid overtime after 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week so that the net impact would be that all workers in the state would be subject to the same 8 hour day and 40 hour week before overtime applies.
The bill’s author and other proponents have stated that they see this issue as one of basic fairness and do not understand any reasoning why agricultural work should be viewed differently. Others apparently think that due to a tightening agricultural labor supply, employers will have no other choice but to pay overtime and thus this proposal would be a means to increase income to farmworkers. All in all, supporters see this as an important step in demonstrating the respect and dignity that agricultural workers deserve based upon their vital role in assisting produce our abundant and nutritious food supply.
However, reality and experience tells us that the bill’s impact will most certainly have a result that is detrimental to the very agricultural workers it seeks to assist.
Why? Well first let’s examine the issue of how working out of doors, subject to the whims of weather, makes this kind of employment different. Unlike almost every other business where you can schedule with reasonable certainty an 8-hour day or 40-hour week, working in agriculture means that a weather event can completely remove the opportunity for work for limited periods. It is the reason that every other state in the United States has no daily hourly limit on agricultural work related to overtime and why only three other states have a weekly limit. There is clear justification to look at agriculture differently and it is not to take advantage of workers but to give them the opportunity to make up for lost hours. Other states get it, California not so much.
For those who say the current rules are simply an excuse for employers to overwork their employees and thus drive down their costs based upon a 3,000 hour-plus work year, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of agricultural workers, with the exception of small specialized categories such as irrigators, do not work 60 hours a week for a majority of the year. As an example from a typical farming operation, the actual amount of hours worked averaged 36 to 38 hours a week per employee.
And then there is this incorrect assumption that employers, due to a lack of labor supply, will simply pay overtime because they have no other choice. While the concept of a short labor supply may have validity during a limited period of the year such as a tight harvest window, the fact is that for almost all other cultural functions the workloads will be managed at less hours per day.
In addition, there is the misconception that overtime pay should be viewed as “normal” or as a “reward” for employees rather than the actuality, as any good business operator knows, that the payment of overtime is actually a sign of unexpected circumstances or poor management. No business, including government, should expect to pay a 50 percent premium on wage costs and expect to stay competitive. Farmers, like any other business entity, will invariably find ways wherever possible to avoid overtime costs. And even if there are occasional needs to pay overtime due to extreme circumstances at harvest, I would not expect those additional dollars to match the impact from fewer hours worked during the other portions of the crop year.
I know growers agree that agricultural employees should be given the respect and dignity they deserve in doing the important work they do. The truth is, farm employers and employees have a much more synergistic relationship than certain special interests would have you believe. Employers, as well as those employees who are aware of this issue, can plainly see the negative impact of AB 2757 and they both agree the bill should be stopped as it was previously in 2010 and 2012. If the proponents of this legislation truly care about farmworkers as they say, then they should rethink this effort before proceeding further. If they do not, then the Legislature should properly vote this bill down.
Barry Bedwell is president of the California Fresh Fruit Association
Los Angeles Times
So the drought has you watering less? It won’t matter much
By George Skelton
Gov. Jerry Brown wants to forbid you from hosing down the driveway. And he is really cranky about lawn watering.
But corporate agriculture is free to plant all the water-gulping nut orchards it desires, even in a semi-desert.
This is the essence of the governor’s new long-term drought policy that he announced Monday.
Brown intends to make permanent some urban water conservation rules that had been temporary. He also plans to give communities more flexibility to decide how much water they should save, depending on local conditions. But it’s basically hands off agriculture.
The governor issued an executive order declaring that the state must “move beyond temporary emergency drought measures and adopt permanent changes to use water more wisely and prepare for more frequent and persistent periods of limited water supply.”
He directed the State Water Resources Control Board to, among other things, “eliminate water waste” in urban areas. He specifically mentioned hosing off sidewalks and driveways, washing cars without a shut-off nozzle, sprinkling lawns in a way that causes runoff and irrigating grass on public street medians.
Well, OK. Everyone needs to do their part.
But let’s not forget: Residential lawns soak up only about 5% of developed water in California. All residential outdoor use — including pools, shrubs, trees — amounts to less than 7%. Total urban use — showers, washers, business landscaping, golf courses, ball fields — account for just 20% of human water consumption.
Agriculture slurps up 80%, much of it in the semiarid San Joaquin Valley, where growers increasingly have been planting thirsty nut orchards, mainly for profitable export overseas.
But while agriculture devours 80% of the developed water, it accounts for only 2% of the state’s gross product, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
Last year, as Californians dealt with the fourth year of drought, growers planted an additional 60,000 acres of almonds, mostly in the San Joaquin Valley, according to state agriculture officials.
That was a 6% increase in almond acreage over the previous year, bringing the total to 1.1 million acres. That’s nearly double the number of almond orchards that existed 12 years ago.
Unlike carrot, tomato and other vegetable plants, nut and fruit trees cannot be temporarily fallowed during dry years.
So when government reduces water deliveries through the giant aqueducts, farmers feel compelled to drill deeper wells, further draining aquifers. The result is that land in much of the San Joaquin Valley has been sinking, damaging roads and canals and drying up water supplies for hardscrabble local communities.
The state lists 21 “critically overdrafted” water basins, covering practically the entire San Joaquin Valley. The Paso Robles area and Oxnard also are on the list.
In 2014, Brown signed landmark groundwater management legislation — California’s first. But it basically punted the chore of refereeing water use to local agencies. And the rules won’t fully take effect for another generation.
Back to almonds. Not all of them are equally thirsty. It depends on their location.
In the wetter Sacramento Valley — the northern part of the Central Valley — one acre of these nuts requires 2.4 acre-feet of irrigation water annually, according to the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. In most of the San Joaquin Valley, they need 3.4 acre-feet. But in the lower valley, they gobble up 4 acre-feet.
Roughly 85% are in the parched San Joaquin. Do the math: Those additional 60,000 acres of almonds require more than 200,000 acre-feet of water per year, enough for 400,000 households.
Making this really simple, one gallon of water is generally needed to grow one almond.
Yes, the water produces food, but most of it isn’t for us. It provides snacks for other countries, primarily in Asia.
“I believe farmers should grow whatever they want,” Brown told me last year.
Never mind that government regulates practically all other land use. A property owner can’t just willy-nilly build an apartment house, develop a mall or carve out a dump.
Brown did, however, pester farmers a little in his executive order.
Irrigation districts serving at least 25,000 acres currently are required to develop drought management plans and monitor groundwater levels, reporting the numbers to Sacramento. The governor’s new edict lowers the acreage threshold to 10,000, covering an additional 1 million acres of farmland.
But there’s no enforcement of the current regulations.
“There should be,” says Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources. He says enforcement legislation will be proposed by next year.
“What we’re trying to do is see how efficiently agriculture uses water,” Cowin says. “We’re staying away from mandating land use and types of agriculture.”
But agriculture is going to be constrained anyway eventually — by nature and by groundwater regulations — predicts one expert.
“There’s not enough water,” says Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis watershed center. “It’s inevitable.”
Lund says less water will be exported south from the deteriorating Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Groundwater is being depleted and contaminated. Seas will rise because of climate change, pushing more saltwater inland. Less snow will fall in the Sierra. San Joaquin Valley soil will become more toxic because of irrigation runoff and imported salty water. And urbanization will eat up cropland.
He says up to 2 million of the San Joaquin Valley’s 5 million irrigated acres will need to be fallowed.
“That looks right to me,” Cowin says.
Not hosing down your driveway won’t amount to a hill of beans.
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Hunter, environmental regulator appointed to California Fish and Game Commission
By Ryan Sabalow
A longtime water regulator and a lifelong hunter have been appointed to a powerful state board that lists endangered species and sets hunting and fishing regulations enforced by California game wardens.
Peter Silva, a 63-year-old water policy consultant from Chula Vista, joined the state Fish and Game Commission after serving as an assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He also served for five years on the State Water Resources Control Board and was a policy adviser at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
The second appointee was Russell Burns, a 55-year-old union official from Napa who’s a lifelong hunter and angler, said state wildlife officials and a hunting lobbyist.
Hunters, anglers, animals rights activists and environmental groups had been waiting for months for Gov. Jerry Brown’s choices for the two vacant seats on the five-member commission. The appointments still require state Senate confirmation.
Appointed Friday, Brown’s new commissioners are both Democrats. Their positions on hunting and other commission issues are largely unknown.
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Silva said he’s not a hunter or an angler but “respects everybody’s desires.” He said he brings substantial regulatory and water-policy experience to the commission.
“When this came up, I decided it was something interesting and something I might contribute positively to, given my background,” he said.
Burns couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
The commission’s endangered species rulings often affect mining, logging, dams, development and water use. The board also can restrict human activities in offshore areas and arbitrate disputes over Department of Fish and Wildlife permits and licensing.
Hunting and angling groups have complained that the board has grown more unfriendly to their cause over the years. Last year, the board banned bobcat trapping and in 2014 listed wolves under the state Endangered Species Act.
Hunters were alarmed when Commissioner Jim Kellogg, an ardent hunter and angler, resigned in frustration in December saying the state was no longer as supportive of hunting and fishing. Meanwhile, commission President Jack Baylis – whom hunters and anglers saw as too friendly to animal rights activists – also resigned for unrelated reasons.
Animal rights groups have answered that the board merely began listening to their concerns after decades of being entirely beholden to hunters and anglers.
The other commissioners are Eric Sklar, a vineyard owner from St. Helena, Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, an executive officer for a North Coast Indian tribe, and Anthony Williams, a onetime policy director for former state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
A state Senate committee on Wednesday confirmed Sklar and Williams to the board. They were appointed by Brown last year.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the commission announced it had appointed Valerie Termini to replace Sonke Mastrup, the commission’s influential but nonvoting executive director. Mastrup stepped down late last year to take a job with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Termini has been serving as interim executive director at the California Ocean Protection Council, a state advisory agency. Previously, she was the council’s fisheries policy adviser.
A lifelong angler, she said she’s taking a hunters’ safety course required to obtain a license and hopes to take her daughter hunting.
“As a mom, I think it’s important to know where your food comes from,” she said. “And that’s something I want to teach her.”
Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow., email@example.com
San Diego Union-Tribune
Beetle devastating local oaks
Infestation has killed at least 100K trees in the county, though it could be more
By J. Harry Jones
CUYAMACA RANCHO STATE PARK — Invasive beetles are continuing to decimate old-growth trees across Southern California, according to state forest and fire officials who pointed out some of the damage during a grim tour of San Diego County’s backcountry on Wednesday.
Their message hit home at the Green Valley campground near Julian, where a once lush canopy of tall oak trees has been reduced to a barren sea of stumps. The dozens of 100-foot oaks that have already been felled are surrounded by dozens more that are dead or dying.
“I started coming to this campground with my folks 60 years ago,” said Tom Scott, a natural resource specialist at UC Berkeley, and one of a group of researchers, forestry officials and Cal Fire Naturalists who surveyed the forlorn scene. “Understand that this was once a closed canopy forest, a place where you could get out of the sun and that’s why this picnic area was set up here. That’s what we’ve lost.”
The campground was infested by the tiny goldspotted oak borer beetle roughly a decade ago, and since then the pest has spread to a huge swath of San Diego County as well as small pockets of oaks further north in Idyllwild and Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Directors of the California State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection were on hand for Wednesday’s tour, which included a stop at Lake Morena County Park, where officials talked about two other invasive pests — the polyphagous and Kuroshio shot hole borers and their associated fungi, which have already killed more than 100,000 trees throughout six Southern California counties.
There are more than 200 susceptible tree species including avocado, olive and persimmon that are susceptible to the two beetles, officials said.
In San Diego County alone, roughly 75,000 acres have been infested by the goldspotted borer and officials estimate at least 100,000 trees have died — though the number could be 10 times that many.
Officials have said it’s impossible to know the exact scope of the damage, but Scott, the UC Berkeley specialist, said the numbers based on their models are so big that they don’t release them to the public “because nobody would believe it.”
“The horse is out of the barn in San Diego County,” said Kevin Turner, the goldspotted borer program coordinator at UC Riverside.
First identified in the county in 2008, experts think the beetle was introduced to the area via firewood brought from its native Arizona perhaps five or 10 years earlier.
They continue to spread through infested firewood that campers and others carry away.
The Green Valley campground was so hard hit that in 2009 it was shut down while 600 tons of trees were cut down. Those were only the trees that posed a threat to campers because the branches were above campsites and picnic areas and might fall.
Many other parts of the county — in the Cleveland National Forest and near Ramona and Julian especially — have been equally infested. Just recently the beetle was found in far northern San Diego County in the Oak Grove area.
Large parts of the San Diego County oak forests may be a lost cause, one expert said Wednesday, but strict controls on the movement of firewood and the proper destruction of infested trees can contain the beetle and keep it from spreading further north.
“Firewood is the wick, the source,” Turner said.
It takes about three years for an infested to tree to die, and during that time thousands of new beetles can emerge. Michael Puzzo, a state park environmental scientist, said properly disposing of infested trees is the key. They can be finely ground in a chipper or burned.
Some areas — including county parks — are now experimenting with pesticides, but state parks have not yet chosen to go that route, Puzzo said.
firstname.lastname@example.org (619) 529-4931, Twitter @jharryjones
Ventura County Star
Camarillo SOAR signatures headed to city clerk, again, after second signature drive
By Gretchen Wenner
Supporters of an open-space ballot initiative in Camarillo will — once again — turn in thousands of signatures to the city clerk this week.
Proponents of the SOAR ordinance, for Save Open-space & Agricultural Resources, learned last month the 6,600-plus signatures they’d gathered weren’t valid because there had been an incorrect date on the preprinted petition forms.
That required a do-over signature drive, with a May 20 deadline looming to get the measure on the November ballot.
Organizer Bob Merrilees said Tuesday volunteers have now collected more than 4,700 signatures and plan to turn them in Thursday.
Then they’ll head to Brendan’s Irish Pub to celebrate, he added.
Some 4,024 valid signatures are needed to make the ballot, but groups generally gather more than the minimum more as a buffer. Merrilees said the group has been validating as it goes and feels fairly confident it has enough.
Camarillo is among eight Ventura County cities, as well as the county, that could have similar initiatives on the ballot. Like most of the SOAR measures, Camarillo’s would extend growth curbs until 2050. Backers of a county-level rival measure called SUSTAIN VC, with more flexibility for agriculture, have also been gathering signatures. In Oxnard, the City Council decided to put two versions, with 2030 and 2050 sunset dates, on the ballot.
Only Port Hueneme and Ojai do not have SOAR measures in play. Port Hueneme essentially has no room to grow, while Ojai already has strict development rules in place.
Contra Costa Times
Brentwood leaders skeptical about open-space proposal
By Paula King
BRENTWOOD — Leaders here expressed concern Tuesday that a proposed county agricultural and open-space preservation policy could limit local control of the city’s agricultural land and development.
Members of Contra Costa County’s Local Agency Formation Commission presented the proposal to the City Council on Tuesday night. LAFCO representative Don Tatzin said that LAFCO is aimed at encouraging orderly growth, preserving ag lands and open space and discouraging urban sprawl and it also considers city boundary changes.
“We are trying to do this as a partnership,” Tatzin said.
The draft plan states that “urban development should be discouraged in ag areas” and that “vacant land within urban areas should be developed before agricultural land is annexed for nonagricultural purposes.”
When asked for their input, council members noted that the current plan takes away local rights and its tone sounds like leaders in Central and West Contra Costa want to dictate what happens to land and development in East County.
“There seems to be a bias against this part of the county and some of them haven’t even been out here,” Councilman Gene Clare said. “It comes off strongly as ‘you aren’t going to build out there and you are going to stay small.’ We like local control out here in Brentwood. We want to control our destiny.”
Brentwood Vice Mayor Joel Bryant said that he wants Brentwood to be in a stronger partnership with LAFCO on this plan. He doesn’t want the plan to hinder economic development and business opportunities surrounding agriculture.
“Clearly, in Brentwood, we are agricultural at the core,” he said. “We want to preserve and protect that but promote it.”
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor noted that Brentwood already has about 980 acres of ag easements in place, so that ag land will remain that way permanently. He added that Brentwood must provide housing for people who are moving to the area.
“I farmed out here for 20 years and my biggest obstacle was the county,” Taylor said. “People are coming here whether we like it or not. Don’t box us in.”
Fourth generation farmer and Councilman Erick Stonebarger said that the plan would have been better received if LAFCO had asked for input from the far East Contra Costa communities that it impacts most, such as Brentwood, Oakley and Discovery Bay. He said that this should have been done when it was first started in March 2015.
“It sounds like it is written by somebody who doesn’t spend much time out here,” Stonebarger said.
Council members plan to write a response to LAFCO regarding the policy in the next few weeks asking them to consider Brentwood’s economic vitality, future local jobs, housing needs and ability to make land use decisions.
“Brentwood has done a dang good job,” Taylor said. “If you put handcuffs on us, it will be a bitter fight through and through.”