Nestlé’s Backroom Deal? (Sacramento, CA)

Part II- Nestlé at the City Council: Public Discussion or Backroom Deal?
by Evan Tucker, Sacramento Press, November 18, 2009

Who is to Blame?
Nestlé was recruited by the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization and the Economic Development Department, one of a series of bad projects they have brought here that include the municipal waste burning incinerator and the natural gas storage facility beneath homes in South Sacramento.

The EDD worked with SACTO in secrecy to convince Nestlé to choose Sacramento over Roseville or Stockton. Since the project has been announced Johnson has been Nestlé’s only public supporter. He glowingly informed us of Nestlé’s arrival in the SACTO press release in July and solemnly apologized to them at the council meeting for being forced to temporarily obey the law.
He also is the connection to their sole benefactor in town, the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. Five days before the meeting, one of Johnson’s top advisers, Michelle Smira, left city hall to work as a paid consultant for Nestlé. Smira is also the head of the chamber’s powerful political action committee. As soon as she got on Nestlé’s payroll the chamber sprang into action.

Speaking Out Against Nestlé
After Nestlé had got what it wanted in the back room, public comment on the plant was allowed. The mayor said there were 16 speakers on each side of the issue — although who knows what the accurate break down was, because a number of people speaking against Nestlé were called forward when it was the other side’s turn to speak. Each side was given a total of 10 minutes to speak.
Broken down another way, each person was supposed to get 37 seconds to speak. Nestlé and their lobbyist had already been given unlimited access to the podium, but the citizens were essentially told to summarize a wide array of complex, important issues in 37 seconds or less. As it turned out, nine people spoke against it, seven for it, and one was in the middle. All but one of the people who spoke in favor of the plant had financial ties to Nestlé. Every person who spoke out against the plant was a citizen concerned about water conservation, environmental justice and a transparent public process.

Evan Tucker from Save Our Water spoke about the extreme difficulties of trying to find out information about the plant and about how much of this process was hidden from the public and the council. He also contradicted Nestlé’s claim that they will use 30 million gallons of water with documents from the public records.
Tucker pointed out that the will serve letter between the Utilities Department and Nestlé’s consultant estimated that Nestlé would use 215,000-320,000 gallons of water a day, or 78-116 million gallons a year, many times more than what Nestlé is currently claiming. Furthermore, he told the council that Assistant Utilities Director Jim Peifer had informed him that were no limits on how much water Nestlé would take, so the contradictory estimates were ultimately meaningless.
Nancy Price from Defending Water for Life California spoke about the mysterious private springs that Nestlé plans to truck water from and the need for environmental review to determine the kind of effects this will have on communities and the environment. Shana Meiners, a Sacramento resident, spoke about the environmental and health impacts of water bottling including greenhouse gas emissions, plastic trash, and diesel exhaust. Loran Sheley from Save Our Water brought the fact that the zoning designation for beverage bottling is over 50 years old, which means that it was created before the water bottling industry existed, before PET plastic was created, before global warming was understood, and before cities were required to do environmental review.

Nestlé and the City Continue to Break the Law
From the begining the city has avoided their legal requirement under the California Environmental Quality Act to perform adequate environmental review. We have objected to this for months to no avail and they will probably continue to ignore their legal responsibility unless someone sues them. Despite the fact that the Facilities Permit Program breaks city and state building codes, the city continues to operate that program for Nestlé’s benefit. We knew about or suspected some of the illegality months ago, but most of it did not become apparent until that night. Now it is all out in the open, but that does not stop them. If anything it seems to have accelerated the process, no doubt to get the plant running before someone tries to enforce the law.

What’s Next?
Many people have asked “what’s next?” since the meeting. Most people assume that this fight is over since the council has taken no action. But it is not over.
We will bring the film “Tapped” back to the Crest on Thursday at 7:00 pm. Afterward we will be taking questions and talking about the next steps to fight corporate control of our water and corruption at city hall.