To begin skip-loading the mountainous manure pile of propaganda that has grown up beside both the UC Merced and the Riverside Motorsparts Pork (RMP) project, let us start the tractor engine with a few simple words: both are bad projects according to state and federal environmental law and regulation. The legal arguments are included in numerous lawsuits. They are public information.
The University of California behaves like an 800-pound gorilla plutocrat with a PhD in nuclear physics. It used its wealth to flood Merced with propaganda – for sheer deceit worthy of UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- for seven years before it broke ground on the former municipal golf course. A large part of that propaganda appeared as paid inserts in the Merced Sun-Star, for which UC became the largest advertiser for several years. Another large part came in the form of so-called “news” articles that were obedient stenography of UC Merced administration propaganda. One particularly dramatic example was the vehicular homicide of a pedestrian near the campus by UC Merced students in a car. The newspaper and, no doubt, the UC Bobcatflak Machine went into overdrive in its zeal to protect these homicidal brats, producing the new that the district attorney might have served the under-aged victim a drink four hours earlier at a country club party. The question, if it would have made any difference if DA had served a 40-year old man a drink four hours earlier and that 40-year-old man had happened to be walking there at the same time and place, went unasked. The retiring DA’s enemies provided enough information to the paper for the next year to produce some juicy bits of corruption (the DA is without doubt the only county department head who ever abused his cell-phone and county-car privileges) but it remains to be seen if he will ever be convicted of anything. Nevertheless, the assassination of the DA’s character marvelously distracted public attention from the UC golden goose eggs who committed the homicide.
UC Merced was built without proper permits, on the 800-pound-gorilla-plutocrat-PhD theory that once it broke ground on an expanse of extremely sensitive endangered species habitat, the permits would follow. UC Merced shares with RMP five common characteristics: 1) they are the two largest construction projects in the county; 2) both are legally actionable bad projects under the California Environmental Quality Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Clean Air and Clean Water acts; 3) both are advanced scofflaws; 4) both bought the newspaper in advance; 5) both supportered the Pomboza’s (congressmen Pombo and Cardoza) attempts to destroy the Endangered Species Act on behalf of finance, insurance and real estate interests of the north San Joaquin Valley.
This weekend, the Sun-Star is featuring the true revelations of Kenny Shepherd, “a local legend,” in his dealings with John Condren, CEO of the RMP project, a NASCAR-level auto-racing extravagance that the county approved late last year for a 1,200-acre almond ranch adjoining the former Castle Airport Base, now designated as a “foreign trade zone.” Condren dumped Shepherd and other local investors off his board of directors the day after RMP got county Board of Supervisors’ approval, which increased the value of the land anywhere from four to 10-fold, depending on who you believe how much Condren paid the former, bankrupt owner before board approval. This Sun-Star propaganda campaign against Condren is manure.
However, to fully tell the story of the Sun-Star in simple words anyone might understand, we must resort to our second metaphor. Six months ago, before the board approval of RMP, this gigolo of a newspaper delivered the following opinion:
Nov. 18, 2006
It's time to start our engines...Editorial
County can't afford to pass up opportunities the racetrack will provide. After years of debate, thousands of pages of impact reports, hundreds of written comments and hours of oral public statements, the final verdict on the construction of the Riverside Motorsports Park is about to arrive. On Dec. 12, Merced County supervisors will either approve or turn down a number of issues that will collectively decide the project's fate. Read it all for yourself; we've posted it on our Internet site at www.mercedsun-star.com. This community needs the economic shot in the arm the raceway would provide. Racing is big business, and this project gives us the chance to be at the epicenter of this developing sport...RMP is designed to be a home base for the business of racing. While we're sensitive to the concerns of the park's detractors, the detailed Environmental Impact Report and the unprecedented proposed mitigation for adverse impacts more than adequately address any potential problems RMP would create. We don't agree, like we've heard some people say, that RMP is an even bigger plus than UC Merced. That's ridiculous. A university that enrolls and educates thousands will have a much more profound impact than an auto raceway ever will dream to have. Riverside Motorsports Park deserves its chance, and this community needs the jobs. (for the full editorial, use the link)
Sonny Star endorsed the project before approval, when its opinion – its money opinion – mattered. Since approval of the RMP project, the paper has been in a rage to describe Condren as a confidence man. A gigolo calls a john a con man. Who are you gonna believe?
Now, five months after the RMP project was approved, it prints the second result of its famous “investigative journalism.” The first came days after the approval.
Why the change of view? We didn’t get an answer in the first articles. Five months later, we are told that the day after the supervisors approved the project, Condren fired the board of directors that got him through the approval process with all the political pressure their investments could inspire.
Before the approval and Condren dumped the board he came in with, the local investors – were putting all the pressure they could muster on the paper and the supervisors and not saying anything of what they thought they knew about Condren to help the public in any way. For this, Shepherd is now getting the Local Legend Prize of the Week.
After the investors lost their decision-making power in the RMP organization, they went back to Sonny Star with all kinds of bad stories about Condren, which the paper printed. This weekend, the Sun-Star is portraying up an arrogant, has-been stockcar driver as a local innocent bilked by a big city slicker with a dark business past. It’s manure.
If Condren actually were a professional confidence man, he could not have picked a finer place for an operation than among the business community in Merced on the theory that “you can’t cheat an honest man.” After years of UC Merced propaganda and speculator-driven urban growth, the Merced business community is an attractive mark, whatever Condren’s intentions might be. One of the most crooked marks on the scene is Sonny Star, which is supposed to be the local newspaper. It is nothing but a corporate gigolo from nowhere, an attractive escort for any wealthy company as long as it has memorized its lines fed to it by UC Merced or the next developer with the fee to buy an evening, a season or decades of its services. When it attempts to speak for the community, its voice is hideously mangled, as in the “ironic” column a year ago about undocumented immigrants, including a Le Grand High School girl being swept up and jailed by ICE. Some Merced citizens told Madame McClatchy that its handsome boy was babbling white racist ideology. Sonny Star is awful quiet about ICE sweeps this year.
You expect your supervisors in the middle of a speculative housing boom to be corrupt. You hope they won’t become nothing but a gang of crooks, but humanity is subject to temptation. If you are serious enough, you can always throw the bums out.. But you can’t throw out Sonny Star. Legally at least, it is a newspaper, the only kind of business enterprise protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. It doesn’t even have to be whore to make a living. But, because Sonny Star is what it is, it has no respect for itself and you can’t expect it to have any respect for the truth or you, either. Sonny Star from Nowhere has been servicing special interests for so long it doesn’t know who it is or where it is or what time it is.
There is no journalistic excuse for it. Sonny Star reporters have access to hard copies of all staff reports seen by the supervisors every week – a great deal more information than the public can get, setting aside CD’s-from-Hell made available shortly after the RMP decision. The public has to pay lawyers to dicker with the County for public information. Members of the Merced public already have won one state Public Records Act case against the County. But Sonny Star doesn’t use the material it gets, including the texts of suits filed against RMP and other developers, including UC Merced, through the years. It doesn’t read the material. A gigalo just has to look and sound like he went to college. The gigalo’s opinions are hand-picked by Madame McClatchy and nearby corporate interests, the same interests that “put Merced on the map” as the fourth worst city in America. These are the same corporate interests that have created a community with so many cracks in it all the fantasy expressways they can imagine we should raise our sales taxes to help fund could not pave them over. These are the same corporate interests of finance, insurance and real estate that have “put Merced on the map” as one of the top national centers of predatory lending.
Badlands editorial staff
Advocate to adversary: Kenny Shepherd's RMP Story...Corinne Reilly
Merced County's own NASCAR driver once was a proud supporter of the Riverside Motorsports Park project and its chief executive, John Condren - but he now has a dramatically different opinion. By the time it came down to the last public hearing, things were so bad that Kenny Shepherd almost testified against Riverside Motorsports Park the night the Board of Supervisors approved it. "I was so close to speaking out against RMP," Shepherd said. "I really was torn. It had all become such a mess." By the end of 2006, Shepherd says he had watched RMP's CEO and co-founder, John Condren, blow through investors' money, burn his business partners, cast aside cries from within RMP to drastically scale back his spending, fail to pay his employees on time, and ultimately fire those who had carried RMP to its approval the day after the Board of Supervisors' decision. Local roots... Humble beginning... Buying Altamont...renovations - Condren spent far beyond what was budgeted...."40 to 50 percent over budget at least,"..."It all had to be brand new for (Condren). It could never be cheaper, used equipment,"..."It got to the point that even if we sold out every event that season, the profits still wouldn't be enough to pay all the debt...Condren's business model just didn't work." Shepherd said the expensive cars, the brand new equipment, and all the investor dollars Condren was spending in Merced became RMP's credibility. Split from RMP... After a 12-hour marathon public hearing before the Board of Supervisors, the board sealed the project's approval on Dec. 19. On Dec. 20 Shepherd received a letter from Condren informing him that he was no longer a member of RMP's board of directors. Nolind and Melvin Andress, another RMP investor and board member received the same letter. Power to fire...Shepherd and Nolind each said the now understand that RMP's operating agreement, which Condren wrote, included a provision that Condren was allowed to fire at will as the company's manager. Nolind said he read the company's operating agreement early on, but that Condren was able to change it every year, and because he trusted Condren, Nolind didn't insist on reading the updated versions. "I guess that makes me an idiot,"… Both said that they believe RMP is now managed solely by Condren and his wife, Jeanne Harper. Harper said the company is comprised of Condren, herself and Melville, the former Gustine city councilman. She said the company's advisory board includes Neal Sebbard and Steve Nassar; both of whom work for a San Francisco based investment servics frim, Stone & Youngberg, LLC
RMP's memo about restructuring the organization...12-20-06
20 December 2006
Notice To: RMP Executive Advisory Board
· Ms. Jeanne Harper-Condren
· Mr. Mel Andrews
· Mr. Kenny Shepherd
· Mr. John Nolind
From: John Condren
Cc: Robert Sturges, Esq.
Neal Sebbard (S&Y)
Steve Nasser (S&Y)
Subject: Restructuring of RMP
Good day to all:
It is a tremendous day for Riverside Motorsports Park, having the certification of its EIR approved on 13 December and final project approval by the Merced County Board of Supervisors yesterday...pursuant to Section 5.13 of the Operating Agreement for Riverside Motorsports Park, I am releasing and removing you from the Executive Advisory Board. This is effective immediately and is done with my deepest gratitude.
County still could enjoy a racing complex...Steve Cameron
So now we know. The entire Riverside Motorsports Park project is a mess, from the inside out...revelations from local driving legend Kenny Shepherd about chaos and deception overwhelming the original investment group are stunning -- but hardly a surprise given the events of the past several months. The problems RMP boss John Condren has encountered at his Altamont track, where Alameda County supervisors who once wanted to help him now are fuming over countless violations and a general attitude of arrogance, should have given us all the necessary clues. The whole thing seems to be heading for hell in a handbasket, and Shepherd knew it when he cut all ties with Condren. If you need any further proof of what a fiasco Shepherd watched from the inside, consider that Kenny turned down RMP stock to which he was entitled rather than be stuck with any legal ties to Condren. When you read and hear Shepherd's account of how Condren used his first investors to pitch everyone in Merced County to get RMP approved by the supervisors - and then fired them all the day after the vote, well... How damning is that? Despite Condren's insistence that everything is "business as usual"...there's a better chance of winning the lottery than ever seeing a $250 million colossus built in Atwater. There's no money. Condren has some valuable land -- from which he'll still probably get out with a profit -- but there simply are no more serious investors for a monstrous racing complex that was completely crazy from the start. The entire deal has been turned on its head -- no shock if you look very hard at Condren's business history -- but the big question in Merced County is what happens now. Shepherd and good-faith investors like Johnny Nolind, Ron Cortez and Mel Andrews...were conned into believing that Condren had $180 million at his disposal, and a result they have been burned -- financially, emotionally or both. The key from the beginning was that notion of a giant complex costing a quarter-billion bucks never had a chance. He admits to being attracted to Condren's dreams... Sadly, Condren either was in dreamland or cynically manipulated his partners -- and the only reason he agreed to develop RMP a stage at a time was to get everyone on board for the supervisors' vote. Once he got it, everybody was thrown overboard within 24 hours. Shepherd said..."Basically, I came to the conclusion that we could build something that would benefit this area and that if it were done right, you could expect revenues in the range of $2 million per year. What you have to wonder now is what will be left when the smoke clears, the rubble is removed and Condren's $250 million pipedream is officially declared dead. Who knows if something sensible can grow up on Condren's property, or whether it will have to be somewhere else? Expect plenty of angst, name-calling and various lawsuits before the RMP catastrophe can be sorted out. Once we wade through that quicksand and Condren is off to turn his charm on another community offering fresh money, however, Shepherd and his many friends will remain right here. Whatever happens with Condren -- and no matter what people wind up thinking of him -- this thing still could have a happy ending. For the good of our community, I truly hope so.
New book ranks Merced fourth worst place to live in U.S....Leslie Albrcht
A new book rating the desirability of America's cities has ranked Merced at No. 370 out of 373 places nationwide. Gainesville, Fla., topped the list, and Modesto finished dead last in the 2007 edition of "Cities Ranked & Rated" by Bert Sperling and Peter Sander. So what is it that makes Merced a bottom-dweller...book scores cities in 10 categories, including quality of life, cost of living, job prospects, education, health care, climate, crime, commute times and leisure activities. Merced...has a "perfect storm" of poor stats in educational attainment, unemployment and crime, coupled with a high cost of living, said Peter Sander, a co-author of the book...scant 10.9 percent of Merced's population has a four-year college or graduate degree...housing prices appreciated 155 percent between 2002 and 2006... Merced is a "diamond in the rough," Sander said. And no, he doesn't say the same thing to all the cities with low rankings. "Based on the university and the location, Merced has more potential to rise in the rankings than other Central Valley cities,".... With proper planning and more investment in downtown, Merced could be the next Davis, a city that gracefully made the switch from ag hamlet to university town, Sander said.
Distrust sunk Measure G...Roxanne Farley, Atwater...Letters to the editor
...Galgiani-come-lately for not supporting Measure G, as if a politician not yet elected had the juice to sway elections. Get real. Merced County has not been able to pass any sales tax measures for more than 12 years...two main reasons for this. First, anti-pay-your-share, anti-tax Republicans are opposed to taxes and the average Republican doesn't care that some local yokels have developments pending and want citizens to pay for roads to their fancy housing or shopping developments. They are also too shortsighted to admit that everyone drives the roads and should all share the burden of maintaining them...don't care that our county will get the short end of the funding stick when it comes to Caltrans because we are not a self-help county. Second, citizens don't trust the supervisors or county administrators to spend the money how they say they will. We have an administration that gives special favors, awards, deals to relatives and friends...have an administration that consistently gives themselves and upper management raises while laying off employees and cutting services...have an administration that wastes money on public relations staff to write their speeches and help themselves get re-elected. So quit whining unless you get off your chair and vote to change things.