Davis, California – The Davis Committee of Palestinian Rights (DCPR) is happy to report that Veolia Water North America has withdrawn as a prospective bidder on a $325 million dollar project that would provide treated water from the Sacramento River to residents of Woodland and Davis in Yolo County, California. The announcement came at the December 20, 2012 meeting of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency (Water Agency), a joint powers authority between the University of California – Davis and the cities of Woodland and Davis. Veolia’s withdrawal followed efforts by citizens of Yolo County to prevent Veolia’s bidding due to the company’s involvement in the violation of Palestinian human rights.
Members of DCPR first contested the participation of Veolia Water as a prospective bidder in June 2011. Appearing before meetings of the Water Agency Board of Directors, DCPR provided substantial documentation of Veolia’s history of profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid policies in Palestine, as well as the dissatisfaction of public agencies throughout the U.S. for Veolia’s mismanaged operations and poor performance, environmental permit violations and fines, and failure to make good on promised improvements.
On April 19th, 2012, DCPR testified before the Board charging that Veolia did not meet the Water Agency’s ethical criteria. Veolia’s involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail Transit system, its operation of settler-only buses on segregated roads in the occupied West Bank for inhabitants of illegal Israeli settlements, and its operation of a landfill on land confiscated from Palestinians have been contested by Palestinians and international human rights activists throughout the last decade. Veolia has suffered the loss of more than $20 billion in contracts to date following this global outcry.
Within the U.S., the Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for hundreds of U.S. Quaker institutions, recently divested from Veolia following requests by Quakers concerned about the violation of Palestinian rights. In December 2012 the City of St. Louis voted to suspend approval of a contract with Veolia Water until it completed an investigation of Veolia’s controversial labor, environmental, and human rights practices. There are ongoing campaigns protesting Veolia Transportation public contracts in Sonoma County and Los Angeles, CA; Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; and beyond. The state-wide California Israel Divestment Campaign calls on CalPERS public pension system to divest from Veolia Environnement, Caterpillar and Elbit Systems.
Bids were initially due in December 2012, but following outcry from citizenry regarding the large impact of the project’s capital cost upon resident’s water bills, the City Council decided to postpone the due date and appoint a citizens’ advisory committee to investigate rate alternatives, revisit the water supply need-assessment, and consider other water procurement options. Veolia was the only company to withdraw from bidding.
CONTACT: Mikos Fabersunne, Davis Committee for Palestinian Rights, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 18th, 2012 | Published in Latest News and Action Alerts, STL-PSC Blog
What is Veolia?
According to a story broken by the Riverfront Times, St. Louis city lawyers have been negotiating a contract with Veolia Water North America to guide cost-cutting. Veolia Water is a major subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, a Paris-based multinational corporation and the largest water privatization business in the world. Veolia is infamous for:
- Failure to make good on promised improvements
- Anti-labor practices
- Privatizing public resources
- Irresponsible to disastrous environmental practices
- Corruption, bribery, embezzlement, and fraud
- Supporting and profiting from segregation and discrimination in Palestine
Worldwide, consumers report that Veolia consistently charges high rates, provides poor service, causes staff turnover, discourages water conservation, and fails to implement promised improvements. Its history reveals consistent prioritization of private profit at the expense of the environment and public welfare.
Unless otherwise indicated, the following is based on extensive research and documentation on Veolia’s practices by Water for All, Polaris Institute, Global Exchange, Novato Friends of Locally Operated Wastewater, Public Citizen, Public Water Works, and Food & Water Watch (here, here, here, here, here).
What happened in Indianapolis?
In its proposal to the St. Louis Water Division, Veolia extensively references its work in Indianapolis as a successful model that could inform Veolia’s guidance in St. Louis. If Indianapolis is any indication of Veolia’s practices, then our city would do well to steer clear. Veolia claims that the contract was completed and “focused on building a collaborative environment with all of the project stakeholders (union, government and the community).” In fact the company’s 20-year contract with Indianapolis was terminated by the city less than halfway through, by which time the following had ensued:
- Non-union employees claimed that the company cut retirement plans, health care and other benefits, costing the workers more than $50 million over 25 years. Hundreds of employees, many organized under a strong union, found themselves in a pitched battle with the company to preserve benefits and hold Veolia to its promises.
- Veolia was sued for breaking state contract law, and for overcharging 250,000 residents.
- Because the company lacked proper safeguards, a typo by an employee caused a boil-water alert for more than a million people, closing local businesses and canceling school for 40,000 students.
- An independent review uncovered lax oversight of the city’s contract with Veolia.
- Consumer complaints more than doubled in the first 10 months of the contract.
- In a study of 100 large U.S. cities, Environmental Working Group ranked Indianapolis drinking water quality #90 (i.e. 11th-worst overall). St. Louis ranks #9 — among the best in the country.
In 2005, a federal grand jury subpoenaed four Veolia Indianapolis employees as part of an investigation into allegations that the utility falsified water quality reports. The probe began amid accusations by Indianapolis council members that the company had cut back on staffing, water testing, treatment chemicals and maintenance. Though Veolia was never charged, the corporation sustained multimillion-dollar losses and dug its way out of this hole by finagling concessions, including a 2007 contract amendment shifting at least $144 million in costs from Veolia to the city. Ignoring public outcry from consumers and state officials, the city then tried to raise rates by 35% to pay for these additional expenses and more expensive capital improvement projects.
In 2010, with infrastructure needs mounting and Veolia demanding more than the city could afford, Indianapolis canceled the contract more than 10 years early, for which they were forced to pay Veolia an additional $29 million. The nonprofit Citizens Energy Group took over, positioned to save the city more money than multinational Veolia was ever able to.
If Veolia gives Indianapolis as an example of a success story, what could a failure possibly look like?
New Orleans — an Environmental Disaster, and Other Cities
In 2001 in New Orleans, an electrical fire at a sewer treatment plant operated by Veolia caused operators to divert raw sewage into the Mississippi River for two hours. In 2001 and 2002, the plant released sewage into the river a total of 50 times, often violating water quality standards and resulting in more than $107,000 in fines. The city’s Sewerage and Water Board Director and staff made numerous, repeated and documented complaints about Veolia reducing staff to inadequate levels, neglecting preventive maintenance, failing to notify city officials of environmental violations, and other problems. Veolia has a long track record of failing to communicate with New Orleans in connection with the contract. In 2002, the board rejected Veolia’s bid for a new water/wastewater contract following public outrage.
In Richmond, CA in 2006, the city and Veolia were sued for dumping more than 17 million gallons of sewage into tributaries that empty into the San Francisco Bay. The Baykeeper watchdog group said Richmond had one of the highest spill rates in the state. The city had given a 20-year, $70 million contract to Veolia, which promised to cut costs and develop and implement an improvement plan for the sewer and storm water systems. By the time of the lawsuit four years later, the company had not even finished designing the plan, much less begun the renovations. Richmond settled the lawsuit out of court by agreeing to pay for multimillion-dollar improvements to reduce sewer spills. In addition, Richmond taxpayers had to shell out $500,000 annually for years to compensate residents and businesses for property damaged. Even after the lawsuits, the problem continues: Veolia’s Richmond plant had 22 spills dumping more than 2 million gallons of sewage during the first two months of 2008.
Lynn, MA ended a wastewater overflow plant contract with Veolia because the company failed to stay adequately bonded for the project. While company officials lauded the continuing contracts with water and wastewater treatment plants in the community, the town rapped the company for cutting costs by refusing to properly treat wastewater with chemicals. As a result, the town was blanketed in a stench.
Angleton, TX terminated a Veolia contract for non-performance and took the company to court, charging that it breached its contract by failing to maintain adequate staffing levels, not submitting capital project reports and charging improper expenses to the maintenance and repair tab picked up by the city.
In Atlanta, Veolia tried to maximize revenue simply by slashing the work force in half, contributing to boil-water orders, maintenance backlogs and other issue that ultimately led to dissolution of the contract.
In Sauget, IL, right across the river, a related Veolia subsidiary operated a hazardous waste incinerator for over 10 years without a clean air permit. In 2005, “the owners agreed to pay $150,000 for alleged air pollution violations.” As of 2008, the facility had been fined more than $3 million,” mostly related to small explosions and releasing toxic chemicals, including carcinogenic dioxins, into the air.
For more examples, see: Burlingame, CA; Wilmington, DE; Port Arthur, TX; Cranston, RI; and others.
Bribery, Corruption, Embezzlement, Fraud
Corruption, bribery, embezzlement, and fraud appear to part of Veolia’s corporate culture. The president of a Veolia subsidiary was convicted of bribing a New Orleans sewer board member to support renewal of its contract (see background above) in 2002. The same year, the mayor of Bridgeport, CT was convicted on 16 counts including taking kickbacks, bribes and extortion along with 8 other defendants a contract proposal from Veolia (then called Vivendi). A forensic audit in Rockland, MA led to contract termination amid embezzlement charges involving a sewer department official and a local company executive charged with embezzling more than US$300,000. Veolia disclosed accounting fraud in the U.S. from 2007-2010 amounting to $120 million. The scandal took place in their Gulf of Mexico Marine Services unit. These are small examples of a pattern of Veolia replicated around the country and world.
Would this contract privatize the city’s water? No — not yet. But the contract would position Veolia — which specializes in water privatization — as a “brain-trust” of management expertise in reducing costs. Many view Veolia and focusing on privatizing services through long-term monopoly contracts rather than through outright ownership. These types of “advisory” roles can serve as a backdoor avenue toward eventually privatizing municipal operations.
Supporting Apartheid and Segregation in Israel/Palestine
Veolia is involved in Israel’s systematic ethnic discrimination against the Palestinians in many ways:
An Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Water – Israel, operates a wastewater treatment plant located in an illegal Jewish-only settlement called Modiin Ilit, built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The owners of the land on which this settlement was built have been violently driven out. Two unarmed Palestinians from the Palestinian village on which Modiin Ilit was built, have been killed as they protested nonviolently against the ongoing confiscation of their land and resources. Veolia continues to service the settlement.
An Israeli subsidiary of Veolia Transdev, Connex – Israel, operates buses on segregated roads through the occupied West Bank, including two bus lines that use road 443, which is built partially on confiscated land with portions closed entirely to Palestinians. A separate but unequal Palestinian road system is made up of low grade roads cut by checkpoints and physical barriers restricting Palestinian freedom of movement. Last year, Palestinian Freedom Riders attempted to board buses operating on their own land and were violently removed and arrested. Veolia is profiting from segregation and discrimination.
Another Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Environmental Services – Israel, supervises, consults for, and operates the Tovlan Landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley, collecting refuse from illegal settlements. Israel renders it almost impossible for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley to gain permits to build homes, toilets, wells, animal pens, or other vital infrastructure for local communities, which has forced almost all Palestinian families out, with those remaining living in dire conditions. Some are left with no alternative but to work on settlements that have taken their families’ land, for pay far below the minimum wage, unable to take bathroom breaks, and denied any rights to unionize. Veolia takes captured Palestinian land and natural resources to service the settlements exploiting or driving out Palestinians.
UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk recently recommended that Veolia “should be boycotted, until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.” Veolia’s extensive profiting from Israel’s illegal practices have provoked global outcry, costing Veolia more than $12.5 billion in lost contracts to date. Recently, the Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for hundreds of U.S. Quaker institutions, also divested from Veolia.
Veolia already in Financial Trouble
With public opinion shifting negatively around the world, Veolia is paying a price. After a 25-year contract, Veolia’s home city of Paris declined to renew its contract in 2009. Cities around the world have done the same. Veolia’s profit margin has plummeted since 2008 and the company lost more than half its market value in 2011. Veolia’s CEO pledged to sell $1.8 billion of assets and to stop operations in at least 37 countries. In September 2012, Veolia’s debt stood at more than $19.7 billion.
Now, Veolia is trying to bring its risky and immoral business to our backyard.
- St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee Statement on Pending City Contract with Veolia Water (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Veolia to end sponsorship of major UK photography exhibition (bdsmovement.net)
You know how every time somebody in law enforcement does something that looks bad, we’re told that we should “wait until the facts are in” before passing judgment? Well, after Lieutenant Pike of the UC Davis Police Department became an internet meme by using high-pressure pepper-spray on peaceful resisters, the campus hired an independent consulting firm to interview everybody they could find, review all the videos and other evidence, review the relevant policies and laws, and issue a final fact-finding report to the university. The university just released that report, along with their summary (PDF link), and the final report is even worse than the news accounts made it seem.
You probably weren’t aware that the protesters warned the university that they were going to be protesting two weeks in advance, were you? The campus, and campus police, had two weeks’ notice to plan for this, and yes, on day one, one question they addressed was, “What if the protesters set up an Occupy encampment?” Two weeks in advance they planned, well, if they do that, then we’ll send in police to remove the tents, and to arrest anybody who tries to stop them. Now, under California law, when planning an operation like this, there’s a checklist they’re supposed to follow when writing the operational plan, specifically to make sure that they don’t forget something important. Had they done so? They would have avoided all four of the important steps they screwed up. When asked about it? Nobody involved was even aware that that checklist existed.
The most important thing that the checklist would have warned them about was do not screw up the chain of command. Let me make clear who was in the chain of command. Under normal circumstances, it runs from university Chancellor Katehi, to campus police Chief Spicuzza, to campus police Lieutenant Davis, to his officers, including one I’ll call Officer Nameless. (The report refers to him by a code letter.) Once the cops arrive on the scene, there’s supposed to be one and only one person in a position to give orders to the other officers on the scene, including any higher-ups who are there (if any). Officer Nameless, who wrote the plan, was put in charge of the scene by Lt. Pike. By law, the officer in charge of the scene is not supposed to get directly involved. He or she (in this case, he) is supposed to stand back where he can see the whole scene, and concentrate on giving orders, and everybody else is supposed to refrain from giving orders. Officer Nameless instead ignored his responsibilities, and waded in, and so did Lt. Pike; Chief Spicuzza sat in her car half a block away, communicating with the radio dispatcher by cell phone, and at one time or another, all three of them, Officer Nameless and Lieutenant Pike and Chief Spicuzza were yelling out contradictory orders.
But before it even came to that point, the student protesters had, with the help of Legal Services, gone over all the relevant state laws, city ordinances, campus ordinances, and campus regulations and concluded that no matter what the Chancellor thought, it was entirely legal for them to set up that camp. When the university’s legal department found out that Chancellor Katehi was going to order the camp removed, they thought they made it clear to her that the students were right.
I kept having to stop and slap my forehead over that one repeated phrase in the report: (this person or that) was under the impression she had made it clear that (some order was given), but nobody else present had that impression. Anybody who is “under the impression that they made it clear” that some order was given who who didn’t put it in writing and who hasn’t had that order paraphrased back to them? Should be slapped. Or at the very least demoted. Unless you actually said it, you didn’t “make it clear.”
It turns out that it is illegal for anybody to lodge on the campus without permission, but the relevant law only applies to people trying to make it their permanent dwelling. The law prohibits non-students from camping on campus for any reason, but neither student affairs nor the one cop sent to look could find any non-students who were there overnight. A campus regulation says that students can’t set up tents without permission, but that regulation is not enforceable by police, only by academic discipline. Campus legal “thought they made it clear” that the law was on the students’ side, but according to multiple witnesses, what they actually said was “it is unclear that you have legal authority to order the police to do this” and Chancellor Katehi heard that as “well, they didn’t say I don’t have that authority, only that it’s not clear.”
Chancellor Katehi, on her part, “thought she made it clear” that when police ordered the students to leave, they were (a) not to wear riot gear into the camp, (b) not to carry weapons of any kind into the camp, (c) were not to use force of any kind against the students, and (d) were not to make any arrests. But all that anybody else on that conference call heard her say out loud was “I don’t want another situation like they just had at Berkeley,” and Chief Spicuzza interpreted that as “no swinging of clubs.”
Chief Spicuzza “thought she made it clear” more than once that no riot gear was to be worn and no clubs or pepper sprayers were to be carried. What Lieutenant Pike said back to her, each time, was, “Well, I hear you say that you don’t want us to, but we’re going to.” And they did, including that now-infamous Mk-9 military-grade riot-control pepper sprayer that he used. Oh, funny thing about that particular model of pepper-sprayer? It’s illegal for California cops to possess or use. It turns out that the relevant law only permits the use of up to Mk-4 pepper sprayers. The consultants were unable to find out who authorized the purchase and carrying, but every cop they asked said, “So what? It’s just like the Mk-4 except that it has a higher capacity.” Uh, no. It’s also much, much higher pressure, and specifically designed not to be sprayed directly at any one person, only at crowds, and only from at least six feet away. The manufacturer says so. The person in charge of training California police in pepper spray says that as far as he knows, no California cop has ever received training, from his office or from the manufacturer, in how to safely use a Mk-9 sprayer, presumably because it’s illegal. But Officer Nameless, when he wrote the action plan for these arrests, included all pepper-spray equipment in the equipment list, both the paint-ball rifle pepper balls and the Mk-9 riot-control sprayers.
The students set up their tents on a Thursday night. Chancellor Katehi ordered the cops to (a) only involve campus police, because she didn’t trust the local cops not to be excessively brutal, and (b) get them out of here by 3 AM Thursday night. Chief Spicuzza had to tell her that that wasn’t physically possible, they couldn’t get enough backup officers from other UC campuses on that short notice, it was going to have to be Friday night at 3 AM. Chancellor Katehi said “no can do,” that they had to be out of there before sunset Friday night, so that the camp wasn’t joined by drunken and stoned Friday night partiers that would endanger the camp and even further endanger cops trying to deal with them — arguably an entirely reasonable objection. So she ordered Chief Spicuzza to get them out of there by 3 PM Friday afternoon. Chief Spicuzza “was under the impression” (oh, look, there’s that phrase again) that she made it clear to the Chancellor that for one thing, it couldn’t be safely done, at 3:00 PM the protesters and passers-by would way outnumber her officers, and for another, it couldn’t be legally done, because there was no way to legally arrest someone for “overnight camping” in the middle of the afternoon. Nobody else who was in that meeting thinks she made that clear, only that she made it clear that she didn’t want to do it but couldn’t explain why not. Still, when she gave the order to Lieutenant Pike, he very definitely did raise the same objections, clearly and unambiguously, backed up by multiple witnesses, who all agree that Chief Spicuzza told him, “This was decided above my level, do it anyway.”
So, there’s Lieutenant Pike. (Who, by the way, for obvious legal reasons since he’s still being investigated by internal affairs and, last I heard, still being sued by his victims, refused to be interviewed by the consultants, so everything we know about his side of this comes from what he told other people and what he wrote in his reports.) As far as he’s concerned, he’s been given an illegal and impossible order: take 40 or so officers – unarmed and unarmored officers – into an angry crowd of 300 to 400 people who aren’t doing anything illegal and make that crowd go away without using any force or getting any of your officers injured. For reasons Stanley Milgram could explain, it does not occur to Lieutenant Pike to disobey this order, so instead, he does the best he can, using his own judgement to decide which parts of his orders and which parts of the law to ignore. Unsurprisingly, it goes badly. Backed into a corner by an angry crowd (which has, by the way, demonstrably left him room to retreat, even with his prisoners, contrary to what he says in his report) that is confronting him with evidence that he is the law-breaker here, not them, he snaps. And rather than take it out on the more-powerful people who put him in this situation, he takes it out on the powerless and peaceful people in front of him, using a high-pressure hose to pump five gallons of capsacin spray into the eyes and mouths of the dozen or twenty people in front of him … and he would have used more if he’d had it, he only stopped when he did, halfway through his third pass down the line, because the sprayer emptied. When he gets back to the station, Chief Spicuzza (who has no idea what’s just happened) congratulates him in front of half the department for how well he just did. And now, as far as he’s concerned, he’s being hung out to dry. We’re apparently supposed to ignore the fact that multiple video sources contradict almost everything about his after-incident report because apparently, in his opinion, he was only following orders.
This is not better than the initial media reports. This is worse. This is an epic textbook in official-violence failure.
- UC Davis: Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Once again, Israel is recruiting university presidents and chancellors. I wonder how these academics can justify not meeting with Palestinians, who have suffered diverse academic assaults from Israel – from ethnic/religious discrimination to their schools being shelled and students killed – while they’re over there. Think of the astronomical wealth of the Israel Lobby, which can fund a multitude of such trips.
JERUSALEM (JTA) — A delegation of U.S. university presidents is in Israel to explore opportunities for academic and research collaboration.
The seminar, which ends July 9, is sponsored by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee.
A president of a historically Black college and university, Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, is participating in the program the first time.
The delegation was scheduled to meet with senior Israeli government and academic officials and leaders of civil society across the social and political spectrum, and to travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders. They were scheduled to network with their counterparts at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute, among others.
The group was also set to travel to Sderot, to view the city that has been under fire from rockets from Gaza.
“As chancellor of a top American public research university with a strong international presence and aspirations to build on our existing global relationships, it is important that that I have a deep understanding of Israel and its neighbors,” said seminar delegation chair, University of California Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.
Some may recall that Katehi was part of scandals at the University of Illinois awhile back in which rich, well-connected students were getting admissions preferences over better qualified applicants, and at Davis, where police pepper sprayed peaceful students.
• Seminar Chair: Linda P.B. Katehi, Chancellor, University of California, Davis
• Louis Agnese, Jr., President, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, TX
• Lawrence Biondi, President, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO
• Karen Haynes, President, California State University San Marcos
• Elliot Hirshman, President, San Diego State University
• Dorothy Leland, Chancellor, University of California, Merced
• Harvey Perlman, Chancellor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
• Beverly Tatum, Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
• Randy Woodson, Chancellor, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Targeting academics for pro-Israel propaganda began in the 1940s, if not earlier:
With its extraordinary funding, AZEC embarked on a campaign to target every sector of American society, ordering that local committees be set up in every Jewish community in the nation. In the words of AZEC organizer Sy Kenen, it launched “a political and public relations offensive to capture the support of Congressmen, clergy, editors, professors, business and labor.” 
……Grassroots Zionist action groups were organized with more than 400 local committees under 76 state and regional branches. AZEC funded books, articles and academic studies; millions of pamphlets were distributed. There were massive petition and letter writing campaigns. AZEC targeted college presidents and deans, managing to get more than 150 to sign one petition.
Regarding the UC Davis pepper spray incident, Robert May, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of California at Davis, writes:
I think there is an interesting contrast between the University of Virginia situation and that of Linda Katehi, chancellor here at UC Davis. We now know from the Reynoso report (discussed here) of Katehi’s complicity in the violent act against the innocent students, and her mendacity about her role in the pepper spraying incident; for this she does deserve to be, and ought to be, fired from her position. Yet nary a word to this effect has been heard from the UC Board of Regents nor the President of UC. The campus Academic Senate did finally censure Katehi, but stopped short of calling for her to be fired, which had been recommended by the Senate’s committee that had looked into the incident. As we head off this week to our summer vacations, it is apparently business as usual in the Chancellor’s office.
- Katehi, Reynoso expected to discuss pepper-spray report Tuesday at Capitol (sacbee.com)
- Chancellor Linda Katehi lists her mistakes in UCD pepper-spray incident (sacbee.com)
- UC Davis: Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi (alethonews.wordpress.com)