Yesterday Max Gomberg had his last day at the State Water Resources Control Board. He sent this on his last day, and cc’ed me. With his permission:
I am sharing my parting thoughts because I believe in facing hard truths and difficult decisions. These are dark and uncertain times, both because fascists are regaining power and because climate change is rapidly decreasing the habitability of many places. Sadly, this state is not on a path towards steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions reductions, massive construction to alleviate the housing crisis, quickly and permanently reducing agriculture to manage the loss of water to aridification, and reducing law enforcement and carceral budgets and reallocating resources to programs that actually increase public health and safety. All of these (and more) are necessary for an equitable and livable future. I think at some level many of you know this, yet you convince yourselves that inhabiting the middle ground between advocates and industry (and other status quo defenders) makes you reasonable. But it does not. It makes you complicit.
To my Water Board colleagues:
Witnessing the agency’s ability to tackle big challenges nearly eviscerated by this Administration has been gut wrenching. The way some of you have simply rolled over and accepted this has also been difficult to watch. However, your commitment to racial equity is a reason for optimism. A tremendous amount of time and effort is going into creating a meaningful action plan and that is worthy of praise. But, following through on those commitments means leaning into conflict. Some of you need to dig deep and find your moral compass. If you cannot do that you should step aside and let others lead.
Over a decade of working for this Board I have had the privilege of working with dedicated and caring people on important policies, and for that I am grateful. Together we have advanced safe, accessible, and affordable water for marginalized communities, reduced urban water waste, and forced conversations about equity within the climate resilience discourse.
I will continue rooting for those of you willing to fight for people and environment against industry, the right-wing death cult, and status-quo defenders. Raise your voice, express dissent, organize together, and use all of the tools at your disposal. And if you ever need a pep talk, I’ll be there.
In appreciation and solidarity,
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
This is a wonderful letter; I admire it. I recognize the frustration and pain that drove Mr. Gomberg to write it. He’s right. As a state, we are not taking the actions we need to reduce present and future misery. In our field, the Newsom administration is hobbling the agencies while claiming progress. I don’t know whether it concerns the appointeds at the executive level, but the gap between the obvious necessary work and their vast timidity has taken a real toll on staff morale.
My state water agency has an unspoken internalized mandate that nothing we do can lead to conflict or the admission that policy changes will create losers. We will let existing injustices and suffering for lack of water exist forever, so long as any real-world pains aren’t because of something we touched or changed or did. This means that poor people (farmworker communities, the homeless) and the voiceless (fish, creatures, rivers) have been and will be neglected into extinction while the agency studies and models and creates decision frameworks.
As Mr. Gomberg states, the Newsom administration has been unusually timid and conflict averse, even reversing the small progress brought about by Felicia Marcus’s Board at the end of the Brown administration. I do not know whether the water executives in this administration will eventually feel ashamed of their role in the State’s refusal to do what we all need. I am deeply petty, so I hope so. Either way they will certainly be understood to have done nothing when much was required. It is already evident and noted. If the internal dissonance becomes too much, Mr. Gomberg demonstrates perhaps the only way out of the trap of the Newsom administration: a noisy resignation.