VOX POPULI: L.A. Times Shows Indifference, Shortsightedness by Supporting LADWP’s Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch

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By BRUCE EMBREY, Manzanar Committee Co-chair

The Manzanar Committee is surprised and disappointed that the Los Angeles Times editorial board supports the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) proposal to build the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch (SOVSR) adjacent to the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Contrary to The Times’ assertion, the SOVSR is not a quiet solar array nestled out of sight in the high desert. Instead, it will be a massive, two-square-mile, or 1,200-acre, industrial facility with more than 1,000,000 solar panels. It will take years to build, disrupt the entire area, and dramatically alter the existing landscape.

It is an ill-conceived project that will damage not only the local environment, but the rich cultural, social and political history of the area as well.

There is no question we must move rapidly away from fossil fuels. The chaotic weather and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Haiyan all demonstrate that climate change is a clear and present danger. We must act now. But acting with little regard for our history, acting impulsively just for the sake of meeting mandates, may set a course that is inefficient, wrought with conflict, or worse, still ineffective.

At these early stages of the transition to a clean-energy economy, it is imperative to make smart choices, making the most of our efforts to get off fossil fuels quickly and as painlessly as possible. American ingenuity and pragmatism built the most powerful, advanced economy in modern history. But it came with social, environmental and political costs. Native peoples were pushed off their lands. Slavery. Wars. Environmental degradation/pollution.

In retrospect, these costs stunted our nation’s development. We have learned and evolved over the years. Ingenuity and technology now enable us to move ahead and not at the expense of the rights of others.

We applaud the LADWP’s efforts to move away from fossil fuels. But placing a massive solar facility in the Owens Valley is a poor choice while other options exist. In fact, a centralized, industrial solar facility is not a wise use of resources at this time, as centralized solar farms are less efficient and more expensive than distributed, rooftop solar systems.

Distributed solar produces energy directly in the market where it is consumed. There is no need for expensive, massive transmission lines and distribution infrastructure. Los Angeles can easily generate incredible amounts of energy to power its homes and businesses from rooftop solar projects (source: report by Los Angeles Business Council/UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation). Furthermore, by its own admission, the LADWP will pay homeowners in the Owens Valley substantially less than homeowners here in Los Angeles per kilowatt hour (source: LADWP).

To further illustrate LADWP’s misguided approach, following the Fukushima disaster, Japan embarked on a large-scale, renewable energy program. Some estimate the solar arrays installed through the end of 2013 will generate enough electricity to replace five nuclear power plants. Many of the projects are installed on the roofs of commercial buildings (source: International Business Times, Sept. 26, 2013).

This issue also adds another black mark on LADWP’s abysmal history regarding the Manzanar National Historic Site. In fact, it is a matter of historical record that they bitterly opposed the creation of the National Historic Site.

Indeed, from earliest stages of the movement to establish the site of the former American concentration camp, which the City of Los Angeles leased to the U.S. government in 1942 to build the camp, LADWP pushed hard to pass their own bill, calling for a meager, locally controlled “park,” only to withdraw it mere weeks before the final passage of the bill backed by then-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles City Council and the Manzanar Committee.

LADWP’s opposition was based on totally unfounded claims that the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site would have an adverse affect on their water rights in the Owens Valley, and would cause damage to their sources of water in the vicinity.

Twenty-two years later, it has been proven that the site has not had an adverse impact on LADWP’s water sources in the area, and the legislation that created the Manzanar National Historic Site specified that LADWP retained their water rights in the area.

The issue now is LADWP pitting clean energy vs. the Manzanar National Historic Site. As illustrated, they were wrong about the water supply. They are also wrong about solar energy.

Euphemistic terms and lip service to preserving our heritage and being sensitive to the concerns and demands of the Japanese and Asian American communities were bandied about in the early ’90s, as well as today. A quick, superficial nod about the significance of the former sites where tens of thousands of Americans were incarcerated, stripped of their citizenship and denied their constitutional rights is not sufficient. History will harshly judge those who, regardless of intent, denigrate sites so crucial to our cultural, political and social fabric.

To take at face value the conclusions the LADWP puts forward, to dismiss the concerns of thousands of people, including of those who lived behind barbed wire, a stone’s throw from the proposed solar ranch, simply because it is for the greater good, shows The Times’ indifference to the concerns of many Angelenos, as well as a failure to understand the most effective means to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

While we firmly believe the most effective use of resources is to expand solar projects here in Los Angeles, we should note that the LADWP owns more than 80 percent of the land in the Owens Valley. This is one reason it is difficult to understand why land so close to the former grounds of one of America’s concentration camps is the only suitable location.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the visitor’s center at Manzanar National Historic Site. Close to one million people have visited the site since 2004. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Our country has come a long way since 1964, and we hope that as we celebrate the advances we’ve made in the area of civil rights, the concerns of those Americans who were denied those rights simply because of their ancestry are not swept aside and ignored.

Community members are urged to sign an online petition opposing the LADWP proposal. To view/sign the petition on Change.org, click here.

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The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site. For more information, send email to [email protected], call (323) 662-5102, or check their blog at http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

The view looking west from Manzanar National Historic Site includes Mt. Williamson, the second-highest peak in California. (National Park Service)

The view looking west from Manzanar National Historic Site includes Mt. Williamson, the second-highest peak in California. (National Park Service)

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