It is no exaggeration to say Owens Valley is a colony of Los Angeles. The city owns nearly all land on the floor of Owens Valley and claims virtually all water rights. Owens Valley residents cannot vote in Los Angeles elections so there are no elected officials in Los Angeles accountable to Owens Valley voters. With no representation in Los Angeles the checks and balances which characterize government everywhere else in the United States are non-existent with regard to management of DWP land in Owens Valley.
Since the end of Word War II most (if not all) colonies in the world have obtained independence – except Owens Valley. In fact, Los Angeles continues to aggressively pursue the purchase of any and all remaining land on the valley floor it doesn’t already own. It is hard for people who live in areas of self-determination (i.e. the rest of the US) to realize what it means to live in a colony. A few examples:
When DWP first proposed (in 2013) to build a two square mile industrial-scale solar energy facility in the middle of one of the most scenic and historic parts of the valley, residents pointed out that this was inconsistent with county zoning. County leaders explained to residents that DWP was not bound to comply with county zoning for this project.
Residents sought in 2012 to buy or lease a historic building on land DWP had acquired in Independence. The entire business district (including this building) of Independence had been recommended for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. DWP demolished the building at 4:00 am one morning. It never obtained a demolition permit from Inyo County and subsequently denied any obligation to have done so.
The airport for the largest Owens Valley town (Bishop) lies on DWP land. In the early 2000’s DWP informed Inyo that it would not agree to a long term lease for the Bishop airport until the county agreed to increased water exports. Because Inyo Supervisors did not acquiesce, DWP didn’t grant the lease and the county lost a $2,000,000 FAA grant which had been contingent upon having a long term lease. The extortion continued for years, ending only when a new Los Angeles mayor was elected who appointed new members to the LA Board of Water and Power Commissioners.
The Bishop airport is the tip of the iceberg: cemeteries, city parks, county campgrounds, and garbage dumps are all on DWP-owned land. Lease terms (and the implicit threat to change them) thus give tremendous power to DWP over Inyo County officials. In one case a rancher, not getting the irrigation water from DWP guaranteed in the LTWA, asked Inyo County to enforce the LTWA. The county attorney replied that the county would not get involved in a dispute over a DWP lease.
Acquiescence is much easier and less stressful than resistance to DWP. Inyo political leaders repeatedly emphasize the need to “cooperate” and rarely use the phrase “protect the county’s interest.” Bishop Mayor Kathy Henderson commented in 2005, “I don’t want to be put in a position where I have to take sides. I have to work closely with DWP.” The sentiment expressed is shared by virtually every county political leader.
Los Angeles has used its power in the California Legislature to reinforce its colonial rule. When DWP decided to buy up Owens Valley towns in the 1930’s the California legislature passed special legislation allowing one incorporated community to purchase another. The state constitution was amended in 1968 to minimize the ability of Inyo County to tax LA’s land in the county.
Los Angeles’s rule of Owens Valley brings to mind the aphorism, “all power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Notwithstanding its rhetoric about protecting the Owens Valley environment and honoring its obligations under the LTWA, the absolute power of colonial rule is an irresistible temptation for bullying and extortion. While the case of the airport lease (cited above) has been resolved, there is nothing to prevent DWP from engaging in similar extortion whenever it wishes.
18th century American colonists had rights as subjects of the British Crown. 21st century Owens Valley colonists have no rights in Los Angeles at all. “No taxation without representation” was a rallying cry in the American Revolution. “De-hydration without representation” has been occurring in Owens Valley for over a century.