The surface water project, which already has experienced its share of controversy within the city of Davis, had a bit more trouble heaped onto the pile in recent months.
A pro-Palestinian group in Davis, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, called for Veolia Water North America — one of the three design-build-operate candidates vying for the contract to deliver the project that would pipe treated surface water from the Sacramento River to the cities of Davis and Woodland — to be dismissed based on charges made against the company for its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency Board ruled at its meeting Thursday in Woodland that it had no business taking sides in an international debate and unanimously decided that, based on a business ethics survey each candidate was asked to filled out in January, neither Veolia Water, nor CDM United or CH2M Hill would be disqualified from the process.
“I don’t believe it’s worthy to utilize more resources of this agency in these pursuits at this point in time,” said board member and Woodland City Council member Dr. Bill Marble. “I strongly believe that this is not the forum to debate international issues.”
The agency’s staff went through a review process with each candidate to determine if any of the candidates were ethically unviable for the work in Davis and Woodland.
When assessing Veolia, however, Richard Shanahan, the agency’s counsel, said that Veolia Water North America and Veolia Environment — the entity charged with its wrongful involvement in the conflict — are not really the same company.
“This agency will not be contracting with Veolia Transportation (Environment),” Shanahan said. “Veolia Transportation is not the guarantor, and Veolia Transportation is not under Veolia Water North America.
“So the relevancy of the Veolia Transportation issues based on (the ethics evaluation process that began in January) … there’s not much relevancy there.”
Though, that did not stop BDS member Mikos Fabersunne from speaking during public comment to voice his disapproval over Veolia Environment, which in its own corporate documents says it abides by the U.N. Global Compact.
“(Due to time constraints) there are other things that I can comment on about that document, but I’ll just go to one,” Fabersunne said. “(Veolia) references the U.N. Global Compact, which admonishes all companies to take necessary measures to avoid complicity in human rights violations by government activists in relation to all aspects of the company’s operations.”
Fabersunne also brought up that Veolia Water had illegally dumped 10,000 gallons of wastewater and had its operating rights taken away in several cities over the past few years.
Though, after public comment, the board still voted to keep all the candidates in the running.
About five or six other members of the public spoke on the item as well, but most were in favor of Veolia for various reasons.
George Rooks, a Davis resident who also lives in Israel six months out of the year, told of his personal experiences with Veolia Transportation services, and that he did not see the wrongful discrimination of Palestinians.
“On virtually every single bus trip (my wife and I have) ever taken, and every train trip we’ve ever taken, there were Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs riding on the transportation,” Rooks said. “I’d just like to say that the idea that Veolia somehow discriminates against Arabs or Palestinians by operating transportation rights, is, I believe, absurd just based on my everyday experience there.”
Gerry Adler, also a Davis resident and a member of the Davis Water Advisory Committee, said that it was not the board’s responsibility to make decisions on the matter, a remark echoed by several speakers during public comment.
“You are here on your dais, you are here in your capacities that do not deal in any way with international affairs,” Adler said. “I hope that you don’t want to go down that road, you clearly don’t have the understanding of all the ramifications of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and you don’t want to go there.”
BDS has put pressure on local businesses in the past, as in early 2010 it asked the Davis Food Co-op to ban Israeli food products from its store. However, the Co-op elected to remove itself from the debate as well and continued selling the products.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash.