Environment

Public minutes of the Merced River Stakeholders meeting, January 28, 2008

Submitted: Feb 08, 2008

Washington School, Winton CA

Attending:

Merced Irrigation District, 2
Granite Construction, 2
Santa Fe Aggregate, 1
East Merced Resource Conservation District, 2
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, 1
Merced County Planning Commission, 1
Landowners, 8
Stillwater Sciences, 1
Merced Sun-Star, 1
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, 1
Members of the public, 2-3
Facilitator

Ted Selb reported for MID: Pray for rain, the reservoir is down. The snow pack is at 100- percent normal for this time of year, MID hoping for another storm a little on the warm side to melt some low snow into the reservoir. Selb introduces Dan Pope, MID hydrological manager for Exchequer Dan, who will be in charge of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of the dam.

Teri Murrison, the facilitator explains that CALFED is being dismantled and the watershed program is now being administered by the state Department of Conservation, which has expanded the watershed program to the entire state, from Modoc to Imperial counties.Murrison and John Brody are chairing the San Joaquin regional meetings for the statewide watershed program, which will be held in Modesto on Feb. 11 and in Los Banos on Feb. 15.

Murrison, an experienced facilitator and former watershed coordinator for the RCD and MRS facilitator, volunteered to facilitate the meeting for no fee. She focused the meeting “options for Merced River Stakeholders:”

1. Stop MRS?
Glenn Anderson, board member of the East Merced RCD, said that the feeling was unanimous to continue MRS.
The representative for Santa Fe Aggregate said MRS functions best as an information-sharing organization within the disparate interests representing all aspects of the river.
Commissioner Lashbrook said that if decisions are to be made, more defined governance is necessary. Anderson said MRS should continue the Merced River Restoration Project.

In fact, despite the controversy with Commissioner Lashbrook and the RCD, which has been going on for nearly a year, MRS has continued to meet on schedule, bi-monthly and no members, who are not also members of the board of directors of the RCD have called for stopping the MRS. Therefore, for some, there is a sense of redundancy about this topic.

Murrison read the 2003 MRS Mission Statement and Goals:

MERCED RIVER STAKEHOLDERS

MISSION STATEMENT
Provide a collaborative forum for coordination, and gathering and sharing of information about the Merced River watershed. Protect and enhance the lower Merced River Watershed such that the natural processes, ecosystems, and its unique characteristics are conserved and restored. Foster voluntary stewardship in advance of habitat degradation and regulatory action.
Strive for a balanced level of human interaction within the watershed.

GOALS
Educate the public about the Merced River watershed and its importance.
Foster and improve communication among affected private individuals, interested citizens, commercial interests, educational institutes, and representatives of local, state and federal agencies.

Murrison recapitulated the history of MRS. Although now a Tuolumne County supervisor; she was the MRS facilitator for several years until 2006.

From 1999 to 2001, federal and state agencies and a grant from the Central Valley Project Improvement Act funded MRS and the MRRP, the science done by Stillwater Sciences. A technical advisory board was established including agencies, industry, the county, MID, MRS members and Stillwater.

The first phase (1999-2000) workshops were held, the TAC was established, private access was arranged, and goals and objectives for the MRRP were developed.

Phase II, EDAW consultants did baseline studies and various reports were released for public dissemination.

2001-2002: field studies and modeling was developed, design guidelines were establishing, geomorphic functions identified, specific strategies worked out for each of the five reaches of the lower river, the Wild on the Watershed tour was held, and the MRRP was released January 2002.

Murrison noted that the MRRP plan did not address water quality, land-use, education or water supply issues.

In 2001, East Merced Resource Conservation District received a watershed coordinator grant that allowed Murrison to become the MRS facilitator. The function of the EMRCD was to provide help facilitating for MRS. Murrison wrote the last Prop. 13 grant and the DOC watershed grants from 2001-2007.

Phase IV: CalFed grant for dredge-tailing reach baseline studies on fish and mercury, etc., 2005.

Lydia Miller noted that the MRS did other work as well: elimination of Water Hyacinth, and past restoration projects, for example the Robinson and Ratzlaff restoration projects, and had a lengthy set of meetings on the governance committee.

Joe Mitchell said restoration was too narrow a focus for MRS and was only looking at salmon and invasive species.

Commissioner Lashbrook said that recreational uses “always brought angst.”

Miller added that so did aggregate mining.

A representative from Granite Construction (aggregate miners) said that MRS was a good “sounding board.”

Murrison asked if this should be broadened to policy.

Participants agreed.

The Santa Fe Aggregate representative said that MRS was good for networking and for listening to the “range of considerations.”

Mitchell said that there were conflicts within the agencies, for example between salmon and stripped bass, and between and within agencies, for example conflicts between state Department of Fish and Game and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Taxpayers are asked to reclaim post-mining disasters, which irritated the recreationists, plus they didn’t get the option of access to the riverbank through private property, he said.

MRRP is a working document, not a “policy” statement. Several participants agreed that the agencies tried to assume MRRP was policy for purposes of their own projects.

Anderson brought up the topic of property rights v. public access.

Murrison brought up the topic of whether MRS was an advocacy or an information-sharing organization.

Miller said that MRS had advocated on the water Hyacinth issue when they met with the agencies to advocate; MRS developed a proposal for a town-hall meetings in each of the reaches and also a proposal for a river tender.

Mitchell said MRS needed to know when and how much 2-4-D the agencies were spraying on the hyacinth.

Murrison said there seemed to be some contention about the role of MRS.

Commissioner Lashbrook mumbled something about a “continuum” that Murrison interpreted as the phrase “a continuum from information-sharing to action.” Since becoming a planning commissioner, Lashbrook has patented a form of utterance that often escapes meaning unless one is “in the know” on the latest workshop phraseology.

Anderson asked if MRS could not conduct a formal way of “visioning.” (Anderson attends different workshops than the Commissioner does.) But, neither one of them, both members of the RCD board of directors, is pleased with the MRS as it is, as it functions now, and particularly as it functioned last year when MRS members voiced opposition to an RCD grant, of direct financial benefit to the commissioner, that claimed MRS support when it did not have it or any governance means for getting it.

Pat Bettencourt said she didn’t understand what Anderson meant by “visioning.”

Anderson replied that some people “envision” a parkway on the river. Others don’t. That’s two extremes. He proposed a set of meetings that got into each individual MRS member’s “wildest dreams for the river.”

Murrison returned the attention of the group to its mission and goals.

The Granite representative said they too had a vision.

Mitchell said that MRS had “knockdowns meetings on this,” and MRS found information was neutral; but nobody was to speak for the whole group.

Murrison noted that the group went through its mission and goals, word-by-word, defining each as they went along.

Anderson said he wanted a “revisitation” of the mission and goals.

The Santa Fe Aggregate representative said that the goal of MRS was sharing information: members have projects and it is unlikely that the whole group would approve any project.

Murrison described this as “the dog on the carpet – the long-term sticking point.

Mitchell said MRS has always recognized that nobody agreed with each other.

Miller said that the WOW tour was agreed on and carried out and that the governance committee agreed to meet for a year to conclude that there couldn’t be a voting structure in MRS because of disagreement.

Commissioner Lashbrook stated that three people on the governance committee were not happy “how that turned out.”

Miller said: “Then they should have challenged the conclusion. We speak up and have dialogue.”

Murrison noted that there was a difference “in communication styles.”

Mitchell noted that the “interests would pursue their interests no matter what.”

Murrison, who was facilitator at the time the governance committee met, said: “We agreed to pursue our own interests, knowing there were other forums to air those views.”

She then concluded that no one in the group wanted to disband MRS.

Commissioner Lashbrook said, “A lot of people don’t attend.”

Mitchell replied that there are no projects at the moment to draw them in or a grant.

Murrison said MRS members come to protect their interests.

Anderson said, “If there is something like an emergency on the river, it brings them in.”

Pat Bettencourt said that MRS changed its focus when the Black Diamond aggregate project (Wendell Reid, Modesto) went ahead without coming to the MRS. “There was a sense of loss of focus because we didn’t have a chance to look at it or the requirements for a permit. (Bettencourts and their partners, Santa Fe Aggregates, do bring projects to MRS for discussion.) “MRS functions best when everyone comes with their own interests, informs the group. MRS has had the credibility and influence to attract people to come to vet their projects.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that Merced County and most agencies have “backed out.”

We noted that county Planning Commissioner Lashbrook was present, along with two officials from MID and that a representative from the county Planning Department has been providing regular updates on river projects until this meeting, and that last year, as usual, state and federal agency representatives were usually in attendance.

Maia Singer, representing Stillwater Sciences, endorsed MRS input, saying that it was very important to Stillwater’s studies.

Murrison said there is no perceived threat that fewer landowners and agencies were dropping out.

Mitchell said that agency funding sources are also drying up (making it difficult to travel to Merced).

Commissioner Lashbrook started a sentence with, “If the group …” but became incoherent.

Murrison interpreted the commissioner’s utterance to have something to do with staff.

Anderson said that the salmon count was not good, after millions of dollars spent on restoring the run.

Selb of MID said the salmon runs are diminishing all along the coast and maybe the problem on the Merced River is not local.

Jill Ratzlaff said that state Department of Fish and Game badly botched the restoration project on her family project.

Mitchell said that stakeholders do try to pressure agencies to do the right thing.

Ratzlaff added that the agencies do not have enough follow-through on their restoration projects. She and Mitchell agreed that the agencies do not correct their mistakes.

Commissioner Lashbrook attempted to interject with a comment beginning, “We can’t …”

Mitchell said the lead agencies in restoration projects didn’t follow its own policies and didn’t follow through. Ratzlaff agreed that continuity was a big problem. Mitchell said, “When a project fails, there is no mechanism to make it right. There are X amount of dollars for reclamation (of old mining projects) and then they walk away.” He mentioned the Carson project, on which the created ponds would not hold water – “the designer should have been accountable to do it right.”

Murrison and Commissioner Lashbrook seemed to express a common frustration that the group couldn’t come together (return to the governance problem).

Mitchell asked why there was no enforcement on reclamation projects.

Murrison said that the other side of that question is that the MRS doesn’t make recommendations.

Pat Bettencourt said that the Ratzlaff problem was that the agency was telling her what to do. But how would the MRS members vote: by acre? Investment? Mines?
She disagreed that people did not attend MRS meetings because they could not vote. She said there was “spirited discussion” on the Bettencourt/Santa Fe Aggregate project. “This forum died because nothing was on the agenda.”

(What Bettencourt did not add was the reason that there was nothing on the agenda, which had to do with RCD facilitation of the meetings after Murrison left, and RCD began to plan to eliminate MRS.)

Murrison asked: “Do you want to continue?”

Anderson joked: “Let’s vote on it!”

Miller listed some upcoming projects: the MAGPI grant for studying area groundwater; a bird study with Natural Resource Conservation Service; FERC relicensing of the Exchequer Dam; a landowner mining project; another Black Diamond mining project; Bernie Wade’s mining project; a new Santa Fe Aggregate project; and the Schmitt mining project. She pointed out that the planning department is changing staff at the moment, perhaps explaining why someone from the planning department was not at this meeting. Jeff Wilson (planner) has come but a lot has been left off the table. She listed other projects ongoing: Fish and Game, Stillwater, the ag waiver on water quality.

Miller said that controversy around a project brings in the stakeholders and that ahead are: the county General Plan update; general plan updates for Ballico, Stevinson, Cressey and Snelling.

Singer said that when grants are written, they ought to include money for information sharing with MRS.

Pat Bettencourt said that the MRS process worked “very well in the latest debacle,” in which a coalition of stakeholders successfully opposed the last RCD grant.

Commissioner Lashbrook (whose personal income was affected by the rejection of that grant) stated: “If we had had a vote on May 19, we would have gone forward with that grant. I will not come to another meeting …” if stakeholders address a funder using MRS letterhead.

It is always foolish to predict the outcome of a vote and particularly foolish to predict the outcome of a vote of the group with know governance mechanism to vote, and even more foolish to predict that outcome when very, very few of the stakeholders present on March 19 had been provided a copy of the grant by Commissioner Lashbrook and her associate pork barrel-ettes.

Miller, who had written one of the letters under MRS letterhead, said she would not agree with Commissioner Lashbrook dictum, saying that the first sentence of the letter explained that it was written from members of the group.

Murrison showed us why she is a great facilitator at this moment, by suggesting, “Let’s do ‘parking lot.’” “Parking lot” is facilitator jargon for parking a hot issue on the sidelines for a while.

Miller said “parking lot” was what was done with MID use of aquatic pesticides and the Santa Fe Aggregate issue with the Williamson Act.

Mitchell said he didn’t agree with anyone using MRS – “only members.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that Gwen Huff (former RCD facilitator for MRS) thought she had an active, open agenda.

Murrison said that the MRS no longer has funding for a facilitator so “now it will be a stakeholder-driven process.”

Miller said that the MRS had been “disengaged” by the RCD staff, so this will be an improvement.

Murrison asked if MRS still wanted to meet bi-monthly. Stakeholders agreed.

Mitchell said that individual groups within MRS that have non-profit status could take grants forward … as long as they were for an information-sharing group.

Murrison mentioned an old grant proposal for holding town-hall meetings on each reach of the lower river, saying she thought it was within the scope of what everyone agreed on.

Pat Bettencourt asked where was the repository for the information. Murrison did an index and Stillwater has information.

Miller said MRS asked the RCD to make the binder of MRS information available – and it was not made available. She added that the MRS website got buried by RCD.

Commissioner Lashbrook said there was no money for it.

There was enough money for RCD to post the wrong date for the meeting now being held.

Anderson said, of the missing stakeholders, “Maybe they’ll be absent and they’ll ask us to change before they’ll be here.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that “the action people” are elsewhere.

Maureen McCorry said that there are now two groups but that the MRS here has a special place and that self-interest was the best reason to get people here. She added that she has seen that there are social and political repercussions to not attending the “right” MRS meeting. “There is a perception of an incorrect move …” she explained.

Miller added that there are political pressures surrounding the situation between MRS and RCD. “The public has to be cautious, but we’ve had good debate here.

The group decided would meet again at the Washington School from 6-8 p.m. on March 24.

Mitchell asked what happened “to the other website.” (There have been two MRS websites. The RCD announced the domain of one of them was for sale and have not been particularly diligent about keeping the other one up-to-date, although they have, at least until recently, been paid to do so.

Miller mentioned that the RCD has refused to release the binder, which serves as the repository for records of MRS proceedings.

Murrison said that grants require that the RCD hold that data. “But, now, you’ll have to facilitate yourselves,” she added.

Miller asked how much Murrison would charge to facilitate more MRS meetings.

Murrison said she would have to think about it. Miller suggested two more meetings.

At least two future agenda items were mentioned: an MID presentation of the FERC relicensing and a county planning department update on aggregate projects on the river.

The meeting adjourned.

Holly Bettencourt remarked later: “Rather than all this politics stuff, I think it would be good to talk about the river.

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What now?

Submitted: Jan 12, 2008

The level of failure

There is a theory about the American economy that it advances and recedes via speculative bubble these days. This seems to be particularly true of our regional economy in the San Joaquin Valley, with its unaffordable housing and nationally top rate of mortgage foreclosure, following the big boom in residential real estate speculation.

Southern California home builders, after tremendous growth during the boom, have suffering hundreds of millions in losses in the second half of 2007. However, their losses are not as severe as the losses of five San Joaquin Delta fish species that "continue marching toward extinction, according to new data released Wednesday, a result that some observers warn may signify a major ecological shift in the West Coast's largest estuary." The tremendous construction boom in Southern California, coming at the time Colorado River exports to the region was slowed by drought and new agreements among the states that take water from that river, put "excessive" pressure for the last five years on the Delta pumps, slowed only as a result of near extinction of species and lawsuits by environmental groups. Another problem in the Delta is deteriorating water quality, caused by urban and farm runoff. As it heads north on the west side of the Valley, the San Joaquin River has become an agricultural drainage sewer.

Farm and ranch land prices are also up. First, starting about a decade ago, demand from Southern California dairymen, who, having sold small dairies for large land prices there, bought large parcels and established even larger dairies here. This bubble, driven by the need to get money into land to avoid taxes, got bigger when local landowners started selling parcels to developers and buying more land. As home prices fall, agricultural land prices rise. We live in a complicated economy.

However, while dairy costs seem to be chasing milk prices (which received a hefty increase early last year) up to break-even dairy economics, rising almond prices signal business to buy orchards and to plant them in what is already by far the world's largest almond-producing area. Agriculturally, in the north San Joaquin Valley we are in the midst of an almond bubble. Yet, through the last 12 months, the same story appears periodically in the media. According to this story, honeybee hives are collapsing, their residents leaving in the morning and not returning at night. Although scientists have fixed their attention on this cause and that cause, the same story of hive collapse -- "CCD – colony collapse disorder – has resulted in a loss of 50 percent to 90 percent of beehives in the United States" -- ends with the scientific speculation that, "The evidence today is pointing to the effects of a complex chain of factors: pesticides, viruses and fungi and parasites such as mites."

Colony collapse disorder could be to the almond industry what the subprime mortgage credit collapse has been to the speculative housing boom.

If the speculative bubble in ethanol is added to the picture, perhaps we can understand a simple story told by a dairyman about feed supplies and prices. Dairies import a lot of corn from the Midwest. The prices for this corn, under pressure from the speculative boom in corn-based ethanol production, have been going through the roof. Dairies have been partly compensating by buying more alfalfa. In at least one instance, a local dairyman was unable to buy a field of west-side alfalfa because the alfalfa grower found it more economically advantageous to sell the amount of water necessary to finish the crop to a neighboring almond grower, who needed it to keep his trees alive and was evidently able to make it worth the alfalfa grower's while to sell it to him and lose a crop. Nevertheless, courts have ruled there will be up to 30-percent less pumping from the Delta this year than there was last year.

We had a recent series of storms that partially recharged Valley groundwater and dumped a great deal of snow in the Sierra. The drought would seem to be over. However, a warm rain up to 6,000 feet in early spring could convert the healthy snow pack into floods and breaks in our decrepit levee system rather than an adequate supply of water for Valley farmers, 25 million Southern California residents and Valley subdivisions dependent on surface water supplies. It is hard these days to know which weather gods to pray to for what, when. It is equally hard to blame those weather gods for an economy that lurches from boom to bust and back again without any respect for the natural resources that sustain both agriculture and urban communities.

"Long-range collateral damage" in the California real estate boom/bust economy has been our public education system. California is now

ranked 40th based on the likelihood students will thrive in school and have successful adult lives, according to Education Week newspaper's annual Quality Counts report.
It ranks high, however, when comparing students in Advanced Placement programs.
Children who live in poverty, whose parents are not fluent in English or do not have a college degree were among the factors that weaken a California child's chance for success, according to the report.
The state ranks 38th in the nation for academic achievement.
California fourth-graders ranked 48th in the nation based on their scores on a national reading test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 23 percent of California fourth-graders were proficient in reading, compared with 32 percent nationwide.
Those students also fell behind the national average in math, with less than 30 percent testing proficient, compared with a 39 percent U.S. average...

Our educational ranking has been going in the opposite direction of population growth over the last 40 years. Development does not pay for itself in this most essential category: public investment in children and young people at which California once excelled and was in the highest rank in the nation.

At the level of public higher education in the state, the governor has announced deep cuts in spending and the University of California and the State university system have announced tuition hikes, making, in a coming recession, public higher education less attainable than ever. One still hears the grand developer-driven hoopla around the necessity for UC Merced because of "tidal-wave 2" echoing in the hollowed-out economy. But the governor needs to cut the state deficit, which is growing as real estate prices fall. Real estate prices are falling because the speculative bubble burst. So, we must sacrifice investment in the real engine of growth, the resources for technological invention that exist in a well-educated workforce.

The illiteracy among home buyers, realtors and mortgage lenders, the simple inability to read small print, has had a large role in the global credit crisis.

It has been recognized, even by the state Legislature, that the real-estate "engine of growth" that has been driving California from bubble to bust to bubble again, sweeping many more modest but steadier economies before it, has had a gross impact on the state's environment. Last year, in an historic gesture, the Legislature declared itself against global warming. It also asserted the right "to adopt strict curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks." The federal Environmental Protection Agency denied California this right to do something more than what the federal government requires to clean up its own air quality, the worst in the nation. On the other hand, a Valley state senator is having to launch a political campaign to stop confirmation of the Hun's latest appointment to the state air board, a Fresno County supervisor with a strong record in support of air polluters.

Bank of America announced today it would take over California-based Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender. BofA already had a $2-billion investment in the company, rumored for months to be on the brink of bankruptcy.

The takeover removes the threat that Countrywide could fail and wreak more havoc in the mortgage market, where loan defaults are soaring and federal policymakers have been struggling to limit the spillover in the economy.
The rescue of Countrywide could help calm the "crisis of confidence" that has slammed the financial system as the housing and mortgage markets have crumbled, said Brian Bethune of Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm in Lexington, Mass. "This will change perceptions."
Fear that the housing mess could drag the U.S. economy into recession has depressed the stock market in recent months and spurred the Federal Reserve to cut short-term interest rates three times. On Thursday, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the central bank was ready to make further "substantive" moves to ease credit to help the economy.
In the case of Countrywide, policymakers had to be concerned about "a big domino going down," Bethune said..
For Countrywide, a takeover by a financially robust suitor is "a gift from heaven," said banking industry analyst Richard Bove of Punk, Ziegel & Co.

The stock market responded by falling another 267 points but: "Countrywide Financial Corp. founder Angelo Mozilo, one of the nation's highest-paid chief executives, stands to reap $115 million in severance-related pay if his troubled company is acquired by Bank of America Corp., regulatory filings show."

This is a failed chief executive -- a failed and overpaid chief executive -- who has driven his company to the brink of bankruptcy," said Daniel Pedrotty, director of the office of investment at the AFL-CIO. "I think shareholders are going to be especially outraged if he walks away with another pay-for-failure package."...
"He has driven the stock price into the ground and the company has been destroyed," Ferlauto said. "Their customers have lost their homes and he is potentially walking away with more than $100 million. For us, that's unconscionable enrichment.

It is possible that the result of this “take over” will simply be that the largest corrupt mortgage lender in the nation drags down the bank that had most to do with the agricultural development of the San Joaquin valley. It is also possible that if enough bubbles burst simultaneously in the north San Joaquin Valley, we may not live long enough to dig ourselves out of the collapse. These "possibilities," left to us by our leading public officials and special interests, are rotten. They harm our quality of life, our health, our economic futures and our childrens' futures are worse. Local politics, our own "art of the possible," has few good choices to make.

It’s no secret that Merced faces many steep challenges. Ours is among the poorest counties in California with one of the state’s highest unemployment rates and lowest levels of educational attainment. Poverty, substance abuse, and child neglect are daily realities for many of our children and neighbors. -- Merced County Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan.

Merced was poorer than competing counties for the UC campus in the San Joaquin Valley. Maybe that was one of the deciding factors in locating it here -- the idea that it would have more positive economic and cultural benefit here than at an alternative site. In the short run, UC's largest impact on Merced has been to have acted the engine for growth of the highest foreclosure rate in the nation the worst series of assaults on state and federal environmental law and its enforcement in the history of those laws and the agencies enforcing them. In Merced, this was accompanied by a wholesale devaluation of anyone not in on the speculative boom. Local land-use officials and an endless parade of real estate boosters both promoted and believed in an instant transformation of the poor old agricultural economy of Merced. It didn't happen. It will take at least a generation for UC Merced to exert much positive economic influence here. Meanwhile, thanks to the spectacular extent of the bust in this region, it may take almost a generation for development to pick up steam again. Meanwhile, the county remains full of people who are not part of the famous "high-tech, bio-tech engine of growth" promised by UC and who are wondering what's next.

Badlands Journal editorial board
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1-10-08
Sacramento Bee
Fish: Delta drop sparks fears of ecological shift...Matt Weiser
http://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/623644.html

Bees: Steep population loss hits agriculture hard...Ngoc Nguyen
http://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/623661.html

Modesto Bee
Report: California a tough place for children to get ahead
California ranked 40th in nation on likelihood students will find success...MERRILL BALASSONE
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/175786.html

1-11-08
Los Angeles Times
U.S. denial of California emissions waiver criticized
Sen. Boxer, chairman of a Senate environment panel, says she might subpoena documents concerning possible White House interference...Margot Roosevelt
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-me-epa11jan11,1,33705,print.story?coll=la-news-environment

Bank of America announces Countrywide takeover
The $4-billion deal removes the threat of a bankruptcy that could wreak more havoc in the mortgage market. Both firms' stocks decline...Walter Hamilton, Tom Petruno and E. Scott Reckard
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-countrywide12jan12,0,786793,print.story?coll=la-home-center

Mozilo could reap $115 million
The Countrywide CEO's potential pay if his company is acquired rankles critics...Kathy M. Kristof
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-mozilo11jan11,1,5951348,print.story?coll=la-headlines-business

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Ideas that won't be discussed at this weekend's California Women For Agriculture/UC Merced/Great Valley Center gala

Submitted: Jan 08, 2008

Below are two lengthy reviews of William Enghahl's Seeds of Destruction, a critical look at the political, economic and scientific history behind the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Once again they come to us through an indespensible website for people concerned with agribusiness science and the political economy behind it, ge_news@eco-farm.org. For those of us trying to understand the complex relationships between agriculture, the environment, economics and science in order to better understand the San Joaquin valley, Engdahl's Seeds of Destruction sounds like a must companion book to Jeffrey Smith's Seeds of Deception. The recurring image of the American population acting as "lab rats" for a gigantic, unregulated experiment on the long-term impacts to health of a diet full of GMOs is daunting, as are the stories of corporate thuggery against scientists who have dared to raise any alarm. The specter of world domination of patented seed by a handful of gigantic corporations is chilling and should be of the highest interest in the San Joaquin Valley, where many of the political, economic, agricultural and chemical forms of agribusiness originated.

Badlands editorial board
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F. William Engdahl's 'Seeds of Destruction'

Review By Stephen Lendman - 1-2-8

Part I of "Seeds of Destruction"

In 2003, Jeffrey Smith's "Seeds of Deception" was published. It exposed
the dangers of untested and unregulated genetically engineered foods most
people eat every day with no knowledge of the potential health risks.
Efforts to inform the public have been quashed, reliable science has been
buried, and consider what happened to two distinguished scientists.

One was Ignatio Chapela, a microbial ecologist at the University of
California, Berkeley. In September, 2001, he was invited to a carefully
staged meeting with Fernando Ortiz Monasterio, Mexico's Director of the
Commission of Biosafety in Mexico City. The experience left Chapela shaken
and angry as he explained. Monasterio attacked him for over an hour. "First
he trashed me. He let me know how damaging to the country and how
problematic my information was to be."

Chapela referred to what he and a UC Berkeley graduate student, David
Quist, discovered in 2000 about genetically engineered contamination of
Mexican corn in violation of a government ban on these crops in 1998. Corn
is sacred in Mexico, the country is home to hundreds of indigenous varieties
that crossbreed naturally, and GM contamination is permanent and
unthinkable - but it happened by design.

Chapela and Quist tested corn varieties in more than a dozen state of
Oaxaca communities and discovered 6% of the plants contaminated with GM
corn. Oaxaca is in the country's far South so Chapela knew if contamination
spread there, it was widespread throughout Mexico. It's unavoidable because
NAFTA allows imported US corn with 30% of it at the time genetically
modified. Now it's heading for nearly double that amount, and if not
contained, it soon could be all of it.

The prestigious journal Nature agreed to publish Chapela's findings,
Monasterio wanted them quashed, but Chapela refused to comply. As a result,
he was intimidated not to do it and threatened with being held responsible
for all damages to Mexican agriculture and its economy.

He went ahead, nonetheless, and when his article appeared in the
publication on November 29, 2001 the smear campaign against him began and
intensified. It was later learned that Monsanto was behind it, and the
Washington-based Bivings Group PR firm was hired to discredit his findings
and get them retracted.

It worked because the campaign didn't focus on Chapela's contamination
discovery, but on a second research conclusion even more serious. He learned
the contaminated GM corn had as many as eight fragments of the CaMV promoter
that creates an unstable "hotspot." It can cause plant genes to fragment,
scatter throughout the plant's genome, and, if proved conclusively, would
wreck efforts to introduce GM crops in the country. Without further
evidence, there was still room for doubt if the second finding was valid,
however, and the anti-Chapela campaign hammered him on it.

Because of the pressure, Nature took an unprecedented action in its 133
year history. It upheld Chapela's central finding but retracted the other
one. That was all it took, and the major media pounced on it. They denounced
Chapela's incompetence and tried to discredit everything he learned
including his verified findings. They weren't reported, his vilification was
highlighted, and Monsanto and the Mexican government scored a big victory.

Ironically, on April 18, 2002, two weeks after Nature's partial
retraction, the Mexican government announced there was massive genetic
contamination of traditional corn varieties in Oaxaca and the neighboring
state of Puebla. It was horrifying as up to 95% of tested crops were
genetically polluted and "at a speed never before predicted." The news made
headlines in Europe and Mexico. It was ignored in the US and Canada.

The fallout for Chapela was UC Berkeley denied him tenure in 2003 because
of his article and for criticizing university ties to the biotech industry.
He then filed suit in April, 2004 asking remuneration for lost wages,
earnings and benefits, compensatory damages for humiliation, mental anguish,
emotional distress and coverage of attorney fees and costs for his action.
He won in May, 2005 but not in court when the university reversed its
decision, granted him tenure and agreed to include retroactive pay back to
2003. The damage, however, was done and is an example of what's at stake
when anyone dares challenge a powerful company like Monsanto.

The other man attacked was the world's leading lectins and plant genetic
modification expert, UK-based Arpad Pusztai. He was vilified and fired from
his research position at Scotland's Rowett Research Institute for publishing
industry-unfriendly data he was commissioned to produce on the safety of GMO
foods.

His Rowett Research study was the first ever independent one conducted on
them anywhere. He undertook it believing in their promise but became alarmed
by his findings. The Clinton and Blair governments were determined to
suppress them because Washington was spending billions promoting GMO crops
and a future biotech revolution. It wasn't about to let even the world's
foremost expert in the field derail the effort. His results were startling
and consider the implications for humans eating genetically engineered
foods.

Rats fed GMO potatoes had smaller livers, hearts, testicles and brains,
damaged immune systems, and showed structural changes in their white blood
cells making them more vulnerable to infection and disease compared to other
rats fed non-GMO potatoes. It got worse. Thymus and spleen damage showed up;
enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines; and there were
cases of liver atrophy as well as significant proliferation of stomach and
intestines cells that could be a sign of greater future risk of cancer.
Equally alarming - this all happened after 10 days of testing, and the
changes persisted after 110 days that's the human equivalent of 10 years.

GM foods today saturate our diet. Over 80% of all supermarket processed
foods contain them. Others include grains like rice, corn and wheat; legumes
like soybeans and soy products; vegetable oils; soft drinks; salad
dressings; vegetables and fruits; dairy products including eggs; meat and
other animal products; and even infant formula plus a vast array of hidden
additives and ingredients in processed foods (like in tomato sauce, ice
cream and peanut butter). They're unrevealed to consumers because labeling
is prohibited yet the more of them we eat, the greater the potential threat
to our health.

Today, we're all lab rats in an uncontrolled, unregulated mass human
experiment the results of which are unknown. The risks from it are beyond
measure, it will take many years to learn them, and when they're finally
revealed it will be too late to reverse the damage if it's proved GM
products harm human health as independent experts strongly believe. Once GM
seeds are introduced to an area, the genie is out of the bottle for keeps.

Despite the enormous risks, however, Washington and growing numbers of
governments around the world in parts of Europe, Asia, Latin America and
Africa now allow these products to be grown in their soil or imported.
They're produced and sold to consumers because agribusiness giants like
Monsanto, DuPont, Dow AgriSciences and Cargill have enormous clout to demand
it and a potent partner supporting them - the US government and its
agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and State, FDA, EPA and
even the defense establishment. World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) patent rules also back them
along with industry-friendly WTO rulings like the February 7, 2006 one.

It favored a US challenge against European GMO regulatory policies in
spite of strong consumer sentiment against these foods and ingredients on
the continent. It also violated the Biosafety Protocol that should let
nations regulate these products in the public interest, but it doesn't
because WTO trade rules sabotaged it. Nonetheless, anti-GMO activism
persists, consumers still have a say, and there are hundreds of GMO-free
zones around the world, including in the US. That and more is needed to take
on the agribusiness giants that so far have everything going their way.

In "Seeds of Deception," Jeffrey Smith did a masterful job explaining the
dangers of GM foods and ingredients. Engdahl explains them as well but goes
much further brilliantly in his blockbuster book on this topic. It's the
story of a powerful family and a "small socio-political American elite
(that) seeks to establish control over the very basis of human survival" -
future life through the food we eat. The book's introduction says it "reads
(like) a crime story." It's also a nightmare but one that's very real and
threatening.

This review covers the book in-depth because of its importance. It's an
extraordinary work that "reveals a diabolical World of profit-driven
political intrigue (and) government corruption and coercion" that's part of
a decades-long global scheme for total world dominance. The book deserves
vast exposure and must be read in full for the whole disturbing story. It's
hoped the material below will encourage readers to do it in their own
self-interest and to marshal mass consumer actions to place food safety
above corporate profits.

Engdahl's book supplies the ammunition to do it and is also a sequel to
his earlier one on war, oil politics and The New World Order and follows
naturally from it. It covers the roots of the strategy to control "global
food security" that goes back to the 1930s and the plans of a handful of
American families to preserve their wealth and power. But it centers on one
in particular that above the others "came to symbolize the hubris and
arrogance of the emerging American century" that blossomed post-WW II. Its
patriarch began in oil and then dominated it in his powerful Oil Trust. It
was only the beginning as the family expanded into "education of youth,
medicine and psychology," US foreign policy, and "the very science of life
itself, biology, and its applications" in plants and agriculture.

The family's name is Rockefeller. The patriarch was John D., and four
powerful later-generation brothers followed him - David, Nelson, Laurance,
and John D. III. Engdahl says the GMO story covers "the evolution of power
in the hands of an elite (led by this family), determined (above all) to
bring the entire world under their sway." They and other elites already
control most of it, including the nation's energy, the US Federal Reserve,
and other key world central banks. Today, three brothers are gone, David
alone remains, and he's still a force at age 92 although he no longer runs
the family bank, JP Morgan Chase. He's active in family enterprises,
however, including the Rockefeller Foundation to be discussed in Part II of
this review.

F. William Engdahl is the author of Seeds of Destruction, the Hidden
Agenda of Genetic Manipulation just released by Global Research. He is also
the author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New
World Order, Pluto Press Ltd.. To contact him by e-mail:
info@engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net.

http://www.rense.com/general79/rev.htm

F. William Engdahl's
'Seeds of Destruction' - Part 2
By Stephen Lendman
1-3-8

William Engdahl's book is a diabolical account of how four
Anglo-American agribusiness giants plan world domination by patenting life
forms to gain worldwide control of our food supply and our lives. This
review is in three in-depth parts. Part I was published and is available on
this web site. Part II follows below.

Washington Launches the GMO Revolution

The roots of the story go back decades, but Engdahl explains the
science of "biological and genetic-modification of plants and other life
forms first" came out of US research labs in the 1970s when no one noticed.
They soon would because the Reagan administration was determined to make
America dominant in this emerging field. The biotech agribusiness industry
was especially favored, and companies in the early 1980s raced to develop
GMO plants, livestock and GMO-based animal drugs. Washington made it easy
for them with an unregulated, business-friendly climate that persisted ever
since under Republicans and Democrats alike.

Food safety and public health issues aren't considered vital if they
conflict with profits. So the entire population is being used as lab rats
for these completely new, untested and potentially hazardous products. And
leading the effort to develop them is a company with a "long record of
fraud, cover-up, bribery," deceit and disdain for the public interest -
Monsanto.

Its first product was saccharin that was later proved to be a
carcinogen. It then got into chemicals, plastics and became notorious for
Agent Orange that was used to defoliate Vietnam jungles in the 1960s and
1970s and exposed hundreds of thousands of civilians and US troops to deadly
dioxin, one of the most toxic of all known compounds.

Along with others in the industry, Monsanto is also a shameless
polluter. It has a history of secretly dumping some of the most lethal
substances known in water and soil and getting away with it. Today on its
web site, however, the company ignores its record and calls itself "an
agricultural company (applying) innovation and technology to help farmers
around the world be successful, produce healthier foods, better animal feeds
and more fiber, while also reducing agriculture's impact on our
environment." Engdahl proves otherwise in his thorough research that's
covered below in detail.

In spite of its past, Monsanto and other GMO giants got unregulated
free rein in the 1980s and especially after George HW Bush became president
in 1989. His administration opened "Pandora's Box" so no "unnecessary
regulations would hamper them. Thereafter, "not one single new regulatory
law governing biotech or GMO products was passed then or later (despite all
the) unknown risks and possible health dangers."

In a totally unfettered marketplace, foxes now guard the henhouse
because the system was made self-regulatory. An elder Bush Executive Order
assured it. It ruled GMO plants and foods were "substantially equivalent" to
ordinary ones of the same variety like corn, wheat or rice. This established
the principle of "substantial equivalence" as the "lynchpin of the whole GMO
revolution." It was pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, but was now law, and
Engdahl equated it to a potential biologically catastrophic "Andromeda
Strain," no longer the world of science fiction.

Monsanto chose milk as its first GMO product, genetically
manipulated it with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), and marketed
it under the trade name, Posilac. In 1993, the Clinton FDA declared it safe
and approved it for sale before any consumer use information was available.
It's now sold in every state and promoted as a way cows can produce up to
30% more milk. Problems, however, soon appeared. Farmers reported their
stock burned out up to two years sooner than usual, serious infections
developed, and some animals couldn't walk. Other problems included the udder
inflammation mastitis as well as deformed calves being born.

The information was suppressed, and rBGH milk is unlabeled so
there's no way consumers can know. They also weren't told this hormone
causes leukemia and tumors in rats, and a European Commission committee
concluded humans drinking rBGH milk risk breast and prostate cancer. The EU
thus banned the product, but not the US. Despite clear safety issues, the
FDA failed to act and allows hazardous milk to be sold below the radar. It
was just the beginning.

The Fox Guards the Henhouse

Engdahl reviewed the Pusztai affair, the toll it took on his health,
and the modest vindication he finally got. Already out of a job, the
300-year old British Royal Society attacked him in 1999 and claimed his
research was "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis and
that no conclusions should be drawn from it." It was another blow to a
distinguished man who deserved better than what Engdahl called a
"recognizable political smear" that also tarnished the Royal Society's
credibility for making it. It had no basis in fact and was done because
Pusztai's bombshell threatened to derail Britain's hugely profitable GMO
industry and do the same thing to its US counterpart.

As for Pusztai, after five years, several heart attacks, and a
ruined career, he finally learned what happened after he announced his
findings. Monsanto was the culprit. The company complained to Clinton who,
in turn, alerted Tony Blair. Pusztai's findings had to be quashed and he
discredited for making them. He was nonetheless able to reply with the help
of the highly respected British scientific journal, The Lancet. In spite of
Royal Society threats against him, it's editor published his article, but at
a cost. After publication, the Society and biotech industry attacked The
Lancet for its action. It was a further shameless act.

As a footnote, Pusztai now lectures around the world on his GMO
research and is a consultant to start-up groups researching the health
effects of these foods. Along with him and his wife, his co-author,
Professor Stanley Ewen, also suffered. He lost his position at the
University of Aberdeen, and Engdahl notes that the practice of suppressing
unwanted truths and punishing whistleblowers is the rule, not the exception.
Industry demands are powerful, especially when they affect the bottom line.

The Blair government went even further. It commissioned the private
firm, Grainseed, to conduct a three-year study to prove GMO food safety.
London's Observer newspaper later got UK Ministry of Agriculture documents
on it that showed tests were rigged and produced "some strange science." At
least one Grainseed researcher manipulated the data to "make certain seeds
in the trials appear to perform better than they really did."

Nonetheless, the Ministry recommended a GMO corn variety be
certified, and the Blair government issued a new code of conduct under which
"any employee of a state-funded research institute who dared to speak out on
(the) findings into GMO plants could face dismissal, be sued for breach of
contract or face a court injunction." In other words, whisleblowing was now
illegal even if public health was at stake. Nothing would be allowed to stop
the agribusiness juggernaut from proceeding unimpeded.

The Rockefeller Plan - "Tricky" Dick Nixon and Trickier Rockefellers

Richard Nixon took office at a time of national crisis. Along with
the Vietnam morass, the economy was in trouble after the "golden age of
capitalism" peaked in 1965 and corporate profits were declining. The
globalization phenomenon began at this time when American companies and the
nation's wealthiest families found investing abroad more profitable than at
home because more opportunities were available outside the country.

Food was one of them and was about to be renamed "agribusiness."
Engdahl called it "a paradigm shift" with one man having the most decisive
role - former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller "who deeply wanted to be
President" but had to settle for number two under Gerald Ford.

He and his brothers ran the family's Rockefeller Foundation and
various other tax-exempt entities like the Rockefeller Brothers Trust.
Nelson and David were the most influential figures, and their power center
was the exclusive New York Council on Foreign Relations. Engdahl states: "In
the 1960s the Rockefellers were at the power center of the US establishment
(and) Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (was) their hand-picked protege."
It was a marriage made in hell.

Enter the "crisis of democracy" or as right wing Harvard professor,
Samuel Huntington, called it, an "excess of democracy" at a time masses of
ordinary citizens protested their government's policies. It captured media
attention, posed a threat to the country's establishment, and had to be
addressed. In 1973 it was at a meeting of 300 influential, hand-picked
Rockefeller friends from North America, Europe and Japan. They founded a
powerful new organization called the Trilateral Commission with easily
recognizable member names.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was its first Executive Director, and other
charter members included Jimmy Carter (who became David Rockefeller's
favored 1976 presidential candidate over Gerald Ford), George HW Bush, Paul
Volker (Carter's Fed Chairman) and Alan Greenspan who was then a Wall Street
investment banker.

The new organization "laid the basis for a new global strategy for a
network of interlinked international elites," many of whom were Rockefeller
business partners. Combined, their financial, economic and political clout
was unmatched. So was their ambition that George HW Bush later called a "new
world order." Trilateralists laid the foundation for today's globalization.
They also followed Huntington's advice about democracy's unreliability that
had to be checked by "some measure of (public) apathy and non-involvement
(combined with) secrecy and deception."

The Commission further advocated privatizing public enterprises
along with deregulating industry. Trilateralist Jimmy Carter embraced the
dogma enthusiastically as President. He began the process that Ronald Reagan
continued in the 1980s almost without noticing its originator or placing
blame where it's due.

In 1973, Nixon was in office with Kissinger his Svengali. One
observer described him at the time as "like sludge out of a swamp without a
spark of life....no soul, a slip of life, a kind of ghoul (and) a sort of
lubricant (to keep the ship of state running)." So he did by "tak(ing)
complete control (of) US foreign policy" as both Secretary of State and
National Security Advisor. Further, he "was to make food a centerpiece of
his diplomacy along with oil geopolitics."

In the Cold War era, food became a strategic weapon by masquerading
as "Food for Peace." It was cover for US agriculture to engineer the
transformation of family farming into global agribusiness with food the tool
and small farmers eliminated so it could be used most effectively. World
agriculture domination was to be "one of the central pillars of post-war
Washington policy, along with (controlling) world oil markets and
non-communist world defense sales." The defining 1973 event was a world food
crisis.

The shortage of grain staples along with the first of two 1970s oil
shocks advanced a "significant new Washington policy turn." Oil and grains
were rising three to fourfold in price when the US was the world's largest
food surplus producer with the most power over prices and supply. It was an
ideal time for a new alliance between US-based grain trading companies and
the government. It "laid the groundwork for the later gene revolution."

Enter what Engdahl called the "great train robbery" with Kissinger
the culprit. He decided US agriculture policy was "too important to be left
in the hands of the Agriculture Department" so he took control of it
himself. The world desperately needed grain, America had the greatest
supply, and the scheme was to use this power to "radically change world food
markets and food trade." The big winners were grain traders like Cargill,
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Continental Grain that were helped by
Kissinger's "new food diplomacy (to create) a global agriculture market for
the first time." Food would "reward friends and punish enemies," and ties
between Washington and business lay at the heart of the strategy.

The global food market was being reorganized, corporate interests
were favored, political advantage was exploited, and the 1990s "gene
revolution" groundwork was laid. Rockefeller interests and its Foundation
were to play the decisive role as events unfolded over the next two decades.
It began under Nixon as the cornerstone of his farm policy, free trade was
the mantra, corporate grain traders were the beneficiaries, and family farms
had to go so agribusiness giants could take over.

Bankrupting them was the plan to remove an "excess (of) human
resources." Engdahl called it a "thinly veiled form of food imperialism" as
part of a scheme for the US to become "the world granary." The family farm
was to become the "factory farm," and agriculture was to be "agribusiness"
to be dominated by a few corporate giants with incestuous ties to
Washington.

Dollar devaluation was also part of the scheme under Nixon's New
Economic Plan (NEP) that included closing the gold window in 1971 to let the
currency float freely. Developing nations were targeted as well with the
idea that they forget about being food-sufficient in grains and beef, rely
on America for key commodities, and concentrate instead on small fruits,
sugar and vegetables for export. Earned foreign exchange could then buy US
imports and repay IMF and World Bank loans that create a never-ending cycle
of debt slavery. GATT was also used and later the WTO with corporate-written
rules for their own bottom line interests.

A Secret National Security Memo

In the midst of a worldwide drought and stock market collapse,
consider Henry Kissinger's classified memo in April, 1974. It was on a
secret project called National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200) that
was shaped by Rockefeller interests and aimed to adopt a "world population
plan of action" for drastic global population control - meaning to reduce
it. The US led the effort, and it worked like this - it made birth control
in developing countries a prerequisite for US aid. Engdahl summed it up in
blunt terms: "if these inferior races get in the way of our securing ample,
cheap raw materials, then we must find ways to get rid of them."

Kissinger's scheme was "simpler contraceptive methods through
bio-medical research" that almost sounds like DuPont's old slogan, "Better
things for better living through chemistry." Later on, DuPont dropped
"through chemistry" as evidence mounted on their toxic effects and a
changing company in 1999 began using "The Miracles of Science" in their
advertising. The Nazis also aimed big and sought control. Population culling
was part of it that for them was called "eugenics" and their scheme was to
target "inferior" races to preserve the "superior" one.

NSSM 200 was along the same idea and was tied to the agribusiness
agenda that began with the 1950s and 1960s "Green Revolution" to control
food production in targeted Latin American, Asian and African countries.
Kissinger's plan had two aims - securing new US grain markets and population
control with 13 "unlucky" countries chosen. Among them were India, Brazil,
Nigeria, Mexico and Indonesia, and exploiting their resources depended on
drastic population reductions to reduce homegrown demand.

The scheme was ugly and pure Kissinger. It recommended forced
population control and other measures to ensure strategic US aims. Kissinger
wanted global numbers reduced by 500 million by the year 2000 and argued for
doubling the 10 million annual death rate to 20 million going forward.
Engdahl called it "genocide" according to the strict definition of the 1948
UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
statute that defines this crime legally. Kissinger was guilty under it for
wanting to withhold food aid to "people who can't or won't control their
population growth." In other words, if they won't do it, we'll do it for
them.

The strategy included fertility control called "family planning"
that was linked to the availability of key resources. The Rockefeller family
backed it, Kissinger was their "hired hand," and he was well-rewarded for
his efforts. It included keeping him from being prosecuted where he's wanted
as a war criminal and could be arrested overseas like Pinochet was in the UK
when he was placed under house arrest in 2006.

Besides his better-known crimes, consider what he did to poor
Brazilian women through a policy of mass sterilization under NSSM 200. After
14 years of the program, the Brazilian Health Ministry discovered shocking
reports of an estimated 44% of all Brazilian women between ages 14 and 55
permanently sterilized. Organizations like the International Planned
Parenthood Federation and Family Health International were involved, and
USAID directed the program. It has a long disturbing history backing US
imperialism while claiming on its web site it extends "a helping hand to
those people overseas struggling to make a better life, recover from a
disaster or striving to live in a free and democratic country."

Even more disturbing was an estimated 90% of Brazilian women of
African descent sterilized in a nation with a black population second only
to Nigeria's. Powerful figures backed the scheme but none more influential
than the Rockefellers with John D. III having the most clout on population
policy. Nixon appointed him head of the Commission on Population Growth and
the American Future in 1969. Its earlier work laid the ground for
Kissinger's NSSM 200 and its policy of extermination through subterfuge that
was based on a "decades old effort to breed human traits" by the Nazi
"Eugenics" process.

The Brotherhood of Death

Long before Kissinger (and his assistant Brent Scowcroft) made
population reduction official US foreign policy, the Rockefellers were
experimenting on humans. JD III led the effort. In the 1950s, while Nelson
exploited cheap Puerto Rican labor in New York and on the island, brother JD
III conducted mass sterilization experiments on their women. By the
mid-1960s, Puerto Rico's Public Health Department estimated the toll -
one-third or more of them of child-bearing age (unsuspecting poor women)
were permanently sterilized.

JD III expressed his views in a 1961 UN Food and Agriculture
Organization lecture: "To my mind, population growth (and its reduction) is
second only to control of atomic weapons as the paramount problem of the
day." He meant, of course, its unwanted parts to preserve valuable resources
for the privileged. He was also influenced by eugenicists, race theorists
and Malthusians at the Rockefeller Foundation who believed they had the
right to decide who lives or dies.

Powerful figures were behind the effort as well as leading American
business families. So were notables in the UK then and earlier like Winston
Churchill, John Maynard Keynes and others. Alan Gregg was as well as
Rockefeller Foundation Medical Division chief for 34 years. Consider his
views. He said "people pollute, so eliminate pollution by eliminating
(undesirable) people." He compared city slums to cancerous tumors and called
them "offensive to decency and beauty." Better to remove them and cleanse
the landscape.

This was policy, and it was "key to understanding (the Foundation's
later efforts) in the revolution in biotechnology and plant genetics." Its
mission from inception was to "(cull) the herd, or systematically (reduce)
populations of 'inferior breeds.' " The problem for supremacists is too many
of a lesser element spells trouble when they demand more of what the
privileged want for themselves. Solution - remove them with lots of ways to
do it from birth control to sterilization to starvation to wars of
extermination.

These ideas were American, they took root 100 years ago, noted names
backed it like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Harriman, and they later influenced
the Nazis. Hitler praised the practice in his 1924 book, "Mein Kampf," then
used it as Fuhrer to breed a "master race." Supreme Court Justice Oliver
Wendell Holmes also supported it, and consider his 1927 decision in Buck v.
Bell. He ruled Virginia's forced sterilization program was constitutional
and wrote: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute
degenerate offspring for crime....society can prevent those who are
manifestly unfit from continuing their kind....Three generations of
imbeciles are enough." This from a noted Supreme Court Justice that would
have horrific consequences still in play. It "opened the floodgates" for
sterilizing many thousands of women considered "subhuman" detritus and in
the way.

JD III was right in step with this thinking. He was nurtured on
Malthusian pseudo-science and embraced the dogma. He joined the family
Foundation in 1931 where he was influenced by eugenicists like Raymond
Fosdick and Frederick Osborn. Both were founding members of the American
Eugenics Society. In 1952, he used his own funds to found the New York-based
Population Council in which he promoted studies on over-population dangers
that were openly racist. For the next 25 years, the Council spent $173
million on global population reduction and became the world's most
influential organization promoting these supremacist ideas.

But it avoided the term "eugenics" because of its Nazi association
and instead used language like birth control, family planning and free
choice. It was all the same, and before the war Rockefeller associate and
family Foundation board member, Frederick Osborn, enthusiastically supported
Nazi eugenics experiments that led to mass exterminations now vilified. Back
then, he believed this was the "most important experiment that has ever been
tried" and later wrote a book. It was called "The Future of Human Heredity"
with "eugenics" in the subtitle. It stated women could be convinced to
reduce their births voluntarily and began substituting the term "genetics"
for the one now out of favor.

During the Cold War, culling the population drew supporters that
included the cream of corporate America. They backed private population
reduction initiatives like Margaret Sanger's International Planned
Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The major media also spread the notion that
"over-population in developing countries leads to hunger and more poverty
(which, in turn, becomes) the fertile breeding ground for" international
communism. American agribusiness would later get involved through a policy
of global food control. Food is power. When used to cull the population,
it's a weapon of mass destruction.

Consider the current situation with the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) reporting sharply higher food prices along with severe
shortages, and warned this condition is extreme, unprecendented and
threatens billions with hunger and starvation. Prices are up 40% this year
after a 9% rise in 2006, and it forced developing states to pay 25% more for
imported food and be unable to afford enough of it.

Various explanations for the problem are cited that include growing
demand, higher fuel and transportation costs, commodity speculation, the use
of corn for ethanol production (taking one-third of the harvest that's more
than what's exported for food) and extreme weather while ignoring the above
implications - the power of agribusiness to manipulate supply for greater
profits and "cull the herd" in targeted Third World countries. Affected ones
are poor, and FAO cites 20 in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Latin America and
two in Eastern Europe that in total represent 850 million endangered people
now suffering from chronic hunger and related poverty. They depend on
imports, and their diets rely heavily on the type grains agribusiness
controls - wheat, corn and rice plus soybeans. If current prices stay high
and shortages persist, millions will die - maybe by design.

Fateful War and Peace Studies

Engdahl reviewed how American elites in the late 1930s began
planning an American century in the post-war world - a "Pax Americana" to
succeed the fading British Empire. The New York Council of Foreign Relations
War and Peace Studies Group led the effort, and Rockefeller Foundation money
financed it. As Engdahl put it: they'd be paid back later "thousands-fold."
First though, America had to achieve world dominance militarily and
economically.

The US business establishment envisioned a "Grand Area" to encompass
most of the world outside the communist bloc. To exploit it, they hid their
imperial designs beneath a "liberal and benevolent garb" by defining
themselves as "selfless advocates of freedom for colonial peoples (and) the
enemy of imperialism." They would also "champion world peace through
multinational control." Sound familiar?

Like today, it was just subterfuge for their real aims that were
pursued under the banner of the United Nations, the new Bretton Woods
framework, the IMF, World Bank and the GATT. They were established for one
purpose - to integrate the developing world into the US-dominated Global
North so its wealth could be transfered to powerful business interests,
mostly in the US. The Rockefeller family led the effort, the four brothers
were involved, and Nelson and David were the prime movers.

While JD III was plotting depopulation and racial purity schemes,
Nelson worked "the other side of the fence....as a forward-looking
international businessman" in the 1950s and 1960s. While preaching greater
efficiency and production in targeted countries, he schemed, in fact, to
open world markets for unrestricted US grain imports. It became the "Green
Revolution."

Nelson concentrated on Latin America. During WW II, he coordinated
US intelligence and covert operations there, and those efforts laid the
groundwork for family interests post-war. They were tied to the region's
military because friendly strongmen are the type leaders we prefer to
guarantee a favorable business climate.

>From the 1930s, Nelson Rockefeller had significant Latin American
interests, especially in areas of oil and banking. In the early 1940s, he
sought new opportunities and along with Laurance bought vast amounts of
cheap, high-quality farmland so the family could get into agriculture. It
wasn't for family farming, however. The Rockefellers wants global
monopolies, and their scheme was to do in agriculture what the family
patriarch did in oil along with using food and agricultural technology as
Cold War weapons.

By 1954, PL 480, or "Food for Peace," established surplus food as a
US foreign policy tool, and Nelson used his considerable influence on the
State Department because every post-war Department Secretary, from 1952
through 1979, had ties to the family through its Foundation: namely, John
Foster Dulles, Dean Rusk, Henry Kissinger and Cyrus Vance.

These men supported Rockefeller views on private business and knew
the family saw agriculture the way it sees oil - commodities to be "traded,
controlled, (and) made scarce or plentiful" to suit the foreign policy goals
of dominant corporations controlling their trade.

The family got into agriculture in 1947 when Nelson founded the
International Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC). Through it, he introduced
"mass-scale agribusiness in countries where US dollars could buy huge
influence in the 1950s and 1960s." Nelson then allied with grain-trading
giant Cargill in Brazil where they began developing hybrid corn seed
varieties with big plans for them. They would make the country "the world's
third largest producer of (these) crop(s) after the US and China." It was
part of Rockefeller's "Green Revolution" that by the late 1950s "was rapidly
becoming a strategic US economic strategy alongside oil and military
hardware."

Latin America was the beginning of a food production revolution with
big aims - to control the "basic necessities of the majority of the world's
population." As agribusiness in the 1990s, it was "the perfect partner for
the introduction....of genetically engineered food crops or GMO plants."
This marriage masqueraded as "free market efficiency, modernization (and)
feeding a malnourished world." In fact, it was nothing of the sort. It
cleverly hid "the boldest coup over the destiny of entire nations ever
attempted."

Creating Agribusiness - Rockefeller and Harvard Invent USA
"Agribusiness"

The "Green Revolution began in Mexico and spread across Latin
America during the 1950s and 1960s." It was then introduced in Asia,
especially in India. It was at a time we claimed our aim was to help the
world through free market efficiency. It was all one way, from them to us so
corporate investors could profit. It gave US chemical giants and major grain
traders new markets for their products. Agribusiness was going global, and
Rockefeller interests were in the vanguard helping industry globalization
take shape.

Nelson worked with his brother, JD III, who set up his own
Agriculture Development Council in 1953. They shared a common goal -
"cartelization of world agriculture and food supplies under their corporate
hegemony." At its heart, it aimed to introduce modern agriculture techniques
to increase crop yields under the false claim of wanting to reduce hunger.
The same seduction was later used to promote the Gene Revolution with
Rockefeller interests and the same agribusiness giants backing it.

In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson also used food as a weapon. He wanted
recipient nations to agree to administration and Rockfeller preconditions
that population control and opening their markets to US industry was part of
the deal. It also involved training developing world agriculture scientists
and agronomists in the latest production concepts so they could apply them
at home. This "carefully constructed network later proved crucial" to the
Rockefeller strategy to "spread the use of genetically-engineered crops
around the world," helped along with USAID funding and CIA mischief.

"Green Revolution" tactics were painful and took a devastating toll
on peasant farmers. They destroyed their livelihoods and forced them into
shantytown slums that now surround large Third World cities. There they
provide cheap exploitable labor from people desperate to survive and easy
prey for any way to do it.

The "Revolution" also harmed the land. Monoculture displaces
diversity, soil fertility and crop yields decrease over time, and
indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides causes serious later health
problems. Engdahl quoted an analyst calling the "Green Revolution" a
"chemical revolution" developing states couldn't afford. That began the
process of debt enslavement from IMF, World Bank and private bank loans.
Large landowners can afford the latter. Small farmers can't and often, as a
result, are bankrupted. That, of course, is the whole idea.

The "Green Revolution" was based on the "proliferation of new hybrid
seeds in developing markets" that characteristically lack reproductive
capacity. Declining yields meant farmers had to buy seeds every year from
large multinational producers that control their parental seed lines in
house. A handful of company giants held patents on them and used them to lay
the groundwork for the later GMO revolution. Their scheme was soon evident.
Tradition farming had to give way to High Yield Varieties (HYV) of hybrid
wheat, corn and rice with major chemical inputs.

Initially, growth rates were impressive but not for long. In
countries like India, agricultural output slowed and fell. They were losers
so agribusiness giants could exploit large new markets for their chemicals,
machinery and other product inputs. It was the beginning of "agribusiness,"
and it went hand-in-hand with the "Green Revolution" strategy that would
later embrace plant genetic alterations.

Two Harvard Business School professors were involved early on - John
Davis and Ray Goldberg. They teamed with Russian economist, Wassily
Leontief, got Rockefeller and Ford Foundation funding, and initiated a
four-decade revolution to dominate the food industry. It was based on
"vertical integration" of the kind Congress outlawed when giant
conglomerates or trusts like Standard Oil used them to monopolize entire
sectors of key industries and crush competition.

It was revived under Trilateralist President Jimmy Carter disguised
as "deregulation" to dismantle "decades of carefully constructed....health,
food safety and consumer protection laws." They would now give way under a
new wave of industry-friendly vertical integration. Supported by a public
campaign, it claimed that government was the problem, it encroached too much
on our lives, and it had to be rolled back for greater personal "freedom."

Early in the 1970s, agribusiness producers controlled US food
supplies. They'd now go global on a scale without precedent. The goal -
"staggering profits" by "restructur(ing) the way Americans grew food to feed
themselves and the world." Ronald Reagan continued Carter's policy and let
the top four or five monopoly players control it. It led to an unprecedented
"concentration and transformation of American agriculture" with independent
family farmers driven off their land through forced sales and bankruptcies
so "more efficient" agribusiness giants could move in with "Factory Farms."
Remaining small producers became virtual serfs as "contract farmers."
America's landscape was changing with people trampled on for profits.

Engdahl explained a gradual process of "wholesale merger(s) and
consolidation....of American food production....into giant corporate global
concentrations" with familiar names - Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM),
Smithfield Foods and ConAgra. As they grew bigger, so did their bottom lines
with annual equity returns rising from 13% in 1993 to 23% in 1999. Hundreds
of thousands of small farmers lost out for it as their numbers dropped by
300,000 from 1979 to 1998 alone. It was even worse for hog farmers with a
drop from 600,000 to 157,000 so 3% of producers could control 50% of the
market.

The social costs were staggering and continue to be as "entire rural
communities collapsed and rural towns became ghost towns." Consider the
consequences:

-- by 2004, the four largest beef packers controlled 84% of steer
and heifer slaughter - Tyson, Cargill, Swift and National Beef Packing;

-- four giants controlled 64% of hog production - Smithfield Foods,
Tyson, Swift and Hormel;

-- three companies controlled 71% of soybean crushing - Cargill, ADM
and Bunge;

-- three giants controlled 63% of all flour milling, and five
companies controlled 90% of global grain trade;

-- four other companies controlled 89% of the breakfast cereal
market - Kellogg, General Mills, Kraft Foods and Quaker Oats;

-- in 1998, Cargill acquired Continental Grain to control 40% of
national grain elevator capacity;

-- four large agro-chemical/seed giants controlled over 75% of the
nation's seed corn sales and 60% of it for soybeans while also having the
largest share of the agricultural chemical market - Monsanto, Novartis, Dow
Chemical and DuPont; six companies controlled three-fourths of the global
pesticides market;

-- Monsanto and DuPont controlled 60% of the US corn and soybean
seed market - all of it patented GMO seeds; and

-- 10 large food retailers controlled $649 billion in global sales
in 2002, and the top 30 food retailers account for one-third of global
grocery sales.

At the dawn of a new century, family farming was decimated by
corporate agribusiness' vertically integrated powers that surpassed their
earlier 1920s heyday dominance. The industry was now the second most
profitable national one after pharmaceuticals with domestic annual sales
exceeding $400 billion. The next aim was merging Big Pharma with Big food
producing giants, and the Pentagon's National Defense University took note
in a 2003-issued paper - "Agribusiness (now) is to the United States what
oil is to the Middle East." It's now considered a "strategic weapon in the
arsenal of the world's only superpower," but at a huge cost to consumers
everywhere.

Engdahl reviewed the "revolution" in animal factory production that
EarthSave International founder and Baskin-Robbins heir, John Robbins,
covered honestly, thoroughly and compassionately in two explosive books on
the subject - "Diet for A New America" in 1987 and "The Food Revolution" in
2001. They were both stinging indictments of corporate-produced foods -
horrifying animal cruelty, unsafe foods, unsanitary conditions, rampant use
of anti-biotics humans then ingest, massive environmental pollution, and new
unknown dangers from genetic engineering - all allowed by supposed
government watchdog regulatory agencies that ignore public health concerns.

Agribusiness was on a roll, government supports it with tens of
billions in annual subsidies, and the 1996 Farm Bill suspended the Secretary
of Agriculture's power to balance supply and demand so henceforth
unrestricted production is allowed. Food producing giants took full
advantage to control market forces. They crushed family farmers by
over-producing and forcing down prices. They also pressured land values as
small operators failed. It created opportunities for land acquisition on the
cheap for greater concentration and dominance.

Next came integrating the Gene Revolution into agribusiness the way
Harvard's Ray Goldberg saw it coming. Entire new sectors were to be created
from genetic engineering. It would include GMO drugs from GMO plants in a
new "argi-ceutical system." Goldberg predicted a "genetic revolution
(through) an industrial convergence of food, health, medicine, fiber and
energy businesses" - in a totally unregulated marketplace. Unmentioned was a
threatening consumer nightmare hidden from view.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The
Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The MicroEffect.com Mondays at
noon US Central time.

Dylan Ford is the author of the proposal at www.ideaforpresident.com , a
website devoted to an idea that could provide an avenue to address pollution
issues, food safety, social justice, prison reform and healthcare.

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Dispatch from Foreclosure-stan

Submitted: Jan 03, 2008

Come on down to Foreclosure-stan. We got brand-new houses for sale, real cheap, down at the county courthouse. On second thought, wait a few months and they’ll be even cheaper.

Yessiree, Folks, Come on down to Foreclosure-stan—San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties—highest mortgage foreclosure rates in the nation. If the motels are full, consider spending the night in the branches of the eucalyptus trees on M Street in Merced along with the wintering Turkey Vultures, not far from the auctions. Get a bird’s-eye view.

Local grassroots environmentalists, who once earnestly studied resource-agency biological documents on the endangered species habitats these new subdivisions obliterated, are now boning up on economics, psychology, sociology and local history, trying to get a handle on the growth cult that swallowed Foreclosure-stan.

Both the California Environmental Quality Act and the federal Endangered Species Act contain sections on economic impacts, but in Foreclosure-stan, economics were used solely to override environmental concerns to justify construction of the half-finished subdivisions that now ring the metropolitan areas with new homes, many of them empty. When a region’s only defense against a ruinous speculative real estate boom is a collection of environmental and public-process laws and regulations, and grassroots environmentalists are facing land-use officials obsessed with the growth cult, environmental law and public processes get violated and environmental regulation is corrupted. There is no “dialogue” across that frontier and some judges decide environmental cases on impeccable business principles. Although it is no solace to remember the comment attributed to John Muir – all things hang together – it is particularly apt when viewing Merced, where after a rain you can see Yosemite. All things hang together: the growth cult destroyed much agricultural land and wildlife habitat before it busted. How much damage will have been done to the local economy through loss of farm and ranch land and through foreclosure of subprime loads remains to be seen. Hanging is a kind of suspense.

Foreclosure-stan is contained within two congressional districts: the 11th, represented until 2006 by Richard Pombo, former chair of the former House Resources Committee, and the 18th. Pombo is now a lobbyist and the committee is once again called Natural Resources. But, his sidekick, Dennis Cardoza, still represents the 18th CD, which contains the core of the foreclosure problem: Stockton, Modesto and Merced.

In the old days, we called the area Pombozastan, in honor of the greedy duo’s repeated attempts to gut provisions in the federal Endangered Species Act that would directly benefit their developer contributors. In 2006, Pombo was assailed by former Rep. Pete McCloskey, a Republican and coauthor of the ESA and other environmental legislation from the 1970s, and what Pete didn’t do to Pombo in the primary, state and national environmental groups did to him in the general. Pombo now lobbies for developer interests intent on turning the Delta into a gated community. Cardoza was removed from Natural Resources. He does a lot of backroom work to weaken environmental law and regulation while muttering pieties about more Farm Bill pork for specialty orchards.

Home prices in Foreclosure-stan tripled in less than a decade before the speculative boom busted. In 2006, Merced and Modesto were judged number four and five nationwide for containing the least affordable housing. Meanwhile, our two relatively stable leading industries, dairy and almonds, are having their own problems. Dairy got a big price increase in January 2007 but what with ethanol and drought, feed prices are eating that up rapidly. Foreclosure-stan produces 80 percent of the world’s supply of almonds, entirely dependant for pollination on the timely work of honeybees that arrive early each spring from all over the nation and abroad. Lately, honeybees have developed a disconcerting habit of wandering off from their hives never to return. It’s called “hive collapse,” and learned scientists disclose that there are probably several reasons for it. The largest cheese factory in the country is leaving Foreclosure-stan for Dalhart TX, already attracting some local dairymen to the Panhandle. Hilmar Cheese announced it would leave shortly after it was fined several million dollars for having polluted the groundwater around Hilmar for years. Its interim solution has been deep injection wells to pollute the deepest aquifers of groundwater as a going-away gift to the region. But the giant cheese factory and its supplying dairies will have some real estate for sale, smack dab in the path of growth come the next boom.

The Main Street analysis goes: A lot of people (who haven’t already lost their homes) will lose their homes because their mortgages are upside-down. Banks will lose a lot of money on the upside-down mortgages. Then it will start over again. And this is the upbeat, positive and hopeful view of local business.
Local government, forever planning for the future, is putting out the message that revenues are going to fall, services will be curtailed, and gaggles of erstwhile boom boosters will be dispatched to the state and federal capitols to whine for public funds. This is happening because "development pays for itself."
Local land-use authorities were the only possible obstacle to the dream of turning Foreclosure-stan into San Fernando Valley in one speculative boom. Grassroots environmental groups argued and sued. The arguments and the lawsuits did not convince the local elected officials of anything but the pernicious nature of grassroots local environmental groups. The more compelling the public comment, the more articulate the legal brief, the greater the hostility from authority.

The big winners were owners of agricultural parcels near urban areas. Official farming spokespersons, representing farmers living outside the zone of mad speculative land-price increases muttered righteously about food security, the preciousness of prime farm land, the sanctity of the family farm, water supply and quality. Landowners up close to the boom made their fortunes. People who sold their houses at as much as 10 times what they paid for them a few decades ago also made out pretty well if they retired to the Midwest.

Foreclosure-stan is largely the result of a decade-long con game, in which fabulous propaganda and sales techniques were employed to utterly disorient the communities that inhabit this area. It began when the eternally youthful University of California administration and board of regents spied a $12-billion state budget surplus, which excited its edifice complex. This resulted in a high state of tumescence for 2,000 acres of donated seasonal pasture near Merced. The site was in the middle of the richest fields of seasonal wetlands in the state, wetlands that contained 15 endangered species terribly inconvenient to UC, whose biologists know more about them than any other biologists in the world. UC called upon its deepest flak reserves and declared they were building a “green campus” to serve the under-served minority students of the Valley (big emphasis on Hispanics who, according to UC, won’t leave home). So the first phase of the campus was erected (after numerous lawsuits), solar panels and all, in the middle of the fields of vernal pools. Incidentally, the ardent UC administration let on, it would also be a “high-tech, bio-tech engine of growth” that would transform the entire Foreclosure-stan into – you guessed it! – “Another Silicon Valley.” Then, the sidewalks outside the three Starbucks that miraculously appeared in Merced, the former cowtown, were filled with strangers on cell phones buying and flipping houses. Some made money. Others couldn’t find a chair when the music stopped. Meanwhile, any criticism of the UC Regents’ decision was labeled “anti-environmental” and probably racist, because of all the under-served minority students in the Valley that would now be served. Criticism was definitely anti-theamericanwayoflife, and since it all happened around both 9/11 and the national chiliasm, criticism of a deal like this was sure as Hell godless. So, a “green” UC community college opened its doors as a prep school for real UC campuses. Tuitions rose right along with Valley unemployment. We don’t hear much anymore about great tidal wave of UC applicants concocted by the finest demographic flak c. 2000. Academically, the rumor is that UC Merced is breaking new ground in grade inflation.

Melquiades, decked out in blue and gold, had arrived in Macondo, wagons loaded with nanotechnology. Hot damn!

The demand for the campus, like the demand for the housing, was manufactured by propaganda for the purpose of finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) special interests along with well-placed landowners. UC Merced was the finest anchor tenant for growth that money and political influence could buy. During the period of the boom, Foreclosure-stan and neighboring San Joaquin Valley counties achieved another distinction: they now vie annually with Los Angeles for the worst air quality in the nation.

All that UC has forgotten about rural California is recalled in a concluding line in Steven Stoll’s Fruits of Natural Advantage:

What unifies these thinker (critics of the land grant colleges like Jim Hightower) is a resistance to ‘commercial valuations of life’ and the conviction that rural places have a value apart from their capacity to produce export commodities. They recognize, moreover, that no other aspect of our relationship with nature is more important than agriculture. Farming remains what it has always been: the central biological and ecological relationship in any settled society, the source of our material production and human reproduction, and the most profound way humankind has changed the earth … the nature we have mixed up with ourselves, in the cultivated lands, in the middle landscape that we can still reclaim. – The Fruits of Natural Advantage, Stoll, p. 185.

FIRE agents were all over the backrooms of Foreclosure-stan land-use authorities, thoughtfully indemnifying them for any legal actions arising from their often actionable land-use decisions. But what we humble local citizens really enjoyed were the crews of “value-free facilitators” dispatched to ease our anxieties and to inhibit any sort of comment that might be construed as the least bit “negative” or “critical” about the speculative boom as it developed, gobbling up farm and ranch land, worsening quality of life, polluting groundwater resources, and contributing to public health and safety dangers (childhood asthma is a growing epidemic in Foreclosure-stan). We were particularly impressed by facilitators that told us we had to be like Ventura and Sonoma counties when some think we are so much like Argentina that Andre Gunder Frank wrote The Development of Underdevelopment about the San Joaquin Valley. Once, Merced County hired a pollster to tell us how she would design a questionnaire to measure the public’s true opinions of the UC campus. Before value-free facilitators could intervene, a member of the audience asked if, given the UC Merced campus memorandum of understanding with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, would she ask what the public thought about the possibility of nuclear weapons research in the county? This is just the sort of local rudeness the value-free facilitators were engaged to facilitate into a gentle coastal fantasy where the eternally young and wealthy gambol through heirloom orchardettes, chewing the leaves of the aromatic arugula and having real pretty thoughts.

We do not live in a value-free world. We’ve been colonized for two centuries on other peoples’ visions of wealth through the exportation of agricultural commodities – everything from hides and tallow to cotton. We’re just full up with aspiration. We don’t need “value-free” New Age organics and a “free-market” credit collapse. What we need are policies that take into account our history and that promote environmental, social and economic justice. We need policies that conserve the sustainable agriculture that exists and reclaims more of it from the factory models and the agribusiness latifundia. We need an agriculture as if the environment, the farmers, workers and townspeople mattered. Those sorts of policies do not begin with the slogan: “Growth is inevitable.” It would be more along the lines of: “Conserve and evolve our agriculture, our farmers, workers and local businesses!”

The Valley does not want to become the Flint, Mich. of agriculture and it cannot become Sebastopol or Oxnard. Merced cannot become Davis, however much our yuppies wish it so, without terrible environmental, social and economic injustice. The consequences of it becoming another San Fernando Valley are incalculably bad.

Foreclosure-stan has a proud tradition of struggles for justice beneath its “for sale” signs, dead lawns and traffic jams. Estanislao led the largest Indian rebellion against Mexican rule here. Joaquin Murrieta fought here. Farmers wrested control of river water from the hydraulic gold miners and formed the first irrigation districts in the state here. John Muir made his greatest stands and founded the modern environmental movement near here. Migrant workers struck here in the 1930s and one of the nation's greatest novelists, John Steinbeck, wrote Grapes of Wrath about that period, near here. Cesar Chavez fasted in the Modesto City jail during the Gallo organizing drive here. Foreclosure-stan has had a strong peace and justice movement since the Vietnam War. The most active eco-justice movement in the San Joaquin Valley continues here. Its mission statement is more than 20 years old and we find no reason to change it even if it has gone out of fashion among those too addled to resist UC and finance, insurance and real estate propaganda that this land is an empty canvas for every knuckleheaded land boondoggle:

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
MISSION STATEMENT

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

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Brookhaven Guidance Package comment letter, Dec. 11, 2007

Submitted: Dec 17, 2007

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

December 11, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CEQA "General Rule Exemption" Awareness Month in Merced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear members of the Board of Supervisors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Potential for Conversion of Agricultural Lands

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

When that development occurs is not the issue.

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

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

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

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

C. Potential Impacts to Listed Species

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

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

D. Potential Impacts to Groundwater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holland explained the board's necessary considerations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pedroza said to leave it as it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence ensued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End of civilization is at hand.)

Nelson asked Fincher if this would set a precedent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fincher said it is a denial based on procedure.

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

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

The motion died for lack of a second.

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

| »

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

Submitted: Dec 07, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hu commented, “corrupt system.”

Drake: They change people and projects are left unfinished.

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

Wade: We should have asked Rhonda Reed.

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

Weber: Adaptive management is the key.

Ratzlaff: our suggestions weren’t followed.

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

Ezio Sansone: The pulse is for temperature?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sullivan: Let’s plant trees.

Miller: Like Chris Robinson did?

Fisherman wants a healthy anadromous fishery.

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

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

Bill Thompson (couldn’t understand his comment)

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

Biologist from McConnell/Hatfield parks introduces herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weber called it “dishonorable.”

Lashbrook called it “heinous.”

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

Lashbrook interrupts. Her comment was unclear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller: “It depends.”

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

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

Miller: “It’s called environmental review.”

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

Miller:” The RCD allotted more for facilitation.”

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

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

Sansoni: “Where do you want to go?”

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

Sansoni brought up the letterhead issue again.

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

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

Sansoni: “You cannot speak for the MRS.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money for whom, some stakeholders wondered.

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

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

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

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

Meeting adjourned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands Journal editorial board

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

Submitted: Dec 01, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

From:Opensecrets.org
Dennis Cardoza

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

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

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Department of Interior admits MacDonald wrongdoing

Submitted: Nov 27, 2007

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

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

November 27, 2007

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

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

Rahall: Interior Concedes MacDonald Meddled with Science

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

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

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

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

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

Contact: Leda Huta, (202) 320-6467

Sarah Matsumoto (510) 520-1004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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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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