Tastes like a Brandywine, produces like a Better Boy. I’m telling you.

I’ve read a couple of Ms. Bowen’s columns in the Siskiyou Daily News, mostly for her emphatic position supporting the farmers in the Scott and Shasta Valleys. I am quite taken by her recurring closing paragraph on her garden. Would you guys be up for something like that? ‘Cause I can do that. I finally got my summer garden mulched. I like a hefty layer of straw, more or less a flake thick. Had to build new tomato cages this year. Went with steel welded mesh panels for concrete reinforcement. Bit of overkill, but I’m grateful for the height and seismic reinforcement. One can’t have too much ductility, says I. Put in mostly Brandy Boys, then some other frou-frou heirlooms. I can never be bothered to remember which ones.

I’m not afraid to say shocking things here, so here goes. I am done with cherry tomatoes. That’s right. Done. They’re just not worth the picking effort. Even Sungolds. Even Sweet 100’s. Yellow Pears are bland and pointless, always have been. Much as I love Sungolds, I am bored picking them. NO MORE. When there are children around, I understand growing a sacrificial moat of cherry tomatoes around the perimeter of the garden. But this year I’m not growing any. We can do a post-season analysis in October to evaluate this radical choice. I’ll admit my mistake, if that’s what it turns out to be.

The other thing that caught my eye in Ms. Bowen’s piece was this:

Fees to go up 700-fold
Another vital discussion for the POW agenda is the enormous increase in the watermaster service fee. At our POW board meeting last week, we voted to fight this illegal demand that will increase the fee for the simple service by seven times. This gigantic jump will affect the bottom line for our local ranchers, who, in most cases are just getting by. The problem is that the fee has been placed on property taxes and is now considered a tax. So while we figure out how to get out of watermaster service or find an alternative, the fee will go on property taxes starting July 1. If the fee isn’t paid, the county can add a fine and a lien will be placed on your property. …

… The fee is based on the amount of water one receives and John receives a significant amount of legally adjudicated water. His fee cost has been $1,430 and will increase to $8,400 a year – beginning this coming Friday. Lots of notice time!

…John and several neighbors will be petitioning the court to be released from watermaster service, but that will take time. Those who are not affected by this huge service fee increase may wonder why POW is taking such a strong stand against it. The reason: Once government agencies believe they can push the public around and will pay their wasteful budgets, this type of fee increase will escalate. Our government is too big. Taxes, fees and fines from increased regulations and laws are destroying the economy and our society. We must say “no more.”

Several aspects of this interest me. First, that she created a backstory to tie the fee into her perceived larger agenda. The watermaster fee to the growers in the Scott and Shasta didn’t come about because a government agency wants to grind the public under its heel. The fee reassignment was part of the governor’s May budget cuts. The state can’t raise revenues to continue paying for the watermaster service, as it has done for years, so as part of Governor Brown’s strategy of centrifuging costs out to locals, he sent that cost out to Scott and Shasta. The reason isn’t philosophical. It is only that a county still has the mechanism to collect taxes to support services and the state doesn’t so long as Republicans vote as a tax-denying bloc. You see the strategy elsewhere in the new budget. The Water Board isn’t paying for water rights and water quality enforcement. That is now paid for by rightholders and polluters. Fifty million dollars of firefighting will no longer be supported by the general fund. It’ll come from a home assessment on people living in high fire areas. The state cannot raise taxes, but watermaster service, pollution monitoring and enforcement, and firefighting still have to happen. So now these costs are borne by the direct recipients as fees.

This wasn’t done out for philosophical reasons about matching users to costs and making people internalize the costs of their way of life. It isn’t related to the new state emphasis on regional water management. It is a side effect of the state-level budget process. If our budget process weren’t so fucked, we’d likely keep subsidizing farmers and people who live in fire’s way, just as we have for decades. Nevertheless, differing taxation mechanisms at the state and county level are forcing this approach. Now that it is here, this differentiating taxation burdens by specific function (watermaster, firefighting, TMDL monitoring), do we like it? It is squarely in line with the “user pays” principle (or “stressor pays”). Those are proposed as ways to finance the Delta Plan.

Growers in the Scott and Shasta don’t seem to like internalizing their costs. Bleeding heart that I am, I kinda don’t like it either. I like to be part of a collective state and don’t want to fuss about making sure that everyone pays exactly what is owed. I’m more of a “split the bill evenly and it’ll work out over time” than a “figure out how many drinks each person ordered and who only got salad” person. Economists would counter about freeriders and tell me one more time that tying costs to uses more precisely would decrease economically inefficient behavior. Parceling costs and taxes out to distinct user categories is more in line with the Information Age and the ability to track lots of information more closely, so maybe it is a reflection of modernity.

My mind isn’t made up on this, dear reader. I am sure you will inform me in the comments. Good way for the state to pay its way and signal to taxpayers, or another step towards the dissolution of collective statehood into self-interested tribes? Cherry tomatoes or no?

LATER: Some editing for clarity. Apologies for posting that rough draft and rushing out the door.


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10 responses to “Tastes like a Brandywine, produces like a Better Boy. I’m telling you.

  1. Oh I can only wish to be so bold as to NOT grow a cherry tomato plant, but no … there it is … At least I learned years ago to not buy the “Sweet 100” variety……

  2. onthepublicrecord

    It takes a great deal of courage and fortitude, but I know you have it in you. Walk by those starts! Ignore those seed packets! You can do it.

    Unless we come back in October and decide it was all a very bad idea of mine.

  3. Anton

    It should be noted that the law requiring those folks to pay for their watermaster services dates back to 2003, so it has less to do with the budget than one might think. Also, that means that they got a free pass for 7+ years… in contradiction of an existing law.

  4. Have you tried red pears? Because having grown them for a couple season — they even return as volunteers — I’m sold for life.

    By the way, thanks heaven for tomatoes to gives Californians something nonpartisan in common.

  5. Christopher Marks

    Dude, gotta disagree about the pear tomatoes. I put some golden pear tomato plant (from OSH I believe) in the yard in Capitola a few years back, and it overwhelmed me with delicious salsa fixings until Halloween. It was so crazy I actually got quantitative on that thing, and measured over 12 feet from the stalk to the end of one branch. Throw in some mango and habaneros and you get a top notch salsa…

  6. Whoops, sometimes I feel like my email address should be my name, but I haven’t officially had the court change it yet.

  7. In college, I was fairly (thoroughly) poor. But even then I always opted for splitting the bill evenly among friends. And one of my serious salary requirements was to make enough to never worry about splitting the bill. So, now I consider myself wealthy by that standard.

    But I recognize that not everyone in California is as well-off as that. And, worst of all, everyone in California is not necessarily my friend.

    And I’m pretty firmly convinced that at the huge series of dinner parties that is the sunshine state, there’s gonna be folks I don’t know ordering lobster and then splitting the bill with my salad-eating friends. All the time.

    So, in the interests of transparency, and fairness, and signaling (so people know what is expensive – maybe they’ll even stop to think about why that is) I’ve got to favor some system to ensure people pay for what they use.

    Weren’t you the wise blogger who talked about leaving the age of utilization and entering the age of optimization? I’m thinking that making people pay the actual costs of what they are using is a pretty good, decentralized way to optimize resource usage…


    ps I know this is a character flaw, but I don’t really like tomatoes. Especially not the ones people tout as “good” or “great”. Garden this year is just kale and collard trees. Worst of all, the last, late storm ruined the buds on the peach and plum trees in the foothills so no jam from them this summer :^(

  8. onthepublicrecord

    Scott, that is absolutely tragic. I am so sorry to hear that you won’t be getting stonefruit this year. Did I ever tell you that your honey-pomegranate jelly was amazing? I would trade you some honey from my hive for another jar of that.

  9. Oh, I’ll not turn down an offer like that! I’m not sure I have any more pom-honey but I cranked out some fine pomegranate jelly with lime juice last year. And I’ve got some balsamic strawberry jam already put up this year. We’ll figure something out.

  10. I like black krims, which are actually a purplish color. Their flesh is dense, the flavor intense and pronouncedly salty. This year, I haven’t staked mine at all but lashed some old tree-limbs into trestles next to them, so they can luxuriantly flop. So far, so good, but you need space for this. I agree with you — almost — about cherry tomatoes in the garden, but off season they’re the only ones I’ll buy in shops because they manage to have some flavor. But every year I do plant some sort of sugary little yellow cherry — it may be one of those you mentioned, or Jaune de I forget. On a different subject entirely, this year’s greatest pleasure was the exactly 3 Snow Queen nectarines from a row of new trees put in bare root last December. A pomologist friend warned they succumb to blight, but he’s the same friend who introduced them to me. Armstrong bred them in the 1950s. They’re amazing. I must get out and take some weight off the persimmon tree. It has so much fruit the wood is cracking.

    Interesting about the cost-sharing. I wonder when and if it will extend to flood control in LA County.