The state "Adopt a Lake" program started out as a seemingly innocuous and well-intentioned effort to protect California's fish habitat and ensure the highest possible stocks for recreational anglers. But as is too often the case in government, inadequate oversight and political meddling turned what was supposed be a beneficial program into a costly and embarrassing boondoggle.
Much of the blame, according to records, can be traced to cozy relationships among Byron Kemmer of Fresno, who is an avid fisherman and a former truck driver, and a number of influential figures in government. Among these are state Sen. Jim Costa (D-Hanford); Craig Schmidt, a longtime aide to Gov. Pete Wilson, and several officials of the state Fish and Game Department. As problems mounted, Costa and Schmidt appear to have intervened on behalf of Kemmer's organization.
Kemmer was the full-time executive director of the Golden State Adopt a Lake Conservancy, which was awarded state contracts totaling more than $350,000 since 1991 and was paid $155,661.
In the end, California taxpayers had precious little to show for the expense. Of 16 state contracts let to the conservancy, it managed to finish work on only four. The rest were only partially completed or were not started.