Journalism

What's happening here?

Submitted: Mar 24, 2008
In his history of the Great Crash, economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted, “Congress was concerned that commercial banks in general and member banks of the Federal Reserve System in particular had both aggravated and been damaged by stock market decline partly because of their direct and indirect involvement in the trading and ownership of speculative securities.

“The legislative history of the Glass-Steagall Act,” Galbraith continued, “shows that Congress also had in mind and repeatedly focused on the more subtle hazards that arise when a commercial bank goes beyond the business of acting as fiduciary or managing agent and enters the investment banking business either directly or by establishing an affiliate to hold and sell particular investments.” Galbraith noted that “During 1929 one investment house, Goldman, Sachs & Company, organized and sold nearly a billion dollars' worth of securities in three interconnected investment trusts--Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation; Shenandoah Corporation; and Blue Ridge Corporation. All eventually depreciated virtually to nothing” ...

Scholes’ and Mertons’ fundamental axioms of risk, the assumptions on which all their models were built, were wrong. They had been built on sand, fundamentally and catastrophically wrong. Their mathematical options pricing model assumed that there were Perfect Markets, markets so extremely deep that traders' actions could not affect prices. They assumed that markets and players were rational. Reality suggested the opposite—markets were fundamentally irrational in the long-term. But the risk pricing models of Black, Scholes and others over the past two or more decades had allowed banks and financial institutions to argue that traditional lending prudence was old fashioned. With suitable options insurance, risk was no longer a worry. Eat, drink and be merry...

That, of course, ignored actual market conditions in every major market panic since Black-Scholes model was introduced on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. It ignored the fundamental role of options and ‘portfolio insurance’ in the Crash of 1987; it ignored the causes of the panic that in 1998 brought down Long Term Capital Management – of which Scholes and Merton were both partners. Wall Street blissfully ignored the obvious along with the economists and governors in the Greenspan Fed.

Financial markets, contrary to the religious dogma taught at every business school since decades, were not smooth, well-behaved models following the Gaussian Bell-shaped Curve as if it were a law of the universe. The fact that the main architects of modern theories of financial engineering—now given the serious-sounding name ‘financial economics’—all got Nobel prizes, gave the flawed models the aura of Papal infallibility. Only three years after the 1987 crash the Nobel Committee in Sweden gave Harry Markowitz and Merton Miller the prize. In 1997 amid the Asia crisis, it gave the award to Robert Merton and Myron Scholes...

The nature of the fatally flawed risk models used by Wall Street, by Moody’s, by the securities Monoline insurers and by the economists of the US Government and Federal Reserve was such that they all assumed recessions were no longer possible, as risk could be indefinitely diffused and spread across the globe... F. William Engdahl, The Financial Tsunami, http://www.globalresearch.ca

The community was shaken Thursday by the news that County Bank (corporate headquarters in Merced) was experiencing difficulties. It's stock had lost 90 percent of its value in two years, down to $3.76 a share on Wednesday, having lost half its value from the previous day. The CEO retired.

With the exception of a rather dramatic graph on the first page -- a jagged descending line showing the drop in stock price -- the McClatchy Chain covered the story as a momentary "blip." It called upon Valley economic gurus Tappan Munroe and Lon Hatamiya (former state commerce secretary under Gov. Gray Davis) for perspective. Munroe's insoucant metaphor, a "souffle with the air slowly leaking out," aptly caught the perspective of our witless Valley economic gurus.

But, that wasn't, and no doubt isn't, the end of the County Bank story. On Saturday, McClatchy reported that the bank stock had rebounded an astounding "72 percent," to $6.48. Problems over? A local builder, both a stockholder and client of County Bank, expressed his "personal opinion" that the bank is "very strong and very well-managed but the (real estate) values declining as rapidly as they did -- it just caught them by surprise."

McClatchy's Modesto outlet published a reassuring story Monday to the effect that local commercial banks didn't invest in subprime home loans and, while developers aren't always paying their loans at the moment and auto loans are a problem, their portfolios are adequately diversified to withstand the fallout from the general collapse of real estate values and foreclosures.

We'd like to go on record as saying that, beyond the stock price and information from public bank documents about its losses, we don't believe a word McClatchy has written about the problem. And the unasked questions are too numerous to list, but one could begin with the compensation for the retiring CEO, compensation for the economic gurus, was it involved at any stage in bundling subprime loans, and how will its losses affect it local agricultural lending this season?

What has happened is a massive loss of confidence, the end of every speculative bubble since the Dutch Tulip. We recall the early boosting of the bubble in Merced, when the same local builder was managing the reelection campaign of former state Sen. Dick Monteith, then claiming to the "real Mr. UC Merced." The builder and his candidate was "confidently" claiming UC Merced was a "done deal" when, in fact, as they knew well, it was not. So, forgive us for our skepticism that the local finance, insurance and real estate industry, bought politicians and McClatchy "were caught by surprise." The only real local question is: Who got to the souffle before it went flat?

The predatory lending practices that have caused a world credit crisis as well as our local crisis, were done here face-to-face by local lenders together with local realtors to local and speculative buyers. Judging by the rate of foreclosures in the north San Joaquin valley, one of the highest rates in the nation, there was an enormous amount of fraud committed here. In fact, it might be said that today the area is floating on a sea of "Liar Loans."

From the incredible amount of lying behind UC Merced, in which the local newspaper was thoroughly involved, to the rise and fall of the real estate value souffle, to this unhappy news about County Bank, there has been fraud, political manipulation, wholesale denial of environmental law and regulation and public process laws on the local, state and federal level, and a pattern of harassment of members of the public who asked any questions. This deceit has been broadly spread among what passes for "leadership" in Merced -- from the builder-politician to the Great Valley Center, UC regents and administrators of UC Merced and their boosters, municipal and county government, state and federal legislators, landowners, developers and lenders.

Saddest of all, few if any of the perpetrators regarded this as fraud or deceit. It was just good business. Alchemical formulas emanating from the nation's financial centers "proved" that risk was not risk and the more bad loans made the better. There were a few dissenting voices, but they were ignored as being, at the least, unpatriotic.

Local legacies of local greed include: a campus born with "complications," tremendous destruction of regional natural resources and wildlife habitat, the worst air quality in the nation, decreasing water quality and supply, local governments with swollen salaries for elected officials and department heads and shrinking budgets, unfinished subdivisions with empty houses and nervous residents, shaky banks, political corruption, bad news for the newspapers to cover over as best they can, and the same old compulsion to boost and to deny.

Badlands Journal editorial board
------------------

3-20-08
Merced Sun-Star
County Bank parent company anticipates first loss
CEO Thomas Hawker announces that he will step down when a replacement can be found....LESLIE ALBRECHT

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/190331.html
Shares of Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, were hammered Wednesday following news that the company expects to post its first-ever yearly loss.
Capital Corp said it anticipates it will lose $4 million for 2007.
Shares were trading at $3.76 -- a seven-year low -- when the Nasdaq market closed, a 64 percent decline from the day's opening price. The one-day percentage drop was the largest recorded on any of the major U.S. stock exchanges Wednesday. A year ago, Capital Corp's stock traded at $26.55.
The company blamed its anticipated loss on "the rapid decline in real estate values in California's Central Valley in the fourth quarter of 2007." It was then that Merced led the nation in home-value depreciation, with prices plunging 19 percent between 2007 and 2006, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.
The drop in real estate values means the collateral backing County Bank loans is worth less than it was when the loans were made one or two years ago. Capital Corp must now reclassify those loans as riskier. That, in turn, means the bank must back the reclassified loans with more money than what's required to back more secure loans -- money that comes directly out of Capital Corp's revenue stream, Smith explained...
The loss isn't tied directly to the subprime mortgage meltdown, he added, because County Bank doesn't make many home mortgages or invest in subprime loans. However, the company does lend money to developers buying land, and that land is less valuable than it was a few years ago. "Even though the guy is still paying his loan, by federal law, we have to downgrade the loan because the quality of collateral has gone down," said Smith.
Capital Corp's current problems were foreshadowed in the summer of 2007 when the company reported that a foreclosed loan to a housing developer had put a $5 million dent in its quarterly income compared with the previous year...

3-21-08
Merced Sun-Star
Bank's shares bounce back 72%
Analyst says volatility a reflection of economic conditions and lower Valley real estate values...LESLIE ALBRECHT

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/191875.html
Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, saw its stock rebound strongly Thursday, shooting up 72 percent from the seven-year low it hit earlier this week.
That drop had come after the company announced its first-ever yearly loss. Capital Corp expects to post a $4 million loss for 2007, the result of plunging real estate values.
At the Nasdaq's market close on Thursday, Capital Corp's stock price had risen to $6.48 a share, compared with $3.76 on Wednesday...
On Thursday Capital Corp put the focus on the present, announcing that unaudited internal financial reports from January and February show the bank has adequate capital on hand. The company had previously told federal regulators that it had fallen below what regulators consider "well-capitalized" status.
Joe Morford, a San Francisco-based analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said while the company's projected loss may be unsettling, it's typical of the problems California banks will probably face over the next year, especially in areas hard hit by the real estate slowdown.
"Six to 12 months from now, this is not going to look that unusual," said Morford. "We think there's going to be problems for several other banks both in the Central Valley and throughout the state."
He added, "A big part of the success of a community bank is the strength of its local market. Right now Merced and the Central Valley are having a real tough time. You're seeing the banks share that pain."...
On Wednesday, the company announced that it's forming a committee of board members to oversee bank operations; CEO Thomas Hawker will now report to the committee. Capital Corp also said it's hired financial advisers.
Those moves could be a sign that federal regulators are closely watching the bank, Morford suggested. "It looks like (regulators) are telling the bank that you need to raise capital, and there needs to be some changes in management," said Morford. "The regulators don't want to see County Bank fail, so they're doing what they can to ensure that doesn't happen."
Meanwhile, bank clients sounded a cautiously positive note Thursday. Local builder Bob Rucker, who's both a stockholder and client of County Bank, said he's watching intently. "The whole banking system is going through a major crisis right now with liquidity," said Rucker. "My personal opinion of the bank is that they're very strong and very well-managed, but the (real estate) values declining as rapidly as they did -- it just caught them by surprise."...

3-24-08
Modesto Bee
Valley's smaller banks eluding upheaval in financial industry
Area firms steer clear of most home loans, limiting fallout from crisis...BEN van der MEER

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/248088.html
While giant banks such as Bear Stearns implode as an indirect result of the housing crisis, many of the community banks based in the Northern San Joaquin Valley report being largely insulated from such upheavals.
That's true even after last week, when Merced-based County Bank announced a $4 million loss in 2007, and then saw its stock lose more than half its value in one day before rallying late in the week.
Jeff Burda, president of Modesto Commerce Bank, said most community banks don't make many home loans, including the subprime loans that prompted the recent housing meltdown...
Other banks, like County Bank, may have avoided subprime securities, but made substantial loans to commercial builders. With new housing at a virtual standstill, those builders aren't building, Burda said, and loans aren't being paid...
Credit agencies that monitor banks over time on the basis of criteria such as earnings and liquidity take a more measured stance.
Bankrate.com, a consumer finance Web site, gave five valley community banks, including County, Bank of Stockton and Farmers & Merchants, ratings of three or four stars -- the same ratings most banks receive, with five stars being the best, according to the site...

Chancellor Kang's humility, skills seen as good fit for UC Merced...MICHELLE HATFIELD
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/248077.html
MERCED -- Steve Kang has become a road warrior.
A different kind of leader
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who stepped down as founding chancellor to return to teaching, is remembered for her stiff demeanor and commanding presence. (After going back to the classroom in 2006, Tomlinson-Keasey quietly retired in June, moving to Georgia. She couldn't be reached for comment.)...
Kang said he believes the best leaders are those who earn trust by example.
"You have to be part of a team...
"(Tomlinson-Keasey) never really went to small events. Chancellor Kang goes to everything. I think that's why he's so popular among students," said Brenda Ramirez, a psychology junior.
Goals and plans... Focus on students urged...

Accomplishments
Getting UC Merced closer to permit approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for campus expansion and an adjacent university residence community
Starting a strategic planning process to guide the university's academic future
Drumming up community support for a medical school

Goals
Beef up student recruitment
Solve budget issues facing the campus, including lack of physical space for professors, students and research
Continue paving the road to a UC Merced medical school
Continue research initiatives among professors, focusing on issues specific to the Central Valley such as agriculture and water and air quality
Academic planning -- "Where are you going to be putting your resources? What do you want to be the best in the world at? You can't be the best at everything," UC President Robert Dynes said.

UC Merced Facts
Year opened: 2005
Number of students: 1,800
Number of employees: 884
Annual budget: $100 million
Size of campus: 18 buildings, 105 acres
Academics: 17 majors, 17 minors
Number of alumni: 76
Estimated amount of money generated by university: $1.2 billion since 2000 ...

Expansion compromise for UC Merced campus...Editorial
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/248069.html
It took six years for the University of California Board of Regents to choose where in the San Joaquin Valley to build its 10th campus. It's already taken more than seven years for UC to figure out how to position the campus and the adjoining community on its selected site east of Merced.
What was the hang-up? Limiting the damage to wetlands and to native plants and animals, such as the bald eagle, fairy shrimp and Colusa grass...
Finally, last year, some meaningful conversations started taking place among UC, the corps and two other federal agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. By October, the university announced it had a revised map that reduced the size of the campus and the placement of the community. Last month, the university submitted its formal permit application, which triggers an environmental review process that typically takes 12 to 14 months...
UC needs the Corps' permit to continue with its long-term campus plans, but it is just as essential that there will be shops, restaurants and other amenities close by for students and staff. Some current students and a number of prospective students complain about the isolation of the campus and how far it is into town.
Downsizing the campus by 100 acres does not reduce the academic choices or activities that UC Merced will offer. In fact, it is appropriate that the campus -- which already has won awards for environmental design and energy conservation -- should have a footprint that does the least possible damage to the environment.
It took too long, but we commend university officials and regulators for reaching what appears to be a good compromise.

If anyone can fix (or help) UC, it's this guy...Short Takes
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/248145.html
The University of California system -- 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories -- is at a crossroads. With its leadership stepping down after five years; with UC's share of the state budget declining; with the economy changing rapidly; and with a need for innovation greater than ever, a new UC president will step into an extremely challenging environment. On top of these long-term issues is the need to recover from the 2005 controversy over administrative bloat and bonuses, stipends, relocation packages and other forms of unreported compensation to top administrators. Then there's California's short-term budget crisis, which will likely require increases in student fees and rethinking of financial aid. Fortunately, in Mark Yudof, a search committee has tapped the right person to serve as the next University of California president. This first-rate constitutional scholar and teacher has served as chancellor of the University of Minnesota system (1997 to 2002) and the University of Texas system (2002 to now). The UC system really needs someone from outside the system to bring in fresh ideas, fresh personnel and shake up old ways of doing business. Yudof is ideally suited to do that. An extremely effective manager, imaginative thinker and savvy political leader, amazingly he still finds time to teach. He knows how to deal with politicians and the state budget process, create endowed professorships, increase financial aid for students and encourage research partnerships. The UC system needs this kind of president. In a reduced and changing presidency, Yudof is perfect. The regents vote Thursday. They should approve him with unanimous enthusiasm.

| »

Loose Cheeks, March 10, 2008

Submitted: Mar 10, 2008

Loose Cheeks
FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT

Loose Cheeks: Hot Tips
By Lucas Smithereen
Loose Cheeks Senior Editor

Got a hot tip for Loose Cheeks? Call the Loose Cheeks hot-tip line: (000) CHE-EEKS. We’ll get back to you whenever.

A member of the public recently directed the attention of Loose Cheeks’ intrepid reporter A.J. Gangle to the wild, wacky world of agbiz, beginning with the Merced County Farm Bureau's February 2008 newsletter, the New York Times and the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database for a few enlightening items.

Item #1

Merced County Farm Bureau: "We farm. You eat."
We live in a diverse state that is able to produce over 350 different commodities under the most stringent regulations in our nation. California is the number one agricultural producing state. Of the top ten Ag producing counties, California claims eight, with Merced County ranked 6th in the nation. We are blessed with rich soils, available water, and climatic conditions that allow our family farms to be so productive. We hope this website will give you an insight into our industry and the men and women that are the face of our family farms here in Merced County.
http://www.mercedfarmbureau.com/DesktopDefault.aspx

"Family" means things to the Farm Bureau not always intuitively obvious to urban dwellers, for example, lot splits on ag land to create ranchettes. On p. 12 of the February Merced County Farm Bureau Newsletter,
http://www.mercedfarmbureau.com/pdf/February%202008%20Issue.pdf, the casual reader will find an ad by Century 21 Salvadori Realty, listing three parcels, two 20-acre ranchettes and an 18-acre ranchette. At least two of the three realtors representing the properties, two sisters from the Le Grand area, grew up in "family farming." One of them is a former Farm Bureau director. One ranchette already contains three houses. Another is listed as containing one house and a building site for another, although it is in an "organic"
walnut orchard. On parcels this size, all that is required is a building permit for a second house. The third 20-acre parcel of almonds and one "quaint" dwelling can be purchased together with an adjoining 20-acre parcel in the same varieties of almonds.

"Great income potential!" the ad says. Since it's not great income potential for farming, perhaps what is meant that it is good for more parcel splits and more smaller ranchettes. How long ago were these two 20-acre parcels one 40-acre parcel and then were split by permission of the County in as a favor to the "farming family" that owes it. Or was it a favor to the former family farming realtors?

Item #2

From the Merced County General Plan, Chapter 7:

Objective 2.A. Agricultural areas are protected from conversion to nonagricultural use.
Objective 2.B. The parcelization of large holdings is discouraged.


http://www.co.merced.ca.us/planning/pdf/generalplan/chapter7/chapter7.pdf

2-23-08
Merced Sun-Star
Public Notice
PUBLIC HEARING... to consider: MINOR SUBDIVISION APPLICATION No. MS07-058 - Chris Robinson
http://www.legalnotice.org/pl/mercedsun-star/ShowNotice.aspx
"PUBLIC HEARING" A public hearing will be held by the Merced County Hearing Officer on Monday, March 10, 2008 at 8:30 a.m., in Conference Room 301 on the 3rd Floor, 2222 "M" Street, Merced, California, to consider: MINOR SUBDIVISION APPLICATION No. MS07-058 - Chris Robinson - To divide a 1,027.20 acre parcel into 3 parcels and a remainder resulting in parcel sizes of: Parcel 1 = 198.63 acres; Parcel 2 = 343.18; Parcel 3 =
165.25 acres, and Remainder Parcel = 320.14 acres under a parcel map waiver on property located on the east side of Highway 59, approximately 1/2 mile north of Youd Road in the Snelling area. The project site is designated Agriculture land use in the General Plan and zoned A-2 (Exclusive Agriculture). THE ACTION REQUESTED IS TO APPROVE, DISAPPROVE OR MODIFY THE APPLICATION. DG All persons interested are cordially invited to attend. Written comments are encouraged and should be sent to the Planning and Community Development Department, 2222 "M" Street, Merced, California 95340, prior to the hearing.
If you have any questions, please call the department at (209) 385-7654.
Sincerely, Robert A. Lewis Development Services Director Legal 08 -286 February 23, 2008

For recent arrivals here in the Foreclosure Capital of the West, what's happening here is that a local cattle baronet whose family exploited the Merced River for irrigation, exploited the river for aggregate, exploited the state for millions to try to reclaim the river after the mining, now seeks to exploit the river and the County by exploiting the river "viewshed" for a few luxury estates. Or perhaps it's all about conservation easements, yet another family adventure at the public trough.

6-26-07
Badlands Journal
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=339
Red Menace over Merced
A rouge pall, like the Delta peat fires of old at twilight, hangs over Merced County.
According to Supervisor Mike Nelson, the “socialists” were out this morning at the supervisors’ meeting. A group advocating agricultural preservation were arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella.
And we thought we saw Eugene Debs highballing down the Santa Fe tracks last night.
The Badlands editorial staff investigated, and found at least one ringleader of the agland preservationists has a long history of affiliation with red front groups: the Merced County Chamber of Commerce; American Farmland Trust; the Merced County Farm Bureau; and California Women for Agriculture.
By contrast, Nelson was a union Atwater City fireman for nine years and now draws a public salary from Merced County of over $65,000 a year plus thousands a month in perks, benefits and retirement, beside what the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board pays him to defend special interests from the peril of regulating the worst air pollution in the US. Nelson’s wife is a union public school teacher, drawing a public salary, health and retirement benefits.
We suggest Nelson look again at the red menace hanging over the county. If he can see through the merciless rightwing hypocrisy, he will find it is red ink caused by the reckless, uncontrolled growth approved by majorities of the indemnified supervisors and city councils beholden and in some cases directly benefitting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.
Badlands editorial staff

Update: Merced County supervisors' salary is now $74,000 and Nelson is chairman of the board of Merced County Association of Governments, the local pork barrel for federal highway funds.

Item #3

The Merced County Farm Bureau's February newsletter expresses a number of straighforward views about serious issues in the Valley. The executive director wrote about water:

I started the month of February at a water forum sponsored by the City of Fresno. The information was plentiful but we need action, not more words. We need cooperation not litigation. Simply put we need more storage.

Although we're sure Merced's family farmers understood this and all that followed, we were a little mystified.
Action is not litigation and cooperation will produce more dams? There has always been great doubt in the circles traveled by the executive director that Merced County is a part of the state of California.

Item #4

The Valley View editor of the MCFB newsletter, writing about genetically engineered crops, opined that objections to their use and deregulation were "based solely on the fear of the unknown." Gene-drift is a "possibility," according to the author,and "is a legitimate concern that must be considered."

The Union of Concerned Scientists, UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela, Jeffrey M. Smith (Seeds of Deception (2003), Frances Moore Lappe (Food First), Dr. Joseph Cummins, Dr. Wes Jackson (Land Institute), Dr. Arpad Pusztai and F. William Engdahl among many other responsible scientists around the world have been considering GE genetic pollution and a host of other problems arising from genetic engineering of food crops for nearly a decade. None of them, however, are Merced County family farmers, so what could they know?
Even the Catholic Church has spoken of biotechnology as a source of "new sins," but the Vatican Apostolic Penitentiary is a long way from Merced County.

3-10-08
Yahoo! News
Vatican lists "new sins," including pollution By Philip Pullella
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080310/hl_nm/pope_sins_dc
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.
The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.
Asked what he believed were today's "new sins," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.
"(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control," he said...Girotti, in an interview headlined "New Forms of Social Sin," also listed "ecological" offences as modern evils...

Item #5

The MCFB article, Understanding CEQA: Public Involvment is Key, got the right point in its title, but we felt strayed a bit lower in the story with advice like:

Contradictory, conflicting, conclusory, or inadequate responses or significant environmental issues need to be submitted in orally or in writing.

With some small experience with CEQA ourselves, we confess that we have absolutely no idea what this sentence means. A spot of editing might have helped, but the Farm Bureau probably couldn't bring itself to edit Sweet Potato Joe's daughter-in-law. And, who knows, perhaps Merced County family farmers know exactly what the sentence means.

Item #6

New York Times
Fairness on the Farm...Editorial
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/opinion/22fri3.html?_r=1&sq=conservation&st=nyt&oref=sl
ogin&scp=1&pagewanted=print
Against all odds, there is still hope that Congress will produce a halfway decent farm bill, one that increases spending for underfunded programs like food stamps and conservation while decreasing subsidies to rich farmers who have never had it so good.
The reason for hope is President Bush, who has been on the right side of the farm issue from the beginning and is threatening to veto any measure that resembles the stinkers produced by the House and Senate last year.
Some legislators are now scrambling for a better version. Tinkering around the edges will not do it.
Mr. Bush has two sound objections. First, the House and Senate bills, each costing about $280 billion over five years, are way over budget and include an array of gimmicky tax increases to make up the shortfall.
Even worse, the bills perpetuate an unfair, wasteful program of price supports and direct payments. Half the subsidies would go to farmers in just seven states producing a handful of crops — corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat; two-thirds of the nation’s farmers would not benefit at all. Mr. Bush has complained in particular about provisions that allow subsidies to flow to farm families making as much as $2 million a year.
What makes these subsidies even more outrageous is that just when the rest of the country is sliding into recession, commodity prices are booming and big farmers are rolling in clover.
In a rational world, legislators would try to find the cuts Mr. Bush wants in subsidy programs, but little is rational when it comes to farm bills. While some influential members of the House have talked about stricter limits on wealthy farmers, Big Agriculture’s Senate friends say the cuts would have to come from conservation programs.
The food stamp program is not yet on the Senate chopping block, but it, too, is not home free. Congressional leaders may be tempted to see this year’s bill as a way to help farm state incumbents hold onto their seats. The dollar amounts are too large, though, and the fairness issues too stark, to stick with a broken system of farm subsidies.

Item #7

Environmental Working Group Farm Bill 2007: Policy Analysis Database --
http://farm.ewg.org/sites/farmbill2007/

Top Commodity and Conservation Programs in the 18th district of California (Rep. Dennis A. Cardoza), program years 2003-2005:

Rank Number of Beneficiaries Total

1 Cotton Subsidies
795 $74,723,391
2 Dairy Program Subsidies
709 $18,664,192
3 Corn Subsidies
1,315 $15,867,968
4 Rice Subsidies
139 $5,452,704
5 Wheat Subsidies
899 $3,750,842
6 Env. Quality Incentive Program
282 $2,419,418
7 Oat Subsidies
971 $523,545
8 Barley Subsidies
548 $453,254
9 Conservation Reserve Program
28 $185,179
10 Grasslands Reserve Program
2 $92,732
11 Wool Subsidies
18 $77,294
12 Sorghum Subsidies
172 $58,319
13 Safflower Subsidies
105 $48,407
14 Wetlands Reserve Program
2 $37,008
15 Sheep Meat Subsidies
2 $10,850
16 Sunflower Subsidies
1 $74

Total Direct Payments benefits in 18th district of California (Rep. Dennis A. Cardoza) totaled $31.2 million in program years 2003-2005.

Item #8

More on subsidized farmers no longer alive
Letters to the Editor
Fresno Bee
July 27, 2007
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=369
Dear Sir or Madam,
The U.S. Department of Agriculture gets my inept federal bureaucracy of the month award for writing subsidy checks to 172,801 dead farmers totaling $1.1 billion dollars during the period from 1999 to 2005. This gives new meaning to the term “buying the farm.”
All the sordid details are available in a report from the Government Accountability Office located at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d071137t.pdf.
Nineteen percent of the deceased subsidy recipients had been dead for seven years or more, while a whopping 40 percent had been dead for three years or more. Even more troubling, someone undoubtedly alive signed and cashed those checks given the considerable difficulty the dead have in signing checks.
There must be plenty of dead San Joaquin Valley farmers on the list given that we are the farming capitol of the nation. They must be chuckling somewhere in the Great Pasture in the Sky that they couldn’t make any money while living but managed to generate some green after they were gone.
Lloyd Carter

Item #9

9-12-07
Merced Sun-Star
Local growers in Washington to push farm bill…Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13780293p-14360810c.html
WASHINGTON…on Capitol Hill, the House Agriculture Committee is poised in coming days to divvy up billions of dollars in a new farm bill… With the House panel planning to write its farm bill over the course of three days next week, Teixeira and several dozen other organic farmers are taking a desperate stab at changing the course of federal agricultural policy. So far, success is elusive. Existing cotton, rice, wheat and corn subsidies would stay essentially the same, under the current bill written by the agriculture committee chairman, Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn. Federal crop subsidies totaled about $17 billion last year. The politically vocal American Farm Bureau Federation likewise supports Peterson’s stay-the-course approach to traditional subsidies, as does the National Milk Producers Federation. California at Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner allies himself with California’s fruit and vegetable growers, who seek a bigger share of the farm bill. The bill coming before the House committee next Tuesday does boost some specialty crop funding. Even so, specialty crop advocates — and organic growers in particular — complain the current House bill shortchanges the fastest-growing sector of U.S. agriculture. “We are looking for a niche,” said Cindy Lashbrook, a Merced County organic farmer who grows blueberries and almonds near Livingston. “We’re looking to be legitimized, in a way.”

Item #10

7-26-07
Badlands Journal

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance lashes Valley agricultural pollution
Water Board Report Shows that Irrigated Agriculture Has Polluted the Delta and Most Central Valley Waterways
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=359
For immediate release:
25 July 2007
(Stockton, CA) The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) has released a landmark draft report presenting the first region-wide assessment of data collected pursuant to the Irrigated Lands Program since its inception in 2003. Data collected from some 313 sites throughout the Central Valley reveals that: 1) toxicity to aquatic life was present at 63% of the monitored sites (50% were toxic to more than one species), 2) pesticide water quality standards were exceeded at 54% of sites (many for multiple pesticides), 3) one or more metals violated criteria at 66% of the sites, 4) human health standards for bacteria were violated at 87% of monitored sites and 5) more than 80% of the locations reported exceedances of general parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, salt, TSS). While the adequacy of monitoring (i.e., frequency and comprehensiveness) of monitoring varied dramatically from site to site, the report presents adramatic panorama of the epidemic of pollution caused by the uncontrolled discharge of agricultural wastes.
The report is posted on the Regional Board’s website at:
http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/programs/irrigated_lands/index.html#Monito

Item #11

9-23-07
San Franciso Chronicle
Yes, San Francisco is in the land of cotton subsidies...Carolyn Lochhead
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/09/23/MNH1S5I9N.DT
L&type=politics
Los Banos, Merced County -- San Francisco is famous for its cotton farmers. Or at least one of them.
At last count, the largest California recipient of federal farm subsidies is the city's Constance Bowles Peabody, 88, a wealthy heiress of pioneer California cattle baron Henry Miller.
Peabody and her now-deceased brother George "Corky" Bowles, collected $2.4 million in cotton subsidies from 2003 to 2005, according to federal data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, which opposes the subsidies.
Actually, so does Philip Bowles, her son, who has run the family's farm operation for more than a quarter-century.
Asked why he should get subsidies, Bowles replied, "Why should anybody?"
A former Yale drama student who once made television commercials, Bowles operates the family's 13,000-acre cotton, alfalfa and tomato farm in Los Banos, where the city fathers erected a statue of his great-great-grandfather in the town plaza.
"The money that we do get from the government I look at as a form of liquidated damages," Bowles said as he drove through his fields, certain that the quality of his cotton and the efficiency of his farm would, if put to the test, obliterate his competitors in the Mississippi Delta and Texas...

Item #12

Where does Ol' Slippery John Pedrozo hang his hat, anyway?
Ol' Slippery got a free ride for a second term yesterday, so we thought to check where he lived, since you can't be too careful with the peoples' elected representatives in Merced County. Ol' Slippery lists his address at 2222 M Street, Merced CA.
Wait a second!
Unless the County administration building has some sort of special status like Washington, DC or the Vatican, it's in Supervisor Crookham's district, not the district Ol' Slippery is supposed to represent.
What's he got in his office up there on the third floor, a cot and a hibachi? Does he barbecue on the roof on pleasant evenings? We didn't even know they had showers in the administration building. Does he spend quality time with the Old Shrimp Slayer, Congressman Cardoza, who also has an office in the building, barbecuing tri-tip while the Slayer cooks the beans? Or do they fry up a batch of fairy shrimp out of the freezer, supplied by some of the Slayer's best contributors?
Ol' Slippery apparently doesn't have a decent Yesman to guide him in the niceties of local government etiquette -- like not sleeping in his office and stuff. County Topflak Mark Hendrickson is obviously too busy dogging the heels of Supervisor Mike Nelson, a real contender for Champion of the Rightwing ... what, exactly?

Item #13

Jess Brown and his Porkbarrel Band of Renown have concocted yet another transportation document, this time on an expressway between Atwater and Merced -- for April Fools' Day release.
It is called the Atwater Merced Expressway Draft Environmental Impact Report and it is a plan to make a plan to make a plan to make a plan ... to make pork.

Item #14

A great big ATTABOY! to Tom Grave for making it to the big time with his recent appointment to the Citizens Advisory Committee of Merced County Association of Governments. Tom has made it out of the pits where the public sits and into the hallway outside the backroom. He'll be close enough to smell the smoke now.

Item #15

Another great big ATTABOY to Sonny Star and the Gigolo Press of Merced for a fine column by Steve Cameron in today's mega-sports section-in-a-zillion colors. Cameron is a man of deep convictions, one of them that Sonny Star, the New York Times and the rest of the US press never writes an article to sell more papers.
Since the waning years of the 19th century, there have been two ways newspapers make money. The old-fashioned way was to increase circulation because that was the first way to increase advertising revenues back in the days of actual media competition in the US. The modern way newspapers make money is to monopolize
advertising regions after driving out competition. Big Mama McClatchy's house runs most of the callperson press in the Valley. Sonny makes it, to the extent Sonny does make it, on a captured local business community that HAS to advertise in the local gigolo press.
Don't get us wrong. We are great fans of Cameron's exploding sports section. It's real Big Time. Livingston goalie eyes the pros. Hot stuff. But examples comes to mind to disprove Cameron's claim.
When Riverside Motorsports Park was buying huge amounts of advertising with the paper, Sonny Star endorsed the project. When that advertising stream ended (about the time a lot of real estate advertising was also ending), Sonny did a real number of RMP -- a day late and a lot of legal trouble short of doing a timely job of informing the public and decision makers on RMP dirt.
And then, of course, there were the years of special UC Merced inserts, during which Sonny Star mainlined UC Bobcatflak.
Not to mention the bevies of comely young realtors right out of high school posing in the real estate inserts back in Flip City Days.
Hey, maybe we could bring back the lasses with a Flip City Days Festival to brighten up tours of brand new empty houses. Sonny Star should get working on it.

3-8-08
Merced Sun-Star
Please trust this about our sports section...Steve Cameron
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/194/story/174299.html
Hey, this is an historic election, so...
...I've been in this business a long time, and I can tell you without a question of doubt that we don't ever make editorial decisions while wondering if a few more people might plunk 50 cents into a box.The only time we sell extra papers is well-advertised, and it's because you ask for it.
For instance, if a local high school wins a district football championship, we might print a special eight-page commemorative edition. Maybe. But that's it.
After hearing that woman on CNN, I'm not sure the public actually will believe this, but I want it on record.
We make editorial decisions for lots and lots and lots of different reasons. Selling a dozen extra papers at Save Mart ain't one of them. And never will be.

Item #16

Feral shopping cart whitewash.
Everybody in town, except Sonny Star, knows those shopping carts are as wild and willful as our exploding alley cat population. But, Sonny, always ready with a way to tranquilize the population, is claiming today that human agency is involved in the dispersal of shopping carts, complete with the usual lying photos of shopping carts bathing in the creek and resting against street signs and such.

3-8-08
Merced Sun-Star
Despite '03 law, shopping carts still clutter landscape...DOANE YAWGER...3-8-08
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/174311.html

But the people know the real story on those criminal shopping carts. You hear them cruising our sidewalks at night and you turn out the lights and cringe because here they are again to rob and steal with their big black garbage bags and rattle off down the alley.
People don't talk much about getting mugged by shopping carts for fear nobody would believe them. And that is the great advantage our predatory feral shopping carts enjoy in this town. They are highly organized into gangs, each with its own distinctive colors, easily identified by police if they wanted to look.
Feral shopping carts represent the largest threat to law and order Merced has ever seen.
In the end, they will pick us clean.

Item #17

Local casino in the offing?
The rumble close to the ground is that the Madera/Highway 99 casino is a catspaw. The rumor is that state Legislature, abused for more than a decade by bloviating local real estate special interests spouting hyper-inflated metaphors from "high-tech, bio-tech engine of growth" to a suckling baby, has been combing the vicinity for a Native American tribe -- any tribe -- to sell the campus to for a dollar. Meanwhile big supporters for the campus are rumored to be willing to step aside because they already cashed in on growth stimulated by the campus and because the whining brat has become a civic embarrassment.

3-7-08
Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced leaders plead for budget mercy
Assembly panel meets on the campus to hear university's stance on funding...VICTOR A. PATTON
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/172967.html
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang on Thursday likened the university to a "baby" -- one that still "needs milk" and tender loving care to survive.
Translation for state legislators: UC Merced "cannot afford any budget cuts"...

Item #18

Great big ATTAGIRLS to the staff of the East Merced Resource Conservation District for printing a brochure in which the inside is upsidedown from the outside. Is it a metaphor or just another sincere expression of incompetence?

| »

Sonny Star, the verbsmith

Submitted: Feb 20, 2008

2-20-08
Merced Sun-Star
City Council decides to peer review Wal-Mart impact report
A second consulting firm will examine the first firm's study for $18,800....LESLIE ALBRECHT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/149721.html

Ah, come on, Sonny, say what you really mean: peerreview Wal-Mart.

How long can it be before Sonny will be medschooling UC Merced?

Badlands Journal editors

| »

Vern Williams

Submitted: Nov 28, 2007

I mourn the passing of Vern Williams and extend condolences to his family and his many friends and colleagues. I cannot yet imagine Vern absent from a newsroom somewhere, perhaps convening one of his incomparable "Come to Jesus" meetings to calmly restore order when it has broken down.
Bill Hatch

Merced Sun-Star
Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007
Former Sun-Star editor, 'skilled newsman,' loses battle with cancer
By DOANE YAWGER
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/83422.html

Vern Williams

Vern Williams, a calm and steadying influence on Merced and Modesto journalism for 43 years, died early Monday morning at his Merced home after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 62.

Williams, most recently the photo editor at the Modesto Bee, began his career as an apprentice printer at the Merced Sun-Star and advanced to positions as Linotype operator, sports editor, editor of the Sunday Sun, a short-lived Sunday newspaper, and ultimately managing editor before moving to the Modesto Bee seven years ago.

Funeral arrangements are pending for Williams, a lifelong Mercedian who also excelled in fast-pitch softball and loved all sports, particularly baseball and golf.

"He was a class act," Mike Conway said. "He managed to remain cool no matter what the pressure. He exuded calmness and confidence and always was the coolest head in the crowd."

Conway, now the city of Merced's public information officer, worked with Williams at both Merced and Modesto newspapers. He said Williams was always there when you needed him, was a positive influence on many people and had good news sense.

Frank Thompson, the Sun-Star's production manager for 31 years, hired Williams in 1964 and said he was a fine employee. He had graduated from Merced High School the previous year.

"He followed orders real good; he was a fine worker and always conscientious. He could do anything in the composing room and could be trusted," Thompson said. In his early days at the Sun-Star, he was a linotype operator and later worked in the camera room when the paper advanced from what was called letterpress or "hot type" to offset "cold type" operations.

"You couldn't help but like Vern -- and respect him as well," said Mark S. Vasché, the Modesto Bee's editor and senior vice president. "He was a dedicated and skilled newsman. More important, though, he was an all-around good person -- a man of integrity and character, with a quiet strength and a heart of gold. He will be missed by all who knew and worked with him."

Williams joined The Bee in 2000 as a copy editor on the paper's news desk. In 2004 he was named director of photography, overseeing the paper's photo and video operation.

Smokey Thomas of El Nido, who retired in May as the Sun-Star's press foreman, said he and Williams used to have fun together years ago on fishing trips and playing cards.

"He was always a helluva nice guy and a good friend," Thomas said.

Joe Cortez knew Williams for 21 years, when he was hired as a "stringer" or part-time correspondent to cover local sports events. Now a copy editor at the Bee, Cortez said he was just an aimless kid but Williams saw an aptitude for sports and writing in him.

"He took me under his wing," Cortez said. "The man had given me a career, a path in life. In the newspaper world with the landscape ever-shifting, with deadlines and rewrites, I've never met anyone who kept his head in a crisis in the way Vern did."

What started out as a boss-employee relationship just evolved, Cortez said, with Williams becoming a tremendous friend.

Williams' last day at work was Oct. 26.

Williams became the Sun-Star's sports editor on June 1, 1985 and became managing editor about 10 years later. He was a member of the Three Gateways Sportsmen's Club and was an active booster of both Golden Valley High School's football and band programs.

Williams is survived by his wife of 44 years, Kathie; three sons, Jeff, Chris and Andrew, all of Merced; a niece, Ruth Sweatt of Galt; and three granddaughters, Ashlie, Amberlee and Elizabeth Williams.

Dave Lyghtle, the Modesto Bee's assistant managing editor, also praised Williams on personal and professional levels.

"Personally, it's been a rough day up here," Lyghtle said. "Those of us who worked with Vern the past seven years really, really admired him -- respect that was cultivated long before his cancer diagnosis. In our hearts, we knew this day was coming, but the suddenness took us by surprise. He will be very much missed."

Mike Bradley, currently the Sun-Star's press foreman, knew Williams since 1970 when he started in the newspaper's composing room. He joined other Sun-Star employees at card parties Williams periodically hosted.

"He was pretty even-keeled, always a nice guy. I enjoyed working with him," Bradley said.

Bobby Dallas, of Atwater, played fast-pitch softball with Williams on the ASA Major Division national champions and said he was a mentor to him and his brother Tommy.

Williams, who went from being a catcher to coaching, was a big part in the team's success, Dallas said.

"Vern recruited me to play. He was a super guy to be with. The team was a dream of his and Norm Marasti's. He was a good person," Dallas said.

Former Sun-Star wire editor Rick Albright came to work at the Sun-Star only months after Williams started. He remembers Williams' early duties involved dumping bins of old lead type from that day's newspaper and then working setting type on one of the newspaper's linotype machines.

Albright also remembers hearing stories of Williams' travels with the California Kings' national championship men's major division fast-pitch softball team in 1984. Williams always played catcher during high school and adult softball careers.

| »

Varieties of federal farm subsidies

Submitted: Nov 20, 2007

"David believes this is a system that's in need of reform," Johnson said, adding that his boss is unlikely to accept any more subsidy checks. --- Scripps Howard News Service, Nov. 16, 2007, http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/28427

The terrible news about flagrant misappropriation of farm-subsidy funds begins:

"Even billionaires get ag handouts" by Lisa Hoffman More than 50 American billionaires have received government farm handouts in recent years from a program created to help struggling small farmers survive. David Rockefeller alone received more than $50,000 from investments in farming between 2003-2005.

Evidence is heaped on that those poor struggling small farmers, whose 40 acres and their mules are now being swept away by a plague of billionaires in the following graphs:

 Read More »
| »

St. Clair series on Colorado River

Submitted: Oct 27, 2007

Jeffrey St. Clair is in the midst of writing a series of environmental, political and historical reflections from campsites along the Colorado River during a raft trip. They are published on CounterPunch.com (links cited below).

This series is essential reading for Californians interested in water politics and history because what is happening on the Colorado River now has a direct bearing on what is happening in the San Joaquin Delta. The combination of drought on the Colorado Plateau, growth of its region's cities and the diminished allotment of Colorado River water flowing into Southern California has direct impact on the extinction of the Delta Smelt and the Hun our Governor's campaign for a peripheral canal and two new dams.

St. Clair is a prolific writer on the environment, mainly in the West as far as I have read, although his Grand Theft Pentagon is well worth reading, too. His experience goes back to working with David Brower of the Sierra Club and Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang). In articles like "The War Club Torquemadas in Birkenstocks," (www.counterpunch.org/stclair1212.html), St. Clair described in familiar detail the ethically disadvantaged policies of state and national environmental corporations (non-profit, of course) and he recently noted that war, as in Iraq, is the worst environmental catastrophe, particularly when depleted uranium is involved (http://www.counterpunch.com/stclair10252007.html). St. Clair understands the environment of the West, he understands the politics behind it and he maintains an old Western journalistic tradition by telling it as it is from a real point of view.

Bill Hatch
----------------------

October 26, 2007
The Dam That Isn't There
Going Down on the Rocks in Dinosaur
By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

http://www.counterpunch.com/stclair10272007.html
(this article provides links to the previous parts of the series)

Part One: Dams, Oil and Whitewater.
Part Two: Through the Gates of Lodore.
Part Three: At Disaster Falls.
Part Four: A Half Mile of Hell.
Part Five: Greetings from Echo Park.
Part Six: The Dam That Isn't There

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book is End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate, co-written with Alexander Cockburn. This essay will appear in Born Under a Bad Sky, to be published in December. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

| »

Behind the curve

Submitted: Sep 07, 2007

Politics attracts all sorts. In fact the personalities in politics are probably as complicated as a number of the systems in nature. However, politics never resembled a Sunday school class.

One of the many rough distinctions one can make about people in politics is between those who read and those who don't.

The other day I happened to be in a meeting in a distant town in which a small disagreement broke out between someone who reads and someone who doesn't. The one who doesn't read was talking about his long friendly chats with a local land-use official. The fellow who reads documents countered, saying that documents indicate the land-use official has been lying in his teeth for months.

"You're just ahead of the curve," the jawboner replied, dismissively.

The north San Joaquin Valley is now the most notorious region in the nation for foreclosures stemming from our red-hot speculative real estate boom. The nation itself is notorious for having started a world-wide credit crisis, stemming from bad subprime loans. North San Joaquin Valley land-use authorities, cities and counties, were enabling partners in this global scam all the way. If it hadn't been for a few lawsuits, they would have done more.

A whole lot of fine print went unread. But the people who wrote it knew what they were doing.

Now, city, county and state officials, probably under panicked pressure from bankers, plan to do something about it. They are behind the curve. They didn't read the documents. They were told by a number of people who do read documents -- which would not include their newspapers -- that this was going to happen. They were told. They were warned. They arrogantly dismissed all the warnings because they didn't come from the developer bought-and-sold McClatchy Chain.

Now, from so far behind the curve they hope you will not be able to see who they are, they gently nudge the barn door, which will be stuck wide open at least until these individuals are thrown out, some into cells if wheels of justice still grind here.

We are supposed to applaud their responsible reforms? They prey upon the public's belief in government, which is a good belief. They follow the Bush line that any criticism of politicians and policies of the existing government is unpatriotic and anti-government and, of course against "our sacred American Way of Life."

The American Way of Life is not this corrupt, it is not this irresponsible. It does not depend on urban sprawl or even NASCAR. Our government has not always lied to us like this much. Corrupt public officials have been sent to prison. The government did not fall. In fact, it got better. But, government around here is beginning to look like a pork barrel full of bad apples.

Now these same elected officials and "planners," who have profited from the boom, expect the people to believe they can "reform"? What contempt they have for the public they have injured on behalf of a small group of finance, insurance and real estate special interests in these northern San Joaquin Valley counties.

Is it deserved? Perhaps. Even now, groups of the usual suspects representing the usual groups of official citizens, refuse to read documents and continue to allow themselves to be flattered by politicians and planners that meeting and talking makes all the difference, when in fact it has never made any difference in land-use planning around here. These are the professional citizens who live in mortal fear that if they get close enough to "the curve" waves will appear. In this, they are abetted every step of the way by the McClatchy Chain. How can a story involving a policy on commercial development fees to be submitted to a city council five of seven of whose members have real estate licenses be reported with a straight face?

This Merced story looks like a pretty, fallen cottonwood leaf floating on a dairy lagoon. There is not one word about the employment commercial development would bring to a city where unemployment is again rising. In the Modesto story, at least the reader can catch the scent of fear and aggression in the general air.

Badlands editorial board
---------------

9-7-07
Merced Sun-Star
Developer perks may be on the chopping block...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13964798p-14524813c.html

Take your handout requests elsewhere.
That's the message the Merced City Council could soon send to builders if it approves a new policy banning discounts on commercial development fees.
The Planning Commission approved the policy Wednesday night; the City Council is scheduled to consider it Sept. 17.
The policy would "make it clear that the city is not inclined to entertain requests for financial incentives for commercial development and ... refrains from negotiating impact fees on an individual basis."
In other words, no more special deals, discounts, breaks or rebates.

Modesto Bee
Toss book on growth, report urges...Garth Stapley
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/61359.html

Study would put planning in state lawmakers' hands.
California's air would be cleaner if city and county leaders would stop making bad decisions on where to build houses and stores, according to a new state report.
Poor development decisions also contribute to global warming, according to the California Energy Commission's study.
"The Role of Land Use in Meeting California's Energy and Climate Change Goals" makes the extraordinary recommendation that legislators mandate regional growth plans that could be used to create a statewide growth plan.
That could mean stripping land-use decisions from tunnel-visioned city and county leaders who would lose one of their most important powers.
"There must be a concentrated and collaborative process to identify where, and in what way, long-term growth should and should not occur in the state," the staff report reads. The document also urges new studies on how tax laws facilitate lousy planning.
Proposition 13, embraced by California voters in 1978, holds down property taxes but inadvertently promotes sprawl, the report found.
The same decision-makers during the past three decades introduced the phenomenon of long commutes by providing inexpensive housing far from jobs, according to the report.
Study sounds familiar theme
Carol Whiteside, president of the Modesto-based Great Valley Center, said leaders can craft "back to the future" plans by regularly calling for grocery stores, for instance, within new housing projects. Children chauffeured to school should have the option of walking, she said.
"In many ways, this requires a change of culture," Whiteside said. "A lot of people grew up that way. It's back to the future."
The report is among several technical documents to be compiled in the 2007 Integrated En-ergy Policy Report, scheduled for review in November by en-ergy commissioners. They would send it on to legislators and Gov. Schwarzenegger, who would issue a response within three months. The report grew out of a 2005 Schwarzenegger edict and last year's Assembly Bill 32, both of which target emissions reduction.

| »

Work in progress

Submitted: Aug 12, 2007

I was recently asked to produce a bibliography of "essential books" on the San Joaquin Valley.

Argh!

A dozen favorites leapt to mind; a few days later a dozen more; and the pleasant task began to turn into a real project destined for certain failure and remorse. It turns out not to be so easy to remember the books of a lifetime and each dive into the Internet provides more that look very useful but I haven't had time to read yet.

When one gets to a certain age it becomes difficult to remember the heroes because they are all gone and it is harder to recall that I met some of them a time or two, here and there -- for example, Fred Ross, a slim, serious man, perpetually moving purposefully around the Delano headquarters of the UFWOC; the wise, friendly Larry Itliong; or Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel on the phone correcting the spelling of her name in an article I'd written; or the voice of Art Coelho, poet and publisher of our Valley voices, from Montana, talking about burning up cowboy boots on big cats disking the west side and years wandering the West as an itinerant poet composing the best list of country poets in the West.

I remembered a call about a great farm labor leader in farmworkers rest home in Delano leading a seminar on Lenin to fellow octogenarians from the fields. We dreamed of that moment when those workers would confront St. Peter and demand to know: "What is to be done?"

I remember the face of the great, betrayed C. Al Green, director of the multi-racial AFL-CIO Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a victim, like Chavez, of liberal perfidity that has resulted in indebted servitude in the fields today. All the political thieves of San Francisco have ever wanted from the Valley was agribusiness campaign cash, any way they could get it. "Migrants don't vote," they said. These days, it's "Illegal immigrants don't vote."

The longer I worked on it, the more holes I saw in the vista of written material on the San Joaquin Valley that stretched out before me like a vast battlefield of a war that has been going on since before the great Yojuts leader Estanislao defeated the young Lt. Mariano Vallejo. Looking at water rights issues today, sometimes it seems as if the ghosts of heroes and villains rising off the battlefield are pulling the strings of the living in a never-ending feud we call our "Valley way of life." Another way to look at it is that bioregions matter.

Every reader will find something missing in this bibliography. For example, I am frantically digging in book boxes for a good one on the Chinese in California I know I have somewhere but cannot remember the title of. Can't find it, have nothing on their enormous contribution except in various general histories like Bean's superb California: An Interpretive History.

Everyone I have talked to has added a book I've forgotten or never knew about.

So, this is a work in progress and I invite anyone to write us at billhatch@hotmail.com, gleefully to announce what a knucklehead I was to forget their favorite, indispensible books about the Valley.

Meanwhile, apologies to the people who originally requested the bibliography -- we'll let you know when it's done.

Bill Hatch, for the Badlands Journal editorial board

Non-fiction:

Garden of the Sun, Wallace Smith (the only history to date strictly about the SJV)
Handbook of the Yokuts Indians, Frank Latta
The Stanislaus Indian Wars, Thorne P. Gray
The Destruction of the California Indians, Robert F. Heizer
Saints or Oppressors: The Franciscan Missionaries of California; In The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide, Rupert and Jeannette Costa
Flooding the Courtrooms: Law and Water in the Far West, by Mary Catherine Miller (a legal biography of the Miller&Lux cattle company)
Empires in the Sun, Peter Wiley, Robert Gottlieb (development of power utilities in the West)
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (DDT)
Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner
Death in the Marsh, Tom Harris (the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge ecological disaster caused by agricultural drainage containing heavy metals)
Fruits of Natural Advantage, Steven Stoll (the self-destructive economics of agribusiness)
The New California, Dan Walters
Works of Paul Taylor and Dorothea Lange: Taylor was one of the first academics (UC Berkeley economist) to study farm labor, both Mexican and Dust Bowl immigrants; Lange's photographs of migrants stand alongside Walker Evans' work with James Agee as testimony to the destruction and poverty of the Depression
Factories in the Fields, Carey McWilliams
Farm workers and agri-business in California, 1947-1960, Ernesto Galarza
Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa, Jacques E. Levy
United Farm Workers website, history section http://www.ufw.org/_page.php?menu=research&inc=research_history.html
Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement, Craig Scharlin
Articles on 160-acre limitation by E. Phillip Leveen (have to do Google search for them, Leveen was the top spokesman for the 160-acre limitation for federal water during the last great war over it in the late 70s; an agricultural economist at the time, he was trained as an historian and gives the history of the whole federal water/land fraud in the Valley)
Articles by Don Villarejo, founder of the California Institute for Rural Studies, list available at http://donvillarejo.com/ (nearly 50 years of thought and research on the Valley balancing social, economic and environmental justice claims)
California Institute of Rural Studies publication catalogue http://www.cirsinc.org/pub/pubcat.htm
Isao Fujimoto, UC Davis emeritus, has published a number of studies on different aspects of the Central Valley -- from farm labor to environmental issues
The King Of California: JG Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire, by Mark Arax,Rick Wartzman
Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, by David Mas Masumoto
BORDER CORRESPONDENT, Selected Writings, 1955-1970, Ruben Salazar
Mean Justice, by Ed Hume
California: An Interpretive History, Walton Bean
Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), www.ciw-online.org/ (the Florida front line of current farm-labor organizing)

Legal and administrative decisions and discussion: The San Joaquin Valley has produced major legal contests on an array of natural resource issues; these sources will lead the reader into essential topics in Valley history; others are dealt with in the non-fiction section

Public Trust Doctrine
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Mono Lake Decision
San Joaquin Raptor Wildlife Rescue Center
Monterery Accord decision: PCL v. DWR
Kesterson Wildlife Refuge
San Joaquin River Settlement
Rapanos Decision
CEQA decisions (law firm blogs like Abbott and Kinderman Land Use Law blog offer reviews of recent decisions: San Joaquin Raptor v. County of Merced, Woodward Park Homeowners Association, Inc. v. City of Fresno, Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth Inc. v City of Rancho Cordova, Hayward Area Planning Association v. City of Hayward, City of Marina v. Board of Trustees of California State University, etc.
Badlandsjournal.com provides current news on lawsuits, administrative decisions, essays and articles on resource law

Fiction, Poetry, Drama

Poetry of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel (the greatest Dust Bowl poet, still writing about her people until shortly before she died this April)
Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle, by John Steinbeck
The Octopus, Frank Norris
The Ford, Mary Austin
Art Coehlo (Cuelho) and Seven Buffaloes Press
Gerald Haslam's works, short stories and Workin' Man's Blues (memoirs of youth in Oildale and the development of "Nashville West," Bakersfield.
Plays of Luis Valdez ("Zoot Suit," "La Bamba"). http://store.elteatrocampesino.com/books.html
Luis is the farmworkers' Bertold Brecht.
Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California's Great Central Valley, edited by Stan Yogi, Gayle Mak, and Patricia Wakida
Fat City, Leonard Gardner
--------

Additions since posting:

New Roots for Agriculture, Wes Jackson
Topsoil and Civilization, Vernon Gill Carter and Tom Dale
The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin

| »

Best little weekly on the Grapevine

Submitted: Aug 04, 2007

For reasons unknown to Patric Hedlund, editor of the Mountain Enterprise, and to the Badlands editorial staff, we received a press release on the Enterprise's recent success garnering three awards for excellence in journlaism from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. What is more remarkable, for an CNPA award, the Enterprise in an independent newspaper serving unincorporated towns near and along the Grapevine and in the Los Padres National Forest.

The story gets better. We contacted Hedlund because we were interested in the the paper's reporter staff of "volunteer community reporters." Hedlund informed us that much of the Enterprise copy is written by volunteers from the various communities the 4,000-subscription weekly covers. In fact, one of the paper's chief missions is training good volunteer community reporters to get both sides of the story in the sprawling rural area it covers. The stories are edited by professional journalists on the Enterprise staff.

As a recent example, she told the story of being contacted by a Pine Mountain resident, LaVonne L. Lewis, Ph.D., R.N., a psychologist and an emergency room and critical care nurse. Lewis' husband had discovered a dead bird on her porch, Lewis contacted Kern County about how to deal with the carcass and later contacted the state about how to deal with Kern County. Finally, she wrote the story that appears below. This report, it turned out, was part of a much larger breaking story that Kern County is the leading county in the state for human cases of West Nile Virus, which prompted state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, to request that the governor declare a state emergency in Kern County.

The cause of the independent weekly, fact-based journalism and the promotion civic dialogue around public process is well served by the Mountain Enterprise.

Badlands editorial staff
------------------

7-19-07
The Mountain Enterprise
Tiny Mountain Newspaper Wins Three Statewide Journalism Awards
California Newspaper Competition Draws More Than 4,000 Entries

FRAZIER PARK, CA – The Mountain Enterprise, which serves a cluster of mountain villages in the Los Padres National Forest (a tri-county area of Kern, Los Angeles and Ventura counties) has won three awards for excellence in journalism. A team of volunteer community reporters and the woman who founded the newspaper 41 years ago were all invited to accompany the paper’s owners to the awards ceremony at the historic Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on Saturday, July 14.

During the 119th Annual Convention of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, The Mountain Enterprise received:
• First Place award for its series telling how mountain residents worked together to respond to a 700-home development project that produced a six-volume Environmental Impact Report without disclosing that the water table was plunging in the area on which it wished to build;
• First Place for its newly launched website (www.MountainEnteprise.com)
• Second Place for its public service series about the deaths and endangerment of mountain residents caused by inadequate ambulance response in an area of Kern County served by a private ambulance company owned by the Mayor of Bakersfield.

Management and ownership of The Mountain Enterprise was assumed by Publisher Gary Meyer and Editor Patric Hedlund in August of 2004. The two are producers of award-winning documentary films and investigative articles, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

More than 4,000 entries were received by the statewide newspaper association from over 400 contest participants throughout the state. Newspapers compete with their peers in categories set by size and frequency of circulation.

Context in which The Mountain Enterprise works:

A deluge of industrial and residential developments are poised to explode into the Interstate 5 region known as the Grapevine. The Mountain Enterprise's coverage area has become ground zero for a convergence of deep-pocket interests ready to do battle with environmental litigators, starting this winter of 2007-08.

Tejon Ranch Company's 270,000 acres is the largest contiguous parcel of privately owned land in California. This year, TRC hopes to launch the 23,000-home Centennial project in northern LA County and the 3500-home, seven resort hotel Tejon Mountain Village in southern Kern County. Meanwhile, adjacent developments are lining up applications for about two thousand additional homes..

The area in which these developers wish to build is targeted by environmentalists as a critical habitat to many rare species of plants and wildlife, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Environmental and conservation groups have lined up on both sides of the issues, some casting their lots with TRC's plans, others against.

The Mountain Enterprise has covered the issues as they arise for public consideration, aiming always at the needs of residents and businesses to stay informed about the coming changes, while also examining possible strategies for developing a stronger local economy.

First Place Series
The paper closely reported detailed findings in a series of hearings hosted by the Mountain Communities Town Council and added original reporting about the Frazier Park Estates development proposal.

When community reporter Doug Peters analyzed the housing project’s six volume Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for data regarding water studies, Editor Patric Hedlund and Publisher Gary Meyer worked with him to explain clearly how ground water measurement data had been scattered throughout the report in a confusing manner.

When Peters assembled the data and presented it in a graph published in the paper, readers learned that the water levels in the proposed development area (near Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec) had fallen significantly over a period of 11 years.

Following a Kern County public presentation of the DEIR, the The Mountain Enterprise published the Planning Department’s subtle verbal assertion that, according to the development plan, Frazier Park’s Fire Station 57 would be closed and moved three miles away to the housing development site. After significant and well-informed public input by letter and email during the 45-day comment period, Kern County’s Planning Department withdrew the DEIR and required the developer to perform a complete rewrite.

Best Website

The Mountain Enterprise received a First Place award for “Best Website” within the new site’s first few months of operation. The site, www.MountainEnterprise.com went online in December 2006.
It is a feature-filled yet simple-to-use site, designed for high functionality and user convenience. Back issues of the paper can be searched using a full range of Google-like search tools. It also contains significant additional material in the Community FYI areas. This year, The Mountain Enterprise’s full 42 years of history are being prepared for inclusion in the archive.

Public Service

In addition to the two First Place awards, The Mountain Enterprise’s coverage of ongoing community efforts to bring full-time Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedic services to the outlying areas of the Mountain Communities received a Second Place award for Public Service reporting.

After Pine Mountain resident Harold Bailey died of a heart attack in 2005 while waiting more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive, The Mountain Enterprise reported the groundswell of community action that persisted to demand improvements by private company Hall Ambulance Service and in standards set by Kern County’s Emergency Medical Services Department.

On May 29, 2007 the Kern County Grand Jury recommended that County Fire Department establish paramedic services in Pine Mountain and that “Kern County Fire Department and private ambulance companies resolve their differences” regarding public safety in medical emergencies. Kern County Fire Chief Dennis Thompson has announced that a third firefighter will be on duty at Station 58 in Pine Mountain during all shifts by August 1 and that his goal is to have firefighters licensed as ALS paramedics on the mountain within the next two years.

Outstanding Reporting

A fourth series by The Mountain Enterprise received the CNPA Certificate of Achievement. The Mountain Enterprise provided in-depth reports about actions of the El Tejon Unified School District (ETUSD) board of trustees, then-superintendent John Wight and Frazier Mountain High School’s principal to offer a Philosophy of Intelligent Design course in early 2006.

While ETUSD’s superintendent provided soundbites to national TV news networks from the campus, The Mountain Enterprise published interviews with the teacher offering the course and the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed with eleven other parents requesting that the course be stopped. During the final days of the class, ETUSD Superintendent John Wight called the Kern County Sheriff’s Department to have publisher Gary Meyer and editor Patric Hedlund of The Mountain Enterprise arrested while reporting on the high school campus—a right and responsibility of the press on behalf of the public, protected by state and federal law.

The paper dedicated a forum for the community’s ongoing dialog about Intelligent Design in its pages for more than a month.

The lawsuit was settled and the superintendent resigned five months later, thirty minutes after being shown a videotape of himself taking gasoline, allegedly for personal use, in six trips within four hours from school district gas pumps, and appearing to pump the fuel into a system of gasoline containers assembled in the rear seat area of his car. When the board president refused to discuss the existence of the videotape and the reason for the superintendent’s sudden departure, a public records request submitted by The Mountain Enterprise secured release of copies of the videotape. The newspaper also published a carefully documented history of serious problems in a previous district where the former superintendent had served. See “El Tejon Unified School District” under “Community FYI” at www.MountainEnterprise.com for those stories.
------------------
8-3-07
Mountain Enterprise

West Nile Virus May Be Here To Stay ... LaVonne L. Lewis, Ph.D., R.N.
http://www.mountainenterprise.com/full.php?sid=1320

West Nile Virus is a growing problem in Kern County. Last month two elders died of the disease in this county. The State of California reports that there are 56 reported human cases of the virus and 38 of those are in Kern County. This makes us the number one county in the state dealing with this disease.

So what is being done about it? From what I have seen, not nearly enough.

On Monday, July 23 a dead bird was found on our Pine Mountain porch by my husband. He followed the recommendations of the State of California. The dead bird was reported at 3:30 p.m. Monday to www.westnile.ca.gov, the website for the California Department of Health Services.

That report was sent by fax to Kern County Environmental Health Services at 3:42 p.m. by an employee identified as Clarence (the last names of state employees are not allowed to be given to the public, he said).

Another state employee then called my husband to tell him to "bag the bird" himself and leave it outside the house. The county, he was told, "would pick it up within 24 hours." He was also told "if the bird is not picked up after three days, just discard it." Much to the dismay of our family, the bird was never picked up by Kern County to be tested.

I called the California Department of Health Services on Thursday July 26 to speak with Lakeyssia (again, we were told that last names not allowed to be given by state employees) at (877) 968-2473.

She checked the computer record to confirm that the report had been logged by the state and that Kern County Environmental Health Services was informed within 12 minutes by fax. Lakeyssia stated that the protocol requires that the animal be picked up within 24 hours. She was quite surprised that the protocol was not followed and that the bird was not picked up.

I then placed a call to Kern County Environmental Health Services and spoke with Mat Constantine at (661) 862-8700. His response was appalling. He said he felt that testing animals was "wasting resources."

Constantine said, "West Nile Virus is here—we already know that—so why test?" He said he feels the money should be used in prevention and education. He stated that there are no funds in the county to have employees driving (sometimes for a couple of hours) to pick up a dead animal. He said sometimes he has to pull people from other jobs in order to pick up a dead animal.

I replied that from an epidemiological point of view it is important to know how many animals might be infected in a given area. That information can then be used to prevent human deaths by finding and treating the source (such as standing water).

I asked him, hypothetically, if they found 35 infected dead animals in an area like Pine Mountain, would he think that would be valuable information? There was a prolonged pause on the phone.

I stated that this would be very valuable information leading to possible spraying to prevent loss of human life.

Constantine agreed, but said he feels there is just not enough money to do it. So the question arises: how many dead and infected animals are not being picked up for testing in our county?

The California Department of Health Services has since called me to apologize for this entire unfortunate situation. The supervisor (Stan) said he is going to call the county to try to seek a resolution, as the State is very concerned about the disease. Kern County seems to be having difficulty acknowledging the magnitude of this situation. The numbers speak for themselves, 38 out of 56 human cases are here in Kern County. What is it our taxes are paying for?

LaVonne L. Lewis, Ph.D., R.N. is a Psychologist and an Emergency Room and Critical Care Nurse. Her family lives in Pine Mountain
----------------------

BREAKING NEWS: State of Emergency Declared in Spread of West Nile Virus

At 10:00 a.m. Thursday, August 2 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Kern County due to the three-fold increased spread of West Nile Virus (WNV). Of 56 cases of WNV reported in California this year, 38 of them are in Kern County. Colusa and San Joaquin counties were included in the declaration to prevent the spread of this mosquito-borne disease. This year there have been four deaths in California due to West Nile Virus (two in Kern County, one in San Joaquin County and one in Colusa County).

In The Mountain Enterprise issue on the news stands today, Thursday, August 2, see the story about how a Mountain Communities family's efforts to get Kern County 's health officials to test a dead bird found on their deck reveals a dysfunctional system for protecting the public against West Nile Virus in Kern County.

In an August 1 letter to State Senator Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, the governor said, "I agree that there is a need to address this issue to protect our fellow Californians against an epidemic. To that end, tomorrow I will proclaim a state of emergency within the counties of Kern, Colusa and San Joaquin, the counties hit hardest by the virus. My proclamation will make financial assistance available to the local vector control districts and direct State agencies to take proactive measures to protect Californians from further spread of West Nile Virus."

Senator Florez requested a minimum of $48 million from Gov. Schwarzenegger. The governor responded that he, "will make as much funding as immediately needed to combat this virus at the local level."

The Thursday morning press release said "since taking office, Governor Schwarzenegger has invested more than $15 million to fight the West Nile Virus. California has one of the most comprehensive West Nile Virus surveillance and control systems in the U.S. The state deploys surveillance and detection technology to track specific areas of West Nile Virus activity and alert local agencies so they can target their mosquito control activities."

The story in The Mountain Enterprise revealed that such "surveillance and control" systems were not being fully implemented in Kern County.

Watch The Mountain Enterprise for an update about the specific measures Kern County will now take to protect the public against WNV.

HERE IS THE DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY:

"Today I'm taking action to help the counties hit hardest by West Nile Virus. My proclamation makes financial assistance available to the local vector control districts and directs state agencies to take proactive measures to protect Californians from further spread of this deadly virus. I will continue to ensure our local agencies have whatever resources they need to fight the spread of this disease," said Governor Schwarzenegger.

For more information about West Nile Virus, visit http://westnile.ca.gov.

Full text of the Governor's emergency proclamation:

A PROCLAMATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY

WHEREAS when compared to the same time last year, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of people infected by West Nile Virus; and

WHEREAS since 2002, West Nile Virus has infected hundreds of people and caused multiple deaths in California, including four deaths this year; and

WHEREAS the recent upturn in foreclosures this year has increased the number of vacant homes this summer with unattended and untreated pools, which has exacerbated the spread of West Nile Virus; and

WHEREAS local governments have made sustained efforts to minimize the spread of the virus, and the state has supplemented these efforts by dedicating over $15 million over the last three years to mitigate the virus's effects; and

WHEREAS despite those efforts to eradicate West Nile Virus, the virus remains a threat, and further efforts to control the spread of the virus and to reduce and minimize the risk of infection are needed; and

WHEREAS the Mosquito Vector Control Association of California, which is composed of 61 local vector control districts, is seeking state assistance in addressing the potential for a West Nile Virus epidemic in California; including a request for funding for surveillance activity and abatement efforts; and

WHEREAS control of West Nile Virus may require immediate actions to limit the population of adult mosquitoes and mosquito larvae, and those actions may include the ground and aerial application of pesticides in urban, suburban and rural areas; and

WHEREAS there are also numerous and significant incidents of Valley Fever, especially in Kern County; and

WHEREAS due to the magnitude of the threat, the size of the affected areas and the need to control the spread of the virus across jurisdictional boundaries, the conditions are beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of any single county, city and county, or city, and require the combined forces of a mutual aid region or regions; and

WHEREAS under section 8558(b) of the California Government Code, I find that conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property exist within the Counties of Kern, Colusa and San Joaquin caused by the threat of West Nile Virus.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, Governor of the State of California, in accordance with the authority vested in me by the California Constitution and the California Emergency Services Act and, in particular, sections 8625, 8567 and 8571 of the California Government Code, HEREBY PROCLAIM A STATE OF EMERGENCY to exist within Kern, Colusa and San Joaquin Counties, and hereby issue the following orders:

IT IS ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall allocate up to $1 million dollars as needed, to local vector control agencies to identify potential mosquito habitat and to treat those areas to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus in the three above-listed counties and other counties identified by the Department of Public Health.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall allocate up to $350,000 to local vector control agencies for surveillance purposes to provide an early warning of the incidence of West Nile Virus so that proper control measures can be taken by the local vector control agencies to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus in the three above-listed counties and other counties identified by the Department of Public Health.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall coordinate with the State and Consumer Services Agency, the Resources Agency and the Department of Food and Agriculture to develop a plan using best management practices for implementation by the appropriate state agencies for the early detection of West Nile Virus on state-owned properties and appropriate mitigation and abatement measures. Funds in the amount up to $150,000 shall be allocated for the purpose of developing this plan.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health and the Department of Food and Agriculture shall work with the Mosquito Research Program at the University of California, Davis, to determine what resources are needed to further advance the research on the ecology and the epidemiology of West Nile Virus.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall work with (1) local vector control districts to utilize their existing power pursuant to Health and Safety code section 2053 to inspect and abate vector or public nuisances, with special emphasis on the removal of standing water in untended pools and containers on vacant property; and (2) the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and local public health departments to notify lenders, realtors, mortgage brokers and others whose responsibilities include managing vacant homes to ensure that pools and other containers that can hold water are drained and maintained empty to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Heath shall implement a supplemental program of mosquito control, including health advisories and technical assistance, in the above-listed counties to assist those counties and the mosquito and vector control agencies within those regions to minimize the proliferation of mosquitoes and to reduce the transmission of West Nile Virus.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all agencies and departments of state government utilize and employ state personnel, equipment and facilities for the performance of any and all activities consistent with the direction of the Department of Public Health in an effort to address and mitigate this emergency, and consistent with the State Emergency Plan as coordinated by the Office of Emergency Services.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health enter into such contracts as it deems appropriate, in consultation with the above-listed counties and the mosquito and vector control agencies within those regions, to provide services, material, personnel and equipment to supplement the West Nile Virus mitigation efforts in those jurisdictions.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the provisions of the Government Code, the Public Contract Code, the State Contracting Manual and Management Memo 03-10, along with all Department of Pubic Health policies, applicable to state contracts, including, but not limited to, advertising and competitive bidding requirements and approvals for non-competitively bid contracts, are hereby temporarily suspended with respect to contracts to provide services, material, personnel and equipment to supplement the West Nile Virus mitigation and abatement efforts in the above-listed counties to the extent that such laws would prevent, hinder or delay prompt mitigation of the effects of this emergency.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall consult with the county agricultural commissioner prior to the application of "prohibited materials," as defined in subdivision (p) of section 110815 of the Health and Safety Code, to agricultural land used for the production of certified organic foods.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health work with local public health departments to take appropriate actions to minimize the incidents of Valley Fever in the above-listed counties.

I FURTHER DIRECT that as soon as hereafter possible, this proclamation be filed in the Office of the Secretary of State and that widespread publicity and notice be given to this proclamation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 2nd day of August 2007.

______________________________
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Governor of California
-----------

For the probable origins of West Nile Virus in the US, see Lab 257 by Michael Christopher Carroll, pp. 28 et seq. -- Badlands

| »

Lloyd Carter: The growing selenium threat

Submitted: Jul 06, 2007
Although drainage flows to Kesterson were halted in 1985 following intense media exposure of the problem, selenium-contaminated farm drainage continues to flow to many wildlife refuges in more than a dozen western states, and food chain levels of selenium in those refuges reveal a continuing threat to bird populations. -- Lloyd Carter, Fresno Bee, July 5, 2007

Prominent people in the public affairs of Merced County, home of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge selenium disaster, think you need a grant to do "outreach and education." The grant, goes the logic of its recipients, legitimizes the source of the information.

Fortunately for what's left of the Valley's natural resources, not all people wait for the grants and the blessings of the politicians to do their "outreach and education."

At a recent festival on the Merced River-side ranch of a county planning commissioner, a member of the board of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, described a lecture by author Lloyd Carter on the rivers of the San Joaquin Valley as a negative "rant."

Carter is among those who rose to the emergency of Kesterson, sacrificing his career in journalism to do the honest stories that had to be done. He didn't wait for a grant, a politician's or a publisher's blessing. He reported the truth, based on the facts, and still does.

Lloyd Carter, like Felix Smith, Lydia Miller and a few others, have done the work, do the work and will continue to do the work -- without the grant, the political or editorial kisses.

The editors, publishers, federal and state resource agencies and western agribusiness hope that we will forget. Carter, Smith, Miller and a few others won't let them lead us into amnesia.

Bill Hatch
-----------------------

7-5-07
Fresno Bee
LLOYD CARTER: Selenium poisoning is still a threat today
http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/wo/story/77691.html

It has been nearly a quarter of a century since federal scientists discovered that selenium in Western San Joaquin Valley farm drainwater was triggering massive embryo deformities in ducks and shorebirds and killing all the edible fish at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.

The fish die-off and deformities or embryo deaths in more than half the Kesterson nests were caused by selenium that had been leached from the western Valley soils by irrigation practices and then dissolved in subsurface drainwater funneled to the "refuge." Scientists would rediscover that selenium, while a micro nutrient, is the most toxic of all biologically essential elements in mammals.

Officials of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which built the federal irrigation facilities on the west side, and political appointees at the parent Department of Interior initially claimed the Kesterson selenium poisoning was an isolated problem.

But as investigations spread to other national wildlife refuges, selenium contamination was confirmed in the southern San Joaquin Valley (Tulare basin), Salton Sea, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona and Kansas.

Now 25 years later, with hundreds of millions of dollars on studies and research spent, the Department of Interior still has no selenium safety standards for wildlife, although a committee was appointed in 1989 to adopt such standards. Yet the evidence continues to grow that selenium poisoning, caused by farming, mining, coal burning, oil refining and other industrial activities, is occurring all over America.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site or other Internet scientific sources:

Six horses and between 200 and 300 sheep died from grazing on selenium-laced plants near phosphate mines in Idaho between 1996 and 2003. Phosphate mining of shale soils to make fertilizers generates large amounts of selenium-laced mining wastes, which contaminate waterways and land.

Hay from western states high in selenium is suspected of causing selenium poisoning in horses in Missouri, according to University of Missouri veterinarians.

Fish and ducks in San Francisco Bay have elevated selenium levels.

Cutthroat trout are disappearing from streams along the Idaho-Wyoming border because of selenium contamination from phosphate mining.

Shellfish and birds in the Great Lakes region have elevated selenium levels.

Although drainage flows to Kesterson were halted in 1985 following intense media exposure of the problem, selenium-contaminated farm drainage continues to flow to many wildlife refuges in more than a dozen western states, and food chain levels of selenium in those refuges reveal a continuing threat to bird populations.

Dennis Lemly, of the U.S. Forest Service, who is considered a premier expert in America on selenium poisoning of wildlife, has described the disappearance of fish in southeast Idaho as "an insidious ticking time bomb."

Seventeen of 26 closed phosphate mines in Idaho have been designated Superfund sites by the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA officials say not a single closed phosphate mine has ever been cleaned up. The current Secretary of Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, formerly served as a public relations spokesman for one of those phosphate mining companies.

Although Reclamation officials claimed they were surprised at Kesterson, it is only because they did not do their homework. Selenium poisoning of livestock and forage foods had been known for decades in the Dakotas and the southwest. High levels of selenium were confirmed in the Coast Range -- parent soil material of the western San Joaquin Valley -- in 1939.

Time magazine complained in a 1933 article that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was "inclined to silence" about selenium poisoning of cattle fed wheat, corn and alfalfa grown on high selenium soils in the American Southwest dating back to the 19th century.

The late David Love, "grand old man of Rocky Mountain geology," warned in a famous 1949 memorandum, which he later claimed was suppressed by the Department of Agriculture, that farming and irrigating high selenium soils in the American West would create an environmental disaster.

And closer to home the Westlands Water District, which once funneled its selenium-laced waste waters to Kesterson, now faces a drainage disposal problem that may cost in excess of $2 billion. Surrealistically, Interior officials are suggesting the construction of more Kesterson-like evaporation ponds as a "solution" to the farm drainage problem. Federal irrigation districts north of Westlands now drain their selenium-laced waste waters into the polluted lower San Joaquin River and want to continue doing so.

In 2007, with the Kesterson debacle a memory, the federal government is still "inclined to silence" about the extent and seriousness of the selenium problem. You don't hear politicians giving speeches about the selenium threat.

Federal scientists tell me selenium impacts on bird reproductivity are still occurring here in the Valley and elsewhere in America where farming and mining on high selenium soils is slowly but surely contributing to the steady decline of bird and fish populations.
Lloyd Carter, a Fresno lawyer, is director of the California Water Impact Network.

| »


To manage site Login