Merced County

Proximity to a boom-doggle

Submitted: Sep 14, 2007

We thought UC Merced's First Chancellor Carol "Cowgirl" Tomlinson-Keasey's late-Nineties slogan --"Proximity is destiny" -- was about the finest piece of UC Merced Bobcatflak in an era of budget surpluses we ever heard. For those uninitiated in the Fabulous UC Bobcatflak or merely forgetful, the Cowgirl used the slogan to emphasize that -- although no one has yet figured out exactly why -- proximity to a UC campus raises the percentage of the population who goes to college. This percentage is supposed to be the best measure mankind has found for Truth and Beauty.

For those of us outside the Valley leadership circle, it was apparent that something else entirely was taking place, for which we created the slogan: "Proximity is density." Subdivision after subdivision was built and Merced vied with Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto and the State of Nevada for being the top target of real estate speculators taking out subprime mortgages. As these mortgages "reset" to much higher payments, "proximity" is beginning to mean dry lawns, dead garden foliage and swimming pools turned into stagnant mosquito nurseries.

The people of Merced were raped by the University of California, the developers on its board of trustees, it local, state and federal politicians (especially Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced), land-use planning agencies, local large landowners and special interests representing finance, insurance (like Bob "Mr. UC Merced" Carpenter), and real estate from here, there and everywhere.

Badlands Journal estimates that 40 percent of the real estate transactions in Merced were speculations and we are certain that largest part of the Merced population has only begun to realize the negative economic consequences of having won the competition for the San Joaquin Valley UC campus. For us, proximity to UC Merced means exorbitant real estate prices. We won't be elevated. We will be squeezed out and replaced, having fattened landlords, banks and realtors, utilities and local government on the way out.

The public works improvements required to support the new development is being built on our backs. We will see yet another million-dollar campaign to persuade us to raise our sales taxes to help pay for various expressways all leading to UC Merced. And this campaign, like all the others, will receive the enthusiastic endorsement of the people we elect to government, who gambled that we would pay for all the public works needed to support so much speculative development for the profit of so few and, it is becoming apparent, hardship for so many.

Honestly considered, UC Merced is an overpriced, under-enrolled, scofflaw junior college. It has been such an outrageous development project that -- a fitting tribute to its creators -- it has engendered a genuine addition to the American language, the word "boom-doggle," coined by a member of our editorial board.

Badlands Journal editorial board
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9-14-07
Merced Sun-Star
County report card close to D's and F's in 2006...Abby Souza
http://mercedsunstar.com/167/story/35941.html

Of the 40 California counties surveyed last year, Merced ranked 39th for the percentage of residents older than 24 who hold a high school diploma; only Imperial County ranked lower...the percentage of adults who hold a bachelor's degree, Merced ranked 38th out of 40. Sixty-four percent of Merced County residents over the age of 24 have a high school diploma. That compares with the statewide 80 percent and the national 84 percent. Eleven percent of Merced residents over 24 hold bachelor's degrees, compared with California's 30 percent.
While experts say lifting Merced out of its next-to-last position might prove a bewildering task, the implications of its ranking are clear. "The ripple effect that comes with an uneducated population is huge," said Simon Weffer, a professor of sociology at UC Merced...
The data come from the census bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, now conducted annually in cities and counties above a certain population.
While it's easy to blame Merced's K-12 education system...the causes lie with the types of industries in Merced, said Adrian Griffin, a senior policy analyst with the California Postsecondary Education Commission...said that Merced lacks industries that require an educated work force. For that reason, he said, highly educated Mercedians often leave the area to start their careers. ...people moving to Merced tend to be less educated.
Many say UC Merced is the key to accomplishing both, but that major change will take time. As a research university, Kevin Browne, UC Merced's vice chancellor of enrollment, said UC Merced will eventually attract high-tech companies. And even for students who don't choose UC Merced, the university's mere presence can make a difference, Browne said.

Modesto Bee
Housing tab rising in Northern San Joaquin ValleyJ.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/67789.html.

Homeowners in the valley pay far more each month for housing than most Americans, according to the 2006 American Community Survey...new data also shows homeownership rates are lower in the valley than the national average, while housing costs consume a much larger share of residents' income.
Homeowners traditionally have been advised to keep housing costs below 30 percent of their income. The same goes for renters, but many of the valley's renters didn't do that last year. In Merced County, for example, 51 percent of renters spent more than one-third of their income on housing.
The Northern San Joaquin Valley expanded its housing stock much faster than the national average from 2000 to 2006...census statistics show, the number of housing units rose 9 percent nationally but more than 18 percent in Merced and San Joaquin counties, and nearly 14 percent in Stanislaus County.
Despite the rapid growth, the valley's homeownership rates still lag behind the U.S. average. That's particularly true in the city of Merced, where census statistics show fewer than 40 percent of homes are owner-occupied. Nationwide, more than 67 percent of homes are owner-occupied.

Foreclosure not an issue for nation's vast majority...Kenneth R. Harney, Washington Post
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/67771.html

The rate of American home loans entering the foreclosure process last quarter hit the highest it's been in the history of the survey, which dates back to 1953.
But from a national perspective... The answer is: Not as bad as it may sound. Drill down into the latest delinquency and foreclosure numbers and you'll find that for the overwhelming majority of homeowners across the country, delinquency and foreclosure are not issues -- at least not yet.
To begin with, remember that mortgage delinquency problems only affect people with outstanding loans, and more than one out of three homeowners own their properties debt-free. Of the remaining two-thirds of all owners with active mortgage accounts -- the latest survey examined 44 million of them -- prime loans that are 30 days past due or more constitute just 2.6 percent of all loans nationwide. In other words, among mortgages made to borrowers with good credit at application, 97.4 percent are continuing to be paid on time.
The numbers get more sobering when you look at how borrowers with subprime mortgages are performing: 14.5 percent of them nationwide are behind on their payments by at least 30 days. That's more than five times the rate of delinquency among prime borrowers. On the other hand, 85.5 percent of subprime borrowers are still paying on time every month, according to the survey.
The numbers get even worse when you look at the performance of subprime borrowers who took out adjustable-rate loans, such as the notorious "2/28" mortgages that allow low monthly payments for the first two years but then reset upward with a big jolt at the beginning of the third.
What about the record jumps in new foreclosure filings? In 34 states, the rate of new foreclosures actually decreased. In most other states, the increases were minor, except in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, where they were attributable in part to investors walking away from condos, second homes and rental houses they bought during the boom years. In Nevada, for instance, non-owner-occupied (investor) loans accounted for 32 percent of all serious delinquencies and new foreclosure actions. In Florida, the investor share of serious delinquencies was 25 percent, in Arizona, 26 percent and in California, it was 21 percent.
Bottom line: The scary foreclosure and delinquency rates you're hearing about are for real. But they're highly concentrated -- among loan types, local and regional economies, and especially prevalent among investors in formerly high-flying markets who are finally throwing in the towel.

Sacramento Bee
Foreclosures gain on sales
An ugly new duel in capital area: Home keys picked up vs. those lost...Jim Wasserman
http://www.sacbee.com/103/story/378452.html

...For roughly every two homes sold in August in the capital region, one house went into foreclosure, according to the newest sales statistics released Thursday...
grim ratio may worsen as fall and winter sales traditionally slow and foreclosures keep rising, analysts say. Already, in Sacramento County in August, there were more defaults -- the first indicator of payment problems that can trigger foreclosure -- than sales, DataQuick reported.
Last month, 2,978 new owners picked up keys to homes they purchased in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties, La Jolla-based DataQuick Information Systems reported Thursday. But in those same counties during August, 1,367 homeowners in foreclosure handed their keys back to the bank, according to Fair Oaks-based Foreclosures.com, a Web site for real estate investors.
"Sacramento (County) was positioned almost perfectly to take the brunt of this housing storm," said DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage.
Sacramento County now shows the region's worst ratio of sales to foreclosures. The county reported 1,527 escrow closings during August and 772 bank repossessions, according to DataQuick. The county also tallied more defaults during the month -- 1,869 -- than sales, statistics show. But analysts like McGee are quick to caution that only about one-third of people going into default will eventually lose their homes to foreclosure. DataQuick says about half of those in default in California will likely lose their homes.

8-31-07
Merced Sun-Star
Are we forever poor?...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13944522p-14506970c.html

Distressing news came to light this week when it was revealed Merced County residents are poorer than ever... new information from the United States Census Bureau should be a rallying cry for making wholesale improvements to underlying conditions present in the county...more must be done -- and soon -- to raise the educational level of Merced County's residents. We need more high-paying jobs with the well-qualified workers to fill these positions. Both of these elements are lacking right now. we need stepped-up efforts to enhance this area's chances of landing top-notch employers looking for qualified workers. More minimum-wage jobs aren't the answer. Between 2005 and 2006, the percentage of Merced County residents living in poverty rose from 18.1 percent to 21.5 percent...about one out of every five people living here. The county's median income level also dropped nearly $1,600 between the two years, further evidence of this area's profound poverty and worsening economic conditions. It's no secret Merced County's economy is not very well-diversified at present. It's mainly farm-based, subject to vagaries from Mother Nature and cyclical agricultural conditions. Couple recent setbacks in some crops along with a severe downturn in the county's housing industry and one can see why the poverty figures have jumped.

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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.

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Merced River Stakeholders public minutes of East Merced Resource Conservation District board meetings

Submitted: Aug 23, 2007

To:
Gwen Huff, Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator
Karen Whipp, Merced Alliance/RCD Grant Administrator

From:
Members of the Merced River Stakeholders

Re: Merced River Stakeholders public minutes of East Merced Resource Conservation District meetings

Date: August 22, 2007

Gwen, Thank you for acknowledging and agreeing to send our protest letter to Merced River stakeholders (posted below). At this time, we are requesting that the enclosed attachments also be sent to Merced River stakeholders and EMRCD board members.

The enclosed attachments include two versions of what happened at the June 14, 2007 EMRCD special meeting, held by teleconference: the minutes taken by the EMRCD/Merced Alliance staff; and those dictated from notes from a Merced River Stakeholder on the call. The difference between the two sets of minutes is remarkable and should be noted by the public. As a result of this difference, members of the Merced River Stakeholders have begun attending EMRCD board meetings.

The third attachment is the Merced Stakeholders public minutes of the EMRCD board meeting of August 15, 2007. For the moment, Stakeholder concerns about public funds have been addressed by EMRCD funders, but a lively dispute continues between members of the Merced River Stakeholders and the EMRCD.

For more background on the dispute, we direct the attention of the public to three recent articles appearing on Badlandsjournal.com:

New Merced County Planning Commissioner: fast and loose with public processes, public funds --Friday, June 29th, 2007
Central Valley Safe Environment Network reply to a Merced County Planning Commissioner--Tuesday, July 10th, 2007
Badlands replies to Commissioner Lashbrook’s information and commentary--Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

---------------------------

Lydia Miller, President San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341

Meeting Minutes of the
BOARD OF DIRECTORS SPECIAL MEETING
EAST MERCED RESOURCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT

Thursday, June 14, 2007, 9:00 a.m.,

Teleconference Location – 1635 Luke Drive, Merced, CA
913 West Yale Avenue, Fresno, CA, 12230 Livingston-Cressey Rd., Livingston, CA, 1658 Scenic View Drive, San Leandro, CA, 6401 Hultberg Road, Hilmar, CA, 3279 Merced Falls Road, Snelling, CA
Call EMRCD for more information (209-723-6755)

Directors Present Per Roll Call:
Glenn Anderson
Tony Azevedo
Karen Barstow
Cathy Weber
Bernard Wade (joined call at 9:30 a.m.)

Directors Absent:
Bob Bliss

Others Present:
Karen Whipp, EMRCD personnel
Cindy Lashbrook, EMRCD personnel and associate director
Gwen Huff, EMRCD personnel

Item #
Vice-President Azevedo called meeting to order at 9:10 am.

1. INTRODUCTIONS
Done.

2. ORAL COMMUNICATIONS
None.

3. CORRECTIONS AND/OR ADDITIONS TO THE AGENDA
Karen Barstow moved to add item to agenda regarding preparing rebuttal letter for the opposition letter of the submission of the Merced River Management Plan grant Proposal.
Glenn Anderson seconded the motion/
Call for the vote, Director Anderson, yes; Vice-President Azevedo, yes, Director Barstow yes, Director Bliss, absent, Director Weber, yes; President Wade, absent.
MOTION CARRIED.

4. LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR 4H EDUCATION PROJECT
Cathy Weber moved to approve the EMRCD Board submit a letter of support for the 4H Education Project and authorize Board President to sign letter of support.
Tony Azevedo seconded the motion.
Call for the vote, Director Anderson, yes; Vice-President Azevedo, yes, Director Barstow yes, Director Bliss, absent, Director Weber, yes; President Wade, absent.
MOTION CARRIED.

4A. REBUTTAL LETTER OF THE OPPOSITION LETTER OF RECENT GRANT PROPOSAL
Kathy Weber moved to table this item and discuss at the next regular EMRCD Board meeting.
Glenn Anderson seconded the motion.
Call for the vote, Director Anderson, yes; Vice-President Azevedo, yes, Director Barstow yes, Director Bliss, absent, Director Weber, yes; President Wade, absent.
MOTION CARRIED.
Let it be noted that President Bernard Wade joined the conference call at 9:30 am. The board members reviewed the meeting and actions of the board with him.

5. NEXT MEETING: The next EMRCD Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 12:00 pm at Golden By Products, Inc., 13000 Newport Road, Ballico, CA.

6. ADJOURNMENT 9:50 a.m.

For more information, contact: East Merced Resource Conservation District, 2135 W. Wardrobe Ave., Suite C, Merced, CA 95340, Phone (209) 723-6755, Fax (209) 723-0880.
----------------------------

Merced River Stakeholders public minutes

Subject: Minutes of June 14, 2007 East Merced Resource Conservation District Meeting by Telephone

Gwen Huff said letters were written to legislators by Pat Ferrigno. The Farm Bureau and Diedre Kelsey were OK with the grant. Huff asked that an emergency item (4a) be placed on the agenda because Ferrigno had written to the legislators, calling for a response from the EMRCD to Ferrigno’s letter.

They took a roll call vote.

On the call at this time: Gwen Huff, Cathy Weber, Karen Barstow, Glenn Anderson, Cindy Lashbrook , Karen Whipp, Tony Azevedo, and Lydia Miller. Miller was never asked if a public member was on the phone.

Attempts were made by email and fax to get Bernie Wade on the call. Wade had called the wrong number and was put on indefinite hold. He joined the meeting late.

The purpose of the special meeting was a letter of support for the 4-H Wells Project.

Lashbrook, having just checked her email, brought up the need for EMRCD to sign on to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition letter to the Governor about the Williamson Act. Sign on deadline was the next day. Weber said the board would like to see the letter.

Wade finally got on the call, requiring a briefing of all that had already happened.

After Huff told Wade about the need for a letter to the legislators to reply to Ferrigno’s letter, Wade asked, “When is this going to end?”

Lashbrook replied: “We’re at war.”

There was a discussion about the ingratitude of the Merced River Stakeholders. Wade recommended that the stakeholders should be cut out.

The board authorized the letter on the 4-H Wells Project, but didn’t authorize either a letter to legislators in reply to Ferrigno’s letter or the letter to the governor on the Williamson Act. Wade and Weber expressed irritation with being presented with 11th-hour decisions (referring to the Williamson Act letter).

Lashbrook brought up the idea of a means to streamline the authority process.

The board decided on an agenda item to ask the stakeholders how they wished to be involved with the EMRCD in the future.

Azevedo said he would be out of town for the board meeting on June 20. It was to be held at Golden Bi-Products Tire Recycling Co.. Barstow said the company had teleconferencing capability.

Submitted July 17, 2007
By Lydia Miller, president
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
-----------------

Public minutes of the East Merced Resource Conservation District (RCD) board meeting, August 15, 2007

Members of the public, in this instance also members of the Merced River Stakeholders, believing that the official minutes of RCD meetings fail to describe the political and economic issues being discussed and decided by the RCD, have begun taking their own public minutes of its meetings. We urge other members of the public, particularly river stakeholders, to begin attending RCD meetings.

The East Merced RCD is a public institution. Its board members are appointed by Merced County supervisors, its books are overseen by Merced County and its funds are derived from grants from public agencies.

Members of the Merced River Stakeholders recently challenged RCD grant proposals amounting to nearly a half-million dollars. This meeting primarily concerns the results and consequences of the grantors’ decisions regarding these proposals and the RCD response.

Participants:
Public: Bill Hatch, Stakeholder

RCD Board:
Bernie Wade, Glenn Anderson, Cathy Weber, Robert Bliss
Associate Board Member, Cindy Lashbrook, Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator

RCD staff:
Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Cindy Lashbrook
Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholder Facilitator Gwen Huff
Merced Alliance/RCD Grant Administrator Karen Whipp
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service staff:
Malia Hildebrandt

Bill Hatch, Stakeholder who prepared these minutes arrived about a half an hour late to the meeting. Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook, an associate (non-voting) member of the RCD board and a staff member of the Merced Alliance, whose grants are administered by the RCD, was speaking. She said she had signed up the RCD to attend an economic development conference being held by the City of Merced.

Next, Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook mentioned a sign-on letter by the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition that she wished the RCD board to sign. She said, as she had said in a previous RCD meeting, that the RCD board should appoint either one person or a small committee to deal with issues signing onto this letter, which occur between meetings.

The public correspondent mentioned that the two groups from Merced that are founders of the CRCC, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and the San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, are not going to sign this particular letter because it was not clear in the letter that the easements CRCC were requesting would be perpetual and the two founders have a firm policy against term easements.

“Land-use decisions can’t wait,” Lashbrook said, stressing the urgency of the coalition letter to Congress, urging it to pass provisions in the 2007 Farm Bill that would fund more land easements.

RCD Board Member Cathy Weber said the board needed more members (four of the six voting members were at the meeting) present before deciding on such a protocol, and asked that the issue be put on the agenda for the next board meeting, September 27.

Malia Hildebrandt, Merced County Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, reported to the board about the latest water discharge order for dairies, stating that the first reports were due December 31, 2007, NRCS would be providing workshops for dairymen in November and December to help them write their plans for manure disposal and discharge pollutant plans. She also said that Merced County Environmental Health Department is applying for grants to pay for a consultant to help prepare the dairy reports. Consultations would cost between $8,000 and $20,000 per dairy. Hildebrandt said there were about 330 dairies in the county. The NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) would require recipients to file these reports, Hidebrandt said. She added that some dairies were already opting out, but that the program covered all dairies of all sizes and that new dairies or expanded dairies must get individual permits.

In response to a question from the public about the effect of the closure of Hilmar Cheese Co. and the loss of dairies, Hildebrandt said she didn’t know. RCD Board Member Glenn Anderson said he’d heard “there would be no more cows in Hilmar” at some point in the future, either 2020 or 2050 (he wasn’t sure).

Hildebrandt announced that on August 29, Rep. Dennis Cardoza would be holding a “listening” conference on the Farm Bill from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Double Tree in Modesto.

She also mentioned that new dairy lagoons would have to be double-lined with new synthetic, leak-proof liners.

The report of Merced River Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Gwen Huff came next, beginning with a question of whether state Department of Water Resources official, Dan Wermiel, would have to sign off on the next Merced River Alliance newsletter concerning a recent meeting with board members and staff at Henderson Park in Snelling on July 20.

County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook explained that the meeting was a citizen water-quality monitoring event of a sort that will continue “as long as the grant continues.”

A version of the meeting somewhat different than the commissioner’s explanation occurs later in the minutes.

Staff reported that Nancy McConnell, another Merced River Alliance educational coordinator, had written a report on the meeting in Snelling with Wermiel.

Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Huff announced that the RCD had lost both the large and the small vernal pool grant its had applied for. She said she was awaiting comments from CalFed, the granting agency, about why the RCD had failed to get the grants.

Board Member Weber said that Lydia Miller, president of San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, a Merced River Stakeholder, had sent the RCD a copy of the letter written in opposition to the RCD grants and had asked that the RCD send it out of other stakeholders. Weber and others objected to the heading on the letter, which read: “Merced River Stakeholders,” saying that Miller and a member of the public present at the meeting weren’t the only stakeholders.

There is a header on the top of each page of the protest letter because it was professionally written. The first sentence of the letter reads:

We are writing, as members of the Merced River Stakeholders, to protest a proposal submitted by the East Merced Resource Conservation District (EMRCD) called “Lower Merced Watershed Management Plan.”

Huff said the next meeting of the Merced River Stakeholders was on September 24. Huff, both Merced Alliance/RCD watershed coordinator and facilitator of the stakeholders’ meetings, said that “we won’t spend time on how the grant was developed, but on how the stakeholders should participate” in the future. She added that staff was inviting a regional manager of the state RCDs to attend the meeting to help “RCD/stakeholders’ interface.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said, “We don’t need their (stakeholders’) input.”

Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Huff outlined RCD board options on how the stakeholders’ should participate in RCD grant applications in the future, prefacing her remarks by saying that Teri Murrison, her predecessor as facilitator for the stakeholders, thought the stakeholders were the most important part of the RCD. “She came to the stakeholders before submitting concept grants,” Huff said. This, Huff said, was Murrison’s first suggestion on RCD relations with the stakeholders. Second, inform the stakeholders. Third, take their comments.

Board Member Weber said that the stakeholders were also independent and that the board should support the idea that stakeholders should be notified and notified better in the future. “But the RCD is also independent,” she added.

RCD Board President Bernie Wade summarized that the board should inform the stakeholders and accept their comments.

Board Member Anderson asked: “Who is to be informed and how? It is a fluid group. Every landowner on the river?”

Actually, in addition to landowners on the river, environmental groups and state and federal agencies have been involved with the Merced River Stakeholders since its inception, facts perhaps forgotten by Anderson.

Lashbrook said that on March 6, 10 days before the concept proposal, “it was mentioned” at a stakeholders’ meeting. “Anyone who cared could have commented.”

Actually, the Merced River Stakeholders meeting was held on March 19.

Karen Whipp, grant administrator for the Merced River Alliance/RCD, said that some Merced River stakeholders don’t open their messages. She keeps a file on those, she added.

RCD Board Member Robert Bliss said that five stakeholders had attended an RCD meeting and they were positive about the two RCD grant proposals.

The board returned to the subject of the Merced River Stakeholders, complaining again that it has no real mechanism for reaching a consensus or for voting.

Commissioner Lashbrook opined that that was because “(Merced River Stakeholders) Lydia Miller and Pat Ferrigno” had rigged the stakeholders’ bylaws so that they would have no mechanism for consensus or voting.

“There has to be a mechanism for support or opposition to a proposal,” one board member said.

Returning to the topic of Lydia Miller’s request that the letter of opposition to the grant be sent to the stakeholders by the Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator and Merced River Stakeholders’ Facilitator, Gwen Huff, Commissioner Lashbrook said: “We don’t have to rub our nose in our failure.”

Merced Alliance/RCD Grant Administrator Whipp stated that, “Lydia doesn’t pay Gwen’s salary.”

Huff, Merced River Alliance/RCD watershed coordinator and stakeholders’ facilitator, said that she would like to send out the letter with a preface.

Lashbrook, county planning commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD educational coordinator, said that the RCD needs to write an introduction to the stakeholders’ letter sent by Miller.

Board Member Weber agreed with Huff and suggested an introductory paragraph: “Lydia requested that this be sent out before the next stakeholders’ meeting.

Commissioner Lashbrook and board member Bliss disagreed. Commissioner Lashbrook did not want the letter sent out without a negative introduction by the RCD.

Board Member Anderson suggested: “Lydia has requested …”

Board Member Bliss stated, “Lydia pays the postage.”

Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Stakeholder Facilitator Huff informed Bliss that the letter would be sent by email.

Merced County Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook reminded the board that the action about to be taken was a board action and not a “unilateral staff action.”

“You as a group decided not to publish a rebuttal letter,” Lashbrook said (although at this point the board had decided nothing.)

Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook wanted a letter of rebuttal by the RCD to points made in the letter of opposition to the grant the Merced River Stakeholder Miller had requested Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Huff to distribute to the Merced River Stakeholders before the next meeting. She emphasized that the stakeholders had been notified of the concept grant on March 6. She added that the RCD needed “to make a few points against this crap!”

Board President Wade said: “We send out a letter. It will never end!”

Commissioner Lashbrook said something about “different letters …RCD not defending …”

Board Member Anderson said: “All we can do is move forward. If it requires that the stakeholders organize for making comments …”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that there were stakeholders who didn’t know.

Board Member Weber focused on the header of the letter of opposition to the grant and suggested the RCD send out only the header and the first page.

Merced Alliance/RCD Grant Administrator Whipp asked why the RCD was “sending out this scathing letter?”

Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook asked: “Why send out our ‘slap down’?”

Board Member Weber then withdrew her motion to send out the letter in opposition to the grant.

Grant Administrator Whipp informed the board that it would have to make some motion, for example, that Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Huff is not authorized (by the RCD) to do this …”

Huff said she had already promised Miller she would send out the letter.

Board Member Bliss moved that the letter not be sent out because it is “inflammatory.”

Board President Wade suggested “not authorized –the letter is not authorized to be sent by the board or staff.”

Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholder Facilitator Huff thanked the board for this resolution, which passed. She then described three new grant opportunities available before the end of the year. One involved Bear Creek, the urban parts of which are not in the RCD. The grants were for a watershed coordinator for the stakeholders, water monitoring, and water pollution. Huff finished her report by asking the board to find a group for her to make her final presentation on the Endangered Species Act (in order to fulfill a grant).

The remaining member of the public asked Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholder Facilitator Huff who paid her salary? Huff replied it was paid by the state Department of Conservation at the moment and that will continue until May through the Merced Alliance. At this point, she added, the RCD is looking for new funds from the state Department of Conservation.

Grant Administrator Whipp interjected to explain that the watershed coordinator has a contract with the RCD for the task of facilitating the meetings of the Merced River Stakeholders.

According to Whipp’s logic, Miller as a California taxpayer is paying the watershed coordinator’s salary but evidently the RCD dictates the tasks of stakeholder facilitation.

Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook, reporting as staff of the Merced Alliance on a grant run through the RCD, said that the Riverfair had gone well however there was some question about where it would be held next year. This year it was held at the commissioner’s ranch.

She expressed surprise that state Department of Water Resources official Dan Wermiel “had said those things” at the Snelling meeting on July 20. She added that she is “not putting up with a lot of shit from people for their own self aggrandizement.” She also said she was “hoping we’ll put in some grants that won’t be misrepresented.” She concluded by saying, “These are trying times. You may just be meeting here and looking at each other …”

The member of the public interpreted these remarks to mean that Commissioner Lashbrook’s “ war” (declared at a special RCD meeting a month earlier) against the Merced River Stakeholders who had opposed her grants was still on, however, things didn’t look good for future grants to the East Merced Resource Conservation District, at least from its usual sources.

Board Member Weber suggested that the RCD go to the stakeholders with ideas for things that can be done without grants and coordinate with the stakeholders on these projects.

Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Huff stated that in California, all RCD funding is by grant.

County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook added that California is the only state that operates its RCD funds this way.

NRCS staff Hildebrandt said that some states have base state funding for RCDs and others don’t.

Commissioner Lashbrook told the board that it needed to look to its strategy “in light of what’s going on.” Funding for RCD staff runs out in March. She quoted DWR official Wermiel as saying that the federal government didn’t contribute to CalFed.

Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook said that the instructions CalFed gave her and other grant writers were that they needed a broader stakeholder base and a wider watershed to qualify. She said it would have been an “open public process, not steered …” and that “we (the grant writing staff) were set to do a plan for implementation.”

However, she continued, “big negatives drowned that out.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said the granting agency told her nothing would be accepted after the submission date. She added that had she known, she could have gotten 40-60 support letters.

Board President Wade said, “Scandal! Criminal!”

The stakeholders opposed to the grant contacted the granting agency, still unable to get a copy of the grant from after the submission date from either Merced Alliance/RCD Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Huff or Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook. The funders instructed them to send their opposition letter early in the week after the submission deadline.

Huff said that the review of the grants from the funders will come and will be shared.

Board members said that DWR official Wermiel had called the meeting on July 20 in Snelling (so it was not really a routine water monitoring meeting). Then a letter from Nancy McConnell, like Commissioner Lashbrook, another Merced Alliance educational coordinator, was read in which McConnell said she was “real sorry the grant didn’t make it.” The McConnell letter continued to say that after the tour, Wermiel said that chances of getting more CalFed money were unlikely. California is very backwards, said McConnell, who lives out of the area. She said, “top managers of the watershed program didn’t buy into the process themselves.” She concluded the letter with a rousing: “Keep the watershed community base faith!”

The board and staff did not discuss the request of Merced River Stakeholders Miller and Pat Ferrigno and RCD Board President Wade’s request to be sent a report on the meeting between Merced Alliance/RCD staff and DWR official Wermiel, nor has it sent her a copy as of the writing of these minutes.

Merced County Planning Commissioner/Merced Alliance/RCD Education Coordinator Lashbrook reported on a Merced County plan to review all “annexations.” RCD, which is a special district and falls under the jurisdiction of the county Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), will be reviewed and needed to provide a legal description of the district and a man. A new annexation would cost $2,700 and require environmental review and a Notice of Determination.

Members of the board entered into an intense discussion about where the legal description and map might be, which was brought to an end when Huff found them in a filing cabinet behind Planning Commissioner Lashbrook.

Lashbrook reported that the Sierra Club would hold a meeting on the high-speed rail proposal the next day and that Kim Forest, US Fish and Wildlife Service manager of the Grasslands would attend to express her concerns about how the rail proposal would affect west side grasslands. The planning commissioner added that there would be a public hearing on the project at the end of the month – the only hearing on it in the Valley, to be held in Merced.

Board members discussed briefly whether the high speed, electric powered railway would cut down on pollution, some saying yes, others asking how the electric power would be generated.

Board Member Anderson reported on the Valley Land Alliance, a board he also sits on, saying that the Alliance “wants an active role.” Currently, he said the Alliance is proposing a food-and-energy element in the county General Plan Update process.

Watershed Coordinator/Merced River Stakeholders Facilitator Huff said that the board should consider using fee-for-service agreements to raise funds as well as grants.

The meeting adjourned.

During the meeting, another member of the public, who had to leave the meeting early, said that when he was in the hallway outside the meeting before it began, Commissioner Lashbrook demanded to know why he was there (at a public meeting discussing public funds). There have been several reliable reports by either eyewitnesses or victims, that Commissioner Lashbrook has threatened people in what has the appearance of a personal vendetta against Merced River Stakeholder Miller for protesting the substance and process in the RCD grant proposals. Commissioner Lashbrook has been reported to say to people that they must choose sides between herself and Merced River Stakeholder Miller and must not communicate with either Miller or anyone associated with her, presumably including all people for the last 30 years who have used the services of or volunteered with the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center or are now or have ever been members of the Central Valley Safe Environment Network as well as people involved with newer organizations. In a previous RCD meeting, Merced Planning Commissioner Lashbrook summed up her attitude toward Merced River Stakeholder Miller: “It’s war.”

Is this the way Merced County citizens want high officials to treat the public?

The question of whether the RCD has a right to obstruct the tasks of the Merced River Stakeholders facilitator, paid public funds to facilitate stakeholders’ meetings, will be taken up at the stakeholders’ meeting in September.

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Show time

Submitted: Jul 26, 2007

At the financial market level, it is of course assumed that all local land-use authorities would automatically have to approve subdivisions funded by subprime loans, now in default, because, naturally, no local land-use officials could possibly behave with any kind of economic caution or care. In fact, elected officials in this area -- from Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, down to three county boards of supervisors and many city councils, promoted an orgy of greed that has ended in the northern San Joaquin Valley counties leading the nation in per capita mortgage foreclosures.

These days, not only have they been proven corrupt, the arrogance of these elected officials has increased and they are even more willing to try to intimidate the public by calling them "socialists" and whatnot.

But, looking at it from their point of view, what else can they do but try to slander their critics? What they did is out in front of God and Everyone. The obvious political play is to bring up the Socialist Menace. Let's forget about subsidized federal water for subsidized cotton and all the rest of Supervisor Jerry O'Banion's friends and interests. O'Banion would never be dumb enough to call anyone a socialist, given the political situation on the west side. But, would he above goading Supervisor Mike Nelson to do it?

The socialists in Merced County are rich, subsidized farmers, public employees (teachers, city and county employees, etc.) and UC Merced. We have bureaucratic oppression on the east side and the same-old feudalism on the west side.

But, don't tell the focos grupitos participating in the county general plan update process that! Perish those critical thoughts! We will reach a grand consensus (led by the adroit triple-speak of county planning staff). Don't count on Agriculture. Those people are in acute political schizophrenia: landowner v. farmer. To preserve or to sell, that is the question. It's Hamlet time.

If we are not to be guided lovingly over the cliff to San Fernando Valley by our triple-speaking public employees, it would be wise to talk among ourselves, not coagulating into some phony group, but in caucus among those we trust and who share common interests. The way the flak is drifting at the moment, people cannot find their allies because they are buying into political agendas against their self-interests, in the name of vast, utterly illusory, consensuses defined by our common grave diggers.

But, Hey, it's the California Way. Right?

Wrong.

Groups must develop now that can identify their own self interests and can seek and find coalitions with other groups with allied self interests against a bureaucracy in the east, which cares for nothing but more jurisdictional revenue, and the feudalism in the west, living off subsidies and cheap labor.

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

San Francisco Chronicle

Wall Street Plunges, Dow Falls 400 ... JOE BEL BRUNO, AP Business Writer
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/07/26/financial/f112916D39.DTL&hw=environment&sn=002&sc=891

Wall Street suffered its second-biggest plunge of the year Thursday, leading global markets lower as investors fled stocks amid increasing uneasiness about the mortgage and corporate lending markets. The Dow Jones industrials fell more than 400 points, while Treasury yields plunged as investors moved money into bonds.
Investors who had been able to shrug off discomfort about subprime mortgage problems and a more difficult environment for corporate borrowing appeared to finally succumb to those concerns. The Dow's drop is the biggest since it plummeted 416 points on Feb. 27 after a nearly 10 percent decline in Chinese stock markets.
Feeding the selling were concerns that higher corporate borrowing costs will curb the rapid pace of takeovers that have driven major indexes this year. Investors also feared the sluggish environment for home sales and continued defaults in subprime loans would spur debt defaults and weigh on corporate earnings.
"Worries that have been out there for the past couple of years are coming to a head right now," said investment strategist Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research Inc. "It's show time" ...

Huge Farm Bill Offers More of Same for Agribusiness ...Carolyn Lochhead
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/07/26/MNG9AR6V6S1.DTL

WASHINGTON - A prominent San Francisco patron of the arts, Constance Bowles — heiress of an early California cattle baron, widow of a former director of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft library and a resident of Pacific Heights — was the largest recipient of federal cotton subsidies in the state of California between 2003 and 2005, collecting more than $1.2 million, according to the latest available data.
That is the way U.S. farm programs are designed to work. Five crops — cotton, corn, wheat, rice and soybeans — received 92 percent of the $21 billion in federal farm payments last year. The biggest payments go to the biggest farms.
That also is pretty much the way farm programs will continue to work for the next five years under mammoth legislation scheduled today for a House vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco has endorsed the new farm bill, produced by the House Agriculture Committee to run programs for the next five years, as a major reform because it limits annual payments to farmers who earn $1 million a year.
The income limit for a couple would actually be $2 million, because a husband and wife each could collect.
If the bill becomes law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the cap will affect just 3,100 farmers, assuming they do not use accounting tactics to reduce their taxable income. Actual payments to farmers would rise over the five years authorized by the bill. The bill is over budget, so Democratic leaders propose a $4 billion tax increase on U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies to pay for it...Pelosi is pushing for a quick House vote this week on the Agriculture Committee’s bill to give rural Democrats — especially those who won seats in GOP-dominated districts last year — something to tout when they return home for the August congressional recess...But most California farmers — and most U.S. farmers — do not grow the five subsidized crops and do not receive direct payments from the federal government. California fruit, nut and vegetable growers, who would get research and marketing aid under the new bill, mostly oppose crop subsidies and did not seek them.
Economists say the subsidies harm most farmers. That’s because they lower crop prices, raise land prices and rents, and give subsidized farmers a financial advantage that has helped drive their neighbors out of business and keep young farmers from getting started.
Many farmers, and farm state politicians of both parties, oppose large payments. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, all want to limit payments to one-quarter the size Pelosi has endorsed in the House bill.
“When you say to the biggest farms in the country, ‘The bigger you get, the more money you get from the government,’ then the farm program effectively subsidizes the destruction of family farming,” said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska. “Most people in rural America think that is bad policy.”
The big payments would continue while prices of subsidized crops are at or near record highs, fueled by the ethanol boom. The value of this year’s giant corn crop — which would almost cover the state of California in acreage — is expected to reach $40 billion.
California’s top subsidy recipient from 2003 to 2005, Bowles, 88, of San Francisco, collected the $1.2 million in mostly cotton payments through her family’s 6,000-acre farm, the Bowles Farming Co., in Los Banos (Merced County). She could not be reached for comment.
Another family member, George “Corky” Bowles, who died in 2005, collected $1.19 million over the same period. George Bowles once ran the farm but lived on Telegraph Hill. A collector of rare books and 18th century English porcelain, he served as a director of the San Francisco Opera and a trustee of the Fine Arts Museums.
The farm is run by Phillip Bowles in San Francisco. Phillip Bowles was on vacation Tuesday and could not be reached. He told KGO television last week that he’s no fan of subsidies, but if big cotton growers in Texas get them, so should he.
“Many of these businesses are getting 20 to 30 to sometimes 40 percent of their gross revenues directly from the government,” Phillip Bowles told KGO. “I don’t have a good explanation for that. Somebody else might, but it beats me.”
Economists say they can find no rationale for the subsidies, which started in 1933 as temporary aid for small farmers devastated by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Then, a quarter of Americans lived on farms. Today, less than 1 percent do — so few that the Census Bureau quit counting.
“The programs are just outdated,” said Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and a leading farm economist. “No one can think of a legitimate reason why we have these farm programs for a handful of crops in the United States.
“If the best the committee could do is say these payments are to help people in need, and we’re going to define for farm legislation that somebody’s in need if the family makes $2 million a year — a million for the husband and a million for the wife — that’s a little strange. If these are really welfare programs for the needy, we don’t normally cut those off at $1 million. It’s more like $20,000.”
Cotton ranks as the No. 1 subsidized crop in California. Federal data compiled by Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, shows that the state’s cotton, rice and dairy farmers received more than $1 billion in federal support from 2003 to 2005. During the same period, about $62 million went to farm conservation and environmental projects in California...Farm environmental programs now total $4 billion a year, far outstripping any other federal funding for private conservation. Environmentalists would like to see the crop subsidies also go to “green payments” to induce environmental protection for wildlife habitat, watersheds and the like.

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Let them eat subsidized blueberries!

Submitted: Jul 14, 2007
"We are looking for a niche," said (Merced County Planning Commissioner) Cindy Lashbrook, a Merced County organic farmer who grows blueberries and almonds near Livingston. "We're looking to be legitimized, in a way." -- Merced Sun-Star, July 12, 2007

Happy Bastille Day.

If it hadn't been for Dan Morgan's article in the Washington Post today, noting that hundreds of lobbying groups have been going to Washington to state their case for the Farm Bill, we would not have had a clue what was going on in a July 12 story from McClatchy on a group of local organic growers in Washington. Whatever coherence the story may have had was ruined by the quote from Commissioner Lashbrook. But UC/Great Valley Center leadership training doesn't stress coherence. Self-dealing self-promotion is highly prized, however. In passing Morgan's book, The Great Grain Robbery, is an unforgettable classic in agricultural investigative reporting.

Why are organic growers "desperate" if their segment of the market is the fastest growing in the land? Perhaps, these days, land prices and debt prohibit farming in California.

We need to traipse through a little recent history to try to understand what this story is could be about. We won't get beyond tentative suggestions.

In November 2006, the reign of the Pomboza (representatives RichPAC Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced) ended when Democrats regained a majority in Congress. The Pomboza was unable to gut the Endangered Species Act (although the Bush administration has attempted to do it by fiat since), the House Resources Committee, on which they served (Pombo as chairman) was restored to its former title, House Natural Resources Committee, and Cardoza was assigned a seat on the House Rules Committee. This committee is an exclusive committee. According to Democratic Party House rules, members who serve on exclusive committees cannot serve on other committees. However, Cardoza was given a waiver to serve on the House Committee on Agriculture because of his district and because it is a Farm Bill year that will define federal support for agriculture for the next five years.

Cardoza is a member of the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry, which makes sense because his district includes the center of the California poultry industry, the administrative center of the dairy industry and because Merced is the second largest dairy county in the nation. Cardoza's top individual contributor is Gallo Cattle Co., owner of the largest dairy in the US.

However, Cardoza is also chairman of the Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture. Although his name does not appear in this story it is rumored that Cardoza is one of the leaders of the opposition to a Farm Bill favoring the large commodities -- rice, cotton, corn and milk -- and we think that somehow his office was involved in this little piece of fluff, which reminds us of the aluminum foil designed to confuse incoming missiles.

What's missing from the story is any mention of commercial rather than organic fruit, nut, vegetable and grape grower groups. Merced is the top producer of almonds in the world. The centers of organic production in California are in coastal counties.

Cardoza represents the largest wine company in the world, the largest dairy in the nation, the largest cheese factory in the world and the largest commercial almond area in the world.

However, all is not well in these giant agribusiness concerns. The largest cheese factory in the world, having polluted its area's groundwater to the point that even the regional water board dared to fine it, is building a new plant in Texas and will soon be gone, taking dairies with it. A French-owned gourmet cheese plant recently relocated from Turlock to Wisconsin. The Totally Illegal 42-inch Ranchwood Sewer Line from Livingston runs through the middle of property owned by the largest dairy in the nation and is headed toward the headquarters of this dairy, whose owner is planning an entire new town, having recently finished a strip mall and a truck stop on Highway 99. The largest dairy in the world is also planning a large residential subdivision near UC Merced. The almond industry is facing an uncertain future due to crashing populations of Honey Bees, required for pollination. Finally, the word in the real estate markets is that one viable sector left is farm swaps, by which developers wishing to buy farmers' land locate comparable acreage in other states for them to move to.

So, although the chairman of the Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture must appear to support the themes of his subcommittee, cotton, poultry, dairy and wine interests will control his voting on the next Farm Bill as they have controlled his agricultural votes throughout his political career. However, the theme of real estate is dearest to Cardoza's heart since he began his political career. No state legislator or House representative did more to promote the speculative real estate boom in his districts in the north San Joaquin Valley, for which reason his present congressional district contains the highest per capita rate of mortgage foreclosure in the nation.

Farmers are landowners. In periods of real estate speculation as reckless as what recently occurred in Cardoza's congressional district, farmers are more landowners than production agriculturalists. Any news, even about organic agriculture, is preferable to more news about the financial hemorrhage going on in the 18th Congressional District of California.

Nevertheless, the public has limits on the amount of inanity it will accept from the press at the behest of congressmen. Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook transgresses these limits by making the absurd connection between legitimacy and a subsidy of public funds. While Lashbrook is probably sincere in her belief (she has declared war to acquire public funds for self-dealing and self-promotion despite public opposition), many of the Valley's better farmers have always resisted growing subsidized crops in the belief it is not really as legitimate as Lashbrook suggests. They will do it, but it isn't their first choice. The media from the local to the international level have been increasingly critical of farm subsidies, particularly in cotton. In fact, Lashbrook was the moderator of a meeting kicking off a campaign for an anti-growth initiative, which featured author Mark Arax, who signed and sold copies of his expose of the Boswell subsidized cotton kingdom. Would she have felt differently if Boswell had been growing subsidized blueberries in the Tulare Lake all these years? The whole thing is ridiculous and makes you think of Joseph Heller's great entrepreneur, Milo Minderbender, feeding chocolate covered Egyptian cotton to the troops. We aren't dealing with rational thought processes here. We are dealing with public-funds grubbing.

At least until the most recent speculative real estate boom, organic farming has been about the only sector of California agriculture where entry without a fortune has still been possible and its market has steadily grown on the hard work of its farmers, steady improvement of soil quality, and the quality of its produce, for which consumers have been willing to pay a premium. If Lashbrook is still looking for a niche in organic agriculture, one imagines she will never find it because the niche has been there and growing for 30 years and has had recognized USDA federal standards for about a decade. USDA market reporters even report organic produce prices these days. If she hasn't found it yet, her chances are slim at this point.

The present problem in organic agriculture is corporatism -- perhaps a business response to land values. For example, the e-coli outbreak from San Benito County last year was produced not by family organic growers on small, orderly plots, but by a rapidly growing organic produce corporation, which clearly lost control of its quality and safety systems. Corporatism will be the death of organic agriculture, because organics is founded on small farming, greater attention to quality and safety, and modest lifestyles that do not include cruising the halls of Congress. In fact, organic farming is more accurately called organic gardening, because all if its significant techniques emerged from very small plots, few achieving the size of truck gardens, using styles of horticulture begun in ancient Rome and perfected by Parisian market gardeners during the Napoleonic period. These techniques were brought to California in the 1970s by Alan Chadwick of Covelo and UC Santa Cruz and popularized in this country and others by John Jeavons of Willits and J. Mogodor Griffith of Chicago. Nationally, the books of Garden Way Publishing, Rodale Press, and magazines like Prevention and New Farm, from Pennsylvania, for decades have formed the background and underpinnings of the organic movement in the US.

It is not about subsidies to agribusiness corporations that poison people with mass-market produce labeled "organic." Sales, marketing and distribution started small. Organic produce has been the backbone of the growing farmers' market and community supported agriculture movements throughout the nation. Next came regional cooperative markets, a few wholesale stands in places like Jerrold Street, SF and the LA Terminal Market, and companies like Veritable Vegetable and Mountain People Warehouse that frequently grew out of regional cooperatives.

One Badlands staffer has spent decades in and around organic agriculture. In the long complaint that he has heard from organic growers about weather, bugs, water, labor and markets, he has never ever heard an organic gardener or farmer complain to the government about "legitimacy," in any way at all. He’s never known an organic grower with a legitimacy problem. He reasons that organic agriculture would only develop a legitimacy problem when corporations overwhelmed the cooperative roots of the organic movement.

The idea of organic growers whining to Cardoza for legitimacy is unwholesome and against the tradition of organic production and distribution. Once again, Commissioner Lashbrook is ripping off a tradition of great integrity and history for self-dealing and self-promotion or else has been absorbed by an organo-agribusiness campaign for subsidies. But, beyond noticing that that is what is apparently going on, what can you say? Perhaps, one can say that "organic agriculture" as presented by Lashbrook and Cardoza, has cut itself off from its roots so far that it is now lost in the halls of Congress, where all the decent things go to die.

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

7-12-07
Merced Sun-Star
Merced second in nation in foreclosures...J.N. Sbranti, Modest Bee
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13780283p-14360785c.html

About $925 million worth of mortgages have been foreclosed on since January in the northern San Joaquin Valley, and 2,575 homes have been auctioned off on courthouse steps in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties. Sean O'Toole, who owns ForeclosureRadar, a research firm based in Discovery Bay has been tracking the rapid rise in foreclosures throughout California. "Foreclosure sales now represent about 16 percent of all home sales in California,"..."Lenders are building a significant inventory (of repossessed homes),"..."Since Jan. 1, 2007, a total of 29,696 California properties have been returned to the lender for an astonishing total loan value of $12 billion. This is unprecedented." The situation may get worse before it gets better. RealtyTrac, another foreclosure property research firm...northern San Joaquin Valley leads the nation when it comes to mortgage defaults...calculated that San Joaquin County had the highest rate of homes in the process of being foreclosed — 1 in 103. Merced County ranked second-worst, with 1 in 121 homes in the foreclosure process. And Stanislaus County ranked fourth-worst, with 1 in 131 homes. For California as a whole, 1 in 315 homes were in the foreclosure process. The nationwide rate was 1 in 704 homes. Traditionally, most homeowners who receive notices of default have been able to refinance their mortgages, catch up on payments or sell their houses before lenders force a foreclose auction. But as home prices fall, mortgage lending requirements tighten and loan interest rates rise, avoiding foreclosure has become more difficult.

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."
Hear an audio interview with Merced County farmer Cindy Lashbrook about the proposed Farm Bill.

7-13-07
Houston Chronicle
July 13, 2007, 11:55PM
Public support for Congress at lowest in a year By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Associated Press
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/nation/4967558.html

WASHINGTON — Too much bickering and not enough legislating.
That, in just a few words, explains why public approval of Congress' job performance has fallen 11 points since May, to 24 percent, its lowest level in a year, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds.
That's lower than for President Bush, who isn't exactly "Mr. Popularity," either ...

7-14-07
Washington Post
Democrats divided over Farm Bill changes...Dan Morgan
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/13/AR2007071301930_pf.html

When freshman Ohio Democrat Zack Space replaced veteran Republican Rep. Robert W. Ney after the 2006 elections, groups lobbying for a major revamping of farm subsidy programs were elated. House Democrats, with their base in urban areas and coastal regions, were not beholden to programs weighted toward large commercial farmers in the grain and cotton belts. And Space's eastern Ohio district of small and medium-size farms was far down the list of those receiving government farm payments. But, as the House Agriculture Committee prepares to take up a new five-year farm bill on Tuesday, Space, one of nine freshmen Democrats on the panel, is opposing major changes in the traditional price and income support programs that in 2006 paid farmers $19 billion. Space's resistance to change highlights the struggle within the Democratic Party as the farm bill moves to center stage on Congress's legislative agenda. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) have told Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) that they will not support a "status quo" bill. A coalition of Democratic-leaning environmental organizations, anti-poverty groups and church organizations are pushing to redirect some subsidies to conservation, wetlands preservation, rural development and nutrition. But top Democrats are reluctant to push too hard for changes that could put at risk Democratic freshmen from "red" states, which backed President Bush's reelection in 2004 and where the farm vote is still a factor in close elections. At stake in the new farm bill are billions of dollars affecting the fortunes of farmers, as well as groups that include soft-drink manufacturers using corn sweeteners and poor families relying on food stamps. In 2006, more than 475 organizations reported lobbying on agricultural issues, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Peterson, whose northwest Minnesota district grows wheat, corn, soybeans and sugar beets, has vowed to protect the traditional programs... Peterson's draft has been criticized by fellow House Democrats representing farming interests that receive little direct help. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, complained that the bill would provide $465 million in new money over five years to support fruit and vegetable growers. "That's not even a crumb," he told reporters, adding that unless improvements are made the bill will face a battle on the House floor. The debate over subsidies is coming in the midst of nearly unprecedented prosperity in U.S. farming. Farm income and the value of farmland and farm assets have been rising, spurred by strong exports and a boom in the demand for corn, which is used to make ethanol.

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Central Valley Safe Environment Network reply to a Merced County Planning Commissioner

Submitted: Jul 10, 2007

A number of local eco-justice advocates would like to thank Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook for providing a public opportunity to discuss the place of the eco-justice movement in Merced County. Veteran local organizers understand better than the commissioner does that she is just a messenger for the special interests doing business through a combination of propaganda and political coercion to promote urban sprawl and environmental destruction in the San Joaquin Valley. Nevertheless, they appreciate her letter of July 2, in which she complained about criticism from eco-justice advocates and offered an essay on right livelihood, a Buddhist theme, by a Christian eco-justice theologian, to chastise local advocates for their lack of spiritual attainment and point to her own. (See Central Valley Safe Environment Network Mission Statement, Lashbrook’s letter, and Matthew Fox essay, Right Livelihood, below.)

In doing a little soul-searching on why this type of energy is coming my way…, Lashbrook begins.

Merced veteran eco-justice advocates don’t need to do any soul-searching about the type of energy coming at them from Commissioner Lashbrook. In a statement at a teleconference public meeting of the East Merced Resource Conservation District in mid-June, Lashbrook declared “war” on the local eco-justice movement in Merced County and on any who collaborate with it.

Her reasons require some history.

In late May, the commissioner tried to steamroll the Merced Stakeholders group into approval of a grant proposal (claiming in advance of anyone seeing the proposal that the stakeholders supported it). There are stakeholders who believe this proposal involves unnecessary studies and is little more than a front for the commissioner's self-promoting and self-dealing financial enrichment. Eco-justice advocates are among the opponents to the grant: ergo the commissioner declared war in public.

I have been working on cultural solutions for environmental problems for decades, Lashbrook continued.

Organizers who have been working for 30 years – three decades – vaguely remember the planning commissioner’s rare contributions to opposing environmentally destructive projects. For several years, she has been working her way up the political pecking order through memberships and positions in various farm groups whose record on cultural solutions for environmental problems is spotty. However, Lashbrook has sporadically testified against some projects.

Merced eco-justice advocates believe quite deeply that it is possible to have an ethical career in environmental work. They have proved it for many years and will continue to prove it. From decades of experience with grant writing and reviewing grants at a local, state and national level, they know there is an ethical protocol to write a grant proposal and that the grant writers, including, Lashbrook, didn’t follow it.

The question the commissioner puts:

Do you believe that it is unethical to have careers in the fields that we have a passion
in?

is bogus and self-pitying. The commissioner is a publicly appointed official of the County of Merced, sitting on the most important commission in this uncontrollably growing county. What’s ethical about a passion for political self-promotion and financial self-dealing in grant proposals for public funds? What's ethical about taking credit for financial gain for the Merced County eco-justice movement’s work over 30 years, while simultaneously denying the existence of this movement? She is a follower of the politicians’ version of county history: it didn’t exist before UC Merced and its induced speculative growth boom got here. Now, politicians like Lashbrook must exert every propaganda effort to denying the consequences of this “new beginning.”

As for her next plaintive inquiry:

Is there anyone trying to work within the system that you admire that I could learn from?

the answer is yes, right here in Merced.

The lecture the commissioner sent is an essay written by an Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox. In the mid-1980s, when Rev. Dr. Robert Ryland was founding Sierra Presbyterian Church and co-founding the Merced Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice from which the Central Valley Safe Environment Network (CVSEN) evolved, he attended a week-long seminar with Fox. At that time, Fox was a Dominican priest in trouble with his Catholic order because his theology had expanded beyond the order’s doctrines.

Fox and Ryland spent a great deal of time talking about justice, particularly the relationships between social, environmental and economic justice. Ryland later wrote a letter to the Dominicans’ headquarters in the Vatican on behalf of Fox. Eventually Fox was driven out of his order and became an Episcopalian associated with Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and has continued to expand his thought and practice, giving the environment a much greater place in Christian theology at a moment when much contemporary, fundamentalist theology is restricting the place of the creation.

Rev. Dr. Ryland has certainly worked "within the system" -- for about six decades. The commissioner could benefit greatly from his insights as have a number of veteran advocates in Merced County, who have been on the frontline of eco-justice work beside Rev. Dr. Ryland in the nation and beyond “for decades.” They have not been afraid of conflict, and government officials, agencies or private special interests have not intimidated them. They have not sought political appointments to pro-growth planning commissions and aren’t impressed by planning commissioners and elected officials who declare war on them. One night at a Sacramento restaurant, then Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza declared war on Merced eco-justice activists, quietly eating their dinners. Their campaigns include hundreds of projects locally, statewide, nationally and globally, starting with the rehabilitation of wildlife, United Technologies rocket-engine plant, to Riverside Motorsports Park.

Rev. Dr. Ryland was the producer of “Three Parables, (1989)” a documentary on Kesterson, the Valdez oil spill, and the pollution of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. “These were three earthly stories with Heavenly meaning, contemporary parables,” Ryland explained. Rev. Dr. Ryland sat on National Council of Churches grant review committees. He also attended workshops in organizing led by Saul Alinksy, whose organizational techniques Central Valley Safe Environment Network rely upon heavily to this day. Other Merced eco-justice advocates reviewed grants with the National Council of Churches. Nobody in the country does eco-justice work at the depth CVSEN does.

NOTICE: Before viewing this video, “Three Parables, please read this statement.

The intent of this video, “Three Parables,” is to place the viewer between the Good News of the Gospel and the bad news of technological disasters.

My prayer is that the results will be an ecumenical affirmation of faith on a global scale uniting us all in an urgent concern for the future of the planet. Now is the time to build a network of faith communities that can reduce and stop the increase of technological disasters.

Now is the time God has given us to combine the unique diversity and the spiritual power of our unity of faith in God. Hear those who will be speaking to you in this video. Feel with them the impact of technological disasters in their lives. They are not unique. The ultimate reality is WE ARE THEY!!

We need idea people, activists and those who compile statistics. But, the passion and the pain are learned from those who are the victims. Listen to the Spirit speaking to us through our brothers and sisters.

Res est sacra miser.
(A sufferer is a sacred thing.)

Dr. Robert E. Ryland

CVSEN has had a long history of empowering local groups and leaving them with adequate resources to continue to work. CVSEN has always worked on private, non-profit funds.

Throughout this work, eco-justice advocates frequently have had to go to court to defend environmental law, environmental regulation, public trust and public health and safety issues, the preservation and mitigation of agricultural land, and to defend public access -- frequently denied by elected and appointed officials in Merced County and their staff. Among the violators of public processes has been the county Planning Commission, in addition to the county Board of Supervisors, which appoints the planning commissioners. For the last three decades eco-justice advocates in Merced County have made a positive difference through public participation and legal challenges.

Eco-justice advocates, with the aid of a number of Merced River landowners, recently had to defend the collaborative public processes of another group they helped found, the Merced River Stakeholders, against the self-dealing depredations of the commissioner. When the commissioner encountered their opposition, her response was to ram the grant through without any further consultation with the stakeholders – while continuing to claim to the grant funders that she had Merced River stakeholder support, which she doesn’t have because only a handful of stakeholders even read it before it was submitted to state and federal public funding agencies.

The commissioner did all this under the auspices of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, on whose board she sits. Another board member regards his appointment as a license to snarl at eco-justice advocates on sight. A third regards his position as a license to call them negative ranters. The RCD directors went along with the deal trying, as usual, to isolate veteran eco-justice advocates as obstructionists for insisting on the agreed upon rules of process within the stakeholders group.

At the Merced River Stakeholders meeting, eco-justice advocates were joined in this resistance to a boondoggle grant by a farm/mining ownership. The farmer/mining family also deeply resented the attempt to overthrow rules of process that the group -- composed of interests quite divided at times -- had painstakingly developed over more than a decade of meetings. Many river stakeholders understand clearly that these procedures are their only protection.

Lashbrook’s response to stakeholder opposition to her grant proposal was to announce she didn’t need them. She could find other landowners to support her grant. Stakeholders who own land on the river replied they hoped her grant did not include the need for access to the river because she would have none.

Stakeholders opposed to the grant offered to meet further to try to resolve their issues with the grant proposal. The commissioner refused the offer. The logical person to have brokered a meeting, because she represents much of the river area, was Supervisor Diedre Kelsey. During an email exchange about the grant, Kelsey, who appointed Lashbrook to the planning commission and to the RCD board, offered this note by way of "leadership:"

5/23/07 4:17 PM
Diedre Kelsey here. I have just today been made aware of the problems with the grant application not being reviewed by the Merced River Stakeholder group. As the Board of Supervisor member who represents the Merced River within Merced County, and who helped launch the Stakeholder process years ago, I am concerned about these problems. I have asked to speak with Gwen Huff and expect she will call me soon. (Huff receives an RCD grant to facilitate Merced River Stakeholders’ meetings and would also have directly benefited from the grant.) I must correct Ms. Miller's assertion that I am "conflicted' on river issues or have no political voice".
This untrue statement, which apparently has been repeated at previous MRS meeting, is misleading and again, is untrue. The future of the river as a resource for our county is what is important. I have helped on many watershed and river related or fishery related issues in the past and I am ready to help with this problem or any other that affects my district and the County of Merced.
Diedre

(Although Kelsey rarely attends stakeholders’ meetings, “apparently” nothing said at them goes unreported to her, by Lashbrook and other political minions.)

Kelsey's long habit of recusing herself on river issues is a matter of public record. She is a sponsor of this grant proposal, she recused herself here, too. Did her private interests stand to benefit from the grant? So, in lieu of political leadership, the public got one more attack on a veteran Merced eco-justice advocate for upholding the rules of public process developed by the river stakeholders against depredations by politicians, now including Lashbrook. However, Lashbrook is simultaneously a board member of the EMRCD, which sponsored the grant, and a paid staff member of the Merced River Alliance, a grant recipient.

5-30-07
Merced Sun-Star
Kelsey gets OK to vote on local mining issues...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13635170p-14230774c.html

Supervisor had previously recused herself from voting on the topic because her family is active in the mining business. But under a recently-issued opinion from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Kelsey can participate in mining votes as long as they don't involve her own property, property within 500 feet of it, or decisions that have a "reasonably foreseeable" financial consequence for Kelsey. Commission spokesman Roman Porter said the FPPC's opinion is only informal advice based on general information that Kelsey provided about her family's business interests. Kelsey said she responded to a request for information from the grand jury several months ago...hired an attorney at her own expense after she learned of the investigation. Kelsey was also investigated by the grand jury in 2002 for a conflict of interest related to her family's mining company. She said she's excused herself from a participating in some mining decisions in the past, including one vote on a mining operation near her family's Snelling company. On most mining decisions, Kelsey has participated, she said. Kelsey also excused herself from a number of votes related to UC Merced's development, after a university subcontractor purchased gravel from her family's company several years ago. She said she regrets not participating in discussions over the December mining vote...board approved a general plan amendment and zoning change to allow Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc. to expand its operations.

I am sad that people that seem to have similar visions can't find ways to enhance each others' work, Lashbrook concludes, sounding more and more like the perpetually “troubled” Congressman Cardoza.

Local eco-justice veterans are skeptical about the similarity of their vision and the commissioner's. This skepticism has been aroused by rude and contemptuous behavior toward them from the commissioner on a numerous occasions.

Members of CVSEN doubt that anyone who understands Matthew Fox could continue to berate them publicly and declare “war.” Probably, Lashbrook sent the Fox essay to wrap herself in a Buddhist robe and flourish a cross to ward off what she considers the evil spirit of eco-justice that might damage her political career and another chance for financial gain.

Rev. Dr. Ryland was consulted for his interpretation of Lashbrook’s letter and how it related to Fox’s essay.

Rev. Dr. Ryland replied:

The item and the letter from Living Farms is the oldest yet new use of a spin attempt to sound like the same , but the actions of the person do not support the work of Matthew Fox. The use of spiritual and negative energy etc. makes her sound like she is using your words to appear a true environmentalist . Coming from commissioner, viewed together with her actions, this is the latest in using words without any definition. Words like democracy and freedom by the present administration are other good examples.
I am reading the article by Fox and we can talk later.
Bob

We did talk later. Rev. Dr. Ryland asked,

"What in the world is this commissioner doing by trying to outdo the eco-justice movement in the county. There are no terms that are sacred anymore. Anyone who objects to a decision by the board or the council is labeled an ‘environmental terrorist.’ So people don't know who's right. This is just a way to neutralize the fine work eco-justice work that has been done in Merced County for 30 years. This kind of spin has never been as blatant as it is right now. It's like ‘justice’ according to Bush, which means ‘just us.’”

Commissioner Lashbrook, with the encouragement of Supervisor Kelsey and others, is working ceaselessly, in public and private, to deny the efforts and successes of those who have been in the eco-justice movement in the county for decades, establish herself as a spokeswoman for environmentalists in the San Joaquin Valley, without a clue to the work. She is positioning herself as an authority, establishing her word as authoritative within the numerous public groups where she serves as officer or paid staff. These groups imagine they'll get special treatment now that Lashbrook has become a planning commissioner. Outside the county, she is riding on an eco-justice history she had nothing to do with.

Judging from her behavior in her declared war against CVSEN, it seems that Commissioner Lashbrook is being promoted by elected officials and the finance, insurance and real estate special interests behind them, certainly including UC Merced and the UC/Great Valley Center, as a substitute for the steady, well-documented, effective legal work and public participation of local advocates for many years.

Eco-justice veterans in Merced are aware that there are lobbyists and propagandists in the pay of public and private special interests intent on turning the San Joaquin Valley into the new San Fernando Valley. If local elected officials appear frequently incapable of strategy, these hirelings – of city halls, county seats, the state Capitol, Washington and of financial capitals around the world – are capable of strategy and tactics and do wish to deny the distinguished history of eco-justice activism in Merced and surrounding Valley counties carried out by the Central Valley Safe Environment Network and its collaborating groups.


7-10-07
Merced Sun-Star
Think California is crowded now? Just wait until 2050...Judy Lin, McClatchy Newspapers
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13773377p-14354506c.html

By the year 2050, California's largely white baby boomers will have passed on, giving way to younger, second or third-generation Latino families. Latinos are forecast to make up 52 percent of the state's population by midcentury, compared to 26 percent white, 13 percent Asian, 5 percent black, 2 percent multiracial and 1 percent American Indian or Pacific islander. The projections also showed California will add more than 25 million people by 2050, bringing the state population to just under 60 million. According to state statistics, the Golden State is projected to hit the 40 million mark in 2012 and 50 million by 2032. The California State Department of Finance projects the Merced County's population at 266,700 in 2010, 292,400 in 2015 and 322,700 in 2020. The Merced County Association of Governments projects the county's population in 2030, the furthest out it has made such a projection, at 417,200.

The commissioner seems to be involved with several groups, many of whose members are attending staff-directed General Plan Update focus groups from which veteran participants have been barred. Lashbrook and her associates establish their legitimacy with local politicians by declaring their lack of affiliation with the well- established, well-recognized and highly effective eco-justice movement in Merced County.

Lashbrook is just the latest version of the California political line wherever land-use policy is found: Every interest is a special interest; the public interest is not the common good or the public trust, but the special interest of any land-use authority. Participants in public processes are lectured to by politicians being told to be as nice as developers and their lobbyists. Politicians also instruct members of the public to come up with solutions to environmentally destructive development they had no part in planning and that land-use authorities are approving.

Eco-justice work is the cultural solution to environmental problems. It is not self-promoting propaganda that twists a vocabulary created by years of environmental struggle into self-dealing verbiage in search of public grant funds and political advancement.

There is a crisis of legitimacy today in government among elected and appointed officials from Merced County to Washington – from county planning commissioners to congressional representatives. They are in the pockets of finance, insurance and real estate special interests from phony environmentalists on the planning commissioners to “Blue Dog” Democrats in Congress. The eco-justice movement in Merced County has no crisis of legitimacy. It has a long, distinguished record of accomplishment defending environmental, economic and social justice.

Spouting the latest environmental buzzwords is not the same thing as a record of 30 years of hard eco-justice work. In fact, apropos of the present letter, people who spout the latest eco-buzz will not in any way be able to understand the words of Matthew Fox because they have had no experience with the struggle of faith, integrity and sacrifice from which Fox writes. But, there is a group of people in Merced who have long practiced what Fox preaches “within the system.” Lashbrook’s inability to find them suggests a condition of blindness brought on by her political connivance with the corruption of local government and its horrific financial consequences.

Speaking from within the Buddhist tradition, which the commissioner is using as her whip on the backs of eco-justice advocates this week, eco-justice workers agree with the 12th century Soto Zen priest, Dogen, who said that – from mistake to mistake, one continuous mistake is also a path. Enlightenment by this path comes from the consequences of the mistakes, or the sound of one hand slapping, over and over again.

Rev. Dr. Ryland suggested that Lashbrook and her followers, simultaneously at war with eco-justice while writing grant proposals in its name, simply couldn’t produce a proposal honest enough to pass the smell test. He reflects on years of grant reading:

Just some things to think about when reading any request for money.

1. Follow the money and to whom does the money go to carry out the proposal.
2. Who are the primary actors and what is their track record in relationship to the purpose of the goals in the mission statement? What is their history before this new proposal was written?
3. What positions are mentioned in the budget and what are the qualifications listed?
4. Who is pushing this proposal the most??
5. Would you do this work if not for these public funds?
Words used today do not have the same meaning to everyone, even when English is used. Words like “rural,” “environment,” “development,” and “concern for the river” need to be defined in the acts of those using the terms.
Just listen to the words used by elected officials and those running for office.
As we have conversations with others we realize they live in very different realities and terms we use and understand are twisted and come back to bite us.
I am sure this is old stuff to you: the people may change and the words may be the same, but the motive and history of those involved is always there. If they look like skunks and smell like skunks, they usually are skunks. (a Ryland truism)
Rev. Dr. Bob Ryland

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
MISSION STATEMENT

Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.

Sincerely,

Central Valley Safe Environment Network
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
Stanislaus Natural Heritage Project
---------------------
Subject: Minutes of June 14, 2007 East Merced Resource Conservation District Meeting by Telephone

Gwen Huff said letters were written to legislators by Pat Ferrigno. The Farm Bureau and Diedre Kelsey were OK with the grant. Huff asked that an emergency item (4a) be placed on the agenda because Ferrigno had written to the legislators, calling for a response from the EMRCD to Ferrigno’s letter.

They took a roll call vote.

On the call at this time: Gwen Huff, Cathy Weber, Karen Barstow, Glenn Anderson, Cindy Lashbrook Karen Whipp, Tony Azevedo, and Lydia Miller. Miller was never asked if a public member was on the phone.

Attempts were made by email and fax to get Bernie Wade on the call. Wade had called the wrong number and was put on indefinite hold. He joined the meeting late.

The purpose of the special meeting was a letter of support for the 4-H Wells Project.

Lashbrook, having just checked her email, brought up the need for EMRCD to sign on to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition letter to the Governor about the Williamson Act. Sign on deadline was the next day. Weber said the board would like to see the letter.

Wade finally got on the call, requiring a briefing of all that had already happened.

After Huff told Wade about the need for a letter to the legislators to reply to Ferrigno’s letter, Wade asked, “When is this going to end?”

Lashbrook replied: “We’re at war.”

There was a discussion about the ingratitude of the Merced River Stakeholders. Wade recommended that the stakeholders should be cut out.

The board authorized the letter on the 4-H Wells Project, but didn’t authorize either a letter to legislators in reply to Ferrigno’s letter or the letter to the governor on the Williamson Act. Wade and Weber expressed irritation with being presented with 11th-hour decisions (referring to the Williamson Act letter).

Lashbrook brought up the idea of a means to streamline the authority process.

The board decided on an agenda item to ask the stakeholders how they wished to be involved with the EMRCD in the future.

Azevedo said he would be out of town for the board meeting on June 20. It was to be held at Golden Bi-Products Tire Recycling Co.. Barstow said the company had teleconferencing capability.

Submitted July 17, 2007
By Lydia Miller, president
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

------------------------

----- Original Message -----
From: livingfarms@clearwire.net
To: Raptorctr@bigvalley.net
Sent: Monday, July 02, 2007 10:50 AM
Subject: [POSSIBLE SPAM] Right Livelihood

This article - Right Livelihood - has been sent to you by livingfarms@clearwire.net.
Dear Lydia, In doing a little soul-searching on why this type of energy is coming my way, I ran across this article. The spiritual part makes me a little uncomfortable, which probably means it is time to approach it. I do know that you know, or could if you wanted, that I have been working on cultural solutions for environmental problems for decades, and always vowed that when my kids didn't need much of my time, anymore, that I would do more community work. Do you b elieve that it is unethical to have careers in the fields that we have a passion in? Is there anyone trying to work within the system that you admire that I could learn from?I also know that I tend to criticize others for those traits that I see, but don't like, in myself (Human Nature...Ugh!!?!).I am sad that people that seem to have similar visions can't find ways to enhance each others' work.Later, Cindy
--------------------

Spring 2001 Issue: Working for Life
Right Livelihood
by Matthew Fox

Any discussion of right livelihood has to address the following question: Is the work we
are doing good for the Earth and its inhabitants now and for seven generations into the
future?

Much of our work today would flunk that test. The despoiling of the Earth's health by laying waste to forests, soil, waters, other species, ozone, diversity of plants - all this spells disaster for our species and most of the others with whom we share this amazing home we call Earth. Likewise, the despoiling of souls that goes on in many of our work places does not bode well for a sustainable future. Furthermore, the gap between the haves and have-nots has never been greater, and unemployment is a species-wide disgrace at a time when so much good work needs doing.

What is our work doing to the world? What is it doing to our souls? How can we make things better?

To make work into right livelihood, we must pay attention to just who we are as a species - our strengths and our weaknesses - for it all displays itself in our work. Consider, for example, that today's science is teaching us that each human has been given three brains: a reptilian brain, a mammalian brain, and an intellectual/creative brain.

The reptilian brain, what I call our crocodile brain, is by far the oldest. Crocodiles are win/lose creatures. The crocodile brain gives us our action/response quickness and operates our sexuality and our respiratory system as well. The worst expression of crocodile brain on the planet today has to be the global corporate consciousness that is willing to swallow whole the future of planet and citizens alike in a win/lose scenario
of corporate profit taking. This happens because our ancient crocodile brain is so closely linked to our most recent and most powerful intellectual/creative brain. This brain, so new on the planet, distinguishes us from other creatures. It is the reason our mothers suffered so in bringing us into the world: our brain is too big for the birth canal. This brain can choose to serve the heart or it can choose to serve greed and rapaciousness. With this brain we can create symphonies or we can create gas ovens to make our evil impulses more efficient.

What to do? It is time to tame the crocodile brain. Curiously, in the West, we have myths of killing the crocodile, such as St. George or St. Martin de Tours slaying the dragon. In the East there is a tradition of honoring the dragon, dancing with it, and giving it its due. Dancing with the dragon means befriending the reptilian brain, learning to pet it. This is done by ritual and also by meditation practices. Meditation teaches us to be at home with solitude, and solitude is a reptilian thing - reptiles like being alone, they do not bond. Every human has to learn to be at home with solitude, and this is learned by meditation practices.

The gift of compassion

Our second task is to couple the intellectual/creative brain more with the mammal brain than the reptile brain. Why the mammal brain? This brain is our brain for bonding. Mammals bond; reptiles do not. Mammals have breasts and uteruses; interestingly, the Hebrew word for compassion comes from the word for womb. Mammals introduced compassion to the planet. But of a limited kind. Dian Fossey, who lived among gorillas, never observed gorillas showing compassion to any non-gorilla. The same holds for Jane Goodall, who lived among chimpanzees. She found that chimpanzee compassion was limited to the chimpanzee nation alone.

We humans, who are part chimpanzee and mammal, are here to broaden the practice of compassion on this planet. Does this not explain why so many of our spiritual leaders - from Isaiah to Jesus, from Buddha to Lao Tzu, from Gandhi to Black Elk, from Chief Seattle to Martin Luther King, from Dorothy Day to Mother Theresa - were instructing us in one thing: How to be compassionate?

To be compassionate is to live out the truth of our interdependence. Compassion is not about feeling sorry for another. It is about so identifying with others that their joy is my joy and their pain is my pain, and consequently we do something about both. Compassion therefore leads to celebration on the one hand and to relieving pain and suffering on the other. "Compassion means justice," Meister Eckhart said six centuries ago, and he was right.

There will be no compassion if we cannot tame the reptilian brain. There will only be more win/lose energy, more greed and violence. Gandhi and King are examples of people who, in their nonviolent strategy, committed themselves to recycling the hatred of reptilian brain into love and awareness.

(The political monkey business that went on recently in Florida was less monkey than it was crocodile energy. The high voltage of win/lose energy being released there in the shadow of the Everglades with its morphic resonance of reptilian energy, seemed a very logical place for a political crocodile game to play itself out. And crocodiles they were, all over CNN and network TV.)

How do humans tame their crocodile brains? Meditation is probably the most effective way.

Two stories have come my way recently, both having to do with the workplace. Prison is the place where we generally dump the "losers" in the high-stakes game of win/lose capitalism; the prison-industrial complex is growing like no other industry these days. Two years ago, I learned about something remarkable happening at the biggest youth prison in America, one located outside of Los Angeles. The place had been a hell hole for years, with 600 prisoners in their late teens driven by gang violence within the prison and without. In desperation, I am told, the warden invited three Buddhist monks to teach the prisoners to meditate. At the time, 99 percent of the prisoners were Baptist or Roman Catholic (meaning probably Black or Hispanic) and they didn't know what a Buddhist monk was or what meditation meant. Gradually, however, they settled down to the experience and the energy of the entire place changed from being violent, us-versus-them, and win/lose to being a place of human respect. What did this change in a workplace cost?

Probably three bowls of rice daily for the Buddhist monks teaching meditation.

Meditation calms the reptilian brain, turning the crocodile into a kind of pet within us.

Don't underestimate the power of meditation.

I know a professor of engineering at a major US university who was despairing of academia's pathologies until he entered our university and got in touch with his own "right brain" through exposure to spiritual traditions and practices. Now he is organizing a conference for engineers in which they can rediscover their connection to mysticism, awe, and aesthetics. He has also chosen to go to tribes in the Amazon to help
them construct wells powered by solar energy.

So we can change even our most violent work places, called prisons, into humane places of existence through a practice called meditation. This practice calms the killer instincts in us and allows our more compassionate, communitarian, and bonding selves to emerge.

What if this kind of change in the work world were to spread to businesses, academia, politics, economic institutions, utilities, religions - in short to wherever humans work?

Such training ought to begin in grade schools. Education ought to acknowledge that we have three brains, not just an intellectual one. It ought to make room for creativity, and the essence of education ought to be the proper disciplining and releasing of our creative brains. Compassion begins in the heart with bonding (the mammal brain), but compassion extends to all beings with the help of the uniquely human
intellectual/creative brain.

Instead, in all the political posturing I have listened to about education, there seems to be one criteria: Who can promise the most exams for our kids. Exams do not train the mind for creativity. Education will not be renewed by more exams but by more focus on that which is uniquely human - our capacity for creativity. The crocodile brain, among other factors, is holding us back from our creativity. We must tame it to get to both compassion and creativity.

Education for life
We have to speak about education when we speak about right livelihood because educated people are destroying the Earth. Thomas Berry says most of the destruction of the planet is being accomplished by people with PhDs. Mahatma Gandhi, when his dream of freedom for his country was achieved, responded to the question, "What do you fear most?" with this answer: "The cold hearts of the educated citizens."

Has contemporary, post-modern academia made any strides in educating the cold heart and warming and melting it since Gandhi spoke these words over 50 years ago? I am afraid not.

The crocodile brain is alive and well in most of academia - uncriticized and unchecked.

The education industry seems incapable of critiquing itself. It needs alternative models.

This is why we started a new university in downtown Oakland five years ago, one that is committed to bringing "universe" back to university (i.e., cosmology as the center of the university) and bringing creativity alive in the students. Our doctor of ministry program focuses on bringing spirituality to the workplace. The 370 students who have joined the program in less than three years all feel a common lack in their previous training.

Whether they are engineers, business people, scientists, mental health workers, therapists, clergy, or artists, all are seeking spiritual practice and training. The most radical and indispensable way to achieve right livelihood is to change the way we train people for work. In our culture we call that education.

It is not enough to find peace. One must also make peace, and this cannot be done without justice. Spiritual practice and ethics must go together. The purpose of meditation is not to make the slavemaster more efficient, but to set in motion strategies and alliances of equality.

Right livelihood came home to me in Salina, Kansas, this past year, where I was visiting the Land Institute directed by farmer Wes Jackson. What I love so much about Wes Jackson is that behind that Methodist farmer's smile and sweet drawl there lies a wily, radical, and committed prophet of a farmer. He believes that we have been doing farming wrong for 10,000 years. Instead of turning the soil over every year and thereby inviting erosion and loss of soil, he is demonstrating that we could be farming by imitating the prairie, which creates soil rather than destroying it.

Wes' critique of his own livelihood gives me - and I hope the rest of us - permission to critique ours in an equally radical manner. I ask: Have we been doing education wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing religion wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing business wrong for 10,000 years? How about journalism and the media? In short, have we been doing work wrong for a long, long time?

Isn't it time to wake up? Time is running out. Our species will not survive if we do not commit to sustainability in its many forms - not only solar-driven energy sources but also solar-driven (as distinct from reptilian-driven) consciousness. We need to learn to breathe in and out the gift of healthy sunlight (which is literally the air we breathe) and not take it for granted. We need to ground ourselves, connecting to the Earth from which we come and to which we shall all return.

The despoiling of the Earth is not only ecocide; it is also suicide. The distractions we are fed daily by advertisers do not substitute for laying out an agenda of needed work as distinct from work that feeds greed and unsustainable consumerism. As Gandhi warned us, "there is enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed." Right livelihood begins with need. It ends with celebration.
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Matthew Fox is founder and president of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California, co-chair of the Naropa University master's program in creation spirituality, and author of several books, including The Reinvention of Work.

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Financial hemorrhaging continues

Submitted: Jul 08, 2007
“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937 ... Paul Krugman, New York Times, July 9, 2007

The public of the north San Joaquin Valley remembers being told by its elected officials, planning staff with advanced degrees in urban planning, lending institutions, insurance companies and realtors (even those not elected to local land-use authorities), that our growth boom was all planned, it would pay for itself, and prosperity was right around the corner.

Today, the region is an open financial wound of unknown consequences. What does this really say about the quality of our business and political leadership? Land-use policy based on unprincipled greed is the only possible policy "in the real world"?

Badlands editorial staff
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7-8-07
Modesto Bee
Bidders beware...J.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13768548p-14349914c.html

Another home foreclosure auction is headed to Modesto, and it's got potential bidders hankering for a bargain. Bidding rules will be different for the next big auction, scheduled by Hudson & Marshall for July 19 at Modesto Centre Plaza. And more auctions are expected to be held later this summer and fall. That's because lending institutions have repossessed thousands of Northern San Joaquin Valley homes, and they're eager to sell them any way they can.\

7-7-07
Sellers asking too much...Robert Bauer...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13765764p-14347322c.html

"Homes out of Reach"...I would have thought that the article that followed would interview people priced out of the Merced-Atwater housing market, with a few decent data points to relate National City's "overpriced index" to local incomes and housing affordability...the sum of the presentation consisted of two parts: a local couple lamenting their inability to sell their home at a price above the area average...while at the same time complaining that the cost of living in Merced is "outrageous," and a local Realtor repeating the line, "It's a great time to buy,"... while at the same time complaining that the cost of living in Merced is "outrageous," and a local Realtor repeating the line, "It's a great time to buy,"while at the same time complaining that the cost of living in Merced is "outrageous," and a local Realtor repeating the line, "It's a great time to buy,"... While reporter Leslie Albrecht has written a number of times on the impact of excessive home prices, the real stories behind the headlines are only now becoming evident — of the thousands of local residents priced out of a home of their own, of recent homebuyers stuck with overpriced homes and abusive mortgage loans in a falling market, and the lender-mortgage broker-Realtor complex that has shamelessly promoted ever-higher housing prices for their own profit.

Modesto Bee
Realty market hasn't hit bottom yet, experts say...Ben van der Meer
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13765796p-14347331c.html

The Northern San Joaquin Valley's real estate market could turn around early next year, but probably not before sales numbers fall further. Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of Realtors, made that prediction at Friday's gathering of the Central Valley Association of Realtors at the River Mill. Median home prices statewide have continued to edge up...sales of homes at the lower end of the market have slowed dramatically...because first-time home buyers are having a tougher time getting financing. That has created an oversupply and further depressed prices...first-time buyers have difficulty getting loans because of the fallout in subprime loans. Appleton-Young said that in the long term, the valley and the state's real estate could rebound because jobs and population are rising. She specifically noted that Merced County is outpacing state job growth while San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties are adding nonfarm jobs at a more modest rate. Mike Kelly, a Realtor with ReMax Executive in Modesto..."The one thing sellers are very quick to do during a boom is adjust upward,"..."They're not so quick to do that when prices are falling."

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New Merced County Planning Commissioner: fast and loose with public processes, public funds

Submitted: Jun 29, 2007

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition recently sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging him to terminate his opposition to the Williamson Act. The text of the letter appears below. http://www.calcattlemen.org/index.htm (click on the California Rangeland Resolution) will give the text of the historical coalition resolution developed by cattlemen, government agencies and environmental groups for the conservation of rangeland/seasonal pasturelands, vernal pools, the 15 endangered species associated with them, which also protects Central Valley watersheds. The link will also supply readers with a list of the Coalition's founders and members.

Two Coalition founders from Merced County, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and the San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, signed the Rangeland Coalition letter urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to terminate the Williamson Act, one of the most valuable land-use tools in California for the preservation of rangeland on the borders of the Central Valley, including a great many acres in Merced County.

Reading the final text of the letter to the governor, the Raptor Center and the
Conservancy were perplexed to find the name of recently appointed Merced County Planning Commissioner Cynthia Lashbrook, signing on behalf of
the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth (MARG).

Among the numerous environmental organizations that Lashbrook belongs to, MARG is an inappropriate vehicle. It appeared Lashbrook simply grabbed the most convenient organization at her disposal at the time to get her name on the letter signed by a number of prestigious people and organizations with a proven record of commitment to the defense of rangeland. A far more appropriate group would have been the East Merced Resource Conservation District. However, Lashbrook was unable to convince the district board to blindly sign the letter during a teleconference special meeting on June 14.

As founders of the Coalition, the Raptor Center and the Conservancy said that it is a movement and far more than one letter to one governor. In the list of 24 organizations and/or businesses Commissioner Lashbrook is involved with as staff, grant-writer, director, owner or member, we see no real connection to the goals of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition. The two local Coalition founders said their impression that Lashbrook was indulging in mere self-promotion was deepened by rumors that the commissioner’s opinion is that rangeland should be the site of urban sprawl in preference to Valley farmland. The Coalition founders doubt MARG ever heard of the work and resolution of the Coalition before Lashbrook presented its leadership with a last-minute opportunity to get its name in front of the governor’s staff.

Valley environmental activists are quite familiar with this kind of hustle. We remember a once-prominent environmental attorney whose desks and wallets were stuffed with business cards announcing himself as counsel to organizations that had no clue that he was their counsel. Another shining example was a prominent local rancher/developer and former secretary of state Department of Food and Agriculture who was the president of every USDA-spawned organization in the north San Joaquin Valley and beyond, in a career of prominence in paper groups that started before puberty. A rich man, he bought his state office fair and square from Gov. Gray Davis, along with more than 500 acres, annexed to the City of Merced, in the path of growth to UC Merced.

When Lashbrook, an associate director of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, presented this letter to the district board at its Special Meeting on June 14, the board wisely deferred this matter, appearing not to have read the letter. Nor was it on the meeting agenda.

When she signed this letter on behalf of MARG, which has about as much knowledge of the Coalition as it does about Uruguayan foreign policy, they compromised the integrity of founders and members of the Coalition and weakened the force of the letter. If Lashbrook and MARG has dared to write their own letter, this unpleasantness would have been avoided. We find no evidence on the MARG website, apparently taken over entirely by the Wal-Mart Action Team, that they did write their own letter.

Commissioner Lashbrook habitually promotes herself on other peoples’ work and integrity without consultation but for compensation.

She and the East Merced Resource Conservation District staff and directors castigated the Merced River Stakeholders group a month earlier for not enthusiastically endorsing a half-million-dollar grant proposal sponsored by the district, which claimed stakeholders’ support, without distributing a copy of the final proposal before submitting it to the state Department of Water Resources. Lashbrook, in one or more of her staff capacities, will financially benefit if the DWR approves the grant. There were only two stakeholders who even read the draft proposal.

Lashbrook is playing fast and loose with public processes and public funds. But, in Merced County, this is as good as it gets for appointees and potential appointees to committees, focus groups, boards and commissions, among them the East Merced Resource Conservation District.

If members of the Merced County public do not accept the policy of uncontrolled growth and finance, insurance and real estate propaganda, they can expect to be insulted, intimidated and red-baited by elected and appointed officials and staff.

Badlands editorial board
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ATTACHMENTS:

CALIFORNIA RANGELAND CONSERVATION COALITION: Ranchers, Conservationists and Government Working Together for the Benefit of All

June 19, 2007
The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor
State of California
State Capitol, First Floor
Sacramento, CA 95812

RE: May Revise – Williamson Act

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

Partners to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are alarmed by the May revise to your fiscal year 07-08 budget which proposes the elimination of subvention funding to California counties for the Williamson Act.

This proposed elimination is contrary to the underlying goals of our partnership, to protect California’s rangeland landscape.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an unprecedented group of California ranchers, environmentalists and agencies. Together, we want to preserve private working landscapes, support the long-term viability of the ranching industry, and protect and enhance California rangeland for protected and common species.

We recognize the Williamson Act is intrinsically linked to our Coalition’s ability to fulfill the guiding principles outlined within the enclosed California Rangeland Resolution, the foundation of the Rangeland Coalition.

Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are strong supporters of the Williamson Act and we truly recognize the role it plays in preserving rangeland. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fire and Resource Assessment Program California is losing tens of thousands of acres of rangeland annually. This significant conversion of rangeland contributes to the loss of open space, groundwater recharge, homes of common and threatened species, and family ranchers.

Research on these rangelands finds that nearly all of the species of grassland birds, most native plants and the threatened vernal pool ecosystem actually benefit from responsible grazing practices. The Williamson Act plays an important role in preserving California’s rangelands which are a critical foundation of the economic and social fabric of California’s ranching industry and rural communities, and will only continue to provide habitat for plants, fish and wildlife if the Williamson Act remains a viable tool for landowners.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition strongly supports subvention funding to California’s counties for the Williamson Act. Should you have any questions regarding our support please contact Tracy Schohr, Director of Rangeland Conservation, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition at (916) 444-0845 or
tschohr@calcattlemen.org.

Sincerely,

Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition
California Rangeland Conservation Coalition

May Revise – Williamson Act

Bruce Hafenfeld
President
California Cattlemen’s Association

Kim Delfino
California Program Director
Defenders of Wildlife

Mark Kramer
Director, Federal Government Relations
California Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

Doug Mosebar
President
California Farm Bureau Federation

Ralph Grossi
President
American Farmland Trust

Mark Bergstrom
President
American Land Conservancy

Aimee Rutledge
Executive Director
Sacramento Valley Conservancy

Nita Vail
Executive Director
California Rangeland Trust

Robert J. Stack, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Jumping Frog Research Institute

Pia Sevelius
District Manager
Butte County Resource Conservation District

Cynthia Lashbrook
Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth

William M. Hatch
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

Doug Johnson
Executive Director
California Invasive Plant Council

Lesa Osterholm
Bear River Watershed - Coordinator
Nevada County Resource Conservation District - Manager

Lydia M. Miller
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

Royce Larsen
President
California-Pacific Section of the Society for Range Management

Karen Sweet
Executive Officer
Alameda County Resource Conservation District

John Hopkins
President
Institute for Ecological Health

Lorri Pride
President
Glenn County Resource Conservation District

Vance Russell
Director of Landowner Stewardship Program
Audubon California

Charles (Toby) Horst
Director/Treasurer
Sierra Resource Conservation District

Carol W. Witham
California Native Plant Society

Lesa Eidman
Executive Director
California Wool Growers Association

Tacy Currey
Executive Director
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts

Patti Turner
District Manager
Colusa County Resource Conservation District

Janet Cobb
Executive Officer
California Wildlife Foundation
California Oak Foundation

Francis I. Hodgkins
Board of Trustees Chair
Sacramento River Watershed Program

Jamison Watts
Executive Director
Northern California Regional Land Trust

Judy Ahmann
President
California CattleWomen’s Association

Kirk Ford
Chair, Board of Directors
Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District

Mary Mitchell
District Manager
Western Shasta RCD

Chuck Peck
Executive Director
Sierra Foothill Conservancy
Enclosure: California Rangeland Resolution
--------------

6-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Ever thought of serving on one of the city's commissions? Now's your chance to volunteer...Leslie Albrecht...6-27-07
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13731287p-14316332c.html

The city is looking to fill vacancies on seven commissions that advise the City Council on everything from parks to the airport to bringing new business to Merced. Serving on a commission gives citizens an up-close look at how local government works, said city spokesman Mike Conway, but it also helps residents play a direct role in shaping their community. "(Commissioners) get to be part of the solution and they get the satisfaction of knowing that they're helping to build a better Merced," said Conway. To serve on most commissions, you must be at least 18 years old and a registered voter. Here's a quick look at commissions currently looking for warm bodies...

6-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Loose Lips: Last Updated: June 29, 2007, 03:17:33 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13739493p-14323639c.html

Red scare at the county building?...The Cold War is over... But this week that old familiar chill was back in the air — at the Merced County Administration Building, of all places. Maureen McCorry of Valley Land Alliance urged the county to look at environmental impacts before letting farmers subdivide their property. Supervisor Mike Nelson greeted McCorry's comment with this zinger: "It's nice to see that socialists are alive and well here." ...communist hordes...could some of them be living here in Merced? Nelson isn't worried about Reds in our midst, he told Lips, but he was serious when he made that remark. "I feel that (McCorry's) comment strikes at the heart of private property rights and is by its very nature socialist,"..."What it ends up being is people who think they can tell other people how to live their lives." That rubs Nelson the wrong way, to say the least. The right to private property, he told Lips, was first and foremost in our forefathers' minds when they founded these United States. Are those rights under attack in Merced County? "No, I'm not worried about the Communist Party taking over Merced County," said Nelson. "But I am concerned about those kind of attitudes and that those seem to be the people that we hear from the most." For McCorry's part, she would like to state for the record that she is not a card-carrying socialist. "I believe I'm functioning in a capitalist society that promotes freedom of speech,"..."We're just saying that we need to have parcels large enough to grow food — if it's socialist to say we have a societal interest in growing food, then I guess we're socialists."

6-27-07
Merced Sun-Star
Real estate broker newest planner...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13731309p-14316362c.html

Carole McCoy...Merced's newest Planning Commissioner, she'll sit on the board that advises the City Council on land use and development decisions.
Q: What's your opinion on the development boom Merced has seen in recent years?
A: I think it moved a little bit too fast without a lot of thought to the community this development was serving. They built a lot of new homes specifically for higher-end families. Merced is not a higher-end family city at this time. We're looking for that to come and the university (will contribute to) that.
But they built too many high-end homes with not enough families to support it who were living here and staying here. We had a lot of investors buy and take the money out of our area so it didn't do anything to help our community grow in a progressive manner.
So we need to give more thought to bringing businesses in to help the people that are living here.
Q: You'll be voting on the Wal-Mart distribution center, a controversial project that's drawn ire from local activists. How do you plan to handle that decision?
A: I plan to listen to all of the opinions given. Right now I'm definitely leaning toward the Wal-Mart distribution center because we've heard these same (arguments) before against the university and many other things that have come into our community and have been very successful. But I will definitely keep an open mind.
Q: With five out of the seven City Council members directly involved in the real estate industry, some people feel real estate interests have too much influence in city governance. What do you think?
A: Absolutely not. (Realtors) listen to everyone, that's what our life is all about...

6-27-07
Badlands Journal
Red Menace over Merced...Badlands editorial staff
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/

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 was arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella. 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 benefiting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.

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Red Menace over Merced

Submitted: Jun 26, 2007

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 I thought I 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

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We sicken for the benefit of greedjerks

Submitted: Jun 24, 2007
vanitas vanitatum dixt Ecclesiates, vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas ... omnia tempus habent et suis spatiis transeunt universa sub caelo ... tempus destruendi et tempus aedificandi...

-- Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3.

The chamber needs to move forward and advocate for business, including the planned Wal-Mart distribution center. Good-paying jobs are needed in Merced, with people here making money to fill all the vacant homes, Wells said. -- Merced Sun-Star, June 19, 2007

What a joke. And the apple-pie tossers never seen no man bleeding on the floor of a Delano bar for his pro-labor sympathies. They say the people will rise but they don't make the bet with their bodies or their checkbooks. So, they don't count. They are merely decoration.

The Valley Directorate, the finance, insurance and real estate special interests that rule us -- landowners up close and personal, financial institutions far, far away -- our various tribunals and courts, cannot govern justly for man nor beast. They refuse to deal with an asthma epidemic related to air quality, terrorizing members of the public who raise the issue with the appelation, "asthma terrorists." Their courts summon more panels of scientists on the Delta Smelt problem, because they aren't all dead yet so there's
still time to study the thing. Meanwhile the pumps continue to send water to Valley cotton growers whose subsidies are assured by Democrats in majority but without program or control except power anxiety, and to Southern California, which keeps on growing and extinguishing fish.

The Republicans gained power in order to destroy government. The people restored Democrat power and the Democrats don't know what to do with it, because of course the last thing they would do is listen to the people's extensive list of grievances. We are sure that Dennis Cardoza is "proud to be a Democrat," because like Cardoza, the Democratic party stands for Zilch. Those few, who happen to be Demcrats, like Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and who happen to have political integrity enough to stand up for the Constitution, do it by themselves, certainly without the backing of numbnut knuckleheads like Cardoza.

Our local land-use authorities cannot be engaged in reasonable discussion and our air board and courts are even less accessible. They have power, you see, and power is very important to them. But, when political power is all one has, the worm appears and begins to feed.

The power structure of the northern San Joaquin Valley is terrified because it is
standing on a financial whirlpool of debt, disappearing into sandy loam at a terrific rate, as a result of decisions made by municipal and county land-use authorities that paid far, far more attention to finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) special interests than it did to the public. The exact simile is what happens to San Joaquin River water when it hits the middle of Fresno County and goes underground. The local land use authorities, which produce a comfortable majority of the members of the air board, were indemnified by developers every step of the way. FIRE is a gracious and omnipotent conglomerate. It made all decisions very easy for them, through the vehicle of legal indemification, by which all legal costs arising from lawsuits opposing local land-use decisions on development projects are paid by the developers.

"No skin off my back," the elected officials said, Back in The Day, before the boom began to bleed. "It's value-free growth."

Tiny people, most no doubt reduced to their stature by Carol Whitesides' Great Valley Center leadership training sessions in smart growth before it was absorbed by UC Merced.

Yet, down where the sun is more heavily filtered, state Sen. Dean Florez lurks, speaking something like a truth: it cannot go on, down here where Hollis Roberts began the California almond deal with an ante of 2,500 acres in the late Sixties. It simply can't go on, despite his own ambitions, he has been saying at considerable political price for several years. It cannot go one. Smog at this level is unsustainable. Period.

"Board members have fallen into the trap of believing in their own self-importance -- that somehow they are the experts when it comes to cleaning the air," he said after the meeting.

Up here, above the metropolis of Fresno where UC San Joaquin Valley belonged, we have Congressman McPendejo, who will not oppose Uc/Bechtel/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's plans to blow up eight times the radioactivity of former years and site a biodanger level-4 biowarfare lab on Site 300 outside Tracy, too. And we have Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Nancy Boy-Merced, a gutless Blue Dog without belief or integrity who doth protest absurdly while voting against termination of the School of the Americas, home of US military torture training.

The deciders are in the limelight, for all to see. And they look very bad, almost as if they believed all the rightwing cant and hypocrisy that got them there. So, all they have is the power of positions granted them by the public they abuse. Minute elements of the public struggle to speak truth to power appear and are flipped off by the great Invisible Middle Finger of the Market. The people of the Valley, never before inhibited by lack of academic education, have been silenced by the professoriate, and UC Merced cut their tongues out for agendas like establishing a biodanger level-4 biowarfare lab near Tracy and blowing up eight times the depleted uranium and other radioactive substances there in the coming year.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. The wise remain silent and flakfools fill the airwaves with propaganda and the politicians betray and betray and betray, hoping thereby to erase any memory of the Valley as a place and a home for the benefit of finance, insurance and real estate special interests -- spasmatic greedjerks without place or home, wandering over others' places and homes.

Bill Hatch
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6-23-07
Fresno Bee
Air board does it again...Editorial
http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/67337.html

The Valley air district's governing board voted 6-3 on Thursday to support the status quo, an action that's becoming a habit. The vote sets the district in opposition to legislation that would change the makeup of the board by adding four members -- two medical experts and two representatives of Valley cities. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board's majority objects to "appointed" members, ignoring the fact that none of them were elected to the air board by voters. They were, in every case, appointed by the city councils and county boards of supervisors on which they serve. And not one of them ran for those offices on a platform centered on air quality issues. The majority also said they don't believe state-appointed medical experts would represent the interests of Valley residents. The board majority also seems to imply that health expertise isn't needed on a board whose sole task is to clean up dirty air that adds more than $3 billion to Valley health costs each year, costs hundreds of lives and many thousands of hours of illness and lost work, and cripples children and adults alike with respiratory ailments. It's clear that the board, whose 11 members include eight county supervisors from up and down the Valley, isn't interested in sharing power with more urban representatives. That leaves a majority of Valley residents without effective representation on a board that has great power to affect the quality of life in the Valley -- and to regulate economic behavior.

6-22-07
Valley regulators issue guidelines to get to clean air faster...Garance Burke, AP
http://www.modbee.com/state_wire/story/13713115p-14301403c.html

Air managers in the San Joaquin Valley issued a list of voluntary guidelines Thursday aimed at cleaning up the valley's smog-laden air before 2023, the year the local air district will need to prove the polluted region meets federal air quality standards...unofficial measures issued Thursday - none of which are immediately enforceable - propose to explore new technology, green building tactics and incentives to replace polluting vehicles to curb ozone pollution before then. Environmental groups were disappointed that the bulk of the guidelines were voluntary, and weren't included in the official plan approved by the state last week. The district also voted Thursday to join Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in filing suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency if the agency did not act on California's long-standing petition to implement greenhouse gas reductions on automobiles. If the EPA doesn't act by Oct. 22 on California's request for the federal waiver needed to enact the state's tailpipe emissions law, the governor has said the state will sue.

Fresno Bee
Air board opposes expansion proposal...Mark Grossi
http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/66439.html

State Sen. Dean Florez clashed Thursday with local air board members who voted to oppose legislation that would add board seats for two medical experts and two representatives of Valley cities...governing members of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District voted 6-3 to oppose expanding the board... majority said they did not think state-appointed medical experts would represent Valley residents. The bill appears to be "a solution where there's no problem to be solved," said board member Michael G. Nelson,
a Merced County supervisor. Florez, D-Shafter, said he believes the board needs more diverse voices to advocate for health issues and understand the complexities of air quality. He told the board that their action was "knee-jerk, premature and immature." "Board members have fallen into the trap of believing in their own self-importance -- that somehow they are the experts when it comes to cleaning the air," he said after the meeting. Arvin City Council Member Raji Brar..."Why wouldn't anyone want a doctor on the board? This is all about health. That's the bottom line."

San Francisco Chronicle
Sacramento...Agency's 3 new rules on warming criticized...Mark Martin
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/22/BAG14QK0PV1.DTL&hw=uc&sn=002&sc=359

State regulators approved the first new rules in California's landmark effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on Thursday, but environmentalists and some Democratic lawmakers complained that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointees were acting too meekly to combat global warming. The California Air Resources Board voted to implement three new rules requiring cleaner gasoline, less methane emissions from landfills, and a ban on the sale of refrigerants for air conditioners in cars...vote was the first action by a board that ultimately will make scores of decisions with profound potential effects on the California economy, as the state works to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020. But the board's moves Thursday were attacked by some, and three members, including the chairman, dissented in a 6-3 vote. "When the Senate confirmed members of the Air Resources Board, we asked for a commitment from them to take bold actions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Senate President Pro Tem Don
Perata, D-Oakland, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, today they flunked the test." Environmental groups and some Democrats argued the board should have done much more. A committee comprised of environmental justice advocates that is advising the air board had drawn up a list of more than 30 items... The board is considering many of those items but decided not to enact them quickly, generating complaints from many who are fighting climate change in California...

6-23-07
Modesto Bee
Judge denies request to reduce pumping in delta fish tussle...Garance Burke, AP
http://www.modbee.com/state_wire/story/13716645p-14302945c.html

A federal judge denied environmental groups' request for a temporary order to cut back water supplies sent to farms and Southern California, but asked all sides to reconvene so experts can present evidence about whether pumps in the delta are killing off a threatened fish species. "There isn't anybody in the courtroom who wouldn't agree that the species is in a critical stage," said U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger. But, the judge said, the evidence does not show that "the last smelt in existence is at the pumps and their destruction will extinguish the species." Wanger denied that motion
Friday, but recommended that the groups arrange a hearing so he could hear more evidence from environmentalists, numerous federal and state agencies, and other stakeholders about the biological risks to the smelt.

3-11-07
Modesto Bee
Car seller battling state over air rules
California wants regs stricter than the feds'
By SUSAN HERENDEEN

A Modesto car dealership is ground zero for a challenge to California's effort to
regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
Central Valley Chrysler Automotive and nine other dealerships want to stop implementation of regulations adopted by the California Air Resources Board more than two years ago.
The rules would raise fuel efficiency standards for new cars sold in the state, pushing them up to 40.6 mpg for cars and light trucks and up to 25.9 mpg for heavy-duty trucks by 2016.
Ten states are waiting to adopt California's regulations, and six more are considering them, but none can push forward unless California gets a waiver from the federal government.
Auto manufacturers say states have no business setting standards stricter than those set by the federal government, and dealerships in the San Joaquin Valley have signed on to help make their point.
"They could have cars that come into California and cars that couldn't come into California," said attorney Timothy Jones of Fresno, who represents the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
Manufacturers can sell any combination of vehicles as long as the average fuel economy of their fleet meets the overall standard.
Under federal rules, they must meet fleetwide standards of 27.5mpg for passenger cars and 23.1 mpg for heavy-duty trucks.
To meet California rules, manufacturers might have to limit the availability of
low-gas-mileage vehicles, build smaller cars or invest in technology that would raise sticker prices.
Valley car dealers would take the biggest hit, Jones said, because heavy-duty trucks used in agriculture-related industries make up a high proportion of their sales.
Sued state in 2001
So the Modesto dealership — which sued the air board in 2001, forcing the state to scrap a requirement that 10 percent of new autos be zero-emission vehicles — is the lead plaintiff..."Brand loyalty to Chrysler and Jeep vehicles will have reduced value if Central Valley Automotive cannot offer updated models of the vehicles that our customers know," Gardner told the court. "Our revenues will suffer as a result."Owners of other dealerships that are party to the lawsuit filed similar statements.
They include Leonard Harrington of Tom Fields Motors Inc. of Turlock, which sells Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep and Suburu; and Brian Wells of Courtesy Automotive Center in Merced, which sells Chevrolet and Cadillac..."They're suing to maintain a dinosaur fleet of huge, gas-guzzling vehicles that are destroying the environment," said David Jones, who drives a Toyota Prius, a gas-electric hybrid that emits fewer greenhouse gases than traditional
automobiles.
Erin Rogers, California outreach coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said manufacturers fought seat belts and air bags too, then complied with new regulations without going bankrupt.
Her group recently unveiled plans for a minivan that could be built with existing technology and cut tailpipe pollutants by 40 percent, more than enough to meet California's proposed standards.
The minivan is not a gas-electric hybrid. It would cost $300 more than its peers, the scientists said, and consumers would save $1,300 in two years, by getting better gas mileage.
"Cars of all sizes and shapes in all classes can be made cleaner," Rogers said.
The state air board's rules come from Assembly Bill 1493, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Davis in 2002.
Lawmakers told the air board to design rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
The air board adopted regulations in September 2004, and the car dealers challenged them in federal court three months later.
The litigation has drawn nationwide attention, with five environmental groups intervening to argue in favor of California's emission standards.
Supporters of stricter standards say lawmakers must deal with auto emissions because they contribute to global warming, which has caused rising sea levels, decreased snowpack and spring runoff as well as more severe weather and wildfires.
In legal papers, the state attorney general's office argues that California can regulate greenhouse gas emissions under a waiver provision in the 1975 federal Clean Air Act.
That law carved out a loophole for California because the state had regulated air pollution long before the federal government got involved.
The loophole also lets other states adopt stricter rules, as long as California does so irst.
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington plan to implement California standards if California gets a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Now it gets more complicated.
The auto industry argues that only the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may set fuel standards.
And the federal EPA in 2003 said it cannot regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles under the Clean Air Act.
So Massachusetts challenged the federal government. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in November and a ruling is expected this summer.
All of this leads back to Modesto, because the lawsuit brought by Central Valley Chrysler Automotive and others is on hold until the high court makes a ruling in the Massachusetts case.
If the EPA wins, California would have little chance of getting a waiver and demanding more fuel-efficient cars, making the car dealers' lawsuit moot.
"If we lose, we need to turn to Congress," Rogers said.
If Massachusetts wins and California gets its waiver, the court battle in Fresno will continue.
"The dealers are very concerned," Timothy Jones said.
--------------

Bingham McCutchen
Supreme Court Decision Forces EPA to Reconsider Greenhouse Gas
RegulationHIGHLIGHTSEnvironmental
April 1, 2007

In a 5-4 decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (No. 05-1120) (Apr. 2, 2007), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected EPA's position that it does not have authority under section 202 of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions from new motor vehicles. EPA can now avoid regulating these emissions only if it determines that GHGs "do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether
they do."

Implications
The Court's decision has implications for pending and potential regulation, litigation, and legislation. Among these implications are:
Regulation Under the Clean Air Act:
EPA must now reconsider regulation of GHG emissions from new motor vehicles under section 202 of the Clean Air Act. Although the opinion preserves EPA discretion to decide whether, and how, to regulate such emissions, the Court concluded that EPA had "offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gas emissions cause or contribute to climate change." The reasoning and the tone of the majority opinion
indicate that any EPA decision not to regulate GHG emissions from new motor vehicles would be viewed with a high degree of skepticism. Given the extensive use of the term "air pollutant" throughout the Clean Air Act, the Court's decision likely will require EPA to consider regulating GHG emissions from other mobile sources and may require EPA to consider regulating stationary sources of GHG emissions, as well.
Pending and Potential Litigation:
The Court's decision likely will be raised in several important pending cases involving GHG emissions including cases: (1) that involve other Clean Air Act provisions that use the term "air pollutant" (e.g., Coke Oven Envtl. Taskforce v. EPA, No. 06-1131 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 7, 2006) (alleging, inter alia, that EPA failed to regulate carbon dioxide from new coal-fired power plants)); (2) that challenge California limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new motor vehicles (e.g., Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep Inc. v. Witherspoon, No. CV-F-04-6663 (E.D. Cal.2006)); and (3) that allege that GHG emissions create a public nuisance (e.g., California v. General Motors, No. 3:06-cv-05755-MJJ (N.D. Cal. 2006)). Given the Court's holding that states have "special solicitude" in the
standing analysis, the Court's decision may also encourage future litigation by states, particularly in the environmental arena.
Federal Climate Change Legislation:
The Court's decision may prompt the U.S. Congress to act more quickly to pass national legislation addressing climate change. The Clean Air Act does not provide guidance on, and its provisions are not particularly well-suited for, addressing climate change through the regulation of GHG emissions. Therefore, Congress may seek to avoid the incremental regulation of GHG emissions under the existing Clean Air Act by passing comprehensive climate change legislation.
The Decision
In 1999, a group of environmental groups filed a rulemaking petition asking EPA to regulate GHG emissions from new motor vehicles under section 202 of the Clean Air Act.
Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act provides that EPA "shall by regulation prescribe … standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." Nearly four years later, EPA denied the petition, finding that the Clean Air Act does not authorize EPA to issue mandatory regulations to address global climate change and that, even if EPA had the authority to set GHG emissions standards, it would be unwise to do so at this time.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, issued three major holdings:
Standing:
The Court held that petitioners1 have standing to challenge EPA's denial of their rulemaking petition. The Court found that, as a state, Massachusetts is entitled to "special solicitude" in the standing analysis based on two factors. First, states are forced to surrender to the federal government certain sovereign prerogatives. In return, the federal government takes on responsibility for protecting the states. In this case, Congress ordered EPA via the Clean Air Act to protect Massachusetts and other states from the effects of air pollution. Second, Congress provided a procedural right under the Clean Air Act to challenge the rejection of a rulemaking petition as arbitrary and
capricious. Accordingly, the Court held that "[g]iven that procedural right and
Massachusetts' stake in protecting its quasi-sovereign interests, the Commonwealth is entitled to special solicitude in our standing analysis." The Court then found that petitioners' submissions, as they pertain to Massachusetts, satisfy the Article III requirements of a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, causation, and redressability.
Statutory Authority:
The Court held that EPA has statutory authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG emissions from new motor vehicles. In rejecting EPA's arguments on this point, the Court found: (1) that the Act's definition of "air pollutant" includes carbon dioxide and other GHGs; (2) that EPA did not identify actions suggesting that Congress meant to curtail EPA's power to treat GHGs as air pollutants; (3) that the Court's decision in Brown v. Williamson Tobacco Corp. (holding that tobacco products are not "drugs" or "devices" subject to Food and Drug Administration regulation, based on a "'common sense' intuition that Congress never meant to remove those products from circulation") was inapplicable; and (4) that EPA's responsibility to protect the public health and welfare is "wholly independent of [the Department of Transportation's] mandate to promote energy efficiency" through mileage standards.
EPA's Denial of Petition:
The Court held that EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the Clean Air Act. In other words, EPA's refusal to decide whether GHGs cause or contribute to climate change was arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Although EPA had offered a "laundry list" of reasons not to regulate, it had not grounded those reasons in the statutory text.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia both filed strong dissenting opinions, which were joined by each other and Justices Thomas and Alito. On standing, Chief Justice Roberts found petitioners' challenges to be nonjusticiable. He rejected the majority's "special solicitude" for States and the finding that Massachusetts adequately demonstrated injury, causation, and redressability. On the merits, Justice Scalia argued that EPA could decline to make a judgment as to whether GHGs endanger public welfare for the reasons it had stated in its order rejecting the petition and that EPA's interpretation of the term "air pollutant" was consistent with the Clean Air Act...
-------------

California Pushes EPA On Emissions Laws
Top Officials Implore Agency To Permit State To Impose Reductions Of Greenhouse Gases On Auto Industry
WASHINGTON, May 22, 2007(CBS/AP)

Top California officials implored federal environmental regulators Tuesday for
permission to unilaterally impose reductions on greenhouse gases from cars and other vehicles. An auto industry official dismissed the state's approach as
"counterproductive."
If California gets the federal waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that it needs to implement its emissions law, at least 11 other states are prepared to follow its lead.
"This is more important than any issue that EPA's going to have to face," California Attorney General Jerry Brown told an EPA air quality hearing board.
Brown asked the regulators to relay a message to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson.
"We want him to speak truth to power," said Brown. "There is a tremendous influence of the oil industry. We know (Vice President) Cheney and (President) Bush are oilmen, they think like oil folks. ... We say grant the waiver."
The EPA panel that gathered in suburban Arlington, Va., was led by Margo Oge, director of EPA's office of transportation and air quality. She gave no indication of how the agency might be leaning as a daylong hearing got under way.
At issue is a 2002 California law that requires automakers to cut emissions by 25 percent from cars and light trucks and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles starting with the 2009 model year. The law can't take effect unless California gets a federal waiver.
While air pollution standards typically are set by the federal government, California has a unique status under the federal Clean Air Act that allows the state to enact its own rules as long as it receives permission from the EPA. Other states can then choose to follow either the federal or California standards.
The EPA has declined to say how it will act on the waiver request, and Tuesday's hearing came after more than a year of inaction since the state submitted its petition in 2005.
The session included some two dozen witnesses from environmental groups and other states including Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maryland speaking in favor of California's law. A representative from the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association was in favor of the law, as was the owner of a chain of car dealerships.
Adam Lee, president of a chain of Maine auto dealerships, said automakers have hurt their reputations by opposing other federal requirements in the past, such as smog controls and seat belts, reports the Detroit Free Press. Lee also pointed out that many companies give rebates on larger models such as the GMC Yukon.
“I think the auto industry needs to try a little harder, and I don’t think they will try any harder until enough states force them to,” Lee said.
A lone voice of opposition came from Steve Douglas of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He contended that California had not proven that its rules would actually reduce global warming, and that a national approach would be better.
"A patchwork of state-level fuel economy regulations as is now proposed by California is not simply unnecessary, it's patently counterproductive," Douglas said. The state's waiver request "contains many assumptions and undocumented claims" about its benefits in countering global warming, he said.
Automakers also contend that California officials underestimated the costs of its proposal, the Free Press reports.
The auto industry has sued California and Vermont in an attempt to block the regulation, arguing that emissions standards are de-facto fuel economy standards — which can only be set by the federal government.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month said the state will sue if the EPA does not act on the state's request by October 25.
"We're preparing a lawsuit but we certainly don't want to bring it," Brown told the panel Tuesday.
The auto regulations are a key part of California's overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists blame for the Earth's warming temperature over the last three decades. The state is the world's 12th-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, 40 percent of which come from transportation sources.
The state last year embarked on a statewide effort to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020. A 2006 law relies on the auto regulations to accomplish 17 percent of the overall target.
President Bush last week signed an executive order giving federal agencies until the end of 2008 to continue studying the threat of greenhouse gas emissions and what to do about them. Critics fear the directive could undermine state efforts.
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Monday, Schwarzenegger and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Mr. Bush's directive "sounds like more of the same inaction and denial."
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Article:San Joaquin air cleaner, and becoming more
so:/chronicle/archive/2007/05/11/EDGKOP3DVT1.DTL
Article:San Joaquin air cleaner, and becoming more
so:/chronicle/archive/2007/05/11/EDGKOP3DVT1.DTL

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded
history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation.
Having already reduced valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remaining 20 percent will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. On April 30, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District's governing board adopted the first eight-hour ozone plan in California. This overarching and comprehensive plan is designed to help the valley attain cleaner air, as measured by the federal smog standard, as expeditiously as practicable. The regulatory cost to businesses will be about $20 billion. The governing board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air. Instead, The Chronicle condemns them.
For many of us in the valley, The Chronicle's May 2 editorial ("A smog board that likes smog") is as unfair and as frustrating as the air pollution from the Bay Area that is responsible for 7 percent to 28 percent of the valley's smog problem, with the most impact being in the northern valley.
In fact, given that California's air quality agency has designated the Bay Area as an "overwhelming" contributor to the valley's ozone problem, it would have been fair and balanced for The Chronicle to ask Bay Area residents and policymakers to do what they can to minimize or mitigate pollution that ends up in the valley. Additionally, more than 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources (cars, trucks and locomotives), over which local air districts in California have no jurisdiction.
Nonetheless, here are the facts.
A child born today in the San Joaquin Valley breathes air that is 80 percent cleaner than it was 25 years ago and is no longer exposed to unhealthful levels of particulates 10 microns in size and smaller. The San Joaquin Valley is the only "serious" noncompliant area in the state to meet the standard for scrubbing from the air particulates of this size, and we did it five years ahead of the federal deadline. The valley also is on track to meet the one-hour ozone standard by 2010, the only "extreme nonattainment" area in the state on track to do so. Meeting this health-based standard will further diminish the
proven respiratory and health-related ailments associated with excessive ozone concentrations.
The district's recently adopted plan to meet the new federal health-based ozone-standard is the first of its kind in the nation. Under the plan, 50 percent of the valley's population will live in "attainment" areas, that is, areas without any recorded violations of the air-pollution standard, by 2015; that number will increase to 90 percent by 2020. By law, the valley cannot claim attainment because in a couple of areas we will still see a few days when the air pollution exceeds the standard.
Undisputed analysis by experts shows, even if money were no object and we ignored all logistical constraints, that the technology available today and in the foreseeable future could not achieve enough reductions in smog-forming emissions for these areas in the valley to attain the clean-air standard any sooner than 2023. In this situation, the only option provided under federal law is to seek an "extreme" designation and incorporate future technology when it becomes available -- thus, the proposed deadline of 2023. All local measures that can be adopted by the air district will be in place by 2010. As a result, every area in the valley will see significant, steady reductions in ozone
concentrations and the number of days with poor air quality.
The measures contained in the ozone plan also will help the valley meet the federal standard for fine particulates standard by 2015. (Fine particulates are those 2.5 microns in size or smaller.) This makes the valley the only non-compliant area in the state on track to meet this standard by the deadline. Doing so will eliminate more than $3 billion per year of the estimated $3.1 billion per year in health-related costs attributed to particulates in the valley's air.
With public health as the foremost priority, the air district governing board also acted to seek other innovative and creative strategies aimed at cleaning the air. These measures, which focus on alternative modes of goods- and people-movement, as well as alternative fuels and energy, will require broad support from the general public, as well as business and government.
By any objective measure, the plan adopted by the air district is a comprehensive effort that leaves no stone unturned to bring the valley into attainment with federal air quality standards as quickly as possible. Those who champion clean air should refrain from petty attacks and join us on this challenging but fulfilling journey to cleaner air in the valley.
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A smog board that likes smog
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

SOME PEOPLE don't get it. While California works to clean both factory and vehicle emissions, the local smog board overseeing the state's dirtiest air has bailed in the fight.
The stakes couldn't be clearer. The vast San Joaquin Valley may be famous for lush crops and verdant fields, but it's also notorious for polluted air and the go-easy controls that permit such conditions. Bakersfield and Visalia are, once again, on the top-10 roster of dirty-air cities in a Lung Association study released this week.
The causes are many: the bathtub geography that cups in pollution between mountain ranges, car-centric development and industries that include oil, trucking, farm equipment long exempt from tailpipe controls, and even dairies with thousands of methane-producing cows.
For years, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District dodged stricter emission rules, nodding along with industry arguments that tougher rules were costly and impractical. In 2003, Sacramento reined in the problem partly by taking away agriculture's exemption from smog rules.
But after a lengthy meeting on Monday, the valley smog board, dominated by
business-oriented country supervisors, showed it still isn't listening. It voted to
postpone a federal clean-air deadline.
Even by its own lowly standards, the board's action is a stunner. It wants to stall lower pollution limits from 2013 to 2024, a full 17 years from now.
Record asthma rates? Eye-burning smog? A job-killing reputation for dirty air,
grit-covered car hoods and stay-indoors school days? The board ignores these dismal distinctions -- and its public duty.
The smog board is ducking its job because it isn't likely to be penalized. The statewide air board generally defers to regional panels. Federal regulators, who can withhold highway funds, aren't likely to bring down the hammer. The valley panel is betting it can get away with doing nothing.
But it could have taken steps to chip away at the problem. The state air board is due next month to announce a statewide clean-air plan, complete with suggested steps and technologies to tap. Instead of waiting for guidance, the Fresno-based board voted for its forever-and-a-day delay plan.
Also, clean-air bond money, recently passed by voters, could be tapped to replace older buses and trucks with less polluting new models. Fees on trucks serving the valley's booming warehouses and office parks could also be used to replace older, smog-spewing engines.
What will it take to correct the panel's continual cave-ins to the dirty-air lobby? Two valley state senators -- Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and Mike Machado, D-Linden -- want to remake the smog panel, adding extra seats for small cities, where elected leaders are closer to the problem, and slots for health experts. A similar plan was shot down last year in the Legislature. The measure, SB719, is also a chance for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to continue his push for clean air in a local setting.
For too long, the valley has allowed big interests and tame politicians to set the
pollution rules. It's time for a change in leadership and direction.

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