Water Warrior: Attorney Bob Goodwin received countless threats while defending the Goleta Water District hookup moratorium back in the 1970s and ’80s. Goodwin, who died last week at 64 in Livermore, was one of the main targets of the infuriated development interests who’d been busy trying to pave every inch of Goleta.
Under the good old boys previously running the board, the district was approving every project that came along, sucking up more precious water than could be replenished by nature. Over-drafting the ground water basin meant that, like it or not, at some point Goletans would have no choice but be forced to hook up to expensive state water, which in turn would produce even further growth.
According to Ed Maschke, former water board member, not only was Goodwin threatened, but he himself received threats from anonymous callers while at home with his children. “We will come and get you,” voices at the other end of the line said.
Donna Hone, also a former board member, recalled anonymous phone threats and being severely frightened at a forum when a developer fulminated, stirring up a crowd of burly construction workers with ugly accusations. “It was a scary business,” she recalled. “Passions ran high” in those turbulent days. “We were idealistic and the other side was looking out for its pocketbooks,” including the banking interests, Hone said.
I had covered the Water District since before the tide-turning 1971 election and apparently covered it too well to suit the powerful interests. Until then, few attended board meetings and directors were reappointed without challenge at the polls. A contingent of well-known Goletans trooped to the News-Press and tried to get me taken off the beat, or fired. Although the paper took the development-banking side against the board and mounted a vicious attack on Goodwin over his legal fees, I stayed on the beat for a few more years, after voters approved the hookup moratorium in 1973.
Through the 25 years the moratorium lasted, “Bob was a hero,” Bill Wallace, former Water District board member and county supervisor told me.
In the early 1970s, residents began rebelling against runaway development in Goleta, then known as the fastest growing unincorporated community in California. Young homeowners who had moved in as tract houses replaced lemon orchards were appalled by the unrestrained growth and lack of planning. The pro-growth Board of Supervisors just shrugged.
“People just woke up,” Wallace told me. “People said (the rate of development) was just too much.” So a group of young professionals-Llana Sherman, a teacher at La Patera School, and Raul Martinez and John McCord, engineers at one of the new research plants springing up-formed a slate that unseated the old Water Board majority.
All that Goodwin and the homeowners swept into district office in 1971 wanted was to enact a moratorium on new hookups until voters approved new sources. It was democracy in action.
“Bob Goodwin was a real superstar,” one former district official recalled. “I remember your comment about Bob being the Billy Martin of water law.” As the board majority shifted, Goodwin was bounced at least twice from his post as attorney for the district. (Billy Martin served as manager of the Yankees five different times.)
The hookup battle led to into a fight over who had the rights to underground water: owners of the land above or the public agency serving the community at large. “It was a classic struggle between private greed and public need,” Maschke said.
“He was a brilliant water attorney,” Hone said. “He tried to change California water law.” Goodwin argued that the public had the right to subsurface water, and he lost only when the case reached the state Supreme Court, Hone said. But the district still gained invaluable water rights.
“He was a genius,” Wallace added. “He really never would give an inch” in his battles with batteries of attorneys. “He would face eight or nine attorneys,” Maschke said. “Without him, we never would have kept the moratorium. It slowed the madness that transformed Goleta into another concrete bedroom community. He was the best and the brightest.”
Goleta also shook up the California water establishment with the then-revolutionary belief that “if you don’t have the water, you can’t build,” Maschke said. Now state regulations require that proposed developments must show that they have a proven water source. But back then, Goleta became a pariah among many in the state water industry, which traditionally served by and large as a pawn for developers, extending service out to new developments, then handing taxpayers the bill.
Early on, Goodwin and the new board also faced hostility from top district staff, who resented their philosophy and just wanted to keep over-drafting. They didn’t like me, either.
Rest well, Bob Goodwin, valiant warrior and good friend.
A memorial will be held Friday, August 17, at 11 a.m. at Callaghan’s Mortuary in Livermore.