May 26, 2014
In the early 1900s, when Los Angeles experienced its first drought, the city government went out and drained the water from the Owens River, 250 miles north, sending it to Los Angeles. This created an environmental disaster in the north, turning a lush valley into a hard-scrabbled and poisoned desert.
The construction of the aqueduct that took the water through the desert for hundreds of miles was an engineering marvel. No one had built anything so large across such a merciless terrain. But this engineering feat was tied up in one of the most lucrative real estate scams in this country’s history. Just before the city announced its water grab, the wealthiest capitalists in the city formed a syndicate that bought up the entire San Fernando Valley. These capitalists included the two owners of the Los Angeles Times, Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler; Henry Huntington and Edward Harriman, two railroad magnates, and William Kerckhoff, a power company executive. Also included in the syndicate was Moses Sherman, a trolley company owner, who happened to sit on the board of the Department of Water and Power, and therefore was privy to all the Department’s decisions before they were made public. The group paid little to buy up the land in the San Fernando Valley before the water deal was announced.
Once the water was brought to Los Angeles, those so-called “developers” made huge profits, while they presided over the Valley’s metamorphosis from desert to agricultural cornucopia. They used the profits to constantly acquire more land, extending development. They used the proceeds from these sales to assemble the third largest land empire in the history of the state, the 300,000 acre Tejon Ranch, straddling Los Angeles and Kern Counties.
“Development” in the hands of capitalists means only deprivation of the many for the profit of a very tiny well-connected few.