Merced County

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
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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:

 Read More »
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The real speculators

Submitted: Nov 15, 2007

The only story that matters in Merced today is how one in 68 householders are in foreclosure trouble. But, that is the story least likely to be told in public because it involves the people we elected to the city councils and the county Board of Supervisors. We will have to do our own reflecting on it; elected officials won’t.

In incorporated cities, the councils are the local land-use authorities. In unincorporated areas, the board of supervisors is the local land-use authority. These are all elected officials. In addition to two state legislators, Merced also has a congressman, Dennis Cardoza, heavily involved in real estate, whose local office is on the third floor of the county administration building.

Although we are familiar with a few development projects that have been sued, some successfully, we are only aware of one project that was rejected during this whole frenzy, which has now given Merced such a fine reputation in the finance, insurance and real estate industry. Admittedly, last month Stockton surpassed us with a one-in-31 rate, tops in the nation, but the housing crash is young and we may yet regain our title on a per capita basis.

Although it may be a benefit to the city of Merced that one realtor and one realtor/insurance agent/mortgage broker were replaced by two candidates not involved in real estate, it doesn't matter -- the damage is done and cannot be undone. When the damage was being done, five of the seven members of the Merced City Council were actively engaged in the real estate business, including the reelected mayor. The damage, however, could still be limited. The entire county does not have to become an urban, industrial slurb along the lines of cities east of Los Angeles. But, that would require reflection and gumption on the part of public officials. The recent winner of the Merced City mayoral sweepstakes, realtor Ellie Wooten, seemed to have chosen patriotism over real estate as her theme, enlivening her campaign with a rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Patriotism is the last refuge of realtors?

Surely there were other voices in Atwater beside the realtors on its council during that town's real estate frenzy, but the realtors drowned out all others. In Livingston, the planner quipped, "When the rooftops are built, the commercial arrives." Los Banos simply exploded with commuters.

The county board of supervisors is composed of three large landowners, one failed dairyman and a professional rightwing politician, all busily speculating on more growth for Merced County on behalf of their own landholdings and on those of their supporters.

These elected officials are intent on destroying the agricultural base of this county's economy, making Merced air quality as bad as Fresno or Bakersfield, ruining the region's water quality, and destroying the natural resources and wildlife habitat that is Merced County's unique beauty and the source of what is healthy that remains in its environment. They have not shown an inkling of judgment since UC Merced was a "done deal" and to imagine they have been chastened by the foreclosure rate is fantasy. There are too many big deals in the offing: To name a few: Castle redevelopment, Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP), the WalMart distribution center, a 3,000-home new town in Stevinson, development to link Delhi and Hilmar with Turlock, a whole new commercial enterprise zone mapped out with multiple locations throughout the county, all the development that will occur along the UC Merced Parkway, the several thousand more homes in the UC Community, commercial plans for Mission Blvd. south of Highway 99, and greedy “spheres of influence” reaching out from each municipality.

Far from exercising any caution toward predatory finance, insurance and real estate special interests as well as slick operators like RMP, our elected local land-use authorities made love to them from the beginning. To believe they will change their views at this point is absurd. But absurdity is always a part of real hope. It is false hope that lacks the leaven, and false hope is going around Merced like this winter’s flu, foreclosure and fear.

To believe that chatting them up politely in their offices will change their minds belies repeated experience. All it will do is suggest to them new clever tricks to get by the public, like Kelsey's non-hearing "town-hall" meetings on RMP, or demure statements on the WalMart distribution center recently made by the city attorney or the many calculated misstatements of the losing candidate for mayor of Merced. Their minds were captured by visions of development bonanza. No matter how many development corporations go bankrupt, no matter how many of their own citizens suffer foreclosure, the elected officials on our local land-use authorities – many collecting fees on foreclosures – have been permanently blinded by that bonanza. And, for a heady season, they were somebodies, courted by the rich and powerful as the local realtors and mortgage brokers raked in the fees. And they are untouchable in their local jurisdictions.

Today, Merced County residents are suffering one of the larger financial wounds in California.. It is a position shared with those other great centers of foreclosure, Modesto and Stockton, all parts of the region we have called until recently Pombozostan, in honor of representatives Pombo and Cardoza, who intended to obliterate the very idea of endangered species and any open rangeland on which they might exist free from the developers’ ripping chisel. Stockton's largest developer leads the famous California Partnership with the San Joaquin Valley to map out future growth alongside the Valley transportation blueprint two years after he gathered a group to provide a $50,000 campaign pourboire for the Pomboza’s last charge against the Endangered Species Act.
The stink from Pombozastan keeps on rising, like the stench from the old Moffat Manteca-Fed feedlot.

The public must forget this because it is inconvenient to elected officials that the public remember it. So, hacks and flaks are dispatched to make the public forget and provide soothing propaganda to put the public to sleep again and encourage elected officials to continue the mad pace of growth to urbanize one of the world’s greatest agricultural valleys, because its land is cheaper than coastal property. This week, a free-market hack named O’Toole told a gathering of realtors in Modesto to work for the abolition of planning departments and all regulations and laws concerning planning and let the market decide it all. It was reported as an amusing lecture. In fact, that is what was done in Merced and other parts of the former Pombozastan, despite the screaming denials of the hacks and flaks. At the recent UnityFest at UC Merced, a ludicrous seminar allegedly on “Political Participation” took place, consisting of a public “dialogue” between the Merced County flak and the UC Merced flak, tossing puffballs between themselves to the mystification of a few UC students and members of the public who came to learn something about public political participation. The flaks and the hacks are very busy making the public forget what is going on as fast as it happens. The hacks and flaks are in crisis mode. Their job is to make it as difficult as possible for the public to reflect on what has happened in Merced. Today, the rap of the highly coordinated hacks and flaks in town is an impenetrable wall of development propaganda, constantly projecting an even rosier urban future as the here and now gets worse.

In a recent poll, Valley residents alone among the state’s several regions said that Valley air pollution -- not global warming -- was the worst problem in the world. We think that Valley residents, asked the question, took the opportunity to denounce their air quality and the policies, developers and politicians behind it even though the question addressed a region (the world) somewhat larger than the Valley.

The idea that a gigantic slurb the length of the San Joaquin Valley is going to be able to employ its residents is a dubious proposition, first, because the place created by the population estimated will be nearly unlivable – as Stockton and Sacramento would be without a Delta breeze – and won’t be the place attracting business geniuses creating employment. Secondly, because there is no discernable employment plan. UC Merced could well end up being the academic equivalent of Naomi Klein’s crisis capitalism, a ghoulish institution studying environmental diseases and social breakdown caused by growth its arrival in part stimulated. However, vast tracts of the Valley are owned by agribusinesses that don’t employ enough people, are selling to developers or becoming developers. Agricultural organizations like the farm bureaus (insurance companies) have become useless as representatives of anything but private property rights. Valley agriculture is in a contraction pattern, holding onto land waiting for the developer. The creativity, innovation, risk and growth that characterized it through most of the last century is exhausted. Despite massive public water projects, subsidies and subventions and psychotic immigrant policies, and decades of agribusiness propaganda, or perhaps because of them, Valley agriculture seems unfocused today, as if it has lost its sense of meaning, its purpose, its style and its sense of humor. Today, with some exceptions, it is a supine culture, full of empty self-congratulation and empty slogans it no longer believes. Valley agriculture acts like it no longer believes in itself and verything’s for sale. Ag land values seem to be holding at least in Merced County, due to sales to development investors and, lately, to ethanol pressure (one of the latest investment bubbles, which might pop before it floats). But agricultural production looks like a pretty cynical affair these days. Rice, cotton and dairy are still strong enough politically to get what they want out of a federal farm bill, but the specialty crops that are the backbone of California production got very little. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, would have been a far better choice than Cardoza to argue their causes in Congress. But, the Democratic leadership chose the inept Shrimp Slayer, who we think shot his wad during his sojourn in Pombo’s hip pocket trying to wreck the ESA on behalf of local developers rather than specialty-crop producers. Even members of Congress must be able to see through that: the Assistant Destroyer of ESA in 2006 becoming the Champion of Almonds, Kiwis, Blueberries and the Honey Bee in 2007.

It’s been 40 years since Valley agriculture employed many people from the towns and cities it surrounds. Perhaps that loss of connection – knowing the family of the kid in your packing shed – has also slowly rotted agriculture’s sense of local social purpose and the urban Valley’s sense of the local social purpose of agriculture. The food-distribution oligopoly and mounting off-shore competition haven’t helped either.

Politicians, bureaucracies, banks, insurance companies and every business that makes a dime off agriculture have babbled the empty slogans – worst of which because greatest insult to reality is the sanctity of “family farming” – for so long and so effectively that they have hollowed out all content from these sacred phrases. And, like more and more farming, especially of the type best done in California, American manufacturers have been chasing cheap wages off-shore to a point of probable no return and much food processing has gone with them.

Empty phrases like “working class” are beginning to appear in the newspaper. Urban hammers with rural sickles yet, from the mouths of Democrats in City Hall? Unions, which young working people tend to reject, don’t talk about the working class much anymore. Many younger Mexicans never heard of Ricardo Flores-Magon and think Cesar Chavez was a boxer.

Language—above all—language means nothing in this town since UC Merced and the developers bought public speech and the local media. Concerned citizens are warned by supervisors to speak as politely as developers, and our congressman is led to the gutless vacuum of “balance” on every important issue of state. But, we live in a moment of drastically important issues of state in which there is no “balance” whatsoever. Single-issue opponents of projects are cajoled into presenting alternatives they lack the knowledge and data to back up. Merced elected officials are competent manipulators on behalf of their own interests and other special interests. The common good of residents in the here and now is not their interest, special or otherwise. However, embracing the absurdity necessary for real hope, let us hope that the working poor of Merced and those of slightly higher income bilked by mortgage brokers in the “house of their dreams” form unions, among them a Union of the Foreclosed with Ruined Credit. The false hopes of “activists” making alliances with the gravediggers of the present residents promise nothing but one more carefully built trail over another cliff. “Working Class – This Way, Please.” When we need people to confront the land-use authorities that brought this mess down on us, we get people whose one political move is the Big Kiss Up.

Merced was a great place to farm and agriculture was acknowledged by local government to be the prime economic force in the county until the arrival of UC Merced. The campus stimulated a wild season of real estate speculation, a bubble that has now like a balloon filled with sewer water. UC Merced suggested a whole new, urban, high-tech, bio-tech future for the county, which immediately inflated the residential real estate values and deflated the importance of agriculture (if not ag land values). In one fell swoop, according to the One Voice of our leaders, Merced would transcend the problems of agriculture and become one more fantasy Silicon Valley, just like all the other fantasy Silicon Valleys scattered across the nation. It was lunacy but it sold houses at incredibly inflated prices for incredibly bad mortgages, which are now a part of a global credit crunch that is beginning to cause banks to fail. We are at the center of a massive fraud that everybody who is anybody from Merced County – from Washington to Wall Street to Bob Hart Square – was in on.

The foreclosure crisis is an opportunity for the public to reflect on the veracity, competence, and the intent of its political leaders. They show every sign of wanting to continue their mad urbanization of a rural, agricultural county still productive, relatively beautiful and healthy compared to worse excesses in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties. Since the arrival of UC, their dream solution for poverty has been to squeeze out poor people with inflated real estate values. Too many ships that strategy raised a few years ago are sinking fast these days, having struck predatory financial mines. Local land-use authorities have in front of them the imperious, publicly funded, development greed of the University of California, the anchor tenant for growth down the entire east side of the San Joaquin Valley. The other end of the UC Merced Parkway is anchored by the proposed WalMart distribution center. The UC Community is planned to fill in some of the “blank space” (prime farmland) in between. Behind them, our elected officials have finance, insurance, real estate and large landholding interests. Is there any room for the citizens of Merced County today in their elected officials’ plans for their own tomorrows?

“Growth” here, which simply means more subdivisions, is anything but “inevitable.” It is the result of political deals that profit somebody at the cost of everybody’s future. We must escape the destructive drift of the economic predators and their political cronies. Banks, insurance companies, realtors and large landholders have never been the friends of rural America and they are not now, either. They should not own Merced County’s local land-use authorities. These authorities in the pockets of predators have caused economic havoc and despair in their own communities. The Valley once understood such elementary facts but its steady urbanization has reduced it to the idiocy accompanying mature corruption – the impenetrable mindset of the political class that believes its own propaganda. Former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, founder of the most cynical development propaganda organ in the Valley, the UC/Great Valley Center, showed this region the way 20 years ago, with Village 1, a deal between her city council and developers that cost the City of Modesto $40 million plus interest.

The test of government is its care of the least of us, not the richest and most powerful. The grand result of local governments’ land-use design in Merced County has been to grow slums full of strangers. In a particularly cruel twist, some of these slums are brand-new subdivisions in which too many people are going bankrupt to form anything like the roots of neighborhoods. A decade ago, there were more humane elected officials and – at least in retrospect – a coherent community. The main cultural difference is UC, whose commitment to rural California has always been the technology of agribusiness. Smaller farmers and lower-income townspeople need to get together, fast. Everyone who is not in on the deal needs to organize against the deal. But, this would require a willingness to confront a gang of experienced, corrupt politicos stoned on their own growth propaganda, spoon-fed them daily by their in-house hacks and flaks. They cannot afford to admit they have done anything wrong or made any mistakes.

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Open letter from Stevinson resident Robby Avilla to Supervisor Diedre Kelsey and Assistant Planning Director Bill Nicholson

Submitted: Nov 11, 2007

As I have noted in letters to the editor of the Merced Sun-Star, and also before the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board, I am greatly disturbed by the process that Merced County used to expand the Stevinson SUDP (Specific Urban Design Plan).

This expansion is only being created to enable the Stevinson Ranch developers to attach a 3,880 unit gated community onto a town with a population of 400 people. Without the development there were no plans by Merced County government in place to expand the growth boundaries of the town of Stevinson.

The two of you, Supervisor Kelsey and Planner Bill Nicholson, both have said numerous times that you wanted to give something to the residents of Stevinson if this development were to be built, and so you wanted the developers to provide sewer and water to the residents of Stevinson. This was both of your selling points for including the development within an expanded SUDP for Stevinson.

I feel that you led the citizens of Stevinson astray with those comments. First, the sewer installation will be a sewer trunk line. Local residents cannot hook into a sewer trunk line. There are only 34 homes along the road where the line is to be installed. A sewer trunk line needs at least 50% capacity before it can flow. The current homes, plus the school, would not even come close to making that trunk line flow. That sewer trunk line will only be used by developers when they create even more residential development in the town of Stevinson. It will never be used by current residents for their own use as you professed that it would. Likewise, the water lines would support such a small contingency of Stevinson's population that it is all but useless to the community as a whole. Merquin School's water is continually tested. It has tested clean for drinking and they would be the main user on that line. Your idea of providing Stevinson with these amenities does not hold up considering the increase in traffic congestion that all of us would have to put up with for years before we would get new roads. I believe that both of you knew that the sewer trunk line would not be usable to the current Stevinson residents and was only being installed for further development, and also that you knew how small a population would be served by the water lines. So, I believe that both of you were not really interested in providing these amenities to the residents of Stevinson, but, instead, were trying to soften the blow of the astoundingly large development to the residents of our community.

MAC Board Chairman, Peter Stavrianoudakis, came to our group, the Stevinson Citizen's Group, saying that the Kelley family requested that Supervisor Kelsey not let him lead meetings in Stevinson anymore. When we questioned him why this could be, he said, "The Kelley family thinks that I am against their development. I am not against their development, I am just against the process that Merced County is using to get it in." Supervisor Kelsey, within one month you removed Mr. Stavrionoudakis from the board completely. You would not give a reason for his removal to the other members of the MAC Board, saying that they serve at your discretion. I feel like the MAC Board needs to be told that the Kelley family made that request of you and then just a short time later you did in fact remove him from the Board.

MAC Chairman, Peter Stavrianoudakis, requested on three separate occasions at MAC meetings that a guidance package should be provided to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board for the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development. Mr. Nicholson, you replied that none had ever been presented to the board for comment and, you also stated, before the Board and the residents in attendance, that you would provide one. You never did so. The Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board has never had a guidance package to comment on about the Stevinson Lakes/Gallo Ranch proposed development. However, the MAC Board was recently given a guidance package to comment on about the Turlock Golf Course Development. They are both privately funded developments. Why would a guidance package be necessary on one development and not the other?

Lastly, and most importantly, every single meeting of the steering committee that formed the enlarged Stevinson SUDP was held in violation of the Brown Act. Nothing was posted in our local newspaper about the formation of the steering committee or the meeting times and dates. Nothing was posted on our post office or any buildings in town of the meeting dates. There were no fliers sent to local residents. The meetings were held in the Stevinson Ranch Clubhouse with no agenda posted on the door.

Supervisor Kelsey, I work within the land use arena in Merced County and many of the people that I work with are staunch defenders of you. You support them and so they want to turn a blind eye as to what you have done in Stevinson. I feel differently. I do not expect them to understand what we have gone through in Stevinson, but I do expect you to right your wrongs. You have touted the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development on two separate occasions at the Board of Supervisor meetings, saying that you think it is a "good project". You made that statement to the Board before a final plan had been drawn and before an EIR has even been completed. You used the Stevinson Development as an excuse to keep projects ongoing during the General Plan update process.

The above issues lead me to believe that the two of you have worked in cooperation to enable the owners and developers of the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development to have an unfair advantage in bringing their project and an unlawfully created SUDP plan before the Merced County Planning Commission and Merced County Board of Supervisors. I believe that you knowingly led residents to believe they would benefit from amenities they will not be receiving, you tried to control the local MAC Board's opposition to the process that Merced County was using by eliminating it's Chairman at the developing family's request, you unlawfully kept the steering committee meetings quiet and you did not give the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board the proper paperwork.

I am sending this letter via email and hard copy. I am requesting that respective to your particular duties you:

1. Write a letter to the community of Stevinson stating that local residents would not be allowed sewer usage because of flow issues with the development's sewer trunk lines. I want it stated that these lines are for the use of future residential development and not for the use of current resident's waste. I feel that the citizens of Stevinson deserve clarification on this issue.
2. Write a letter to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board stating why Chairman Peter Stavrianoudakis was ejected from the board. Bear in mind that Frank Amaral has been allowed to remain on the board as one of two representatives from Stevinson even though he rarely attends a meeting.
3. I request that the Merced County Planning Department send a guidance package for comment to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board regarding the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development.
4. I request that the Merced County Planning Department scrap current plans of enlarging Stevinson's SUDP and start from scratch with a process that is legal, publicized and will allow the residents of Stevinson a voice in the size and scope of their own town. A steering committee might be a good solution for some situations, but I believe that when you are considering taking a town from a population of 400 to 19,000 residents it is of utmost importance for the whole town to feel they have representation. This was done in Hilmar and needs to also be done in Stevinson.
5. I request that you form a separate MAC Board for Stevinson. I request that you make that Board represent all members of our community, with members who are both pro and against this development.

I am emailing a copy of this letter to concerned parties so that they know exactly what my grievances and requests are.

Thank you, Robby Avilla

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Anatomy of the housing bubble

Submitted: Nov 04, 2007

Readers familiar with Gray's Anatomy (the book, not the TV show), will recall it is full of detailed, numbered and labeled diagrams of every part of the physical human body, the result of a long scientific tradition begun by body snatchers and grave robbers.

We have recently come across a website, http://the housingbubbleblog.com, which approaches reports of the crash of the housing bubble with the same obsessive, scientific focus on detail. Ben Jones of Flagstaff AZ, author of the site, may be the present-day Vesalius of the crash of the speculative housing boom. Although it is possible Jones is a member of the foreclosure vulture flock, even if he is out speculating on the disaster it is well to recall how useful vultures are in the natural world.

Jones gathers a great abundance of news clips from home and abroad on the housing-bubble collapse. He is performing an extremely valuable service, making the depth and breadth of the crash visible beyond the confines of any particular community in America or elsewhere -- from local housing markets to high finance to foreign markets to the economic consequences beyond the housing bubble crash. These days, The Housing Bubble Blog is an indespensible site. We are very grateful to Jones for his fine work.

Badlands Journal editorial board
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A few random selections from the blog's latest posts:

From the report: “2. What happened in 2004? The relationship between Californian house prices and disposable income as a multiple of long rates broke down in 2004; we believe that aggressive sales of ‘affordability products’ (e.g., subprime, option ARMs, home equity loans), which spiked in 2004 (see Exhibit 2), drove Californian home prices well-above levels supported by economic conditions.”
“Now that the secondary market for these affordability products has all but evaporated, we expect home prices in California to return to normalized levels (i.e. levels implied by current and forecast disposable income in California as well as U.S. ten-year treasury yields); this implies a 35-40% fall.”
“As of last August the median house price in California was $589K, but economic conditions support prices between $350-380K (see Exhibit 1); material price declines are likely, in our view.”

“‘In general, the mortgage company wants to see a consumer default on three separate payments before considering a loan modification,’ says Elizabeth Schomburg, senior VP of the Family Credit Counseling Service in Chicago.”
“Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says its member agencies in areas from Southern California to Texas have seen the same trend. ‘One counselor in Amarillo, Texas, just told me ‘It seems to me they almost encourage people to fall behind in order to find help,’ Ms. Cunningham says.”

“Canfor Corp. president and CEO Jim Shepard said Friday he won’t hesitate to take more sawmill shutdowns in the face of a continuing poor market and high Canadian dollar.”
“‘If this market ratchets down, we will ratchet down our production, full stop,’ Shepherd told analysts and reporters on a conference call to discuss the company’s $42.1-million third-quarter loss.”
“Prince George Trucking Association president Stan Wheeldon said there was already a reduction in work in the summer which meant more people chasing less work.”

Retail changes? “Wal-Mart is selling 26-inch high-definition TVs for $450 this weekend. Circuit City plans to give away consumer electronics prizes every day for the next 30 days, starting Sunday.”
“Retailers, eyeing the housing slump and the credit crunch that has decimated consumer confidence, are slashing prices early in the hope of snagging a bigger share of the annual Christmas spending spree. That spree is expected to be more subdued than usual, said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.”

“A man waiting to transfer money at the scene told Sai Gon Giai Phong he earlier bought a $300,000 apartment which now costs $2 million. ‘There’s no business more profitable than this,’ another sitting nearby intervened.”
“Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung promised government will impose progressive taxes on housing speculation to help deflate an impending bubble in the real estate market.”
“Ho Chi Minh City recently saw disturbing degrees of speculation-based property sales ominous of a bubbling market when thousands surrounded a housing site last week to purchase flats even before foundations had been laid.”
“Prospective buyers hired proxies to wait in long winding lines for registration applications, with at least one person paid some US$1,000 simply stand in line.”

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For shame

Submitted: Oct 24, 2007

The Valley has always been a hard place, no doubt of that. Merced County probably hasn't been better than the fifth hungriest county in the state at the best of times in the last decade (given poverty statistics on California counties), but now, in the wake of the greatest building boom in its history, it ranks as the third hungriest county in the state and its foreclosure rate is tops in the nation. One in ten go to bed hungry and one in 68 are in some stage of home foreclosure.

For shame -- if only the decision makers in Merced County had any shame. But in the county, for a period of nearly 15 years, decision makers have paid no attention to anything but the arrival of UC Merced and the residential development it induced. The finance, insurance and real estate special interests behind local landowners, developers and the campus employed legions of propagandists to confuse the Merced public to the extent that today, it cannot connect three dots a millimeter apart: UC Merced=speculative housing boom=concealment of chronic poverty. Now,that UC development didn't pan out to universal rising of all ships, the news of chronic poverty is back along with the big hand out to the state and federal government. It's just the latest version of the Great Valley Whine. But it would have been better if all the prominent Valley plutocrats who donated to UC Merced for the magnificent Blue and Gold Future had instead devoted their excess wealth to alleviating the Present Poverty. This is particularly true in the case of some of our wealthiest citizens, who make so much of their money off government subsidies, like Gallo Farming Co., which hauled down $855,000 in federal subsidies between 2003-2005 with a reported annual income of around $50 million from the largest dairy operation in the US. How much of the $996,000 subsidy over those years to the Nickel Family LLC state Senate candidate Wiley Nickel use for that dismal excuse for a campaign against the incumbent in 2006? Whatever that ridiculous excuse for a political campaign cost, it would have been better spent on school lunch programs.

At the risk of stalling the flow of invective, the editorial board thought at this point it might be interesting to take a trip down UC Bobcatflak Memory Lane to get a better look at the real leaders who jerk the chains of elected officials in Merced and other counties in the San Joaquin Valley. Although UC Merced now chooses to keep the membership of its foundation board of trustees concealed from the public, they were appointed with great fanfare and pride. It is a rare gathering of the wise Valley leaders, many of whom personally profited from inside information on the UCM campus location in the speculative real estate boom centered in the north San Joaquin Valley. In fact, UC Merced could be described as long-term blarney and short-term land boondoggle. These wise leaders of finance, insurance and real estate are responsible for the foreclosure rate in Merced County of one in 68 households and for moving the county from fifth to third place in the poverty/hunger scale statewide. Although space does not permit discussion the ironies of any particular notable, Valley people will get some dark, retrospective chuckles out of the list. UC Merced should have adopted a Rattle Snake as its mascot. The time is Spring, 2000. Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the Cowgirl Chancellor, is in full cry:
(see Herself in full cowgirl regalia at http://www.ucmerced.edu/news_articles/09302003_uc_merced_board_of.asp)

March 17, 2000

CONTACT: Ron Goble, Interim Communications Director, University of California, Merced, (209) 724-4400 or (559) 734-9046, ronald.goble@ucop.edu

UC Merced introduces foundation board of trustees
http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2000/march1700.htm
MERCED -- University of California, Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey has unveiled the university's 82-member Foundation Board of Trustees composed of some of the most prominent individuals in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

The founding UCM Board of Trustees will meet in an advisory capacity and offer counsel and direction to Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey and her Vice Chancellors.

"Our Trustees are some of the most respected and highest profile corporate and professional leaders representing such vital valley interests as agriculture, oil, technology, medicine, law, education and science," said Tomlinson-Keasey. "We are overwhelmed that so many San Joaquin Valley and statewide leaders have chosen to join the UC Merced family. Their enlightened and insightful advice will be invaluable to me and help assure the success of the new campus."

Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey explained: "Initially, we were contemplating a much smaller board of trustees. However, when we realized the interest of Central Valley leaders and the needs of the new campus, we thought we should start with a full complement of trustees. Thus, the UC Merced founding board will be the size and status of other UC campus boards."

The blue-ribbon board consists of several Silicon Valley executives from such companies as Lucent Technologies and Sun Microsystems. Several current and former members of the UC Board of Regents included in the UC Merced Board of Trustees are current UC Regent chairman, John Davies, former chairs Leo Kolligian, Meredith Khachigian and Roy Brophy, current Regent Odessa Johnson, former Regents Carol Chandler and Ralph Ochoa. In addition, UC President Richard C. Atkinson, and Emeritus Presidents David Gardner and Jack Peltason are members of the new board.

Tomlinson-Keasey noted that several board members were valley natives, but now reside elsewhere in California, such as former Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, actor/producer Mike Connors and former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho.

The majority of the UCM Trustees, approximately 50, are CEOs of their corporations or organizations. All are prominent, but many have national and international prominence such as Robert Gallo of E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto, developer Fritz Grupe of Stockton, John Harris of Harris Ranch in Coalinga, President Eugene Voiland of Aera Energy in Bakersfield, and William Lyons Sr., agriculture leader from the Modesto area.

The first meeting of the new board will be held March 22 at the County Bank in Merced. The board is representative in size and structure to other UC campus boards which have traditionally taken years to put in place, said Tomlinson-Keasey.

The roster of all members of the board, their titles, affiliations and locations are:

Chuck Ahlem, Partner, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar;

Richard C. Atkinson, President, University of California, Oakland;

Joseph Barkett, MD, Chairman of the Board, Sunset Corp., Acampa;

Dr. Kelly F. Blanton, Founder and Chairman, Epylon.com Corp., San Francisco;

Robert Bliss, Senior Vice President; NEC/BCS (West), Inc., Van Nuys;

Calvin Bright, President and Chairman, Bright Development, Modesto;

Roy Brophy, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, Fair Oaks;

Jim Burke, chairman, Jim Burke Ford, Bakersfield;

Bob Carpenter, President, Leap, Carpenter, Kemps, Merced;

Carl Cavaiani, President, Santa Fe Nut Company, Ballico;

Carol Chandler, California Women for Agriculture, Chandler Farms, Selma

Tony Coelho, Chairman, C/O Gore 2000, Washington, D.C.;

H.A. "Gus" Collin, Chairman, Sunsweet Growers, Inc., Yuba City;

J.F. Collins, President, J.F. Collins Co., Inc., Merced;

Mike Connors, Actor/Producer, Encino;

Roger Coover, President and Publisher, The Stockton Record, Stockton;

Dean Cortopassi, President/CEO, Santomo, Inc., Stockton;

Bert Crane Sr., President, Bert Crane Ranches, Merced;

Jim Cunningham, owner, Cunningham Ranch, LeGrand;

Frank Damrell Jr., Judge, United States District Court, Sacramento;

John Davies, Attorney-at-Law, Allen Matkins, Leck, Gamble & Mallory, San Diego;

Rayburn Dezember, Bank Board of Chairman, Bakersfield;

Diana Dooley, Attorney at Law, Paden & Dooley, Visalia;

James Duarte, President, Duarte Nursery, Inc., Hughson

Ben Duran, President, Merced College, Merced;

John Evans, Chairman of the Board, Evans Communications, Turlock;

Ted Falasco, President, Central Valley Concrete, Los Banos;

Robert Foy, Chairman of the Board, California Water Service Company, Stockton;

Robert Gallo, President, E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto;

John Garamendi, Yucaipa Company, Washington, D.C.;

David Gardner, President Emeritus, University of California, San Mateo;

Lewis Geyser, President, Destination Villages, Santa Barbara;

Price Giffen, President, Giffen Company, Fresno;

Mark Grewal, Vice President and Director, Boswell Company, Corcoran;

Fritz Grupe, Chairman/CEO, Grupe Company, Stockton

Ann Gutcher, Retired 1/28/00, Kern County Board of Trade, Bakersfield;

John Harris, President, Harris Farms and Harris Inns, Coalinga;

Joe Hartley, Director, Global Technology, Sun Microsystems, Palo Alto;

Daryl Hatano, Vice President, Public Policy, Semiconductor Industry Association, San Jose;

Tom Hawker, President/CEO, County Bank, Merced;

Odessa Johnson, Modesto Junior College, Modesto;

Rafer Johnson, Chairman, Special Olympics, Culver City;

Art Kamangar, Kamangar Ranches, Merced;

Edward Kashian, Chairman, Lance Kashian & Company, Fresno;

George Kelley, founder, Stevinson Ranch, Stevinson;

Meredith Khachigian, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, San Clemente;

Dorothy Kolligian, Civic Leader, Fresno;

Leo Kolligian, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, Fresno;

Joe Levy, Chairman of the Board, Gottschalks, Inc., Fresno;

Paul Lo, Attorney at Law, Allen Polgar, Proietti & Fagalde, Merced

Robert Luster, President/CEO, Luster Group, Inc., San Francisco;

William Lyons, Sr., President, Lyons Investments and Mapes Ranch, Modesto;

George Martin, Attorney at Law and Civic Leader, Borton, Pettini & Conron, Bakersfield;

Harold Meek, President, Three Way Chevrolet, Bakersfield;

Ginger Moorhouse, Publisher and Chairman of the Board, The Bakersfield Californian, Bakersfield;

Tapan Munroe, President, Munroe Consulting, Inc., Moraga;

John Myers, Attorney at Law and Rancher, Beverly Hills;

Kate Nyegaard, Civic Leader, Board of Directors George Lucas Foundation, Modesto;

Marilyn Ohanian, Psychologist & Civic Leader, State of California, Fresno

Ralph Ochoa, President, Ochoa & Sillas, Sacramento;

Richard Otter, Senior Vice President, Salomon Smith Barney, San Francisco;

Ashit Padwal, Director, Global Public Affairs, Lucent Technologies, Fremont;

Jack Peltason, President Emeritus, University of California, The Donald L. Bren Foundation, Newport Beach;

Samuel T. Reeves, President, Pinnacle Trading Inc., Fresno;

Curtis A. Riggs, President, VIA Adventures, Merced;

Kenneth Robbins, Attorney at Law, Mason, Robbins, Gnass & Browning, Merced;

Guillermo Rodriguez Jr., Assistant to the President, PG&E, San Francisco;

Fred Ruiz, Chairman of the Board, Ruiz Foods, Dinuba

Thomas Smith, President, CALCOT, Bakersfield;

Edward Spaulding, Director of Government and Public Affairs, The Chevron Companies, Bakersfield;

Jerry Stanners, President, Stanners Consulting, Bakersfield;

Timothy Steele, Vice President, Siemens Information and Communications Networks, Inc., Santa Clara;

Cleveland Stockton, Attorney at Law, Stockton & Sadler, Modesto;

Gerald Tahajian, Attorney at Law, Gerald Lee Tahajian, Inc., Fresno;

Ann Veneman, Attorney at Law, Sacramento;

E.J. (Gene) Voiland, President/CEO, Aera Energy LLC, Bakersfield;

Daniel Whitehurst, President, Farewell, Inc. Fresno;

Carol Whiteside, President, Great Valley Center, Modesto;

Roger Wood, Vice President, J.R. Wood, Inc., Atwater;

O. James Woodward III, Attorney at Law and Civic Leader, Fresno;

Stewart Woolf, President, Los Gatos Tomato, Inc., Huron;

Michael Zagaris, President, Zagaris Companies, Modesto.

The Badlands Journal editorial board, focused on social, economic and environmental justice, is frequently challenged in sneering tones by elected officials and their staffs to provide positive solutions to the questions it raises. Numerous warnings have appeared through the years on this site. None were heeded by the decision makers and certainly none by the puppetmasters behind the elected officials. In fact, decision makers are more hostile than ever. Presumably, that is their method of sublimating shame. They are human, they must see what is happening, but shame is an inconvenient emotion in the heart of American leaders at any level of government.

The litany: five of the seven Merced City Council are realtors; three of the five county supervisors are large landowners (one representing some of the nation's top recipients of farm subsidies), a fourth (failed dairyman) represents farmer/landowners (brother-in-law of the county farm bureau executive director and future president of California Women for Agriculture), and the fifth represents Atwater realtors (whose greed belies their size). We don't have the data on the Atwater and Livingston councils. The state senator is from Salinas and the assemblywoman is from Stockton (both with Livingston addresses at the moment). On behalf of UC Merced, finance, insurance and real estate special interests, landowners and members of his family and friends, the congressman led three attacks on the federal Endangered Species Act in his short, disgraceful term of office, most of it spent in former Rep. RichPAC Pombo's back pocket. These days, he seems to be leading unsuccessful attempts to subsidize fruit and nut growers, no doubt attempting to forestall the consequences of massive overproduction of almonds and the little problem with the Honey Bee.

For shame. These leaders, backed by the culture of Fat City easy virtue provided by the UC/Great Valley Center, spent 15 years focused madly on future residents of Merced, ignoring those who lived here now. They conducted a massive propaganda campaign against the Present Tense, which fed effortlessly into a speculative housing bubble that, in its aftermath, has caused a global credit crisis. It is a record of so nearly perfect social, economic and environmental injustice that it recalls a comment:

How can one defend a system that creates wealth by making the majority poor?
– Henry C. K. Liu (quoted by Mike Whitney) in Market Oracle:
http://marketoracle.co.uk/Article2481.html

It has taken a world credit crisis to slow our leaders down. They aren't stupid. They are quite cunning, calculating and subtle in the pursuit of wealth -- so much so, so nakedly in accord with what our congressman calls in reverent tones,

"the Valley Way of Life."

In fact, local government in Merced County (as is it in most places in California) is totally controlled by wealthy special interests. It is the planet on which our leaders have chosen to live, as opposed to where we live. If it weren't for the consequences of their 15 years of purely speculative thought, we might call it pathetic because it is veering so far so fast from the Earth of pain, suffering and the real, so long ignored economy of this county, agriculture, in irreversible decline because farmers have become primarily landowners in their minds.

It's hard to measure all the government aid that comes into this county. Between 1995-2005, the Environmental Working Group estimates that $186 million came to Merced farmers in subsidies. EWG admits that its records so far are only partial, but it has made strides recently on pass-throughs to individuals from agribusiness corporations. Still, with all that federal aid (not including publicly subsidized irrigation and all the other little things government does for our "family farmers," they are selling their land for subdivisions and commercial sites. This is the growth that kills. If land stays in agricultural production, the society has an opportunity to improve the farming system. Residential and commercial real estate development kills the option, not to mention what it does to the environment.

As for the public funds flowing into UC Merced, who can tell? What is the price for a well pimped, witless virgin ? All her relatives from the village in Mindanao are surrounding her to support her career in Manila to get their handouts.

Pathetic. Cruel. But Very Pacific Rim.

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

10-20-07
Modesto Bee
Jobless numbers ratchet up for Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin
Housing crisis cited for construction work loss in three counties...Christina Salerno

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/98241.html
Unemployment rates in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties swelled above last year's averages, the result of a shaky economy and deepening housing crisis. The three counties each gained at least a percentage point from the previous year, with Stanislaus County recording the biggest jump. The county went from an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in September 2006 to 8 percent last month, according to state Employment Development figures released Friday. The construction sector, reeling from the downturn in home sales, posted the steepest decline over 12 months, 28,600 jobs statewide.
Modesto Bee
10-11-07
Valley home prices continue to plummet
Merced takes turn at top for lost homes
1 in 68 houses in county got foreclosure notices; SJ, Stanislaus not far behind...J.N. SBRANTI

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/90253.html
It's a title no one wants, but counties in the Northern San Joaquin Valley keep passing around the undesirable honor of having the nation's highest home foreclosure rate.Merced County is the latest to get that title, pushing Stanislaus County into the No. 2 spot and San Joaquin County into No. 3.September filings show Merced County had the nation's highest percentage of homes in the foreclosure process. An estimated 1 in 68 homes there received some type of foreclosure notice last month, according to RealtyTrac, which monitors such statistics. That's more than eight times the national rate of 1 in 557 homes...
Merced Sun-Star
County ranks third in country for hunger
Food summit brings together several groups to try to solve the nutritional problems facing Merced's poor residents...Scott Jason

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/60283.html
Merced County may be a thick slice of the Central Valley breadbasket, but more than a third of its poor adults scramble to eat the crumbs.
Yet 25,000 low-income adults here face that problem regularly, and an estimated 38.2 million Americans have trouble putting food on the table.
Though the statistic may drop jaws, it's not filling stomachs. That challenge has been undertaken by the Merced County Hunger Task Force. With Merced County ranked as the third-highest population in the country that has trouble feeding itself, the group of community service agencies met Friday for its second annual all-day summit about the hunger crisis.
While the idea of chronic hunger may conjure images of homeless residents, the problem afflicts seniors, children, students and, most surprisinglyMerced's working class that struggles to survive.
...one out of 10 Merced County adults faces the prospect of going to bed hungry.
$1.1 million grant awarded to UC Merced...Victor A. Patton
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/60280.html
Called the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, the grant will allow eligible students to receive up to $2,800 in the summer to support research related expenses. The funds will also let the students attend national and international conferences with their professors.
The program will provide about $220,000 to UC Merced each year for the next five years and is expected to benefit at least 50 students during its funding cycle
Environmentally friendly house going up -- made of straw...Dhyana Levey
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/60272.html
Hay is for horses, straw is for houses.
That's what Jean Okuye of Livingston says.
Okuye, 67, began looking about three years ago for a way to build an energy-efficient home with sustainable products. "I wanted to work with nature as much as possible," she said. "A house with materials more cradle-to-cradle than cradle-to-grave."
That means she'd rather see her home products recycled and reused than end up at the bottom of a landfill. She has the future in mind -- five generations of family members have lived on her 78 acres of land, which was just put in a conservation easement. After researching her options online she connected with the eco-friendly Bay Area design and construction firm Skillful Means and learned all about the uses of straw bales.
Part of her inspiration may have been genetic. In her ancestors' Japan, as well as today, at least one room in many homes is made of tatami, straw mats, for flexibility and comfort. About 160 bales of rice straw now make up the walls of her new dwelling, which will be 1,370 square feet when it's done...
The straw provides effective insulation, which was a selling point on this project, said Okuye, an almond farmer and president of the Valley Land Alliance, which seeks to protect local farmland. Her goal was to conserve energy by creating a house without air conditioning or central heating.

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Public comments on public minutes of EMRCD board meeting

Submitted: Oct 09, 2007

Below, find two comment letters on the public minutes of the last East Merced Resource Conservation District board of directors meeting. The Badlands editorial board has received several comments, actually, but declined comparison with 1950s French theater of the absurd. We wish to point out to the second correspondent that Lydia Miller has never conducted a "circus" at any Merced River Stakeholder meeting and one credible witness to that is Pat Ferrigno, representing the Bettencourt family ownerships on the river. Nor have river property owners created circuses at the MRS.

The EMRCD, which represents largely self-serving, grant-funded interests of its out-of-control staff, intends to destroy the collaborative, non-voting strength of the MRS. To that end, after stakeholders successfully killed an EMRCD grant on the basis that the studies were redundant, the staff salaries were models of conflict-of-interest and the EMRCD attempted to ram the grant down the MRS throat unread, the EMRCD summoned a bogus meeting of the MRS, presided over by an illegal quorum of its own board members, while the MRS held its legitimate meeting elsewhere.

The strength of the MRS lies in its non-voting governance, which has permitted -- uniquely for a decade -- widely divergent interests of farming, ranching, mining, environmentalist, resource agencies and others, to meet and continue to share vital information about our river. MRS has no intention of surrendering to some flak attack by the "one voice" crowd, fronting for finance, insurance and real estate special interests that aim to take away riparian water rights from property owners and destroy riparian habitat.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Bill: I read the lengthy email from the Badlands Journal about the EMRCD and the inside struggles for transparency. I am not a property owner there but do read. It is refreshing to know that transparency and openness of our local government will be fought for. Thank you. Charles Ulmschneider

Bill, I thank you for the recent e-mail sent regarding the meeting of MRS.
I do represent my own 200 acres in the Snelling area. I have several
partners in the property and I was asked to attend these efforts from the
start. Several years ago, I was informed that Lydia Miller was to attend
the next meeting and at that time my group decided that she would simply
create another circus costing Merced citizens too much bounty. I do try to
stay informed but refuse to entertain frivolous discussions by those who
simply want to stop all landowners from the enjoyment of their rights. I'm
still not sure where you stand on any matters but atleast you share
information well. Repectfully, Kevin Collins

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CESHA Comments on Proposed New UC Merced Footprint

Submitted: Oct 05, 2007

Press release: For Immediate Use !! ******* Press release: For Immediate Use !!

California Endangered Species and Habitat Alliance

Butte Environmental Council * California Native Plant Society * Defenders of Wildlife * Protect Our Water * San Joaquin Raptor and Wildlife Rescue Center * San Joaquin Valley Conservancy * VernalPools.Org

October 5, 2007 Contacts:

(916) 452-5440 Carol Witham, VernalPools.Org

(916) 201-8277 Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife

(530) 295-8210 Sue Britting, California Native Plant

(530) 891-6424 Barbara Vlamis, Butte Environmental Council

(209) 723-9283 Lydia Miller, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

CESHA COMMENTS ON PROPOSED NEW UC MERCED FOOTPRINT

MERCED, CA (Oct. 5, 2007) –

The California Endangered Species and Habitat Alliance (CESHA) is a coalition of national, statewide, and local groups working to protect endangered species and habitat in California. We are committed to effectively and strategically advocating for and educating towards changes in California’s policy, politics, and public awareness that will enable protection of California’s endangered species and threatened habitats.

Members of CESHA, including Butte Environmental Council, Defenders of Wildlife, California Native Plant Society, Protect Our Water, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, and VernalPools.Org, have been meeting with UC Merced officials, plus federal and state resource agency officials for more than two years in a dialogue about the Merced campus impacts on the habitat for endangered species.

“VernalPool.org supports the UC’s announcement today regarding the reduced footprint” said Carol Witham of VernalPools.org, “because it is environmentally more balanced than the original proposal and reduces impacts to vernal pools and endangered species.”

“We look forward to seeing new plans and participating in the public review process on the new campus,” said Lydia Miller, president of the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center.

“CESHA’s open discussions with UC may prove beneficial for the species, habitat, and the Merced campus, which has been a collaborative opportunity too good to miss,” stated Barbara Vlamis of Butte Environmental Council.

CESHA has been in continual dialogue with federal and state resource agencies concerning the impacts to and disappearance of endangered species habitat, most notably in the eastern Central Valley. Among CESHA achievements is the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, a group of environmental organizations and cattle-ranching groups that work together for the preservation of working cattle ranches and endangered species habitat in California.

UC Merced’s announcement may be found at
http://www.ucmerced.edu/news_articles/10052007_uc_merced_modifies_plans.asp.

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Public minutes of the East Merced Resource Conservation Board of Directors meeting, September 26, 2007

Submitted: Oct 01, 2007

Abbreviations:

RCD=East Merced Resource Conservation District
MRS=Merced River Stakeholders
MRA=Merced River Alliance
NRCS=USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
DOC=state Department of Conservation
DWR=state Department of Water Resources

#1. Introductions

Gwen Huff, EMRCD/MRA staff/MRS facilitator
Cindy Lashbrook, Merced County Planning Commissioner/EMRCD/MRA staff
Susan Pettis, USDA Soil Conservation
Malia Hildebrandt, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
Bill Hatch, San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
Lydia Miller, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Pat Ferrigno, representing the Bettencourt Family, Lower Merced River property owners
Dyhanna Levy, Merced Sun-Star
Bernie Wade, president RCD
Glenn Anderson, RCD board member
Cathy Weber, RCD board member
Karen Barstow, RCD board member
Bob Bliss, RCD board member
Karen Whipp, RCD/MRA grant administrator (and her husband)

#2. Communications

Lydia Miller submitted a letter and the oral testimony of Bryant Owens and David Corser, presented at the RCD/MRS meeting held on Sept. 24 at UC Merced.

Anderson denied that meeting was an RCD meeting and asked how the board should receive Miller’s submissions. Bliss said, “We never had a board meeting,” adding that he only talked to two board members.

There were four identified RCD board members at the UC Merced RCD/MRS meeting, which made a quorum. The RCD board members present were advised by a state official that in fact this was an RCD meeting. No RCD board members attended the real MRS meeting, held at Washington School simultaneously.

Weber suggested that Miller’s submissions be accepted by the board plus board comments.

Miller said they were presented by Owens.

Lashbrook: “Read by him anyway …”

Anderson said that the MRS has no governance therefore the submissions were made by a person.

Miller said the submission weren’t written by Owens or Corser but were presented by and for several groups in MRS that signed the submitted letter.

Barstow said the proper name for the RCD/MRS meeting was “MRS at UC Merced.”

Miller requested the words “oral and written” be added.

The board found that acceptable.

Anderson asked, “But for which meeting?”

The board replied in unison, “The meeting at UC Merced.”

Whipp suggested that the submissions be labeled “by some stakeholders.”

In other words, the RCD board interjected itself into the time on its agenda reserved for oral communications from the public, interrupting the public repeatedly in the process.

Wade proceeded to Item #4, forgetting Item #3, Corrections and Additions to the Agenda.

Miller pointed out the mistake.

Busy at work trying to suppress public comments at a public meeting, Lashbrook and Bliss sneered at Miller’s suggestion, saying it wasn’t true.

Wade, recognizing his mistake, returned to Item #3, Corrections and/or Additions to the Agenda, and Miller submitted the “Public Minutes to the EMRCD Meeting, August 15.”

Whipp refused to accept them.

Miller requested that they be submitted under Item #2, Oral Communications.

Wade agreed.

Bliss: “Time’s up.”

In fact, “individual comments may be limited to 5 minutes each by the board president,” not Bliss, who isn’t the president. There was no one keeping time on whether Miller took five minutes to explain the board’s mistake, Whipp’s refusal and Miller’s subsequent request.

Weber noted that there is one error in the submitted public minutes and asked if the board could comment.

Weber’s problem was that the letter in opposition to the RCD grant was titled “Merced River Stakeholders,” a true title. Weber’s objections were well-covered in the public minutes just submitted. When she realized that a separate MRS meeting had been held at Washington School while the RCD was holding an official RCD meeting at UC Merced, erroneously called an MRS meeting, she dropped her opposition to the public minutes.

The MRS has never suppressed information or demanded that anyone support our position. At its meeting at Washington School, as usual, the MRS had an open agenda. This meeting was attended by Commissioner Lashbrook’s husband, Bill Thompson. MRS members have heard from several sources that Thompson, a Farm Bureau director, like his wife, has been bullying people into taking a position against the MRS. MRS would welcome his interpretation of its meeting. Meanwhile, the MRS wishes to make it clear that it is not out bullying anyone to support its position.

Miller said the proper place for board comment on the submitted public minutes would be at the next meeting.

It is fascinating that having first rejected minutes offered by the public for RCD meetings, now RCD board members wanted to correct them.

Whipp said the public minutes weren’t written by someone hired by the RCD to write them, therefore should be called “public comment.”

The RCD board then moved on to Item #4, the Consent Agenda, but Whipp wasn’t finished with the public minutes issue, submitted under Item #2 after the board refused to consider them under Item #3. Whipp said the official RCD minutes are written according to Robert’s Rules of Order and that p. 451 of Robert’s states that official minutes “should never reflect opinions or reasoning of the board…Minutes will show action, reports made, but no comments … that’s not what minutes are about…If more detail is required, you are asking for a transcription.”

Whipp’s interpretation would seem to founder on two questions: are RCD minutes public or private? and Are they published or not published? – at least according to Robert’s Rules of Order. In fact, the RCD is a public board, appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors, and its main business, well-known to Grant Administrator Whipp, is the administration of public grants from public agencies for public purposes and the minutes are published on the RCD website after they have been adopted.

The RCD treasurer, Barstow, referred the board to written reports on the RCD grants.

There was discussion of an additional $16,000 granted to the RCD or the MRA “until December 2007” and it was reported that 70 percent of the MRA personnel budget has already been spent. The work on that grant will be done by June 2008 and MRA staff Nancy McConnell and Whipp will continue working 2 months longer.

Item #6, Written and Oral Updates.

Hildebrandt of NRCS reported on the status of the General Order on Waste Discharge Requirements for Existing Milk Cow Dairies, issued in May by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. Workshops for dairymen have been scheduled for public dairy assessments on water quality due in December 2007. In October, visual and photographic assessments should be taken. Two hundred forty Merced County dairies are covered by this order. They include “those dairies in existence as of October 17, 2005, that have not expanded by more than 15 percent AND have submitted a complete Report of Waste Discharge to the Board.”

The deadline for application for EQIP grants is November 2, Hidlebrandt reported. So far, there are 80-85 applications. Per the new Farm Bill, funds not allocated will be returned to the federal government and subjected to the new regulations coming out of the new Farm Bill. At the moment, the new Farm Bill contains no provisions for orchard removal but it is “on the list” (for final Farm Bill negotiations).

There are new developments in pest management, she said.

Meanwhile, there will be high school speech contests for the RCD to consider. (Is this a cross-grant with existing FFA programs long in place?)

Hidlebrandt reported on the University of California Integrated Pest Management program, which elicited questions from the board.

Bliss and others groaned about the difficulty of this new program. Anderson wondered how difficult it would be to keep records for such a program. Hildebrandt said that most growers would let a PCA do the record keeping, noting that growers already in the program will not be eligible for this new program. Anderson asked if new adoptees were easier or harder to find, guessing they would be easier to find. Hidlebrandt said NRCS had not yet administered the new program. Yet, typically, the sort of guidance the program would offer would include: “Don’t just automatically spray after a rain; at least do the other things first.” Air quality and integrated pest management programs are funded by the states, she added.

Pat Ferrigno asked Hildebrandt if the air quality program was new. Hidlebrandt replied they have been going for seven years. Ferrigno remarked that it would have been appropriate for the RCD-funded facilitator of the MRS to have informed the MRS stakeholders of it.Hildebrandt said she had been to the MRS.Lashbrook said something about “advertising to the MRS.”Hildebrandt said that not everyone knows about the program. Ferrigno said that that was her point.

Hildebrandt explained that it was an offshoot of an older USDA program with a more environmental emphasis.

Next, under this Item came the Watershed Coordinator report.

Huff, the watershed coordinator, announced she was resigning on Friday, adding that Lashbrook and Whipp would make sure that her leftover responsibilities were taken care of. She said the Fall MRA newsletter was complete. Huff was enthusiastic about educational fliers announcing a water-quality monitoring program for junior high school students and the opportunities for outreach to junior high science teachers. Her parting theme was: “Do more outreach!” Weber raved about the extra credit junior high science instructors were offering for this program.

Huff announced that Sierra naturalist Jack Muir Laws would be offering a lecture and workshop on the Upper River soon. Lashbrook annotated that Laws was “a direct descendent” of John Muir. Weber said his book was “great.”

In other business under this Item, Huff reported that there had been no response from the state Department of Water Resources on why the RCD grant proposal had been rejected. But, she noted, the state Department of Conservation would be offering new watershed grants later this year. The RFPs were not out yet but stakeholders would be notified, she said. There will be six weeks to submittal and the stakeholders will have three weeks to respond. Lashbrook and Whipp will be working on it, Huff added.

A board member handed out regional water board non-point-source pollution RFPs for grants. This would involve landowner workshops, Huff said. Lashbrook and Whipp have time on the Department of Conservation grant to write some grants, she added. There will be a webcast from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sept. 27, Lashbrook said, at least it is “most likely.” An urban streams program will also be offering grants, Huff said. The RCD/MRS facilitator grant will end in November 2007, she said. The RCD still has money and Huff suggested two replacements for herself.

Huff said that MRS had elected to meet at the Merced County Agricultural Commissioner’s meeting hall because at UC Merced parking was hard to find (and might cost money). Or, alternatively, the MRS could continue to meet at UCM but at 6:30 p.m., when parking was easier to find.

Weber asked if the non-point-source grants apply to riparian vegetation, too, and if they could link with NRCS grants. Huff said, “It’s a perfect fit.”

Next, the board turned to the issue of how the MRS could possibly continue without RCD-paid facilitators. What would they do with the mailing list and the website? Where would it go? That subject dangled as Huff returned to the money: she said she would write the next draft report to the state Department of Conservation on the grant budget. Lashbrook and Whipp will continue her work on these reports after she leaves (on Friday, Sept. 28). Huff said the MRS facilitator is a half-time position and that Lashbrook and Whipp will pick up more hours after her resignation.

Will the DOC approve of this change or will it suck up those hours? Whipp asked. Lashbrook attempted to explain but the reporter was unable to make any sense of her comment. Huff said that the MRS account was billed for eight hours per month. Whenever the watershed coordinator worked for the MRA on the river, she was partnered over to the MRA newsletter but only billed eight hours to the MRA.

President Wade said that there would be a new facilitator for the MRS in November, but asked if Huff would write up the minutes for the RCD/MRS meeting at UC Merced.

Huff replied that she was using a $1,600 Toshiba laptop computer and offered to buy it from the RCD for $500. “If not,” she said, “you could sell it on eBay.” Lashbrook said that the new price for this model had dropped to $500-$600.Huff said it had had to be repaired four times. Anderson asked what records were in it.

Huff replied that Lashbrook and Whipp probably already have all the records or will have after the “turnover” on Sept. 27. Anderson suggested erasing the hard drive and starting all over. Huff said the laptop had crashed “a few times.”

This computer was purchased with state funds. It should stay with the entity for which purchased. But, was that entity the RCD, the MRA, MRS? It was not purchased by an individual, Huff or anyone else. Sounds like a subject for another state Public Records Act request.

Lashbrook presented her report. She said she’d spent “very few hours this summer” on water-quality monitoring, a long-term MRA goal. “The Upper Merced River has been doing it all along,” she said. Originally, the MRS wanted water monitoring. MRS facilitator Teri Murrison, waste water treatment plants and the Merced Irrigation District, along with other entities, wanted “learning centers” along the river, Lashbrook said, and there was agreement with the parks along the river for regular water-quality monitoring.

Huff said that there was no funding for citizen water-quality monitoring.

Lashbrook attempted to put the monitoring issue in perspective by saying something about how we pollute and how these people (perhaps she meant farmers) won’t be a problem anymore because of this monitoring.

Wade reported on a UC Merced freshman tour of Lake McClure, mentioning it was “painful” to ask how restoration would be done.

Ferrigno, representing the private ownerships along the lower Merced River, said that former MRS facilitator Teri Murrison discontinued a water-quality monitoring program half-way through due to farmers’ opposition to what amounted to a bounty program in which citizen monitors were promised half the fines levied against (farmer) polluters.

Lashbrook remarked that it sounded like Teri. Huff said she didn’t remember that program.

Ferrigno reiterated a point often made: the lower river is mostly privately owned and permission is not given to cross private property to do monitoring.

Lashbrook commented that part of the MRA program was to share the practices of the upper river group.

The Merced River Alliance is composed of staff for upper and lower river groups, from Yosemite on down to the San Joaquin River.

Ferrigno brought up an example of how even agency water-quality monitors get it wrong, saying that it took her family three years, including 15 hours in September to clarify for the monitoring agency that the water they were testing came from tail waste, not Jones Slough – in other words, the wrong source.

Hildebrandt and Lashbrook explained that records are kept of tests on the upper river and that if MRA found funds for a full program, it would send tests from all along the river to labs. Huff said the lower river is already monitored. Lashbrook said MID doesn’t monitor all the water, that a full monitoring program would or should include all irrigated lands and that MRA would make sure all the information would be correlated.

Whipp presented the report of MRA staff (from the upper river), Nancy McConnell, stressing that “deliverables” on grants included tours, watershed outreach and the annual MRA dinner. She also presented the report of Terry McLaughlin, MRA staff for Yosemite, announcing that McLaughlin had developed a new water-quality monitoring kit for middle school science curriculum (7th and 8th grades).

Barstow commented this was a “good thing for our children who are our future.” Anderson asked Barstow if she was present when the kits were used by the 7th and 8th graders. Barstow said no. Lashbrook commented that “Snelling students will be our mentors on water-quality monitoring protocols” at an upcoming event there.

Lydia Miller asked why the Monitoring Plan and Quality Assurance Program Plan received an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act. Barstow or Whipp (not sure) replied that it was because the plan was just a study. Lashbrook commented that McConnell had done all the work on that.

Item #7 Recording EMRCD Board Meetings

Weber said that the RCD needed to record its meetings so that “we can verify what we said other than what it is reported that we said.”

Barstow objected, saying she did not want the “give and take on opinions before making a decision” recorded, however “points of clarification and the Yea or Nay” were OK. The conclusion is the significant thing, she added. Anderson quizzed the group on what equipment and special technology would be necessary, agreeing with Barstow on recording deliberations, because he was “not always especially proud on the lack of information” on certain things. Barstow said that if the meetings were recorded board members would have to identify themselves.Whipp said the board would “have to do all of it.” Bliss said he liked to sit around, “freelance,” and talk to each other (freely, seemed to be his implication).

Wade mentioned that the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission record their meetings. Weber replied that those were “public hearings.”

Lashbrook said that the state association of RCDs told board members that recordings would have to be kept for five years and did not recommend the RCD record their meetings. However, Merced County Counsel said it wouldn’t hurt but that they would have to keep the tapes and that all meetings or no meetings would have to be taped.

The board voted unanimously to table the issue for this meeting and reconsider it later.

Item #8 Procedure for Requesting Public Information

Whipp requested adoption of standardized procedures for keeping and sharing RCD public information. She expressed irritation at members of the public who had received information from the RCD and then wrote to request the same information be sent again. State Department of Conservation and the state RCD association both recommended the RCD adopt a policy, she said.

Barstow: “What information?”

Whipp: “Minutes and reports sent out to those who request it. I need more structure … there is a policy under the Freedom of Information (Act) to charge for copies …”

Anderson asked if there was any guidance in the state RCD handbook.

Hildebrandt began to look through the handbook.

Lashbrook explained that the RCD state staff recommended a policy and pointed to the difficulties of finding “historical stuff,” rather than “current stuff.”

Whipp said her main interest in a policy was to be able to show that she’d already sent information if she had. Therefore, she was asking for a log of all requests and that the requests must specify documents.

Anderson asked that action be held off until the board sees if the state RCD handbook has specific guidance.

Lashbrook advised: “This is your time to set policy. This would be the day …It’s happening statewide but state RCD staff says not everywhere …You have pressure now. It wouldn’t hurt you to adopt (a policy).”

Barstow moved to develop a policy by the time of the board’s October meeting.

Bliss also wanted to make a motion.

Anderson objected.

Weber asked that if she were to second a motion, wouldn’t it open it to discussion?

Bliss offered to amend Barstow’s motion to charge $1/page for RCD documents “like other boards are doing …”

Hildebrandt read from the state RCD Guidebook that all records are open to public inspection during office hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Anderson expressed concern for additional overhead costs to the RCD.

Bliss urged the board to pass his $1/page motion immediately.

Weber and Wade brought up some qualifications.

Lashbrook commented that some of the qualifications were according to statutes.

Anderson asked what would happen if we took action now, based on what other RCDs are doing.

Bliss said that it had all been explained, it covered all kinds of information and that “there’s a leak in the dam.”

Lydia Miller raised a point of order.

Bliss refused to hear it.

Wade asked that it be heard later.

Weber asked if the board would start charging $1/page now.

Bliss: “Now.” He argued that the board has to pay Whipp for her time to fulfill these requests. “These people (meaning the public requesting the public information from the public RCD) ask for the moon. We’ll charge then $1/page.”

Barstow asked where would this decision go in the RCD’s own guidance and offered to withdraw her motion if Weber would withdraw her second.

Wade suggested that the information continue to be distributed until a decision is reached.

Lashbrook advised the board to adopt a policy immediately. She added that Miller sounded like she had some serious public information requests that she would be making of the RCD.

Barstow changed her motion, moving that the RCD policy should be that information requests be made in writing to the administrator (Whipp) and that the $1/page charge should be adopted.

Lashbrook said 50 cents/page was as high as they could go.

Bliss said the state RCD staffer had said they could go to a dollar.

Whipp said the county administration and county counsel charge 50 cents a page. The procedure is that after a written request is filed, the agency has 10 days to gather the documents, it calculates its costs, receives the funds from the requester and releases the documents, she said. It must all be done in 10 days unless there is a lot of research involved, she added.

Lashbrook commented: “That’s the law. You can’t deviate.”

Barstow said that if someone wanted backup documents, “that’s not appropriate,” because the RCD is a contractor and that the proper place to make requests would be to the state agencies that make the grants administered by the RCD.

Lashbrook advised that without making that change, “you’d be having to work three or four days straight (on these requests).”

Whipp declared that neither she, Huff nor Lashbrook were staff of the RCD. “We are contractors, not staff. We contract with the board. We don’t have to do what others direct us to do…We are being asked to distribute documents that we didn’t author … e-mails are public information and I have been distributing them in a timely manner … but it has been inferred that there is something unethical.”

Anderson asked if 50 cents or a dollar is actually enough to cover the overhead.

Whipp said “we” could not charge for her time, only for her leased copy machine.

Lashbrook intoned that now the board is exposed to state Public Record Act (PRA) requests.

Barstow modified her motion to “50 cents.”

At this point it was very clear that the board couldn’t distinguish between a request for public information and a request under the state PRA. Meanwhile, Whipp, who has to handle all the requests and distribution of information, responded to a comment by Miller about “inappropriate e-mail.”

Whipp said that every time she has to search board e-mails, she has to charge the RCD. She added that if documents on financial matters were requested, she would ask county counsel or refer the request to state agencies.

Barstow said the RCD was a private contractor.

Lashbrook again intoned that an immediate policy “wouldn’t hurt you.”

Whipp asked for a policy just to clarify what the public has a right to know and what it doesn’t have a right to know.

Lashbrook declared that the RCD had no responsibility to distribute e-mails at public request. This “has been clarified by four attorneys,” she said.

Anderson asked about the present state of the different motions.

Whipp said there were a lot of different motions at that moment.

Barstow said she would have liked to have seen this (perhaps this policy) earlier. But she withdrew her motion and Weber withdrew her second.

In fact, the agenda packet for the RCD board members contained a sample – admittedly an inaccurate document confusing a public information request log form with a PRA request—of what Barstow was complaining she had not seen.

Bliss moved for 50 cents “for every page disseminated” and for the same “time-line procedure the county follows.” Weber seconded the motion.

Ferrigno suggested that the RCD just put up the material on its website.

Whipp said that minutes are posted after they are adopted. The problem is with background information, she added.

Ferrigno asked how far back the website went.

Hildebrandt went to check.

Lashbrook declared that the RCD doesn’t want to “stop transparency.”

Right!

Someone mentioned the problem of Internet access. Someone else mentioned that the public library provides Internet access.

Bliss called for the question.

Miller told the RCD board that they hadn’t even read their own guidebook (available on the Internet), their agenda items were illegal for lack of adequate description, they had no staff reports, and that a state Public Records Act request was different form a public information request and log. “Your whole agenda doesn’t meet the Brown Act standards,” she said, “and the public has problems with your whole process.”

Bliss said Miller had exhausted her two minutes. “All those in favor – come on, let’s get ‘em,” he added.

Hildebrandt raised an issue about minute’s availability.

Miller, who had copies of the county public information act request forms, told the board to get their own county public information documents. “You have a county planning commissioner on your staff.”

County Planning Commissioner Lashbrook remarked: “Today’s staff job.” She added that the board “better cover yourself.”

Miller said the board’s agenda and motions were unclear and that they have to make coherent statements in their agenda of the actions to be taken.

Barstow replied that the board was appointed and volunteers. “Please let’s go on and not fall into this razzle-dazzle,” she added. “I’ve got a business to run.”

Barstow’s business was recently fined for non-compliance with pollution standards.

President Wade summarized: motion, second, discussion and public comment.

The vote was unanimous for 50 cents a page and a 10-day preparation period for dissemination of public documents to the public.

During the discussion, Miller had distributed to President Wade and Staff Whipp a genuine, authentic state Public Record Act request. Bliss snatched out of Wade’s hands, looked at it, rolled his eyes and passed on the Barstow.

Barstow asked for a point of clarification on Miller’s PRA, saying it was not what she thought it would be. It is formal and needs to be drafted in a formal way of receiving mail, she said.

The PRA was quite formal and was drafted according to the PRA law.

Whipp said Miller handed it to her without explanation.

Item # 9 CAL-Card Contract Addendum

Discussion on this item centered on a purchase card issued for funds from a Prop. 13 grant, which had to be approved before the card was used. Huff said it worked well for staff because they didn’t have to use their own credit cards for such purchases. Whipp said the card was used by McConnell, Lashbrook, Huff and herself, all members of the MRA-- for example, for things like a digital camera, she added.

Then Whipp read the PRA request from Miller and Steve Burke, which had nothing to do with staff credit cards. Lashbrook began to mumble and Huff tried to shut her up.

Barstow said Miller’s submission of the document showed “obvious hostile intent,” and the board needed to take it to the county counsel for advice.

Lashbrook advised that board members should accompany Whipp to the county counsel.

Anderson said the board needed to make a motion on that.

President Wade said the board could direct Whipp to go to county counsel.

Barstow said, “Some of these things were out of the board’s hands and involved agencies.”

Weber said that two board members should accompany Whipp to the county counsel’s office.

Item #10 Response letter to Department of Water Resources in Regard to Letter of Opposition of Grant Proposal

Apparently, Barstow was supposed to write the request to the DWR. She didn’t. The issue was tabled by the board. Lashbrook said there needed to be a committee on that.

Item #11 Future Relationship between EMRCD and Merced River Stakeholders

Weber set the stage by saying the grant funds were running out and that now there were two groups of stakeholders and the RCD no longer had the money to support the MRS.
Huff said that if MRS agreed, the RCD should seek more funding. Weber asked if that would be decided at the November meeting.

Which meeting was unclear: one of the two MRS meetings, the RCD meeting or the MRA annual dinner meeting.

Anderson said that if other entities believe they can do a better job, let them. He said he saw a better river, less tail water and less drainage, than before. He was very concerned about downstream issues.

Bliss said it was fine if there was someone to do it better. He said he was “big time pissed off. I have a life to live and can live it.”

Anderson said he could do anything but something that suggested confrontation. The board should wait for the next meeting but the RCD could say, “No more, let someone else run with it. I am totally delighted with the whole river alliance. I’m not that sort of person – no fights with people.”

Barstow said she was “dismayed and discouraged” by the fact that this has gotten to this point. “Heart-breaking.” It is important to have relationships with the river people. But what the board was getting in her view was “razzle-dazzle.”

Bliss declared himself a “conservationist.” He mentioned his grandchildren and even future great-grandchildren. He said he was “infuriated” watching people get hurt by “vindictive people.”

Anderson, saying he was reading a lot of books these days, announced his personal quest, a la David Korten’s The Great Turning. “Do we stay on this course and watch well-intentioned people get beat up? It makes me sick.” He said he wanted to be a part of that “new movement” to make it all better. “We have no time to fight,” he said. “Malia has a new baby.”

Barstow said that the board was good because it had balance between conservation and farming.

Lashbrook said she too came to the stakeholders before the RCD took over facilitation. The landowners met separately. Now they are doing it again, meeting the same day as the RCD/MRS meeting and calling themselves the MRS. She mentioned a grant for recreation and how, according to her, landowners shouted down recreation people at an MRS meeting. But, the MRS is supposed to be “diverse,” she said. “I am also an environmentalist,” she said. “This whole conflict has nothing to do with the river, nature or resources. I understand where Pat (Ferrigno) is coming from. I don’t understand the others.”

These would be the people she publicly declared war against at the July 20th RCD meeting and has been bullying people all over the county to take a stand against since they wrote in opposition to a grant that would have paid her something between $60,000-$75,000 and would continue to subsidize her other ventures, including her farm, her blueberries, her consulting business, her workshop schedule and expenses.

Wade said there were some “misguided things” in the relationship. Jennifer Vick, of the state Department of Fish and Game didn't let the RCD say anything in the MRS. He mentioned the Robinson riparian restoration project. He read from a document that the RCD initiated the MRS in 1998, along with the CDFG, Stillwater (consultants), Merced County, landowners, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the public, etc.

Lashbrook commented that “the RCD got narrowed down to the river.”

Wade said either the MRS or the RCD didn’t have an aggregate committee. (Wade has an aggregate project he is trying to get a permit for). Maybe the state doesn’t want an MRS, he said. Maybe CalFed doesn’t want it. He said there were other things that the RCD could look into, like, for example, water pollution in Hilmar.

Anderson said he lived in Hilmar and that, “We must be careful of what we say.”

Barstow said that this was undocumented information.

Lashbrook said there were two reporters in the room.

Miller said: the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, of which she is president, has been in the MRS since 1998 and that RCD participation began in 1999. She said she had been through RCD missteps involving the bogus UC habitat conservation plan, Vick, Mike Fuller and Teri Murrison, before Huff became facilitator. She said she was there for the UMPUG grant, the CAFF grant and the oversight issues with biologist John Vollmar. She said her group has been a consistent stakeholder and participant in RCD meetings throughout this period. She said she resented this lecturing and hostility from the RCD board. The RCD board doesn’t understand its own mandate and hasn’t read its own guidebook, available on the Internet (where Miller had read it) and CDs are available from their state association, she said. She added that she and others had told them there were problems with the RCD grant proposal this spring. She said she and others had suggested meetings with Huff and Lashbrook and other grant writers. These offers were rejected. Miller said the MRS and the RCD are not on the same page. The RCD is a stakeholder. “Until you sort that out we will continue to suppress your grant funds,” she said.

Weber asked how the RCD and the MRS could get together again and work for the river.

Ferrigno said the opposition to the grant was clearly expressed, but the RCD staff did not respond. She said that she represented farmers who owned 37,000 acres on or near the river and they had no representation – not in the RCD, a municipal advisory council or on the board of supervisors, or the planning commission (she was saying that planning Commissioner Lashbrook, who lives on the river, does not represent the interests of the river landowners Lashbrook did not attend the MRS meeting at Washington School, attended by most river landowners, including her husband).

Lashbrook said that the RCD asked Ferrigno’s brother to serve on the RCD board. (Later, Ferrigno having checked that out, reported it was a lie.) Lashbrook also said that the Raptor Center had so many members, it could have a representative on the board.

Later, Miller said there was no chance at all that the Merced County Board of Supervisors would appoint any member of the Raptor Center to any board. It was a hollow statement made by Lashbrook, an appointee to the Planning Commission and to the RCD board. And she knew it was a hollow statement.

Lashbrook nearly wailed that the RCD had never tried to keep anyone out.

Ferrigno said that her group had pointed out the downside of the UC Merced meeting place but the RCD had not listened, so the MRS held a separate meeting at Washington School. “To put that controversial meeting in an unknown location showed very little cooperation” between the MRS and the RCD-paid facilitator, she said. She concluded that she had no time to sit here and be lectured to by the RCD board.

Lashbrook wailed that Huff was going out of town when the decision to hold the meeting at UC Merced was made and “your complaint came in.” She added that Brad Sameulson, UC Merced environmental compliance officer, said “farmers come in to the campus all the time.”

Barstow said the funding for MRS facilitators runs out in November but “we’d like to see it continue.”

It was 4 p.m. so President Wade asked to table the last four items on the agenda, and the meeting was adjourned.

In conclusion we wish former MRS facilitator, Gwen Huff, the best of luck in her new position with the state Department of Water Resources as an event coordinator. We can’t wait to see how well her work will “fit” with local events like Lashbrook’s River Fair and McConnell’s outreach “deliverables.”

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