Opinion » Shredder

POM Terrible!

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"We’re so sorry, Uncle Paso. We’re so sorry if we caused you any pain.”

By now you’ve no doubt heard about the bulldozing of ancient native oaks at Justin Vineyards. The winery is owned by Beverly Hills shiny, happy, plastic, über-billionaire power couple Lynda and Stewart Resnick, owners of The Wonderful Company, which also owns POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and Fiji Water. 

After a public outcry at the unpermitted and just plain exploitative and asinine land-rape of this oak woodland to make way for more grapes, the Resnicks issued an apology, feigning ignorance despite their reputation for keeping a sharp eye on all of their operations.

“As the owners of Justin Vineyards & Winery, we try to instill in our local team a neighborly spirit, environmental responsibility, and entrepreneurial independence, but when we learned of the terrible situation at our Sleepy Farm Road property, not to mention our poor reputation within the community, we were ashamed and are sorry. We were asleep at the wheel,” the Resnicks claimed.

Oh. That’s so sweet and heartfelt. I’m absolutely sure they’re 100 percent genuine because their reputation for environmental responsibility is unparalleled!

Take Fiji Water, the natural artesian water from the Fiji Islands that’s distributed worldwide! Fiji promotes itself as a “green” company even though when you buy Fiji Water, you’re drinking water shipped 5,000 miles from a Military Junta-Led Dictatorship where half the population has had to rely on emergency water supplies because they didn’t have access to clean, potable water, even though the Fiji Water company spits out 50,000 square bottles made on the spot with Chinese plastic every hour! 

So. Damn. Green.

Then there’s POM’s “health in a bottle” motto, which sounds like exactly what it is—hint: it’s a shameless marketing ploy—yet Lynda has worked hard to market the claim as scientifically valid. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both accused POM of hyping its health benefits—just like old-timey snake oil salesmen. “False and misleading” and “unsubstantiated” is how the FDA characterized the claims.

One of POM’s billboard advertisements screamed “Cheat Death” next to a photo of a POM bottle. Another ad said, “Drink to prostate health,” suggesting it could guard against prostate cancer. Geez, the nerve of the FDA for suggesting these claims are scientifically unproven even though they totally are!

“People needed pomegranate juice in their lives (even if they didn’t know it yet), and I knew they would pay what it was worth,” Lynda shamelessly wrote in her 2009 memoir chronicling her snake-oil-saleswoman marketing genius. I guess patting yourself on the back is Beverly Hills-style yoga, amirite? 

Perhaps the most egregious Resnick enviro-rape-job was the nasty business with the Kern Water Bank. In 2010, the Resnicks were sued by a group of water agencies and environmental groups after an agribusiness company owned by the couple got control of an underground water-storage project that the state had already spend $75 million on. The suit contended the transaction was a gift of public property and, thus, violated the state constitution.

The Kern Water Bank—a complex of wells, pumps, and pipelines on a 20,000-acre parcel of abandoned farmland southwest of Bakersfield—was part of the state water system but for murky reasons was eventually turned over to the Kern County water authorities, who promptly ceded it to a local consortium of public and private entities, the largest of which was the Westside Mutual Water Co., a subsidiary of the Resnick-owned Paramount Farms, the world’s largest growers of water-sucking pistachios and almonds in the world. This enabled the Resnicks to continue irrigating their nut trees through the drought while their farming neighbors got to suck dust.

So am I really that surprised that the Resnicks’ environmental legacy finally left its everlasting mark on SLO County? Nope. Like a runaway freight train full of money, bulldozers, and a disregard for local communities, this county was next on The Not-So-Wonderful Company’s list of things to pillage.

The good news is the SLO County Board of Supervisors is going to do something about it! On July 15, they’ll vote on an emergency ordinance to make unpermitted cutting of oaks illegal. 

The question is, what the hell took you so long? This same oak-slaughtering bullshit happened years ago in Santa Barbara County with the Sonoma-based Kendall-Jackson Winery, after which that county passed an ordinance. 

Is our county incapable of learning from others’ mistakes? I guess we needed to wait until the inevitable happened, so community backlash could force our elected officials to do something that should already be a done deal!

Let’s face it: Right-leaning supervisors have traditionally been so interested in protecting property rights that they’ve neglected environmental regulations, and now those chickens have come home to roost. In the face of overwhelming public pressure, tighty-righties 5th District Supe Debbie Arnold and 4th District Supe Lynn Compton say they’re on board with a new regulation. It will be interesting to see if they follow through—or if their overlords at COLAB let them. As for the 1st District, the two remaining candidates—Paso Mayor Steve Martin is saying he’s for it, while John Peschong is observant but silent. Will they have the political will to follow through with the process, which may take a year or two to fully implement?

And one more thought: The trees were bulldozed by local company Andy Brown General Engineering Inc. Shouldn’t ol’ Andy have known better? I can’t help but feel we’ve got a serious case of “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” going around. 

The Shredder thinks Fijians ought to get Fiji Water. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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