What meetings look like.

Alex, thank you so much for posting that footage of a board meeting about a surcharge on groundwater.  I’m looking forward to your story on it this weekend.  Hey, reporter people.  You should do more of that.  You’re our eyes and legs, and now that we have some internets, you have the capacity to give us so much more than a written story.  I glean what I can from your written stories, but here’s what I got from that footage Mr. Breitler posted.

I’m mostly looking at it with the sound off.  I do not understand the battling ballot measures and don’t have a dog in that fight.  But here’s what I see:

  • A horrible bland room with no windows.  I cannot tell you how much of California’s water business gets conducted in utterly stifling rooms, disconnected from the physical processes the people are talking about.  Real things, like a budding orchard or a cracking canal gate, are an abstraction when you’re crammed into a box with no windows.
  • Six or seven ordinary looking people, behind two folding tables.  Folding tables.  I’m telling you, this is not a glamorous business, despite what you hear about oligarchs and the-new-oil and all those devastatingly handsome engineers.
  • Those six or seven people are sitting opposite tens of people, massed together.  The lopsided bulk of the room is intimidating, especially since the set-up of sides facing each other looks oppositional.
  • The audience is very old, overwhelmingly white (did I see one Asian dude?) and mostly male.  All of the speakers were old white men.  Doesn’t make ’em wrong; doesn’t mean that they’ll agree with each other.  Does make it likely that the range of views in the broader population isn’t going to get aired at that meeting.  And OLD.  Succession alone is going to transform California water policy.  I should have put that on my last list.  I bet it is in the top five transitional forces (climate change induced scarcity, coming to the end of mined wealth (gw, topsoil, carbon absorption capacity), something or other, something else, generational succession).
  • Hostile body language from the speakers, to a board that has to live with those people as neighbors every day.  Also, folks, you should remember.  The poor saps who sit up front and get yelled at get no pay for their efforts.  Maybe they get some minimal per diem for meeting attendance.  They do this work because they’re good citizens, interested, and want an outcome for their community.  They’re pretty much the saints of representative democracy, and I have a ton of respect for them.*

That’s what I can tell without knowing anything about the issue.  And I got that because that brilliant reporter Alex Breitler thought to post a video.  More of that, please, reporters.  This way all the sharks in the blog waters can look at the same things and offer analysis.

*Which reminds me.  I did listen to the Glenn County meetings on whether to keep membership in NCWA.  (Search for “ncwa” to get to the two recent relevant parts.)  First, every time I do that I’m blown away again, at how carefully and conscientiously local elected officials consider the issues.  I often don’t agree with the outcome, but I’m so impressed at how diligently they approach the questions.  Second, two listens in a row, and I still have no idea why they’re mad at NCWA.  There are some politics I’m not getting.  It might be about water transfers, like I speculated.  But they were real coy, talking about their disappointment with the recent direction of NCWA, and they didn’t say why.  For all I could tell, it could be personal animus.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “What meetings look like.

  1. This was fascinating. I happened on Breitler’s video then your description in sequence, thanks to artful posting by Aquafornia. It was uncanny how much your description captured my own immediate impressions of the video, with one exception. I was also struck by how fat most of the people in the room were. The group even look like dinosaurs.

    After taking my own white, fat, swishing form downstairs for a snack, I had another couple of thoughts: the best place to catch farmers outside of meeting rooms is early in the morning in a coffee shop. That’s where the real business is done. You don’t need to be Woodward or Bernstein to do this. All you need to do is go through any town’s main drag and look for the trucks, and you’ll find the morning meeting place. Myself, I wouldn’t pull out a video camera, but that could owe to the inability to work one.

    The final impression was how different California farmers are from Nevadan ones, and even ones from Eastern Washington, the groups I have followed most closely. In Nevada particularly, they are incredibly circumspect in meetings, even when their lives and homes are on the line, an aspect finely honed at cattle auctions if not poker tables. Then again, the noisy contingent at the meeting captured by Breitler may not be farmers.

  2. onthepublicrecord

    That looked pretty standard for local meetings I’ve gone to, and circumspect isn’t usually the word I’d use to describe them.