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
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)
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.
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.
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.”
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.”