Merced County

Unrepresented Stevinson resident speaks out for Sherron, against Kelsey

Submitted: May 28, 2008

Wednesday, May. 28, 2008
Letter: Stevinson left out

Editor: The Hilmar/Stevinson MAC (Municipal Advisory Council) Board is my town's only official connection to the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Without a MAC board, small communities cannot discuss and vote on issues of a local nature with a collective voice. A MAC board only serves in an advisory capacity, but its importance cannot be denied. If an individual complains of a problem to his or her supervisor it can fall on deaf ears. If a board of citizens in a public place complains of a problem to its supervisor then many people have witnessed the event and it cannot be denied or simply brushed aside.

In 2005, I noticed a real problem on the MAC Board representing my town. Stevinson has just two seats on the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC. One of the gentlemen representing Stevinson was only attending the monthly meetings two or three times a year. The other gentleman rarely came because of health issues, and when he did, he almost never spoke a word.

On Aug. 25, 2005, I wrote an e-mail to my supervisor, Deidre Kelsey, asking that the problem of virtually no representation for Stevinson on the MAC Board be rectified. My letter was polite and kind. I received no reply on this issue. I followed this up with a phone call where she said she would think about the situation. Still nothing came of it. I then made a request at a MAC Board meeting. Nothing came of that either. The MAC Board itself has questioned the Stevinson representation issue with Kelsey as well. Again ... nothing happened.

The problem had existed for months before I called attention to it. So, for three years or more there has been virtually no representation for the town of Stevinson under Kelsey's watch, even though she was made aware of it many times.

Please bear in mind that during this time period of no MAC board representation, Stevinson has been under the pressure of a 3,880-unit gated residential development proposal. Also during this time period a steering committee was formed by Kelsey to shape a general plan for Stevinson that would bump our population from 400 to 19,000 people. Every single one of the steering committee meetings was held at the Stevinson Ranch Clubhouse, and they all violated the Brown Act. No guidance package was submitted to the MAC Board for comment on this development project, again, during this time period.

I do not believe that Kelsey has done her job well in Stevinson. The injustices done to this tiny town by Kelsey and the Merced County Planning Department are intolerable.

I have met with Claudine Sherron who is running against Kelsey for the seat of supervisor for District 4. I am astounded by Sherron's intelligence, handle on the issues, honesty and integrity. I am proud to say that I am going to vote for Claudine Sherron for supervisor on June 3. I hope that all of you will take into careful consideration the above events and vote for a change in leadership as well.



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Farmers protest Farm Bureau board action

Submitted: May 25, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008
Letter to the Editor, Merced Sun-Star

It must have been a slow news day for the Merced County Farm Bureau News; the banner headline read: “Farm Bureau Board of Directors Unanimously Support Longtime Champion of Agriculture”.

This endorsement in the District 4 County Supervisors’ race prompted several subscribers to toss the newspaper, unread, into the trash. At least one Farm Bureau member canceled her long-time Farm Bureau membership in disgust. I called the State FB legal office in Sacramento to ask if they condoned this situation.

The attorney I spoke with assured me that all was in order: seven members of the 28-member FB Board constituted a quorum, even if some of them left before all of the business was done.

Yes, he said, the endorsement was valid even if one of the members of the Board who sat through the entire endorsement proceeding was the “Champion’s” husband.

The attorney saw no impropriety when I told him that each candidate in Districts with a contested race had submitted answers to questions deemed important by the Board. Only the comments from Claudine Sherron, the other candidate from District 4, were conspicuously absent from the news article; the FB news even printed the comments from all of the candidates in District Two, where no endorsement was given.

My mother is a Gamble; members of her family have farmed in this very community since 1852; my Dad, Walt Bettencourt, founded our ranch on Shaffer Road in 1939. My brother, Mike, has worked our land since he was tall enough to drive a tractor. We’ve been members of the FB for as long as anyone still alive can remember. I think that qualifies us as “Agriculture” in Merced County .

The “Champion of Agriculture” has not seen fit to provide substantive representation for us or our community (Amsterdam/Hopeton) despite five years of attempts. Despite 156 years of continuous family history in the community, we have to pay an out-of-district fee to get buried!

We’ve petitioned for representation, at least through a MAC, since 2000 when we were unceremoniously dumped into the Snelling MAC, where 5 of the 7 members must reside in the Snelling-Merced Falls School District . Hopeton and Amsterdam each get one vote.

The plight of farmers and agriculture in Merced County has steadily declined during the 13 years in which we have been represented by the “Champion of Agriculture”. It is time for a new look at what constitutes a champion.

We are looking for Claudine Sherron to provide fresh insight and a new perspective to the many problems facing Merced County agriculture.

Pat Bettencourt Ferrigno

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Is there a bounty for Sherron campaign signs?

Submitted: May 24, 2008

Incident in Winton.

Supporters of Claudine Sherron asked people at a gas station in Winton the other day if they could put up a 4-by-8-foot sign on a cyclone construction fence beside the property.

The people at the station said they could and thanked them for asking. The fence is festooned with campaign signs but the people at the station said no one else had asked permission to post them.

Sherron's supporters put up the sign.

Several days later, someone cut it down.

Sherron supporters inquired in Winton who had torn down the sign. People said it was two women in a blue-and-white pickup truck. Eventually, the truck was tracked to an address in town.

Claudine Sherron's husband went to the address, encountered a young man at the door and demanded either he return the sign or put it back up on the construction fence beside the gas station. The young man denied any knowledge of the sign or two women driving the pickup parked in the driveway. He said no one drove it but his father, but that perhaps someone had "borrowed" the truck for this evil purpose, which, along with the two alleged female campaign-sign thieves, he personally knew nothing about.

The dialogue was not conducted in whispers and it attracted a crowd of neighbors. Shortly after Mr. Sherron told the young man at the door that removing campaign signs was a crime, he turned to the crowd and asked if anyone had seen the sign.

One member of the crowd said he had seen the two women unloading the sign from the back of the pickup.

Mr. Sherron told the young man at the door to get the sign back up. He said people saw the women taking down the sign in the middle of the day and that the gas station cameras had tapes of it. Since Merced County voter rolls list no one registered to vote at the address, Mr. Sherron asked the young man, "Who told you to take down that sign?"

The young man loudly denied everything.

We do not know at this time if the sign has been put back up on the construction fence next to the gas station in Winton.

However, the incident raises the interesting possibility that Claudine Sherron's opponent is so desperate that her campaign is telling her supporters to tear down Sherron signs and may even be paying a bounty for them.

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Candidate for the 4th Supervisor District of Merced County Claudine Sherron's Responses to the Public’s Questions

Submitted: May 08, 2008

Badlands dropped by City Hall tonight and caught a spirited debate between supervisor candidates running for the 2nd (City of Merced) and the 4th (rural east side) districts. The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Business and Professional Women of the county. We plan an article on the debate in a few days. Meanwhile, cruising the campaign-literature table we picked up an impressive paper from Claudine Sherron, running against 4th district incumbent Deidre Kelsey. We thought it was substantial and thoughtful. --editors

Restore Integrity Restore Integrity Restore Integrity Restore Integrity


Claudine’s Responses to the Public’s Questions.

What is your vision for Merced County?

My vision for Merced County is to preserve its character and to improve its economy rather than to allow the further disintegration of both through irresponsible growth, unearned enrichment for the few, and hardship for the many. This vision of Merced County, which I share with the volunteers who support me and have urged me to represent the 4th Supervisory District, is based on the belief that we can do better.
We can do better in representing all of the people of Merced County, not just those with financial means to buy patronage; we can do better in providing equal access to government for all of the people of Merced County, not just those who want to further a particular viewpoint; and, we can do better in providing protection to the property and lives of the citizens of Merced County.

I will work to repair the damage to the economy, to public health and safety, and to the quality of life of the people of District 4 as well as to the entire County of Merced. This damage has been caused by the systemically-flawed planning process which has marked the past 15 years with lack of consistent direction and the total absence of transparency. Business-as-usual has not worked for Merced County. We can do better.

We need community-based solutions to the problems which affect our communities. I will bring government back to the citizens I represent and give a voice to those who want to work with me to restore honor to the process of government.

Not only can we do better--we must do better!

What are the three top issues in Merced County?

1). Fix the broken planning process
A process that allows for unrestrained growth and no long-term plans for the well being of the citizens is by definition a broken planning process. Public access to information in order to comment intelligently on projects sailing through the planning department does not meet the requirements of state law, either the Brown Act or the Public Records Act. The planning department, with the aid of the county administration, the planning commission and the board of supervisors is out of completely out of control.

2). Public Safety
We are not at all competitive with the benefits that we offer to our deputy sheriffs or wages which is driving sheriffs from our department and leaving citizens unprotected.

3). Our Future
Think smaller, plan for the people and that is our future.

We need a comprehensive county water plan to insure that residents and farmers have enough.
There is no "balance" between the ambitions of large corporations and the health of our people and way of life.
Eradication of agriculture in California and unstoppable growth is not a foregone conclusion for me.
What skills qualify you to be a County Supervisor?

By philosophy, I am a modest conservative. The result of fifteen years of immodest, reckless, and unmanaged growth in Merced County has been hardship for many and the enrichment of a few. It is time to think smaller and much more carefully; it is time to make decisions based on the public good, not the good of the public’s representatives.

I am a substitute teacher and a partner with my spouse in our family construction business. I have worked tirelessly in our community to understand the problems which have beset us and to improve the quality of life for the residents of the community. I have been frustrated by the lack of support which the individual who is trying to make a difference gets from government. I don’t have a “platinum list” of donors to whom I owe allegiance. I am not running for Supervisor as the first step in my personal political career; I am running for Supervisor to make Merced County a better place to live and do business for everyone--not just the favored few.

I have a degree in Criminal Justice and I have watched in horror as the criminals have targeted the rural people in District 4. I have formulated the plan to get an active neighborhood watch program going and have lobbied my neighbors to make it a reality. I am not a professional politician on a statewide presidential campaign leadership team; my time and my efforts are needed for the betterment of my constituents.
The most important skill I bring to this campaign is the ability to totally focus on my new job as Supervisor for District 4. I had to learn cognitive thinking and the skill of analysis to complete my education. I had to learn to think globally but act locally in assuring the continuing success of our family business. I have no aspirations of becoming a “Big shot”; actually, I have been very happy in my leadership role in my own community. But my community cannot prosper while the County founders; my family business cannot survive in the boom or bust mentality which results from poorly managed, inconsistent, and inequitable planning. My community has asked me to take a leadership role in restoring the luster to Merced County; I want to help bring all the citizens of Merced County to the realization that we will each do better when we can all do better: when each person, each family, each business, and each community takes responsibility to do better, our County will be a better place in which to live and to work. I hope we will once again be famous as the “Gateway to Yosemite” not for having the dubious honor of top national ranking in foreclosure rates and double-digit unemployment.

Analytical decision making is critical to success, and is something that I have been trained to do. The best decisions are those that are made without emotion, but based on the achievement of the particular goal. The step-by-step process that we possess will define success. Also, the critical part of analytical reasoning is being willing to accept the circumstances with which you must contend. There is no room for fantasy. We must push forward with reality.

I bring the opportunity for a fresh start. I have no investment in justifying the poor decisions which have wrecked the county landscape and the economy. It is time to move forward with a fresh perspective and with new energy and determination.

How important is the General Plan Update process?

No intelligent comment can be made on the update process until the County publishes the environmental impact review.

The 1990 Merced County General Plan was a cutting-edge document, well-respected throughout the State with a powerful section on protecting agriculture. The arrival of UC-Merced and the real estate bubble sparked multiple amendments to the point that the General Plan is now a useless document which the Board of Supervisors routinely ignores. An update is necessary because the existing General Plan is out-of-date by statute and it is routinely ignored. Unfortunately the focus groups which are an important part of the Update process are nothing but Planning Department and consultant dog-and-pony shows; the public is poorly represented in the process. This is just another example of Merced County business-as-usual by a closed circle of elite special interests.

Is the General Plan Update proces important to Merced County? Yes.

Is the General Plan Update process embarked upon by the Planning Department with the support of the Board of Supervisors important to Merced County? No.

As long as there is no coordination between the County General Plan Update process and the municipal general plans and the community plans of unincorporated areas, the entire Update process is unrealistic.

What about a grading ordinance?

I believe that a grading ordinance needs to be developed. A grading ordinance would allow neighboring farms and land owners to be aware of conditions taking place that would affect their land. The development of this policy is what is crucial. There is no need to place undue burdens on land owners with trivial regulations. However, land owners need to be made aware of significant changes of landscape that affect things such as underground water flow and overall water availability.

Please describe your recent public service, including any public offices you have held in your recent past.

In the past year community members and I have gathered in response to growing crime in our area. Members of our community have been victimized through ag crime as well as home invasion and property crime. We are in a rural area so we created what has become a virtual municipality in a neighborhood watch program. This program serves as a communication link between residents and gives us resources for times of emergency. This organization has grown to serve a role like volunteer fire personnel. Many of our volunteers have trained and been educated in community services and policing and serve a vital roll in a rural area where we lack municipal support. I serve as secretary/editor.

Additionally, I serve as a leader for the Ballico-Cressey 4-H, mentoring youth in an agricultural environment. I work within the Hilmar School District and have an opportunity to view and interact in the community on various levels. My husband and I own a small home restoration and remodel business that specializes in residential renovation.

Describe your views on funding public safety; in particular we are interested in your level of commitment to funding critical fire protection services provided by the Merced County Fire Department/Cal Fire.

My level of commitment is very strong. I know that we are approaching a public safety crisis and we need to really get behind our public safety systems and organizations now. And, in the case of a major disaster, from natural or terrorist sources, we are in no position to protect and defend our local citizens.

Most people look at fire protection as just that, fire protection, but I am well aware that most calls that fire crews respond to are emergencies other than fire. Additionally, our valley is vulnerable on so many levels at this time in our history. I view our overall public safety from a wide angle. If our county were to be part of a major disaster, would we be able to cope? I am completely committed to creating strong policies and setting high goals to guide public safety services to a higher level of protection and safety for all of us.

As you may know, the Merced County Fire Department/Cal Fire has 21 fires stations of which 4 are now staffed with two firefighters 24 hours, the rest are all staffed with a single permanent firefighter and volunteers. The Merced County Board of Supervisors has been committed to increasing staffing in the Merced County Fire Department. What are your views on the current and future staffing levels of the Merced County Fire Department?

Low-level staffing has far-reaching affects. Ideally I would like to see houses staffed with three and two minimum rather than the two and one staffing we have now. Also, ideally, in my district, I would like to see at least Delhi and Hilmar staffed with a minimum of three. Houses located in more residential areas which are likely to be responding to more medical emergencies, would benefit from the extra personnel to effectively treat and function. Even basic medical calls should optimally have three responding.

We have supplemented our staff with volunteers, and without them we would not function. I am, however, cautious of too much dependence on volunteers. When we rely too heavily on volunteers, we lose vital elements of control.

With all of this being said, understanding reality is critical. We do ourselves no favors by functioning in fantasy. We are facing tough economic times ahead at the state level as well as the county level. I am confident that the future will bring us leaders telling us that because of the budget, we will have to cut services.

I will be the candidate that does not accept that as an answer. I will fight to keep and work toward increasing staffing levels. It is imperative that we elect a candidate that is willing to fight to protect the safety and wellbeing of the citizens as well as those who risk their lives to do the protecting.

The County of Merced has had a long history of cooperative fire protection services with Cal Fire. These services are both efficient and cost effective providing excellent benefits to the citizens of Merced County. What is your view on protecting and/or enhancing this long standing relationship?

I have an extremely strong stance on funding for public safety, as I said before. Further, I am very committed to continuing funding for the Merced County/Cal Fire relationship. This relationship provides the best protection for Merced County residents. Here are a few reasons why:

· Cal Fire has a superior prevention program
· Cal Fire has the ability to draw from resources that reach far beyond Merced County in times of crisis
· The relationship allows Merced County to tap into resources that otherwise would be limited or not available such as training and equipment.
· Training mandates which are imposed on agencies today make it virtually impossible for smaller departments and volunteers to keep up. The relationship with Cal Fire gives us the best possible tool for meeting those needs.
· With Cal Fire being a large organization, it has the ability to absorb fluctuations in costs and budgets whereas small departments must immediately look to cutting services or personnel to cope.
· Cal Fire allows personnel to be paid a higher wage and better benefits than what the county can and does provide.

For these reasons I will fight to improve the relationship. I would like to note that I would not like to see the contract change to provide fewer services as a result of economic struggles. I think that public safety is akin to paying a mortgage. You pay the mortgage before you book a vacation.

Please provide any additional comments regarding public safety or the Merced County Fire Department/Cal Fire.

I believe providing public safety is the top priority and responsibility that government has to its people. Providing services like drug counseling and outreach programs are good, but they cannot come at the sacrifice of public safety. In this day and time, we must be more aware than ever that we, here in the Central Valley, are extremely vulnerable. In addition to that, our leaders have allowed unbridled development which public safety has not been able to keep up with. This has been a one-two punch that we the people and those of you who work to protect us have been delivered by our current leadership. The decisions of our
current leadership to allow massive development without long-range plans for adequate public safety has a direct, negative impact on the capacity of fire services to perform their job effectively. I will fight to stop the flow of development until public services can catch up with the demand. Having spent the first thirty years of my life watching my father contend with the demands of being a public servant and first responder, I know first hand the strain fire personnel can be placed under on a daily basis even when they work in rural areas. You are on demand at all times and that stress takes its toll, a hardship on you and on your family.

Our business has been meeting payrolls for 18 years in a business very sensitive to economic conditions. I am the type of candidate that we need as we approach harsh economic times. By endorsing me, you will be endorsing a candidate that doesn’t take “no” for an answer, doesn’t quit until the job is done.


Land and business owners on the east side of District 4 have fought for more than five years to develop a Municipal Advisory Council so citizens could have a voice for an area that includes ranches, dairies, aggregate mines and more than 15,000 acres. They have been refused even though this goes against state regulations.

Supervisor Kelsey has been asked for almost three years to replace missing Stevinson representatives on the Hilmar MAC board and has refused in an effort to avoid citizen opposition to a 3,880 home development she calls "a good project" in Stevinson. This project would increase the population of Stevinson 5,000% with no long-range plans for the increased burden on county services or roads.

Supervisor Kelsey has refused to join with citizens of Delhi to work for incorporation, which would provide vital municipal services such as local police.

For twelve years Supervisor Kelsey has refused to participate in decisions regarding the Merced River that lies almost entirely in District 4.

Supervisor Kelsey is the only supervisor to vote to keep the sick- leave perk, which gave supervisors tens of thousands in bonus money when they retired or leave office.

On June 3rd take time to vote for a candidate that will work for the people, not special interests. Vote for a candidate that will not tolerate unbridled development like we have seen. Vote for a candidate that will see to it that the county takes care of the taxpayers. Finally, vote for a candidate who isn’t afraid of the voice of the people.


"paid for by sherron for supervisor 1305188"

Several prominent, long-standing members of the Merced County Farm Bureau have lodged a complaint with the state Farm Bureau legal office about the legality of the Merced chapter's endorsement of my opponent. Did the endorsement committee have a quorum? Should my opponent's husband have had a vote? (letter below)

----- Forwarded Message ----
From: claudine sherron
Sent: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 7:23:59 AM
Subject: q & a

646 South Highway 59
Merced, CA 95340

Dear Peter,

First, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Merced County Farm Bureau for your Candidate’s Night. You and the Farm Bureau staff that I met that night were friendly and welcoming. I have received your letter stating that the Farm Bureau intends to endorse the incumbent for supervisor of District 4. Additionally, I understand that the candidates from District 2 will have their questions and answers available for your membership through the newsletter and website. I am requesting that the questions and answers that I submitted be included with those from District 2. It seems reasonable that the membership at large be given access to all of the candidates’ responses especially in light of how few board members were able to attend the early interviews. I feel confident that you will agree and that Merced County Farm Bureau will want to create a fair and accessible process for their members.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

For our records, please respond in writing.

Claudine Sherron,
Candidate for Supervisor – District 4
P.O. Box 185
Ballico, CA 95303
(209) 202-5210

Merced Sun-Star
Letter: Ranchers team up for rangelands...CLAUDINE SHERRON...Candidate for Supervisor District 4, Merced
This past Monday a unique group of people gathered together at a cattle ranch near Le Grand to discuss issues surrounding the protection of California's shrinking rangelands. More than 100 cattle ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and local officials met together in a beautifully decorated barn for a fascinating program and a delicious luncheon, provided by Marge and Ed Bright of Ed Bright Catering.
In the past, no cattle ranch in California would have been big enough to hold them together. However, several years ago a few amazing people from resources agencies, environmental groups and the ranching industry met and recognized that stewardship of grazing land, wildlife habitat and watersheds was a common good that outweighed their differences.
They put aside mistrust and preconceived notions and found if they worked together they could achieve immeasurable things. They agreed that protection of working landscapes, its species and habitats, could be achieved by defending California's cattle ranching industry.
As the speakers shared their journeys, each made it clear that it wasn't easy to overcome the negative perceptions of the other. As I listened, I began to realize what amazing things could be achieved when people care more about the greater good than entrenched positions.
The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, the model that California environmentalists, ranchers and resource agencies developed, is now being used in other western states by other groups of environmentalists and ranchers. My only regret of the partnership on what they share, despite their continuing differences. I would like to publicly thank Maureen McCorry for the excellent, inspiring program, sponsored by Cattlemen's Association and all of those who are working so hard. This is a message that should be shared with everyone.
I encourage all to visit the California Rangeland Coalition's Web site at to learn more about this unique partnership.
I hope the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition luncheon will become a perennial event in the Central Valley.

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Resource Conservation District Assistance Program watershed coordinator grant program

Submitted: Apr 29, 2008

Resource Conservation District Assistance Program watershed coordinator grant program
2007 Watershed Coordinator Grant Program Final Decision List

The Department of Conservation (Department) is pleased to announce its 2007 Watershed Coordinator Grant Program Final Decision.

Final Decision List (PDF) available at:

The Department’s decision is the result of an extremely competitive process and an impressive response from special districts, local governments, and non-profits throughout the state. The Department received 86 proposals requesting over $19 million in funding. The large number of proposals received reflects the great need for watershed coordination in the state. The $9 million allocated for this three-year grant program was sufficient to fund only half of the submitted proposals. The review committee recognized that there were many compelling and high-quality proposals that could not be recommended for due to funding constraints.

The Department encourages organizations which were not recommended for funding to continue watershed work through other means if possible. The management of water resources and the improvement of impaired watersheds is a high priority for the State, and watershed coordinators have shown great success in both areas.

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Merced County Planning Commission behavior outrageous

Submitted: Apr 04, 2008

Lydia Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center Protect Our Water (POW)
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center 3105 Yorkshire Lane
P.O. Box 778 Modesto, CA 95350
Merced, CA 95341 (209) 489-9178, ph
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, California 95340
Fax: (209) 726-7977
Ph: (209) 385-7366 ; ; ; ;

Dee Tatum
Chief Administrative Officer

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development

James Fincher
County Counsel

Paul A. Fillebrown
Director of Public Works
209-735-3989 Fax

Re: Planning Commissioner Sloan intimidates, censors, and harasses the public and staff on March 26, 2008 Hearing (Felix Torres: CUP #MM07-025-1st Modification to CUP#05-031 and Minor Deviation)

April 4, 2008 Via: E-mail

Members of the Board,

Planning Commission Chairman Steve Sloan violated the public right to present testimony on a number of occasions at the March 26 Planning Commission hearing.

A member of the public attempted to read the resignation letter of Mary Stillahn, Confidential Secretary to the Merced County Housing Authority, which shed valuable light on the decision-making process of the project proponent. Chairman Sloan interrupted the member of the public numerous times.

Chairman Sloan denied the public its right to hear critical information during the testimony given by a County employee, Mr. Richard Graves, C.B.O., Deputy Building Official for Merced County. This testimony was not heard at the hearing held on February 27, 2008. The public, Commissioners, agencies, and staff did not have access to this information. Mr. Sloan not only interrupted Mr. Graves, he directed him to skip immediately to his concluding paragraph.

Department staff is not subject to time limits during a public hearing. Commissioner Sloan gave Mr. Graves five minutes. Mr. Graves’ letter included evidence of 22 omissions and violations.

Chairman Sloan censored public testimony and the other commissioners and County Counsel went along with it. He badgered, harassed and attempted to intimidate members of the public and County staff who were presenting information essential to public and the commission’s understanding of the Felix Torres project. He interfered with his own commission’s decision-making process. Chairman Sloan displayed outrageous bias in favor of project proponents and against important evidence from two public employees about deep flaws in this project.

At the Felix Torres hearing, the public also discovered that the County was ignorant of the recent legal settlement between Planada Community Services District and San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water restricting the district’s wastewater capacity, which would impact this project if it were within the PCSD boundaries. The County was unaware that the project is outside of district boundaries, which means that the district cannot serve the camp.

Chairman Sloan’s conduct during the Felix Torres hearing was outrageous. We request that the Board of Supervisors direct him to reopen the public hearing on that project at the April 9 Planning Commission meeting and direct him review laws and regulations for running a public hearing in the state of California. If Chairman Sloan refuses, we request the Board to remove him from the Planning Commission.

Lydia M. Miller Steve Burke

Cc: Interested parties

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What's happening here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands Journal editorial board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Qualified praise for Cardoza’s move to Washington

Submitted: Mar 16, 2008

To get the qualifications out of the way, we don’t like many of the political positions taken by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. His record on environmental law has been a disgusting sellout to finance, insurance and real estate special interests in his district and his stint as the rear end of the Pomboza (head having been Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy) was disgraceful. Nor do we imagine those positions are likely to change.

Having said that, we can very well understand why a California congressman, any California congressman, would move his family to Washington, DC. There have been examples in Valley political lore – Harlen Hagen, John McFall and Tony Coelho come to mind – in which the congressman lost touch with the district, got too involved with Beltway corruption and fell from power. If memory serves, something similar happened to Jeffrey Cohelan of Oakland, defeated by Ron Dellums. John Burton got all screwed up in Washington and lost his seat. Phil Burton managed to keep the schedule and rise to Majority Whip, but none of the above could match Phil Burton for discipline, energy and intelligence – least of all Cardoza.

But it must be terribly hard to keep a family together under the circumstances of being a California congressman and rather than bash him for his move, we give him this qualified praise. Anyone trying to keep his family together these days deserves it.

He seems to have pulled a few strings with cronies in Maryland politics, like Rep. Steney Hoyer, his old mentor, and with the University of Maryland, his alma mater, to get his wife a decent medical job. Don’t people often ask congressmen to pull strings for them? Isn’t that one of the major functions of a congressman?

Presumably, Cardoza will return to his district less often and become more engaged with inner-Beltway work like his new position with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, revolutionized by Coelho before his fall, described in Brooks Jackson’s Honest Graft. But, as far as contact with his district is concerned, Cardoza was never much good at it anyway. His “townhall” meetings were absurd and he never has listened to much more than a handful of local plutocrats anyway. They’ll still have his cell phone number. This way, the public may be spared a dose or two of his bathetic vision.

It might be a public benefit if Cardoza showed up less often at his Merced offices on the third floor of the County administration building. Perhaps with less interference from the congressman, local administrators and elected officials could do a somewhat better job. At least this move opens the hope.

Of course, the media has been critical: they stand to lose a little direct access. However, those who have had direct access to Cardoza should reflect that it wasn’t much help, really. When Cardoza talks about politics, it is as boring as listening to a bull rider take 10 minutes to describe the six seconds he was on top.

The hot stuff is in the speculation about what will happen now. But, we don’t know the future. What we know is a congressman seems to be making an attempt to keep a family together, be a less absent husband and father. You can’t knock him for that. Perhaps he didn’t want his children to grow up with asthma, induced by the development he championed. So let him join the Cowgirl Chancellor Carol Tomlinson Keasey and all the rest of the fleeing rodents. Some people are simply too sensitive to deal with consequences. It’s a character thing.

Badlands editorial board

P.S. A St. Patrick Day's reflection on character -- One of North America's greatest 20th-century leaders, Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas, once told a biographer, as he was embarking from the Capitol on yet another 1,000-mile trip in his Willys Jeep to meet with rebellious citizens, that there was rarely anything he could do for his people in the post-Revolution economy, but he could at least be with them and try to encourage them. For Cardoza to keep his residence address in Merced County as a political convenience after holding a couple of "foreclosure workshops," sends the message to the residents of the district that, having been a political leader in the real estate boom and environmental destruction, he is unwilling to take the consequences of his actions that most of his constituents are helpless to avoid.

Whining for a medical school for UC Merced because the Valley has a physician shortage, he takes the one doctor -- his wife -- he might have been able to influence to stay in the Valley to a job in Maryland.

While we still praise him for trying to keep his family together and safe from the social and environmental fallout of the real estate boom and bust and environmental destruction he had so much to do with engineering on behalf of finance, insurance and real estate interests in various backrooms, starting with UC Merced, we don't think it is unfair to call the man a triple-dyed hypocrite.

When in the coming months top officials in county and city government retire, collect their pensions and whatever else they made on the boom and move away, we can add a new phrase to the local political lexicon: "Pulling a Cardoza."

Pulling Cardozas are certainly signs of the times. Another, which we saw yesterday afternoon, was a homeless person with baby stroller and earthly possessions camped in the alcove of the M Street entrance to the splendid offices once occupied by Ranchwood Homes, now up for lease, across from the courthouse park.

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Loose Cheeks, March 10, 2008

Submitted: Mar 10, 2008

Loose Cheeks

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

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

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

Item #1

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

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

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

Item #2

From the Merced County General Plan, Chapter 7:

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

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

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

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

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

Item #3

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

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

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

Item #4

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

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

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

Item #5

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

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

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

Item #6

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

Item #7

Environmental Working Group Farm Bill 2007: Policy Analysis Database --

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

Rank Number of Beneficiaries Total

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

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

Item #8

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

Item #9

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

Item #10

Badlands Journal

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

Item #11

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

Item #12

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

Item #13

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

Item #14

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

Item #15

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

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

Item #16

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

Merced Sun-Star
Despite '03 law, shopping carts still clutter landscape...DOANE YAWGER...3-8-08

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

Item #17

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

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

Item #18

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

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To medschool, the verb defined

Submitted: Feb 29, 2008

American Dictionary of Flak

medschool, v.i. (see porkbarrel, v.i.): Possible origins Merced CA, first decade of 21st century. 1. To use a new university campus as an anchor tenant for a real estate boom impacting worst air quality basin in the nation, creating an involuntary laboratory for respiratory disease as a base for medical research in respiratory disease. 2. Promise first-rate medical care and abundant numbers of physicians by promoting a scheme for a medical school in one of the poorest areas in the US. 3. (pol) To distract the attention of popular discontent with the highest mortgage foreclosure rate in the nation by promising universal economic and health benefits of establishing a medical school in the midst of an economic and environmental disaster. 4. (edu) To present a real estate boondoggle pretending to be a university campus as a potential medical school. 5. To create a public health and safety disaster to use as a basis for grant proposals to research its effects. 6. (US Congress) To wrap oneself in Hippocratic robes while doing harm. 7. To bury present problems in future fantasies. 8. (civic) To lie while fomenting a future project to avoid telling the truth about the present. 9. To claim that medical students will come to a university campus unable to recruit faculty and an adequate number of students and, despite an increasingly hostile natural, political and economic environment, doctors will stay in that environment, i.e. to evoke the peculiar mystical tradition of University of California administration that "Proximity is Destiny," when in fact proximity to UC Merced means higher density of traffic, air, water and politics.

Newsletter of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced
A Medical School at UC Merced‏
From: Dennis Cardoza (
Sent: Thu 2/28/08 2:15 PM

Dear Friends,
The entire Central Valley region suffers from a physician shortage and a lack of adequate healthcare resources. Recent reports tell us that the problem is worse than initially thought and likely to get far worse in the future. The best way to address this healthcare emergency is to promptly establish a medical education program at the University of California – Merced.

Though UC Merced is only five years old, it is critical that we begin to establish the medical education program now. The entire state of California is expected to face a shortage of up to 17,000 physicians by 2015, but in the Valley we are already facing a shortage. Valley residents are medically underserved with 87 primary care physicians per 100,000 people versus the statewide rate of 126 primary care physicians per 100,000. The number of medical specialists per capita is even lower when compared with other parts of the state.

These statistics highlight the seriousness of the problem and we are already in the process of building support for a medical education program at UC Merced. The University of California’s Health Sciences Advisory Council has recommended a 34 percent increase in medical student enrollments by 2020 to meet increasing demand for doctors. The Council also recognized that medical education programs need to be developed in the SJ Valley and the Inland Empire, where projected population growth rates are twice that of the rest of the state. There is strong evidence that new physicians choose to settle into full-time practice near where they train, so establishment of a medical school in the Valley would produce benefits for the health of the region.

The UC system understands the challenge of meeting our future healthcare needs and the community is coalescing around the plan to bring a medical school to UC Merced. The medical school will be founded on a community-based distributed model of medical education, utilizing current medical facilities in the Valley, as well as the resources of UC San Francisco and UC Davis. The first two years of medical education will be on the UC Merced campus, and the second two years of medical education will be in a clinical setting, with the first clinical campus slated to be at the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Center. More than twenty of the largest community hospitals and community health centers in the Valley are eager to collaborate with UC Merced to focus teaching and research on the community health needs of the region.

I am urging the UC Board of Regents to approve continued planning, provide a reasonable timeframe for initiation, and appoint a taskforce to devise a financing strategy for the development of the medical school at UC Merced. We must work collaboratively to establish the medical school and to address our region’s looming healthcare crisis.


Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

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