Merced County

Brookhaven Guidance Package comment letter, Dec. 11, 2007

Submitted: Dec 17, 2007

The Merced County Board of Supervisors voted not to approve this project, one more attempt in the county to turn small farm villages into upscale commuter labor camps. For this act of sanity we probably have the foreclosure crisis to thank. However, the letter below lays out the arguments against this kind of project well. --eds.

December 11, 2007

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street, 3rd Floor
Merced, CA 95340

Re: The Brookhaven Guidance Package/Public Hearing December 11, 2007
Via: Hand Delivered
Dear Members of the Board,

There are eight compelling reasons why you should reject the Brookhaven Guidance Package:

1) This is a proposal in search of a need: Depending on the week, Merced County is currently 1, 2, or 3 for subprime lending foreclosures. We also hold the distinction of leading the nation in providing unaffordable housing for our demographic profile.
Creating affordable housing for Bay Area commuters is not the same as creating affordable housing for folks who attempt to live and work in this community: hence the embarrassing, national distinction. Finally, according to experts from the Building Industry Association – the inventory of homes in Merced County will take at least three years to absorb – and then only after the current slump is over. Assuming the same (unprecedented) flurry of speculation that brought us to this crippling point today, this could be a very, very long time. In the best case, BIA (Land of Oz) scenario – five years at a bare minimum to absorb the current inventory (not including pre-approved developments in the pipeline) while assuming the best of markets. Alternatively, economists further away from the Valley estimate fifteen to twenty years for us to fully recover and to fully absorb our current housing surplus. We trust that Merced County has finally learned the painful lesson that building more residential housing developments is not tantamount to bolstering economic development in the county; in point of fact, it is an inverse relationship.

2) So, what is the rush? The County and the City of Los Banos are currently in the process of updating their General Plans. Whether a phased in operation or not there is simply no need to support a proposal that leaps in front of two relevant policy directives that will certainly arrive well before a need to build more homes.

3) Compact Growth? Improved revenue sharing agreements, not prospecting on an additional 396 acres for 253 unneeded homes in unincorporated Merced County is not in sync with our current General Plan. Combined with the recent approval for the Turlock Golf and Country Club, the county is creating islands of urban growth on productive farm lands and open spaces – contravening the clearly stated goals in our current General Plan (Land Use Chapter,Objective 1.A: Compact urban development boundaries which utilize land efficiently and reduce conflicts with agricultural and open space lands).

4) A Guidance Package Isn’t Simply A Study: It is the first approval to invest thousands upon thousands of dollars in a project. Moreover, as part of this package “study” what constitutes Volta’s current SUDP is expanded. The investment in time, money, and advancing the concept of an expanded growth boundary in turn provides the rationale for future approvals. There is a built in momentum which cannot be denied.

5) Volta’s infrastructure issues will not be solved by more houses: Whether or not the area of Volta needs a Community Plan or a better way to arrange its infrastructure for water and sewer with a reconfigured service district is a separate issue from deciding whether or not to approve this guidance package. Moreover, simply requiring developers to study a problem is not tantamount to fixing it or to collecting the fees that represent the cumulative impacts on our already severely impacted roads, water supply, air, ag and open space. As recent as last week, a Merced County developer successfully petitioned the Merced City Planning Commission to delay road repairs – a condition for approval of this project. This should be reason enough to pause. Finally, BIA representatives have publicly cried foul when other communities and this county in particular has attempted to collect fees for impacts that were created and yet not paid for during the housing boom – at a time when –literally -- billions were made in this county by private interests. Yet, Merced County residents are stuck with empty houses and rapidly deteriorating road systems.

6) Listen to the Community: Although the Volta community does not have a MAC, according to staff, 40 people showed up to a meeting to discuss this issue in a community that does not exceed several hundred. Respect their comments. They do not see the need, but they clearly anticipate the impacts.

7) The Williamson Act Preserve: Not only does land contracted through the Williamson Act need to be considered in land use decisions, but lands within The Preserve require special consideration. I quote from Christopher J. Butcher of the University of California at Davis from The Forgotten Intent of the Williamson Act, where he used Merced County as one of his case studies: “By incorporating land into an agricultural preserve, new procedural hurdles are attached to development of the land and additional restrictions are placed on the government and landowner’s entitlement for use.” (page 48).

8) This Guidance Package Obfuscates Rather Than Clarifies: This particular guidance package earns an “A” for exceeding vagueness or an “F” for meeting its own objectives. According to the consultants preparing this proposal:

The purpose of this Guidance Package is to clarify the project goals and milestones and establish both the expectations and responsibilities of all participants. This document will accomplish this by clarifying the relationships and roles of various participants in the planning process and the expectations and parameters of their individual efforts.

One cannot read this and fully comprehend what is being proposed.

In closing, we don’t need this project. Careful consideration of any one of these points should be sufficient to reject this project – it doesn’t meet Volta’s needs or those of the county.

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,
Maureen McCorry
on behalf of Valley Land Alliance, et., al
P.O. Box 158
Planada, CA 95365

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Clean air vigil at the Air Board, Tuesday, Dec. 18

Submitted: Dec 17, 2007

Be there or be square!

For Immediate Release:
December 17, 2007

Contact: Melissa Kelly-Ortega, (209) 261-7109, Lisa Kayser-Grant (209) 769-2233

MEDIA ADVISORY***MEDIA ADVISORY***

Community Leaders to Hold Clean Air Vigil

Advocates Will Urge Air District to Plan for Attainment of State Health Based PM 2.5 standards At Tuesday Workshop

Fresno, CA — On Tuesday, December 18, 2007, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District will be holding the first of a series of workshops to discuss their proposed State Implementation Plan. This Plan serves as the roadmap for attaining federal standards governing fine particulate matter pollution. The standards used in the plan, however, are no longer considered adequate to protect public health by either the federal Environmental Protection Agency or the California Air Resources Board. Community leaders will be urging the air district to amend the proposed plan to include a strategy for reducing fine particulate pollution to the levels currently considered to be protective of public health.

Community members will hold a vigil in remembrance of all those who have died and those who still suffer from the effects of breathing dirty wintertime air - PM 2.5. According to the Institute for Economic and Environmental Studies, the cost of air pollution averages $1,000 per person per year, and represents the following:

460 premature deaths among those age 30 and older
23,300 asthma attacks
188,000 days of school absences
3,230 cases of acute bronchitis in children
3,000 lost work days
325 new cases of chronic bronchitis
188,400 days of reduced activity in adults
260 hospital admissions
More than 17,000 days of respiratory symptoms in children

What: Vigil with community members

When: Media Availability: Tuesday, December 18 at 5:30 p.m. and throughout the workshop.
Air District Workshop: 6:30pm

Where: In front of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District:
Central Region Office, 1990 E. Gettysburg Ave., Fresno

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CEQA "General Rule Exemption" Awareness Month in Merced

Submitted: Dec 12, 2007
California Environmental Quality Act Guidelines
15061 Review for Exemption
15061 (b) 3:
The activity is convered by the general rule that CEQA applies only to projects which have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment. Where it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment, the activity is not subject ot CEQA.

On November 20, the Merced County Board of Supervisors received a great deal of pointed comment on the CEQA General Rule Exemption in connection with a parcel split of some 265 acres into five parcels of about 50 acres each on Bear Creek near Planada.

On October 24, the county Planning Commission had rejected the project, persuaded by the public and county counsel that the general rule exemption could not apply to this project and that it would need some level of environmental review because it would, in fact, have effects on the environment.

The applicants appealed the planning commission decision to the county Board of Supervisors. Below the counsel's comments to the planning commission is a letter written by attorney Marsha Burch to the board of supervisors that discusses the same issue: the legality of claiming a general rule exemption to CEQA.

The general rule exemption to CEQA has been popular in Merced County land-use decisions during the recent speculative real estate bubble. It has been so common, in fact, that members of the public were unable to get a count from the planning department of how many general rule exemptions it has granted in Merced County. One supervisor noted exphasized this point -- that the planning department doesn't even know how many exemptions it has granted.

Robert Gabriele, county deputy counsel, commented on the general rule exemption on a minor subdivision application in Gustine at the October 24 Planning Commission hearing:

...What impresses me, and I’ve only been with the county a little over two months, in this particular case there is what would be reasonably described as very reliable evidence because as the expression goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

And typically, what I’ve seen during the course of these hearings, and I have noted that on average, there appears to be one minor subdivision that’s on the agenda (every hearing) but this is the first time I have seen what could be described without question as substantial evidence on the issue, in addition to just an aerial of the site in the type of pictorial that is presented so from a standpoint of the process; if I may, the speakers who have raised issues in opposition to this particular project -- I’m not expressing an opinion on the validity or invalidity from the standpoint of weighting of the evidence -- but this type of presentation is what the CEQA process -- the administrative process – envisions, and that is when there is a pro and a con to any of these issues since CEQA is essentially a process calculated to provide information so that the decision maker can make and appropriate and lawful decision. This is the type of presentation that I just want to make a comment from a legal perspective is very significant and is helpful to the process.

And I mean that from a standpoint of both anyone who is in favor because of what’s going on around the property, what has gone on before the presentation, the proposed use, the split, what the history is -- all of those are factors that go into the analytical mix so that staff can have the benefit of that information and then exercise their expertise in technical knowledge as to whether or not an exemption applies and whether it does or it doesn’t beyond that concerns to address issues that are raised and then they are presented before the hearing I think it always makes the process a little more easier and its more helpful to the staff.

Presentation of evidence, like this, at the time of the hearing, I think always present -- I mean it’s a benefit -- because you need the evidence, but it presents a practical problem because there has already been dispersion of substantial information and evidence up to a week before the hearing and so the Planning Commissioners have had an opportunity to digest that. This is all a first impression. So I would encourage anyone that has a position on any of these issues in particular since this is an issue that comes up more
than one time. The more, and the sooner, in terms of submittal -- the better and easier to facilitate the process and perhaps have a desired impact on the decision makers.

Later in the discussion of the minor subdivision in Gustine, Gabriele spoke again on the general rule exemption, aka the "common sense" exemption.

Before (the vote), [if] it would be acceptable to you, before the motion is made and before a vote, just so there is not lack of clarity as to what the legal standard is. First and foremost, the board is asked to determine whether or not what is called the common sense exemption applies.

Let me read the guide to CEQA and this is on page 166 (he proceeds to find the correct page), Page 166, the guide to CEQA, the most recent version. It provides the legal standard so when you do review the evidence and when you do act on whatever the motion is going to be you have the legal standard in mind.

In order for any decision, if the applicant were denied and he were to challenge that decision, that’s part of his position. If an application were granted and a challenger were to challenge that then, that’s part of what makes the decision of this body defensible. The seminal case in the area of the law is actually, in that area called Davidson Homes v The City of San Jose. And, in particular, what the court did state with respect to what the showing is required to support an exemption is this, quote: “the showing required of a party challenging an exemption under guidelines section 15061 subdivision (b) 3 is slight. "

Since the exemption requires the agency to be certain, that there is no possibly, meaning practical possibility -- in other words, just a reasonable mind thinking about it -- there no possibility that the project may cause significant environmental impacts.

If a legitimate question can be raised, based on evidence, this is not just hypothetical, theoretical, impractical and unrealistic, but, -- if legitimate questions based on evidence can be raised about whether the project might have a significant impact and there is any dispute about the possibility again, dispute, there are many times people can have unrational, unreasonable arguments and disagreements, we are talking about what a reasonable person, an adult of reasonable average intelligence would consider. A dispute about the possibility of such an impact; then, the agency cannot find with certainty that a project is exempt.

If a reasonable argument is made to suggest a possibility that a project will cause a significant environmental impact, then that must be taken into account in the evaluation process. Fundamentally, the board is inured with substantial legal discretion to evaluate evidence and exercise that discretion in a reasonable way.

So, no one can dictate to the board what to believe or not to believe in terms of the evidence; but you have the discretion to weigh evidence and make a determination as to whether or not there is substantial evidence or not. So, I hope that’s helpful in at least in terms of establishing or confirming the framework -- the legal framework within which to make these types decisions.

Planning Commission Chairman Steve Sloan said that Gabriele's comments were helpful helpful, and then he voted alone in favor of the application. The other four commissioners doubted the project was exempt from CEQA.

On November 20, the county Board of Supervisors considered another application for subdivision in which the issue of the general rule exemption had been debated at the Planning Commission, with the result that the commission rejected the application and the applicants appealed to the board of supervisors. The supervisors received the following letter from attorney Marsha Burch, writing on behalf of members of the Merced public.

Date: November 19, 2007
Re: Proposed Minor Subdivision MS07-022 (Geneva Development Co./Bear
Creek Ranch Partnership) at Planada, Merced County, California

Dear members of the Board of Supervisors:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney, represents the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water, groups with an interest in the above-referenced proposed minor subdivision (“Proposal”). We submit the following comments on the Proposal.

This proposal comes to you by way of an appeal of the August 22, 2007, Planning Commission determination that the Proposal is not exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The applicants argued to the Planning Commission that the Proposal was exempt from CEQA under CEQA Guidelines Section 15061(b)(3), known as the “common sense” exemption. This exemption applies where “it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment.” (CEQA Guidelines § 15061(b)(3).)

The Planning Commission rejected the argument that the Proposal is exempt from CEQA, and so should the Board of Supervisors. The Proposal will result in physical changes to the environment, including the potential for conversion of productive agricultural lands, for construction of residences, easements, etc. on the newly created parcels. As discussed in greater detail below, evidence in the record also suggests that the Proposal could result in impacts to listed species and to groundwater supplies. There is no basis for the
County to rely on the common sense exemption.

A. Exemptions under Section 15061(b)(3)

An agency may find a proposed project exempt under Section 15061(b)(3) only if its precise language clearly applies. Any possibility that the project might culminate in a significant adverse change removes it from this exemption. If a reasonable argument is made that suggests a project might have a significant impact, the agency must refute that argument to a certainty to rely on the exemption. (Davidon Homes v. City of San Jose (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 106, 118.)

The Planning Commission was convinced that the Proposal was not subject to the common sense exemption, and did so in light of evidence in the record that the Proposal may result in significant impacts. The burden is now on the agency, the County, to refute the argument to a certainty, which is not possible under the circumstances.

The Planning Commission staff report stated that the Proposal was exempt from CEQA “review of the material submitted for the application and information on file.” This is simply not enough. When a project will result in physical changes to the environment, and there is dispute regarding the possibility of significant impact, the agency must prove that significant impacts cannot possibly occur. (Davidon Homes, supra, 54 Cal.App.4th at 118, emphasis added.) Also, when evidence is presented to a lead agency showing
possibility of adverse impact, the agency cannot rely on the absence of supporting data, because the agency cannot say with certainty that there is no possibility of significant effect on the environment. (Dunn-Edwards Corp. v. Bay Area Air Quality Mgmt. Dist. (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 644, emphasis added.)

B. Potential for Conversion of Agricultural Lands

In this case, the Proposal will create five new parcels of approximately 50 acres each. Each of these new parcels could result in the construction of new residences, barns, other outbuildings and roads/driveways. The applicants continue to insist that they themselves have no plans to change the use of the property, but the fact remains, the County’s action in approving this would allow for development of the individual parcels.

When that development occurs is not the issue.

The General Plan, Land Use Chapter, Goal 7, is “Conservation of productive agricultural and other valuable open space lands.” The staff report to the Planning Commission suggested that the Proposal was consistent with this Goal because “[t]he applicant has stated that the property would continue to be used as a commercial almond orchard.”

Again, the fact that the applicants do not have any immediate plans does not change the fact that the five new parcels would be subject to development. In other words, the Proposal will allow for land use changes that could be contrary to Goal 7.

Additionally, Land Use Chapter, Policy 7.3 states that “[p]remature and uncoordinated division of land which forces the early cessation of valid agricultural uses shall be avoided.” Correctly, the staff report for the Board notes that the Proposal may well be contrary to this Policy. The Planning Commission staff report admitted that irrigation easements would likely be required to provide irrigation supplies to all parcels in the
event they are sold, but there is no indication that such easements will be included in the subdivision, and here again, the General Plan Policy favoring large, productive agricultural parcels is not consistent with the Proposal.

There is substantial evidence in the record before you indicating that the Proposal may result in premature conversion of productive agricultural lands.In addition to being inconsistent with the General Plan, this conversion is a potentially significant impact under CEQA. The County may not, at this point,rely upon an absence of data in the record regarding the specific impacts to agricultural lands, but must move
forward to an Initial Study. (See Dunn- Edwards Corp. v. Bay Area Air Quality Mgmt. Dist. (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 644.)

C. Potential Impacts to Listed Species

The United States Fish and Wildlife (“USFWS”) has reviewed the Proposal and stated that the subdivision may have significant impacts on federally listed species. This opinion from the experts at the USFWS is “substantial evidence” under CEQA. (See Stanislaus Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of Stanislaus (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 144, 156 [memorandum from the state Department of Conservation was substantial evidence].)

The inquiry should end here. An Initial Study is required, as the County simply cannot say with certainty that there is no possibility of a significant effect on listed species.

D. Potential Impacts to Groundwater

There is also evidence in the record that the Proposal could ultimately impact groundwater supplies. For example, the staff report indicates that the applicants are “prepared to dig another well if needed” and goes on to note that the Merced Irrigation District has submitted a comment that the groundwater supplies in the Planada area are in an overdraft condition. Thus, the Proposal may result in significant impacts to
groundwater supplies. The County cannot say with certainty that there is no possibility of a significant effect on the environment. Again, this should be the end of the inquiry.

It is unclear why the applicants and/or Planning Staff so wish to avoid the preparation of an Initial Study, but one is required under CEQA. Approval of the Proposal based upon a finding that the Proposal is exempt under the common sense exemption would be a violation of CEQA.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment. We respectfully request that the Board of Supervisors uphold the decision of the Planning Commission that the Proposal is not exempt from CEQA, and deny the Proposal.

Very truly yours,
Marsha A. Burch
Attorney
cc: San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Donald B. Mooney, Esq.

The land under discussion is flat, rich farmland lying just below the foothills to Yosemite into which deep layers of topsoil have been carried down from the hills by Bear Creek The local row croppers regard it as the best land in the county. On days when the smog is not too heavy, the peaks surrounding Yosemite
Valley are visible. Its misfortune, from an agricultural standpoint, is that lies only a few miles south of UC Merced. This rich farmland lies on the border of gently rolling hills in seasonal pasture that rise to the Sierra foothills. The proposed development, which the county Planning Department describes as exempt from CEQA because it will cause no environmental effects, also lies near a small, unencorporated village, Planada,
populated mainly by farmworkers who work in the nearby orchards, dairies and rowcrops.

The developer pressure on its decrepit sewer system is more evidence that the whole region, thanks to the arrival of UC Merced, is now viewed as profitable residential and commercial real estate.

Finally, the preceding and following should be viewed in the context that the planning department claims it is unable to come up with a list of how many general rule exemptions it has recommended and county land-use authorities have approved during a speculative real estate boom -- greatly exacerbated by UC Merced -- that has resulted in Merced achieving the top mortgage-foreclosure rate in the nation.

You are in the midst of yet another chapter of the finance, insurance, real estate and large landowner corruption in Merced County. But this chapter, like so many in the annals of the real estate development of the county, also has a twisted ending. So read on.

Merced County Board of Supervisors Public Hearing:
To consider an Appeal of the Planning Commission Denial of Minor Subdivision Application No. 07-022 submitted by Bear Creek Ranch Partnership ...to divide one 265.6-acre into five parcels ...

County Planner James Holland described the project as the subdivision of a commercially viable parcel of agricultural land, noting comments made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Maureen McCrorry, criticizing the project. Holland explained that one corner of the property is occupied by a farm labor housing project and another parcel would be the home of another farm labor housing project (recently removed from another location in Planada for the benefit of the same developers who needed its sewer hookups). The entire area is within the Agricultural Preserve but has a relatively low rate of Williamson Act contracts, Holland said. He noted that according to the county General Plan, splitting commercially viable agricultural parcels into smaller parcels is to be avoided. The land is prime farm land that lies within the Merced Irrigation District and also has wells on the property.

Noting that public access is generally good on the property, Holland explained that the parcelization seemed compatable with surrounding parcel sizes. However, he said that the planning staff received no answer from the developers about the reason for the splits. He explained that these splits have to do with the ownership situation and not with agricultural competitiveness. The planning commission could not make the findings to
approve the project.

Holland explained the board's necessary considerations:

1. Deny the appeal that the project is exempt from CEQA.
2. Decide it is potentially eligible for exemption and send it back to the planning commission.
3. To prove that "common sense" shows that the project would have no environmental effects, the board must be able to refute the information that it would have effects.

Therefore, the options Holland put before the board were:
1. Close the hearing.
2. Determine CEQA is necessary.
3. Uphold the planning commission decision.

In reply to a request from Supervisor Mike Nelson for clarification, Holland explained the status of a project versus a non-project. If the project is denied, it no longer exists, therefore CEQA doesn't apply, he said.

Supervisor Diedre Kelsey felt compelled to say to the public that she had read all the comments.

County Counsel James Fincher said that all the comments from the Planada Association were included in the administrative record now before the board.

David Corser, representing the Planada Association said that in order to establish standing to file a lawsuit, this acknowledgement of receipt of comments was necessary. Corser went on to say that this project is part of a much larger project, although it lies 2,000 feet outside the Planada Specific Urban Development Plan. (Because Planada is unincorporated, its SUDP is designed by the county planning department and approved by a local municipal advisory commission, appointed by the district's supervisor.)

Corser noted that former county Supervisor Gloria Keene and former county Planner Des Johnson both work for the three developers behind this and the larger project. He said supervisors are not charged with bailing out developers who invest in prime farm land, but are required to review the entire Village of Geneva at Planada project.

Corser then began to talk about one of the investors behind the sometime partnership between Sessions, Pacific Holt and Ranchwood Homes, the developers. Board Chairman John Pedrozo, who represents Planada, stopped him abruptly at five minutes as the lurid tale of Thomas Nevis' business dealings began to unfold.

Bryant Owens followed Corser and finished reading the letter on Nevis, citing convictions for bank fraud, revocation of prole and violations of the IRS Code that resulted in a civil judgment against him of $36 million. According to Owens and Corser's research, Nevis is permanently enjoined from doing business by any name other than his own.

Louie Bandoni, president of the Merced County Farm Bureau testified that the farm bureau opposes the project because it is on prime farm land and therefore protected by CEQA. He said the split was not a typical kind of parcelization farmers use, for example to divide and among children. Reminding the board that this land had been considered earlier for the Red Rock Golf Club and remains part of the overall Villages of Geneva at Planada project. The intent of the developers was clear, he said: the conversion of prime agricultural land for commercial real estate development. Furthermore, this conversion would lead to more lot splitting and conversion because, surrounding smaller parcel sizes would only increase the planning department's recommendations for more lot splits and general rule exemptions.

Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the county Farm Bureau, told the board the project is inconsistent with the county General Plan. She also asserted that CEQA requires special consideration be given to agricultural land conversion. She read from a letter prepared by a Farm Bureau attorney that quoted and cited CEQA case law. She concluded saying that hydraulogical studies are required to prove there would be no detrimental effects to groundwater in an area that already has a significant overdraft of
its aquifer.

Maria Giampoli, representing her family and the Marchini family of farmers from nearby Le Grand, said they could vouch for it being the finest quality agricultural land because they have leased adjoining land for a long time. She argued that there was no point to dividing one of the best stretches of farmland in the county ... "and parcelization divides."

Colette Alvernaz of Livingston told supervisors is was time to "Just Say No" to rezoning agricultural land for other uses and chipping away at large, commercially viable parcels for the sake of real estate development.

Benita Burroughs, president of the Merced Chapter of the California Women for Agriculture, told the board it should not make this kind of decision while the county General Plan was being updated. She noted that the number of houses that could be built on the smaller parcels would definitely have an impact on the acquifer. "Farmers are under a domino impact," she said.

Kim Rogina said her family also owns prime farm land adjacent to the project site and knew that it was excellent tomato ground. She added that although she was for development, being a realtor, she was for development within the Planada SUDP. She concluded that Merced now has an abundance of houses for sale and that this project was premature.

Steve Herum, an attorney representing the developers, lectured the board on teh "fair and equal application of the subdivision ordinance and that no one has access to the motives behind the requested split. He said that the proposed splits are still much larger than the requirement. CEQA requires substantial evidence, he said, and the best substantial evidence the board could get is that its own planning staff agreed there would be no environmental effect, therefore recommended the general rule exemption.

CEQA requires significant evidence of cumulative impacts as opposed to mere evidence and speculation without quantification, he argued. The larger Villages of Geneva at Planada question is irrelevant.

"Your professional staff is your evidence, the capital Evidence," Herum asserted.

Rob Hawkins, the engineer on the application said that county planning staff concluded that the project was exempt from CEQA.

John Colbert, the farm manager for the Bear Creek property, testified that the parcel splits would not change the way the land is farmed. The splits are just to implement option agreements, he said.

John Sessions, the project proponents said that the board's rejection of the previous project for this land, involving three developers (Ranchwood, Pacific Holt and Sessions) was probably a favor, given the way the real estate market is going. He said that three-developer group has disbanded and that the current plan is to buy a fifth of the property at a time while keeping the rest in farming. They need to pay $100,000 a year to
preserve the option. He said the application is "not about land-use." This was followed by several sad personal stories, ending with: "I appeal to your innate sense of fairness," and a vintage developer whine: "I hope not every farmer splitting land has to go through CEQA review ... aleviated by the next speaker, Mary Furey, a Planada rancher.

Furey told the supervisors that this applicated boiled down to "speculators rights versus property rights." On the previous attempt by the three-developer combo, the guidance package was denied and the parcel splits should be denied. No farmer could farm at these land prices, she said. When the next boom starts, these parcesl will be built out. This is the best land in the county and possibly the best land left in the state, Furey continued. The aquifer in the area has been overdrafted for 30 years, she added.

"It will be the death of Planada as we know it," Furey concluded.

Tom Grave of Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, noted that the Planada Municipal Advisory Council opposes this project and "they are your eyes on the ground." He mentioned that the General Rule Exemption requires "certainty that there is no possibility of environmental impacts." Without that certainty, the exemption cannot be used. The ownership situation with the property does not justify the split, Graves said,
concluding that, "Everything in Merced County depends on agriculture."

Maureen McCorry, noting a letter of concern from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the letter from Marsha Burch, said that Sessions and other developers in Planada have gotten the Planada Community Services District to propose a grant to get the state to pay for doubling the sewer capacity. She said that if she had sat down to plot out a novel of how developers overrun a town, she could not have come up with the reality in Planada.

Prior to the supervisors taking a break, Supervisor Kelsey announced that she had read everything but the USFWS letter.

After the break, County Counsel James Fincher laid out the supervisors' options:

1. Deny the appeal.
2. Deny the appeal on the CEQA issue, i.e. that the general rule exemption doesn't apply, and send it back to the Planning Commission.
3. Approve the application and the findings that CEQA doesn't apply (i.e. the general rule exemption is suitable for this application).
4. Send it back to the Planning Commission to consider new evidence.

Supervisor Gerry O'Banion asked if there was new evidence.

Fincher said there was new information, some of it relevant to the CEQA issue. There is also a letter from the USFWS citing impacts to 10 species. The USFWS recommends studies, Fincher said. Also, the board would have to refute the planning commission's determination that the exemption doesn't apply.

Supervisor Mike Nelson asked if the application was "premature and uncoordinated.Planner Holland replied that there is no need for this under agricultural economics. The split does nothing to enhance agricultural operations or improve adjacent agricultural operations.

Holland posed the question: Why is CEQA review now required? On its face, the project is exempt from CEQA, he said. The board had denied the Villages of Geneva at Planada project, so this is not piecemeal development. However, the comment letters changed the minds of the planning staff because all that is needed is one question to throw out the general rule exemption. The board should direct CEQA review, he
concluded.

Nelson asked what bearing the former Villages of Geneva project has on this project?

Holland said that was a "yes/no" situation. Yes, there is a history, but No, we look at this project separately. He said the project has gone through a reasoned, deliberative process and that what the public provided signaled the need for additional information.

"The project works," concluded Holland, the planner for the Riverside Motorsparts Pork project.

Supervisor Kelsey asked if the decision the supervisors were being asked to make was discretionary. Then she launched, noting that the supervisors in this case know more about the project than the planners seem to. And there are some "shocking" elements to this project, including that it appears that "some members of the Local Agency Formation Commission may be on somebody's payroll. " She said that there is a cumulative impact to parcel splits. Merced County does more splits than most jurisdictions, she explained. There is no general rule exemption in this case. CEQA will require mitigation, and there is no mitigation here, she concluded.

Supervisor John Pedrozo, who represents Planada, asked how many houses could be built on the proposed parcels.

Holland said that there could be five houses per 50 acres, but an administrative permit could increase that to 20 and a conditional use permit could increase it to 30.

Pedroza said to leave it as it is.

Kelsey said that speculative land prices are not related to agricultural prices. She added that the board has asked for mitigation for discretionary actions and that it seems that the intent on this project is probably for development (not agriculture).

Kelsey concluded that she would like to see future appeals like this one contain some sort of environmental review. If the board denies this, she said, it might affect the economic viability of the ownership of this property, but that is not the board's problem.

Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she thought it was a property rights versus a community feeling issue. (Crookham has an ownership in a large ranch east of Planada and is a well-known organizer in the past of property-rights mob scene, along with Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

Kelsey asked if there were no motion, what would happen.

Fincher replied that it would be a denial of the application and the appeal.

Herum, Sessions' attorney barged in (the public hearing was over) pleading that if the project was denied that it would be without prejudice.

Board Chairman Pedrozo told him no more public comments would be heard.

Silence ensued.

Nelson mused on the General Plan. "When is too small too small?" Forty acre minimums are permitted and 20's are legal. He wondered if only family farmers were to have rights under the General Plan. It was vintage rightwing ideologue pseudo-reflection.

Nelson then moved to send the project back to the staff for an initial study.

Fincher interpreted his motion to mean a denial of the appeal and a return of the project to the planning department.

O'Banion also mused (possibly reflecting on the Gustine minor subdivision): 20-acre splits are easy, 50-acre splits are hard. He noted that the board is setting a dangerous precedent of CEQA review on agricultural conversions that are ag-to-ag conversions on 50-acre parcels.

(This contradicts the facts on the table, that this split is not about agriculture but about an option scheme by developers. God forbid, something like this could happen in Dos Palos, where O'Banion lives.)

"Efforts will be made," O'Banion muttered darkly, to dig up what's happened on other parcels in the future that would allow CEQA review. (Death of the general rule exemption as the board has been employing it so long and so profitably.)

"There is going to be CEQA review on every subdivision!" he said.

(End of civilization is at hand.)

Nelson asked Fincher if this would set a precedent.

Fincher said, "Yes and No. It depends on the evidence in the record."

Kelsey wondered by the applicant "pushed this this far. It's not the parcels, it's the houses you can put on them." She said it was precedent setting.

O'Banion said he couldn't support a motion to send the project back to the planning department.

Kelsey said neither could she. She wanted to just deny the application and the appeal.

Fincher reminded her there was already a motion on the floor.

Crookham asked if sending it back to the planning department was precedent-setting.

Fincher replied: "Yes and No, depending on the evidence. However, people could argue that it set a precedent.

O'Banion said there was a presumption for general rule exemption but not in the documents.

Fincher said it is a denial based on procedure.

The board voted 3-2 against Nelson's motion to send it back to the planning department.

After some other chit-chat, O'Banion, chuckling, moved to approve the appeal.

The motion died for lack of a second.

Fincher said that the project would die without action. "This item is now closed."

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Downward pressure on wages

Submitted: Dec 08, 2007

The problem laboriously presented by the UC Berkeley researchers in their study of Wal-Mart's effects on retail wages and benefits isn't so much the percentage of loss as what it indicates: a general decline rather than advance in worker wages throughout the US, since the dim beginnings of the Trilateral Commission more than 30 years ago. Off-shoring of US industry in search of cheaper wages has produced Wal-Mart, a cancer on the American economy that peddles cheap foreign junk produced by workers elsewhere who could not survive in the US economy even if they shopped only at Wal-Mart. We have provided the weblink for further reading. Below, find the executive summary of the UCB study. For the poetry on the subject, go lower for a passage from Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, where you will find familiar character types involved in the destruction of living wages rather than the numerical description of the theft. We've heard Bageant's book is available at local bookstores. Studs Terkel, reflecting on this book, wrote, "It is maddening and provocative that the true believers in 'American exceptionalism' and ersatz machismo side with those stepping all over them ..."

Badlands Journal editorial board

UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education
A Downward Push: The impact of Wal-Mart stores on retail wages and benefits
Arindjarbit Dube
T. William Lester
Barry Eidlin
http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/retail/walmart_downward_push07.pdf

Executive Summary

Empirical evidence suggests that employees at Wal-Mart earn lower average wages and receive less generous benefits than workers employed by many other large retailers. But controversy has persisted on Wal-Mart's effect on local pay scales. Our research finds that Wal-Mart store openings lead to the replacement of better paying jobs with jobs that pay less. Wal-Mart's entry also drives wages down for workers in competing industry segments such as grocery stores.

Looking at the period between 1992 and 2000, we find that the opening of a single Wal-Mart store in a county lowered average retail wages in that county by between 0.5 and 0.9 percent. In the general merchandise sector, wages fell by 1 percent for each new Wal-Mart. And for grocery store employees, the effect of a single new Wal-Mart was a reduction of 1.5 percent reduction in earnings.

When Wal-Mart entered a county, the total wage bill declined along with the average wage. Factoring in both the impact on wages and jobs, the total amount of retail earnings in a county fell by 1.5 percent for every new Wal-Mart store. Similar effects appeared at the state level.

With an average of 50 Wal-Mart stores per state, the average wages for retail workers were 10 percent lower, and their job-based health coverage rate was 5 percentage points less than they would have been without Wal-Mart's presence.

The study addressed a number of methodological issues that have plagued previous attempts to assess of Wal-Mart on local labor markets...Further, we investigate (and reject) the possibility that wage declines were an artifact of changes in demographics of the retail workforce...Overall, the results strongly support the hypothesis that Wal-Mart entry lowers wages and benefits of retail workers ...

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
Joe Bageant

Members of the business class, that legion of little Rotary Club spark plugs, are vital to the American corporate and political machine. There is where the institutionalized rip-off of working-class people by the rich corporations finds its footing at the grassroots level, where they can stymie any increase in the minimum wage or snuff out anything remotely resembling a fair tax structure. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians has connections. It can get that hundred acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that two-thousand-unit housing development at taxpayer expense. When it comes to getting things done locally for big business, these folks, with the help of their lawyers, can raise the dead and give eyesight to the blind. They are God's gift to the big nonunion companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into--the right wing's can-do boys. They are so far right they will not even eat the left wing of a chicken.

Nevertheless, there are people in the business class even more right-wing and more dangerous: the failed pickle vendors. The millionaire wannabes. Talk about misplaced anger. This guy is pissed off that the gravy boat is never passed toward his end of the table. Take my dittohead friend Buck...He believes in the American Dream as he perceives it, which is entirely in terms of money. He wants that Jaguar, the big house, and the blonde ... At age thirty-nine and divorced, he still believes that's what life is about and is convinced he can nail it if he works hard enough. The sports car, the Rolex, McMansion, the works.

In any other era, Buck might have won the game. But not this time. These days the geet is siphoned off long before he sees it, sucked up by the rich sons of Bush oil men and the rest of the new class of financial kingpins...Bucks finds that there's no room for him at the trough. He is not part of the (local old-money families) ...And when, after kissing these people's asses all his life, Buck allows himself to realize that it's never going to happen, he turns nasty, breaks bad on the world. He had the right stuff and deserved to be wealthy, so somebody else must be to blame. It must be the welfare bums. It must be all of those taxes for "social programs for minorities" code for "throwing money at blacks and Mexicans." Or tax-and-spend liberals. Or "big government." It can't possibly be because of the rich elites, because, dammit son, rich is what Buck is trying to be! -- pp. 45-46.

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Public minutes of the Merced River Stakeholders November meeting held at the Merced County Agricultural Extension conference roo

Submitted: Dec 07, 2007

At the meeting held on November 19 at the Agricultural Extension conference room, a quorum of East Merced Resource Conservation District board members was present: Glenn Anderson, Bernard Wade, Cathy Weber, Bob Bliss and county Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook and EMRCD staff, Karen Whipp…so this was also an EMRCD meeting, regardless of the view of some RCD directors that the RCD is a completely private institution not subject to such pesky laws. Last month, if readers recall, the Merced River Stakeholders held two meetings simultaneously. One meeting was hosted by river stakeholders and held at the Washington School (near the river). The other meeting was hosted by the EMRCD board of directors and was held at UC Merced.

At this meeting, in addition to the EMRCD board quorum, there was one representative of the river landowner group that hosted last month’s meeting at Washington School and several new people, two of whom heckled environmentalists at the table.

EMRCD brought in a new facilitator, Netty Drake, because Gwen Huff resigned. Drake announced she was working on a new grant and asked: Where is MRS going?

In the introductions, Whipp’s husband, Fred, introduced himself as “operating the computer tonight.” Fred attends all RCD board meetings.

Karen Whipp told the MRS it was her understanding that the MRS could not approve its own minutes. Whipp did the staff work in this part of the meeting.

It was announced the 3rd Annual Merced River Alliance dinner has been postponed from November to March 2008.

Stakeholder Lydia Miller commented that the packet at the MRS meeting held by the RCD board and staff at UC Merced wasn’t complete because it didn’t include the emails surrounding the grant proposal. Planning Commissioner Lashbrook (RCD board member, staffer and Merced River Alliance staffer) denied this. Miller replied that she had received the material from someone who attended the meeting and that the packet had only contained the first page of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center/Protect Our Water letter. There was no reply to this from any of the RCD board members who had run the UC/MRS October meeting.

The grant proposal was the main topic of the evening. To recapitulate, RCD staff applied for a grant for studies of the river that cut the MRS out of participation and oversight. MRS stakeholders weren’t even given a copy of the final draft of the grant until after it had been submitted. Two groups of stakeholders wrote letters to the state funding agency, Department of Water Resources, in opposition to the grant for reasons concerning both the content of the grant and significant conflicts-of-interest issues about grant writing, administration, staff salaries and oversight. Although DWR has not indicated to either the grant writers or to those who wrote in opposition to the grant the reason it rejected the grant, it is clear from comments and actions taken by the grant writers that they have no doubt the opposition letters killed it. This issue dominates the following meeting.

Bernie Wade announced a mining permit on the river. A scoping meeting will heard on Dec. 12. It is a 400-ac tailings project. The Initial Study will be out the last week in November. Also, the Schmidt Ranch mining project is before the county Planning Commission on Dec. 5 for a mitigated negative declaration and a conditional use permit. There is a small sand removal operation on El Capitan Road on a farm, also, Wade announced.

Miller asked when will the Jaxon Mine administrative DEIR be out? Completed by end of year? No one knew. Aggregate specialist for the county Planning Department, Jeff Wilson, said the Jaxon project wasn’t on the Merced River. Miller noted it is on a tributary, Mariposa Creek, which contains good riparian habitat. MRS does address problems of tributaries to the Merced River from time to time.

David Hu, from USFWS and a representative from Cramer Fish Science spoke on the record low numbers of salmon counted in the Merced River – 44 to date.
“Salmon aren’t doing well throughout these rivers,” Hu said. “On the Stanislaus, 200 where usually over a thousand. Merced the worst of the three (Stanislaus and Tuolumne are the other two).

We notice at this point no representatives are present from DWR, DFG, MID, county, Stillwater Sciences, aggregate mines, UC, state RCD, or the Farm Bureau, any other RCD staffers involved in the grant or any of the new group of “stakeholders” that had replaced the MRS on the grant proposal.

Natural gravel cools water. Salmon can’t pass Crocker Huffman dam, siltation kills eggs.

Pat Ferrigno said farmers wanted to put gravel in the river but it costs $14,000 for a permit for what we can do in half and hour. DFG is the culprit. But many agencies are involved, FWS, ACE, DWR, RWCB.

Jill Ratzlaff: DFG put the wrong size gravel in our restoration project. Too big. Spent $6-7 million.

Hu commented, “corrupt system.”

Drake: They change people and projects are left unfinished.

Ratzlaff: “I don’t trust government restoration anymore.

Wade: We should have asked Rhonda Reed.

Ferrigno: Farmers will add gravel to river without a permit but not if we get fined for it.

Weber: Adaptive management is the key.

Ratzlaff: our suggestions weren’t followed.

Hu: “Lessons were learned.” The fall pulse cleans out debris, cleans gravel and the flow attracts fish.

Ezio Sansone: The pulse is for temperature?

Cramer consultant: “Haven’t heard that river temperature is controlled by air temperature.”

Sansone: is the pulse working? MID sends down 30,000 acre-feet in the fall. If it’s not working farmers need to know about it.

Cramer consultant: Merced River needs a counting fish weir and to photograph the fish.

There is bass predation from the old gravel pits. The pike are native. About 20 percent of the fish released from the hatchery make it to the downstream traps, two miles from the hatchery.

McClure Reservoir is at 28 percent capacity. Actually the total pulse was 37,500 AF.

DFG has announced a “California Landowner Initiative. DFG will design the restoration of riparian habitat and lease the land for up to 10 years at various prices depending on use. Lashbrook announced that the news came from the state RCD that day. Cramer can help with the permits (probably not for free).

Lashbrook said this is the last MRS meeting funded by the RCD.

Drake described herself: managed a 2-million AC watershed in Fresno Co. Tried to help interested non-govt. groups find a vision!! She proclaimed to the MRS stakeholders that she “hadn’t read anything” about its issues. Presumably, in the world of professional value-free facilitators, ignorance of documents and issues is a virtue. On the other hand, such facilitators do not probably read for free. And it fails the “reasonable person” test now widely propounded by county counsels that Drake would have been hired by the RCD staffer proponents of the failed grant without having heard an earful about opponents.

One small example among others of Drake’s failure of “value-free facilitation” occurred when this reporter responded verbally to one of several direct lies told about his group by Commissioner/RCD board member/RCD staffer/MRA staffer Lashbrook and her husband, Bill Thomson, sitting outside the circle of tables, quite audibly ordered the reporter, “Outside!” then began circling behind the reporter’s back. The reporter, believing physical attack was a possibility from a man defending his wife, began to get up from his chair and was restrained by the hand of Drake on his hand. Presumably, in the world of “value-free facilitation,” some people cannot respond to threats by other people. Thompson, to his credit, calmed down and returned to his seat.

“I understand,” she said. “The goal tonight is to help you find your goal and ‘navigate’ to it. What do you expect from this program – immediate, intermediate, and long-range?

Anderson said he wanted to continue the broad based collaborations for the entire watershed.

Wade said he wanted to environmentally preserve the Merced River watershed. Show respect for property owners, agriculture and recreation.

Ferrigno: 85 percent of the farmers along the river (she represents). We come to protect ourselves. We want equal representation in grant formulation. We’ll live with the consequences. Take the grant money, but leave us alone re. projects on site that we don’t initiate or have equal part in. Stillwater wasting funds and not listening to local knowledge. Funds better spent on a weir than on snorkeling to count fish – its’ ridiculous.
Somehow MRS became subservient to EMRCD. Who put our website up for sale? We were moved into a different category

Ratzlaff: funds are wasted by the govt. on bad restoration projects. People don’t know how much money has been wasted. On her land, agencies killed acres of old growth oak trees.

Wade: RCD didn’t write the checks. Grants were written to DWR’s RFP.

Ferrigno: If the RFP doesn’t fit, don’t write a grant to it.

Sansone is interested in property issues on Black Rascal and Bear creeks.

Lynn Sullivan: said she wanted action and projects done. Don’t study it to death.

Weber: the studies (in the failed grant) were to establish baselines to be able to act.

Sullivan: Let’s plant trees.

Miller: Like Chris Robinson did?

Fisherman wants a healthy anadromous fishery.

Lashbrook: There is tension between private property owners and the good of the environment. We need more carrots for the landowners. We have to pretend, make up those processes. We have to have the agencies listen, have the dialogue stronger. But I also know that Stillwater had to do those studies – you can’t do it from hearsay.

Miller wanted quality and quantity of habitat, density of species and protection and improvement of the natural resources. Having been involved in the stakeholder process since 1998, she knows the process works: there is tension, critical voices and supportive commentary. It is frustrating to have to go back to the mission statement. A technical advisory committee is being brought back, excluding the MRS. We should not be cut out of certain organizations.

Bill Thompson (couldn’t understand his comment)

Joe Mitchell: river is degraded by agriculture, mining, etc. for economic reasons. We have a canal now. He would like to see farmers farm subsidized riparian corridors, movement corridors. We take road rights of ways by eminent domain, why not riparian corridors.

Biologist from McConnell/Hatfield parks introduces herself.

Lashbrook says she and her husband bought their place by the river in 1996. They wanted info on the river about permits, projects, grants, wanted a watershed booklet to show how dumping oil down a sewer impacted the river, etc.

Thompson (Lashbrook’s husband) said his goal was to make this place (their farm) good for seven generations, learning to protect the land, not letting people drill gas wells. Some stakeholders wondered why, if this statement was true, neither Thompson nor Planning Commissioner Lashbrook had opposed the recent approval of a gas-well project directly across the river from their ranch. Where were they when support was needed at the Hearing Officer hearings on the well?

Cramer guy gave another advertisement for his consulting firm’s services.

Mitchell: a dense riparian corridor will increase total food supply for all fish, including predators.

Lashbrook: get DFG to lift limit on bass when smolts are being released. Again, this left some stakeholders wondering if Lashbrook would propose a Riverdance Farm Bass Derby on their ranch during this time. Perhaps they could get a grant?

Also Lashbrook: There are reports that agencies are tired of the negativity and inertia (of MRS). “This is a dying thing as far as I’m concerned.” Some stakeholders wondered that if Lashbrook really believed this, why would she apply for grants on behalf of the lower river, represented by the MRS?

Ferrigno: MRS is the only forum that lets all the stakeholders sit down together. We want it to go on in an enhanced way.

Miller added that opponents of the grant were not trying to hinder the MRS process, in which quite divergent interests sit down every other month or so and thrash out their differences. Lashbrook and other RCD board members do not want MRS participation in grants – and have proved it by deeds – because MRS participation would require accountability for distribution of grant funds, which RCD board members, staffers and MRA staffers do not want. There is too much evidence of failure to report spending of these public funds on RCD/MRA river projects.

Drake: Communication needs to be clearer. (MRS) accomplishes what?

Some stakeholders wondered how the professionally ignorant value-free facilitator would know what was clear and what wasn’t, not having read anything about the issues and only having heard one side of the story hissed in her ear.

Miller said dialogue could not have been clearer and pages of concerns were submitted to the MRS, the RCD and ultimately to the DWR in Sacramento. It did achieve our goal. We followed MRS process. We were clear about our participation. We were up front. We said what was going to happen on the grant. And the next grant will also be killed, she said, after what she and other opponents of the grant have been through making a state Public Records Act request of the RCD.

Lashbrook: “Pre-innoculated.” Not sure what that meant. Undigested jargon like that is exactly the problem of communication between MRS and RCD. A great deal of what comes out of county Planning Commissioner Lashbrook’s mouth is pure gibberish, in the view of some Merced River stakeholders. And this impedes vital communication.

Lashbrook then went back to the MRS governance committee, again accusing Miller and Ferrigno of wanting no governance, no way to “yea or nay” a grand. “You didn’t want MRS to take a position. Then she went through the famous letter of opposition to the grant, written by some stakeholders, accusing them of speaking for all stakeholders.

Miller said the RCD didn’t make the grant information available to the MRS.

Lashbrook replied that there was nothing in either the RCD or MRS charters telling us that you have to be in the first “dreams and nightmares” of a grant.

Again, asked some MRS members, what does she mean, exactly or even approximately?

“Lydia!” Sansoni shouted. He said one of the last reports to the governance committee of the MRS said that we weren’t mandated by any agency. MRS is a venue for all agencies and participants to exchange information and views. Miller had no right to write a letter signing for all the MRS.

Weber called it “dishonorable.”

Lashbrook called it “heinous.”

Ferrigno said that the people who wrote the grant were on the RCD and were receiving salaries from grants. It was a question of oversight versus recipients. Direct beneficiaries wrote grants and were to oversee them. This is an incestuous process. Cindy had no mandate. I am a taxpayer. That’s my mandate. How is this to go on with EMRCD negativity and antagonism toward Pat and Lydia?

Lashbrook interrupts. Her comment was unclear.

Ferrigno. WE will form our own group; get a lawyer and a lobbyist.

Drake: If you want money to do something, find another pass-through (other than RCD). As a grant writer herself, she said sometimes there is very little time to write a grant. You have to come up with a decision-making structure for those quick situations, some process, someone in authority. Someone who knows what our priorities are.
Action needs money.

Mitchell said most of the action was done through DFG and the landowners.

Lashbrook said when the DWR grant came up we were told to do another planning process.”Gwen asked you a zillion times for input. We couldn’t do enough. We don’t want that? Rather than alternatives, you gave us roadblocks.
This has probably killed millions of dollars in restoration implementation.
That’s my river! You just put a big roadblock on it,” said Commissioner Lashbrook, who bought her farm on the river in 1996.

Some MRS stakeholders know that there were people in the room whose ancestral relationships to the Merced River goes back to the 18th and 19th centuries and the Merced River is a Public Trust, not a RCD/MRA staffer private piggybank full of public funds.

Sullivan exclaimed in Miller’s direction: “You killed money for the river?!” (and left shortly thereafter).

Miller: “First of all, I am tired of people criticizing that have not read the material. The RCD has refused to distribute it. Why am I having this dialogue with you when you have not read the grant proposal? We read the grant and had outside counsel read it and make comments. We offered to meet with the RCD. The RCD refused. We told Gwen from March to June what our position was and our questions were blown off. We told you in March we would appeal it. We told you we wanted to meet. We made 41 points of objection at the May meeting” (boiled down to five by yet another interim value-free facilitator).

Drake: “You don’t have any money.
1. Put in a process for making decisions.
2. 2. Agencies won’t come if we don’t have a paid facilitator.”

Weber: “Maybe I want this process to dissolve. If there is always a group to oppose in MRS, RCD is the group” (to get the money).

Miller: “We don’t always oppose. Individually, we’ve sued the Bettencourts. How is it that from one isolated grant proposal now you’re killing the MRS? We’ve been treated badly by the RCD. Is the RCD a participant in the MRS or is MRS subservient to the RCD.”

Thompson: “In your MRS at the school, you said you could get your own grants.” (The implication Thompson made was that the non-RCD MRS stakeholders could then compete for administrative fees, salaries, and expenses with RCD staffers, including his wife Lashbrook).

Miller: “We can get grants. But, we’re here. We knew we’d be met with hostility. You still haven’t read the material.”

Ferrigno said that we have all written grants. It’s no big deal.

Drake: “Would you oppose a grant from MRS members?”

Miller: “It depends.”

Lashbrook: “MRS asked RCD for a facilitator. As far as RCD is concerned, it doesn’t matter. The agencies have no reason to be here now.”

An exchange took place between Lashbrook and Ferrigno about landowners and victims. Ferrigno said that the landowners object to the paternalism of RCD and to some mission Lashbrook is talking about “protecting landowners.” Lashbrook asked: When does any agency come to you on everything? Ferrigno: “Often.”

Miller: “It’s called environmental review.”

Sansoni and another gentleman announced that in a nutshell you folks effectively killed the grant. So, what’s your perception? Basically dead without the grant.

Miller:” The RCD allotted more for facilitation.”

Lashbrook: “The project manager wanted it to go to something positive.”
(The manager is Nancy McConnell, who lost a salary due to the loss of the grant)

Whipp chimed in with the “fact” that the state doesn’t or won’t allow it. (It allowed it two months ago but now doesn’t?)

Sansoni: “Where do you want to go?”

Ferrigno: “We need to study what’s appropriate to the MRS. We can oppose anything from the MRS.”

Sansoni brought up the letterhead issue again.

Ferrigno said he should read her letter signed by numerous river landowners (separate from Millers on behalf of San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center).

Miller: ”…and you should read the opening paragraph in our letter.”

Sansoni: “You cannot speak for the MRS.”

Miller said she had spoken as a member of MRS, and she said she would do it again. The groups she represents – at this point Lashbrook snared, “Groups! Ho, ho ho!” – have standing in the MRS since the beginning of MRS, she said. Miller added that she resented it that Sansoni had not read the material.

Lashbrook (nearly sobbing with hysteria):”The RCD and MRA had a letter to answer Lydia and Bill’s letter but we didn’t submit it!” She also mentioned that she had consulted with several attorneys about remedies for the grievous injustice. This alleged “injustice,” for which she has not yet found a mouthpiece, is evidently what the commissioner imagines is being done to her. Forget the river.

Miller replied that she ought to have submitted that letter. “It’s an open process,” she said.

After the grant was rejected, Commissioner Lashbrook abused her public office with numerous phone calls to members of the public, frightening one group to the point they do not admit signing onto the opposition letter. This harassment by a public official has become Lashbrook’s vendetta against Miller and groups associated with her.

Wade (RCD president at the time) said the next MRS meeting would be on Jan. 21, 2008.

A heckler from the crowd who had without doubt read less of the pertinent documents than the facilitator said you can’t do anything in this world without money.

Lashbrook urged the group to bring in ideas for raising money.

Money for whom, some stakeholders wondered.

Ferrigno said the meeting should be held at the Washington School and asked why the venue is always an issue.

Ratzlaff said Washington School is easier for the landowners to get to.

In one of her patented loud mumbles, Lashbrook commented, “Rubbish!” Due to lack of bridges, her ranch, on the other side of the river from the school, is closer to some other venues. The landowners on the river can get 40 other landowners to a meeting at Washington School. Lashbrook can only muster shrinking groups of associates, including a quorum of a shrinking number of RCD board members, at other venues.

Drake urged the group to be realistic on effectiveness. Can you effect change? Don’t think about what happened, but what will happen. You have to be really honest.

Meeting adjourned.

After the meeting Wade approached Miller and Ferrigno and the reporter with pictures of strange fill that had appeared on his river bank, wondering if any of us knew how this dirt would have gotten there to join a small island with his bank. This encounter turned out to have serious consequences for the RCD. RCD board members and staff told him after the meeting that he would not be permitted to talk with Miller, the reporter or Ferrigno. It was the last straw for Wade. At the regular RCD board meeting two days later, he resigned his presidency and membership on the RCD board effective immediately.

Ferrigno and the reporter speculated on a possible psychological diagnosis for one of the RCD board members.

Drake told them there were difficult personality problems in the group.

The article on this meeting that appeared in the Merced Sun-Star the following day, written by a Sun-Star reporter present at the meeting, plus an incoherent audio interview of that reporter on the subject of the meeting, confirmed the suspicions of some stakeholders that this Sun-Star reporter hadn’t read the grant or any of the other pertinent documents either. An earlier puff piece featuring a front-page picture of Lashbrook by the river in Snelling with a child and a dip net led some stakeholders to the opinion that this reporter is writing as if she has chosen sides in a conflict of which she is ignorant, perhaps because it is easier for her to listen to diatribes and play on riverbanks with school children than it is to read public documents. The same dismal aversion to the written page afflicts most of the MRS stakeholders as well. Don’t we already know where people with the most illiterate sound bites have led us?

Stakeholders who opposed the infamous grant proposal written by and for staff of the RCD and the Merced River Alliance were willing to try to reach a compromise before final submission of the proposal and clearly communicated that intent during MRS meetings in March and May. The staff, intent on subordinating the MRS stakeholders to the RCD and to itself, refused to meet. Now there are no possible compromises left and the RCD/MRA staff vendetta goes on, led by Planning Commissioner Lashbrook, who now behaves as if her public post is a license to bully and burble however she likes. When she was appointed to a seat on the planning commission, people who weren’t dogmatically pro-growth believed they had a seat at the county’s table. Unfortunately, it has turned out that the county gained a seat at the table of the numerous local non-governmental organizations to which Lashbrook belongs. On the commission, she is a compliant voice and vote who doesn’t challenge prevailing, environmentally destructive policy, choosing to nitpick around the edges of projects instead. In fact, Lashbrook is loudly establishing herself in Merced as an “environmentalist” in name only.

An air of remorseless stupidity clings to the rejected grant issue. This stupid wind, as they say, “is going around” in government circles at the moment. It is driven ultimately by the terrible failure Merced has experienced at the hands of its UC Merced-bedazzled land-use officials (“Nothing bad can happen because we got UC Merced!”). They approved real estate projects that produced a colossal rate of mortgage foreclosures that has made the name “Merced” a national poster child for irresponsible growth and financial, insurance and real estate fraud. In this rush to grow, local land-use officials also bet on the come on a sales tax increase to help fund the streets and roads necessary to serve the half-built subdivisions with empty houses that now ring cities, but lost that vote three times. Did Lashbrook and spouse bet their ranch on the money she would make from the infamous rejected grant? She is reliably reported to have said as much.

Neither Lashbrook nor her corrupt, witless cronies in local government. have anything to lose. Their reputations are shot. So why not declare a vendetta against MRS stakeholder groups that have consistently stood for fair and open public process, honest accounting for public funds, and environmental, social and economic justice for 30 years, taking those governments to court on behalf of the public whenever necessary?

But, who believes Planning Commissioner/UC-Great Valley Center IDEAL graduate/RCD-MRA staff/RCD associate board member/MRS member/Agricultural Futures Alliance participant/MARG member/CAFF board member/ESA anti-Pombo campaigner/CCOF trustee/owner of Riverdance Farms and host of the publicly funded Harvest/River Fair/ owner of Four Seasons ecological consultants Lashbrook anymore?

For some environmentalists, organizations are tools for achieving environmental goals. Lashbrook, on the other hand, seems to have amassed a large hat collection through which to babble and conduct a personal funding drive and a personal vendetta. Are state officials in charge of monitoring public grant funds aware of the extent to which they have subsidized Lashbrook's public/private win-win hat collection?

Badlands Journal editorial board

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The brutal sentimentality of Ol' Shrimp Slayer and other municipal discontent

Submitted: Dec 01, 2007

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20071130_conservative_or_just_plain_corrupt/

Constituents of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, received on Friday a newsletter titled "Foreclosure Event," announcing a foreclosure-counseling session in Stockton for Saturday, co-hosted by Rep. Jerry "HighTek" McNerney, Pombo's Replacement-Pleasanton. On the surface, this is one more episode in the Denny Show in which the ol' slayer demonstrates his compassion for constituents (on one day's notice).

If only it were so. Some of the Shrimp Slayer's constituents, however, found an article on the Blue Dog Coalition published the same day, "Blue Dog Democrats: Conservative, Or Just Plain Corrupt?" by David Sirota. Cardoza is a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of Democrats that votes with Republicans most of the time. He is one of three congressmen who lead the coalition. As Sirota explains, the Blue Dog opposition to H.R. 3609, the Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act, reeks of one more Blue Dog sellout to finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Cardoza, one of the most mindless pro-growth congressmen in the nation during the real estate bubble, represents a district that now contains the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. In the backroom, he sells out to special interests; in public he twists the knife into the victims of mortgage fraud that has caused a global credit crisis by offering "counseling." McNerney trots along as liberal window dressing.

The juxtaposition of the Cardoza flak and the article on Blue Dog corruption reveals the pattern of behavior we have come to expect from the Shrimp Slayer. Cardoza always claimed to be in favor of the Endangered Species Act at the same time as he introduced three bills to gut it. Presumably, even now he is working behind the scenes on the latest, administrative, attempt to accomplish what Congress refused to do. Whoever is vulnerable -- from victim of predatory lending to little beastie -- you can be sure to find Cardoza nearly weeping in public and stomping in the backroom. This combination of sentimentality and brutality is the essence of this politician's corrupt career. Whenever the Denny Show comes to town oozing compassion, look in the backroom for what he's covering up. This is a guy who acts as if he believes the US Congress exists solely to enhance his personal power and wealth. He does not appear to have any other goal or any shame at all.

However, on Nov 15, 2007, Cardoza voted for H.R. 3915: Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007. All Democrats who voted voted for H.R. 3915, joined by 64 Republicans. Everything about this bill looks good except the date. It should have been the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2004. But there is just nothing like Congress for slamming doors shut on empty barns. And for that you can't blame Cardoza. It's the company he keeps. The Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed Congress got a 25-percent approval rating on November 5--eight points lower than the president.

Finally, Mercedians received an editorial from Sonny Star, Mama McClatchy's local gigolo press, complaining about the dangers to the community of foreclosed, empty houses, "Foreclosure is not a superficial problem -- it creates unsafe and unhealthy conditions in our community...Our View." Sonny Star never saw a development it didn't like, including the Riverside Motorsports Park project (until after it was approved by the board of supervisors). Sonny suggests an "emergency law" to deal with the growing problem.

Badlands Journal suggests that those responsible for this growing problem, the members of the Merced City Council and the Merced County Board of Supervisors, be held personally liable because -- as the local land-use authorities -- they approved the projects that are now stinking up the town. Five of the seven city council members were realtors when these projects were approved and they profited from them. They knew the game and have absolutely no claim of innocence. Developers and large landowners dictated every land-use decision the supervisors made throughout the speculative real estate boom. Personal liability, in our view, would include sending out the elected officials who made the land-use decisions in work crews in color-coded overalls to maintain those empty houses. The idea that those who made such stupid decisions, driven by such open greed, should now open the public trough with an "emergency law" to maintain homes built for a speculator-driven bubble, is vintage Sonny Star. It works on the principle that if the public is dumb enough to pay to clean up a mess made by the land-use authorities elected to serve the public and by the gigolo press, another boom will start and real estate advertising revenues are sure to return to the coffers of McClatchy Co.'s local outlet.

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

Vision Credit Education, Inc.
Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act--11-1-07

http://blog.stopccdebt.com/emergency-ownership-and-mortgage-equity-protection-act/
Congress may soon vote on H.R. 3609, which is titled the Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act. The idea is to provide bankruptcy judges the authority to modify mortgage loans to help families afford the payments.
The bill proposes allowing distressed homeowners to include their mortgage in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing. There are some other important proposed changes also.
H.R. 3609 would eliminate the credit counseling requirement that was put in place by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. A distressed homeowner would merely have to prove to the court that a foreclosure action has commenced. It is unknown if this provision will remain in the final version of the bill.
These are the major points of the bill:
Eliminates taxpayer bailout of subprime mortgage industry
Helps some families avoid foreclosure
Helps surrounding property values by reducing overall foreclosure rates
Lenders could avoid expensive foreclosure costs
Eliminates requirement for credit counseling to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy (assume foreclosure action has commenced)...
DSNews.com
MBA Not Fond of Proposed Bankruptcy Legislation...Kerri Panchuk...10-5-07

http://www.dsnews.com/view_story.cfm?id=1612
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) released a statement this week signaling its concerns about proposed legislation that, if passed, would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a mortgage contract during bankruptcy proceedings. The house bill, HR 3609, passed the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law by a 5-4 vote.
“Giving judges free rein to rewrite the terms of a mortgage would further destabilize the mortgage backed securities market and will exacerbate the serious credit crunch that is currently hindering the ability of thousands of Americans to get an affordable mortgage,” said Kurt Pfotenhauer, senior vice president for government affairs and public policy at the MBA. “The current legislation gives no guidance as to the proper parameters for judges to modify existing loan contracts.”
Pfotenhauer says judges with more authority to decrease a loan's value also have the ability to hit all consumers in the pocketbook.
“The reason you only pay six percent on a mortgage loan, where another type of consumer loan may cost ten percent or more, is that the mortgage loan is secured by an asset—the home,” explained Pfotenhauer. “When a judge can unilaterally reduce the amount that the lender can get when the home is sold, it devalues the asset securing the loan and the lender and investor will either not fund a loan, or will increase the cost of the loan. Either way, consumers are the ones who pay the price.”
Truthdig.com
11-30-07
Blue Dog Democrats: Conservative, Or Just Plain Corrupt?...David Sirota

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20071130_conservative_or_just_plain_corrupt/
Through their ethics scandals, Republicans in Washington long ago began making the word “conservative” synonymous with the term “corrupt.” Surprisingly, though, it is a group of Democrats that is cementing this definitional conversion for good.
In the midst of the housing crisis, a cadre of self-described “conservative” Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition is demanding congressional leaders delay legislation designed to help people trapped in high-interest loans stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. The bill, House Resolution 3609, allows judges to ameliorate the terms of abusive “subprime” mortgages. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., is championing it-a gutsy move for a lawmaker whose state domiciles major lenders.
The Blue Dogs say they oppose Miller’s initiative out of concern for the integrity of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill-a telling justification. Under that odious law, millionaires can shield their mansions from creditors, and corporate executives (think: Enron guys) can prevent ripped-off shareholders and employees from seizing their holdings. Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren notes that the law also “permits people with vacation homes and investment property to rework their mortgages in bankruptcy.”
But regular homeowners? Sorry-without Miller’s legislation, judges are barred from defending you against the vultures.
Blue Dog Democrats cite the social conservatism of their rural and exurban districts as the reason for such high-profile stands against their party. Somehow, we are expected to believe that their constituents’ anti-abortion or pro-gun views mean those same constituents want Congress to help banks throw people out of their homes. But since when did any voters-conservative or otherwise-support that kind of thing?
Since never, of course. “Conservatism” is being used as the cover for corruption.
As National Journal reports, corporate lobbyists “knew exactly who to go to in order to stop the [foreclosure relief] bill in its tracks: the Blue Dog Coalition.” These lawmakers are the mercenaries’ go-to crew not because of any principled ideology, but because they have been big recipients of campaign cash from the finance and real estate industries.
Of course, this is only the most recent example of pay-to-play shenanigans on banking issues.
In 2005, 20 “New” Democrats-another group billed as “conservative”-signed a letter demanding the passage of the original Bankruptcy Bill. Those Democrats had pocketed a combined $750,000 from the financial industry.
That same year, the Senate cast a “conservative” vote defeating a bill limiting credit card interest rates to a whopping 30 percent-a modest measure to say the least. Eighteen Republican and Democratic lawmakers voting against the measure had previously voted for a tougher interest cap. What changed? They received about $2 million from the credit card and banking industries in the interim.
Still, this new Blue Dog letter takes the cake for sheer brazenness. Why? Because the current mortgage crisis is especially hitting the kinds of exurban and rural districts these “conservative” Democrats purport to speak for.
The Atlantic Monthly’s Matthew Yglesias recently reviewed foreclosure data and found that “the hardest-hit areas are the high-growth fringes of vibrant metro areas”-the exurbs that Blue Dog signatories like Illinois Rep. Melissa Bean (D) represent.
Real Estate magazine reports, “In 500 rural counties, one-third or more of mortgage originations involved high-interest loans.” That could spell trouble for districts like the one represented by Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga.-another signer. His state has almost 30,000 homes financed by subprime loans.
So, will these faux “conservatives” win? Maybe in this battle over mortgage reform, and in some other upcoming skirmishes like the brouhaha over taxes. National Journal reports that this same group of Democrats is intent on “limiting the scope” of proposals to close the loophole letting billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than the janitors who clean their offices. Apparently, the Blue Dogs would have us believe conservative, working-class constituents are insisting their congressional representatives not only support bank foreclosures, but also help Wall Street barons rob the federal treasury.
Nonetheless, over the long term, those like the Blue Dogs will have an increasingly difficult time succeeding-both legislatively and electorally. The more they attach their “conservative” label to such obscene corruption, the more that label will be indelibly tarnished. Aiding loan sharks and tax cheats may elicit campaign donations and smiles in Washington, but it is no way to win hearts and minds in the rest of America.
David Sirota is the bestselling author of “Hostile Takeover” (Crown, 2006). He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network-both nonpartisan research organizations. His daily blog can be found at www.credoaction.com/sirota.Foreclosure Event‏
From: Dennis Cardoza (dennis.cardoza@congressnewsletter.net)
Sent: Fri 11/30/07 10:36 AM
Dear Bill ,
We all know from news reports and personal experiences that the foreclosure crisis sweeping the country is having a particularly severe effect here in the Valley. My last e-newsletter addressed this issue and included a survey asking you to tell me how the foreclosure crisis has affected you personally. The responses that I received were overwhelming; almost 70% of those answering were affected by the crisis in some way.
In response I, along with my colleague Congressman Jerry McNerney, have organized a comprehensive foreclosure workshop at 10am on Saturday December 1st to offer free, confidential advice to families facing foreclosure or worried about making their mortgage payments. Counselors will be available from government agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the California Housing Finance Authority, and the Stockton Housing Department, as well as non-profits such as NeighborWorks and Consumer Credit Counseling. To make the most of the time with counselors, participants are asked to bring all relevant mortgage and financial paperwork. Details on the event are below. I strongly encourage anyone facing foreclosure problems to attend this workshop.
Please RSVP so we can ensure there are enough counselors on hand to offer assistance. To RSVP, or to ask any other questions you may have, please call Erica Rodriguez at (209) 476-8552 or email McNerney.RSVP@mail.house.gov.
What:
Foreclosure workshop – free, confidential counseling for families facing or concerned about facing foreclosure.
When:
Saturday, December 1, 2007
10 a.m. to Noon
Note: this event is workshop format so those seeking help are encouraged to stop by at any point during the event.
Where:
Stockton Arena Conference Room
248 West Fremont St.
Stockton, CA

Sincerely,
Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

From:Opensecrets.org
Dennis Cardoza

http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.asp?cid=N00024874
Cardoza has received $43,395 from the finance, insurance and real estate sector in the 2007-2008 campaign cycle. This is second only to his contributions from agribusiness, which total $117,440 in a Farm Bill year. In this period Cardoza has received:
$5,000 from American Bankers Association
$5,000 from National Association of Home Builders
$4,000 from Granite Construction
$4,000 from Farm Credit Council
$3,300 from Financial Center credit uNION
$2,000 from Fannie Mae
$1,000 from Mortgage Bankers Association
Merced Sun-Star
12-2-07
Foreclosure is not a superficial problem -- it creates unsafe and unhealthy conditions in our community...Our View

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/177/story/86660.html
Take a stroll through some of the relatively new subdivisions in Merced and you'll notice something ugly: There are a lot of foreclosed homes descending into neglect.
The telltale signs begin in the front yards, where an overgrown, weed-infested mess of a lawn signals to everyone: This property has been foreclosed!
In extreme cases, some of the homes have been broken into, and others are infested with pigeons or other vermin. We're talking about dwellings that are in some instances less than a year old.
These eyesores are smack in the middle of some of the city's nicest addresses. They're a black eye for all of us...
We think the council's best option is to pass an emergency law to deal with the blight.
Doing so may send shivers up the city attorney's spine (he'd have to help craft something that doesn't trample on the rights of property owners), but it likely would be the most proactive measure the city could take because it actually would have teeth.
The city's code currently requires a lengthy review process prior to inserting itself to fix blighted properties. This process routinely takes months -- and that's just too long.
An emergency law could shorten that review process to a more responsive level -- say, a month or less...
That may be an extreme step -- but at least something gets done.

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Department of Interior admits MacDonald wrongdoing

Submitted: Nov 27, 2007

Press release from House Natural Resources Committee on Julia MacDonald. The Department of Interior admitted to the committee that MacDonald interferred with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on behalf of special interests in several Endangered Species Act cases. Two of those cases occurred in Merced County.
Badlands Journal editorial board

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

November 27, 2007

CONTACT:
Allyson Groff, 202-226-9019
Allyson L. Groff

Communications Director
Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
http://resourcescommittee.house.gov

Rahall: Interior Concedes MacDonald Meddled with Science

Washington, D.C. – In response to months of allegations about political tinkering within its own ranks and demands for reviews by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), the Department of the Interior today conceded that seven out of eight decisions made during the tenure of Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, warrant revision.

“Julie MacDonald, who was a civil engineer by training, should never have been allowed near the endangered species program. This announcement is the latest illustration of the depth of incompetence at the highest levels of management within the Interior Department and breadth of this Administration’s penchant for torpedoing science. Today we hear that seven out of eight decisions she made need to be scrapped, causing us once again to question the integrity of the entire program under her watch,” Rahall said.

Rahall has repeatedly pressed the agency to review possible political tampering within its ranks. A May 9 oversight hearing, called in the aftermath of a scathing Inspector General report, examined MacDonald’s role in politicizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Following up, Rahall sent two letters, dated May 17 and June 20, to Interior’s Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, requesting a departmental review of a number of ESA listing decisions made during MacDonald’s service.

The latest announcement outlines seven specific ESA decisions that Interior has determined were “inappropriately influenced” by MacDonald. The Fish and Wildlife Service had announced on July 20 that it intended to review eight ESA decisions where it appeared that MacDonald had played a significant role in asserting her own political interests to overrule scientific decisions on endangered species recovery.

“Julie MacDonald’s dubious leadership and waste of taxpayer dollars will now force the agency to divert precious time, attention, and resources to go back and see that the work is done in a reliable and untainted manner. The agency turned a blind eye to her actions – the repercussions of which will not only hurt American taxpayers, but could also imperil the future of the very creatures that the endangered species program intends to protect,” Rahall said.
..............................

Contact: Leda Huta, (202) 320-6467

Sarah Matsumoto (510) 520-1004

US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE TO REVISE 7 ENDANGERED SPECIES DECISIONS TAINTED BY CORRUPTION

Press Statement of Leda Huta, Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition

Washington, DC- “The Endangered Species Coalition welcomes the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will revise seven endangered and threatened species decisions improperly influenced by political appointees.

“We are heartened to hear that the Canadian lynx, the California red-legged frog, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and other species on the brink of extinction may finally receive the protections they urgently need. However, this should be the first step in a complete investigation into the Bush Administration’s corruption and political manipulation of decisions affecting our nation’s endangered species.

“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of endangered species protections that have been weakened by political manipulations. The depth of the Bush Administration’s corruption and suppression of science has not yet been fully uncovered.

“We call on President Bush to reexamine all cases where there is documented evidence that Department of Interior officials interfered with scientific decisions. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall must ensure that this process is open and transparent and that the decisions be made based on science rather than politics.

“The Bush Administration has a long history of corruption and political interference in scientific decision making in endangered species decisions. A report released in March by the Inspector General of the Department of Interior found that Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald rode roughshod over numerous decisions by agency scientists concerning protection of the nation’s endangered species. The report also found that MacDonald violated federal rules by sending internal documents to industry lobbyists with ChevronTexaco, the Pacific Legal Foundation, California Farm Bureau, and others.

“We thank the members of the House Natural Resources Committee for holding oversight hearings regarding many of these decisions as well as other cases of political interference in endangered species decisions. We welcome the opportunity to work with Congress to ensure that this is a complete and thorough examination so that species on the brink of extinction receive the protections they deserve.”

As the guardian of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) and the wildlife it protects, the Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is composed of 380 environmental, conservation, religious, scientific, humane, sporting and business groups around the country. Our tools are public education, scientific information and citizen participation in decisions affecting the fate of at-risk species. Through extensive grassroots work, education, discussions with lawmakers, and the dissemination of information, we work to ensure that the Act itself, as well as all endangered animals and plants, can be passed on safely into the future.

###

Sarah Matsumoto
Deputy Director
Endangered Species Coalition
Oakland, CA
(510) 520-1004
smatsumoto@stopextinction.org
www.stopextinction.org

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Is growth inevitable?

Submitted: Nov 24, 2007

There are a number of planning processes going on in the San Joaquin Valley at the moment. They include the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint dealing with transportation planning, numerous general plan updates of counties and cities including Merced County and whatever proposals UC/Great Valley Center is fomenting. Although these planning processes are formally uncoordinated, they are closely linked by the guiding ideology of finance, insurance, real estate and large landholding interests: "Growth is inevitable."

Isn't it more likely that death and taxes are inevitable and that growth is merely desirable to some people in society? In fact, recent news suggests that growth may not even be possible in the near future, let alone inevitable.

If you read the local papers, you will see that in September Merced had the highest rate of households in some stage of foreclosure in the nation (one in 68 households). In October, Stockton came on strong with a rate of one in 31 households.

If you read the financial news, you will see that when reset time comes on the mortgages loaned in 2006 at the height of the speculative housing boom, foreclosure rates will rise.

If you read further in the financial section, you will see that most financial news is bad at the moment and that the speculative housing bubble, having burst, is spreading to credit card debt and auto loans and in fact to all securitized loans and to the banks and hedge funds. You will note articles that attribute falling stock-markets from the US to Germany to Shanghai to problems in the US mortgage-lending industry. You will also note that oil is very close to $100 a barrel now, which among other things is a hardship on the hundreds of thousands of commuters in the north San Joaquin Valley who drive to the Bay Area for work every day. You will also note bankruptcies among nationwide construction corporations and falling stock prices for those still standing.

Countrywide Financial sank 20.1 per cent on the week to $9.65 after analysts said the company could be affected if GSEs stopped buying its mortgages in the secondary market. However, the company said rumours that it would seek bankruptcy protection were "absolutely false".Meanwhile the big banks once again suffered a torrid week, precipitated by a Goldman Sachs analyst note that forecast another $48bn in writedowns by the end of 2008. Citigroup shed 6.8 per cent to $31.70 after the note said Citi could take $22bn in writedowns linked to its portfolio of collateralised debt obligations, $11bn this quarter, and $11bn next year.Homebuilder stocks were also punished amid a deepening malaise in the US real estate market.The S&P homebuilder index was down 14.3 per cent this week at 318.07, declining for six consecutive days before buyers sparked a rebound yesterday.Shares in Pulte Homes , shed 25 per cent of their value this week at $9.63. With house prices plummeting, nervous investors are keeping a careful eye on retail sales amid fears that belt-tightening consumers may deliver a poor shopping holiday season...
Elsewhere, General Motors was the Dow's biggest fallers this week, down 7.2 per cent at $27.16.-- Financial Times, Nov. 24, 2007

Recession appears now to be a more likely outcome of the speculative housing bubble than growth.

But, planners say: Now that we have the rooftops (setting aside for a moment whether the houses are inhabitated), the commercial development will come. All we need is more federal highway funds in one of the top two worst air-pollution basins in the nation as oil prices continue to escalate, they say. They also say that nothing bad can happen in Merced because we have the UC campus.

But more and more mainstream economists are saying that there has been something quite wrong with the way both residential and commercial real estate investment is handled in the US, and this mishandling is leading to global financial problems of a magnitude no one quite understands. No one is talking about any other kind of growth around here but residential and commercial real estate growth.

The slogan, "Growth is inevitable," in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains cities with the highest mortgage foreclosure rates in the nation, seems a little silly right now. The planners, politicians and special interests should come up with another slogan. If they are too rigid to invent a new slogan, perhaps the public could help them with something less rigid and more open, perhaps even a question like: "Is growth inevitable?"

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

Notes:
Financial Times
Ailing mortage lenders set tone on Wall St...Chris Bryant in New York...11-23-07
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/1df0301e-990e-11dc-bb45-0000779fd2ac,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F1df0301e-990e-11dc-bb45-0000779fd2ac.html&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fhome%2Fus

ECB set to pump cash into money markets...Ralph Atkins and Ivar Simensen in Frankfurt and David Oakley in London...11-23-07
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/6a8adc9a-99b7-11dc-ad70-0000779fd2ac,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F6a8adc9a-99b7-11dc-ad70-0000779fd2ac.html&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fhome%2Fus

CounterPunch.com
"A Generalized Meltdown of Financial Institutions"
Take a Look at Professor Roubini's Crystal Ball...MIKE WHITNEY...11-24-07
http://www.counterpunch.com/whitney11242007.html

Nouriel Roubini's Global EconoMonitor
The Next Shoe to Drop in the Credit Meltdown: Commercial Real Estate and Its Massive Forthcoming Losses...Nouriel Roubini...11-14-07
http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/roubini/226654/

The Housing Bubble
http://thehousingbubbleblog.com/index.html

Center for Economic and Policy Research: Housing
http://www.cepr.net/component/option,com_issues/task,view_issue/issue,11/Itemid,22/

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Wade resigns presidency of East Merced Resource Conservation District

Submitted: Nov 21, 2007

Bernard Wade, president of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, resigned his office and board membership at the monthly EMRCD meeting Wednesday afternoon.

At a very tense meeting of the Merced River Stakeholders Monday, Wade, who has a riverfront property near Snelling, attempted several times to inject an element of rational explanation into the argument between MRS stakeholders and the EMRCD. The attack on the stakeholders by three of the five EMRCD board members attending the MRS meeting was led as usual by Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook, who is also a paid staffer for the EMRCD and the Merced River Alliance and owns a farm on the river.

The speculation is that the EMRCD would not tolerate Wade's continual polite friendliness to members of the river stakeholders groups, even those who opposed the EMRCD grant as little more than a staff gravy train.

He closed his short letter of resignation to the EMRCD board with a line from Shakespeare: "The fault is not in our stars... but in ourselves."

Bernard Wade is a gentleman whose good manners, friendliness, ability to listen and tolerance of disagreement will be sorely missed in Merced County public affairs.

Badlands Journal editorial board

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason. Umberto Eco, ternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt

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Varieties of federal farm subsidies

Submitted: Nov 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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