The Bureautocracy of Reclamation

Protect Lake Berryessa from the Bureautocracy of Reclamation

 A turning point in Lake Berryessa history is soon to come as the Napa County RFP bid evaluation process moves closer to choosing a successful bidder for each of the three resorts: Steele Canyon Recreation Area, Spanish Flat Recreation Area, and Monticello Shores recreation Area. There are hints that strong bids from large recreation companies are under evaluation.

The proposals from the evaluation committee will presented to the Board of Supervisor in public session before final contract negotiations begin in earnest in May. My concern is with the Bureautocracy of Reclamation. Clearly, the Managing Partner Agreement was intended to remove Reclamation from the process of directly managing the new resorts.

Although the chosen concessioners must be “approved” by Reclamation, Reclamation does not have veto power over Napa County’s choices. Reclamation cannot question or contest the County’s basic decision. Per the Managing Partner Agreement Reclamation is acting in an advisory role to see that any plans are consistent with the 2006 Record of Decision.

Per the MPA: “Recreation facilities will be developed, operated and maintained on a schedule determined by Napa County. Resources will be protected, and visitor services shall be provided in accordance with the 2006 VSP ROD, Napa County’s Concession Area Plan, and other applicable standards for the Concession Areas.”

An autocracy is a government controlled by one person (autocrat) or agency (bureautocracy) with absolute power. As unlimited power doesn't usually bring out the best in people, autocracies, including bureautocracies, are often inhumane - without compassion for misery or suffering. I would never accuse the Bureautocracy of Reclamation of a Customer Service or Quality Assurance attitude - more of a Dilbertian ethic.

I recommend that a simple process be put in place to monitor the Bureautocracy of Reclamation and its potential attempts to undermine the County concession development goals. I propose this process become completely transparent. Thus any communication (email, memo, report...) between Napa County and the Bureau of Reclamation regarding this process, except the most confidential, must be made available to the public so we may understand the requirement details.

Although the County is required to submit specific MPA-defined requests to the BOR “for its review and approval, Reclamation shall not unreasonably delay or withhold such approval.” For example, there should be a maximum 15 day turnaround for any requests from Napa County to Reclamation.

So why should I/we worry? Because of history. Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We must not forget the history of how Lake Berryessa got into the present predicament. That’s why I wrote my book, Policy and Politics Betray the People: The Lake Berryessa Saga: 1958 - 2020 (available on Amazon).

One of my unanswered questions has always been why, when they worked so hard to install Pensus as the concessioner for all the lake resorts in 2010, did Reclamation immediately begin to harass them over their proposed development plans. Was it the inherent bureautocracy element -  bureaucratic ego, a belief that a federal government agency is more important to our small piece of the country than the local county officials, or just the perverse joy of exerting power behind the cloak of policy? (See story below.)

How would the past apply today? Reclamation could claim they have the right to approve the County’s choice of concessioner. They do not have that right per the MPA. They could request documents, memos, and reports from the County to which they (Reclamation) also have no right per the MPA as a form of harassment. More damaging would be unnecessarily delaying approval of County planning requests - a tactic they used against Pensus and documented in my book

Some excerpts from the MPA:

Reclamation hereby transfers to Napa County and Napa County hereby accepts Management of the Concession Area as defined in this agreement for the benefit of the public pursuant to this Agreement.

“Concessionaire” or “Concession Contractor” is the entity that Napa County enters into an agreement for the operation of a Concession within the Concession Areas for the purpose of providing visitor services.

“Concession Area Plan” means the plans created by Napa County that apply to the specific Concession Areas, and consistent with Napa County’s Planning Standards.


Catch-22: The Bureaucratic Double Bind Theory in Practice

(The Lake Berryessa News, May, 2012)

The series of actual emails below is emblematic of the dysfunctional approach the Bureau of Reclamation is taking to any actions proposed for the redevelopment of Lake Berryessa. The resorts have existed for more than 50 years. No items of cultural or historical importance have ever been discovered within the resorts or at Oak Shores or other Bureau-maintained facilities.

Reclamation demolished more than 1,000 mobile homes and resorts facilities, and is still digging and scraping away at the remaining residue, without any substantive environmental or historical studies to support their actions. They simply filled out a short form called CEC 743, which was approved on October 11, 2007 concluding:

“Reclamation has determined that the proposed action is appropriate for Categorical Exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act 011969 (42 United States Code [U.S.C.) 4321, et seq.) based on the following information: The removal of all existing trailers and associated appurtenances within existing and developed sites at Lake Berryessa resorts involves only minor construction activities on previously disturbed land and there will be no impacts to waters of the United States. Further, Reclamation has reviewed the proposed action and determined that there is no effect to Federally-listed species or critical habitat.

A consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office has concluded that there are no affects to cultural resources under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.”

Now Reclamation wants detailed studies for any action taken by Pensus, even digging a hole for a power pole, moving fence posts originally hammered in by Reclamation to eliminate dozens of campsites from use, and just about anything else. They even deny approval of the same type of Categorical Exclusion they used themselves to undertake massive demolition and ground disturbance over hundreds of acres of shoreline.

No wonder the project manager below may want to call himself Captain Yossarrian when dealing with the Bureau of Reclamation. For those of you who remember the book and movie, Catch-22, we truly find ourselves in a “Catch-22” situation at Lake Berryessa! One bureaucratic justification for Catch-22 actions from the book is:

“Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating.”

This directive seems to perfectly encapsulate the local Reclamation approach and conduct. The project referred to in the email chain below is the simple digging of a couple of trenches. Read it to believe it.

From: Reclamation, May 25, 2012: Thank you for your email. Your revised project statements of May 18, 2012 have been received at both Lake Berryessa and CCAO offices (May 23rd, 2012). As of today they have been routed for review of administrative sufficiency, followed by technical and environmental review. I have requested a time estimate for completion by the review team and should be able to provide a response to your question by COB Weds. May 30th (considering staff availability due to the Holiday weekend).

From: Reclamation, May 29, 2012: I spoke with staff today as they work through their review of the revised project statements for your project. It appears there are still some questions regarding some details of the proposed project. My engineer will have his comments prepared by Thursday mid-morning. I propose a brief meeting to discuss the questions, followed by your providing a written response on the comment form we provided or other form best suited. Once all comments have been addressed, the NEPA evaluation will continue to the stage of cultural review by the Mid-Pacific Region and then State Historical Preservation Officer (SHPO). I am told we should expect a timeframe of 90 days or less for cultural review and concurrence by SHPO.

From Pensus Project Manager, May 29, 2012: Thanks for the update. When we last spoke, when the subject of NEPA / SHPO came up, I pointed out that all of the testing would effectively be performed in areas previously disturbed during the preceding 50 years of use under the former concession contracts. I thought that our discussion at that time had reached at least a tentative consensus on the in situ conditions.

Our application includes a request that the USBR issue a Categorical Exclusion for this work, similar to numerous instances of minor work operations categorized previously by your office. I respectfully request that the nature of the work to be undertaken as well as the fact that the area has already be thoroughly disturbed be considered before launching into another lengthy period of review.

From Reclamation, May 30, 2012: I know that you and others at your company have stated that you believe the previous disturbance in the concession areas warrants relief from further review of cultural resources. I am not able to concur with this, nor have I in the past, because it is a matter of Federal and State law, and it is not my role to determine how the laws are to be implemented by Reclamation. 

My role is to obtain complete project descriptions for concession development activities and pass them to the appropriate staff in Reclamation for compliance with NEPA/NHPA. Staff specialists review the project description and other documentation, determine what level of NEPA and NHPA analysis is required and initiate that process. If significant ground disturbance will occur from the project then it will normally require review by SHPO. The review time required by SHPO is not within Reclamation’s control. Understanding this planning process and the timeframes required is key to successful project management, which is why we have provided you with flowcharts and NEPA process information.

I understand your wish to expedite this project and will do everything I can to assist in getting it approved. Having a completed cultural survey as you initially set out to do would have significantly streamlined this and other projects. In the absence of that survey, each project will have to be individually evaluated for NEPA/NHPA compliance.  

From Applicant’s Project Manager, May 30, 2012: I still have no official word on the status of the Project Statements themselves, but given the tone of this communication I am not expecting anything less than another re-write. At this rate, even with a perfect Project Statement, we will be denied permission to undertake even the most basic of testing for another three – four months. If this is the best that can be done for something this simple, I can only guess how difficult a real building project will be to obtain approval.

Aka: Capt. Yossarrian                       © Peter Kilkus 2020