How much of a hold does the oligarchy have on California’s political system? I guess there are a lot of ways to answer this question. But let me give you one that’s closest to my heart and my professional interests. Take this as a little postcard from liberal California.
About a week ago I got this press release from the Office of Governor — Gavin Newsom. In it, a governor of a major state with an economy bigger than most countries in the world and a reputation for being forward-thinking and at the cutting edge of liberal politics, announced that he’s gonna do an event at Caltech, a private university in Pasadena. What so big and important about this event that the governor feels the need to travel 400 miles south from his political lair in Sacramento?
Well, as his announcement’s subtext made very clear, Governor Gavin’s was going to Pasadena to spit shine some shoes. Yes, ma’am!
“Philanthropists” is an interesting way for the Governor of California to describe one of the most powerful forces in farming in the state — a billionaire family that owns something like 300 square miles of Oligarch Valley land, has its own toxic corporate farm worker town, and, from their ridiculous mansion in Beverly Hills, has been on a destructive quest to eviscerate the state’s river system and plunder its aquifers, helping fuel a mass extinction in the San Francisco Bay Delta…all so they can grow and export pistachios, a fringe snack food that people around here barely eat.
But then calling these rapacious oligarchs “philanthropists” is exactly the point. Governor Gavin was going out to Pasadena to do some public relations work: to lend his name and image and the respectably of his public office to Stewart and Lynda Resnick’s ongoing effort to rebrand themselves as do-gooders and environmentalists, rather than the industrial-scale destroyers of the environment that they are.
Their latest ploy is this $750 million “Resnick Sustainability Center” that they’re building at Caltech — a joke considering that the Resnick’s entire business model is based on unsustainably terraforming the land and plundering resources to the maximum. But then it’s not so funny what you realize that what the Resnicks probably have in mind with all this “sustainability” talk is making sure their own industrial plunder will be sustained as long as possible without any serious political challenges. It looks like that’s what their Caltech investment is about.
I haven’t seen any reporting on this new center they’re funding — surprising given how powerful these people are in California…but I guess it’s just another sign of how sparse and degraded local journalism has become. But even from their own press releases it’s clear that their center will be part of the increasingly frantic push to develop technologies and eco-modernist “solutions” to our environmental catastrophe — techno fixes that will do little more than superficially manage the ongoing collapse of our death drive society, without touching or changing our way of life, nor threatening the power of our oligarchy that produces and perpetuates it. Best of all these tech solutions can be sold on the market: funneling cash to the people who’ll be making these tools and funneling profits to the investors who’ll be funding them. Sustainability, indeed!
Stewart and Lynda are fighting their class war. Are you? (Promo poster for the doc I’m making with Rowan Wernham.)
The Caltech event took place on May 4th. I couldn’t find a video of it, but the press people at the university helpfully pumped out an incredibly long press release on it with some quotes and a few pictures. Naturally Gavin Newsom was there, the star of the show, looking like he just came off the set of another shitty Basic Instinct sequel, playing himself as an aging sleazy upper class San Francisco playboy.
There are pictures of him sitting next sitting next to Stewart and Lynda and digging the first mound of dirt right along with them. And then there’s him at a podium, from which I’m guessing he’s praising the generosity of the Resnicks. In almost every shot, you can see a strategically placed stack of the Resnicks’ iconic Fiji water bottles.
In case you don’t know, all these Fiji bottles are filled with water taken from the impoverished country of Fiji. The Resnicks bought up a company that privatized a big chunk of the islands’s water supply and they grabbed that water for themselves, despite many locals there not having clean water to drink. (A side note: a Mother Jones reporter got deported from Fiji for trying to investigate the Resnicks’ business practices.) None of that stops the Resnicks from pumping water from Fiji into their own private ocean tanker, sending it cruising almost 6,000 miles to California, bottling them, and then selling them in every gas station and supermarket in America…and, as a bonus, having the Governor of California fronting for their product. A nicely integrated supply chain they have going.
Speaking of supply chains. Gavin’s not just doing this for kicks. This is about duty and honor. The Resnicks have long been backers of his political career, going back to when he was mayor of San Francisco. Most recently, they threw $250,000 into his anti-recall campaign. And the governor himself’s no stranger to California’s tight-knit oligarchic politics. He’s essentially part of the extended Getty clan…and that family, as well as a few others, provided crucial backing to get his political career off the ground.
There have been several investigations into the small set of California’s old money clans that have backed him and which have dominated politics in California for generations. Here’s one. Tell me if any of the names sound familiar:
Gavin Newsom will be the first Democrat in more than a century to succeed another Democrat as governor and the succession also marks a big generational transition in California politics.
A long-dominant geriatric quartet from the San Francisco Bay Area — Gov. Jerry Brown, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — has been slowly ceding power to younger political strivers.
Moreover, Newsom is succeeding someone who could be considered his quasi-uncle, since his inauguration continues the decades-long saga of four San Francisco families intertwined by blood, by marriage, by money, by culture and, of course, by politics – the Browns, the Newsoms, the Pelosis and the Gettys.
The connections date back at least 80 years, to when Jerry Brown’s father, Pat Brown, ran for San Francisco district attorney, losing in 1939 but winning in 1943, with the help of his close friend and Gavin Newsom’s grandfather, businessman William Newsom.
Fast forward two decades. Gov. Pat Brown’s administration developed Squaw Valley for the 1960s winter Olympics and afterward awarded a concession to operate it to William Newsom and his partner, John Pelosi…
So Gavin’s not new to this.
Lynda and Stewart Resnick might not be old California money, but they’ve been on the make for a while. They’re a ridiculously ambitious business couple and they’ve been plundering California for no other reason than to climb into the upper reaches of the state’s ruling elite. They’ve succeeded now. Their family has officially entered the pantheon. And so Gavin’s doing what he’s done for most of his political career. The oligarchs are your friends…they might even be family. And you always help your friends and family.
PS: At least Lynda and Stewart Resnick’s oil waste irrigation practices are sustainable — as in, they irrigate their orchards with petroleum waste. But I’ll save that for when our documentary comes out, which, Yahweh willing, will be this year.
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Wow this seems like a textbook example of big agriculture trying to buy their way out of a problem they created. These fat cat farmers operate in an environmentally destructive and never give a thought to other water users.
Thanks for this much needed expose, Yasha. I'd love to see some on the ground momentum to push back on water rights.
Also it’s hilarious how tacky these supposedly sophisticated old money people are - hawking your plastic water bottles at the sustainability center launch is just, fucking amazing. What vile cretins