Tuesday, April 6, 2010

At least my family still loves me

I have heard it from the Latino Water Coalition and Water for Fish within the past few days. I suppose some officials from the Department of Interior or Bureau of Reclamation would tell me that's just an average day for them.

On Saturday morning, I went to a water forum on the Pacific campus to hear Mario Santoyo of the Latino Water Coalition. I was disapointed that Mr. Santoyo's presentation was mostly playing 2 videos. The first featured the infamous sound-bites from Lloyd Carter on local Fresno TV which Mr. Santoyo described as representing "what we are up against." The second video featured images of Mendota food lines, and blamed it on a 2-inch minnow. He did take some questions.

Among the questions was one noting that the Mendota area is the poorest, highest unemployment place in California in high water years; and asked him if he had a solution for the poverty that will remain even if water pumping goes back to the maximum. To my surprise, Mr. Santoyo dodged the question and immediately launched into insulting me to the on campus audience. After misrepresenting the results of our reports on water and farm jobs (we have NEVER said no effect), he said that I was upsetting Pacific alumni such himself and Alan Autry, and ended with the comment "What were you thinking, buddy?"

I don't think he was aware that his "buddy" was in the audience, and he was more reasonable when I introduced myself afterwards. I asked him what was so offensive about citing official government statistics, and pointed out that everything in our reports was factually correct and had stood up to scrutiny much better than the reports he was fond of citing. He said his only problem with me was that I hadn't done my "field research."

Today, the Stockton Record ran a front page story about the short salmon report we posted Friday afternoon. I didn't think it was worth a stand-alone article, let alone front-page news, and if we were looking for publicity I would not have posted it on the afternoon of Good Friday. I was disapointed in Dick Pool's comment "He is trying to have a war between economists," especially since these fishing interests have quoted our reports on farm jobs at length. I guess it is only a public service when we pick on the other side.

It is flatly ridiculous to throw around numbers for the salmon fishery closure that are roughly equivalent to the impact of the NUMMI auto plant shut-down (20-25,000 jobs). Yes there are multiplier effects, but a commercial industry that has less than $20 million in landings in a recent good years doesn't turn into a billion dollar impact with multipliers. Alex Breitler's article emphasizes the substitution effect in his article; people buy something other than salmon when it isn't available. That is true, but the much bigger problem with the Southwick estimate of retail job losses that he didn't mention is the assumption that California salmon's share of local retail sales is equal to it's share of local landings. Salmon may be 12% of the value of California catch in a good year, but I bet it is no more than 1-2% of seafood retail and restaurant sales even in those good years.

In some ways, this Southwick salmon number is even more ridiculous than attributing 80,000 lost jobs to water restrictions for agriculture, a number which greatly exceeded the total job loss for the San Joaquin Valley in the entire Great Recession. Whether the issue is AB 32, water, prisons, sports stadiums, or something else; it is important that policy makers use accurate estimates.

The salmon fisherman don't need an overly inflated job loss estimate to make their case. Judge Wanger's ruling last week against Westlands' request for a restraining order against the latest pumping restrictions demonstrates that clearly.

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