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Life Out Here by Bret Kofford: Future fallowing of fairways

June 12, 2002

(June 12, 2012)

DESERT HOT SPRINGS — Despite assurances that the area would be safe from economic hardship after the program was implemented, unemployment and poverty levels skyrocketed in the Coachella Valley after several golf courses were fallowed over the last few years in federal and state water-transfer programs.

Still, government officials are proposing fallowing even more Coachella Valley fairways.

With the Imperial Valley dried up over the last 10 years through several farm fallowing plans, President Dianne Feinstein provided concerned Californians with even more water for further development through a golf course fallowing program in the Coachella Valley.

Now running for a second term as the nation's leader, Feinstein is proposing fallowing even more golf courses in the Coachella Valley to provide water for more populous areas of the state.

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Many political analysts argued earlier in the century that all of the Imperial Valley's farmland was dried up because that valley had no political power, was poverty stricken and was highly minority.

Pundits predicted the Coachella Valley would be the next to provide water to more voter-heavy areas of the state because of the Coachella Valley's isolation and relatively weak political base. That proved to be the case.

The golf courses fallowed in the Coachella Valley have been in highly minority and poorer areas such as Coachella, Indio and Desert Hot Springs. Those selected for the new fallowing program also will be in relatively poor areas of the Coachella Valley.

Feinstein's leader in the golf fallowing program, U.S. Sen. Gray Davis, angrily denied accusations that the program is unfairly affecting the poor and minorities.

"Poor and minority people don't golf much anyway, so we don't think it had much of an effect on those people," Davis said to a group of reporters who confronted him after the release of a study this week showing dire economic ramifications in the Coachella Valley from the golf course fallowing program.

"Obviously you need to spend more time at country clubs in order to understand these things," Davis told the reporters.

When it was pointed out that most of the groundskeepers who lost their jobs at the fallowed golf courses were minorities, Davis responded, "There are plenty of jobs for groundskeepers at the estates of all the people making tons of money off the water transfers. All they need to do is pick up their families and move to San Diego or Los Angeles or Walnut Creek, where the jobs are."

Feinstein, Davis and other high-ranking officials had assured the people of the Coachella Valley that the area would not be adversely affected by the fallowing program, that money would be provided for economic development and job training. They said the area had other economic strengths — specifically tennis, both singles and doubles — that could be enhanced by the money from the transfer.

Ultimately, the payments for fallowing did not spread through the community, mostly staying in the bank accounts of the owners of the fallowed golf courses. Many of those owners had never lived in the area or left after the fallowing program started.

Thousands of people working in tourism or in businesses including sporting goods, restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations lost jobs or businesses because of the fallowing program.

Still, those most adversely affected by the fallowing were golf pros. With their loud pants, tendencies to lean over women and help them with "that stroke" and uncontrollable shouting of "you the man" and "bite baby bite," displaced golf pros were hard to place and keep in new jobs. Some eventually got work digging canals to send the Coachella Valley's water to other areas of the state, and many found their handiness with a sand wedge particularly helpful in that labor.

Feinstein said she didn't think displaced Coachella Valley residents would form into an angry refugee community, as had Imperial Valley residents after their Valley was dried up. The Imperial Valley has only two prisons, several geothermal plants and 10,000 residents remaining. Many former Imperial Valley residents are living in refugee camps and calling themselves "America's Palestinians."

Officials said the government is in the process of destroying the tens of thousands of now-abandoned Imperial Valley homes and using the proceeds from the scrap materials to send checks to former Valley residents.

"We are hoping that if we send these people $150 checks from the scrap materials for their homes it will ease their discontent," Davis said. "These people are really getting to be a problem, with their squatters' camps and such."

Davis also told the reporters gathered he is tired of hearing how the Coachella Valley is going to turn into "another Imperial Valley."

"We had to put up with that stuff in the Imperial Valley, with them always saying it was going to turn into another Owens Valley, and that got old pretty quickly," Davis said. "In regard to this Coachella Valley fallowing program, let's not bring up the Imperial Valley anymore. The Imperial Valley is history."

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