These are strange times for Gov. Jerry Brown. In an era of term limits, he's favored to win his fourth election to the state's highest office. In a time of disdain for politicians, he enjoys 58 percent job approval, according to a Public Policy Institute of California survey.
The most notable paradox, though, as he rides this crest of popularity, is the palpable outrage at one of his pet projects -- the $67 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
More than 300 residents packed a meeting room at the Lone Tree Golf & Event Center in Antioch on Thursday night for the sole purpose of hearing all that's wrong with his proposal to export Sacramento River water south through two 40-foot-diameter tunnels capable of moving 75,000 gallons per second.
Five speakers were on the two-hour program sponsored by Restore The Delta, each increasingly more critical of the governor's legacy project, which explains why Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho was saved for the end.
Piepho, a Discovery Bay resident, has been on this case like a hound on a fox. She serves on the Delta Conservancy, Delta Protection Commission, Delta Coalition, Delta Plan Implementation Committee and Delta Stewardship Council. She pulls no punches about how Brown's plan affects the Delta.
"It's bad for our drinking water supplies, bad for fish, bad for boating, bad for recreation, bad for our agriculture and bad for our economy," she told the crowd, likening it to the Peripheral Canal plan Brown supported during his first go-round as governor in 1982. "It's the same governor and the same bad project."
Opponents decry everything from mammoth costs to ecological damage to degradation of water quality. The more water diverted from the Delta, the more brackish backflow increases its salinity. But the greatest concern voiced by activists is the lack of public voice in this decision.
Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, told the crowd the reason he introduced Assembly Bill 1671 is to stop the governor from having unrestricted control of the project. Frazier's bill, which still has a steep hill to climb, would require legislative approval before any construction of tunnels or water conveyance could begin.
Frazier, who describes himself as a "lifelong Delta boater, hunter, fisherman and resident absolutely opposed to the twin tunnels," keeps a "Stop The Tunnels" poster in his Sacramento office, which overlooks the governor's courtyard.
"Every chance I get when he's out there," he said, "I turn the sign around for his benefit." The audience roared its approval.
Piepho said Thursday's turnout is indicative of growing opposition. Three weeks ago, when she spoke at a similar forum in Discovery Bay, she estimated the turnout at 600. "I think it's beginning to hit home," she said. "People are realizing how they personally are going to be affected by this."
The state has already spent $276 million on economic impact reports. Another $1.25 billion is earmarked for project planning. But two big obstacles stand in its way: state environmental regulations and the federal Endangered Species Act.
"I'm somewhat confident under current regulations that the tunnels aren't going to be built," Piepho said. "But if they lower the bar, then it's on."
Where Gov. Brown is concerned, things rarely hold to form.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.